Saturday, September 30, 2023

Reversal in Matthew 1: Shame Need Not Apply

Matthew chapter 1 is one of many examples where the Simple Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is the utter opposite of this world's order, values and way of thinking. 

We have looked at the genealogy and found some pretty unsavory characters among the descendants of Jesus--oh, yeah...they are like you and me. Think of it like this:  If the list of biblical predecessors in Jesus' lineage was filled with wonderful, holy people, you could argue, Why did You come, Jesus?  There's enough good people in the world--look at Your family tree--we'll (of course I am in that group!) get by. 

But no.  Everyone is fallen: people in the past, present and future: 

"None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    in their paths are ruin and misery,
    and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-20)

Paul got it--he was a murderer after all, and so to be forgiven, freed and restored to do Kingdom work, was for him (and the rest of us) beyond comprehension. But it was true. Jesus came for people like us: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32-34)

So, after seeing Jesus' genealogy as a rollcall of fallen humanity, let's go the next part of Matthew:  the birth of Jesus.

The reversals here jump out.  A young nondescript girl:
  • Calls herself a humble servant (in Luke) 
  • Hails from a small town ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" asks Nathaniel in John 1:46) 
  • A virgin (Physically impossible)
  • Pregnant before marriage (seriously sinful)
OK. That right there would be enough to remind us that His ways are not our ways: 

"Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

But Mary stands alongside her predecessors, Sarah and Hannah.  

Sarah was in a similar situation: She was barren due to her old age.  Perhaps, when she was younger, she could have had a child, but she didn't and now her age made this impossible. But God miraculously allowed her to conceive.  

Hannah was barren and could not have a child. She was of the right age, and prayed year after year for a child. God allowed her to miraculously conceive.

Mary was not married yet and hadn't had conjugal relations with her husband.  God allowed her to miraculously conceive. 

All three were in a world of shame.  But in the Kingdom of God, shame has no part in who we are. God allows us to become, in His power, all that we were meant to be. 

Even Joseph was filled with shame at what he perceived his wife had done (relations with another man) and was desperate to save her from "public disgrace" and so he was planning "to divorce her quietly."  Joseph's shame, however, did not blind him with such hurt or rage that he would allow Mary to be scorned or punished in her hometown--in his hurt, he still wanted to protect her.

In fact, Matthew calls Joseph, "righteous," and in the KJV, the word is "just."  That's a Kingdom word.  When the world tells you that you have every right to be angry, offended, hurt or misunderstood, and that you ought to fire all cylinders and punish those who have done this to you, a man like Joseph reminds us of the Kingdom way.  Look at the meanings of the word, "just," according to Strong's concordance: 
  • "righteous, observing divine laws" 
  • "in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God"
  • "innocent, faultless, guiltless"
  • "used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life"
  • "only Christ truly"
  • "approved of or acceptable of God"
Wow.  Those are Kingdom definitions and what a lovely world it would be if these qualities were operating in everyone, all the time.  But wait!  Aren't we being made to be like Jesus?
  • "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)
  • "And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4:24)
  • "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)
So, even if the Kingdom of God is here, but not in an all-pervasive way (yet!), we can still operate with its qualities in our actions.  We can be the conduit for Jesus' love that pours love on shame, forgiveness on sin and hope on despair. 


Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Walk in Matthew: Flipping the Script

We are going to tour the book of Matthew, to see where Jesus flips the script of what this world thinks is right to what His Father says is right. I chose Matthew because his gospel is aimed at primarily a Jewish audience.  He wanted to them to understand that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Deliverer of Israel, the Messiah.  Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God once more--Adam and Eve having lost the first one due to disobedience.  Think of it this way:  God told them that they could eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden, including the Tree of Life.  But I believe Satan distracted them to that other tree, because that is the one that led to sin and death--the very business he's in.  

The Fall came because they disobeyed God's command about the tree; they ate of a fruit that allowed them to not only see good (they already had this with a beautiful garden inhabited by God) but to see evil as contrary to good, making good relative, as opposed to absolute.   

If you can see evil, you can do evil.  They ran and hid from God.  That is one definition of evil: You hide from God Who embodies good and you then define it based on your own knowledge, subject to the continuous whisperings of the enemy of your soul.     

Enter Jesus.  The D-Day of Redemption hit the shores of this sinful earth, and He came to undo, one person at a time, all of the evil pervading everywhere He looked. 

But to a Jewish audience, a claim of leadership, especially of Messiahship, required sterling credentials.  Sure, anyone could claim to be king or the Messiah, but was this person fulfilling the  requirements laid down by the prophets?  Excellent question and one Matthew hopes to answer by  Jesus's genealogy.  

Several reasons existed for why the Jews kept such detailed records:

A. Identity: You are a true child of Israel, inheriting all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
B. Tribal Lands: Your tribe meant land and so who you are meant which real estate is rightfully yours.
C. Priest: You must prove descent from Aaron and the tribe of Levi; otherwise you could not serve as a priest.
D. Famous: If you were descended from one of the influential people of the Old Testament (Moses, Gideon, etc.) you were thought to receive a special blessing.
E. Family: The family was essential in Jewish culture and the parents handed down to their children their legacy and history.
F. The Messiah: The Old Testament said He would be the "Son of David," so being able to trace that lineage was crucial. Matthew places Jesus as being descended from David as well as from Abraham. Luke wrote for the Gentiles, thus tracing Jesus' lineage back to Adam. (1)

Matthew reinforces Jesus' Messianic claim by showing His direct descent from King David.  But who else is in the genealogy?  Wouldn't you expect it to be full of righteous people, noble and honorable?  The Messiah can't be descended from, well, those people!  But, guess what?  Those people are just like you and me, and the Messiah unites with us in kinship with fallen people.  He is perfect, but the people He's descended from are not. 

He reverses our notion that election comes from perfection.  Jesus makes common cause with humanity to save humanity. 

Here are just a few highlights of His predecessors:
  • Abraham:  Faithful man of God who also tried to bypass the promise of an impossible conception by sleeping with his servant girl.
  • Jacob:  Rascal, deceiver, and father of the nation of Israel, having been named as such after  fighting with God all night.
  • Judah:  Sleeps with a supposed prostitute, then wants to have her killed, until he finds out he is the father of her children. 
  • David: Great king but terrible father, adulterer and murderer.
  • Solomon: Wise guy but had to figure out that all is vanity by indulging in it. 
  • Manasseh: Brought back idol worship in Judea, undoing his father's legacy, practiced it himself and sacrificed his own son. 
See my point of reversal here?  God used ordinary, sinful, confused, conniving, immoral, well-intentioned people (like you and me) to lay the genealogical foundation for the Messiah, who would wrap Himself in our frail flesh to redeem our frail flesh.

Takeaway?  God uses us, whatever is in our past, to further His kingdom.  The perfect, the self-righteous, the I-am-no-longer-a-sinner types He passes on and looks to us: humble in our assessment of ourselves and knowing that we need a Savior. 

The Kingdom of God is made up of people just like you and me. 

(1) "Why Were Genealogies So Important to Israel?"  

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Simple Kingdom: Reversing the Curse

 There 's a lovely song that captures my new series of blogs.  It's called "Simple Kingdom."

Your Kingdom is simple, as simple as love, You welcome the children, You stop for the one.
We wanna see people the way Jesus does; Your Kingdom is simple, Lord, teach it to us.

