Sin: Hope and Help in Christ, part 1

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Blog-Sin-Help-and-Hope-in-Christ-part-1-03.27.17How would you describe your struggle with sin? An unexpected guest? A stalking enemy? A dangerous raging river? A constant threat? An unwanted intruder? An intense war? Sin relentlessly wreaks havoc in the world generally and in people specifically. Sin blemishes. Sin distracts. Sin impoverishes. Sin steals. Sin breaks. Sin stains. Sin scars. Sin misdirects. Sin deceives. Sin distorts. Sin enslaves. As followers of Christ, sin occupies the space around us, formerly dominated us, and continues to influence us (Eph 2:1-3). Often when we confess it or desire to fight it, the well-meaning, yet woeful advice we receive from others is, “Well, stop it.” If it were that simple, who would struggle with sin at all? Why would Paul exclaim, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7:25)? Thankfully, the good news is that there is help and hope in Christ.

Why is the battle with sin so hard?

The Bible describes the problem with sin as a war. The desires of the flesh war against the desires of the Spirit. They are opposed to each other and often leave the Christian doing the exact opposite of what is biblically expected (Rom 8:5-17; Gal 5:16-26). In Paul’s analogy, the flesh refers to an internal drive that is opposed to God; in fact, it is God’s enemy (Gal 5:17). The flesh desires what is in opposition to God and godliness. The flesh encourages sin; so much so that all sin is called the “works of the flesh.”

What makes the flesh so powerful? It is ever-present. Sin dwells within us. Sin is so entrenched in each person that Paul calls it a law warring against the law of God (Rom 7:13-25). As a law it compels, coerces, bullies, and intimidates us to do what it wants. It promises us rewards when we follow its will or commands, and threatens us when we do not. Similar to the law of gravity, even when we do not pay any attention to it specifically, it is always exercising its power against us.

If you consider a stream or a mountain, sinning less and becoming more like Jesus Christ in day-to-day living is similar to rowing upstream or skiing uphill. Both are extremely difficult, if not seemingly impossible. Thankfully God has not left us alone in our battle against sin. Instead, as we seek to honor Him in daily living, He works in and through us to conquer sin’s stronghold (Eph 2:10; Phil 2:12-13).

Hope arises from Christ’s work in you.

At salvation, Christ removes your sinful disposition, the old man, which formerly dominated your being (Rom 6:6-7; Col 3:9-10). Honoring God in anything was impossible before salvation. However, when you accept Jesus, you become a new man where impossibility becomes possibility, where inability becomes ability, where incapacity becomes capacity, and where you now can live a life that honors God (Col 3:12-17).

This divine change begins in your inner man (2 Cor 5:17). God gives you a new heart that desires to follow His will and not to submit to the desires of the flesh. Regarding your position in Christ, you have been given new life, raised with Christ, hidden with Christ in God, and sit in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 2:4-10; Col 3:1-4). God has made you a new creation in Christ and uniquely equipped you to conquer sin and live for Him.

Although you have been equipped to grow in Christlikeness, living for Jesus takes effort. This process demands concentrated energy as you set your mind on the things of Christ (Col 3:1-4). As you begin to focus on Christ, you also identify areas in your life where you need to change, such as in your thinking, motivations, attitudes, words, and actions. As you recognize these areas that do not honor Christ, you seek to replace them with thoughts, motivations, attitudes, words, and actions that do honor Christ. The Apostle Paul describes this process through a series of commands where the Christian is to “put to death” and “put off” that which is sinful (Col 3:5-9) and “put on” what is consistent with the lifestyle of a follower of Christ (Col 3:12-17).

Specificity is important. As you consider your sin, you know it. Sin impacts your entire being. You know the taste, touch, look, sound, and smell of sin; you live it. With practice, you become increasingly capable of pinpointing unrighteousness in your life. However, many Christians suffer disappointment and fail to change when they neglect to consider righteousness with the same precision.

