A Cathedral in Flames

Many of us this past week watched coverage of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on fire. We were shocked and even horrified by the images. Even though we’re not Catholic we felt pain over the thought of losing such a majestic building. We know that Catholicism is full of error and false teachings and that genuine Christianity is not in any way tied to a building, no matter how magnificent. So why did this tragedy have such a powerful effect on us Protestant Gospel-minded folks?

I suspect there are at least a couple of reasons that we mourn the destruction and even rejoice that the building was not completely destroyed. The first is our longing for beauty. Catholic or not, we must all admit the Cathedral of Notre-Dame was a stunningly beautiful work of art. The image of God in us seeks and appreciates this beauty. In my evangelism work I’m discovering that many are using tattoos to introduce beauty into what they would consider an ugly world. Architecture is certainly a means of lifting our hearts and eyes upward towards majesty, transcendence, and glory. Yes, again, we know the church isn’t necessarily linked to a building, but if something is beautiful it speaks of a Creator who made all things good.

The second reason for our sorrow regarding this fire is the sense of loss. Deep down we all want permanence, we want things to last, we’re weary of feeling that life is so transitory. This cathedral was dedicated in 1345, so for nearly 700 years this building has been in place and, in some ways, has helped define Western culture. And even though it wasn’t a complete loss and will surely be repaired to some degree, it will never again be what it was. We would feel the same way if an Egyptian pyramid was leveled, if the Taj Mahal burned down, or if the Great Wall of China was bulldozed. This is why we fight even in our local communities to see historic buildings protected and preserved. We want things to last!

Please don’t think I’m trying to use this event as an object lesson … that nothing is permanent except for God and the Bible. I appreciate the words of Christian architect David Gruesel, “Only a true Philistine could say of the fire, ‘Ah, it was just a bunch of wood and shingles and some pointy spire.’” It’s truly nothing less than a tragedy.

Yet as those who do trust in Christ, we have, in Him, the two things for which we long - beauty and permanence. Especially this week of remembering Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection we behold once again the beauty of His perfect life of obedience and atoning death on the cross. We’re comforted that our lives are given permanence, even unto eternity, because of His death and resurrection. So because we already truly possess what our hearts long for, let us mourn well the destruction of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Let us pray that this beautiful work of art may be restored and once again speak of God’s beauty in a dark and broken world.

Lessons from Cousin Sara

Seth and I are down in Florida for most of this week doing some work with Evangelize Today. So far it’s been a great trip and we’re expecting it to continue that way. But while I’m down here I wanted to run by and see one of my cousins, Sara Elder. She’s about 23 years older than me and has been having some serious health issues the past several months. Not too long ago she had her right leg amputated just below the knee. She’s now having problems with the other leg and said today that there’s a possibility some or all of her toes may have to be amputated.

Sara has been telling me for years that when she dies I’m going to do her funeral. Her deceased husband, Tim Elder, was a PCA pastor, so she respects the fact that I’m a pastor as well. Though she’s currently in a nursing home / rehab facility, her home is in Liberty County, FL where my mom’s family is from. In her own unique way, Sara has been a blessing to us cousins and has helped facilitate much communication and interaction among the family. But she’s hurting right now. Not sure how things will progress with her health wise, but today she blessed me spiritually with some very simple things I want to share.

The first involves her old worn and tattered Bible which has gone missing in the midst of all her moving from home to hospital to rehab to home, back to hospital to rehab, etc. She’s thinking one of her kids may have something to do with that because they recently bought her a new Bible and I suppose want her to start using it! She prefers her old familiar one and hope it turns up soon. In this conversation she made this statement - “The only Bible you need is the one you read.” When I heard this I thought it was rather profound. Many of you may be like me and have a dozen Bibles laying all around, but I think her point is simple … Bibles are meant to be read, not collected. It’s honestly not that impressive to have the latest, best, biggest, nicest Bible if you’re not going to read it. “The only Bible you need is the one you read.”

She also talked about how several people have questioned her about when she’s going to go back home. In the course of speaking of God’s providence, specifically as it relates to her surgeries and ailments, she told me that many years ago when she agreed to “follow Jesus,” she forgot to mention to Him that her commitment didn’t include hospitals or rehab facilities. Obviously using humor, she reminded me that she’s willing to follow Him wherever He takes her, and if it’s into loss and suffering and discomfort then that’s where she’ll willingly go.

