Karma and the Problem of Sin


Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalms 51:7-12 (NIV)

One of David’s most admirable traits was his ability to clearly state his need and God’s ability to meet that need.  Sometimes it took a hard road to get him there, but when he arrived at the place of understanding, he put it to words that connect and convict.  The passage above is a great example.

David lived under the Levitical law which demanded sacrifices and ritual cleanliness and adherence to moral codes.  Within this context David writes about a relationship with God where adherence to law is not mentioned.  The sinner does not reclaim his standing with God through sacrifice or service, but by being cleansed and purified by God.

A common pitfall in human behavior is the practice of karma in “paying” for dirty deeds.  If we do something wrong we better do something right to make up for it, and it doesn’t hurt to do something really nice to get the karma ledger on your side.  Despite the obvious flaws in this practice, we tend toward it if we are not paying attention.  This is easily seen in our children when they make the good behavior rush just before Christmas rolls around.

Getting children to understand that they are supposed to be good because it is the right thing, not because they can make up for bad or earn a free pass on their next transgression is difficult.  It is especially hard since we as parents can enforce the behavior when we manipulate good behavior by promising gifts from Santa.  God pays the price for sin and gives us the power to overcome sin and that is the only way it will ever work.

Lord, help me teach my children about grace and holiness, mercy and purity. Cleanse me and make me holy for Your name’s sake.   Amen.

The Truth Hurts and Heals


“Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes–the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings and leaders, upon our priests and prophets, upon our fathers and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.  In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.  Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them.  Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.” – Nehemiah 9:32-35 (NIV)

The better part of chapter nine in Nehemiah is a recollection of Israel’s spotty history with God.  Their penchant for sinfulness, even in the face of God’s blessing, borders on embarrassing.  At least it would be if Scripture was only a window to past events instead of a mirror of our present circumstances.  I cannot say that I have been any less foolish than they.  I look at their story and I see myself and understand their appeal to God’s mercy and love.

It is easy to forget our pattern of foolishness when we are disciplining our children.  Our memory can become fairly selective when we are dealing with disobedience and disrespect from our offspring.  But when we hide our imperfect past, we miss the opportunity to share the moments when God’s perfection stepped in and saved us.  If we paint the picture for our children that we never had problems and never disobeyed and never fell short we will regret it in the end.

God is perfect and we are not and we should never get those things mixed up.  It is good to remember how much God has done in spite of us.  It is good to remember that His mercy and love alone are responsible for the goodness in our lives.  It is good for us to allow God to redeem the low moments of our lives to speak to our children.  If God can teach me about my sin through the lives of His children, shouldn’t I let God teach my children through my life? Even if it hurts?

The truth can hurt, but it also heals.  The truth helps us teach our children that sin is always the way to pain and God is always the way to healing.  The truth teaches us that obedience is not a weight around our necks; it is the life rope that pulls us from the wreckage of a sinful life.  Truth hurts like resetting a bone, but it allows us to heal correctly.  This is why confession is good for the soul.

Lord, help me to be a truth teller.  Help me be transparent with my children about the work You have done in my life to save me from sin.  May the truth about my life, good or bad, be used by You to help my children walk in Your ways.  Amen.

A Good Confession


“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.  From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.” – Ezra 9: 6-7

Ezra is heartbroken in this passage.  His return to Jerusalem, the land of his forefathers, becomes a tragedy instead of a victory.  After all the time the people spent rebuilding the city God had delivered them to, they had fallen short in obeying His commands.  It is this tension between being God’s people and acting as God’s people that has Ezra tied up in knots.  He clearly sees that there are consequences to disobeying God, and is upset that his current generation is moving in that direction.  His confession speaks volumes about how we face sin in ourselves and in those around us.

First, Ezra includes himself in the confession even though he had not participated in the actual disobedience in question.  He sees himself as part of the problem, because it happened on his watch.  Parents have the same burden to carry with their children.  When we challenge our children over their behavior, part of our process needs to be a sense of ownership because we are responsible for them.  Ezra doesn’t look for ways to excuse the behavior or punish the behavior, he just recognizes it and owns his responsibility in the transgression.

Second, Ezra ties action to consequence.  Teaching our children that there are consequences for their actions has become more difficult because our culture is trying to remove fault and place it anywhere else but the individual.  It is the parent’s fault, or society’s or environment or TV, but it isn’t the individual’s fault.  Ezra blames no one, but those who broke the law.  Confession helps our children take responsibility for their actions and helps them face the consequences.  And confession is the doorway to repentance.  This is where Ezra is heading the people of Israel, but he begins with confession.

