Tag Archives: sin

Take Your Cross


Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8:34)

“We all have our cross to bear,” says the popular proverb, but most who say so have no idea of the meaning of Jesus’ words.  He spoke them right after rebuking Peter, who thought that he knew better than Jesus how to accomplish God’s purposes.

Jesus had been explaining that He must suffer many things and even die before He would rise again, but Peter thought there must be a shortcut.  Jesus replied (if I may summarize Mark 8:33-38), “Get behind me, Satan!  There are no shortcuts!  The cross must do its work.”

The work of a cross was to shame, to make the offender suffer, to kill him and to give warning to others about the consequences of crossing the authorities.  But these aren’t the purposes Jesus has in mind.  God’s perspective on the cross is very different from Satan’s.

Both have death in mind, but Satan used the cross to kill the person; God uses it to kill the self.  When Jesus says to “take up (your) cross,” He means that we should willingly carry the tool that God will use to kill our sinful nature and make us more like Christ.

What the “cross” looks like is different for every person.  For some, it’s a challenging circumstance that brings them to the end of their own resources or abilities. For some, it’s something difficult and painful from their past.  For others, it’s a disability, a limitation, a weakness, a failure…  It could even be a persistent struggle with sin.  It’s whatever God uses to bring us into complete dependence upon Him.

Too often, we give Satan power to use these things to shame us, to make us suffer and to destroy us.  Instead, we should turn them over to God, who makes ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him.  God is not the author or creator of the cross, but He will use it to put to death anything that is not like His Son.

Where Satan intends shame, God develops humility.  Where Satan intends suffering, God develops dependence.  Where Satan intends death, God gives life.  Where Satan intends a warning, God provides a testimony.

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Filed under Change, character, christianity, comfort zone, Daily walk, failure, Hardship, sacrifice, sanctification, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, temptation

Sowing and Weeping


Jacob was a trickster.  He tricked his older brother into selling his birthright (i.e., a double portion of his father’s inheritance and leadership of the family) for a bowl of stew!  Then he tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was meant for the eldest son, the very same brother.  Here’s how it went down.

Jacob’s mom, who liked him best, overheard Dad tell brother Esau to cook up a special meal…it was time for the “I’m about to die blessing.”  Esau had been waiting for this for years.  It had the power to transform his life.  He put on his hunting clothes and headed for the deer blind.

Meanwhile, Mom let Jacob in on the circumstances and shared her plan to steal the blessing.  While she cooked dinner for Dad, she had Jacob dress up like a goat (since Esau was quite hairy) and put on his brother’s best clothes.  Then, dinner in hand, Jacob went in to his dad and pretended to be Esau.

Dad, being blind and hard of hearing because of his age, couldn’t tell the difference between the boys without closer inspection.  He beckoned Jacob closer so that he could check for fur and get the smell of him (Esau was a bit gamey).  Jacob with his goat fur and Esau’s clothes passed muster and proceded to get blessed.

By the time Esau arrived with his dad’s favorite meal, it was too late.  These types of blessings weren’t the kind you could reload and refire.  They were one-shot wonders of the most potent variety.  Esau was understandably furious and ready to murder his younger brother, so Jacob grabbed his knapsack and headed for safer territories.

This led him to Uncle Laban’s (on his mother’s side of the family).  Now trickster-ing ran in the family.  Jacob had it.  His momma had it.  And her brother really had it.  Jacob was about to get a spoonful of his own medicine.

As soon as Jacob arrived, he fell head over heals for his cousin, Rachel.  He was so convinced of his love for her that he offered Uncle Laban a deal.  Seven years of shepherding work for the hand of his daughter.  Uncle Laban had already married off his sister to Abraham’s wealthy side of the family.  Maybe this marriage could bring some folding money his way.

Uncle Laban consented.  Jacob worked his tail off.  Seven years passed.  The marriage date arrived, and Uncle Laban threw a huge party – lots of drinking, then more drinking, a few belly shots, a pitcher of mojitos and a mind eraser or two…  Suffice to say, Jacob was hammered, sloshed, tanked, blitzed, bombed, wrecked, three sheets to the wind…choose your euphemism.

Uncle Laban led him to his tent, then sent his daughter in so that they could consummate the marriage.  Because she was dressed up in her sister’s wedding garb and wearing a wedding veil, and because Jacob was blind drunk, it’s a little understandable that he didn’t recognize that he had the WRONG SISTER!

No joke.  Uncle Laban pulled a fast one and wedded Jacob (the marriage night was the equivalent of a ceremony) to his older daughter Leah instead of Rachel.  The next morning, Jacob fumed, he ranted, he raved…but there was nothing he could do.  He was hitched.

