Christianity 201

October 9, 2015

Dealing with Stubbornness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we return to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source. For the full text related to today’s devotions, read 1 Samuel 8.

Stubborn Pride

I’m about as stubborn of a person as they come. In some cases, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out when it is advantageous to be stubborn and when it is detrimental. I don’t always pick the right one. Sometimes I’m stubborn and it pays off, while other times it gets me into trouble. I’ve learned it usually works against me when I’m so set on how I want to do something, that I refuse to listen to wisdom. In those cases, it doesn’t matter how sound or logical the opposing argument is, my stubbornness refuses to allow me to listen.

In I Samuel 8, Israel was at that same place. They knew that Samuel was a person who spoke with God and that his judgements were good. They had watched God use him since he was a boy. When he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges, but they didn’t listen to God like Samuel did. They took bribes and perverted judgement, so the leaders decided to confront Samuel about it. Instead of just asking for their removal and for new judges, they asked for a king.

Samuel was heartbroken. He felt rejected and disappointed in his sons, I’m sure. He went to the Lord about it. In verse 7, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything they say to you, for they are rejecting me, not you” (NLT). Then a few verses later, He finished by giving Samuel instructions, “Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will rule over them.” He wanted Samuel to give them wisdom before they made their final decision.

Samuel listed out the things a king would do to their kids, take from their homes, and tax. 1 Samuel 8:19-20 gives us their response. “But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles’” (MSG). Samuel took what they said to God, and He gave them a king. He gave them what they wanted, even though it was not His will because they wouldn’t listen to wisdom. God may grant your request, but it doesn’t mean it was the wisest choice.

Reading this story reminds me that God has placed people in my life to give me wisdom. It’s my choice to listen to them or to be stubborn in my ways. Proverbs 28:26 gives us insight to this kind of thinking. It says, “It is foolish to follow your own opinions. Be safe, and follow the teachings of wiser people” (GNB). Stubbornness leads us down the path of foolishness while wisdom takes us down safe paths. If you’re facing a difficult situation, ask God to put people in your life who can give you godly wisdom, then follow it.

April 25, 2011

Spiritual Relapse

Today’s post first appeared at Thinking Out Loud under the title Spiritual Recidivism.

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually “learn” sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them. “

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

April 22, 2011

Why I Screamed out Loud at the Good Friday Service

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, seven of the local churches come together for a Good Friday service that has grown to the point where it’s now held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and even at that we have to split into two service times.  

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together.  The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. And it’s apparently rather difficult for worship leaders to choose pieces that stay tightly focused on the theme of Good Friday, especially when most of our best worship choruses are based on the resurrection we will celebrate on Sunday.

So although absolutely nobody heard me, as the soloist was singing his second song after the message, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me:  Sin.   We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin.  Our propensity to sin.  Our sin condition.  Our individual sins.  The sin that necessitated the cross.  Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature. It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.   So says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced below. 

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns!  Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

 Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns!   Our God reigns!

The message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death.   That’s my thought for today.  However, I couldn’t post the lyrics to Our God Reigns without posting the alternative set of lyrics from Isaiah which are also available.  The first verse of both versions is the same.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

You watchmen lift your voices joyfully as one
Shout for your King, your King
See eye to eye the Lord restoring Zion
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy
We are redeemed, redeemed
The Lord has saved and comforted His people
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Ends of the earth, see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord
Before the nations He has bared His holy arm
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

For more Easter-themed reading, check out Delivered From Death at Thinking Out Loud

August 27, 2010

The Assurance of Pardon

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 pm
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Today at Thinking Out Loud, I looked at the need people have to confess, but often this is nothing more than a desire to get something off their chest, or to blurt out something that they’ve been keeping to themselves.

A key element of confession has to involve the WHO question. To whom am I making this confession?   The person wronged?   A third party to whom might be inflicted some collateral damage?   Or do we confess our sins to God and then expect that to be sufficient, and leave the earthly details to sort themselves out?

The next question is the WHAT question. Is simply telling God (or someone else) what we did sufficient or is genuine sorrow or remose needed as well?   In other words, is confession simply bringing the truth to the surface, or does it involve genuine repentance?   (What James MacDonald in his Downpour tour, might call “face in the dirt” repentance.)   Clearing the air is not clearing the soul.