Your Kingdom is humble, as humble as death, this King is a Savior who gave His last breath.
So we may die daily, our pride laid to rest, His Kingdom is humble, and the broken are blessed. 

Hallelujah, hallowed be Your name!  May we live and breathe Your praise!
And hallelujah, let all creation sing!  Oh, the King of Heaven reigns!

Your Kingdom is coming, Your Kingdom is here, alive in our waiting, our work and our tears.
So come to us quickly, forever our prayer; Your Kingdom is coming, Lord Jesus, come near.

Your Kingdom is backwards, it flows in reverse; what You call a treasure, this world calls a curse.
The small become great and the last become first, Your Kingdom is backwards
Lord, teach us to serve; as it is in Your Kingdom, let it be in Your church.

What is especially impactful is the last stanza, where it talks about reversals--how Jesus' death upon a cross with all of its shame and horror becomes a symbol of life, resurrection and freedom from sin.  The last in the Kingdom do become first.  God has not ignored the cries of the poor, the lost and the oppressed.  Jesus inaugurated His ministry with these words from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Who needs the good news the most?  Those who the world says are of no value, or who have caused their own problems and deserve the consequences.  

Who needs to be free the most?  Those who are imprisoned by their choices and habits, and those who think a cell is the only thing they deserve in life.

Who needs to see the most?  Those whose eyes cannot see themselves as part of God's household.

Who needs to be set free the most?  Those who the world's system holds back, either with a denial of opportunity or of their personhood.

Who needs to enter into the year of God's love and saving touch upon our hearts?  All of us. 

C.S. Lewis equated Jesus's arrival into this world as an invasion:

“Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have though much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade."

I love the connection to D-Day.  The Allies land on the shores of France on June 6, 1944 to retake Europe out of the grip of evil.  

Jesus came to earth to retake earth out of the grip of evil.  

What if the Allies showed up and said to the Nazis, "You guys are doing some awful things.  You need to stop it.  Close down those camps and stop fighting.  Have a nice day!"  Then the Allies left.

No.  The evil in Europe was systemic, with its governments, resources and people all dedicated to one thing:  the takeover of the world and the annihilation of those who were deemed useless.  The Allies had to come in and fight each and every stronghold held by the Nazis and liberate those held captive in camp after camp, until not one was left operational, and the Nazis were defeated.

For years afterwards, the Allies sought to remove Nazism out of the population by reeducating them.  They needed to reframe their view of the world through the lens of freedom and democracy.  

Do you see my point?  Invasion was only the first step.  Fighting ensue so the war would cease.  The system that propagated the evil had to be dismantled and people had to be reformed, otherwise the removal of Nazism from Europe would have not succeeded.

Jesus invaded here by leaving the courts of heaven and landing on the shores of earth, ready to reverse the values of a fallen system to ones of His kingdom--the Kingdom of God, not a rubber-stamping of the kingdom already here.  He redeemed our hearts so the system of evil could be dismantled: one saved follower at a time.  

Only the return of Christ will inaugurate a complete restoration of this planet, but in the meantime, we as His followers have plenty of work to do. 

That is what I intend to explore here:  How the Kingdom of God is an utter reversal of what this world advocates.

Join me.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Spiritual Warfare, Woes #5-7: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee of Righteousness

I am going to combine the last three woes.  Jesus intensifies His condemnation of the Pharisees as He continues to levy those accusations against them.  

He reiterates that the Pharisees' hypocrisy is too egregious to ignore:   

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23:27-28). 

Whitewashing a tomb seems innocent enough, when you are trying to make it look nice for a burial. In fact, when the mourners approach, you don't them to be distracted by a tomb that is not ceremonially prepared and unacceptable.  You honor the funeral procession and the dead by presenting a tomb that is really as it appears:  ritually clean and ready.  

But whitewashing a tomb when there are bones still in it and it is utterly unclean because of that, is another matter entirely.  That's a sickening kind of fraud.  It appears one way but is really another.  And that is not due to error.  The person who presents such a tomb totally knows what it wrong, but hopes everyone will ignore it.


Jesus will not and cannot ignore this.  The Pharisees are deliberate in their hypocrisy; He is not going to let them pass off their "respectability" without a challenge.


Because that's what prophets do.  The Old Testament tradition of the prophet is one who warns, cajoles and laments over what the people are doing and not doing, and how it is an offense to God Himself. Jesus takes on the mantle of a prophet in His denunciations. In fact, the next woe mentions the prophets and how the people (like the Pharisees) responded to them: 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against  yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!"(Matt. 23:29-32).

And they will.  They will conspire to murder Jesus, in the tradition of how many leaders in Israel responded to the prophets of old.  They are in a long line of those who listened to the prophets, not to learn how they failed God, and so repent and rededicate themselves to walking righteously, but to find a way to silence them.  

Then Jesus launches into His strongest attack.  He rails against those whose hardened hearts will only follow a god of their own creation. Their hardened hearts no longer hear the voice of God--they only hear the god of this world's voice. 

Satan rolls out his "Did God really say?" line to every generation, and sadly, many listen and believe.

In fact, Jesus equates those who listen with idolatrous snakes.  The comparison to Satan in the Garden of Eden is unmistakable:  

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation." (Matt. 23:33-36). 

It is interesting that Jesus is speaking of now, as well as a time to come.  He says that He is sending "prophets, and sages and teachers."  Who are these?  They will be of the New Covenant, washed in the blood of the Lamb and who will proclaim the Good News.  Think of Peter, Paul and the rest of the disciples, who will die in the service of this New Covenant, or people like John, who will be banished.  Why is Jesus laying the future persecution of His soon to be born church on the shoulders of these religious leaders?  

Because they refused to believe in the Messiah, the very One who stood in front of them.  Jesus' miracles were a testimony that he was not a false prophet, and they validated His ministry.  But, the religious leaders dismissed them as fakes, and refused to believe in Him.

When He raised a man from the dead, you would think that they would have reconsidered their view of Him and embraced Him wholeheartedly.  No.  They conspired to kill Him--the bitterest fruit of their hardened hearts.

I see the fall of the Temple of Jerusalem being referenced here as well, for Jesus later talked to His disciples about the End Times in Matthew 24 & 25.  The siege and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD qualified as the End, for the Jews were killed in vast numbers, their beloved Temple destroyed, and those who survived were enslaved or exiled out of Israel, not to return until 1948.  (Jesus' words to them create a blueprint for us as well.  History repeats itself, and our End Times will have similar things happen to us as it did to them.)

Why this dismantling of everything the disciples grew up with?  Because their  leaders would not say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

Disbelief in the Son of God can have catastrophic consequences for a society, when leaders turn their back on the Truth--the One who is the Way and the Life as well.  It happened in Israel.

It is happening in America.

God loved Israel but allowed her to sow the seeds of her own destruction.  But He brought her back and restored her. 

God loves America but will allow her to sow the seeds of her own destruction.  Unless we say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," our days are numbered. God wants nothing more than to restore His people, but before restoration comes repentance. No leader, no political party, no one church, is a substitute for a personal and whole-hearted return to Him and a life that reflects such a commitment.   

Satan's deception was and will always be enticing us to trust our own hearts, our own wisdom.  

