Posts Tagged ‘choices’

The Bad News, Part 1

The Bad News, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 8/7/15 THCF 8/9/15

Romans 1:18-32; 2:1

Introduction:

We began our journey through the Epistle to the Romans a few weeks ago, and saw that the theme of the book is the “Gospel of God’s Grace”. We also saw that the “Good News” of the Gospel is good news, primarily because of the bad news that it addresses. We could see that the only reason, for example, that the Salk vaccine was such good news when it was first developed in the early 1950s, was that the ravages of Polio were such horribly bad news.

The Bad News of the Gospel, in a word, is Sin. We can talk about Sin as a concept. We can examine the origin of Sin, from a biblical perspective. We can bemoan the results of sin in our society…but ultimately, we need to realize that Sin as a principle is the whole source of our problems as a society, and our lostness as a race. Jesus came to free us from that Sin…in every sense. That is the Good News. But we need to understand the Bad News, before the Good News will really be “good news” to us personally. And we need to see it from God’s point of view:

God’s Perspective

In verse 18, Paul begins a dissertation on the overall slide of the human race into sin and perdition that runs all the way from 1:18 to 3:20. He is not singling out any particular group— by the time he is finished talking, in chapter 3, the whole world is condemned in sin. And he is not being judgmental at all—he is simply stating facts.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Paul first states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness. He is not “OK with some sin, but hell on the bad stuff”. God hates all sin. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why?

Consider a company, in which a serious accident (or several) has occurred, due to equipment operators being under the influence of intoxicants of some sort: We are not surprised when such a company adopts a “zero tolerance” policy toward drug abuse, including alcohol. Or a parent whose child (or children) have been lost to the drug trade…how do you think he or she would feel toward street drugs and those who promote them? We are certainly not surprised when they passionately hate the drugs and those who promote them.

Now, how much worse, when something has killed every single one of your kids, and separated from you those you loved the most? That is where God stands. Adam and Eve died spiritually the moment Adam ate the fruit in the garden…and we all died with them. Jesus said that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning”: Who do you suppose he killed? The answer is: he killed you!

God hates sin, because it has murdered the whole human race. Every sin, no matter how small, is a facet of that death-dealing disease we call Sin. God loves the sinner, but he hates the sin. And He is never confused about that distinction, though we sometimes find it very confusing.

Further, he states that his wrath is revealed against those who “hold” or “suppress” the truth in unrighteousness. When I first read that passage in the King James Version, I thought that perhaps his anger was reserved for those that ‘hold” the truth, in the sense of “having it”, but refuse to respond to it. When I looked up the Greek word I discovered that it means to “hold down” or “hold back”—to suppress. It is not a matter of possessing but not responding to the truth, though that is addressed later…the issue is that our unrighteousness seeks to suppress and shut down the truth of God. The fact of the matter is: we don’t want to hear it.

But There are No Excuses

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

In verses 19 and 20, Paul states that no one is fully excused, because everyone has, built into them, the awareness of a Creator. He says that much of what can be known of God is revealed “in them”. We learn (sometimes very early…in my case, before I was 8 years old) to turn a blind eye to the evidence in creation (Psalm 19:1-3), and particularly our own construction…(compare Psalm 139:14) and so we turn a deaf ear to the call of God, with the result that some of us (myself once included) arrive at a place where we arrogantly (or bitterly) declare that “there is no God.” But the evidence was there, and still is. In fact, the only reply God has to those who say “there is no God” is that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Notice, however, that it is in reference to a people who once knew God: it is regarding the whole human race, or a nation, say, that had its beginnings in faith. Not so much an individual, as no one starts off “knowing God” and regresses to being lost: it’s the other way around.

The human race, as a whole, once “knew God”…there was a time when every single human on the planet knew God personally, but not all were in a right relation with him…and it went downhill from there, as history tells us. By the time of Noah, the world was irreparably evil.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

They definitely knew who he was, as the Creator, and they did not glorify him, but turned their backs on him. We profess ourselves to be wise, apart from the wisdom of God.  We are sure that we, ourselves, the wonderful human race, can solve all the world’s problems. We even think that if we could get our hands on another planet, orbiting another sun, we could “terra-form” it, thus recreating our own world, and providing a new home for humanity.  What incredible arrogance! We can’t even fix the world we live on! Our so-called wisdom is unspeakable foolishness, and, year after year, it is shown to be so with every tragic mistake we make as the human race.

