Join the Fight Against Sin

Jesus has some strong words about removing sin in our lives. He says,

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Matthew 5:19-30

I am not going to try to convince you that giving up sin is something you should do. If you want to hear the Bible’s reason for giving up sin, see the sermon I preached on 1 John 3:4-10 on September 15th, 2019. John gives us 4 reasons in that passage to encourage us to fight against sin. No, this week’s encouragement is a “how to” do it.

So, how do we fight against sin in our life? Let me give you these tools in your fighting against sin toolbox. I consider them weapons to wage war against sin because that is how the Bible describes our struggle with sin. God says we wage war,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” 

Ephesians 6:12-13

Tool # 1 – See the sin you cling to (or does it cling to you?) as an enemy rather than a friend. No one sets out to sin so that their life will be worse. We sin to do one of these things: enjoy life more, escape pain, or overcome a trial/person. In essence, we sin to make our life somehow better. I know, when we see the destructiveness of some of our choices we wonder about this statement. However, although we should question our sanity sometimes, don’t question these motivations. The Bible says, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) Peter gets it right. No matter how much we think a sin will help us, we must come to a place where we agree with the Bible. Sin wages war against us. It is our enemy. What do you do to real enemies? You hate them. So, we must hate this enemy! We won’t be ready to give up our sin until we have stopped seeing sin as an answer to our problems.

Tool # 2 – Starve the sin until it has little hold on you. Then, starve it some more. I am impressed by how often we are told to flee sin. The Old Testament saint, Joseph, did it. The Proverbs 7 young man is encouraged to do it. Timothy is encouraged by Paul to do it. All of these individuals were encouraged to do what Jesus meant when He told us to cut off the thing that makes us sin. They were encouraged to get away from the sin. Don’t stay there. Don’t keep wallowing in the sin. Run. Stay away. Starve it out. It feels weak. It feels immature. It is neither. It is smart! Think of your sin like a vicious dog. If you starve it, it will at first get really angry (we’ll talk about that in a minute), but eventually it will get weak and lethargic. Eventually, it will stop being a threat to you. However, you can’t play with it. We must starve sin. Then, we starve it some more.

Tool # 3 – Identify the tempters. Go back to Jesus’ admonition. An eye and a hand are not sin. What are they? They are the things that “cause” us to sin. Actually, He is not referring to the physical hand or eye. He is referring to the temptation within us that is triggered by what our hand touches or our eye sees. His advice? Get away from the temptation! He did not tell us to just get rid of the sin. That is good advice. He also told us to get rid of the temptation. Remember the vicious dog? As we try to overcome sin, the first response is for the temptation to get worse. That is the angry dog. How do I avoid getting bitten by the angry dog? I stay away from the dog! How do I avoid temptation? I don’t go to or do the things that tempt me to then fall into sin. Identify what tempts you. Then, get rid of those things too.

Tool # 4 – Replace it with glory. One of the big mistakes we make when dealing with sin is forgetting why we sin in the first place. Sin is our mistaken attempt to make life better. We want to be happy, avoid pain, or defeat an enemy so we do something to accomplish that goal. The problem is, the choice we make (sometimes over and over) is contrary to God’s plan to bless us and the people we touch with genuine goodness. In other words, we choose sin. What we thought would make us happy just enslaves us. What we thought would help us avoid pain just hurts us and others in another way. The solution we choose to defeat an enemy attacks the wrong enemy. Getting rid of the sin without addressing the need that led to sin means that we will just repeat the process. When James addresses the progression of sin in James 1, he tells us something interesting. He says,

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17

This is James’ solution to the sin problem. Instead of blaming God for sin (see verse 13), James tells us to go to God for the answer to our desire. In other words, find the glory that is God’s answer to your life’s hopes and hurts. How does Jesus answer the need that you have? Find it and live it. Replace sin with glory!

Tool # 5 – Give someone else permission to walk with you. I said on Sunday, “If the church has given you the impression that you have to be perfect to follow Jesus, we have failed you.” We all struggle. None of us is perfect. If we can be honest about that together, then the encouragement of Ecclesiastes 4:9 and Proverbs 27:17 can be a great asset. When we find someone else to walk this path with us, we will have encouragement on those bad days and help on the days we stumble. We will know that we are not alone. So, give someone permission to walk with you in your desire to overcome those sins that seem to grab at you.

