Archive for Dealing With Sin

My daughter has been monitoring tweets about actor Cory Monteith’s death this weekend. I think it’s been quite some time that a person who was on TV weekly and loved by many teens and young adults has passed away. For them I think this is going to be very hard and significant. They need our prayers. I want to blog about it more to the teens I know later this week.

But in her watching tweets, my daughter found that the Westboro Baptist Church is spewing its vile attitude again, being “Glee-ful” at Cory’s death, and threatening to picket. They don’t represent me at all, and when they are described as Baptists and as a church that really bothers me. I’ve been wanting to say something for a while about them, especially for people who aren’t part of the orthodox Christian community.

This is what I hope you know:

Baptists Are Not All the Same

First, “Baptist” is not a term that always stands for a well organized denomination. There are several good Baptist denominations or confederations between churches that provide checks and balances if needed to the individual churches and pastors. But “Baptist” basically means only that one believes that when a person becomes a Christian he or she should be baptized by immersion in water. It says nothing, really, about how the church lives out its faith.

If you and I wanted to go out right now, buy a building, and start a Roman Catholic parish to run any way we pleased, we couldn’t. We would need to come in line with the denomination and agree to their viewpoint. But if you and I wanted to buy a building and hang a sign that said, “Baptist Church – Come Sunday at 10”, there’s nothing to stop us.

The Westboro Baptist Church is run by one man independently. The condemning things the church says and the picketing and hatred they promote are the teachings of this man. He is in a miniscule minority. Very, very few Baptists would join him on the picket line, and many, many of us would be glad to serve in the lines of “human shields” who protect mourners from what Westboro’s doing. They do not speak for the American Baptists and Conservative Baptists I have known, and I’m sure they don’t impress the Southern Baptists, either. Overwhelmingly they speak only for themselves.

The Matter of Being a “church”

Usually churches are made up of believers from a community. The members share a faith in the essentials of Christianity, but from there, they can be from different cultures, races, and economic classes. The Westboro church is made up almost completely of the relatives of the pastor. That’s an unusual and insular situation, lacking diversity and giving the pastor the powerful dual relationship of religious leader and family patriarch with almost everyone. There’s a proverb in the Bible, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) In other words, my differences of opinion with yours are like two swords sharpening against each other and becoming greater tools to sharpen both our understandings of God and the Bible. The extreme and unquestioned opinions, and the lack of outside community participation, should give anyone pause. A church was never meant to be a closed group.

As It Should Be

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Although the terms “Baptist” and “church” grate me when used with Westboro, the last thing I hope you know is more important by far:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34 and 35

Below is a beautiful song based on this verse by Christie Knockles:

They Will Know Us By Our Love

This command of Jesus is buttressed by so many parables and incidents in His ministry: the Good Samaritan, the adulterous woman, the injunction not to judge lest you be judged. Accusing people of sins and humiliating them is not the way to go. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their sins far better than we can. We were sent to love as Christ loved us.

The Westboro people may believe that Jesus died for their sins and is their Lord and Savior, and it’s not mine to take that away from them if they say they believe it. But my understanding is far different than theirs. I believe Jesus died not only to take my sins, but so I would have His life and love in me, and because of that, in my life and the lives of other believers this kind of hateful venom would end. Let me say it again:

My Savior hung naked on a cross so that this kind of hatred would stop. It’s that important.


Broken for Hope

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June has brought some emotional experiences with some special high school graduations and the departure of one of my dearest friends, Kristin. Kristin and I have been friends for some 18 years, but her family is heading south to Texas. We’ve been getting together over afternoon coffees and catching up on each others’ lives for a long time. Now we are headed to cyberspace in order to keep our friendship on track. Quite a difference from the in person meetings at Dunkin’ Donuts that always ended with a hug and a promise to get together again soon.

The last of the going away parties was combined with the high school graduation party for Kristin’s oldest daughter. There were some people there who I hadn’t seen in years. One was a close friend who had moved to the Midwest. She hadn’t seen me since 2006, when I had gotten divorced, and then only briefly. I told her the truth about how things had been these last six years, and it hasn’t been pretty. She didn’t know how I had fared. My son, who had gone through severe drug addiction and rehab, she remembered only as a young boy. There were so many stories to tell from these hard years.

