Browsing Tag

sin

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Fighting Cravings

December 23, 2016

 

 

 

For most long-time followers of Christ many of the sins we end up in aren’t the result of conscious, pre-meditated disobedience. More often than not it’s a split-second decision to go along with a seemingly out-of-nowhere craving. The Apostle James describes it in his epistle, writing, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14)

We are lured and enticed by the cravings that come flowing from within our flesh, choosing in those moments to go with the flow into sin when we could instead, by the Spirit, “stand firm” (Eph. 6) and resist temptation. According to a recent webinar with the VitalSmarts, several studies have shown that most cravings last around three minutes, so if we can resist and refocus ourselves for three minutes we’ll see a drastic shift away from giving into those craving-driven sin. The question is, what do we do during those painful three minutes?

Proverbs 21 has some wise insight for us here:

“A slacker’s craving will kill him
Because his hands refuse to work.
He is filled with craving all day long,
But the righteous give and don’t hold back.”
– Proverbs 21:25-26

Cravings will kill

Both James and the writer of Proverbs agree – when we give into temptation and cravings it ends in death. A slacker’s cravings, in this case for food, ultimately kill him because he’s too lazy to get up and do the work to earn money to feed himself. Similarly, in a spiritual sense it’s often our laziness that gives our cravings and temptations power to draw us into the deadly grip of sin. We refuse to do the work that would carry us away from temptation because it’s more difficult.

It’s combat, and it’s what we were given the power to do when we were born again and received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at two practical ways to combat temptation and cravings outlined in the Proverb above.

Combat the cravings

1. Put your hands to work

God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), but it often looks like hard work, so we often choose to float along into death because it seems easier in the moment. But that’s not what we were created for. We were created with purpose for good works (Eph. 2). The slacker’s cravings kill him because his hands refuse to work, so combat your cravings by putting yourself to work.

Do you find yourself craving over-indulging on food Friday nights? Get up from the couch and do some small house work for 10 minutes. Tempted towards pornography? Put your body to work by exercising for 15 minutes. More often than not the craving will be gone by the time you’re done.

2. Give generously

The writer of this proverb contrasts the man who is “filled with craving all day long” with the righteous person who gives generously and doesn’t hold anything back. Generosity is one of the most potent defenses against temptation. Are you fighting a deep-set craving today? Get up, find another human, and bless them somehow. Bless them generously, whether that be financially or with words of encouragement or helping them with a task. As you turn your focus off your cravings and onto the needs of another human being your craving will dissipate like fog beneath the summer sun.

Practice, Practice

Pushing through moments of temptation and craving isn’t an easy thing. Just like any skill it takes practice, and the longer you’ve been giving into the craving the more practice it will take you to divert that temptation into something good and glorious. I wrote this blog post as much for myself as for anyone else who might read it – there are plenty of cravings that I too easily give into, and I intend to take these two practices from Proverbs and put them into action as we move towards a new year. Will you join me?

As we do so may God bless us with his grace to take advantage of the escape from every temptation that he provides so we can find ourselves living in the beautiful, free life that is found in Christ rather than in the dark, crushing captivity of giving into the flesh and its cravings.

 

 

 

Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

My friend has cut off his hand and plucked out his eye

November 30, 2015

Jesus says some hard things to those who will listen, and among those hard sayings are most certainly his words in Matthew 5;

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Matthew 5:29-30

Even the most casual reader gets the fact that Jesus isn’t talking literally. He’s using hyperbole. The disciples sin plenty and certainly seem to have all their appendages and ocular nerves in place. However, I’d never heard of anyone actually owning up to the fierceness that Jesus is illustrating here about taking serious action to remove sin from our lives. That is, until a couple weeks ago.

I’ve been discipling Andrew for over three years now, getting to see God work massive transformation in his life. He’s made big steps of faith and hard decisions, each one launching him forward growth. This one may be the one that catapults him into the radical Christ-following that he’s longed for.

