August 30, 2014

iMonk 101: When I Am Weak: Why we must embrace our brokenness and never be good Christians

This is perhaps my favorite statement of the Gospel that I’ve ever written. The best sermons should preach to yourself. The Luther quote at the end still rocks me. I’ve been working on this to make it “book friendly,” and I wanted to share it with the IM audience again. If you’re a “good Christian,” go do something else. If you are a mess, this is my gift to you. From 2004 I think.

The voice on the other end of the phone told a story that has become so familiar to me, I could have almost finished it from the third sentence. A respected and admired Christian leader, carrying the secret burden of depression, had finally broken under the crushing load of holding it all together. As prayer networks in our area begin to make calls and send e-mails, the same questions are asked again and again. “How could this happen? How could someone who spoke so confidently of God, someone whose life gave such evidence of Jesus’ presence, come to the point of a complete breakdown? How can someone who has the answers for everyone one moment, have no answers for themselves the next?”

Indeed. Why are we, after all that confident talk of “new life,” “new creation,” “the power of God,” “healing,” “wisdom,” “miracles,” “the power of prayer,” …why are we so weak? Why do so many “good Christian people,” turn out to be just like everyone else? Divorced. Depressed. Broken. Messed up. Full of pain and secrets. Addicted, needy and phony. I thought we were different.

It’s remarkable, considering the tone of so many Christian sermons and messages, that any church has honest people show up at all. I can’t imagine that any religion in the history of humanity has made as many clearly false claims and promises as evangelical Christians in their quest to say that Jesus makes us better people right now. With their constant promises of joy, power, contentment, healing, prosperity, purpose, better relationships, successful parenting and freedom from every kind of oppression and affliction, I wonder why more Christians aren’t either being sued by the rest of humanity for lying or hauled off to a psych ward to be examined for serious delusions.

Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.

Please. Call this off. It’s making me sick. I mean that. It’s affecting me. I’m seeing, in my life and the lives of others, a commitment to lying about our condition that is absolutely pathological. Evangelicals called Bill Clinton a big-time liar about sex? Come on. How many nodding “good Christians” have so much garbage sitting in the middle of their lives that the odor makes it impossible to breathe without gagging? How many of us are addicted to food, porn and shopping? How many of us are depressed, angry, unforgiving and just plain mean? How many of us are a walking, talking course on basic hypocrisy, because we just can’t look at ourselves in the mirror and admit what we a collection of brokenness we’ve become WHILE we called ourselves “good Christians” who want to “witness” to others. I’m choking just writing this.

You people with your Bibles. Look something up for me? Isn’t almost everyone in that book screwed up? I mean, don’t the screwed up people- like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Hosea- outnumber the “good Christians” by about ten to one? And isn’t it true that the more we get to look at a Biblical character close up, the more likely it will be that we’ll see a whole nasty collection of things that Christians say they no longer have to deal with because, praise God! I’m fixed? Not just a few temper tantrums or ordinary lies, but stuff like violence. Sex addictions. Abuse. Racism. Depression. It’s all there, yet we still flop our Bibles open on the pulpit and talk about “Ten Ways To Have Joy That Never Goes Away!” Where is the laugh track?

What was that I heard? “Well….we’re getting better. That’s sanctification. I’ve been delivered!” I suppose some of us are getting better. For instance, my temper is better than it used to be. Of course, the reason my temper is better, is that in the process of cleaning up the mess I’ve made of my family with my temper, I’ve discovered about twenty other major character flaws that were growing, unchecked, in my personality. I’ve inventoried the havoc I’ve caused in this short life of mine, and it turns out “temper problem” is way too simple to describe the mess that is me. Sanctification? Yes, I no longer have the arrogant ignorance to believe that I’m always right about everything, and I’m too embarrassed by the general chaos of my life to mount an angry fit every time something doesn’t go my way. Getting better? Quite true. I’m getting better at knowing what a wretched wreck I really amount to, and it’s shut me up and sat me down.

I love this passage of scripture. I don’t know why know one believes it, but I love it.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Let me attempt a slight retelling of the text, more in line with the Christianity of our time.

But we have this treasure in saved, healed, delivered and supernaturally changed vessels, to show that God has given to us, right now, His surpassing power over ever situation. We are no longer afflicted, perplexed, in conflict or defeated. No, we are alive with the power of Jesus, and the resurrection power of Jesus has changed us now…TODAY! In every way!. God wants you to see just what a Jesus-controlled person is all about, so the power of Jesus is on display in the life I am living, and those who don’t have this life, are miserable and dying.

Contextual concerns aside, let’s read Paul’s words as a basic “reality board” to the Christian life.

