Saturday, July 30, 2011

Consequences of Sin

I realize that the topic of “sin” is not one that we usually embrace. We would rather hear about God’s love and grace. We don’t want attention brought to something that we would much rather tuck away.

But sin is a reality. It is part of our fleshly nature that we will always strive against. Just when we conquer one area of sin in our life, along comes another that we need to work on. It really is a lifelong process.

The funny thing about sin is that we tend to put it into categories. We believe one type of sin to be greater than another. We even dismiss or defend some types of sin because well, there is always an exception, right?

But let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, sin is sin. It doesn’t matter what level you try to put it at or what category you try to fit it into, no one sin is any worse than another.

I know that some are arguing with me…isn’t murder much worse than lying? No, sin is sin. However there is something to sin that does make it different. It’s not the act of sin, it is the consequences.

Yes, the consequences of sin will vary. Someone who commits murder will have the consequences of facing prison time. Someone who lies will have the consequences of another losing trust in them.

This reminds me of the very first time in my life I was presented with the gospel message. I was 19 years old, living on my own and definitely living it up. I was the party girl. Then one day I was walking through the Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee, pushing my little cousin in his stroller when I ran into a guy about my age with the bluest eyes you ever saw.

His name was David and he belonged to the “Good News Messengers.” They were outside the front of the mall with their sign and handing out tracts. I couldn’t believe this guy was “religious.”

Long story short, he stopped me in my tracks and began to share the gospel message with me. He asked if I knew for certain that I would go to heaven if I were to die. I couldn’t deny it…I didn’t know for certain. In fact, I was more than sure that I wouldn’t go to heaven.

So for the next hour I listened to him read passages to me out of the Bible. Then he handed me a New Testament Bible with his phone number written inside. We quickly became friends and he began to introduce me to what I thought was a very strange world. He attended a “church” that met in a home and weekly went to a singles group.

I have to be honest and admit that my interest was strictly in him, not in the good news of salvation. So I tolerated his preaching and his desire to see me saved. I even allowed him to get rid of my music selection, which he said was not good for me.

Then after a few months of really getting to know one another, he threw a bombshell on me. He was going to prison. Prior to getting saved he had committed arson on several large businesses. He never got caught. But then when he came into a relationship with Jesus, he decided to confess his sins.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…why in the world would you admit to something you had never been caught for? Can you see how the message of Christ really hadn’t gotten to me? And then I asked him, if this following Jesus thing is so real, then why does he have to go to prison? Suddenly I didn’t see the “good” in being a follower of Christ. I didn’t understand there were still consequences to his sin.

He did go away to prison for 10 years. We stayed in contact for a short time and then I finally stopped answering his letters. To this day I still have the Journal article that was written about him, how he had admitted to his crimes.

It wouldn’t be until a decade after that I would walk into Oak Creek Assembly of God and experience a change in my life that I have never walked away from…loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the real point is that even though he had changed the direction of his life, there were consequences to his sin. And it goes back to my earlier point that no sin is greater than another…it’s just that we will have to face varying consequences.

Photo by Kyle and Kelly Adams in Flickr

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lessons Learned at "She Speaks"

She Speaks Conference

While not everyone who reads this blog attended the “She Speaks” conference held in North Carolina this past weekend, I do know that so much of what I learned could be applied to almost anyone.

In response to another attendee’s blog, I am answering four key questions that will hopefully speak to all readers.

The first question is “What was the best advice you got at She Speaks?” What spoke most to me was this, to let God determine my dream. So often we try to figure things out and decide what the best path for our lives is. We base it on our interests, our likes and those things we are skilled in.

What is interesting about God is that He often chooses to use us in ways we had never imagined or dreamed possible. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are… (I Corinthians 1:27-28)

Do you ever feel that God can’t use you because you are foolish, weak, lowly or despised? Do you feel incapable and unworthy? This is actually the best position to be in, the one that allows for God to really use you. But then you have to trust Him enough to determine your dream.

The second question is, “What was the best lesson you learned in a session?” For me it was when I participated in a peer writing critique group. You had to sit with two other women, whom I had never met, and critique each other’s article. What I learned in that is to be teachable.

The women in my group insisted on using a red pen to mark up each other’s articles. While at first I thought it was too much like being in school, I came to appreciate the red marks that were scribbled across my article. There was constructive criticism and positive remarks made.

We need to be teachable, humble enough to accept correction. Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) is pretty clear: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. It can’t get anymore blunt than that.

However, instead of a red pen being marked across our lives, we have the blood of Christ that was poured out. His blood points us to a new life in Him and that does mean having a teachable spirit.

The third question was “What are you going to do with what you learned/what is your next goal?” Since for me I received a very favorable response from one of the book publishers, I decided to take my devotional and turn it into my Isaac. I am going to lay it down on the altar and allow God to do His thing. I have the knife over my book, poised and ready to do as He sees fit.