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

As a race, we have turned to idols; we used our imaginations and creative skills to produce images to which we ascribed the attributes of Deity. We made images of men (say, Buddha, for example; ironically, he hated idols, but there are more idols made in his likeness than in that of any other deity), and birds (some of the Egyptian deities, as well as North American Native deities, among many others, had bird attributes), and four-footed beasts (The golden calves, for instance), and creeping things (there are Hindu temples in India dedicated to the worship of rats and serpents.) In today’s world, we have deified Science and computers, and we are sure that together they will save us all. Men like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and others have become the “priests” of the religion of Science. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a social outcast; not simply misinformed. (That is a characteristic of religion, as opposed to simple facts.)

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Paul says that because Man turned his back on the real God of the universe, the Real God has turned Man loose to experience the result of his arrogance. The results are strange, as, to my mind, they seem to have little to do with the spiritual sin…but evidently the immorality of Man is directly linked to the unholiness of Man. Corruption at a spiritual level begets corruption at a physical level, and finally at a social level. He says that the immediate result is that they began to “dishonor their own bodies” between themselves. as a result of their own lusts. The sin nature bears sinful fruit; hardly surprising.

 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Many people today try to deny that the New Testament condemns homosexual behavior. As you read these verses (24-27), what other interpretation could there possibly be? He is specifically describing homosexual behavior, and declaring it to be one of the direct results of abandoning accountability to God, and worshipping and serving created things instead of their Creator. Please notice that that particular sin is not given a special category: it is simply listed along with all the rest: disobedience to parents, and envy are listed right along with murder and adultery.

The Problem is that We Don’t Like God

Remember that, in the Garden of Eden, God came seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve…and they ran from Him. It was not the other way around.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Don’t use this to try to create a “hierarchy” of sins by which to decide that some sins are really despicable, while others are just “kinda cute”. God does not agree with our estimation of the relative worth of sin. He says his wrath is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness.

32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Paul’s conclusion is that we not only do these things in full knowledge that those who do such things are worthy of death, but we give approval to those who do them. Today we give that approval by making box-office hits of movies glorifying adultery, murder, debate, deceit, disobedience to parents…etc. The fiction section of a library or a bookstore (even a Christian bookstore) is always the most popular, as we prefer fiction to reality…we prefer fiction to truth. There are perhaps 20 would-be fiction writers for every would-be non-fiction writer. And we glorify novelists far above mere journalists and technical writers. It all seems to fit, I think: Jesus said that when Satan speaks a lie, he is speaking his own language, because Satan “is a liar and the father of it.” I am not suggesting that creative writing is wrong. But we are addicted to it.

We, as a race, are addicted to fiction, and, increasingly to fiction that caters to our lusts. Things that were once unmentionable are now common fare: things once fully condemned as grossly pornographic are so widely available that even Christian parents frequently allow their children access to them. I recall hearing a young child of a professing Christian couple gleefully telling of the erotic scene he had viewed the evening before in his parents’ home. And that was nearly thirty years ago. It is far worse now.

We celebrate the authors of such books and screenplays, as well as the actors and producers of the movies. We hail them as great artists. We give approval to those who do the very things God condemns. We encourage others to do the same. Yes…it all seems to fit.

2: 1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

We tend to robe ourselves in the rags of our self-righteousness and reject someone else because of their perceived sin…But God says that in so doing we admit our own guilt: You see, that list he gave us in verses 24-27 is a list of examples of the sin God condemned…not an exhaustive list of things he calls sins. And it is certainly not a hierarchy of sins in some particular order of importance.

Sin always breaks fellowship with God. Hold your finger here in Romans, and turn to Proverbs 6:16-19 (16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.)

Notice it doesn’t list drug abuse or sexual immorality? That isn’t evidence that such things are approved, it simply gives us notice that the things God hates have to do with the sin of the heart…the self-centeredness that makes us arrogant, foolish and violent. That sin is the same source as the sin that drives every other social ill in the world. The wrath of God is upon all of it.

So, what are our options?

