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May 06, 2015

sin the bud

[I started writing this post a few weeks ago - on a beautiful spring day].
Spring came overnight this year. When I crossed the city centre today, the trees that were yesterday brown skeletons were suddenly fluttering clouds of fresh green leaves. The grass on the corner near the grocery store caught my attentiontall and bushy, sporting a few dandelions, already needing a trim. A bird sung merrily from somewhere above me, and another outside our window. The city is bright, with pink blossoms festooning the trees and colourful flowers in all the planters.

Spring is beautiful here!

I tried to remember if it had been a few days since I had ventured out of our apartment, since some days I have no need to go out, and if that was why the coming of spring seemed so sudden to me. But no, I realized I had been outside yesterday...the wind was cooler, the trees more spindly, the birds subdued. Today really seemed like the first day of spring.

But in actuality, for weeks I'd been watching spring miraculously bring to life a cloudy, cold Europe. The sunshine has been lasting slightly longer each day, the bushes showing small blossoms, and knobby green buds had been coming out of hiding, on tree branches. What had actually been coming for a long time seemed to burst into my sight suddenly, and I almost forgot all the other signs of spring I had seen, compared to this.

Around the time of our wedding, we received various exhortations about marriage, some public and some private. We made mental notes (as much as we could, in the fog of engagement, wedding and early marriage). One of our advice-givers gave us a visual aid to remember his words, two blocks of wood glued together with our names scrawled on them with a Sharpie. The giver is a woodworker and the idea was clear, that God has glued us together, for good. My husband put the unsightly block on his bedside table as a reminder of the exhortation to cleave to one another.

That advice rings hollow now. Not the truth of cleaving, but the voice of the one who gave it to us. In recent months he admitted to adultery. He didn't use that difficult word in particular, but he told us about the child who came from the adulterous relationship, and she is now elementary-aged. Everyone was extremely disappointed by this sudden revelation and, judging by his crimson face, he was disappointed too, at least in being exposed. After all, in public he was doling out marriage and godly living advice and in private, doing the exact opposite.

At first it seemed like a sudden explosion of information, blindsiding his friends, family and acquaintances. But after a pause, a few people quietly admitted that they were both surprised and unsurprised by the news. No, most had not imagined the nature of his sin, the details of it. But it was like me, when I stopped to think about the signs of springthey suddenly remembered this incident and that conversation and realized that they shouldn't have been so surprised at this news. They had hints that something was wrong, even ten years ago.

The longer I live, the more stories I hear of believers who have become disqualified. It has happened to me several times lately, that I have read a book about a person or an organization that did its work in the name of God, but a quick Google search revealed a later ungodly inconsistency. There are teachers whose lectures were shared at our youth groups who now openly condone the redefinition of marriage. There's the popular preacher who lied to get his books to the top of bestseller lists. We've probably all experienced these kinds of disappointments with people we know personally or people we trusted from a distance.

Two concerns enter my mind when I hear these things:
[1] fear that I would be the one to fall away, and disappoint God and others, and
[2] fear that I or my loved ones would be hurt or deceived by such a one.
(And if I my fear of [2] is greater than my fear of [1], then I am greatly in danger of [1], if you know what I mean.)

But both fears need to be replaced by the fear of God, which is the only real protection against sin. We can build systems of rules and protective devices for ourselves, but ultimately "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." Through wisdom, we can learn to recognize what kind of tree we are, by the leaves, buds, blossoms or finally, the fruits we produce. "By their fruit you shall know them," and by wisdom we learn to recognize what's growing in our orchard.

Fear of God grows through regular exposure to the Scriptures... "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." "I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path." "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Seeing the public failings of others, and knowing my own more private failings, has made me more desperate for the Word. I'm seeking to press into it more faithfully, to value it more highly, to hide it in my heart, to post it on our walls, to bookend my days with it...that I might not sin against Him.  

We all have sins we take less seriously than others, perhaps gluttony, gossip, complaining, pride, lack of submission to authority.... But today's "small" sins are tomorrow's "big" sins. Rosaria Butterfield insightfully teaches that the root of sin behind hom0sexuality is pride. Rosaria's message is that if we harbour pride, who are we to say that one day we will not harbour hom0sexuality? Wisdom lets us recognize and uproot sin in its seed form, long before it is full grown.

Not only does a focus on the Word keep us from sin in our own lives, but it guides us toward wise people and away from foolish ones. It is not the will of God that we be hurt or deceived by teachers whose lives are inconsistent with their words, and if we are growing in maturity and walking in holiness, I believe He gives us discernment and often gives us warnings far before the "sudden explosions". I can hardly think of a case in my own life where a friend or a leader's life or doctrine did not raise some small- or medium-sized concerns in my mind, before a big revelation came. It is through His Word's wisdom that we become mature, and as Hebrews says, able to "discern both good and evil." We don't have to be surprised by the fruit if we learn to recognize the seed, the bud, the blossom....

My husband's cleared his bedside stand of that superglued wooden block. He may have disposed of it, and I don't mind; it was ugly in the first place, and now it holds an ugly memory. As I select pictures for the albums from our wedding season, part of me wants keep the album devoid of the memory of his mismatched life and doctrine by removing his picture. But on second thought, I want to keep him in the album, as a solemn reminder to "watch [our] life and our doctrine closely". Spring doesn't come overnight. Neither does adultery. Let this spring remind us not to be surprised or overcome by sin, but to nip sin in the bud, through the fear of the Lord.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul to the Corinthians 

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