Category Archives: Faith

The Sin Struggle

This week I finished listening to the audio version of the book The Man Called Cash, a biography of music legend Johnny Cash. I’ve never been a big Cash fan – country isn’t my thing and he was well before my time – but everyone knows of him and knows many of his beloved hit songs. I’ll spare you the full book review as it’s not what Food Shelf Friday is about, but I did notice something that got me thinking.

It is well established that Johnny Cash struggled with drugs throughout his life. According to this biography, amphetamines were Cash’s drug of choice. At one point in his life he was deeply involved in his habit, and it was ruling and ruining his life. But Cash got clean, and in the process he recommitted his life to Christ. For years, Cash was a drug-free outspoken Christian who was involved in numerous projects designed to share his faith and use his story of addiction and redemption to help others in a similar situation.

It felt like that was a done deal. He was clean for years. It felt like the past and the future were separated by a sturdy wall – the past was one way and it was completely broken apart from the way the future was shaping up. But then, years into his sobriety and veritable ministry, Cash slipped back into his old habits and began using amphetamines again.

I was dumbstruck. How could someone have such a complete victory and somehow end up back in the same trouble?! The author equated Cash’s struggles to what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19 – “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Oh. Me too. I just couldn’t see it because drugs are not my pitfall. To me, staying clean from drugs is a no-brainer, and it’s always been easy. But other things have not been easy for me. Take my health as an example. Over the years my activity level, eating habits, and consequently my weight have been all over the place. At one point I clawed my way down to a healthy weight through dieting with Weight Watchers and getting plenty of exercise. Yet, like Cash, a few years later I started falling back into my old ways. Eventually I was heavier than ever.

I’ll bet you have struggles like that too. It might not be drugs or your weight. Maybe it’s your spending habits, gossip, or anger. You want to do better – you know right from wrong. You may even succeed for a while, but eventually you slip back into those old habits.

I wish I could give you a magic formula to make your struggles go away. I wish I had one for myself. But struggle is part of life. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Good news-bad news, right? In this world we WILL have trouble, no maybe about it. But take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.

Proverbs 28:13 – Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

You don’t have to overcome your sin to earn God’s forgiveness. He offers it freely to us just as we are. Don’t wait. Sin is like a fungus, it grows best in the dark. Don’t let shame keep you in the dark. Pray for forgiveness and confess your struggles to someone who can support you as you fight your battles.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – 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.

James 1:12-15 – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Keep up the fight, but don’t try to do it alone. Enlist God’s help – he has already offered! And talk to someone who can help and encourage you. It is worth the fight, I promise.

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing about Bob Goff and his book, Love Does, for a while now. Some of my friends are crazy about it, and some of them have even met Bob and his wife, Maria. So a while back I bought the book and added it to my ginormous to-read pile. I finally decided to jump in and read it when Feed My Staring Children started a book club on Facebook. They asked interested parties to vote for a book from a list of suggestions. Since I had it on hand and had been meaning to read it, I voted for Love Does. Needless to say, it won the voting (because if it hadn’t, I would be talking about a different book this week!), and I’ve been picking at it for the last few weeks.

During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Bob Goff is that kind of guy. Goff doesn’t do the math, he doesn’t “count the cost,” he just jumps in and does. For a planner/organizer like me, his spontaneity and whimsy were both enviable and stress-inducing. Some of the stories, like the time his kids wrote to heads of state around the world and the family dropped everything and incurred incredible expenses to meet the many who invited them, felt so crazy I almost couldn’t believe they were real!

But as is usually true, I ended up reminded that it’s a good thing that the world is not made up entirely of people like me. Although I don’t share Goff’s whimsical nature or his “act first, figure it out later” mentality, I appreciate his message. He believes that when you love people, you act on it. And he’s not just talking about his friends and family – he’s talking about all humankind and loving like Jesus loved. And Goff’s active love for humanity has led him to do everything from hosting a spontaneous marriage proposal dinner for a stranger to freeing wrongfully imprisoned kids in Uganda.

Goff is a lawyer by trade, and while that seems like an oddly buttoned-down profession for a merry prankster, it works for their family. I’m sure it comes in handy on some of their adventures (like the aforementioned work in Uganda). It would be easy for someone in a comfortable and well-paying profession like law to sit back and feel satisfied that they are doing enough for humanity while sitting in a comfortable office. But throughout his book, Goff pushes the importance of having “skin in the game” – being personally, hands-on invested in others. He and his family live this out, and they want to take us along for the ride.

The book is light, fun, and has short chapters, yet is deceptively deep in its passion and theology. If you can get past the stress of his spontaneity, it’s really inspiring. Check out Love Does and say “why not.”

Favorite Quotes from the Book:

He (Jesus) said the people who followed Him should think of themselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers, and it would be God who decides who gets in. We’re the ones who simply ones who simply show people their seats that someone else paid for.