  1. We can deny it all, and say that sin doesn’t even exist—that there is no such thing as right or wrong—that it is only our perceptions and social norms that drive such a concept. But the problem with that is that every single culture in the world recognizes right and wrong, though they disagree wildly about what it means.
  1. We can deny the importance of sin, and claim that God is such a “sugar-daddy” that He doesn’t condemn sin at all: he just loves everyone so much that we can do anything we want, and we will never face consequences for our decisions. The problem with that is that we all have an inborn sense of justice, as well, which tells us that there should be consequences for bad behavior and reward for good.
  1. We can admit the existence and importance of sin, and admit the holiness and justice of God, but then suggest that human effort (doing lots and lots of good things to make up for the bad things we have already done) can somehow earn a right standing with God. (Virtually all the world’s religions teach this, by the way.) The problem with this is that we are trying to carry out flawless works with very flawed hearts. Our motives will always be questionable. Everything we touch is tainted by who we are. When I confess that I am a sinner, it does not mean that “I got something on my shoe”…it means that my character is such that I break God’s Law. In fact, even if I am allowed to make the rules myself, I will break them (which is why I gave up on New Year’s resolutions many years ago.)
  1. The last option is what the Bible teaches: Sin is real, and it matters! God is holy and just, and He will judge sin. And, finally, there is nothing I can do to undo the sins I have already committed. But where does that leave me? It leaves me lost… and needing a Savior.

Then, What is God’s Solution?

That is why Jesus went to the Cross: He provided full payment for all my sins: past, present and future: In fact, if you think a moment, you will realize that when He died for me, all my sins were future. He paid for them all, knowing everything I would ever do; all the ways I would fail him as a Christian, as well as all the vile ways I despised Him, as an atheist, before I was saved. And he says in John 5:24 that all he asks me to do is believe it.

Conclusion:

Paul says I have no excuse…and he is right. But, in the next few chapters, he will introduce God’s solution for sin: the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of God’s Grace.

Lord Jesus, help our unbelief: we fail in so many different ways to trust your Grace, and believe your Word. Train us to be your followers, in Jesus’ name.


Dealing with Grief and Avoiding Despair

Dealing with Grief: Avoiding Despair

© C. O. Bishop 12/27/14 THCF 1/4/15

Job 1:1-23, 2:1-10, 19:25; Daniel 3; Habakkuk 1-3

Introduction:

This past week, the week of Christmas, some neighbors around me had terrible things happen. One, an elderly man, the day after Christmas, lost his workshop to a fire, including tools, a classic car, racing motorcycles, and other things that had been his joy and private hobby for many years. One may philosophize, saying, “Ah, but no lives were lost!” Yes, that is true, but we humans hope to leave some heritage to grandchildren (if we have any) and that car and the motorcycles, his skill in building a race-bike, and whatever racing trophies he might have had were part of his legacy in his eyes. His most prized memorabilia were destroyed in the fire. Those cannot be replaced.

Far worse were the circumstances of another family nearby who, two days before Christmas, received the news that their youngest son (16 years old) has inoperable cancer, and that his only hope is very aggressive chemotherapy, as the tumor is on or very near his heart. He is still alive, but only a miracle can save his life. They will remember this grief and pain every Christmas for the rest of their lives. If God miraculously heals this young man, then they will also have the joy of remembering God’s supply.

How does one deal with such things? How can one endure the loss and not collapse under the weight of the grief? How can one find comfort, and even joy, in the face of such circumstances? How did people in the Bible deal with such things?

What about Job?

Job is the first person who comes to my mind: though his “friends” goaded him into some wrong statements, it is good to note that God (prior to his testing) said that he was a righteous man, a “perfect and upright man”. So the accusations later leveled by his friends were completely false. They were wrong, pure and simple. Not only were they wrong about Job, they were wrong about God…God says so, in Chapter 42. So, then, whenever we study the book of Job, we will do well to carefully examine who is talking, to see what God says about their comments.

Since today we are only touching on Job’s initial response, we will only hear four voices—God’s, Satan’s, Job’s and that of his wife, whose name is not recorded here. God makes authoritative statements regarding Job; Satan questions Job’s motives and character, thus saying God is wrong; God allows the test, and both Job and his wife respond. She broke under the pressure: Job did not. It is important that we do not join Satan or Job’s sorry “friends”, in accusing Job. If we differ from what God says, God is not wrong; we are.

Job’s response is one of the best recorded, in terms of handling grief: Job tore his clothes and shaved his head, in the classic reactions to grief for that time; but rather than railing against God, he fell on his face and worshipped God for His unchanging goodness, and for his authority. He made the statement that we so often piously quote at funerals: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…”, but he continued with the part we very seldom include: “…blessed be the name of the Lord!” This was not a religious platitude; it was pure worship. He confessed that his maker had the authority to take away, as well as to give: he worshipped God, in spite of his grief. God’s comment, twice in these chapters is that “…in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, under goading from his friends who wrongly believed that “bad things only happen to bad people”, Job made another famous statement of faith: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…and that… I shall see him with my eye, and not another…” Job rested his faith in the coming final justice. Eventually, it is true, the friends goaded him into self-justification, but they and not he were judged for their actions. God corrected him, but rebuked them, saying, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” That is a good final note on Job’s life and discourse, and a cautionary note about Bible study. It is important to check who is talking in scripture…about two thirds of the book of job is recording the words of his friends, and God says they were wrong! We need to read carefully, and not make assumptions.

