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Repentance

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The Scales of Justice

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away yesterday evening. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

President Trump will nominate a new justice in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring a vote on the President’s nomination to the Senate floor. We could have a new justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) before or shortly after the November 3, 2020 elections.

According to the US Constitution, the President’s job is to nominate SCOTUS Justices and the Senate’s job is to give “advice and consent”. Legally, the process could begin immediately. But is that the right thing to do?

We are a country of Law and Order. The Constitution was written to preserve the rights of the People and restrain the US Government (in sharp contrast to the Left’s suggestions that the Constitution is to restrain the People, preserving the right of the Government).

Our nation is deeply divided among political lines. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota Police Officer, we have already seen months of nightly riots (called “mostly peaceful protests” by the “mainstream” media) in the streets of Portland, Seattle, New York, among other cities. Conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted, “Ruth Badger (sic) Ginsburg has passed away. Pray for the Ginsburg family, but also pray for America. If you thought you saw the face of true evil with the Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh— you ain’t see nothing yet.”

Last night, as Twitter lit up on news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, Reza Aslan tweeted, “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f*cking thing down.” I don’t know what Aslan threatens to burn down, but it doesn’t sound good.

Even in the day of “tolerance”, we are at a point where bullies’ comments are taken seriously and played out. But then again, I don’t remember any of President Trump’s “bully rhetoric” played out, resulting in any lives lost. But I digress.

In 2016, SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy. Mitch McConnell said that he would block Garland’s nomination until after the upcoming election in order for the People to decide, which resulted in Donald Trump getting to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS.

Many on the Left are calling McConnell hypocritical now. But a few months ago, McConnell clarified his statement by saying that since the President (Obama) and the Senate majority were led by opposite parties, the People should decide in the election which way they want to go. And the People decided. In the interview a few months ago, McConnell said that since the President (Trump) and the Senate were led by the same party, he would have no problem presenting the President’s nominated justice. On a side note, in 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden was in favor of Garland’s nomination and said the Senate should be allowed to consider Garland.

Senator Ted Cruz pointed out on Sean Hannity’s TV show last night — and Tweeted today — that especially in light of the Democrats’ threats to contest the election — and Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances”, having an even number of SCOTUS Justices could lead to a Constitutional Crisis if the 2020 election is challenged, as was the 2000 election. Cruz is in favor of the Senate considering a nominee. National Review wrote this article on August 7, 2020, “History Is on the Side of Republicans Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in 2020“. It’s worth the read.

A couple of friends on Facebook stated last night that the stakes of the election had just been raised significantly. As President Obama stated several years ago, “Elections have consequences.” I agree.

In recent years, SCOTUS has made several anti-Constitutional decisions — at least as I read the Constitution. In fact, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was Unconstitutional; the Constitution does not guarantee a “right to privacy” as argued, which was the main reason for approving nation-wide abortions. The SCOTUS decision in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage was decided on a 5-4 split decision. (Note: Ted Cruz, in his recent book One Vote Away, chronicles other narrow 5-4 SCOTUS decisions).

So where does that leave us? Clearly, we are at a crossroads. Clearly, the Rule of Law allows going forward with a Supreme Court nomination. If we — as a nation — choose to postpone the nomination, we should do so independent of threats of riots. We cannot allow bullying to deter following the Law at this crucial time. But the question is, “Is now the time to move forward with a nomination?” This is what Ginsburg said in 2016, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year,”… Several months later, Ginsburg said having only eight justices on the Supreme Court is not good.

One friend suggested on Facebook that Trump should go with the “nuclear option”. The Nuclear Option would involve a “Recess Appointment” of a Justice while the Senate is not in session during three consecutive days. This would prevent a Constitutional Crisis for deciding a contested election. But the Recess Appointment would be challenged and there would be a normal confirmation process. The appointment could be short-lived.

This could be political suicide for Trump and McConnell.

Is it worth the possible political fallout ahead of the election? On the other hand, it could incentivize more citizens — on both sides of the aisle — to vote in November.

But if Trump is able to get a confirmed nomination, a Constitutional-originalist-leaning SCOTUS (not “conservative”) would have ramifications that would last for generations. If Trump wins and appoints additional Justices, in the event they die or retire, that would result in even fewer narrow decisions for SCOTUS. The only way to overcome this, should Biden/Harris win would be to pack the SCOTUS with additional liberal Justices, as FDR threatened to do and add two or four more Justices. After all, the Constitution doesn’t prescribe how many Justices will serve.

The stakes are high.
This election just became less about two candidates
and more about abortion, religious freedom, and Constitutional fidelity.*

If they haven’t begun to already, Christians need to
humbly pray, seek God, and clean up our act and vote
.

