Carried Away…

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Sin fundamentally, is rooted in a lack of faith in the goodness of God. Therefore, every temptation is an invitation to distrust God.

Been a long time since we’ve talked, but there’s no time like the present right?

Have you ever been driving on the freeway for a while and out of nowhere you found yourself in your driveway? I’m talking about the that “I can’t even recall the last 10 miles” type situation. Or is it just me?

I imagine if you’ve had your driver’s license for any extended period of time, it has happened to you.  Somehow, some way, your mind drifted off into outer space or you were so intently focused on some music, a podcast or even your own thoughts, that your subconscious literally carried you home.  It’s a scary feeling because the one time you NEED to be fully engaged and paying attention to what is happening is while driving a vehicle; especially in California. Yet, we’ve all been there and you can’t ever pinpoint exactly when you fell into a vehicular stupor you just know you did.

This is how James, the brother of Jesus, describes the process of sin coming into fruition in a person’s life (believer or unbeliever).  Most of the time when we sin, we tend to focus on the action itself and even more so, we try to find all types of reasons to shirk responsibility, like: 1) Blaming other people; 2) Blaming life’s circumstances; or 3) Blaming God.  James says, “Nah bro/sis!”, it was your own doing.  In fact here’s exactly what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away (NASB = ‘carried away’) and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15

James intimates (I love this word by the way) that what we really believe about God is revealed in how we respond to temptation/sin.  Ever since the Fall, we humans have become expert blame-shifters, always looking for a way out, but James, pulling no punches, says, “You are to blame!”. Every time we give into temptation it is because we wanted to and have chosen to. Period. And to be clear, when connecting these verses with the previous verses he exonerates God (as if God needed any help) by basically saying, Douglass Moo writes, “God tests, but He never tempts.”  Therefore, the moment we even fix our mouths to blame God, we’ve revealed that our theology (or what we think about God) is deeply flawed.

What helps me in this passage is that James doesn’t just state the obvious end result (which is sin), but he communicates how and why it happens.  In other words, there is a process and that process begins when we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil/sinful desires (v.14).  Let the weight of that statement sink in.

Yes, having evil/sinful desires such as lust, greed, pride, are bad and unfortunately a reality we all have to endure until the Day we’re released from the presence of sin when Jesus returns (even so, come Lord Jesus). However, James says, what’s even worse is when we let these desires drag or carry us away so far that it results in the actual commission of sin.

If you notice the order of the passage he doesn’t say we are enticed then carried away, but the other way around. We are carried away and then enticed by our own evil desires.  That means an opportunity to sin presents itself after we’ve allowed our hearts/minds to be carried away.   The imagery is that of hunting/fishing.  You usually catch something after it has drifted off the path or away from the pack. Then you entice it with the bait.   So then, when we take our focus off of following Christ and engaging in healthy fellowship with His Church, our wandering, fickle hearts naturally drift away towards any and everything or to bring it home more closely, “your thing”/”my thing”.  It happens so subtlety and just as it is hard to pinpoint exactly when we drifted off driving, the same applies here.  All we know, according to James, is that it happened and we are the only ones to blame be cause we allowed those desires to simmer until they boiled over into sin. Ouch!

What’s the solution? For James, the answer is simple; trust God. You probably grimaced at that statement. Like how dare me tell you to just simply “trust God” as if it were that easy. I wonder though if our understanding of faith is not all that it should be. We tend to think of faith in terms of passivity, but what if is more of a verb than a noun?  A.W. Tozer defined faith as, “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God” (Ch. 7 – The Pursuit of God). If he is right (and I believe he is), then the way we combat temptation, the way we overcome our innate evil desires and walk in the victory secured by Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection, is to constantly fix our eyes on Him, in everything. In our work, in prayer, in the Word, in ministry, in fellowship, in parenting, in marriage, in singleness, in everything! Look to Him (through the Spirit), our all-sufficient, wonderful savior, who reveals to us our good, good Father from whence every good and perfect gift comes; even trials. Trust HIM!

If you’re struggling with sin right (and we all are), identify who/what it is your soul has been gazing upon and quickly now turn your eyes (the eyes of your heart/mind) to Jesus.  Our safety and our victory lies not in the ever-changing seasons, circumstances, desires of life and our hearts, “…but in God’s immutability” (Thomas Manton). He never changes, He never fails and has promised to reward us with what ever we need so long as we diligently seek Him, keep our gaze fixed on Him, rely ultimately on Him (see Hebrews 11:6) and above all don’t get carried away!  When it gets are, ask Him for help.  He stands willing and waiting to supply exactly what we need the moment we need it.  I’m reminded of that old hymn that goes:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each victory will help you or some others to win
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus and He’ll carry you through
Just ask the Savior to help you
To comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you
And He will carry you through
(Horatio Palmer, 1868)
What a good word for all us- “HE will carry us through”.  When we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil desires, He loves us more than we love ourselves by carrying us through this life and into the next.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Re-adjusting my focus,

T.

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Glass Houses, Donald Sterling and Sin

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Glass Houses

There’s an old proverb (not in the Bible) that says, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

There are multiple interpretations of what this means, but I think in simple terms it means that we should be aware of our own vulnerability when exposing the vulnerability of others; lest we succumb to the same damage as they.

