Category Archives: Sin

4 Things Before Saying Sorry (The Lord’s Prayer)

Was thinking this morning about The Lord’s prayer – I love how God designed such a simple framework for us to be able to come to him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our [sins],
as we also have forgiven those who [sin against us].
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’
– Matthew 6:9-13

Yet for so many of us – as soon as we think about God or come to pray, we become immediately conscious of our unworthiness and the various ways that we have failed God and others. Yes, sin is a thing and it does have the effect of isolating us from God and people. We need God’s forgiveness and cleansing to be healed and made righteous for sure.

But what struck me this morning was how much there is in the Lord’s Prayer before you get to the lines ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

Think about it.

The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t start with ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned…’ does it?

In fact there’s actually 4 things that we pray before we get to asking God for forgiveness. Interesting eh. I don’t believe this is a mistake on God’s part or that He overlooked something here.

The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t designed to be prayed by perfect Christians who’ve already got everything sorted out. No, it’s a way that anyone can approach the Father, no matter where they come from or what they’ve done.

Embedded in the opening lines of this prayer is a wonderful demonstration of God’s love and commitment to us as a good Father!

1) “Our Father…”

Regardless of where you feel like your life is at, these two words show us two things:

‘Our’ tells us that we belong to a group of people. I’m not a perfect husband, father, son or brother – but my status as a member of a family doesn’t change depending on my righteousness. Starting with ‘our’ reminds me that I always remain part of a group of people who call on the Name of God – regardless of what my life might look like right now.

‘Father’ tells us that His relationship to us doesn’t change. We don’t start with ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’ and then finally say ‘Father’ once we’ve gotten cleaned up through prayer. We start with Father. He is always ‘our Father’. It doesn’t change.

2) “Hallowed Be Your Name…”

This shows me that I can still give God glory and worship from an imperfect life. The idea that we have to get our lives perfect before we can come to God is a religious lie. It’s THROUGH prayer and worship that we become righteous.

I’m not condoning sin or saying it doesn’t matter – but just pointing out that Jesus deliberately put ‘Hallowed be thy name’ in the prayer ahead of ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

God has made a way for us to give Him glory even before our lives get sorted out and often it’s as we start to worship Him that we move into a place where He can deal with our sin.

3) “Your kingdom come, your will be done…”

This reminds me that about God’s overall mission on earth. This line gives me the WHY of my life… why I’m here, why God has given me the gifts and talents he has. It’s because He’s extending His kingdom.

I’m not just asking for forgiveness so I can stop being a ‘bad person’. My being cleansed and made righteous means that I can move and work in His kingdom more effectively.

4) “Give us today our daily bread…”

In natural human relationships, we don’t tend to do kind things for people who’ve upset us… at least until they’ve apologised to us!

But again God shows us just how different He is to us. Whether or not my kids behave doesn’t change my fatherly desire to make sure they’ve got what they need to survive.

God is a good Father! We can just ask Him for stuff. It’s not a matter of rooting out every little thing we might have done wrong before we can ask our heavenly Father for what we need.

Finally…

Obviously I’m not downplaying the need for us to ask for forgiveness and repent of our sin. It’s vitally important and one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us and show us areas of our lives where things are out of alignment with Him.

I’m also not saying that living righteously doesn’t help us see our Father more clearly, worship more powerfully, understand His mission more readily or ask Him for our needs more effectively! Purity and holiness in our lives enable us to move in a closer way to God’s heartbeat and see things that we’d be blind to otherwise.

But I do believe this… that God has much more for our lives than just a constant cycle of ‘sin-repent-sin-repent’! Jesus died on the cross to cleanse us from sin so that we can get on with the real business of His kingdom and His plans!

So the next time you think about God or come to prayer, put your fears and unworthiness to one side for a moment and remind yourself that He’s STILL your Father, you can STILL worship Him, you’re STILL part of His mission and you can STILL ask Him for things.

His heart towards you and promises for you don’t change!

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12 Signs Of Selfishness

We’ve been doing a series at The River called ‘Breaking Down The Walls’ – dealing with attitudes and issues that put walls between people and work against friendships and relationships.

So on Sunday I dealt with a particularly nasty wall-maker in our lives – one that makes others put up walls against us to protect themselves, and an area that can be particularly difficult for us to see in our own character… the wall of ‘Selfishness’.

Most people don’t think of themselves as particularly selfish, it’s usually an attribute that we’re quicker to label others with! But it’s something that we need to root out of our lives if we’re going to have good friendships and relationships.

So is selfishness at work in your life? I’ve compiled a quick 12-point checklist…

1) You have high expectations of what other people should do for you, and you feel angry or irritated when they don’t meet your expectations

Selfish people generally have high expectations of others and a clear idea of what others should be doing for them.