We’re dying. Life is full of pain and perplexity. We have Christ, and so, in the future, his life will manifest in us in resurrection and glory. In the present, that life manifests in us in this very odd, contradictory experience. We are dying, afflicted, broken, hurting, confused…yet we hold on to Jesus in all these things, and continue to love him and believe in him. The power of God is in us, not in making us above the human, but allowing us to be merely human, yet part of a new creation in Jesus.

What does this mean?

It means your depression isn’t fixed. It means you are still overwieght. It means you still want to look at porn. It means you are still frightened of dying, reluctant to tell the truth and purposely evasive when it comes to responsibility. It means you can lie, cheat, steal, even do terrible things, when you are ‘in the flesh,” which, in one sense, you always are. If you are a Christian, it means you are frequently, perhaps constantly miserable, and it means you are involved in a fight for Christ to have more influence in your life than your broken, screwed up, messed up humanity. In fact, the greatest miracle is that with all the miserable messes in your life, you still want to have Jesus as King, because it’s a lot of trouble, folks. It isn’t a picnic.

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Here is even more undeniable, unarguable language. Weaknesses are with me for the whole journey. Paul was particularly thinking of persecutions, but how much more does this passage apply to human frailty, brokenness and hurt? How essential is it for us to be broken, if Christ is going to be our strength? When I am weak I am strong. Not, “When I am cured,” or “When I am successful,” or “When I am a good Christian,” but when I am weak. Weakness- the human experience of weakness- is God’s blueprint for exalting and magnifying his Son. When broken people, miserably failing people, continue to belong to, believe in and worship Jesus, God is happy.

Now, the upper gallery is full of people who are getting upset, certain that this essay is one of those pieces where I am in the mood to tell everyone to go sin themselves up, and forget about sanctification. Sorry to disappoint.

The problem is a simple one of semantics. Or perhaps a better way to say it is imagination. How do we imagine the life of faith? What does living faith look like? Does it look like the “good Christian,” “whole person,” “victorious life” version of the Christian life?

Faith, alive in our weakness, looks like a war. An impossible war, against a far superior adversary: our own sinful, fallen nature. Faith fights this battle. Piper loves this verse from Romans, and I do, too. But I need to explain why, because it can sound like the “victorious” life is not Jesus’ life in the Gospel, but me “winning at life” or some other nonsense.

13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put (are putting) to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

The complexity resides right here: Faith is discontentment with what I am, and satisfaction with all God is for me in Jesus. The reason that description works so well for me is that it tells us the mark of saving faith is not just resting passively in the promises of the Gospel (though that is exactly what justification does), but this ongoing war with the reality of my condition. Unless I am reading Romans 8 wrongly, my fight is never finished, because my sinful, messed-up human experience isn’t finished until death and resurrection. That fight- acceptance and battle- is the normal life of the believer. I fight. Jesus will finish the work. I will groan, and do battle, climb the mountain of Holiness with wounds and brokenness and holy battle scars, but I will climb it, since Christ is in me. The Gospel assures victory, but to say I stand in a present victory as I “kill” sin is a serious wrong turn.

What does this fight look like? It is a bloody mess, I’m telling you. There is a lot of failure in it. It is not an easy way to the heavenly city. It is a battle where we are brought down again, and again and again. Brought down by what we are, and what we continually discover ourselves to be. And we only are “victorious” in the victory of Jesus, a victory that is ours by faith, not by sight. In fact, that fight is probably described just as accurately by the closing words of Romans 7 as by the “victorious” words of Romans 8.

23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:23-25)

I fall down. I get up….and believe. Over and over again. That’s as good as it gets in this world. This life of faith, is a battle full of weakness and brokenness. The only soldiers in this battle are wounded ones. There are moments of total candor- I am a “wretched man” living in a “body” of death. Denying this, spinning this, ignoring this or distorting this reality is nothing but trouble in the true Christian experience. The sin we are killing in Romans 8 is, in a sense, ourselves. Not some demon or serpent external to us. Our battle is with ourselves, and embracing this fact is the compass and foundation of the Gospel’s power in our lives.

What lands us in churches where we are turned into the cheering section for personal victory over everything is denying that faith is an ongoing battle that does not end until Jesus ends it. Those who stand up and claim victory may be inviting us to celebrate a true place in their experience at the time, but it isn’t the whole person, the whole story, or all that accurate. They are still a mess. Count on it. This battle- and the victories in it- are fought by very un-victorious Christians.

I will be accused of a serious lack of good news, I’m sure, so listen. At the moment I am winning, Jesus is with me. At the moment I am losing, Jesus is with me and guarantees that I will get up and fight on. At the moment I am confused, wounded and despairing, Jesus is with me. I never, ever lose the brokenness. I fight, and sometimes I prevail, but more and more of my screwed up, messed up life erupts. Each battle has the potential to be the last, but because I belong to one whose resurrection guarantees that I will arrive safely home in a new body and a new creation, I miraculously, amazingly, find myself continuing to believe, continuing to move forward, till Jesus picks us up and takes us home.

