Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Except You Enthrall Me, I Never Shall Be Free

"Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me."
John Donne, Meditation 14

How many of you have seen a sign that says, "WET PAINT: Do Not Touch" and felt the urge to reach out and touch? The Apostle Paul said he would not have known "what coveting really was if the law had not said, "You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7). 

Christians in leadership, whether parenting or preaching, often make the mistake of believing that protection from sin comes from proclamation against sin. Prohibition, however, only seems to decrease inhibition. The more a person hears "thou shalt not" the more that person says "I shall too!"

The increased desire for sin when Law is introduced is apparent through both self-evaluation and biblical revelation. With this double confirmation of the impotence of Law to destroy the desire for sin, I find it astonishing that Christian people remain steadfast in elevating Law, thereby guaranteeing sin's continuance. 

John Donne, the 17th century pastor of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England, struggled with illicit sexual sins throughout his life.  After coming to faith in Christ, the temptation for these sins did not disappear. Rather,  John Donne finally discovered what he believed to be the only tried and true means for the avoidance of harmful sin.

"Except you enthrall me, (I) shall never be free, 
Nor chaste, except You ravish me."

The scars that come from Law are only healed by the balm of grace. It is only through the enjoyment of God - the deeply personal and abiding feeling of His mercy, love and grace for you - that you will begin to experience the breaking of sin's bondage in your life. We glorify God by enjoying Him. 

Next time you feel tempted to condemn a sinner - either yourself or someone else - through the imposition of Law, try turning the tables a little and proclaim the glorious riches of God's grace for sinners in Christ Jesus. The deep beauty of God's eternal love is the only elixir against the dangerous and shallow pleasures of this world.

Except Christ enthralls me, I never shall be free.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Shame Game vs. Inner Transformation

Preachers sometimes use shame to motivate and manipulate people to give more, serve more, and do more. Christians will often find themselves being worn out over being worn out.

Those who know me understand my message is one of God's grace through Christ Jesus. I attempt to lead people to freedom that comes from knowing the truth that is in Christ. I believe shame is no motivation for the believer of the Good News. The passive obedience of Christ, His death, forever removes our sin. The active obedience of Christ,  His life, forever becomes our righteousness. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). The favor of God is forever ours because of His grace to us in His Son.

Christians do what we do in this life because of our joy in knowing Christ. We serve God and others because we are awakened to Christ's sacrificial service for us. We love God and other people because we've been captivated by God's unconditional love for us. We are never motivated to do good because of our shame over sin, but rather, we do good because of the joy that comes from our full and free forgiveness and our radical and real righteousness (e.g. His righteousness) which becomes ours through our faith in Him! (Philippians 3:7-11)
Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned He stood,
sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
He bore my sin and my shame. It's gone.

Personal shame is defined as "a belief that I am defective." The struggle of every believer in Christ is coming to the place of living out on earth what is true of him or her in before God.  In Christ, we are counted perfectly righteous. That's who we are. The intense struggle Christians face in getting rid of personal shame is only enhanced when Christian leaders use language that is designed to convey Christians are defective.  Showers of shame are often more frequent than showers of blessing in evangelical churches.

Again, I'm convinced there's no room for shame after coming to faith in Christ. The Good News changes the dynamics of who I am and what I've done. The testimony of every believer should go something like this:  I realize I was defective, but grace changed my perspective, and now I see God's eternal objective.

God takes me, a shame-filled sinner, and radically transforms me into a grace-filled son. There is no longer any place for regret in my life, nor is there any room for shame in Christ. God is "at work" transforming me into the image of His Son and working all things for my good (see I1 Cor. 3:18 and Romans 8:28)

But there are two verses that seemingly go against this teaching that "shame" (e.g. grief over who I am) and "regret" (e.g. sorrow over what I've done) are gone in Christ. In the Corinthian church there were Christians suing other Christians over "everyday matters" and standing before civil judges who had no relationship with Christ. Paul writes: 
"I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?" (I Corinthians 6:5)
In I Corinthians 15:34 the Apostle Paul seems to say something similar:
"Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."
These are the only two verses in the entire New Testament that use this particular Greek word translated "shame. What does Paul mean by these two verses? Are Christians supposed to "feel bad about themselves" and shrink back into a state of self-condemnation and shame because of what we have done?

