Chained in the basement

Have you taken steps to ensure the insatiable beast of desire and sin cannot wreck your life?

chained-in-the-basement

There is a part of me that should be kept chained in the basement.
I would go so far as to say that there is also a part of you that should never be allowed out to terrorize innocent victims.

It is an insatiable beast, unstoppable if unleashed. And yet we often treat it like some cuddly little lap dog. The reality is far more gruesome. At certain phases of the moon this beast within transforms into a ravaging horror, snapping the feeble bonds a half-hearted soul might tether it with.

What is this deep, primitive part of our psyche?

It is called sin

What we experience initially is temptation. Something crosses our path (or our mind) which sparks a desire. At this, sin springs alive, enticing us to evil.

There are only two options; give in, or fight. Giving in has an apparent appeal of gratifying the desire and ending the temptation. Fighting on the other hand will continue indefinitely, to a very bitter end – death of either temptation or tempted.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:13-15 ESV)

Unfortunately, giving in results in slavery to whatever the sin was that tempted us (John 8:32 & 2 Peter 2:19). There are dire warnings against turning away from purity in Christ to wallow in sin (2 Peter 2:20-22). For this reason we have to take steps prior to being tempted so we will not buckle under it.

Chain yourself in the basement

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me ought of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself. (Russell D. Moore in Should I Marry a Man With Pornography Struggles?)

A person who takes God seriously will be truly terrified of falling into sin. This is something I need to keep being reminded of. There are so many who are quick to label as legalism any attempt to take action against sin that the christian subculture has become very liberal and careless about how destructive sin is.

Jesus has defeated the power of sin to condemn us, but we are still commanded to fight it (Matthew 2:29-30).

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction. This means a man who knows how to subvert himself.  (Russell D. Moore in Should I Marry a Man With Pornography Struggles?)

Occasionally I am reminded that I actually take more care over the safety of this body which will only live about 70 years than I do of my soul which will live forever in either heaven or hell. When doing activities in which my eyes could be injured I wear protective glasses to prevent it. Do I protect my soul from what passes through my eyes?

I take precautions to avoid injuring my hands from cuts or being broken. What am I doing to prevent injury to my heart by foolish actions done without thinking through the potential consequences? Am I wearing protective equipment? (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Challenge

One of the most important things you can do is take measures to keep yourself from sin. I challenge you to think right now of whatever temptation is most troublesome in your life currently. Then figure out one way to reduce the chance of giving in to it.

Take concrete steps to put this into action. Do it now while you are not being tempted so that when you are, the crash barriers are already in place above the precipice. Don’t wait until full moon and then wish you had done something earlier!

Werewolf awakening

Three very good sermons on this topic by John Piper:


Image of young man in prison: iStock
Image of werewolf awakening: Olivier Martins (flickr)

Tough AND tender

Over years of following Jesus, He has changed me. He has changed my dreams.

tough-and-tender
Yay 5 minute Friday! Though technically now the clock has ticked over to Saturday but it is still Friday in the US.
This week’s prompt is Tender.

The task: Write for 5 minutes, easy peasy.

Tough AND tender

Men are ‘supposed’ to be tough, strong, keeping it together. They can also be aggressive and violent, bullies.

Jesus taught us a better way. He was fully man and He was tough – having massive nails hammered through your wrists ain’t for wimps! But He was also tender. Jesus wept (John 11:35).

Jesus loved others deeply and felt their pain.

Imitating Christ

Jesus has called me to follow Him. This means not only doing stuff outwardly like He would do (which is difficult enough), but also being like Him at my core, having compassion as He does, caring for others as He does, seeking God’s glory as He does.

Over the years of my attempting to follow Jesus, He has changed me. He has changed my dreams – I used to want to be great at something, to make a mark – now what I want to be when I grow up is a wise old man who has a tender heart as Jesus does.

My ambition is sanctioned by Peter

Peter confrims that this is a worthy goal:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
(1 Peter 3:8 ESV)

Stop

Pray for your kids – Compassion

To pray that our children will be compassionate is to ask God to cause them to enter into to pain, joys and sorrows of others. Are we willing for them to lay don their own concerns, fears and needs in order to both serve and feel the needs of others? Are we prepared as adults to model this?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
(Matthew 9:36 ESV)

Consider compassion and a little Albanian nun often comes to mind. A woman who was greatly used by God yet did not consider herself to be anything other than Christ’s servant.

Maybe you cringe as a parent at the thought of your child taking vows of chastity and poverty in order to serve the poorest of the poor. But I’m sure you want your kids to exhibit at least some compassion.