Now, let’s come to something very important here. This constant emphasis on the “victorious life” or “good Christian life” is absolutely the anti-Christ when it comes to the Gospel. If I am _________________ (fill in the blank with victorious life terminology) then I am oriented to be grateful for what Jesus did THEN, but I’m needing him less and less in the NOW. I want to make sure he meets me at the gate on the way into heaven, but right now, I’m signing autographs. I’m a good Christian. This imagining of the Christian journey will kill us.

We need our brokenness. We need to admit it and know it is the real, true stuff of our earthly journey in a fallen world. It’s the cross on which Jesus meets us. It is the incarnation he takes up for us. It’s what his hands touch when he holds us. Do you remember this story? It’s often been told, but oh how true it is as a GOSPEL story (not a law story.) It is a Gospel story about Jesus and how I experience him in this “twisted” life.

In his book Mortal Lessons (Touchstone Books, 1987) physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:

I stand by the bed where the young woman lies . . . her face, postoperative . . . her mouth twisted in palsy . . . clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight . . . isolated from me . . .private.

Who are they? I ask myself . . . he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers. . . to show her that their kiss still works

This is who Jesus has always been. And if you think you are getting to be a great kisser or are looking desirable, I feel sorry for you. He wraps himself around our hurts, our brokenness and our ugly, ever-present sin. Those of you who want to draw big, dark lines between my humanity and my sin, go right ahead, but I’m not joining you. It’s all ME. And I need Jesus so much to love me like I really am: brokenness, memories, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear….all of it. Take all it, Lord Jesus. If I don’t present this broken, messed up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of it will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being “good.”

Now I want to talk about why this is important. We must begin to accept who we are, and bring a halt to the sad and repeated phenomenon of lives that are crumbling into pieces because the only Christian experience they know about is one that is a lie. We are infected with something that isn’t the Gospel, but a version of a religious life; an entirely untruthful version that drives genuine believers into the pit of despair and depression because, contrary to the truth, God is “against” them, rather than for them.

The verse says, “When I am weak, then I am strong- in Jesus.” It does not say “When I am strong, then I am strong, and you’ll know because Jesus will get all the credit.” Let me use two examples, and I hope neither will be offensive to those who might read and feel they recognize the persons described.

Many years ago, I knew a man who was a vibrant and very public Christian witness. He was involved in the “lay renewal” movement in the SBC, which involved a lot of giving testimonies of “what God was doing in your life.” (A phrase I could do without.) He was well-known for being a better speaker than most preachers, and he was an impressive and persuasive lay speaker. His enthusiasm for Christ was convincing.

He was also known to be a serial adulterer. Over and over, he strayed from his marriage vows, and scandalized his church and its witness in the community. When confronted, his response was predictable. He would visit the Church of Total Victory Now, and return claiming to have been delivered of the “demons of lust” that had caused him to sin. Life would go on. As far as I know, the cycle continued, unabated, for all the time I knew about him.

I understand that the church today needs- desperately- to hear experiential testimonies of the power of the Gospel. I understand that it is not good news to say we are broken and are going to stay that way. I know there will be little enthusiasm for saying sanctification consists, in large measure, in seeing our sin, and acknowledging what it is and how deep and extensive it has marred us. I doubt that the triumphalists will agree with me that the fight of faith is not a victory party, but a bloody war on a battlefield that resembles Omaha Beach more than a Beach party.

I write this piece particularly concerned for leaders, parents, pastors and teachers. I am moved and distressed that so many of them, most of all, are unable to admit their humanity, and their brokenness. In silence, they carry the secret, then stand in the place of public leadership and present a Gospel that is true, but a Christian experience that is far from true.

Then, from time to time, they fall. Into adultery, like the pastor of one of our state’s largest churches. A wonderful man, who kept a mistress for years rather than admit a problem millions of us share: faulty, imperfect marriages. Where is he now, I wonder? And where are so many others I’ve known and heard of who fell under the same weight? Their lives are lost to the cause of the Kingdom because they are just like the rest of us?

By the way, I’m not rejecting Biblical standards for leadership. I am suggesting we need a Biblical view of humanity when we read those passages. Otherwise we are going to turn statements like “rules his household well” into a disqualification to every human being on the planet.

