Sin Sucks

It’s true. And I don’t mean that like the kids say it. I mean that sin literally sucks, like a leech or a blood-sucking tick.

If it gets a hold of you it will drain your confidence, power, strength, your witness, the joy from your relationships, and eventually it will suck the very life from your veins. James said that, “when sin is full grown it gives birth to death.”

The longer it stays there, the more it will suck from you. It will never be glutted until you are in the grave.

That’s why the Bible compels us to deal so ruthlessly with sin, to mortify our flesh (that literally means put your sinful inclinations to death.) Jesus said that we should be willing to pluck out our eyes, and chop off hands if they are causing us to sin. That harsh language is intended to come across as gross. But He is the great Physician and He knows that sin is like cancer and if tumors are allowed to remain they will always spread. They must be cut off with the scalpel. Sometimes the most loving thing a doctor can do is to amputate.

I once had a tick get on to me. I was on a horse-back ride in the jungles of Belize. At the end of the ride I was brushing mud off of me when I noticed a big piece that wouldn’t come off my chest. To my horror I realized it wasn’t mud but rather a blood-sucking insect! I went to pull it off but a guide quickly told me not to and then proceeded to burn it off. He said that if I pinched it out part of it would remain buried in my skin.

There is a spiritual parallel to this as well. Sin must be pulled out from the roots or it will simply grow back. There can be no concessions. You can’t negotiate with your flesh. If you give it an inch it will always take a mile. It will always take you further than you wanted to go and steal more than you were willing to give. If you don’t put your old man into the ground it will put you into the ground.

“We ought to maintain a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood. We ought to confes sin the moment we see it to be sin. We must never think a sin is too small to need immediate application of the blood of Jesus Christ.” -Robert Murray McCheyne


A first time for everything.

When should you have sex for the first time? There has been quite a buzz in the news about the topic of virginity lately. The New York Post and Fox News reported that MTV was recently working on and recruiting talent for a new reality tv concept called “My First” that has apparently been abandoned. The show was going to chronicle young adult virgins on their journey towards “giving away their v-card.” With the whole process, except for the actual act of having sex for the first time, unfolding on camera for a voyeuristic audience to watch at home.

Far more impressively, USAToday ran an article about Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones. Lolo competed in Beijing in 2008 and is expected to qualify to compete in London this summer. She is 29 years old, a Christian, and she recently announced on Twitter that she is a virgin. In an HBO special that followed, she explained that her virginity is a gift that she wants to give to her husband someday. She admitted that waiting to have sex is the hardest thing she has ever done. In her own words it’s been, “harder than training for the Olympics, harder than graduating from college.” She talked of enormous temptation, and  that she has had guys tell her that sex will make her run faster, but she hasn’t given in.

The contrast between these two articles and the different world-views contained within them is striking but even more impressive to me is what they have in common. Both articles demonstrate the clear value of purity.

Lolo on the one hand views her virginity as a gift, a special treasure. Something that she can only give away one time and so when she gives it to her husband it will be meaningful because she didn’t give it to any one else. She is saving it for him. On the other you have MTV moving towards building a real life sexual version of the Hunger Games. Whether the show ever gets made or not the message is clear: Virginity is a commodity. A new product to sell commercials and boost ratings. Snooki and the gang are old hat, this is untracked snow. A fresh libation of virgins is now being called for to appease our insatiable cultural thirst for sexuality. The fact that they would even contemplate the idea shows they realize there is an implicit value to a person’s first sexual experience. And it is not just a commodity, it is a scarce commodity. It can only be sold once so it is in extremely short supply.

C.S. Lewis was right when he wrote, “Chastity is the most unpopular of all the virtues.” And yet it is clearly precious. Being a virgin is wonderful. Sexual intimacy is a gift that is meant to be enjoyed in marriage. God never intended the first time you have sex to be something that would generate views on YouTube, or increase shareholder value in a company. Nor did he intend for it to be a rushed experience in a guest bedroom at a party, or in the backseat of a car. Furthermore, having sex on your wedding night and honeymoon was meant to be a brand new, completely awesome thing; not just business as usual. He also knows that sex is not only pleasurable it’s also powerful. It binds two hearts together irreversibly and changes who you are on the deepest level. We turn from the manufacturers guidelines at the expense of our own happiness.

Proverbs 20:17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.


I’ve not yet begun to fight

Today is my thirtieth birthday. Wow. A whole new decade. I am a rather introspective person and have been spending some time thinking back on my roaring twenties today, and they were packed! In the last ten years: I got married, had four kids, planted fresh life church, snapped my femur in half, launched both the O2 Experience & Skull Church and experienced Christ’s love in major ways. God is good.

