Meditations Toward Purity – #5 – 1 Peter 2:11

Helping you meditate on Scriptures as you pursue purity

1 Peter 2:11 – Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Passions of the flesh

What is the focal point of this verse?  The passions of the flesh (fleshly lusts, NASB).  These are desires, strong desires that originate from my body and call me to pursue eagerly the satisfaction of my desire, often paying scant attention to what boundaries I may be crossing and whose property I may be trespassing on as I run like a baying hound chasing a coon.  What comes to mind most readily is sexual desire, though Peter undoubtedly has other desires in mind as well.

Let’s go into a little more detail about these passions of the flesh.  They are:

  • Rooted in the body

They are called passions of the flesh, for bodily needs and wants are at the root of these desires. The presence and pull of these desires are inescapable, for as long as I am in my body, I will have these desires. They spring from what I am as human, and they are inextricably linked with my existence in my body.  Simply put, I cannot eliminate all desire by training myself to think differently.

  • Internally sourced, not originating externally

My desires may burst into flame in response to an external stimulus, but my desires were alight, smoldering away within me all along.  My desire does not originate in the tempting person, image or object that I encounter.  My desires are my desires, proceeding from deep within me.  Consider James 4:1, “your passions…at war within you”, or Matthew 15:19, “out of the heart come evil thoughts…” My desires leap into action when I encounter what I have been wanting, but the desire comes from within me.

  • Opposed to the Spirit

“For the desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit…”  Galatians 5:17 These passions sourced in the flesh are by nature in conflict with, in opposition to, the Spirit and the desires He engenders in us.  A cessation of these hostilities between flesh and Spirit is not possible because flesh and Spirit are intrinsically opposed to each other.  A Christian feels acutely this internal conflict.

  • Dominant in unbelievers

Paul speaks of “the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…” (Ephesians 2:3)  Unbelievers routinely follow or indulge their fleshly passions.  And these desires do not magically disappear when a sinner is converted. The transformed believer still faces old habits and a lifestyle that used to dominate his life; change is not a piece of cake.

Abstain

Now that he has identified this enemy which wages war against the soul, Peter urges his beloved brothers and sisters to take the appropriate action against this enemy, to abstain from the passions of the flesh.  To abstain means to refrain from, to keep away, or to avoid contact with or the use of something.

There is another option, of course. Peter speaks in 2 Peter 2:10 of those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion.   I face a choice. The passions are real, strong, magnetically attractive, with the pull constantly, undeniably, sometimes overwhelmingly being exerted on me.  How do I respond?  Do I keep away or give in?  Do I say “no” decisively or do I let myself be swept away?  Do I abstain or indulge?

Peter urges us to abstain, not just from fulfilling the desire (doing it) but also from indulging or giving in to experiencing the desire (delighting in it) even when we may not give in and actually commit what we want to do.  We may refuse to do what we are being tempted to do, yet we can get a certain high or pleasure just from entertaining the attraction instead of immediately turning away or shutting it down.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you  abstain from sexual immorality.  Fundamental to God’s will for His people on an individual scale is holiness, and if ever there was an area that calls for holiness, it is sexual immorality.

Which wage war against your soul

What is the big deal?  Why all the urgency and uproar over lust, something that everyone in the world just accepts as pretty normal?

Many reasons, but one is highlighted here. The passions of the flesh wage war against my soul.  In other words, my lusts actively clash with and attack my true self, my fundamental identity, the part of me that will one day give account to God and that will live forever. Why?  How?

War against my soul, because the rush of my passions dulls my desire for God, for purity, and for the unseen reality of heaven.  The taste and zing and quick high of cotton candy makes steamed broccoli seem a bit drab.

War against my soul, because the guilty after taste from my lust indulged contaminates my conscience, making me instinctively run from God rather than to God. I become reluctant to draw near to God. This is not in the best interest of my soul.

War against my soul, because my passion indulged floods my heart with shame, turning me away from God’s people instead of engaging with and rejoicing in them.

War against my soul, because in the aftermath of my lust I can’t pray, yearn for holiness or a clean heart, find delight in the Word of God, or love others with humility and purity.  I find my heart distracted, debased and derailed from faith in God.

War against my soul, because the passions of the flesh are against whatever is good for my soul.