2) You think a lot about what you’re entitled to, and you feel angry or irritated when you don’t get what you feel you deserve

Selfish people are all about their rights, and they take full advantage of them. It’s not that it’s bad to know and use our rights, but truly selfish people would sooner end or endure a difficult relationship than have to budge on what they feel they’re entitled to.

3) You spend a lot of time thinking about why more people aren’t helping you

Everyone has problems going on in their life, but selfish people are consumed with why everyone else isn’t ‘doing what they should’ to help them.

4) You move people in and out of your life based on how useful they are to get you to where you want to go

It’s great to have a vision for life, but selfish people use others to get to their vision and dispense with them quickly once they lose their usefulness. This one can be a tough area for leaders – but in leadership it’s important that we remember that the vision is there to serve the people… not the other way around!

5) You often find yourself surrounded by selfish people

If the majority of people around your life seem to be quite selfish to you… the problem may not actually be with them!

6) If you’re asked to help with a need your primary concern is how helping out will affect you

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take into consideration our own time and energy levels – it’s good to think through what a commitment means to us before we make it. But there’s times when we just have to jump in and help someone… maybe it’s incovenient for us, but it’s the right thing to do at the time. Selfish people can’t see past their own priorities to the needs of others.

7) You find yourself on the end of conflict often, but it’s never your fault, and you don’t say sorry easily

Selfish people often find themselves in conflict, because the people around their life get tired of having to put up with their selfishness. But because of #1, #2, #3 and #5 – selfish people often don’t see that they’re the cause of the conflict! So they usually won’t apologise because they don’t feel like they’re the problem!

8) You find it hard to rejoice when others get blessed, or get the spotlight

Selfish people see the limelight and accolades as just rewards for their effort. They struggle when the spotlight is on someone else, because then people aren’t noticing the important contribution they feel like they’ve made which is connected to…

9) You want to make sure that you receive proper recognition for the things you do, and you get miffed if you don’t

Selfish people want to be noticed and want to receive what they believe is their ‘due entitlement’ (#2). So recognition by others (and especially by important people) is vital for them. Everyone finds it hard if they’re contribution is overlooked, but for a selfish person – they just can’t let it go… it eats away at them.

10) You like being in control of things and you find it very hard to compromise on what you want

Selfish people are usually uncompromising and have a very clear idea of what they want and how everyone needs to behave so that they can get it!

11) You keep a personal tally of what you’ve done for other people

Selfish people don’t GIVE… they TRADE. Even if they look like they’re giving, they’re still trading. They keep a personal tally of when and how they’ve served, given, blessed and done things for others. They want to make sure that the ‘balance’ of giving and serving and them receiving their rewards stacks up. Selfless people on the other hand, just give… because it’s all for God anyway.

12) You are the star or the centre in most of the stories, experiences and events that you share in conversation with other people

Selfish people don’t have conversations – they have monologues and soliloquies with an audience. Selfless people understand that conversations need to be two way, and endeavour to include others and bring out what’s inside them. Selfish people just want everyone to focus on them.
Naturally we’ve all got a bit of selfishness on the inside of us. If you took the test and none of it applies to you… I’d suggest that there’s a good chance that selfishness could be a bigger issue than you think!

If you took the test and none of it applies to you… I’d suggest that there’s a good chance that selfishness could be a bigger issue than you think!

3 Quick Tips For Becoming More Self-Less

1) Have a huge view of the super-abundance of God

Selfish people generally have a scarcity mentality – they don’t believe there’s enough to go around, so they make sure that they get ‘their share’. The more we see that in God there’s an abundance for all that we need and more – the easier it is to hold lightly to stuff. We can rejoice in the blessing of others, because we know that it’s not taking away from our blessing! There’s more than enough!

2) Have a mindset of humility

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; – Philippians 2:3

To ‘regard one another as more important than ourselves’ means that we treat every person we come across the same way that we would treat someone that we highly esteem. We take into consideration their needs and do our best to serve in every situation.

3) Give generously

Give. Not trade!

Giving our time, energy and money to others with no desire or expectation for return is a great way for us to keep selfishness far from us. Maybe this is why Jesus said that when we give we should do it in secret. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the ‘payback’ when no-one knows that it was you who gave!

Self-Less

Finally, a very simple way for us to embrace a selfless life is to simply live ‘self…less’. Jesus didn’t call us to be ‘self-none’, just ‘self-less’. In every situation we find ourselves in, there’s an opportunity for us to take a little less for ourseves, so that others can have a little more. Ask one more question about the other person in conversation. Leave something on the buffet table for the one who’s coming after you. Take 5 minutes out of your day to do something that will really be a blessing to someone else.

