Welcome to my almost weekly list of good reads found around the Web.
This Dying Young Woman Has a Message for Us, HT to Challies. “Brooklyn may face dark moments, but they are never so dark that the light of Christ does not breakthrough. Along with telling her story, she wants to speak directly to us, and even when she wants to tell us hard truths, her sense of humor steps in to help us swallow the medicine. ‘I’m sick. Soon to die. But so are you. I’m just doing it faster.'” Brooklyn did pass away March 1.
Truth in Small Bites Is Truth Nonetheless. “When life takes a turn, most of us tend to push Bible reading aside until our circumstances return to normal. If you’re not able to sit down at your kitchen table for a quiet hour of in-depth study, you don’t even crack open God’s Word. Somewhere along the way, you’ve told yourself that if you’re not able to feast, you shouldn’t eat at all, not realizing that a handful of almonds in the middle of the night is far better than allowing your soul to starve.“
Death, Miracles, and Tears from a missionary in Cameroon, HT to Challies. “About three years ago I took a girl in our village named Mami to get an ultrasound. At the clinic I met her boyfriend named Koo who was visibly concerned about her pregnancy. So much so that he made a deal with God: if his baby survived, he would dedicate his life to the Lord.”
The Friend Who Sharpens Me, HT to Challies. “While it’s great to have friends we agree with theologically and mentors who can teach us more about the historical faith we hold to, I’m learning that it’s important to make friends with those I disagree with. It’s important to learn from those with a different viewpoint than me.”
Tell Me a Story? “There are many nights when both Dan and I draw a complete blank. Four sets of eyes stare at us longingly as we frantically rake our minds for something to say, only to come up as empty as one of Pooh’s honey jars. Over the years we have developed a strategy for handling situations like this. It’s easy to implement, and it has never failed.”
This is a good reason to get those dust bunnies when they’re small and few. 🙂
There’s one piece of chocolate cake on the counter.
I love chocolate cake. But I’ve already had something sweet today, and I want to save that last piece of cake for my husband. So I am resisting temptation.
There’s nothing inherently sinful about chocolate cake. But a lack of self-control is sinful. And chocolate cake tests my self-control.
If I start thinking about the cake, I’ll think about how good it tastes. Then I’ll think about maybe taking a sliver of it. Then half. And then I’ll think, “Well, it’s just this once. It’s not like I feast on chocolate cake every day.” I might even talk myself into eating the whole piece: my husband doesn’t know it’s there, so he isn’t expecting cake when he comes home.
Each thought is like laying kindling to the initial flame of temptation. Instead of feeding that flame, I need to stomp on it, douse it, dump sand on it.
That’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when someone talks about killing sin.
Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” and then names several wrong desires.
When something is killed, it’s . . . dead. Unresponsive. Not going to bother us any more.
But the problem is, wrong desires don’t stay dead. The next time chocolate cake is here, I’ll face the same temptation. So does that mean I didn’t “kill sin” in the first place?
Same with selfishness, probably my most besetting sin. Have you ever tried to kill selfishness in your life? It doesn’t stay dead. We might resist it one moment, but then it’s back soon.
So how can we kill it? I’ve supposed that the Bible means we kill sin in the moment. When I am tempted to sin, instead of entertaining the idea, I should look for ways to resist. God promises that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13). Too often I look for an excuse to indulge instead of the way of escape.
Instead of indulging the desire, I resist it–strangle it. Am unresponsive to it. It may come up again tomorrow. But for now, it’s slain.
Still, I wrestled with what it really meant to kill sin. Like the old slogan that promised Raid “kills bugs dead,” how could I kill sin dead?
A passage in Jen Wilkin’s book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting In and Doing What God Commands, helped shed some light. The book is about the Ten Commandments, what they mean, how they apply today. In the seventh chapter on honoring marriage, Jen brings up Jesus’s command to cut off one’s eye or hand if those members cause us to sin, because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30). Jesus is obviously using hyperbole, exaggeration, to make a point.
Jen points out that even if we could cut off any body part that causes us to sin, we’d still have a problem in our hearts. Jesus made the same point when He said it’s not just committing adultery that’s a sin, but lusting. Jen goes on to say:
We need a better blade than any formed by human hands, one aimed at ridding our hearts of disordered desires.
Praise God, we have one. The blade that slays the beast is the word of God, made living and active by the Spirit of God, dividing thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). By the word of God we learn to delight our hearts in the Lord, and the outcome is that which the psalmist predicts: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) (p. 106).
Then Jen shares what was for me a light-bulb moment:
As we confess and repent, God puts to death our disordered desires and gives us rightly ordered ones. And our eyes and hands and feet and lips and tongues and noses begin to serve at the pleasure of a heart that delights in him.
