My Jericho

(from Joshua 6 and 1 Kings 16: 34)

God tore down these fortress walls;
My dirty hands rebuild them.
He commands, He warns, He whispers, He calls;
My willful heart ignores Him.

I pour the foundation and bury my Lord;
I raise the gates and nail Him high.
The bricks are whetstones to sharpen the sword
That pierce His heart and mine.

He destroyed what once held me.
I build it back in zealous lust,
Too proud to kneel, too blind to see
The mortar is made of blood and dust.

Dear Lord, I wish to let my hammer drop,
To let the fortress lie,
To let green grass cover the barren spot,
And rivers fill the streets so dry.

 

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Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 4 of 4

As I was typing out the previous devotional notes, another point came to my attention which I hadn’t initially noticed, but which I cannot fail to overlook now that God has brought it to my mind. I’ll admit, it’s something I don’t want to talk about because I’ve thought it before, although not in the context of Acts 27, and I honestly don’t even like thinking about it let alone writing about it. But I believe God wants me to, hence the fourth part of this series.

The sailors and the centurion deserved to face the Tempest of Sin. They deserved the suffering and terror they fared aboard the Sin Ship and in the sea. It was just; it was fair. But what about Paul? Had he sinned? Had he chosen to disobey God’s will and press forward on the sailing journey? Did he deserve to bear the suffering he too was forced to share?

No.

It’s a simple answer. Why then did he suffer as much as anybody else?

Because we can’t keep sin to ourselves; it is going to affect other people, regardless of whether we want it to or not. We think, “Oh, I’ll just keep this sin hidden in my own personal world. If nobody knows about it, then it can’t hurt them.” Lie. Go ahead, keep telling yourself that – until truth comes knocking at your door and the reality comes out. The fact that you’ve been hiding the sin only adds to the pain it causes others.

Even if you manage to keep your secret from the people in your life, God knows. How much do you think you’re hurting Him by choosing to live in your hypocritical lifestyle every single day?

(Honestly, how much do I hurt Him?)

Sin is contagious, contaminating everything and everybody it touches. My mom made an analogy once that has stuck with me ever since. We raise livestock, which means we have to haul in loads of hay to feed them over the winter. Unfortunately, not all of that hay is good feed; if it has mold it cannot be fed to our animals because the mold will sicken – if not kill – the animals. When there is a tiny mold spot in a flake of hay, the spot spreads and spreads until the whole bale is worthless garbage…and then the mold spreads to the surrounding bales in the stack. Even if those bales were the cream the crop when first hayed, they too are damaged by the first moldy bale.

That’s what our sin does. When it rules us, it spreads into the lives of others. It damages them, hurting them, wounding them, cutting them, contaminating them. Something which we thought we could keep to ourselves is suddenly hurting those we love, and it’s hurting them far more than it is us. That truth – the knowledge that what we have done has absolutely broken those whom we would never wish to break in any way – brings an agony to our hearts.

Sin, like mold, can’t be contained to one moldy spot or flake. If it isn’t entirely taken out of the bale, then it will escalate until it wrecks far more havoc then we ever could ever imagine.

David’s sin with Bathsheba cost Uriah his life and Bathsheba her husband. Judas’ greed cost Jesus His life. A drunken driver wrecks the other car coming home from the basketball game, killing the mother and maiming the child. Selfish, materialistic ambitions cause the deaths of hundreds of neglected animals whom people insist on raising but cannot – or will not – feed.

Rather simple, ordinary sins, aren’t they? Lust. Greed. Drunkenness. Selfishness. Materialism. And the results are so extreme. So dire. So….

Deadly.

Maybe our sins won’t cause a physical death for somebody else. But they will cause an emotional death. And it seems to me as if the emotional wound is usually far more painful and takes a longer time to heal than the physical wound.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum – the wounder and the wounded. I ashamedly guarantee, the former is the worse position to be in. It’s far easier to forgive someone who has hurt you, then to forgive yourself for hurting another. It’s far easier to forgive a person than it is to watch them suffer day after day, to see the hurt in their eyes every time they look at you, to know they want to cry every time they see a picture of you.

Sin is destructive. Deadly. Contagious. We have to leave it behind – to jump ship. Yes, it’s going to be a painful, probably agonizing process. Yes, it’s going to wound others. But the longer you wait, the greater the sin becomes, and the more powerful an impact it has on those it touches.

The mold spreads from one bale to two…to three…to five…to ten…to twenty….

Did you know that if a haystack starts molding, the heat produced by the molding process can actually start a fire? That’s what happens if we just cling to the sin in our lives. Eventually, it will erupt in flames.

Hell here on Earth.

I do not want that in my life.

(Oh my goodness, I have so much to think about right now…so much to act on. I know that there are moldy flakes in my life that I need to get rid of, tackle and foodstuffs that I need to throw overboard. Before they grow into an entire Sin Ship. Before they consume me. And in so doing, consume those around me.)

But there is hope. Oh my goodness, there is HOPE!

