Sunday, June 2, 2024

Two Gateway Sins-Part I

                                             TWO GATEWAY SINS

            In his book, A Fellowship of Differents, Dr. Scot McKnight describes an eye-opening walk he once took down the Roman roads of ancient Pompeii. The volcano erupted there in 79 A.D. preserved a vivid snapshot of Roman culture in the century when the Church was born. “It is not an exaggeration to say the city was swamped with erotic images,” writes McKnight. Explicit pornography was everywhere. “The sexual reality across the Empire, of which Pompeii was a typical example, was a total lack of sexual inhibition.”

            The standard order of things in the first century was for most men (and some women) to have procreational sex with their spouses and recreational sex with others. Those others often included young boys and slave girls. Pederasty (or the practice of sex with children) was widespread and accepted. Lesbianism was well known but nowhere near as common as recreational same-sex liaisons between men, many of whom were still married to women. And relations with paid sex workers formed such a major and enduring industry that Rome’s most famous orator, Cicero, asked: “When was such a thing not done?”

            Las Vegas or Bangkok has nothing on first-century Roman society. This was the World in which the Church was born and introduced a more constrained sexual ethic.[1] The Apostle Paul founded the Church in Ephesus, where people were given to sensuality and practiced every kind of impurity. We are at the halfway point of the letter of Ephesians.

            The first three chapters of the letter deal with who we are in Christ. The second half deals with how we are to live in this World because of our position in Christ. Watchman Nee, in his book, observes, “Though the Christian life begins with sitting, sitting is always followed by walking.”[2] In Ephesians 5:1-14, we are warned about certain pitfalls that Christians must avoid.  

            From both the O.T. and N.T. references, it is clear that the symbolic use of the English verb “walk” refers to conduct or behavior that should support one’s verbal testimony. The word “walk” is about how a believer lives or conducts their life, in stark contrast to that of the unbeliever. In the book of Ephesians alone, the word walk appears eight times. It means “to walk around” or order one’s behavior. We will examine the basis for our Christian walk in love, what sins we must avoid, and what new ways we are to cultivate when walking in the way of love.

I. The Basis of our Christian Walk in Love.

            Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (NASB). These two action verbs, “Be imitators of God, and walk in love,” are not simple suggestions; they are commands from God. They are not for individual believers only but for the whole Church of Jesus Christ. They are not for one-time action but for continual action.

            Let us pause and think of the implications of what it is to be imitators of God in a secular world that has little or no regard for God. The early disciples, too, have lived in a world like ours, yet they took imitating God seriously. For that reason, they were called Christians.

            When I shared with my wife that we are called to imitate God, she responded imitating God when dealing with difficult people all day at work is challenging. I get it! Yet, that is what we are commanded to do. We have heard the idiom, “Like father, Like son.”

             A son or daughter shows similarities to his/her Father in mannerisms, interests, behavior, etc. As God’s dearly beloved Children, we must reflect God’s nature through our words and actions. What would people say about us? Here is a godly man or woman or something else?

            The basis of our Christian walk of love is twofold: Firstly, our God, our heavenly Father, is love. Secondly, we are His dearly beloved children. Therefore, we want to obey His commands out of our love for God. As the children of God, we are called to a higher standard of living. Paul says to walk in love, we must avoid certain sins that affect our relationships. He warns all believers to stay away from Two Gateway Sins, which might trip them up in their walk of love.

II. God’s Children must avoid two gateway sins: Sexual Immortality and Greed.

            Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Writing to the Colossians, Paul emphasizes these two deadly sins. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.” Let us look at Sexual Immortality and Greed. I call them gateway sins like gateway drugs; they may lead people to commit a variety of other sins.

III. The Gateway Sin Of Sexual Immorality.

            We seldom talk about Sexual Immorality from the pulpit. Why is it such a devastating sin? What are its implications on people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual lives? And how does Sexual immorality affect society and the Church in general? Let’s explore these questions.