We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for you life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I’m saying is that most of us don’t get an audible plan for our lives. It’s way better than that. We get to be God’s plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.

The Unflipped Pancake – A Challenge from Hosea 7

Happy Friday, friends!

This week, my husband and son are off at Scout camp, and I’ve been holding down the fort. It gets kind of lonely here by myself with our needy little dog, so I set some big goals for the week to keep myself busy. I finished the caulking work on our kitchen reno, cleaned out the shed and laundry room, participated in a service opportunity (with another coming up tonight), and set out to read five books (three done and two well under way). I still miss my family, but the busyness is keeping me out of trouble.

One of the books I’m working on is a Bible study on the book of Hosea, by Jennifer Rothschild. If you’re not familiar with Hosea, he was an Israelite prophet in the Old Testament. God had him marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer (I can’t imagine why that never took off as a baby name…) so that Hosea would know first-hand how God felt about the unfaithful Israelites, who were always straying off to this idol and that false god. The Lord was faithful to forgive, but inevitably the people would wander. Gomer was the same way. And God used Hosea’s experience to preach a message of correction, repentance, and restoration.

The other night in my reading, I came across a Bible verse that I had never noticed before. Hosea 7:8 says, “Ephraim (one of the tribes of Israel) mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over.” Hold up! (insert record scratch sound effect) Did Hosea just call the Israelites, and the tribe of Ephraim in particular, an unflipped pancake!?! I kid you not, I sat and stared at that verse for a few minutes, trying to figure out the metaphor. Eventually I decided that something was lost in translation and moved on with my study.

But it nagged at me. Calling someone an unflipped pancake is definitely and insult – I know this because there’s nothing desirable about a pancake cooked on one side and nasty gooey on the other side – but what??? So the next day I decided to do a little digging. I found many of the good old Bible commentaries are free online now (yay for the public domain!), and they did not let me down.

God’s accusation of Israel had to do with their worship. They were followers of Yahweh, the one true God, on the surface, but behind the scenes they were dabbling in things like sorcery (4:12), idol worship (4:17), turning to pagan neighboring countries instead of turning to God (5:13), and deceitful behaviors (7:1-2). They were “mixing with the nations,” not in the sense that they were traveling or getting to know their neighbors, but in the sense that they were mixing their spiritual practices with the pagan practices of the nations around them. They failed to see that God was enough, and insulted Him by trying to supplement their faith with things flat-out opposed to God’s commands.

The verse goes on to say, “Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over” – the unflipped pancake. Think about that one for a minute. If you were making pancakes and you decided that instead of flipping it over, you would just let the one side cook longer, in just a couple minutes you would have a pancake burned on one side, uncooked on the other, and completely and totally inedible. The meaning is similar to Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I think it would be fair to say, “Ephraim, I know your worship, that you neither worship Me the way I commanded, nor do you whole-heartedly worship the gods of your neighbors. Because you are this unflipped pancake – both burned and raw – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Now the metaphor makes sense! And it stings!!!

This type of “faith” that needs Jesus plus something else is a pretty common problem in developed nations. We think we need Jesus plus good insurance, or Jesus plus a fat investment portfolio. If we lose our job, our health, our savings, or any number of security blankets, we lose our peace, joy, and strength. But our peace, joy, and strength should not come from our earthly accomplishments and inheritances. Our peace, joy, and strength should come only from our faith in God and the work of his son, Jesus. He’s good for a lot more than insurance against hell!

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29) He doesn’t give strength and power to those who save up for it, He gives it to the weak and weary.

“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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He doesn’t say that His power is available to those who can afford the deductible, it’s offered to the weak.

(James 1:5) “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” I see two criteria here – God is offering His wisdom to those who recognize that they lack it, and who are humble enough to ask.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) – Not if they put together a good committee or have a quality economic development strategy, but if they humble themselves, pray and seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways.

The answer is too simple to believe sometimes, and too much out of our control to be comfortable. But time and time again we see it in God’s word – God calls us to trust Him, to let go of ourselves and the abilities we think will save us, and just let Him be God. Ugh, this is such a tough one for me. I am all about figuring it out and doing it myself. But that doesn’t honor God.

Don’t be the unflipped pancake; trust Him, His timing is perfect and you won’t get burned or left unusable in His hands.

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

Why Bother with the Old Testament?

When we look at the Old Testament, we love to pick out the classic Bible stories, find solace in the Psalms, and run far away from Levitical law. Most of it is outdated anyway, right? When Jesus came and died, he paid the penalty for our sins and ended the old covenant (covenant means “contract,” or “agreement”). So Levitical law no longer binds us; the stipulations of that contract were fulfilled by Jesus and he formed a “new covenant” with us (John 19:30, Hebrews 9:15). So why should we care about Leviticus? I believe that knowing what God wanted from the Israelites tells us about who God is and what He values. And God never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8 to name a few…).

