When You Sin Seven Times in a Day

Hotel Summer Pool Infinity Luxury Sea Sky WaterI came across an article of John Piper’s recently in which he listed five besetting sins with which he struggles.

I chuckled bitterly. If only my list were that short.

Not that Piper claimed only five besetting sins, but I don’t even know how he could tier them. Mine certainly don’t lend themselves to such stratification.

They cling. They bite at my heels. They relentlessly pursue, like a dog who will not yield the chase, or the zombie who knows nothing but the taste of living blood.

I am not rolling over, mind you. One could say that I am winning more skirmishes than I used to. But something in my heart refuses such encouragement. Total eradication is the goal. If I content myself with less, I will accomplish less.

And there are days in which I do indeed accomplish much less. Days that seem dominated, marked, headlined by sin.

Then, this evening during repentant prayer, I read these words of Jesus to his disciples:

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God Finalizes His Adoptions

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Children Silhouette Family Sunset

Last night in youth group, we discussed God’s adoption of his people – how adoption serves as a beautiful metaphor for how God, in his kindness and magnanimity, chose to save men who, because of sin, were not his own. He initiated the pursuit; he made the first move. There was nothing a believer could do to seek God first; he reached out with his offer of salvation, and we responded. Amazing.

But it occurred to me last night that God doesn’t just initiate; he finishes. He closes.

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Encouragement After Falling Into Sin

Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin. (Proverbs 24:16)

For the Christian who longs to please God (and thus demonstrates that God has indwelt their conscience), it is discouraging and heartbreaking to fall into sin.

Satan throws gasoline onto the flame of our frustration, saying that not only have we disappointed our God, but we will never do any better. He tempts us, gets us to cooperate with his agenda by committing sin, then turns around and shames us for it. A vicious one-two punch. Indeed, the Hebrew word “Satan” carries the meaning “accuser”.

Fortunately, we belong to God, not him.

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The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 1

road (2)(Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

Recently, I’ve become aware of past controversial comments made by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Christian singleness.

In previous years, Dr. Mohler has directed heavy criticism at kingdom singles. He has labeled as sinful the practice of delaying marriage by those who lack the “gift of celibacy”.

Singleness is not a sin, but deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility. The problem may be simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up and take the lead in courtship. There are countless Christian women who are prayerfully waiting for Christian men to grow up and take the lead. What are these guys waiting for? (Link)

Hailing from a Baptist paradigm that appreciates marriage’s Biblical shine (and having actually read the qualifiers in Mohler’s comments), I get what he was aiming for.

Nevertheless, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), he’s left a lot out. Mohler’s comments are only a sliver of the much bigger message that Christian singles really need to be hearing. And that message is difficult, because not every single is created equal. God in his sovereignty is painting with a great many shades.

We singles are…complicated. A diverse bunch. Far more than is commonly recognized. We land somewhere on a spectrum best described so: I want someone, yet at the same time, I’m not sure I do. But I totally do! Yet…am I sure?

Some are tired of being judged entirely by, and being asked only about, their marital status. They feel unseen for themselves. That matters to millennials.

Others feel they lack the tools or a conducive personality (e.g. introverts) to move towards marriage.

And still others have tried to find a mate, spent countless nights bedside in tears praying for someone, and…nothing. They’ve put real effort into finding someone – and been resisted so serendipitously and relentlessly that they can only conclude God is the one keeping them single. Relationships buckle. Peace evaporates. Parties are called to move away. Or…nobody notices.

One friend, a passionate youth pastor who has served God far harder than some marrieds, lives in a formidably atheist country where kingdom singles are slightly more plentiful than unicorns (to say nothing of quality). Others live in rural areas, where they start wondering whether God has left them to the rules of probability.

This is the reality for singles at the street level. Needless to say, it might be a disservice to fall short of honoring these stories. Lack of pursuit is hardly the sole generator of singleness.

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Head Beliefs vs. Heart Beliefs

brainheartThere are some life skills I’ve picked up that have pretty much made the adult me.

