Tag Archives: Bible

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.

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.

How to be an effective liar (or recognize the one who is)

Toddlers are terrible liars. I love the recent internet video of the little girl adamantly arguing that she is not crying as she sobs. When my son was little he didn’t know how to explain his dad’s job (software engineer), so he told his teacher that dad was a chef – because he knew what a chef did. Their lies are laughably unbelievable.

Teenagers and adults are better liars, because they’ve learned how to play the game. For a lie to be believable, there has to be just enough truth there to get the listener to relax.

The Bible tells us that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). He’s really good at twisting and manipulating the truth enough to sucker us in to believing his lies.

This morning I was in the shower, and I was contemplating my schedule. “I really need to carve out more time to spend with the Lord,” I thought to myself. Almost immediately, a verse from Matthew 28 came to mind: “…surely I am with you always…” What a comforting thought. I recognized the truth and almost fell for the lie. Yes, God is with me always, but am I always with him? When he is speaking, am I listening? When he wants to spend time with me, am I doing something else? When he is gently correcting me, am I open, or am I defending and excusing myself?

1 Peter 4:8 says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He doesn’t charge, he prowls. He’s sneaky. He wants to catch you unaware, to get you to believe the little twisted half truths. He reminds you of bad things you’ve done and tells you that it means you’re a bad person, unworthy of love and forgiveness. He reminds you of your imperfections and presents them as evidence that you are unusable in the kingdom. He takes a little bit of truth, like bait, and snares you with his lies.

Don’t fall for it. You are loved. You are worthy. You are useful in the kingdom. You are not perfect, but you are perfectly loved. Recognize this trick and learn to fight back. Fill your memory with scriptures that you can turn back at the liar.

Rhetorical question: what lies are you believing about yourself? What is the truth according to the Bible?

Divine Appointments: Avoiding “Should Have”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can’t even begin to tell you how often I stop and suddenly realize that I had an opportunity to help someone and didn’t even notice it. I hate that feeling, and I hate knowing that there are people struggling and suffering because I didn’t even notice, or I noticed and it didn’t dawn on me to do something about it. Do you ever feel like that? “Should have” is a painful phrase.

Recently a friend told me that she has been praying for opportunities to serve. This friend has a job that brings her in contact with random strangers all day long, and she told me that she prays before and during work for God to bring her opportunities. And He has! All through her shift, people seek her out to ask for help, and to share their burdens. She has started bringing along supplies to hand out to the needy, and snacks to share with anyone who asks. Is God bringing these people to her because she asked, or were they always there and she just started to notice? I think the answer is a bit of both.

First off, we serve a God who answers prayers. And a selfless prayer like “bring me in contact with people that I can bless” is certainly in line with the heart of God. So knowing that He has a willing worker on the streets is a great opportunity for God to bring people together. He loves his children, and wants to see needs met. He also wants to see our character develop, so when we ask Him to put us in opportunities to grow through serving, He’s not likely to say no to that!

Second, a “use me” attitude opens our eyes. If I go to work and all I’m thinking about is me and what I need to accomplish today, I’m like a horse wearing blinders. All I can see is the task immediately in front of me. But asking for these “divine appointments” removes the blinders. If you have a heart to look for needs, you will find them. They’re all around us!

There are many examples of divine appointments in the Bible. The book of Esther, for one, tells the story of a young lady put in just the right place at just the right time to save her people. After the queen disgraced him, king Xerxes held a reality-TV worthy search for her replacement. When he made Esther his queen, he had no idea that her presence in the palace would save the Jews. But Esther spoke up for her people, and they were saved. She didn’t desire to be queen, but she was willing, and God put her there. She was afraid to confront the king about her people, but she obeyed, and they were saved. Esther 4:14 reads, “who knows but you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

I ask you the same question: Who knows but you have come into your position (job, neighborhood, circle of friends, family) for such a time as this?

Open your heart and your eyes, and don’t be afraid to speak up. God can, and will, use you in big ways!

Greater Love

If you follow Food Shelf Friday on Facebook, then you may have seen this week’s scripture image featuring John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. It is also frequently used to honor the memory of heroes who sacrificed their lives in military service or in an effort to save others, like firemen and police who die in the line of duty. But I think there is more here, a message not just about the dead, but for the living.

Matthew 16:24-26 (also found in Luke 9, and Mark 8) – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Galatians 2:20 –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Death does not always mean the end of physical life. Repeatedly the Bible calls us to die to self, to willingly lay down what we want in favor of what God wants. We are called to deny ourselves, to stop striving to gain the whole world at the cost of our souls, and to keep our eyes on God’s kingdom over our own.

The flesh is strong. Very strong. I’m hungry, tired, weak, and selfish every day. And I find ways to appease myself every day. I eat junk food because it makes me happy and I “deserve” it. I rest when I should be busy (rest is not bad, you have to take care of yourself, but let’s face it, laziness is also real and I know most of us cross that line often). I fail to resist temptation. I think about myself and my rights first. This is what humans do. We take care of our own in as much comfort as we can afford, and then we think of others with our leftovers and cast-offs. It’s human nature.

But God’s nature is different. His eyes are on the big picture, a global scale that transcends time. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God calls us to resist our own nature and take on his priorities. We are called to willingly sacrifice our rights, our comforts, and our sense of control for the ultimate goal of getting the gospel message to the people around us. We have to die to our selfish desires, showing the kind of love that Jesus showed when he was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. In this way we show the ultimate kind of love, laying down our lives for a friend.