“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” -Henry David Thoreau
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black,
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Moving ever closer to the edge,
I try to peek; get a glimpse, you know;
I need to see how far it is
to the bottom; to calculate how far I’d fall
If I were to fall at all.
Just curious, that’s all, nothing more.
No harm in knowing the risk.
I’ve been living life close to the brink for decades,
Yet I’m still here. What harm will come if I were to
Continue rollicking near the edge?
“This time you’ll be dead if you fall,”
said a voice from behind.
“There will be no more chances this time.”
I didn’t believe it; I never heeded the many warnings
No matter from whom they came.
“I’m going to live forever,” I told the voice.
(But I was beginning to grasp the true price tag
constant reckless behavior brings);
What an insane and daring undertaking my life has been!
It’s as if I’ve been tempting Almighty God.
I started shaking my fist at the heavens. “Go on, then,
Take me if you’re going to, but be quick about it.”
(I don’t like pain.) It doesn’t matter what you do with me.”
I was done with this miserable little life of mine;
All aspiration was gone.
As I stood there, toes dangling over the edge,
A mighty wind began to push from behind,
urging, insisting, demanding, physically shoving me,
“Wait!” I insisted, but my feet slipped, and I fell.
I shattered like glass when I hit bottom.
©2016 Steven Barto
Five summer days, five summer nights,
The ignorant, loutish, giddy blue-fly
Hung without motion on the cling peach,
Humming occasionally: “O my love, my fair one!”
As in the Canticles.
Magnified one thousand times, the insect
Looks farsically human; laugh if you will!
Bald head, stage-fiery wings, bleary eyes,
A caved-in chest, hairy black mandibles,
Long spindly thighs.
The crime was detected on the sixth day.
What then could be said or done? By anyone?
It would have been vindictive, mean and what-not
To swat that fly for being a blue-fly,
For debauch of a peach.
Is it fair, either, to bring a microscope
To bear on the case, even in search of truth?
Nature, doubtless, has some compelling cause
To glut the carriers of her epidemics –
Nor did the peach complain.
Father God, we eagerly desire the spiritual gifts You’ve given for our common good. Help us understand the various gifts and how they work. May we use what we’ve received to serve others, administering grace in love and with renewed passion. Let our youth workers set examples in speech, life, love, faith, and purity. Cause them to be strong, alive-in-the-Word overcomers. Give them discernment to deal with troubled youth as they teach them Your life-giving principles. Thank you for every behind-the-scenes worker who is devoted to service. Bless them for their obedience and generosity. May You receive praise as a result. Reward them for serving You humbly and wholeheartedly rather than seeking to be noticed by others.
Holy Father, You are perfect in character. Your law is perfect in standard. Your law rightly demands perfection of us. Father, we ask that You remind us often that we cannot live up to that divine requirement on our own resources. Bring to our remembrance this inability of Your law. Stir our hearts to trust in that better hope. Lord, we desire to walk closely with You. Thus, we trust in Your grace as the only sufficient hope that will allow us to draw near to You, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
In a field near the lake
stands the ghost of a dead oak.
The ghost is black and very tall.
It never speaks or moves.
The sky wants to take it.
The earth wants to eat it.
But the ghost is strong, it does not want to move.
So it argues half its tongues into the dirt,
and grips hard against the sky’s glutton lung.
It whispers the other half into air,
and weathers the white earth’s thirst.
Like a frayed black suture it binds earth and sky together.
In this way the ghost stills its universe:
the sky can never rise nor the earth fall
out of their coupling’s grave jurisdiction.
The lake will breathe its atoms to the clouds,
the constellations will pageant
the lucky patterns of their composition
until they break and fade,
but the ghost will stand
contented with the silence,
with the snowfall,
with the stalemate of its own device.
This poem first appeared in James Dickey Review 27.1, Fall 2010
I don’t remember who, but I recently heard someone say we need to be certain we don’t squander the grace of God. The comment impressed me so much that I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and jotted it down. I have, at times, taken God’s grace for granted. Worse, I was unconsciously sinning with the thought that it didn’t matter because I was already forgiven. It’s as though I believed I could use my “get out of jail free card,” claim forgiveness, and “party on” without fear. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of Romans deals with sanctification. In Chapter 6 the Apostle Paul shows us that we must not continue in sin, but we must live in holiness. The main theme of Chapter 6 is surrender. Just because we are under grace as born-again Christians, we cannot continue to sin so that grace may abound. In Chapter 5, Paul showed us that the existence of sin called out the grace of God in the form of forgiveness. Romans 5:20 says, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” In the fifth chapter of Romans, we learn that Christ saved us even while we were yet sinners. God’s grace is always bigger than the sin.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul deals with a possible objection. If grace is so easy, should we bother to change our ways? Whenever the Gospel is clearly presented, this question comes up. If all our sins are so easily forgiven, why worry about sin? Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! Grace is no excuse to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” This is the essence of dying and living with Christ. The Christian life begins with death to sin. How shall we that are dead to sin live therein any longer? The exact translation in the Greek is a past-tense verb, and should actually read Who died to sin. It is referred to as having occurred in the past.
Paul says in verse 2 that we died to sin. How can we live in it any longer? If we want to escape death, then we should also want to escape the cause of death – sin. But more importantly, when we believe in Christ, we become new people. In the language of Romans 5, we are no longer people of Adam, but now we are people of Jesus Christ. We are to live in Him. Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not.
Paul explains this in verse 3: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” We are baptized not just in the name of Jesus Christ (such as at the time of our water baptism) – we are baptized into Him and united with Him. When we are identified with Adam, we get the death that Adam brought. When we identify with Christ, we get the righteousness and life He brought. When He died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. And when He rose, we rose also. We were with Him because He represented all of us.