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Woe #4

Why am I listing all of the woes that Jesus levied at the Pharisees as "spiritual warfare"?  We tend to think of spiritual warfare happening out there--Satan prowling around, and we are minding our own business and then WHAM! Satan is upon us.  


Notice how Peter precedes his warning with an injunction.  I am using two translations to show this: 

"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)

"Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8, CEB)

Other translations use the word "sober" and "clear judgment."  In other words, you need to be more active in this spiritual warfare thing--not viewing yourself as a hapless victim if something comes your way, but being alert and aware of the dangers out there.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called, Stronghold Starters:  How Satan Gets Into Our Lives. (It's on Amazon, if you are interested!)  It was my response to many good Christians I knew who viewed Satan as an all-powerful entity that could punch you in the face out of nowhere and slam you down on the mat. 

Yet, as a pastor once taught our church, don't get into the arena of sin in the first place.  Mike Tyson can't just walk up to you on the street and punch you in the face and get away with it.  But if you are in the boxing ring, the arena where punching is part of the scene, then you can expect to get walloped.  Same thing with sin's arena:  If you are sober and alert and not placing yourself at risk by going and doing those things which will cause you to sin, then Satan is far less likely to overtake you.  

Stay out of the arena by being honest with yourself and examining those areas of your vulnerability. Jesus didn't mince words on how seriously we should take sin and its eternal consequences for a momentary pleasure: 

"And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matthew 5:30 NLT)

So, I listed these ways Satan gets into our lives, not because we are simply unsuspecting victims, but because we open ourselves up to his influence with these attitudes (with my quick definitions): 
  • Being apathetic and judgmental:  Why should I care?
  • Knowledge: I am a real know-it-all
  • Unforgiveness: No mercy, just justice
  • Greed & envy: I deserve more 
  • Insecurity, fear and trust: I take care of me 
  • Lust: My needs met, no matter the cost
  • Doubt and confusion: Did God really say?
  • Deeply injured:  It's who I am
  • Ticked off:  Bring it on!
  • Holier than thou:  Only my truth
These attitudes drop-kick you right into sin's arena.  These attitudes make you vulnerable to suggestions on how to proceed and Satan is never short of ideas on how to make these attitudes lead to a "fun" and "fulfilling" (not!) reality.

To make another analogy:  If you are malnourished, you are much more vulnerable to becoming ill.  What foods you eat provide the raw materials for the body to use to build up the immunological system's defenses, so when a bacteria or virous shows up, the body can respond more vigorously.  

Healthy people do get sick.  Even strong Christians get tempted, but it is our response that shows our state of spiritual health.  

This is where the Pharisees got it terribly wrong in their view of sin.  They probably thought to themselves that because they didn't do anything overtly wrong/bad/immoral/ungodly, they were good people.  But that very attitude put them in the arena of sin.  Their response was to condemn others and look away from others' suffering.    

They looked good on the outside, but those attitudes they carried with them made them vulnerable to even more evil thinking, and Satan laughed at their ignorant participation in furthering his kingdom.

But Jesus points out where we are standing:  Not to condemn us, but make us examine ourselves and ask, "Am I harboring any attitudes that are not in concert with the Kingdom of God?"

So, here is what Jesus says to the Pharisees in this woe: 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matt. 23:25-26)

There's that "hypocrite" word again: It means "actor"--a person who put on a mask to be someone that they were not.  Jesus detested "actors" in the Kingdom of God, because they misrepresent what it really means to be a follower here.  Jesus had patience and encouragement for those who were sincere, even if they were fallible, because they weren't acting, but trying. 

Look at the attitudes that Jesus is calling out:  Greed and self-indulgence.  These people are in sin's arena for sure with those attitudes.  They cultivate a religious and godly exterior, but Jesus can see past the acting and sees what is really inside.  He also sees how such attitudes misrepresent His Father and how these leaders are neglecting the ones who need His Father the most: the poor, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the fallen woman, the lonely and the hurt.  

Greed and self-indulgence in their hearts have made them vulnerable to the whisperings of Satan: 

Would you just look at those people over there?  How can they even think of themselves as good Jews?  You are the standard.  You provide the model, and look how lacking they are compared to you!  Hey, special people deserve special treatment, now don't they?  If you use the tithes and offering for your personal benefit, why not?  You are providing the very image that these unwashed masses should aspire to, and that takes money.  It's money well spent.  And if you allow yourself a little pleasure, why not?  It takes hard work to keep the Temple running, and so what if you indulge occasionally--you've earned it!  The people out there, if truth be told, should be glad that you take what you deserve!  Without you, they'd be lost!  Keep doing what you are doing.  And especially, keep an eye on that hayseed from Nazareth.  He doesn't have a clue about how hard you work, and his interference may have to be dealt with some day--who does he think he is, with all of this Kingdom of God talk?  You represent that Kingdom and anyone who says otherwise needs to be silenced. 

Jesus saw two dire consequences of the Pharisees' thinking.  First, it led them to believe in their own perfection, with little or no humility present to temper such an assessment, and this kept them in sin's arena. 

Secondly, by staying in this arena, they continued to listen to the endless parade of whispering throughout Jesus' ministry.  This whispering would turn murderous one day, and these men would seek to kill Jesus.  

They would cozy up to the hated Romans, and partner with them to put this man to death, in the most degrading way possible.  

Jesus, as He called them out in these woes, was deeply concerned for their souls.  These woes were  warnings and a call to repentance to avoid an eternity, devoid of His Father. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Is Good Enough Good Enough? Woe #3

I like the New Living Translation of our third woe that Jesus levies at the religious leaders of His day and how their behavior further impowers the kingdom of this world and not the Kingdom of God.

This is my definition of spiritual warfare: Whose team are you on? More importantly, whose team are you supporting by the way you act and respond to those around you? I can say I am furthering the Kingdom of God, but then act like the kingdom of this world and its values are my true coach.

Jesus never excoriates the people who acknowledge their failures and their sins, and at some level, are seeking to remedy them. His anger is directed at those who do not admit failure and scorn others who sin, thereby separating themselves away from the community. They stand alone in judgement with self-righteous contempt and uphold, whether they know it or not, the values of this world.

Think about the story told by Jesus of the publican and the religious leader:

"Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

In other words, to quote a Bob Dylan song: "You gotta serve somebody: It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody."

So, let's listen to this new warning:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:23-4) (NLT)

This is Cain and Abel all over again, isn't it?

Cain brought to the altar that which cost him nothing:"When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected." (Gen. 4:2-5)

When Cain brought his one basket of corn, wheat or barley to the altar, it was not a true sacrifice--there was still plenty of corn, wheat and barley left standing in the field. Whatever Cain brought made not the slightest dent in his overall abundance. Cain brought what he thought was a reasonable amount; he decided it was good enough.

Score: Kingdom of this World: 1. Kingdom of God: 0.

When the Pharisees knelt down to pick their tenth of herbs from their gardens, it made no dent in the overall abundance in their herb garden. They brought what just met the requirement of the Law; a tenth was good enough.

Score: Kingdom of this World: 2. Kingdom of God: 0.

