What is Sin?

I’ve heard sin described in different ways.  Obviously, whenever we disobey one of God’s laws, we sin. Sin has been called “missing the mark.”  The literal meaning of the Latin word for sin is “curved in on itself.” So sin is being self-centered, considering only our own wants and needs.  In a recent sermon, my husband described sin as our “condition.”  That’s a bit different, but I liked it.  Because of the original sin that we’re born with, sin is simply our condition, no different from any other physical disease or abnormality we deal with.

For example, I have slightly high blood sugar.  That is my “condition.”  Last year I took a Prevent Diabetes class, hoping to control it.  For an entire year I learned about what I could do.  I lost weight, added exercise to my daily routine and began to eat healthier foods.  I was convinced that my hard work would have the results I wanted — lower blood sugar!  Unfortunately my recent tests revealed that my blood sugar levels remained the same.  My efforts did have some effects — it is certainly better for me to weigh less, exercise and eat a healthier diet–but they couldn’t change my underlying condition.  It is evidently hereditary and I can only hope to hold it in check.  I’ll never get rid of it.

The same is true of sin.  It’s part of our DNA.  Sinners are simply what we are.  We can study the Bible, pray and attend worship services.  We can do good deeds and serve others.  All of these things will make us healthier spiritually, and maybe even physically…. but, will they change our condition?  No.  We’ll still be sinners, no matter how hard we try.  We just can’t be saved on our own, and we can’t look down on other sinners, because we’re all in the same fix.

So, what is the solution?  Well, admit our sin and our helplessness to change it.  Give thanks that we have a Savior and so we don’t have to take care of the “sin condition” on our own.  Then in thanks and gratitude, do those healthy, spiritual things that will lessen the effects of our sinful natures;  things that will help us and help others.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  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. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:21-15

For further discussion on sin, you can go to these posts:

Freedom from Tyranny + Freedom from Sin

Saints and Sinners

Saint and Sinner? Really?

The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs–Book Review

This book review was written for our Fanning the Flame team by one of our members, Barbara G.  I have edited it a bit to make it shorter for the blog.

The author of this book truly loves the Lord and is trying to convey to the reader what we, as people who love Jesus, should do with our lives.

This book is divided into sections.  The first stresses the mission of the world.  That mission is Christ’s Great Commission that he gave to his disciples before his ascension.  The Great Commission is for the whole church of Christ and not just the apostles.  Jesus said there were four horizons for the apostles to spread God’s word.  The first was Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem for the church should be the town in which we live, work and raise our families.  What are you and your church doing to draw people to Jesus in your Jerusalem?  The second horizon is Judea.  This is our country.  We send our ministers to all parts of the U.S.A. to spread the word of God as Jesus commanded.  Is your church  doing their part in your Jerusalem?  The third horizon is Samaria.  These are people in our community who are different from us.  There is a lot of hostility in our country today and that is why we must preach the word of God to everyone in our community.  Is your church building bridges in your community to those who are red, yellow, black and white?  The fourth horizon is the Ends of the Earth.  Is your church sending missionaries to countries all around the world to reach those who know nothing about Jesus Christ?  Barr says the last horizon is the original, literal Jerusalem and Judea.  God is not forgetting the people of Israel.  They are God’s olive tree into which we are grafted, if we are Gentiles.

In the next section the kindness and perseverance of God are explained.  God doesn’t give up on us. Our personal history is part of God’s plan. Someday we will meet someone we can introduce to God, and then we will see clearer God’s plan for our own life.  In this section, he gave his testimony and explained the barriers we face when we decide that we want to evangelize to the world.

In the final section, he reveals how we must respect all those with whom we share God’s word, and explains how Jesus did it.  We must learn about the beliefs of other people so that we can see how and why they live the way they do.  We must use much kindness, love and understanding as we clarify God’s good news to those we try to reach.  Lastly he explains how Paul denounced the Greek’s confidence in rhetorical skills, rather than in truths.  Paul said, give God’s truth in your quest to win souls for Christ and God’s truth will be the words that convince their hearts.  Clever words are not necessary.

Becoming More Saintly

How Come It’s Taking Me So Long to Get Better? By Lane Adams—Book Review

This book was recommended by our Fanning the Flame coach, so I decided to read and review it. Although I have some theological differences with the author (mainly along the lines of people “accepting” Christ, altar calls and the like), overall this is an excellent resource on the topic of sanctification – which we might also call growing more saintly.