As sojourners and exiles

My home is in heaven, where God dwells in light, perfection and purity.  I belong there.  As I travel there through this present world, I can never feel at home here.  Here the surrounding culture exalts and idealizes giving in to fleshly passions; to restrain yourself is to miss out foolishly on the fun. I am not part of this society; its customs and morals are foreign to me.  I must remember my alien status and not let myself get assimilated into the surrounding culture. Visiting foreigners are careful to retain their identity;  they do not regard themselves as a part of the host society.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Lord, I feel keenly the tug of my fleshly passions.  Help me to abstain, not to indulge or give in.  I know that as pleasurable as these desires are, they are the deadly enemy of my soul. May your Spirit work in me to choose and to do your good pleasure.

An Update on Redeemer Ann Arbor

The Timeline

August 2015 – God.  4 people.  Prayer.

April 2016 – We began meeting for public worship on Sunday evenings at Lord of Light Lutheran Church at Forest and Hill, on the edge of campus.  God blessed us in so many ways, and bit by bit we have seen progress:  people added, ongoing conversations and relationships with unbelievers, students reached, a growing sense of identity, purpose and community for our core group and more.

January 2017 – Having concluding that it is much slower to grow without a morning service, we began to look diligently for an opportunity to meet within easy walking distance of central campus in order to continue what we have begun.  This was not an easy find.

March 2017 – God provided! Marvelously! We purchased 611 ½ East William, a small historic structure built in 1878 for DKE, a fraternity on campus. The building is located where campus meets downtown, a hub of activity and foot traffic.  Considerable renovations will be performed over the next several months.  We hope to begin worship in this facility by the end of the year, if God wills.

July 16, 2017 – We begin morning services, which we are labelling Worship!  We will meet on campus at the Michigan League on the second floor at 10:30 am.   “God’s Truth for Kids with Pastor Jim,” classes for children,  will begin at 9:45.  We also will meet at Angelo’s Restaurant, 1100 Catherine, at 5 pm for a service we are labelling Equip!  The Equip! service will be followed by a meal together at 6 pm.  Taking the Great Commission seriously, we want to reach unbelievers with the gospel, but we also want to disciple many Christians that we have the opportunity to reach.  People come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and we want to equip these believers to serve God in their lives, their vocations, and their churches wherever they may go when they leave Ann Arbor.  The Equip! service will be aimed at achieving this objective.

Late 2017 – We plan to move into our newly renovated building at 611 ½ East William Street.  We look forward to the opportunities to serve Jesus and to reach people that greater accessibility and visibility will bring.

Today

This year we have been averaging 40 in attendance at our Sunday evening services.  This was our first year to reach out to students, and a number of students have come regularly this past year.  Some of them will now serve as leaders of various endeavors that we will begin in the coming school year.

Our weekly Mornings Together sessions provide opportunity for women to study, discuss and pray together.  These have been fruitful and hopeful as we have developed relationships with several unbelievers who attend regularly.  Men meet early Friday mornings; they are currently studying the book of Titus. A weekly campus study has been ongoing through the school year. Evangelistic opportunities have emerged as various relationships have developed with unbelievers.

Tomorrow

We are now in the last few sermons of a series preparing us to organize as a church as we commit ourselves to God and to each other.  We will take these steps in the next few months and move forward into a new phase of our existence.

We look forward to another school year and the opportunities that we believe God will bring for us to serve more students.

Excellent Sermon from Hosea 4

This past Sunday, Bart, preached an excellent sermon from Hosea 4 that was very convicting and encouraging.  I wanted to put his manuscript up here on the blog and encourage those who didn’t hear it to either read it here or check out the audio on the sermon tab of our website.

Here is his manuscript:

Hosea – #8

Thinking About Knowing

Hosea 4

Hosea is God’s prophet in 8th century B.C.  Sent to the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Why? What’s their condition?  What’s the problem? What is his message?

  • Worship –  Who is #1 in their lives?  Who is their god?  Should be true God, Maker of heaven and earth, Redeemer of Israel (Egypt to Promised Land). Idols. Baal.  Golden calves.
  • Sin – Morality, God’s law, right and wrong.  Hos. 4:1b-2
  • Relationship – Hosea’s marriage to promiscuous Gomer highlights this issue.  God loves Israel in a way and to a degree that is in another category from human love.  Commitment, perseverance, puts up with offenses.  God is calling Israel to return to the God who loves and Husband who is committed.
  • Knowledge –  Israel’s lifestyle, choices, direction is foolish, self-destructive, unwise, and irrational.  Not just that what you are doing is wrong, against your God, against someone who loves you, but it is stupid and suicidal.