We can find victory. We just have to be prepare to wage war. These tools should help. Will you fight with me?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Back to Love

I challenged my church this week to think long about how God has loved them. The goal? That we might respond the way the Bible writers respond when they are thinking about the love of God. I thought that it might help to illustrate those examples to help our thinking…

Think of King David…

5 You have enclosed me behind and before,  and laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Psalms 139:5-6

When I read Psalm 139, I see David touching over and over his amazement that God thinks so intimately about him. That God’s love would not only direct His attention me-ward is amazing. That once He knows me intimately, He still directs His loving attention my way is too wonderful for me. It is hard to understand.

Think of Moses…

2 “ The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.

Exodus 15:2

Moses and the Israelites are praising God for His deliverance from the Egyptians in this passage. When God does something great in our lives, don’t we feel this type of praise? I want to shout, “The Lord fights for me!” I am awestruck when God does this in my life. I, too, say, ” “Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

Think of Paul…

31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?… 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

And,

3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5  He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6  to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

And,

17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:17

These declarations of Paul always seem to be in response to some expression of God’s love and mercy. Romans 8 is in response to the reality that there is no condemnation from God for those who believe in Jesus. Ephesians 1 is the declaration (as is common to Paul) that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. It amazes him that we should be so saved by God. and 1 Timothy 1 is Paul’s self-confession that Jesus died to save sinners just as bad as Paul. Paul’s deep theological declarations about the grace and mercy of God were as personal as they were thought provoking. He never got over how much God loved Him in Jesus. I have that in my life. To know my own distance from God, and also to know that Jesus still died for me, it brings such wonder! I will never get over it.

Think of John…

1 See  how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

1 John 3:1

The end of 1 John 2 talks in depth about God’s invitation to abide in Jesus through receiving and drinking deeply in the promises of Jesus. What does John do when he thinks about the promises of Jesus? He bursts into praise and wonder over the love that God has given unto us. He rejoices in the reality that every Christian has been made a child of God. This is a deeper type of ‘child of God’ than what we usually mean. Usually, we are speaking of being a child of God as one who is made in God’s image. For John, he is thinking about being purposefully adopted by God as full heirs of all of God’s promises in Jesus. It makes him pause. It makes me pause. To be so received by God as His true child. What an amazing truth to always have before me!

What about you? Which of these resonate with you? Of course, there are more, but these should suffice to draw our hearts out of their closets of safety. They should move us to either discover anew our own story with God’s love, or make us ponder why we don’t have such a story with God. I urge you, consider how much God has demonstrated His own love toward you. My favorite verse in all the Bible is Romans 5:8. Take a gander at it right now. Does it move you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will We Simply Abide?

For the past few weeks we have been thinking about what the Bible says gives a person confidence in their relationship with God. We all would like that, wouldn’t we? We want to know if God is happy with us. We want to know that we are secure in our relationship with Him. We want to know that He is not going to change His mind about us. How can we know that? The New Testament has this suggestion: abide in Him.

24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25  This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

1 John 2:24-29

Before we look at what abiding means, let’s notice what God tells us abiding will do for us. 1 John 2:24-29 points out five blessings that come from abiding in God:

  1. Knowing God. Abiding is about more than knowing stories, so we learn God’s character. We learn that we can trust Him.
  2. Knowing His promises. God has made promises to us, do we know them?
  3. Growing in truth. It is God who tells us the truth. Everyone else makes mistakes. God doesn’t.
  4. No shame between us and God. Shame comes from not knowing how God will respond to our failures. When we know Him, we will know how He feels about our struggles.
  5. Personal growth in character and influence. Healthy people want to grow. This is what abiding in Jesus does in us.

These are profound blessings. They answer the heart’s cry of anyone who is longing to know God and His love that is found in Jesus. The Bible says that to know these blessings we need to just abide in Jesus. So, how do we abide in Him? John has told us, but Jesus, too, has told us what it means to abide in Him. He says:

7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

The key of abiding in Jesus is the Bible. However, it isn’t knowing the stories about God and Jesus that Jesus is concerned. Knowing those stories is essential for children and those new to the faith. These introduce us to the great God we are introduced to there. However, it is the next step in our spending time in the Bible about which Jesus is talking. The next step is asking these questions of those stories and teachings: What do they teach us about God? and What do they teach us about His thoughts toward us? These are big questions. These are the questions we need answered. We need to know who God is. We need to know what He feels about us. As we spend time in the Bible asking those questions, some clear truths will emerge. God’s goodness, love, mercy, truth, and wonder emerge to us. Spending each day in these truths move them from mental concepts to realities that we trust. We base our lives on who God is to us. If He is abstract, we don’t have much confidence in Him. When He becomes concrete, He is the One in whom we have supreme confidence.

