Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Envy Much?

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Proverbs 23:17-18 (NASB)

Who do you envy? Is it a famous person? Someone who makes a living off of sexual innuendo and getting other people to lust after them? Is it a rich person? Someone who shuts their ears to the cries of the poor while they increase their own luxury? The Bible says we should be careful who we envy. Envy in itself is akin to covetousness which breaks one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17). To covet is to be driven by envy to want what someone else has. But do you know what's worse than coveting? Coveting after the yield of sin, because it has the potential to cause even more destruction in your life.

It is tempting to envy the wicked. Often we can relate to the psalmist who says, "For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked... Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth" (Psalm 73:3, 12). Often as we look around us it seems the innocent suffer without end while the wicked prosper. It's easy to conclude with the psalmist, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence." It's easy to think that we are missing the boat... that we would be much better off if we began patterning our lives after the prosperous wicked. But God's antidote for this type of wrong-headed thinking is to urge us to live in the fear of the Lord. Why? What does the fear of the Lord have to do with envying sinners? The next verse gives us the clue we need. For those who live in the fear of the Lord, there is a future and their hope will not be cut off. 

This leads us to the same conclusion the psalmist finds: "Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment!" (Psalm 73:17-19a). There is no future hope for the sinner. Their future is God's righteous judgment on their sin. That is why fear of the Lord is the fitting antidote. Fear of the Lord reminds one that God will one day judge the living and the dead, and it urges us to obey His commands to avoid judgment. When we live in the fear of the Lord we preserve our hope and future by choosing to follow God's commands. 

So as you find yourself tempted to envy sinners, read Psalm 73 and remind yourself how it ends. "For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works" (Psalm 73:27-28). And if you have not yet submitted your life to the fear of the Lord by giving your life to Jesus, then choose to repent of your life of sin and ask forgiveness today, surrendering yourself to His way of living life for good. (For more information on becoming a Christian, click here.)

For further reading...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Love Faith

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands [i.e. Jesus]. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Revelation 2:1-5

A letter from home while a child is away at camp is a life saver. A well-written love letter can completely change a relationship. Yep. There is no doubt about it. Letters can be truly powerful things. So if Jesus were going to sit down and write a letter to you or your church today, what do you think He would say? Would He commend you or challenge you? Chances are He would do both because that's exactly what He did with the church at Ephesus.

First Jesus encourages the believers at Ephesus with all they are doing right. A pretty long list! They are living out their faith in good deeds. They are persevering in the faith through persecution. They're effectively refuting bad doctrine and all without growing weary! What an encouragement that Jesus knows. Jesus sees. He has not forgotten about us or our struggles. He is intimately aware and involved in His church, constantly tending to His lampstand (in this passage a metaphor for the church) to ensure it continues to shine brightly in a dark world. Jesus knows you, your successes, and your struggles.

Second, Jesus confronts His followers with the charge that they have forsaken their first love. The terms used here are the same used of a husband putting his wife away or divorcing her. Jesus is saying the believer's in Ephesus over time has grown cold towards Him and in their hearts have forsaken Him. Have you grown cold in your love for Jesus over time? Does your passion burn as brightly as it ever did? I know that in many ways I have lost that first love type of faith and worship.

Jesus, forgive me for growing cold. Reignite that flame in my heart. Help me to give you "first love" faith and worship. Be glorified in me in every way.

For further reading...
  • Revelation 1-3:22- Read the intro to Revelation and the letters to the seven churches.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Course it Isn't My Fault

This week while at camp with 3rd-6th graders I've been reminded how limited a child's perspective is. This isn't really their fault. This is one of the best groups I have ever taken to kids' camp. It's simply incredibly difficult for children to think of anyone other than themselves. Their perspective on life, their view of the world and all that goes on in it is completely locked in on themselves. Their feelings, their assumptions and their experience of any given situation govern how they view it. They are so trapped by their own perspective that it becomes the definitive measure of truth. It is unassailable, undoubted, and unquestioned. Their feelings and thoughts on the matter are their Truth.

While it is wholly understandable that children struggle with this, the sad truth is that many of us still struggle with it as adults. We get into a conflict with a co-worker or our spouse and we are trapped by our own perspective. We are unable or unwilling to see the conflict from their side. We get lost in sin and our lives begin to unravel in all the negative consequences, but we are unable to see the fallout as the result of our own decisions. We blame our families, the church, God, other people, anyone and everyone except ourselves. The Bible tells the story of a young man who was trapped by his perspective this way in Luke 15. Read these verses from the familiar story of the prodigal son.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father."
We don't know exactly who the prodigal son blamed for his plight. Maybe he blamed it on the famine (v. 14). It is hard to be certain, but we do know that it wasn't until he "came to his senses" that he was able to see the truth of his situation- that it was his own sin that landed him in this terrible spot and that the proper course was repentance.

The idea of being so locked in by my own perspective scares me. The thought that we could be so deluded, so self-deceived as to be totally blind to the fact that we are causing our own suffering is frightening. But the good news is that we serve a God who is in the business of bringing people to their senses. Will you ask God to open your eyes today, to bring you to your senses in any way you may need it so that you can see the true condition of your heart and life? Maybe in addition to that you also need to go to a spouse or a friend and ask them to openly and honestly share with you what sin they notice in your life. You might just be surprised what you find out about yourself.

For further reading...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are We Losing the Battle for Our Own Children?

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10

How did they not know? God had left specific instructions for teaching children about Himself (Deut. 6:4-9) and He had provided natural opportunities to do so both in physical landmarks (e.g. ebenezers or monuments to the Lord's deeds- see Josh. 4:1-9) and in the Israelite calendar (e.g. the Passover festival among others- see Ex. 12:21-27).  Somewhere along the line the Israelite parents neglected their duty to teach their own children about God and his deeds. That, combined with the powerful influence of the pagan culture around them, seduced their children away from the Lord. This failure cost the Israelite community dearly over hundreds of years. They fell into a pattern of sin that resulted in God's punishment. They would cry out to God for deliverance, and mercifully God would rescue them from the hand of their enemies. But after a short-lived peace, the people would once again fall into sin.

Judges 2:10 has a sobering effect on me as a dad and as a minister to youth and children. As I look around at our churches and families I fear that the church in America may be falling prey to the same shortcoming that plagued the Israelites so long ago. How can we win the world if we are losing the battle for the hearts of our own children? 

We send our children to secular schools for seven or eight hours a day. They spend countless hours practicing and competing in secular sports leagues. Every second of every day they are inundated with information about which starlet went braless at what premier and which running back will be starting for their team. Our children are growing up in an environment that is arguably filled with more information and entertainment than any other society in history. In the swirl of all this distraction we cannot allow our homes to become secular environments as well. Our homes should not be filled with secular movies, music and TV shows; but with the gospel of Christ lived out every day in the context of family. They should be filled with family Bible study, Christian music, worship, and careful individual instruction in the Word. 

I am not suggesting that we retreat from our task of winning the world for Christ and hide our children away in little Christian monasteries. What I am saying is that if we cannot win our own children for Christ then I think we have very little of hope of winning the world for Him either. We must begin here. We must win this battle if we hope to fare well in the war. And right now I fear that we are losing the battle for our own children.

For further reading...

  • Deut. 6:4-9- The quintessential passage in the Bible on teaching our children about God.
  • Josh. 4:1-9- A physical monument to God's work can be a great discussion starter for teaching kids about God.
  • Ex. 12:21-27- Work natural opportunities to teach your children about God into you yearly calendar. Use holidays like Easter, Good Friday, Christmas, and Martin Luther King Jr. day as learning opportunities for your family.