Chapter 4 opens with “Hear the word of the Lord.”  Hosea will now preach with words.

4:1 – The Lord has a controversy…  Terminology of a lawsuit.  Broken covenant or contract between Lord and Israel.  They have egregiously, on a sustained basis, violated their part of the agreement.

Exodus 20:1 – I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me. 10 commandments.  And how is Israel doing?

There is…        (Hos. 4:2)

  • Swearing – Commandment #3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  • Lying – Commandment #9 – You shall not bear false witness.
  • Murder – Commandment #6 – You shall not murder.
  • Stealing – Commandment #8 – You shall not steal.
  • Adultery – Commandment #7 – You shall not commit adultery.
  • They break all bounds
  • Bloodshed follows bloodshed

4:3 – So the land mourns.  Tragic state of affairs.  …languish.  No one wins in this kind of society.

Problem starts with leadership.  Names priest (v. 4b – with you is my contention, O priest) and prophet (v. 5).  Again in v. 6-priest, v. 9-priest, v. 18-rulers.  They bear an extra measure of responsibility, because they have a responsibility as leaders and people naturally just follow them where they go.

But what is the problem?  Multi-dimensional, but we are going to focus on the knowledge problem. First mentioned in v. 1 – there is no knowledge of God in the land.

 

  1. The Fundamentals – “no knowledge of God in the land” – 4:1

 

Here is where the problem starts.  The fundamental issue.

What do people need to know more than anything?  Pr. 1:7  – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  Knowing who God is:  Creator, Ruler of his world, His will is always done, I am just a man, transient, subject to God, and I take my place before Him, i.e., I bow before Him and fear Him. Or more fully stated, Pr. 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  A big statement. Know God and you are well on your way in life.  Here is true wisdom and here is where true wisdom begins.

Puts me in my place.  I am not God, the purpose of my existence, the center of the universe.  There is a God, and He exists independently, outside of me.  So the world does not collapse when I am not happy.  Others do not exist to satisfy my needs.

Puts God in his place.  Because God is, there is purpose in life.  It is not random.  What happens to me is not by chance.   Life makes sense; the different parts of time and space integrate and form a unifying theme. Furthermore, God is the purpose; we live from him, for him.  There is a right and wrong, and God defines it. God is holy; this has moral demands on me.  God is love (2 weeks ago); this is very hopeful for me, for God makes a way to rescue man from his great dilemma. This changes everything.

What happens when there is no knowledge of God?  Read Hosea 4:2.  All kinds of personal and societal evils.  So there may be libraries and databases and heads full of knowledge about everything else, but if we have no knowledge of God, we’re in trouble.  Fundamental.

What is this knowledge of God?  After all, Israelites had intellectual acquaintance with monotheism, God, the five books of Moses, the sacrificial system, etc.  What were they missing?  What was God looking for when he said “no knowledge of God in the land?”

Hos. 6:3 – Let us know, let us press on to know.  Something more, something personal.

Hos. 6:6 – For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offering. This is all about what God wants, desires.  Not just commands or mandates.

Personal rather than public.

Reality rather than empty form of religion.

The egg not just the shell.

My heart rather than my hands.

Inward (what I am) rather than outward (what I do).

This knowledge of God is insight into, a belief in and a commitment to God and His way for me.

 

  1. The Consequences – “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” – 4:6

 

Priests had a particular responsibility, not just to offer sacrifices but to teach the people.  Deut. 31:9-13 – Read it once every 7 years when nation assembled at Feast of Booths so they may hear, learn, fear and observe – and their children.

So what happens when there is no knowledge of God in the land?  The consequences of ignorance of God are destruction.  A momentous matter, not simply a matter of personal preference.  Some prefer the iphone; some prefer Android.  Some wear colored socks, some white and some black.  Some eat only organic foods.  Some believe in God, some don’t.  But this is no optional matter, no mere matter of taste.

