Archive for the ‘character’ Tag

On the Potter’s Wheel   1 comment

What Life Events Shaped You Into Who You Are?

If you could think about all the events that unfolded in your life, which ones shaped you into who you are now?

ALL of the events? How about just the highlights? I suspect I am shaped even by the minute interactions I have with people in the grocery store line … I’m just unaware of it.

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When I was six years old, Fairbanks Alaska experienced a 100-year flood. It’s such a big deal here that people still date things as pre-Flood and post-Flood. A lot of us spent a couple of weeks living out of the backs of cars and eating WW2 K-rations salvaged from the flooded bomb shelters. My parents struggled with housing after that due to a string of rental houses with ruined furnaces and I ended up spending the winter with a friend of theirs who had a bunch of kids and a working heating system.

Image result for image clay on potters wheelThat experience taught me a lot about being tough to get through something because the water will eventually go down and your parents will eventually stop moving and you’ll get to live in a house with a bedroom again. But it also taught me to not really trust that this reality will be permanent and good. It won’t be. Rivers can raise again. Don’t get too comfortable. Keep some food in reserve and be ready to move what you care about to higher floors. Borrowing from a blog hop post a couple of weeks ago … winter is coming. Be prepared.

When I was 11, a teacher made me write a story for a class assignment. I HATED it. It was way too regimented for my tastes. But it set something off in me that made me the writer I am today. It certainly didn’t turn me off writing. It made me want to do a better job. Maybe I would have become a writer anyway, but I count that as a formative event.

My dad died when I was 12 and my mother promptly remarried her ex-husband. Earl had always been around. He was my brother’s father and Fairbanks was a small town. My dad tolerated his woman’s ex. I have a photo of them sitting on the bleachers at a baseball game. I guess they were friends … sort of. My brother says my dad was his model for being a stepfather … not bad considering he never lived with us. Earl had just moved back to town and happened to have his trailer parked in our back yard when my dad died of a stroke at a young age. He was supportive during a tough time. He still loved my mom. She may have felt she needed a man in her life. He wasn’t a bad guy … mostly. But I swore to myself that I would never be as faithless as my mother had been. I didn’t hate my mom for her decision. I didn’t hate Earl. I simply didn’t agree with their actions in that area and that meant that I have been much more careful in my relationships than they were. I noted their path and have tried very hard not to walk it.

When I was 16, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. It wasn’t something we did as a family. I started going to church on my own and my parents thought I’d lost my mind when I tried to tell them about it. More than anything else, this changed my perspective on the world and my life choices. I’ve skipped a lot of rough roads that were options for me because I would pause often and ask if this was something a Christian ought to be doing. It has shaped many of my choices in my adult life.

I chose to work my way through college rather than take out student loans. My parents came from a debt-adverse generation. My father turned 16 the year the Great Depression started. My mother was six. They were careful with their money and only took on debt for houses and even then, the longest mortgage they ever took out was 10 years. They saved a little bit for me to go college, but I had to pay 75% of it. When the high school counselor was talking about student loans, I felt this big lump in my chest … like a lead weight threatening to drag me to the bottom of a deep, dark ocean. I decided to get a job and work my butt off to pay for college. I had help from Pell grants, but mostly, I paid my own way, either working while I was in school or working 2 or 3 jobs seasonally so I could concentrate on school during the winter. Except for two years when my daughter was little, I’ve been gainful employed since I was 14 years old, sometimes with more than one job. There is a great deal to be said about paying your own way and understanding your own value. It has a lot to do with why I view the world as I do.

I married Brad when I was 25. He makes me laugh until I can’t breathe and almost wet my pants. He has also made me cry … a lot. When our daughter was little, her dad and I went through a very rough time in our marriage when we decided it would not end in divorce, but we were separated for a while. I learned that you can’t change someone, but you can change your response to them so that, if they want to be with you, they will (sometimes) choose to change themselves. And if they don’t, then the choices you make won’t be fun, but God will be with you even then.

