What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

Turning Over Tables

One of the stories in the gospels that intrigues me is when Jesus got so ticked off He started turning over tables like a mad man.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:13-16)

I guess I’m drawn to this part of Jesus because I can identify with feeling angry. I get angry every day. Anger is a commonplace human emotion, and to read that Jesus experienced this emotion, too, makes me feel like He gets me. He understands. He wasn’t always cool, calm, and collected.

What’s peculiar to Jesus, though, is that while He was angry, He didn’t sin. He couldn’t sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even when He looked totally out of control, He wasn’t sinning.

Of course, that’s not usually the case with us. When we get angry, we often sin. Sometimes our anger prompts us to use speech that tears down others (Ephesians 4:29), to retaliate against the person who hurt us (Matthew 5:38-42), or to harbor bitterness and resentment (read: unforgiveness) (Ephesians 4:31).

As Jesus illustrates, it’s not the anger that is sin. As we demonstrate, it’s the feelings and behaviors that flow out of anger that can be sinful (Ephesians 4:26).

Truth be told, I struggle with knowing how my outbursts are any different/worse than Jesus’ tantrum in the temple courts. And on the outside, they may look very similar. But inside – in my heart – things might not be so similar.

Everything Jesus did was motivated by love for His Father and love for people. Everything. Even scattering animals and flipping over merchant tables (John 14:31, 15:9).

Jesus wasn’t angry because He wasn’t getting attention or because things weren’t going His way or because somebody hurt His feelings. Jesus’ anger wasn’t fueled by self-focus at all.

Jesus was angry because God the Father was being disrespected. Jesus loved the Father too much to idly sit by and allow others to disrespect Him.

At the same time, Jesus was angry that the money changers weren’t making God-honoring decisions for themselves. Jesus loved every person in the temple courts. He loved them too much to idly sit by and allow them to disrespect God because He knew that wasn’t in their best interest; Jesus wanted better for those money changers.

When we find ourselves turning over tables, or at least wanting to, we need to ask ourselves why? Why are we angry? Are we angry for self-centered reasons or for God and others-centered reasons? Is love the motivation of our violent display of emotions?  If not, we should probably hold off on pulling a Jesus-in-the-temple-courts.

What to do When People Hurt You

Sometimes people hurt us.

Insightful, no?

Accidents happen. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. People get overlooked. And, every once in awhile, people may purposefully take a stab at our hearts out of anger or bitterness.

Most of the time this kind of thing happens in isolated incidents. Especially the hurting that is inadvertent. We swallow it, and move on. Or we talk about it, resolve it, and move on.

But what do we do with the relationships in which we know the other person is going to hurt us before they actually do so? Sometimes people aren’t safe or mature or good at loving other people, and, if we had to guess, they are going to hurt us sooner than later.

There are a lot of clues we may be dealing with this sort of person…

Maybe they have a track record of hurting us, and we’ve just come to expect that from them. Maybe we’ve observed them hurting others before, and we figure it’s only a matter of time before they hurt us too.

Or maybe the person isn’t intrinsically hurtful, it’s just that we’ve been around the block enough times to realize that loving others is risky. The more emotionally vulnerable we are with someone, the more deeply they can hurt us.

So what do we do?

The natural tendency is to allow very few people into the depths of our hearts. Keep them on the surface so if they do something insensitive or flat out stupid, it won’t hurt very badly. And if the handful of people we let in ever do hurt us, we quickly learn to construct a wall to keep them out for good so they can’t ever hurt us again.

In other words, we protect ourselves.

Except the only problem is that’s not how Jesus did relationships. 

Jesus had a friend named Peter who swore his faithfulness to Jesus up and down (Luke 22:33). As good as Pete’s intentions were, Jesus knew better, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,” (Luke 22:34).

Jesus knew Peter was going to hurt Him. They had been great friends, doing life together daily for the better part of three years. I can imagine the pain in Jesus’ heart – the heaviness – at the thought that Peter was going to deny even knowing Him. How hurtful…

Sure enough, after Jesus was arrested, Peter was questioned about his relationship to Jesus, and Peter denied knowing Him (Luke 22:56-60). “Just as [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter,” (Luke 22:60-61).

I don’t think Jesus was shooting Peter an “I told you so” look. That’s not in our Lord’s character. Rather, I can imagine the look was mainly one of great sorrow and hurt. Jesus had known it was coming, but it didn’t hurt any less.

