Tagged ‘Sin‘

Transformed Lives

Last month I was in Rockford, Illinois where my entire family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a privilege to see everyone again. We are spread out over the United States from Washington State, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is a rare treat when we are all together. While there, I stayed at my nephew’s home. He and his wife recently purchased the home and are slowly remodeling it.

One morning I sat in the guest room with a cup of coffee and looked around the room. There were a few quirks that needed addressing, but I love his house. It is a mid-century modern design. I can already see in my mind how amazing it is going to be someday. I don’t see it as it was. I don’t see it as it is. I see it as it will be. I see it complete. And I love it!

I took a sip of coffee, and it occurred to me that God sees me like I see this house. God looks at me, and he doesn’t see me as I was. He doesn’t see me as I am. He sees me as I will one day be. And he loves me!

I love my relationship with God. Through my relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has transformed many areas of my life. I look back with gratitude at all he has done. At the same time, I am aware of areas in my life that still need transformation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows me the dark corners of my heart where sin still lurks. Hidden sins like pride, lust, or seeking glory for myself slink away from the light. They try to hide, but the Holy Spirit shines his light upon them. At that moment, my tendency is to focus on all that still needs to be transformed. It can feel overwhelming. The solution is to understand how God sees me.  

None of us have arrived. In the end, we are men and women trying to follow Jesus. Some days we follow well, some days we do not. On the days when we have blown it, we tend to get discouraged. This is why it is important to understand how God sees us.

Remember, God doesn’t see us as we were. God doesn’t see us as we are. He sees us as we will be. This is because God sees us through the cross. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. His death paid for all the sins we’ve done in the past. His death paid for all the sins we may commit today, and his death paid for all the sin we may do in the future. His blood covers them all. That is why God does not see us as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. He sees us completely sinless, perfect, and holy, like Jesus. This is amazing!

Sometimes I look back with regret on sins of my past. At other times I may look at my life now and see so many areas that still need improvement. Whenever I do this, I may become discouraged. Instead, I need to look forward to the day when God completes his work in my life. Like my nephew’s home, I need to imagine how amazing it will be when God completes the work in my life.

Romans 8:28-29, ESV, says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In God’s plan, all things work together for good. This does not mean all things are good. Sin is not good. But God still uses it for good in our lives. This is because his idea of good is when we are more conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. When we recognize our sin, it should bring us to repentance. In that repentance we are humbled. When we are humble, we look a little more like Jesus. When we look a little more like Jesus, it is good! And on it goes….

In Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he wrote, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

Here we see the ongoing nature of this transformation. How we wish the transformation in our lives could be completed now. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. God continues to transform our lives into the image of Jesus as long as we live on this earth. Thankfully, you and I are in an ongoing process whereby God the Father transforms our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we progressively look more like his son, Jesus. The process continues until we finally die or the Lord returns to take us home. Then the transformation is complete.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). This is great news! This is worth celebrating! God begins the work of transformation the moment we accept his forgiveness of sin through the cross. This same God continues the work within us until finally, we are complete in him. What a day that will be!

My friend, this is my encouragement for you this month. God knows all our faults yet loves us anyway. He looks at our lives and sees the man or woman we will become. He sees us not as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. And he says, “I love you!”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

When God uses my sin for good

Do you ever rehearse some past sin in your life, replaying in your mind what you said or did, wishing you could go back and make a better decision than the one that led you into sin? I have. My goodness, I have blown it so many times. But did you know that God can use even your past failures for good? It’s true. A few days ago I was reading one of Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and a statement he made in this regard really stood out to me.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite biblical characters. I appreciate the way he acknowledges his past while focusing on his future. Again and again he writes about the wonder of understanding the grace he has been given for his past sin. Remember, he was the one who had persecuted the early believers. He was responsible for imprisoning many followers of Christ. Many died as a result of his actions. To carry the thought of that sin surely must have been a heavy burden to him. Yet he had been forgiven and set apart by God to carry the message of forgiveness to others who also needed forgiveness for sin.

This is the beauty of the gospel. God’s grace gives us forgiveness for our sin. Then, when we are aware of the forgiveness that we have received, we want others to know that they can be forgiven as well. Those who have been set free from the bondage of sin want others to be free as well.

