Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Power of Sin

     If we are  honest with ourselves (and we usually are not), we would admit that, even well into our Christian lives, sin has a strong attraction, and even, dare I say, has a certain power over us. If you are one of those fortunate souls who are never tempted, you are lying to yourself; you may not be tempted by the outward vices, but you have already fallen into the first sin: pride. But if you are a normal Christian, you are tempted regularly, and from time to time you fall. I have no interest in condemning the honest believer who makes mistakes ( if, however, you are gleefully living in sin, I will certainly not make you comfortable in it), but I do want to take a look at the power of sin in our lives, and the best method, in my opinion, of combatting it. In keeping with my theme as of late, I will be speaking mostly from recent experience, so think of this as a report from the trenches, so to speak, rather than the ramblings of an armchair philosopher. I have been bloodied, figuratively speaking, in the battle against sin, and I share this as intelligence from behind enemy lines, in the hopes that you, dear reader, can avoid the land mines Satan has placed in your path.
    Before we can discuss our tactics in opposing Satan, we must first examine wherein, exactly, lies sin's power. In contemplating this, I have determined that sin's power is like a pyramid; it is founded upon a single premise, and builds upward. I believe there are four levels to sin's power: enjoyment, shame, fear, and condemnation. This "pyramid" has been carefully constructed by Satan; he is not omniscient, so he has developed his methods of temptation over the course of history, yet all temptation is founded upon this pyramid. His first temptation is the best example of his work, because he had nothing to oppose him; mankind was ignorant of sin, and so his temptation was simple. Yet, though millennia have passed, and his means of temptation have increases a hundredfold, all temptation is still modeled after the basic approach which he used in the Garden of Eden. It is imperative to note at this point that this is not an essay on temptation, but on sin. The two must be kept distinct, because with Eve, Satan had to tempt, but now sin already lies within our hearts; we have already tasted the forbidden fruit, and so it already has a pull on us. Satan's efforts at temptation are an order of magnitude easier.
     Let us now consider the individual attributes of sin's power layer by layer. Remember, pyramids are built from the ground up, so I listed the levels of the "pyramid" from foundation to crown. The base layer is so powerful for a variety of reasons, not least of which is our sanctimonious denial of its truth. That truth which forms the pyramid's foundation is this: we enjoy sinning. Don't bother denying it; any sinner will tell you that sin is fun, sin feels good, and sin is gratifying (at least, in the moment). This is sin's foundational (and, I would dare say it's strongest) power. Even though Eve did not know that sin was enjoyable to the flesh, Satan still reeled her in with that temptation; Scripture says she saw that the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. Those are all words describing pleasure. And today, thousands of years later, we have become even more driven by desire for pleasure than she was. It is this awareness that sin is enjoyable that pulls us back to it; it is the essential power of sin because if sin is not pleasant, if it does not feel good (at least temporarily), we will not want to commit sin. Do not underestimate your desire for enjoyment, for pleasure; that desire is the basis for all sin.
    The second level of our "pyramid" is shame. This is the effect of sin that we always think will help us resist "next time", but it has just as much power over us as enjoyment. This is the part Satan relishes, this under the surface consequence of sin that gives us the false hope that now we will be able to resist, next time all I have to do is remember that I felt (take special note of that word, we will come back to it) so ashamed of my actions, and I will never do it again. This is the enemy's great ruse, the false deliverance of shame. Shame is a smokescreen to hide from us the fact that deliverance is out of our hands, and in the hands of God. Satan wants you to think that shame is the great motivator out of sin, but that is a lie, for when you are facing the pleasure of sin in the eye, that shame will be quickly forgotten. There is no power in shame to deliver; Christ never told the sinner,"Go and be ashamed, so that you will sin no more." This deception of the enemy seeks to prey upon our consciences, and so manipulate us into self reliance. Putting trust in shame is an affront to the power of Christ; it, in essence says,"I don't need Your help, I have shame to drive me." What a disgusting lie! Do not fall into that trap as I have so often. Shame is a ball and chain, not a key; your self reliance will get you nowhere, and Satan will sit back and watch in uproarious laughter as you try to free yourself from the power of sin while chained to a source of that power.
     Thirdly and fourthly , the power of sin builds upon the previous levels to the most powerful tools of all: fear and condemnation. Fear and condemnation are Satan's favorite tools, his special tools, because we humans respond to them most easily. The fear of which I am speaking, as far as I can see, is threefold: fear of discovery, fear of judgement and fear of rejection. At the most basic level, this fear is directed at God ("And he said,'I  heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.'" Genesis 3:10). Adam knew that discovery meant judgement, and judgement meant rejection, and so he hid himself from God. Now, in this day and age, our threefold fear is now directed both vertically and horizontally; meaning, we hide our sins from God and from our fellow Christian. How do we seek to hide our sin? Under the cloak of religious behavior. We can't confess our faults one to another, we will be judged as a dirty hypocrite, and we may even be removed from our precious church offices, (part of the reason we fear this is that, in condemnation, we already believe it to be true). What rubbish!! If this is truly the case, then I must question the spiritual maturity of your judge. I am not saying that there are not consequences to sin, and even to confession, but if you are rejected by your fellow believer because of your flaws, then it is high time you found a new church. God has never rejected a penitent sinner, and, as the body of Christ, if we reject one of our members then we have sullied the name and image of Christ.
       Little children, let us love one another. To show love for a believer who wants restoration is not tolerating sin, it is showing the love we have been shown in Christ. These fears, though basically directed toward God, have now been exacerbated beyond belief by the judgement of the self-righteous, of whom I have been the chief culprit. Let us confront these fears, and confess our sins to one another so that we find strength in numbers. There is no reason to face temptation alone when all we have to do is confess and ask for help. Do not be a fool, as I have been, and think you can break free on your own. Do not be fear driven, be grace driven. The way to overcome sin is to desert your island in the sea of humanity and open yourself to others. Transparency is the key to overcoming sin; we need the strength of one another, it is the only successful tactic. It took me far too long to understand and believe this, but when once you prove it to be true, the liberation is instantaneous. Do not fight alone when you have a band of brothers eager to fight alongside you!! United we stand is more than a feel-good slogan, it is a fact. We succeed or fail as a body, as one. Let us not seek to separate ourselves from the body, for alone we will die. To the fallen, I plead with you, I implore you, don't walk alone, don't try to win alone, don't separate yourself from your only hope!! To the strong, bear the burdens of the weak; put away your gavel and open your arms to receive those who want so desperately to be free, who wish in every waking moment that they could confess to someone, and ask for their help. We are our brother's keeper, so keep him well, for one day, he may be fighting for you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hell's Lullabye

