More About Sin

In a previous post I shared a quote about sin from my devotional. Here’s another. The author is W. C. Gannett (1840-1923), a Unitarian minister:

“Yes, this sin which has sent me weary-hearted to bed and desperate in heart to morning work, that has made my plans miscarry until I am a coward, that cuts me off from prayer, that robs the sky of blueness and the earth of spring-time, and the air of freshness, and human faces of friendliness,–this blasting sin which perhaps has made my bed in hell for so long, –-this can be conquered. I do not say annihilated, but better than that, conquered, captured and transformed into a friend: so that I at last shall say, ‘My temptation has become my strength! for to the very fight with it I owe my force.'”

It reminds me of some of the things Paul tells us in his letters:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

“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

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Sin can separate us from Christ, but it doesn’t have to! When we rely upon God to resist temptation, we become stronger, and closer to Him– and when we fail, we remember that we are clothed in His righteousness.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Weakness = Strength?

One of the many paradoxes in the Bible is this idea: weakness is strength. Lately it’s comin up everywhere in my study, so I’m taking this as a Godcidence that I need to spend some time pondering. This idea comes up in 2 Corinthians, when the apostle Paul talks about his “thorn in the flesh.” We’re not sure what that thorn was — some physical ailment that many scholars believe to be poor eyesight. None of us enjoy putting up with a disability, and Paul prayed over and over to be relieved of this problem, yet it persisted. Finally he comes to the conclusion:

“But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

It sounds counterintuitive. How can weakness equal strength? The point, of course, is that when we come to the end of our own ability, understanding or power, we have no choice but to rely upon God. I admit, I’m not very good at this. I like to plan, I like to be in control, I like to be aware of what’s about to happen next. It gives me a sense of security. God has given me some opportunities lately to let go of this need, and depend on Him. I’ve experienced some illness — nothing life-threatening, but uncomfortable and draining; and my husband is about to return from pastoring our church. Both of these circumstances have made it difficult to look ahead and feel sure about what I can or should do. Will I feel well enough to make a trip? Will I be able to continue with a particular ministry? Where will we attend worship services? To all of these questions, the only answer is; “I don’t know.” This is forcing me to live day to day and see what God has in mind.

Here’s a quote from my daily devotional:

“It is possible, I dare say, for those who will indeed draw on their Lord’s power for deliverance and victory, to live a life in which His promises are taken as they stand, and found to be true. It is possible to cast every care on Him, daily, and to be at peace amidst the pressure. It is possible to see the will of God in everything, and to find it, as one has said, no longer a sigh, but a song. It is possible, in the world of inner act and motion, to put away, all bitterness, all wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, daily and hourly. It is possible, by unreserved resort to divine power, under divine conditions, to become strongest, through and through, at our weakest point; to find the thing which yesterday upset all our obligations to patience, or to purity, or to humility, an occasion today, through Him who loveth us, and worketh in us, for a joyful consent to His will, and a delightful sense of His presence and sin-annulling power. These are things divinely possible.” Handley C. G. Moule

I’m not there yet, but I’m trying. What about you?

For more on this topic see these posts:

Surrender to Be Strong?

A Thorn in the Flesh

Grow Through Surrender and Trust

Immediately!

As part of my Lenten discipline, I’ve started a slow and prayerful reading of the book of Mark.  Lent is always a good time to reflect upon the life of Christ, and Mark is the shortest gospel.

What stands out for me in the first chapter is one word — immediately.  The Spirit “immediately” drove Jesus into the wilderness;  Jesus “immediately” called James and John;  He “immediately entered the synagogue;  He healed the leper who was made clean “immediately.”

Get the point?  There was a sense of urgency about the ministry of Jesus.  The God part of His nature probably knew that His time was limited.  He had certain things to accomplish, and He couldn’t fool around.  The tasks He had been assigned were important and He had to see that they were done “immediately.”

You and I should have this same sense of urgency, but often we don’t.  We forget that our time on earth is short — the Bible says:

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

So why aren’t we studying God’s Word — immediately?  Why don’t we witness to our friends and neighbors –immediately?  Why don’t we get started on that new ministry –immediately?  Why don’t we make time to pray –immediately? (I’m not only asking you these questions, I’m asking myself).

