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The Battle With Sin

I sinned.  It doesn’t really matter what it was, but I rebelled against God, and I am frustrated and ashamed.

I don’t want to again.  A friend of mine and I recently were discussing Paul’s comments in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing [that is, the desire to do good] is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.”

We can’t possibly misrepresent Paul’s comments as meaning that sin is not our responsibility.  Our flesh presses us with ungodly desires, but our actions are wholly tied to the intent of our minds and spirits.  Our flesh does not sin, our whole being sins, and the fact that we are children of the Light only magnifies the depth of our depravity.  Though we may be truly protected by the blood of Christ from the fires of eternal Hell, when we sin we demonstrate even greater rebellion against our saving and faithful God than those who know him not.  We reject his ways as insufficient to our needs and desires, and diminish the trust he gives us through faith that tells us there is something better to be found in him.

Then there is the destruction of our relationship with our loving Father.  It is not that sin causes him to turn his face from us, but that we have turned our whole being from him.  At this juncture of our lives, as believers saved by Grace through Faith, we have no fear of his wrath against us, but there is disappointment for us and for him, there is shame for us, and our usefulness to God is directly impacted by our sin.  Are we faithful with the riches he has given us to ensure they are used to multiply his kingdom?  Do we hide those riches or do we invest them?  And do we lose his riches through sin?

I am reconciled to God today, despite the fact that I deserve punishment.  I praise him for that.  But I am not satisfied with being reconciled.  I don’t want to sin again, yet I know I will.  Can I stop it?  Each opportunity to sin is before me as a fundamental passage to a richer experience with God.  It’s not so much whether I can resist the desire to sin, but can I embrace the love of Christ to carry me through my temptation.  And when I am able to, I know my redeemer can reside within me and work through me more than before because I am trusting him to carry me through all.

A Christmas of Promise

The focus of Christmas has long ago shifted in meaning to me from receiving gifts to remembrance of the promises and fulfillment of God. Sending His Son was more than just demonstrating a good life, more than bringing new teaching and much more than fulfilling the Law. Jesus, God Himself, came and experienced the life of a man from cradle to grave and continues today to be a resurrected man while confusing to be God. He took on the sins of the entire world, past present and future and paid the full price for those sins so that we could also be resurrected with Him. Each Christmas, I read through the following verses to keep my heart and mind fresh with regard to these promises.  I pray the in reading these God will draw our hearts close to His.

Isaiah 7:14

Luke 1:26-38

Isaiah 9:6-7

Luke 2

Isaiah 53:4-7

Luke 23:44-49

Genesis 3:15

Luke 24:1-8

Isaiah 9:2

Rev 21:22-24

The following are the verses listed above from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Isaiah‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:26-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Isaiah‬ ‭9:6-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:1-52‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:44-49‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭24:1-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:22-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Goodly Or?

In reading John’s third letter this morning, I was intrigued that he specifically states that one who does good is of God, and one who does evil has not seen God.  I pondered that for a while, and had to struggle with what “doing good” and “doing evil” must really mean.  Here’s the thing: we all sin.  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (‭1 John‬ ‭1‬:‭8‬ NASB)  That’s right, the same guy (and of course the same Holy Spirit) that essentially said we all have sin in us yet (and will until we meet our beloved Savior on That Day) also said that if we are of God, we do good.

I believe John in his third letter is speaking more to a pattern.  Yes, we will struggle for the rest of our lives on Earth with the ravages of Adam’s failure, but in placing a new Spirit in our hearts, our pattern will become one of love, goodness, kindness, etc.  We truly do become new, and even if we fail, our desire is to serve and obey our Heavenly Father.

I  know that I have failed many times, that I have allowed myself through my selfishness to do the very things I don’t want to do… by God’s Grace I want to honor Him and obey Him, and yet my own personal rebellion places me ahead of Him at times (more often than I ever want to admit).  I know better, I want better, and yet I fail.

Thank you Jesus for the Cross and that you catch me despite my selfishness!