Lane Adams begins by explaining that we often expect too much of other Christians, even ourselves; sanctification, or maturing in the faith, is a process. Instead of showing patience, we believe that becoming Christians means that we will stop sinning; that our personal lives will match our professed ideals. We become disappointed and dismayed when this fails to happen. To illustrate, Adams uses the example of the Apostle Paul. We remember Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road and then immediately jump forward to his missionary trips, his theological letters, his imprisonment in Rome and so on. In actuality, Paul spent three years in the desert (presumably studying and meditating) and then about ten years in Tarsus (probably pastoring a church, before he grows into the hero of faith we admire. Reading carefully reveals Paul was not always successful either: remember his poignant lament:

Adams likens the Christian life to warfare – once we become a Christian, Christ has established a beachhead within us, but there are many more battles to be fought! Some of these are things we are not even aware of at the beginning of the journey.

He also touches on topics such as legalism, religious experiences, our testimonies, spiritual gifts and marriage. Most Lutherans would agree with his explanation and take on these important issues in the walk of faith.

VERDICT: I liked this book very much, and have recommended it to my husband as a resource for training Elders and other church leaders. It is not too long, or technical and will encourage serious thought and discussion as well as help in relating to other Christians who are at different points in their walk.

Living With the Saints

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Let’s face it, the saints aren’t always easy to live with.  If they were, St. Paul would not have to give us the instruction above from the book of Romans. They gossip and brag, complain and criticize (sins of the tongue are so easy to come by).  They can be stubborn, impatient, hypocritical and unreliable.  Some have personalities that just don’t jive with our own– maybe they seem blunt, controlling, demanding or unreasonable.  These things are all part of our “sinner” nature.

Funny, isn’t it, that Paul doesn’t tell us to change them  He also doesn’t tell us to give up and leave the church.  He tells us to be peaceful within ourselves. What does that mean?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Empathize with others as human beings.  You don’t always know what sort of day, or life, another person has been enduring.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Something that offends you may not have been intended in the way you understood it.
  3. Don’t respond in anger.  You’ll probably regret it later.  Take time to cool down before you speak.
  4.  If you are truly upset by something another said or did, go and talk to them privately and nonconfrontationally.  You may be surprised at the results.
  5. Remember that everyone isn’t like you (my husband tells me this all the time!).  We all have different levels of spiritual maturity, different priorities, life experiences and interests.
  6. Remember your own sins.  I know I have my full share of irritating habits, so I should be willing to forgive as I have been forgiven, by other people and by God.
  7. Finally (and I should have put this first), pray.  Don’t ask God to change the person, but pray that they would be blessed, and that you will come to love and understand them.  Then leave them (and your hurt or anger) in God’s hands.

These are some things that have helped me, but I’d like to hear from others.  What are your strategies for living with the saints?

With Sober Judgement

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

Paul puts this statement right before he talks about the differing gifts in the church, and how they are meant to be used together, to create a body, a unity.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  I believe what Paul is trying to tell us is that we should be aware of our gifts, and not be fearful about using them.  We’re not to become puffed up and proud, but rather realistic, knowing our own gifts, and appreciating the contributions of others as also necessary and valuable.

Now, we might discover our gifts through the normal course of daily life;  but then again, we might not.  Often we become caught up in the expectations and perceptions of others;  we don’t listen to God as carefully as we should.  We get caught up in what seems to be our “duty” and neglect the things that are really most important (shades of Mary and Martha!).  I can do this so easily.  There are so many good things in the church that need doing, how can I choose wisely?

One way is to know your gifts.  This has helped me tremendously, especially when I need to say no.  One author I read recently said, “Do the things that only you can do.”  At the very least, we should be giving those things priority.  I’m trying to apply this to my own life.  What are the things, at home, at church, in the community that I can do best?  What are the things that will probably go undone, if I don’t take up God’s challenge to get them accomplished?

If you haven’t taken a spiritual gifts assessment, I’m going to provide a link so you can do this.  It will help you say yes to the opportunities that are right for you.  The things God wants you to do in the body of Christ.  Think about your gifts with sober judgement.  You can start here:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/women-leadership-spiritual-gifts-growth-service

Then click on Spiritual Gifts Survey to find an assessment of your gifts.

Leaders Who Imitate Christ

In the apostle Paul’s letters to various churches, he often tells the believers to imitate him.  Our leaders should be examples to us, but why is that?  For Christians it is because leaders are to imitate Christ, who is the ultimate leader of our lives.  Here’s some more of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

In imitating Christ, Paul teaches other leaders to be unselfish, desiring always what is best for others, particularly when it comes to their faith and salvation. In honesty, I have to admit that I don’t always do this, but I should.  Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader who had their best interests at heart?  If we lead in this way, people will follow us to the one who can save them and give meaning to their lives.