He worked out a deal with Uncle Laban to work seven more years for Rachel’s hand and took it in advance this time.  But Uncle Laban continued to be a thorn in Jacob’s side until he made his getaway two wives later (that’s four total if you’re counting).

Are you sensing any irony in Jacob’s misfortune?  His mom has him dress up and pretend to be his older brother so that he can steal something precious from his blind father.  His uncle has his oldest daughter dress up and pretend to be her younger sister so that she can steal something precious from blind-drunk Jacob.  I’d say he got what he had coming.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)

In other words, if you plant good seeds, you’ll get a good crop, but if you plant bad seeds…  The principle of sowing and reaping means that good deeds are repaid – and usually with abundance.  You plant one seed in the ground, and it grows into many new seeds.  But the principle works both ways.  Bad deeds are also repaid.  Hosea said it like this:

They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

When we try to get some bad deeds past God, we often get back much more than we bargained for.

Jacob did.  Sisters competing with each other for sons is no picnic, and four wives instead of one is not the lottery that some men might think it is.

Rachel did.  She never saw her favorite son again, never met her daughters-in-law, never held her grandchildren.

Uncle Laban did.  Jacob eventually bested him in the trickster competition and made off with the largest part of the flock, both Laban’s daughters and all twelve of his grandchildren.

Sometimes we sow and reap; sometimes we sow and weep.

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The Loss of Dross


When a traditional silversmith works with silver, he must first remove the impurities from the rock.  He puts the ore in a crucible and then puts the crucible in a furnace.  The silver is roasted at over 1700o F (926 o C) until it melts.  Dross, a waste material made up of impurities in the silver, rises to the top.  The silversmith then skims it off the top, leaving the silver more pure.  He might need to repeat this process up to seven times to remove all the impurities, each time heating the metal until it melts before the dross comes to the top and can be easily removed.  When the silversmith can see the reflection of his image in the silver, he knows that it is pure.

If you’ve been feeling the heat lately, consider that you might be going through your own purification process.  The Center for Creative Leadership has studied leaders and what makes them successful, and they have found that Hardships account for 34% of a leader’s development experience.  In fact, Hardships teach us more than any of the other categories in their study (i.e. Challenging Assignments – 27%; Other People, like mentors, coaches and role-models – 22%; Other Events, like training, feedback, and success – 17%).

Some examples of instructive hardships include:

  • Failures and mistakes
  • Missed opportunities
  • Conflict in relationships or with organizations
  • Extended periods of stress
  • Employee performance problems
  • Personal traumas

Hard times tend to bring our weaknesses to the surface, forcing us to deal with them.  When we struggle, we find we need to abandon qualities that make us ineffective in order to get through the fire.  Being in the crucible teaches us humility, an essential quality in an effective leader.  Unchecked success leads to arrogance.  Failure reminds us that we are human and helps us understand the imperfections of others.

God allows difficult times of trial in our lives, because He loves us.  He knows that time in the crucible will surface some of our selfishness, independence, pride, meanness of spirit, impatience and any other quality that keeps us from reflecting His image.  Once He has skimmed this dross off of us, He  evaluates us to see how much of Himself He can see in us.  If the fire didn’t surface much dross, He sometimes needs to turn up the heat.

According to an old maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  It’s true, but only if you allow yourself to learn from the trial.  As a friend of mine often says, don’t go through the experience and miss the meaning.  What is the purpose of the refining fire in your life?

Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith.

(Proverbs 25:4)

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Filed under Challenges, Hardship, mistakes, sin, Suffering, Trials, Valley

Minute-by-Minute


Many of us live in time compartments. We think in terms of years or months or weeks. It helps us to slice up the time, so that we can plan and set goals. When that period of time is done, we box up the compartment and set it aside as part of the past. “Last year, this happened to me…” or “Last week, I did such and such.”

When we are struggling to get rid of sin in our lives, we use the time compartments as a way to measure our success. “If I can just control my anger this week on the drive to work…” or “I’m going to try to give up donuts for an entire month…” The time compartment helps us to set our expectations so that we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

But sometimes they work against us. I’ve got a friend who struggles to live in weekly compartments, because if he messes up early, he feels the entire week is shot. Having lost the battle on Tuesday, he cedes the rest of the week to the enemy. For example, if he gives in to the temptation to smoke a cigarette by Tuesday (he’s trying to quit), he feels defeated. In his thinking, the entire week is ruined, so he might as well keep smoking and start fresh on Sunday.

