Standing on Holy Ground …

A group of days close together on the calendar have special significance for Susan and me. They began last Friday, June 11, Susan’s birthday. They continued yesterday, June 13, the anniversary of the day nine years ago that I sent Susan the text message inviting her to enjoy the Ambassadors of Harmony concert with me two days later. She accepted, and on June 15 our first date led to speculation among our friends that we would marry before the general conference of the United Pentecostal Church that Fall. Their speculations became true prophecies. On June 24, 2013, as we were returning from lunch at Josephine’s Tea Room in Godfrey, Illinois, I asked Susan, “Will you marry me?” She said. “I will!” We married on September 28, 2013. We have enjoyed a blessed and happy marriage.

Susan and I had both lost our spouses. She had been married to Robert Fuller for forty one years, and Judy and I had been married for forty six. These marriages were also blessed. We like to add those years together with the nine years we have been married and to tell people we have been married ninety six years!

After breakfast this morning, I went to the piano to play a brief version of “Standing on Holy Ground.” Part way through, I looked up and there Susan stood with her iPhone, peeking around the corner to video the event. Life with her is always a joyful experience. We are truly standing on holy ground.


The joy of meeting old friends by surprise!

Yesterday as Susan and I sat at a booth in the Old Spaghetti Factory in Chesterfield, Missouri, I looked up and, behold! There stood Dennis Breland, a friend from long ago! He was joined by his wife, Rene. Memories came flooding back, spilling from our mouths.

Dennis was one of a group of young men discipled by my father, Glen Segraves, when Dad pastored the United Pentecostal Church in Dexter, Missouri during the 1970s. Dad considered these the most fruitful years of his ministry. Most all of these young men are in ministries of their own today.

Dennis pastors the United Pentecostal Church in Perryville, Missouri. The church has a website and Facebook presence if you would like to know more.


The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 11

In our previous ten lessons, we have considered the possibility that sin can be characterized as an addiction. Some may at first reject this idea, thinking that somehow if we use this language it could soften our view of sin and make it more acceptable. In the final analysis, however, what matters is how sin is described in Scripture. If there is a biblical warrant for thinking of sin in a certain way, regardless of the vocabulary we use, that inspired insight should help us deal with habitual sin.

I recall seeing a billboard in Modesto, California that read as follows: “O Lord, please give me hatred for the sin I love.” I don’t know who was responsible for that message, nor do I know the specific sin that person loved. But I do know all sin is destructive and serves to separate us from fellowship with God. Whatever we can do to find freedom from sin, we must. As John wrote, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (I John 2:1a, NKJV). But that is not the end of the verse. He continued to write, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1b, NKJV).

Later in the same chapter, John tells us not to love the world or the things in the world. The reason for this is that if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us (I John 2:15). But what does it mean to love the world or the things in it? This is summed up in the next verse in three brief terms:

For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world (I John 2:16, NKJV).

The word translated “lust” refers to strong desires. Although we can’t work out all the details of this in a brief blog, it would be accurate to say the three statements of concern to John describe pride, greed, and moral impurity. These sins may be manifested in many ways, but when reduced to their essence, they are “all that is in the world.” The world has nothing lasting to offer, but there is something that does:

And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (I John 2:17, NKJV).

In future lessons, we will look at Keith Miller’s proposed adaptation of the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. This will not be a substitute for biblical insight. As we consider each step, we will compare it to what Scripture says in relation to that idea to see if rings true. If so, it may open our eyes to practical ways we can apply powerful truths to struggles that have long frustrated us spiritually.


The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 10

This is the tenth lesson in a series examining the possibility that sin can be viewed as an addiction. If this is a biblically sound idea, it can be useful in gaining freedom from addictive behavior.

At this point, we are looking at the following resources: Lawrence J. Crabb, Inside out, Rev. & updated, 10th anniversary ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998); Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace (New York: HarperCollins, 1988); and Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction (New York: Paulist Press, 1989). Although Crabb does not embrace the addiction model of sin, his perspectives are similar to those who do.