What can we learn from Job? First, that he was submissive to God’s will in his life: if he could have changed the circumstances, he would have—he loved his children and prayed for them daily, and offered sacrifices on their behalf; but when they were taken, it was through what even today, many people call “an act of God” (or, as the atheistic, secular world may say, an “act of nature”.) Job knew that there was nothing he could have done to ward off such an occurrence, nor certainly anything he could do to undo the damage. He was grieved at the loss, but accepted it as being from God, and stated that God had the authority to bring calamity as well as blessing.

He also knew that calamity is not always the result of sin…which his detractors had not learned. This is a hard one for us, too, even as New Testament believers: we tend to think that bad experiences must be punishment for some sin, even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly teach that this is not necessarily the case. In Job’s case he had the confidence of a steady walk with God to bolster his spirit: he knew that the calamity was not punishment. It was only the accusations of the men he thought were his friends that moved him to defend against false accusations, and eventually he was bordering on self-justification, so God stepped in and stopped the test.

I can either rest in the character of God (bless God for his goodness, as Job did) or I can tear myself apart, looking for the hidden cause, the secret sin that must be the root of the calamity. I can worship, or I can wail. In a sense, as long as I choose to worship, I can still wail…but to God, not at Him.

One more thing to point out, here: Job evidently understood positional truth and the security of the believer, because he said that he knew (not just believed) that he himself, with his physically resurrected body, and his own eyes, would see his redeemer “at the latter day” when his redeemer was to stand upon the earth. How could he make such a statement if not for knowing the security of the believer? He did not just know that Jesus would make a triumphant return to Earth as the king (he is referring to the second coming, not the first) but he also stated that he himself would be there to see it, in a physically resurrected body. That is confidence…that is faith, the assurance of things hoped for; the sure knowledge of things not seen.

What about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

This is may not seem exactly the same thing, as what they faced was execution for Godly behavior, under an ungodly King. But consider: any “fiery trial” we may imagine can be seen in parallel to theirs. They had no children, nor would they ever, as they had been made eunuchs by this king’s decree; they were captive servants under a terrible regime. They were in imminent danger of being burned alive for refusing to commit idolatry, but they stood fast. Remember what they said: “We know that our God is able to deliver us…but if not (in other words, if He chooses not to deliver us)…we still will not worship your idol!” They chose to stand fast whether or not God would defend them. They were willing to die before disgracing their God.

We can choose to stand fast against the temptation to abandon faith, to question God’s character, to deny Him His due in our lives. Or we can give in, hoping to gain some peace of mind, as at least we will no longer find ourselves trying to justify God in circumstances that are beyond our understanding. I have known a number of believers to fall prey to this very thing. They felt they could no longer defend God’s actions so they joined his attackers.

God doesn’t need my defense. He is perfectly capable on His own, and has proven it on countless occasions throughout history. The three Hebrew youngsters were right and they knew it, but they also knew that God had made no promise to them, personally, to deliver them from harsh circumstances. So they took their stand with God, choosing to risk being incinerated rather than deny the God of their salvation. It seems that they shared Job’s confidence in the goodness of God, regardless of circumstances, and, that, like Job, they knew that the things that God does are not always explainable in human terms. Many times they are beyond our comprehension. I can either accept that truth, or, childishly, insist on an explanation.

God is not obliged to explain his actions, any more than I am obliged to explain to a saw-blade why I am filing away a portion of each tooth, to make the remaining portion sharp and usable. God can prune his vineyard, shear his sheep, sharpen his tools, and discipline his children. Discipline, again, does not mean punishment—it means training. Even in school, we might ask what discipline a student is pursuing…it means “what specific training are they hoping to attain?” A wrestling or football coach may demand that the members of his team run laps around a practice field as part of the discipline of their sport. It is not punishment at all, though it may feel like it. It is training, and has the goal of excellence in the sport.

In the case of Job and the Hebrew teenagers, we saw that God did reward them with a defense and a response of blessing. But what if He does not? Can we find joy in the person of Christ, even when the circumstances admit no compromise, and will certainly end in ruin?

What about Habakkuk?

