Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Stupidity of Secret Sin

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The headline seemed like something out of a comedy movie, “Burglar Leaves Trail of Cheetos.” According to the ABC News article, here’s what happened.

During the early morning hours of January 6, 2013, county deputies were called to the Cassatt Country Store in Cassatt, South Carolina to investigate a burglary. The deputies determined that someone had broken into the store and stolen beer, cigarettes, snack foods, and energy drinks. The burglar only stole $160 worth of goods, but caused about $2,500 in damages. The store manager surveyed the damage, but noticed that in his haste to escape the intruder punctured two or three bags of Cheetos. That was the robber’s undoing. When police arrived they followed the trail of cheesy breadcrumbs less than 1/5 of a mile from the convenient store, right to the house where the burglar was staying with a friend. As officers approached the front door of the home, they observed more fresh Cheetos on the front porch.[1]

I wonder, when the thief was fingerprinted at the police station did he leave a cheese dust residue? “Be sure your sin will find you out,” Numbers 32:23 tells us. We may sometimes be able to hide our sin from the people around us, but nothing is ever “hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13). He sees each of our failures, thoughts, and motivations (1 Sam. 16:7; Luke 12:2-3). Our sin may not be revealed as quickly as the Cheeto bandit, but our sinful actions will leave a trail. Like the bungling burglar, we aren’t nearly as clever as we think we are. God will not allow His children to sin successfully. Our sin may be a secret on earth, but I can assure you that it’s an open scandal in heaven. Consider the words of the theologian A.W. Pink:

“How solemn is this fact: nothing can be concealed from God! Though he be invisible to us, we are not so to Him.  Neither the darkness of night, nor the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeons can hide any sinner from the eyes of God’s omniscience. The trees of the garden were not enough to conceal Adam and Eve’s guilt. The earth under Achan’s tent could not hide his stolen gold. Neither could the thick palatial walls protect David from the piercing gaze and the boney finger of the prophet, “Thou art the man.”[2]

Galatians 6:7 is an immutable law of the universe, just as sure as gravity, “Do not be deceived God is not mocked, for what so ever a man sows that which he also reaps.” We ought not sow wild oats and then pray for crop failure. There is nothing safe about secret sin. It is folly to think we can mitigate our sin by keeping it secret. It is double folly to tell ourselves that we are better than others because we sin in private rather than in public. And it is the very height of folly to convince ourselves that we can get away with sin by covering it up. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper” (Pro. 28:13).

But here’s the good news of the Gospel: The sin we cover, God will eventually uncover and the sin we uncover, God will cover by the atonement of Christ (1 John 1:7, 9). -DM

[1] Kevin Dolak, “Trail of Cheetos Leads to Store Robber,” ABC News, 9 January 2013
[2] A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 22. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Just Shall Live By Faith

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here) and John Huss (click here). Now we will begin a series on one of the Reformation’s greatest heroes.  

In July 1505, a troubled young man walked through a field in Germany. He was caught in a terrible thunderstorm and electricity danced across the sky. A lightning bolt struck a nearby tree, and instantly he took it as a sign from God. “Help me, St. Anne and I will become a monk!” And so it was, partly to fulfill his vow, and partly to assuage his own personal turmoil, that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

However, life inside the monastery did not ease Luther’s growing despair. The more he plunged himself into religious devotion, the more depressed, guilty and empty he felt. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” Luther later wrote that he suffered from anfechutungen, a German word interpreted as “guilt, fear and isolation from God.” Luther confessed:

“When I was a monk I depended on such willing and exertion, but the longer [I worked at it] the further away I got . . . I was very pious in the monastery, yet I was sad because I thought God was not gracious to me . . . When I had prayed and said my mass I was very presumptuous. I didn’t see the scoundrel behind it all because I didn’t put my trust in God but in my own righteousness . . . the most pious monk is the worst scoundrel . . . I was a good monk and kept my rule so strictly that I could say if ever a monk could get into heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk . . . And yet my conscience would not give me that certainty, but I always doubted and said, “You didn’t do that right.  You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession. Although I lived a blameless life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner with an uneasy conscience before God. I could also not believe that I had pleased him with my works. Far from loving that righteous God who punished sinners, I actually hated him. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, mass and other work.”[1]