2Chronicles 7:14

* I plan to write another post about Constitutional fidelity soon and will post a link here.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

Here we are again, looking at frequently-occurring words. Today’s word is grief. It appears in one form or another eight times in only four verses (2 Corinthians 7:7-10) in today’s Bible reading.

The Greek word translated as grief in English means “to be sad as the result of what has happened or what one has done—‘to be sad, to be distressed”[1]

If I were to “grieve you”, I would make you sad. If I knew that I made you sad, I would probably regret doing so. I would be sad for making you sad and I would apologize.

But what if I made you sad in the process of correcting you for doing something wrong? I wouldn’t regret it and I wouldn’t apologize (though I may have to apologize for the way I said it).

This is what Paul says in verse 8. He doesn’t regret making the Corinthians sad because it made them do something: they “repented”. They changed their behavior because of their grief, their sadness.

Regret is an emotional response. It’s “feeling sorry” for doing something. You can regret doing something and that’s the end of it. You may even apologize, but that’s the end of it. But then, you can regret doing something and the grief causes you to do something to correct what you regretted doing. If you do something as a result of the grief, you repent. You change your behavior based on a change of your thinking because of your grief.

Paul says there is a kind of regret, a kind of grief that brings about change. That is godly grief. But Paul also says there’s another kind of grief that doesn’t produce change. That kind of grief — worldly grief — simply results in death. In other words, you feel sorry and no change results from it.

Application

When you sin, you may regret the fact that you sinned. You may be very sad and feel a deep sense of remorse. You may be heartbroken in your grief over your sin. But unless your regret produces a change in your mind that produces a change in your behavior, you have only felt an emotional response in your regret.

On the other hand, godly grief produces the life change that God desires. It’s a kind of grief that affects us on a deeper level than mere emotion. In fact, we may not even feel a deep emotional response, but we change our mindset and our behavior because of the godly grief. And that’s what God wants and that’s what God empowers us to do as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 317. Print.

This devotional was originally published on August 30, 2019.

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transformation of a butterfly

Paul offers hope for perpetual sinners in today’s Bible reading.

Some will tell you that your sin defines you, that once you discover your “true self“, that’s who you truly are and you should celebrate your true self.

But what if your “true self” is opposed to the revealed Word of God? How do you handle this epic conflict?

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (CSB)

Paul names several sins and says that those who commit those sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s a pretty strong statement, Paul. You’re being very judgmental, Paul. Paul, you’re lacking grace. You need to be more loving, Paul. You need to be more inclusive, Paul. You need to be more tolerant, Paul.

You could write off the Bible as an old, outdated book written by closed-minded men. Or you could say that their statements were culturally-conditioned and therefore don’t apply today. Or you could say that what the biblical writers referred to (eg, homosexuality) wasn’t what is referred to by that word today. Or you could say that the biblical writers didn’t have access to modern-day science that dismisses their theories. Or you could dismiss the authority of the Bible completely, rejecting its claims to be God’s revealed Word.

Or you could repent and turn to God.

Application

Paul gives sinners hope! Paul says that your sin doesn’t define you! Paul says you can change!

Notice that right after Paul lists the sins, he says, “And some of you used to be like this. 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 Corinthians 6:11 (CSB)

The clear implication is that you don’t have to continue to do what you used to do! You don’t have to live the way you used to live!

You used to be a drunkard, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be greedy, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be sexually immoral, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be verbally abusive, but you don’t have to be now!

The Gospel Message is one of hope! Grace isn’t limited to getting you into heaven. Grace includes the power of getting heaven into you, to change you from the inside out. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)

This isn’t about behavior change. This is about life transformation from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God.

Are you being washed? Are you being sanctified? Is your life being renewed by God’s Holy Spirit?

This devotional was originally published August 7, 2019.

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sin

Paul speaks very strongly regarding sexual immorality in the Corinthian Church in today’s Bible reading. He says that a man is committing an act that even unbelievers in Corinth don’t condone: he is having sexual relations with his father’s wife.

Paul recommends that the church deal with this individual in a very strict way: remove him from the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:2, 13) and give him over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5). The goal of dealing with this individual is twofold:

  • Deal with the individual, aiming to restore him to fellowship with the rest of the church body
  • communicate with the church body that sin is serious and should be dealt with seriously. Jesus made a similar statement when he said that it would be better to enter heaven maimed or blind than to go to hell intact. (Matthew 5:29–30)

The terms “sexual immorality” and “sexually immoral” appear twice each in English in this chapter. It refers to the sin being committed and the one who is committing the sin. But both of these terms are based in the same Greek root and we derived our English words “porn” and “fornication” from this Greek root.

