Sin and Cancer Both Start Small
Cancer and sin both start small

It was just a tiny spot recognized by the scan—a little more than a centimeter. But as soon as it was identified, the medical community sprang into action. More scans, tests, chemotherapy, radiation. Months of treatment based on the knowledge that this one spot was small but dangerous. It had to be stopped.

On the other hand, it was just a tiny sin. Perhaps it was a small lie—a fib, really. Or a curse that slipped through your lips—just once. Maybe it was a tv program or movie you saw because, well, everyone was talking about it. No one even noticed. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that all too often we don’t view sin in the spiritual realm with the same sense of urgency we view cancer in the physical realm.

I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the spiritual repercussions are not as obvious. Or maybe it’s because we’ve bought into the lie that consequences are not real. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve decided it doesn’t matter. After all, if God is a God of love, He’ll let these things slide. Especially since they’re not big sins.

Problem is, both cancer and sin have a lot in common. Both start out small. Both are progressively more difficult to address the longer they’re allowed to grow unchecked. And both will result in catastrophic consequences.

Our culture has sanitized sin. Think about it. How often do you even hear the word sin used today? And when we do hear it spoken, it’s often used as a compliment. This chocolate dessert is sinfully delicious. That cashmere robe is sinfully soft.

Sin is not a compliment. It’s ugly.

Years ago when the movie, The Passion of the Christ was released, many criticized the graphic scenes leading up to and including the crucifixion. Even Christians complained the scenes were unnecessarily severe.

But we forget how severe and ugly sin is—even the smallest sin—in the sight of a holy, perfect God. Sin is serious business to God. Serious enough to require the torturous death experienced by Christ when He took the entire penalty of our sin on Himself.

The Stoning of Stephen

I recently taught on a passage from the book of Acts about Stephen’s stoning at the hands of the religious leaders of his day. I’ve taught this passage several times before, and always identified with Stephen the Spirit-filled Christian who spoke truth to a crowd who did not want to hear truth.

But this occasion was different. For the first time, I saw myself in the crowd of religious leaders who thought they were experts on truth. People who refused to face their own sin.

Of course, I’ve never stoned anyone. Or as Acts 7 describes, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him” and “they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him” (Acts 7:54, 57 NIV). 

No, I’m much more civil about it.

How many times have I excused and rationalized “little” (and big) sins? When have I conveniently avoided certain passages of Scripture because they struck a little too close to home? Or avoided certain people because I didn’t want to hear what they might have to say?

How many times have I been so sure I was right, that I refused to even listen to another perspective? Or when have I ignored the whispers of the Holy Spirit’s prompting because I’d have to respond with a change of mind and a change of behavior, otherwise known as repentance—another old-fashioned word we don’t hear used much today.

I’m ashamed to say, all too often, I bear a closer resemblance to the prideful, self-righteous crowd than to Stephen – a man who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was simultaneously humble and bold.

How about you? Will you join me in addressing even our “small” sins with the same focus and intentionality we use to address cancer cells in our bodies? Who knows what God might accomplish in and through us if we do!


 
Asking the Provider to Provide
Provider

What was the last thing you asked God for?

Health?

Finances?

A relationship?

After all, one of the names God revealed for Himself in the Bible is Yahweh Jireh, our Provider, right? And let’s not forget what James wrote: “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV).

But how do we respond when God does not give us what we ask for?

When a loved one dies.

Or when a child, raised in the faith, rejects everything he was taught.

When we don’t get the job we need to pay our bills.

Or when a spouse walks out on our marriage.

Do we become angry? Resentful? Do we feel as if He betrayed our relationship with Him because He is our Father and we are His children in Christ?

Let’s go back to the first place in Scripture God reveals Himself as our Provider. It first appeared in Genesis 22:14, where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. Just as Abraham is about to kill Isaac, God stopped him and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice.

Abraham sacrificed the ram, and called that place “The Lord Will Provide” (Yahweh Jireh).

