A virus is different than bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms (germs). Bacteria and germs are living organisms; a virus is simply a protein shell that contains genetic material. But it is a protein shell that is programmed for a deadly mission. The protein shell that encases a virus attaches itself to a healthy cell. Then the virus begins to slowly inject its own genetic code into the living cell.
If the virus is allowed to continue its viral hijacking, it will completely rewrite the cell’s genetic code and take control of how the cell functions and reproduces. Viruses, in effect, turn healthy cells into factories that reproduce new viruses, which are then released to take over more and more cells, repeating the process as the body’s health deteriorates.
In a Borg-like assault (“Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”) on the body, viruses invade healthy cells and seek to change them at a genetic level. Viruses don’t destroy cells, they gain control of cells and then use the corrupted cells to further their attack on the body.
Sin functions a lot like that. Sin is a kind of spiritual virus that invades our being at a much more rudimentary level than we realize. We trivialize sin when we reduce it to a list of Do’sand Don’ts and then condemn those who fail to live up to our list. Sin is much more insidious that that. Like a virus, sin is an aberration in God’s universe.It is not a living thing, created by God; it is alien to God’s original creation, which He pronounced “Good!” Sin was spawned in the Fall of man, when Evil invaded God’s creation. Creation is now a slave to the law of sin and death.
The virus of sin exists for the purpose of injecting its corrupted “genetic matter” into its victims. Sin infects our thinking, corrupts our affections and perverts our desires. A darkening shadow of self-deception blinds us to truth and causes our hearts to stray from God. Our spiritual immune system weakens. Our ability to resist temptation is compromised.
As Christians—born again by the Spirit and therefore part of the new creation in Christ—sin is alien to who we are. Nevertheless, we must be vigilant in guarding our hearts and reinforcing our spiritual immune system through fellowship with Christ, feeding on God’s Word and exercising our faith through active involvement in service for Christ.
Moses spent 40 years as a fugitive running from the wrath of Pharaoh and hiding in the “backside” of the desert (Exodus 3:3, KJCV). I don’t know where exactly the backside of the desert is, but it sounds like a place where burned-out rejects and failures live out the rest of their lives regretting their lost opportunity for greatness…The Land of Broken Leaders and Burned-Out Has-Beens. Moses was at one time one of the most powerful men in the world, but now he was living in obscurity in the backside of the desert. Like Job, Moses no doubt felt, “My days are past, my plans are shattered and so are the desires of my heart.”
Then, one ordinary day, Moses saw an ordinary bush on fire. But it was no ordinary fire; it was the fire of God’s presence that burned in that bush. Though it blazed furiously with the fire of God, the bush was not consumed. It was burning, but it wasn’t burning up. An ordinary bush can do some extraordinary things when God is in the bush! Moses’ call began with a vivid reminder that God can use any ordinary bush as long as it burns with the fire of God.
A new year is a time to reflect and re-evaluate. It's a time to ask yourself, "Am I becoming the person that God wants me to be? Am I becoming the person that I know I can be? And, most importantly, what do I need to do to become that person?"
As soon as you ask questions like that, however, an inexplicable fog begins to settle in. Everything gets fuzzy. Our mind goes limp. How to get from where we are to where we want to be suddenly becomes an enigma of cosmic proportions. So let me give you four simple statements that have helped clear the fog for me (simple to understand that is, not so simple to put into practice).
CRYSTALLIZE YOUR FOCUS: The apostle Paul said, "This one thing I do..." (Phil. 3:13). Paul's life wasn't aimless, but focused and purposeful. If you try to do everything, you'll end up accomplishing nothing. What "one thing" do you want to see God do in your life this year? In your personal life? In your marriage? In your family? In your career? In your education?
COMMIT YOURSELF TO ACTION: Faith is an active verb, not a passive noun. You will never drift into the purpose of God; you must commit yourself to action. Nothing happens until you take a step of commitment. Once you commit yourself, it sets into motion events that lead to the fulfillment of God's purpose. Commitment is what transforms good intentions into good works. What step of commitment is God challenging you to make.
We so often fail to recognize the supernatural because we're looking for the spectacular. The Jews were always asking Jesus for a sign---some dramatic, spectacular, dazzling display of power. They kept waiting for this mild-mannered carpenter from Nazareth to morph into a spiritual Superman.
We often miss God because He comes to us through ordinary people, in ordinary ways and in ordinary places. The Jews failed to recognize God in Jesus because He was...well, so ordinary. Nothing about Jesus' appearance seemed particularly extraordinary. To the cultured and cosmopolitan Judean Jews, Jesus was a despised Nazarene---an uneducated and uncultured country-bumpkin, born on the wrong side of the tracks. A common saying of the day was, "Can any good thing come from Nazareth?"
