Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Deceptive Beauty of Sin

You may have noticed a plant, Queen Anne’s Lace, in bloom along roadways. It’s a “flower” I initially allowed grow in my yard because it was pretty. I even thought it to be a native Wisconsin prairie plant. Now, nine years later, this once beguiling plant is cropping up everywhere; seedlings are spreading throughout the lawn and encroach the perennial beds where they quickly dominate, choking out other plants. I realize--too late—that I’ve created a monster.

Queen Anne’s Lace is like sin. I’m not talking about the sin that we see as sin right off the bat, like abusing alcohol and drugs, cheating, lying and murder. If Queen Anne’s Lace looked like those things, I would never have allowed it in my yard. I’m talking about sin that initially looks innocent enough (of course no sin is ever innocent) but which, over time and completely unbeknownst to us, becomes progressively ingrained.

I’m talking specifically about the sin of the tongue. We all know that any sentence beginning with “Did you hear about the Smiths…?” is one we should quickly put a stop to (even though we often don’t). But there’s more to sinning with the tongue than over-the-fence gossip. I’m talking about a subtler but equally damaging kind of talk.

For example, there’s the gossip we initiate when we go to five different people with a problem we’re having with another person, but we never go to the actual person we’re having the problem with! Or the gossip that performs character assassination on someone or an institution we disagree with: our justification being that they are immoral, unfair, wrong, our boss, Democrats, Tea Party Members—you fill in the blank.

Then there is exaggeration, where we make ourselves, an experience or another person to be worse or better than we, it, or they actually are. For instance, we downplay our habit of always being late, attribute our proverbial workplace struggles to inept co-workers, and blow every comment of Aunt Emma’s completely out of proportion. The causes of exaggeration are many: a critical spirit, a desire to believe what we want to believe, a too-thin or too-thick skin, an animosity or perceived wrong with Aunt Emma, jealousy, sour grapes, and a penchant for drama.

Many of us never see these forms of speech as gossip, much less sin, because they are so easily disguised as self-righteousness. We feel justified in our attitudes and thoughts and the words that rise out them. They feel right because they make us feel better without our having to change anything on our end.

Queen Anne’s Lace, the Native Wisconsin Prairie Guide tells me, is a weed. And my Guide, the Holy Spirit, tells me that there are things I was justifying as righteousness which are actually sin. So while I’m taking the shovel to my yard and digging out the plant invaders, I’m taking the Bible to my sin and memorizing Scripture that directly addresses the temptations that plague me (Jesus fought the Devil in the wilderness with Scripture. Luke 4:1-13). I’m asking God in prayer to rid me of destructive tendencies. And I repent when I allow revealed sin to re-seed and grow again, and I submit to God once more for strength. In short, I am asking God for His righteousness to replace my self-righteousness.

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” Psalm 34:13

“For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good.” Psalm 36:2-3

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person…” James 3:6

“He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’” Luke 16:15

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-9

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