I hear of those who are depressed. Where do they turn for help? How do they admit their hurt? It seems so “unChristian” to admit depression, yet it is a reality for millions and millions of human beings. Porn addiction. Food addiction. Rage addiction. Obsessive needs for control. Chronic lying and dishonesty. How many pastors and Christian leaders live with these human frailties and flaws, and never seek help because they can’t admit what we all know is true about all of us? They speak of salvation, love and Jesus, but inside they feel like the damned.

Multiply this by the hundreds of millions of broken Christians. They are merely human, but their church says they must be more than human to be good Christians. They cannot speak of or even acknowledge their troubled lives. Their marriages are wounded. Their children are hurting. They are filled with fear and the sins of the flesh. They are depressed and addicted, yet they can only approach the church with the lie that all is well, and if it becomes apparent that all is not well, they avoid the church.

I do not blame the church for this situation. It is always human nature to avoid the mirror and prefer the self-portrait. I blame all of us who know better. We know this is not the message of the Gospels, the Bible or of Jesus. But we- every one of us- is afraid to live otherwise. What if someone knew we were not a good Christian? Ah…what if…what if….

I close with a something I have said many times before. The Prodigal son, there on his knees, his father’s touch upon him, was not a “good” or “victorious” Christian. He was broken. A failure. He wasn’t even good at being honest. He wanted religion more than grace. His father baptized him in mercy, and resurrected him in grace. His brokenness was wrapped up in the robe and the embrace of God.

Why do we want to be better than that boy? Why do we make the older brother the goal of Christian experience? Why do we want to add our own addition to the parable, where the prodigal straightens out and becomes a successful youth speaker, writing books and doing youth revivals?

Lutheran writer Herman Sasse, in a meditation on Luther’s last words, “We are beggars. This is true,” puts it perfectly:

Luther asserted the very opposite: “Christ dwells only with sinners.” For the sinner and for the sinner alone is His table set. There we receive His true body and His true blood “for the forgiveness of sins” and this holds true even if forgiveness has already been received in Absolution. That here Scripture is completely on the side of Luther needs no further demonstration. Every page of the New Testament is indeed testimony of the Christ whose proper office it is “to save sinners”, “to seek and to save the lost”. And the entire saving work of Jesus, from the days when He was in Galilee and, to the amazement and alarm of the Pharisees, ate with tax collectors and sinners; to the moment when he, in contradiction with the principles of every rational morality, promised paradise to the thief on the cross, yes, His entire life on earth, from the cradle to the Cross, is one, unique grand demonstration of a wonder beyond all reason: The miracle of divine forgiveness, of the justification of the sinner. Christ dwells only in sinners.

 

Comments

  1. Ezekiel 36:25-27, “Then “I” will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; “I” will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. Moreover, “I” will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and “I” will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I” will put My Spirit within you and “cause” you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

  2. That is the single most powerful version of my “walk with God” I have ever read.

  3. My fav. comment is by Rob: “Spell check is not perfect when you are tired and have been drinking.” Something about it embodies visually what this whole post is about.

    One story: I have a Christian friend whose life went down the drain, to the dark side of the streets. “What did your family say about all of this?” I asked him after he began the road to recovery.
    “They thought I had lost my faith,” he said.
    “Really? That never occurred to me,” I told him, and watched the tears form in his eyes.
    “You can’t know how much that means to me,” he said and told me how Jesus was with him in the crack houses.

    How small I feel, and how embraced in that grace that doesn’t let go.

    Thanks for the real post, imonk. I read Ragamuffin Gospel recently with the same resonance. Happy to know you like Robert Capon — “Between Noon and Three” is an interesting parable of grace. Also consider the poetry of Jane Kenyon.

  4. treebeard says:

    I’m curious, if iMonk and others can address something. Sorry that this will be a long comment.

    I was a Christian worker for a number of years, bascially a lay-minister. To many I was “successful,” in that I was a gifted speaker, and helped many people get saved, turn to the Lord, etc. I was able to open up the Bible to people, and they received help. I had many people thank me for what they received from the Lord through me, and I did my best not to be puffed up by it.

    Yet now, many years later, I am constantly haunted by regrets and “if only’s.” Part of it is that the group itself, which I won’t name, was very controlling and authoritarian, and I became the same way. I was judgemental towards people with poor attendance, or who weren’t sufficiently “consecrated to the church,” etc. I regret that so much, because I never wanted to be like that when I began to serve the Lord. I wanted to be a grace-giver, not a Pharisee, but I became the latter in many ways, and offended many people.

    But part of it is also a genuine sense of failure. I worked in several “fields,” including campus ministry, serving with younger couples, then with high schoolers, visiting various churches, and also publishing sermons and messages. And each step of the way was mostly a failure. It’s not just that I didn’t do what I ought to have done, or that I made many mistakes. There were casualties, real casualties. There were sheep, the Lord’s people, that I harmed. There were people who would have been better off if they had never known me. I was supposed to represent Christ to them, and instead I represented the flesh, including all sorts of religious legalism. And I can’t get over all those wonderful people who were beginning to follow the Lord, and because of my coldness or neglect or impositions, turned away.

