Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sin: The Making of a Corpse

Excellent insight on sin, by Glenn Tinder, writing in The Atlantic:

“Sin is ironic. Its intention is self-exaltation, its result is self debasement. In trying to ascend, we fall. The reason for this is not hard to understand. We are exalted by God; in declaring our independence from God, we cast ourselves down. In other words, sin concerns not just our actions and our nature but also the setting of our lives. By sin we cast ourselves into a degraded sphere of existence, a sphere Christians often call "the world." Human beings belong to the world through sin. They look at one another as objects; they manipulate, mutilate, and kill one another. In diverse ways, some subtle and some shocking, some relatively innocuous and some devastating, they continually depersonalize themselves and others. They behave as inhabitants of the world they have sinfully formed rather than of the earth created by God. Original sin is the quiet determination, deep in everyone, to stay inside the world. Every sinful act is a violation of the personal being that continually, in freedom, vision, and love, threatens the world. The archetype of sin is the reduction of a person to the thing we call a corpse.”

Glenn Tinder, "Can We Be Good Without God?," The Atlantic, December 1989

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:16-23

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Security Blanket of Victimhood

I marvel at how often I meet people in their 70’s who still harbor ill will towards a person or situation from the long distant past. I struggle myself in this way. But when I see how this animosity and resentment stunts one’s growth, and how it continues to haunt folks into their later years, I am more and more convicted that I don’t want to be “that guy.”

For the sake of illustration, let’s take an example that I run into quite frequently. Let’s say that we were not the "golden-child" growing up, and our parents showed favoritism to a sibling who, in all appearances, could do no wrong. We did not deserve to be on the losing end of our parents’ favoritism; it was simply the result of a dysfunctional family dynamic.

Many folks carry the baggage of this, and any number of grievances, around with them well into their 70’s and 80’s. What actually happens then, in this perpetual state of victimhood to the past, is that we often transpose our victimhood onto someone else: an outworking of pent up and un-dealt with victimhood! Those around us who have never hurt us must now bear the brunt of becoming victims of our victimhood!

Ironic, isn’t it, that, as victims of someone else’s past sin, we react and perhaps retaliate by living in sins of our own? But the old cliché, “two wrongs don’t make a right” stands true. Stubbornly refusing to release our grip on the security blanket of victimhood by preferring to lick our human-inflicted wounds with the balm of a sin of our choosing doesn’t make sense. But people do just that: they give themselves license to sin every day because someone, somewhere along the way, wronged them.

Jesus frees us from all of that. He replaces our earthly father with God (Matthew 23:9), and our earthly family with the Body of Christ (Matthew 12:50, Luke 8:21, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:5).

We as Christians have no excuse to go on living in retaliation against our upbringing, our past or the people in it. That is exactly what Satan wants: to keep us stifled in the wounds wrought by others so that we can never break free and find entrance into a new and flourishing life in Christ (Ephesians 6:12, Matthew 28:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:1-3).

People will often push back defensively about their victimhood and say,

“You don’t know what it was like living with so and so” or “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

And they’re right. Not only I, but no person on earth can ever know what anyone's life was or currently is like. Only One can know that, and He is the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And since He alone can know our heart and life, then He alone is the one who can set it right.

We can stay on the bus of victimhood, but we remain there alone. Those who may have contributed to or even caused our problems in the first place are no longer on the bus. And if they are still on the bus with us, continuing to cause us harm, do we really want to stay on the bus with them?

The joke’s on us if we think the people who’ve hurt us will ever realize it, repent of it or see it as sin (if they do, great. But we ought not to sit around waiting for it).

Jesus can take all of that away and end the cycle. But victimhood is much like a pacifier that a mature adult has to pry out of a child’s mouth. We have grown accustomed to and, in a weird way, comforted by our victimhood. Victimhood becomes almost a physical entity in our life, like an actual friend. It becomes an identity.

We panic when we envision coming out of it, or EGADS!, forgiving (even if that forgiveness takes place only in our mental and emotional assent, and between us and God). It can be alarming to think of letting go of past injustices: where will we put our energies and what will our excuse be for not progressing in life if we don’t have someone or something to blame for keeping us down?

When we release the past we now have no excuse to stagnate. We have no one to blame. Christ holds us accountable to begin the race He sets out before us. We don’t listen to our own voice, or voices of earthly parents, siblings, teachers or congregation members, we now listen to Christ. And Christ will never hurt us, so there will never again be a place for victimhood in our lives.

