Let’s Talk About S–

Sin. I want to talk about sin. Get your mind out of the gutter, ya perv.

Seriously, though, we really don’t talk much about sin anymore, and I think I know why.

As humans, we have an innate understanding of right and wrong. Over time, this understanding becomes twisted by our pride, distorted by repeated suppression, and is subject to a myriad of other deformations. Yet somewhere deep inside, we all know certain things are wrong – even if we only recognize them as a wrong when done to us.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Romans 2:15

The general term for this understanding is conscience. And like any other human part, it can become scarred-over and calloused until there’s no feeling left.

Which brings us to today.

Instead of sin, we talk about things like lifestyle, my truth, or even illness. Much air is expended discussing our battles or our challenges. When confronted with wrongdoing, Christian influencers may confess their struggles. . . but not their sin.

It’s true we do go to battle against our sinful inclinations; we must struggle against temptation to sin. And yet, more often than not, the words are not used in this way but rather as a clever dodge to avoid responsibility. A struggle or a lifestyle is much more palatable than a willful crime.

What we’re missing in this subtle semantic waltz is the gravity of sin.

Sin is a killer. Period.

Sin is ugly. It is rebellion against the Maker; treason against the King; a refusal of the creation to perform its function as it was designed.

Sin lies. It cheats us of true life. It steals joy and covers it up in an endless, wretched pursuit of meager happiness and fleeting pleasure.

And no matter what name we give to make it sweeter to say, sin leads to death. In fact, death is what the sinner earns – as surely as you earn your paycheck from your employer.

For the wages of sin is death. . .

“But I’m not dead,” you may say, and perhaps you’re right. I wonder, though: can you honestly tell me you have a single relationship that hasn’t suffered a kind of death? Was any type of harm ever done to you by another person? Have you ever harmed another, even mildly?

Death of trust, death of respect, death of joy, of reputation, commitment, communication. Death everywhere we look, if we look with honesty. Even the cooling of affections is a kind of death.

Friends, this horror covers only one kind of death. The rot of sin goes far deeper than this.

. . . but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:23)

The good news is, we don’t have to accept death. We can talk about our sin; confess it, repent of it, and be set free in Christ. Expose the canker of sin to the fresh air of truth.

It may hurt, it may be embarrassing, but I can tell you from experience there is no cleaner pain. Like debriding an infected wound, the momentary torment is nothing compared to the relief of healing.

Let’s confess our sin to God our Healer and turn away in true repentance, trusting in the work of the Son of God to break the chains of sin and make us really free.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Romans 6:22

Why I Love the Church Despite Her Flaws

I’ll be among the first to tell you that the Church is far from perfect. People get hurt in church, at church, and even by the Church. I daresay all church attendees could pop out a MeToo hashtag along with their own grim tales of church-induced suffering, whether real or perceived.

If I may be so bold, I imagine pastors could write a book about the pain caused at the hands of the flocks they shepherd. Their wives could probably fill volumes. The reasons for this are manifold, but for time’s sake I will only explore a couple.

To start, the Church is a collection of sinful human beings at various stages of sanctification. Not all are mature, not all are wise, not all have understanding, and not all really know what the Bible says or what being a Christian actually means.

In fact, not all people who engage in weekly worship and claim the name of Christ are legitimately members of His Church – the worldwide body of dedicated, true disciples who love Him with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In fact, Yeshua (Jesus) Himself warned His disciples of weeds sown among the fruitful crop (Matthew 13:36-43) and that not all who call Him Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).

Its simple to see how any person could be hurt by participation in an assembly which includes people filled with the love of God, people filled with selfish ambition, and everything in between.

But none of these things explain why I love the Church.

It isn’t because she’s never hurt me; she has. Worse than my own hurts were watching my son take friendly fire at a time when he most needed Christian mentoring. Instead, he was invited to various activities by pastors who never followed up. One time in particular involved my then-11-year-old being invited to a group, never told the particulars, then listening in as the group discussed how fun it had been afterwards.

Ouch.

My son walked away from it all. And although I hate it with every fiber of my being, part of me understands. If my faith had been in a pastor, a group of people, or anything other than God Himself, I would have walked away, too.

But I love the Church despite what she’s done to me and to my family for the very simple reason that Yeshua loves me despite what I’ve done to Him.