About two weeks ago Andrew and I were doing our usual morning time in God’s word, reading 1 Timothy and discussing what we found there, then ending our time with a space for asking God what he wanted us to do in light of the truth revealed in His word and listening for his answer.

Andrew laughed when I asked him if he felt like God had anything for him to do and said “I don’t know, I think it was just me thinking crazy things.” He went on to say that he felt like he was being prompted to get rid of his video games, laptop, television, and smartphone in order to cut distractions and temptations to sin out of his life.

I’ve written before about the massive damage that videogames can do to young men (and women) by keeping them in a passive state and dulling their passion for the life that God has placed them in. (here and here) For Andrew that’s exactly what they had been doing, and he knew it.

It’s one thing to know that and to know that God’s calling you to get rid of something that’s precious to you. It’s another thing to actually do the terrible work of cutting off and plucking out. Several days after Andrew shared with me what he felt like God was prompting him to do he joined the Threshingfloor Communities leaders and I at Verge Ministry’s annual retrea, Leader Advance. Through the weekend God worked and Andrew made the resolve of faith to do what he felcut t called to do.

This is where I am so proud of Andrew and impressed with his act of faith. I truly believe that he will soon surpass me in many ways. We arrived home and Monday morning Andrew began the work. He sold his television within 48 hours. Gave away his laptop. Posted his PS4 and games on Craigslist, selling most of it within a week. He has done what so many speak of from afar. He has done what Jesus commanded, removing from his life an instrument of temptation, believing indeed that it is “better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

My friends, are we that kind of people? Are we willing to take Jesus at his word – even his incredibly hard words – and obey? Andrew’s actions have been a challenge and inspiration to me these past few weeks. His work has just begun, but it has begun very well.

Jesus promises that for those who hear and obey his word now every pain and expense in this stores up greater eternal reward. For Andrew, every game sold and every temptation resisted is preparing for him an eternal weight of glory that surpasses any earthly pleasure. I want in on that! Let’s pray for Andrew and follow his lead. Let’s listen to God. Let’s obey God, even if what he’s saying seems crazy. Will you join me?

Culture, Relationships

The Starving Generation

April 21, 2015

 

One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.

– Proverbs 27:7 ESV

 

The simplest way to lower your grocery bill? Never go shopping when hungry. Inevitably, no matter how disciplined you are, you’ll be drawn to buy things you don’t need if you try to buy groceries on a grumbling stomach.

Our bodies know when they need something to fill them, and the most rational of minds can be driven to terrible action by the cries of a starving stomach. The writer of Proverbs taps into a principle that is amazingly applicable in our day when he writes, “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” The point is clear – if someone is hungry enough even things that would normally be disgusting will seem appealing.

When we see our culture turning towards homosexuality, promiscuity, gluttony, and blatant sin, our first thought shouldn’t be “What wicked people! God’s going to judge them.” Instead, we need to use the wisdom that Proverbs talks so frequently about to discern the motive is behind such sins. More often than not it’s a hunger that has gone so long unfulfilled that the bitter has begun to taste sweet. The lesbian woman has a history of sexual abuse by her father as a child and a string of abusive relationships with men that have left her so starving for love and affection that the bitter, skewed love of homosexuality tastes sweet. The transgender man becomes a woman in search of an affirmation of his own identity because of his grandmother’s distortion of love, his own fear, and an uncle’s teasing and abuse. True story. The Christian man turns to alcohol because he feels he never lives up to God’s or his own standards and doesn’t have anyone else to support him.

To the starving person even what is bitter and poisonous will taste sweet. But, beauty of beauties, the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ offers in itself and in it’s people the sweet fulfillment of God and his people’s love, if only we will receive it. If only we will give it. Jesus himself does this with the samaritan woman at the well. Rather than beginning with rebukes for the woman and her long line of husbands, he offers her a well that will never run dry and a drink that will keep her from thirsting for the comfort of yet another husband. We may need to take a cue from Jesus here and change what we lead with in our Gospel presentations.