We often forget the first mention of God as Provider was not in relation to material things. Rather, this name was first and foremost associated with the provision of a substitute sacrifice, pointing to the time when God would provide a once-for-all substitute sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:11-14).

So here’s the $ 64,000 question for those who are Christ-followers:

If God never granted another one of your requests, would the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which restored us to the Father—be enough? Would His provision of our salvation be enough? Would the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit be enough?

Or would we feel cheated if God did not continue to grant our requests? As if eternal salvation is not enough?

When James wrote, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (v. 2), he followed it with, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3).

Wrong motives. What motive could be more wrong than thinking God “owes” us? The God who provided His own Son has given us more than we deserve: a grace gift eclipsing anything else we could ask for because it’s eternal.

So the next time we find ourselves quoting God’s name, Yahweh Jireh, let’s remember His greatest gift—the one He provided before we even asked.


 
The Prayer of Jabez Revisited
The Prayer of Jabez

Do you remember hearing about the prayer of Jabez?

When Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez, was published almost 20 years ago, it took the Christian community by storm. Quickly propelled to the bestseller lists, it encouraged Christians to daily pray the prayer of an obscure man found in I Chronicles 4:9-10. In fact, that’s the only place in the Bible where this man—or his prayer—is mentioned:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (ESV).

I had been praying my personalized version of this prayer daily since I first learned of it. But I’ve recently revised how I pray this for two reasons:

  • I realized I was asking for things God was already doing
  • I was ignoring the importance of my own obedience for each request

So these days my prayer is revised to reflect those two concerns. Here’s the original post with the updates in bold italics:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

Your blessing as You define it…

Some Christians today limit focus their definition of blessing on material provisions. I hear Christians say things such as:

Of course, God is not against wealth. But nowhere in the Bible is material wealth His priority for His children. If anything, material comforts often get in the way of His process to conform us to the image of Christ. God is more concerned with wealth that will last for eternity. Spiritual growth. The fruit of the Spirit. And of course, the most valuable provision He has already given me is the gift of salvation—a restored relationship with Him.

So when it comes to asking for blessing, I’d rather leave the definition to Him.

Now I’m asking for the ability to recognize those blessings as God defines them. To take the blinders off and to stop being influenced by what I want rather than what I need. And to call them blessings even if they don’t initially appear that way.

Your use as You decide it…

Jabez prayed for victory to expand his territory. I don’t know what territory God has for me. Is it to be a greater influence in my family, church, or social circles? Is it to teach His Word? To publish books?

While I have hopes and dreams regarding how God might use me in the future, I never want those desires to prevent me from recognizing how God wants to use me today. Whatever He decides is fine by me!

Now I’m specifically asking for a spirit of contentment with what God has decided. To be content if God doesn’t use me in accordance with my own agenda. For contentment if He has chosen a new direction for me.

Your leading as You provide it…

Over the years, I’ve watched many Christian leaders shipwreck themselves on the rocks of their own grand plans for larger ministries and media empires. God’s plan for them might have been to toil in obscurity, but that wasn’t their plan for themselves.

I can strategize and I can plan. But without the Lord’s leading, my ideas may not be His plans for me. I need to trust Him to direct me onto a straight path (Proverbs 3:6). The Bible often speaks of our “walk” with God. Walking with someone requires that we move in the same direction and at the same pace. I don’t ever want to run ahead of God or lag behind Him!

Now I’m specifically praying for immediate obedience to His leading. Because I know delayed obedience is ultimately disobedience!

And that You would keep me from both giving and receiving pain.

Jabez prayed for protection from harm and pain. Some scholars believe that verse can also be translated to mean that he was asking to be kept from giving pain to others.

I know, from experience, the pain caused by other people. Betrayal. Insensitivity. Negligence. Temptation. But I also know I’ve caused pain, too. How can I pray for protection from pain if I’m not willing to pray that God would keep me from causing it?

Now I’m asking for increased sensitivity to how I might be causing pain for others. It’s a cop out for me to excuse my behavior as “this is who I am.” I need to ask the Holy Spirit to take who I am and make me more like Christ. But for that to happen, I need to surrender to the Holy Spirit, not just day by day, but minute by minute!