Two observations: 1) to just put off is not enough, and 2) generalizations are the enemy of real change. Using Paul’s example of daily clothing, whenever one takes off specific layers and items of clothing, it is helpful and necessary to put on other specific layers and items. Related to conquering sin, if you fail to get specific in terms of righteousness and settle for religious platitudes, clichés, truisms, or general principles, often growth is hindered. For example, out of conviction to just resolve to love your neighbor more produces minimal change. Conversely, when you determine to write a note of encouragement, to say a word of kindness, to listen carefully in a conversation, or to provide a meal for dinner, change is more likely as you intentionally strive to love your neighbor. Hope for victory over sin and progress in Christlikeness grows as you experience Christ’s work in you through the Spirit’s power as one who is in Christ.

In part 2 you will learn about how battle rages in the heart with desires, what is the process of temptation, and that your circumstances never make you sin.

Join the Conversation

In what helpful way would you describe sin in your own life?

THIS IS AN ADAPTATION FROM A POST THAT INITIALLY APPEARED IN THE March 2017 TRIBUNE, “Sin: Hope and Help in Christ.

What Did You Do All Day?

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A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.

Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.

In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.

In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door.

As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap, and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.

She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked:

“What happened here today?”

She again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?”

“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.

She answered, “Well, today I didn’t do it.”

This article has been on the internet for years. I do not know the author. Please contact me if you do. Hope it left a smile on your heart.

Strengthening the Partnership between Home and Church

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A strong partnership between the home and the church is essential in helping develop young disciples.  Children’s Ministry in general, and especially Sunday’s service, is one format of discipleship that offers a unique opportunity to bring the joy of the gospel to the younger generation.  A strong partnership of parents (and grandparents) and Sunday staff is essential to the spiritual growth of our children. If you’re a parent, here are a few practical ways for you to take advantage of the partnership with the church in helping your child grow spiritually:

  • Before coming to Sunday’s services, pray together for their time in their class. Taking time to pray builds a bond between your child, their teachers, and other children in their classroom. It helps prepare their heart to receive biblical instruction. And these prayers will also help strengthen their faith in God as they see God answer their prayers.
  • Pray for the Children’s Ministry, and specifically your child’s teachers.  Perhaps you could even ask the teacher if there are specific ways you can pray for him/her and for the class.  Make this a part of your family prayer time or your own personal prayer time.  Pray for the teachers as they prepare during the week and for their teaching on Sunday morning. Pray that the children’s hearts will be soft, will respond at a young age to the gospel, and will grow and wisdom and Christ-likeness.
  • Get to know your child’s teachers and help them get to know your child.  Share with them about your child (e.g. their spiritual condition, their struggles, what helps them focus, any disabilities, medication, allergies).  It can also be helpful to share any pertinent family information such as a death in the family, chronic illnesses, or other difficult trials. These bits of information will help the teachers not only minister most effectively to your child, but will also help them know how to pray for your child.
  • Bring your child to class on time. Children’s ministry starts at the same time as the worship service.  Arriving late means everyone loses out on an important part of the morning and to some extent disrupts others.  Before dropping off your child be sure to take them to the restroom.
  • During the week review last week’s lesson and handouts.  Your child brings home a handout each week with a lesson card, plus there is information in the bulletin. This will help you partner with the church in teaching your child sound doctrine and Scripture.  Going over this together will help your child put into practice the truths they learned in church.
  • During the week learn and review the church-wide Scripture Memory Verse with your child.  The verse is also listed in the bulletin each week. Memorizing can be done through repetition, games, competition, or activities.  Make sure to include ample discussion and application regarding the verse.
  • Offer to help. Ask if there are ways you can help the Children’s Ministry. This might include teaching or helping in a classroom, providing snacks, decorating the rooms, preparing materials, or planning events.  Children love to see parents involved in their activities.
  • Let your child’s teacher know you’re grateful for their ministry and sacrifice.  Teachers spend hours of their own time preparing the curriculum and sacrifice their own time in the worship service to teach each month.  Encourage your child to also express their gratitude to their teachers.
  • Reinforce with your child what kind of behavior will honor God and their teachers.  Teaching a room full of children can be a challenge on many levels.  Dealing with disrespectful or uncooperative children disrupts the entire class. Talk to your child about their behavior and participation in the classroom.  For young children it will be helpful to remind them of this each week before they go to class.  If the teacher shares a concern about your child’s behavior, take time to understand the situation, talk with your child in a loving, but firm way, and let the teacher know you want to help make their job easier.  It might be helpful to talk to your child along with the teacher so that the child cannot make excuses and knows that both sets of adults are on the same page.
  • Make Sunday worship and your child’s class a priority.  Many things today compete for our time and attention.  Missing church not only means missing important teaching, worship and fellowship, it also conveys to children what is or isn’t most important in life.  Keep the Lord’s Day the Lord’s Day!