Note also, that this is not a naivete, a guiltless ignorance.  They had rejected knowledge.  Israelites with commandments, five books of Moses, worship of God, prophets, priests.  And for us as well, we have the evidence for God.  Conscience, a voice within saying this is right or this is wrong.  Creation, the world around us, itself tells a story – beauty, power, intricacy of design, the presence of love and joy and relationships.  Who is behind all this?  Someone bigger than what has been made.  What will you do with this evidence of God, this knowledge?  Will you believe it?  Or will you push it away and reject this knowledge of God?

This is the very thing Paul speaks of in Romans 1:19-21.

Knowing there is a God makes me responsible for finding out more about Him, for finding out what He expects of me and for living as He prescribes. Wisdom is living in light of God, as God would have me live (Proverbs 1), in obedience to His good Word.  Rejecting God’s wisdom, God’s will, God’s way is not in my own best interest.  Destructive.

Is. 5:13 – Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge.  They knew so much, but they didn’t know what matters.  A costly ignorance.  An ignorance with great consequence.

 

  1. The Catalyst – “whoredom, wine and new wine, which take away the understanding” – 4:11

 

Catalyst initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction. So whoredom, wine and new wine accelerate the taking away of understanding.

4:10 – “They shall eat but not be satisfied” – the hamster wheel of sin.  You run so fast but you get nowhere.  You consume sin and follow your desires.  More and more; faster and faster. No accomplishment, no satisfaction.  Wake up empty in the morning. Why is this?  They have forsaken the Lord to cherish whoredom, wine and new wine.  Cf. v. 12c – they have left their God to play the whore.  What they left and what they left it for.  What is so much better than God, so much more rewarding, fulfilling, exciting, pleasing?  Sex, alcohol and spiritual adultery, i.e., idolatry.

  • Whoredom, sexual pleasure outside the covenant of marriage. Adultery, addiction to sex and pornography.  This is what happened to Gomer.  This is the scourge of 21st century Western civilization. It becomes the major source of pleasure in life, the only source of happiness and satisfaction, the only relief in boredom and fear and sadness.  You end up with nowhere else to turn other than sex or porn.  Sex becomes your god.

 

  • Alcohol or substance misuse or abuse is parallel. What is a legitimate source of joy for the heart of man takes a dominant place in his life.

 

  • And idolatry is in the same category. Idolatry, spiritual adultery, loving and making something else the focus of my life instead of God, is the point of the book of Hosea.  This is what God was saying to Israel through Hosea marrying and loving Gomer, the adulterous wife;  your love affair with your idols is leaving Me (your God) for another lover. The question is what do you worship?  What controls your heart? What is your north star, giving direction to the rest of your life?  Could be money, GPA, publications, athletic achievement, a relationship, vocational success.

 

Whoredom, wine and new wine (adultery and sexual addiction, alcohol and substance misuse, and idolatry) take away the understanding.  These practices begin as a choice; I’ll try this. But they end up running your life, controlling you.  You become a slave to your desires, to your fixation.  They take away the understanding, the ability to make reasonable decisions.  You lose context (life-context, the bigger picture) in your thinking because you are so fixated on one thing, the only thing you can think about, the only thing visible through your windshield, the thing your thoughts keep returning to, the thing that drives you in life.  And you make stupid decisions, hurting yourself, hurting the ones you love, hurting your future, diverting your attention from other things that matter in life, depleting your energies and resources.  It’s a knowledge problem, and your understanding is being taken away.

2 Tim. 3:6 – led astray by various passions.

And if your pursuit is secret, you come to believe that no one will find out, and you become reckless and comfortable taking outsized risks.  Your understanding is being taken away.

Sexual addicts, alcohol and substance addicts, create their own fantasy world and inhabit it (all by themselves).  They define what is important (god) – the satisfaction of their big desire, how good it is (no matter they feel empty or guilty the next morning), what are acceptable risks to take to get what they want, how much the rest of life matters that they are sacrificing in their pursuit of their pleasure, and how easily they can leave this lifestyle at any time they want.  They lie to themselves so frequently and so extensively that they begin to believe themselves and can no longer distinguish truth from lie.  Take away the understanding.

And once the understanding is gone, once you are enslaved to your passions, a return to rationality, to wisdom is rare.