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In 1510 Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome hoping that an experience among the relics, holy shrines, and monuments of the saints would help him secure salvation. Luther made his way to a building called the Lateran, where there was a series of ancient stairs called the Scala Santa that had been transported from Jerusalem to Rome. Supposedly, Jesus had walked on those stairs outside Pilate’s hall. The Catholic Church taught that if you got on your hands and knees and crawled up the twenty-eight stone stairs, and said prayer on each one of the stairs, by the time you got to the top stair you could reduce your time in purgatory. Thousands of pilgrims would come and climb those stairs on their hands and knees. Martin Luther—now deeply troubled—got on his hands and knees and crawled up those stairs, kissing each one as he crawled and saying “the Lord’s Prayer” in Latin along the way. When he got to the top he looked back at the stairway and asked himself a question, “What if it is not so?”[2]

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God used that experience in Luther’s life to help him see the utter futility and bankruptcy of the Catholic religion. The turning point came in 1515 when Luther was allowed to teach the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. It was then that he began reading the Scriptures as never before. The single verse that changed his life was, “the just shall live by faith” written by Paul some 1,500 years earlier, found in Gal. 3:11 and Rom 1:17.

Luther pondered day and night the connection between the righteousness of God and the justice of God, and the statement, “the just shall live by faith.” Then the light dawned and to Luther it felt as if he had “been reborn and had gone through open gates into paradise.” Luther realized that we are not saved by works, but by placing our faith solely in the sacrifice of Christ. By doing so, God will declare a sinner righteous because of Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus takes the sinners’ guilt and punishment, while the sinner receives Jesus’ perfect, sinless record. In other words, Luther felt God’s amazing grace and forgiveness for the first time.

According to some accounts, when Luther came to Christ he stepped out of his cell and made his way through the cloistered halls of the monastery and up the stairs to the belfry. He pulled the rope connected to the bells and rang the chimes in the middle of the night, as if to say to the world, “The just shall live by faith! The just shall live by faith!”[3]  -DM

[1] Michael A. Mullett, Martin Luther (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2004), 42.
[2] Erwin Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 39-40.
[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Quotes and Illustrations (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 326-327.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Divine Detours

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In the early 1900s, one of the world’s premier evangelists was Solomon Ginsburg. He has an interesting story, but the short version goes like this—Ginsburg was born in Poland into a Jewish family. As a young man, he converted to Christ after studying Isaiah 53. After his conversion, his family disowned him, but he persevered and became a well-known preacher.
            The story goes that in 1912 Ginsburg had finished up a month long evangelistic campaign in Lisbon, Portugal in which over a thousand professions of faith were made. He was tired and decided to take a furlough to the U.S. He bought tickets for a boat to take him from Portugal, then England, then to the U.S. But on the morning he was about set out, there were terrible weather reports for the Bay of Biscay. After praying about it and reading Deut. 2:7 during his devotions, he felt that the Lord was telling him to delay his trip. So, he waited a few days. Ginsburg eventually caught the Majestic in London and his transatlantic voyage was smooth and restful.
            Only after arriving in the U.S. did Ginsburg learn why his trip was delayed. Had he gone with his original schedule, Ginsburg would have arrived just in time to board the . . . Titanic.[i]

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                                                           Solomon Ginsburg (1867-1927)

God’s delays are not denials, and there is design in all His detours. Paul encountered a similar situation in Acts 16 during his second missionary journey:

            6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[c] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10)

If you look at a map, you can clearly see that God called an audible in the middle of this second missionary journey. Having traveled up Asia Minor, Paul planned to go northeast which would lead him around the Black Sea and deeper into Asia. But, God slammed the door shut and padlocked it. Through a supernatural vision the Spirit directed Paul and company northwest. The mission would take them into Macedonia, which was the threshold into Greece and Europe.