The Apostle Paul makes the amazing statement that “The God of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” How can Christians get angry at blind people for stumbling around and breaking things? How can we who have an abundance of food stand by and curse those who are starving and destroying themselves and those around them? Rather than spending time railing on social media about political parties or government policies, God’s people should be on the front lines distributing the only food that will satisfy those starving souls. Instead of standing by and telling the starving man to stop eating rotten meat we ought to be in the streets preparing a meal whose fragrance will fill cities and draw men and women to the meal that Jesus offers in himself.

Christian, come to Christ and receive him as your satisfaction. Learn the way of drawing and drinking from the wells of his delights. Then, as you have received so give. Go abroad and offer the gospel news that God himself will fill every void in the human soul; that the Holy Spirit will bring peace where there was anxiety and love where there was loneliness; that the Father invites them into a family that is whole and free from abuse and need to perform.

We live in a starving generation. They’re eating anything that is sold to them by the world, by Satan, or by the lusts of their flesh. We’ve got something that is so much better! Let’s offer it.

 

Best Of, Christian Life, Leadership

The Poison of a Prayerless Leader

December 9, 2013

 

 

Yesterday I spent some time flipping through scripture and looking over passages where prayer is mentioned. There’s a lot of them. Almost 100 if you search for the word “pray” on esvbible.org. Out of all the texts that I skimmed through this one from 1 Samuel stood out to me most. Samuel is stepping down from his role as judge of the nation of Israel because they have demanded a king to rule over them and God has given them one. 1 Samuel 12 is his farewell address to the people who he has led and judged for most of his lifetime, and one of his concluding statements is,

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” – 1 Samuel 12:23

This is a paradigm shifting verse for me. Every Christian knows they are supposed to pray. Every leader of God’s people knows they should pray for the people they are leading. But Samuel isn’t comfortable with should. He says that it would be sin for him to stop praying for the people of Israel.
Leader, hear this well. One of the greatest responsibilities you have – perhaps the greatest responsibility – is to intercede for your people. Your great task is to follow your savior in coming before the throne of God and pleading for those who the Lord has given you charge of. Teach them, yes. Train them and council them, yes. Lead them in the study of Scripture and cast vision, yes. Guide them into the mission the Lord has called them to, yes, but above all pray for them. Pray over them. Pray with them. To fail in doing so is to walk in sin.

We need to be men and women who, like Samuel, realize that it is sin when we cease to pray for the people God has given us. God gives grace to the prayerless leader and may allow him to succeed for a time, but shall we sin that grace may abound? By no means! “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray”!

Do you pray for the believers around you? Are these spaces carved from your day-to-day life for the solitary, focused labor of intercession? Does your community gather regularly for the sole purpose of prayer? Is prayer a natural part of your gatherings? If it is not that may well be root of many of your struggles. As R.A. Torrey wrote in his book How To Pray, “There is infinite grace at our disposal, and we make it our experimentally [in experience] by prayer.”

Let us be a people who take a hold of that grace on behalf of our people, praying without ceasing. God will not fail to hear the prayer of those who minister faithfully in the name of Christ. Do not cease in your prayer, oh leader.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Evangelism, Threshingfloor

Eating With Sinners

September 26, 2013

 

 

 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

(Luke 15:1-2, ESV)

 

Who we hang out with says everything about our priorities, and the type of people who want to hang out with us says everything about our character. Our natural motion is toward relationships with people who are like us. Similarities become the common ground on which our relationships are built.