Normally when we talk of “porn” we mean pornographic literature and images. But the basis of the word is far broader than those two narrow classifications. Here are definitions from two Greek lexicons:

  • to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution—‘to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution.’ [1]
  • fornication, sexual immorality, sexual sin of a general kind, that includes many different behaviors.[2]

In recent years we have seen reports of lawsuits by former church members against their former church for kicking them out of the church. At the core of these lawsuits are libel, slander, and defamation of character. The plaintiff claims that they should be able to live however they want and remain a member of the local church congregation. But based on Paul’s recommendations, the church has a responsibility to deal with sin in order to protect its purity. I believe Paul would say that this can, and must, be done without libel, slander, and defamation of character.

Now, as soon as I typed that next-to-last sentence, I could hear some readers point out (and rightfully so) that the local church, filled with fallen people is far from “pure” and filled with hypocrisy. And I can also hear readers calling out specific (“respectable”) sins that are often tolerated — and even promoted in much of (Western) church culture such as gluttony, lying, and slander to name a few. And I can hear some readers say that “Paul isn’t showing much grace.” Paul already responded to that criticism:

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Romans 6:1 (CSB)

Should all sin be exposed in the church? Judging from Paul’s example, we would have to say no. Paul didn’t single out murder. He didn’t single out lying. He didn’t single out coveting. But he did single out obvious sin that was openly flaunted by a church member.

Look, we all sin. I sin. And you sin. But we must all agree that sin is sin. All sin is wrong. All sin grieves the heart of God. And all sin is to be killed, not simply managed. (Colossians 3:5, Romans 8:12-13)

Application

What sins do you deal with on a regular basis? Are you grieved by them? Do you feel a need to repent of them in order to walk in deeper intimacy with God? Or do you feel that God isn’t bothered with your sin?

Perhaps you need to follow James’ directive:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. James 5:16 (CSB)

Paul is pretty clear in how we should deal with sin: kill it.

Puritan John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers says that we should be killing sin or [sin] will be killing you. John Piper refers to this small book by Owen in two messages, “How to Kill Sin” and “Kill Sin with the Word of God“. I invite you to click those links and listen or read Piper’s messages.

This devotional was originally published August 6, 2019.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 770. Print.
[2] Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) 1997 : n. pag. Print.

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Warning

Today’s Bible reading begins and ends looking at the religious leaders. Dr. Luke says they question the source of Jesus’ authority. When He responds, asking them about John the Baptizer’s authority, they choke. They realized the gravity of His question and feared that “the people” would stone them if they learned the leaders believed that John’s authority was not divine. They refused to answer Jesus’ very pointed question.

At the end of Luke 20, Jesus issues a warning against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. He basically says the same thing in His warning as He does in (Matthew 6:5) that they are receiving the only honor they will ever receive. They want the praise of men and they are getting that. But they will receive no praise from God at the judgment. Actually here, Jesus intensifies His warning. Not only will the leaders not be praised by God, but they will receive “harsher judgment”.

Being a pastor or teacher is an incredible honor. I know that I have been entrusted with declaring the glory of God as revealed in His Word. But with that honor comes tremendous responsibility to be faithful to that task. (James 3:1) I think that’s one reason that I prefer to use a manuscript for my sermons. I want to ensure that I say what I feel that God has given me in the way He has given it. Occasionally I will go off script as I feel God gives me a little more to say.

Those who sit under the teaching of someone else are also responsible: to study the Scriptures daily. (Acts 17:11) While the responsibility of the preacher/teacher is to speak the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11), the hearers must weigh what they hear against the Word. (1 Corinthians 14:29) I am not infallible. If I’m ever wrong in what I say, I need to be humble enough to receive correction from God’s Word, given by a friend. (2Timothy 3:16, Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).

Application

Who do you read? Who do you watch or listen to? Who do you follow on Social Media? You have to be careful! Yes, you can hear God’s voice from a broken, mistaken vessel. But sometimes preachers and teachers can be so wrong that it’s harmful for those who sit under their teaching.

Please be discerning. Please! If something you hear doesn’t line up with God’s Word, gently and humbly pull the preacher/teacher aside and offer Word-based and Word-saturated correction in love. (Ephesians 4:15) If they don’t listen, take someone else and approach them again. If they still won’t listen, turn away from them and don’t look back. Treat their teaching as you would the teaching of an unbeliever who claims to speak from God. (Matthew 18:15–20)

The key for both the preacher/teacher and for the listener is humility. It’s a trait the religious leaders in Jesus’ day lacked.

This devotional was originally published July 24, 2019

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