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.

Living Right in a Wrong World


Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. – 2 Kings 12:2-3

It can be a startling wake up call for our children the first time they encounter the blatant sinfulness in the world.  Usually they will already know that people can be mean or selfish or insensitive, but when they face cruelty or violence or spite, it can be overwhelming.  Sadly, some children grow up around the full-blown brokenness of the world, but that is another issue.  It is the children that raised in light of God’s presence, surrounded by love, mercy and grace that can be startled by this revelation of badness. Children, for the most part, assume that the way their life is reflects the reality of everyone and when they find out this isn’t true, they will struggle.

Since Joash was living the right way, we may ask why wasn’t everyone else?  If the king has turned to God and been instructed in the ways of righteousness, why would his subjects remain disobedient and sinful?  The answer is simple and yet difficult to deal with: people can choose and we can’t choose for them.  Even with the power of the kingdom and God behind him, Joash couldn’t make people obedient, righteous and holy.  Our children will need help to understand that the way they live their life is more important than trying to make others live life the same way.

Joash could have used violence or coercion, but there is no repentance or responsibility from the people in that scenario.  The key to changing the world is personal responsibility.  Teaching our children that they are responsible to live a life that is “right in the eyes of the Lord” is far more important than trying to change the world around them.  Helping them to live a right life in a wrong world will equip them for many times they will face the brokenness in school and work and play.  We can teach them about courage, hope and the power of the Holy Spirit equipping them for this life.  We can show them the men and women throughout Scripture who lived holy lives in an unholy world among unholy cultures.  We can teach them about the life of Christ shining through them into the darkness of their world.

Lord, help me to educate my children to understand the brokenness of the world and Your call to them to be holy.  May they bring wholeness and healing to the broken places and people you have placed them.  Help them see the brokenness of this world through the hope and love only You can bring. 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.

Things Devoted to Destruction


The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.  That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” – Joshua 7:10-12 (NIV)

Rooting out the things that cause us to sin is a process.  Israel had taken a long time to become the faithful followers God desired them to be, but when the geography changed, they lost faith.  In taking the devoted things they were essentially saying, “God is not enough for us.  God is not providing what we need.”  They decided to take their lives into their own hands.  This is the tension we all deal with as we grow in our relationship with God; what I want and what God wants.  As we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ, those two things start to look similar, but we need to remember that what God wants is the reference point.

As our children grow and mature, they will reach new ground – their geography will change – and their level of commitment to God’s wants is tested.  They will need us to be a Joshua for them in those new countries.  It is a short walk from faithful obedience to doubtful wandering.  When our children grow older and make friends and venture further into the world, they will be tempted with things devoted to destruction.  These things are destined to pass from existence.  They have no permanence or eternal value.  They have no power but what we imbue them with through our wants and desires.

It is left to us to teach our children to say “No” to devoted things; to reject the pull that things doomed to destruction have on us.  This does not mean that our children cannot have certain clothes or technology or money, but we need to do our best to make sure they do not have our children.  The people of Israel gave themselves over to devoted things – things devoted to destruction – and they lost the blessing of God.  If we are not there to call our children to truth, to holiness, to faithfulness, we leave them vulnerable to the pull of the world.

Whenever our children are treading into new territory, we need to be watchful for those things that might pull our children off track.  Not so much to protect them from those things, but to help our children see those things for what they are and help them make the right choices about those things.  God could have made a fire consume all of Jericho when the wall fell, but He didn’t.  He left it to the Israelites to destroy and put to death those things devoted to destruction.  We need to equip our children to face these temptations in order to help them overcome and be victorious.

Lord, help me remove the things devoted to destruction from having any influence on my life.  Teach me to be solely dependent on you.  Give me a heart that hungers for you and not the things of this world.  And help me speak these same truths into the ear and minds and hearts of my children when they face new territory.   Amen.