No, not at all.

The word wrongly translated "shame" in I Corinthians 6:5 and I Corinthians 15:34 is the Greek word entrope, which means “a turning in upon oneself" or literally en - "inner"   trope - "transformation."  Paul is writing for "the inner transformation" of these Corinthian Christians, not their "shame."

A 19th century physicist coined the English word entropy - taken directly from this biblical Greek word - to describe "transformation energy between two states."  Using the better and more literal English translation for the Greek word entrope, let's look again at the two places this word is used in the New Testament:
"I say this for your inner transformation. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?" (I Corinthians 6:5)
"Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this for your inner transformation." (I Corinthians 15:4).
Why did the King James Translators use the word "shame?" Why do most modern Bible translations follow the same pattern?

I don't know. There are other Greek words used in the New Testament that are properly translated shame, but they are never used to describe how a Christian ought to feel about himself!

For example, one of those Greek words is epaisxynomai. It means embarrassment, disgrace, or "shame."  Paul uses it when he writes to young Timothy:
“Do not be ashamed (Gk. epaisxynomai) about the testimony of the Lord or my chains as a prisoner, but share in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” (II Timothy 1:8).
In other words, "don't be embarrassed or in shame about the fact One you call Savior and Lord has a testimony of dying a criminal's death on the cross or that I'm in prison." Paul says the same thing in Romans 1:16. We are not to be "embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated" with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for "it is the power of God unto salvation."

No shame for the gospel. No shame for the believer.

Effective, grace-filled leadership in churches and families will always seek to persuade Christians to "turn within" and see the "transformational power" of Jesus Christ at work within our hearts and lives. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). "The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you" (Romans 8:11).

If you start getting flustered with your circumstances, and if you feel compelled to take matters into your own hands to try to control the people and/or circumstances around you, take a deep breath and look within to the "inner transformation" that is happening by the power of God's grace.

God is at work in you. If the King of Kings and Lord of Creation has chosen to take up His residence within you and to transfer the same power that raised Christ from the dead into you (entrope), then you need to simply "turn within and see His power" and re-think what you are doing.  You have the power to love others when their unlovely. You have the power to forgive others when they are unforgiving. You have the power to be at peace when all around you is war. You have the power of Christ in you.

Thinking about who you are by the grace of God, and the transformational energy inside you is enough motivation to be different than the world.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Problem Is Mindless Sex, Not Gender Identity

But Jesus said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” —Matthew 19:11–12

The evangelical Christian world is going crazy over the transgender issue in our culture. Is that man a woman? Is that woman a man? How do we know? How can we tell? How pagan and evil this world has become!

Some of the loudest, vociferous and brutal condemnations seem to be coming from evangelical Christian men who regularly view illicit pornography, participate in self-masturbation, and find their marriages in trouble because they seek sexual thrills (albeit heterosexual) outside of marriage. These men have mistakenly believed gender identity is the major social sin of our day, when actually the major sin is mindless sex, and evangelicals are as guilty as anyone else. 

Jesus told His disciples - and the Apostle Paul later re-iterated - that the ideal state of a man or woman is sexual celibacy. Let me repeat: The biblical “ideal" for both a man or a woman is not marriage, but sexual celibacy while remaining single.  Paul said, “If you can’t remain celibate, it’s better to marry than to burn" (I Corinthians 7:9). Jesus commends eunuchs "who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:11). Both statements cannot be seen as ringing endorsements for marriage between a man and a woman. The notion that "marriage" has some privileged moral status in the New Testament is simply not true.

Every person's identity should come from his or her relationship with Jesus Christ, not his or her earthly marriage partner, nor his or her gender. The reason one's identity should come from the riches and blessings of one's relationship with Jesus Christ and not anything to do with marriage is because "Those who ... share in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead  will neither marry nor be given in marriage.…" (Luke 20:35).

To understand Jesus commending a eunuch who became a eunuch for "the kingdom of heaven," you have to understand what the actual problem is. In the Roman world “phallo-dominance" of Jesus' day, castration would have set anyone apart as abnormal. But Jesus seems to commend the "abnormal eunuch" who removed his sexual organs "for the sake of kingdom of heaven."  Jesus is not nearly as concerned with "gender identity" or "sanctified testosterone" as He is with mindless sexual behaviors.