Abel brought the "best portions" from his firstborn lambs and left them on the altar. When he arrived home, he noticed their absence. Lambs had tremendous value because they are hard to raise, keep safe and keep healthy. But Abel guarded them with his life. He knew each one and invested time and effort into each lamb's well-being.  He valued them. Yet, his investment of time and effort did not make him selfish, thinking all that work meant the lambs ought to stay with him. He was grateful to the Lord for this abundance and was willing to seek out what was good enough, according to the Lord.

The Lord demanded a sacrifice, and Abel complied with a grateful heart. He was not just going through the motions of obedience--he had the true motivation of obedience: love and gratitude. His good enough was the Lord's good enough.

Score: Kingdom of this World: 2. Kingdom of God: 1000.

The Pharisees were going through the motions: They knew a tenth was what God required, so voila! A tenth it is. No more, no less and there's plenty where that came from!

But God wanted a heart of sacrifice, not some baskets of corn or some spices laid upon an altar. What was the true sacrifice? One that required dependency on God to provide, not just going out into the yard, grabbing a few items and then dashing away once they hit the altar.

Jesus was very specific: "mercy, justice and faith."

Wow. Now that takes a deep relationship with God to provide: To see the world through His eyes and offer mercy even when we know we are in the right. To give justice when we believe this person doesn't deserve any. To have faith even in the darkest night of the soul. Only God can truly infuse us with His mercy, justice and faith. He then gives us the wisdom on how to bring such good gifts to others.

James puts it so beautifully:

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:13-17)

James sketches out quite the contrast between someone whose heart is seeking to follow the ways of the kingdom of this word, versus following the ways of the Kingdom of God.

The Pharisees were so preoccupied with the Law's requirements, along with their own additions and interpretations of it, that they lost the true spirit of what God requires:

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

The Pharisees thought a tenth was good enough.

Cain thought his basket of produce was good enough.

But Abel knew what God's good enough was: the sacrifice of a lamb.

So, too, did Jesus standing there, looking into the hardened hearts of the those who claimed to know His Father... He knew what God's good enough would be: a lamb, sacrificed on the altar, once and for all time.

The Son, with a heart of love and gratitude to the Father, was willing to be the Good Enough for those who sacrificed their need to be in control, and who offered a heart full of gratitude and love to the Lamb.

They were willing to walk, in faith, into the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom gates are still wide open.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Spiritual Warfare, Woe #2

This is the second of seven woes Jesus aims at the Pharisees.  These lessons are as potent today as they were then:

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’  You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it." (Matthew 23:16-22) 

It seems that the Pharisees are making a distinction between the things of God and the things of man, and that the things of man win out. Jesus takes to task the teaching that swearing by the Temple and its altar means nothing.  What gives the oath value is the human element present.  

How odd, given that the Temple was God's dwelling place on earth.  It was large, beautiful and the center of Jewish religious life and yet an oath with it as the sacred element, means nothing.  OK, Mr. Pharisee, what makes an oath with the Temple binding, important and well worth the making?  

The gold!

The gold?  What?

The gold is what man brings into the Temple as an offering or lays it on the altar. Gold is brought out of the earth by people.  People fashion it into currency (for human transactions) or for decoration (on human buildings). Gold has value to human being because of its rarity and beauty.  

The most telling thing about how the Pharisees ascribe value is because gold is essential to run the Temple and sustain their religious monopoly, its value outshines even its location, i.e., the Temple or the altar.  

Human beings have determined value based on its functionality and its role in aggrandizing people's power and status.

Kingdom of God values?


The value of the gold is not because we say it's valuable. Its placement on the altar, within the Temple sanctifies it, makes it valuable and acceptable to God.  It has no inherent value; where it is makes it what it is, because of God's anointing presence.

Makes sense, doesn't it?  The Pharisees equate their rules and regulations are holy because they say they are holy, and whether they admit it or not, what they preach gives them power and status.

Just because we make something big, expensive, awe-inspiring and valuable, doesn't make it so in God's eyes, because the Kingdom of God is not about accommodating man's standards.  It's about a revolution in thinking about what is truly important, through the lens of Jesus, His teachings and His sacrifice on the cross. 

Paul indicates that even Christians get into the "Hey!  I follow that guy!" as a way to validate their position, in the same way the Pharisees wanted the gold to validate an oath.  He says that this need comes from our sinful nature: 

"You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? When one of you says, 'I am a follower of Paul,' and another says, 'I follow Apollos,' aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building." (1 Cor. 3:3-9)

It's about following God, not whose church we attend or who we think is so important that everyone needs to get on board. We gain prideful traction by associating ourselves with what we have determined is valuable, and then turn it into something spiritual and lofty. 

It's the double whammy of pride:  I determine something is valuable and then I elevate it to something spiritual. 

Then Paul says: 

"Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:10-11)

Jesus is not valuable because we say He is; He is because of His death, burial and resurrection.  We cannot add or subtract to His value.  Period.  

But we do act like the Pharisees at times with our values substituting those of the Kingdom of God's.  But Paul makes it clear that what we value will be tested as to its eternal value.  Did what we said, did and proclaimed move the Kingdom of God forward, or did it elevate us? 

"Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames." (1 Cor. 3:12-14)

We build upon the foundation of Christ.  What materials do we use?  Ones that the world values?  Or what God values?  God sanctifies what He wants us to use.  God's judgement of fire will be merciful, for even if what we used was not of His choosing, the person's salvation will allow an escape.

But what a disappointment will be had by the one watching all those materials go up in flames and by those who thought those materials were satisfactory in God's eyes. 

As Jesus will soon prophesy, even God's house, the Temple, will be brought down. The Roman army will do so 70 AD and enslave those that they don't outright kill.  The Colosseum, the very temple of this world's values, will be built by those slaves.  The Pharisees, who quibbled about what made a legitimate oath will not longer have the Temple, its altar and its gold.  All will taken away by a people who saw value in plunder, murder, mayhem and vengeance. 

The Kingdom of God still went forward in spite of that, but a tragic price was paid by His people. 

I am deeply worried that our consumerist approach about church, giving it value only if we get something out of it, instead of asking ourselves how can we further the Kingdom of God, will be tested someday, and will be terribly lacking. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Woe # 1

Wow.  This is a Jesus you don't expect as you read the Gospels.  Talking to outcasts and sinners, going about doing good, teaching about His Father, demonstrating life in the Kingdom of God:  These are the iconic moments that define Jesus for us.

But this Jesus, the One who faces the Pharisees, is like an Old West sheriff standing on a dusty road, facing the outlaws and pulling His gun the fastest, and down they go. 

Jesus excoriated the religious leaders of His day for one simple reason:  They knew better.  They had the Scriptures, they knew the Law and they participated in the holy goings-on in the Temple.  They were in God's house in a way that the unwashed masses could never be. 

Hypocrisy seems to be the one sin that Jesus could not and would not tolerate.  He was well aware of Greek theater and the masks the actors wore to portray a certain character to an audience.  The city of Sepphoris is only 3.7 miles from Galilee.  If Joseph travelled through the region, taking on jobs, and Jesus went with him, he probably went there and saw its theater.   

To make a point, He recounts what actors did when they came into town: "So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward..." (Matt. 6:1)

The word for actor is hypocrites, and even if Jesus is speaking metaphorically, the people would have still thought about the actors who announced their arrival in town with a flourish.  The word also means, "stage-player."  The Pharisees had a huge stage they walked across every day.  They were the keepers of the Law and its attendant morality.  They dressed the part and everyone knew when they were "on."

