Tag Archives: Sinful nature

Why Are We Surprised?

When people do terrible things, such as yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Paris or the most recent school shooting in Oregon last month, people are surprised. And when you believe, as our culture seems to, that people are basically good, the surprise is understandable.

But my Christian brothers and sisters, why are you surprised? Scripture tells us that we are all born with a sinful nature. In Romans 3:23 Paul points out that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all of us sinners—the difference is the degree to which we accept that fact and the measures we take to overcome our sinfulness. When others sin, we should not be surprised.

Nor should we be surprised as things seem to get worse in our world, as we hear stories of terrorism, of child abuse, of the acceptance of pornography as normal, of the staunch defense of the practice of abortion, greedy corporations and politicians putting their own bottom line first, and much more. The daily headlines can be depressing, especially if they take you totally by surprise.

Spend much time at all in scripture, however, and you’ll find that the current state of our world is not a surprise to God and shouldn’t be a surprise to us. We see a clear warning in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
2 Timothy 3:1-4 (NIV).

That verse pretty much sums up our culture and our news headlines, including the tabloid headlines about our favorite stars.

So if we aren’t to be surprised about what is going on around us, what as Christians should we do? Especially in the wake of a terrible tragedy like the multi-site terrorist attack in Paris yesterday? Well, again, let’s turn to scripture for our answer.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Thinking of the people of Paris, the phrase that stands out to me in this passage is “mourn with those who mourn.” We certainly do today. And we encourage all to trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who alone is able to change hearts and help us overcome our sinful nature.


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Spiritual Coup

The past has no hold on me
it reveals my old self but I am new
Created in Christ Jesus
in an amazing spiritual coup

I’m not sure when it happened
though it happens day by day
I become more like my Savior
in the most marvelous way

And yet some days I stumble
drifting in the dark
I forget to seek the Spirit
who helps me hit the mark

But He is ever faithful
never forsaking me
He restores me to the way
His grace the golden key

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Imperfect Me

Though I know I’m deeply flawed
And sometimes I fear I’m a fraud
Grace I do see
I’ve been set free
Because I am loved by God


Day 4 Lesson at Blogging U involves the topic of the imperfect, the form of limerick, and poetic device of enjambment. I think I managed all 3, though the limerick is not traditional in that it’s serious rather than funny.


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Ash and Sackcloth

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is somber holiday when we are called to consider our sinful nature and our need for a savior. As a result, it tends not to be the most popular of holidays, and yet it is an important one. For only when one understands their sinful nature, their own wretchedness, can one truly see the need for the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus as their savior.

Many churches have services on Ash Wednesday, including my church—Community of Faith—and the focus is on repentance. As part of the service, the pastor or priest places a cross of ash on the forehead of the worshippers.

Ash and Sackcloth

To repent in ash and sackcloth
Is a concept we scarce understand
To revel in our pleasure and sin
Is a right we fully demand

Yet repent is what God commands us
Deep down we know that we should
Still we cling to our sinful behavior
Thinking obedience will hinder our good

Disobedience displays a lack of trust
That God yearns for our perfect peace
If we repent in ash and sackcloth
Only then will our wretchedness cease

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Choosing to Trust

I’ve been thinking about trust lately. It has been said that trust must be earned, and that once lost it is hard to regain. But it occurs to me that trust is a choice, and that sometimes we must choose to trust even when it isn’t earned.

I decided to check The Quotable Lewis to see what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject of trust and I found this little gem:

To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, nor blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic.
C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night, “On Obstinacy in Belief” (1955), p. 26.

It seems that Lewis agrees with my thought that trust is a choice. (I always love it when I discover that Lewis and I agree on something.)

We choose to trust God in spite of the lack of absolute proof that He exists and is on our side. In the face of tragedy and the existence of evil in this world, we choose to trust God to have our greater good as His chief aim. We choose to trust “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV). We trust God because we believe that He is inherently trustworthy.

But to live we must trust others as well. There would be no basis for a civilized society without some degree of trust. Such trust can be difficult because experience and scripture often tell us that humans are inherently untrustworthy. The prophet Jeremiah observed that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV).

