Category  |  Sin

An Encounter with Stones

After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.

Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself. 

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.

If I Knew Then . . .

On the way to work, I listened to the song “Dear Younger Me,” which beautifully asks: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? As I listened, I thought about the bits of wisdom and warning I might give my younger, less-wise self. At some point in our lives, most of us have thought about how we might do things differently—if only we could do it all over again.

But the song illustrates that even though our past may fill us with regrets, all our experiences have shaped who we are. We can’t go back or change the consequences of our sin. But praise God we don’t have to carry the heavy burdens and mistakes of the past around with us.

Why? Because of what Jesus has done. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! (1 Peter 1:3).

If we turn to Him in faith and sorrow for our sins, He will forgive us. On that day we’re made brand new and begin the process of being spiritually transformed (1 Cor. 5:17) (is 2Cor). It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done), we are forgiven because of what He’s done. We can move forward, making the most of today and anticipating a future with Him. In Christ, we’re free! 

A Little Bit of Paradise

Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.

I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).

Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.

Lured Away

My niece convinced me to play Pokémon Go—a game played on a smartphone, using the phone’s camera. The object of the game is to capture little creatures called Pokémon. When one appears in the game, a red and white ball also appears on the phone’s screen. To capture a Pokémon, the player has to flick the ball toward it with the movement of a finger. Pokémon are more easily caught, however, by using a lure to attract them.

Pokémon characters aren’t the only ones who can be lured away. In his New Testament letter to believers, James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that we “are dragged away by [our] own evil desire” (1:14, emphasis added). In other words, our desires work with temptation to lure us down a wrong path. Though we may be tempted to blame God or even Satan for our problems, our real danger lies within.

But there is good news. We can escape the lure of temptation by talking to God about the things that tempt us. Though “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone,” as James explains in 1:13, He understands our human desire to do what’s wrong. We have only to ask for the wisdom God promised to provide (1:1–6) to avoid losing more than a video game.

Our Guilt Is Gone

As a young girl, I invited a friend to browse with me through a gift shop near my home. She shocked me, though, by shoving a handful of colorful crayon-shaped barrettes into my pocket and yanking me out the door of the shop without paying for them. Guilt gnawed at me for a week before I approached my mom—my confession pouring out as quickly as my tears.

Grieved over my bad choice of not resisting my friend, I returned the stolen items, apologized, and vowed never to steal again. The owner told me never to come back. But because my mom forgave me and assured me that I had done my best to make things right, I slept peacefully that night.

King David also rested in forgiveness through confession (Ps. 32:1–2). He had hidden his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12) until his “strength was sapped” (vv. 3–4). But once David refused to “cover up” his wrongs, the Lord erased his guilt (v. 5). God protected him “from trouble” and wrapped him in “songs of deliverance” (v. 7). He rejoiced because the “Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (v. 10).

We can’t choose the consequences of our sins or control people’s responses when we confess and seek forgiveness. But the Lord can empower us to enjoy freedom from the bondage of sin and peace through confession, as He confirms that our guilt is gone−forever.

Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Giving in to Jesus

They call it “The Devil’s Footprint.” It’s a foot-shaped impression in the granite on a hill beside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. According to local legend the “footprint” happened one fall day in 1740, when the evangelist George Whitefield preached so powerfully that the devil leaped from the church steeple, landing on the rock on his way out of town.

Though it’s only a legend, the story calls to mind an encouraging truth from God’s Word. James 4:7 reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

God has given us the strength we need to stand against our adversary and the temptations in our lives. The Bible tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14) because of God’s loving grace to us through Jesus Christ. As we run to Jesus when temptation comes, He enables us to stand in His strength. Nothing we face in this life can overcome Him, because he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As we submit ourselves to our Savior, yielding our wills to Him in the moment and walking in obedience to God’s Word, He is helping us. When we give in to Him instead of giving in to temptation, He is able to fight our battles. In Him we can overcome.

Destroying the Divides

A writing deadline loomed over me, while the argument I had with my husband earlier that morning swirled through my mind. I stared at the blinking cursor, fingertips resting on the keyboard. He was wrong too, Lord.

When the computer screen went black, my reflection scowled. My unacknowledged wrongs were doing more than hindering the work before me. They were straining my relationship with my husband and my God.

I grabbed my cell phone, swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness. Savoring the peace of reconciliation when my spouse apologized as well, I thanked God and finished my article on time.