I pray for Sara. I admire her faith. I appreciate her desire for God’s Word and submission to His will. I want to be like that!

Success

I was excited to learn that one of my very best childhood friends, John Dudley, has been selected as the new Managing Director, Flight Operations for American Airlines … pretty impressive job!

I remember when John started flying as a 15 year old. He took me flying a number of times while we were young, taking off and landing in some cleared-off field that a friend allowed him to use. It was tons of fun and I always felt safe … not sure it was, but at least I felt that way! John continued his flying adventures at Auburn and graduated with a degree in Aviation Management. If I’m remembering correctly, he frequently flew the Auburn basketball team on trips back during the Charles Barkley days. I’m guessing it was the mid-80s when he landed his first commercial airline job and he obviously hasn’t looked back! While I don’t remember exactly which airline he started with (may have been Piedmont), it eventually merged with USAir. While working with USAir, John was instrumental in developing certain procedures and designs with some of the Airbus planes built in France, specifically the A330. In fact, he essentially lived in Toulouse, France for a time while these aircraft were being designed and built. More recently, he’s represented American Airlines during the design and development the A350. And now, he’ll be the Managing Director, Flight Operations for American Airlines. I’d say that’s a pretty impressive resume that indicates a successful career and life.

It’s caused me to reflect a bit on the meaning of success. We’ve probably all wrestled with this to a degree when someone we know reaches some new height, or accomplishes something spectacular, or receives some prestigious award while we labor on in our daily routine of relative obscurity and mediocrity. What exactly is success? What defines a successful life? Thankfully the Word of God addresses this, telling of Jesus’ disciples arguing among themselves about who is the greatest. (Mark 9) Jesus’ answer was to say that greatness is linked to service, humility, and child-like trust. What we consider to be worldly success doesn’t always mean success in God’s Kingdom.

Consider these wildly successful people. The man who sacrificed a lucrative career in order to better love his wife and raise his children in the Gospel … the woman coming out of the human trafficking industry who is now working hard in a meager job to provide for herself … the man who was bullied in school as a youngster but is now helping coach a Miracle League team … the single mom in Ethiopia who’s husband was murdered by terrorists but who is doing all she can to provide for her children … the student who leaves the lunch table with all her friends and goes over to sit with the new kid … the pastor of the small, rural church of 15 members who faithfully labors to care for his aging congregation … the young man who has assumed responsibility to care for a neighboring widow’s yard … the mom who daily cleans up her kid’s vomit and all other sorts of mess … the person wrestling with same-sex attraction but faithfully submits to the authority of the church and refrains from acting on those desires … the friend who washes and cleans another friend’s car so he’ll have a clean ride home from the hospital following surgery … the spouse who remains faithful to marriage vows despite the behavior of the other spouse … etc. You likely know many such success stories.

Please don’t think I’m trying to minimize the accomplishments of my friend, John. Just so happens he’s a brother in Christ and one of the most humble and servant-hearted people I’ve ever known! I’m really proud of him and hope we get the chance to meet up this summer while I’m in Dallas for General Assembly.

Spring Break!

Here we are in the midst of Spring Break 2019! I hope yours is off to great start. Of course for many folks, spring break means nothing … work must go on. I suppose that in our culture spring break is largely associated with school/college age students getting a week off and then families, who are able, take a short trip or vacation. But I think the history of Spring Break runs deeper than merely giving teachers and students a much needed break from the grind of school.

Some would say that the arrival of spring is a season of fertility and awakening. The ancient Greeks and Romans would celebrate the arrival of spring with the worship and adoration of the god of the vine and fertility , Dionysus or Bacchus. And if you know anything about the culture of those days, the wine-drinking was unrestrained as was much other immoral behavior. But our more modern version of spring break can likely be attributed to Sam Ingram, a swimming coach at Colgate University, who brought his swim team to Ft. Lauderdale in 1936 to train at the first Olympic size swimming pool in Florida. The city, sensing a grand marketing opportunity, in 1938 began hosting the College Coaches Swim Forum at this same pool every year. This even grew as hundreds of swimmers across the country would descend on Ft. Lauderdale every spring. In 1959, Time magazine featured an article, “Beer and the Beach.” One person interviewed for the article was quoted as saying, “It’s not that we drink so much, it’s that we drink all the time.” The event grew and grew, became decidedly raunchier, until when in the late ‘80’s the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale went on national TV and said students are no longer welcome there. Naturally, students found their way to other beaches, domestic and international, and in 1986 MTV launched its first spring break special from Daytona Beach, FL. Today, many beaches, including ones where many of us regularly visit, are overwhelmed during spring break with thousands of people, many engaging in all sorts of bacchanal, immoral, and excessive behaviors. Greek and Roman cultures of old have returned in full force!

