Thursday, April 30, 2009

Idolatry

(Okay... first I must say, about this image to the left. The Golden Calf in cereal? Awesome.)

I'm just finishing up a class on the book of Joshua, which has been a wonderful and fruitful experience this semester. (I was actually nostalgic last night when I finished up David M. Howard's commentary last night... my roommates thought I was a little nuts).

There are so many things I've taken away from the book, but one thing my professor said this morning will stay with me, especially in light of the bible study I've been doing since August with some of the women in my church. He said, "We make our idolatry so minimal."

World Harvest Mission wrote a study called Gospel Transformation, and in it there is one main lesson on identifying your idols (there are subsequent lessons to follow as well). That idol lesson is brought up almost every week when we meet; it has had such a profound impact on all of us. Then my professor's words this morning... just so much for me to ponder and process.

There is an idol behind every one of our sins. As someone who loves to name things, understanding the idols behind my sin is invaluable to helping me understanding not only what is behind my sin, but even why I am sinning. (Which I have an upcoming post about). Understanding why I sin gets at the root of the issue. It goes beyond the external and helps me understand the why and not just the how.

It's one thing to work on never committing the sin again, it's yet another to have your heart changed so the option of committing the sin again is just... gone from your sights. You just don't want to do it anymore, because the thought grieves your heart. The external part of sinning is only half of the sin, because even though you've stopped the act of the sin, it's another step to change how you feel about the sin inside. As I figured this out, I've realized this is where the "transformation" part of the curriculum title comes in. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I make too little of my idols. I understand that so much more now in light of the two-fold nature of my sin. The fact that an idol lies behind everyone of my sins means I simply cannot make too little of my idolatry. It is ever-present - the root and cause of my sin. That's a pretty big deal. It's funny to think about making your idols a big deal (there's some irony in that) but to minimize the impact they have on my life (to borrow a phrase from my pastor) is perilous to the soul.

I've been privileged to help lead worship at Central Presbyterian Church's new site church in Chesterfield. Last week we did this song. Here are some of the lyrics:

A thousand times I've failed
Still your mercy remains
And should I stumble again
Still I'm caught in your grace

Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame
my heart and my soul, Lord I give you control
Consume me from the inside out Lord

I've had this album for two years. But the words to this song have never meant as much to me as they do now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Messed Up

I've had the privilege to intern under, for the last year, a woman who defines the term "living in grace". Each week when she speaks to the women of the church I am in awe, not only of how she relates to them, but of how God uses her in so many areas of her life.

She's not afraid to admit she's messed up. She's not afraid to speak of her own sin and her own idols. She is grieved by them, her heart breaks for them. But she reminds us that Christ is bigger than them. And the women respond in ways I've never experienced. I see her speak into their lives and have watched how they have changed over the last few months. They relate to her struggles - they understand them, and they peel away the layers of their own sin to work and process together.

It's an amazing thing to see.

It's finally looking like Spring in St. Louis. The days are getting warmer (finally up to 80 degrees today) and as I walk from my street parking to the church or around campus on my way to class, I'm seeing flowers peek up everywhere. They are in every color God dreamed up. They are tiny and new; they are reborn in this Springtime.

In the same way, I am watching that happen at my church. I'm watching seeds that were planted years ago grow and bloom. I'm watching these people transform. I'm watching how God uses everything to change a person's life - whether it's messed up a lot or just a little.

There's something to be said for a leader who isn't afraid for their own weaknesses. And now that I've seen it in action, I'm not sure how else you can lead well in ministry. I thought, when I was in ministry before, I had to lead without mistakes and weaknesses. I thought it was the only way to lead well. I am now realizing it's only when we are broken can we help others accept their own brokenness and walk alongside them as God heals them.

Maybe we have to get a little messed up before we can step up.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Deliberate Sin


My pastor's been preaching a series on the fathers of the faith (the ones in Scripture, not the ones I hear all too often about here at seminary re: all the John's - Bunyan, Calvin, Owen, Edwards...) A few weeks ago he preached on King Solomon and something he said is still with me, and will be with me for a very long time. (If not the rest of my life.)

Dan (my pastor) was talking with a friend who asked if all sins are forgiven. He was asking about a specific sin (in this case, it was adultery) and was wondering just how much he could 'get away with' so to speak. My pastor's response was this: "Deliberate sin is perilous to the soul."

Now that's something to pause on.

