I’m a Pretty Good Boy

My senior year of high school I took a law course. One class period we were visited by two convicted men serving time in an Oregon state prison; one for armed robbery and the other for murder.

The men talked about the conditions they faced growing up, the influences that led them to lives of crime, details of their trials, and pain of being in prison. Both asserted their innocence.

When they finished telling their stories we were allowed to ask questions. I asked: if you were a judge sitting on a trial with your exact circumstances, would you find the person guilty, and what sentence would you give?

The thief said it was an interesting question, but both refused to answer.

It’s easy for us to judge others based upon our own circumstances.

See, I’m a pretty good boy. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes over the past 50 years, but overall … you’re still a far worse a person than I am. I can think of a hundred and one reasons to condemn you and excuse myself.

God, however, doesn’t judge us by how we compare to our neighbor but according to the standard of His Law, the Bible. Where we don’t measure up, where we miss the mark, God calls it sin and sin makes us guilty before God and deserving of punishment.

The punishment for our sins? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), physical and spiritual death.

Yet God has done something remarkable. He sent His beloved Son to the earth to stand in your place at the sentencing hearing. Yes, you are guilty, but Jesus took your guilt upon Himself and died for your sins. To be saved you must accept what He gave without claiming innocence, shifting blame, or trying to add any of your own merit to the court case.

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9).


A Responsibility to Help One Another

Americans are outraged at the number of poor living on our streets without food or shelter, yet individual acts of compassion are replaced with the question: why doesn’t the government fix this?

Over the past 100 years, the nations of the Western world have created extensive government programs of caring for the poor. The poor are still with us in even greater numbers despite taxpayer-funded housing, medical care, education, and even food, clothing and cell phones. No such government welfare existed in the ancient world.

In the Law of Moses, God required Israelite farmers to not harvest the edges and corners of their land. This food was to be left for the poor to collect. This system of gleaning (Lev 19:9-10) is expressed in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:2-23). Individual Israelites had an individual responsibility to help one another.

In the New Testament, God also has a means of caring for the poor in the local church. If a congregation had the means, widows could be given food under strict guidelines found in First Timothy 5:3-16. A widow had to be: (1) married only once and her husband was dead; (2) without any other living relatives or financial means of her own; (3) over the age of 60 years; (4) known for her good works; (5) above accusation of sin in the community; (6) consistent in a life of prayer; and (7) trusting in God as her provider and not expecting others to meet the need.

Women younger than 60 are commanded to remarry (1 Tim 5:14), families are to care for their own relatives (1 Tim 5:4, 8), and a widow must also be active in meeting the needs of others (1 Tim 5:10).

Why is God so strict with His rules for the Church? Doesn’t He care about people? Of course He cares, He gave His Son to die for the salvation of sinners; but the primary work of the local congregation is the spiritual ministry of teaching the Word of God – not social welfare. His rules are strict to ensure the most needy are helped. Individual Christians have an individual responsibility to help one another.

Whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).

True and Righteous Justice

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).

There was an old preacher who hated to get his photograph taken. Every year he was required to get his picture taken for his new pastor’s identification card, and every year he refused. Finally the organization had enough of his disobedience and told him that if he didn’t get his picture taken, they wouldn’t renew his license to preach.

The old man reluctantly made an appointment for a new photograph. When the day came, he arrived at the photographer’s studio with a scowl etched on his face.

The photographer did all he could to make the preacher smile. Nothing worked. Finally the photographer sat down and asked, “Sir, why are you so grouchy today?

I don’t like to get my picture taken” he groused.

I’m sorry to hear that. So what’s the problem with getting your picture taken?” asked the photographer.

The preacher gnarled, “Pictures never seem to do me justice.

The photographer looked carefully at the preacher, then stood back up behind the camera. “Sir, it’s my professional opinion that you don’t need justice … you need mercy.”

You are mistaken if you believe you will ever find justice in this world. Flawed and sinful man will only ever dispense flawed and sinful justice; true and righteous justice comes only from God.

To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth”; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).


Playing Favorites

The American phrase playing favorites means showing special treatment to one person or group rather than treating everyone the same.

We’ve all seen this happen. Politicians give special treatment to their friends. A company provides a discount to certain customers. A father shows favoritism to his daughter over his son. And it also happens in churches where some get preferred seating or have the ear of the pastor.

My favorite place to sit in a worship service is toward the back. From there I can see how the people treat one another, which reveals a lot about a congregation.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality … (James 1:26-2:1).

Lots of people say they are Christians but show no evidence of it; they hear the Word of God but don’t live it (Jas 1:25). James gives three proofs of pure religion, of true Christianity. First, a Christian guards his language, because a person who lies, swears, speaks profanity, and gossips has an empty faith (verse 26). Second, he guards widows and orphans from harm, the most vulnerable in ancient society. The word “visit” used by James means to oversee, protect, or guard (verse 27). Third, he guards himself from imitating the sin around him (verse 27).

Most of us like to hobnob with successful people, but that isn’t the Christian way. James said that the three proofs of pure religion shouldn’t come crashing down as soon as an important or wealthy person walks in on Sunday morning. Those in the church paid attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and gold rings and turned their backs on the poor. Favoritism in a church is sin (Jas 2:9).

Jesus didn’t play favorites. He spent time with the rich and the poor, famous and ordinary alike. He showed no partiality because they all needed the salvation He offered.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we ought to be no different from Him.


The Throne of His Father David

The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33).

Two thousand years ago, the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to a Son who would rule and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. This King was foreshadowed in the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs, foretold by prophets, announced by angels over Bethlehem, peeked at on the Mount of Transfiguration, proven in words and works at His First Coming, and set as a promise in a Second Coming.

