What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

Romans 8:28 – But Wait -There’s More!

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve turned to the Bible for encouragement and hope and help and wisdom. The Word of God is the only thing that can soothe my sometimes weary, broken heart. One verse I and many others turn to often is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When everything is falling apart around you, that’s a good, solid rock on which to stand.  God works in all things. Good things and bad things. Happy things and painful things. Exciting things and mundane things. There’s great comfort in that. But is that all this verse offers? No my friends, in the words of Billy Mays Hayes, “But wait! There’s more!”

I’m going to skip over the part about “those who love Him” – we’ll pick back up on that in a couple of days. I want us to zero in on the end of this verse: “who have been called according to His purpose.” For me, this is the most hopeful part of this verse because it tells me that my life and all its struggles are not a haphazard crazy quilt of circumstances. There is purpose in everything God does and allows, things that work toward the purpose for which He created and called me. Now there are many things I am called to: wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, student, Bible teacher, writer – and all of these are important. But they are not God’s purpose for me. That’s in the next verse.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . .” (v. 29). God’s purpose for me – and for you – is to be like Jesus. It’s His purpose for all of His children. There are things we are called to do, but God is most concerned with what we are called to be. The power God exerts in my life is not about making me a good teacher or grandmother or any of the other roles in my life. It’s about making me His daughter. Who looks like His Son. Who looks like His Father. That what “all things” are working toward in my life. And yours too, Beloved.

When it seems like the sky is falling, know that God is perfecting you into the image of His Son. On purpose

What’s Your Favorite Verse?

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Quick! What’s your favorite Bible verse?  John 3:16? Philippians 4:13? The 23rd Psalm? Jeremiah 29:11? Psalm 37:4? Romans 8:28? I love all of those. Why is it your favorite? What does it mean? Do you understand what is God saying? Have you studied it deeply? Have you considered the surrounding context? What is the verse’s setting? Why did God/Jesus speak as He did? My favorite verse is . . . well, I just can’t narrow it down to one.

Many people claim Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That is a great verse.  It is a staple at graduations, and rightly so. It shows that God has good plans for His people that they will prosper and always have hope for the future.  But do you know the context? Jeremiah was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. After many, many years of idolatry and rebellion, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to invade Jerusalem and take many people to Babylon to serve him and the nation. The Lord sent word through Jeremiah to the exiles and Jeremiah put it all down in a letter. This verse is one part of the whole letter which contained instruction, caution, and hope. In this letter, God took responsibility for their exile but reminded them that He was acting against their disobedience. In fact, half of the letter is rebuke and warning. But in chastisement, God offers this wonderful word of hope. To the weary, heartbroken exiles, God said, “I will bring you back . . .” (v. 14).

One of my favorite verses is part of this letter – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” (vv 14-15a) You and I are going to have seasons of pain and suffering and yes, discipline for our actions. Jeremiah 29:11 is God’s promise not to abandon us in our disobedience. It is His assurance of hope for a good future when we turn away from sin and seek Him with our whole hearts. And not just at graduation.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Proofreading Your Life

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My late brother, who was a published author, recommended Grammarly to me and it has been invaluable for helping me in my writing both for school and for ministry. It alerts me to misspelled words, incorrect syntax, better word options, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and – my most frequent error, too, many, commas. When I open it with my Word document, it sits on the right-hand side of my screen and constantly checks my work. When I make an error, it comes to life with colored lines and warnings about what I’ve done wrong. So far it has caught 13 mistakes in this devotional (*I’m updating this number as I’m writing). Yet for all its benefit and wise advice, it has one flaw – it won’t make the corrections for me. It finds my problems and makes suggestions but leaves the choice to make the changes up to me.

I think you know where I’m going with this. God has given us a powerful tool for our lives: His Word. The Bible can point to the problems in our lives and give us wise counsel for fixing the problem, but it is up to you and me to make the change. Two things can cause Grammarly not to do its job. I can neglect to turn it on and never see the issues in my document, or I can ignore it – which I do when I like the word I’ve chosen and don’t want to change it. Likewise, if we never bother to read God’s Word, we will never recognize what is wrong in our lives. Or, we just ignore what God said because – let’s be honest – we like the sinful choice we’ve made and we have no desire to change.

James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). He compared the person who hears, then disregards the Word to someone who looks at his reflection in a mirror and then forgets what he saw when he walks away. All through his letter, James emphasized the hearing and the doing of the Word. Reading the Bible is really useless if you and I aren’t going to obey it. (Note: Grammarly suggested I take out the “really,” but I am ignoring that suggestion because I want the emphasis.)

Beloved, the Bible is the living Word of the living God and it has great power to transform your life – if you will read it and heed it. It’s a good thing to be a good writer, but it’s eternally better to be an obedient doer of the Word of God.

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.

What’s your favorite verse? Do you know what it means?

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There are many Bible verses that we’ve come to know and love. We mark them in our Bible and post them on our desk or fridge. That’s a good thing. They are also big business for the Christian marketing industry with Scriptures sold as wall art, purses, teapots, decorative pillows, and doormats.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for surrounding ourselves with God’s Word. But do we really know these verses?  What good are they if we just leave them on the wall?