Every sin I’ve ever committed, whether intentionally or not, is an abject act of rebellion against the One who created me.

Every careless word, every failure to love my neighbor as myself, each and every self-focused thought and action I’ve engaged in may as well be a hammer-stroke on the crude nails which pierced the flesh of the Son of Man.

You see, I have hurt the Christ. I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. I have brought sorrow to the heart of my Heavenly Father, and yet despite it all – even despite the fact that I still fall into sin – He loves me.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s also a choice. I choose to love the Church not because she deserves it, but because I don’t deserve it and yet Yeshua loves me.

He also loves His church; loves her enough that He gave himself up for her. And if He who is perfect and pure can love such a writhing mess of sin and self-sabotage as His Church, well then, so can I.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

On Fire

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49

Here’s a random bit of personal trivia for you: I am the family fire starter. In younger years of camping, I would be the one to light the campfire. On our large lot, I am the one who is tasked with burning the debris from yard cleanup efforts.

Why? Because I like it. There’s something about starting and tending a fire which I find relaxing. It’s a slow, analog process in a frenetic digital world. Tending a fire leaves the mind free to contemplate all God made and to reflect on the lessons He’s stamped into His creation.

Kindling

At its inception fire can be finicky. Particularly in damp or less-than-ideal conditions, a new fire needs correct fuel in correct amounts and at regular intervals. Too much too quickly will smother it; too sparse and the flames will flare and rapidly expire. It also needs air and a little bit of coaxing in order to grow.

We tend to be like this in our walk with the Lord. At first, our zeal is feeble and finicky. We need to fuel it with intentional prayerful perusal of the Scriptures at regular intervals. In order for our little flickers of devotion to grow, we’ll also need the breath of the Spirit and a bit of coaxing.

Growth

As the flames grow and become established, larger portions of fuel are required. This is the sweet spot where the fire burns merrily and needs no coaxing but it is not yet large enough to need taming. Keep feeding it and enjoy the warmth.

In our walk with the Lord, we often reach a point where many of life’s mysteries begin to make sense in light of God’s Word. Truths about the world click into place as our understanding of God grows. We are capable of digesting larger chunks of the Word and our zeal has taken a life of its own and no longer requires as much external effort. We simply need to feed it and enjoy the warmth of God’s love.

Free-Burn

Once hot enough, fire is no longer picky about the fuel it consumes. Damp wood and even green plants will catch fire if dropped into the flames. At this point, more attention is needed to the surroundings. A stray gust of wind or a small explosion from a source like bamboo can cause sparks to fly. Anything dry and flammable nearby becomes a potential fuel source.

For the careless or distracted manager, it takes mere seconds for a controlled burn to become an impending threat. Even for an experienced pyrophile, a momentary failure to consider all the elements – fuel source, climate, conditions, surroundings – can turn a fruitful burn into a frantic effort to protect the house or treeline.

It’s important to maintain vigilance in our Christian walk, too. Our fallen nature means that the fire of zeal in our hearts will all too easily seize hold of the wrong fuel. Before we know it, our passion for the Gospel has devolved into fervent outspokenness about justice or freedom or 5-inch swaths of cloth. We lose sight of eternity and latch onto the temporary concerns of this world.

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (ESV)

We let our opinions drive the flames and we’re careless about the fuel we feed on. We gorge on the opinions of influencers, podcasts, and blogs rather than the very words of our Creator and spread little sparks into flammable arenas we should have tended with more care. Or we fail to notice the surroundings and enter into thoughtless exchanges of outrage rather than revealing the pure Light of the World we have lost sight of in the raging fires of misguided passion.

The consequences to out-of-control fire can be devastating if not stopped. So can the consequences of out-of-control and misdirected passions.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James 3:6 ESV

This is important to remember in the climate of today. Most people are weary. Many are confused; many are angry. Now is our time to kindle a fire, but we who are in Christ MUST resist the impulse to feed the fires of fury and bewilderment. We need to kindle a fire of love and devotion to the One who is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life in a lost, deceived, and dying world.

This is not freedom to anything but rather freedom from; from the chains of sin and death. Freedom to begin living for eternity now, enjoying a peace with God that will last forever. This peace makes death no longer something to fear but a change to welcome, knowing that when this sin-corrupted flesh of ours expires, our truest and best freedom will begin.