I found an excellent description of compassion written by R.C. Sproul Jr and will simply quote what he wrote:

Compassion, rightly understood, means entering into the passion, or suffering, of others. It means setting aside our own concerns, our own fears, our own needs, and not just supplying but feeling the needs of those around us. This, ironically, happens not when we have all that we need. It happens instead when we come to understand that we have nothing and that we need nothing. Compassion flows not out of the wellsatisfied but from those who have not. There is, in turn, only one way to do this — to die to self. When my aspirations, my hopes and dreams, my wants are crucified, I enter into liberty. I am free to take up the concerns of others. A dead man has no need to protect his comfort. He has no need to protect his wealth. He has no need at all to protect his reputation.  (With Passion, Tabletalk Magazine)

Such a huge challenge – to die to self and take up the concerns of others as my own. Perhaps children can teach us something of how to do this as they have little of their own but only what is provided for them. They are less about status and more about what is happening right here, right now.

But children have to learn empathy. Selfishness is natural to our sinful nature and overwhelms compassion. Every human has to consciously leave aside their own concerns in order to care for another. This is what we ask God to do, help our kids (and us) to die to ourselves so that we may serve others.

Download the prayer prompts:

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of Mother Teresa: Fotopedia
Image of boy comforting friend: iStockphoto 

Pray for your kids – compassion

To pray that our children will be compassionate is to ask God to cause them to enter into to pain, joys and sorrows of others. Are we willing for them to lay don their own concerns, fears and needs in order to both serve and feel the needs of others? Are we prepared as adults to model this?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.(Matthew 9:36 ESV)

Consider compassion and a little Albanian nun often comes to mind. A woman who was greatly used by God yet did not consider herself to be anything other than Christ’s servant.

Maybe you cringe as a parent at the thought of your child taking vows of chastity and poverty in order to serve the poorest of the poor. But I’m sure you want your kids to exhibit at least some compassion.

I found an excellent description of compassion written by R.C. Sproul Jr and will simply quote what he wrote:

Compassion, rightly understood, means entering into the passion, or suffering, of others. It means setting aside our own concerns, our own fears, our own needs, and not just supplying but feeling the needs of those around us. This, ironically, happens not when we have all that we need. It happens instead when we come to understand that we have nothing and that we need nothing. Compassion flows not out of the wellsatisfied but from those who have not. There is, in turn, only one way to do this — to die to self. When my aspirations, my hopes and dreams, my wants are crucified, I enter into liberty. I am free to take up the concerns of others. A dead man has no need to protect his comfort. He has no need to protect his wealth. He has no need at all to protect his reputation.  (With Passion, Tabletalk Magazine)

Such a huge challenge – to die to self and take up the concerns of others as my own. Perhaps children can teach us something of how to do this as they have little of their own but only what is provided for them. They are less about status and more about what is happening right here, right now.

But children have to learn empathy. Selfishness is natural to our sinful nature and overwhelms compassion. Every human has to consciously leave aside their own concerns in order to care for another. This is what we ask God to do, help our kids (and us) to die to ourselves so that we may serve others.


Download the prayer prompts:

Image of boy comforting friend: iStockphoto 

A few scribbles

I was tempted to skip my usual eucharisteo post this week, then read this today: The Most Exquisite Pleasure I Have Ever Had

Giving thanks – as much and as often as we can for as many things as we can – is one of the most important spiritual habits we can cultivate.

This is more than just keeping a list of stuff I am happy about, in cultivating a habit of thanksgiving I am thanking a particular person (God) for what He has placed in my life.

While thinking about this during the day one of my children had a tantrum and disappeared into a bedroom. Later we discovered the damage – pencil scribbles all over the bedroom wall. Not exactly something we were thankful for!

Why would a child do this, knowing full well that it is naughty? We are not quite sure, there are a few issues with that child, this is likely to be partly related, and partly just plain naughtiness. A discipline challenge and maybe another small piece in a behavioural puzzle.

Gifts I have noticed today (#818 – #826):

818) Neither parent over-reacted or got angry
819) The incident happened at a time we were able to cope – earlier in the day I was on a short fuse!
820) The scribbles were in pencil, an eraser got it off
821) Grandparents coming to visit
822) Fresh apricots (the taste of sunshine as my wife says)
823) Chocolate frogs (the cause of the tantrum)
824) Better behaviour from naughty child this evening
825) We are gradually figuring out how this child interacts with the world
826) Still feeling love towards all my kids even when I simultaneously feel frustrated, angry, tired and fed up with them.

An oddly vivid memory

On a grey and wet Wednesday in August I found the direction I needed in my search for some meaning in life. The book had a yellow cover and after an hour of reading my entire worldview was being turned on it’s head.