What do we learn about God’s character from the Old Testament law? He is a jealous God. First and foremost, he wants, even demands, to be #1 in our lives (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 6:15). Jesus affirms this as well, in Matthew 22, when he says “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” is the “greatest commandment” and that all the law and prophets hang on this and the second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself.” All of human history, the very foundation of the Jewish faith and the Christian faith, the air we breathe and the beating of our hearts is founded on loving God with everything we are and loving others with the same automatic, instinctual protectiveness with which we love ourselves (and don’t get confused here about self-esteem, loving yourself is not ego or warm fuzzies. It’s fighting for air, water, and nourishment. [Ephesians 5:29] Faith is not the icing on the cake of your life, it’s not warm feelings or Santa Claus, faith is daily bread and living water.) God’s requirement that you put Him first in your life did not expire with the new covenant.

Nor did God’s requirement that you “love your neighbor as yourself.” The New and Old Testaments are both overflowing with commands that we provide for widows, orphans, and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, Proverbs 28:27, James 1:27, James 2 – this list could get long. I literally have a notebook page FULL of just the references for verses about helping the poor). Loving others starts with the very basic ideas of meeting people’s physical needs and treating others with respect. We are told to share food, clothing, and money, and also to speak up for those who are mistreated and need to be defended. Loving others really and truly starts with opening your eyes and taking responsibility for what you see.

Right here I want to throw something in that is semi-related but important. God is not a Republican. He is not a Democrat. He is not an American. His primary concern is not securing American borders. God cares about the physical and spiritual needs of Syrian refugees as much as he does about our own. Obviously we need to be careful, I’m not suggesting we just throw open the doors. But people need to stop tying God to their politics and national security concerns. God is not the God of nations and places. He is the God of people. All people.

But I digress… Much of the Levitical law is the plan for worship and sacrifice – a hands-on manual for the practice of the Jewish faith. I’m not going to say a lot about this, but note two things: First, the payment for sin requires blood. Literal blood. The Israelites used animals. We have Jesus. He made the ultimate sacrifice and shed the ultimate, perfect, sinless blood of God’s own son. So the animal sacrifice portion of our worship has passed. The blood has already been shed for you and me. (Thank God, because Jesus is amazing and I appreciate what he did for us, but also because I’m a spoiled, modern American and having to go through that ritual sounds yucky to me…)

Second (and this is something we like to ignore), God is very exacting. He gave very specific directions about the materials and dimensions of the tabernacle and how things were to be handled and managed. And He wasn’t messing around. There is a story in 2 Samuel 6 about King David and his people moving the Ark of the Covenant. At one point the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, and one of David’s men, Uzzah, reflexively reached out to steady the ark. And God struck him dead on the spot. This kind of flies in the face of our ideas about God being merciful! Touching the ark was a big no-no and everyone knew it. What if God had let him off? It was an accident, an instinct, right? But it reveals Uzzah’s heart, that he didn’t have the proper reverence toward the ark. In verse 7, God calls it an “irreverent act.” If He didn’t follow through with the promised punishment, how many other Israelites would have wavered in their faith, wondered if God was real, etc.? I think these days we want God to be a God of mercy, and we forget that He is also a God of wrath, and that he has exacting standards. He’s not a God of checklists, but He is the God of “heart issues,” Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Reaching out to grab the ark was not a reflex, it was a reflection of a heart that wasn’t paying attention. Likewise, failing to notice a problem or opportunity is not an excuse, it is a reflection of a heart that isn’t looking out for others. This is the “commission” vs. “omission” setup. There are sins we commit, like lying, cheating, stealing, etc. and there are sins of omission, things we are called to do but neglect. Both are sin, and God doesn’t differentiate between little sins and big sins like the justice system does (James 2:10, Matthew 5:27-28). All sins – little or big, committed or omitted, separate us from God.

The other thing we see in Leviticus is the practical application of physical life rules. Things like waste disposal, infectious disease control, and dealing with mold are all covered in Leviticus and the Old Testament law. Much of this is not applicable to us because we live in a different climate, we’re not nomadic tent dwellers, and modern science has changed how we deal with these things. But even here there is something for us to learn. God cares about the physical well-being of his people; he wants them safe, clean, and healthy. Second, things that are “unclean” are required to be physically removed from the camp so they don’t hurt others. There is an object lesson there for some of us. We think we can carry around our sin, hide it, minimize it, control it. But what we really need to do is banish it. We become embarrassed that we struggle in certain areas, and we don’t want others to know, so we try to control our sin instead of eradicating it. This is a trick the enemy uses to keep us close to our sin so we can fail again and again. Some people cannot drink at all, because a social drink becomes a bender. Some people cannot watch certain movies because a questionable scene draws them back to porn. When we allow ourselves to be ashamed of our struggles we keep them close at hand, where they can trip us up over and over. Get hardcore. Create a safe margin, a buffer zone, between you and your sin.

As you can see, there is a lot that we can learn about the heart of God by reading the old covenant He made with the Israelites. What other aspects of God’s character do you see there?