So did Jesus, and He took them to task.  Woe #1: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matt. 23:13-14)

People follow those who command respect because of their personality or position.  The Pharisees had position, and no matter who they were personally or how they acted, they still expected respect from everyone.

Therein lies the problem. The position provided a perfect smokescreen for their behavior--they could do what they wanted in private and no one would question them, because their position was so lofty that no one dared.

But Jesus did, because a position is no guarantee of personal integrity. Jesus Himself didn't use His position to oppress us, but modeled a servant who led with humility and grace: 

"Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor 
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:3-11)

The Pharisees were the complete opposite of Jesus.  The Kingdom of God reversed the world's values by having the last be first, the humble exalted and those who lose their lives finding them.  So, to have people who know what God expects and then parade around with an attitude of moral superiority while living in shadows of sin, was disgusting to Jesus.  And because they were the role models showing what living a holy life looked like, did the people think that somehow their lifestyle was acceptable to God? 

The Pharisees were not only steeped in sin, but they advocated, because of their position, that the people emulate them, and sadly, join them in the pit.  They had made heaven so unattainable with rule after rule, that those sought God through the Pharisees' religious system, were unable to do so. The Pharisees worked hard to make that person as blind to the truth of who God is and what He expects as they were.

How does this tie into spiritual warfare?  If the people find out their leaders in the church have been living a double life, advocating a faith that even they fail to follow, then those people may walk away from Christianity altogether: 

I am not going back to church. My pastor hid his drinking problem and when it came out on social media, I was blown away.  I looked up to him.  I don't know what living a Christian life looks like, so I watched him.  He encouraged me and I thought he really loved Jesus.  But, now, I ask myself:  Was he ever genuine?  Was it an act all along?  Or did he start out fine, then starting sinning and was so afraid to show weakness that he tried to cover it up?  Why didn't he just confess it and try to get help?

Christians are all hypocrites.  They go on and on about being a good Christian and then do the very same things they condemn us for.  They say that divorce is wrong, but do it themselves.  They say gay marriage is wrong, but they don't honor their own marriages by having affairs and viewing porn.  They say we should have love and compassion for others, until those "others" happen to be in another political party and then boy do the gloves come off.  They say money is the root of all evil, but they own jets, mansions and live way better than their followers do. 

We follow Christ, not men, but the way we conduct ourselves can have far reaching consequences to those who are watching and listening to us. 

Jesus was a servant, the Suffering Servant, who became a leader.  Too much of modern church is preoccupied with leaders who we want to act like servants.  But as soon as you invest too much power, influence and personal benefit in a person with a sin nature, (as we all have) the potential for abuse is ever-present and the consequences of that person's failures can drive people away from Jesus, leaving them more and more vulnerable to Satan's attacks and influence. 

We shouldn't allow our pastors and church leaders to have too much influence or power over us.  We shouldn't let them think for us.  

I have been there.  I was in a church when a new pastor showed up.  He knew the Bible extremely well, and had an excitement about him.  He encouraged me, for I was already the worship leader, and I grew much better in my capacity under his praise.

But over time, I realized he had to be the most spiritual person in the room, and woe to anyone who questioned him.  He liked being the center of attention, and didn't like the heavy lifting of pastoral visits or running the church.  He just wanted to show up and preach or lead a Bible study.  He didn't visit the sick and manipulated those who were by insisting their healing would happen if they had enough faith.  He insinuated the reason they were still sick was their failure.  He boasted that he never got sick. 

He had been abused as a child, but claimed that God had healed him of all the damage.  Yet, he manipulated us as a group.  He claimed our church hadn't grown because we weren't speaking in tongues.  He never accepted any responsibility for anything that went wrong but he reveled in the authority he had.  

We found out he had lied about his financial dealings and owed people money.  He started selling off our music equipment when the church finally closed its doors, but that equipment was not his to sell.  All of the money the church had saved up over the years disappeared.  The final blow was when he "borrowed" money from a single mom who was living in a trailer.  He left the state and has never paid her back.  I don't know if he ever intended to.

My point?  I followed him rather than Jesus for several years.  The damage he did still lingers; it took me personally a long time to recover from the damage he inflicted on my trust.  I sadly went to a church with another dysfunctional pastor, because I was so needy after this one, and was deeply hurt again. 

Jesus is making it clear that leaders are deeply responsible to the people they serve.  Leaders are not to make finding Him so difficult with lots of rules and regulations or by hypocritical behavior.  Why?  They make God unrecognizable to those who would seek Him.  They can drive them away with a portrait of God that misrepresents Him. 

Jesus came to reclaim and proclaim the true nature of who God is and what He expects.     
Jesus came to set the captives free, even those standing in a church.  Even those standing in the pulpit. 


Monday, July 10, 2023

Spiritual Warfare, Romans 2, Part VI

Here the last part of Romans 2, and it presents the key point that Paul is trying to make:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29) [emphasis mine]

So, there it is:  We are justified by Christ because we have accepted His gracious offer of salvation provided by His death on the cross.  We are praised by God by making the right choice.  We stand in front of God, clothed in His Son's righteousness.  The Father loves the Son and now so do we. 


Really?  But what all those sinners out there?  Let's redirect our attention to the Pharisees, the keepers of the nation of Israel's morality, and see how Jesus regarded them.

They would argue if you don't point out sin, then you are giving tacit approval to it.  People need to know they are sinners so they can reach out to God.  A drowning man may not know just how much trouble he's in until you show up as the Coast Guard, with your horn blaring. If he refuses to grab the lifesaver you are throwing him, that's his choice, but your job is to show up and inform him of his precarious situation. 


Well, to the Pharisees the best way to inform sinners is by creating a list of laws they must follow if they want to separate themselves from those who don't. Behind every law is a sinner whose breaking of it warrants enshrining it. The Ten Commandments is a case in point.  People lusted after idols, wouldn't worship the One true God, broke the Sabbath, didn't honor their parents, committed adultery, lusted after their neighbor's possessions, were willing to murder and steal, didn't honor the Sabbath, used God's name without reverence, and in general, made a righteous and civil society impossible.

OK.  With that list, we need to remind people of the necessity of following the Law:  We need to honor God with our behavior. 

Makes sense. 

So, what do we do with the Law?  Teach it, model it, remind our children of its Author and His wonderful provision: 

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deut. 6:4-9)

Beautiful.  They are not just behaviors that you assiduously do; they are in your heart, so you want to do them, because you want to please God, not just look pious to others.  God is first in your thoughts:  How may I please Him today?  

Micah answers that question: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8)

Jesus summarized all the teachings, laws and commands of the prophets to the Pharisees, who wanted to catch Jesus in a theological error, thereby discrediting Him:

"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'

Jesus replied: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: '"Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

Our love for God is the only motivation for obeying the Law.  We obey not out of fear, self-righteousness or pride.  We do not seek to condemn others by parading our obedience and casting a judgmental glance their way.  

Loving God is what He desires from us.  We are like the Moon:  We can only reflects the Sun's light.  We cannot produce any light of our own.  The more we give ourselves to Him, the more light we reflect.  Our love for Him should light up the night sky, and drive away the darkness.

So, how did Jesus treat the moral policemen of His day?  Not very well.  I am sure they were aghast at His condemnation, for they saw themselves as the enforcers, models and judges of those who sinned and needed to be called out on it. 