God has given us a wonderful plan for partnership between parents and the church by which we can implant the Word of God into children’s heart. What a unique blessing for children to grow up with their parents and their church working together to show them Jesus!

This post is an adaptation from Paul Tautges’ blog, 10 Ways to Strengthen the Partnership between Home and Church.

Oh Be Careful Little Eyes… Part 2

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Blog-Oh-be-careful-little-eyes-part-2-03.20.17In part one we examined the principle: where you stare matters. When we take time to look at, consider or observe something, that particular thing captivates our attention. Without exercising great caution, whatever it is that captivates your attention will inevitably influence your thinking and acting. Part one demonstrated with a variety of case studies in the biblical text how this influence works. In Part two of this blog, we will help you understand how to protect your eyes and live in victory.

Wrestling with Your Thoughts

Considering Psalm 73 and the struggle of Asaph, the major transition spiritually took place when he changed his focus. He initially saw the prosperity of the wicked (73:4-12). It was not as simple as looking over and seeing their clothes, homes, or pay stubs. Instead, he watched them, made careful observations, and compared what they had to his own portion in life (73:13-14). In his estimation, Asaph was convinced that his effort to keep a pure heart and a holy lifestyle was all for naught. He concluded that God disciplined him all day long just for the fun of it. Asaph is restless, conflicted, angry, bitter, condescending toward God, and jealous of others (73:15-16).

That is, “until he went into the sanctuary of God” (73:17). What happened to Asaph? He changed his focus which impacted his conclusions. He received God’s perspective. His eyes moved from the prosperity of the wicked to the character, presence, and plan of God. Here we find the transformation of his outlook: a turning from self-interest and self-pity eventually to satisfaction and gratitude with God.

Like Asaph, it is essential to wrestle with your thoughts. Be aware of what you are rehearsing in your heart. What are you saying to yourself? You will need to stop listening to yourself and begin to speak the truth of the Scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ, to yourself. Does what you are thinking honor God? Does it reflect a heart with God’s priorities? Does it reflect the humility of a Christ-follower? Are you thoughts full of discontentment? Anger? Bitterness? Confess these thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes as sin, repent where necessary, and become aware of your weaknesses (73:21-22, 26). Seek to be as practical and specific in your gratitude as you are in your complaints.

The key to wrestling your thoughts is to understand the power of the conclusions you make. Your conclusions shape your agenda for life-lived. Your conclusions provide the lens through which you view God, your circumstances, others, and yourself. If you perceive something you see as better than what God has given you, then you will view God as less than good, Christ less than sufficient, and grace less than adequate, as your conclusion affects your entire view of life.

Protect Your Eyes

Let me suggest there are at least three ways you can protect your eyes.

First, recognize the lures and traps that typically influence your heart. James wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13). Your desires – whatever it is that you want – are what draw you and entice you. Just realizing this helps you begin to understand how easy it is to be captivated. When you want something, it is hard to keep from looking at it. There is a natural draw from your heart to focus on what you want. So you begin to identify your desires as the key to know what captivates you.

Second, when you want something that you do not have, you begin to see God’s gifts to you as less than good. This is why James immediately warns his readers: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:16-17). Essentially James is helping his readers know that what they have now is as much God’s gift as what they do not have. Although what you want may be seemingly better, more helpful, or needful, what you have is just as much from God. Therefore, we must be content with what we have.

Third, help your eyes focus on what is right by feeding your thoughts with God’s perspective. James continues, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). The idea of the term looks is stooping over to get a good look, to examine. As followers of Christ, our good look needs to linger in God’s Word – to continue in it. When we do, it will help direct our thoughts toward what is right and helpful. It will direct our hearts. As we look, God’s Word becomes a guardrail to keep our hearts from chasing our various desires that can distract us. This of course begins with Bible reading, but also includes intentional Bible memorization, listening to messages, reading quality blogs, listening to quality music with God-honoring lyrics, and participating in godly conversations.