   In the Bible there are numerous references to the Church (or individual, local churches) being "asleep". This state is universally negative; the "sleep" referred to is not a "rest in the Lord", but an ultimately fatal spiritual stupor. Christ, in the book of Revelation, accused the church of Sardis of being dead, and then admonished them to,"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die..."(Revelation 3:2 NASB). The death Christ spoke of was not a final death, as evidenced by His admonition to the church of Sardis, but it has the potential to be final. I do not know that this death means that one loses their salvation, but that is beside the point. Spiritual death has a profound impact on the vitality of your faith and the quality of your Christian service. You may yet believe in Christ, but you will be spiritually impotent. I will return to this verse later on, but first I want to focus on the cause and danger of this state of spiritual slumber.
    Let us consider the cause of this deadly slumber. I entitled this essay "Hell's Lullabye", and I would be hard pressed to find a more apt title. In short, Satan expends an enormous amount of effort into putting God's people to sleep. His entire plan of attack is crafted around this purpose. It is often taught that Satan desires to destroy the believer, and while this is true of his ultimate goal, the frontal assault is not the best tactic to achieve this objective. All out attack often has the effect of strengthening the faith and resolve of a group or individual (one need only look back to the Battle of Britain in the Second World War to see an example of this truth). This is also true of the Christian; many a believer has come through intense battle much the stronger, for nothing refines the faith of a believer like extreme pressure from the enemy.
    No, Satan, being more subtle than any other beast, prefers the easiest and most effectual method of all: subversion. You know, the ancient city of Babylon was, by all historical accounts, seemingly impenetrable by direct assault. It's walls were fifty feet thick, it had a consistent water source in the River Euphrates, and had supplies enough to weather a long siege. Even as the empire was in decline and being conquered by the Persians, the inhabitants of the capital could rest safe and sound. Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede were not fools, and so they ignored entirely the direct approach. Instead, somewhere upriver, they diverted the river, and so marched their armies through the now dry culverts under the "impenetrable" wall and conquered the unconquerable city in a single night. In much the same way, Satan will not waste his time and resources attacking us in front. No, he will be subtle, he will be sly.
    How has Satan sought to subvert, and ultimately, conquer us? By putting us into a spiritual stupor. How does he do this? It's so simple, it may disgust you (as it has disgusted me): he puts before us those things that satiate our human desires. Dear reader, Satan's plan, "Hell's Lullabye", are the things of this world. Comfort, money, entertainment, food, possessions... these things will always dull our spiritual senses. Satan knows that once we taste of the pleasures of this world (and not even overtly sinful pleasures, at that; the innocent pleasures, the common pleasures are what he uses) our flesh wants more and more, until our spiritual vision and acuity slowly fades away, and we fall asleep, or more accurately, into hibernation.
    Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century were constantly aware of an imminent danger in their endeavor to reach the South Pole. That danger is the threat of falling asleep. The human body, it is true, needs rest and sleep, but when traversing the treacherous and lethal frozen desert of Antarctica, at no time could the entire expedition be asleep at once. There must always be a watch kept. Exhaustion was a constant companion of these brave explorers, due to the difficulty of the terrain and conditions, and it was always so tempting to just lay down and close their eyes for a moment. But that proved lethal, every time. Once they fell asleep, if there was no one to wake them, they would surely freeze to death; they would never wake up. You see, rest is a good thing, and there are times that God will give us rest from the struggle that is the Christian life, but that rest is always temporary and meant only to restore our strength. It is a simple matter of spiritual inertia: a spiritual body in motion tends to stay in motion, and vice versa. If God did not rouse us from our rest by bringing us new challenges, we would never wake up. That is the danger inherent in spiritual slumber.
    Now, I have drawn a distinction between "safe" slumber and "lethal" slumber, and illustrated it, for a reason. Rest, as I have said, is necessary, but Satan does not lure us to rest; he lures us to sleep the sleep of death. God gives us true peace and true rest when we need it. Satan on the other hand, satiates our desire for other things. God envelopes us in Himself, Satan snares us in the pleasures of this world. We must never confuse the two. How, then, do we distinguish between them? Well, do you feel at perfect peace and is your faith strong? Or is there some underlying anxiety and angst, even when you are surrounded by material "blessings"? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself. Do you enjoy God's presence, or do you want to be entertained both night and day? I am speaking from bitter experience, for I have been sleeping the sleep of death for well over a year, and am only now, by the grace of God beginning to rouse myself from my slumber. Do not allow yourself to be ensnared by earthly pleasures, for though they will satisfy you for a while, they ultimately leave you alone and empty.
   I said at the beginning that I wanted to return to Revelation chapter three, and so I shall. The latter half of verse two states,"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die, for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of  My God." Though you be asleep, and have been asleep for perhaps many years, you are not finished, God still has deeds He wishes you to perform. You have wasted much time, but God restores the years that the locust have eaten (see Joel 2). He is not angry or disappointed, He seeks only that we repent and set ourselves once again on the field of battle. Cast off Hell's Lullabye, those things that will force and have forced you to sink into a stupor, and do not pretend you don't know what particular verse Satan sings to you. You know, you simply do not want to let go; trust me, I have been, and in some ways, still am in that same position. But cast them away, and allow Christ to give you good things, sweet things, eternal things, that will give you rest, not stupefy you. Satan offers the false rest of a narcotic, Christ offers the inner peace and rest of a parent's embrace. Consider this the hand of God extended to you to rouse you from your slumber and urge you on to incredible victory on the field of battle.