Hypocrisy is the devil's playground and the Pharisees were out in the yard, bright and early every day.  In Matthew, Chapter 23, Jesus goes full bore against them, knowing that in their hearts, their love for God had been replaced with hypocrisy (and would lead to wanting to murder Him).  

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.'" (23:1-4) 

Strike One:  The Pharisees occupy a place of authority, so the people look up to them for teaching, wisdom and guidance.  But they themselves don't follow their own teachings and they heap requirement after requirement for the people to follow, all the while distaining the people's failures. No wonder:  The burdens are just that--people are not energized by their love for God, but by believing that following a list of Thou-Shall-Not's will please God.  Wrong.  We cannot, in our own power or even wanting to be good, sustain a righteous life.  

God wants our love and out of that love comes an ever-increasing awareness and displeasure of sin.  He empowers us to lead the very life He wants us to lead; Paul cries out for us all: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Rom. 7:24-5) 

Next:  “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (23:5-12)

Strike Two:  It's all about the show and with a big show comes adulation and "Oh, Rabbi, you're the best!  Come dine with me and please sit in the place of honor!"  First the focus is on the leaders, for teaching from Moses' seat gives them the authority to direct the people. But the focus moves to being about the leaders personally: They love being honored everywhere they go, and bask under the title of Rabbi.  

Jesus deftly moves the focus back to where it should be:  On God, Who is our Teacher and the Messiah, Who will guide, empower and model a life based on a uncompromised love.  

Strike Three and You're Out!  The Pharisees are not humble people.  They know what they know and that is good enough to continue being leaders in their community.

But Jesus has another definition of leadership:  Humility.  Humility comes out of our love for God. We recognize our lowly estate and reach out our hand to the One Who loves us so, knowing that what He asks us to do, He will empower us to do.   

Those in power, who love taking the place of God and try to be other people's Holy Spirit, will be brought low in the Kingdom of God.  Those who know their need and want to love God with all their heart, mind and soul and yet still struggle, will be raised up, for a humble child brings God delight. 

Next time, we will focus on the seven woes Jesus levies at the Pharisees.  The lesson here is how to minimize Satan's incursions into our lives and live in such a manner that people are attracted, not repelled, by us. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Spiritual Warfare, Romans 2, Part V

Paul is now turning up the heat and focusing on his fellow Jews who have, in the history of the world, one of the most sophisticated and humane laws to govern any society.  They have a covenant with the One True God, and have seen His miraculous saving powers over the centuries.  But...

"Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” (Romans 2:17-24)

May I respectfully modify this?  

"Now you, if you call yourself a true patriotic American; if you rely on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and your Christian heritage; if you know God's precepts and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the Word of God; if you are convinced that you are a guide for other nations seeking democracy, a light for refugees and the oppressed; an instructor to those who don't know how to run a country well; a teacher of children, with a strong education system that teaches moral character along with knowledge and truth—you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor porn, do you sit in front of your computer and look?  You who boast in America being the best country on Earth, do you dishonor God by breaking His Word? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the other nations because of you.'”

In my lifetime, I have watched America turn her back on her Christian heritage.  The Ten Commandments, which "offended" people, were removed from parks and public places.

I have watched how divorce, once a rather infrequent occurrence, become so commonplace that we no longer discuss it in church. It used to be quite an issue.  I knew a pastor whose who was being considered, but because he was divorced, there was some question if he should be hired.  This was in the nineties.  It was only because he had been married to a non-believer that he was able to secure the position.  In the eighties, My sister-in-law labored over marrying her second husband, for she had been married before. 

How many pastors stand in the pulpit each week, teaching about family, God and the need for honoring spouses and yet they themselves are on their second marriage?  How many pastors stood against gay marriage, having failed in their own?  How many churches decried gay marriage, when a large number of the congregation was divorced?  How many worried about the children of gay couples yet had alienated children of their own?

Have their experiences made them more empathetic to others' struggles, or more condemning, to hide their own shame?

How many Christians battle with alcoholism, drug abuse, porn, embezzlement, lying, abuse (of all kinds) of family members or others, and yet when there is some kind of moral offense going on in the society, they are the first to gather at a protest with angry looks and insulting placards?

I have watched the church lose its moral power over the decades.  I never expected my parents to act as Christians should, because once I became born-again, I could see that they had not made a personal profession, so I didn't expect them to act in a certain way. But the little church up the street that I attended as a new Christian were filled with people who were imperfect, to be sure, but they modeled that the Christian life could be led, even if it meant personal sacrifice.  They worried about their witness to others; I, too, was concerned about anything that would compromise my witness. 

Not everyone there was kind, but enough of the people, my pastor included, showed me that living the Christian life was possible, because they were trying hard to do so. This had a profound impact on me as a young Christian. 

"As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live," is a powerful quote by Pope John Paul II.  So, given what has happened to the American family, it is no surprise what is now happening in our churches, schools and the country itself. Having lost our moral center, we are chasing every fad, every idea, every whim of a few and applying to the whole, creating division, darkness and deception as a result.

Paul isn't saying, and nor am I, that we have to be perfect--that is not going to happen, but I love how Paul handles a church filled with imperfect sinners who have come to Christ.  The context here is lawsuits amongst believers (another sign that members were judging each other, failing to reconcile and seeing a lawsuit as the only way to settle differences).  He reminds them (and us) what is really wrong and how to fix it: 

"The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:7-11) [emphasis mine]

Bingo:  The church is filled with former sinners (aren't we all?) and yet the church is acting no different from the way they used to act.  Uh-oh.  But if the Body of Christ is filled with sinners who have been washed (baptized in water and by the Word), justified (declared "not guilty" by the cross of Christ) and sanctified (set aside for holy use, to move the Kingdom of God forward) then the church should look and act differently than the world around it.

In other words, our witness (to the saving work of Jesus in our loves) is important, and we need the Spirit of God's strength and fruits in our lives to make that even possible.

Am I saying if you are divorced, have a porn problem, or any other struggle with sin, you should hang your head in church, or worse, not go until you are victorious?  No, of course not.  If that were the case, the church would decline significantly in numbers and the few left might feel so self-righteous that they would be useless. 

"And that is what some of you were":  Whatever our story, (and we all have one) we become walking testimonies to His saving work in us--even when we blow it.  Even when our sin is severe (look at Paul, who had "murderer" on his resume) we are still His works of art:

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:1-10)

The word "handiworks" is the word in Greek for "poem."   We are God's magnum opus, and He gets the glory when we, who were lost, act in love and self-control (both gifts of the Spirit, so we don't try to do this in our own power) and show the world that being in Christ means a new creation, a new work of God, on a planet that is broken, lost and confused.

We speak out about sin in controlled and sagacious words, carefully monitoring our own walk, and emphasizing His saving grace, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those around us.

He is faithful:  To us and to the world.

I can't be someone else's Holy Spirit.  

But I can be a walking testimony to how He saves, cleanses and sets a person free. 


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Romans 1 & 2: Part IV

Ah yes, now for the uncomfortable part.  As a religious person--a first century Jewish person or a modern evangelical, Chapter 1 of Romans would allow me to tick off the boxes of "I don't do that" and "Wow, this is disgusting," "Yes, I am a spiritual giant."