I write all this but I don’t suspect that many readers are looking for such a week of debauchery and wickedness. But we are looking for rest, a slower pace, relaxation, less stress, a time to re-energize and re-focus … if only for a week or so. And though the week of spring break is limited in its power to grant such desires, even for those who can and do travel, our God has given us a very simple means to find the much needed rest and energy that we so desperately crave and need. It’s called the Lord’s Day … Sunday … the day the Lord has designated for us to worship Him, to enjoy Him, to find our hope and comfort in Him, to feed upon His grace in a special way that we’re typically unable to during the regular work week. I’m not suggesting we become Pharisaical and think of the sabbath rest as some sort of law that we must do to earn God’s favor and grace; coming to church on Sunday doesn’t merit you God’s favor. Christ has fulfilled the law, He IS our sabbath, and in Him we find true and complete rest from our labors to earn God’s love, and in Him alone we are righteous. However, when we neglect the Lord’s Day, when we view corporate worship as optional and become sporadic in attendance, when we neglect to meet together with the body of Christ as Hebrews 10 warns us not to, when we fail to observe Sunday as a special day and then actually rest from our normal labors, I believe we are dishonoring the Lord and hurting ourselves. We dishonor Him by implying His work on the cross and resurrection isn’t really that significant and not worth honoring on a weekly basis. We hurt ourselves by forsaking the rest and re-focusing that we seriously need.

Name Change for the Church

Years ago when I worked for Reach Out Ministries (now Reach Out Youth Solutions) in Atlanta, one of my co-workers predicted that one day in the future I would pastor of a church and the church would be called, “Burt’s Church of Fun.” Some of you know this and that I often jokingly refer to CPC as Burt’s church of fun. Not because I think church is to be taken lightly or that it’s the church’s job to entertain folks, but rather we should truly enjoy church and that we should be able to laugh at ourselves and one another. Never, ever should theology be compromised or diminished; never should the Gospel be minimized; never should our focus be on anything other than Jesus Christ. (I want to make sure all that I’m saying is in the right context.) But we must be able to laugh and have fun with one another in the family of God. When we hire someone to replace me I guess we’ll have to come up with a new name though I sure hope we keep the “fun” part in it.

I’ve had a couple of very important criteria in CPC’s search for our next Sr. Pastor. One is his outward face to our local community. Will he be involved and easy to relate to in our St. Clair county culture? The second is whether or not the staff would feel comfortable pulling a prank on him and would he be able to laugh at it. I can report that our current candidate, Robby Grames, passes with flying colors (you’ll have to ask the staff to elaborate on this past Tuesday’s prank).

I leave you with some of the humor and wisdom from another PCA pastor, one of my favorites to follow on Twitter, Sammy Rhodes. He’s the RUF campus pastor at University of South Carolina and author of the book, This is Awkward that some men at CPC studied a few summers ago. Enjoy these nuggets … and laugh.

  • Forget personality tests. All you really need to get an honest sense of yourself is a pack of middle schoolers.

  • One fun way to describe Facebook is “Imagine you could read minds in Walmart.”

  • In heaven Chick-fil-A will be open on Sundays.

  • Every kid has a superpower. The ability to stop adults from napping.

  • “Welp, I guess this will just have to do.” - guy who invented meatloaf.

  • Date night ended at Trader Joe’s and I’m not even mad because, 1, at least it wasn’t Target, and 2, chocolate peanut butter cups.

  • The presidential candidate who will get my support in 2020 is the one who plans to make talking before coffee illegal.

  • When God closes a door he lovingly reminds you the doors of Waffle House are open 24/7.

  • At some point every marriage becomes a competition to see who’s more tired.

  • I like to think that when Jesus welcomed the little children and told the crowd their faith must be like a little child’s, that if oatmeal cream pies had been invented, he would have lovingly tossed them around.

  • Sweatpants should be the official uniform of Lent because they’re the best sign you’ve given up.

  • Drank a gallon of water today and I’m officially ready to turn my Instagram into a fitness account.

  • Nothing gets your day going like a panicked “we don’t have anything for the kids’ lunches” early morning grocery store run.

