Author Archives: Carol

Limits of Freedom – Aug. 12, 2018

I had a good friend named Kevin growing up, who used to love to say, “There is nothing better in life than food.” He loved all you can eat buffets. To add insult to injury, Kevin was over 6 feet tall and thin as a rail.

I am sure he would love ‘the current market trend we are in’. Red Robin is offering bottomless or unlimited steak fries. I also heard McDonalds will soon be testing that market.

Steak-n-Shake offers a time of unlimited pancakes.

Some pizza restaurants and the Olive Garden offer unlimited salad and breadsticks. I know Pizza Hut in Ft. Wayne has an all you can eat pizza buffet on Wednesdays. I guess, Applebee’s also has a time of unlimited chicken, riblets and fries. Americans love food!

How many French Fries do you think the average American eats in a year? 29 pounds. The amount of freedom one has to eat, and eat, and eat is staggering. Once you pay the initial cost, you can eat as much as you want, as often as you want, in whatever order you want (get desert first!) It’s a glutton’s dream!

Doctors and nutritionists tell us that ‘this kind of freedom’ is making us sick and even killing us. Now, here in America, it is kind of risky to talk about ‘freedom’ because we are also obsessed with it. Like our food, freedom is our mantra. Don’t you dare try to limit’ anyone’s freedom.

We are, of course, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have free speech, free exercise of religion, freedom to assemble – and freedom of the press. And everyone knows we are endowed by our Creator with certain ‘unalienable Rights’; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Every 4th of July and every Memorial Day we are reminded, that freedom isn’t free. Many have died so we could have our freedom. Other nations long to come to America, so they can be free. Ours is a land of opportunity, right? Freedom abounds, well….Absolute freedom ends in chaos and anarchy.

Imagine if everyone did what they wanted, with no rules. Imagine no laws to stop others from stealing, becoming violent – or from murder.

Biologist and writer Thomas Huxley once said, “A man’s worst difficulties begin – when he is able to do as he likes.”  Roman Statesman and lawyer Cicero back in 63 BC wrote, “We are in bondage to the law – ‘in order that we may be free’.”

The truth is, you can do pretty much what you want in this country, but there are consequences.      Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes explained, “Certainly, we have free speech – but your freedom has limits, – you are not free to ‘falsely shout fire’ in a crowded cinema.” Falsely is the Key Word!

You are not free to spread hate speech, pass on bomb threats, assemble a large crowd without a permit – and just try ‘not paying your taxes sometime’. A civil society must have laws and rules.

Ironically, this was the discussion that Paul was having with the Corinthians in his first letter.

Some of the folks found freedom in Christ and they wanted absolute freedom. Others were rule followers and they advocated strict laws and guidelines.

The original discussion centered around; if believers should eat meat sacrificed to idols and other gods. Jews and Gentiles had very different approaches. The question they really wanted to know was — how much freedom does a believer really have?

If Jesus Christ set us free, aren’t we free indeed? Shouldn’t believers be free from all restrictions and all consequences. Didn’t Paul himself say ‘that he is no longer bound by the law?’ Some believers, then literally assumed that freedom meant ‘an absence of limitations’. They believed, since they were forgiven and the slate was wiped clean, they were free to do whatever they wanted – whenever they wanted.

If you pull out your dictionary, freedom is defined as having the power or right to act, speak, or think ‘as one wants’ without hindrance or restraint. This is exactly what they wanted. But, is this ‘really what we mean’ when we talk about a believer’s understanding of freedom?

In fact, this was not a new argument, Paul and the other disciples had been addressing it ‘in almost every church they had established’. The apostle Peter explicitly warns believer’s in

1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free men, – but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; – live as servants of God.” 

Peter goes on to explain in 2 Peter 2:19 that, “These false teachers promise freedom, while they themselves are slaves to depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”

English Author and social critic Os Guinness said, “The rewards of freedom are always sweet, but its demands are stern, ‘for at its heart is the paradox’ that the greatest enemy of freedom – is freedom.” 

And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

When folks talk about freedom today, they often talk about doing whatever they want, often at the expense of others. In other words, they are saying, “I’m not accountable to you or anyone.” They believe they are masters of their own destiny. And unbelievers often criticize people of faith for wanting to ‘limit them’.

In the midst of this discussion Paul writes these amazing words, “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23)   

Scholars are torn on how to interpret this passage and so they do it in ‘one of two ways’. Some explain, “You say, everything is permissible…but in reality, it is not.” Others say that Paul is agreeing with them, “You are right, everything is permissible, but…” I tend to lean towards the later.

It is true that ‘we can do anything’, but not everything is good for us. While we can do anything, there are often consequences that we may not like.

Then Paul finishes with these words, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)  It sounds a-little-like what Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” We call that the Golden Rule.

A Biblical understanding of freedom is centered in the work and passion of Jesus. We were, essentially, set ‘free from sin’, so that we are then ‘free to love others’. In other words, Freedom is balanced with restraint, responsibility, love and mutual respect. Or as my grandmother used to say, “Your freedom ends – where mine begins.” Love requires this.