Wrong response.  While certainly the pagan practices of the first century that Paul lists were very off-putting to the Jewish community, Paul could have stopped there and said, "Class dismissed."

But he didn't.  I think we sometimes substitute true righteousness in Christ with an outward show of outrage for unrighteousness.  We condemn those who egregiously sin and this makes us look more "spiritual."  In other words, how we respond to sin in others makes us look good.

But while Paul doesn't ignore the sin of the pagan community, he certainly isn't going to let us off the hook.  Why?  Because: 

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12, quoting Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20)

So, he launches into Romans 2, targeting the rest of us:  we, who consider ourselves "good people."

Here is more of what he said: 

"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.'  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:5-11) 

Uh-oh.  We saw in the first verses of Chapter 2 that we who pass judgment on others are really condemning ourselves, because we do the same things.  And because of that, we deserve God's wrath just as much as "those people" do, for we are ignoring the mercy and grace He extended to us and how His kindness brought us to Him.

In other words, kindness leads people to repentance, not harsh judgment. Has anyone come to Christ after they were excoriated and judged without mercy?  They may have come to Christ in spite of having been so treated, but the harsh words and scornful looks didn't drive them to repent.  It hurt them, or caused them to seek solace somewhere else.  Why do people seek and create communities?  Because everyone wants to belong.  If the Christian community is Pharisee-like in its approach, people will swerve away from us and seek another group where they feel welcomed. 

I believe this is another way Satan deceives us.  First, we the "righteous" are deceived because we think we are good because of our efforts, not because of the grace and mercy given to us by Christ.  We gather with like-minded people who parade their scorn for sin as a sign of how spiritual they are and we go along with them.  

"Those people," who may have looked at Christianity for an answer to their longing and searching, were met at our door with scorn.  They then found another community for answers.  They are drawn even deeper into deception that this group will fulfill them.   

Paul doesn't mince words:  We will be repaid for what we have done, and anyone doing evil will face God and be answerable for it. Paul goes on: 

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:13-16)

Isn't that interesting?  It isn't just the "righteous" that have God's law written on their hearts--"those people" do too!  I have met non-believers who are kind, thoughtful, gracious and considerate.  I am sure Paul had met people like this as well.  He then met with some of his Jewish brethren and received an entirely different reception--one of criticism and scorn for bringing the Gospel in the first place and then offering it to all. 

God works in people even when they don't confess Him.  Think about yourself:  Didn't you feel His gentle pull long before you made a decision to follow Him?  It's called "prevenient grace."  It's God's drawing us before we even knew Him.  Jesus gives us a lovely definition:  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day." (John 6:44) 

So by judging "those people," we are acting as if they are beyond God's loving, drawing reach, and are condemned right here, right now. 

Dusted and done. 

But isn't that, once again, Satan saying, "Did God really say..."?

We love to quote John 3:16, but let's go a little wider: 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." (John 3:16-21)

People want to stay in the darkness for there they can sin and not be seen.  Adam and Eve hid in the darkness, but God went looking for them.

God see us and shines the light of His Son into our lives, for Jesus Christ is the Light.  God reveals the truth of Himself by His creation as we saw in Romans 1. Those who hate God suppress the truth and that leads to all sorts of darkness.  But just as the above verses say, Christ came to save the world--not a select few nor the ones who see themselves as good.  Everyone.  The Light reaches all, for He wants all to come to know Him.  

We can choose to believe in Christ or ignore Him.  But until we are dead, God's offer stands, even if we are in the darkness until the very last moment.  

Think of the thief on the cross.

I will give you a personal example: my dad.  He was one angry man.  His father had served in World War I.  He undoubtedly came home with mental health issues.  He may not have been the most demonstrative father--on his deathbed, my dad tried to hug him, and he pushed my dad away.  

My dad had a real problem with authority figures--he wanted the approval of those he respected and scorned those who had offended him in some way.  He would blow up at a moment's notice and rage on for awhile.

He was a salesman, and worked hard and yet thought so little of himself that he wouldn't demand to be better paid, probably fearing disapproval from his superiors.

After years of trying to find personal fulfillment in work, status, relationships and money, he was diagnosed with melanoma. That didn't bring him to God.  It just made him angry at his wife, the doctors and the life he now had to live as a cancer patient undergoing constant treatment.

One day, when he was in a skilled care facility, we were talking and he said, "I am afraid, Rhonda."  It was a moment when he showed humility in the face of death.  I told him he didn't need to be afraid and I wanted to pray with him.  He agreed.

My dad was my thief on the cross--humbled by what the near future held, he reached out to Jesus.

He's in heaven now, but if you had asked me if I thought my dad's life would end with him coming to the Lord, I don't know if I would have believed it, frankly.  

One last thought:  Satan wants us to believe that the way someone is now is the way they will be in the future.  Wrong.  Consider ducks in the water:  They glide smoothly, seemingly unaffected by anything around them. But look below the surface:  They are paddling like mad.

People may be swimming smoothly on the pond of life, uninterested in spiritual things, but underneath, God is working to gently bring them to Himself.

I am grateful to a brother in the Lord who just preached this as a message.  He exhorted us to keep praying for those who are lost, even if they seem unaffected by your prayers.  We must trust that God is working below the surface. 

He did with us; why not them? 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Romans 1 & 2: Spiritual Warfare, Part III

It would so easy to just stop at Romans 1.  We could look around with great pride and check off all the things we don't do on Paul's mapping of a society steeped in sin and celebrating the darkness.

But that is exactly what Paul is trying to avoid in Chapter 2.  Here we go: 

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:1-4)

Uh-oh.  Paul's previous verses are not a free pass for those of us who do not battle with such sins to stand in judgment of those who do.  Someone could say, I don't battle with same-sex attraction, and I have no compassion on those who do.  I have the right then to pass judgement, because the Bible says it's wrong.  

I don't deal with disobedient children, or feel envy or greed, so I look down on those who do.      

But Paul doesn't allow us to stand there, haughtily condemning and judging.  Why? He says, "for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."

Whoa.  "The same things"?  We may not do all of those things, or some of those things, but we do fall into sin.  

How many pastors condemn homosexuality, and yet have a porn problem?  No, they themselves do not feel a same-sex attraction, but they have a lust problem that drives them to addictively access porn, and commit adultery in their hearts.  

How many pastors condemn pornography and gay marriage, and yet are divorced?  They justify why their marriages failed, constantly deal with blended families and hostile stepchildren, yet extend no mercy or patience with those who have tried to create a new kind of family.    

Paul, like Jesus, is not minimalizing sin. Sin means "missing the mark" and Jesus saw that mark being missed all the time as He ministered: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matt. 15:19-20).

It's not just sin itself that Jesus and Paul are focused on; how do we, as fellow sinners and members of the human family, deal with the sin and the sinner?  God's judgment is based on "truth"--His standards, His character and His design for us.  But our judgment is based on us--our truth, our standards, our character and how we think the world should act (like us, of course!)

Judgment is a serious thing.  No "mere human being" can look in and see all of what is going on in a person's heart. But then Paul turns the tables and says we who do the same things as those we judge are going to come under God's judgment as well--we are not perfect and our condemning attitude brings us right in front of God's throne.  The focus is now on us: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?"

