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Jeremiah 29

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I think I’m going to restart doing this regularly. I have a few creative outlets I’m focusing on right now, but I currently have none where I am specifically focusing on Scripture, save for sub 140 character twitter posts, but that hardly counts. This type of writing is also nice to do because it’s fairly easy and I hold it to a very low standard. These blog posts aren’t completely without thought, but they don’t require very extensive thinking either.

Jeremiah 29, huh. There are so many rabbit trails on which we could travel. I’ll work on staying focused and brief.

How about Jeremiah 29:12-14. These verses are a part of a message sent to people from Jerusalem who were taken and are now living in exile in Babylon. God chose to use this time to speak hope to His people in their time of potential despair. They didn’t heed Jeremiah’s warnings and repent, thus God chose not to prevent their conquering. So, now what. God didn’t protect them because of their sin. As covenant breakers in a foreign land, where do they stand with God? The passage in its

12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

The Jewish religious practices ascribe a lot of importance to objects and geography in the worship of YHWH. So much emphasis is placed on these things, the very presence of God is thought to be directly connected to them. God is where the Ark of the Covenant is. The Holy of Holies is where God’s presence is strongest. As one moves outward, the potency of God’s presence decreases. It’s next strongest in the sanctuary, less in the outer courts, still less in the city of Jerusalem, and still present, but weaker in the land of Judea as a whole. The further away one gets from the Temple, the further away one gets from God Himself.

If the presence of God is geographically related, then the exiled Jews have a problem. They’re in Babylon. They’re really far from Jerusalem and they can no longer make trips to the Temple. God directly addresses any fears about His absence. YHWH lets them know His presence extends even to Babylon. Away from home, under power of a foreign rulers, in the midst of a multitude of other gods, YHWH is with them. And He’s as available for relationship as ever. They need only seek Him truly and honestly to find Him. The promise of presence is wonderful and unexpected news to a people who thought their sin drove them away from God.

These words were penned to a very specific group (Jewish exiles in Babylon), at a very specific time (during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar – I don’t know dates people), with a very specific message (God will bring the Jewish people back to Jerusalem). How might a message of return from exile apply to followers of Jesus thousands of years later?

For most of human history, the people of God have been a people in exile. Followers of Jesus are no exception. We are told by new testament authors to identify so strongly as citizens of the kingdom of heaven that we consider ourselves as strangers in a foreign land wherever we find ourselves in the world. We are told to live like those whose home is elsewhere, whose home is different, than the place and culture in which we currently reside. In our exile, God speaks a message of hope – including promises of His presence where we are and promises of a return back to where we belong.

Ultimately, the people of God then and the people of God now are waiting for the same grand return from exile. It is the sin of the world which makes followers of Jesus exiles at present. It was the sin of the Israelites which made them exiles in their time. It was sin in the garden which exiled humanity from the world as it should be. All people of God across history look forward to this final return, when redeemed humanity is brought back to the home for which their heart has always yearned.

“Nothing Personal” Can Be Very Personal

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

One thing that struck me about my father’s response to having his adultery found out was that he didn’t mean anything personal by it. I suspect he would say that he never meant to hurt anyone. He didn’t want anyone to be negatively affected by what he was doing. It may be true that he had no intention to cause anyone harm.

One of the last texts he sent me, perhaps the last one, went something like this: “I am very sorry that I have hurt you and your mother and your siblings by what I have done.” The crazy part of the text is that at the time he sent it he was on his way to go spend time with another woman and her family. At the very moment he was apologizing for hurting me, he was also abandoning me. He regretted the pain his actions caused, but he did not regret the actions he took.

Even though I didn’t know at the time he was running away, I still saw the text for what it was and called him out on this half apology, but I think what he did say was true. I think he was careful to phrase it so that it was true. He really didn’t want anyone to be hurt by what he did. He didn’t like hurting people. He just wanted to think lustfully about other women who were not his wife and have sex with them. He just wanted to be free from the pressures of being in a committed family.

I suspect it is true that he didn’t want to hurt anyone because my experience of him has never been that he has ill will toward others or a masochistic desire to hurt them. However, he has often leaned toward selfishness. He has frequently existed in a self-centered world where he cannot see past his own desires. His adultery was him choosing to enclose himself completely in a world where only he exists. The only reality that exists to him, the only reality that matters to him, is how he feels and what he wants. He did not care that his actions would hurt others. He apologized simply because he didn’t like feeling bad that he hurt others.

