Going In the Basement

One of my favorite radio hosts of all time is Jim Rome. He’s the host of a syndicated sports talk radio program and has also hosted a sports TV show on ESPN. He is probably best known for the quirky phrases he uses regularly on his show. One of the funniest is when he says he’s “going in the basement ” in place of saying he is going to be on vacation. Going in the basement simply means he wants to get away from everyone and will be unavailable until he reemerges from the so-called “basement”.

One thing I’ve noticed in people is their tendency to “go in the basement” whenever they believe they’ve disappointed God. They believe they cannot return to church, their small group or communicate with other believers because they’ll be judged. So they respond by isolating themselves from the very place and people who they should be running to, not from. The bible says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The word used is all, not some, but all. But when we sin the enemy wants us to believe that we are the only one who is not living a holy and perfect life. We shy away from the fellowship of other believers because we wrongly think that they will know what we’ve done and will judge us. We also falsely believe that we must perform a certain way for God and that if we don’t measure up He will not love us anymore and we will no longer be close to Him. Once you are born again you are never separated from God. You may feel separated because of sin in your life but you are never really separated from Him. But so many people believe the lie of the enemy that says “if you don’t behave the way God expects you to then God will disown you” so they isolate themselves, hide from God and won’t come back to church out of fear of being judged. There are no guarantees that there will not be those who may pass judgement because believers are called to judge fellow believers (not unbelievers) by their fruit and to hold them accountable in love and grace (Matt. 7:16-20, John 7:24, 1Cor. 5:12-13). But the response to that form of judgement is not to run from everyone. It’s a good thing that there are those who want only God’s very best for your life and who will help you to return to rightstanding with God. The church is filled with Godly men and women who understand they are not in a position to judge as they themselves are sinners too but are willing to share their wisdom and experience with new believers.

The “basement” is a dark and lonely place where we isolate ourselves from the encouragement, accountability and life-giving prayer and support of fellow believers. And this is exactly where the enemy wants you to be. If you ever watch animal shows on National Geographic you’ll notice that the animals travel in herds or packs. They do so because there is safety in numbers. The same is true for us. There is safety in the accountability and support of the local church and spiritual family. But when the predators attack an animal herd, their strategy is to isolate an individual from the group. They do so because the individual that is separated from the group is a much easier target to take down than when they are connected to the rest of the herd. Typically it is a weaker, younger animal that tends to separate from the group because they lack the experience and knowledge on how to safely stay with the rest of the herd. The enemy of our souls seeks to isolate us from our spiritual family because he knows we become an easy target when we are on our own without the support and help of a group of believers. And he targets the newer believers who have not yet had the opportunity to firmly lay the spiritual foundations in their lives that will give them the knowledge and experience they need to know how to call on others and to use the tools God provides for us during a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:11-18). Because they are a target of the enemy, it is even more vital for newer believers to run to God and their spiritual family when they battle sin and to firmly resist the temptation to remain isolated and alone.

If you feel separated from God the first thing you must realize it that you are not, you only feel that way because of sin in your life. You will never be perfect and you will continue to make mistakes along the way. You must accept that. But you don’t have to stay that way. And you can be assured that God’s love for you is not performance based. You do not have the ability to make God not love you. And you can never do anything so great that God will love you more than he does now. Likewise, you can never do anything so bad that He will love you less. His love for you is immeasurable and it will endure forever so stop trying to make Him love you more and stop believing the lie that He loves you less because of something you’ve done. When you sin your response must be to repent and turn away from that sin. Then you have to get out of the darkness of the “basement” and back into the light of God’s house and fellowship with other believers. You will find protection, encouragement and support when you are firmly connected to other believers through the local church. In spiritual family you will find people willing to stand alongside you and to battle the enemy on your behalf through prayer as they help you bear the weight through difficult seasons. It’s time to emerge from the basement and reconnect with the God who never left your side by returning to church and the fellowship and support of other believers. You weren’t created to battle alone so now’s the time to stop trying and rejoin your herd where you’ll find there truly is safety in numbers.

