The Leopard’s Spots

 

 

 

 

This is a poster printed in the year 1898. It reads:

The Brutal Driver

Many horsemen are so lacking in the sense of humanity that they take delight in pursuing and running down cyclists on the public road. By the efforts of the L.A.W. many of these brutes have been arrested and punished, and this salutary work will be carried on in the future more vigorously than ever.

Despite the advancements in education, medicine, technology, and general civilization, the nature of man doesn’t change. It reminds us of the Scripture:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil (Jeremiah 13:23).

Apart from the transforming work of Jesus Christ in the heart of man, we are no more able to do the good that honors God than the leopard can change its spots.

A Bible Revolution

lutherMartin Luther was faced with a decision to remain quiet or speak out. The religious corruption he witnessed was unbearable. Bishops sold places in Heaven to the highest bidder. The pope promised early release from Purgatory for donations to build his palace. Priests were impregnating nuns and aborting the babies. The pope claimed to be the only authority for Christians.

Luther began by writing a letter to his bishop, explaining 95 Biblical reasons the pope was wrong to sell salvation. Then on October 31, 1517, filled with anger, he stormed to his church and nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the doors which served as the community bulletin board. Soon his complaint reached Rome.

For hundreds of years the pope was considered the final authority in all things Christian. His words were more authoritative than the Bible. Suddenly a Bible teacher in a small German village was questioning the status quo.

At that time, Luther was preaching a Bible-based sermon every 2 1/2 days. He also wrote a booklet on a Bible subject every other day for at least 4 years.

Tensions between the pope and Luther grew. The pope threatened the German emperor to get Luther or else. He even told his aides that if Luther “accidentally” died, it would solve many problems.

In hiding, Luther translated the Bible into German, which had only been in Latin for over a thousand years. He believed the German people should be able to compare what they were being taught in church with what God said in the Bible.

The final 13 years of his life, Luther suffered from vertigo, fainting, tinnitus, cataracts, kidney and bladder stones, arthritis, angina, and deafness, but he kept writing and preaching the Word of God.

On the evening of February 17, 1546, at the age of 56, Luther experienced chest pain and hours later died. Any thought that his death would end his Bible revolution was quickly proven wrong. He had founded a movement stressing the authority of the Scriptures above every man, experience, and idea.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Be Ye Perfect

be-ye-perfectI remember as a child watching another child at the 1976 Olympics. The world and I watched as 14-year old Nadia Comaneci finished her routine on the gymnastic uneven bars, her dismount bringing wild cheers from the crowd.

Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, no one ever expected a perfect gymnastic routine. Score boards were built to only go as high as 9.9. Nadia became the first athlete to receive a perfect score of 10 from the international judges.

Spiritually, only God sets the standard of perfection. He alone judges whether His standard is ever met. The standard goes like this: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), yet the reality is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, meeting God’s standard became impossible … until Jesus. When He was born, the world encountered the first and only perfect Person. He lived a perfect life socially, morally, religiously, and spiritually. He kept every standard of man and God, never sinning and never falling short of the glory of God (Hebrews 4:15).

He gave His perfect life on the cross as the Substitute for sinful man. All who trust in Him receive His perfect righteousness applied to their lives. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You can’t ever be perfect, but you can respond to God’s gift of salvation. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The Power of Salt

My introduction to the power of salt occurred when I was just a boy.

For most of my youth, my mother provided for us by doing child daycare in our home. Quite the wiseacre, one April Fools Day I filled the sugar bowl with salt.

Once I left for school, my mom served the other children their Cheerios, topped with a spoon of the white crystals from the sugar bowl. No matter what she said or did, not one of the kids would eat their cereal. When I got home from school later that day, I found myself in a heap of trouble.

In the ancient world, salt was more valuable than gold. The Roman government often paid its soldiers with salt. The Latin word for salt, salis, is the basis for our English word salary. Ancient Rome is also the origin for our saying that something without value isn’t “worth its weight in salt.”

At a time before refrigeration, salt was also valuable because when liberally applied to food, it preserved the food by slowing corruption.

Salt which loses its saltiness is worthless.

Jesus said to His disciples, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).

God’s people are salt in this world. By our very nature as His children, we retard the sinful rot in society around us. He uses us to flavor the world in which we live for His glory. Our loyalty to Christ Jesus and faithfulness to His commands is a proof of our conversion so that wherever we go, we live as representatives of His presence.

A War of Words

war-of-wordsIn the 240 years of the American republic, 103 of those years have been engaged in active, declared warfare. Of the wars fought in American history, no war cost more lives or did as much damage as the War Between the States. More than 55% of all the war fatalities in US history happened during the four bloody years of the American Civil War (1861-1865).

There is a far more deadly war waged each day. It is the war of words. I can’t begin to count how many people in my lifetime I’ve killed or maimed by my words. If I could take those words back, I would; but like toothpaste squeezed from the tube, once our words come out, it’s impossible to put them back.

The Bible tells us that The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. … No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so (James 3:6, 8-10).

May our constant prayer be like the psalmist, Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).

On Sunday Morning

JFK

Nearly a decade before I was born, President John Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address: My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

In America, this attitude has become a platitude. Kennedy’s words are long forgotten as people routinely fight each other to get more rather than to consider what they may freely contribute.