Friday, August 10, 2012

When Breaks The Dawn?

 A cry sounds forth in the black of night,
 When breaks the dawn?
 A voice filled with hopeless fright,
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will, on the morrow, peace I find,
 When breaks the dawn?
 A glimpse of paradise in my mind,
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will a beating heart my only comfort be,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Or will loving arms be waiting to embrace me,
 When breaks the dawn?

 This night, it seems, shall never end.
 When breaks the dawn?
 My heart longs for the warmth of my Friend.
 When breaks the dawn?

 The darkness within has broken my spirit.
 When breaks the down?
 When I weep, does anybody hear it?
 When breaks the dawn?

 Because of my tears have my eyes grown red.
 When breaks the dawn?
 It seems in hell have I made my bed.
 When breaks the dawn?

 Will hope in the morning's glory bloom,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Or is the future more of the present's doom?
 When breaks the dawn?

 I have set my face forward like a flint.
 When breaks the dawn?
 I will not surrender 'til my life is spent.
 When breaks the dawn?

 Oh Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
 When breaks the dawn?
 Shall I ever join the triumphant host?
 When breaks the dawn?

 Let Your glory fall on my wearied face,
 When breaks the dawn.
 I will rest in your presence when I have finished my race,
 When breaks the dawn.

 Hope and joy have departed from me now.
 When breaks the dawn?
 But in the morn Heaven's trump shall resound,
 When breaks that glorious dawn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Letter From Gamma

    The following is a letter that my grandmother, who passed away last week, wrote upon her deathbed. She wrote it with the instruction that it be read at her funeral. It is a fitting testimony to what was important in her life.

     What do we do when life knocks the life out of us? As Christians we turn to our source of comfort, power and peace. I can't imagine what people who don't know God do - because it is hard enough for those of us who do. Don't ever think that you can get ready after the life gets knocked out of you. Be prepared with Scripture in your mind and heart - because sometimes you are just too weak to even pick up the Bible. Know that you have people who are praying for you, because often we can only say,"Help me, Jesus."
     Prayer is the greatest source of power in all of Heaven and Earth. The host of Heaven is watching over us and voicing praise and petition on our behalf. This Father God of ours is hearing His Son, our Saviour, make intercession with Him for us. God and Jesus will remind us of what we have in Him: 1) the promise to never leave us nor forsake us, 2) that nothing can separate us from Him, 3) peace to walk through the shadow of the valley, and even peace and calmness to walk through the actually valley, 4) comfort in the midst of pain, and comfort to our families and those who love us, 5) strength to endure the pain as He reminds us of the suffering Jesus went through for us, and 6) the promise that He was going ahead to prepare us a home in Heaven, a perfect place, a solid foundation; the lights won't go out, there will be no storms to worry about - perfect in every way. God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will keep us encircled with love, peace and joy - and we will never have the life knocked out of us again.
     I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and the prayers you've offered for me, and I thank Jesus for answering them with peace and calmness.
                                                                                                         Pauline Sayes

     May we all face the cold hand of death with this peace, the peace that only God can give. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how one faces death who has lived a life dedicated to God.