One of the ways our enemy tries to silence us is by reminding us of sin we have committed in the past. Our focus is on the shame we feel from the sin we have committed. But when our focus shifts to the wonder of God’s grace and mercy, then we view our sin in a whole new light. The focus shifts from what I have done to what God has done. It is God’s grace and kindness to me that overwhelms me. His faithfulness humbles me when I consider my unfaithfulness to him. Always I am in the debtor’s corner.

But here is the amazing part. God redeems our sin and uses it for good. How can this be? How can God take the sin I have chosen in my past and use it for good? He does this in a couple of ways.

First, he uses my sin to help conform me into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV). God’s idea of all things working for good is not for my comfort, but for my conformity. When I am in a relationship with him, learning to love him more and more, he will use everything in my life to help conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. That means even the sin I have done in my past can be used to help me look a little more like the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, it is the awareness of the sin I have done that keeps me humble before God. God has given me great grace in forgiving me of my sin. God gives me this grace, not because I deserve it, but because it is his character to do so. It is part of who he is. Therefore, when I am aware of the grace I have been given, even though I do not deserve it, then I can give grace to others who also don’t deserve it. When I do that, I become a little more like Christ. I am being conformed to his image. In this way, God uses my past sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. What a powerful thought.

But not only does God use my sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ, he also uses my past to encourage others in the body that may be caught in sin today. Through my example and the evidence of God’s grace in my life, others will come to understand that they can be forgiven as well.

Paul wrote about this idea in his letter to his dear friend and fellow servant, Timothy. This is the phrase that really stood out to me as I was reading the other day. “The saying is trustworthy,” he wrote, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Please don’t gloss over those words! This is important stuff! Paul says that even though he was the worst of sinners, he received mercy so that his life could be an example of the patience of God in drawing all men unto himself for salvation. What hope! What encouragement for those of us who have also blown it, who know the grace of God and forgiveness for sin. Your past failure does not have to be for naught. God wants you to know that your life is a testimony of the grace of God. Again, the enemy wants you to focus on your shame; God wants the focus to be on himself and his grace. The focus is on God’s ability to forgive, not my ability to sin. When we understand this, then even our past failures can be used for good. Imagine that!

Friend, perhaps today the enemy is haunting you with some sin that you committed in the past. You know you have been forgiven, but the reminder of that sin has kept you in the bondage of shame. Today, God is speaking to you. He wants you to know that he can even use your past sin for his glory. You are a testimony of the grace of God! How wonderful to know that God can use my failures to show how great he is.

Paul wrote, “for those who love God, all things work together for good.” Yes, my friend, God can even use your past sin to work together for good. God can use it to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, and he can use it to encourage others who have sinned as well. Today, keep your focus on the one who forgives, not on your past. Like Paul, you also have been forgiven and set apart by God to be an example of God’s grace and to carry that message of forgiveness to others who also need forgiveness for sin.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 Newsletter.

Sitting at the Feet of the Master

This article was originally published in the June 2013 Newsletter.

I was six years old when my parents brought home a tiny puppy for our family. It was a Norwegian Elkhound – German Shepherd mix. I loved that dog. He was a dog for the entire family but I viewed him as my own. For the next 14 years he was my companion and closest friend, my confidant when times were difficult, and my playmate when times were good. We kept him in the back yard of our house, next to the small barn, on a chain that gave him plenty of length to run. He was quick and smart and could kill birds even while on the chain. His name was Shawn.

I would take him for walks down our shady tree-lined street. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he would take me for a walk, constantly pulling on the leash, dragging me down the sidewalk as he bounded along, nose to the ground, sniffing and occasionally stopping to do his business. This pause would give me just a moment to catch my breath before he was hauling me along again. He loved to run.

It was rare that I would allow him to be off the chain without being on the leash. I simply had not trained him well enough. But whether he was on the chain or the leash, I would often kneel beside him and he would sit at my feet, his eyes watching my every movement. I loved to wrap my arms around him and occasionally he would lean in to lick my face. He loved to be near his master. I missed him dearly when I left for college and I will never forget when I returned home the following summer how he bounded at the sound of my voice as I shouted his name across the yard.

Occasionally he would get off his chain without being on the leash. He would trot to the end of the grass where the chain normally confined him, testing the limits. Then, realizing he was free, he would bolt. He would run to exhaustion. There was no way to catch up with him. I would shout his name as I ran after him but I could never catch up. I could only hope he would eventually find his way home. Thankfully, he always did. The longest he was gone was for a couple of days. He came back looking haggard but quickly settled in back at my feet. No matter how far he ran, I always welcomed him home.

I thought about these memories of Shawn recently when I found myself in a similar position.

