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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The Tears of John: the Turning-Point of History

job-silohetteToday we continue our Lent series, “The Weeping Word“, looking at different moments of crying, lament, and tears in the Scriptures.

The Bible has 66 books. After 39 of those Old Testament books, God’s people are left with these words:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

And the Hebrew Scriptures end. God’s people sit wondering what the heck is happening to God’s promises, all while God just gives them another promise: “I will send Elijah, and I will not curse the land”. That’s it.
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Reflections on Psalm 51: the People & their Fallen King [intro]

bathsheba-marc-chagallWhen it comes to talking about Repentance, there are few favorite passages to study than Psalm 51. As part of this year’s Lent series on Repentance, I’d like to spend the rest of this series exploring this Psalm verse-by-verse.

So today we begin. But not with verse 1. Instead we begin with that superscription found above it:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

This is actually an important place to start. Most of the Hebrew writings we have outside of the Old Testament are pieces that were written to fill in gaps left in the biblical account. It seems the people of God have always had difficulties living with what God did not tell them.

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The Story of Repentance: believing vs. achieving

Van Gogh-Sower with Setting SunThis post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.

I almost titled this post “theology in the service of real-life”.

The last time I wrote about repentance, I talked about the difficulties I have with some of the ways people in the Church talk about repentance. I then started researching the topic. And as I did, I found some amazingly helpful realizations about this in the Bible.

So today, I just wanted to take some time and explore this topic throughout the entire story of the scriptures. Hopefully, we can come to some conclusions about what repentance means for us today, and perhaps even some answers to our previous concerns in the last post.
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Resurrection Gives Us Joy in Lent & Death

La-Pieta-IYes, as cliché as it is, I’m watching the new Bible mini-series on the History Channel. I’m actually enjoying it. A few things are odd (the ninja angel, for one), and they made some interesting choices on what to leave out (was the extended Sodom sequence really worth cutting out the entire Exodus story, Wilderness wandering, and golden calf rebellion?). But there is still a sense of ownership, that this is our story.

(Side note: for those of us that study the Bible and don’t necessarily think historicity is the highest purpose for which it was written, it’s encouraging to still feel that feeling of identity-formation when encountering our story–even when it’s seen as “just” a story.)

Anyway, a review of the show is not why I’m writing today. I just had a brief thought I wanted to share.

In Episode 1 of the mini-series, we see Pharaoh’s son die at the end of the plague sequence. Watching him carry the pale, lifeless body of his son, it reminded me of Michelangelo’s la Pieta (a version of which you can see above). It was actually quite moving, and I was surprised that I only realized now the sadness of this part of the story. Continue reading

Barth: to Repent & Pray is to Die [QUOTE]

This post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.

In the first book of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, as he is reflecting on God as Creator, Barth begins meditating on the fact that this Creating God is also our Father. He begins talking about what “Fatherly Lordship” might look like, and what impact this “Fatherly” dimension might have on how we look at his “Lord-ly” commands on us–like the command to “repent”. And so, as he is focusing on God’s Fatherhood in the Gospels, he writes these beautiful words on repentance:

Metanoien [the Greek verb for “repent”], to reverse one’s thinking, to think afresh, to think through to God and His kingdom, really means in the rest of the New Testament too, and here in the Gospels especially, to consider the fact that we must die. But it does not just mean this, but whatever else it might mean, it can mean only that if first and decisively it means this.

Further, note that “Thy name”, “Thy kingdom”, and “Thy will” are the objects of the first three petitions of the prayer directed to “our Father, which art in heaven” (Mt. 6:9f), and it is on these that the three which follow rest. In the context of the New Testament, then, the Thy makes these petitions absolutely equivalent to the saying : “Teach us to reflect that we must die.”

Let the Female Pastor Reformation begin!

luther-95theses-humor-memeOn this blog, I currently have two running series I’m doing: “Reflections on Repentance” and “Women & the Church“. For these series, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on those topics.

For the Women in Ministry series, I’ve been researching what, for me, is the biggest thing that gives me pause in my own egalitarian view in support of female pastors: the complete dearth of women leaders throughout the history of the whole Christian church. With a couple thousand years now of godly men (and women) looking at the same Scriptures I am, why have the vast majority of them come to the same view limiting women’s role?

Well, that’s another post for another time, but rest assured, as I’ve been researching this, I feel I’ve satisfied my concerns in this area. But that’s not what this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) post is about.

For my research for the repentance series, I keep ending up at the Reformation and its leaders. This got me thinking, and doing some math…

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I’ve got some problems with repentance (and how you people talk about it)

belle-isle-bridge-long-walk This post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.

Martin Luther famously kicked off the Reformation by saying the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. In this, he was implying that it was not a singular moment, but rather a lifelong process. Yet, as I’ve lived life in the Church, I have found that this is not quite the way that most Christians talk about repentance, nor does it seem to be the way the Bible itself does.

If you ask your run-of-the-mill Christian convert, or even pastor or theologian, what repentance is, you will usually get some answer that involves the phrase “180 degrees” or talk about a change of your mind or turning away from a sin you do.

Good sermons and books on repentance will usually involve the Luther formula of using the Holy expectations of a Holy God to expose just how sinful we are, and then hitting us with just how radical God’s grace is in light of that. They will show us our need, trying to woo us to a God that forgives us. They try to expose even those sins hidden to ourselves or those that we hide from others or those that have beset us for years, and then invite us to “turn” from those things and instead trust God.

Sermons and books like this have contributed to beautiful moments in my life, drawing my heart to God and convicting me of my sins.

And yet, I have a problem with this. In these articulations of repentance, there seems to be a disconnect. A major, major disconnect.
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Intelligent Repentance: Hearing our Hearts

[This is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.]

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

The writings of the Prophet Isaiah, Chappter 55, verses 1-9 Continue reading

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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Repentance (for Liberti & my Home Group)

I help lead a home meeting for Liberti Church: Center City. In these home meetings we usually further discuss the sermon from Sunday and try and see what bearing it might have on our everyday life. As most everyone knows, I have started my new job now and had to work last night so I wasn’t able to attend the home group. So, I thought I’d write out my thoughts here.

This post is mainly trying to place this past week’s message in the broader context of our current series “Lent For Everyone”. The first week, we looked at Jesus’ temptations in the desert to show us how we are meant to live life here and now in the “desert” of history — after our freedom from slavery but before the Promised Land (Audio). The second week of Lent Jared preached on how the God of Christianity  is unlike any other god we make, because of his Covenantal character, and how He does not demand that we bound ourselves to Him, but rather He commits Himself to us (Audio). This past week we heard God in Isaiah 55:1-9 invite us toward the gift of repentance, and in that find life (Audio). Next week, he will talk about the celebration this God is actually inviting to take part in (Audio), and in the final week, he will talk about who this King is that has been with us all along (Audio). In our home meeting, we’ve been talking about these ideas and how our sins reveal the true nature of our hearts.

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