            In the New Testament, the word most often translated as “sexual immorality” is porneia. This word is also translated as “whoredom,” “fornication,” and “idolatry.” It means “a surrendering of sexual purity,” and it is used in premarital sexual relations. From this word, we get the English word pornography, stemming from the concept of “selling off.”

            For a few moments of pleasure, people surrender their God-given sexual purity by getting involved in premarital sex, pornography, extra-marital relationships, homosexuality, and other forms of sexually immoral activities. They ruin individual lives and the lives of their loved ones.

            Why is sexual immorality a devastating Sin? It amounts to Idolatry. “Flee from Sexual Immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” I Corinthians 6:18-20

            Pagan idol worship often involved perverse and immoral sexual acts performed in the temple of a false god. When we use our physical bodies for immoral purposes, we are imitating pagan worship by profaning God’s holy temple with acts He calls detestable. Apostle Paul sternly warns that there not be even a hint of Sexual Immorality among God’s people.

            Hearing these warnings, some might think God is punitive, a spoiler of fun, and doesn’t want us to enjoy sex. The truth is, it is God who gifted humanity with sex. God wants us to enjoy sex within the confinements of marriage between a woman and a man. Sex before or outside of marriage and among same-sex people is a sin and not God’s order of life.

            As God’s children, we want to do what is right before God. This is how Jesus affirmed God’s intentions. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his Father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

            God invented and intended sex for our pleasure and procreation of the World. The devil perverts this beautiful gift by tempting people to get involved in Sexual Immortality. As a result, people and our society are suffering. As God’s children, we want to avoid Sexual Immorality. Our loving Heavenly Father is here to set you free from all forms of sexual immorality. When we repent of our sins, he is faithful and just, forgiving and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Know Your Belovedness

                       KNOW YOUR BELOVEDNESS 

            In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller shares a story of how he helped a friend whose alcoholism was destroying his life: “Last year, I pulled a friend out of his closet. His marriage was falling apart because of his inability to stop drinking. This man is a kind and brilliant human being, touched with many gifts from God but addicted to alcohol and being taken down in the fight. He was suicidal, we thought, and the kids had been sent away.

            We sat together on his back deck and talked for hours, deep into the night. I didn’t think he was going to make it. I worried about him as I boarded my flight back to Portland, and he checked himself into rehab. Two months later, he picked me up from the same airport, having gone several weeks without a drink. As he told me the story of the beginnings of his painful recovery process, he said a single incident was giving him the strength to continue.

            His Father had flown in to attend a recovery meeting with him, and in the meeting, my friend had to confess all his issues and weaknesses. When he finished, his Father stood up to address the group. He looked at his son and said, “I have never loved my son as much as I do at this moment. I love him. I want all of you to know I love him.” My friend said that at that moment, for the first time in his life, he could believe that God loved him, too. If  God, his Father, and his wife all loved him, he believed that he could fight the addiction, and he might make it through.”[1] A father’s unconditional love changed an alcoholic son for good. 

            If an earthly father could love his alcoholic son that much, how much more could our heavenly Father love us? No matter what you are going through today, God is here to tell you He loves you so much and delights in you as his dearly beloved son or daughter. Do you Know Your Belovedness? That was what the Apostle Paul was writing in Ephesians 4:32-5:1-2

            The Apostle Paul affirms our new identity and purpose in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

              “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (NASB). If we were to imitate God as his beloved children, we need to know who our God is and what our Belovedness is. Let’s explore these aspects of father-son/ daughter relationships.

I. God is Love.

            What is your view of God? How do you approach Him? Your view of God and how you approach Him deeply affects your relationship with Him. Some approach God as the ruler, master, and judge of the world. Someone who is up there waiting to punish our wrongdoings and reward our good works. If that is how we approach God, our relationship with Him is no different from that with a police officer who writes a ticket, a teacher who grades our papers, or a judge who rules a verdict. In the world, many approach God with fear.

