Sin in All Its Forms

Devotional for Monday, June 1

Romans 8:18-24 (NLT)

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.)


These past few days have, at times, left me in a state of despair.

In the COVID-19 crisis, we already were seeing nature’s brokenness, more proof that the world does not work as it should. The natural world is always in this condition, but the brokenness is particularly evident as a pandemic disrupts our lives.

Nature’s brokenness is indirect evidence of the devastating power of human sin. I speak as one who trusts what Scripture says about human disobedience to God being the cause of all that is not right in the world. Sadly, over the last few days we also have had to suffer direct evidence of how human beings, made in the image of God, can flagrantly violate God’s will, continually renewing the curse that has been the bane of our existence.

I speak primarily of the slow murder of George Floyd, the man who died after a now-disgraced police officer named Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for about nine minutes. When I worked decades ago as a crime reporter, I saw several events I would like to forget. But in an effort to better understand what happened to Mr. Floyd—surely, I thought, there has to be a plausible explanation—I watched the video of a handcuffed man begging for his life but receiving no mercy. I am left with another image I cannot and should not forget.

People rightfully and righteously have taken to the streets to protest Mr. Floyd’s death and other police abuses they have experienced. In this killing, we have found something we should universally condemn.

To quote Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy after watching the video, “If you have a badge and don’t have an issue with this … turn it in.” I would add that if you are a human being and don’t have an issue with Mr. Floyd’s death, you need to spend some time in serious reflection and self-examination.

As the ensuing events play out, we also are seeing how sin begets sin. In the midst of those well-founded and important protests, opportunists have slipped in. These are people who think violence and looting are the proper path to fulfill warped political strategies or a greedy desire for things of this world. Buildings have burned, people have been injured, fear has spread, and more lives have been lost.

I experienced something like this during Atlanta’s version of the Rodney King riots in 1992. Many of you are old enough to remember the ongoing civil unrest of 1968. These opportunists have no idea what a hackneyed example of sin they are, a kind of people who have been present since the earliest days of recorded history.

As Christians, there are three basic actions we can take to counter them.

First, we must hear and respond to the cries of oppressed people.

Second, we have to share the message of Jesus Christ, a message of “glorious freedom from death and decay.” In a world filled with evil, it takes some boldness to do this, but we are called to be bold! People need to understand there is hope, even as the world writhes in pain. Let’s remember that every generation has to hear the message anew.

Third, we need to closely follow Christ’s admonition in John 5 and John 8 to stop sinning—go and sin no more. Yes, it’s difficult to get there. If perfect alignment with God’s will comes in a person’s lifetime, it likely happens after a long and painful struggle against temptation, and only through empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

We have to try with all our abilities, though. We have to break the cycle of sin, helping the Spirit move us toward that day when “future glory” becomes our present.

Lord, on this day, we again lift up prayers for the soul of George Floyd, a man who called you Savior, and for his family and friends. We pray that Derek Chauvin is able to seek forgiveness and experience your grace as he faces the worldly repercussions of his actions. And keep us from the evil one. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 2

Devotional for Tuesday, May 19

Psalm 51:4-6
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
    teaching me wisdom even there.

When I first dwelled on the idea of “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned,” I was a bit taken aback. I realized my notion of sin was too limited. In my mind, the problem with sin was the damage we do to others.

Certainly, sin hurts others, and that by itself is a major problem. When our sins do enough damage, we can even drive others to sin. For example, think of the abused child who grows up to be an abuser. There’s no doubt sin runs rampant in the world because we are first born broken, and we then have a tendency to break each other further.

But ultimately, our sins are a violation of God’s will, and our creator has the right to demand a reckoning. We first must repair our relationship with God. Once we are right with God, we then can hope to repair some of the damage we’ve done in this world, trusting divine power to guide us.

Lord, help us to first be right with you so our efforts to help others are genuine and rooted in your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bruised Grapes

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Devotional for Tuesday, April 14

Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT)

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

With these words in Colossians, Paul offers us a simple formula for getting along as a church. Forgiveness, rooted in love, is at the core of his message.

Just as we are to love one another, we are to forgive each other. Admittedly, there are times when people living within the body of Christ sin in such a way that they must be removed from the body, for the safety of others. But even then, those who remain must develop forgiveness for the offenders, for their own peace of mind if for no other reason.

Paul, however, seems to be talking about a simpler situation. He’s pointing out that none of us is perfect. We have our flaws. We may get angry, tired or confused. We may fail to diligently focus on God’s word for guidance and make some poor assumptions or conclusions. We may not listen hard enough. We may not breathe deeply enough before giving a reply.

In other words, we are a collection of human beings broken by sin. If we were a cluster of grapes, pretty much all of us would be bruised.

That’s why Jesus Christ had to come and die for us. As we believe in Christ’s work on the cross, the Holy Spirit does go to work inside of us, and over time, as we let the Spirit work, we may find those flaws lessened or even erased. But in the meantime, we’re together in church, flaws and all.