I am genuinely thrilled to enter this new season of life. As I read the Bible this morning I saw a thread of major events that took place when people reached this pivotal age.

At 30 Joseph was appointed Prime Minister of Egypt.

David finally ascended the throne of Israel at age 30.

God called Ezekiel to begin his prophetic ministry at 30.

Moses was told that all the priests, from the tribe of Levi, couldn’t begin ministering until age 30.

And finally Jesus Christ, According to Luke, about age 30 was baptized and began His public ministry.

Seems like a pretty significant age to reach. I have been in pastoral ministry now for over eleven and a half years but I am invigorated to approach this next chapter of life and my calling as though it were day one. I have never been more committed, with my whole soul, to Jesus, to His Word, and to the preaching of the gospel as I am today. I love my family fiercely. And both the team of people I get to serve the Lord with, and the church I have the pleasure of leading are absolutely stellar. I believe the best is yet to come and I will approach each day He gives me as though it were my last.

In awe of Him,

LL


Do as you’re told

Your commanding officer has an assignment for you today. He has carefully set things up for you to bring Him glory, grow more into His image and show His love to others. I have no idea what He has planned. There could be someone you will talk to that has recently asked God if He is real and you will get to be a tangible expression of His presence. A walking, talking answer to their prayer. Who knows, maybe you’ll be around someone who is lonely and taking the time to give a smile or just one kind sentence could change their whole day. You might get some bad news today or find out that something you’ve had your heart set on is not going to happen and you’ll have the opportunity to flex your faith and move forward anyway.

Whatever it is that awaits you today, in the midst of it all there will be a still small voice in your heart telling you what to do. It might not be an audible voice either. More of a faint impression. A slight tug on the reins of your soul. Perhaps a verse you have read recently or something you heard at church will come to mind. If you sense you are being told to do something that puts someone else’s needs ahead of your own or urges you to worship God even in the midst of a funk, it’s probably not the devil that’s speaking to you. Chances are, that still small voice belongs to God and it’s His way of giving you your marching orders. Do as you’re told!

2 Timothy 2:4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.


Recovery

In order to see your dreams become a reality there are going to be times where you are going to have to flat-out sprint. Burn the candle a little bit more than you should. Strain your muscles and your mind. Run yourself ragged. Come right to the edge of delirium.

I know, I know. This goes against all wise counsel. Every sermon you have ever heard about the sabbath; and all the leadership blogs you have read about how if you don’t guard your day off you don’t love Jesus are probably coming to your mind about now.

I totally agree with all of that, as a rule. There is nothing spiritual or profitable about being a workaholic. Psalm 127:2 straight up says we should not run in the red but should rest. I get it. None of us keep the world spinning, or the sun rising. We don’t need to stay up all-night-every-night working.

But I have met people who are so dogmatic and almost Pharisaical (you know I get 6 points for dropping that word) about their day off not being disrupted…not ever, and are rigid about the rule. They will walk out the door at 5pm and not one minute afterwards, whether the job is done or not. Their day off is sacred and their schedule is set in stone, no matter what is going on; they will only expend the agreed-upon amount of energy and no more. That’s fine and the desire to not burnout is a good one. But it’s not realistic to think that greatness can be achieved without extraordinary effort being called for at times.

Nothing sweet is ever achieved without sweat. Occasionally exceptional times will come along where you have to go above and beyond the call of duty. There will be short seasons that require extra effort to punch through to a next level God is calling you to, to complete a project, or go through a door that has been opened. And you will need to kick it into high gear and give it all you’ve got.

The good news is that a rule is still a rule even if there are exceptions. The trick is not allowing that to become the new normal. If it does, it’s not an exception anymore, it’s the rule and if you keep it up for long something will inevitably suffer–your marriage, your kids, or your sanity.

What I have learned (through trial and error) is to see these seasons coming before I’m in the midst of them and to prayerfully accept them, with my wife’s blessing. If you do that, no one is blindsided and you can plan a recovery as a part of the process. So if a unique project is going to have you pulling 13 hour work days for a week and a half you can take three days off at the end and not just plunge back into reality and grind it out.

It helps me to think of these unique times as interval training. Yes, it might be crazy right now but this is a sprint, it’s supposed to be above the normal craziness. It’s time to go all out. Soon I will be drinking a gatorade, catching my breath and getting back into the usual flow. The secret isn’t living a life that’s never crazy, it’s making sure that when things do get crazy you make time for recovery.


Haircuts don’t last forever

I want to tell you something that’s beautiful, and redemptive. I specifically feel called to say this to someone who has given something away that God wanted you to keep. And unless you see this you are going to miss out on an opportunity to feel the freshness and the newness that God has for you going into the new year.