When I got home that night, I felt the sorrow of all that had gone before and had not gone well. And I felt the burden of those things that still await God’s timing and God’s answers. The words of the song, “Revelation” by Third Day, really hit home:

My life has led me down the road that’s so uncertain
Now I am left alone and I am broken

Roads that never lead me home

“I am broken” resounded within me. All the experiences that had hurt and not yet healed had left me a broken person. Now I believe that I am someone God can heal and use; we all are. But the enormity of all that had gone before hit me so hard that night. Perhaps I had gone from patching up this disaster and that calamity without realizing the whole effect: I had become a broken person in desperate need of God’s help and rest an healing. I needed to understand where I really was before I could arise and act upon His answers.

This time I know that you are holding all the answers
I’m tired of losing hope and taking chances
On roads that never seem
To be the ones that bring me home

So I’m wondering, has this ever happened to you? Have the hurts piled up without your really knowing it? Have you realized the depth of the wound? Before I could bring everything to the Lord, I had to know what “everything” is. I think we all do.

The song verse above talks about losing hope in the plans we make that don’t have God’s blessing. Proverbs 13:12a tells us that a hope deferred makes the heart sick. But false hope is not God’s hope.

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him….” – Romans 4:18

Abraham had been promised a son, but not only a son. This is what had been said to him in Genesis 15:5

“[The Lord] took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Now this would have been quite a promise under any circumstances, but Abraham had before him a very broken situation to assess:

“Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” – Romans 4:19

In other words, neither Abraham nor Sarah were young enough to have children any more. Not one child, let alone as many as the stars in the night sky. But he did not weaken in his faith:

“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” – Romans 4:20 & 21

Abraham’s promise was from God, and he knew God had the power to fix his broken situation. Do we believe God has that power for our own broken situations, or do we worry that we are going to live on, broken forever in this life? I know I could certainly remember His power more and practice remembering it more often than my past or present “breaks”.

This is how the song ends, too. “Revelation” is the singer’s prayer – not to dwell upon the past, not for the strength to do what I think needs to be done, not for me to find my own way, but to ask for the revelation of Jesus’ way.

Give me a revelation
Show me what to do
‘Cause I’ve been trying to find my way
I haven’t got a clue
Tell me should I stay here
Or do I need to move
Give me a revelation
I’ve got nothing without you
I’ve got nothing without you


Into His Eyes

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Last Sunday my church took communion. One of our elders, Rick Bringhurst, challenged us beforehand to examine our hearts in this way: what if Jesus were sitting across the table from you? I had to smile. It was this very concept that had started my journey toward a deeper spiritual life over twenty years ago.

I’d been at a retreat, and the leader had suggested we close our eyes and imagine a peaceful scene – so far so good – and then Jesus coming and sitting with us in that scene. My reaction was sheer panic. Although I’d been a Christian for some ten years, the thought of Jesus actually being there, sitting right next to me, looking into my eyes, made me want to run. Of course I knew He knows all about each of us, “and even the very hairs of your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30). But to confront Him face to face? I knew this was totally the wrong reaction. My day-to-day life with God needed some major work.

Into His Eyes

Have you ever heard the word intimacy described as “into me see”? I was really not open to that. My innermost thoughts were strictly my own. That’s how I dealt with people, and that’s how I wanted it with God. But God is not satisfied with that answer. He wants to dwell in our hearts, including the parts we don’t show. And more than that, there were some feelings I had locked away. I was trying to forget, and in trying, was not being honest with myself. God wouldn’t have that dishonesty, either.

Over a period of time, I returned to this idyllic imagery gone wrong. I had to be able to let my Savior see my eyes, and thus, my soul. Those eyes penetrate so deeply! At first I thought he was looking for all my sin, and hence the terror. Eventually I realized that He was looking deep into the good in me. Yes, God deals with our sin, but there was a deeper purpose for the deep intimacy that was not for accusing me. I did not realize in my heart that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

You may want to know why this path thinking was not based more in Scripture, or in searching the Scripture. I knew many passages already that said God loved me, that He was good, that God would never leave us or leave us comfortless. But they hadn’t come off the page for me and into my real life. I knew many of the passages telling of God’s intimate knowledge of us. But would I let Him see into me to that depth? Could I let Him “search me and know me” (see Psalm 139:1)? I certainly haven’t arrived. Even if someone spent hours and hours in deep meditation, with the vastness of the love of God one never could come to full understanding. But it is much better than the young woman who wanted to run away all those years ago.