Sex is sacred. It's the act through which God established the means of procreation on earth. Sex's sacredness is found in the gift of life that culminates in the act of sex. Mindless sex, however, is this culture's problem - and it's the evangelical church's problem as well. As long as we put the focus on "gender identity" as the cursed problem of our age, then we can conveniently ignore the real problem in our midst.

The Greek word eunuch means "being good with respect to the mind" (eu nou ekhein), the opposite of what the ancient Greeks called "mindless" (a nouta). A eunuch is one without the necessary physical parts to perform sexual intercourse. Some, according to Jesus, can be eunuchs from birth, or made eunuchs by others, or have made themselves eunuchs "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

Eunuchs throughout history were the entrusted servants of emperors and kings. They could be entrusted with state secrets, they could be counted on to not steal the king's wives (thus, they were "bed keepers for the queen"), and they were counted as the most loyal servants because they never participated in coups since they had no heirs to pass down the kingdom's riches. In other words, the eunuch's mind was a mind devoted to service, not self.

The best servants of the King of Kings are those whose minds are devoted to love for others in service to the King, and not wrapped up in mindless sex.

What happens to a eunuch? "A castrated adult male will lose muscle but gain fat. He can expect hot flushes like those that women have at menopause. He will lose body hair, and his penis will shrink. Erections will be rare and weak, if they occur at all. He will be sterile," according to Richard Wassersug of the Australian Research Center in Sex, Health, and Society, who is himself a eunuch

The Eunuch Archive is an online society for people who have been castrated or are considering having the procedure done. The desire to be castrated will often originate from a desire to escape sex  addictions and out-of-control lifestyles or lurid fantasies ."I was castrated because my sex drive was out of control. I was in debt from phone chat rooms and those fees. I bought a lot of porn. Paid for sex and met someone who abused me and took my money. My life was a mess. I needed riskier sex to feed my addictions. I put 100,000 miles on a car in two years out looking for a thrill. I needed to stop those actions," is the testimony of one such anonymous castrated male.

In a world full of people who reject the Good News of Jesus Christ, one should not be surprised with confusion about "gender." But in a church which accepts the Good News of Jesus Christ, we must be very careful that we don't confuse the real problem of mindless sex with gender identity.

I would be in great favor of the state castrating any person who sexually violates any man, woman or child. Just maybe, that criminal who loses his male parts and testosterone may actually find his true identity and worth in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The Writing on the Wall Regarding Your Future - Mene Tekel Upharsin: Weighed and Fallen Short

I've often wondered what it would be like to know the future. Think of the opportunities to make money on the stock market if you knew the price of all stocks five years from now. Imagine how you'd prepare for impending disaster if you could foresee it coming. Knowledge of the future is power for anyone who possesses it.

What I write below is for my friends who reject Christ as their Savior and Lord. I want to give you the reason why you ought to reconsider.

Jesus said "I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). 

That's your future.

Every person outside of Christ will be examined on the Day of Judgment. The outcome of that examination is already known. You will be found to have "fallen short." 

You will have failed the standard God has established for your life. You will have "fallen short" of being a good parent, a good partner, and a good person. Sure, your life may have been lived better than others, but the standard by which you'll be measured is God's perfect standard of goodness.

Jesus meant it when He said, "Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Your future depends on it. That's the standard by which you will be measured on the day of judgment. But all "fall short." Jesus said, "No one is good--except God alone" (Mark 10:18). 

Because we all "fall short" of the standard of God (Romans 3:23), judgment from God is coming. We see a picture of what this judgment will be like in Daniel 5:25.  God examined the life of King Belshazzar and then God's finger "wrote on the wall" of Belshazzar's palace (539 B.C.) these words:


Written in either Chaldean or Aramaic (the commercial language of the day), Belshazzar could not comprehend the meaning of the words. The king was fearful and called for Daniel, the Jewish prophet imprisoned in Babylon with the other Jewish exiles, to be brought to the palace to interpret the words. Daniel's interpretation is found in Daniel 5:26-28.
26 This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”
Daniel told Belshazzar: "God has weighed you in the scales of His justice, and you have fallen short. Your days have come to an end. You will be handed over to the judgment of death." 

