Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Envying Sinners? You'd Better Stop It.

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17,18 -- NASB)

The teacher of Proverbs has an important exhortation here, one that acknowledges the strong allure of sin, yet which also urges the man of God to deny that temptation by turning instead to a healthy, joyful, and forward-looking trust in God. This is an ever-timely warning, one that can provide great help to us in our ongoing battles with sin’s deceptive enticements.

Let’s break down a few elements of this exhortation.

1) Sin begins in the heart -- our inner attitudes and affections.  The overt acts of sin have their start inside us. (Remember 1 John 1:13-16 and Matthew 5.) Walking in holiness is much more than avoiding the deeds of robbery, adultery, cursing, murder, or exploitation. It is not enough to avoid “acting out” sin. The battleground is, in point of fact, our minds.  It is there that that we are either victorious or defeated, pure or corrupt, pleasing to God or disappointing to Him. Thus, the initial warning of Proverbs 23:17: “do not let your heart envy sinners.”  The basic danger we face is not murdering someone, it’s hating them. It is not hooking up with someone who is not your spouse, but mentally lusting for them. It is not breaking into your neighbor’s home to steal, but being unsatisfied and ungrateful with your own income and possessions. Again, sin begins in the heart and so that is where the Lord commands us to be on our closest guard against it.

2) Do we really envy sinners?  We don’t usually think of our struggles with evil in this way.  We are more likely to think of temptation as being an idea or some kind of evil force…perhaps some line of attack from the devil himself.  But this proverb is just one of the many Scriptures that show us temptation can arise from our attitudes towards other people – even unbelievers.  Their beauty and youth.  Their health and mobility.  Their affluence, eloquence, social standing, relationships, freedom, success.  When we allow our eyes to stray from the Lord, from His Word, from the many and lovely gifts He has given us, and from our heavenly future (more on that momentarily), and start comparing our lot with others, we’re in spiritual trouble. We are likely to end up dissatisfied (at times even despairing). We complain and blame God for whatever we feel lacking. We give way to envy.  But God wants to kindly teach us that there is absolutely no future in this.  No happiness.  No spiritual growth. No heavenly reward. So, let’s listen carefully to His wisdom and choose a different course.

3)  “Live in the fear of the Lord always.” Yes, there is another option.  Instead of letting our hearts be filled with dissatisfaction, ingratitude, and envy towards sinners, our hearts can be filled with the Holy Spirit as we live in the fear of God. Now, you’ve often heard that when the Bible speaks of fearing God, it actually means a solemn reverence for Him. And that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. A comprehensive study of the Bible’s teaching on this matter reveals that while “the fear of the Lord” certainly includes that sense of solemn reverence towards God, it also involves ongoing trust, gratitude, love, awe, obedience, encouragement, comfort and…yes, an honest fear of the repercussions of sin in our lives.  Make no mistake, God is a jealous God Who disciplines His own.  So be sure to behave yourselves as heavenly children. Honor God with a life of faithful obedience to His Word. As you do so, the temptation to envy sinners will lose its appeal. So, delight yourself in the Lord.  Find in Him your joy, your satisfaction, your purpose, and your strength. And, in God’s divine irony, once your focus is on Him, you can properly see others – not as people to envy, but as people to serve, pray for, and be an example to.

4) Consider the future. There is, in 23:18, a marvelous postscript to the previous proverb.  God reminds us that there is another huge consideration in this matter; namely, the eternal consequences of our present battles with temptation and sin.  Those sinners we are sometimes prone to envy?  Their end is judgment and an eternal separation from God and all His delights.  But, in astonishing contrast, the people of God have a sure hope -- a word also translated “expectation” And that sure hope, that guaranteed expectation of believers is a full redemption of mind, body, relationships, and even the physical world in which they will live forever with Christ  And that hope will not be cut off. But the wicked?  That’s a whole different story. He has no portion at all in this.  He is cast out defeated, wanting, and alone…eternally. So why envy sinners? There’s no logic or value in doing so.  Oh no, it is much better to keep the big picture in mind and live in the fear of God: honoring Him, loving Him, and glorifying Him as we joyfully anticipate the grand future before us.

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”  (Proverbs 23:17,18 -- NASB)

Remembering the Embrace of a Loved One

How goes our “When Swing Was King” ministry to the residents of the 11 senior care facilities we visit every month?