My late contribution to 5 minute Friday. The word this week is vivid.
The task: Write for 5 minutes – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

The dullness

Most days of my life pass with little recollection, my memories of those days are dull. However, there is a day – a Wednesday in August 1988 – which is vividly etched in my memory. It was a wet, grey August and I was not particularly happy. I’d been in this city for a year. My search for meaning in life was going round in circles and the ache to have purpose grew stronger.

My ignorance

A friend of mine was a fiery new Pentecostal Christian. I liked her despite her attempts to convert me. In my arrogance I thought I knew better than her misplaced trust in Jesus and a God who did not exist. Or so I thought…

At one point in my arguing with her she mentioned that if I was ever to read the Bible I should start with the Gospel of John. For some now unrecalled reason I decided to do this.

A vibrant new beginning

I found a Bible in the public library – a Good News Bible with a bright yellow cover – and began reading John’s Gospel.

By the time I reached chapter 7 I was puzzled why the Jews could not see that Jesus is God. By chapter 21 the command from Jesus, “Follow me” was vividly targeted at me (John 21:19). I knew that life had changed for me. All I had been painting on the canvas of my life was now irrelevant, God was giving me eternal life. The dull background was about to be painted in vivid new colours.

Watching a miracle performed

A brief Burma update and link to a story of hope and compassion in Shan State

I know there has been a lack of posts about the Shan people from me lately – this is due to lack of time rather than lack of happenings in Burma. President Thein Sein has now commanded an end to attacks on ethnic groups by the Burma Army (initially on 10 December 2011, again on 16 January 2012). Despite this there has been ongoing attacks by the Burma army, particularly in Kachin State.

Real help is happening

However, there is also some good news I would like to share – the following link is to a story of medical hope being delivered by trained local people in Shan State: I’m alive, because of you…

Seeing I do not see

Is there a way to move from torpor to transcendence? Something nice and mechanical that does not require any existing ‘spiritualness’ as a starting point? I think there is, read on to find out.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.
(Matthew 13:13-15 ESV)

Some days I am convinced Jesus spoke these words directly about me. I have a wonderful family, a good job, was out in the sun at a beautiful beach and yet could not rouse my heavy heart to respond to God. How to remove such heaviness and get my soul to a place of feeling ‘normal’ even?

At such times reading the Bible becomes a ritual devoid of meaning – eyes navigate the page but it is like reading some arcane academic journal which registers in syntax but carries no passion. Praying is similarly stuck – at least in this there is the reassurance of Romans 8:26 when inarticulate groanings are all I’m good for. What I need is some way of reliably moving myself from torpor to transcendence, something that does not require any existing ‘spiritualness’ as a starting point.

While I do not think it is a full answer, making note of the blessings I can notice does help. It is a nice mechanical thing to do – I can generally find one thing to note reasonably easy and then it gets incrementally easier from there as I pause with each blessing noticed and thank God for it – albeit mechanically! However, sometimes the passionless thanks slowly moves into more enthusiastic thanksgiving and praise as I stumble along looking for the gifts I already have, still asking and yearning for the normalness I most want.

Seeking to understand with my heart

My goal is not primarily to list one thousand gifts, this is merely a tool. I need healing, to get that I need to turn to God and to get that I need to understand with my heart. A part of this is to understand what God has already done for me. By counting blessings I force myself to look, see and notice what God has done and sometimes can even see what He is doing.

Another important element in understanding with my heart is to learn and trust in what God promises to do. The only reliable source of such knowledge is from God’s word, so while Bible reading may seem mechanical and ineffective it remains important. For this there are tricks and techniques which perhaps I should explore in a future post.

I have read that George Mueller said his first priority each day was to get his soul happy in God – this came before praying, otherwise his prayers were not effective. Apparently his way to do this was by reading the Bible and meditating on it.

According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! (George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God)

I am wondering if I need to add a preliminary step; taking note of the blessings of God to help my heart move into thanksgiving and then open the Bible and meditate upon God’s words to us and His promises in which I can trust.