My sin, deliberate or not, will always be forgiven. This is what I say to myself when I am at the crossroads of temptation. I haven't sinned yet, but it's right there, tempting me. The choice is before me and I know that I want to do the thing which leads to the sin. And I feel, in some dark corner of my heart, this forgiveness is what allows me to sin. But allow isn't even the right word, really. It's more like "makes it acceptable in my own mind." God's forgiveness of my deliberate sin doesn't allow anything. It just makes me know that I won't be held accountable.

Ah, here is where the rubber meets the road for me. Not living a life of grace (I'll get to that in a minute) means I am living a life of "sin = punishment". But there is no eternal punishment for me. And if there are present consequences, I don't see much of them. (There are some obvious consequences for more external sin, but I am referring to the sins that really only affect my own soul. The ones that are so easy to hide...) So basically, I am free to do as I like.

Obviously, this is putting the emphasis in the wrong place.

What this does mean - what this leads me to - is something I've known all my life. That my choice to sin or not can only be made with one thing in mind (from which all things flow): Is this what God deserves? (No) Is this honoring to him? (No) Do I love him above my own sin? (...probably not) If I did love him more than my sin, would I always choose him over it?

The answer to the last question feels like it should be "yes". But it's not, for one, it doesn't taken into account the Fall.

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve could choose to sin or not sin. After the Fall, we became so broken that our hearts would always choose sin over obedience. And as this last weekend (Easter) reminded us, I am now free to resist that sin.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law,weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
Romans 8:1-4 (ESV)

Because of what Christ did, I no longer have the same relationship with sin I once did. As a disciple of Christ, I am no longer captive to sin. But sin is still very present in my heart and in the world around me. It will be until my death or the Lord's return. The sin and the flesh are constantly fighting the Spirit; this is an effect of the Fall, and an effect of Christ's death on the cross at the same time. The Fall broke me, Jesus reconciled me. But sin didn't disappear, nor did the temptation to sin disappear. God just made it so I could fight off the desire to sin with the help of the Spirit.

My old self could not help but sin. My new self has a choice in the matter. But my new self is still broken, and is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). But it is not fully renewed. (Side note: one of my professors - Dr. Agan - calls our hearts' "wanters" and often says in class "Our wanter is broken. It just wants the wrong things.")

As I drove to church this evening, and pondered this whole issue and tried to figure out exactly where it was I was hung up - what the flaw in my argument, if you will, was - I figured it out just as I was taking my seat. The issue is that I want my sin to have an element of "I just can't help it". I want an out. And just as I want my sin to have that much power over me, I also must keep into perspective that my love for Christ is not as powerful as I want it to be. Because none of this is about my ability to do anything. It's about my inability to do anything.

This is why deliberate sin is perilous to my soul. Because it lands me in a place of "The devil made me do it." Instead of a place that says "Jesus can overcome it." So the second reason why I will not always choose Jesus over sin is because I can't.

So we have a bit of a conundrum, just like much of the Christian life. The "already/not yet" the "sinner/saint" the "God's sovereignty/our responsibility", the "faith/works"- all these antimonies (unresolvable tensions) exist in the Christian faith. This is not what is perilous to my soul. What is perilous to my soul is deliberately choosing to sin when Jesus gives me the power not to. It's choosing to be the sinner when I can be the saint.

Sunday's Here



The resurrection is not an event, it is a person.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Disequilibration

Something is not right in my spirit right now. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I feel it in my gut. And I need to process.

What is disequilibrating to me, in my life, right now? My professor spoke about disequilibration in class a while ago, how Jesus used it to teach, how we much use it to teach. People tend to make the most progress when something doesn't makes sense, he said, because in it community is created.

Leaving community out of it for right now, let's focus on what kinds of affects disequilibration has on your life. For someone like me, it doesn't go over well, especially at first. I like being comfortable. I like safety. I do okay with change... as long as I know there is comfort right around the corner.

And I am learning that in order to follow Jesus I am never going to be comfortable again. And I just don't think I will be able to handle that.

I don't think I really know what is going on here. Actually, no. I do know what is going on here. It just might take me a while to write it out. The problem is my unwillingness to spend some serious time in repentance.

I am so tired of worrying about doing the right thing all the time.

I am so tired of people's opinion of me dictating my self-worth.

It is only through a "shocking" disequilibrating experience that the things you've struggled with for years to get to the point where you can't take them anymore. It is only in the unrest that we move forward. It is only in the breaking of our hearts and the noise over-taking our minds that change becomes evident.

After what I've been through in the last 5 weeks, it will be interesting to see what progresses from here.