Forgiveness and Humility


Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.  Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalms 51:13-17 (NIV)

One of the plotlines repeated by Hollywood goes something like this: a young boy who is part of the uncool crew at school somehow breaks into the cool group and then forgets his uncool friends or that he was ever uncool in the first place.  Usually the main character has a critical moment of decision whether he will continue on the path of coolness or reject coolness to redeem broken relationships.  The movies and shows with this storyline vary from corny to heartwarming, but the storyline remains the same.

David went through this same story arc.  He was a lowly shepherd in a field, but he had his faith in God.  He was considered tiny by his brothers and the king, but he wanted to fight a giant.  He was banished to a life of running and fighting by a jealous king, but he still fought the enemies of that king.  He is finally ordained as king and takes his place on the throne of Israel, but somewhere along the way he forgot where he came from.  He never would have considered stealing another man’s sheep when he was a young shepherd, but that is the truth Nathan confronted him with.

David’s journey took him to a point of decision, a humiliating dressing down by a trusted prophet where he realized, in God’s eyes, he was still a simple shepherd boy.  His story is a reminder that no matter how much we grow, how mature we act, how knowledgeable we become, we are still little children in our Father’s eyes.  The appropriate response from us for the forgiveness and grace of God is a humble and obedient heart, and yet it is easy to be that Hollywood character that forgets where they started.  David reminds us that it is always easier to be humble than to be humbled.

Lord, help me to be humble.  Remind me every day who I am in light of who You are, so that my eyes will see everything with clearer vision.  Amen.

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.

Facing Sin


Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. – Psalms 51:1-6 (NIV)

Sin has become a passé term.  Dysfunction, emotional baggage, flaws, psychological scars are all real, but they are symptoms of the root problem – sin.  Instead of treating the infection, we treat the symptoms and wonder why people stay sick. In fact, sin tries to convince us that we are not sick at all.  We portray vibrant and energized lives to the world, but we are wasting away on the inside, dead men with candy coated shells.

We need to face our sin.  This is more than admitting that we are sinners.  Most people get that they sin and understand that they can’t fix it themselves, but there are too many cures for the symptoms that just worsen the disease.  Instead of facing sin and seeking healing from the only one who can provide it to them, they turn their eyes to temporary balms and hopeless remedies.

I don’t want my children to head down that road.  If they are going to have a relationship with God that transforms and matures them, they will have to be honest about the sin in their life.  They will need to understand that sin at every level is against God first and then others.  Their hearts will need to be well lit by the process of confession and repentance.  I want them to have hope that the love of God can bring them from where they shouldn’t be to where they should be so they can be who they should be.  I want them to experience what it is to overcome sin through the power of God.

Lord, help me lead my children into a godly understanding of sin and the way out.  May my children grow to know how to handle the sin in their lives and experience victory through Jesus Christ.  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.

How Soon We Forget


Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live.  He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives.  His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek.  Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.  They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them. – Judges 8:28-35

Repent, rebuild, rebel, repeat.  This seems to be the pattern for Israel, but it is eerily similar to my own walk with God.  It is clear from the Gideon’s legacy and the long list of judges who ruled over Israel, that they had trouble staying on track with God.  It really didn’t matter where the distraction came from; it was where it led them – disobedience.   

Both of my girls struggle with distraction.  They will be given clear and simple directions to accomplish a task, but a side trip inevitably ensues.  A stop by mommy or daddy, depending on who gave the instructions, just to make sure the other one really meant what they said.  A delay filled with questions and comments completely unrelated to the task at hand.  I am reminded of the fantastically accurate depictions of this behavior in the comic strip, The Family Circus.  One of the children by sent on a mission and the picture is a hash mark trail of everywhere he or she went instead of the original goal.  Classic.

Our children can get on a spiritual hash mark trail without someone keeping them on task.  It won’t always be us, but often it will be.  We need to remind them of God’s promises.  They need to be given a nudge now and again to get their eyes back on Jesus.  They need encouragement when the world is bullying them into choices that will take them further from the will of God.  They need us.

Israel was a child off track.  They kept getting distracted by the ways of the world, and even though God gave them the direction, guidance and nudges to keep them on track.  God never failed Israel, but Israel failed God again and again and again.  This is the patient persistence of grace and love that should define parenthood. 

Lord, help me to be like you toward my children.  Give me the strength of will and heart of grace to love them without fail despite any detours they take in life.  Let me be an instrument of guidance for my children to direct them to you again and again and again.  Amen.

Original Sin is not A Myth


Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. – Genesis 3:1-7 (NRSV)

I remember the day I first realized my oldest daughter was a sinful creature.  She had been fascinated with something on our coffee table and we told her a number of times not to touch it.  While she knew few words at this stage in her life, she was fluent in “no” and “mine.”  I was watching her stand by the table, staring at the object when she turned to look at me.  As she looked me in the eye, she extended her hand toward the object.  I very firmly said, “No” and her hand stopped, and then started up again, her eyes never looking away from mine.  I used her full name when I told her not to touch the object, but her hand continued to move, her gaze never wavering.  Finally, she touched the object and I let her know she was in trouble.

There was an immediate change from open disobedience to self-preservation as she realized the consequences of her actions.  There were many tears and whimpers, but in the end, she apologized in toddler fashion.  It was a scene repeated more than once in her younger years.   We watched her go through the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7 – “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:17-18)

This was the time for us to teach her how to ask God for help.  Simple prayers of holding her hands clenched like fists, holding onto the bad things in her heart, and then letting them go when she asked God for forgiveness; steady reminders to pray for God’s help whenever and wherever she needed to; and celebrations when she made good choices. They were the first steps down the right road.  Owning up to our sin is not easy and certainly does not feel good, but it leads to goodness we cannot otherwise have.

While we journey with our children, we need to be aware of our own fallen moments, to be humble enough to apologize when our transgressions cause them pain or hurt.  When we say something unkind to our spouse in front of our children, we need to have the integrity to apologize in front of our children.  If we fall short in our walk with God when our children are watching, we need to make them part of our process of repentance.  God desired one thing from Adam and Eve in the passage above and it was repentance born of a contrite heart.  Instead, He received excuses, denials and passed blame.  God deserves so much more than attempts to manipulate his grace.

Today, pray that God will give you the opportunity to teach your child about repentance.  Pray for the courage to repent in front of your children.  Pray for relationships with your heavenly Father and your children to be marked by honesty, grace and love.

Blessings,

Chris