Is It Really Worth It?

The funny thing about knowing that your child will be heading off to college in a few short months is that there is a sense of urgency that overtakes you to wrap up every loose end that you’ve put off until now. The wisdom teeth that should’ve been taken care of a year ago, the allergy shots that should have been started 2 years ago and sorting through clothes to donate to Goodwill have all suddenly made their way to the top of the “To Do” list. I am the quintessential procrastinator and I am sorely paying for it right now as we madly dash around town to various doctor and dentist appointments.

One of our first stops was a follow up visit to our favorite allergy doctor. We talked about symptoms and specifically we discussed nightime congestion and the use of over-the-counter medication for relief. The doctor explained how the medications work and what the trade-off is when you use them. He said “you can get almost immediate relief and breathe freely through the night but I must warn you that 12 hours later you will be more congested than before you ever used the medicine in the first place. It’s up to you to determine if it’s really worth it.” Wow, isn’t the temptation to sin exactly like that?

Every day we are faced with temptations, some carrying much more potential for damage than others. It’s one thing for me to be tempted to eat ice cream and to give in to that temptation but it’s quite another when you are tempted to commit adultery, have a drink after having been sober for an extended time or to choose to do something unethical at your workplace that could cost you your job. But we must understand that there is no harmless, little sin. All sin is devestating to our souls and leads to death. However, sometimes we are overcome by our desires and we find justification to give in to sin knowing that there will be instant gratification in doing so. But what we many times fail to consider is that the consequences that come later will cause us to be in a far worse condition than before we made the choice to sin in the first place. Even if we are already knee deep in sin it will never be worth it to choose to sin more. And long after the false sense of fulfillment that comes immediately after choosing to sin has passed, we are left with a feeling of emptiness along with the mounting damage sin causes and the weight of guilt. Most of the time we cannot foresee or possibly imagine the ultimate destructive results of our momentary choices. But in that moment we find justifications to make the wrong decision, even in the times when we have some sense of what the outcome will be. In our minds we determine it will be worth it and we choose the trade-off.

But is it ever really worth it? You may think it is at the time. I may enjoy a piece of cheesecake and think “I can work out later and burn (some of) those calories so it was totally worth it”. But the problem with that way of thinking is that I fail to account for the long term damage a little bit of indulgence in the moment can cause. Over time my giving into the cheesecake every once in awhile becomes more frequent and thus harder to overcome. It’s the same with sin. We think just a little indulgence here and there won’t hurt but over time the damage builds, our ability to resist decreases, our justification turns to entitlement and our desire to seek forgiveness fades. Each time we choose to sin instead of choosing to turn away from sin, we are placing a new brick in the wall that we are slowly building up around ourselves – a wall that keeps God and those who want to help us out. The higher we build the wall, the harder it is to tear down.

So what do we do to keep that wall from being built? We must resist sin in the first place. And how do we resist sin? We spend time daily in the presence of God. The enemy is an expert at deception and he wants nothing more than for us to fall into his traps and make sin the lord of our lives instead of Jesus. But Jesus died for our sins so that we can be set free from the bondage that takes places when sin controls our lives. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we no longer have to be bound by sin. The more we spend time in the presence of God by talking with Him through prayer, worshipping Him through music, serving others and giving, and by building our faith through reading His word, the less likely we will be to fall into the traps laid by the enemy. There is nothing wrong with building a wall in your life as long as you are building a wall of protection from temptation laid with a firm foundation of discipleship instead of building a fortress that isolates you from the righteousness of God.

The choice is yours to make. Do you want a fortress built on the long term consequences resulting from the short term false sense of satisfaction that sin produces? Or do you want to build life long protection against the destruction sin causes so that you may have lasting peace and joy? As our allergy doctor said – the choice is yours but I must warn you, if you choose to sin in the moment, you will be in a far worse condition later than you were before you chose to sin in the first place. It’s better to begin now to seek God for the healing you need in your current condition than to continue to build the fortress that will only make it more difficult later. Make sure whatever you choose, that you consider if it’s really worth it. Jesus did when He decided you were worth dying for on the cross. He could have made the choice for instant relief but He knew if He did then things would only be worse later. He resisted the temptation of the moment and chose to suffer knowing the long term consequences of His short term discomfort, even the excruciating discomfort He suffered, would result in victory over sin for all who seek forgiveness and believe in Him. There has never been a choice more worth it than His choice on the cross. Remember that the next time you are faced with the choice to sin, and then think about the moment Jesus decided you were really worth it.