  • My wife corrected me three times as I attempted to fold my jeans KonMari style and it did not spark joy.

  • Meal planning is cool but have you tried Little Caesar’s?

  • There are no donut eating contests because every time you eat donuts it’s a donut eating contest.

Scandalous Grace

Have you heard about “Operation Varsity Blues” by the Department of Justice that has exposed the largest college cheating scam of all time? Around 50 wealthy people, many of whom are well known celebrities, have been charged with paying absurd sums of money to get their children into some elite colleges across the nation. Apparently some paid bribes up to $6.5 million to insure admission into a preferred school. The admissions scandal had many varying aspects to it such as falsifying records, bribing school officials, and fabricating profiles and credentials. Another part of the scam involved getting parents to petition for extended time for their child to take college entrance exams (such as the ACT or SAT), then getting the testing location changed to certain specific locations, where someone else would then complete the exam in place of the actual child.

Those of us who attended college or had children in college are appalled by this fraudulent and scandalous plan. We, and our kids, had to work hard to build a solid high school record, had to study and take the college entrance exams on our own, and weren’t able to throw large sums of cash at people to insure admission to the school of our choice. We, and our children earned it. The idea of someone else doing the actual work or substituting a record that wasn’t earned in the place of the actual student’s performance is truly scandalous and it offends us.

God’s Word clearly opposes cheating, bribery, lying, deception, injustice, and fraud. These actions should be condemned and those involved need to be prosecuted. It’s a scandal that must not be ignored or brushed under the rug.

But it’s this same sense of “scandal” and of wanting to make sure people “earn” their way and “get what they deserve” that makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ so scandalous. The only thing we’ve “earned” is death and eternal condemnation. The only thing we “deserve” is God’s eternal wrath and curse. But Jesus took our place; He took the exam of obedience for us, made a perfect score, and now our record shows that we get full credit. We stand before God not only “as if we’ve never sinned” because of His atoning death, but also “as if we’ve obeyed perfectly” because of His perfect righteous imputed to us. It’s simply scandalous!

But that’s how grace works. No way does this justify a college cheating scam or any other such abuse of the system, but grace is just as much a shock to our senses. We sense we need to earn, merit, or deserve our salvation. It’s why the religious people of Jesus’ day hated Him. It’s why the religious people of today tend to be Pharisaical and legalistic and fight against grace. But praise God for His scandalous grace! Praise God that Jesus took my place and I get admission into the Kingdom because He did the work!

Rules are Rules

Some of you NASCAR fans probably watched this past Sunday’s Penzoil 400 in Las Vegas. Joey Logano held on to win the race in an exciting last lap over teammate Brad Kezlowski. If you did watch the race you saw Kyle Larson penalized during a pit stop. During a stop a team is only allowed 5 men “over the wall” to help service the car … change tires, make adjustments, add fuel, clean, etc. But Larson’s team was penalized because an extra crew member leaned over the wall and put his hand on the ground, which by letter of the law is a clear violation of the rule. That may sound silly, but rules are rules.

On Monday I watched a debate between 3 commentators on the legitimacy of the penalty. Was is right? Was it fair? Did it constitute cheating? Was is necessary? Did it give Larson a competitive advantage? These and other questions were debated at length. But some of the very best comments were made by former NASCAR driver, Jeff Burton. He made a couple of great points. First, he said there’s a problem with rules; rules require more rules because people will pick them apart and look for loopholes to gain an advantage. So to counter the creative loophole maneuvering by various teams they have to continually establish more rules to make sure the existing rules are followed. But he added a second vital truth; rules are necessary and must be upheld strictly. Rules can’t be flexible and applied in one case and ignored in another case because it just seemed like a nice thing to do. If you have rule, you have to abide by them perfectly or suffer the consequences.

Preach on, Brother Jeff! These comments could have easily been made in a discussion about law and Gospel. The law is necessary … very necessary. But they also must be strictly upheld, even perfectly obeyed or else they aren’t really rules. It would be injustice to apply the rules to some and not to others, just because someone might not have gotten much of an advantage by breaking the rule. Rules are rules, law is law, and perfect obedience is required or else a penalty must be assessed to the law-breaker. But rules / law has a problem. In order to insure that the law is maintained and upheld, we need to constantly create new laws. Our fallen nature gets very creative in looking for ways to circumvent rules, to bypass laws, or justify our rule-breaking. Thus, we need more and better laws to push us toward a more certain obedience.