Knowing who God is has an amazing affect on us, but knowing how He feels about us does even more. As we hear how He feels about us, we notice something: our God is a God who makes promises. Yes, God has expressed disappointment when we ignore what is good; but it hasn’t kept Him from making promises to His people. When we know these promises we are assured of His love. How much He must love us to make promises to us!

The Psalmist says, “They (the Lord’s judgments) are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalms 19:10) This is the value of abiding. When we seek what the Bible is showing us about who God is and what He thinks about us, we discover this value. It is abiding in this way that we discover confidence in God. What a promise! So, what are we waiting for?!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tick Tock!

Sometimes, I just can’t stand a ticking clock. It isn’t that I can’t stand the ticking all the time. In fact, I find the ticking of a clock a common way to ease into sleep. The ticking gets under my skin, however, when I have something that has to be done on time; and each second that passes is more time slipping by. Yet, it’s not the clock’s fault. When I am that pressed for time it is usually because I have not made time to finish my project earlier. So, I wind up resenting the clock because I procrastinated. It isn’t the clock’s fault. It is the reality of my life: sometimes I make the wrong choice about what will be important to me.

This is where the wisdom of the scriptures comes in. Yes, God’s word warns us about sin. We should pay attention to that, especially if we are pulling against God. (see Psalm 119:11 and 1 Timothy 1:9) However, God’s word also warns us about something else: wishing we had chosen the best when we kept choosing the temporary or the urgent.


But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

It is easy to understand why we consistently choose the urgent. Things that act like emergencies get our attention. They are hard to ignore. The Bible tells us of an encounter that Jesus had with two sisters. Martha and Mary both loved Jesus. Martha, the Bible says, was distracted by all the duties needed to prepare a meal and be hostess. They seemed like emergencies. Mary chose to use her time by sitting at the feet of Jesus. These two different choices caused conflict. Martha resented the choice of her sister so she bravely complained to Jesus. His response was that Mary had made the better choice, and he would not take it from her! Martha heard the call of the urgent. Mary saw the choice set before her: the urgent or Jesus. Jesus praised her choice.

The call of the temporary is a bit harder to understand. It’s not harder to understand because just a few of us do it. No, I think it is safe to say that almost all of us succumb to the call of the temporary. No, the reason it is harder to understand why we succumb to the urge to chase after the temporary is how valuable we say the things of God are. We call Jesus things like priceless and glorious. We all nod at the parables like the pearl of great price and the woman who lost her silver coin. Both of those parables are describing the incredible worth of salvation and the things of God. We agree in principle that the things of God are worth more than the things of this world, but struggle acting like it.


The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:17

This is where the warning of 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 and 1 John 2:17 challenges us. Verses like these are the ticking clock of our lives. Sometimes, they motivate us to make changes so that the ticking doesn’t drive us mad. Sometimes we resent the verses much like I resent the ticking clock. Instead of altering my choices, I vainly wish that time would stop. Instead of choosing more of the things of God, do we vainly wish God would declare that the temporary things we are chasing after are actually His things?

Do you hear the ticking clock? When you think about how you’ve spent your life, do you lament the wasted time? Do you lament the wasted energy on the things that just do not last? If you do, what are you going to do about it? Will it just be something that you feel bad about? Or, will you start today making new choices? Choose those things that will last. You won’t regret it.

Something to think about, Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Following the Master – The Need for Forgiveness

How are you at following the Master? Do you always succeed? Have you reached a level of perfection? I know… that is funny. It’s funny because only the very proud would claim such a thing. However, it is sometimes hard to admit that we stumble even when we are trying to follow Jesus with our whole heart. So when you do mess up, what do you do then?
 
Let me admit it, sometimes I stumble horribly.  God has protected me in so many ways, but I stumble still.  I am reminded of the verse, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2)  This is a great encouragement and a great disappointment to me.  I am encouraged that everyone stumbles.  This puts me into good company.  However, the verse also says that we stumble in many ways.  I don’t like stumbling many times.  It makes me vulnerable to criticism.  It makes me vulnerable to valid criticism.  I can rail against invalid criticism.  Howeverm I am helpless when that criticism is valid.  I feel like a failure.  I feel judged (even a bit unfairly).  I feel helpless to make it right.
 
Do you ever wonder how you should respond when you fail the Master?  I will tell you what I do, and what I think the Bible tells us to do.  First of all, I pout a bit.  No, I am not recommending it.  I’m just being honest.  I get so disappointed in myself that I pout and beat myself up over the incident.  Second, I heap blame and self-loathing on top of my wounded spirit.  Do you ever do this? 
 