The Tempter

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” – Matthew 4:1-2

The dictionary defines ‘tempt’ as meaning ‘to entice or try to entice (someone) to do something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise’.

Right from the first moment we meet the devil in Genesis 3, he’s doing business with humanity – enticing and offering a substitute for God’s best.

What’s interesting here is that the devil pitches up after Jesus has fasted and waited on God for 40 days and right before Jesus gets his breakthrough.

In my experience, I’ve always found that he comes around in that time between sacrifice and breakthrough. When we’ve paid a price to set ourselves apart for God, or we’ve taken an action of obedience, but we haven’t seen God fulfill his promise yet. That’s prime devil-zone.

He comes in with lies (‘what are you doing? God’s not going to come through… you’re wasting your time’) or he comes selling something less than what God has promised, but with the bonus that you can have it right here, and right now.

The passage goes on and three times Jesus resists him, until the devil finally leaves… and ‘angels attend him’ (v11).

If we stand firm through temptation, then we will receive the promise that God has for us. And it’s not some second-rate substitute – it’s the real deal!

3 Great Reasons To Live Holy

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God – 2 Corinthians 7:1

I read a brilliant post from John Bevere the other day, talking about holiness, and how it’s one of the words that has been lost from the church vocabulary in more recent years. There’s been a strong emphasis on the grace and love of God which has ignited throughout the body of Christ – and well overdue I reckon! But 2000 years after this verse was written, nothing has changed when it comes to the way that God wants us to live our lives in relation to the world around us.

The word ‘holy’ comes from the Greek word haigos which means ‘set apart’, ‘sanctified’ or ‘special’. We’ve made it a very spiritual word, which it is, but we all have things in our everyday lives that we treat as holy. There’s items of clothing that we wouldn’t choose to mow the lawns or clean the house in because they’re for special occasions, not for common purposes. Some have cutlery and tableware that’s not used every week, but set apart for special events. When I was a kid one of my teachers used to have a particular stamp that she would put on work that was outstanding, and everyone knew that to get one of those stamps was worth way more than the regular buzzy-bee 🙂 All of these things were ‘set apart’, ‘special’ and ‘sanctified’.

And that’s how God wants us to view our lives. Everywhere we go, in everything we do, we are on a unique and glorious mission. God has not fashioned our lives to be whittled away on pointless pursuits, or to be caught up with what the world around us is obsessed with. It doesn’t mean that we don’t serve or we live life with some selfish sense of entitlement. But like undercover agents – we are in this world but not of it. We set ourselves apart to stay true to the call we’ve been given.

I don’t think many Christians set out to not live their lives in a holy way before God, but perhaps it’s just more that it can slip down the priority list unless we can see it’s power.

This is why Paul gives us three great reasons in this verse to live holy:

1) Live Holy Because Of What Has Been Promised To You

The verse starts with a ‘therefore’, and as Derek Prince says, whenever you see a ‘therefore’ find out what it’s ‘there for’. The previous chapter ends with some pretty cool things that God is planning on doing:

  • “I will live and walk among you – I will be your God, and you will be my people”
  • “I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”

God is really serious about his relationship with us. So if our heart response to God is ‘Lord, I want you to be near, I want to live as your son or daughter’ then surely our life response needs to be one where we put Him first, and leave behind old ways and dead works in order to walk in the promise He’s given.

So we don’t live holy to try to get a blessing from God, we live holy BECAUSE He has blessed us and given us some incredible promises. Why would we settle for anything less?!

2) Live Holy Because The Alternative Wrecks Your Life

I’m not going to fix the car in my good suit and tie, not only because it’s not practical but I also don’t want my good suit stained with oil and grease. Sure I could do it and get it cleaned up, but why let it get dirty in the first place?

Sin contaminates our spirits. Living in ways that are at odds to what God has commanded us isn’t just bad for our relationship with Him, it’s bad for US. If I lose my temper with someone, then when I come to God and ask for forgiveness He will cleanse me of the sin and give me grace for next time. But an impact has been made on the relationship that is now going to need to be worked out.

The blood of Jesus remains powerful to cleanse us from all transgressions, but sin nearly always carries some form of consequence our lives. So we live holy not just because of God’s great promises and intention for us, but also because the alternative just isn’t worth it!

3) Live Holy Out Of Awe And Wonder Of Who God Is

The verse ends with ‘perfecting holiness out of reverence for God’. I love that word ‘perfecting’… it means that we’re still on a journey with this one and it’s not going to happen overnight. But we’re intent on getting to our destination too.