This is a common trick of Satan’s – getting us to think in terms of “all or nothing.” He knows that some of us only have to lose the battle with the temptation to sin once before we give up the fight. How long we give up depends upon how big our compartments are.

Some of us think year-by-year.

“I had a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but I gained several pounds on my vacation. Guess I’ll try again next year.”

Some of us think month-by-month.

“I was trying to keep within a budget, but I blew it again. Guess I’ll try again next month.”

Some of us think week-by-week.

“I promised my wife I would start coming home on time for dinner, but I’ve just got too much work to do this week. Guess I’ll try again next week.”

Some of us think day-by-day.

“I made a commitment in my quiet time to control my lustful thoughts, but that didn’t last past the gym this morning. Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.”

It’s a dangerous rationalization for sin, but it’s surprising how convincing it sounds to the person who is struggling to get rid of bad habits. It takes so much energy and effort to change our behavior patterns that we are relieved in a way when we mess up. We feel like we are off the hook until our next time compartment starts up.

But what if we lived minute-by-minute instead of day-by-day or week-by-week or month-by-month? Then, if we gave in to temptation one minute, we could start over in the next. Right after we sinned, we could repent, ask for forgiveness and then box up the minute of our failure as part of the past. Immediately, we would have a fresh, new minute to use! A minute where our relationship to God had been completely restored because of our repentance and His forgiveness!

When we are struggling with persistent sin, we probably can’t be trusted with time compartments larger than a minute or two. We have to take away the excuse (and Satan’s lie) that we’ve ruined a whole day, week, month or year. Nothing is ruined. Each minute stands on its own. Every moment, we can make a new choice to follow God, and what is in our past (even just a minute ago) doesn’t have to infect our future.

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The Race


The runners are at the starting blocks.  The race is about to begin.

The starting gun fires!  The runners leap into action!

But something’s wrong.  Instead of speeding around the track, they clunk; they lumber; they stumble and fall.  These runners didn’t come prepared to race.  They are all bogged down with heavy clothes and boots, backpacks, and luggage with broken rollers.

Before they make even a dozen steps, those in the stands begin throwing things at them.  As they try to dodge the debris, the runners are assaulted by vendors on the sidelines hawking their wares.  Many leave the track to buy more stuff that they will have to carry to the finish line.  Some stop to have huge meals and then are too lethargic to continue the race until they’ve had a nap.

The spectators boo and yell out criticisms.  Some of the runners get so discouraged that they stop dead in their tracks, unable to do anything but focus on what they are hearing and seeing.  One is crumpled and weeping in the middle of the course.

But then a runner emerges from the crowd of athletes.  He’s shucking the baggage and the heavy clothing.  He’s ignoring the criticisms from the spectators and the vendors hawking their wares.  He picks up speed.  Within moments, he’s at a full sprint!

As he runs, the boos and the criticisms fade into the background and he begins to notice the sound of cheers.  Glancing to his right, he sees that the stands are filled not just with catcallers but also with enthusiastic supporters.  The harder he runs, the easier it is for him to tune out the negative voices.  By the time he crosses the finish line, all he can hear is the euphoric applause of his fans.

————–

In this story, the race represents our life as Christians.  We are the runners.  The starting blocks indicate the moment we accepted Christ.  The finish line is heaven.  The heavy clothes and baggage represent the burdens that we bring into the race – our sin, our emotional baggage, our hang-ups, our misunderstandings about God…

The spectators represent both the heavenly host of angels and the demons, who are watching God’s plan play out as we run the race.  The projectiles they throw are fears, worries and doubts.  The vendors represent Satan’s emissaries, doing whatever they can to distract us from our mission.  The heavy meals represent our materialism, that dulls our spiritual craving for godliness.

Most of us are ill-equipped to run this race.  We bring so much junk with us to the starting line, and we have no idea how to deal with Satan’s attacks.  But as odd as it may seem, we do our training while we round the track.  We carry our Bible with us as we run.  And it doesn’t slow us down; it helps us get rid of the junk and makes us faster.

So, start your race every day with your Bible and quit listening to the hecklers.  The heavenly host is cheering you on!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, Life's Purpose, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Religion, sanctification, sin, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, Spirituality, Suffering

Earn vs. Return – Part 2


In a previous post, I shared that we shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love (we already have it!); we should do good works to return His love (out of gratitude).