That’s our natural motion, at least on a human level. But disciples of Christ are called to far more than the natural, human ways of life. Born again through water and Spirit, we have moved from the kingdom of the natural into the Kingdom of the supernatural. Jesus is the one who purchases our entrance into that kingdom and the example of how to live a Kingdom life. As his people we become students of his ways, striving with all the Spirit’s power that moves within us to walk like our master walked. As the Apostle John wrote, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:5-6, ESV)

If we are in Christ’s Kingdom then we “walk in the same way in which he walked,” right? If so, then when we read in Luke  15 that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him,” we should search our own lives and ask whether or not this is true of us. Are sinners drawing near to us? Is there room in our lives for them? Would we welcome them, befriend them, eat with them, and love them, or would we avoid their uncleanliness?

As I examine my life I see a wide gap between the types of people Jesus spent time with and the people I spend time with. First and foremost, Jesus had a small core of followers who he was intensely close with. His disciples were constantly in his presence, observing, learning, and practicing what he taught them day-by-day as they lived out the mission together. Jesus also ministered to the masses. He fed the 5000 who came to hear his teaching, healed all who he came in contact with, and generally ministered to everyone who he came in contact with. Lastly, as is noted in Luke 15, Jesus welcomed and ate with the sinful and outcasts of society.

Contrast this with our general, natural network of relationships. For most people in modern day America we swim in a large but shallow pool of acquaintances with none who are truly “in” our lives as disciples. Unlike Jesus, who made his whole of life ministry, our ministry is generally kept to scheduled hours of service and volunteering. The vast majority of us give little thought to the needy masses within our society. And of course, most people in the church today (particularly those raised in church contexts) are neither welcoming nor eating with those who society sees as sinners.

Do people in your religious contexts say of you “he/she welcomes sinners and eats with them”? If not, there’s a problem. Our savior welcomed us while we were still in sin. How much more ought we to be people who drunkards, drug addicts, the sexually immoral, the homeless, the liberal politician, and all who religion declares as wicked be welcomed by us?

If we want to see God work mightily in and through us then we need to be following his Spirit’s leading, and his Spirit will always lead us to follow the Son. When Jesus leaves the religious establishment and enters the bars, slums, and back alleys we should follow him. It’s there in those dark, sin-coated places that the brilliant light of the King will draw men and women to repentance and faith. It is, after all, the kindness of God that leads to repentance.

We who are far from the sinners of the world need to repent of our pride and fear and move outward in faith, trusting that our God will go with us like he went with Jesus. Remember, Jesus holds you secure in his hand. Get out of your safe, Christian, churched bubble. Quit your Bible study. Go out into the world where those who are sick and dying live. Go with the massive power of the Gospel, both in word and deed, to befriend, love, serve, and minister to sinners. If people in your church look at you and gossip under their breath about how you’re spending too much time downtown near the bars, that you’re hanging with people that “decent” people don’t spend time with, that you’re not at the church building as much as you should be, just smile. Know that they said the same thing about Jesus. You’re in good company when religious people look down on you.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy, Christian Life, Commentary, Threshingfloor

1 Timothy pt2 – The Law

May 22, 2013

 

In my previous post on Paul’s first letter to Timothy I talked mainly about the need for love to be the driving force behind our ministry. That’s exactly where Paul’s emphasis lands in his first several sentences to Timothy as well, however, Paul anticipates the same problem that I do when telling someone something like “the aim of our charge is love.” Our conception of what love is and how it plays out towards other people is far from the biblical picture of love. In Paul’s day and in ours being loving towards someone is generally interpreted as doing whatever makes the other person happy. That’s a far cry from real, biblical love.

Love, as Paul points out in 1 Timothy 1:8, includes the law; “Now we know that the law is good”. Just because the aim of our ministry is love doesn’t mean that we do away with the hard truths of God’s law. No, “the law is good.” It’s a useful tool and an essential piece of a loving Gospel community’s life. The problem with the people who in verse 7 are “desiring to be teachers of the law” is not that they want people to know God’s truth and are doing away with friendly, cuddly loving-ness. It’s that they aren’t using the law in the right ways. The law is good “if one uses it lawyfully, understanding this, that the lawy is not laid down for the just but for the lawless”.

