Monday, December 11, 2017

Another ‘All’ – Sadly, Not a Good One

In my last post, I wrote about the many times the word “all” appears in the Scriptures – nearly 6,000. The term offers great encouragement, assurance of God's presence and personal involvement in every circumstance, good and bad, that we confront in this journey called life. But not every use of “all” is as uplifting.

We need to understand the meaning of "all."
Romans 3:23 declares, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The same chapter also says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). That sounds harsh – and all-encompassing.

Why is this important? All we need to do is watch the evening news, or read a newspaper, for the answer. Of late we’ve heard report after report about prominent individuals – entertainers, politicians, news media celebrities, athletes and others – accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct. Reactions by employers and their industries have been swift and severe. And sadly, as some observers suggest, this may be merely the tip of a proverbial iceberg of similar accusations yet to come.

Some of these persons reveled in the misdeeds of others; now the weight of guilt has fallen on their own shoulders. How can this be? It’s because, as the Bible asserts without wavering, we all have sinned – and fallen far short of God’s glory and His perfect standards.

These recent episodes focus on one specific form of sin, but they teach a broader lesson. How can such wrongdoing be so pervasive? Why have so many stumbled, people who should have known better?

Sociologists and psychologists might offer different explanations, but I believe the reason is very simple. In our “enlightened,” “progressive,” amoral culture, we’ve rejected the clear warnings of the Scriptures. The ancient book of Job, describing the travails he endured and the debate between himself and his so-called friends, recounts his bold statement, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). He knew even a desiring stare could lead to serious consequences.

In the book of Proverbs, chapters 4-9 speak about the snares of sexual temptation and the devastating results when those temptations are acted upon and turned to sin. Here’s a sampling:
  • “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
  • “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4).
  • “…a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32).
  • “All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose…little knowing it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:22-23).

Jesus addressed this in His “sermon on the mount.” He warned, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Not everyone is guilty of sexual sin, although a wise man once told me that we all have broken every one of the Ten Commandments in thought, word or deed. But without question, we all fit the description of Romans 3:23. We all have sinned and fallen desperately short of God righteous standard.

What’s to be done about this? It has already been done. Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” A bit later it also states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Our part is uncomplicated: Recognize our sin, repent, and receive God’s gracious and unconditional gift. Now that’s what we can call “good news” – and it’s available to all of us.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

When It Says ‘All,’ It Means . . . ALL!

When you use the word “all,” what do you typically mean? It’s an interesting term, because a little child at dinner might say, “All done!” with her plate still filled with food. We shrug our shoulders and say, “I gave it my all,” knowing we could have done more or tried harder. In some churches the hymn, “I Surrender All,” is commonly sung – but how many are really doing that?

The literal meaning of all, of course, is “everything” or “all things.” If you have a party and say to everyone in the room, “You’re all invited,” that means no exceptions. On election day, when we hear that “all the votes are in,” that means every precinct, every vote. At least it should mean that.

In the Bible, however, when it says “all,” what it really means is…ALL. My Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible lists every verse that includes “all” – more than 17 pages for that word alone. All is used nearly 6,000 times in Old and New testaments combined!

Unlike our common practice, the biblical use of “all” doesn’t imply “sometimes” or even “most of the time.” This is why my friend, Gib, says “all” is his favorite word in the Bible.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything [all things], by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Gib’s been going through serious health issues, so knowing he can take everything – including his illness – to God is a promise he clings to with confidence. That assurance, along with the prayer support of many friends, is enabling him to experience God’s peace that truly passes all understanding.

Then there’s 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says we’re to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we’re confronted with pain, hardships and all manner of adversities, it’s difficult to feel grateful for those circumstances. We don’t desire such things. But trusting in God and His sovereign control over our lives enables us to give thanks even when emotions say we can’t.

When Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, the account says, About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!” (Matthew 14:21). Not a single person was overlooked, even in that remote area without fast-food restaurants or quick-stop markets.

But the use of “all” in the Scriptures isn’t just for God’s involvement. He expects our engagement as well. Proverbs 3:5-6, for example, tells us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” To me this is saying, “Do all you can, and God will do all He can.”

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where we see a contrast between people willing to give their all and others who are less than fully committed: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it [all] at the apostles’ feet…. Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-5:2).

The passage then tells how the attempted deception cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives. It seemed like harsh judgment, but God was making clear He doesn’t equivocate on His promise of “all,” and He expects us to be equally sincere in fulfilling our commitments.

As the New Living Translation of 2 Corinthians 1:20 assures us, “For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ and through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”

Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He used the word several times to demonstrate His promises are all-inclusive, no exceptions: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). So, as my friend Gib says, when we read “all,” we should hold onto it tightly. Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Beware the ‘Monster of More’

We’ve arrived in December, which means it’s officially “the season to be merry” – even though some retailers would want us to believe it arrived around the end of August. For many of them, it’s also “the season for wanting more,” so the sooner the better.

Toys have become virtually synonymous
with Christmas.
Living in a consumer society, it’s our annual opportunity to exercise our skills at conspicuous consumption. Shoppers, some proudly wearing scars from their annual Black Friday pilgrimages, will invest many hours over the next few weeks keeping cash registers humming and warming the hearts of merchandisers. Some will spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need for people they don’t like. All in the spirit of displaying “good will.”

It’s a cautionary time when we should beware of greed – AKA “the Monster of More,” as preacher Bill Hybels calls it.

We all wrestle with it. It’s nice to get new clothes, whether you’re very fashionable or just get tired of the old duds. Or books, if you’re among those who still appreciate bound volumes made of actual paper and real ink. Or the latest electronic gizmos. There’s no shortage of those, and there’s always a newer version of what you already have. Or toys for all ages. They too seem unlimited in supply.

When I was a boy, I loved paging through the annual Sears & Roebuck “Wish Book,” conjuring fantasies of what treasures I might find gaily wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. We learn about greed at a very early age.

So, it’s time to ask the tough questions: Ones like, “How much is enough?” Or, “How much is too much?”

There are no simple, precise answers to those questions. Especially since we’ve become conditioned for blurring the lines between needs and wants. However, the Scriptures say much about how we can overcome the “Monster of More.” Here’s a sampling:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Contrary to what “prosperity theology” might teach, this doesn’t mean God promises to provide whatever we want. Instead, it gives the assurance that if we find delight in the Lord and make Him preeminent in our lives, He will be the determiner of what we desire.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Similarly, Jesus taught that when God is given top priority in our lives, we can be assured He will provide for all our needs. We may still have “wants,” but not any real needs.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12). In our materialistic society, contentment is not a virtue that is widely encouraged. The “Monster of More,” we’re told, is our friend – a motivator for striving to earn and acquire more. In God’s economy, however, contentment is highly prized, as the apostle Paul wrote.

How can we cultivate contentment when everything around us argues that we need more and more? The apostle presented the secret in the next verse: “I can do through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), including being content with our present circumstances.

Finally, there’s the old stand-by, Christ’s exhortation that is often uttered as a cliché, but holds true just the same: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). By striving for excellence in the art of giving, we shift our focus off ourselves and onto others. At the same time, we discover that through giving, we will receive more than we could ever have imagined.

So, this year let’s try to cut the “Monster of More” down to size! If we succeed, we might even be able to nickname him "Less."