This is the peace Christ Jesus – Yeshua Messiah – offers to all who will submit to His Lordship. This is the fire I want to kindle in me and in my family: A fire that will not decay but will burn steadily, consuming every impurity within and leaving behind all that I’ve built on the sure foundation of my King. A passion for truth, for true justice, for absolute joy, for the glorious presence of the King of kings.

Will you join me?

Prayer – Does It Work?

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

A friend once told me he’d prayed for God to take away the pain during a season of severe abuse and it didn’t work. The abuse – and the pain – continued.

Other people have prayed that a loved one would be healed from cancer or disease and still watched them die. Or for someone to be freed from addiction only to watch them waste away, enslaved to a substance.

So many people live out stories like this and conclude that prayer doesn’t work. And in strictly consumer terms, it doesn’t.

Prayer is not a thing like a soda machine or a streaming channel where you make your selection, enter your currency, and receive what you ordered. Prayer isn’t an order at all. A prayer can be a request, but in our native human selfishness, I think we forget that requests are not guaranteed.

I might request a raise from my boss and be denied; just as I might request God heal me from ME/CFS, but He might whisper instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

But let’s imagine for a moment prayer did work like a vending machine. What currency would we use to pay for our purchase? Hmm… there’s a tricky one. Even if prayer did operate on the same principle, are we really willing to count the cost and ante up? Food for thought.

However, prayer is so much more than making requests from the Almighty. In our topsy-turvy way, our fixation on requests highlight the glaring truth of who we truly believe is in charge. But we are wrong; God is not our waiter. In reality, we should be the ones taking orders, not Him.

Other than our tendency to look at the situation backwards and upside down, there’s another point I want to make. To say prayer doesn’t work is equivalent to saying conversation doesn’t work.

Prayer, like conversation, only works if both parties are talking about the same thing. One major breakdown in prayer seems to occur because God is talking to us about eternity and how He designed us to operate and we are talking about feelings we can’t even define from moment to moment.

I mean, honestly, we aren’t doing very good with definitions these days anyway. How can we expect to understand the still, small whispers of Truth when we’ve convoluted simple observations of basic biology into intricate fantasy worlds? But that’s a different discussion…

Prayer does work. But it works on my heart and on my sin, not on my terms.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 2

If you are just joining, start with Part 1 of what it’s like to live with ME/CFS.

Orthostatic Intolerance

You stand up from the table to put your Bible away (if you remember to put it away, that is), but you stand slowly. No dizziness right now. That’s good. Thankfully, this symptom is nothing new. You’ve dealt with it your whole life – it’s just a little worse now.

What you hate is when a wave of dizziness hits for no reason while you’re on the stairs.

The Other Things

You’ve started talking about your ME journey a little bit because you realize so many people who have it are not as fortunate as you. Some are housebound. Others are bedridden.

Driving to work, you see a homeless person asleep in a bundle of blankets under a bridge and wonder if he suffers with ME/CFS.

Still, you hesitate to talk much because of the stigma. So many people think it’s all in your head. You were once one of them.

But time after time, you pushed through and pushed through only to end up with bronchitis or meningitis or some other major issue as your body simply couldn’t muster the energy to both push through the fatigue and produce an appropriate immune response.

Some days you drive to work but have to take a 20-minute nap in the car before going in. Or you have to pull over and take a 20-minute nap so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

You realize you are nearing a crash. Thankfully, it’s Thursday and the weekend is coming, although you’d really like to do something with your weekend other than recover. Like clean. Or even something fun.

The body aches are annoying. Your thinking is sluggish and you feel generally unwell – like the beginnings of a bad cold or a mild flu.

But you’re thankful it’s not a bad day.

Even on a not-so-bad day, it feels like the air is made of molasses. During class, you slur a few words and tell your students to get out their cameras. You meant to say laptops. Ah, aphasia! So a migraine plans to join the party. At least there’s medicine for that.

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Your students help you sort your words out. Thankfully, they are sweet girls and you already told them not to worry if this happens. More than likely, it’s a migraine prodrome and not a stroke. You rely on the weird manic energy you’ve been able to concoct in public for the last several years to get through classes. And you don’t sit still for long so you don’t fall asleep.

Your gut is a mess, but you decide not to get into that. It’s just unpleasant to talk about.