Proverbs 5:11f.  the young man who pursues the forbidden woman.  “At the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, ‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!  I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.’ ”

Proverbs 2:19 – forbidden woman.  None who go to her come back nor do they regain the paths of life.

2 Peter 2:14 – false teachers – They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.  NASB – that never cease from sin.  Can’t stop going back.

Proverbs 23:27 – For a prostitute is a deep pit; and adulteress is a deep well.  Not easy to get out once you have fallen in.

Hosea 5:4 – Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God, for the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know the Lord.  Their passions and sins have blinded them to reality, that it was God giving them all their good things all along.  Hos. 2:8 – she did not know that it was I who gave her…  Hos. 11:3 – they did not know that I healed them

Remember they have forsaken the Lord to cherish whoredom, wine and new wine.  Not only what they love, but what they leave.  What you have sacrificed, thrown away, walked away from?

 

  1. The Outcome –  “a people without understanding shall come to ruin” 4:14

 

So where does it all end up?  Ruin.  For Israel, they were on a collision course with the judgment of God, the coming of the Assyrian armies to destroy their nation.  It didn’t have to be this way.  God was pleading with them to turn from their idolatry and their sins and to return to him.  God was warning them of the consequences of continuing in this lifestyle.  But they couldn’t see it.  They were blinded by their sins.  They had lost understanding.

And what about you, today, here in Ann Arbor in 2017?  Where are you with God?  He has given you evidence that He is there, your conscience, the world around, His work in your life.  Do you know Him?  Would you begin seeking, Him?

Are you trapped in a course of life in which some idol, sex, alcohol, a substance is taking away your understanding?  Jesus says that he who commits sin is the slave of sin (Jn. 8:34).  But he also says that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (Jn. 8:36).  Jesus came to bring light into darkness, knowledge for ignorance, freedom for captivity, forgiveness for guilt, sight for blindness.

 

Are You a Victim of Injustice?

Are you a victim of injustice?  Have you been abused? Forgotten? Betrayed by those who should have loved and protected you? Falsely accused of things, even of crimes, that you have not done?

You are not alone.

The Bible tells the stories of other victims of tragic injustice:  Hagar, the Israelites in Egypt, and many others.  But perhaps the rawest example of all is Joseph, the man whom history judges as blameless yet who undergoes wave after wave of injustice that threaten to pull him under their sweeping power and drown him.  So how does Joseph respond to such blatant injustices?  And how does it all end for him?

Sold into Slavery by His Own Brothers – Genesis 37

Joseph came from a big family with 11 brothers and sisters.  In big families, you may fight with your brothers, but you stand together against the world.  But there was no such bond of loyalty in Joseph’s family.  His brothers were jealous of him (v. 11).  In fact, they hated him (v. 4, 8) so intensely that they couldn’t even speak civilly to him (v. 4).  Constantly harboring this hostility, when they ended up in a remote and lonely moment with Joseph, they conspired to kill him (v. 18-20).  Reuben, his oldest brother, talked them out of murder, but the brothers ended up selling Joseph as a slave to a band of Midianite traders passing by on their way to Egypt.

From favored son to anonymous slave in a foreign country, target of the malevolent jealousy of his own flesh and blood brothers, Joseph is the victim of injustice.

Falsely Accused and Imprisoned by His Boss – Genesis 39

Upon arrival in Egypt, Joseph is promptly sold to Potiphar, a ranking member of the palace guard under Pharaoh.  Joseph had been a very privileged young man while growing up, but we see nothing of narcissistic entitlement in Joseph when he loses his pampered position in the family.  Joseph does not retreat into self-pity or become bitter at God and the world for how they have treated him.  Rather, it appears that Joseph is energetic, entirely trustworthy and committed to the success of his new master more than to his own personal prestige or advantage.  Through hard work, integrity and wise choices, Joseph earns increasingly more responsibility and authority in Potiphar’s household until he reaches the post of overseer of the entire household.

At this point, Potiphar’s wife notices the handsome and successful young Joseph and repeatedly attempts to seduce him.  But Joseph consistently resists her advances and maintains his integrity and purity.  Spurned, she lies about Joseph to her husband, falsely accusing him of attempting to rape her.  Potiphar angrily has him thrown into prison.