I am so glad that I was challenged to go deeper with God, to look “full in His wonderful face” as the song says. If this story challenged you or left you startled at the thought of facing Jesus, I encourage you to take the journey, too. Start having the thought of “going to the Lord in prayer” becoming a time to actually sit and be with Him so He can show you who He is – and who you are, too.


A Word Aptly Spoken

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A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. – Proverbs 25:11

Recently several of my friends have been hurt by remarks that lacked tact. As I’ve thought about this and wished my loved ones had been treated more tactfully, I’ve realized I have plenty to learn, too.

Although tact isn’t a listed fruit of the Spirit, it calls upon a lot of them. Kindness, gentleness, and self-control come to mind, along with as much wisdom as we can muster. Tact is needed in confrontation, but also in sharing the truth and speaking one’s mind. It is knowing when a thing should be addressed privately, or later on, or perhaps a realization that you’re not the one who should bring it up at all. Or, as little as we like to admit it, our opinion is not needed in the situation. Ouch!

I think Christians are especially susceptible to crossing the line in truth-sharing. We are called to proclaim the Good News but you can’t win everyone over – the apostle Paul certainly didn’t! “Trying harder” can take a wrong turn and start sounding like arrogance. Many times I’ve found out later that the people who seemed to be shutting us down when spiritual things were presented were really thinking about what was said. It’s made me remember one of my grandmothers. In my childhood she used to say, “I would rather be right than President,” and she made sure she was. But people did not remember her correct opinions or her intelligence. They remembered being hurt by her sharp tongued comments.

When King David’s son Absalom rebelled against him, he asked his soldiers not to harm him when they captured him. Nonetheless, he was killed, and the man who reported it to the king said, “May the enemies of my lord the king . . . be like that young man.” (2 Samuel 18:32b) The patriotic sentiment was tactless in the face of David’s losing his beloved son. Only God knows if David wept all the more over Absalom because the men around him saw an impudent enemy vanquished while only David saw a much loved wayward son come to a terrible end.

Jesus gave us instructions about confronting another person that showed love, concern, and were designed to give a person a place to reconsider their actions. (The instructions include the appropriate action for the rarer egregious problem that requires churchwide attention, but I am not addressing that here.) The basic step is “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15a) So much damage is done by people who confront others’ faults in anger and in public. We are supposed to talk to others in love and in private to find a reconciliation, not shout out their faults to demoralize them.

Priscilla and Aquila, two strong believers in the early church, came across a man named Apollos who was preaching publicly, but did not know the full details of the Gospel message. Did they butt in and take over on his speech? Did they criticize him for not preaching everything they knew about Jesus? No, “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26b) Even in the case of his preaching an incomplete message, they spared Apollos every public embarrassment that intervention or criticism would have brought him, and instructed him privately.

I missed the opportunity to show tact recently when I rebuked someone on Facebook. In my anger I thought I was justified – don’t we always? The result was we both found there had been a misunderstanding that left each of us feeling foolish and embarrassed. Considering the fruits of the Spirit, the tact that I should have been using, and the love I have for my friend, I wish I had gone to her privately.

One last thought: sometimes a person is blind to a fault because the Holy Spirit knows he is not ready to confront it. The Holy Spirit guides us perfectly in revealing and healing our faults. He chooses the right time when we can bear to look at our shortcomings, and His healing makes that possible. When we feel someone should hear the truth about themselves now we need to pray about the possibility that we are running ahead of the Holy Spirit and what that person is ready to hear. Instead of tact we may find we need patience(!) and a renewed love for the person just the way they are – which is, of course, just how God loves them.

“People don’t care how much you know–until they know how much you care.” – John C. Maxwell

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Kindness Instead of Quarrels

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A couple of weeks ago, Michelle was asking me when I’d weigh in about the pastor who wanted to burn Qurans. Although we’re not talking about the pastor in particular anymore, I’ve found a place where I think the Bible weighs in on the controversy – and as always, right down to our hearts, too.

I am reading my way through 2 Timothy, a book I’d have to say I don’t know too much about other than the “famous” verses that pop out. It surprised me to find some thoughts about kindness and gentleness that sound all too a propos for these days.

I have a fondness for those fruits of the Spirit that seem to get lumped together and not discussed – goodness, kindness, gentleness. This started years ago when I was asked to speak on all three for 10 minutes in a presentation on the fruits. Someone put them all together, thinking they were basically the same thing. They are not! I tried to show that in my allotted ten minutes. Then it started me on the lookout to find these qualities in the Bible for the last 25 years.

