Tangled

tangle-seuss-pixa-2-17

The cord of my kitchen blind is twisted and tangled. I used to think a family member was doing this to mess with me. Not so. It just happens, little by little. If I don’t keep up, untwisting it day by day, the tangle becomes a snarl, a complicated mess that’s hard to set straight. Sin is that way. Have you noticed?

  • How did that bad habit take hold? Little by little.
  • How did that relationship become so sour? Little by little.
  • How did that close walk with the Lord evaporate? Little by little.

Hebrews 12 has a lot to say about keeping sin from becoming a snarl in our lives. Look at verse 1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perseverance is the straightening process that must be done day by day before our tangles become snarls. We may not all be hindered by the same temptations, but we all have a lot of “throwing off” to do. We can do it, though, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Hebrews 12 is a rich chapter, full of pointers on how to live well. Here’s an abbreviated version of the rest of the chapter:

  • Keep looking at Jesus, in order to keep from growing weary and losing heart.
  • Endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in his holiness.
  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.
  • See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.
  • See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless.
  • Be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe.

And that’s plenty to chew on for this week!

May God let his Word sink deep into your soul!

 

Advertisements

Snap or Pull?

garden

Our front yard boasts an immense mulberry tree. It provides fruit and shade and, sadly, kills our grass. We’re making a valiant attempt at replanting the area with shade loving ground cover, but in the meantime, oh the weeds! During my last weed-ridding session, I had plenty of time to think as I dug and snapped and pulled.

  • Weeds are easier to dig out after the ground has been soaked by a steady rain.
  • Snapping off the tops of the weeds makes for a quick fix, but never gets rid of the problem entirely. The ugly parts may look like they’re gone for a while, but they’re just below the surface and will show up again soon.
  • Pulling those pesky plants out by the root takes a bit more effort but generally provides a more permanent solution. Once the roots are gone, that plant has met its demise.
  • When the weeds are gone, the better plants have a better chance.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I like analogies. So here is where my writer’s brain went as I dug in that dirt under the sun.

  • Sin is easier to get out of my life after my spirit has been soaked and steeped in things of the Lord—Bible passages that encourage and convict, fellowship that leads to accountability, music that brings my soul to a place of worship, and prayer that brings me closer to Jesus and revives my thirst to be more like him.
  • I can cover up my sin for a while, keeping it under wraps so that no one else notices. I may even be able to turn my back temporarily on a nasty habit by making a resolution to change. For example, I might harbor resentment against a fellow worker, but commit to keeping quiet about it. Then I’ll look good on the outside as the poison proliferates within.
  • Rooting out a sin is never pleasant, but often permanent. We can rarely do it alone, and it will often involve giving up some pleasant and seemingly innocuous cause. By the grace of God, though, with much prayer and often the support of a close friend, those roots can be eliminated.
  • When sin is gone, peace and joy and all manner of good fruit takes its place.
  • And (lovely thought!) perhaps as that good fruit grows, it will crowd out more of my weedy sins!

Fighting Words

submachine-gun-62902_640[1]

Sin. We don’t really like to talk about that word very much, yet we deal with it all the time. When we are assailed by temptation, what should we do? We’re in a battle, and it’s a fight God means for us to win. How? One blog certainly can’t cover the whole topic, but here are five important elements of our battle plan.

Remember that we have the bigger gun. God has given us self-discipline and a way out of temptation. The Holy Spirit wants to give us victory over sin.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Shoot to kill. We have powerful ammunition, the strength of Christ in us and his authority to rebuke our Enemy. It may feel weird to say something like, “Satan, in the name of Jesus, I rebuke you and I turn my back on your temptations!” but it works.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

Keep shooting until the enemy is gone. In a war, we wouldn’t fire just one shot and then give up. Prayer is powerful ammunition, but only if we use it and keep praying until the temptation subsides.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

Don’t entertain the enemy. We’ve been warned to stay out of situations that encourage us to sin, to zero out any input that leads us to sinful actions or sinful thoughts.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2b).

Never fight alone. We’re more successful in the battle against sin when we fight alongside an accountability partner, someone who commits to mutual transparency, prayer and a continued partnership in the fight for godliness.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16a).

Fight to win! We can win against sin though our Lord.

…that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6b, but actually the whole chapter).

______________

Butterfly Struggles

butterfly

“Temptations try us; and we are worth nothing if we are not tried.”

That was Hannah Whitall Smith’s take on temptation. She went on to say that our struggles against sin would develop strength and courage, keeping us from spiritual shallowness. She based her thoughts on this verse: Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Hannah, sure that the “crown of life” would be worth all the trouble of the trials, likened our struggles to the birth of a butterfly:

An invalid lady, confined to her home, procured the chrysalis of a beautiful butterfly. She hoped to have the pleasure of seeing the monarch mature and its magnificent wings develop. She kept careful watch over it as spring approached, and finally was delighted to see the butterfly beginning to emerge. It seemed to have great difficulty making its way out of the cocoon-like structure. It pushed, strained, and struggled, seeming to make so little headway that she concluded it must need some help. Finally, with a pair of delicate scissors, she clipped the silken cord that seemed to bind the opening. The butterfly escaped immediately without any further struggle.