In this brief lesson, we will discuss the requirement of abandoning pretense. Real change cannot occur apart from this.

… deep change comes about less because of what we try to do and how hard we try to do it, and more because of our willingness to face the realities of our own internal life. Personal integrity, a commitment to never pretend about anything, is prerequisite for change from the inside out (Crabb,187–188).

In the final analysis, what is necessary for change cannot be reduced to a formula:

Change from the inside out will always be … a work of God, and must therefore remain a mystery (Crabb, 190).

It is a process, not an event. And it is a process never completed on this earth.

In order to experience the change possible during this lifetime, we must abandon the vain insistence that “the real change heaven will bring (an end to all pain) be ours today” (Crabb, 205). It is a false gospel that declares that we can ever reach a place in this life where pain and suffering are banished. The genuineness of hope is rooted in the promise of a better world and a better life to come. Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (I Corinthians 15:19, NKJV).

The common core in every effort to change must be “a shift in direction away from dependence on one’s own resources for life to dependence on God” (Crabb, 211).

In our next lesson, we will consider Keith Miller’s proposed adaptation of the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Is it possible this could be helpful as we seek to cooperate with the grace of God?


Charity Gayle

Last night, for the first time, Susan and I joined with about 650 other people to worship our Lord Jesus Christ with Charity Gayle at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Mitchell Bland is pastor. It was a truly awesome experience.

From the first song until the last, the presence of the Holy Spirit filled the room.

Each song was biblically sound, reflecting deep truths about God’s identity and the human condition. As we sang, I thought of the ways we were sharing together in fulfilling Paul’s twice-stated admonition:

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).

We were singing psalms, many drawn from the inspired psalter itself. Since many of the words we sang originated in Scripture, they were spiritual. During some of His last words before His ascension, Jesus said all things must be fulfilled which were written concerning Him in the law, the prophets, and the psalms. Thus, we were singing words about Christ. As we sang them, these words taught and admonished us.

I was refreshed and strengthened spiritually, emotionally, and even physically by the experience. I would do it again.

I am now in the process of writing the second volume of my commentary on Psalms. Specifically, I am working on Psalm 80. As I worked on this project this week, I remembered an interesting difference between the way English translations typically render a phrase in the superscriptions: to the chief musician. This occurs fifty-five times.

But the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that is most commonly used by those who wrote the New Testament, translates the phrase: For the end. The same fifty-five psalms that read “to the chief musician” in the KJV and other English translations from Hebrew read “for the end” when translated from Greek to English by the Septuagint.

As Ray Lubeck, one of my professors when I was a seminary student pointed out, for the Septuagint, all the songs in Psalms are “end time songs.” They have an eschatological focus. They look forward to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ! We cannot sing these inspired songs without our spirit being stirred in anticipation of this glorious event.

Charity was powerfully accompanied by her husband, Ryan Kennedy. The band of musicians and singers traveling with them consisted largely of Spirit-filled people from the Pentecostals of Alexandria (POA) who participate in leading worship there.



The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 9

As we consider the similarities between Larry Crabb’s approach and the addiction model of sin, we examine the following resources: Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988); Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace (New York: HarperCollins, 1988); and Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction (New York: Paulist Press, 1989). Although Crabb does not embrace the addiction model of sin, his perspectives are similar to those who do.

In this lesson, we will further develop the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors. As May puts it, “For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will.”

When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is  indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Luke 11:2-4, NKJV).

It is beyond our ability to force divine empowerment. But this does not mean our role is passive: “… we can pray for it, seek it actively, open our hands for it, and try our best to live it.”

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” . . . Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42, NKJV).

We can confront our addictions as honestly as possible; we can claim responsibility for the choices we make, and we can turn to God.” (See Psalm 51.)

In the final analysis, the “only effective way of ending an addictive behavior is to stop it.”

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (I John 2:1, NKJV).

The Greek word hamartano, translated “you may … sin” is in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood “normally presents the verbal action as being probable or intentional” (Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013).