Verse 11 tells us to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Verse 12 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” Here the Apostle Paul is showing sin as a reigning king or a tyrant who has captured the soul of man, dominating his life. Let not sin work or rule in your mortal body; give it no place or grounds for working in your being. Sin does not rule or ruin; rather, sin RULES AND RUINS. Wherever sin is, it will have dominion.
Verse 12 also says that we should not obey the lusts of sin. This proves sin to be a real entity ruling the life of man. Sin itself has lusts other that the lusts of man. The lusts of sin are in reality the lusts of Satan. His desire to be God-like. His jealousy. The lusts of man are his own creative powers depraved and corrupt. James 1:13-14 in the Amplified Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted from God;’ for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one. But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions).”
We actually become slaves to whom we obey. Verse 15 says, “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Verse 16 says, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness?” Many Christians today have not learned these simple facts – that you cannot be a servant of sin and Satan and a servant of righteousness and Christ at the same time. If you commit sin, you are a servant of sin and Satan. Satan is your master and not Christ.
Verse 17 says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Verse 18 says, “Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “But thank God, though you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient with all your heart to the standard of teaching in which you were instructed and to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you have become the servants of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in thought, purpose and action).”
We are told in Romans 6:11 to reckon ourselves dead to sin. The word reckon means to count, consider, or think upon. Reckoning goes one step further than knowing. As Christians, we need to continually take into account in our thinking that sin no longer has dominion over us. It is no longer our master, but Christ is. We need to know the facts stated in Romans 6:1-10. We must count them as true and act accordingly. When sin tempts us, we should act as though we are indeed dead to it. We should give no response to the temptation.
It is true that reckoning sin as being dead in our lives is the beginning of experiencing God’s power to make sin dead and Christ alive. When we count ourselves dead to worry, anger, losing our temper, demanding perfection in our children, overeating, abusing alcohol or recreational drugs, misusing prescription drugs, breaking the law, smoking, gossiping, criticism of friends or family, flirting with a wrong relationship, stealing, little white lies, self-pity, and other sin, we will choose not to let those sins be part of our lives.
We must present, offer, and yield ourselves to God. We have to start living in a way that shows our right standing with God. We must be Christ-like in what we say, think, and do. As we denied ourselves people, places, and things that would cause us to stumble, we must now put ourselves in places that will build us up, and be around people that will encourage our faith. Because the best defense is a good offense, we must protect ourselves by NOT doing certain things, hanging out with certain people, or going to certain places.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he knew who he was in Christ. Somehow, that precious truth which he was trying to convey has escaped the church down through the years. However, it is repeated again and again throughout the Scriptures. The fact is, the grace of God has been misunderstood. It has been watered down to nothing more than the forgiveness of sins. God’s grace is much more than that. It carries to us His ultimate love.
Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of [Christ’s] death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The words planted together mean literally to grow up together, to be formed together, and speaks of intimate, vital union between Christ and the believer. Paul also says we are crucified with Christ. The verb in the Greek is past-tense, meaning it was already done for us at Calvary. We were crucified with Him, and we died with Him. Romans 6:7 says, “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him.” The Greek word freed appears forty times in the New Testament.
Subtle allure, persistent urges, passionate desires. Sin entices us in many ways. A thought enters our mind that we dare not acknowledge: “If I give in, I can always be forgiven.” Sound familiar? Such thinking can become an excuse for immoral practices. But it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s grace in our lives. In Romans 6:1—7:6, Paul explains why the idea of “sinning so that grace may increase” is unthinkable for Christians. The gift of grace does not give us the freedom to sin. One way we can interpret Romans 6:1 is that God’s grace increased because sin increased in the world, but that is not a good excuse for anyone to continue in sin.
When we became Christians, our relationship with sin died with Christ. We must not live as sinners. We know that our former lives ended with Christ’s death on the cross. If we died with Christ, we shall also take part in His new life. I remember a hymn from my early church days that talked about new life in Christ, abundant and free.
It is time for us to consider our old sinful nature to be dead. Instead, we must live for God through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot allow sin to control our behavior. We should not obey the wrong desires of our body. We can’t use our bodies to do evil deeds. Instead, we must give ourselves to God. We have been bought with a price. We’ve been brought from death to life. Sin shall not be our master. The law of Moses shall not rule us any longer.
God’s grace has made us free from the bondage of sin.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)
Heavenly Father, I am awestruck at the magnitude of Your grace. Forgive me for underestimating that grace so often. For squandering it. Using it as a get out of jail free card. Enlighten the eyes of my heart that I might know the richness of Your grace. May the immeasurable ocean of Your grace supply my daily need, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
If I sing but don’t have love,
I waste my breathe with every song
I bring; an empty voice
A hollow noise.
If I speak with a silver tongue,
Convince a crowd, but don’t have love,
I leave a bitter taste
With every word I say.
So let my life be the proof
of Your love;
Let my love look like You
And what You’re made of;
How You lived, how You died;
Love is sacrifice,
So let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love.
If I give to a needy soul,
But don’t have love, then who is poor?
It seems all the poverty
Is found in me.
If I speak with human eloquence
and angelic ecstasy,
but don’t love, I’m nothing but
the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power,
revealing all His mysteries,
making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain,
“Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love,
If I give everything I own to the poor,
and even go to the stake to be burned
as a martyr, but I don’t love,
I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say,
what I believe, and what I do,
I’m bankrupt without love.
Only love remains,
Only love remains.