The Corinthian Christians were focused on their “own rights” and “goals.” They did not consider how their actions might cause harm to others. Just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it is beneficial or constructive. Before we choose to do what we want, we might stop and ask ourselves; is it moral, is it legal and is it ethical. And finally, is what I am doing bringing glory to God.

In 1774, US Congressman Nathaniel Niles wrote, “By neglecting to embrace the gospel, we convert civil liberty, which is in itself, a delicious kind of food, into a slow poison…”

And as the Chaplin to the US Senate Peter Marshall explained, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please – but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

Everyone raised in Sunday school knows “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) and “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1); we conveniently forget that freedom does not guarantee an easy life, – that freedom often demands change – and that ‘the price of freedom’ came at a very high cost for Jesus.

And even though Christ was free, Philippians 2:6-8 tells us, “Christ Jesus, who, ‘being in very nature God’, did not consider ‘equality with God something to be grasped’, but made himself nothing, – taking the very nature of a servant, – being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Paul reminds us then, in 1Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” – and I might add, also with your life. Paul asks us if we are using our freedom to build up others instead of tearing them down.

Those who wanted complete freedom should not be using it ‘in a way to hurt others’. Likewise, those who were so ‘bound by the law’; could also made life miserable for others. Paul was saying, ‘find a more loving answer’. That is where grace comes in. The limit to liberty is love. We should stand by ‘what is essential’ – but not fight over the non-essentials in life. And our rights should never trample another’s rights.

Sadly, many outside the church and some inside don’t get it. They say, ‘we are not really free unless we can do whatever we want’, take whatever we want, or say whatever we want.

Let me just remind us all, Jesus did not come to take away the law – but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus and Paul indicated that ‘the law was fulfilled by love’. “Loving God and loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the law” Romans 13:10.

Finally, Paul was reminding them and us that personal freedom is not the greatest concern of the Christian life – instead, doing everything for the Glory of God – and seeking the good of others (so that they might be saved) is.     If this is our goal, then sometimes we must sacrifice some of our freedoms for the good of others.

In 1948, the United States joined 48 other nations in signing ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ in Paris. According to the Human Freedom Index, which presents the state of human freedom in the world based on ‘a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom’, America is currently the 23rd freest country in the world.

While we pride ourselves in upholding freedom, the United States has lost ground ‘when it comes to protecting the rights of children, the elderly, the disabled and the poorest of the poor’. Many believe this is true because we have shifted toward being ‘a more secular nation’.

Others believe it is true because the church has become silent and too inner focused. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 8:9, “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block for others.” Then at the end of the chapter he writes these words,

“So, ‘if what I eat causes another believer to fall into sin’, I will ‘never eat meat again as long as I live’, for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”  (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Those are amazing words of love. You see, Paul understood that ‘no one is truly free while others are still in bondage’. I pray we can all live life with the same conviction that Paul had.

Your assignment is…Spend some time this week thinking about ‘what you might sacrifice’, so others may ‘simply live’. Then, live as Christ would live, as a servant, willing to make those sacrifices.

Amen.

 

 

Seeking Spiritual Discipline – Aug. 5, 2018

On Patriot’s Day, April 15, 2013, the 117th annual Boston Marathon took place on the streets in Massachusetts. Over 23,000 runners from all over the world came to compete. About 2 hours after the winner finished, ‘when many other runners were expected to be close to the finish line’, 2 pressure-cooker bombs exploded killed 3 people and injuring 264 others.

Most of us ‘have probably seen the footage’ and watched the manhunt, for the two suspects that followed. But you may not be aware of what happened ‘with the runners’ right after the explosion – or what happened on May 25th.

Despite the chaos and the confusion, some runners still finished the race that day. Apparently, they were so focused on finishing the race, ‘what had just taken place’ didn’t register. Eventually, the last mile of the race was called off – and runners were told to avoid the area.

So then on May 25th, just ‘a little over a month later’, 3,000 runners who didn’t finish the marathon came back to run the final mile. This time, the race wasn’t about registering a good time, winning, or getting their pictures in the paper, it was simply about getting to finish the race. Others came to support them and the injured.

The husband of one of the runners that day stood by the finish line cheering his wife on. As she crossed it, he ran out and hugged her and he placed a metal around her neck. A newspaper reporter nearby took their picture and asked the two of them how they felt. The wife just teared up and walked away saying nothing.

Then, her husband said, “Somebody that thinks that they’re going to stop a marathoner from running, doesn’t understand the mentality of a marathoner.”

The truth is ‘people run for all kinds of reasons’. Some people run to stay in shape, others run because ‘they love the competition’ – and still others run for the sense of accomplishment they feel when they finish. I believe that is the mentality of the marathon runner.

I had a friend who loved to run marathons. I asked him once, what motivated him to run. He said, “I love the feeling of crossing the finish line; that is my focus. I don’t worry about the runners all around me, I just set my pace, hit my stride – and think of how it will feel to finish. “That”, he said, “keeps me running.”

I have watched runners crawl or be carried over the finish line, it is that important to them. That is why so many marathoners returned on May 25th to finish the last mile of the Boston Marathon. They had not officially finished the race, until the stepped across that finish line — and they had to reach their goal.

