Deep Sin & The Christian Soul


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5.19-21)

As I recently finished a Church Bible Study on the book of Galatians, those verses inevitably caused some discussion.

I mean, we’ve all to some degree engaged in most–if not all–of the items on that list at some point in our lives, right? Even if you’re a Christian.

So what does it mean to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”?

As we discussed it, we arrived at the answer many of us come to if you grew up in the Church: these scary statements only apply to those individuals who have these “works of the flesh” as a pattern of their life to such a degree one might be able to say that the sins have “dominion” over them. That answers it, right?

Not really. Because there are Christians who find themselves in seasons–days, weeks, months, decades, even–where these sins are their practice over time, seasons where these sins have a very real sense of dominion over them and their lives.

And, this isn’t theoretical or theological for me. To be honest, I myself am coming out just such a time.

. . . . . 

I wrote the above words a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve only sunk deeper into the bewilderment of this season I’m coming out of. How does a Christian understand a period of time in which they’re given over so deeply into self-absorption, sin, and hurting of others? I’ve sat on this question, mulling it over, letting it ruminate within me to see what fruit it bore. I’ve wanted to figure out a nice, tidy answer to this post–for the sake of both others and myself.

And alas, I have been found wanting.
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Sometimes, Mercy is Sweeter Than Grace


I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading

Law & Grace, Law & Grace | Genesis 12:10


When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
Genesis 6:18

Those Lutherans are on to something. God really does seem to come at this on the front end with some works and law, and then does the covenant switcheroo.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Good News changes, the Good News gifts | Acts 20.32


“And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.”
Acts 20.32

Nice. The message of grace itself is enough to sanctify and grow them. Just the message. Further, this message–again, the message itself–gives us the inheritance of the Holy.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

What is Discipleship? A Definition.


discipleship-silhouette

For one of my spiritual formation classes, I had the privilege of reading Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesustwo incredible books. Last night, after having read these books, we were then asked to offer our own one sentence definition of Discipleship, and then spend some time expounding on the definition. Here was my contribution. Feel free to add your own definitions below.

______________________________

Discipleship: The cultivation of an inner and outer life–with both ourselves and others–that is marked by a humble reliance on the work, words, life, and leading of Christ and His Spirit.

The thing that struck me most about these readings as it pertains to discipleship was the weird paradox of one’s inner- and outer-lives. In both Nouwen and Bonhoeffer, there is such an emphasis that our hearts’ goal should be nothing less than the heart of Christ Himself and our reliance upon it. And yet, the primary access point to this Heart is found in the simple, mundane bodily actions we take upon ourselves with regularity.

The way in is from without, I suppose.

Especially for those of us in seminary and who minister in a Church context, isolation in these endeavors can be such an easy temptation. I don’t even pastor a church, and yet as a deacon leading a home group or class or the Sunday liturgy, I feel that damnable desire just to be liked, and not be seen for who I really am.
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The Reasons Why You Don’t Believe in Grace [LINK]


I absolutely love this. Very much related to my post from earlier today.

Elias Kruger

It started soon after you were born. As a baby, you were already being compared. In your first doctor visit and you were put in a percentile, literally comparing you to all the babies in the country. You may have grown in a loving home where you were accepted for who you were and cherished for just being there. Yet, some may not have been this lucky always being measured against the better behaving, smarter and prettier sibling. If you escaped that at home, you sure did not escape it in your social life. As you entered the playground, kids assessed you and so determined how you should be treated. Teachers and school teachers placed you in special classes based on your talents or lack thereof. From very early on, you were labeled.

As you have grown in you’re the educational system the message continued. They measured you by grades, liked or…

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Discipleship: Making Good Little Pharisees?


Caravaggio-The Calling of Saint Matthew{summary: the way we disciple others in the church is far too often a results-based process, and not a grace-driven one. Here, I explore Jesus’ example in Matthew as a guide for us. And, once again, we see Jesus’ radical application of grace to his Disciples’ lives.}

I’m taking a class on “The Practice of Discipleship”. Some discussions on our online message boards inspired these thoughts. Discipleship, as many people could tell you is all about “following Jesus”. After all, that’s how Jesus himself invited his disciples into it. But as I was thinking about this, I realized something: Pharisees had disciples too.