    A few of them went to a life of sin. A brother who loved the Lord so much became offended by me, and then moved in with his girlfriend and lost whatever Christian testimony he had. Then another brother I treated improperly, and if I had been gracious and spent more time with him I’m near certain he would have grown in Christ. Instead he got discouraged and married an unbeliever. I tried to help a young couple with marital problems, they were starting to break through, but then they divorced anyway. I spent time with a young brother who had drug problems, he was getting free from them, he was becoming a joyful person, then I neglected him because of other “Christian” responsibilities, and he fell back into drugs, dropped out of school, stole some merchandise, and disappeared.

    So here’s my question. How do you get over all that? I can say, truthfully, that I’m a very different person, and have indeed experienced the brokenness from sin and failure. I know I need Christ so much more than I used to. But I can’t help wonder, “Lord, did there have to be so many casualties? Fine, I learned some lessons. But what about the sheep that you gave me, and I harmed them? How do I get over feeling that it would have been better for me never to have served You at all?”

    I fully know, and believe, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Praise the Lord for this. And I believe that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But why do these memories keep coming up in my mind? I pray for these people, that the Lord would heal their wounds, including the ones I inflicted or didn’t prevent. But I wish my own brokennes didn’t come at such a cost to other people.

    I assume that other Christian workers (or ex-workers) can relate, and I just wonder how you all have dealt with these types of experiences. Thank you.

  5. Treebeard,

    May God be with you.

    Two suggestions, find and read a biography or autobiography of John Newton.

    Find (assuming that God allows you) “The Utternace of the Heart” by John Newton. That is a collection of letters that he wrote. I had my copy 7 years before I read it. And when I did, it was exactly what I needed to read at the time.

    Remember this, that you don’t know if the people that you hurt will not return stronger in their faith, nor do you know that you are the only cause for their decisions. Only God knows that.

  6. iMonk:
    Awesome post, reminds me of a few other people:
    Steve Brown, Mike Yaconelli and his book:
    Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People

  7. This reminds me of why I love the liturgical church’s inclusion of confession and absolution in worship. It’s not very visitor friendly to have people hear us say “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” but it reminds us of the very thing that the evangelical church is lacking by helping us see ourselves as broken, sinful people. And then we get to hear that we are forgiven – spoken to us in the absolution and then again in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
    A friend of mine left our church because in her evangeligal zeal she believed she had now been made righteous (like ZAP) and she didn’t want to refer to herself as “sinful and unclean.” This is so muddied be evangelicalism but churches can stand up and help make it clear- they’re often just afraid to go against the current of what is “obviously working” at the mega-happy church doen the street that they are already losing members to.

  8. iMonk,
    Thank you SO much for writing this. I have to admit I almost didn’t read till then because I am a “plastic christian” and I felt what you were saying was blasphemous. It goes against what my churches have preached. BUT, the part of me that questions & seeks truth asked the same question that Miguel asked:
    “If Jesus only dwells in sinners, are we still sinners when He dwells in us? I mean, I of course have continued to sin I don’t even want to argue that I’m perfect. But haven’t we been made righteous before God?”

    KenB’s answer clarifed and reinforced what you iMonk blogged. I feel a greater sense of clarification about struggles with sin.
    We won’t be totally without sin until we are glorified (receive our resurrection bodies).

    Until then, I am & will be a sinner. It’s not good news. But it is a truth I can live with Jesus as opposed to the truth my churches have taught. “If you are a saved, you should do this & that”.

    Jen, your post is my life almost to a tee. It’s very encouraging to read comments from others who have believed depsite what “Shiny Plastic Christians” tells us. I want to thank each & everyone of you who commented. I have gained more answers from this blog I stumbled across than I have from other church leaders I’ve asked.
    AP

  9. treebeard says:

    Anna A, thanks very much. I found the Newton book online and will start reading it. I appreciate the help.

  10. Bob Sacamento says:

    Michael,

    I hate to be a naysayer, and I hate to be the only one in a list of about 100 other comments. But here goes. But first, let me be clear, I am not wanting to challenge you. I desperately want every word you have said here to be right. But I’m not seeing it. If you can prove me wrong, you will do me a great service.