These are instructions for anyone who wants to be “the Lord’s servant.”

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:23-26

There are two ways to get into a quarrel: you are drawn into one when another person becomes combative, or you pick a quarrel, saying inflammatory things that you know will lead to quarreling. If we’re told to be careful not to get pulled in to a quarrel, we certainly shouldn’t be starting one.

Now, putting “Quran Burning” in huge letters outside a church is an extreme example. (An aside: many bemoaned the attention the media gave the story. I don’t know exactly how they found the pastor, but think about it: he wanted to be found. He was picking this quarrel and hoping to amplify it.) But at home, on the smaller scale, how many times have you heard someone say the “clever” snide remark that is going to humiliate and raise ire? The one that comes to my mind is the “joke” about Adam and Steve, by which some people feel they’ve handily put down their opposition. But then there are the people who say, “Those people who believe in eternal security, they….” or, “those people who speak in tongues, they….” I’ve worshiped with both of “them” over the years. It’s a disgrace to talk about other believers like that. Because

Instead, {the Lord’s servant} must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. – 2 Timothy 2:24b

To be kind to another, we have to be respectful of him as a human being, even if we cannot respect his viewpoint. To be able to teach, we have to know Scripture, not hearsay or smart remarks. To not resent the other person’s religion and what hurtful things that religion may have done, we have to put away our pride. We are not better than the other person or his ideas. We have found Someone better than both of us. Someone who ended quarrels. Someone who was not only kind, but even gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). Someone whose very name is above any other name – most certainly our names (Philippians 2:9). The very thought of my name compared to His makes me wither. We are supposed to introduce others to that Someone – Jesus – holy and true, not someone combative and prejudiced.

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct – 2 Timothy 2:25a

If you confront a person on any subject, you need to know what your objective is. Are you bringing up your points to bring harmony, or a greater understanding? If your objective is to show the other person “what’s what”, or to make sure they know you are right and they are wrong, then pride is leading the way, not reconciliation.

Here, the gentle instruction is going to lead to evangelism, the opportunity to share who Jesus really is with the person. Posturing and put downs are never going to do it. I doubt that anyone has ever said, “Now that you’ve shredded all my beliefs and made me look like a fool, I want to accept your Jesus.” You realize that’s ridiculous once I’ve said it; do we always realize it when we’re talking to someone?

That they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:26

Paul says the unbeliever is trapped. They have been taken captive, and often have been taught to take more people captive into the same false religion or cult. There’s been an outcry about human trafficking in part because we can see, and hopefully stop, the horrible kidnappers and abusers. Even when people are being belligerent about an ungodly viewpoint, Paul is saying that beneath it all, they are trapped by the real enemy that we do not see. If we could see their captivity, would we argue with them? Wouldn’t we rather work with them gently and try to get them out of there?

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. – Philippians 4:5

Lord, it’s a human failing to want to fight and put down others. Please help us all to be kinder and gentler the next time there is a conflict of opinion and remember it’s an opportunity to show Jesus’ kindness, gentleness and love. Amen.


Accepted in the Beloved

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(Any terms I use in this blog are for explanatory purposes only. If any have fallen into disuse or are now “politically incorrect”, I apologize and assure you I intend nothing derogatory.)

A few weeks ago my daughter and I stumbled upon the movie “Freaks”, new to us, but evidently something of a cult classic. Made in 1932, the actors were people with anomalies who made up the circus sideshows of the time. By using the real circus performers, the movie caused an uproar. It was removed from the market, and Britain banned it outright. Ironically these actors were not being used as “freaks” but were being themselves with a dignity and normalcy the viewing public of the time probably never dreamed they had.

I’m telling you all this because I just can’t get the story out of my mind. Generally movies explain to you who the characters are. This one keeps asking me who I am.

Where I picked up the story, Hans, a young man who is a midget, is infatuated with Cleopatra, one of the normal size circus performers. She is amused and plays along as if Hans were a toy with no real feelings. When she accidentally finds out that Hans is heir to a great fortune, her game begins in earnest. She agrees to marry her unwitting suitor.