He didn’t have a personal vendetta against me, but that doesn’t make his actions impersonal. He hurt me just as bad as he would have if he would tried to. He never meant to hurt me, but he didn’t care enough not to. An odd part of me almost wishes he was angry with me. I wish he had something against me. I wish he was trying to hurt me with his actions, at least then I would be important enough to him that he had some sort of negative feelings toward me. I would have mattered in some way, even a negative one.

One of the most frustrating things about seeing him existing in this self-centered world where he doesn’t see or care about others is that I sometimes am self-focused in the same way he is. I can live as no one else exists. I can curl up in my little cocoon where I am the only person I can see and my desires and feelings and wants are the only things that matter to me. I can sometimes do things that hurt others that I never intend to hurt others. I was just being selfish and didn’t care enough to think about the effect that my actions have on other people

Sometimes, you probably are too. There are many reasons we might live selfishly. Sometimes we are hurting so bad we can’t see past our own pain. Sometimes we want things so bad we go after them regardless of consequences. Sometimes we don’t believe that we matter enough to actually be able to hurt other people. We think we are so unimportant that no one really cares what we do, and if we are inconsequential to them, then our actions can’t hurt them.

The way out is to live in light of the truth. The truth is we all matter. The truth is we have all been given choices that have great power to impact those around us. The truth is that a self-centered world is a very small and dark world. The truth is that we won’t get over our hurt without focusing on others and building relationship with them. The truth is that the selfish things we want that will hurt others are empty and destructive to both others and to ourselves. Those things will never give us what we want, because what we really want, what will really bring fulfillment to our heart is intimacy with God and others. A selfish life only brings more emptiness and loneliness.

Sin and Separation

October 17, 2014 2 comments

As I continue on in my emotional processing, some more details are relevant.

After I confronted my father about some stuff I found out about him, he talked around it and downplayed everything. I kept trying to bring him back to what was actually going on, and he kept sidestepping. He said a lot of things that were designed to avoid the issue. He was even saying things about wanting to help single mothers because they are kind of like orphans and widows in distress. He was committing adultery and trying to put a positive spin on it. He looked like a deer in the headlights that didn’t know which way to run, so he ran in circles.

I was looking for some emotion of sorrow. I was looking for regret. I was looking for a contrite heart. I continued to try to bring him back to his sin so he would see it for what it was. He didn’t. He just ran in circles.

A deer in the headlights is understandably frightened because it is probably going to be hit by a car. He was a deer in the headlights, but my car wasn’t moving. I had already hit the brakes. He did not need to fear the headlights or the car behind them. The headlights were an invitation for him to come to me, exposed by the light, and hop into the car with me.

He didn’t. He wouldn’t come toward me. After running in circles, he ran off into the woods.

A couple of days after I confronted him, he sent me a few texts. I sent him a few texts back. He never responded. I found out that he had ran off hundreds of miles away. I sent him more texts over the coming weeks. I called a few times too. I even drove and spent a day and a half looking for him and waiting for him. I never saw him. He never responded. I think that was a couple of months ago. I still haven’t heard anything.

Sin separates us from God. It also separates us from others. There are lot of reasons this might happen. Sometimes when you sin against someone they don’t want to be around you. Sometimes when you sin against someone you don’t want to be around them because you feel guilty about how you wronged them. Sometimes people feel ashamed and guilty about their sin, so they want to distance themselves from everyone because they feel ashamed being around people who might expose their shame.

There is another way sin distances us from God and others. When we sin, we are acting in a way we were never designed to be. We are acting in a way that is contrary to who we actually are. When we are acting in a way that is incongruent with who God made us to be, we are not really being ourselves. When we are not really ourselves, people can only connect with the false self we put forth.

Sin creates an internal divide between who we really are and how are we are behaving. The internal divide sin creates disconnects us from ourselves. When we are disconnected from ourselves we can’t connect to others. When we can’t connect to others, we are apart from them, even when we are in the same room. A life of sin, a life devoted to sin, leads to a life of distance from other people, full of false representations and fake conversations. Sin separates us from God, ourselves, and others.

This separation does not have to be permanent. Repentance, changing our ways and what we are devoted to, changes our circumstances. Turning from our sin and toward Jesus immediately reunites us with God, which progressively unites us with ourselves, which enables us to be united with others by connecting to them with our true selves. If you want real relationship, if you want real intimacy, run away from the sin which causes you to run away, and fall into the embrace of a gracious God.