The people in the village of Nazareth failed to recognize God in Jesus because He was...well, so ordinary. He was an ordinary laborer, a common carpenter. Not only that, He was familiar. They knew his family; there was nothing special about them. They watched Jesus grow up; He seemed like any other little boy. Even among the ordinary, He was ordinary.
Solomon was not only the wisest man who ever lived, but probably the wealthiest man as well. One example of this is documented in 1 Kings 10:16-17, where we are told that Solomon made 200 large shields of solid gold and 300 smaller shields of solid gold and mounted them in his Palace. These were purely for decorative purposes since gold is too soft of a metal to be of use in an actual battle. Solomon would regularly carry the gold shields from the Palace to the Temple in a procession of wealth and glory.
Solomon is a type, or picture, of Christ, and the wealth and glory of Solomon's kingdom was a foreshadowing of the spiritual riches to be found in the reign of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
However, we read in 1 Kings 14:25-27 that during the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and carried off all the treasures of the Temple and the king's Palace, including the gold shields that Solomon had made. The scripture makes it clear that this happened because Rehoboam had led Israel into worshiping pagan gods.
The parable of the prodigal son, the love that the father showed toward his wayward son, illustrates God’s outrageous love for us. “Outrageous” means to “exceed all bounds of reasonableness,” i.e., God’s love is totally outside the box! It transcends human reason; it is totally unreasonable. Thank God! Or none of us would qualify!
That’s the wonderful thing about grace–everyone qualifies! Even prodigal sons.
But such lavish grace extended to the undeserving doesn’t make everyone happy, especially good, hard-working, rule-keeping, religious people. After all, why should God’s favor and blessing be given freely to undeserving good-for-nothings when they…well, don’t deserve it!
In Luke 5:33, the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why do John's disciples fast and pray and your disciples eat and drink?" In other words, the Pharisees were saying to Jesus: "Everyone knows that religion is supposed to be a serious, somber and sober affair, but you and your disciples act as if serving God was like going to a party." What about you? Is your expression of faith more like a funeral or a party?
John the Baptist represents the Old Covenant, with its emphasis on sin and guilt. It was fitting for John's disciples to fast. The Old Covenant was sin-focused and felt heavy. It was serious and solemn, and had the feel of a funeral. We still have "John's disciples" with us today, who are still living under the spirit of the Old Covenant; they are sin-focused and law-driven.
But the New Covenant, represented by Christ, is more like a wedding--filled with joy and celebration. Jesus' "disciples" are those who have been set free from the law, have experienced the freedom and forgiveness of grace, and live in the joy of the Spirit. Their faith is more like a party!
“…from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17, ESV).
Jesus pointed out that every scribe [i.e., every student of scripture] is like the head of a household who brings forth from his treasures things old and things new (Matthew 13:52).
As many of you know, I grew up in Newark. This is neither a boast nor a plea for pity. Actually, if you ignore the riots, the racism, the gangs, the drugs, the muggings and the poverty, Newark wasn’t a bad place to grow up. I used to think that my family was poor but, according to the government, we weren’t “poor,” we were “underprivileged,” which made us feel a whole lot better. We weren’t poor, we were just missing some of the “privileges” that others had—like food, clothing, a home, a car and health insurance.
Newark is divided into wards (kind of like a hospital that segregates people into different wards to isolate those with various diseases from the general population). I grew up in the North Ward, birthplace of the Newark-style Italian hot dog (one of the seven culinary wonders of the world), and Ting-a-Lings (known for its world famous lemon ice).
For anyone who has grown up in Newark, the word “survivor” means a lot more than a reality TV series. Come to think of it, anyone can survive in a tropical paradise such as Borneo or Fiji or Samoa; for a really challenging “reality” show, try Survivor: Newark.
What’s the shortest distance between two points? Well, in the mathematically precise world of geometry, the answer is: a straight line. But in the kingdom of God, the shortest distance between two points is often a zig zag line! God gets you where He wants you to be, but He often leads you in ways that you don’t understand and takes you in directions that you don’t want to go.
When God led the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan, it should have been a simple journey. There was a major road that led directly from Egypt to Canaan, a distance of about 120 miles. Even at a leisurely pace, it should have taken about two weeks. But God didn’t take the direct route, He took the “round about” way (Exodus 13:17-18).
Imagine the Israelites’ surprise when the pillar that was leading them started heading in the wrong direction; instead of heading north, it started heading south! And not only was it heading in the wrong direction, but it was leading them into the last place on earth they wanted to go-the desert! What happened to the land of milk and honey?