Thankfully our eternal destiny and relationship with God isn’t based merely on rules and laws. While these laws are vital in showing us how we should live as well as how far short we fall of obedience, the law has absolutely no power to save us. Rather, the law points us to our desperate need of a Savior.

While the Scripture does describe the Christian life as a race, we need to pause and give thanks that our finishing the race in first place hinges on the performance of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He’s won it already! He obeyed every rule perfectly and has paid the penalty for our many violations of the rules. We join Him in the eternal victory lane and enjoy the prize He has won for us.

Thank you, Dr. Kulah

For some reason, the Lord has always surrounded me with good friends who are Methodist. One of my best friends growing up in Chattahoochee was the son of a United Methodist pastor. I went to Emory University, a Methodist school, for my undergraduate studies. Many of my good friends there were Methodist, including my best friend, John Potts, another son of a United Methodist pastor. I actually interned in a United Methodist Church in Oxford, GA for a year back in the early ‘80’s and preached my very first sermon there. And though I have some basic theological differences with Methodist doctrine and church polity, I’ve found many of my Methodist friends to be very faithful and godly brothers and sisters in Christ. So though I’m not Methodist I feel a bit of a connection to them. So I’ve followed with interest the ongoing battles in the United Methodist Church (UMC) regarding theological orthodoxy.

Perhaps you’re aware that the Methodists recently held their General Conference in St. Louis. The UMC, being a worldwide communion, includes delegates from all around the world. In fact, around 43% of the delegates are from overseas, many from African nations. This particular meeting centered on the debate on human sexuality and marriage. The denomination has faced a huge push from the LBGTQ community in America to be fully inclusive, to sanction same-sex marriage, and to ordain gay and lesbian pastors.

In God’s good providence, the Conference ended with conservatives defeating the plan that would have approved of same-sex marriage and allowed churched to ordain men and women in the LBGTQ community. This was in large part due to the strength and leadership of African bishops and delegates who stood and spoke with authority to these matters. I share some selected portions of a Feb 23rd speech from Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, a UMC pastor and Dean in a Theological school from Liberia.

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.

And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”

Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.

Friends, not too long ago my country was ravaged by a terrible civil war. And then we faced the outbreak of the Ebola virus. We are keenly familiar with hardship and sorrow, but Jesus has led us through every trial. So nothing that happens over the next few days will deter us from following Him, and Him alone.

I thank God for Dr. Kulah and those in the UMC who stand with him. I pray that God will raise up many more like him in His church throughout the world. I pray for all my friends in the UMC and for this denomination as it moves forward.

I pray for our own denomination … the Presbyterian Church in America. Though we’re presently theologically orthodox, firm in our definition of marriage between one man and one woman, and not considering embracing alternative sexual orientations as legitimate, we know we’re not immune to sin or failure. We need God’s grace just as much, if not more than any other church. (It’s easy to become prideful … which most always leads to downfall.)

I also pray that American Christians like us can learn from these wise African church leaders. Let us learn to love sinners but not compromise our doctrine; let us faithfully stand on God’s Word alone; let us not be fixated on money; let us not sell our birth right in Christ for dollars or cultural acceptance; let us not assume that money is more important for church health than faithfulness to Scripture; let us learn through suffering and hardship; let us be concerned with making disciples; let us speak boldly and confidently when necessary; let us remain faithful to our God and Father even when it could be costly.

Too Distracted

Like clockwork, when I take my dog, Ossie, out to do his business, he has to run through the checklist of dealing with every single distraction that comes his way … the sounds of distant sirens, dog’s barking, hawk’s screeching, leaves rustling, frog’s croaking, cars on the road, neighborhood voices, etc … the sights of birds in the yard, cats sitting on our patio, limbs swaying in the wind, random pinecones, water flowing in the ditch, etc … the smells of other animals who’ve walked through the yard … the feel of wet grass, sweet gum balls, stray limbs, branches, or vines, etc. All I want him to do is go potty, but all he wants to do is worry about everything else. Even after sitting inside for hours, obviously needing to relieve himself, he gets overwhelmed and consumed with other things and is so easily diverted from the purpose of our trip outside.