Categories: Family Disruption Tags: , , ,

Simply Church: Dad, Jesus, and Sin

January 17, 2012 1 comment

Rather than continuing in sin, our church families and individuals within the family, should be moving out of sin. Our goal is to become like dad and to be a successful church we should be moving toward that goal. If our families are not, in large part, departing from sin, our families aren’t functioning the way that they should be. There’s so much to talk about here. I’m going to try to keep this series from getting too out of control so I’ll try to focus on some of the ways the family metaphor can shape our perspective on this.*

Our Father is Love. Our Father is defined by love. It takes great prayer and imagination to begin to grasp how high, wide, and deep the Father’s love for us is. Nothing can separate us from His love. Where everything else fails, love remains and conquers. Because of this great Love, because our dad is the Great Love, dealing with sin has to always begin with, be empowered by, and end with love.

God’s first response to our sin is conviction and guilt. God’s first response to our confession is a loving embrace. Like any good Father, our Dad doesn’t want us to live in shame and guilt because we’re imperfect. He wants us to know that there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. After his embrace, our good Father may provide discipline, but this is not something to be avoid; rather, it should be embraced for it wonderful that Dad is working in our lives to teach us to be more strong, beautiful, delightful, joyful, and lifeful.

It’s near impossible to embrace the greatness of our Dad’s love for us while engaging in behaviors that break His heart. I believe that one of the most important elements in departing from sin is to bask in the unshakeable love God has for us. When we embrace this love, we love back. When we love, we want to please. We want to honor. We want to treat with dignity. We want to express that love through our words, actions, and life.

Our older brother has shown us how to live in the way of our Father. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what Dad would do if He were in our circumstances. He’s a lot older and although we know what he is like as a Dad, we don’t know what he’s like as a son or daughter. We have an older brother who is everything that our Dad is, but who is also everything that we are. Jesus provides a clear representation of what it looks like to be a child of YHWH in a way that brings glory to YHWH because it reflects YHWH.

Jesus, who is everything Dad is, lived a life much like us. He intimately understands the trials, difficulties, pains, wounds, temptations, confusion, and complexities of living as a son. Jesus took pity on us, who all at one time had cut ourselves off from the family because of our messed up hearts. Jesus saw what was wrong, went before his Dad on our behalf, and figured our how, at great cost to himself, we could become a part of the family again. We broke YHWH’s heart by rejecting His love, running from home, distorting His image in us, destroying His image in others, and joining a new family. Jesus told Dad, “It’s all on me,” and both of them went to great lengths so that our rebellion would not keep us from being adopted back into God’s family.

Now that our Father and Brother have dealt with our sin, we are adopted sons and daughters. This is not like a normal adoption where a person legally becomes the child of a new set of parents. Our belonging to our Father is certainly legal, but YHWH does more. He recreates us. Through His Son, He makes us a new creation. He renews His breath in us; His spirit in us. We are given a new spiritual genetic makeup that reflects the Father. We are given the Spirit of God in us, that we might live in that same breath, glorifying Dad by imitating Him. The exchange of our rebellious hearts for new hearts is what makes it possible for us to put Dad on display through us.

One of the most wonderful things about this recreation is there is no longer such thing as being stuck in sin. We may feel stuck in sin. We might feel like there is no way out and we just can’t change. The truth is we are already changed. We have been changed. We have been made new and have a renewing of the Holy Breath of God in us which empowers us to reflect Dad. We’re free. The sense of stuckness is merely paradigms of our past masquerading as present reality, but they only have the power we allow them to have. We are new. We are children of the living God in every way. Embrace love and live in it.

*The extensive talking about concepts in light of the family is fresh for me, so I’m going to stick with it, hoping it’s fresh for you as well. In the process, there will be a lot of pertinent Scriptures that I’m going to be leaving out throughout this series. Forgive me in advance.

Simply Church: Making A Practice of Sin

January 11, 2012 3 comments

Sin is always a part of the gathering of believers. But sin doesn’t belong in the gathering of believers. Sin doesn’t make sense in the gathering of believers. Individuals in the gathering can not believe that it is okay to make a practice of sin while claiming Jesus as Lord. Living this way is an indication of not belonging to the the family.

When one who calls Jesus “Lord” continues in sin, that person has communicated that Jesus isn’t Lord. Their confession of His Lordship is nullified by their lives. Their confession of Jesus’ Lordship becomes just words, not an acknowledgement of what is true. John, who is very clear that everyone sins, talks about this continuing in sin quite a bit:

“Whoever says, ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 Jn 2:4)

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6)

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8)

Those who claim Jesus as brother and YHWH as Father, yet live life in a continuing practice of sin are not a part of God’s family. And we are to treat them as if they are out of the family,* because they are claiming to represent our Father while living like they represent the devil. They are continuing to work against the family by doing the exact opposite of what the family is supposed to do, accurately make known what our God looks like.