    The thing is, there were alot of screw ups in the Bible. Even when Jesus was right there with us. But, when I look at Acts and the Epistles, I see alot of suffereing but, after Acts ch. 2, very few real screw ups. We could mention a few, like Paul and Barnabas at loggerheads, but by and large, Peter, Paul, John, everybody, just become real heroes. We can see messed up churches like Corinth, but, 1) the folks the NT spends its time on don’t act the way they did and 2) when Paul deals with churches like this, he doesn’t sound — forgive me — very much like you did in your heartfelt post here. And then I look at Jesus himself saying things like, “Be ye perfect” and “If you love me you will obey my commands” and I just don’t see alot of tolerance for screwing up. I hope that’s not blasphemy!

    Anyway, I’ve been laboring under the remains of my fundamentalist past for a long time now. And one reason I can’t get out from under the pile is because I can’t out-argue from scripture those blamed fundamentalists that used to drive me crazy. Anyway, if you’re ever looking for a topic for a next post, you would help this one guy out trmemndously if you could deal with some of the passages from the Bible I’ve mentioned in the context of the kind of point you’re trying to make here. Thanks.

  11. Bob Sacamento says:

    treebeard,

    I labored long and hard under leadership like what you descibe when I was younger. It was painful. I am still damaged, I think, though I manage to muddle through. I’ve been out of touch with the people who put me through that for decades. They aren’t around for me to forgive. And they probably wouldn’t apologize anyway. But, it sounds to me like you’re due for some forgiveness. For what it’s worth, here’s the forgiveness of someone who was damaged on the receiving end of what you were dishing out, though I got it from other people. Don’t know if that makes any difference from just someone typing away on the other side of the internet, but there it is for what it’s worth. Happpy Easter.

  12. Treebeard:

    From my Roman Catholic perspective: two things.

    You seem to have a well-formed conscience. Keep running the race; you are being saved.

    While penitence for our sins is a positive thing, remember that forgiven is forgiven. Do not despair; that is Satan trying to trick you. Do right and fix what you can, thru God’s grace, but don’t get in His way in the process.

  13. Bob,

    Perhaps this idea will help you. Most of the New Testament (all the letters and John’ Revelation) are not history nor stories of Jesus, but men trying to put out fires. They are trying to either clean up messes, or to prevent them.

    We don’t get to read about Paul and the church leaders talking about what went wrong and how they erred. That’s personal, and done privately.

    It is also likely that those letters were destroyed and/or considered too personal to be shared with the churches.

    I suspect that if we knew more details about the people that Paul mentions at the end of his letters, we would see the problems, the messes and the healing of relationships.

  14. treebeard says:

    Bob, your comment made me weep. Thank you for your forgiveness. Even if it’s vicarious, representing what you went through and what I put people through, it really means a lot to me.

    MAJ Tony, thank you for your help as well. I need to be reminded of those things. I used to try to save people from your church, “Babylon.” I didn’t even celebrate Easter because I considered it pagan. But I have received so much wisdom and grace in the past few years from Roman Catholics. For so long my narrowness and zealotry prevented me from receiving help from other members of the Body of Christ. I will write out your comment and keep it on my desk.

    Happy Easter, everyone. Thank the Lord that He is still real, still alive, and still speaks.

  15. michelle says:

    Psalm 51:16-17
    For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

  16. KR Wordgazer says:

    I really needed to read that. Thanks so much, iMonk.

  17. I’m glad to see several have mentioned Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality. Really good and pertinent to the topic and questions at hand.

  18. “We have Christ, and so, in the future, his life will manifest in us in resurrection and glory.”

    If that isn’t happening now, at least to a noticeable degree, how can you believe it will happen then?

  19. Because Jesus’ promise to sinners is good.

    If your life brings you assurance, that’s great. Mine doesn’t.

  20. So…I’m reading you to say that I can’t overcome sinful habits and I might as well face it. No matter how much my adultery, lies, hatred, greed, or pride hurt Christ and others, I’m going to have to accept that there is nothing Christ can do but forgive me. That’s your gospel, the “power of God unto salvation”?

    He has no power or I have no way of receiving it to keep me from being a slave to sin even though Christ condemned slavery to sin? For all who find hope in this message, I would have to believe

    If you think his was Luther’s message, then you couldn’t be more mistaken. He was very, very clear about what he called active and passive righteousness, something you have failed to do.

    I know what you desperately want to get across, but I have little pity for that pastor you mention who kept a mistress for years because he had a bad marriage. It was this very hypocrisy Jesus condemned! What of those whose trust he violated year after year? Of course he can be forgiven, but the scars he has left will remain for the rest of his life.

    I’m a recovering addict, married three times, and have suffered repeatedly from clinic depression, yet I am currently pastoring two churches, have been clean since 1995. Of course, I’m still a sinner in need of the blood of Christ. I have nothing to boast of, least of all in what a great sinner I am. I understand forgiveness and grace, their glory and my need, but your message offers little hope in my eyes for those needing more than forgiveness. (Yes, there is much more than forgiveness in the gospel. It also contains the righteousness of God). I hear little of the hatred Christ himself had for sin while he loved the sinner.