“If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The antidote to the lust of the eyes is not self-inflicted blindness, but seeing as God sees (pp. 106-107).
But we put sin to death in our lives not just by resisting temptation in the moment, but by exposing ourselves to the blade of the Word of God, by delighting ourselves in the Lord and letting Him change our desires.
Killing sin doesn’t mean that I’ll never be tempted by a particular thing again or that all outward influences to sin will die. I wish. That won’t happen until heaven. But by God’s grace, I am supposed to kill sin in me. Sin lost its power over me at the cross. But I have to learn to live in newness of life—a process called sanctification, which won’t be complete until heaven. As I grow in the Lord, take in His Word, delight in Him, He changes my desires, and sin loses more power.
Scripture describes the Christian life as the source of such great joy that temptations lose their appeal. Like the feeling we have after Thanksgiving dinner, we should be so full of Christ that we don’t have room for sin!…Does obeying Christ mean saying no to sinful pleasures? Sure. However, saying no to sin in favor of Christ is like saying no to a scooter in favor of a sports car, or no to peanuts in favor of filet mignon. Life with Christ is a feast, not a famine (Chris Anderson, Gospel Meditations for Women).
One of Jen’s discussion questions at the end of this chapter says, “If you believe that the sharp blade of the Scriptures can put [sin] to death and reshape your desires, what regular practice of gazing on them do you follow?” (p. 110, emphases mine).
I missed my time in the Bible . . . again. I may as well give up.
I blew my diet today. I should wait until life is less hectic to start up again.
I lost my temper with my pesky neighbor again. Maybe I should just avoid her instead of trying to be nice.
We’ve all had experiences like these. We set goals. We have good intentions. But invariable we drop the ball, and then we wonder if the effort is even worth it. We let an off day derail our endeavors.
I love what Christina Rossetti said: “A fall is a signal not to lie wallowing, but to rise.”
Or, as Proverbs 21:16 puts it: “The righteous falls seven times and rises again.”
How can we rise again? First we assess what caused the fall.
Did we willfully choose our own way instead of God’s? Some of God’s greatest servants had some of the most spectacular falls. David, a “man after God’s own heart,” committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband put in the line of fire in battle so he would be killed. His heart-wrenching confession and plea for God’s mercy and forgiveness can be found in Psalm 51. Peter, the main spokesman for the disciples, denied he even knew Jesus when the pressure was on. Then “he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). Both men were restored to fellowship. Does that mean they “got away with” their sin? No. John wrote:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)
Jesus took on all our sin and punishment so we could be forgiven. True faith and repentance doesn’t say, “Great! Now I can do whatever I want with no consequences!” A true believer will be grieved over his sin and what it cost while still being grateful for God’s forgiveness.
We’re saved in a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives growing more like Christ. Just as a baby trips and falls while learning to walk, we’ll have our share of missteps. We can learn from them and move on. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Lack of prayer
When Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray, He told His disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” But when he came back to them, they were sleeping (Luke 22:39-46).
Set-up for failure
I’ve learned that it’s easier to say “no” to problem foods at the store rather than at home. Recently while shopping I wanted a “treat”—and came home a couple of bags of candy and a couple of dessert mixes. And then I figuratively kicked myself. Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” I had just made plenty of provision for my flesh. Thankfully, God helped me realize it and ration out the goodies. But we sabotage ourselves in other areas as well: We want to get up early, but then we stay up late on social media or Netflix. We want to read the Bible, but we wait for a time that never opens up instead of making time.
Goals too big or vague
Saying “I need to eat healthier” or “I need to be less selfish” are generalities that are hard to put into practice. I need to look at my specific habits to see needs to change. Likewise, a goal set on January 1 will need some checking through the year. In one book I read, the author set quarterly goals and took time to review them. We may need weekly or even daily goals.
Relying on our own strength
Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Not knowing or using God’s Word
In Matthew 4, every time Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus countered with the Word of God. Satan uses Scripture, too, but he misapplies or twists it. Romans 12:1-2 tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Psalm 103:13-14 reminds us: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Barb Raveling says in The Renewing of the Mind Project:.
[God] sees things right now in your life that He’d like to change. Not because He’s a demanding perfectionist who’s disgusted with you. But because He’s a loving Father who cares about you and also about the people you interact with each day. So as you look at your weaknesses, look at them from the comfort and safety of your Father’s arms. knowing that He’s looking at them with you, but through eyes of grace and love and a desire to help (p. 8).
He wants to help us:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
So next time we fall or fail, let’s not wallow. Let’s not stay down. Let’s confess to God our sin and need of Him and seek His grace to stand back up and keep going. His mercies are new every morning. He “equip[s] you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20-21). He “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him” and “has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Let’s look unto Jesus, and as we behold Him, we’ll become more like Him.
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.