            The scriptures show us a different God than we have imagined or told. The Apostle John, also known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” gives one of the most profound and all-encompassing definitions of who God is. I John 4:15-16, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

 

The essence of God is love. For our study, we refer to the Greek word Agape to describe God’s love, which is selfless love. All the attributes of God are summed up in this one word: Love. All that God is Love and all that He does is motivated out of love, including his justice and punishment of sinners. God is not full of love, but He Himself is Love.

We do not know what true love is without knowing God. This is how God shows his love for his people. God loves his people with an everlasting love. Exodus 20:6, “But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” In Jeremiah 31:3, “Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself.”

            God Loves his people unconditionally. You don’t have to be a good person. By the way, none of us deserve God’s love, yet He loves us unconditionally. God’s expression of His unconditional love is found throughout the Bible. No matter how bad we have become, God never stops loving us. While we were yet sinners, God loved us unconditionally.

            Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

            When Jesus came into the world, the Jews rejected Him. John 1:12, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” That was what the Apostle Paul called the Ephesian believers, “beloved children.”

II. Know Your Belovedness.

            Unlike many other religions, Christianity believes in a God who created the universe and made humanity in His own image so that He could love and have a relationship with them. The biblical authors affectionately describe that relationship as a “father, son/daughter” relationship. Approximately 18.3 million children across America live without a father in the home, comprising about 1 in 4 children. Many do not know that God loves them.

          If you grew up in such a home, it would be hard to understand when I say God is your loving Father and you are his beloved son and daughter. Or perhaps you may have grown up in a two-parent home yet may have difficulty knowing you are dearly loved by God.

            Here are a few scriptures that help you understand how much God loves and delights in you. I John 3:1-3, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Relish in the fact that we are God’s beloved children.

             Here is how God tenderly expresses his fatherly love and care to the fledgling nation of Israel. Hosea 11:1-4 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them, I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” As a loving father, God is intimately involved with us.

            When God looks at His obedient and faithful children, He is delighted. Psalm 147:11, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” This was how the Psalmist affirmed his Belovedness, Psalm 18:16-19, “He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” God knows and sees everything you are going through.

            One thing I want you to leave with today is that you know your Belovedness. God loves you passionately. He rejoices over you with singing. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, and He cares for you. Trust in His unfailing love, providing hand, healing and comforting touch, and protecting power from enemies. Your Father and Mother may forsake you, but God promised never to leave or forsake you because you are his beloved daughter and son.

 

 

 

 

           



[1]  Donald Miller, "Searching for God Knows What" (Thomas Nelson, 2004), p. 130-131

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Promised Holy Spirit

                                                             THE PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT

            For those unaccustomed to liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2024) is not something we typically recognize or celebrate. It occurs 50 days after Easter, commemorating the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles and Pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago.

            Through the Spirit’s empowerment, the Apostle Peter reminds the masses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The crowds heard the message in their languages. Peter invites them to repent and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). The worldwide Church of Jesus was born.

            Jack Deere, formerly an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote and published the groundbreaking book, “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit in 1993; the Baptist world was rocked. Since then, many Southern Baptists have been challenged to reconsider the traditional “cessationist” doctrine a view that does not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy and tongues, are operational in the Church today.[1]

            Not only Baptists but other Christian denominations also need help understanding the Holy Spirit. Was the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the Day of Pentecost a coincidence or a fulfillment of God’s promise? On this Pentecost Sunday, I hope that God might surprise you with a downpour of His Holy Spirit on us. Is the promised Holy Spirit for all people or only for a few? What is the Holy Spirit’s role in a believer’s life? (John 14:15-31)

 

I. The Promised Holy Spirit

            In the 9th Century B.C, God spoke through his prophet Joel saying, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-32.That would mark the era of the Holy Spirit.