It is one thing to help your children deal with the sin in their lives, but it is an entirely different discipline to own the sins of our children.  We can blame the world and make excuses about the influences of society, but if the Son of God can take on our sin, it is not too much for us to take on the sins of our children.  We can’t pay for their sin, but we can pave the way through it to confession and repentance.  If we have a high priest who sympathizes with us, we can sympathize with our children even in their worst moments.

Lord, help me to take the burden of my children’s sin and walk them through confession and repentance.  Grow in me the compassion, mercy and humility I need to lead my children through the consequences of disobedience.  Make my heart more like Yours every day. Amen.

Honoring the Word


Then the king called together all the elders ofJudahandJerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people ofJerusalem, the priests and the prophets–all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD–to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. – 2 Kings 23:1-3 (NIV)

The cycle ofIsrael’s history is a reflection of man’s history and even the lifecycle of many individuals: realization of God’s existence, walking in God’s protection and will, growing apathetic and worldly, open disobedience toward God, suffering the consequences of bad choices, repentance and revival.  The passage today is part of the repentance and revival movement in the cycle and is tied to the discovery of God’s Word and a revelation of their history as a people of God.  While this cycle does not reflect God’s desire for His people it does reveal some important things about His character.

First, God is merciful.  After initially introducing Himself to the people ofIsraelthrough Moses, God runs into rebellion upon rebellion from a stubborn and cowardly element in the ranks.  Instead of abandoning the Israelites and starting over with another group of people, He is merciful.  He relents in His anger.  He withholds His wrath.  God is merciful.

Second, God is patient.  With miracle upon miracle and sign after sign, God revealed Himself toIsraelas powerful and true to His promises.  And yet His power is forgotten quickly when things don’t go the wayIsraelwants them to go.  They fall easily into fear and worry and begin finding solutions of their own, which inevitably gets them into trouble.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of God’s providence and power, the people ofIsraelput their trust in other things. But God gives them opportunity to find redemption.  He sends His messengers to bring truth and warning.  He sends signs and wonders to show His power.  He waits for them to turn to Him in repentance and humility.  God is patient.

Last, God is unchanging.  Each time the Israelites go through their broken cycle, God is still the same when they come around to obedience.  He never did change throughout their cycle, whether they were following Him or in the midst of rebellion, but they did not know it until repentance brought them back to wisdom and truth.  He was merciful and loving and patient and kind every step the Israelites took through their checkered history.  God is unchanging.

DoesIsraelremind you of anyone?  I seeIsrael’s painful cycle every time I look in the mirror.  I know first hand the insipid weakness of my human condition and have cried out to a merciful God to raise me from my rebellious mess.  Gratefully, I have learned from my own failures and the cycle is less often repeated in less severe fashion.  God is merciful, He is patient and He is unchanging and He asks us to pass that along to our children.  As He has done to us, He wants us to do to others, especially our children.

This is something I am working on.  It was one thing to accept God’s mercy, patience and unchanging presence, but trying to emulate that for my children is a challenge.  The question arises, “How can I reflect the mercy, patience and constancy of God to my children?”  Good question and I think the life of God’s people gives us the answer: honor His Word.  Every time the people ofIsraelfell out of good graces, it was because they ignored the Word of God or at least became apathetic toward it.  If we want to help our children avoid the broken cycle, we need to be people who honor the Word of God.

This is more than reading the Bible everyday and more than being involved in a Bible study, although those things can inform what is important.  To honor the Word of God requires that the Word is more important than us; more important than what we think or feel, more important than what is popular, more important than our fears and worries.  To be people who honor the Word of God, we must place it as something more than a reference on how to fix our lives.  It is the living and active Word of God.  It is not a tool in our hands, it is a sword in the hand of the Holy Spirit to divide truth from untruth and set us right.  But we cannot expect it to keep us from the broken cycle if we only see it as something that gets us out of trouble.

The Word is what keeps us from trouble, but we must be in and it must be in us.  There should be less and less difference between what the Word says and the way we think.  In this way we honor the Word and if we honor the Word we will honor the God who gave it to us.

Lord, help me be a man who honors Your Word.  Keep me from the broken cycle that leads to shame and hurt and pain.  Help me lead my children into a right relationship with Your Word that they might follow you all the days of their lives. Amen.

A Heart After God


He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. – 1 Kings 15:3 (NIV)

Sin is a problem, but not an unsolvable one.  The passage above happens with tragic repetition through 1st and 2nd Kings highlighting the problem of sin and pointing to the solution.  The problem is being complicit with our sinfulness rather than struggling against it.  David isn’t brought up in this passage because he was without sin, but that he struggled against it.  At his core, David desired to be right with God, even when he messed up.  David’s offspring, however, seem to have lost a heart for God.