In spite of evidence of untrustworthiness all around us, we must trust someone. So we also choose to trust our spouse, our family, and our close friends; we choose to trust those we love, because as Lewis says, “love involves trusting.” Sometimes we encounter evidence that suggests even our closest beloved family and friends are untrustworthy—not surprising, since they are human. It is then that we face the real choice: to continue to trust or to give up on love.

It occurs to me that this is the point at which we must really examine the situation with a critical eye—not critical of others, but critical of our own hearts. If we can honestly say that we have always been trustworthy ourselves, perhaps we can justifiably decide to give up on love and choose to no longer trust. But I suspect that none of us can honestly reach that conclusion. To do so in and of itself is evidence of our own untrustworthiness. As the apostle John wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (NIV). If we think we are inherently more trustworthy than our loved ones, we deceive ourselves.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that we do not deceive God for He alone fully knows our untrustworthiness. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV).

This day you and I must choose. Will we trust God, who is unequaled in His trustworthiness? If we do, then we are free to choose to also trust our loved ones because we know that God is in control and will bless our choice with His grace and love.


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Escape from the Fowler’s Snare

The other day I was reading Psalm 124 during my morning prayer time. As often happens when I’m reading Psalms or other Old Testament books, I saw Jesus in this short Psalm, specifically in the last two verses:

7Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:7-8 (NKJV).

Each of us is ensnared by our sinful nature just as a bird becomes trapped in the fowler’s snare. We cannot free ourselves from this snare no matter how hard we try. To struggle alone attempting to free ourselves only causes damage. Our situation is hopeless.

But in verse 7 we find hope. This verse says, “The snare is broken.” This sentence is written in classic passive voice where there actor of the sentence is not named. But verse 8 tells us who the actor is. It is the Lord who is our help.

The snare of our soul is broken by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and by His blood “we have escaped.”

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Life by the Spirit the Way to Overcome

I have recently been pondering Galatians 5:13-26. Usually when I read Galatians 5, my focus is on verses 22-23, that wonderful list of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But lately I’ve been considering the bigger context of what this passage has to teach me.

In the NIV, the heading for this passage of scripture is “Life by the Spirit.” Paul calls us to walk by the Spirit and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But then in the middle of the passage he provides a contrast. Paul lists the “fruit” of our sinful nature, the behaviors that are common to mankind because of the fall, and follows it up with a warning:

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. . . . The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:17, 19-21 (NIV).

There is a tendency by many (myself included at times) to focus on just part of this list. It is easy for someone to judge another because of his or her drunkenness without giving a second thought to their own selfish ambition, or to judge another for their sexual immorality without ever looking into their own heart to see hatred and jealousy running unchecked. It is far too easy to point out someone else’s sin than to reflect on our own.

I hear people all the time wonder why our world is the way it is, why there is so much violence and debauchery, and why so many lie and steal without giving it a second thought. “It’s only wrong if you get caught,” the joke goes. But as people complain about the mother who left her child in her car to go inside and gamble, or the twenty-something who drove through Portland, Oregon randomly shooting a gun out of his car window, they often don’t look at their own less-than-perfect behavior. People see the sin of others and wonder why such things happen or if the world will ever get any better.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes: “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” What scripture teaches me, and what I believe, is that our world is in the mess it is in because people live by their sinful nature and do not even try to live by the Spirit. For those who believe, there is at least the conflict within of the fruit of the Spirit trying to grow and overcome the sinful nature. But for those who have rejected God or who don’t understand the power the Holy Spirit provides, the sinful nature runs rampant. The result is, as Paul says, quite obvious.

The worst thing is when Christians point fingers at the sins they do not themselves struggle but fail to confess the sins they do struggle with and how the Holy Spirit helps them to overcome that sin. Let’s face it, everyone struggles with at least one of the items on the Galatians 5:19 list, and it is only by cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit that we can overcome that struggle.

What if we Christians were honest with the world about our own struggles with sin and how the Holy Spirit has helped us overcome? What if, when we pointed out someone else’s sin to them, we also shared how the fruit of the Spirit can help them to do what is right? What if we turned to the Spirit to heal the ills of world as only He can?

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Taming the Wild – A Poem

The poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub today was to write about the WILD. My first thought was of a song by Johnny Cash called “The Beast in Me” (see video below). I thought of the line in that song, “God help the beast in me.” There is a little of the beast in all of us, and we need God to tame that beast, as we have no power to overcome the beast on our own.