All that to say, when Jesus was in a relationship with someone He knew was going to hurt Him, He didn’t back away. He didn’t build a wall. He didn’t self-protect.

He let the hurt happen. 

And then He continued to love Peter well and do what was in Peter’s best interest by serving him and sacrificing for him – even unto death.

It was not fun. It was not easy. Peter hurt Jesus deeply. But Jesus chose to respond in love.

And we are called to do no less.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Ephesians 5:1-2). 

Us Versus Them

In any kind of conflict, we humans instinctively feel defensive. Whether it’s a tiff with a spouse, a disagreement with a friend, or an argument with a boss, we immediately adopt an “us versus them” mentality. It’s just how we’re wired.

Which would be fine if that were how God is wired too. But it’s not.

In that passage we all hate, Jesus said we’re to forgive other believers who hurt us 70 times 7 times, by which He was implying as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). Why? Because Jesus has forgiven us a million times over – there is nothing He hasn’t forgiven us for – and He wants us to offer the same grace to others (Colossians 3:13).

And He doesn’t want us to just forgive them and part ways. He wants us to forgive them and continue in relationship with them (so far as it depends on us – Romans 12:18). (The obvious exception – when abuse is involved.) I know this because that’s what He does with us. And the longer we spend on this earth, the more like Him we should become (Romans 8:29).

He also tells us Christians to love one another as He has loved us… which begs the question – how has He loved us (John 13:34)? Unconditionally. He literally died for us, and He calls us to figuratively give up our lives for one another. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pens a whopper of a passage. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Completely humble?

Every effort?

But what if I’m tired of trying? What if the other party doesn’t care? Worse, what if the other party continues to hurt me or show no regard for my feelings?

How long do I have to bear with them? Surely there is a statute of limitations… As much as my humanity would love to say there is, I don’t see one in scripture… Jesus’ “bearing with me” and all my crap doesn’t have a time limit. And neither should our bearing with one another.

But wouldn’t it be more “peaceful” for two people in seemingly irresolvable conflict to part ways? Let’s call that what it really is – to divide. Shouldn’t two believers who can’t work things out split up in order to “keep the peace”? After all, “keeping the peace” is biblical… (Romans 12:18)

As much I as I wish it did, that just doesn’t seem congruent with “keeping the unity”… Logically, how can that which is divided also be unified, simultaneously? By definition, it can’t.

Might I propose that between two believers, there ought not be such a thing as “irreconcilable differences”? By the power of the Spirit, at least one of the parties ought to be able to extend grace, humility, love, and mercy… as many times as it takes… and since we can only be responsible for our own actions in any given conflict, our choosing to be the party that makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is all that’s in our control. We can choose to obey scripture, despite our feelings, and despite the other person’s choices.

But if the other person doesn’t seem to care at all about “keeping the unity”, that can make for a pretty crummy situation.

So what then? Are we to just remain in a bunch of miserable relationships – us versus the ridiculous them?

I don’t think so.

After his tall order of how we ought to behave, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all,” Ephesians 4:4-6.

You see, there is no “us” or “them”. At least there shouldn’t be. Not in the body of believers. We are one.

The people we disagree with – we’re one with them.

The people who hurt our feelings – we’re one with them too.

The believers who outright hurt us time and time again – one.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. The Church depends on it. The Gospel depends on it. We have to forsake the “us versus them” mentality that we reflexively assume when someone crosses us.

We believers are one, whether we feel like it or not. We should be rooting for one another to succeed, spurring each other on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lord, by Your power, may everything we do and say contribute to the unity of Your Body, the Church. We are one. May we act like it.

 

 

How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others – all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

How to Forgive Anyone for Anything

(Yikes. Hope this article can really live up to that title…)

(It’s ok, it’s not the words in this post that inspired that title. Scripture inspired that title. So I can go that big with that claim.)

(I probably shouldn’t start a post with a dialogue between me and myself.)

(It’s ok, my readers have come to expect some crazy.)

Now that I have my attention…

As a parent of more than one child, I spend a lot of my time settling sibling disputes. I try to teach the offending child to recognize her wrongdoing, apologize for it, and ask for forgiveness. I try to teach the offended sister to accept the apology by verbally extending forgiveness.

Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And it goes over about as well as it sounds like it would. Through gritted teeth, they obey me because they have to, not because their hearts feel much empathy.