In some of Paul’s letters to different manifestations of the body of Jesus, he discusses what to do with those who are living in this way. Paul is most clear about this concept in 1 Corinthians:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of the brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, revile, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one.”

We are to reject those as family who claim to be family and live without love for the Father or our older brother who made the relationship with the Father possible. We are to be clear in our words and actions toward them that they are not family. Frequently in his letters, Paul mentions names of people who have been put out of the family because they claim to be a part of the family and are constantly working to destroy the family. Like most people from my culture, this idea makes me uncomfortable.

Why? Why can’t someone continue in sin and still be a part of the family? Why would our family throw someone on the streets? What kind of love is that? Isn’t grace enough?

It is not that the grace from the Father and brothers and sisters in the family isn’t enough, it’s that by stubbornly continuing in sin grace has been rejected. They reject grace while thinking that they have accepted it because they misunderstand what grace means for their lives. The purpose of the grace includes forgiveness, but it isn’t a free pass to sin without ceasing, it’s a free pass to cease from sin. Letting this misunderstanding of grace continue not only severely damages the family, but it is a death sentence to the one who continues in their misunderstanding. It would be unloving to allow them to continue in their sin and continue claiming YHWH as their Father.

With that, I also need to be clear that I believe there is a distinction between someone who is stuck in sin and someone who is continuing in sin. I know a lot of people stuck in sin. At various points in my life I have been stuck in sin. I have some things to say for people stuck in sin. Someone who continues in sin is not contrite about what they’ve done, not are they intending on turning toward Jesus and away from sin in their lives. Someone who is stuck in sin is contrite, turns toward God and away from their sin, and needs to figure out how to stop turning away from Jesus and back to their sin. These people need compassion, encouragement, forgiveness, mercy, teaching, prayer, and strong admonition, but they are siblings – as long as their repentance is sincere.
*I say all this with a lot of heavy sighing.

Categories: Simply Church Tags: , , ,

Simply Church: Sin

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Admittedly, this aspect of church is kind of a weird one to talk about. We all know that people we are in Jesus community with have sin in their lives, but it doesn’t seem like we should be sinful. There is a difficult tension in our churches: sin should not be present in the lives of those who have been saved from sin by Jesus Messiah and sin is present in the lives of those who have been saved from sin by Jesus Messiah. This tension has always existed in our churches.

James, when writing to believers, says, “we all stumble in many ways” (3.2).

John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1.8)

Peter, writing to those who are already Jesus followers, exhorts them to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Pt 2.1). Peter implies that these things are present and need to be put away.

Hebrews tells believers to “lay aside… sin which clings so closely” (12.1).

Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).

That is a small sampling from a number of different Biblical letter writings who are writing to different groups of believers. The New Testament descriptions of the churches and instructions to the churches are full of evidence that even under the New Covenant, everyone sins. Because of this and constant admonition to flee from sin, I think that the presence of sin in our churches needs to be both unsurprising and unacceptable. However, in this family the sinner who knows his need is always received with grace.

Accepting that sin is present in the community of believers (while also making sure it isn’t welcome there) has a number of implications for our relationships with one another. It shouldn’t be surprising when a brother or sister hurts us or sins against us. Siblings hurt each other. It’s terrible. It’s sad. It’s unacceptable. It’s going to happen. We’re going to hurt each other. Even without knowing it sometimes, it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, then we’re probably not being open with one another. The hope is this, that our sin against one another will be an opportunity to be more like our father, in whom, despite our sin against Him, grace always abounds and, even as the one sinned against, he is the first actor in our reconciliation. His grace is enough to restore any relationship.

With the acknowledgement of the presence of sin should come also an understanding of different perspectives. We can’t even do the good we want to do all the time or stop doing what we hate to do. How is it that we expect to know the complete truth about things far beyond our understanding? I believe in discussions over disagreements. I believe in trying to get things right about Scripture. But let’s not have deep familial divisions because of differing thoughts on baptism, women in leadership, the mechanism God used to create, and the like. It does make sense to spend more time with siblings whose perspective is most similar to yours, but no more telling people they don’t belong in the family because they don’t think the same way that you do on some trivial issue.