Unjustly accused of the very thing that he had steadfastly refused doing, he is stripped of all his privileges and is chained and imprisoned (Psalm 105:17-18). Once again he is alone in a foreign country, now in prison, yet the Lord is with him, and this makes all the difference.

Broken Promises and Forgotten in Prison – Genesis 40

Does Joseph bury himself in bitterness, resentment and anger?  Does he give up on God, on the system , and on ever trying again?  Far from it. He fully engages himself in his new life in prison, exhibiting the same kind of wise, trustworthy, selfless service that he had in Potiphar’s household, and God is with him (39:21).  The chief prison warden notices the new prisoner and gives him increasingly more responsibility until Joseph is in charge of the entire prison (39:22) with complete executive authority over the entire place (39:23).

Sometime later, two members of Pharaoh’s court are confined to prison and have dreams that foreshadow their fates.  Joseph interprets their dreams, correctly predicting that the chief cupbearer will be restored to his favored position before Pharaoh and that the chief baker will be executed, all within the next three days.  Joseph asks the cupbearer not to forget him when he is restored to Pharaoh’s service and to intercede for Joseph.  Yet when the cupbearer is released from prison and restored to the court, he completely forgets Joseph (40:23). So, Joseph’s hope fades and he languishes for two more years in prison.

How does Joseph process all this injustice?  How does it influence and shape his outlook?  The answer is clearly seen when Joseph is the chief executive of Egypt and his brothers stand before him (45:4-15).  He is not a prisoner of his past; he has no thoughts of revenge.  Why and how?  The key is Joseph’s faith.  Joseph looked behind and beyond the people who trashed him and the injustice of it all to the God arranging these events.  And for just this reason he was freed from fixation both on himself and on the pain and injustice that was forced upon him.  Joseph knew, and he would not let go of his belief, that God was in charge of his life events and destiny (“it was not you, but God” – 45:5,7,8). Joseph was fully aware of their motives (“you meant evil against me”), but he lifts his eyes to God who overrules all their treacherous designs with His good purposes (50:19-21). Joseph believed that all he had experienced was the best path, wisely chosen by a gracious God for good.   Joseph maintained his faith that God is God, that God is good, and that God was Lord of his personal history.  Victim of injustice?  Or precious child of God, for whom God worked it all together for good?

The Christmas Story

Galatians 4:4, 5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…

The story starts with God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Everything is perfect, beautiful, and right.  Man and woman are naked and not ashamed, fully in tune with the beautiful world around them, with each other, and with God.  Everything is good, very good.

And then sin enters.  Satan comes, armed only with lies, flattery, and questions about God, His love and truthfulness.  Man takes the bait and quits on God, going for the gusto instead, and falls farther than anyone ever could have imagined.  For this one sin, there is a stupendous price to pay.  Man, woman, the serpent and the world pass into the dark shadow of the curse. Man is expelled from God’s garden, God’s presence, and his close, harmonious relationship with God plunges into distance and dissonance.

You might think this is the end of the story.  It is not.  The Bible does not only have 3 chapters.

God doesn’t let it rest here.  He does not leave man trashed and trapped in the consequences of his lust, pride, and foolish naiveté.  God begins a cosmic rescue operation.  It will be a long story, because it is a big and complicated problem.

Man did not take God seriously, so God demonstrates that He is righteous and holy, that He means what He says.

Man thinks he can fix it, so God gives a Law that makes it clear that we simply can’t be good enough ourselves.

And then, at just the right time, when all the preparations are completed and the stage is set, when the fruit is ripened and ready to be picked, when the bride is ready to walk down the aisle, God sends His Son.  He sends His Son to rescue men from their sin and all its tragic and terminal consequences.  “…You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:21).

To save men, the rescuer must be a man, so he is “born of a woman.”  The rescuer will save by substituting himself for the men slated to die an eternal death.  Only as a man could he be a viable substitute for other men.

Yet to save men, the rescuer must be God, for only infinite God could step up to absorb the infinite wrath of God incurred because of human sin.  So it is God’s Son, very  God, who is born of a woman to become the God-man.

And this Rescuer, this Substitute, must keep the law perfectly throughout his human existence or else when He comes to die, He would have to die for his own sin, rather than for the sins of those whom he came to save.  So as man he is born under the law (rather than over the law, as God himself is).  The law has requirements upon him (Thou shalt, Thou shalt not), but Jesus keeps the commandments, every one, in every way, all the time.