Jesus Himself told his followers:

“And he sat down and called the twelve.  And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

And remember the last supper?  The scene when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  He tells them:

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”

Jesus gave us an example.  He wants us to imitate Him as a servant-leader.  If you are a leader in any way (and you probably are), be unselfish and loving.  Think the best of those you lead, and desire God’s best for them.  It’s the least you can do as an imitator of Christ.  He loves you and so do I!

 

 

Problems or Blessings #2

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

Well, I almost blew it again.  Just like Paul in the book of Romans, I know the right way to act, but more often than not, I keep choosing the same old sin.  A little while back, I blogged about how most of our “problems” are really just annoyances or inconveniences, and instead of whining and complaining, we should focus on the actual blessings we’ve received.  Today I had a test of just this sort of situation, and I came close to forgetting all my good intentions.

On Tuesday our church has a regularly scheduled Bible Study at 10:30AM.  I went over an hour early so that I could run off some copies needed for the Wednesday Prayer meeting and the next Fanning the Flame meeting.  I got there only to find a repairman working on the copier!  I got pretty cranky with my husband–after all, he could have called me to let me know what was going on, couldn’t he? I didn’t even bring a book to read (duh, what about my Bible?) and I didn’t have anything to do until class started. What a waste of my precious time.

Then it dawned on me — Joan, this gives you an hour to pray!  No interruptions, no phones, a beautiful sanctuary to sit in — what a blessing!  It calmed me down and I realized that not only did I have my Bible, I had my little Pilgrim’s Guide (a book of prayers of Bible verses from my Via de Cristo weekend) in my purse.  So I spent a peaceful hour thanking God, examining my conscience (something that I evidently sorely need to do), and reading over the chapter we’re studying (which I hadn’t found time for).  And you know what?  After class, I got the copying done, too.  Another first world problem solved!

 

 

Turn Around

“…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds …” Acts 26:20b

Did you know that the word repentance, as used in the Bible, actually means to “turn your guts (or insides) around”?  Repentance doesn’t just mean saying “sorry” or even feeling sorry.  It means going forward in a different direction — doing an about face.  Many times, maybe most of the time, we really don’t want to do this.  Sometimes we think we can’t  do this, because the sin is so deeply ingrained.  Saying sorry often means we’re sorry we got caught.  We’re sorry our bad behavior was noticed.  We want to look good instead of being good.

In the verse, the apostle Paul is explaining to King Agrippa exactly why the Jews want him to be prosecuted and put to death.  He had the audacity to demand that they change their ways!  He expected them to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and it made them furious!

True repentance is a willingness to turn away from our sin (whatever that happens to be) and start walking in a different direction, walking towards God’s way instead of our way.  It’s difficult, and sometimes we’ll stumble or even fall.  When that happens we need to get up, get going, and stay focused on the goal.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2

Are you willing to turn around?

 

Be A Love Letter

I’ve heard people call the Bible God’s love letter to us, and it is.  However, did you realize that each one of us is a love letter to the world from God?  Listen to what Paul tells the church in Corinth:

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show you are a letter from Christ delivered by us written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

See the source image

If you haven’t noticed, all the Greek words for love that we’ve been pondering this month deal with relationships with people.  When we love our families, our neighbors, our friends, our fellow church members, or complete strangers we are simply instruments, used by God, to deliver His love to the world.  That’s quite a responsibility.  God’s love may be perceived and experienced through us.  Everyone you meet won’t read the Bible, but they will read about God through your life.

What kind of letter will you be?

 

Good Stewards are Content

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.”  Philippians 4:11

Part of good stewardship is being contented.  After all, how can we share what we have, if we’re convinced it isn’t enough?  Everything about our society seems based on consumerism and having more, more, more.  Ads constantly barrage us with the latest or better new product we need to purchase.  The lifestyle of a family on the average television show would require an income of $200,000.  Styles change quickly so we feel compelled to add to or change our wardrobe.  Phones and other technology are constantly updated, so that older models become “obsolete.” We’re always sure we’ll be satisfied when we get one more raise, the next new car, the slightly bigger house, and so on.  Unfortunately as sinful humans, that little bit more doesn’t satisfy, it just whets our desire for the next thing.  We never reach the point of being content, so we’re never thankful for what God has given us, and we’re never willing to be generous with what we have.  We don’t have time to serve others, because we’re so busy chasing after the latest and greatest toy on our list.  According to the apostle Paul, this kind of discontent leads to disaster.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  1 Timothy 6:4-10

If you’re an older person, you’ve seen that money, jobs, hobbies, trips and all the fancy trappings we try to surround ourselves with don’t last.  When we’re gone, people won’t remember what we had, they’ll remembImage result for images of contentmenter what we did with what we had. Did you live a life of integrity?  Did you serve God?  Did you love others?  Those are the things that will be important.  So practice the art of contentment — it’s one of the keys to good stewardship.