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God (I John 3:8-9, NKJV).

The KJV translates these verses as follows:

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

This translation troubles some readers who think it means that those who commit a sin are of the devil and are thus not saved. In this view, it is impossible for a person who is born again to sin.

To interpret these verses in this way is to miss the subtleties of Greek grammar. The verb translated “committeth” by the KJV is a present active participle. The point is not that a person who commits an act of sin is devilish. It is that it is devilish to continually commit sin as the devil has from the beginning. Any other view would have John contradicting his previous words. (See I John 1:7-10; 2:1-2.)

Similarly, the translation “doth not commit sin” by the KJV does not easily reflect the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood of the Greek text. The idea here has to do with an ongoing, consistent life of sin. Such a life does not characterize those who are born again. A person who is born of God cannot practice sin as normative.

Even though the “only effective way of ending an addictive behavior is to stop it,” we cannot stop it short of divine intervention:

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25, NKJV).

Paul’s question was not “what,” but “Who.” Techniques or willpower cannot break the addiction of sin; it can be broken only by God’s grace. (See Romans 8:1-14.)

A specific kind of repentance is required for change: “To change from the inside out requires that we repent of our self-protective commitment.” Self-protection is counterproductive. Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33, NKJV). Although many of our relational strategies are intentionally designed to “maintain personal safety,” there is reason to believe that God is at work in our lives to bring us to the place of losing our life for His sake.

In Lesson 10, we will discuss the requirement of abandoning pretense. Real change cannot occur apart from this.


The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 8

In this lesson, we will examine the idolatrous nature of sin, the connection between addiction and deceit, and the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors.

We will do this in view of the parallels between Larry Crabb’s insights and those of Gerald G. May and Patrick McCormick. (See Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988]; Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace [New York: HarperCollins, 1988]; and Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction [New York: Paulist Press, 1989].) Although Crabb does not advance the addiction model of sin, his perspectives are similar to those who do embrace the addiction model.

The idolatrous nature of sin is seen by Crabb. “We can recognize our demanding dependence on people, our sinful insistence that others do for us what they cannot do (a form of idolatry). Idolatry is at the heart of addiction.

Crabb points out that the “deceitful character of our heart helps us believe that things are quite a bit better than they really are.” Deceit is one of the problems associated with addiction that is recognized by May and McCormick.

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:5-10, NKJV).

Though the addiction model is missing, the perspective brought by Crabb is quite similar to that of May and McCormick, and Crabb’s insights on “real change from the inside out” may be helpful in breaking the sin cycle.

The Significance of the Addiction Model for Recovery from Sinful Behaviors

In a word, the remedy for addiction is the grace of God. There must be more than “an intellectual attempt to align the will with grace.” This is not renewed willpower, but the “alignment of our will with God’s … at a heart level, through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God.”

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV).

In Lesson 9, we will look at the additional significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors, the only effective way of ending an addictive behavior, and the specific kind of repentance required for change.




The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 7

To follow up our examination in Lesson 6 of Patrick T. McCormick’s view of sin as an addiction, we will now look at the ways Larry Crabb’s approach to the sin problem parallel the addiction model (Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988]).

Although Crabb did not argue for the addiction model of sin, elements of his approach are similar to it. Crabb, a Christian counselor with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Illinois, recognized denial as a way of life for those who “refuse to think about troubling things going on within [them],” who wanted to think that they can manage life, and who “deny the evidence in [their] soul that more is wrong than [they] know how to handle.” He pointed out that even a commitment to obedience may not reflect “a passionate desire to pursue God, but a stubbornly fearful determination to not feel deep frustration and personal pain.”

Crabb saw the “disease of self-management” as infecting all of Adam’s descendants. This may be compared to McCormick’s “self-centeredness.” According to Crabb, an inside look will uncover two elements imbedded deeply within the human heart: “(1) thirst or deep longings for what we do not have; and (2) stubborn independence reflected in wrong strategies for finding the life we desire.”