Habakkuk was confronted with the evil of his own nation. He cried to God for Justice, but what he got was Judgment…and it was Just. God let him know that He, God, was about to judge the nation of Judah, using the Chaldean nation as the instrument of His judgment. Habakkuk knew that this judgment would result in utter catastrophe for Judah, as the Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were a ruthless people. He protested that the punishment was too great, and that the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. But he was wrong and God was right (no surprise there….) God corrected his thinking, and declared that the judgment was coming.

Habakkuk accepted the coming judgment and declared that, though all the circumstances in which he usually found happiness and sustenance should fail, he himself would still find joy in the LORD (Jehovah); and that he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. That may seem a “pat answer” but you want to remember that Habakkuk was going to be right there in the judgment…there was no guarantee of a free pass through the judgment for him. He was about to see his whole way of life destroyed, and a high percentage of the people he knew and cared for destroyed, and all the rest enslaved. (By the way, this is the captivity that took Daniel and his friends, resulting in their castration and enslavement…this is not a theoretical test. It was the real thing.) We never heard from Habakkuk again. We don’t know what happened to him, whether he even survived the siege or possibly died before it began. But he had taken his stand with God, and chose to find joy and comfort in the person of his Creator and Savior.

The last phrase in chapter 3 of Habakkuk states that “He maketh my feet as hind’s feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” A “hind” is a type of deer that loves to climb in mountain crags. It is extremely sure-footed, and so “stays above” all the trouble below it. We might liken it to a mountain goat, here in the Americas, or an ibex (steinbok) in the Alps. The point is that while Habakkuk set himself to find Joy in the eternal God instead of the circumstances, he also placed his trust in his savior to keep him confident in Christ, not affected by circumstance.

That is easy to say, of course, but remember that these fellows made these statements while confronted with the loss of all that was dear to them, and probably their own lives, as well. Job had already lost all his children, and all his belongings, and his wife and  friends seemed to conspire against him…she begging him to give it up and die (possibly, from her perspective, for his own good) and his friends urging him to confess nonexistent sins. The Hebrew children were facing the furnace in person. They could feel the heat, and knew that execution was imminent. Habakkuk only knew for sure that the destruction and captivity of his people was inescapable, and that everything he loved in life was about to be taken away. This was not a “maybe”—it was a definite event about to happen. Each of these believers chose to find their peace in Christ.

So…What about Us?

We, too, can choose to trust God. We can choose to find our joy in Christ. We can choose to believe that His Justice is greater than our sense of what is “fair”. We can choose to believe that His Love (demonstrated at the Cross!) is greater than our feeble affections, though we may love with all our hearts. Feelings may be strong, but actions are what get things done, and God acted! He went to the Cross in the person of Christ, and personally paid the price of our sins. Just “feeling sorry for us” would not have accomplished anything. He acted on our behalf.

I don’t know whether I would choose well under the circumstances I listed above: The loss of a shop building or other belongings might discourage me for a while, but the loss of a child or of my wife would surely destroy me, if it were not for the person of Christ. I hope that I would be faithful to trust Him even in hard times. So far, I have been able to do so…but, honestly, my circumstances have been pretty easy compared to what some believers endure.

We can pray for one another, and go to one another in time of need, encouraging those who suffer, helping those in need. We can support one another as we endure hard times. We can share with one another, working together to overcome adversity. But ultimately, our trust has to be in the One who created, saved and sustains us. We have to practice this daily, in the small things, to prepare ourselves for the hard things to come. Can you do it? Will you?

Ultimately we have to be committed to trusting Him even if he chooses to not rescue us from our trial. Job said (Job 13:15), “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” That has to be the “bottom line” for us as well, or we will be enslaved to circumstances. When we only recognize blessing if it is something we like, we are enslaved to circumstances. That is not OK.

The blessing and mercy of God may include our early “graduation” from the “school” of life. The son of Jeroboam, in 1st Kings 14:13 was rewarded for his good by an early death, as the prophet said: “because there is some good found in him toward the LORD God of Israel.” He was the only one of Jeroboam’s household who received a proper burial, and his early death was provided so that he escaped the coming judgment. We do not always know God’s purpose, but we do know His character.

Learn early to trust the Lord in every circumstance, so that when the hard times come you are already fortified against them. Otherwise they will come without warning, and you will be overwhelmed. Choose continually to find your Joy, Comfort and Peace in the Person of Christ.

God give us Grace to trust you in every trial, to seek your Light no matter how great our darkness, and to seek your Love though all others have deserted us, and to find our Joy in You.

Amen!