Taming the Wild

The wild in me
I am powerless to tame
It would consume and
Obliterate my name

I walk the dark valley
of death in my heart
If I walk all alone
it will tear me apart

To be like You
is impossible to see
Instead I must die
and You live in me

I’ll not know tameness
nor escape from this hell
unless the divine
in my heart does dwell


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Sin, Redemption, and Grace – My Tuesday Three

This is week two of “My Tuesday Three,” and I am so excited about what I’ve found for this week. As I determined to find three separate but related posts, I was blessed to have God lead me to the perfect three for this week. They all touch on the themes of sin, redemption, and grace, but from different perspectives. I am pleased to share these posts with all of you, and hope you are as blessed by the message of hope that they bring as I was.

The first post I want to showcase is titled Saddened by My Fallenness by Pastor Bryan Lowe over at Broken Believers. I’ve been reading Bryan’s blog for quite some time, and he has a wonderful ministry for Christians struggling with mental illness, though his posts are equally uplifting for all Christians. This particular post really spoke to me in its brutal honesty. From the first paragraph Bryan revealed such truth about what I have come to know about myself without God:

Scripture never flatters the human heart.  It acts on us directly, “dividing the spirit from the soul.”  I find no glowing review of our common humanity, nothing leads me to draw any other conclusion.  At our deepest essence, we are depraved, separated from truth and goodness.

He goes on to explain that it is those who recognize and mourn their own sinful and depraved heart whom Christ came to save and whom God comforts and heals. We must never think that we are completely cured of our depravity, but must continually turn to God for strength and healing. Bryan concludes with a wonderful quote from Martin Luther, but you’ll have to go check out the post to read it.

The second post that I want to showcase is titled The Good Shepherd: Tending a Blemished Flock by Chris Yeager at Chris Yeager Writes Blog. I found Chris’ blog because he submitted a poem to Idylls for the King, the Christian literary blog I contribute to. I read a few of his posts, which were all wonderful. But this one in particular struck me as one I wanted to include in My Tuesday Three because it fit so well with Bryan’s post, and then the third post I found later fit wonderfully, too. This post also includes the cutest picture of his young daughter and a story of her getting in trouble and locking herself in the bathroom that perfectly illustrates our relationship with God when we sin and don’t know how we will ever be able to make it right. Chris writes:

It is very easy for us to lock ourselves away from God and fear what He will think of us if we open up the door.  Our sin or disobedience can seem so great that we would rather try to hide it away and hope that He will ignore us.  But God is a seeker…He is a good shepherd who finds His sheep wherever they may try to lose themselves. He is the healer and redeemer, cleansing us of our blemishes so we can stand before Him unashamed. 

It is when we know we have done wrong, and that we can’t do anything to make it better on our own, that we must turn to God for redemption. God knows our depraved hearts, and yet He loves us enough to send His only Son to die for our sins so that we could be redeemed.

The third post that I want to showcase is titled Abraham and David: Saved By Grace by Loren at Answers From The Book. I’ve been reading Loren’s blog for some time, and always learn something new. His posts are well supported by scripture and always encouraging. This post rounds out My Tuesday Three by reminding us of how we, depraved as we are, can nonetheless be justified before God through His grace. He starts with the Old Testament stories of Abraham and David that Paul points to in Romans 4. Neither Abraham nor David was perfect, but both were justified by faith in God. Loren points out that both of these men were perfect examples to cite to the Jews Paul was writing to, because no Jew would have argued that either was not justified before God.

But what did David claim was the basis for his Justification before God? Certainly not works or strict adherence to the Law. David had committed murder and adultery (2 Samuel, Chapter 11). Yet in Psalm 32 . . . he described the blessed man not as the one who was without sin, nor the one who had worked to earn God’s favor, but the one whose iniquities were forgiven and whose sins were covered.

In spite of our depraved heart and the sins we commit, we can be justified before God because of His abounding grace; because Jesus has forgiven and covered our sins. Our salvation is a gift from God and He alone is glorified when we are saved by grace alone.

Taken together, these three posts tell the whole story. Mankind is depraved and sinful by nature, and though we think we can hide from God or try to repay our own debt, the truth is that our redemption is only available because of the grace of God offered to those who recognize their sinful condition and need for a savior, and choose to rely in faith on Jesus Christ.