So, my personalized prayer of Jabez is:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

  • To recognize Your blessing as You define it,
  • To be content with Your use as You decide it,
  • To obey Your leading as You provide it,
  • And to be sensitive to how I might be giving pain, harm, and temptation to others even as I ask for God’s protection from those things for myself.

The change in the way I pray has had a significant impact on the way I approach the events of each day.

How about you? What are your thoughts about the prayer of Jabez?


 
Is Forgiving Yourself Biblical?
I can't forgive myself.

“I know God forgave me. I just can’t forgive myself.”

Perhaps you’ve said those words. Maybe you heard someone else say them. But is forgiving yourself a biblical concept?

Christians know faith in Christ as Savior and Lord provides freedom from the eternal penalty of sin at the end of our earthly life, as well as freedom from the power of sin now. We understand we are no longer slaves to sin, as Romans 6:17 tells us. We have the power to say no to temptation.

But that doesn’t mean we always make right choices. While we don’t have to give in to sin, there are times we do it anyway. If not in actions, then in words or thoughts. There’s truth in the adage, “Old habits die hard.”

When that happens, the Bible tells us to confess our sin, knowing God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (I John 1:9). And because we have been much forgiven by God, we are to extend the same forgiveness to others. Jesus included this truth in the pattern of prayer He taught His disciples: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We ask forgiveness from God because our sin if first and foremost against Him. King David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” When David committed adultery and then compounded it with murder, he wasn’t saying he didn’t offend or harm other people. He was saying the primary offense was against God, because sin is ultimately rebellion against God Himself.

So when we sin, whose forgiveness should we seek?

First, we turn from our wrongdoing and ask God’s forgiveness. God promises this forgiveness for every Christian who trusts Jesus because of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for us. And, as we’ve already noted, God promises to forgive.

We also ask for the forgiveness of the person we have wronged (Matthew 5:23-24). Unfortunately, while the Bible calls us to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), this doesn’t always happen. A recent Barna study revealed that almost “one in four practicing Christians (23%) has a person in their life who “they just can’t forgive.” While we cannot force someone to forgive us, we can live in a way that shows them the authenticity of our request.

But what about forgiving ourselves? Where does the Bible say we are to forgive ourselves? It actually doesn’t. And that’s where Christians can take a wrong turn.

The issue is not whether we forgive ourselves. The issue is whether we truly believe God has forgiven us. Do we take Him at His Word? Because if we did, the matter would be settled. We become presumptuous when we think forgiving ourselves is also required.

So why do we struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness? I can think of several reasons, including:

  • We simply don’t believe God does what He said He will do. Do you really believe there’s no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1)? We would never call God a liar, yet our supposed inability to forgive ourselves is actually unbelief—a failure to take God at His word.
  • We’re stuck in a performance perspective – we think we have to earn God’s forgiveness, much as we often expect others to earn our forgiveness. But by definition, God’s grace is unearned and undeserved.
  • We beat up ourselves for failing. Somewhere along the line, we’ve established an expectation of perfection. And in the process, we refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness because we’ve failed our own standard. But this isn’t an issue of forgiving ourselves, it’s about understanding the reality of our relationship to God in Christ. He knows we will fail, but He forgives us anyway (Psalm 103:11-14).
  • We’ve failed to train our thought life. The Bible tells us to “take our thoughts captive” (II Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on thinking about things that are noble, right, pure, and lovely, but the first item in that verse is to think about things that are true. So if we don’t feel forgiven, we’re dwelling on an untruth. But to take control of our thoughts requires help—and there’s no better Helper than the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
  • Finally, by not acting as though God’s forgiveness is enough, we’re voluntarily placing ourselves back under the enemy’s kingdom, even though the Bible tells us God rescued us from the domain of Satan and placed us in the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).

So the next time you’re struggling to forgive yourself for something God has already forgiven, ask yourself why. You just might discover your forgiveness is irrelevant…and unbiblical.


 
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