My life is not a field of clover today. Life will always hand you challenges. My daughter is a gypsy bluegrass musician who appears to be hiking through Canada with low-lives. It’s not my choice and I wish I could step in and intervene, but my own past teaches me that I can’t. People have to learn on their own and a long walk through Canada is maybe just what my little vagabond needs to grow up. She needs her own formative experiences. I have to trust God that He has a plan in all of this and I’ll understand it next year or a decade from now. Or maybe Bri will in 30 years.

We are the sum total of our experiences. God is the Master Potter Who has tossed me on His wheel and is shaping me to His purposes. “A potter has the right to do what he wants to with his clay, doesn’t he? He can make something for a special occasion or something for ordinary use from the same lump of clay.” Romans 9:21

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The Struggle   1 comment

Romans 7:14-23 is unique in the New Testament and in Paul’s writing in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.

Lament #1

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).

The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. Romans is a letter, written from Paul to the church in Rome. It is not a series of verses or passages that can be broken out into separate topics. One passage flows into another. Paul here continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).

“The Law is not evil. It is spiritual.”

Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it — his carnal, fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition. These people are not Christians.

Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (verses. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.

Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (verses 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present.

Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.

Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.

Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” How can that be if Christians have been delivered from sin? It pays to look at the Greek, which I did and then confirmed with a friend who actually knows the Greek. The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.

Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning. It means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature, which is always tainted by the sin of the Fall..

Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David (a man after Gods own heart) says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, but David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to Isaiah’s upon seeing a vision of God: “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.

Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there is sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”

What If Characterr Went ViralSelf-righteous people deceive themselves into thinking they are inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God on occasion and far more often than he wanted.

This is part of an ongoing series “What if Character Went Viral”.

Don’t Avoid the Conflict   4 comments

In Romans 7:14-25 Paul the apostle wrote a poignant description of a soul in conflict with himself.

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the goodthat I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Paul loved God’s moral law and wanted to obey it, but felt pulled away from doing so by the sin that was in him.

The scholars and many Christians are conflicted about this — Is Paul talking about a Christian (perhaps even himself) or a non-Christian? Can Christians feel such bondage to sin? Do non-Christians often express such a desire to do good? It’s a conundrum. Christians cannot be bound by sin, but non-Christians don’t desire to keep the law of God.

Paul wrote “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (verse 14) and “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh; I want to do good, but I cannot do it” (verse 18). Those who believe this passage speaks of a non-Christian say that Christians know how to do what is good in God’s eyes and they see an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power in this passage.

Verse 24 “Wretched man that I am!” does seem distant from the promise of Romans 5:1-2 of “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sin’s power. How can the person who said all that turn around and say “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin?”

Paul did a marvelous job of capturing the messiness that is grace. Chapter 6 emphasize the new creation, nature, and identify in Christ. Now redeemed, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. Chapter 7 shows the other side of the Christian life.

Honestly, every Chrisitan knows from experience that though she is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. Chapter 6 even points out the conflict in verses 12-13: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” Because it is still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.

Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in Chapter 6 is to misunderstand the entire gospel as presented in the letter to the Romans.

We are saved through grace by faith, not from anything that we have or will do, so that we have no cause to boast of our accomplishments. But Jesus isn’t done with us after that. We don’t get our “fire insurance” and go on upon our merry way setting fire to the world with our sin. Faith without works is indeed death because it is a mental and verbal assent that returns no fruit.

Romans 8:7 explains that the unregenerate person (the non-Christian) is not subject to the law of God. You didn’t consent. You don’t have to comply. Christians, however, did consent and we owe God the respect of our compliance with His laws. Paul proclaimed that he joyfully concurred with the law of God in his inner man (verse 7:22), but he struggles with his desire to do right because his flesh is weak.

Ah, a carnal  Christian! the gossips among us pounce. Surely it couldn’t be a Spirit-filled missionary to the European continent! It must be someone with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law.

Poppycock!

My own experience is that the more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings are. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self­ perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul was describing himself, which should certainly explain the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”

What If Characterr Went ViralWas Paul describing his struggles before he was saved? Really? No! Paul was persecuting Christians before the bright light on the road. There’s no evidence he struggled with his conscious or with righteous living at the time. Besides, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation, which Paul often exhibited (1 Corinthians 15:9-10Ephesians 3:8). Paul was very precise in his language in Romans 7. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.

