The Air That We Breathe

Have you seen the pictures of how bad the air pollution is in parts of China?  Everyone seems to be walking around with surgical masks on and you can see, even in a photograph, particles floating in the air.  If you breathe that in, you are not just pulling in the life giving oxygen and other gases natural to the world, but the evil and potentially deadly result of mankind’s mindless misuse of God’s world.

One thing I’m pretty sure of–when Christ comes again and His people live for eternity in a remade world, there won’t be any air pollution.  Everything will be perfect and all of His people will receive nothing but benefit when we fill our lungs with the air of glory.

In a way, though, we sample that pure air when we come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus.  For at that point we aren’t standing in the middle of a smoggy metropolis, our feet aren’t searching for a foothold on soil made unproductive by the sin which distorts all of God’s good creation–for at that point, we are standing right on the dividing line between this world and the next.  As we breathe we breathe in a whiff of the pure air of heaven.  We smell, ever so faintly, the beauty of glory.  Our eyes see as in a glass darkly, but still we see the beauty of what God wanted for us.  God’s people walk, as the old hymn tells us, on the verge of Jordan and we see afar, but yet we see all we have ever hoped for.

 

 

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The Cure of Souls

The title of this message is an old English phrase for what pastors do in the congregation.  In modern parlance, we would say the care of souls.  You don’t hear this much anymore and that’s a terrible shame.  You see the pastor’s primary responsibility is not luring more people into the sanctuary, being up on the latest cultural fads in order to be “relevant” or any of the 100 or so things that people seem to think it is.  The primary responsibility of any pastor is to care for the souls God has called him to serve.

A few years ago I was rather horrified to see an article listing the most popular topics pastors were reading about.  The first two were church management and leadership.  Theology was way down the last and soul care wasn’t even in the top 10.  It only solidified a view I already had–the Church in this country has lost its way and it won’t get back on the right track again until those called by God to be spiritual leaders get their thoughts straight about what a pastor is and what he should do.

Why do we need to worry about, talk about and pray about the state of people’s souls?  Because their souls, just like mine, are sin-sick and the only cure for that disease is Jesus Christ.  There’s an old spiritual that has the line in it, “there is a balm in Gilead to heal a sin-sick soul.”  And Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the Cross is that balm.  If it is not applied, and applied regularly, the pull of sin in our lives grows just like a virus in your body.  The pastor’s task is to find ways to apply this balm and  to bring to the people God has put under his care refreshing of their souls.

Friends, I want to ask you if you have that refreshing in your soul now?  Has Christ’s sacrifice washed you clean and can you tell the difference?  Are you now, this very minute, living with the assurance of your salvation and finding the peace that passes understanding?  If you’re not, you need to speak with your pastor and he needs to work with you so that the message of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you sinks deep into your soul and changes you from creature that sin has distorted into the person God wants you to be.

God Himself instituted the office of pastor.  Men often mess it up.  But it’s God’s work we are to do.  Let your pastor do it for you.

Coming Home Sick

I was sick last week.  Really just a bad cold.  I got it while I was on a retreat weekend with about 50 other men.  I felt fine most of the weekend, but I woke up Sunday morning with a scratchy throat.  By the next morning I was sick.  I carried my sickness home with me.

One of the problems many of us have is thinking that sin is something we “do”.  In other words, if I gossip, I sin.  If I steal, I sin.  If I look with lust at a woman other than my wife, I sin.  You get the picture.  But sin isn’t really something that we do as much as it is a power over us–a power that comes down across time to bedevil every man and woman who has ever lived.

Not even our conversion can destroy the sin that daily nips at our ankles (and occasionally bites us in the rear end).  We are now and will be until we die under the power of sin.  Even as we move across our lifespans toward home we carry the sickness of our sinfulness with us. And when we come before God to be judged we come bringing the effects of sinfulness with us.

But Christ has borne the punishment for those sins.  The sickness of sin clings to us, but when the Father looks at us He does not see the pockmarks sin makes on our skin, the lesions that sin causes to spring forth on our bodies, the pus of our faithlessness oozing from our pores.  Nor does He smell the odor of decay that clings to us.  No, none of this stands between us and God because Jesus stands between us and God.  Jesus, the One over whom sinfulness could never prevail, the One who lived perfectly even as we live imperfectly, the One who kept the Law because it was His very Nature to keep the Law–He and He alone stands before God the Father, in the place of believers.

Last week I came home sick and it took almost a week for that sickness to go away.  But when I go to my eternal home–when all of us who trust in Christ go to our eternal home–the sin sickness of our souls will be cured completely–immediately–and forever.

Right to the edge

I apologize to everyone for not writing anything recently.  After Holy Week and Easter my wife and I went on vacation for a week and now I’m preparing to go on a Via de Cristo retreat weekend for men.  Next week will be normal–maybe.  BTW, just what is normal?

Anyway, when we were on vacation we visited a church in Myrtle Beach where we were blessed with the pure proclamation of the Gospel and the rightly administered Sacrament.  The pastor of this congregation had an interesting message and I took several ideas away and have pondered them since then.  I’m going to share one of them with you now.

Have you ever wondered why it seems so easy to sin?  Certainly sin is what we are all best at–it is part of our nature, built into the genes if you will.  St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans (and to us) notes that sin is in reality a power–a power that brings us so very often into the place where we do not do what we want, but what we do not what–that very thing is what we do.  As has been said many times, we are all sinners.

But those of us who are Christians ought to be able to avoid sinning, at least a little bit.  Or at least it seems we should.  After all, are we not indwelt with the Holy Spirit and do we not now love the Law, which before served only to condemn us?  But still we fall over and over again.

Well, part of the reason is because we so very much like to get really close to the sins that tempt us.  We like to get just up to the line, far enough to feel sins breath on our cheeks, its warmth just over the line.  We want to get close, but then back off.  It’s kind of game for us.  Certainly one example of that would be a man who likes to look at provocative pictures of pretty girls–maybe in the Sports Illustrated “swimwear” edition.  But that man might find that looking a picture of a nearly naked girl is just enough enticement to get him to start looking at porn on the internet.

In the interest of gender inclusiveness, let’s look at what some women might do.  There was a book out a few years ago, and then a movie called 50 Shades of Gray.  And before that there was the popular TV series Sex and the City.  Both of these were written for women to “enjoy” vicarious adultery, just as most pornography is created so men can be adulterous.

We like to go right up to the line, but when we get there what we far too often find is that the line isn’t real.  There’s nothing separating us from the sin that entices us–whether it’s sex or money or gossip or gluttony or whatever is the bauble you want to hold–just for a moment.

If we are going to resist sin, we must resist going to the line.  We must avoid the situations and the places where we can be enticed to sin.  Those are going to vary from person to person, but the line is often the real danger.  Maybe Johnny Cash walked the line–but you and I need to avoid it as much as possible.