Now, with “Pharisee Discipleship” the point was to let that Pharisee get all up in your business so that you could become a good, well-behaved Pharisee someday. Christian Discipleship, as we are often told, is not about following Christians per se, but following Christians who are following Christ. The ultimate goal is to follow Christ and to help one another do that.

This is how it works in theory. I can’t speak for everyone, but at least in my experience, a lot of Christian Discipleship subtly looks more like the type that creates well-behaved Pharisees than the one that truly follows Christ.
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The Early Church: not so big on grace, so why are we so obsessed?



As promised, today Lore Ferguson, over at Sayable posted my second guest post on her blog, as she is on a sabbatical. My first post went up yesterday. Originally, Lore had asked me to write a post on grace. Ironically, this was the first post I wrote for her (almost an anti-grace article–even thought it’s really not). Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. Leave comments and, like I said yesterday, follow her blog. You won’t regret it. Here’s a preview of today’s post:

I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

And so, in response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and blog about it (I even did a five-part series on it myself). We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and forms of worship that were centuries-old, to begin noticing the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints.

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Sinning Into Our Day of Grace (and God’s Joy in it)


One of my favorite bloggers, Lore Ferguson of the blog Sayable, has taken a sabbatical from her writing for the month of May, and asked me to write a couple of guest posts on her site about grace. My first one is up todaythe second will be up tomorrow (Update: the second post is up). Feel free to read my and comment there. And be sure to follow her blog. She’s an amazing writer that can find God and beauty in the most seemingly mundane of things. Here’s a taste of my post today (it touches on some similar ideas as yesterday’s post):

Pharisees grumble: why do you eat with sinners?

He tells them a story about a lost coin and the joy one has when they find it. He then goes on to tell similar stories about a lost lamb and a lost son.

We love to jump from the coin to the lamb and the son, but Jesus says something very interesting between those sections. He reminds the Pharisees of a central truth to the heart of God:

“there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.” (lk15.7)

Did you catch that? He doesn’t say: “there’s more joy over one sinner who repents over ninety-nine that do not repent.” He focuses not on our action, but on our need.

It seems there is more joy in the heart of God over his creation needing forgiveness than if it had never needed forgiveness at all. God takes joy in forgiving and being gracious, but this implies there needs to be sin to graciously forgive.

Perhaps our sin can be good news to God.

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a note on Grace from a friend (I miss you, Michael Spencer)


Two years ago (almost to the day), a dear friend of mine passed away. Michael Spencer (or, the “Internet Monk” as he was more widely known) encouraged me for years with his blog writing critiquing the wider church with both wisdom and bite (the site is being continued by one of his good friends and avid readers). He died of cancer, and in that death, the Church lost a great man. His one published book, Mere Churchianity, was published several months later. It’s a great summary of his life and thought. I highly encourage anyone to get it.

While he was still living, I wrote on this site about how he influenced and affected me. I also wrote this piece for Patrol Magazine after he died (I still remember the tears blurring my vision as I typed that up).

Anyway, another dear blogging friend, Lore Ferguson, is going on sabbatical from her own amazing blog and asked me to write a guest post on–of all topics–grace. I told a couple of my friends this the other night, and one of them said, “Wow! That’s you favorite topic!” It certainly doesn’t feel that way.

As I was thinking through that, I was reminded of the best thing I’ve ever read on grace, and I wanted to share it with you all. It’s an essay by Michael Spencer. I cried through this piece as well (a lot of crying in this post. Hmm…). It was the inspiration for the sermon I delivered at my church’s prison ministry that later was turned into a five-part series on this blog called “Holy Week & the Scandal of Grace“.

I want to give you the link to the article, an extended quote, and then the end of his piece that I adapted as a benediction at the end of the sermon. Enjoy. And grab some coffee. And some tissues.

Link: Our Problem with Grace: Sweat. Hand-wringing. “Yes, but…”
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Holy Week & Meditations on Radical Grace


Last year, on Palm Sunday, I got the privilege to deliver a little message to a group of men at the prison ministry my church does each month. I ended up building off of that message and its outline and writing a series of blog posts meditating on Holy Week and the radical, scandalous grace inherent in the story and actions of Jesus over those days. For your mediation this year over Holy Week, I wanted to post these links for your perusal and, hopefully, your blessing.