On the drive home, your body hurts worse and you look forward to bed. Now that you’ve learned to balance things a little better, gotten strict with your sleep schedule, and accepted that you can’t exercise like you used to, bed is no longer the only thing you look forward to.

The heartrate alarm on your watch goes off because the organ decided to jump up over 100 beats a minute even though you’re just driving. So weird. You shrug.

Before bed, you thank God for His mercy. You realize that ME/CFS has made you rely more and more on Him, and so it’s good. It’s also given you compassion for others, because not everyone who looks healthy, is.

Even so, you have days of sadness. You miss being able to get up super-early, working out, and being productive. It’s hard to feel like crud most of the time. You don’t really get excited about much these days except Eternity and God. You keenly feel the truth that “the outer self is wasting away but the inner self is being renewed day by day.”

You try to decide if your achiness is enough to warrant taking an OTC medicine or if you can sleep reasonably without it. It’s best not to since you need to save things like that for migraines, so you skip it.

You skipped dinner because of the gut thing. That’s OK. There are people all over the world who skip dinner because they don’t have any. You thank God that you have the option and pray for those who don’t.

As you turn out the lights, your heart does a gymnastics routine. It feels like a guy with a peg leg trying to run through a yard riddled with mole hills – but in your chest.

You pray – in part to keep your mind focused on the Lord and in part to suppress your body’s adrenaline response to the weird heart stuff. As you do, you feel comforted that you have the Lord. He is with you.

You pray for people who don’t know Him and have the peace of trusting in His plans. You imagine ME/CFS without God. If you didn’t trust Him, didn’t trust His purposes for allowing this in your life, there would be no point in going on. Without the certainty of His goodness, you would have given up long ago.

You thank Him for being a God who is not a stranger to suffering, and you surrender to His plan.

You can rest in knowing He is good, even when life is not.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 1

In an odd twist, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing to me. I know that sounds strange, but with the advent of long COVID, there has been more research into ME/CFS due to clinical similarities.

To geek out for a minute, because yes, I sometimes read medical journals, both share such clinical findings as “redox imbalance, systemic inflammation and neuroinflammation, an impaired ability to generate adenosine triphosphate, and a general hypometabolic state” and symptoms such as “profound fatigue, postexertional malaise, unrefreshing sleep, cognitive deficits, and orthostatic intolerance.1

Let me break that down for you in real talk.

I will describe a generic day with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS. Oh and migraine. Because why not, right?

Buckle up, kiddies. Here we go:

Profound Fatigue

You wake up, but only because you have to. You went to bed on time. Early even, but it doesn’t matter. You turn off the alarm, pick up your sense of duty, and wipe away a thin sheen of shame because you need so much sleep.

You also peel your clammy PJs off, remembering half-waking in the night, drenched in sweat. Again.

It wasn’t always like this. You can dimly recall waking up and feeling ready for the day. Or was that a dream?

No matter. Today you get up and do your thing – whatever it is – because you have to. And because people don’t understand. But it’s OK. You can’t blame them. You didn’t, either, until it was your life.

Postexertional Malaise

As you start your day, you think back to your gym rat days and the time when you did P-90X and were in the best shape of your life. You look at your once-chiseled arms as you dress and have a moment of missing the upper body strength.

Back then, you’d start every day with a workout. A brisk walk or run followed by some weight training. Fond memories of times when your body just moved well. Working out was fun; it was therapy.

Now you drag yourself to the yoga mat and hope you have the energy to do a 30-minute flow. But, you remind yourself, be thankful.

You are one of the lucky ones. Some people with ME/CFS can’t muster the energy for yoga. Or going to the grocery story. Or walking up stairs.

You have a part-time job and can even go for a walk a couple days a week. Sure, you have to constantly adjust because a little too much physical or mental effort will cause a crash. Then, there goes a weekend down the tubes. But at least you can still function reasonably well.

Still, as you go into the first downward dog and feel that odd sensation in your muscles that you used to associate with doing heavy reps to the point of muscle failure, you can’t help but miss the strength. It feels like your muscles are starving for something.

Because they are, you remind yourself. The ATP production is janky and there just isn’t fuel in the tank.

Hmmm. Three miles must have been too far to walk yesterday. You remember when 10 miles was nothing.

You say a prayer that the Lord will help you wake up enough to read your Bible without nodding off, and you know He will make it work out. If not this morning, later on today. He’s good like that.

