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Rats in the Cellar

A Monday post-mortem on a Friday night fight. 

We were broadsided. Both of us. A burst of unseemly anger on his part with catty kickback on mine. Provoked by a by a kind question from a friend. I deferred my answer to Jim, he was caught unaware, and the fight was on. On the heels of a delightful dinner party, the three friends who lingered caught a whiff of some mighty dank laundry. 
It came fast. Just imagine the split-second when Kitty stops soaking up your kind strokes and goes berserk. Claws extend and teeth are bared; a friendly purr suddenly turns attack. All of a sudden.
God’s grace is always enough. Jim and I have more proof now. We’ve repented and mended. Forgiveness was sought and received from the friends who witnessed our scuffle. We hope we’re the wiser for it. 
In the 72 hours since, we’ve run a little post-mortem. In doing so, we’ve realized how the being caught off our guard-the element of surprise-played a big role in our big ugly.  

But the surprise breach of a delicate topic wasn’t the problem at all. It only revealed what was alive in cellar of our souls. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Our little quarrel clinic Friday night-our sinful acts- only revealed the sinful heart that’s usually hidden away. 

Surprise is great revealer of the heart. C.S. Lewis ran his own post-mortems after he sulked, or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed

The excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

That was it. As Jim and I examined our Friday night fight, we both included that piece. We were caught unaware: Jim by the subject itself, a bit of a touchy-topic, and me, by his airing of what I thought was a private matter. And so our sinfulness, not just our sin, was exposed.

Lewis continues his analysis, the anatomy-if you will-of unkind acts and angry words:

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

There you have it. The rats of self-pity and pride, resentment and anger are always there in the cellar of my soul. Suddenness and surprise just revealed them. They’re there hiding until I kill them off.

Paul and Peter and James knew about prowling pests. Be watchful, they all warned. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Be watchful and resist. Resist the prowling devil, firm in your faith, Peter wrote. Resist him and he will flee from you, James wrote.

But it’s not so much the devil outside. It’s the rats inside. I do not do the good I want, Paul wrote to the Romansbut the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. But, if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live (8:13). Until I kill them off, by the Spirit, they’re there, dwelling in me.

What to do, what to do?  How do we kill those rats in the cellar? 

The Sunday school answers are still right: Draw near to God in prayer and in His Word. Abide in Him, obey His Words. Be watchful and alert. Repent the second you see your sin
And one more thing: Welcome trials of various-even unexpected-kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, James wrote. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Trial

 Blogger Lisa Spence observes,

How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.  

Trials give us a sneak peek into the cellar of our souls. They remind us that we must be keep fighting, because sin is crouching at the door, desiring to have usWe must rule over it. As John Owen put it, Be killing sin or it will be killing you. We can welcome trials when we see them as a mercy; an exposing of idols and sin that would be killing us.

For us, a Friday night fight revealed the rats. 

Maybe for you it was just a tactless text from a friend, or getting cut off in traffic. Or coming home from a long Monday at work or spending a hectic Tuesday at home only to find a note long buried in a backpack,  Life-sized anteater model due Wednesday. Or maybe coming home, instead, to a clinic call with not so positive lab results. 

God is faithful whatever the temptation. He’ll provide a way of escape so we can stand up under them. 

In between tests, be watchful. And when they come, count it all joy.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 
Let all you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:12-13

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Would Be Slaves

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty 1863, Brooklyn Museum


We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. 

Romans 6:6

Some would be slaves. 

They would fight for the right. They would weep to return; and faithless forget the horrors. For fear of the unknown or to keep peace at home, they would stay enslaved. 

A line in Lincoln’s “Speech to an Indiana Regiment” launched this post. In the speech, he addressed the baffling matter of slaves who would fight for the Confederacy. 

Fellow Citizens…I may incidentally remark, however, that having, in my life, heard many arguments, — or strings of words meant to pass for arguments, — intended to show that this negro ought to be a slave, that if he shall now really fight to keep himself a slave, it will be a far better argument why should remain a slave than I have ever before heard– He, perhaps, ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it…[March 17, 1865]

Then I read the book of Numbers. The Israelites were about a year out of Egypt, and already they would return:

And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (11:4-5). 

Why is the LORD bringing us into this and, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to EGYPT? And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt”(14:2b,5).

Why would a freed slave fight for the Rebels? Why would he return to Egypt?  Why would we turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves we want to be once more? Surely not to let our stomachs and screens play god? Or to let lust and greed rule; to allow pride or pity to throw parties? Why would we possibly be slaves to the world’s weak and worthless ways? 

Scripture offers (at least) these three reasons:

1. We choose slavery to sin because sin just feels good. 
For a second at least. We choose “to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,” (Hebrews 11:25) because killing sin hurts and ice cream tastes good. Zipping our lips to blame and complaint is hard, and it’s not easy to open them to forgive and repent. Gossip rolls of the tongue, anger flies, and impatience and envy are so…comfortable. Status quo needs no fight. Natural need not deny the flesh. 

2. We choose slavery to sin because we have selective memory
We are faithless enough to think only of the “free fish and garlic,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” We choose to remember short-term security over the deadly wages of sin. We remember the pleasure, but forget to remember the bricks and the straw, the whips and the welts. We forget God’s provision in the past and ignore his promise to prosper.