No doubt, with the explosion of social media (and technology in general), we have access to information like never before; and not just information, but we have access to the lives (public and private) of others.  There’s something beautiful about being able to connect and share moments with brothers I met in Nigeria back in 2009 or family across the country; in real time.  There’s something equally disturbing to know that at any moment, my privacy can be compromised and my life exposed to the world.  THE WORLD!!!

I know that the easy response to that would go something like this, “Well Terry, maybe you should just watch what you say, text, do, post and you will be good!”

I definitely agree with that statement.  I 100% believe that I am the one who is ultimately responsible for what I say, text, do and post.  So yes, if I don’t want the messy, ugly, raggedness of my life and sin to be exposed, I should keep it to myself. However…that can’t be the final answer.  I’ll return to this thought at the end.

Donald Sterling

I started this post this way because once again we have been confronted with the ugliness that social media can reveal; this time the victim is the controversial Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling.  I did not make a mistake in calling him a “victim”.  Let’s be honest, this information came out without his permission and what was thought to be a private conversation was made public without his consent.  In that sense, yes, he is a victim.  Unfortunately for him, that’s where it ends.   What that conversation revealed is what many have believed for years; Mr. Sterling has some issues.  Most notably, issues dealing with how he feels about other races.  Whether he was baited into the conversation or not, he said what he said.  In the heat of the moment, his heart was revealed.

Sinful Hearts

Often times, when we say things we shouldn’t say, we rationalize them by claiming that because of the heat and pressure of the moment, “we say things we don’t really mean.”  I have to disagree with that statement. Not because I want to, but because I have to. I want to be able to negate the filth that comes out of my mouth and relegate it to just “moments of passion”; but I can’t. No one can.  Not if these words are true (and I believe they are):

“A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” – Jesus (Luke 6:45)

If Jesus is correct (and He most definitely is), Mr. Sterling, myself and you are without excuse.  What Donald Sterling said revealed what is really going on his heart.  At our AWANA program, the kids learn that the definition of the heart is, “the real you.”  The tricky thing about the heart though is that it all is over the place and we never really know its condition until things like this come up (see Jeremiah 17:9).

The scary thing about this whole situation is that if the recording never came out, an 80 year old man would be going about his daily life with a heart filled with hatred, bitterness, pride and many other things that we would have never known about (for the most part).  Now that we do know, he has to be held responsible for his words and actions.  As far as what that looks like concerning his ownership of the Clippers and his tenure with the NBA, I trust the best decision will be made.   I also truly believe that this is an opportunity for Donald Sterling to respond to God’s cosmic and personal call to repentance and faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  I truly hope that out of all this, God would draw Mr. Sterling to Himself.  That Mr. Sterling would hear the sin-erasing, barrier-breaking, life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ and embrace it and treasure Him as Savior and Lord.   I hope that he would come to know that though his sin is great, God’s grace is greater.  Selah

Back to Glass Houses

I believe that there is also an appropriate response for African-Americans and everyone else in general who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.  I honestly believe that the response should be one of anger and grace.  Anger, because of the ugliness and reality of the sin (notice I didn’t say racism) and grace because apart from Jesus Christ, we are no different than Donald Sterling.  We are racists, we are adulterers, we are idolaters, we are prideful; we are sinners. All of us.

I love the fact at our AWANA program, one the first Bible verses the kids learn is:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Paul (Romans 3:23)

This inescapable truth should lead us to repentance and cause us to show mercy for people like Donald Sterling.

If he loses his team, he might take a hit financially (very unlikely), his pride will be hurt and the NBA would be less one “racist” owner.  Maybe then, sponsors will return and the Clippers will wear their warm-ups correctly.  Maybe then, work conditions will improve and morale across the NBA will improve.  Maybe fans will hop back on the Clipper bandwagon.  Maybe ESPN will have other stories to report.  Maybe others will “get the message” that racism will not be tolerated in the NBA or America.  Just maybe, we will feel good about ourselves because of all things to be, at least we’re not racists. Just maybe.

I sincerely hope that as Christians, when confronted with the sin of others, we would be confronted with our own sin.  I sincerely hope that when confronted with our sin, we would drop the rocks of judgment and bitterness and malice.

Like the woman caught in the act of adultery recorded in John 8, Donald Sterling has been brought to the public square and we are all a part of the crowd.  Some of us with rocks ready to unleash and some of us just watching to see how it will all unfold.  Jesus is here too, writing in the sand and offering the same response as in days of old:

The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” – Jesus (John 8:7)

Notice that Jesus affirms that sin was committed and that it deserves justice, but He qualifies their right to execute said justice.

So the question is, will you be the hands of the Pharisees that bitterly drop their rocks and walk away? Or will you be the compassionate, loving, merciful hands of Jesus that graciously restore broken, sinful people.

Will you be the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Whatever consequences Donald Sterling has to deal with in the next coming days will not ultimately cure his heart nor answer the problem of racism in America let alone the NBA.  The ultimate cure for racism and all sin is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Will you lead him there?

In Christ,

Terry

P.S. For another post (extremely well-written) about this subject go to http://www.raanetwork.org/3-quick-exhortations-christians-dealing-men-like-donald-sterling/