Cognitive Deficits

You close your Bible and thank God for giving you the mental energy to actually read and understand today. Not every day is like this. You start your prayers and include one you forget most of the time:

Lord please help me to remember people’s names today. And words. And my lessons.

Your brain simply isn’t what it used to be. Of course, some of the cognitive issues started after the first go-round with meningitis and the resulting chronic headache condition. Thank you, Lord, that it’s no longer chronic.

Still, as a teacher, it can be awkward to get in front of your class and forget words. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Worse is when you can’t get a student’s name to come to the surface. You know this child; you’ve known her for years. The name is in there somewhere. But it seems buried.

It’s laughable to think you were once recognized for your memory. It was borderline eidetic. Being able to call up scenes, snippets, the pictures of numbers – that was handy. If you wrote it down, you could remember it because you could call up the image of your writing. You could recall scenes, like having a video playback inside your head.

Now when you reach for a memory, it may or may not be there. You wonder if this is what it feels like to lose a limb. By habit, you go to put weight on it or reach to pick up a glass but there’s nothing there. You say a prayer for people who’ve lost limbs.

Then you remember your Mammaw who had severe dementia and say another prayer that the Lord will take you home before your mind goes so your kids don’t have to go through what your Mama did.

To be continued…

1PNAS article

A Matter of Life and Death

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5:21

Our world fails to understand the gravity of sin.

Then again, as The Book says, there is nothing new under the sun1. My Lord lived in the same world. The dates were different, the world population was smaller, and the day’s technological marvels would fail to impress the hyper-stimulated modern cynic.

Yet people haven’t changed in the slightest. From the temptation of Eve to the very second you read these words, human beings have underestimated the horror of sin.

To illustrate my point, Mark 2:1-2 tells of a time when four friends lowered their paralyzed buddy through the roof of a crowded building so he could see Jesus. Upon seeing the unfortunate fellow, Jesus declared to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

But the crowd wasn’t impressed until Jesus spoke again and the paralyzed man regained the use of his body.

In a similar way, our prayer requests often reflect a deeper fear of physical suffering than fear we will be guilty of gossip. We are afraid of being murdered while murdering people with our tongues. And yet the truth is, unless we accept the Son of God as our Master, we are already dead.

As it’s been said, Jesus didn’t come to show us how to be good. He came to breathe life into our animated corpses. This life and death dynamic is what I’ve been mulling over after reading and re-reading John 5 a few days ago.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24

Friends, Jesus stepped down into a world ruined by sin and took a stand against this great death-bringer. For a time, He forsook His rightful glory and the joys of perfect union in the mysterious community of the Triune and lived as a man. He endured temptation as a man, but He alone never gave into it and so He alone was a fully living Man.

Because of this, His willingness to trade His singular purity secures value sufficient to cover our debt – for we have sinned and earned death; He refused sin and traded His matchless gift for our wages to any who will accept His offer2.

But we must choose to accept His gift of life.

Instead, we bicker and squabble over temporary concerns, pointing out specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the massive planks that blind us3. We pray for health and comfort while using both to drink down death, serving self instead of our Sovereign. In so many ways, we sin, and we do not see it for what it is – the truest and most horrible death. Because we are addicted to death, we refuse to submit to the One who came to offer life.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:39-40

Don’t miss out on this chance, friends. As the days darken and the rumbles of war send tremors across every land, don’t forget that all sin is death.

Sin is a gilded cage, a poison that tastes like ambrosia. The happiness it promises is fleeting at best, a hollow satisfaction all too easily imploding under the least pressure. Sooner or later, the sweetest sin gives its captives a taste of hell on earth – the flavor of death to taint this life with the enemy’s own eternal destination, one he wants you to share.

Misery, as is said, loves company.

But sin isn’t the victor unless you allow it. The Son of Man still stands ready to receive all who belong to Him. Even now, the One greater than Moses says, “I have set before you today life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life…4

Turn away from your sin. You are only captive if you want to be. You can turn to the Son of God who came to give you life5 – a sweet taste of it here and now to infuse life’s sorrows with the essence of eternal joy in the presence of God. Jesus

Jesus alone can replace the musty tang of death with the delightful savor of life. But the choice is yours.

1Ecclesiastes 1:9; 2Romans 6:23; 3Matthew 7:3-5; 4Deuteronomy 30:19; 5John 10:10