Gifts I have noticed recently (780 – 817):

780) Safe holiday travels.
781) Lunch at the Flying Pig Café.
782) Roasting marshmallows over a bonfire.
783) Kids playing on inner tubes on the river.
784) That my daughter didn’t go all the way over the waterfall!
785) Her friend for rescuing her.
786) Dinosaur eggs.
787) Our kids winning the scavenger hunt.
788) An evening with my sister.
789) A quality wee dram.
790) Risk (the board game)
791) Excitement for children being allowed to stay up late.
792) Fitting everything into the car.
793) The familiar feel of my Bible pages.
794) Bacon, beans, french toast, fried tomato and fresh coffee for breakfast.
795) Rain on our parched garden.
796) Children in bare feet.
797) Bees on clover.
798) A relaxed, slow start to the day.
799) Another round of potty training.
800) Knowing I still have so much to learn.
801) A long walk beside the river.
802) The flash drive which accidentally went through the washing machine and still works!
803) Finding just the right birthday present for my son.
804) Making a new sandpit.
805) Daughters being invited to stay with their cousins.
806) The chatter of 3 year-old son.
807) 10 year-old daughter wanting to hang out with her Dad.
808) Afternoon sun shining through the stained glass window in our room as I count blessings.
809) The shadow of a power pole showing me a cross as I cry out to God.
810) Printer not working, forcing me to slow and write out my list by hand.
811) Lions and tigers lined up on a window sill.
812) Flavouring to add to the muddy tasting river water.
813) Corn on the cob.
814) My wife correcting our eldest daughter.
815) Quiet and solitude when my heart is heavy.
816) the snoring wheeze of my son sleeping.
817)my failure to fight for joy driving me to Christ in prayer.

Photo: nstanev (iStock)

Throw a bucket of cold water at me

Joining today in 5 minute Friday led by Lisa-Jo,  who posts a single word prompt. We write for 5 minutes without stopping to edit or fix up punctuation, then link with others who have written based on the same word.

Awake, he should not be.

I am looking at a wee boy who should not be – awake, that is. We drove 40 minutes to see some penguins and he fell asleep within ten minutes, fantastic! No bedtime struggle this eveining. No such luck, he woke up on the way home again.

I should be…

For years I have appeared to be awake from the outside, but in fact I’ve been fooling you all. Paul wrote Ephesians 5:14 to Christians, especially me. I have known the call of Christ to me, have ‘wanted’ to follow Him but always there has been what has appeared to be good reasons not to wholeheartedly commit myself into His hands. I have been like a zombie, walking around with my soul asleep.

I want to wake up. To breathe in the life of the Holy Spirit and to run and catch up with Jesus who called me to “come”. The time for sleeping is not now, I need to take care how I spend my time for the days are evil and the mission is urgent. Jesus has called me to do His will. His will is to feed His sheep, to find the lost and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and lift up the broken hearted. Throw a bucket of cold water at me please! Stop

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:14-17 ESV)

God is my shield

I recently read that there are 366 occurrences of the phrase “fear not” in the Bible, one for every day of the year. This seemed impressive to me and seeded an idea of meditating on each of these passages this year as a way to strengthen my faith. On doing some searching, however, I found far fewer exhortations to ‘fear not’, and a Google search confirmed that others have found the same.

Even so, there are still a lot of exhortations not to fear in the Bible. After some digging through about 140 Bible references about not fearing or being afraid I have reduced it to a list of 50 which I intend to meditate on this year.

Abram’s shield

My first verse is Genesis 15:1 in which God comes to Abram and says:

 “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The context is that immediately previous to this Abram rescued his nephew Lot from a band of invading kings and then had encounters with  Melchizedek and the king of Sodom. To one he gave a tenth of everything and from the other he refused to accept anything. In chapter 15 of Genesis God makes a further covenant with Abram, building upon the covenant of Genesis 12:1-3.

What fears might Abraham have had?

He has recently proven his courage by attacking and defeating the armies of four plundering kings (Genesis 14:1-16). Perhaps he is afraid of God’s promises failing because he has no son (Genesis 15:3)? We do know that he feared kings who desired his attractive wife (Genesis 12:1-13 and Genesis 20:2).

Whatever Abram’s true fears were, it is easy to imagine what they might have been because we are ourselves plagued by fears also. God answers all possible fears in this one statement: “I am your shield“.  God will place Himself between Abram and what he fears, no force in all creation can cause harm to Abram.

Can I claim it?

What a fantastic promise! But it was made to a particular Hebrew man about 4,000 years ago – how can it be relevant to me?

Genesis 15:6 makes it relevant to me:

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
(Genesis 15:6 ESV)

In Romans 4:3-25 Paul shows that this believing in God’s promises makes us participants in those promises also:

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
(Romans 4:23-25 ESV)

Galatians 3:7 confirms this:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
(Galatians 3:7 ESV)

Therefore, I can safely assume that as I trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead, He also says to me, “Fear not Mike, I am your shield.”

Try it yourself

It feels odd initially, but write out this promise from God, inserting your name instead of ‘Abram’. It becomes powerfully personal.


Image of Emblem of Jerusalem: Wikipedia
Image of fear: salvador74(iStock)