I’ll let the residents themselves answer that question:

“We love your visits! It’s our favorite program of everything they offer.”

“How do you do it? How do you manage to make each program even better than the last one!”

“Oh, I so appreciate your shows. When I listen to those old songs, I feel my husband’s arms wrapped around me again.”

For the month of March, we were honored to entertain 285 people! Isn’t this remarkable?

What a precious ministry the Lord has given Claire and I in this special part of Vital Signs Ministries.  And, of course, Claire and I think you would enjoy the “When Swing Was King” shows too — as well as the opportunity to visit some very special folk. So check the schedule on the VSM website and find a date to come join in the fun.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Have Your Sins Been Nailed to the Cross?

During our Thursday morning Panera conversation last week, Patrick and John and I were talking about a friend’s journal entry which recounted dramatic pro-life activities we were involved in 35 years ago! Those diary stories led to 1) an interesting review of our ministries over the long decades, 2) the tragic and wicked devolution of culture over those same decades, 3) God’s providential grace and power, and 4) the glorious inheritance that awaits us in Christ’s heaven when this part of our adventure is done.

And, at one point in our coffee conversation, this journal entry from so long ago caused us to speculate on the possibility that a full record of our lives exist. Every action.  Every thought.  Every deed performed in the Spirit.  And yet every sin too.  As you might guess, that was a somewhat unsettling thing to consider.

But then we gratefully, joyfully remembered that though such a record of our sins, shame and failure does exist (I Corinthians 3:12 ff), it will not be held against us. Why? Because, for those who receive Christ's atoning work on the cross, Jesus paid for their sins – every single one of them.

The specific Scripture passage that we went to for comfort was Colossians 2:13,14. “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Isn’t that terrific news? There is, in fact, an “Eye in the sky” that notes everything we do, say, and think.  But the wrath that should rightfully fall on the sinner for those sins has, by God’s amazing grace, fallen instead upon Jesus when He died on the cross to pay our debts.  Wow. What love, what mercy.

If you haven’t yet received that windfall gift of salvation, you can do so (right at this very moment) by simply letting go of your own efforts to pay your way into heaven and instead rely completely on the gracious sacrifice Jesus made for you.  That heavenly record – all those “decrees against us” – have been “taken out the way.”  So, believe it, trust in His atoning sacrifice, and walk in newness of life today.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

An Old Idea is New Again (But It's Still a Bad Idea)

Inez Feltscher Stepman, Director of the Education and Workforce Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council and a senior contributor to The Federalist, comments on the new popularity of an old (and very bad) idea; namely, socialism.

"Earlier this week, The Washington Post ran an article by Elizabeth Bruenig titled ‘It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try,’ in which she argues that the current flailings of liberal democracy should be replaced with socialism. Although the author stridently and probably sincerely denies being a “totalitarian nostalgist,” the reality is that socialism requires totalitarianism. A system so incompatible with human nature cannot exist without an increasingly-ruthless enforcement mechanism. And as we see with the rising illiberal left in America, nice-sounding ideas quickly turn into demands, and demands into law, backed by the full force of government.

Not to get too personal here, but this kind of ‘let’s try it again’ rhetoric really chaps my behind. Both of my parents grew up under the communist regime in Poland, and my grandfather logged time in a Siberian gulag. They came to the United States seeking a freer life, not to hear more of the same old siren song.

There’s nothing romantic about life under socialism or communism. We know where rhapsodizing about socialism leads. It’s not new, and the Post and the New York Times shouldn’t treat it like the trendy flavor of the month.”  (Inez Feltscher Stepman at Bright, an email update provided by The Federalist)

Friday, March 02, 2018

Say It with Flowers...and Swing

The last “When Swing was King” show for February was a real doozy including not only the usual elements, those being 12 classic hits from the big band era, about 200 lovely and interesting photographs, stimulating conversation with the residents of the senior care facility, and the enjoyment of shared memories. But this time around, we were also able to share the beautiful blessing of flowers. That’s right; thanks to Alan Nelson, a wholesale florist with the Bill Doran Company, we brought along an entire box (and a very big box, at that!) of gorgeous flowers arranged in individual bouquets to hand out to the residents.

I wish you could’ve been there to see their response to this beautiful blessing. But then, of course, you could have been! Indeed, we are always delighted to have other friends come along to our “When Swing Was King” shows to join in the happening. The March schedule is available on the Vital Signs Ministries website.