Category Archives: Sin

Restoration has begun!

hagia sophia
Hagia Sophia mosaic, Istanbul

In our series, Whole Gospel: The Bible’s Epic Drama, we come to Act 2: The Fall. In the sermon, I emphasize that we cannot be spiritually, emotionally, or relationally intelligent, if we don’t understand the fallenness of humanity!  But then we have to ask the question: “Is there any Good News in the fact that we are “fallen?”  Sin and evil have entered God’s good creation; Shalom has been vandalized; the image of God in us has been defaced. But Act 2 is not the end of the Story!  You can listen to the sermon here.


A poetic note: I try to always take some time on my “Monday Sabbath” to read some poetry. Today it was Czeslaw Milosz, from a late book of poems called Second Space. It includes a long poem called Treatise on Theology. Two excerpts:

Why theology? Because the first must be first.
And the first is a notion of truth…

Let reality return to our speech.
That is, meaning. Impossible without an absolute point of reference.

[and another line that reflects his frustrations with the tendency of theologians and the church to make God’s truth unintelligible!]

There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness
where one can talk seriously about serious things.

[I wrote in the back of the book, “I think this states the quest of my adult life and ministry!” – i.e. to make the Bible’s rich truth understandable to anyone. ]

**A wonderful article about Milosz’s and his faith, written at the time he published this poem is found here in First Things!

Idol Threats – Our real struggle with idolatry

dolatryIn our series, All IN! we are taking a long look at the Ten Commandments. You can listen to the sermon on the 2nd Commandment here. We have to actually spot and see our idols and then face the fact that we cannot grow as disciples of Christ if we do not also confront our idols.

Pastor and author Tim Keller offers a helpful definition of the sin of idolatry: “It is….fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.
In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Keller describes the “particular kinds of brokenness and damage” caused by idolatry:
If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            (pp. 275-276)
“Little children, keep yourself from idols!”  (1 John 5)

Imitating Jesus’ body language

dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?

‘Re-turning’ to Repentance

We often have a shallow understanding of repentance.  In our study in Matthew, John the Baptist calls the people to “Repent, for the Reign of God has arrived!” (my translation)  What does that mean and what does it mean now – for today’s disciples?  Here is a portion of a poem by Orthodox poet Scott Cairns and an article by Frederica Mathewes-Green.  They help to remind us that it is ‘repentance that brings hope and joy!’

Cairns ends his poem by contrasting false and true repentance:

The heart’s metanoia,
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time.

–Scott Cairns

[from Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia in the anthology, Compass of Affection, p. 93, Paraclete Press, 2006.]

and the article from Frederica Mathewes-Green:

Whatever Happened to Repentance [first published in Christianity Today, Feb. 2002 and available on her website.]

Forget what the Billboard charts say; to judge from church ads in the Yellow Pages, America’s favorite song is “I’m Mr. Lonely.” Churches are quick to spot that need and promise eagerly that they will be friendly, or be family, or just care. Apparently this is the church’s principal product. When people need tires, they look up a tire store; when they start having those bad-sad-mad feelings, they shop for a church.

Here, for once, denominational and political divisions vanish. Churches across the spectrum compete to display their capacity for caring, though each has its own way of making the pitch. The Tabernacle, a “spirit-filled, multi-cultured church,” pleads, “Come let us love you,” while the Bible Way Temple is more formal, if not downright odd: “A church where no stranger need feel strangely.” (The only response that comes to mind is “Thank thee.”) One church sign in South Carolina announced, “Where Jesus is Lord and everybody is special,” which made it sound like second prize. And one Methodist congregation tries to get it all in: “A Christ-centered church where you can make new friends and form lasting relationships with people who care about you.”

But when Jesus preached, he did not spend a lot of time on “caring.” The first time we see him, in the first Gospel, the first instruction he gives is “Repent” (Mark 1:15). From then on, it’s his most consistent message. Continue reading ‘Re-turning’ to Repentance

Disordered Anger: a quote and a poem

Jeff Cook defines Wrath (disordered anger) as “the love for  justice perverted into bitterness, revenge, and violence.”

We think we’re justified when we ‘loose it.’ We think we have a just cause, but the cause is usually a wrong goal at best or just our own ego at worst.  We need to get angry about the right things and be gentle reconcilers who are slow to anger – wounded healers – like Jesus.

George MacDonald was a writer who greatly influenced Tolkein, Lewis, and L’Engle.  He loved poetry and his spiritual poetry is deep and experiential.  He once wrote a poem every day for  year, and the 366 poems were compiled as “The Diary of an Old Soul.”  He encouraged readers to take a white page and write their own poems in response.  This poem is in the book shown here and speaks to the sin of wrath.