Sadly, this same mentality pervades the church set. We ask: What can I get by going to church? What will God, or the church, or the pastor, or the musicians, or the people there give to me today?

People attend church for the social experience. They seek a smiling face, friendship or a handout. They want heart-stirring music, an emotional charge, or a platform for income equality and gender-fluid politics. Others make it a cover of godliness to hide a lust for material possessions or a place to lurk after vulnerable, hurting people.

The Bible portrays the Church as a spiritual organism in a material world. It pictures the Son of God coming to Earth to reveal the Father and be the redemption for man’s sin. Christ’s mission wasn’t social engineering or political revolution, but ending sin and death. Jesus is eternal life rather than health or wealth here and now.

Few ever arrive Sunday morning and ask, “What will God receive from me here today?

The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).

 

The Vasa

where living begins

On August 10, 1628, after two years of work, the pride of the Swedish navy slid from its berth in Stockholm into the harbor. Dignitaries and royalty aboard the Vasa were impressed as the sails caught wind and billowed. Less than 400 feet from the shoreline, a strong gust of wind caught the ship causing it to roll over. Water rushed into the open gun ports, and the Vasa sank to the bottom of the harbor.

King Gustavus Adolphus was eager to show off the pride of Sweden and its growing military power. The Vasa was covered with intricately carved figurines, and a massive, ornate stern. The 5-deck ship, however, wasn’t fitted with ballast to keep it balanced in the water.

Sweden was so ashamed of its folly, that the ship wasn’t spoken of again. It remained at the bottom of the harbor until 1961. Today the Vasa sits in a museum in the Swedish capital.

The story of the Vasa is the story of you and me. God knows our every frailty and failure, despite the grand appearance we make to the world. We may impress others and even our self, but God knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust despite our pretensions (Psalm 103:14).

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the plunder with the proud (Proverbs 16:18, 19).

Nosegay

A 1560 painting of a boy holding a nosegay in his hand.

After the Russian ambassador met King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), he wrote, His Majesty stunk like a wild animal. King Louis bragged at the fact of only bathing twice in his entire lifetime because it was commonly believed that bathing caused illness.

For more than 500 years, Europeans ignorantly believed that washing the hands, face, and body was the source of illness and death. Superstition advised against bathing – especially in warm or hot water – because it allowed diseases to enter the body through the pores in the skin.

Instead of washing dirt, grime, filth, and disease from the body, wealthy Europeans turned to nosegay, meaning happiness for the nose. The nosegay was a small sachet of flowers and herbs, or cloth dipped in perfume, stuffed in the shirt sleeve or cleavage and sniffed when body odor became overwhelming. Rather than remove the cause of the odor, Europeans tried to cover their own stench.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to frequently wash themselves; their hands, faces, feet, and bodies. Washing the dirt, grime, and stink from the body not only prevented the transfer of disease, but was symbolic of God’s forgiveness of sin (Numbers 8:7; Psalm 51:7).

Regular washing with water and soap is necessary for bodily health, but it’s powerless to purge the soul of sin. Christians can’t ignore the moral filth of daily sin, nor attempt to mask the stench with our own works. Instead, we regularly confess our sins to the ever-forgiving God and receive His gracious cleansing.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Hyphenated Christians

Hyphenated Christians

Until recently, America has largely avoided violent internal strife because as a nation, we’ve lived simply as “Americans.” Wherever we came from, old labels were left behind and American became our identity. We even fought a great war to put an end to rising tribalism and bind ourselves together as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

Since the radical 1960s however, we are less and less “American” and a nation of tribes. “Mexican-Americans”, “Gay-Americans”, “African-Americans”, “Evangelical Americans” and the list goes on. Sometimes our tribalism is about where our ancestors came from, but more often it’s a celebration of our divisions.

This trend exists in churches today as it plagued the ancient church in Corinth two-thousand years ago.

There are no hyphenated believers in the family of God. We are not Paul-Christians or Apollos-Christians or Peter-Christians. We are either followers of Jesus, born again by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone, or we are not Christians. Our only foundation for truth, faith, and practice is the Bible or we follow a religion other than Christianity. Other divisions are phony and prideful externals, both immature and sinful (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

There is great gain in knowing the past; celebrating the best of the past and repenting of the worst, but when that past creates ungodly division among brothers, it must be put away.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ … there is one body (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 4:4).

Polishing the Brass

titanicIt was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ship in the world. Late in the evening of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg only 375 miles from the shore of Newfoundland, Canada. In less than 3 hours, 1,517 of the 2,224 crew and passengers were drowned.

The crew ignored warnings of icebergs in the area because they believed the advertisement that the ship was “unsinkable.” One passenger boarding the ship, Mrs Sylvia Caldwell, proclaimed that God Himself could not sink this ship. 

As the unsinkable Titanic sank, passengers still believed the ship could not go under the icy Atlantic Ocean. Some began playing a game of soccer with chunks of ice on the deck. The ship’s orchestra continued to play as people around them panicked. Millionaire businessman Benjamin Guggenheim took off his life vest and donned his black tie, tails, and top hat while walking the deck saying he would go down with the ship as a gentleman. Hundreds stood around a priest praying that God and Mary would save them yet did nothing to save themselves.

One thing no one did, however, was polish the brass on the sinking ship.

We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day … for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (Second Corinthians 4:16, 18).