Do you see the joy is in this serious discussion? In the story in Acts 27? It is the fact that “all” were saved! Look at it – just look at it in verse 44. They all abandoned ship – they jumped into that frightening Sea of Consequence and struggled to the land. Humanly, they were alone, every man for himself. But God was with them all the while – watching them, guiding them, holding them up. He brought them to dry land. He rescued them from sin. He gave hope when all hope was lost.

And He will do the same for each of us, if we are willing to finally jump ship once and for all.

Letting go of sin isn’t an impossible endeavor. On the contrary, throwing myself into the arms of a faithful, merciful God is the most possible thing imaginable.

So let go. Abandon ship. Face the tempest. Leave the unsteady rolling of the ship behind and set your feet once more on solid ground.

Good-bye, Sin Ship. Hello, Hope.

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 3 of 4

Acts 27: 39-44

So this is what happens when we hit the end of our ropes, when we’ve ridden the ship of sin as long as we can and suddenly we can go no further. When it’s time to let go for good. There’s no easy landing, no easy dismount. We have to be humbled. We have to be shipwrecked. Sin isn’t something we can just sneak out of, no matter how hard we try. On the contrary – we must face the consequences of our sin.

Sometimes we wonder if we will ever survive that shipwreck. The sin that we have lived in for so long is being battered to pieces, being exposed for the frailty it is. The strongest sin is no match for God’s power. And as our sins are basically being torn out from under our feet, we too are being exposed – mere flesh and blood, helpless, weak. No more crutches, no more facades.

If we want to live, we have no choice but to abandon ship. Otherwise, we will be destroyed with the vessel. But in order to abandon ship, we must “jump overboard.”

Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for the sailors and prisoners, especially those who couldn’t swim, to leap out of the safety of what they had known – however rickety and wrong it was – into the storm of God’s wrath and the just consequences for sinful decisions?

In the story in Acts, it sounds as if the ordeal was an every-man-for-himself situation. Similarly, when we own up to our sin, we often feel as though we are entirely alone and the whole world has turned against us. Those can be some of the most agonizing moments, days, months, or years we will ever face. When in that sea of consequence, we wonder if we will survive the tempest, if we will ever reach land again. Or will we just be destroyed by the agony that consumes us?

But there is a promise of hope.

The last sentence of this passage says, “And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” Notice the “all.” Not some, but “all.” Because they were obedient and because they had the courage to leap overboard, God carried them through the storm. Yes, they had to suffer in the sea for a while, but God brought them through it. Just like He will you or I or anyone else who takes the plunge of faith and willingly faces the consequences of one’s sin and then leaves the wreckage of that sin behind.

It’s not going to be easy – those were probably the worst, loneliest, most painful months I have ever endured. Sometimes those sea waves still bombard me. Nevertheless, God has carried me through.

He has set my feet on dry ground once again. He set the ship’s passengers’ feet on dry ground again. He will do the same for anyone else who has the humbled, repentant heart to abandon the Sin Ship.

 

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 1 of 4

Acts 27

The weather was terrible. They shouldn’t have been sailing any farther…it wasn’t safe or smart. Paul warned that the voyage would end in disaster. But did the sailors or centurion listen? No, they pushed on. They had their own goals in mind, their own destination point picked out. And they weren’t willing to give up their personal aspirations, not for anybody…not even God Himself.

Through His Word, the circumstances we face in life, and the advice of good Christian friends, God desperately tries to communicate to us His desires for our lives. But too often we overlook these messages, all for the sake of self-satisfaction.

What happens when we go our own way, not heeding God’s warnings? Acts 27 clearly gives the answer with the story that I have come to think of as “The Sin Ship.”

Acts 27:9-12

Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.” v. 11

The centurion was the ultimate authority onboard the ship; he had the preeminence to choose between pressing on with the journey or harboring for the season. Contrary to Paul’s warning, the centurion chose to listen to the sailors’ urging and ordered that the ship sail forward.

Note the contrast in verse 11 between the two sources of advice – it’s “the helmsman and owner,” mere earthly men, versus “the things spoken by Paul.” Not just “Paul,” but the “things” he said. Those “things” didn’t come from mere earthly wisdom as the sailors’ words did – Paul’s statements relayed God’s advice for the ship’s passengers. The centurion’s dilemma was between the words of men and the words of God.

And the centurion chose to heed the words of men.

The situation isn’t any different today – we are faced with both worldly and godly advice. We can’t escape it, but we do have to choose whose advice we will take, whose words we will follow. Who are my influences? Who are my advisors? When I’m making a decision, do I heed the words of the world, or the words of the Lord?

Look at the advice that Paul gave: If the centurion made the wrong decision, the choice could end in “disaster and much loss.” Is it any different for us? I think not. When we choose whose message to follow, we need to remember that there are positive or negative consequences for each, and we will have to live with those consequences.

I have paid the price to live with myself on the terms that I willed.” Rudyard Kipling

The trouble is, we don’t always consider the future negative consequences seriously enough to realize how severe they will be.