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A good verse to keep in mind with this text is Psalm 37:23 which reads, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” We could add to that, “the stops of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Sometimes God orders our steps, by putting up stops. For reasons unknown at the time, the Holy Spirit would not allow Paul and his companions to go the way they first planned.

I was curious as I studied this passage, I wondered, “How many times has God redirected His servant’s travel agenda?” Here are just a few instances:

·         God allowed Joseph to be sold to a slave-trading caravan that took him from Canaan to an Egypt. That move resulted in Joseph’s ascendency to the Prime Minister (Gen. 37.  
·         The Lord detoured Moses and the nation of ex-slaves as they came out of Egypt. Instead of taking them directly into Canaan, he took them down to the Red Sea (Ex. 13-14).
·         The unexpected death of Ruth’s first husband led her to move from Moab to Bethlehem, where she would later meet Boaz (Ruth 1)
·         When Jonah refused to go preach to Ninevah, God sent a great fish to swallow him up and get him back on track (Jonah 2:10-3:1)
·         In John 4 Jesus went out of His way to go to Samaria just to meet the woman at Jacob’s well.
·        The angel of the Lord directed Philip to leave the revival in Samaria to meet up with an Ethiopian official on a dusty road outside Jerusalem (Acts 8)

In almost every one of those instances, God closed one door, but opened another one because there was a greater opportunity just around the bend.

In the case of Paul, he may have not realized it, but this course correction would alter world history—because God was leading him to establish a Gospel beachhead on the European continent. God had a divine appointment for Paul in Philippi to meet Lydia, a demon possessed girl and a jailer. Each one heard the Gospel because of a Spirit-inspired detour.   

The Spirit of God, leads the people of God, into the will of God. And, wherever God guides, He always provides. What Paul shows us in following the Spirit’s lead is that we must be flexible and adaptable to God’s plan. When God sets a divine appointment, He takes us off the beaten path to meet people whose hearts are hungry for the Gospel message.

A good prayer we should learn to pray is—“Lord, today put me in the path of someone who needs to hear about you. Lord give me faith to trust that you are ordering my steps and give me boldness to speak your word.”


[i] Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), January 23.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Revival at Valley Forge

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America’s fortunes have always been dependent on God-fearing leaders who understood their power was subservient to the throne of heaven. Let me remind you how that played out at Valley Forge, PA during the worst winter days of the Revolutionary War.

Gen. George Washington’s soldiers were cold, starving, undersupplied and desperate. More were dying of exposure than from battle. There are reports that men were so hungry that they were boiling their leather shoes to eat. Many of Washington’s freedom fighters were seriously considering deserting and returning home. Elsewhere, the American cause was slipping away. British armies occupied New York and Philadelphia and the powerful British navy patrolled the coast.

Washington ordered the army chaplains to conduct worship services for the troops, and he ordered his men to take seriously the national day of prayer and fasting proclaimed by Congress in April of 1778. One of Washington’s chaplains, thirty-year-old, Israel Evans preached a sermon on the theme of thanksgiving from Psalm 115 on the text, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory.” The sermon hit home and copies of it spread through Valley Forge. Washington read and endorsed the sermon, telling Evans, “It will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavors to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends.”

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Israel Evans 

The army gained renewed morale, and later Washington said he hoped future generations would look back on the American Revolution to see how the hand of God’s guidance had wrought the miracle of liberty. Washington said, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all of this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”[1]

What would Washington think of us today? Our nation has lost both its faith and gratitude, but I haven’t lost hope. If God could reverse the fortunes of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, He can reverse the tides of evil today. He can send a great revival to our homeland if we repent and worship Him as we should. Our hope is not in government, but in God. -DM

14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted . . . 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!  (Psalm 80:14-15, 18-19)

[1] Rod Gragg, By the Hand of Providence (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 109-115.