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Unintended Consequences

Sometimes, we think of sin like candy: a little bit is arguably good for you. It’s only a problem if you have too much. If you eat nothing but cheesecake all day, your pancreas will eventually give out, but a little indulgence here and there isn’t bad.

We should look at sin more like cancer. No one is okay with a tumor, no matter how small it is. When there’s cancer within you, you take drastic measures to destroy it.

That’s what I talked about last Sunday at Spring Valley Church.

Unintended Consequences (MP3)

Pastor Bill and most of the staff were away at a marriage retreat, and he invited me to guest-preach. It makes me particularly happy that he’d ask me because I took a preaching class from him a few years ago.

Spring Valley has been going through the book of Mark in their Sunday sermons. When Pastor Bill gave me a list of scriptures I could use, I knew I had to talk about the part where Herod chops off John the Baptist’s head. I had a direction in mind when I started researching the story, but God nudged me in a different direction.

In the end, my sermon was about how our view of sin affects us and those around us. I suggested three reminders for when we’re faced with temptation:

Don’t nurture death. There’s always a point behind temptation: to separate you from God, which is lethal to the soul. Think beyond what you’re being tempted with to the consequences of sin.

Don’t normalize evil. The more you’re in the midst of sin, the less it seems like sin. Like a friend of mine once said, “It’s appalling what people can get used to.” Remember that what you accept now may become your new normal.

Don’t bring trouble on those you love. There is no such thing as a private sin. Your actions affect others, whether by direct consequences or through your personal example. Think about how many of your parents’ hang-ups you inherited.

Thanks to Pastor Bill and everyone at Spring Valley for the chance to preach!

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Christianity 101: Jesus & the Cross

Christianity 101: Jesus & the Cross (MP3)

Last week we discussed how pervasive and destructive sin really is. We talked about how, because the first people screwed up, we all suffer the consequences. But today, we’ll talk about the reason we have hope — hope for this life and the next. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the answer to the problem of sin.

Now, to understand the cross, we need to understand the Incarnation: Jesus coming to Earth as a human being.

When we discussed the Trinity, we saw that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We saw that Jesus is the Son; that is, Jesus is God. Let’s look at one passage that illustrates that.

30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

-John 10:27-33

Jesus claims to be God. Yet it is also clear that He was a human being. Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Sin

Christianity 101: Sin (MP3)

Today, we’re talking about sin and its impact. It will be a little bleak, but don’t worry: things will brighten considerably next week when we talk about the cross. This week, we’ll talk about the problem; next week, we’ll talk about the solution.

Now, we use the word “sin” to refer to a few different ideas. The word “sin” can refer to an act, or the consequences of an act. “A sin” is something you do: “sin,” in theological terms, can refer to the repercussion we face because of it. Perhaps the most helpful description is this: when we describe something as “sinful,” it means it’s contrary to God’s nature.

As we talked about last week, God is a God of holy love. He’s both merciful and just. He’s a moral being; His character is what defines good, and therefore evil. He is our standard.

We can find an illustration of sin and its effects very early in the Bible, unfortunately. Let’s turn to Genesis 2, and the story of Adam and Eve. Read the rest of this entry

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil

In this morning’s Sunday School class, I tackled one of the most troublesome questions in religion and philosophy: why is there evil in the world?

To hear my answer, click the links below. To save either file for later listening, right-click the link and select Save Link As… or Save Target As….

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil (.mp3 | .m4a)

Feel free to argue with me in the comments or send me an e-mail!

Below is the lesson as written.

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Today, we’ll talk about what may be the biggest philosophical question people struggle with day-to-day: the problem of evil. Whereas some people will look into the historicity of the Bible, and some will dig into deep theological issues, everyone wrestles with this issue. Everyone has had something bad happen to them, and frankly, everyone has done something bad to someone else. We feel the impact of evil every day. It affects our lives. And it’s often one of the issues that keeps people distant from God.

We’re going to talk about the philosophy of evil this morning. But before we do, we have to recognize that this is a very emotional issue for some people. Some people have been hurt very badly – either by other people, or just by circumstances, or even their own choices – and they’re angry with God because of it. Read the rest of this entry

The Cost of Mercy

The name Good Friday bothered me for a while after I learned what it was all about. It offended my sensibilities to call such a horrendous day “good.”