But the Believer in Christ, the follower of the Most High God, those sealed with the Holy Spirit by the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus through Faith, are taught and moved by the Holy Spirit to a path of goodness.  God starts by changing your heart to come to Him for salvation, and spends the rest of your life changing you, softening your heart further, teaching you love and compassion for others, giving you an inner desire to obey Him.  It is not a burden on the Christian to obey God, but a privilege!  As a result, one who is “of God”, will show a pattern of change and goodness… without good works, James writes, faith is dead.

So, I’m confident that John is not promoting a “perfection or nothing” perspective on doing good, but rather that those who know God will show a pattern of goodness… they will be known as “good” despite their human frailties.  I will fail, you will fail, but those around us will see the goodness that God has placed in our hearts day after day whether we like it or not.

May God transform your heart today to be like His and protect you from the enemy.

Relax!

It seems when life gets a bit challenging, when I am struggling with a situation that I just can’t solve, my time with God is the first victim.  As I fight the constant battles in my mind, I have less and less time to sit still before God and listen to His guidance, and before I know it I’m running on fumes.  When I get to this point, where I feel so un-inspired that I don’t even know how God could possibly speak to me amidst my chaos, I find it comforting to look back through my old journal entries.  I can remember previous struggles, challenges, end-of-the-world type crises that I have somehow survived, and I can remember how God whispered to me in those times, to reassure me, to direct me and guide me, to remind me that I am still His cherished child.

This is one of those mornings.  My pen has been quiet for some time, and I’m not even sure where to begin.  As I began to flip through the pages of my journal, this entry caught my eye:

February 5, 2011

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.   Ephesians 3:20-21

Notes:

v20 – Our Amazing God is capable of doing ANYTHING He wants.  He is not bound by our human limitations.  We cannot begin to predict His actions, and we ask such limited questions when we dictate to Him how to solve our problems!

v21 – He will receive glory through the lives of His faithful, regardless of societal culture and popular opinion.  Throughout ALL generations!

Thoughts:

Am I limiting God to human solutions?  Do I truly believe that He can accomplish His Will?  What crazy things do I trust Him to do today?  Am I trying to defend God, to protect Him from the damage of society?  He is way more than that.  He doesn’t need my protection – He wants my worship.  There is no need to despair – God is in control and He will be glorified!

It’s as if I can hear the gentle whisper of my Creator, reminding me yet again, “Relax, my over-anxious child.  I’ve got this covered.  We’ve been over this before …  I’ve got this!“  Knowing that God is in control, that He loves me so much to reach into my mental war zone and give me a gentle “snap out of it already” nudge,  and realizing that this current dilemma is still well inside the realm of “things God can handle” …   I can’t think  of a better way to start my day!

Remember

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. – Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (English Standard Version)

This Christmas season has been a time for me to reflect on just how incredibly blessed I am.  God has been so good to me – and I’m not referring to just material blessings, but also to the inner peace He gives me as I look upon a world full of uncertainty and chaos.  God has not once left my side, even as I have allowed myself to become busy, distracted, even curious about what might be waiting for me outside God’s provision.

Looking back on this past year, there have been many moments I have questioned God’s plan for my future, specifically as it relates to my career as a software developer.  As I see others promoted into positions I feel should be mine, as I receive lesser raises and bonuses than I feel I deserve, as structural reorganization removes the possibility of future progression and the fruits of my labor are deemed irrelevant, I find myself posing questions to God like, “Are you sure this is part of your plan?”, and even worse, “Why would you do such a thing to me?”

I find myself scanning the employment ads, hoping to find that one position that will ensure a bright future with great monetary reward.  I schedule job interviews and speak with recruiters who assure me that my talents and abilities are underutilized and unappreciated.  They promise that a new position will result in the respect and compensation I deserve.  I find myself considering the possibilities of a new title, a bigger paycheck, a new group of co-workers to admire my brilliance.  And I think of the impact to my current employer, when I drop the news that I am leaving.  The shock on their faces, the panic as they realize that I am one of very few who know the inner workings of the system and scramble to cover the gaping holes in their process charts as I remove myself from their diagrams.

