Won’t Becomes Can’t

Anne Frank, whose Holocaust diary was posthumously published as the famed Diary of a Young Girl, stated, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.” Miss Frank was a mere fifteen years old when she died in a concentration camp and yet her writings possess a wisdom that continues throughout history.

Consider those words again. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.

Endowed with free will, we humans have the ability to obey or disobey God. That choice is our right. However, as young Anne—and philosophers through the ages—understood, every choice that we make carries an accompanying consequence, and eventually those individual consequences harden into a consistent reality. In biblical terminology that hardening is called a “stronghold”. And strongholds are morally neutral—they can be either good or bad.

For instance, if I consistently respond to the whisper and prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life I will create a pattern/habit/stronghold of righteousness. Conversely, if I routinely disobey, yielding my mind, affections, or body to sin, I will create a sinful stronghold. And if I consistently won’t obey God (through the exercise of my free will) I will get to a place where I can’t obey Him—I will be gripped too tightly in the stronghold of my sin.

Does this make sense? If I consistently reach for things that are displeasing to God, they will eventually reach back, and then even if I want to let go, I sometimes can’t. I am bound. Addiction counselors understand this. They explain that for an addict the act of reaching for a forbidden, damaging substance is a choice; however, once the choice is made the addiction/stronghold takes over and it is no longer a choice—it is bondage.

I’m not sure if Anne Frank knew that she was paraphrasing a famous adage from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.” Variations of this quote have been attributed to Stephen Covey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and numerous others, but it actually appeared in ancient literature that pre-dated the time of Christ, and it has always been true. The exercise of our free will is dangerously powerful—it can create realities that either sabotage us or set us free.

Let’s choose life! Let’s tear down our suffocating, damaging strongholds and let’s build new ones on the rock of Jesus Christ.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)


Repent, for electricity is at hand!

electricityWhat do you most often feel when you hear or read Jesus’ words from Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”?

Does the call to repentance make you feel excited and hopeful or nervous and a little bit scared, like you’re about to get busted for something you’ve overlooked or done wrong?

It’s natural to associate repentance with confession, sin, and failure because repentance is the act of turning away from those things; however, in its core definition repentance is not about sin or failure it’s about re-thinking things. Metanoia, the Greet New Testament word for repentance, refers to after knowledge that results in a change or alteration in one’s mind. Another way of saying it is: re-think your thinking.

Sometimes the things we are re-thinking might be negative or harmful and sometimes they might be very good. For example, when rural communities in our country were first converting to electrical power the residents had to “repent” (or re-think their thinking) and turn from their reliance on candles, kerosene lamps, and lanterns.

In altering their thinking and turning from one inferior power source they were able to receive and connect to a much greater one. I think that’s part of what Jesus meant when He announced the arrival of an entirely new kingdom and then invited people to step into it through repentance.

So…what areas of your life do you need to re-think? Where is your thinking keeping you trapped in yesterday? Where are you still living with lamps and burning torches when God is beckoning you to repent and receive His greater power?

What is the unforgivable sin?

Silhouette of a man kneeling with arms lifted up at the Cross of Jesus.

What is the “unforgivable sin” that Jesus talked about…and am I at risk of committing it?

What is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”…and how do I know if I’ve ever been a blasphemer?

What is the “sin that leads to death”…and how can I avoid that particular sin?

In Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 John 5:16 Jesus and the Apostle John talked about a particular sin that has some dire consequences against it. This sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–is a deadly sin with no mercy attached to it. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Spirit was an unforgivable offense both in this present life and in the age to come.

What were they talking about? What is this blasphemous, unforgivable sin that takes its perpetrators straight to death?

First, it is helpful to know what this sin is not. In Matthew 12:31 Jesus said, “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven” except for blasphemy against the Spirit of God. Therefore we know that this sin is different from every other kind of sin–including both the little presumptuous ones we commit and the gigantic heinous ones too. Indeed, the Bible is replete with stories of murderers, adulterers, and idolaters who found forgiveness in the presence of God.

Jesus defined this sin for us when He called it “blasphemy.” Blasphemy refers to angry, injurious, defiant speech leveled against God and His ways. In Matthew 12 Jesus had just demonstrated undeniable evidence that He was indeed the Son of God, but rather than repenting and following Him, the religious leaders (those to whom Jesus directed the charge of blasphemy) dubbed Him a demon-possessed fool.

The reason that this level of sheer blasphemy is unforgivable is not because God is unwilling to forgive a blasphemer, but the because the blasphemer is not willing to seek forgiveness. In 1 Timothy 1:13 the Apostle Paul said he was formerly a “blasphemer” (same Greek word that Jesus used in Matthew 12 to describe blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). The difference is that Paul repented when He encountered Jesus Christ. He ran to the cross and obtained mercy before he died.

Blasphemy against the Spirit is a clenched fist, crossed arms, defiant state of heart and mind wherein the blasphemer is presented with irrefutable proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and yet still refuses to acknowledge Him.

We don’t have to fear this sin. We can’t accidentally commit it. Stated another way, the unforgivable sin is the sin that is never confessed. Let’s live at the cross, let’s pray for our loved ones and our world to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ, and we can live without fear of the unforgivable sin.

Mr. Clean

mr.cleanNo, this isn’t a self-portrait (although I’d love to have his biceps and he does rock the bald head). It’s a portrait of what I hope we are all aspiring to be.

There is nothing like knowing that we are clean.

I worked with a pastor once who was urging me to be Mr. Clean in my ministry and he said, “I’ve slept soundly with a clear conscience every night of my life.” That’s a pretty awesome testimony. And whether we can make that boast today or not, we can start living that way now so it can become our testimony tomorrow.

God has made a way for us to be clean.

The first step to being clean is to get clean.

  • We need to open the door of our inner lives to God, exposing our sin and asking for His total and complete forgiveness.
  • We need to accept His forgiveness by faith and then reject our affiliation with those sins by closing every open door that entices us to return to them.
  • We need to find a wing-man/girl to help us live in our new, cleansed identity.
  • And then we can shave our head, wear a gold hoop and buy a skin-tight T-shirt…sorry.

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (Jesus to His disciples in John 15:3).

“To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (from the Doxology of Jude 1:24)

Cured of backsliding

Is it possible?rock climber

Is it actually a legitimate possibility to live free from the issues, angst, and strongholds that cloud our consciences, hurt our loved ones, and dull our spiritual sensitivities?

God thinks yes.

In Jeremiah 3:22 the prophet recorded God’s hope-filled promise, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

What an awesome phrase! “Cured of backsliding.” How is that possible? How do we become cured of the sins that have plagued and defeated us for a lifetime? According to Jeremiah, the cure is in the returning.

“Return…I will cure you.”

Every time we return–moving toward a place of increasing surrender and reliance on God–the cure works a little deeper into our spirit, liberating us from sin’s addictive pull. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never struggle or stumble–it means that if we are habitual returners our backsliding will never have the final word.

Jude, Jesus’ natural half-brother, said it this way. He said that God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Let’s be lifelong returners until we are characterized by the cure.