At the marriage feast, it is primarily the sideshow folk who come and sit together at one great, long table. The bride behaves abominably, getting very drunk, putting a drug in Hans’ drink (the first step toward killing him and taking his fortune) and kissing her real love interest in front of everyone, humiliating Hans. Apparently not everyone sees, because a dwarf begins a special ceremony at the far end of the table. (This you may already know because it is the most famous scene of the movie.) He gets on the table with an immense goblet of wine and walks to each guest, giving him or her a sip in turn. In your mind’s eye I want you to see these people. There are the bearded lady and the skeleton man; a woman with no arms and a man with no legs, and a man with neither arms nor legs; other little people; conjoined twins; persons they called pinheads who had tiny skulls that caused both physical deformity and mental retardation. As the cup is offered, the dwarf takes up a strange chant: “Gobble, gobble, we accept you, you are one of us.” Obviously, as Hans’ wife, Cleopatra is being accorded the honor of being embraced by the people of the sideshow, people so few understand. But when the goblet arrives, she pushes it away, screaming that she wants no part of them. “You’re all freaks!” she cries, betraying her true feelings.

The scene won’t leave my mind, but I am now in Cleopatra’s seat. I watch these unusual wedding guests, looking with some discomfort at their missing limbs and other unusual deformities. I think of how some of them cannot care for all their own basic needs and will always need caregivers. And then the cup comes to me. Will I take the cup? Will I identify with these people as ones like me?

I thought I wasn’t prejudiced. Or at least I wasn’t that prejudiced. I’m not prejudiced against blacks, and that’s the big one in the United States, so I’m okay, right? I have a dislike of some people groups, but if I met someone from one of those, I prided myself on putting that aside and concentrating on loving the person in front of me. But if I’m priding myself for coming halfway (or less), what am I really doing? Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so proud anymore.

What happened to the Scriptures I claimed I believed? Jesus prayed,

I have given [believers] the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. – John 17:22 & 23a

And Paul tells us:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law…so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 24 – 27

But the truth is, when I think of being one with certain people, because of their culture or behavior, I recoil.

Author Steve Brown often writes of his conversations with the Lord. I sense something akin to that as I think of my reaction to the “freaks”:

“So it’s okay for you to look at them just to see what they look like but not accept them?”

Shame on me.

“I came down from heaven to live with humanity. What do you think that was like?”

I imagined myself looking down from a bright and perfect heaven onto the masses of humanity on earth: The smells. The crowds. The soiled clothing. The cacophony. And, as each night falls, the darkness.

More than that, there was the condition of our hearts, every last heart leaving something to be desired. You might say we all had something missing or misshapen there.

“I once shared bread and a cup of wine around a table and accepted every one of you – in your sin.”

Nothing is so humbling as Jesus telling you He already did this very thing for you, and you have been unwilling to do the same. As a believer I share in the new covenant that was made at the Last Supper. In my mind’s eye I see that goblet, Christ’s goblet, making its way around the table that Passover night, a symbol of Jesus saying, “I accept you” when we were filthy in our sin. I would gladly drink that goblet when Jesus is holding it. But I’m only holding it out to select others – not all others – even though He came for every one of them, and I know it.

Seems I have some things to work out with God. And if I ever catch “Freaks” again on TV, you can be sure that’s one movie I will never see the same way again.

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A Personal Inventory

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God’s been giving me some personal inventory-taking time.  I feel as if I stepped out of a private meeting to talk to you.  In his epistle, James talked about the danger of stepping before a mirror and then looking away, forgetting your own image.  My last two days have been one, long look.

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word reminds me of my sin?

This has involved some crying and regretting, facing loneliness and lost time and opportunities.  It also calls for the application of Scripture, because without it, we feel even more guilty and blame filled.  We tend to forget that where we stand,

there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1 & 2

The things we’ve done wrong seem so, well, intractable.

Very little has gone well for me in a long time.  It is easy to wonder if I am cursed, if blessings and success will ever come.  My run of sorry events has its roots in my marriage and divorce twenty years later.  While I don’t want to encourage undue superstition about opening the Bible randomly, yesterday I opened to the exact page of 1 Corinthians that concerns marriage, chapter 7.  The verses that describe my situation are :

A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. – 1 Corinthians 7:10b – 11a

It does not say, “and she will live a cursed life,” or “and the Lord will punish her forever.”  The natural consequences of pulling apart a 20 year marriage with 2 children are heavy, whether or not you are a Christian.   My husband has remarried, so there is only one option for me, and it comes with its own burdens.  I believe God had me read that passage again to show me He is not laying on top of this that I must live in continued guilt and sadness, or that He then ceased to love me, or that nothing will go right for me anymore.