    You’ve given a theology of the flesh void of the Spirit, Romans 7 without Romans 8. It is true no good thing dwells in my flesh, but “those in Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires.” Your piece is built on anecdote rather than exegesis and the consequences is a gross distortion of the gospel.

    You have made the words of Christ about keeping his commandments, about overcoming, about freedom in him to be completely nonsensical.

    Men and women “addicted to porn”, among the other sins you mention, are not Christians no matter what they profess. They are lost souls in need of real, tangible grace that will empower them to repentant, to change.

    Your cheap grace is exactly what Bonhoeffer decried in the Cost of Discipleship. It isn’t grace at all, just a cheap rationalization for those who refuse to drop the hammer and nails.

    This is the “Christian” message the secular moralist mocks. Well they should.

  21. D R Morse says:

    I just wanted to share this for I do believe we grow in grace II Peter 3:18
    A Vision of Love
    Sometime in 2000 I was at a friends house where we were meeting as a small group. While we were waiting to get started, a couple of the guys were just chatting about how there are more women in church than men. As soon as those words were spoken, I was in a vision. It was as if I was seeing everything through Peter’s eyes, thinking his thoughts, experiencing his emotions and the emotions of those in the room who felt as he did. We were at the Last Supper. John was leaning on Jesus breast, talking with Jesus in such open affection. As Peter watched his open show of affection, I felt his contempt, his disdain, if you will – such indignation! Others in the room were feeling the same as Peter, so it was very much amplified in my emotions. Peter was thinking a “man” would not be so “fawning” and that John was just a youth, that he needed to “grow up”. I can still feel the disdain and contempt when I recall the memory, them perceiving John as fawning all over Jesus, (much like it must have been to them when Mary Magdalene washed His feet). As I was witnessing this I “heard” the words, “Only love will take you to the Cross!” The scene immediately changed and I was in utter darkness, but could hear wailing as women sobbed. I knew I was at the foot of the cross and I could not see anyone, but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw the shapes of people. I “knew” that the women were there, Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and many women. I also knew that John was there as well. And I felt such tremendous love. At this point I was weeping uncontrollably. Suddenly the scene changed and I was witnessing a great upheaval as mountains were burning and turning into hot red lava, just being disintegrated as they burned, rose, and then melted away into a hot red flow, The verse came to my mind from Psalm 97:5, “the hills melt like wax at the presence of the Lord.” I had always interpreted that verse as a display of God’s wrath, His judgment, but at that moment I realized that the mountains were not melting because of anger or wrath or judgment, but it was pure love that was melting them! The heat of that love was incredible. I began experiencing waves of love tumbling against me like those of the ocean. Then I “heard” a voice say, “Faith will move mountains, but love will melt them! My love will melt the mountains!” The group waited for me to compose myself, and once I stopped weeping, I was able to tell them what I saw. I was “out” of the vision, but still experiencing the waves of love. I worked nights at that time, and during my shift, I kept having to lean against a wall or pillar, anything stationary, because the waves kept rolling over me to where I could barely stand. Even days later, if I stopped to remember or retell the vision, I would feel the waves of love. As I reflect on this, words can’t convey the intensity of all the emotions I was allowed to experience from those around me in this vision. In a small way, I have some idea of how God experiences the feelings of all humanity at all times. After “feeling” the intensity of such love, I will never “pooh pooh” emotion, or the expression of it, especially that love, for after all we are created in the image of Him who is love, especially now that we are “born again”, for in so doing, I would rather be able to be at the foot of the cross than despising the feelings of ones who are and will be able to go there or anywhere in the footsteps of love. As one who sometimes has difficulty openly expressing affection, I truly want to experience and demonstrate this intimate, pure love now more than ever. This is the love that the Church had for each other in Acts and the love John himself wrote of. And if you notice, Peter and John ministered together after the Crucifixion. I believe Peter saw in John what he himself lacked, and not only recognized it, but he appreciated the love in John that he had once so despised!