The Apostle Paul knew something about running a good race. He had been ‘in and around Corinth’ – and he knew about their passion and their conviction. He also knew ‘what it took to prepare, run and to finish the race’.

There were 4 sites were ancient Greeks held their athletic games, Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmian, of those was one just outside Corinth. They were the precursors to the Olympic Games we watch today.

Athletes throughout Greece would converge on the Isthmian Games every two years during the spring. These games were in honor of the Greek god Poseidon. The most prominent building in Corinth was a temple dedicated to Poseidon. There was also a stadium, theater and hippodrome (used for chariot races) nearby.

The athletic events were only for the men, they included; footraces, wrestling, boxing, discus and javelin throwing, the long jump and chariot racing. Women were prohibited from participating in or watching these events – in part because the men competed in the buff, but also because the women were a distraction for the men.

Women could take part in the reading of poetry or ‘singing events’ in the theater. The entire festival only lasted for 3 days; opening with a sacrifice to Poseidon – and closing with a parade and a big feast.

Corinth did not have accommodations for such a large crowd, so many people came and pitched tents in the surrounding fields. Obviously, this gave Paul work there, because he repaired and made tents.

Athletes who entered in the Greek Games were subject to a 10 month training period. They were under the direction of coaches and judges for this time. They had to observe a strict diet, exercise at the appointed times in the gymnasium and get the necessary rest.

They were ‘to live in isolation from their wives’ and were denied all the pleasant things of life. This was so that they could concentrate on being ‘in the best physical and mental condition possible’. If the athlete did not train according to the rules he was disqualified.

The Greek word for victory is ‘Nike’. The slogan for Nike is “Just do it” which indicates ‘to just abandon everything else’ and give it all you’ve got.

Winners received a crown of laurel branches or olive branches; the original crown was made from celery. They also received a ‘lifetime exemption from’ paying taxes and serving in the military. And statues of the winners were erected and lined the road to the stadium.

The analogy of comparing “athletic completion” to “Christian living” is a theme often repeated in scripture. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:31 reads that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk – and not be faint.”

Paul urges the Galatians to keep running the good race and not to allow others to “cut in on” their race – or to keep them from obeying the truth. (Galatians 5:7)

And near the end of his earthly life and ministry, he tells the young pastor, Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Because Paul knows the Corinthians are motivated by competition, he writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24)

Now, while ‘the hope for a prize is always before our eyes’, Paul’s real focus is on ‘how to run the race’. If you want to win, solid preparation is the key to success. In 1976, Indiana University won the NCAA National Title. When interviewed about their success, coach Bobby Knight said, “The will to succeed is important – but ‘what is more important is’ the will to prepare.”

Back when I worked at the hospital, we had to practice CPR regularly. The thing is, when it comes time to actually doing CPR, there is no time to think – it must come naturally – and that is exactly the point. Being prepared is key!

Everyone who competes in the games or lives the Christian life must go into strict training, Paul is saying. The preparation must be all-consuming, relentless, focused, determined and intentional. The battles are real – and the outcome matters.

The great Brazilian soccer player Pelé once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

Our role model was Jesus himself. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 50:7 reads “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” Meaning he was steadfast, unswerving and headed toward the cross; that was his only goal. Jesus knew that to finish well, he had to ‘keep his focus on the finish line’. Then, he was able to say, “It is finished”.

In the Olympic Games, there is only one gold metal winner, but our task is to encourage others to run with us so they will also win the prize that will never wither or fade. Our hope is to see all finish well.

1972 Olympia runner Steve Prefontaine is considered by many to be one of the most inspired runners of all time. He had ‘a steal will’ and an unbending drive to succeed. Steve won 120 of the 153 races he ran. He once said, “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”

Paul also reminds us Hebrews 12:1-2a, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders – and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance ‘the race marked out for us’, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

Paul wants us to exercise self-control and to not be mastered by our appetites, cravings or impulses. Instead, he is implying, we should ‘seek deeper spiritual disciplines’ that will keep us on course and serving God with our bodies, minds and souls. We do not run for our own glory – but to glorify the one who created us.

And if we hold onto Christ, like Paul, one day we can say,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

In a misguided and hurting world, imagine what could happen if we all focused on Jesus and his ‘Good News’.

“He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 2:14)  Hope is greater than hate, love defeats selfishness, and grace rescues the sinner.

Your assignment is…strengthen your walk and begin to run. We do that by studying our Bibles; come to Paul’s Bible study before worship. Join us on Friday nights at 6:30pm for prayer. Join a group of Christians who are serving others for Christ.

Focus on ‘the life Jesus has for you’ and life it abundantly. I think you will find that that is a race worth preparing for and running.

Amen

Honor God With Your Body – July 29, 2018

We are a nation of passions. Researchers list the top three we struggle with are; the desire for wealth, over indulgence in food and strong sexual desires. We are a nation of consumers. Few countries advertise like we do. But we are also a nation that is obsessed with sex and sexuality. We went from Puritan roots – to almost anything goes today.

It is easy to look back and see that sex or at least the suggestion of sex has always been a part of our culture. But the current attitude is no longer shock, it is acceptance.

Now, some people have the mistaken Idea that God and Christians are anti-sex, but that is far from the truth. God created our passions, and he created our sexuality. He knows how powerful and wonderful they are.