Live in Victory 

As you learn to protect your eyes and be more careful with what you see, you will find victory is possible. As James writes, you will be blessed in what you do.  You will find that you find joy in Christ’s presence, satisfaction in God’s gifts, and a growing appreciation for your present circumstances. This process begins with the simple step of becoming aware of where you look, what you see, where you place your focus. “Oh be careful little eye what you see…”

Join the Conversation: What are some practical ways that you suggest to keep your eyes focused on God and godliness?

This blog originally appeared on the BCC page.

Oh Be Careful Little Eyes, part 1

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Growing up we often sang a song in Sunday school about being careful where we looked. The principle is simple: where you stare matters. When we take time to look at, consider, or observe something, that particular thing captivates our attention. Without exercising great caution, whatever it is that captivates your attention will inevitably influence your thinking and acting. Today, in part one of this two-part blog, we will examine a variety of case studies in the Bible that demonstrate how this influence works.

Biblical Case Studies that Warn Us

Eve. We go no further than Genesis 3 to find Eve in conversation with the serpent. There are trees bearing fruit all over Eden. She has permission to eat anything she desires – and as much as she desires. Imagine that! However, the text describes her as looking at, considering, and observing the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit” (Gen. 3:6).

The sons of God. Likewise, the sons of God in Genesis 6 determined to take wives for themselves from the daughters of men as they observed the women. “…that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful” (Gen. 6:2). They looked; they considered; and they acted.

Lot. Given the opportunity by Abram to determine where he wanted to live, Lot carefully observed the land before him, made assessments, and chose. “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself…” (Gen. 13:10-11).

Achan. After the defeat at Ai, Joshua prays to God to figure out what happened. The LORD pointed to sin in the camp. As Joshua reviewed the tribe of Judah, he found Achan and offered him an opportunity to make confession. Achan responded, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: when I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Josh. 7:20-21). The process began with observation and ended with coveting and stealing.

Samson. Traveling through Timnah, Samson met a Philistine woman. The text describes it as he “saw a woman in Timnah” (Judges 14:1). He liked the way she looked. He determined that she was right for him. He wanted her and demanded his parents get her for him. As he went down to get her, he returned to a dead carcass of a lion in order to see the carcass. He desired to go and observe it where he ultimately took some of its honey. Later while in Gaza, he “saw a harlot there” (16:1). He committed sin again. Then the story of Samson and Delilah appears in the text. Samson developed a life-long habit of not evaluating where he looked or what his eyes saw.

David. David serves as our next example of how this process develops. David stayed home instead of going out to battle with the troops. One night, he got out of bed and walked up to the top of the roof. “And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold” (2 Sam. 11:2). He continued to watch her bathe. He wanted what he saw, so he inquired about her and sent for her. David saw, inquired, sent, and committed immorality.

Asaph. Asaph was the song director of the tabernacle (1 Chron. 6:39; 16:5-7). He led the people into worship. Psalm 73 provides his personal testimony of struggle and victory. He initially reveals that despite God’s goodness to the nation in general, he almost turned back from walking with God. The stated reason for his desertion: envy. “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:3). Asaph’s attention was turned toward the wicked, and he was envious at their lifestyle and possessions.

The Influence of the Eyes

Danger lies in the failure to protect your eyes. Essentially, in each of these texts, the individual took time to look, consider, and observe something (all imperfect verbal forms of the Hebrew word r’h “to see,” depicting the action as continuing in a past time frame). These were not quick looks, fast glances, or small glimpses. In each instance, the observation allowed for time to process what was seen. After considering and pondering the object of sight, the individuals made the determination to act upon what they wanted. In each instance, the enduring look encouraged further action. Furthermore, in each instance, the actions led to further wickedness.

In Part Two we will consider how to protect your eyes and live in victory.

Join the Conversation

In your opinion, what other biblical case study fits this pattern?

This first appeared as a blog I wrote for the BCC.