This is key, because so many of us are trying to earn something that we already have.  God takes pleasure in us because of WHO we are even when what we DO is disobedient, sinful and evil.  When we try to earn His love, our heart is in the wrong place.  We are starting with the wrong motive.
Take a look at this model. When our heart starts from the wrong motive (i.e., trying to EARN God’s love), there is never a good outcome. If we succeed in our good works, we tend to get prideful and self-righteous. If we fail to accomplish our good works, we are filled with guilt and self-condemnation. (This is the “bad guilt” that keeps condemning us even after we have repented of our sins, and it is often the motivation for our works when we are doing them for the wrong reasons.)

However, if we start from the right motive in our hearts (i.e., trying to RETURN God’s love), both our successes and our failures are pleasing in God’s sight. If we succeed, we are grateful to God for allowing us to do the good works. We rightly understand that we could not have accomplished them without God’s provision and grace, and we commit to serving the Lord in even greater ways.

If we fail in our best intentions, though, it leads us to humility and repentance. These are pleasing to God, and He uses them as a tool to shape us more in His likeness. No Christian should expect to succeed in his good intentions all the time. Failure is an important part of the shaping process. There is an aspect of guilt here, but it is “good guilt” – the kind that leads us to recognize our sin and repent of it. “Good guilt” never continues after repentance.

When our good works are motivated by love, the outcome will always be that we draw closer to God. When they are motivated by guilt and a desire to earn His favor, they will always draw us away from Him – even when we think we must be getting closer. (Consider how far from God the Pharisees were despite their meticulous tithing and obedience to the letter of the Law.)

There is nothing left to earn. Christ paid that debt fully on the cross. We have His holiness and His righteousness. It’s 100% done! All we can do with our own efforts is show our appreciation.

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Earn vs. Return – Part 1


Much of the world throughout history has been trying to earn its way into heaven (or nirvana, Shangri-La,  Moksha, Elysium, Jannah, Fiddler’s Green, Utopia, Valhalla, Goloka…), but it’s just not possible.  We can’t ever be good enough to earn our own way.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Isaiah 64:6)

Nothing we do goes toward eliminating our sin debt.  Jesus had to settle the debt for us.  He paid the price that we couldn’t pay in our spiritual poverty.

But even Christians who accept that they are going to heaven only by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus still try to earn God’s approval.  Many of us do good works so that God will be happy with us, so that He won’t be disappointed.  We imagine that God is like Santa Claus, with a long list of the naughty and nice things we do, and we really want our nice things to outweigh the naughty ones.

Here’s a difficult truth to swallow:

God is already happy with us.

More than happy, God is pleased with us!

Read it again.

Do you believe it?

It’s hard to accept, because we know about all the bad things we do.  We know we don’t deserve God’s pleasure, because we struggle every day with submitting our will under His authority. But God’s pleasure isn’t dependent on our behaviors.  He is pleased with WHO we are even when He’s not pleased with what we DO.

And our sin doesn’t make us less righteous or less justified or less holy in His sight, because it’s really not about us.  It’s about Jesus. No matter how far from perfection we are, Jesus makes up the difference.  When the Father looks at us, He sees the righteousness of His Son.

Isaiah can help here:

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Jesus did two things for us:

1) He clothed us with salvation (i.e., we get to go to heaven).

2) He dressed us up in a robe of righteousness (i.e., He covered our unrighteousness with His righteousness).

Just like we can’t earn our salvation, we can’t earn our righteousness.  It’s a gift.  That’s why Jesus could tell the disciples:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:48)

There’s no way they could have accomplished perfection on their own, but God’s plan is:

You do what you can; Jesus will make up the difference.

We still have our part to play.  We are to do what we can.  But even if we turn in a miserable performance, we are still righteous in God’s sight, because Jesus makes up the difference.  And when we are doing what we can, we aren’t earning; we are returning.

Through obedience and good works, we give back to God what He has given to us.  You see, we can only do good through God’s grace.  He gives us the heart to do good; He gives us the energy; He gives us the talent or the money or the time….  Anything good we do originates with God.  And truth be told, we are only returning a fraction of what He has given us.

For example, when we tithe, we give God ten percent of what we earn.  But where did the ability to earn the 100% come from?  Where did the job come from?  Where did the talent and skill and knowledge come from?  It all came from God.  It’s like He handed us one hundred dollars and asked for only ten back.  We are only returning a portion of what He gave us, and He’s okay with that because He enjoys giving good things to His children.

So we don’t do good to earn His love; we do it to return His love.  Out of gratitude.  Out of a joyful heart that recognizes that there’s nothing to earn – that we already have all the righteousness that we need and that we have God’s pleasure despite what we DO because of WHO we are (i.e., His children)!

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