3. We choose slavery to sin because we fear. 
Slaves, at least, know stability. Leaving Old Masters brings fear of unknown places, but also sworn enemies. When Jesus said, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he wasn’t talking about peace in our time. His mind was on the kingdom that the violent take by force. We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear (Romans 8:13-14a). But of little faith, we fear much.

But we would be slaves
Like Old Testament slaves, we have a choice in our service. He could choose to stay forever with a master he loved. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (Exodus 21:5-6). 

But Slaves-R-Us, whether to sin which leads to death or obedience which leads to righteousness. But this kind is not forced on us against our will. Either we see a) the pleasures of sin or b) the beauty of righteousness as more appealing. 

I think we will opt for b) if we:  

  • Remember right: the fruit we’ll will get (Romans 6:22), not the fruit we got. 
  • Wage war against the flesh: stop keeping the peace with our eyes and ears, our tongues and hands and feet (Romans 8:13).
  • Fear not, for our Master goes before us (Numbers 14:9). 

Like Lincoln said, “Perhaps he ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it.” 

And so, with the best of Masters, we press on in the good fight.

Since we would be slaves. 


Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:16-18



For more on the parallels and imperfections of the slave metaphor for our relationship to God, I recommend John Piper’s sermon “Slaves to God, Sanctification, Eternal Life.”  

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Gray and Plaid

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

I’m reading through the kings again. A decade ago I tucked into my Bible a chart detailing the names, dates, years of reign and “character” of each of the kings of Israel and Judah.  The character column lists simply, “good” or “bad.”  Yesterday a Sunday school student showed me his Bible’s updated table. It adds “mostly good” and “mostly bad” to the characterizations.

Saul-“mostly bad.” Recall: Early pardon of his enemies AND spears aimed for David.

David-“mostly good.”  Recall: Goliath, psalms galore, grace to bloodthirsty Saul AND Bathsheba.

Solomon-“mostly good.”  Recall: Prayer for wisdom, temple construction AND 1000 wives, princesses and concubines.

Fast forward a half dozen or so kings to wicked king Ahab.  Ahab who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” Whose hundreds of priests of Baal faced off  against Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Who, with his lovely Jezebel, knocked off righteous Naboth. For his vineyard. The murderous thug.  Big, ugly, sin.  Selfish,ugly, melancholic king. 

But Ahab humbled himself.  God saw his contrition.  Bad king (mostly).  Repentant king, shown mercy.  Maybe enough to move from the “bad” to “mostly bad” category?

It works both ways.

Three kings later: Jehu- zealous for God.  So zealous that he executes Jezebel, slaughters Ahab’s 70 sons.  Not satisfied, Jehu “with cunning” manages to gather the prophets and worshipers of Baal worshipers and wipe them out too.   Such a righteous warrior!  Good-er, make that “mostly good.”  

Jehu didn’t “turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam” the worship of the golden calves.  His zeal was incomplete; Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord with all his heart. 

As I make my way down through the royal annals one truth is inescapable: the good kings are not all good, and the bad are not all bad.

I think God does not want this inconvenient truth obscured.  No one is righteous, no not one. Neither is His arm too short or his ear stopped to the cries of the humble and contrite.  Ezekiel preached it to God’s exiled people. 

Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. (18:25-27)

A few days ago we received a letter from the Voice of the Martyrs ministry.  It explained that Tom White, VOM’s longstanding director and public face, had taken his own life. On April 25th, with allegations of sexual molestation of a minor becoming public, he quit the fight.  (See a beautifully written letter to his victim at http://www.wadeburleson.org/2012/04/sin-and-suicide-of-voice-of-martyrs.html) I have long supported VOM and its ministry to persecuted Christians around the globe.  I pray for God’s blessing on its leaders, especially now.  Tom White’s front cover inspirational editorial of the May issue was still sitting atop my reading pile. 

My stomach still churns, my mouth grimaces at the thought of it all.  The impact on the ministry, the victim, his family, the suffering saints in North Korea and Columbia and Nigeria whose causes he championed all these years.  A seasoned and mature seeming saint, imprisoned in Cuba decades ago for his faith.  Good?  Mostly good?  A sexual predator and hypocrite.  Bad?  The Lord only knows.

If you envision “good”  (or “mostly good”) in the column after your name in listed, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 has a word for you:  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

And if you’re feeling like your epitaph would more likely include “bad” (or “mostly bad”), take heart from persecutor turned apostle Paul, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.(1 Timothy 1:15-16)



Pondering this with my mom she nodded, smiled knowingly and recited:

No one whose good is all good, 
Or whose bad is all bad.
Rather we’re all shades or gray
Or plaid.

That’s me.  Us.  We’re gray and plaid.  Not all good, not all bad.  Serving with joy one moment and then wallowing in jealous, self-pity the next.   Check out Jon Bloom’s blog “You don’t have to obey.”  His depiction of the war that rages within is right on. 

I know it.  I live it.  I hate to admit it, but I lose sleep over my desires, turned demands, turned idols.  I don’t always fight sin hard enough, drawing strength from my union with Him, from His Spirit within.  Ugly, sinful, melancholic.  I, Abigail, am Ahabesque. But I am not a slave to sin. No sir! 

We have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end eternal life.  (Romans 6:22)

Good.  Very good.