So Jesus, the Rescuer, comes to redeem men who are guilty, hopeless and helpless.

This is the Christmas Story.

‘No Man is an Island’: The Beauty of God’s Response to Loneliness and Isolation (Part One)

old-man-alone“No man is an island,” wrote the well-known English poet, John Donne.  Relationships, friendships, and community are necessary aspects of human flourishing.  However, now more than ever, Americans of all ages are struggling with loneliness and isolation which leads to poor mental and physical health.  How should we respond to this overwhelming problem?  The beautiful response of God to loneliness and isolation provides help and compels positive change for hurting and lonely people.

The Terror of Loneliness

The Twilight Zone groups the terror of loneliness with themes such as nuclear war, the end of the world, and hyper-contagious diseases.  In the first episode on October 2, 1959, the main theme was the horror of loneliness and isolation.  The episode acutely portrays the fear we all have of being alone.  During twenty days of isolation in preparation for a solo-expedition to the moon, an Air Force Cadet begins to imagine that he is the last man on earth.  His loneliness drives him to despair.  Finally, the overseeing generals release him from his testing and one of the generals explains to him what had happened to him.

“It was just a kind of nightmare that your mind manufactured for you. You see we can feed the stomach with concentrates.  We can supply microfilm for reading, recreation, even movies of a sort.  We can pump oxygen in and waste material out, but there’s one thing we can’t simulate.  That’s a very basic need.  Man’s hunger for companionship.  The barrier of loneliness.  That’s one thing we haven’t licked yet.”[1]

The creators of The Twilight Zone understood the necessity of companionship and the pain and horror of a life of loneliness.

Loneliness: Not a Respecter of Persons

Distractions can only help for so long.  Amid the business of studies, frat life, and a few intermural sports, Jake still feels agonizingly alone and isolated.  He is surrounded by people, yet he feels that no one knows him or cares for him.  The nagging, dull ache of loneliness is his constant companion during his studies, parties, and games.  When he looks at the social media accounts of high school friends who are now at other universities, everything in their lives seems to be exciting.  They would probably think the same of his “social media” life, but it still seems like he is missing something when he compares his life to many of theirs.[2]  For Jake, even the excitement and “fix” of finding the occasional girl to spend the night with him has worn off.  Nothing addresses the pervasive loneliness.  Jake is not the only university student with this struggle.  In a recent health survey at the University of Michigan, 65% of undergrad students responded by saying that they had felt “very alone” in the last 12 months.[3]

Amy’s heartache never goes away.  She has the marriage, house, and family she thought she always wanted, but her struggles with feeling alone have only become worse.  Her husband is pleasant enough when he is around, but that is the problem.  He is never around.  His job is so demanding that she barely sees him during the week.  And, on the weekends, he is so exhausted that he doesn’t have much energy left over after a grueling week of work and his required round of golf with his buddies on Saturday mornings.  Her massive house now feels like a cavernous, echoing mansion that only exacerbates her loneliness.  Her two little kids provide some joy, but not the companionship of adult conversation and interaction.  The dull ache of loneliness plagues her every moment and only seems to be growing stronger and more debilitating.

Mary’s husband, Frank, is asleep on his Lazy-boy.  Mary has just finished what seems to be her millionth episode of Survivor on T.V.   She looks up at the clock and sees that it is 8:05 PM.  She has two and a half hours before she will even attempt to go to bed.  Frank will sleep in his chair the rest of the night.  Her only other pseudo-companion, the T.V. drumming in the background, will continue running through the night and will still be going in the morning. She is sitting in what they call the “family room,” but for fifteen years now her only family has been her retired husband.    The ache of her loneliness never leaves her.  It has led her to an increased depression and purposelessness that has completely changed her disposition.  Growing up, she remembers her grandparents being a part of community groups, church functions, and neighborhood parties.  Why are her senior years so different?  This struggle with loneliness and depression will continue for the rest of her life.[4]

The Beauty of God’s Response to Loneliness

In these blog posts, I will argue that because of the exacerbated loneliness in our culture and the limits of a purely secular psychological responses, a Biblical response is needed that will guide fellow strugglers to the beauty of God’s response to loneliness and isolation.  The Bible reveals a God who aggressively pursues a relationship with individuals and a God whose mission is to create a community of diverse people unified by his reconciling love.  In the following blog posts, I will demonstrate this thesis in the following ways: (1) I will establish the reasons for the increase of loneliness in our current cultural context.  (2) I will point to the relationship of loneliness to other psychological disorders.  (3) I will summarize some of key secular therapeutic responses to loneliness. (3) I will reframe the problem of loneliness theologically by describing the reconciling love of God which restores mankind’s relationship with God and with one another.