Jesus was propelled forcefully by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12, 13). One of His temptations was Satan’s offer to receive all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Mt 4:8). In a moment of time (Luke 4:5) Satan showed Jesus the glories of every kingdom throughout human history. Satan continued, All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish (Luke 4:6). Jesus could have the kingdoms of this world for but a moment of worship.

God is in control of all things and nothing happens outside of His good pleasure. He ordains the leaders of every nation (Rom 13:1) and has set both national boundaries and their times (Acts 17:26), yet the governments of this world are under the leadership of the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). This is why Christians must be careful that patriotism not be our religion nor politicians our hope.

The glories of human history were offered to Jesus for a simple act of declaring the worth-ship of Satan. Instead, He went to the cross to redeem sinners. By His obedience to the Father, He will one day destroy the kingdoms of this world and create a glorious kingdom of God upon the earth that will have no end.


Justice For All

Justice is getting what you deserve.

So what do you deserve?

Coretta grew up in the back country of Virginia during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. She was politically angry at what she perceived as injustice against herself, her family, and her black ancestors. She’d lived for the fight of justice.

One Sunday morning I was preaching from the Biblical Book of Philemon. It’s the story of a runaway slave in ancient Rome, being sent back to his master by the Apostle Paul, and how both men should act to reflect Christ Jesus.

In my sermon I stressed the fact that Paul never urged either man to demand justice, but to show mercy. Getting what we deserve from God means eternity in the Lake of Fire, for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As sinners, eternal death is what we deserve. But God, who is rich in mercy … made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4, 5). Mercy is compassion, pity, love-in-action.

Coretta interrupted my sermon. Standing, tears rolling down her face she said, “Pastor, all my life I’ve been angrily demanding justice from politicians and people, but what I’ve really been needing is mercy. May God have mercy on me, a sinner!

No matter who you are, you will never experience justice in this world; even in America. Do you really want what you deserve? Seek ye first justice instead of righteousness. Demand what you think you deserve. Stir up strife and hatred in the name of justice. After all is said and done, you’ll be let down because true justice only comes from God who will make it certain in His day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Desire mercy.


Something Juicy to Share About You

The US Constitution lists a series of ten fundamental rights protecting citizens from the government. Five of these one-sentence rights deal specifically with criminal charges. The Founding Founders insisted in the fundamental tenant that everyone is legally innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Simply, this means that you could be caught in the middle of a street, covered in blood, standing on a dead body with a smoking gun in your hand, and legally you must be considered and treated as innocent until you are proven guilty in a trial before a jury of your equals. That’s a fundamental right of everyone standing on US soil – citizen or visitor.

The Bible says:

He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:13, 17).

Gossip is the sharing of personal information about someone that portrays him in a negative light. Often that information is shared to destroy the reputation of someone or to make the gossiper look better than he really is.

We’ve all been the focus of gossip. Whether the gossip is true or untrue, the one being spoken about ends up being accused, convicted, and condemned before the evidence is ever heard.

The Bible condemns gossip and demands that no accusations be accepted against anyone as true without the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 7:6; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-20).

Reject a gossiper  (Galatians 5:14-15). If you don’t, remember that the one gossiping may have something juicy to share about you too.


Voting and the Will of God

Next week, like every November, Americans go to the polls to vote.

A 20-something woman posted on Facebook, almost bragging, that she wont vote because elections never go the way she wants. I replied to her and was immediately unfriended. Let me share with you how I replied to her.

If God is sovereign, and He appoints our leaders according to the pleasure of His good will, why should you vote?

First, God placed you in a democratic nation where you have a right and responsibility to participate in the choosing of your leaders. He could have placed you in a dictatorship. Not exercising your rights shows your lack of thankfulness for where God has placed you and His choice of government for you.

Second, God uses elections as evidence of what’s in our hearts. He takes note of the choices we make when we vote, and one day we will be required to give an answer as to why we voted for a certain candidate or a certain proposed law. Our choices either condemn or affirm our faith.

Third, God works His providential will through people whether your guy wins or loses. To not vote is just as sinful as voting for ungodly laws or ungodly leaders.

Fourth, elections are not always fair and seldom turn out the way we want; but life is not about fairness or what we want. That is selfishness and as Christians we seek and desire what our sovereign Lord wants. Banks are corrupt. Bankers cheat and steal. Banks get robbed and people die, but you don’t avoid using the bank.

Fifth, leaders who quit in the midst of a difficult election and people who purposely don’t vote reveal something of their character: they are unreliable. They cannot be trusted to persevere in the midst of difficulties and hard choices.

Sixth, if you choose to not vote as a means of protest, remember who you are actually protesting: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2).

Go and vote according to your conscience as it is informed and shaped by the Word of God and thereby do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).


Social Injustice and Our Message

As Christians, our primary ministry on this earth is to share the good news of Jesus to a broken, dead, and dying world.

We can’t fix the brokenness of a society. No political party or particular candidate can create a nation of godliness. There has never been a social justice campaign resolve age-old hatred and bigotry or save an innocent life from a corrupt police officer. Protests and chants in California don’t put food in the bellies of hungry African children or achieve equality for women in the Muslim world.

Too many Christians are distracted by the symptoms of sin around us and have ignored and even rejected the cause and remedy of all that ails the human race. Sin brings separation and death. It causes the separation of husbands and wives, parents and children, black and white, rich and poor, Kenyans and Canadians. Sin kills relationships and eats away at nations. The only answer for death is life, and life is only possible through Jesus Christ, the Prince of life (Acts 3:15).

After the massacre in Las Vegas in early October, my wife sorrowed over the loss of 59 lives. I agreed and then reminded her that in all likelihood, most of the thousands at the concert that night and survived were unsaved and would end up in the Lake of Fire. That is the greatest tragedy.

Salvation in Jesus must be our message to our hurting world.

These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).