I have the tendency to remember my bad decisions, my reversals of fortune, the friendships that withered from close fellowship to becoming odd and strained.  I have to remember that some things have in fact gone well.  My son nearly died on June 8, but we were able to get him back from (literally) the brink.  (I’m going to be writing about that later.)  I’m still in my house.  I have met some people who have helped me immensely to do what I needed to have done.  My church has been greatly supportive.  My daughter has done fabulously at school.  In crucial ways God has met my needs.  Just because I haven’t experienced solutions in some areas that greatly concern me, mainly financial, doesn’t mean God abandoned me in all my ways.

These days are like a retreat, where I am taking time to pray and systematically put my sins under Jesus’ blood and my prayer requests in God’s hands.  I’m just making sure that’s where they are, because that’s where they belong.

Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” –

And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 32:5

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Yesterday Michelle was kind enough to post for me on “my” day.  I got up this morning and found that she had posted for me in more ways than one.  Her message about freedom was very nearly the post I intended to write today.  I’m going ahead because I am going to look at it from a slightly different angle, and because when God says something important in Scripture you find He has said it again, even a number of times.  Maybe we need to hear this more than once because it’s so important to us right now.  I know I do.

I started looking at the whole passage of Galatians where you find the verse about the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16 – 26.  I’ve been blogging about some individual fruits of the Spirit without looking at the bigger picture.

First, Paul has laid out the reason why his instructions are so important:  we are fighting a war.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. – Galatians 5:17

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves." Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

The war is not overseas, it is right here in front of us.  Worse, in this conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature, we feel drawn to the enemy side.  We find the list of sins nauseating when we read them, but they don’t always seem so bad when the opportunity presents itself.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. – Galatians 5:19 – 21a

Sounds awful, doesn’t it, at the moment?  Paul even trails off from naming them all.  Our enemy has plenty of temptations and enticements.  Following along with them brings dire consequences:

I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:21b

Why would anybody who lives like this be interested in inheriting the kingdom of God, I wondered.  Then I remembered those many who hear, and like what they hear, and do what they want anyway.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. – James 1:22 – 24

Have we walked away from personal inventory and forgotten what our own soul looks like?  It is an inward act of the sinful nature that is potentially more dangerous than the ones in the list above. In this war, as a soldier on the Kingdom side, I do have my orders:  stay away; flee; cast them off; push them away because they no longer have a part of you.

And we have help:  God knows the battle we fight between our spirits and the sinful nature.  “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Thank God for the hope in these next verses.  Paul proclaims decisively,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. – Galatians 5:16

It doesn’t say, “With great and sad longing for your sinful ways, you can just eke out a victory, or a draw.”  “You won’t feel freed up, but you can pull it off.”  It says, “You will not gratify.” You can step forward and win the battle and be free, and get away from the law.  After listing the results of living by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Paul adds, “Against such there is no law.” – see Galatians 5:22 -24

Now both Michelle and I want always to stress that any command to do something outwardly flows from something inward.  You can’t just take these lists and say, “Okay, don’t do this, do that, and I’ll go to heaven.”  It leaves you still under the law, and you won’t win.  Oh, you may think you win, but there will still be sin balanced against the good works, and the good works may not be as pure in motivation as they seemed, and you need to be cleaned from all sin.   What will wipe clean the sin side of the scales once and for all?

The thing that has cleansed us, given us a second spiritual birth, and given us the power to do good things and feel free in doing them is our belief in Jesus – a belief that is so strong that we have given our lives over to Him.  When we heard His words, when we saw our sinful souls in the mirror, we did not absentmindedly walk away.  Inwardly we have made the decision to serve God.  Look at the power that God gives us in this next verse:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24

We crucify the sinful nature.  We admit our sins and call our sins a part of all the sins Christ paid for when He was on the cross.  Now, because Jesus Christ is triumphant, we can win our battles.

The last verse in the passage is a warning:

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. – Galatians 5:26

In other words, avoid the trap of now weighing on the scales your success at producing fruit against that of others, or concerning yourself with the size and scope of the work you are called to in comparison to others.  You just don’t know the way God is working in someone else’s life.  Throw away the scales and let God prune His fruit trees as only He knows best.