What is your “Isaac?” What do you need to lie down at the altar and completely surrender to God? What difficult thing must you entrust completely and wholly to the Lord?

The last question is “Anything else you want to share? (Good, bad or ugly)?" I wish I could take every single person who reads this blog back in time with me to receive all that I did. Because this past weekend wasn’t just about writing and publishing, it was about surrender.

Surrendering our dreams, our pursuits and our passions isn’t easy. We so badly want to set the course and plan the route. We have our own ideas on how things should work and what should happen next. But nothing can really move forward until we have first surrendered it to God.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Frustration of Sin

Have you ever been told you aren’t good enough? Have you ever felt you weren’t good enough? I’m sure this doesn’t bring up any warm, fuzzy feelings inside you.

So forgive me for cutting you back down but guess what? You aren’t good enough…that is, you aren’t good enough to combat sin.

Sin is an interesting thing. For many believers it is easy to avoid certain sins, or what we might call the “big stuff.” We don’t get drunk, we don’t steal and we don’t cheat on our spouse.

But then we struggle with the smaller stuff…lying, gossiping, jealousy. Actually, this stuff isn’t really small because when it comes right down to it, sin is sin. We are the ones that put sin at different levels. In some ways I think it serves to make us feel better. After all, if we are convinced that we are sinning in “small” ways, we don’t feel so bad about it.

It can be very frustrating when you have a particular struggle with sin in your life. You so desperately want to get it out of your life but you can’t seem to gain the upper-hand. That’s because you are simply not good enough to do it.

It can leave us feeling defeated. We know God’s commands and we really want to follow them but we keep falling back. So what is missing?

Paul explained it best in Romans 7:17-25. I love the way “The Message” version so clearly lays it out. Let’s start with verses 17-20: But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Can you relate to any of this? The one word that sticks out as I read this is…FRUSTRATING. It can feel absolutely frustrating to try and try and yet you get nowhere. Here comes some more frustration in verses 21-23: It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

Here’s the thing. Most of the time we truly do want to do the right thing. Our heart’s desire is to follow God’s commands. It’s not that we don’t want to…but that is what makes it so frustrating. Why can’t it be easier? I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? (verse 24).

In a Bible study one time a friend of mine was expressing the very same thing. She had tried everything to stop a particular sin. She was praying, reading the Word, claiming scripture…but to no avail. The frustration she was experiencing was so evident.

I really felt for her because that particular sin was one I had struggled with for years. Yet I had finally experienced victory and I couldn’t even point to a particular time it happened. I couldn’t explain the steps I took. It was really a very gradual thing that happened over time. The answer to her frustration…to my frustration…to your frustration is this: The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different (verse 25).

You see, there is no formula to overcoming those sins we struggle with. In fact, later that evening after the study had ended and I was alone with God, I asked Him about this. I had never even given much thought to the fact that I had overcome that particular sin until it was brought up. “When did it happen?” I asked within my heart.

What I felt God speak to me was that it happened over time. It happened as I bathed in God’s presence and His Word. It was like I had to take a really, really long bath to get clean.

You see…we think that overcoming sin should be a quick fix. We pray, we stop sinning. We read the Word, we get instant victory. But it doesn’t always work that way. This is especially true when certain sins have been so ingrained in us, such a deep part of our lives.

Have you been struggling for a really long time with a particular sin? Keep enjoying the bath. Soak in it. Don’t be quick to dash out before you are really clean. Let the suds of God’s Word and God’s presence do their thing. The only real answer to your frustration with sin is Jesus Christ.

(Photo by Dan4th in Flickr)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Travel Lightly

In just 11 days I will be embarking on a trip to North Carolina to attend a 3 day writer’s conference. I have so much left to do to prepare. I will be meeting with two book publishers and attending a writer’s peer critique group.

To meet with these publishers and attend this critique group, I have very specific instructions on what to bring. I can’t miss a single detail. But if that isn’t stressful enough, there is the whole packing thing. I think other females will understand better why this can be such an issue.

Not only do you have to pick out the right outfit for each day but you have to make sure your shoes match, you bring the right jewelry, your makeup fits in with the colors of your outfit…it can become quite a stressor.

I will also have limited time once I get to the airport, find the shuttle I need to take, take the shuttle to the hotel, check in, register and then be in my seat by 3:50 p.m. for the main opening session. So I have decided to travel lightly. I am going to avoid the baggage area completely by bringing a small enough suitcase that can go on board, yet fit everything I need.

I’m sure by now you are wondering, “What’s the point?” Why am I telling you all of this? Because as I was thinking about how much easier it will be to travel lightly, I couldn’t help but think how that is so true in other ways.

Think about your life. Would you rather your life feel heavy and weighed down? Do you like carrying burdens? No, most of us would probably say that we would rather travel through life lightly.

Yet so many of us lug around baggage of regret, guilt, shame, fear…oh, the list could go on and on. What is really sad is that many people could lighten their loads but despite how awkward and uncomfortable the load is, they are just so used to it that they keep trudging on.

