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Isaiah 48: 1-22
Isaiah 47: 1 - 15
Isaiah 46: 1-13
Isaiah 45: 8 - 25
Sin is messy business. Don’t believe me, then open your Bibles to Hebrews 9:18 and read down through chapter 10:25. You will see that all the blood offered year after year, and all the daily sacrifices, all of the lambs and bulls and goats recounted in Numbers 28-29 under the covenant could not atone for one sin.
God accepted them, but as the Hebrew writer tells us they were merely copies of things that would later be done through Christ. The sacrifices offered yearly at fests, weekly for the Sabbath, monthly for the new moon, and daily, likely did not compare to the many thousands more offered for burnt offerings unto the lord, peace offerings, and sin offerings.
Atonement is a messy business, and all of this speaks to the magnitude of the problem of sin. But what speaks even more clearly is that while these things were done to purify the flesh, it was only through Jesus that the way of atonement was truly made possible (Hebrews 9:23-28). Let that sink in for a moment, and think of the magnitude. The creator dies for the creature.
This shows us that sin is not merely messy; sin destroys what is good. The only way to free us from its grip required God to interpose the blood of the divine, and God so loathed sin and loved his creature that he did the unthinkable. He allowed His Son to be the sacrifice.
Sin is messy business, and we all struggle daily. It’s easy to become frustrated when it seems like the things we see in our own lives don’t match up with those things we see in our brethren. Sometimes it feels as if we are the only one wrestling with difficulty in our lives. Perhaps we are even ashamed that we are not further ahead of our struggles than we are, or that we haven’t matured in the faith so as to leave them behind.
You are not alone.
I am not attempting to minimize any transgression, but while the problem of sin is both messy and personal it is also universal. We all struggle with something. Lauren (my wife) is fond of saying that “daily struggles seem overwhelming because we replay our UGLY behind the scenes footage and compare them to everyone else’s highlight reel.” I don’t know where she got it, maybe it’s original to her, but whatever the source it’s absolutely true. Our culture is afraid of shame. It’s one of the reasons why we work so hard at making that which was and is shameful appear to be without shame.
The individual whose shame has become public must by necessity become an outcast, and so we dread the day that someone uncovers the shocking truth, and discovers that …we are not perfect. In many ways perhaps the rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is fitting
“25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self- indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
(Matthew 23:25-28 NASB)
Perhaps we are not concealing what they were, but we must admit it is more desirable to present the appearance of perfection than to be open and admit that we are struggling. This inability to be honest with our brethren about our struggles has left us deficient in the work of building each other up. The work of edification has been reduced to exchanging a handful of encouraging words between services rather than day to day involvement with our brethren each helping the other bear his load.
The power of a body comprised of many members each serving the other has been taken from us, and in its place stands a group of loosely connected individuals striving to appear perfect in each other’s eyes. Individuals who allow their shame to keep them from the strength that God intends for them to have.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
(James 5:16 NASB)
We are Stronger Together
In 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 Paul the Apostle warns of the danger of hypocrisy that comes in thinking that we are standing. He also reassures us that the Lord provides a way of escape from every temptation, and that there are no temptations that we face that are not faced by every other man or woman. Our experience with sin is not unique. It is perhaps part of the way of escape that we have brethren in Christ who we can turn to for help in bearing those struggles.
Stop projecting perfection and be honest about your struggles (James 5:16)
Bear with the struggles of those who are weaker (Romans 15:1-2)
Don’t ignore sin hoping the problem will go away and that no one notices (Romans 6:1-2)
Grow so that you may be a source of encouragement for others (Galatians 6:1-5)
Pray for each other (James 5:16, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Timothy 2:1, Philippians 4:6)
Our struggles are real. Why not put down the charade, pull down the veneer, and let our brethren see more clearly who we really are…people striving to walk the narrow way and pressing every day for a closer walk with the Master? What if we were praying for one another by name laying our struggles before the feet of the Father? I am not perfect, maybe you can help.
Isaiah 44: 24 - 45: 7
Isaiah 43: 22 - 44: 23
Isaiah 42: 18 - 43: 21
Isaiah 41: 21 - 42: 17
A Time to Grow
1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits. 4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
(Hebrews 6:1-6 NASB)
There’s a reason we call them growing pains. It certainly isn’t because growth is easy. I always resented being as young as I was, and that was true for most of my teenage years. But even though I wanted to be thought of us more mature, and even different from my peers there were times when growing up felt like equal parts anticipation and reluctance. I don’t expect that my childhood was terribly different from yours in that respect. It’s also true that not every pain of growth is a physical one. The emotional and psychological weight of growing up is undeniable. The years we spend transitioning from child into adult were long and fraught with difficulty and setback. Mine it seemed were constantly filled with reminders that I was not yet where I needed to be.
Hearing The Difficult Truth
There are some 16 times in my New American Standard where the text renders a phrase similar to “He who has an ear let him hear”. Most of these are difficult sayings that require some degree of introspection, and all of them are important.
It is often the case that the thing we are least wanting to hear is the thing we are most in need of. The same was true with growing up. I had to accept pretty early in my teenage years that I had a better shot of becoming an astronaut than I did breaking 6 feet. The genetics just weren’t there. I also had to accept pretty late in my high school years that I would never be a great trumpet player. I did not have the natural talent that others did, at least not as much, and I hadn’t put in the work that was necessary to overcome that deficit. It would seem that both the flesh and the spirit were weak there.
There were times when this frustrated me. I would find fault in others, particularly when they would point out that I could do better if I focused more, tried harder, or put in more hours of practice. Ultimately what I really wanted to hear was that I was okay or that circumstances were beyond my control. I desired to excel but I did not want to purse excellence. Ultimately it came down to wanting commiseration and not expectation, and I often resented those who tried to inspire me to do better.
The consequence of this is that I never became a better ball player, guitar picker, trumpet player, or writer, because I desired accolades with out discipline.
When the scripture pauses as if to say “are you listening,” this should incline us to stop and hear and to consider what is being said, and yet so often those are the passages that we are most inclined to ignore. Perhaps we do not ignore them altogether maybe we see applications in others that we will not make ourselves, but we are not truly hearing.
When Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia he posed this question to them, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:12-20) Sadly it’s a common practice for many to be come angry with elders over discipline, preachers over instruction, and brethren over their concerns for our spiritual well being.
The consequences for many are that they no longer have a heart willing to hear and endure sound doctrine. They desire the salve of commiseration that soothes the guilt of conscience over the chastening of the Lord that draws us closer to Him.
The unintended consequence of this is that we find ourselves happy, but further from where we know we should be. Like the prodigal of Luke 15 our dissent from the Father is filled with much self-assurance and merriment, but one day we may wake to find ourselves very far from Him indeed.
The Need For Discipline
Paul warned Timothy of a day when men would not endure sound doctrine, telling him that they would gravitate toward teachers that would teach only the things that they wanted to hear (2nd Timothy 4:3) But even so his work as an evangelist needed to remain unchanged.
We often think of this passage in relation so some great social upheaval like we are experiencing today, but what if the desire of the ear was nothing more than a willingness to hear things that would not challenge it to grow in the faith.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
(Hebrews 12:11 NASB)
The walk of a Christian is not an easy one. It is a full time and lifelong pattern of self-denial and self-control. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said “blessed are the meek.” But Meekness is never undisciplined. It is both inherently humble and penitent before God. The meek are those who desire to grow spiritually not for the accolades of men, but in order that they might live closer to God.
When this is our aim, growth will happen. Let us press on to maturity