Keep me from wrath, let it seem ever so right:
My wrath will never work thy righteousness.
Up, up the hill, to the whiter than snow-shine,
Help me to climb, and dwell in pardon’s light.
I must be pure as thou, or ever less
Than thy design of me – therefore incline
My heart to take men’s wrongs as thou tak’st mine.

You can also hear the sermon, Beyond Anger Management, at the Christ Church Website.


Sweeter Than Honey!

We begin the 40 day journey called Lent. At our Ash Wednesday services I again shared the story and commentary around the Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian, a 4th century teacher whose prayer is used constantly in the Eastern church especially during the week leading to Easter. I have learned and prayed and been helped by this prayer as part of my own spiritual life for many years now. (Go to this previous post for the text and commentary.)

Fasting, along with prayer and compassionate giving, is a spiritual discipline Jesus expected his followers to continue (Matthew 6:1-18). The pattern of fasting in much of the church has been to extend a rhythm of Wednesday and Friday (abstaining from meat, dairy, oil, and wine) to virtually the whole 40 day period. Joan Chittister writing on The Liturgical Year, says this about fasting in relation to the Seven Deadly Sins. (our current teaching series)

…consciousness of life beyond the material come(s) more easily when the material is not allowed to smother us. Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to forswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to forswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given.

Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world. (p. 113)

For some other resources on Lent, go to the Christ Church page here.

Replacing the god of Greed with the God of Mercy

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

“Zacchaeus is one of my favorite Jesus encounters to preach on.  He is a vivid picture of how – in the words of Tim Keller -“Jesus had replaced money as Zacchaeus’ God and Savior, so money could go back to being just what it is: a tool for serving people.”  (Keller has a chapter on Greed in his book Counterfeit Gods)

Acedia – The Disease of ‘Whatever!’

Like the Greek word Paraclete is hard to translate as a title of the Holy Spirit (John 14-16), and can mean ‘Helper’, ‘Comforter,’ ‘Counselor,’ etc. – so Acedia [uh-SEED-ia] is the deadly sin that defies simple words like ‘sloth’ or ‘apathy.’  So we’ll call this third deadly sin by its new/old name!  It literally means ‘the absence of care’ or ‘spiritual indifference.’  And it is dangerous!

Alexander Schmemann – an Orthodox theologian wrote:

The basic disease is sloth (acedia). It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us “down” rather than “up” — which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds “what for?” and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source. (From commentary on  The Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian)

For those who want to explore Acedia in depth, I highly recommend Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life. If you or a loved on are ‘stuck’ or stagnated or like C.S. Lewis’ illustration of “an instrument unstrung” – then this book will take you into some deep waters of scripture, history and Norris’ own compelling story.   You can listen to an interview with PBS’s Bob Abernathy.  Finally here’s an excerpt from the interview that explores how the Psalms can be God’s tools for getting through the darkness. Continue reading Acedia – The Disease of ‘Whatever!’

A Prayer Against Envy

We closed our worship service yesterday with a prayer against the green monster sin of envy.  Some have asked for the words.  And it may be good to pray more than once!

O Lord,  let Your Holy Spirit so rule my life
that I may love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength
and my neighbor as myself.
Take from me a spirit of comparing and analyzing.
Help me instead to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Move me from resentment to contentment;
from restlessness to peace,
that I might know the joy of communion with You
and with Your people,
to the glory of Your name.    Amen.

“Deadly Sins” – C.S. Lewis Poem and Commentary

For those who love poetry and C. S. Lewis, you’ll be happy to know he was a poet as well as a master of most other genres! Being a medieval scholar he was very familiar with the historical development of the Seven Deadly Sins (our current ‘mini-series’ at Christ Church),  and more importantly the biblical meaning of each.  He wrote a poem called Deadly Sins. It is available on the internet and I’m  linking to an article by Lewis scholar, Paul Ford.  Read the poem and the great notes that are beside it.

Ford ends with this summary.
…Lewis is saying here that, if the sinner would look along, or perhaps better look through, the sin and see what was really the object desired, the temptation process would become an opportunity for deeper growth in the Spirit.

It’s another way of saying that the Tempter can only take the good passions and get us to misuse them in some way.  Or, as we have been saying, to get us to live sub-human lives.    link to the poem.

[One other article of interest is from the fantastic Into the Wardrobe website where the author conjectures that Lewis may have consciously or unconsciously  weaved one of the sins into each of the Chronicles of Narnia!  Check it out here.]