    Only love will take you to the cross. Of all the disciples, only John followed Jesus to the cross. Only the women and John were there. The glory of God won’t, the revelation of God won’t, sheer determination won’t, having authority over devils won’t, teaching won’t, deliverance won’t, having the power of God won’t, the anointing won’t, the fire of God won’t. That is why people can experience the fire of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, miracles, signs, and wonders, and yet not go with God. Only the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), the one who leaned on Jesus breast, was at Jesus side during the trial, and at the foot of the cross. Love will go there in the face of all opposition. Love will drive a woman to wash Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37-39) in the company of those who despise her, no matter how they try to stop it, no matter how they speak against it, in the face of what they think or say. Love will go on in the face of the fear of man. Love will press in when everyone and every thing says Stay back! After all 12 disciples vehemently expressed their loyalty, and Peter most emphatically of them all – Peter the bold, outspoken one – yet the humblest, weakest, most despised (John being the youngest of the apostles and the women) followed their heart of love. Peter cursed the Lord openly, John and the women went to the cross (John 19:25-27). When you hesitate or draw back, pull away from the Lord, love is not in operation, fear is. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Perfect love casts out all fear. Peter was fearless, bold: John was intimate.
    Psalm 97:5 The hills melt like wax at the presence of the Lord. I used to picture that as a judgment, God’s wrath going forth. After this revelation, now I know it is His love that melts those hills, those mountains of unbelief. Faith may move the mountain, but love melts it!
    The Israelites and Moses experienced the manifest presence of God, but love brought Moses into the reality of God. The Israelites wanted a way out of everything, Moses wanted the Way. Love will go anywhere with God, high or low, easy or hard, rocky or smooth. Enlarge me, enlarge my capacity for Your love. In Song of Solomon, the bride hears the Bridegroom at her door, but doesn’t want to get her feet dirty. Love will get its feet dirty. Love will go where it’s hard, where it’s unpleasant. I would rather be a John! Show me Your way of love, no matter how hard or painful. Baptize me in love, drown me in love, smother me with kisses of love – knock down the walls, I’ll help You! Let me lean on Your breast that I may hear Your secrets, see as You see, from Your point of view, from the position of Love!

    Song of Solomon 8:7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man would offer all the goods of his house for love, he would be utterly scorned and despised.

  22. Jan,

    You are coming across very harsh, for a pastor. To say that someone who has problems with various sins, isn’t a Christian, doesn’t live in the same world that I do.

    I know some Christians who have to fight the same temptation all the time, and even Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh.

    I know of Christians who cry out in utter loneliness, because not one person at their church seems to see (and care) that they are alone at Thanksgiving. Sure, we brush ourselves off, and rely on Christ, but a pair of tangible arms and legs would make a big difference.

    I’m glad that you are able to overcome your depression and all the problems that it caused you. Not everyone has that grace. If you look at the people that the Catholic Church considers saints, most of them probably wouldn’t fit your category. Some are weird, some go out in the desert, only to find that they are followed. Some are wealthy and try to give it away; others are poor in material possessions. One other major characteristic of them is the awareness of their own sin, and the need for the Blood and Grace of Christ to heal them.

    You might be interested to know that Bernadette, the young woman who saw Mary at Lourdes, wasn’t permitted by God to receive healing from those very waters.

  23. For the Easter sermon this year, my pastor didn’t preach the “normal” sermon that one would expect to hear for that day. He instead read this piece word for word. He didn’t add his own commentary, he just allowed these words fall into our ears and let the Lord awaken our response to them. The reactions were mixed. They ranged from indignation to adulation. But, no matter what we thought of what was said, we talked about it! I felt like standing up and applauding when he finished! Thank God for Brad’s guts to do something as outrageous as read a blog for his sermon! We need more people thinking outside of the man-made box of rules of church.

    All I could think, as he was reading this post, was that I was so happy that my son came to church that day and was hearing this! I’m sure he came to fulfill his twice-yearly, obligatory, I have to attend church or mom will kill me services. You see, he’s not quite as perfect as the rest of us sitting in the pews. He struggles with God and he struggles with himself. How important it was for him to hear, that we all struggle; we all have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The nuggets of truth in your writing gave my son reassurance that he is loved and isn’t hopeless, too far from Jesus. He can see now that Jesus loves him right where he is. But, praise God, He loves my son too much to let him stay that way!

    Thank you for writing and posting this work. Thank you Brad for having the courage to read it! And thank you Spirit for using it to move within your body and open our eyes to some new ideas that have always been there.

  24. I’ve just finished skimming thorough people’s posts, and I agree with so much of what has been written. But as I’m deeply wrestling through my struggles right now, I wonder if there is any point in seeking things such as counselling and healing prayer. Further to that, is it even worth praying and asking God to take some or all of these things away?

  25. “Wanted religion more than grace” . . . poignant in so many ways. This piece is fantastic. Thank you.

  26. I have been fighting perfectionism all my life! Thank you for your insights. I’ve been sharing with a Christian friend who is deeply committed to Christ and has an unbroken intimate relationship. That’s where it’s at–not the do’s and the don’ts that I grew up with and still struggle with. “There’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God.” Praise God! I thank you for helping me take one more step toward accepting my humanity and finding that rest that Jesus talks about. I’m broken and it’s OK! Hallelujah!