The compulsive nature of sin — an idea inherent in the addiction model — was recognized by Crabb. The compulsive nature of sin causes many of us to “struggle with habits we can’t seem to break, habits of thought as well as habits of deed.” The ache in the souls of those “who don’t know what it means to depend on Christ to satisfy their inmost being … relentlessly drives them toward immediate relief.”

The common response to pain is “limited to either denying how badly we hurt or to medicating ourselves through some form of temporary gratification.” These are evidences of addiction.

Compulsive habits “grow out of our attempts to relieve the unbearable tension that results from our failure to deal with the disappointment of our deepest longings for relationship.” Addiction may occur anywhere genuine love is absent: “Unless we are moving toward other folks with the love with which God moved toward us, the appeal of a broad range of intense pleasures may become compulsively attractive.”

The biblical solution to addiction’s creeping influence is found in these words of Jesus:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35, NKJV).

In Lesson 8, we will examine the idolatrous nature of sin, the connection between addiction and deceit, and the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors.



The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 6

In Lesson 6, we continue our examination of Patrick T. McCormick’s view of sin as an addiction. We begin with this question:

Does sin lead to death?

McCormick asserts that all addictions lead to death. As it relates to sin, the quintessential statement in this regard was written by Paul: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Biblically, death is always connected to some kind of separation. Like addiction, sin separates people from their true selves, from others, from reality, and from God.

Are there any advantages to viewing sin as an addiction? McCormick proposes five advantages:

    1. It offers a more realistic grasp of human freedom
    2. It explains how sin operates on various levels
    3. It explains the communication of evil from one generation to the next
    4. It is therapeutic, not juridical (i.e., legalistic), and
    5. It offers a workable system of recovery.

Those who reject the addiction model may assume that human freedom is so unmitigated that a person may terminate an addiction by simply exercising the power of choice, by personal willpower alone. But as May has pointed out, “For the addicted person alone, struggling only with willpower, the desire to continue the addiction will win. It will win because it resides … at the level of biological conditioning, and it is always operative” (Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988]. Paul found that his will was insufficient to give him power over sin (Romans 7:15-25).

Those who reject the addiction model may find it challenging to explain why sin is so pervasive at every level of society. In a pattern similar to the occurrence of addiction in families and social groups, the effect of sin reaches beyond the individual. Achan’s sons and daughters shared his fate, even though Israel had the promise that no one would be put to death for the sin of another. (See Joshua 7:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:16.) We can only assume that Achan’s family identified with him in some way in his sin, even if it was only to be sympathetic with him. It is not infrequent in Scripture to discover entire families and social groups destroyed because of their shared participation in sin. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is seen in the destruction of the entire human population of the earth in the days of Noah; sin was pervasive in every family but one. (See Genesis 6.)

Rejection of the addiction model may make it difficult to explain the communication of evil from one generation to the next. If sin is merely a personal problem, it seems the chances would be at least even that generations would not follow in the addictive behaviors of their ancestors. It is more likely, however, that children will follow the sinful behavior of their fathers than that they will not. This may be seen in the history of the kings of ancient Judah. Some found their way out of the destructive patterns set by their fathers, but most followed and even exceeded their fathers’ sinfulness. This pattern, which extends over many generations, indicates the addictive nature of sin across generations in that it is apparently easier to follow an evil example than a good one. It is also easier to reject a good example than an example of evil.

The addiction model is helpful in that it is therapeutic, not juridical. In that it is therapeutic, it recognizes the significance of the disease model of sin found in connection with the atonement. (See Isaiah 53:5.) Sin is a disease, but healing is provided through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Finally, McCormick sees the addiction model of sin as helpful in that it provides a workable system of recovery. Just as addictions to substances can be successfully confronted by systematic approaches, so can non-substance addictions to sinful behaviors. A notable example of this is the manner in which the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous has been adapted to a variety of other behaviors.

In Lesson 7, we will discuss Larry Crabb’s approach to the problem of sin and its parallels to the addiction model. (See Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988].)