That very night, the Persian army, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great, dug under the ancient walls of the city of Babylon - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - and put to death King Belshazzar. God told Belshazzar his future - and he had only a few minutes to prepare.

The judgment event that ended Belshazzar's life (539 B.C.) is a "type" or "shadow" of the Day of Judgment for every person outside of Jesus Christ. 

MENE - Your days have been numbered and have come to an end.
MENE - (Repetition in ancient languages is a form of emphasis. You are not in control of the number of days you live, nor are able to escape the judgment that's coming).
TEKEL - You have been weighed and "fallen short."
PERES - You are given over to the judgment of death (in Belshazzar's case, the Farsis, e.g.
"Upharsins," which means Persians or Peres).

TEKEL is the key word. 

The Day of God's Judgment is a process whereby God measures your thoughts, intentions, words, and actions in this life against His standard of perfect righteousness. In the ancient market place, a scale would be used with the "perfect standard" of weight on the left side, and a person's "gold" or "silver" on the right side. If the scales were balanced, then the gold or silver was perfect. But if the scales were imbalanced, and the "perfect standard of weight" dipped down, while the gold and silver went up on the right side, then the merchant's money was "found wanting." 

In Fortune Magazine's stunning biopic of 94-year-old Sumner Redstone, President of Viacom, we read that he was recently asked why he's so mean to everyone. Mr. Redstone's response? "I'm going to hell anyway, what difference does it make?"

Sumner Redstone's thinking is typical of everyone who has a sense of their own mortality. There is an innate understanding that their lives have not been lived in the manner their Creator intended. They haven't always done good for their fellow man, they haven't loved selflessly, they haven't been what God intended. In moments of transparency, they might admit it's fruitless to try to change their lives now, because there is now way that they could ever "make up" for all they've done wrong. What difference, therefore, does it make? 

Enter the Good News. 

Jesus Christ came to balance the scales of God's justice. He lived the perfect life we were meant to live, but didn't. Jesus died bearing the judgment of God for our sin (e.g. "death"), but rose from the grave three days later, conquering sin and death. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). 

"For we maintain that a person is made right with God (e.g. "justified") by faith in Christ's work, apart from their own works" (Romans 3:28). 

The Apostle Paul puts it like this Philippians 3:7-11:
"But whatever were gains to me (as a religious Jew) I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage (lit. "crap"), that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
The demons of hell and the prince of demons will let you speak all day of religion, your religious commitments, and your efforts to treat God and your fellow man with respect. But the moment you mention the name of Christ, all hell breaks loose.

The only righteousness that perfectly balances the scales of God's righteous justice is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect life. He loved the right way. He epitomized what it means to live right before God and man. He is Emmanuel, God with us. 

Your only hope on the day of judgment is to forsake any claim in your own merits and works, and proclaim your faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. When you kiss the Son of God, the wrath of the Creator Judge is assuaged. Your life, which has "fallen short," is not set on the scales of God's justice; Christ's life is. You'll "stand" on the Day of Judgment beside Christ as an heir of His righteousness, but everyone else outside of Christ will fall. When you try to stand on your own merits, you will always "fall short."

The gift of eternal life is the reward of those who are  "co-heirs" with Christ. Those in Christ will enjoy the blessings of the earth where the curse has been reversed forever. This gift of eternal life is yours because you are not found wanting by God. It's not your righteousness on the scales of His justice, it's Christ's. The righteousness of Christ perfectly balances the standard by which God measures righteousness. You are saved from the wrath to come by the grace of God in Christ.

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness, 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. 

I don't know how long you have before you stand before God in judgment. A friend of mine died suddenly just yesterday, seemingly in perfect health two weeks ago. Another friend of mine died unexpectedly in an automobile accident, leaving his family shocked and saddened. The finger of God writes on the wall of our personal palace when we least expect it.

For this reason, I ask the most important question you'll ever hear:

"What's your plan to balance the scales of God's justice so that you'll not fall short of His standard?"

Don't give up like Sumner Redstone.
Don't try harder like the religious zealots.
Don't trust in your ability to do better tomorrow.

Trust Christ and receive the perfect counterweight to God's standard of righteousness. 

It's your only hope for an incredibly bright and fulfilling future.