I know I cannot save myself, and neither can you. But God loves us anyway and has made a way for us to be redeemed through faith. Do you understand the wickedness of your own heart? Have you tried to hide from God or turned to Him for redemption and healing? Are you trying to earn your own salvation or do you know the joy of being justified by grace alone? I pray that, if you don’t yet know the grace of God, you will read these three wonderful posts and that the Holy Spirit will grant you understanding of the awesome truths they reveal.


Filed under Blogging, Faith, Jesus, Life, postaday2011

Prayer Habits Affect Prayer Quality

On the plane home from San Francisco this past Wednesday, I started rereading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The last time I read it was 8 or 9 years ago, and I thought it was time to see if there was something more I could learn from this classic work that I missed the first time through.

For those unfamiliar with this book, let me give you a brief synopsis. The entire books consists of a series of letters from Screwtape, a high-level department head in Hell, and his nephew Wormwood, a low-level tempter in England during the war. Wormwood is assigned to “the patient” and his task, as is the task of all demons, is to keep his patient from becoming a Christian. Wormwood fails in this initial task, and it them becomes his responsibility to deter the patient from becoming a useful and strong Christian, or to perhaps give up his faith altogether.

Throughout the letters, Screwtape refers to God as the Enemy, because, of course, God is the enemy of Satan and his followers. It seems odd that one could learn anything useful from this series of letters, but there is much wisdom regarding what to guard against when it comes to the temptations of the devil.

In the preface, C.S. Lewis makes a statement about demons that I think continues to be true today:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. Screwtape, pg. IX.

As I am reading through these letters, I am noting some advice that I find particularly useful and relevant to remember. Each one could be developed into its own blog post. So for this blog post I am going to focus on just one of the letters and its advice. Then I will discuss others in future blog posts.

Screwtape’s fourth letter to Wormwood is on the subject of prayer. He first of all suggests that the patient should be persuaded to avoid the practice altogether, if at all possible. However, in the event that the patient does actually pray, Screwtape offers some advice as to how Wormwood can try to make that prayer less than useful to the patient.

One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication’. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. Screwtape, pg. 16.

This passage reminded me of the many years I thought kneeling to pray was unimportant, so long as I was praying to God. Since I have started  praying on my knees each morning, I have come to realize how important this position of supplication is in bringing honor and glory to God, and in drawing me closer to Him because of the humility it requires.

Another thing about kneeling to pray is that it is easier to remain focused on God. When we pray standing or while we are driving or sitting in a chair where we frequently read or watch TV, it is much easier to become distracted or to be only half focused on the fact that we are trying to pray. Praying in any one of these positions sends the message to our own soul that communication with God is not a priority but a side thought. When we kneel, however, we are saying to God and to our own soul that we desire to give communication with God the priority it deserves.

I’m not saying that we never get distracted when we pray on our knees. I know that I certainly do, but it is easier to get back on track and return our focus to listening to our Lord. As the decision to kneel to pray is repeated regularly, it becomes a habit and then communication with God becomes a habit as well. As we put a priority on communicating with God, He is faithful to respond. Even Screwtape knew this and warns Wormwood of this fact.

But of course the Enemy will not meantime be idle. Whenever there is prayer, there is danger of His own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of His position, and ours, as pure spirits, and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. Screwtape, pg. 17.

As Screwtape reveals, one of the most wonderful things about praying on our knees is the truth about our own condition and need for God that He reveals to us. For some, this revelation of their own sinfulness is too much and will result in less direct communication with God. But for those who truly love and appreciate our Lord, His revelation of wherein we need to rely on Him to overcome our selfish nature is a wonderful result of humble prayer.

Do you desire more direct and close communication with God? Have you nonetheless been avoiding literally getting on your knees to pray because you think you (and God) are happy with your current prayer habits? I challenge you to stop listening to the tempter’s suggestions that you do not need to humble yourself and bend your knee before God. Open your eyes and your heart to see the lie that how you pray is not relevant to the quality of your prayer life. If you consciously decide to kneel to pray each day, you will develop a wonderful habit that will draw you closer to your Creator and will cause Him to draw closer to you.


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