Defrosting the Refrigerator
James C. Denison
It’s January, so everyone must be on a diet. Time magazine reports on the latest fads.
One aims at men who eat at fast-food restaurants, and tells us to eat a Big Mac (540 calories), not a Whopper (760 calories). I could stay on that diet. One says to eat small meals all day; another says to eat only three meals and no snacks. I want one which says to eat big meals all day long. One says to eat fruits, grains, and veggies; another says to eat meat, poultry, fish and cheese. One says to avoid all coffee, diet drinks and artificial sweeteners; another says to drink tea all day long.
I’m announcing today my answer to the diet confusion. It’s called the Cancellation Diet: Diet Dr. Pepper cancels Butterfingers; carrots cancel chocolate cake; you can eat chicken fried steak so long as you have broccoli somewhere on the table. I expect to make a fortune, most of which will go to my cardiologist.
Exercise more, eat less, lose weight, get organized, take time to smell the roses, slow down, keep it simple. But not much changes day to day, year to year, does it? There are wars and rumors of war; the stock market goes up and it goes down; babies are born and people die. And the problems which follow us around day by day don’t seem to go away.
Are you facing the same temptations this year as last, the same struggles and doubts and feelings of inadequacy? We come to worship and go to Sunday school and give and read and pray, but what really changes? Leonard Bernstein spoke for most of us:
What I say I don’t feel
What I feel I don’t show
What I show isn’t real
What is real, Lord–I don’t know. . . .
Why I drift off to sleep
With pledges of deep resolve again,
Then along comes the day
And suddenly they dissolve again–
I don’t know. . . .
What I need I don’t have
What I have I don’t own
What I own I don’t want
What I want, Lord, I don’t know.
Here’s the good news: there’s a way off the treadmill to nowhere, the constant struggle and strain against brokenness and discouragement and temptation you and I face every morning of every day.
There’s a way to joy and peace and victory over our fallen lives. God has made us to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). More than conquerors, every day. More than conquerors over every temptation and struggle we face. No exceptions, nothing outside the power of God’s Spirit in our lives. That is his promise and purpose for us.
Last week we learned that grace is greater than guilt. This week we learn that the Spirit is greater than sin. All sin, any sin, your worst sins, your greatest temptations to sin. There’s a simple step waiting for you, a step into spiritual hope and victory. But you must take it today.
My college apartment made the yearbook as the messiest on campus. This was an award for which there was much competition; my roommates and I were deeply honored. What won the prize for us was our refrigerator. Not just the part crammed with leftover Chinese food and outdated milk and empty ketchup bottles. The freezer was the piece de resistance. It had been made years before self-defrosting devices were invented, and required regular defrosting by its users. Of course, we would never have thought to do such a thing. So the usable space shrank smaller and smaller while the frost and ice grew thicker and thicker, until our icebox was literally that.
My soul behaves in the same way, and so does yours. It fills with frustrations and disappointments and failures and sins until the usable space gets so small that I must do something about it. So I do.
I get up and read the Bible each morning, in a schedule I’ve been following for years. I read from some devotional literature I appreciate, then spend time in prayer. I confess my sins and ask God’s forgiveness. I plan to do better today. I head out into the day to serve God. To love him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love you as myself.
Except that all my defrosting doesn’t keep the ice at bay for long. The reason is that it can’t. Our text begins: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature . . .”
The “law” here is the Torah, the Jewish law containing the Ten Commandments and all the regulations applying them to our lives. There was nothing wrong with the law. If we could keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, all would be well. We would never be broken in our relationship with God or others. But we can’t, because of our “sinful nature.” The fact that we are prone to sin, that we want to sin, that sin is an ever-present pull and power living inside us.
But we don’t like to hear that. We think that we’re good people who sometimes do bad things, not bad people who sometimes do good things. So we try harder to do better. That’s how our culture solves problems–get up earlier, stay up later, work longer. Do more to please God and defeat sin and be good.
Work hard to be the people we want to be. Struggle and strive and strain. Do all you can and then do some more. How’s that working for you?
Henri Nouwen has been reading our mail and our minds:
“One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our lives as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like over-packed suitcases bursting at the seams. In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations. The strange thing, however, is that it is very hard not to be busy. Being busy has become a status symbol. . . .