 

[1]  Rod Serling, “The Twilight Zone,” Where Is Everybody?, October 2, 1959.

[2] For a compelling picture of the pressures of social media to university student athletes, see the following article from ESPN the Magazine: Kate Fagan, “Split Image,” ESPN Magazine, May 7, 2015.

[3] American College Health Association, “Summary of the Results of the National College Health Assessment” (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Campus, February 2014).

 

[4] Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 94, 103-5.

 

God Calls Abraham to Faith

Genesis 12:1-4

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

 

Abraham is the father of us all (Romans 4:16), the model for all who will live by faith (Galatians 3:7). But what does it mean to live by faith?  Sometimes faith seems so vague and ethereal, but the life and actions of Abraham give us some clarity and definition.  The first of those faith-defining actions is our very first encounter with Abraham, when God called him to leave Ur and his father’s house in order to follow God and to inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.  We hear God beginning the conversation in Genesis 12:1.

“Go from…”

God’s call to Abram was a call to depart, to leave behind.  What did God call Abram to abandon?

  • Your country. Your native soil, people who speak your native tongue, and all the familiar people and places you have grown up with and ever known. People choose to die to defend their homes and their homelands.  But God calls Abram to leave behind his country.
  • Your kindred. Extended family.  The traditions and rhythms that give you a settled sense of identity and familiarity. God calls Abram to leave them all behind.
  • Your father’s house. What is so dear to people as home?  How many movies, songs and sentimental stories have been written about going home?  Going home for Christmas.  Going home after traveling abroad.  Going home after serving in the armed forces.  And God calls Abram to leave his father’s house behind him.

“Go to…”

God’s call to Abram was a call to go to a land that God would show him.  In other words, Abram is called to leave all that is fondly familiar to go to an unnamed and unknown destination.  God says He is not even going to reveal to Abram where he is headed before he must leave everything behind. This is truly a leap into the unknown, a step of faith.

Why go? Not because Abram can do a rational, cost-benefit analysis on the outcome of the choice.  He knows what it will cost him, but he doesn’t know what the potential reward is; he simply doesn’t know where he is being asked to go. Why go?  Just because it is God who is calling him.

“And I will bless you…”

Four times God says He will bless Abram.  God promises to make his posterity develop into an entire nation.  God promises to bless Abram personally and to give him a lasting reputation.  God promises that His blessing on Abram will not only have personal, local and national implications, but it will be global in its reach.  Blessings indeed!

God calls Abram to obey Him.

What is God calling Abram to do, as He calls him to go from and to go to?  God calls Abram to obey him.  The call is clear and specific.  There is nothing indistinct or fuzzy in God’s word.  Abram faces a simple choice of whether to obey God or to disobey.  Will he go or will he stay?  Will he go and obey?

God calls Abram to trust Him.

God’s call to Abram is not only a call to obedience, but it is also a call to faith.  Abram, you can’t see your destination; you can’t see where you are going.  In fact, Abram, you can’t even know your destination.  God isn’t going to tell you where you’re headed. You must go in faith, trusting God when you cannot see your way.  This won’t be easy, either the leaving or the going.

Now, Abram what will you do?

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”

And the rest is history.  Millennia later, we find that God’s promises to Abraham are all true.  Abram is the father of several nations that still exist and prosper today. His name is claimed and revered, even to this present day. His spiritual legacy is honored by millions.  And through him and his posterity came a Savior who would rescue humanity and reconcile men and women to God.

God is still calling today, calling you and I to faith in Him.  What is He calling you to leave behind?  Where is He calling you to go?  How is He calling you to obey Him?  Where is He calling you to trust Him, going where you cannot see?  And how is He promising to bless you, if you will just trust and obey Him?