Sky Diving and Rocky Mountain Climbing

Several years ago Tim McGraw released a song called “Live Like You Were Dying” from his album by the same name. The song reached number one on the charts and earned McGraw a Grammy.  The message of the song was simple – live each day as if it were your last. Do the things that you always wanted to do, make amends with anyone you still hold a grudge against, show love to those who you hold most dear, and spend more time with God. Each of these suggestions are definitely things we all should be doing whether we are dying or not. But what if, instead of living like we’re dying, we chose to simply live like we really believed that when Jesus died on the cross He didn’t just die for our sins, He overcame the power of sin in our life?

Many people today say they believe in God and they believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. But the worry, fear, doubt and perpetual cycle of  sin in their life says they believe something very different. Still others are filled with guilt and condemnation because they don’t believe they are good enough for God to love them even though they have received the gift of salvation. The problem for both is that they haven’t reached a point of understanding the full extent of what Jesus did the day He died on the cross. They believe He died for their sins, which is vital for salvation. They also believe that all their past sins have been forgiven. But what they fail to understand is that when Jesus died on the cross, He not only died for all of their sins, He overcame sin.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we know it is not up to us pay the price for our sins. The price has already been paid and it only needed to be paid once. There is no need for anyone to keep paying the price. It is finished. When we accept God’s forgiveness of sin, it is erased from our life along with the power it has over us. We are set free from the bondage of sin and the power it weilds over us. But for many, they live their life as if sin still reigns over them. They walk down the aisle of the church to the altar, respond to the gospel and receive the forgiveness for their past sins. Then they attempt in their own strength to make changes in how they act so they won’t sin anymore. At that point they are simply practicing behavior modification when they should instead be surrendering their lives to Christ and trusting in His power to overcome sin in their life. Once we are saved, we are never separated from God. But those still trapped by the guilt and condemnation of past sin feel the separation that sin causes and for this reason many end up turning away from the church. They believe that as long as they behave a certain way they will be close to God but when they don’t behave “right” they feel as if they are separated from God, even though that’s not true. They believe God and other believers will no longer accept them because they have failed. They wrongly believe that they are the only ones who have done anything wrong and that everybody else has it all together so they choose to isolate themselves. And it’s in their isolation they become an easy target for the enemy. The message of the gospel is not about doing all the right things and being a good person so God will accept us. It is accepting God’s promise that we are forgiven once and for all and trusting in Him and the power of the Holy Spirit to change our sinful nature and transform us into His image.

However, knowing our sins are forgiven – past, present and future – does not give us free reign to go sin because we won’t have to pay the price for that sin. What it does do is give us confidence in knowing that no sin – past, present or future – has any power over us. We are free from the control that sin once had in our life and from the guilt and condemnation it made us feel. We do not have to live in fear that we will disappoint God. In His eyes, we are white as snow because our sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus. We do not have to isolate ourselves when we do fall short because there is nothing that can separate us from God once we are born again. We do not have to feel the pressure to be a “perfect” Christian because we accept that we are sinful by nature and know we will be forgiven when we repent and turn from our sins – past, present and future. We don’t have to perform for God to love us, but out of our love for Him we choose a life of obedience to His commands. We do not have to fear death and eternal separation from our Father because the Word promises that through our salvation we will spend eternity with Him in heaven. We don’t have to live like a prisoner bound by the power of sin because we are free through the power of God. Tim McGraw sang we should live like we’re dying but I say it’s much better to live like Jesus lived, glorifying the Father by living victoriously over sin. How much better would our lives be if we all lived like we really believed that Jesus not only died for our sin, He overcame it!