Here it is: Haircuts don’t last forever.

It’s true. No matter how bad it made you look, or how horrible of a job the stylist did or how much it cost you. It may feel like it will be that way for all eternity when you look in the mirror, but it won’t. If you have a bad haircut right now, even though it’s growth isn’t perceptible to the naked eye, your hair is growing slowly right now and soon it will be back to where it was.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Now, before you delete my feed from your RSS reader or stop listening to my podcast because you think I’m crazy let me show you, from God’s Word, why you should be encouraged by this.

Judges 16:22 But before long, Samson’s hair began to grow back.

I think this might be one of the most beautiful and redemptive verses in the Bible.

There is no doubt that Samson got the most expensive haircut in history. It cost him his job, his freedom, and his strength. He had his eyes gouged out, was thrown into a prison where he worked as a slave for the rest of his life and never got to see his family again. All for one lousy buzz cut. He was one of the most gifted and talented men who ever lived, but he would die in disgrace and shame. He freely gave away what no one could have ever taken from him.

But the instant the shears had left his head, and with it the strength from his muscles, and the shackles were being placed on his wrists, the tiny follicles began their slow journey back to their former glory. And as they did they sang an unheard song of God’s forgiveness and willingness to forgive. He probably couldn’t tell it was happening, as he ground grain while wrapped up in bronze chains in the Philistine prison, but grace and restoration were at work in his scalp.

He would never get his eyes back, and he would die a prisoner; but he would die with hair. And before that happened he would be used by God in a greater way than he ever had in his entire life.

Haircuts don’t last forever.

Psalm 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.


Word is going to get out

Mark 7:24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret.

Jesus had just had a super gnarly clash with his enemies who were constantly following him around and nitpicking his every move. They never did anything to help people but they had a lot to say about how he was doing it all wrong. That is usually how it goes. Those who do the least complain the most. And it gets draining after a while.

So he decided to get out of town for a little bit. He left Galilee, where he was well known, and crossed the border into Gentile territory. There is no way the messiah-police would be willing to follow him there…they would for sure get cooties from all the wicked sinners if they did. So he and his disciples would be able to get some rest and recharge their batteries.

That was the plan. But it didn’t turn out that way. He didn’t blend in very well. The text says, “he couldn’t keep his presence a secret.” Even though he was trying to keep a low profile he ended up attracting a bunch of attention when he healed a woman’s daughter after being there for a short time. He couldn’t help himself. It’s what he does. News quickly spread that Jesus had come into the home as the shockwaves of healing and change reverberated through the community.

Morale of the story: if Jesus has come into your house you won’t be able to keep it a secret. It will get out. You won’t be able to help it. That’s because he will never come into a home and leave things the same. He’s an applecart kicker over. A sin forgiver. A life-changer. A destiny re-router. Once inside your life his healing touch and out of control blessings will creep into every crevice of who you are and it will soon be visible on the outside. The kind of change he brings can’t be hidden for long. People will notice.

Take some time today to ask Christ to invade every nook and cranny of your being. Make sure he knows that your heart is his home and he can do whatever he wants in your life. Is there some area of your schedule or a relationship where you have been holding back? Give him an all access pass to your soul–no holds barred. But be prepared for others to notice, because word is going to get out.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.


Fire prevention starts at home

On a bike ride a few months ago I came across a US Forest Service sign that had this warning written on it: Fire Prevention Starts at Home. As I rode by it I sensed God speaking to me clearly. If I want to see the world set on fire then the flames need to burn the brightest at my house.

I realize that is not what the US Forest Service had in mind when they printed the sign. They want people to be careful with fire in their homes so that it doesn’t lead to fires elsewhere. God wants the opposite to happen, spiritually speaking. He wants us to be zealously on fire for Him and for that to spread like wildfire.

But that will not happen if we are not living it out under our own roof. You can’t ignore your own soul’s need for time with God, neglect time spent in prayer with your wife and fail to be a spiritual leader with your children and then show up at church and be a powerful leader or a an effective witness for Christ at work. If your own house isn’t burning how can you expect to catch anything else up in the blaze?

Nothing saps of spiritual strength and renders you powerless in public ministry so much as not living it out where ministry matters most, in private. If you aren’t fanning the flames at home you will have to conjure it up elsewhere; and fake fire is dangerous (Leviticus 10) and it lacks both heat and light.

Fire prevention starts at home.


Get yourself a snuggie

Whenever I am on an airplane and we encounter turbulence I always look up and try to gauge the flight attendant’s reaction. They always remain calm, but what they do next is often telling. If they keep serving drinks than it is probably no big deal. If they quickly put away the drink cart it might mean more rough air is coming. If they strap on a parachute… we are in trouble. I figure they do this all day every day, many of them in high heels, so they are a reliable judge of the severity of the situation.