The problem develops, when they are taken ‘out of the proper context’. God’s design for sex is meant to be bonded with love, not lust. When it is taken ‘out of the proper context’, sex becomes degrading, shameful, hurtful and leaves us with an abundance of pain and guilt.

No one understood this better than the Apostle Paul who was preaching in the early church. He addressed it over and over again; specifically to the Church in Corinth and in his letter to the Romans.

In Corinth, a Roman community, the people worshiped many gods. One of them was Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of love and fertility. The temple they built ‘in her honor’, had 1000 prostitutes, but ‘they called them’ sacred priestesses.

The city of Rome was also known for its promiscuous ways. They were proud to say that ‘anything goes’. Many of the people who came to Christ had long histories in the temple with the prostitutes – and they didn’t want to give it up. Paul understood that it was a powerful addiction.

The problem was; Paul saw how this was destroying marriages and leaving families in ruins.

In his letter to the Corinthians, he states this clearly when he writes, “Do you not know ‘that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?’ For it was said, the two shall become one, in flesh.” 1 Corinthians 6:16

 The Corinthians and Romans believed that they could separate their physical actions – from their spiritual lives but they were wrong. If nothing else, history has shown us that when sexual relationships are taken out of ‘the Godly context’ (which is marriage), – then bad things usually happen. Sexual promiscuity destroys relationships, families, as well as, the body and the soul.

In 2008, the National Center for Disease Control released a study on sexually transmitted diseases. The results then were shocking. The total number of sexually transmitted infections in the United States in 2008 – was ‘over 110 million’ – and costs to the American people toped 16 Billion dollars.

Guess what, in 2016, when the last study was released, those numbers shot up to 357 million diseases spread. That number is ever more mind boggling because there were only 206.5 million people between 15 and 64 in the US.

Their study also showed that, in the 1970’s, – less than 2% of the population ‘lived together’ before marriage. According to current estimates, nearly 60% of couples do it now; with the elderly being a growing population for living together.

As one young lady wrote on the internet, “Before we plunk down our hard-earned money, we consumers like to know we will be happy with our purchases. Few people buy clothes or shoes without trying them on. And you would never expect us to buy a car ‘without a test drive’. Grocery stores offer samples, to get us to try new products, and electronic stores let us play with phones, cameras, and video games – so we know what we are getting for our money”.

She continued, “I feel, that ‘we are justified in trying out marriage’ before we commit. After all, if we are not compatible and it isn’t a marriage made in heaven, why spend ‘all that money’ for the wedding and the inevitable divorce?”  

The National Center for Healthy Living shared these statistics also from 2008. They reported that at that time, 48% of young adults were living together – with the expectation of being married within 5 years. They revisited those couples in 2016, and here are the current facts; Only 1/4th are married. 1/4th are still living together and nearly half have split up. And those that did marry have a higher rate of divorce.

Harvard University professors also did a study on ‘how casual sex affects us’. It is chronicled in the book, “Hooked; New Science on How Casual Sex is affecting our Children.” Drs. Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney recorded how sex acts affect the mind of youth and young adults.

They write; participation in sex acts ‘during the early years’ changes brain function. It interrupts the normal production of chemicals in the mind. These chemicals, when properly released, create the “monogamy syndrome” in that moment, bonding two people to one another.

But when people have ‘casual sex’, the level of conviction, trust and devotion drops dramatically. Those who have sex outside marriage are more prone to suspicion, obsession over other partners previous sex lives and lack of real trust. They call it ‘Psychological baggage’.

Now, I have to be honest, I have witnessed ‘this first hand’ on many accounts. I cannot tell you the number of people who come in for marriage counseling, – who are dealing with these latent issues. Trust, respect, honesty, shame, compassion and personal self worth – are vital to strong marriages. Many of these things are already in jeopardy when they have been breached early on in the marriage.

Let me just remind you, God does forgives all our sin, when we bring it to him in repentance. Sexual sin isn’t an unforgivable act. Although the consequences can be hard to live with, we can learn to love and trust again.

In the best seller “Not even a Hint”, Joshua Harris writes, “I’ve come to believe that lust – may be the defining struggle for our generation. Youth and young adults’ cannot avoid it, – it is everywhere. We have immediate access on our i-phones and computers.”

His conclusion, – Take Ephesians 5:3 seriously; “But among you, there ‘must not be even a hint’ of sexual immorality…”

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18; “Flee from sexual immorality.” Don’t try to control it or ask how much can you get away with. Don’t try to analyze it or understand it – just flee. Get out of any place that could draw you in. Put down the phone, leave the computer, put down the magazines, shut off the television program, or leave the person who is tempting you. Run!

One of the most memorable talks I ever heard ‘on this passage’ happened at a ‘Promise Keeper’s Rally’ in Indianapolis. The speaker was a Christian Counselor speaking on lust and sexual promiscuity. He talked about those who came to him from the age of 12 through 80.

At one point, he began to cry and his voice cracked, “Don’t think you can handle it. Don’t be the guy who thinks ‘you are in charge’. Just run!” he said this with tears streaming down his cheeks.

