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The Hardest Lock to Pick

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

LockWilliam G. Patterson tells a good story about the time Harry Houdini finally faced a lock he couldn’t pick. Houdini issued a challenge wherever he went that he could set himself free from any jail cell in the country. He had freed himself from dozens of cells until one time something went wrong. He entered the jail in his street clothes, as he always did, and took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed unusual about this lock. Thirty minutes passed with no result, then an hour. After two hours, he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Exhausted, he collapsed against the door—and it swung open! It was never locked in the first place. But in Houdini’s mind it was locked, and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out.

Prison doors are not the only challenges faced by locked minds. A locked mind can keep a person from heaven. Because they have closed their minds, some people will try everything except the clear way out of the prison of sin.

Some try to escape by staying busy, thinking they will escape their guilt by distraction. Paul spoke of some who were “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). It is possible to work hard and make zero progress because you are hammering at the wrong nail.

Some try to escape by seeking comfort. The Laodiceans were comfortable, but Christ spit them out of his mouth (Rev. 3:15-17). Only Christ can offer true rest, but before he can save us, we must confront our sins with repentance. That is why James said, “Be wretched and mourn and weep” (Jas. 4:9).

Some try to escape by putting up a front. The Pharisees wore masks of piety, but inside they were corrupt and sinful. Jesus said they cleaned the outside of “the cup and the plate,” but inside they were full of greed and self-indulgence. He compared them to “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:25-28).

Some try to escape by blaming others. That was Adam’s tactic (Gen. 3:12), Saul’s too (1 Sam. 15:21). Others may have a share in your failed spiritual condition, but on Judgment Day, God is going to look at our lives on a case-by-case basis (2 Cor. 5:10). Excuses will not get you into heaven, only Christ.

There are souls who are imprisoned by sin simply because they won’t open the door. They are trying various keys, picking the lock, lighting explosives to blow out the walls, attempting every means except the most sensible one—opening the door.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). You don’t have to be an escape artist to be delivered from sin. Just open your heart to the gospel, put your faith in Christ, and follow him (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:38).

Does Anyone Care About Sin Anymore?

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Today’s pop gospel is about having fun and being rich. Feel-good religion is what the public is buying, not messages about the danger and ugliness of sin and the wide gate to destruction.

Gauging by book sales and television programming, the most popular preachers of the 21st century preach positive messages to the exclusion of anything that could be construed as negative or judgmental.

Joel Osteen preaches for the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, which boasts of 30,000 members and meets in a stadium that used to house the Houston Rockets. According to Osteen, the secret to his success is concentrating on building people up and encouraging them to lead a life of victory. Winford Claiborne points out that his book Your Best Life Now claims that David did not focus on his faults or on the things he had done wrong. Evidently Osteen has missed the 51st Psalm.

Joyce Meyer attracts a broad audience with her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life. While Meyer concentrates on the dangers of sin more than Osteen, her main push is self-centered–enjoying life instead of pleasing God. The gospel that people are buying these days is extremely selfish. One wonders how this works with Jesus’ teachings of cross-bearing and self-denial (Mt. 16:24).

According to a survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life is considered by pastors to be the most helpful religious book on the market. The numbers support their conclusion, as The Purpose Driven Life was the best selling book in the world for 2003, 2004, and 2005. But critics complain that the book distorts the true message that is at the heart of the New Testament: spiritual death through sin, God’s scheme of redemption through Jesus Christ, and the plan of salvation.

A gospel that doesn’t preach against sin and demand repentance is not a true gospel (Gal. 1:6-10). God does want us to enjoy life and find lasting joy, but not at the expense of truth and righteousness. Too many preachers are taking the easy route to peace–by wearing down the corners of our consciences so they won’t cut anymore (Eph. 4:19; 1 Tim. 4:2).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). These words reflect back to the apostle’s first letter to the church at Corinth, in which he condemned the actions of a man who had been sleeping with his father’s wife. In that letter he instructed them to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13). They were not even to eat with that man until he repented.

The whole process was extremely painful, but it was necessary to bring the sinner real peace and happiness. As long as he lived in sexual immorality, he could never meet his true purpose–seeking and honoring God (Isa. 43:7; Acts 17:26-28). By the second letter to the Corinthians, it appears the man did repent. He was evidently still licking the wounds of the discipline he received, for Paul said to “forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:7).

People have to feel bad in order to get better. This is why the body hurts when something is wrong with it. If the body of Christ never feels the “godly grief” essential to repentance, it will become diseased and eventually die. So preachers, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). A church full of sin may have the numbers, but it fails to meet its purpose.

A Single Indiscretion

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Herod Antipas was the ruthless tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, who presided over one of Jesus’ civil trials in Jerusalem. The hearing, of course, was a joke. Herod only granted it because he wanted to see Jesus perform signs for his entertainment. The sham ended with mockery (Lk. 23:6-12).

Before this incident, Herod had committed what he might have deemed a “small indiscretion”–he married a woman named Herodias, who had also been married to his brother Philip. Not only that, Herodias was the daughter of another one of Herod’s brothers, Aristobulus, making this union an incestuous one from several different directions. Doubtless, Herod considered the rules he had broken to be an insignificant footnote in the story of his life. He was wrong. Herod’s marriage to Herodias reveals how a life can be ruined by a single indiscretion.

The threads of Herod’s life began to unravel when he rejected John’s counsel: “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Mt. 14:4). First, John was sent to prison. But later, because of a rash promise made to Herodias’ daughter, Herod had John beheaded. Matthew tells us Herod was “sorry” over this (Mt. 14:9). Little did he know that this was only the beginning.

Herod may have avoided his infamous role in the crucifixion of Christ if he had only spared John. As it has been already noted, the ruler was glad Pilate sent Jesus to him; he wanted to see the accused man do some “sign” (Lk. 23:8). Luke tells us Herod “had long desired to see him.” The seeds of this desire were probably planted by a rumor that was circulating around the time that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee. Some were saying He was John risen from the dead, and Herod became “perplexed.” He said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Lk. 9:7-9). His paranoia grew until he came to believe that John had, in fact, returned in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Mt. 14:1-2).

This is how this suspicion led to Herod’s participation in the crucifixion: When Jesus came to Herod, the ruler was glad. Finally, he could put to rest the question of Jesus’ identity. “If Jesus did in fact work miracles,” Herod thought, “John is risen from the dead, and I have much to fear.” “If He did not,” his thoughts continued, “I can set my mind at ease.”

When Jesus refused to work a miracle, Herod, in his relief, resorted to mockery and ridicule. It was not that he had found flaws in Jesus’ record (Lk. 23:13-15). He derided the Lord as exercise of confidence that John’s ghost was no longer haunting him.

Herod’s troubles, however, had only just begun. The father of his first wife, a Nabatean king named Aretas, felt insulted after Herod left his daughter for Herodias. This man attacked Herod’s rag-tag army and defeated it, bringing about Herod’s political downfall. Eventually the disgraced ruler was banished by the Roman emperor to an obscure section of France.

One little indiscretion. Herod never guessed it would ruin his life. But sin always works that way. It starts small and festers until it consumes the body with fever. Eventually, if it is left unchecked, it leads to death (Jas. 1:14-15).

Preachers like John the Baptist are still being rejected. But when they speak the truth, they are only trying to save our souls. Herod turned a deaf ear to John. May we learn from his mistake, lest we be doomed to repeat it.