I’m not a big board game fan. Some people love the camaraderie of playing a rousing game of Risk or Stratego. Some people’s minds just work that way. Some people start bouncing off walls if they even imagine they’ve heard the word Catch Phrase or Scattergories. “Who said Catch Phrase? Does someone have it!?” In honesty, I’ve never played Boggle and have no idea how it’s played, but I’m sure some people really love a good game of Boggle. I remember being about 7 and looking at a backgammon board for hours trying to imagine how any game could possibly be played on a board that folded up like a suitcase. I still don’t know.
The last couple weeks I’ve been noticing lots of latent sin in my life – these hidden things that happen in my heart that, on the surface, are so normal they’re almost not worth considering. You’d say, “Oh, everyone does that. It’s no big deal.” I listened to a sermon on 2 Kings today that is causing me to reconsider my laxity in dealing with these hidden, almost-unnoteworthy sins.
In 2 Kings, we read about Josiah who became king at the age of 8. Eighteen years into his reign, he sends one of his men, Shaphan, on a run to the temple to tell the high priest some stuff. Little does Shaphan know that the high priest was doing some cleaning in the temple and found a copy of the Law – the first 5 books of the bible. Up to this point – for AT LEAST the entire duration of Josiah’s reign (18 years), no one has been reading the bible – not even the priests. Not a soul. So Josiah’s servant, Shaphan (the messenger), reads it and then takes it back to Josiah, announcing simply, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” Shaphan then reads the Law to Josiah. And Josiah tears his robes. He knows the entire kingdom has been living in blatant disobedience to God’s commands.
It makes me wonder: did those people know they were living rubbish lives? I think they did. Somehow, inside of them, I think they did. Of course, it’s pure speculation. But regardless of whether they did or didn’t know, I know they learned and justified their way of life because everyone else lived the same exact way. They worshiped idols because everyone else did. They sinned in similar ways because everyone else did. And thought little of it because they continued that way. Until the Law was found. Then their lives changed. For a number of years, anyway. Until Josiah’s son became king. Then things got real out of control. But that’s another event for another time.
Our time and place is little different. The process of socialization – whether secular or religious – makes us who we are. The right-ness of who we become is determined by our resemblance to the way God wants us to be – which He tells us in the bible. Josiah saw this. Josiah heard God’s words and I think his heart was torn in two. The physical tearing of his royal robe was just a natural manifestation that overflowed from his soul. HE HAD EMOTION!! Sure, anyone can tear a robe. People who are not broken-hearted can tear a robe. But there are people who will tear robes when they have broken hearts. Josiah and many men in the bible were these kinds of people – real robe-tearers. They heard God speaking to their souls. Not in an audible voice – but in a whisper that sheared their existence. This is the picture we should have when the author of Hebrews writes that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates EVEN TO DIVIDING soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Are you hearing Him speak to you in your life? If not, are you reading His word regularly? He has many ways of speaking, but the bible is certainly prime among them.
I’ve heard Him recently tell me that I don’t have a reason for many of the strong opinions I have – and my opinions are often leading me into sin. Opinions that are inconsequential to anything having to do with Jesus. But I hold them just as firm. I will have disagreements with people and say, “No, I think so and so.” They’ll disagree with me and inside, I burn. I’m mad at this person for disagreeing with me. Who do they think they are? Like they really know more than me. Selfish, prideful sin. Ask me WHY I believe certain things and I often won’t be able to offer a sound reason. Sure, I’ll give reasons, but none of them are particularly good. It’s just me trying to force myself and my will onto someone else – making them believe something I do. It’s foolishness.
I’ve been seeing a few things in my life like this – sin that is hidden. I’ve never noticed it before, but it is part of my every day life. I’ve been asking God to show me these sins, and I’ll be danged if He isn’t answering.
I watch sports every once in a while – maybe part of a game once or twice a week (I’m not being facetious, either – I don’t watch too much). But when I do, if Detroit is playing, I go ballistic if someone on the other team does something against my team. Where does that come from? That anger? In some people, almost rage?
I love my job. But I wish I was paid more. In fact, I THINK I should be paid more. And I believe it so much that I said something about it to my boss. Twice now. I regret both times. Why do I think I deserve more? The reason? A new guy was hired on our team who makes more than me and produces less. I can’t tell you the anger I’ve wrestled with over that. Instead of being in awe with what God HAS given me and the BLESSING to have the ability to do the work I do, I’m angry and bitter and unappreciative. Instead of marveling at God’s provision for my teammate, I only think about myself. Instead of being caught up in the fact that Jesus has rescued me from my sins and made it so I don’t have to live IN my sin anymore, I wallow in it anyway. Why? Because it’s the human thing to do. You know the truth of the matter though? None of those reasons explain the measure of anger I have. It is sin plain and simple.
What has happened with all this? The Lord continues to bring The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard to my mind. I had thought of this parable 3 times bfore I talked to my boss. Then I talked to another friend about the issue and guess what he told me, “Whenever I feel that way, I always remember the Parable of the Vineyard Workers.” Funny. So that parable is the one about the guys who are hired at 9 in the morning from the employment line. The owner of the field keeps going back to the employment line and picking more workers – at each hour of the day. So at the end of the day, the owner is going to pay the men. The first guys paid are the ones who only worked 1 hour. The owner pays them 1 denarius. So the guys who started at 9 think, “WOW! We’re going to get a TON of money.” But the owner only pays them 1 denarius also. And the men grumble against the landowner. And the owner replies to one of the grumbling men, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15). God’s word is helping me break these unexplainable sins in my life.
There are tons more. Some I know, some I’m sure I don’t. But I know I’ve never cared for board games much. And I can’t explain why. I’ve made fun of people who like those games for as long as I can remember and that is really wrong. Just like I make fun of people who aren’t like me and don’t act the way I do. This “making fun” is often comedic (as my “making fun” of board games was above), but there is often deeper, more sinful emotion below the surface that the comedy just hides – like the high schoolers who “make fun” of other kids because of what they wear or how they talk or 1,000 other things. The Bowling For Soup song is right – high school never ends. Our ways of bringing people down just get more sophisticated. And we hide them from ourselves by rationalizing – “I’m a funny person” or “Everyone else does it.” We hide it like the Law was hidden from the Jews. But I can testify….the moment God’s Word shines into our heart on those places, there is heartbreak. You want to tear your clothes and get away from yourself. You end up like Peter, saying, “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man.” But this is precisely God’s business. It’s precisely WHY He was there to be with Peter and the disciples. It’s why He’s still here with us today. He makes sinners righteous.
Paul describes the sinful nature (and, consequently, much of what happens in our lives and society) like this: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in MALICE and ENVY, being hated and hating one another.” But then Jesus came. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” He continues and says, “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” (Titus 3:3-8).
Some days our behavior may cause us to question our salvation. Those questions are sometimes warranted. But maybe we just need a Shaphan in our lives – someone that will say, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” Maybe your friend’s name isn’t Hilkiah and they’re probably not a priest but there is sin in your life waiting to be uprooted and tossed away. God’s word and His power are the tools to do it.
I’ve been realizing there is very little pleasure in most of these hidden sins. They just choke me and make me feel uncomfortable. How they play out – making fun of someone, asking for a raise, etc – is just a release valve, but it really doesn’t make us feel good. So I close with this. Our JOY is on the line every additional day we decide we want to live in our sin. I’m asking myself tonight: do I or do I NOT believe Psalm 1 when it says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” My actions over the next couple weeks will prove if I believe it or not. The reward? Delight. AND…being “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3).