The promise that God has given us is that he wants to walk close to us, and He wants us to be His sons and daughters. How differently would we live our lives if we knew that every moment of every day, the fullness of the presence of God was with us? If Jesus physically turned up one morning and said ‘I’m going to spend the day with you’ – how many things would we do and not do differently? We would make changes to our lives out of love and respect for Him. We would be committed to ‘perfecting holiness out of reverence for God’.

The truth is – He DOES walk with us! He’s closer than we could ever believe. But in order to see His power released, we need to get off the world’s rhythm, and live in time with His heartbeat.

Finally…

“without holiness no one will see the Lord” – Hebrews 12:14

Nearly every time I’ve read that verse, I’ve interpreted it that I won’t get to see God unless I live holy. Certainly there’s truth in that – but I would argue that it’s not about me getting holy to get close to God – because He’s the only one who can make me holy in the first place! Trying to be holy without God’s help is simply dead religion.

I think it’s more that there’s breakthroughs, open doors, opportunities and moments that God wants to bring me into – but without a life that’s actively pursuing Him… I’m likely to miss what He’s wanting to do. Without a ‘holy’ (set apart) life, I won’t ‘see the Lord’ (where He’s going and what He’s doing).

But there’s something else too. I think this verse is about how Christians live in the world around us. When we blend in and just do what the world does, no one sees God. They just see more of the same. But when we live differently, when we live holy, when we make the decisions to do some things and not others because of our relationship with God… then they see something extraordinary. The world around us catches a glimpse of heaven.

That’s absolutely motivation for me to live holy!

In His Image

“When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God….. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image…”- Genesis 3:1-3

When Adam and Eve were first created, they were made in the likeness of God – formed in His image.  Perfect and powerful, every part of them – body, soul and spirit – replicated the glory of their Creator.

But sin entered the human race, and like a disease it infected not only Adam and Eve, but their offspring as well.  So it’s noted here that the sons of Adam were born ‘in [Adam’s] likeness’, not in the likeness of God.  Sin had contaminated mankind, and every generation of people since that time has lived with the consequences of Adam & Eve’s decision .

There’s a couple of things I take from this:

1) We must be born again.  Perhaps you’ve seen a photocopy of a photocopy?  With each generation the quality decreases.  It’s a lot like that with the human race.  In order to walk in the fullness of who we’ve been made to be, we must be born again – a Photoshop touch up is not enough – we need a complete regeneration.  This is what Paul talks about when he describes us as ‘a new creation in Christ’.  The moment we confess our sins to God, and hand the keys of our lives over to Him, we are born again by the Spirit of God.  It’s a whole new page, a clean sheet to start from.

2) As leaders, we must be committed to forming people into Christ’s image, not ours.  Even the best, most inspirational leader is still only a reflection of who God is.  Every person has been uniquely made, and our responsibility as leaders is not to make people like us, but to make them like Jesus.  Paul said “I am in labour until Christ is formed in you”.  He wasn’t looking to make a bunch of Paul-clones, but rather like a great father – he was seeking wisdom from above as to how to encourage and form his ‘children’ into the shape that God had called them to be.

Strength Through Softness

Romans 15:1 – Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Sometimes it doesn’t massively please us to have to put up with other people’s weaknesses!  We’d rather they just sort it out, or we don’t have to deal with them. 

But I prove myself as a mature believer, and display the strength that I claim to have, by loving others and helping them in their weakness. Not by cutting and running, but by helping and building.  While it may be easier to do what pleases me – it’s not helpful for the building up of the body. 

So if we claim to be strong, mature believers – this will be tested and evidenced by how we deal with the weaknesses of other people.  It takes huge commitment and strength to continue to show mercy and love when it’s taking a toll on us. 

But this is what Jesus demonstrated and continues to demonstrate to us!

Justified

Acts 13:39 – and by him everyone who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

There’s a few words that the Bible uses that aren’t usually a part of our everyday language – words like sanctified, justified, redeemed etc.  But when we understand what these words mean it can really help us grasp what God has done for us.

In this verse we read that by Christ, everyone who believes is JUSTIFIED from all things, and that we could not be JUSTIFIED by the law of Moses.  What does it mean to be justified?

imageMost word processing programs like Microsoft Word have a series of buttons that let you align the text.  You can centre it, or push it left or right.  But there’s one button which is called ‘justified’.  When you click, it pushes out the edges of your text to the margins, giving a nice even flow down the page. 

It’s not a bad illustration of what it’s like when God justifies us.  The page margins are like perfection, and the words we type are like our thoughts and deeds.  They don’t measure up to perfection, often falling short.  But when God justifies us, it’s like He makes up the missing difference to make us perfect. 

The law of Moses can only point out our sin, showing us where we fall short.  It has no power to make us righteous or to clean us up.  But through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ now JUSTIFIES us – and even if we fall short – by His grace and mercy HE makes up for it and presents us before God the Father as perfect.