            In the first century A.D., Jesus made this promise to his grieving disciples in line with Joel’s prophecy. John 14 16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Joel’s Prophecy and Jesus’ Promise were fulfilled in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

            About 120 disciples, according to the instructions of Jesus, kept meeting in a house, praying and waiting to receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost,  fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the promised Holy Spirit descended upon the believers in an upper room, and all the Jews from around the world gathered in Jerusalem.

            Those filled with the Holy Spirit began to speak a language other than their native Galilean, proclaiming the beautiful things that God has done. After hearing the wonderful things the disciples said, the devout Jews in Jerusalem and visitors from over fifteen countries were amazed and perplexed. They asked one another, “What does this mean? 

            The Apostle Peter reminded them about Joel’s prophecy. Those who heard were cut to the heart and asked Peter what they should do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39. Did you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when you believed? John 14:15-31 gives two reasons why all believers need the Holy Spirit.

 

II. The Holy Spirit as a Teacher

            Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commanded his eleven disciples to “make disciples of all nations (people), baptizing them  in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matt 28:19-20.

            Jesus never, then, and now will ever force His followers to obey Him. Our obedience to Jesus’ commands is based on our love for Him. This is what Jesus would say to all his followers. “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:11). Listen carefully. It is not if you fear me, but if you love me. He would say, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” Knowing and keeping His commandments is the proof of our love for Him.

            To help his followers love Him, he asked the Father to give us another advocate to help and be with us forever—the Spirit of Truth.” He further assured us that when the promised Holy Spirit comes, He will teach and remind us of everything that Jesus initially taught His disciples.

            The Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Truth, is our teacher. He doesn’t teach us anything new, but only what is already communicated through Jesus’ early disciples, also known as the Apostles. Those teachings are recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. Asserting the scriptures’ anointing, the Apostle Paul wrote this to his disciple Timothy. II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

            To love Jesus, we need to know and keep His commandments. We read them in the 66 six books of the Bible. You open the Bible and begin to read it. Ask the Holy Spirit, the great teacher, to guide your reading just as He guided the writing of the Bible. He will illuminate His Word so that we will know the Truth, the person Jesus, and He will set us free from our sins.

 

III. The Holy Spirit as a Comforter.

            The disciples were heartbroken with the thought that Jesus was going away and they may never see Him again. To comfort His grieving disciples, Jesus made this promise to them. My Father will send you another advocate (Comforter) to help you. He will be with you and in you.

            If you believe in Jesus, the promised Holy Spirit, also known as the Comforter, lives with you and lives in you. When we are hurt physically, we take medicine to relieve the hurt and pain. How about when we are emotionally and mentally hurt? Who or what can truly comfort and console our internal hurt? When you are afraid, discouraged, depressed, and anxious about the unknown future, who do you turn to? That is, then, we cry out for the help of the Comforter.

            The Holy Spirit that lives in us would lead us to God’s timely, healing, and encouraging words for every trouble we might go through in life. Listen to King David, who was misunderstood, ridiculed, and roamed in the wilderness because Saul threatened to kill him.           During such troubling moments, David penned these comforting words of the Shepherd. Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 What are you afraid of today?

            Tim S. Laniak has a whole chapter on the Shepherd’s staff in his book, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks.” Laniak observes, “The most subtle use of the staff is to “be in touch,” with someone who may just need a word of encouragement.” Are you in need of comfort today?

            Are you going through the darkest valley? Fear Not! The Shepherd’s Staff will comfort you. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, will come alongside to encourage you, saying, “Do not be afraid! I am with you.” Then, we might say, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”(Ps 119:50). “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Ps 94:19).

Apostle Paul asked believers in Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Acts 19. You may have been a believer in Christ for a long time. But did you receive the Holy Spirit? On this Pentecost Sunday, you can also receive the Promised gift of the Holy Spirit. By Faith, you ask the Father to pour the Holy Spirit over you. Come Holy Spirit! Fill our hearts!