During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.
Born into slavery and badly treated as a young girl, Harriet Tubman (c. 1822–1913) found a shining ray of hope in the Bible stories her mother told. The account of Israel’s escape from slavery under Pharaoh showed her a God who desired freedom for His people.
Eventually Harriet slipped over the Maryland state line and out of slavery. She couldn’t remain content, however, knowing so many were still trapped in captivity. So she led more than a dozen rescue missions back into slave states, dismissing the personal danger. “I can’t die but once,” she said.
Harriet knew the truth of the statement: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus spoke those words as He sent His disciples on their first mission. He knew they would face danger, and not everyone would receive them warmly. So why expose the disciples to the risk? The answer is found in the previous chapter. “When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
When Harriet Tubman couldn’t forget those still trapped in slavery, she showed us a picture of Christ, who did not forget us when we were trapped in our sins. Her courageous example inspires us to remember those who remain without hope in the world.
A Venus flytrap can digest an insect in about 10 days. The process begins when an unsuspecting bug smells nectar on the leaves that form the trap. When the insect investigates, it crawls into the jaws of the plant. The leaves clamp shut within half a second and digestive juices dissolve the bug.
This meat-eating plant reminds me of the way sin can devour us if we are lured into it. Sin is hungry for us. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” God spoke these words to Cain just before he killed his brother Abel.
Sin may try to entice us by tempting us with a new experience, convincing us that living right doesn’t matter, or appealing to our physical senses. However, there is a way for us to rule over sin instead of letting it consume our lives. The Bible says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When we face temptation, we don’t face it alone. We have supernatural assistance. Relying on God’s Spirit supplies the power to live for Him and others.
When the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922, it was filled with things ancient Egyptians thought were needed in the afterlife. Among items such as golden shrines, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and weapons was a pot filled with honey—still edible after 3,200 years!
Today we think of honey primarily as a sweetener, but in the ancient world it had many other uses. Honey is one of the only foods known to have all the nutrients needed to sustain life, so it was eaten for nutrition. In addition, honey has medicinal value. It is one of the oldest known wound dressings because it has properties that prevent infection.
When God rescued the children of Israel from Egyptian captivity, He promised to lead them to a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17), a metaphor for abundance. When their journey was prolonged due to sin, God fed them bread (manna) that tasted like honey (16:31). The Israelites grumbled about having to eat the same food for so long, but it’s likely that God was kindly reminding them of what they would enjoy in the Promised Land.
God still uses honey to remind us that His ways and words are sweeter than the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10). So then the words we speak should also be like the honey we eat—both sweet and healing.
I grew up in Oklahoma where severe weather is common from early spring through the end of summer. I recall one evening when the sky boiled with dark clouds, the TV weather forecaster warned of an approaching tornado, and the electricity went out. Very quickly, my parents, my sister, and I climbed down the wooden ladder into the storm cellar behind our house where we stayed until the storm passed by.
Today “storm chasing” has become a hobby for many people and a profitable business for others. The goal is to get as close as possible to a tornado without being harmed. Many storm chasers are skilled forecasters with accurate information, but I won’t sign up for a tornado tour anytime soon.
In moral and spiritual areas of my life, however, I can foolishly pursue dangerous things God tells me to avoid because of His love for me, all the time believing I won’t be harmed. A wiser approach is to read the book of Proverbs, which contains many positive ways to elude these snares of life.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” Solomon wrote. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Our Lord is the master of the adventure of living, and following His wisdom leads us to fullness of life.
In August 2013, large crowds gathered at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to witness the blooming of the tropical plant known as the corpse flower. Since the flower is native to Indonesia, and may flower only once every several years, its blooming is a spectacle. Once open, the huge spiky, beautiful, red bloom smells like rotten meat. Because of its putrid fragrance, the flower attracts flies and beetles that are looking for rotting meat. But there is no nectar.
Like the corpse flower, sin holds out promises but in the end offers no rewards. Adam and Eve found this out the hard way. Eden was beautiful until they ruined it by doing the one thing God urged them not to do. Tempted to doubt God’s goodness, they ignored their Creator’s loving warning and soon lost their innocence. The God-given beauty of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil became like a corpse flower to them. The reward for their disobedience was alienation, pain, emptiness, toil, and death.
Sin looks inviting and may feel good, but it doesn’t compare with the wonder, beauty, and fragrance of trusting and obeying God, who has made us to share His life and joy.
It was time to fix the trim on the windows of our house. So I scraped, sanded, and applied wood filler to get the aging trim ready for paint. After all of my efforts—including a coat of primer and some too-expensive paint—the trim looks, well, pretty good. But it doesn’t look new. The only way to make the trim look new would be to replace the old wood.
It’s okay to have weather-damaged window trim that looks “pretty good” to our eye. But when it comes to our sin-damaged hearts, it’s not enough to try to fix things up. From God’s point of view, we need all things to become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
That is the beauty of salvation through faith in Jesus. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin and rose from the dead to display His power over sin and death. The result is that in God’s eyes, faith in Christ’s work makes us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and replaces the old with a “new life” (Acts 5:20). Looking through Jesus and His work on the cross for us, our heavenly Father sees everyone who has put his or her faith in Him as new and unblemished.
Sin has caused great damage. We can’t fix it ourselves. We must trust Jesus as Savior and let Him give us a brand-new life.
When I was a young boy, my mom warned me that I should never play with fire. Yet one day I decided to see what would happen if I did. Taking a book of matches and some paper, I went out into the backyard to experiment. With heart beating fast, I knelt on the ground, struck the match, and set the paper aflame.
Suddenly I saw my mother approaching. Not wanting to get caught, I put my legs over the flames to hide what I was doing. But Mom shouted, “Denny, move your legs! There’s a fire underneath them!” Fortunately, I moved my legs quickly enough and was not burned. I realized then that my mother’s rule about not playing with fire was not to spoil my fun but because of her concern to keep me safe.
Sometimes we don’t understand the reasons behind God’s commands. We may even think He is a cosmic killjoy, setting up rules and regulations to keep us from enjoying ourselves. But God asks us to obey Him because He has our best interests at heart. As we obey, we “remain in his love” and are filled with joy (John 15:10-11).
So when God warns us not to sin, He does it for our own good. He really wants to protect us from “playing with fire” and getting burned.
The St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota, is renowned for making beautiful music. One reason for its excellence is the selection process. Applicants are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.
One of the things that intrigues me the most about this choir is what happens during rehearsals. Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it! This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.
I think this is the kind of community Jesus was establishing when He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17). Shortly after this conversation, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the public well. He made it easy for her to admit failure by promising her a better way of life where she could enjoy His forgiveness (John 4).
As members of Christ’s body on Earth, we should not fear admitting our wrongs but welcome it as an opportunity to together experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God.