In Mark’s gospel there is a story where the disciples would have been wise to approach the turbulence they were in with a similar line of thinking. One evening, in Mark 4, Jesus and the twelve got into a boat. He told them that they were going to cross to the other side. But halfway across the lake a great windstorm arose and the waves beat into the boat. The Bible tells us that this was so severe that the boat began to fill with water. Scary.

Now had they thought back they would have remembered that Jesus had told them they were going to cross over to the other side. He hadn’t said that they were all going to get into the boat and drown. Remember this the next time you get into a storm, Jesus’ command is His enablement. His promises never fail. Let’s give them a pass for not remembering His exact wording.

I think that the crucial thing they overlooked was the flight attendant concept. Had they looked at Jesus they would had noticed that He had gone into the stern of the boat and was asleep on a pillow. I love that. Here they were in a situation that was causing them to panic and to come unhinged. But Jesus wasn’t phased, He was entering the REM phase of the sleep cycle! Mistaking His calm for indifference, they go on to wake Him up and accuse Him of not caring that they are dying. Had they taken their cue from Him instead of trying to “backseat Messiah” Him they could have tucked themselves in and gotten the benefit of a nap as well.

Here is the point. God is not even remotely phased by the things that freak you out. He isn’t. Psalm 29:10 says that He SAT enthroned at the flood. The flood. As in the biggest storm that the world has ever seen. Yeah, He remained seated and composed throughout it all. He wasn’t pacing or frantic, bothered or nervous. Trust me when I tell you that whatever you are going through today isn’t getting Him to the edge of His seat. He is in control and has it completely under control.

It might seem like the whole thing is going to go under the water. The wind is so loud you can hardly hear anything else. It is dark and scary and cold. The other side seems so far away. But He is in your boat! Get yourself a snuggie.


You are not on a road

I have discovered a secret about figuring out God’s will and I want to share it with you. If you are anything like me you have spent time vacilating between two options and gotten stumped trying to figure out which direction God wants you to go. Maybe it was a relationship you were wondering about, a college major you couldn’t decide on or a move you were contemplating. It’s agonizing and frustrating to sit there spinning your wheels looking for traction, one way or the other.

During these times we do things like: list out pros and cons on a paper with a line down the middle, seek wise counsel, pray and fast and sometimes, in desperation, we look to God’s Word for hidden clues as though it were a magic eye poster. I remember messing myself up pretty good when I was praying between moving to Montana and staying in California while reading the book of Acts….Paul had a dream with a man from Macedonia and that sounds kind of like Montana if you slur your words…maybe I should go there! But then in the next couple verses he went down to the river side and Riverside is in California so maybe God wants me to stay here! I was admittedly clutching at straws.

And while we should definitely be turning to godly friends, and praying as we seek His will, I think we often neglect one of the most important and obvious steps. Instead of obsessing about the areas where you don’t know what He wants you to do, focus on the ones where you already do. Figure out which parts of your life are already out of His will and get in line.

His Word tells us it’s not His will for any to perish but for all to repent. If you aren’t saved you are outside of His will.

His Word tells us that it’s His will for us to be sanctified and that we would abstain from sexual immorality. If you are sinning sexually you are outside of His will.

His Word tells us that it’s His will for us to be thankful, rejoice in everything and to pray without ceasing. Let’s just say we are all in need of serious work in this area!

You get the idea. And those are just the times that He explicitly says, “The will of the Lord is…” The whole Bible is packed full of crystal clear precepts that reveal God’s will for our relationships, our work ethic, the way we discipline our kids, even the way we treat our animals. It might not tell you whether or not to take that job offer, but it will tell you how to approach work at the job you already have. If you don’t get that figured out it won’t matter where you work, the bigger problem will follow you to your new job and you will remain outside of His will.

What I have found is that when I shift from focusing on the mystery area where I’m waiting for a mexican food induced dream or a hologram to show up on the pages of my Bible; and instead I deal with the areas where He already has given me instruction but I haven’t obeyed, the whole process seems to gel and fall into place without the agony. It’s kind of like being in a car with a GPS unit deep in a parking lot. If you punch in where you want to go you are expecting list by list, turn by turn navigation to show up but instead sometimes you will hear, “You are not on a road. Get to a road and your navigation will begin.” Sometimes I think God says the same to us. We are stalled out waiting for Him to speak and He’s going, “I already did. Do what I have told you, GET ON A ROAD and the next step will come naturally.”

We shouldn’t expect Him to tell us something new until we are doing what He has revealed to us.

Romans 12:1–2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.