One that I see often is Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.”   Psalm 19 is a song of praise. David says the heavens “declare the glory of God” (v. 1) – this is “general revelation.” It’s what Paul was referring to when he said “what may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen . . . so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). David then moves to “special revelation” – God’s Word – which is “perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, enduring, sure, righteous, precious, and sweet” (19:7-11). Now that we know more about God, verses 9-14 are our response to this amazing revelation – turning from sin and living to please the Lord.

When David says, “May the words of my mouth . . .” he is speaking of the evidence of his faith. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Your words reveal the state of your heart – the place where your faith lives. Ugly, bitter, vile, profane words reveal an ugly, bitter, vile, profane heart. Kind, gracious, loving, gentle words reveal a Christlike heart. “The meditation of my heart” is my private thoughts – it’s what I choose to think about. I don’t know about you but this verse has become very convicting now.

When we know God, our response should be to please Him, on the inside and the outside. Here’s my challenge to you today, Beloved: Take your favorite verse and dig a little deeper. Read around it, chew on it, take it apart and examine the pieces, then put it back together. It will mean more to you than ever before.

The Power of Deeper Roots

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“Look, mom, I watered your flowers!” My then seven-year-old son came bursting into the kitchen, tracking mud all across the freshly cleaned floor. He grabbed me by the hand and dragged me outside to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?”  I smiled down at his eager face and gave him a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet boy!” I said noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the ground was barely damp. His idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When he proudly ran off to the back yard to play, I turned on the soaker hose that ran along the ground and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I had just started “getting serious” about reading God’s Word every day. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16. I started to close my Bible and get on with my day when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my son’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. Looking further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick glance.

There’s no prize for reading the Bible through in a year.  But there is great reward in reading the Bible thoroughly. And you don’t have to read a lot each day; in fact, you will grow more with smaller, deeper bites. Knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. The kind that can stand strong in the fiercest storm. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

Hiding God’s Word

 

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Quick! What Scriptures have you memorized? Fire ‘em off!
If you’re like most good church folks you can quote John 3:16 at least. And if you’re like me, you may have a fair amount of Scriptures sorta memorized. I don’t always know them word-for-word and often don’t know their address, but I’ve gathered some favorites and stored them up in my heart. I have verses to remind me of God’s love and patience and kindness and grace. I have verses to challenge me and encourage me. There are a few verses in there to remind me who I am and Whose I am. I have verses that etched themselves on my heart in difficult times.
But the Bible gives us the most important reason for memorizing Scripture: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It’s great to know lots of Scriptures for lots of different reasons, but if you’re not using it to resist the devil and keep you from sin, you’re fighting a battle you probably won’t win. The Word of God is the power of God to stand firm against the enemy and to turn away from sin. You need to put Scripture on the walls of your heart like a teenage girl pastes posters of her idols. (Donny Osmond, anybody?)
Here’s a few that I have papering my heart:
“I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23)
“I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (Psalm 17:3)
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13).
This whole section from Ephesians 4:
“Put off falsehood and speak truthfully” (25).
“In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (26).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth (29). (Are you detecting a theme in my life?)

Paul and the writer of Hebrews called the Word of God a “sword:” “Take up . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” (Hebrews 4:12). If all you have stored up in your heart is John 3:16 – which is a great verse – you’ve got a mighty short sword.
Beloved, I encourage you – no, I implore you – get into God’s Word and let God’s Word get into you. Learn to fight temptation and sin with all the power of God in your hands and in your heart.

Bible Study 101

“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Twenty-some years ago God stirred in me a passion for in-depth Bible study. It started with a Ladies Bible study group. That whetted my appetite for more. And the more I chewed on Scripture the more I wanted. I went to seminary. I’m currently a seminary grad student. Bible study is life-long work, and God has made it the mission of my life. Studying the Bible changed EVERYTHING. Suddenly I had a whole new perspective on my life, my circumstances, my purpose, my struggles, the church, relationships, the world, and human history – I saw it all through an eternal lens. The Word became – and still is – the filter through which everything passed. The Bible is light and life to me and nourishment to my soul.

I’ve been asked often about my “Bible study methods,” and I developed a course called “Bible Study 101,” to encourage believers to dig into God’s Word. Here are just a few points: NEVER take a verse out of its context. Always read the surrounding verses. If you do nothing else but this, you will avoid the majority of errors people make in understanding the Bible. Also, chase down the cross-references. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Don’t just rush through in a five-minute devotional time. Meditate on it. Marinate in it. (I don’t recommend trying to read through the Bible in a year until you’ve had more experience with it. I like a three-year pace.) Pray for insight and listen to the Holy Spirit. He wrote it – He can tell you what it’s all about. I like to write out the Scripture passage and do word studies. Granted, this is all much more time consuming, but it helps the Scripture take deeper root in your heart.

Beloved, the Word of God can change your life. It can change your heart and mind. It can change your perspective. It is Light. It is Life. It is what your soul hungers for. Spend some time in the Bible and it will be “the Joy of your heart” (Psalm 119:111).