I use a software program called Covenant Eyes to give me accountability for what I look at online. The program is excellent. It does not stop me from surfing the web or looking up anything on the internet. But every month it sends an email to my accountability buddy listing all the sites I have visited and flagging anything that is even remotely impure to the top of the list. It keeps me accountable for what I look at online. I want to live a pure life before God. This software helps me to do that. I highly recommend the program. It’s like having a friend looking over your shoulder the entire time you are online. I’ve used it for years to great success and am an accountability buddy for many friends.

The other day, for some reason, my laptop started acting strangely. My internet connection seemed to be on and off. Some pages would load, others would not. Some programs just locked up. It was a mess. I tried rebooting the router. I tried restoring the operating system to a previous restore point. I tried everything I could think of. As a last resort, I knew I needed to try uninstalling the Covenant Eyes software to see if that was causing the issues. So for the first time in a very long time, I got the uninstall code from the Covenant Eyes website, which then notified my accountability buddy that I initiated the code. Then I uninstalled the software and ran a test to see if the software was causing the problem. The computer worked like new. There was clearly a glitch with the software.

I tried installing a fresh copy of the software but the original problems came back with force. So I uninstalled the package a second time and sat for a moment trying to figure out what to do.

In that moment, in that tiny moment, I realized the chain had just slipped off my collar. Without the software, I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would know the difference. I took the first tentative steps toward the end of the security I had lived in for the past 10 years. I began to think, “I could go to such-and-such site. It is not that bad but it would probably flag on a report. Since I don’t have the software installed, why not just go to that site and see what’s out there?”

I took a few steps in the worst possible direction feeling the rush of freedom flooding over me. Adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I wanted to RUN! Everything within me shouted, “RUN!” I hesitated, considering the options, and stopped dead in my tracks.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to the man I used to be. I couldn’t run away like I used to. But I am ashamed that I even took the first few steps. And the fact that I deeply wanted to run was like a kick in the gut to me. I felt like a failure and I could hear my enemy mocking me, taunting me, laughing at my miserable state.

Thankfully, in the moment when I wanted to run wild, I heard my Master’s voice booming out my name. I stopped and turned and looked him directly in the eyes. I saw the love he has for me, the time we spend together, the richness of relationship I enjoy with him, and I knew I did not want to run away from him. I’ve changed through the years. I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God. And I’m just not willing to give all of that up for the sake of a run around the neighborhood. It is just not worth it!

I ran back to my Master and sat back down at his feet, looking up into his kind face. He reached down, wrapped his thick arms around me and held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart beating next to mine. It was love, just pure love. It was where I was meant to be, just sitting at my Master’s feet, relishing the relationship I have with God.

Friend, where are you at in your personal relationship with God? Do you love him with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength? God longs for that kind of relationship with you. Do you have that kind of love relationship with him? I hope you do, because at some point, that relationship may be the one thing that keeps you from straying from the path God intended for you. This is another reason why love matters.

It will be the moment you feel tempted to say negative things about someone or even about yourself, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment pride begins to creep in from some experience of success, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment you are tempted to give up hope, wondering why God hasn’t healed, and the voice in your heart will say “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” The richness of relationship with God will be the determining factor. The reminder of how good it feels to sit at his feet and look longingly into his face will keep you from going where you do not need to go. For some of you, it will be the moment, like me, when you are tempted down a path of impurity, and God will say to you, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.”

But what if, like me, there have been times when you actually ran wild and ran hard? Yes, I said, “like me.” There have been times in my past when I chose to run wild. But my friend, no matter how far you may run, God will always welcome you back. God will never condemn you for turning back to him, for returning to his feet. Yes, there are consequences, many times very difficult consequences, for our sin. But when we turn and run back to him, he is quick to forgive.

Consider these verses:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).

God understands my tendency to want to run away from him, but he also gives me a desire to run back to him instead. I’m grateful that he doesn’t sneer at me when I am tempted to run away, but instead lovingly speaks my name, calling me back to himself. And I love the way he embraces me when the enemy tries to make me feel like a failure. This, my friend, is why love matters. This is why you need a real relationship with him, for just these kinds of moments.

My dog Shawn died on my twentieth birthday. I went to my room, buried my face in a pillow, and cried like a child. I still miss that dog. But many years ago that mixed-breed dog taught me lessons that help me understand my relationship with God today.

It is better to sit at the feet of your Master than to run where you don’t belong.