There is much to be said for wisdom, strength and talent, but none of them get us anywhere good if they are not ruled by a heart surrendered to God.  Too often we define ourselves by those things that the world and those around us value.  These kings thought they were being good kings by giving the people other gods to worship, building powerful armies and constructing mighty cities, but this is a worldly view.  God wanted men who would lead the people to His heart.

God is still calling for his children to break away from the sins of their fathers and mothers.  He is calling them to seek the heart of their heavenly Father and run from sin.  He is asking them to be like David, who though he struggled, returned again and again to his God with a contrite heart.  The world wants to teach our children that they have excuses and rationales for their sinful behavior, or even worse, that their behavior isn’t sinful at all.  Not only do we as parents have to struggle against sin, we have struggle with a world that wants to convince our children that sin doesn’t exist.

I want my daughters to have hearts that belong to God, who seek Him earnestly and pursue righteousness, but they will never feel the need for any of it if they don’t understand their sinful state.  Teaching them about their sinful bent is less about shoving sin in their face and more about helping them see it with their own eyes.  It is far better for them to discover the error of their ways than to be slapped in the face with them.  It is about speaking the truth in love, about gentleness and mercy.

Lord, help me lead my children to a discovery of their sinfulness so they can turn to You for righteousness.  May they not fall into the sins of their father, but have hearts that strive after You.  Give us all hearts for You and You alone. Amen.

It’s Hard to Be A Nathan


But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” – 2 Samuel 12:1-6 (NRSV)

Confronting someone in their sin can be a difficult thing.  To just come out and call someone an adulterer or a liar or a cheat can create a combative atmosphere.  If you try to rationalize why they might have transgressed, you run the risk of them not owning the fullness of their disobedience.  There is also the problem of our plank getting in the way of seeing their speck.  However, this is something that cannot be avoided as a parent.

We are the Nathan’s for our children.  We not only bring their sin to light, but we have a responsibility to help them understand the truth that what they did was wrong.  Nathan walks David through a scenario that leads him to the truth of his sin and then opens his eyes to his responsibility for his sin. This is the hard, but fruitful way of confronting sin.

It is too easy to become spiritual bullies to our children, using Scripture as a club instead of allowing Scripture to mold and shape us into a tool for our children’s benefit.  We can become manipulative, trying to get what we want from our children, rather than seeking what God wants for our children.  For some of us, confrontation is terrifying and we would rather ignore the situation or try to get around it somehow.  We don’t like getting angry and may even have been taught that anger is a sin, but this gives our children license where they shouldn’t.  Anger, however, is not the problem.

If we love our children and desire righteousness for them, anger is just another tool in our hands and is tempered by mercy and humility.  If we love ourselves more than our children and desire recognition from man for what we have “produced,” anger uses us to damage and destroy, fueled by pride and selfishness.  Nathan’s anger was rooted in his love for God and David.  David’s anger was rooted in pride.  It is easy to see which one God used for good.

Parenting will call us to difficult confrontations with our children, asking us to take hold of anger with loving hands.  God has placed us in a position of incredible responsibility and asks us to be a “Nathan” to our children, speaking the truth about sin without apology or ulterior motive.  It is not easy, but our children will be better for it and God will be pleased.

Lord, help me be a tool in your hands to combat the sin in my children’s lives.  Search me for any sinfulness and pride and humble me for this task.  May I be a voice calling my children to righteousness and obedience for Your sake. Amen.

God’s Mercy is a Father’s Mercy


“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.  For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.  As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.  But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.  Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:20-25 (NIV)

The people of Israel had asked for a king and God had given them what they wanted, but Saul was not what they needed.  While God was willing to let them suffer the consequences of their disobedience and lack of faith, He also extended mercy.  Even though they had forgotten all of what God had done for them and their ancestors, put their trust in false gods and chosen a king over their heavenly Father, God still showed mercy.  This is a common thread in God’s relationship with His children.

Our children will beg for things that aren’t good for them and occasionally we will relent and let them suffer for their choices.  We will watch them struggle through the pain and humiliation of failure and defeat.  We will hear their complaints and appeals for help and we will extend mercy.  As parents, we extend the mercy that has been extended to us.  Here is a discipline I am working on to put this mercy into practice: each day waking up with a clean slate in regard to my children’s bad choices.

This isn’t some touchy-feely memory wipe, but a conscious choice to treat every day as a fresh opportunity for my children to succeed in righteousness.  It is too easy to see our children with the hindsight of judgment instead of the foresight of vision and hope.  Our privilege and responsibility as parents is to see a future for our children through the lens of mercy.  This helps us to see all of their potential and promise even on their worst day.

Lord, help me to show the same mercy to my children that you have shown me.  Give me eyes to see all the promise they hold and the wisdom to guide them into it.  Help me grow a discipline of starting each day with a clean slate. Amen.