So, if He extends His kindness (He relentlessly pursued and still pursues us), forbearance (He paid our debt in Christ and loved us while we were yet sinners) and patience (days, months, years, decades--how long did He wait for us to grasp His offer of eternal life?) then that is way we came to repentance.  That is God's method.  

That is the very method Paul is advocating here and what Jesus modelled:  It is kindness that leads people to repentance, not condemning them, berating them and all the while hiding in our own sin, compromising our witness and making us like the Pharisees.

We all know how Jesus felt about the Pharisees.

How does this tie into spiritual warfare? 

Sin is Satan's playground.  He invites you in with promises of fulfillment, happiness and your every expectation being met.  He lures you in deeper to those things that are so promising!  It is only after a while you notice the barbwire fence around the playground. 

Pride, too, is the position we stake in defending God's law, but has Satan's fingerprints on our hearts.    We are saying, in essence, we have arrived spiritually and now can look at others with a discerning eye. We can see their behavior and know Scripture well enough to load our Bible 45's and shoot with accuracy. 

It's the spiritual equivalent of the gunfight at OK Corral:  We are the righteous lawmen who are going to bring to justice those bad guys who break the law with seeming impunity.  If there are bodies on the ground, so be it:  If we hurt those we condemning, well at least they know the truth.  



The OK Corral of this world is littered with those who receive judgmental glances, harsh words and a sense they could never live up to the holy standard set before them, all done by Jesus' lawmen, who stood behind a sheriff's star and never saw any contradiction between how they lived their lives and who they viewed others. 

What if we just preached the Word in our services--the loving and edifying passages as well as those that convict us of our sinful predicament, and let the Holy Spirit do His job?  God's Word does not return void, and the Holy Spirit is consummately more qualified to show us and convict us of our need for Jesus.

I can tell you that you are wrong.  Only the Holy Spirit can go deep into your soul and stir you to see your sin for what it is:

"But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you." (John 16:7-14)

The Holy Spirit works in us and in "those people."  If we are refreshing rain and not thunder and lightning, wouldn't we be attractive to those who thirst and live in the desert? 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Romans 1 & 2, Part II

So, let's sum up the previous blog:  Paul is following the trajectory of when a people ignore God: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Rom. 1:21-23)

So, a people's thinking becomes futile (useless, unable to reach the truth) and their hearts are darkened (for the pure in heart see God; so, the opposite is true: they don't see God).

Now comes the slow spiral downward.  I find it interesting that Paul is writing to a Gentile church and not sugar-coating his message. He is calling out why Christ is necessary:  He died to save sinners.  Lest the Roman church thinks they are not "like those people," he reminds them that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  All members need the power of the resurrection, so they may live reflecting the mighty work of God in their lives.

The deeper the sin, the mightier the testimony of God's working in the lives of individuals. Jesus is central to everything Paul will say: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'” (Rom. 1:16-17)

Then Paul launches into how depraved humanity really is--and the evidence for the Fall is everywhere.  But, and this is key, because salvation in Christ has been revealed and His power through His resurrection has been made known, no one is now without excuse to continue in the old ways.  

So, those who suppress the truth of the reality of the Almighty God, whose creation speaks of His love, power and lordship over creation, and then make an idol and ascribe to it divine power--Paul has zero tolerance for such folly.  

Wickedness suppresses the truth, for it models an utter disregard for God and His standards. We don't just break the Law by ignoring our consciences that bear God's moral imprint, but we celebrate breaking it and encourage others to do so as well. 

Idol makers need priests who want to fill temples with graven images.  Priests need worshippers to fulfill the "demands" of the idols: practices that are immoral and self-centered, laced with fear of reprisal if the rituals aren't followed.  Worshippers need to keep coming back to the temples, to fulfill obligations and put money in the temple coffers, keeping the temple and priests operating. It's cycle of greed parading under a false spirituality.  

This system, fostered by the wicked on the unsuspecting crowds who are equally wicked in choosing a lie, ignore the truth about God--the One who reveals Himself through the majesty of creation: "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." [emphasis mine] 

Idolatry is a reinvention of God.  His qualities, His commandments, His love for humanity are lost, and are replaced with a god who demands fear, sacrifice, devotion, and practices that are against God's design for His children.  His commandments that we love one another as brothers because He is our Father, are subsumed under a self-centered approach to divinity.  Worshippers are taught to do for the god so the god will do for them.  If gods don't reciprocate, it is the fault of the worshipper, and back to the temple they go.

The priests of these temples use fear and mystery to ensnare and imprison God's children in an never-ending cycle of fear and immoral practices. The worshippers enjoy the mystery and hidden knowledge and pride themselves on being good followers of the religion. These practices damage their souls and make it harder and harder to see the One true God. 

That is how the truth is suppressed: by misrepresenting God, His character and His commands.  Sound familiar? Think of what Satan said to Eve: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden”'?

And a moment later, “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:1, 4-5) 

Exactly: "No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons." (1 Cor. 10:20)

So, if idol worship is really demonic, then no wonder the Gentiles are so deceived.  The "gods" promise enlightenment, but deliver deception.  

Thus, Romans 1 chronicles a people who are operating in that deception.  So now, as a direct consequence, their behavior mars the image of God in which they were made: "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen." (Rom. 1:24-25)

Sexual desire and temptation is never far away from our fallen flesh.  Satan loves the debauching of the innocent--it traumatizes the soul of a person. Innocent once lost is hard to overcome, and like our first parents who lost their innocence, the return to the garden is impossible.  Hence, the cross:  Jesus' sacrifice reopened for us the fellowship with God and His creation.   

God gives us the gift of sex, and we remake it to where we are in the center, and the sole purpose of our lives is to be happy in the pursuit of the flesh. 

Sin means missing the mark, and Paul's words show how we miss the mark: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Rom. 1:26-27). 

Love is replaced by self-serving lust. But let's keep going.  Paul doesn't stop with sexual sin, but sees a whole constellation of sin that results when we make God in our own (fallen) image and how it misses the mark (i.e. sin): 

"Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God" = I don't need God and His narrow, out of date rules; I know what's best because I am enough. 

"[S]o God gave them over to a depraved mind" = I pursue what I want because I am unhappy; society must revolve around me,and moral consequences? None, because there is no moral law.  I am the law. 

"[S]o that they do what ought not to be done" = I will have no competition against my pursuits: no laws, no intolerance and nothing that impedes what I want.  
"They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity" = I am the measure of all things--if I don't see it as wrong or as a problem, then it isn't.    

"They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice" = Get out of my way.  I do what I have to do, and if anyone disagrees or contradicts me, beware.  I will shut you down. 
"They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful" = Don't bring up God to support your arguments, for you are stupid and way out of touch with a progressive society.  I speak out all the time against those who question me, but you must remain silent.  

"[T]hey invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents"  = I know what I am doing, what I am feeling and my parents have no understanding, so I do not listen to them.  I listen only to those who understand me and want to help me find my true self. 

"[T]hey have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy" = Why should I?  It's about me, and my perspective.  Don't try to step in and change me--leave me to pursue my truth!  If you question me, I will have no mercy on you--you don't deserve any. 

"Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." = We will overcome opposition to our plans by any means necessary, and guess what?  We are succeeding in ways unfathomable even 10 years ago!  We are picking up speed to recreate ourselves and our society in our image. Woe unto to you if you get in our way. 

Welcome to now.

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