The ability to apologize. You wouldn’t believe how far that takes you with people.

The ability to laugh at oneself. Which, naturally, makes me a one-man comedy.

The ability to say no to purchases I don’t need. No TV/Netflix, used cars…it adds up over the years.

But probably the most valuable life skill is the ability to articulate the hidden lies I’m believing.

I submit that we have two kinds of beliefs: head beliefs and heart beliefs. Head beliefs are the ones we’re aware of, the ones we’ve explicitly processed and given mental consent to, like the existence of gravity, or the depth of God’s love. It’s easier to articulate those beliefs, though we don’t necessarily act according to them.

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Did You Become a Better Person in 2017?

climbNo, I’m not dead.

*big sigh of relief (or disappointment)*

I just stepped away from the blog for a few weeks over the holiday, and honestly, it was nice to escape the pressure. I’m back now, and looking forward to your readership in 2018.

It’s funny…when people ask me how my 2017 went, I’ve found that my usual reaction is to fall back on the typical “oh man it was horrible, toss that one in the bin and bring in 2018!” that we all cynically throw around for a laugh. Or some version of that.

But then I stopped and realized…my 2017 was actually rather terrific.

…is it okay to say that?

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Renouncing the “Manipulative Mother” God

reachHave you ever been convinced that God is deliberately withholding something from you so that you’ll become more satisfied in him?

We want something. Said something delays and proves elusive. We consider the idea that God is behind the delays and start exploring the reasons why he might say no (a long research, as many of us know).

We discover a number of possibilities, each with a basis in Scripture. We learn that we might simply need to persist in prayer. Elijah did – and on something that he not only already knew was God’s will (making it rain) but held the sole responsibility in Israel for making happen, by God’s own decree.

We consider the possibility that our requests might not be as beneficial for us as we think (or that their timing might not be).

We learn that Satan has a role in our lives, and that God provides tools for resisting his ravages.

We examine our own hearts and lives to make sure our own sin is not setting us back.

But stick to your search for long enough and one theory will start cropping up and standing out more than any other: the idea that God is saying no purely to make you more satisfied in him.

If you’re reading the right pastors and authors, this one will find its way into your vocabulary. “Satisfied in him” is probably John Piper’s favorite three words. It was John Eldredge who introduced me to the idea: that God will allow difficulty or delay into our lives and prayers every once in a while, in order to purge us of our distractions and fruitless pursuits.

At first, it’s interesting from an academic point of view. You nod and acknowledge the fact that God alone is worthy of our praise, worthy of our highest value, worthy (and capable) of being the one vessel of satisfaction from which our hearts can draw.

But as time goes on, the idea gets…irritating.

You might already be irritated just having read it in my post.

At some point down the road, in a moment of deep frustration or heartbreak, you get honest: “God, why do you have to be this way?” It strikes us that God appears to be acting like that manipulative mother you see in bad teen movies, the type who sabotages her daughter’s relationships so that she’ll stay at home. “Why are you jealous of my happiness?” we bitterly pray. Perhaps the thought only flashes through our mind instead, and we guiltily stuff it down, but it still happened. It’s a vulnerable moment, as God seems distant and indifferent to our groaning prayers.

But God is not acting out of fear, loneliness, or pettiness, as the manipulative mother might. Such motives are impossible for him.

Instead, he is acting out of his delight for us.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. – Hebrews 12:6-8

If unanswered prayers are a form of suffering (and they certainly can be, depending on the prayer), then they are also a form of discipline – and a sign of God’s ownership and acceptance of us. I’d rather that than getting everything I want but wondering whether I was really his.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

That statement is quite alien to our daily thinking. We think we can get it. We really do. Just answer this prayer, give us this thing, and we’ll be good. Many of us don’t know that we can experience peace from God, much less that it’s more real than anything else.

God is not playing spoilsport, holding good things spitefully out of reach until we give him some attention. He is sweeping ugly spikes and pits out of the way until we can receive his greatest gift: himself. The idea that he is the greatest gift requires a total rearrangement of our worldly thinking. But it is a journey worth taking.