Point #1 that Paul makes is that the law is good. Just because we’ve entered into the new covenant and are in Christ doesn’t mean that the Old Testament commands are shuttled off into storage. The law is something that is useful even now, in the new age of Christ’s grace.

Moses_Commandments

Point #2 is that the law is primarily for sinners. He writes, “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners…” and goes on to list a swathe of evil that ranges from homosexuality to murder to disobeying your parents. The law, Paul says, is a tool that is used to bring the lawless to conviction of their sin. As he writes to the church in Rome, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” (Romans 7:7)

This has huge implications for our life in community together as believers. The law is not a bat used to beat each other into conformity to Christ. It is an x-ray used to reveal the sickness that we wouldn’t see otherwise. Unbelievers need to know the truth of God’s law and judgment in order to see the infinite value of Christ’s love and forgiveness. Even we who are believers , despite the fact that we are primarily “new creations” in Christ, return occasionally to our lawless living when we choose to sin. In those moments we need our friends and family to remind us of God’s law and point us to repentence.  Confronting our own sin and idolatry and the sins and idolatries of the culture is a critical part of gospel proclamation. Without it there is no real love present, no matter how nice we may be.

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a side note about some of the particulars of the sins that Paul lists here, given recent events in our state and country. Paul makes a radical statement by placing “the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enlsavers” side by side. In Minnesota homosexual unions are on the way to being legalized, but here Paul places homosexuality and being a slaver on the same level. I know of no one who applauds the selling of another human being into slavery, yet there are tens of thousands who passionately applaud the homosexual community. Scripture leaves no room for the adjustment of what is right and wrong.

God’s law cannot be thrown out from the Christian community. My prayer for the Threshingfloor family and for believers across our country is that we would be people who grasp the balance of what the Apostle Paul is saying to Timothy in these sentences. The aim of our charge is love. The law is good. In a culture where sin is applauded we must be the people of Christ and lovingly, straightforwardly confront the sins around us so that the great surgeon can use blade of his word to sever the chains that hold sinners captive, whether they be the sin of enslaving others, homosexuality, murder, or even disobeying parents. Where grace, love, and law are held in their appropriate balance, freedom is present. We want to be a people who bring the glorious freedom of our King’s reign into the places he has sent us. Let us do so.

 

 

Christian Life, Poetry, Relationships

Burden

November 26, 2011

How long must I bear
only burdens of regret to you?

We meet in weekends
I crawl with wasted history
into your aching eyes
to rest for months.

I wake behind a cornea,
swim amongst old memories,
to find a pool
of forgiveness only inches deep
but miles wide.

You cry finally, years later,
rivers from my days of sin and sleep.
I fold like raindrops, fall
from your eyes to the floor
and stand to face the burden:
all that love knows is war.

Life, Poetry

The Fall

February 11, 2011

I can’t count the wrinkles
that cling to his face
serious, as the weight of 80 years
with barely any left.

Two deep-set, gray eyes
are forgotten even by himself
because the sun doesn’t help the blind
in the judgment of their sins.

Soft spoken
where once the grip was strong
and strength, once in fingers
now shake on fragile arms

Confined to a lack of confidence
and held from freedoms blaze
with time as his warden
and a body as his cage

Once a fighter, father, and a man;
once, strong, tall, and handsome
now with barely anything left

Spiritual Growth

Endless War

January 19, 2011


Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

– Judges 2:1-3 ESV

I am in awe of the human heart’s ability to justify itself and the actions its desires lead to. The moment that God’s Spirit commands or commends something our flesh immediately begins its resistance. Like Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, “sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.” (Romans 7:8)

We must beware lest we do exactly as the Israelites did in their conquest of the nations that the Lord had commanded them to destroy. They made peace with the enemies of God and because they did so their ability to conquer them was removed. The surrounding nations became a thorn and a snare to God’s people at God’s command, trapping them in their sin. It will surely be the same with you if you linger in your sin. There shall come a day when you decide you desire to leave that sin behind and you will find in yourself no strength to defeat it. You may yet be a child of God, but your spirit will be crippled and the nation of your soul pricked by that thorn which you so long abided with. We are commanded to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) by the Spirit.