The Scandal of Holy Week

{i} the forsaking of God | In this post, we meditate on the fact that Holy Week was the week-long process by which everything–from humanity to creation to God Himself— forsakes Jesus. We see that true disciples are not those that never forsake Jesus. In fact, we will all forsake Jesus in radical ways at some point.
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“I once dated someone that…” {on enduring love}


 I hate being able to say that line.

I was reminded of this when I was walking out of one of my neighborhood coffeeshops this past week and overheard someone begin a story like that just as I walked out of earshot. The person saying this–a woman–said this in an almost cheery way. My first thought was, “I never say that phrase in that tone.” At least for me, there is a sobriety and somberness that I feel whenever some sort of reference to an old relationship comes up.

So, like I said, I hate being able to say that. Yes, yes, I know: I’ve learned much in these experiences and my story is my story and I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am without them. I wouldn’t know God, suffering, people, their hearts, counseling, or relationships in any sort of depth or in a way that could help others had I not gone through these things.
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The Scandal of Holy Week {v}: conclusion & benediction


As I said in Part 1, this series was originally given as a sermon to a group of prisoners attending my church’s prison ministry. This is the conclusion and benediction I gave them at the end. This post picks up right after the end of Part 4, where we listed out practical ways that Jesus prepares his disciples for them forsaking him and the ways he reveals himself to already-wayward disciples, thereby calling them back to Him. I encourage you to read the other parts of this message: Part 1: the forsaking of GodPart 2: the Grace of JesusPart 3: the limits of Grace?Part 4: the restoration of disciplesPart 5: conclusion & benediction]

Conclusion

These are not guarantees: all these different practical things I’ve mentioned are not the “magic formula” for how to restore your faith if you feel you’ve lost or forsaken it. Sometimes none of these things are necessary; the Centurion did not seem to have any of these things. Sometimes, you’ll do all of these things for years–decades, even–and nothing will change.

All I can tell you is that He is worth it. The God of Holy Week is a God worthy to be wrestled against for years and years and years and years until he finally meets you, even if it is for the briefest of moments before slipping away back into frustration, doubt and sin.
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The Scandal of Holy Week {iv}: the restoration of disciples


[Update: this series has been completed. Part 1: the forsaking of GodPart 2: the Grace of JesusPart 3: the limits of Grace?Part 4: the restoration of disciplesPart 5: conclusion & benediction]

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that we will all forsake Jesus many times in our lives, just as the disciples did on the Thursday night of Holy Week. In Part 2, we saw that in light of this abandonment, Jesus responds to those that forsake him by being unconditionally and unlimitedly gracious towards them in their forsaking of him. In Part 3, we looked at just how scandalous and beautiful this grace is and how and why we often try and limit it. Today, we give practical ways that we can prepare ourselves to come back to our Lord, even after we have forsaken him in our own “Thursday” seasons.

As we saw in Part 1, Holy Week was a week-long process in which everything–creation, creatures, and God Himself–all forsook Jesus, turning their back on him. We’ve said several times now that true disciples of Jesus are not those that never forsake Jesus, but they are those that after forsaking him, turn back. And so, to help us see how we do this, let’s look at the first person in this story to turn back.

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The Scandal of Holy Week {iii}: the limits of Grace?


[Update: this series has been completed. Part 1: the forsaking of GodPart 2: the Grace of JesusPart 3: the limits of Grace?Part 4: the restoration of disciplesPart 5: conclusion & benediction]

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the original Holy Week and saw how everything and everyone has and will forsake Jesus. We said that “Thursday”–the day when the disciples forsook Jesus–will come for every disciple. In part 2, we saw that Jesus, as he relates to those that have forsaken him and those that will do so, responds and relates to them on the basis of pure, unfettered grace. Today we look at why this matters and what it looks like in our lives.

We’ve seen that every disciple will forsake Jesus, but the true disciples of God are the ones that come back after they have left him. And further, it is my contention that what brings people back is not fear, not Law, but the unbounded and free Grace of Jesus.

But let’s be honest–this process can be a long one. It can be months, years, or even decades before these true disciples of God return to Him. People can go very far down the path of sin’s temptations, and still be Christians. In fact, any of us can go very far down the path of sin’s temptations and still absolutely be beloved, regenerated, Christian children of God.
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