Wow. That is a lot to give up: past, present and future victimhood. Gone. Forever. Freeing us to live accountable to Christ. 

It might be initially painful to live without victimhood to suck on. We may feel ungrounded until we learn to plant our feet firmly in Christ. But in time, the consistency and stability we find in Christ, not to mention the confidence we find in His standing (not in how we measure up to ourselves or others) is ultimate freedom.

Christ will take our victimhood and get rid of it once and for all. The question is, are we ready to allow Him to create a pure heart in us and grant us a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10, 12)? If not, we have nobody but ourselves to blame. Our victimhood is now of our own, not someone else’s, making.

copyright Barb Harwood

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6

Friday, May 8, 2015

Only Jesus Can "Pull a Life Together"

When a person dies due to an overdose or addiction, it is frustrating when non-believers say things like, 

“It is sad that they were never able to pull their life together.”

Statements like this only reveal how lost the world really is, and the damage our training in the false teaching of secular humanism and “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps” is.

The only people I know who have permanently overcome addiction and gone on to fulfilling lives are those who have done it through Christ. 

Oh sure, I know of some people who did “give up” or “quit” an addiction out of sheer self-willpower, sometimes for many years. But eventually, they began drinking or drugging again. Or they replaced one addiction with another. I am stating what I have actually observed. And most of what I have observed has occurred in my own extended family and my own personal experience with alcohol addiction.

For those for whom the Gospel is “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14, 3), the reality of freedom from addiction in Christ will remain something to snicker and smirk at. These people will partronizingly say, “I’m glad that worked for you,” but what’s left unsaid is, “you poor naïve little thing.”

The funny thing is, this often comes from people who have never experienced addiction to a physical substance (although everyone has their addictions), or who actually participate in the very activity people commonly become addicted to, like drinking.

And most of them have already made up their minds, without ever experiencing faith themselves, that “faith in Christ doesn’t work.” Ironic, because, as we can see all around us, their secular government programs are stellar models of successful perfection. Right.

Their programs on their own aren't working and refusing to try faith as an option could be the reason why.

I once dragged a leader of a government AODA committee to a Campus Life event in order to expose him to the positive work going on with youth, and to plant a seed that perhaps the AODA committee might want to include the mention of faith options in their programming. 

This did not go over well. The man was noticeably uncomfortable the entire time, and would not respond to my follow up email afterwards. (Previous to this, I had done my part by sitting, equally uncomfortably, in his committee “planning session” for how to curb drinking among adolescents, only to hear the same-old same-old: “Increase budgets,” “create an awareness campaign,” and “find ‘best practices’ for intervention’” (oddly enough ruling out the “best practice” of faith!)

When are people going to realize that insanity means doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? This is what our secular social services do every day when they leave out the option of faith.

Notice I say “option,” something they won’t even concede to. They say they “want to do everything and anything” to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, but they lie. I know, because whenever I see this quote in a newspaper article, I email the person and offer the church’s free services to lend a hand. No budget needed. No staff hires. No building program. Free, at no cost, from the church, with only an upside in outcome. My offers over the years have time and time again been rebuffed. 

So much for “co-existing,” the mantra on many secular humanist’s bumper stickers!

When it comes to social services, public “servants” foolishly turn down the one avenue to lasting change. And how, I ask, does that best “serve” the community? When one of the most viable options continues to be ignored, those who hold the keys to “prevention” and “treatment” are doing a grave disservice by putting their own biases, presuppositions and attitudes before the welfare of others. Since these secular humanists don’t want anything to do with faith, the people they “serve” won’t be allowed to have anything to do with faith either.

The journey of pulling lives together and bringing an end to sinful cycles begins and ends with Christ. Our individual part is to allow Christ's faith to take root in us and not deny the Holy Spirit’s call to concede to Jesus’ saving grace and authority in and over our lives.

Through Christ, we not only exit addiction and the oppression of self, but we enter into a new realm of love, joy, peace, contentment and freedom from spiritual, emotional, and intellectual bondage and blindness. We gain a foundation from which to now build a humble, contented life with God that is entirely sufficient.

Christ overcame the world (John 16:33), and in Him, we can too. To ignore or deny this is utter foolishness.

Copyright Barb Harwood

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” Isaiah 5:21

“Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” Proverbs 26:12

Jesus, quoting from the scroll of Isaiah, said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” Luke 4:18

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.’” Luke 17:1

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness;’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more boasting about human leaders!...” 1 Corinthians 3:18-21a