Isn’t this the American Dream?  Aren’t we encouraged to better ourselves and our positions at every opportunity?  We’ve only got a limited time to maximize our talent and potential, and we’ve got to make the most of it before it’s too late.  Don’t worry about the people in charge; after all, we’re just numbers to them, and they will drop us the second that action becomes profitable.   Shouldn’t I be looking out for number one?  If I don’t, no one else will … right?

But … Someone has been looking out for me.  For almost 40 years, Someone has been by my side, guiding my path, nudging me towards the future He has planned for me.  I’ve taken some pretty big detours along the way.  I’ve fought against His direction, I’ve pursued my own paths, I’ve run headlong into exactly the things He doesn’t want for me, but still He is there, patiently waiting for me to stop my nonsense and turn back to His guidance.  Without Him by my side, I would have none of the things I have today.  Not even my job.

When I remember how God has provided for me every step of the way, I feel silly worrying about how I might provide for myself tomorrow.  When I consider the positions I have held in my past, and the incongruous leap from waitress to software developer, I feel a bit silly questioning God’s ability to define the next step.  When I reflect on who God is, and what God desires for each one of us, I remember that my career is of secondary importance to God’s love for those around me.

And I remember the warnings of Deuteronomy 8.  I have become accustomed to my paycheck, my position, and my lifestyle; at times, I have entertained the delusion that I earned all this on my own, and might even deserve more.  And I am reminded that God alone gives power and wealth – for the purpose of advancing His plan.

I see the people I work with, who are experiencing the same dilemmas as I.  And I find, that if I focus less on my own career crisis, I can focus more on encouraging them.  I can show them love, and bring joy and laughter into the office, and remain calm as we attend surprise meetings with new announcements of the next reorganization.  I know that God loves each and every one of them, and that His greatest desire for all of us is that we would know His presence, above everything else.

As we enter this New Year, I will sleep soundly at night, because I know God has blessed me with His presence, and I know he will continue to grant me peace in the face of uncertainty.  It is my prayer for myself and for every one of us, that as we experience the blessings God pours out on us, we will not forget the Source, and that we will draw from those blessings to bless those around us, in accordance with His plan.

A New Chapter

Welcome to The Conservative Reader: Faith, a new TCR site specifically devoted to discussions about what God is doing in our lives!

The Conservative Reader has been focused on providing commentary in the Political realm for both national and Iowa topics.  We began this site in an effort to bring truth regarding topics that impact all of us in society.  Fundamentally, we believe that getting solid information and well-reasoned opinions could, perhaps even a little, help people to understand conservative thought and over time be persuaded to think as conservatives tend to, which is to pursue building a strong productive society and push back against the decay we have experienced in the past few decades as people have become less disciplined, less self-sufficient, and have begun forgetting the lessons of our past.  We have abstained from pressing matters of faith themselves into the political conversation.

We would like to start talking about our faith.  How is God working in our lives?  Where is he taking us, as individuals, as a Church, as a Society?  What should our priorities be?  How should we engage with the world, whether politically, socially, or economically?  This new site at The Conservative Reader, labeled “Faith”, is intended to be a place for a number of different voices to bring topics of interest specifically to those who are believing Christians, and those who seek to understand our faith better.  Some will share very personal stories, others may bring topics that God has simply laid on their hearts to share.  Let this be a place, not for actual political discourse, but for all of us to explore what God is teaching us in all parts of our lives.

Becky Cox will bring the first piece early this week.  Art Smith will be sharing as well, and others will follow.  We are very interested in finding additional writers… if you are interested, please send us a message on the Contact page.

We cherish your feedback.  Please feel free to leave us comments on particular articles, or leave a message for us on the Contact page.  Forgive us for the visual changes that will be occurring as we make adjustments along the way!

May Christ richly bless you today and in the New Year!

Art Smith
Publisher, The Conservative Reader

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