The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.

Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of the struggle between living as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer who loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart desires.

This is part of a series What if Character Went Viral?

Character Versus Comfort   Leave a comment

We live in a sex-mad culture that indulges itself in every conceivable sexual activity and when it gets bored, it branches out from there. Sexual sin is tolerated in any form by large segments of the population. It’s promoted and marketed through every form of media available. We know this! Christians are not supposed to be of this world, but it’s hard be in this world and not know that we’re a sex-mad culture.

And the church isn’t doing a whole lot different from the world. A pastor friend says that 75% of the Christian young people who come to him for premarital counseling have already been sexually active. Many of them live together prior to marriage. The numbers are higher for older adults.

The secular world will tell us that sex is an animal function, an itch you just must scratch for your own physical and mental health. If you don’t satisfy that physical demand, you’re going to end up on a counselor’s office with repression issues. Anyone who says other wise is a prude and a tyrant.

But there are some interesting statistics that go against this. Studies have shown that couples who engage in premarital sex or who live together prior to marriage are more likely to divorce than couples who were virgins at the time of marriage or at least had not lived together prior to marriage. There’s a great deal of controversy about the meaning of these findings, but several studies have noted the correlation.

It might come as a surprise to some to realize that Paul was writing to a culture very much like ours. Hugh Hefner would have been a popular guy in Greco-Roman culture circa First Century. At the time Paul was writing the world he lived in had experienced a sexual revolution that included homosexuality, pedophilia, transvestism, and every form of fornication and sexual perversion you can imagine today. Koinin Greek had many words to describe sex with a partner who was not your spouse because it was an extremely sexualized society.

Along came Christianity and introduced a new way of thinking into the culture. When the apostles brought the gospel to Gentiles, they were bringing it to pagans who had been deeply steeped in the culture, who were involved in religious sexual practices in the temple, concubinage, mistresses, harlots and homosexuality and pedophilia. When they came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, they did not suddenly forget their past practices. Paul wrote his letters to the church at Thessalonica because he’d only been there a few weeks before he had to leave and he understood the pressure exerted by the wicked culture that was going to affect the church.

Paul spent the early part of the first letter defending his ministry and the integrity of the church and reminding the Thessalonians of what he had previously taught them. Then he turned to a list of issues he wanted to address. First on the list … sexual sin.

Paul’s message was clear. Despite their cultural habits and old personal patterns, Jesus does not tolerate sexual sin. It doesn’t matter how the world lives; the church cannot live like the world.  Just because the world is wallowing in muck doesn’t mean Christians can dive right in. There is no New Testament clause for relative morality. The Bible sets an absolute standard on the subject and it doesn’t fluctuate in comparison to the surrounding society. All forms of sexual gratification may be indulged by a society, but not by the church … not by Christians.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.

“This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” That’s not an unclear statement. It references “the will of God”. If you want to please God, do His will. To do His will, Spirit-controlled Christians are (among other things) to abstain from sexual immorality. Later in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul encourages his readers to be satisfied in the will of God. It’s important to look in verse 3 again at that word translated “sanctification”. It means “separate, apart, set apart, holy” … in a sentence “set apart from sin to God’s use.” God’s will is that you be set apart from sin for His use.  Then Paul sets out the first step in that process of being Spirit-controlled – abstain from sexual sin.

But … but … I really enjoy … and … but … but ….

NO BUTS!

God is an absolute sort of deity. He doesn’t change with our personal concept of Him or our society’s view of Him. He is who He is at all times.

As Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, you have to stop short of the impure thought and lustful passion. The question isn’t “How far can I go and not quite violate God’s will?” The question should be “How can I be holy, separated from sin, pleasing to God?”

And, no, it’s not easy to live like that in today’s world. It wasn’t easy to live that way in 1st century Thessalonia. It doesn’t matter. God cares more about your character than your comfort.

Do you?

Sherry Parnell

Author of "Let the Willows Weep"

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