Learning to say to ourselves “I’m going to let that go” helps keep peace in a church, or for that matter, at work or home. We don’t want to become punching bags for bad behavior—for those situations, we have Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18:15-17—but when we let slide a perceived slight now and then, we strengthen the community as a whole.

Forgiveness also helps people who are working on their flaws to realize they are in a safe place, a community where the grace of God meets them repeatedly. There’s something comforting about that moment when you wince, realizing the wrong words have again popped out of your mouth, and your brother or sister in Christ quickly moves on, ignoring what just happened.

In short, we love each other the way Jesus loves us, no perfection required.

Lord, thank you for the grace we receive and the chance to return that grace to others. Amen.

 

The Donkey Said What?

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Devotional For Wednesday, April 1

Okay, funny story, or at least I think it’s funny. I’m almost afraid to attempt humor these days—who knows what might happen between my clicking our website’s “publish” button and sunrise—but I need to think about something funny.

Plus, this is our April Fools’ Day devotional.

You know the one about Balaam and his donkey, in Numbers 22? First of all, if you were raised on the King James Version of the Bible, your Sunday school teacher, without a hint of irony, likely referred to the story as “Balaam’s Ass,” or even “Balaam’s Talking Ass.”

When you are 12, that alone is funny.

So anyway, without going into a lot of background, Balaam was a prophet who displeased God by saddling his donkey and heading on a journey, apparently with improper intent in his heart.

“God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary,” we are told in Numbers 22:22. “Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road.”

Now, I should clarify, beating an animal is wrong. That is not the funny part.

Also, the donkey gave as good as he got. When the angel cornered Balaam and his donkey in a narrow part of the vineyard where the donkey had fled, the donkey hugged the nearest wall, scraping Balaam’s foot in the process. The move did win the donkey another whack, though.

Finally, confronted by a heavily armed angel that only he could see, the donkey lay down under Balaam. Picture that, if you can.

Donkeys are relatively short beasts of burden; average-sized riders can almost touch the ground with their feet. When the donkey went prone, Balaam either had to stand, staring down at a reluctant donkey, or remain seated, his knees near his shoulders.

Once again, Balaam whacked the donkey.

The Lord intervened, allowing the donkey to speak. (This causes me to wonder if our pets have a lot to say, but just no way to say it.) “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” the donkey brayed.

Balaam, apparently so distressed that he forgot he was talking to a donkey, said, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!”

The donkey replied, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” Balaam admitted the situation was unusual.

At this point, God allowed Balaam to see the irate angel, sword still in hand, standing before him. The angel berated him for beating the donkey, noted that if the donkey had not turned aside, Balaam would be dead, and gave Balaam precise instructions regarding what he was to do.

Scripture does not record the rest of the donkey’s story, but I’m guessing he got a heaping helping of oats later in the day.

The lessons here are pretty simple. We don’t always fully grasp how God is at work. Also, God can use any part of his creation to accomplish the divine will.

And if you’re stuck at home with pets of any kind, don’t be surprised at their reaction if you start sinning. Yowling, barking or talking—well, anything’s possible.

Lord, keep us mindful of your will, and may we watch for the signs you give us. Amen.

 

Take Care

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Devotional for Tuesday, March 31

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NLT)

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.


It’s good in any circumstance to pause and remember who we are and what we believe.

Most of you reading this can call yourselves children of God. That is, you have accepted the gift of God given through Jesus Christ. You have professed that you believe Christ’s death on the cross was real and effective for undoing all your sins. It was an act of faith on your part, made possible by the grace God always is pouring into a broken, sinful world. Even before we turn to God, he makes it possible for us to sense his divine presence.

You made that profession of faith, and God poured out his saving grace upon you, snatching you from the power of sin and death. God’s grace continues to bathe you in his life-changing love. As you stay engaged with God through the Bible, in prayer, and in fellowship with other Christians, you each day become more able to love as Jesus loves.

You are a truly blessed person—you have a unique joy in this life, in good times or bad, and eternal bliss and communion with God in the life to come.

Both you and I need to remember these glorious truths. When we are under stress and confused, it is distinctly possible we can stray from what we have become through Christ. Our routines are disrupted, our sense of security is strained or even snapped, and Satan, that “commander of powers in the unseen world,” will try to use the opportunity to pull us into sin.

I noticed a few years ago I had unconsciously shifted to a short farewell phrase: “Take care.” The phrase usually is spoken gently, but it is packed with meaning. Be alert, it says—watch out for pitfalls as you move through life.

I often was being literal when I said it to my children as they headed out as neophyte drivers, or when they went alone on an outing for the first time. “Take care to look both ways, take care to notice strangers around you.”

The phrase can be whispered to our own souls, however. We need to take care when we are frightened, lonely or bored. As we spend more time away from practicing our identity in a church community, worldliness in all its forms has more opportunities to come straight at us, even as we are supposedly isolated.

For example, think of the portal the computer, cell phone or television represents. Choose wisely what flows into your home from the world. That’s a message for all modern times, but particularly for right now.

Don’t let the world sully your clean clothes! We are God’s masterpiece! He has plans for us, meaning there is a future with him.

Lord, remind us through the day who we are. Amen.