After I have wallowed awhile, then I begin to do what the Bible tells me to do.  It says to confess an awareness of the sin to the one you sinned against (confession).  Then it says to turn away (repent) from that activity just like turning around on the walking trail by my house.  Then it says to seek to make restitution if necessary and possible.  Finally, it says to receive forgiveness and begin anew.  God doesn’t hold grudges.  Sometimes people do.  Sometimes people forget that we are all strugglers and even the best intentioned among us is going to make mistakes sometimes.  God, however, never does forget what we are.  He knows.  He loves.  He forgives.  He renews.
 
What about you?  Do you struggle with your failures? Do you struggle with receiving that forgiveness when you stumble?  Do you wallow, as I do, in a pile of self-condemnation for a while before you turn to the powerful promise of forgiveness?  Are you one of those who judges quickly and then holds a grudge?  Aren’t we glad that God works completely differently from us?  He is not some demanding or demeaning boss who is looking for faults to find.  He is our Master Craftsman whose only desire is to teach us how to make great works of beauty and wonder out of our lives.  He is interested in perfecting us, not because He delights in correction but because He delights in us being the best we can be with Him.  May we all find sweet forgiveness and restoration in Him today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyday Grace

We talk about grace in the Christian life. We need it! Through grace we discover the amazing love of God. Through grace we have access to God in Jesus. Have we thought about how much we need it from one another? Here are some thoughts about giving grace everyday.

Let me introduce you to two passages that guide my thoughts regarding giving grace to others…

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them aound your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

and

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

These two verses serve as the backdrop of what I believe every Christian relationship should be made. In today’s world there is a great temptation to act based upon exceptions rather than the rule. In other words, instead of living by these two principles we treat each sin or each wrong as if it requires judgment or retribution. I just have one question for that approach: if each wrong requires that type of response, when do we respond with mercy, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness? I believe that our Scriptures ask us to do something else. This is why God warns us through the apostle James,

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19 — 20

For me, the example of Jesus in the temple where He overturns the money tables is the exception not the norm. The norm is Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek. The norm is how Jesus went to the cross for me. This is why Proverbs 3:3 and Ephesians 4:32 are my backdrop to every relationship.

What does that look like? Here are the thoughts I consistently aim to show others. These are my “everyday grace” to those I spend my time with:

1. How can I show tender mercy to the person I am interacting with today?

2. Is anyone receiving my mercy or faithfulness today?

3. Will this person who seems out of sorts be blessed if I am tender toward them?

4. When I am wrong, would I want to be forgiven or judged?

This is grace lived everyday. It is the questions that lead me to bless whoever I am with today. Grace is all the times I have stopped and chosen to bless rather than to grumble. Grace lived everyday is all those choices that seek to make another person a friend rather than an enemy. It is what I wish from those around me. So, it is what I give.

Something to think about,

Pastor John


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musings from Camp

This week our students are going to camp. This will be the second camp of the summer for our church. The first camp, Children’s Camp, was absolutely wonderful. Children playing, worshipping Jesus, and growing in Him is amazing. There is something about seeing children singing and playing their hearts out that is inspiring. They go until they drop. No half measures here. Oh, how I wish I was more like that.

Our students will be the same. They will get up at 7. They will go hard all day. Then they will drop. They will play with abandon. They will sing to God with passion. They will hear from Him, and they will desire to follow Him with all their being.

When I see the zeal of children and students at camp, I am reminded of these words from the apostle Paul –

“For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

Colossians 1:29

Paul, in this context, is referring to his passion to see people become healthy, mature believers. This was his calling. How did he approach this calling? He didn’t give it half-hearted attention. He didn’t give it a decent try. He poured himself into it. He uses Greek words which have clear parallels in English. Let me translate this verse using those parallels, and you will see what I am talking about:

“For this I work to exhaustion, agonizing according to His energy which like dynamite energizes me.”

These words, “exhaustion, agony, energy, dynamite, and energizes,” are giving all words. Paul was not interested in half-hearted attempts at following Jesus. Like our children and students, Paul had the idea that he should pour himself out. Why would he do that? He does this because Jesus is worth it. The call and person of Jesus is worth being poured out like a drink offering. Not only that, but it is right to do so. Paul says,

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

2 Timothy 4:6-8

So, giving Jesus our best effort is worth it. Giving Jesus our best effort is right. Giving Jesus our best looks like being poured out until there is nothing left. That is both worth it and right. This means that the way our young people play and worship has much to teach us. Are we listening?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment