Category Archives: Sin

The Power of Acknowledging the Past

My brother and I at my high school graduation.

Jesus replied . . . “I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared.

“No, Jesus replied, for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.”

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”

Jesus told them, If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  (John 8:38-44)

Man, this must have felt so insulting.  I’m trying to imagine someone coming to me in my younger days and saying, “You think you’re all tight with God, but I see the Devil all over you.”  I would have been very hurt and upset.

The Jews must have been completely rocked.  In their minds, they were keeping the law and honoring God.  And instead of commending them,  Jesus told them that their father was the devil and they had broken the 10 commandments.

It’s very sobering to think that Jesus would have said the same to us before we became Christians.  Because we also were children of the devil.

It took me awhile to see and admit this.  I remember telling myself when I was studying the Bible, “My sins aren’t so bad.  I mean, I just do what everyone does, kick up my heels a little.  I’m basically a good girl.  I’m not as bad as others.”

But how was I different than the Jews that Jesus condemned?  I lied at times, so I was a liar.  I loved to do many things that God calls evil, like getting high, or reading smutty books, or being immoral.  I didn’t kill anyone, but I had animosity towards people, so according to Matthew 5, I was still in the doghouse.  Plus, Jesus had to die because of my sins, so in a sense, I was culpable for his death.

There’s a real sting and shame in knowing that I once belonged to the Devil.  But that acknowledgement is also good and necessary.  Because when we know what we were, and contrast that with what we are now, we can have an endless source of gratitude.

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. . . . But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that he made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins –it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:1-5, abridged)

I’ve been praying with an online group that prays for brothers and sisters all over the world who are struggling with Covid 19.  Each session, the group also thanks God for every person who was healed, a list that’s become several hundred names long.  Sometimes I find myself wishing that we didn’t have to always express gratitude for each healed person.  It takes so long.  Couldn’t last week’s thanks be enough?  Or could we thank God in general for all of the answered prayers?

But if I had been one of those people who had been in ICU for days, on the razor’s edge of death, wouldn’t it have felt like the most amazing thing ever to be healed and out of the hospital?  Wouldn’t I want to thank God every day that I was alive?

Medical staff celebrates as Covid 19 patient who was on ventilator is discharged.

That’s how we should feel that we once belonged to the Devil, but now we belong to God, that we once were dead in our sins, but now we are alive with Christ.  It’s an amazing miracle.  It’s humbling.  We were on the razor’s edge of Hell, and Jesus brought us back from the brink.

A week ago, my friend Christina came over, and as we visited, she told me how she survived Hurricane Katrina.  She was living in the 9th Ward when the levy gave way, and one of her family members happened to have a neighbor with a 3 story house.  She and others in her family waded through waist deep rising waters to this neighbor’s house and lived 4-5 days on the 3rd story until they were evacuated by helicopter.  If they hadn’t have had that neighbor to stay with, it’s very possible that they would have perished, as many around them with 1 or 2 story houses did.

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Residents of the 9th Ward in Katrina flooding.

Christina could have died, but she didn’t.  Not only does she have life, but it’s life changing to realize how close she came to losing it.

So as we read back over Jesus’s words to the Jews, may it be life changing for us to realize how close it could have been, and what a gift it is that we were snatched out of the jaws of death, and given eternal life.

Here are three takeaways from today’s red letter passage:

  1. That Jesus sees those in sin as children of the Devil, belonging to him.
  2.  That we also at one point were in sin, and were children of the Devil.  (Romans 3:23)
  3. That the Jews were an example of the wrong kind of heart.  They resisted Jesus’s teaching about sin.  We should acknowledge this and the full implications of it.
  4. That acknowledging where we were, contrasted with where we are now, can and be a source of unending gratitude.

It’s funny.  The older I get, the more clearly I see the sins of my youth.  (Not to say I don’t sin now!)  I have compassion on my younger self,  but also know I made some pretty foolish choices.  And I had a stubborn prideful streak that got me in more trouble.  Wow.  By the grace of God, I was placed on the most wonderful trajectory.  I am so glad that I didn’t fumble and bump through the years by myself.  How empty I would be now, instead of full and overflowing!  May this spur me to praise God always, through every storm.

“However, you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not God’s people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10  GWT)

My senior prom.

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Filed under Forgiveness, Gratitude, John, Red Letter, Sin

Nipping Sin in the Bud

“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps it. Why are you trying to kill Me?” (John 7:19)

Today’s red-letter verse brings up something that’s very convicting to me.  First of all, Jesus told the people that that none of them keep the law.  That seems like an exaggeration.  They all considered themselves practicing Jews.

It’s the connection of this sentence to the next that gives me a clue into what Jesus might have seen in the people.  He accused them of trying to kill him.  What was he talking about here?  Certainly, he was referring to the fact that their leaders were angry at him for trying to heal on the Sabbath. In John 5:16 it says, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.”

But I think there could be more that Jesus saw. I believe he saw the seeds of sin that would grow until all of these people were ready to call for his death and shout, “Crucify him” at his trial. (Matt 27:23)  Ordinary people would become murderers.  (Acts 3:15)

And it makes me wonder what seeds of sin Jesus sees in me today that could grow and motivate me to take a horrible action?  We’ve been studying James 1 in our midweek, and learning the importance of dealing with sin at the temptation level, instead of allowing it to progress.  “But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  (James 1:14-15)

It’s extremely important to look at our “small” attitudes and deal with them.  Many times we don’t even realize that we have these attitudes.  I’m doing a series on “Finding Hope” for life coaching, and one of the first pieces of advice I have for my audience is to pay attention to the stories they tell themselves.  Because in every situation, we have a story about it that we believe. For instance, if something goes wrong, we tell ourselves that things never work out, or that life has it in for us, or that it’s someone’s fault, or that we always fail.  Beliefs like that make it hard to have hope.