I have a pretty checkered past. Was never raised in a Christian home and in fact, didn’t become one until I was married and had my first child. Becoming a believer didn’t completely lighten my load. I was carrying around a lot of stuff…junk from the past, pain, hurts, wrong beliefs, misconceptions…it was as if my heart and mind had been filled with so much wrong stuff, that it has taken years and years to see those burdens be lifted.

But even after serving the Lord for about 16 years now, I know there is still some luggage that needs to go. Just as I don’t want to go to the baggage area at the airport in Charlotte, to have to get a big heavy suitcase and lug that thing around…I don’t want to lug around anything in my life that doesn’t need to be there.

While God has done some amazing work in my heart, mind and life in general…there is still work to be done. But what I have come to see is that even though the weight has been lightened greatly over the past several years of serving God, I have become comfortable with some extra weight that isn’t necessary. It is time to travel lightly.

For me it means joining a new 19 week program that my church is offering that starts at the end of this month. I wrestled with God about this. I had all kinds of excuses and reasons to not do it. But that is when I came to realize that I was comfortable carrying that extra baggage. It would now be my choice…would I continue to or would I decide that I am going to travel lightly instead.

Whatever baggage you are carrying around, it really is a choice. God wants to take it from us. It’s just a matter of how and when. But we have to be ready and willing…His ways are not always our ways. I would much rather not attend this 19 week program to lighten my load but this is what God has chosen for me.

I can tell Him to forget it, I’ll just go back to the baggage area and pick up my big, heavy suitcase filled with…well, that’s between me and God. OR I can skip the baggage area and decide that I will do whatever it takes to travel lightly.

Think about what you need to do in order to travel lightly. Are you ready to shed the excess baggage? Ask God to show you how and when…but then be ready to do your part, no matter how difficult or painful.

(Photo above by brokenarts in Stock.xchng)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To Notice Jesus in the Eyes of Others

(Photo by Kerry in EveryStockPhoto)

I experienced something pretty incredible last Sunday, all in a simple trip to the grocery store.

I was making my way to the front entrance when I noticed a tall, bearded homeless man sitting on a bench outside Pick n Save. What struck me as I was coming in his direction was the way he was brushing off his tattered pants. It didn’t seem to matter that he was wearing dirty pants; it was as if he was intent on keeping them lint-free. Or perhaps it was the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

For some reason the action caught my attention. As I neared him, he looked up and our eyes met. I really can’t adequately put into words what happened next. It was as if I got a glimpse of Jesus in this man’s eyes, like I could really see Jesus in him. In fact, if Jesus were to be homeless, I really believe he would have looked similar to this man.

It almost took my breath away. It was a glimpse of the divine in a man of flesh and it wouldn’t let go of me.

As I walked inside Pick n Save, inside my heart I asked the Lord, “What should I do? Buy him some food? Give him some money?” I didn’t need to feel led to do something…I just had to do something. Otherwise it would have been like I had literally walked right past Jesus. Immediately this verse struck me, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42, NASB).

So I turned to my youngest son who was with me (and had no idea any of this was going on inside me) and said, “I am going to buy that homeless man a bottled water.” “You are?” he asked with surprise.

As we got to the checkout, my son asked, “What if he’s gone?” I replied, “He won’t be.” I knew he would be there. When we came outside he was still sitting on the bench as I expected. I approached him with the water bottle and handed it to him, “Would you like some water?” He took it, turned it over in his hands as if he was examining it. He then looked at me and said in the gentlest voice I have ever heard, “Yes, thank you.” I replied, “God bless you.” He said, “Yes, you too” and I walked away.

Now here is the real lesson behind this story…I have seen this man a number of times. Many times he was sitting on that same bench. I am pretty sure he lives under the bridge near this Pick n Save. I have walked past him several times…never giving a thought to him. How many other people have I walked past, giving no thought to them and yet I had missed seeing Jesus?

It got me thinking that if only I could see Jesus in others the way I saw Jesus in him…how differently I would view people, how differently I would treat people, how differently I would look at the value of my time (in other words, I would take the time to notice). How much more would I reach out, instead of concentrating on my own agenda?

I will be honest here…the thought of being able to see Jesus in people is not on my radar. I tend to be too wrapped up in my own little world, what I have going on at the moment. I don’t always see the needy, the hurting, or those who just need a simple cup of cold water.

But for one moment in time, I got a glimpse. It was so powerful that for the remainder of the day I couldn’t get the man’s face out of my mind. And later that night when I was on my way to the evening church service, God spoke to my heart, “He has a name.” Yes, he does have a name. He isn’t just a face. He isn’t just a homeless man. He is a person with a name. I don’t know at this point what this means. I don’t know if the next time I see him, if I am supposed to ask him what his name is.

But I do know it has put me on notice…that I need to be ready to notice Jesus in the eyes of others…