As an adult in her 4th decade, I don’t do much better handling my own conflicts. A lot of people struggle with forgiving those who have hurt them. We genuinely want to forgive, but we don’t know how to get there. We don’t want to say we forgive and try to force our hearts to feel forgiving because we all know that doesn’t work. We can’t will ourselves to a place of forgiveness.

Yet, we’re commanded to forgive all over the place in the Bible. One example is Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

A lot of times we really want to do this… and we feel guilty when we don’t do this. And we feel angry that we seemingly can’t do this. (I can’t help but think this is all part of Satan’s plan (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).)

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, what do we do?

I got to thinking, what if we’re focusing on the wrong thing? What if mustering up forgiveness isn’t really the place we should start if we want to succeed at forgiving someone?

I know it’s a strange thought, but we’ve already proven time and time again that psyching ourselves up to give our best shot at forgiving rarely (never?) works.

So what if we try something different?

If we read the verses surrounding Colossians 3:13 (namely, verse 12), we get some clues as to how we can improve our chances of forgiving as the Lord forgave us.

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

This verse – immediately preceding the verse commanding us to forgive all people for all things – says (at least) two important things we need to know and do before we will be ready to forgive well.

1. Recognize Whose we are. Every believer is purposefully hand-picked by God, set apart for Him, and cherished by Him. Maybe instead of jumping prematurely to trying to will ourselves to forgive, we ought to meditate on these three truths about ourselves. When we internalize the implications of our identity in Christ, two things happen: the offense committed against us doesn’t seem quite so important, and our hearts, overcome with humility, start to soften toward the offender, who is really just like us – a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgiveness isn’t going to happen inside the cold, hard hearts of people whose self-worth is wrapped up in what others think of them. So let’s start here and get our heads right.

2. Get dressed. Before we can forgive, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This is a lot easier to do after we’ve spent some time reflecting on Whose we are. These characteristics seem to start flowing out of us when we are secure and in tune with our Father’s love for us. But trying to forgive without these things going on in our hearts is, as we’ve all experienced, impossible.

After we’ve “completed” verse 12, verse 13 actually becomes attainable! Feeling enveloped in His love, walking in love toward others, we are enabled to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:13).

If I can be so bold, we can forgive anybody anything (which is how the Lord forgave us) when we follow these two verses IN ORDER. 

Dare to try it with me?

Why I Think Judas is in Heaven

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians mark the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion. To focus my heart on the event, I cracked open Matthew 27 to read about the details. I got 5 verses in and stopped to ponder Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders who wanted Him dead.

I think a lot of Christians assume Judas is in hell. After all, he betrayed God. That’s kind of a big deal sin. He also committed suicide, which some brands of Christians wrongly consider an unforgivable sin. For these reasons, I think if you polled your church, the majority would say there is no way Judas is in Heaven.

But I think they’re wrong.

When he realized the Jewish leaders weren’t just going to give Jesus a talking to, Judas freaked out.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. -Matthew 27:3-5

Judas screwed up. He let greed get the better of him. He chose to turn on his friend for money. Several sources on the Google tell me 30 pieces of silver in New Testament times was the equivalent of about 4 months’ wages, so a few thousand dollars, depending on the profession to which they are referring. It would have been a nice chunk of change, but nothing too life-altering. But money wooed, and Judas’ true allegiance won out.

To be fair, Judas didn’t seem to realize he was turning his friend over to be executed. He probably was thinking Jesus was going to get some church discipline for bucking the established rules, like healing on the Sabbath and speaking out against traditional Pharisaical thinking. Judas may have envisioned Jesus being put in religious time out, but being put to death was not on Judas’ radar. A few thousand dollars in exchange for Jesus’ chastisement seemed worth it. Judas may have even rationalized that the disciples were poor and could use that money to minister to even more people once Jesus got ungrounded.

But once the reality of the situation set in, Judas was filled with remorse. He called his sin what it was – sin. He confessed his belief in Jesus as Messiah by calling Jesus innocent of the charges – namely, that He was falsely claiming to be the Messiah.

In my estimation, Judas repented and acknowledged Jesus as God. And scripture tells us that’s all we have to do to be saved.

I cannot wait to get to Heaven and see Judas and Jesus laughing together. That picture of grace overwhelms my soul.

How great is our God that He would forgive even the likes of Judas!

(Shortly after I published this post, I changed my mind. See the comments below to understand why.)