Today, Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. To be blunt, we remember the day humanity murdered God. And not in a swift, sanitary, humane way, either. Crucifixion is absolutely horrific. It’s a nightmarish way to kill someone. And we inflicted it on the only truly good man ever to live.

For a long time, I was preoccupied by our guilt. I focused on our sins, our actions that sent Jesus to the cross.

Then, I saw something else.

Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. Not at all. He prayed not to go. But He was ready to do it if it were the only way. Soon after that prayer, armed men came to arrest Him. Peter, one of His closest followers, tried to take of the guys’ heads off with his sword.

Jesus stopped him and healed the man Peter had attacked.

Think about that. He had just begged His Father to let Him skip the cross. One of His followers then attacked His captors. A lesser man would have run. But Jesus apparently had His answer.

He went willingly.

Even when the men who had Him arrested taunted Him, challenging Him to get off the cross and prove that He was the Messiah, He stayed. Mind you, He could have blasted the cross to splinters with his mind and called down lightning on all the unbelievers. He didn’t.

That’s the “good” of Good Friday: that Jesus chose the cross for us.

We live in a culture that avoids discomfort at all costs. We see boredom, inconvenience, and pain as great evils. I don’t want that perspective.

For the past several years, I’ve fasted from the evening of Good Friday until Easter Sunday. This year, I’ll do the same, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Before, I would think about the weight of our sin every time my stomach growled.

This year, it will be less for guilt and more for worship.

This year, the discomfort will be a reminder to say “thank you” to the God who paid the cost of mercy.

Magic: The Gathering – Old Testament

A lot of characters and ideas from the Bible would make great Magic cards. Here are a few of my thoughts from the Old Testament.

You got any?

Samuel (WW1)
Creature – Israelite Prophet Legend (2/2)
T: Target King gets +2/+2.
T: Target King gets -2/-2.

Year of Jubilee (G1)
Sorcery
Return all permanents to their owner’s control. Untap all permanents you control. You cannot tap lands for mana or play activated abilities for the rest of this turn.

Lucifer, the Adversary (BlBlBl2)
Creature – Fallen Angel Legend (6/6)
4: Target creature gains +3/+0. Destroy that creature at end of turn.
[Lucifer is printed on a white card.]

David, Chosen Shepherd (WW2)
Creature – Israelite Legend (1/1)
If David deals combat damage to a creature with power or toughness 2 or more greater than his, destroy that creature, and flip David.
/
David, King of Israel
Creature – Israelite King Legend (2/3)
If David attacks, all attacking creatures get first strike.

Wages of Sin (Bl2)
Enchantment
Cumulative Upkeep: Place a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control.
Draw two cards during your draw phase.
Your maximum hand size is 6.

Fire of Retribution (RR)
Instant
Each creature that dealt damage to you this turn takes 5 damage.

 

Covenant Promises (Bu4)
Sorcery
Rearrange the top 10 cards of your library. Reveal only the last three cards, then place all 10 cards on top of your library.

 

Bronze Snake (3)
Artifact
3, T: Remove all your poison counters.

Sin and the T-Virus

[Everyone] is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.James 1:14-15

For me, it’s being judgmental.  Someone says something I don’t agree with, and I dwell on a scornful thought.  I scoff inwardly.  A few days or weeks later, the thoughts keep coming, and I don’t stop them.  I shake my head at people in disgust.  Soon, I’m scowling.  Inwardly, I’m getting more irritable, more proud, and less patient.  And as it goes on, it gets harder to control.  It just keeps building unless I pray and shut it down.

A friend of mine remarked that to follow God, you have to give up your free will.  The opposite is true.

Sin starts out small.   A little temptation indulged.  Nothing too bad, right?  But that’s just how it starts.

It grows.  It festers.  It takes over.  What was once a fairly innocent vice becomes a habit.  What was once a habit becomes an addiction.  You lose control.  Sin compromises your will and enslaves you to self-destructive desires.  Eventually, it brings death: spiritual, and possibly physical.

Sin is the zombie plague.

Thankfully, there’s a cure.