Sounds a lot like me when I’m trying to focus on Jesus! I know my need, I know I’ve been occupied with other things for a while and desperately need to taste of Him, I know there are potential distractions and say “nothing will get in my way this time,” I know my spiritual health depends on my spending intimate time with Him, but I still get sidetracked and diverted from my purpose by even the slightest thing. “I forgot to send that email … I need to get the clothes out of the dryer … when is that basketball game coming on tonight? … I really need to work on that lesson … I wonder how my friend’s son is doing? … hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow … I think my clothes smell like the restaurant … I should probably be reading my Bible and praying … I can’t remember what I did with that receipt … that’s an interesting bird … I need to start exercising more … I can’t believe Anita’s co-worker said that … hope Seth remembers to take the trash can to the street today … yeah, I should be reading the Bible and praying right now … I think this might be a good sermon topic one day … what was that noise? … why do kids leave empty bowls and cups around the house? … that picture on the wall is crooked … wow, look at the time, I need to go or else I’ll be late … I’ll read the Bible and spend time with the Lord later on.” I really do act like my dog.

One of the first things we deal with in our Evangelize Today training is how to deal with all the background noise of life. And while I’m beginning to get a little recognition and a few pats on the back for having some success in the world of evangelism, I know my greatest struggle is still just being able to enjoy intimacy with Christ. In our evangelism training we say our goal is to “listen to hear” the unbeliever, but how effectively can I listen to and hear them when I have such a hard time hearing the Lord and resting in the joyful confidence of Him hearing and intimately knowing me?

There just aren’t any secret shortcuts that bypass the importance and need of spending time alone with the Lord. But there’s no need to live in fear or guilt. First, thank the Lord for bringing certain things to your mind (friends, needs, duties, responsibilities, projects, events, etc.) and acknowledge that it is a work of the Holy Spirit. He is prompting you to trust Him more, to acknowledge that all the matters of life (large or small, public or private, significant or seemingly meaningless, purposeful or random) are under His providential guiding hand. Sure, we absolutely need times when we should be very intentional and focused with our prayers, but don’t neglect to be thankful for those times when the Lord is taking you on what seems like a random journey. And secondly, find ways and times to read God’s Word and delight in the Gospel. The more you taste of it, the more you’ll desire it. And like high quality headphones, the Gospel will cancel out most of the background noise of life that hinders our focus on Him.

Bombarded by Temptation

You’re probably like me and often get annoyed at the never-ending stream of emails that flood your inbox, advertisements for various products or services you never asked for, seeking to lure you in to their world. I sort of understand how it works … if I ever buy tickets to a music or sporting event online then all of a sudden I’ll be offered opportunities to purchase tickets for musicians or sports of which I’ve never heard. If I purchase clothing, even browse for clothing online, then all of a sudden my purchase options are greatly multiplied with things I would never consider. The Christian online universe is no better! If I even indicate a remote interest in a Christian event, conference, book, course, etc. then I’ll be overwhelmed with information about a myriad of other Christian stuff that I have no interest in whatsoever.

As you might expect, I will at times be captivated by some flashy ad, the newest product, the latest book, the lowered price, the life-changing conference, the best service, etc. and will then actually follow up and open the email, perhaps even make a purchase. Yes, I realize this only perpetuates the situation and only invites more such unsolicited emails … but … I mean … you know … it’s not like I’m emptying my savings account, or causing my children to go hungry, or causing someone else to make a purchase.

All this sounds a lot like how sin works. Sin is unsolicited … although we do pursue sin by nature, we don’t typically go around shopping for a particular sin to commit. Sin is relentless … the inbox of my heart gets flooded with sinful temptations every single day, throughout the day. Sin is packaged very attractively … been this way since the Garden where Eve found the fruit to be good for food, beautiful, and desirable to make one wise. Sin is packaged with other sin … showing interest in one sin opens the door for other sins to gain access into your life. Sin is deceptive … we can justify a sin by thinking it’s not the worst thing in the world or that it’s not really hurting anyone else.

Temptations are going to come our way. But how do we avoid the situation where we’re giving in to every one we see? We need to remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 - “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Great verse, worthy of memorization. But don’t forget to read the verses that follow: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry ….” Paul goes on to explain how, even through the sacrament, we deepen and strengthen our participation in Christ, in the benefits of the cross, in our fellowship with Him.

Where is the strength to fight against temptation? It’s not in yourself. God doesn’t merely flash a sign to you in the midst of temptation and give you a hint about an escape route you can pursue in your own strength. Rather, in and through Jesus Christ, He has defeated sin and gives us the opportunity, through Word and Sacrament, in faith clinging to the power of the cross and resurrection, to enjoy His strength as we encounter sin. Jesus is that way of escape!