But what I want to focus on here is that what we believe about a situation becomes the seed from which sin grows.  It can generate bitterness, resentment, faithlessness, hatred, jealousy, worry, and much more.   So we have to pay attention to what we’re thinking.  And then we have to make a conscious decision to not engage in our negative thoughts.   Because if we do, they will become magnified. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Cor 10:5)

So, what are some practical ways to deal with sin at the temptation level?

  1. Ask yourself frequently what you are thinking and feeling.
  2. Bring your attitudes into the light.  Journal them or talk to someone about them.  “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph 5:11)
  3. Take God with you to look at your attitudes. Listen for his voice as you do.  “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23)
  4. Ask yourself, “Is it really true, what I believe about this person or situation?  How could I believe the best about them?  How could I have realistic faith?” “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:7)
  5. Give every concern, worry and fear to God.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6, also I Peter 5:7)  Remember to do this with thanksgiving, because you know he listens to you, and you’re waiting in expectation of his answer.  (Ps 5:3)
  6. Forgive. “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matt 6:14)
  7. Act in the opposite direction of your temptation.  If you’re grumpy with a person, do something nice for them.  If you’re feeling sad, make a gratitude list, or start singing.  If you’re worried, take a step of faith.  “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matt 5:41) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21) “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov. 17:22)

In conclusion, let’s go back to today’s red letter verse.  Jesus said, “Not one of you keeps the law.”  Do you know what that brings to mind for me?  The Sermon on the Mount.  Because in it, Jesus tells the Jews how they should really keep the law.  It’s not that they shouldn’t kill, it’s that they shouldn’t even be angry with someone, or put them down.  (Matt 5:21-22)  It’s not that they shouldn’t commit adultery, it’s that they shouldn’t even indulge in lust.  (Matt 5:27-28)

The law is all about the heart, not about just keeping the letter.  And if the Jews had fostered the right heart, they wouldn’t have become murderers.  The lesson for us is that we must work on our hearts by stopping sin at the temptation level.  As Jesus went on to say in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  (Matt 5:29)

Lately, I’ve been grumpy with someone.  I’ve told myself a story about them, and this has led to me being eaten up with frustration.  Then, in the last few days, they’ve shown that what I believed about them wasn’t true.  I went through days of frustration for nothing, and it affected my life, and the lives of those around me.

Here’s the thing I keep realizing. The things that go on inside of me are my responsibility.  I want to blame them on the actions of others, or on circumstances.  But it is totally my responsibility to deal with my grumpiness, resentment, worry, fear, and so on.  If I don’t, there will be a price.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell the story of Cain and Abel to the kids for Sunday School.  I’ll teach them how God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door.  It desires you, but you must master it.”  (Genesis 4:7)  Cain didn’t listen to God.  He didn’t master his sin, and there were dire consequences.

May we all master our sins at the temptation level, before they affect our lives, and the lives of those around us.

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Having the Right Heart, John, Red Letter, Repentance, Sin

How to Look at Sin

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And with it he touched my mouth and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.” (Is 6:5-7)

This passage is perfect for me today!  I just studied sin with someone, and as I was preparing, I saw that I needed more clarity on what I want to communicate to others about sin.  I really want to be sure that I am speaking from a place that makes total sense to me and reflects my deepest convictions.

And this is the answer to what I was looking for.  In these verses, Isaiah communicates his reaction to seeing the Lord sitting on his throne (verse 1). He has an absolute realization of his sinfulness. He has a terrifying certainty that a sinful person cannot see the face of God without being doomed.

And that makes it clear to me what I want to stress to others about sin.  They have to see the stark reality that, without atonement, they are a people of unclean lips before the King, the Lord of Hosts.  There is a gulf between them and God.  And no matter WHAT they do, they will never be able to bridge that gulf.

They also have to see that the gulf is their fault.  They can’t blame it on others.  They can’t blame it on the way the world is, or the way their life has been.  They can’t say, “God knows my heart.”

They can’t be cavalier.  They can’t just take God for granted, and approach him in prayer with a sloppy attitude towards personal righteousness, like he’s their pal.

Because God is GOD.  His nature is so holy and fearsome that people who came into his presence were in danger of their lives.  He told Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to see the LORD, lest many of them perish. Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” (Ex 19:21)

The Bible is filled with examples of people who didn’t fear the Lord, and died as a result — Nadab and Abihu (Nu 3:4), Uzzah (II Sam 6:6-7), the Israelites who complained in the desert (Nu 14), Ananais and Saphira (Acts 5:3).

So it is of prime importance that we study sin with people to remind them of what their state is before God without atonement.

And then the second part of Isaiah 6:6-7 becomes all the more powerful to us today.  We see how Isaiah is quaking with fear because he knows his sin is incompatible with the presence of the Lord.  And then we see the utter relief that must have been felt when his guilt was removed as the angel touched a glowing coal to his mouth.

We also must experience this utter relief when we receive atonement.  Hebrews expresses it so well, “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. . . let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”  (Heb 10:14, 22)

Unless we truly see the fearful position our sin puts us in before the holiness of the Lord, we will not appreciate how astounding and welcome is the gift of salvation.  That provides a motivation for us to serve the Lord in totality all of our days. As Romans 6:13 reads, in part, “Give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.”

Surely, just as the seraphim exclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” in the preceding verses, we can exclaim, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” as we continually appreciate our ability to come into the Lord’s presence and live.

 

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Filed under Fearing God, Isaiah, Sin