The well-meaning woman congratulated herself on the success of her experiment, but quickly discovered that something was wrong with the butterfly. It was free, but its great wings were lifeless and colorless, dragging after it as a useless burden. For a few days it lived a miserable sickly life. Then it died without having once lifted its powerless wings. The lady was deeply disappointed, unable to understand what had happened. When she related the circumstance to a naturalist, he told her she was the cause of the problem, for the butterfly’s very life depended upon the struggle she had prevented. The pushing and struggling were needed in order to send life-giving fluid into the veins of the wings.

In a similar manner, our spiritual wings are strengthened by the struggle and effort of our conflicts with temptation and trial.

Struggling today? May the Lord use every difficulty to deepen you, strengthen you, and bring you closer to him.

(This post is an edited excerpt from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, and thanks for the photo, Mark!)

 

 

Just Do It Yourself: A Tale of Two Lies, Conclusion

1
Children often grasp spiritual truths more easily than the rest of us. Hannah Whitall Smith once told her daughter what to do when tempted to be naughty:

  • Tell God about it. (He already knows anyway.)
  • Ask him to make you good.
  • Depend on him to do it.

The child’s simple response expressed the same error we so often make, “Oh I did not know that. I always thought you had to put your will into it and just do it yourself.” We don’t have to “do it ourselves.” In fact, we can’t. If we try to make our own selves holy, we will fail miserably. God will work in us, though, if we put ourselves into his hands and give him unreserved control in our lives. When we commit ourselves to the Lord’s direction, a great deal is done, not by us, but by him. He disciplines and trains us, causing everything in our lives to submit to his purpose of making us, day by day, into the image of Christ.

We don’t believe in Christ for eternal salvation one day, and the next day try to earn it on our own. That would be a foolish way to live. Asking him to conquer the sin in our lives part of the time, while in effect declaring him unable to do so the rest of the time, is every bit as foolish. Waffling between faith and self-reliance is not only painful, but also dishonoring to the Lord. While none of us will ever meet a sinless person, or live a perfect life free of failure, these promises are ours:

  • We are not slaves to sin.
  • We are never forced to yield.
  • We can conquer sin through Jesus Christ.
  • God loves and protects us even though we sin.

We may suffer the consequences of our choices, but we have not lost the umbrella of God’s protection. We are still loved. We are not condemned. Our sins were paid for by Christ’s death long ago. Our restitution is complete, but the process of our re-creation continues. We are as lumps of clay in the hands of the Divine Potter, and he continues to work on us, making us into vessels that fulfill his purposes. His pace and his ways may be vastly different from what we would choose, but he is worthy of our confidence.
(Content drawn from the work of Hannah Whitall Smith.)

Greater Is He Who Is in You: A Tale of Two Lies, Part 4

1
“The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

That’s a verse we all need to keep in our scriptural arsenal as we fight against the Devil’s schemes, particularly when we find ourselves on the torture rack of temptation.
Sometimes, all we have to do is get off that rack, move as far from the situation of sin as possible, and refuse to give it further attention. We may not be bound to it as tightly as we think. The fight for purity is not about trying harder to be good on our own. It is about yielding to God and asking him to conquer sin, proclaiming, “Lord, save me. I can’t save myself, but I know you can rescue me.” We’ll never make ourselves holy, and we’ll never make ourselves forgiven. Thankfully, Christ will do both. We are set free, not because of our own power, but because of God’s.

When God defeats sin in our lives, he does so in his own way. He may come sweeping in right away, guns blazing so to speak, knocking out the Enemy, and carrying us to safety. On the other hand, he might simply loosen the straps of bondage and let us duke it out with the Enemy for a while. Either way, we never fight alone.

Sometimes we will lose the fight. Never ever give up! Toddlers do plenty of falling down. Even after a dozen tumbles they get back up on those wobbly legs and try again. In the same manner, as we grow in our faith we ought not to despair after a fall into sin. Forgiveness awaits us, as does restoration. The path of holiness doesn’t disappear when we leave it. We can step right back onto that path with the help of the Holy Spirit, laying down the backpacks we have foolishly chosen to carry. The moment we recognize our sin is the right moment to confess it and repent.

Once our sins have been forgiven, they are no longer worthy of our attention. The tempter may try to tell us that our sin proves we have no life of faith after all, that we may as well give up, that a life of holiness is plainly not attainable. Our answer to these lies is a simple prayer, “Lord, I confess my sin. I hate it, but I cannot get rid of it. You can. And since you have said so, I believe that you forgive and renew me.” The whole process might take a couple of minutes. After all, the best remedy in every emergency is to depend on the Lord. If this is all we ought to do and all we are able to do, why not do so at once?

We never have to give up, because he never gives up. We can give him our packs of sin, let him destroy them, and keep on walking a holy path.

Inspired by the writings of Hannah Whitall Smith