I think that a group acknowledgement that sin is present in the community at large, in specific brothers and sisters, and in our own lives helps us to deal with it. One of our primary goals together is to help each other become more like dad. A good starting place for this can be to talk to each other about the things in our life that look the opposite of dad and helping each other change that. Accepting that sin is present in us and in others is the first step to an open dialogue about this. Let’s not be on of those families that pretends to love each other because they pretend that nothing is wrong in the family. Rather, let’s be a family of open people who share what is wrong with us and, just like dad, let our first act in response to sin confession be to extend grace to our siblings.

You’re Not Hosea In This Story

December 18, 2010 5 comments

One of the most powerful images of God’s love in Scripture is found in the story of the prophet Hosea. For me, it is one of the most emotionally poignant concepts in Scripture. It strikes my soul. It has transformed and continues to form the way I conceptualize reality. Perhaps telling you why will tenderize you the way it softens my stony heart.

Hosea was stupidly faithful (stupid in a good way). YHWH told Hosea that he was to marry a woman that God knew would be unfaithful to him. God knew that this woman sold her body and would continue to do so even while she was married. Hosea married her. She cheated on him repeatedly and consistently. She even had kids that Hosea named as his own, but would really have no idea whether those kids were his or some dudes that she had an affair with. People Hosea knew talked to him about the sexual relationship they had with his wife. Hosea was betrayed over and over and over by his unfaithful wife and yet He took her back and loved her again and again and again. Why did God want Hosea to do this? He wanted to demonstrate how Hosea’s relationship with his wife was a microcosm of God’s relationship with His people.

I get this, it connects with me. This story hurts me. I feel Hosea’s pain. I think that all people, even if they haven’t directly felt the pain of having a significant other cheat on them, have some understanding of how it feels to be betrayed by someone close to them. I think all of us have some experience of what it is like to feel someone relationally significant to you treat your trust and the relationship flippantly. Betrayal is the second worst feeling in the world.

The worst is feeling the pain that comes from realizing that you have betrayed someone you love and treated the relationship flippantly. You know who wants to feel that? No one. I’ve avoided it myself and watched so many others do the same. Listen to how most people talk about their sin. People talk about it like it’s bad, but not a huge deal because God has forgiven them for it. Or they talk about how it’s human to sin and everyone sins and that’s why we need God’s grace. Maybe they mostly talk about the sin of others and do this sick comparison thing where they perceive others are worse than them so that they can feel better about themselves. People tend to treat sin as inconsequential because it just plain sucks to acknowledge you are the betrayer.

But sin is not inconsequential. It is as destructive to our relationship with God as an act of infidelity is to a marriage. Our sin is absolutely disgusting and it destroys intimacy with God. Our choices of sin are acts of betrayal and infidelity and they hurt God in the way that a husband who catches his wife cheating on him with another man is hurt. We are violating God’s trust, abusing his forgiveness, and showing with our actions how meaningless our relationship with God is to us. Our sin is disgusting and destructive.

It is only when we realize how terrifically horrifying our sins are that we understand and appreciate God’s mercy. It is only then that we can be intimate. If a husband offers forgiveness but an unfaithful wife thinks that what she did was an insignificant act that isn’t really a big deal, how close to you think that couple will be? The wife has to admit that what she has done is terribly destructive, have an appreciation for the forgiveness of her husband, and rebuild trust with her husband through a life of faithfulness or else there is no hope for the relationship. There will be little intimacy for those who make excuses for their destructive behavior. There is no way that you will ever see God’s love for what it is if you do not first see you for what you are.

You are the whore. God has taken you as his bride. You have whored yourself to people that matter little. God has reaffirmed his love for you. You display your shameful infidelity with pride. God shouts his love for you from the rooftops. You have broken all your promises. In His faithfulness, God’s wants to renew his vows. Your heinous acts have destroyed your most important relationship. God wants to restore Himself to you. Your prostitution has left your life in ruins. God wants to rebuild it with you. You have run from him into the arms of many other men. God waits for your return with open arms. You are a dirty, betraying whore. God loves you and wants to make you pure and reconcile with you.

Addendum: It has been brought to my attention that all of the yous and generalized way of speaking about the text disconnects me from the story and it feels like I’m talking from a place of authority to a reader. I just wanted to say that most of this is me trying to make the story hit you in a way similar to how it has hit me. Let me be clear about this: I’m the whore too. We have all been the whore. That’s what’s so amazing about God’s love and infinite mercy. Let’s live to reflect and honor both.

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