To sit back and declare that your conquest against the flesh is complete when there is still sin alive and active in you is to break covenant with your king, a thing which certainly has consequences. We are at war from the first breath of our new birth till the last moment of our life on this earth. War, lest we fail to obey God’s voice and the sin within us becomes a snare to us that we cannot remove. So fight, my brothers and sisters, until the day your Lord declares “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have fought the good fight and have won the race.” Only then, sanctified and glorified, will we enter fully into the rest of a peaceful promised land, free from enemies and battle.

Oh, what a glorious day that will be! May our Lord bring it soon!

Culture, Prose

The Self-Destruction of Society

December 12, 2010


A day or two ago I logged in to Pandora to turn on some background soundtrack for a few hours’ worth of homework. As I did so an advertisement for a new laptop powered by Dr. Dre’s Beats technology (read: sweet sound system) popped up in the sidebar of my browser. The text of the ad caught my eyes and I thought it worth commenting on. The motion graphic text scrolled by, reading, “Why love your music…when you can lust your music?”

Those few words are evidence of a terrible downward spiral that is taking place in modern civilization.  Humanity is reaching the point where their hearts are so hardened that they not only feel sin is permissible, but that it is more appealing and satisfying than that which is good. They not only “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man,” and do evil deeds – they also “give approval to those who practice” all manner of wickedness and invent new ways to sin. It is as God said of the Israelites in Jeremiah’s time as they dwelt in their rebellion; “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.”

In my experience these last few months that verse from Jeremiah is certainly an accurate description of the majority of my generation. They take pride in their sin and openly exalt their prowess in sexual exploits, drunkenness, deceit, laziness, and the like. In such a world lusting is more pleasing than love, selfishness is admired more than generosity, clever deceit is more applauded than bold honesty, and ignorant belief in that which most appeals to the individual is more lauded than seeking objective truth. Sin is doing as it loves to do and blinding men to itself, convincing them that the poison which they drink is the sweetest thing they’ll ever taste. The god of this age blinds their minds, and in the end they delight in darkness.

What a terrible state it is for our country to be in! Jeremiah 6 paints a picture of Israel in the same situation and it is one with little hope. People are described as scorning the word of the Lord, greedy for unjust gain, dealing falsely, refusing to walk in the ways of the Lord, and yet still practicing their religion. God will not long hold his silence in the face of such apostasy, and declares the terrible verdict;

“‘Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,

the fruit of their devices,

because they have not paid attention to my words;

and as for my law, they have rejected it…’

Therefore thus says the LORD:

‘Behold, I will lay before this people

stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;

fathers and sons together,

neighbor and friend shall perish.’”

–       Jeremiah 6:18, 21

I know not what the future holds for our country and our society, only that time and again throughout history culture after culture has come to the point that we are at and been brought to destruction. Babylon ruled the known world until God cast them down for their arrogance. Egypt was the greatest power in their time, but the God of the Hebrews made a mockery of their idols and they later fell to nothing. Rome stood tall and proud till their sin consumed them and they were destroyed. Even the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, have had disaster brought upon them and are scattered throughout the earth. Do not think that it will be any different in our age. All the technology and military strength in the universe will do little good if the God of the heavens decrees destruction.

The only remedy is found in Christ. In him there is enough grace to cover a nation’s weight of sin. Pray, oh Christians, that this people would not be hard of heart and that they would cast themselves upon the Lord and do as Jeremiah 7 declares, amending their ways and having no gods other than the Lord. There, in Christ alone, is there refuge from His terrible and just judgments.