Instead, we fool ourselves into thinking we are too busy with the daily routines of life to make time for the work God calls us to do.  We will get to that tomorrow, next week, or next year, when “things” have calmed down.  The problem is, they rarely do, and we allow the expedient to take priority over what’s truly important.

If we honestly want to follow the example of Jesus, we won’t put off the things of God. Do them immediately. There is no better time than today.

“” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”2 Corinthians 6:2

A Thorn in the Flesh

Do you have a thorn in the flesh?  I alluded to mine in a previous post — I have trouble sleeping.  When I don’t sleep well, I’m irritable, cranky, and find it hard to focus.  I often don’t accomplish all the tasks I had planned for the day.  My daily practices of exercise, devotional reading and journaling become chores.

The apostle, Paul, had a problem like this, too.  He describes it in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

We’re not sure what Paul’s illness or disability was, although some have suggested he had poor eyesight (he was described as squinting).  Whatever, it was, it bothered him, and he reports that he prayed a number of times for God to remove it, without avail.

I, too have prayed and tried every suggested remedy I can. I’ve read the books and followed the dos and don’ts.  I’ve tried herbal remedies and OTC sleep aids;  deep breathing and relaxation techniques.  Nothing works consistently.  My doctor’s conclusion is —  it’s simply age-related and something I’ll have to learn to live with.

According to Paul there are a couple of reasons God may allow us to suffer from such small annoyances.  The first was already mentioned in the verse above:

  • To keep us from becoming conceited

We are all too prone to take credit for our good works, becoming puffed up and vain.  The second reason is related and expressed in the verse that follows:

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

In other words, we need to learn to depend upon God.  Whatever we accomplish is only possible through abiding in Christ.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Any strength that we have comes from Him.  When we find ourselves in a position of weakness, we realize that.

So, give thanks for everything during this month of Thanksgiving, even your aches and pains and weaknesses.  God is at work, and you can lean on Him.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9b-10

 

 

 

Clothed in Christ

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Romans 13:13-14

I just finished watching a series called Manor House.  In this program, a group of people agreed to go back in time and live as the servants and well-to-do English family in the Edwardian era would have.  They would wear the clothes, eat the food and observe the same social rituals as people of that time and place did.  Needless to say, despite their best efforts, it didn’t always work out.  Those filling the servant role were quickly upset by 16 hour workdays and no scheduled time off.  The father of the family grew tired of the rich diet and requested some healthier meals.  The tutor felt isolated a in role that left him in limbo — too high to associate with the servants and too low to be completely included in the family circle.

What I am trying to say with all this is:  clothing ourselves with Christ will not mean we no longer struggle with sin.  In fact, it will make us struggle harder, because we will become aware of how far we are from being Christlike.  Like the volunteers on Manor House we’re people of our time, and the particular prejudices of our society are deeply ingrained.  We’re individuals with certain personalities and life experiences that make us prone to particular sins.

The people in Manor House put on a new set of clothes for three months.  They learned and grew as they tried to see life from a different perspective.  Some things came easily for them, other things didn’t. In the end, however, they all went back to their old lives.  The experience may have been revealing or educational —  they may have enjoyed certain aspects–  but it really didn’t change them much.

Putting on Christ is different because it’s permanent.  Oh, we won’t immediately transform into perfect Christians — but we’ll see things in a new way, God’s way.  We’ll find ourselves part of a new kingdom, with different values.  We’ll gradually change (this is the process of sanctification) and we won’t ever go back to that old life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  2 Corinthians 5:17

A Different View of Life’s End

“We who follow Jesus Christ face our suffering and dying differently than others do.  We look to the Cross of Jesus Christ for hope and guidance and ultimately to the Risen Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15).  We, who belong to Christ through Baptism, do not measure a person’s worth by the ‘quality’ of life as limited by illness, disability, or aging.  We were of worth when helpless infants as in our Baptism God made us His (Romans 6:4), and we are still of worth in God’s care when we are helpless as a patient at the end of life (Romans 14:7-8).  We care about the dying, disabled, or elderly and attempt to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  We bear witness to a better way, the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ in which God comes to care for us first by His suffering and dying (Hebrews 2:10) and then in our suffering and dying (Romans 8:28).”

Confession of Faith written for Lutherans For Life by Dr. Richard Eyer of Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin.  Learn more about Lutherans for Life by following this link:

https://www.lutheransforlife.org/