The Israelites experienced the pain of personal sin and joy of restoration. Joshua warned God’s people not to enrich themselves in the battle for Jericho (Josh. 6:18), but Achan stole captured items and hid them in his tent (7:1). Only after his sin was exposed and dealt with (7:4–12) did the nation enjoy reconciliation with their God.

Like Achan, we don’t always consider how “tucking sin into our tents” turns our hearts us from God and impacts those around us. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, admitting our sin, and seeking forgiveness provides the foundation for healthy and faithful relationships with God and others. By submitting to our loving Creator and Sustainer daily, we can serve Him and enjoy His presence—together.

Time to Flourish

Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.

But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.

My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.

God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.

Related Topics

Sin > Temptation

Lured Away

My niece convinced me to play Pokémon Go—a game played on a smartphone, using the phone’s camera. The object of the game is to capture little creatures called Pokémon. When one appears in the game, a red and white ball also appears on the phone’s screen. To capture a Pokémon, the player has to flick the ball toward it with the movement of a finger. Pokémon are more easily caught, however, by using a lure to attract them.

Pokémon characters aren’t the only ones who can be lured away. In his New Testament letter to believers, James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that we “are dragged away by [our] own evil desire” (1:14, emphasis added). In other words, our desires work with temptation to lure us down a wrong path. Though we may be tempted to blame God or even Satan for our problems, our real danger lies within.

But there is good news. We can escape the lure of temptation by talking to God about the things that tempt us. Though “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone,” as James explains in 1:13, He understands our human desire to do what’s wrong. We have only to ask for the wisdom God promised to provide (1:1–6) to avoid losing more than a video game.

Giving in to Jesus

They call it “The Devil’s Footprint.” It’s a foot-shaped impression in the granite on a hill beside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. According to local legend the “footprint” happened one fall day in 1740, when the evangelist George Whitefield preached so powerfully that the devil leaped from the church steeple, landing on the rock on his way out of town.

Though it’s only a legend, the story calls to mind an encouraging truth from God’s Word. James 4:7 reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

God has given us the strength we need to stand against our adversary and the temptations in our lives. The Bible tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14) because of God’s loving grace to us through Jesus Christ. As we run to Jesus when temptation comes, He enables us to stand in His strength. Nothing we face in this life can overcome Him, because he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As we submit ourselves to our Savior, yielding our wills to Him in the moment and walking in obedience to God’s Word, He is helping us. When we give in to Him instead of giving in to temptation, He is able to fight our battles. In Him we can overcome.

Finding the Way Out

There’s a street with an intriguing name in the city of Santa Barbara, California. It’s called “Salsipuedes,” which means “leave if you can.” When the street was first named, the area bordered on a marsh that sometimes flooded, and the Spanish-speaking city planners dubbed the location with a not-so-subtle warning to stay away.

God’s Word cautions us to stay away…

Sin > The Fall

A Little Bit of Paradise

Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.

I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).

Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.

The Talking Tree

One of the earliest Christian poems in English literature is “The Dream of the Rood.” The word rood comes from the Old English word rod or pole and refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified. In this ancient poem the crucifixion story is retold from the perspective of the cross. When the tree learns that it is to be used to kill the Son of God, it rejects the idea of being used in this way. But Christ enlists the help of the tree to provide redemption for all who will believe.

In the garden of Eden, a tree was the source of the forbidden fruit that our spiritual parents tasted, causing sin to enter the human race. And when the Son of God shed His blood as the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity’s sin, He was nailed to a tree on our behalf. Christ “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).

The cross is the turning point for all who trust Christ for salvation. And ever since the crucifixion, it has become a remarkable symbol that represents the sacrificial death of the Son of God for our deliverance from sin and death. The cross is the inexpressibly wonderful evidence of God’s love for us.

Listening to God

My young son loves to hear my voice, except when I call his name loudly and sternly, followed by the question, “Where are you?” When I do that, I am usually calling for him because he has been into some mischief and is trying to hide from me. I want my son to listen to my voice because I’m concerned about his well-being and do not want him to get hurt.

Adam and Eve were used to hearing God’s voice in the garden. However, after they disobeyed Him by eating the forbidden fruit, they hid from Him when they heard Him calling, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). They didn’t want to face God because they knew they had done something wrong—something He had told them not to do (v. 11).

When God called for Adam and Eve and found them in the garden, His words did include correction and consequence (vv. 13–19). But God also showed them kindness and gave them hope for mankind in the promise of the Savior (v. 15).

God doesn’t have to look for us. He knows where we are and what we are trying to hide. But as a loving Father, He wants to speak to our hearts and bring us forgiveness and restoration. He longs for us to hear His voice—and to listen.