Finally there is the matter of the CONFESSOR’S RESPONSE. If we confess our sin to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us… here’s how I paraphrased that one today: “if we confess our sin, with faithfulness and according to a justice we can’t always comprehend, he will pardon that sin and help us to work out that sin-nature that caused it.”

Then there’s our NEXT STEPS. Our response also has to involve a determination to both learn from our error and not repeat the same actions or type of actions.   And it may involve subsequent confession to other parties who have been affected by what we have done.

You can read the post I referred to by clicking here.

May 14, 2010

Where Sin Abounds

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 pm
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I guess I’ve always looked at the verse that says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more” (my ‘remembered’ version of it) as applying in a collective sense.  To a nation, or a society, or some other group.

In the NLT, Romans 5:20 looks like this:

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant.

The phrase “as people” was something I would read in the plural sense of people.

But the principle, to be true at all, has to also be true at the micro level as well as the macro.   In my small group.  With my immediate neighbors .  Around the guys at work.   In our extended families.   In nuclear families.   In individual hearts.  In me.

In the place where sin is most evident, or working its hardest; grace is already at work, too.    Theologians have an image or picture of the “triumph” of the grace of God.   The verse in The Message reads,

When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

God’s “putting everything together again” sounds like redemption; not a twelve-step kind of personal redemption, but a redemption of sin itself of the sinful nature.  Where my sin is plentiful, His grace is already engaged.

In a 2007 blog post, author and pastor Mark Batterson wrote:

I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure!

Here’s how the normally-humorous author Jon Acuff describes it at his blog, Stuff Christians Like:

There was a guy in the Bible who was the worst. He was such a failure. He lied once and got an entire village murdered as a result. A priest and his family were killed because of his lies. He committed adultery. He cheated. He trusted in his own strength instead of the Lord’s. And when he did, when he failed, thousands and thousands of people died as a result. His family suffered from incest and murder and his hands were so covered with wrongfully shed blood that eventually God wouldn’t let him do something really important.

Now imagine if that person was a commenter on Stuff Christians Like. Imagine if they confessed to homicide and adultery and a laundry list of other sins. I mean there have been some crazy comments on this site, but no one has ever said, “I saw this girl online and thought she was really hot, so I slept with her, got her pregnant and then arranged on craigslist for her husband to be killed.” But this guy, the guy in the Bible, he could have left that comment. And if he did, would you or me or the writer of that email instantly think, “He didn’t take grace too far?” No, we’d be horrified. We’d be terrified.

So how is he referred to in the Bible? Here is what God says about him:

“I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart,”

What? Are you kidding God? David, the murderer? The adulterer? That can’t be right.

Surely David himself knows what a mess he’s made. Aren’t we all our worst critics? David knows that there is blood on his hands. How does he describe himself in Psalm 26?

“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.”

No. No. No. David hasn’t led a blameless life. He hasn’t trusted in the Lord without wavering. He ran away and got people killed by trying to cover up his tracks when he was afraid. How can David say these things? How can God say these things?

Because grace is scandalous.

Grace does not make sense to our tiny human brains. We can’t control it. We can’t draw boundaries and borders on it. And when we try I think it breaks God’s heart.

I think we insult the cross when we act as if we can “out sin” it.

I think we wound our father when we think we can “out filth” his love.

I think we hurt our Christ when we believe that we have found the end of his grace.

I know, I know, I know that it is possible to mistreat the Lord. To blasphemy his name with our actions and our attitudes. David certainly did and he paid the consequences. I don’t think we get discipline or grace. I think we get both. I think discipline is a by product of grace and in my own life I have received large amounts of it.

But above that, I think God understood the grand risk when he offered us grace. A book called True Faced called it the New Testament Gamble. I think God knew the risk that we’d misunderstand grace and try to take advantage of it. I think he knew we’d try to find the limits of it with our sinfulness. Which is why he made it limitless, which is why he made grace infinite and never ending.

I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know your life or the bumps or bruises. Maybe you actually have murdered more people than David. I don’t know. But I do know, as many readers pointed out on this post, we serve a God who accepts our repentance and confession. We serve a God who when offered a chance to reveal himself to Moses, chose one thing to show, the most important thing, his goodness.

We serve a God who “rises to show us compassion.”

A God who delights in you.

A God who sent his son to the cross not to show the end of his grace, but rather the beginning.