There is a wonderful illustration I think Paul was alluding to, in our Bible. ‘It comes to us’ from Genesis Chapter 39. Potipher’s wife tries to lure Joseph into an illicit affair. Joseph was a slave in their home and he had no recourse. Yet when ‘this wife’ grabbed his robe and asked Joseph to come to bed with her, “He left his cloak in her hand and ran from the house.”

Others like King David, Samson and Solomon should have turned away or passed up opportunities, but they didn’t. And Scripture tells us of ‘the tragic falls they had’ because they didn’t take heed.

Listen, I know how hard it is to avoid everything sexual the world throws at us. But I also know that people of faith and Christian leaders are to be held to a higher standard. We are to model Godly behavior and I have to say, it really scares me. In fact, it scares me right into the arms of Jesus.

We cannot win this fight alone. We need friends that will help ‘keep us honest’, families and wives that ‘we can trust and confide in’ and churches that teach about sexual purity. No one else in the world is going to care or hold us accountable.

It is kind of funny – in a sad way, because we have become such a health conscious society. We worry about what we eat, our exercise, looking younger and our mental well being yet we fail to stop the one thing that causes some of the most devastation.

Most of us never consider that the actions of our sex life could kill our hope, spirit, health and soul; destroy our families and impact generations to come. But there is hope. We can address this problem and we can stand firm in Christ and even run when necessary. We just have to have our eyes open and not be proud.

1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that ‘our bodies are not our own’, once we invite Christ into our lives. ‘What we do’ also affects the Spirit living within us.

I want to end with this final illustration: One of the greatest examples of a man of purity and conviction is former NBA player A.C. Green. At 6’9” – 224 pounds, Green was the epitome of strength and stamina.

He holds the NBA record for consecutive games played. He is an “iron man.” More importantly, Green was ‘an iron man in his sexual purity’. He accepted Jesus in High School and made a vow to remain a virgin until he married.

During his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, A.C.’s teammates said he’d never be able to keep his vow to save sex for marriage. “We’re going to give you six weeks,” they told A.C., according to a Sports Illustrated article.

They actually sent beautiful women ‘his way’ just to tempt him. Women even came into the locker room while he was changing. He said ‘it was embarrassing’ and he kept thinking, “What would God want me to do?” When he married at the age of 38, he was still a virgin. In the fast and loose world of the NBA, where gorgeous young women are a constant temptation, that’s a remarkable record.

“Abstinence before marriage is something I very much believe in,” A.C. said. “Responsibility is the main issue, being responsible for the decisions that you make, and realizing that every decision has consequences.”

“It wasn’t a popular decision then, just like it can be an unpopular decision now. It didn’t always make me more friends. But the friends I have were ‘true friends’. True to themselves and true to me. We know ‘each other’s goals and dreams’ and we encourage each other to achieve them.

“It wasn’t easy. But every single day I say ‘yes’ to abstinence, it became that much easier. If you make a decision, and you practice it, that practice turns into a habit and the habit becomes a lifestyle.”

Today, Green has ‘his own ministry’ that teaches abstinence in the public schools. He also is a sought after speaker for men’s groups on living faithfully and on protecting your marriage. If A.C. Green can be sexually pure living life as an NBA player, by God’s grace, we can remain pure and keep our lives pure also.

It should call ‘us to stop and reflect’ on this question, “What lives are we living while we believe no one is looking?” Then we need to remember that God is always watching – and so are others.

Your assignment…is too live out a life of honor and respect for the Lord.

I pray it may be so for all of us.

Amen

Fools For Christ – July 22, 2018

We are a nation of passions. Researchers list the top three we struggle with are; the desire for wealth, over indulgence in food and strong sexual desires. We are a nation of consumers. Few countries advertise like we do. But we are also a nation that is obsessed with sex and sexuality. We went from Puritan roots – to almost anything goes today.

It is easy to look back and see that sex or at least the suggestion of sex has always been a part of our culture. But the current attitude is no longer shock, it is acceptance.

Now, some people have the mistaken Idea that God and Christians are anti-sex, but that is far from the truth. God created our passions, and he created our sexuality. He knows how powerful and wonderful they are.

The problem develops, when they are taken ‘out of the proper context’. God’s design for sex is meant to be bonded with love, not lust. When it is taken ‘out of the proper context’, sex becomes degrading, shameful, hurtful and leaves us with an abundance of pain and guilt.

No one understood this better than the Apostle Paul who was preaching in the early church. He addressed it over and over again; specifically to the Church in Corinth and in his letter to the Romans.

In Corinth, a Roman community, the people worshiped many gods. One of them was Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of love and fertility. The temple they built ‘in her honor’, had 1000 prostitutes, but ‘they called them’ sacred priestesses.

The city of Rome was also known for its promiscuous ways. They were proud to say that ‘anything goes’. Many of the people who came to Christ had long histories in the temple with the prostitutes – and they didn’t want to give it up. Paul understood that it was a powerful addiction.

The problem was; Paul saw how this was destroying marriages and leaving families in ruins.

In his letter to the Corinthians, he states this clearly when he writes, “Do you not know ‘that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?’ For it was said, the two shall become one, in flesh.” 1 Corinthians 6:16

The Corinthians and Romans believed that they could separate their physical actions – from their spiritual lives but they were wrong. If nothing else, history has shown us that when sexual relationships are taken out of ‘the Godly context’ (which is marriage), – then bad things usually happen. Sexual promiscuity destroys relationships, families, as well as, the body and the soul.

In 2008, the National Center for Disease Control released a study on sexually transmitted diseases. The results then were shocking. The total number of sexually transmitted infections in the United States in 2008 – was ‘over 110 million’ – and costs to the American people toped 16 Billion dollars.

Guess what, in 2016, when the last study was released, those numbers shot up to 357 million diseases spread. That number is ever more mind boggling because there were only 206.5 million people between 15 and 64 in the US.

Their study also showed that, in the 1970’s, – less than 2% of the population ‘lived together’ before marriage. According to current estimates, nearly 60% of couples do it now; with the elderly being a growing population for living together.

As one young lady wrote on the internet, “Before we plunk down our hard-earned money, we consumers like to know we will be happy with our purchases. Few people buy clothes or shoes without trying them on. And you would never expect us to buy a car ‘without a test drive’. Grocery stores offer samples, to get us to try new products, and electronic stores let us play with phones, cameras, and video games – so we know what we are getting for our money”.

She continued, “I feel, that ‘we are justified in trying out marriage’ before we commit. After all, if we are not compatible and it isn’t a marriage made in heaven, why spend ‘all that money’ for the wedding and the inevitable divorce?”  

The National Center for Healthy Living shared these statistics also from 2008. They reported that at that time, 48% of young adults were living together – with the expectation of being married within 5 years. They revisited those couples in 2016, and here are the current facts; Only 1/4th are married. 1/4th are still living together and nearly half have split up. And those that did marry have a higher rate of divorce.

Harvard University professors also did a study on ‘how casual sex affects us’. It is chronicled in the book, “Hooked; New Science on How Casual Sex is affecting our Children.” Drs. Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney recorded how sex acts affect the mind of youth and young adults.

They write; participation in sex acts ‘during the early years’ changes brain function. It interrupts the normal production of chemicals in the mind. These chemicals, when properly released, create the “monogamy syndrome” in that moment, bonding two people to one another.

But when people have ‘casual sex’, the level of conviction, trust and devotion drops dramatically. Those who have sex outside marriage are more prone to suspicion, obsession over other partners previous sex lives and lack of real trust. They call it ‘Psychological baggage’.

Now, I have to be honest, I have witnessed ‘this first hand’ on many accounts. I cannot tell you the number of people who come in for marriage counseling, – who are dealing with these latent issues. Trust, respect, honesty, shame, compassion and personal self worth – are vital to strong marriages. Many of these things are already in jeopardy when they have been breached early on in the marriage.

Let me just remind you, God does forgives all our sin, when we bring it to him in repentance. Sexual sin isn’t an unforgivable act. Although the consequences can be hard to live with, we can learn to love and trust again.

In the best seller “Not even a Hint”, Joshua Harris writes, “I’ve come to believe that lust – may be the defining struggle for our generation. Youth and young adults’ cannot avoid it, – it is everywhere. We have immediate access on our i-phones and computers.”

His conclusion, – Take Ephesians 5:3 seriously; “But among you, there ‘must not be even a hint’ of sexual immorality…”

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18; “Flee from sexual immorality.” Don’t try to control it or ask how much can you get away with. Don’t try to analyze it or understand it – just flee. Get out of any place that could draw you in. Put down the phone, leave the computer, put down the magazines, shut off the television program, or leave the person who is tempting you. Run!

One of the most memorable talks I ever heard ‘on this passage’ happened at a ‘Promise Keeper’s Rally’ in Indianapolis. The speaker was a Christian Counselor speaking on lust and sexual promiscuity. He talked about those who came to him from the age of 12 through 80.

At one point, he began to cry and his voice cracked, “Don’t think you can handle it. Don’t be the guy who thinks ‘you are in charge’. Just run!” he said this with tears streaming down his cheeks.

 There is a wonderful illustration I think Paul was alluding to, in our Bible. ‘It comes to us’ from Genesis Chapter 39. Potipher’s wife tries to lure Joseph into an illicit affair. Joseph was a slave in their home and he had no recourse. Yet when ‘this wife’ grabbed his robe and asked Joseph to come to bed with her, “He left his cloak in her hand and ran from the house.”

Others like King David, Samson and Solomon should have turned away or passed up opportunities, but they didn’t. And Scripture tells us of ‘the tragic falls they had’ because they didn’t take heed.

Listen, I know how hard it is to avoid everything sexual the world throws at us. But I also know that people of faith and Christian leaders are to be held to a higher standard. We are to model Godly behavior and I have to say, it really scares me. In fact, it scares me right into the arms of Jesus.

We cannot win this fight alone. We need friends that will help ‘keep us honest’, families and wives that ‘we can trust and confide in’ and churches that teach about sexual purity. No one else in the world is going to care or hold us accountable.

It is kind of funny – in a sad way, because we have become such a health conscious society. We worry about what we eat, our exercise, looking younger and our mental well being yet we fail to stop the one thing that causes some of the most devastation.

Most of us never consider that the actions of our sex life could kill our hope, spirit, health and soul; destroy our families and impact generations to come. But there is hope. We can address this problem and we can stand firm in Christ and even run when necessary. We just have to have our eyes open and not be proud.

1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that ‘our bodies are not our own’, once we invite Christ into our lives. ‘What we do’ also affects the Spirit living within us.

I want to end with this final illustration: One of the greatest examples of a man of purity and conviction is former NBA player A.C. Green. At 6’9” – 224 pounds, Green was the epitome of strength and stamina.

He holds the NBA record for consecutive games played. He is an “iron man.” More importantly, Green was ‘an iron man in his sexual purity’. He accepted Jesus in High School and made a vow to remain a virgin until he married.

During his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, A.C.’s teammates said he’d never be able to keep his vow to save sex for marriage. “We’re going to give you six weeks,” they told A.C., according to a Sports Illustrated article.

They actually sent beautiful women ‘his way’ just to tempt him. Women even came into the locker room while he was changing. He said ‘it was embarrassing’ and he kept thinking, “What would God want me to do?” When he married at the age of 38, he was still a virgin. In the fast and loose world of the NBA, where gorgeous young women are a constant temptation, that’s a remarkable record.

“Abstinence before marriage is something I very much believe in,” A.C. said. “Responsibility is the main issue, being responsible for the decisions that you make, and realizing that every decision has consequences.”

“It wasn’t a popular decision then, just like it can be an unpopular decision now. It didn’t always make me more friends. But the friends I have were ‘true friends’. True to themselves and true to me. We know ‘each other’s goals and dreams’ and we encourage each other to achieve them.

“It wasn’t easy. But every single day I say ‘yes’ to abstinence, it became that much easier. If you make a decision, and you practice it, that practice turns into a habit and the habit becomes a lifestyle.” 

Today, Green has ‘his own ministry’ that teaches abstinence in the public schools. He also is a sought after speaker for men’s groups on living faithfully and on protecting your marriage. If A.C. Green can be sexually pure living life as an NBA player, by God’s grace, we can remain pure and keep our lives pure also.

It should call ‘us to stop and reflect’ on this question, “What lives are we living while we believe no one is looking?” Then we need to remember that God is always watching – and so are others.

Your assignment…is too live out a life of honor and respect for the Lord.

I pray it may be so for all of us.

Amen

Is Christ Divided – July 15, 2018

A man found himself stranded on a desert island. One night, a ship came ‘very close to the island’ and they saw his signal fire. As the morning light came up, a rescue boat was sent to the island to retrieve the man. As they were gathering his things, the rescue party noticed three separate buildings.

One man inquired, “So, this is your home?” “Yes”, replied the survivor, “I built it with my own two hands. Noticing the second building, another asked, “What is that building used for?”  “Oh,” replied the stranded man, “That is my church. I built it with the sweat of my brow.”

Finally, another man asked, “So, what is that third building over there used for?” “Nothing”, replied the man, “It’s empty. That’s where I used to go to church.”

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “And I tell you, that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter is translated Kiaphas in Greek and it means rock or stone. Here, Jesus was not saying every church should be called St. Peter; instead he was referring to the testimony that Peter just gave.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus was saying, ‘On this rock, – or this foundational truth spoken by you, – I will build my church.”

Then in Acts Chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, we see the birth of the Church of Christ.  Acts 2:42-44 reads, “They devoted themselves to; the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread – and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe ‘at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles’. And all the believers meet together in one place – and shared everything they had.”    

This is what Jesus prayed for, which is recorded in John 17:23, “I in them and you in me. May ‘they’ be brought to complete unity, to let the world will know – ‘that you sent me’ and have loved them – even as ‘you have loved me’.”

I doubt Jesus ever envisioned that the Christian church would eventually be divided into 27,000 to 33,000 competing denominations across the globe, as it is today. How did this happen? Let me explain…

A couple of years ago, there was a twitter survey that asked the question, ‘What caused fights, schisms or conflicts in your church’. The responses blew up the internet. In a few cases, it had something to do with theology, but not many. Overall, it was minor things, like…

  • Several churches split because worship times changed or the temperature in the sanctuary was too hot or too cold. Others have split over moving plants, lecterns, flags or moving the piano from one side of the room to another.
  • Several churches have split over whether to have homemade food or ‘store bought food brought in’ for carry-ins. And whether drinks should be allowed in the sanctuary. One church split because ‘one member hide the vacuum cleaner from others’.
  • One church split because members could not decide ‘what was more important’; land for a cemetery – or land for a children’s playground.
  • There have been major fights began over the type of coffee served (decaf, regular, Starbucks or Folgers), – the number of stalls in a women’s restroom, – whether there ‘should be a clock in the sanctuary’, whether a file cabinet should be black or white – and over how many drawers (3 or 4) it had.
  • There have been numerous fights over the name of a room, – or which picture of Jesus should be placed in the foyer. Again, there have been many arguments over who has ‘a right to keys’, – who uses the copier or whether they will use a screen for announcements and lyrics in worship. The list is endless. I would laugh, ‘if it didn’t want to make me cry’.

But the truth is; divisions were brewing, right from the beginning of the life of the church. Most of the earliest churches had to deal with conflict and disunity. The Church at Corinth was known for being highly dysfunctional. In Paul’s first letter, he writes to the Church of God in Corinth, grace and peace – and says that he always thanks God for them. But he quickly turns to ‘the trouble’.

In verse 10 Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you ‘agree with one another so that there be no divisions among you’ and that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.”

Chloe appears to be a prominent widow in Corinth and her sons or servants carried a message to Paul ‘about her concerns’. It is clear that she was an important and a highly recognized person, for her name to be mentioned in scripture.

Corinth was a significant city in the ancient world. It sat on an isthmus between two seas, it had 2 thriving seaports on each side. Goods from Corinth were exported all over the Roman Empire. Corinth was known for its lawlessness, paganism, and for having a large community of ladies of the night. Being a catch all for scoundrels and thieves; to call someone a “Corinthian” was a terrible insult, implying they were given over to immorality and drunkenness.

So, ‘know one was surprised’ that there might be arguments in Corinth – but Paul knew it hampered their witness – and so, he tried to address it quickly. Paul writes, Vs 12-13

“What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’;  another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas or (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

 To be divided means to break down into small parts, separate, cut off, splinter or fracture. In this case, it had everything to do with the church leader. Who should they follow? Each group had its own bias and wanted to divide others. While Jesus is the ultimate authority, he does equip leaders and teachers. He used his disciples to share ‘the word’ – and uses leaders and pastors who are still called today.

  Over the years, this question has often reared its ugly head. We call it the cult of personality. Just fill in a pastor’s name _____________.

While many of these leaders are wonderful, others have taken an unfortunate fall from grace. The Apostle Paul ‘knew this could happen back then’ and he knew his own weaknesses. A real leader of God doesn’t seek to get the credit – but keeps pointing to Christ.

And when a church focuses on its own needs and desires, at the expense of others outside, it also turns away from Jesus. Minor issues become major roadblocks – and Christ becomes divided. When the heart of the Church stops being Jesus, – the life-blood stops pumping.

In their book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Philip Yancey and surgeon Paul Brand describe division in the body of Christ like this, “Using the analogy of the human body, there are some diseases that can spread infection through the body of Christ. When that occurs we start to fight among ourselves – or we lose our equilibrium and find ourselves unable to stay balanced . . .” As a result, like the body, we have a disease, a tumor, a cancer, – a mutiny that overtakes the body of Christ.

The people at Corinth no longer agreed on their own core beliefs. They were vying for control. And where ‘they used to see friends’, now all they saw were enemies. As a result of following these ‘different personalities’, the church at Corinth was deeply divided. Not because of the fault of the leaders but of the people.

 These same ‘type of squabbles’ tear apart families, marriages, businesses and long term friendships. When we ‘no longer keep the main thing, the main thing in our lives’; they often spin out of control.

Jesus said it like this in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided itself will be ruined, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

In CS Lewis’ book ‘The Screwtape Letters’ he writes, “The devil is a liar. Lies, more than anything, are central to his strategy.” The adversary wants us to bicker over minor things and drive wedges between us. He knows we are strongest when we are united and that is the last thing he wants.

The following is from a newspaper article that came out in Maryland, in August of 1999…“100 years of Christian fellowship, unity, and community outreach ended last Tuesday ‘in an act of congregational discord’. Holy Creek Baptist Church ‘was split into multiple factions’. “The source of dissension is a piano bench which still sits behind the 1923 Steinway piano to the left of the pulpit.

 “At present, Holy Creek Congregation will be having 4 services each Sunday. “Since the head pastor is not speaking to the associate pastors, each will have their own service, – which will be attended by fractioned members. The services are ‘far enough apart’ that neither group will come into contact with the other.”   

The truth is, these kinds of problems were arising in the Church in Philippi, the Church in Thessalonica – and the Church at Ephesus. Paul writes to the Church of Ephesus in Chapter 4:2-6,

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort ‘to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’. 

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

To keep our focus, we must have the mind or attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5).

One important distinction; ‘while Paul is warning us against divisions in the church’, he is not speaking against diversity. We are all different and we need all our gifts to balance the work of the church. In fact, some conflict is good; it keeps us from getting stale and complacent.

Being very concerned about ‘the rise of denominations in the church’, John Wesley tells of a dream he had. In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, “Are there any Presbyterians here?” “Yes!”, came the answer. Then he asked, “Are there any Baptists? Episcopalians? Methodists?” The answer was Yes! each time.

Very distressed, Wesley was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question,… and the answer was No! There were no Baptists, Episcopalians or Methodists in heaven. “No?”, Wesley asked, “Who then is inside?” The answer came back, “There are only Christians here.”

 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

 If we begin to see one another as God’s blessed Children, maybe we can see others in love, – the way Jesus sees us.

Your assignment is…try to see everyone you meet this week, with the eyes and the heart of Jesus. That includes family, co-workers, folks who annoy you – and even your enemies. It also includes others from different faith communities.

Focus on Christ, ‘so others will know us by our love’ and our respect for one another.

Then invite someone to join you on Sunday Morning so they may see what a united Church looks like.

1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

Amen