Excuse me, your Gospel zipper is undone

The “middle” part of your salvation, what theologians call “progressive sanctification,” is more important right now than either justification* or glorification*.

Go ahead. Label me a heretic. It’s okay. You can use the hashtag #BenReedTheHeretic.

image via Creation Swap user Mirian Trinidad

It’s all talk

We tend to talk a lot about the beginning and end of salvation.

We love to (rightly) look backwards and remind ourselves of our sin and our story. Remind ourselves of our beautiful Savior.

We also love to (rightly) look forwards with hope, anticipating eternity in heaven.

But the most important part of your spiritual growth is not in looking back. It’s also not in looking forward. It’s in what you’re going to do now. 

In looking back on who Jesus is, what He did, and growing to understand his love and grace more doesn’t propel you to live differently, what good is it? ** If this dreaming back doesn’t leave you more generous, loving, forgiving, and full of grace, then has it done anything?

Looking backwards isn’t as important right now.

 

In looking forward with great hope in the second coming of Jesus, to the day when there will be no more tears or crying or pain, doesn’t mean you take more faith risks, then you’re just an idle dreamer. If you’re not consistently breathing hope into the life of others with your forward-reaching dreams, if you’re not progressively becoming more loving, more gracious, more hospitable, and less bitter, then what good are your mere daydreams? They’ve become a sort of twisted self-pleasing fantasy.

Looking forward isn’t as important right now.

The Glorious Middle

What’s important right now is the “glorious middle,” that part of your salvation that’s overlooked because it’s not sexy. It’s sexy to talk about what’s coming. It’s sexy to talk about what has passed. But what’s now is what we’re all experiencing, the doldrums of existence on earth. It’s picking the kids up from school. It’s being late for work. It’s getting sick. It’s dealing with loss and pain. It’s being financially strapped. It’s dealing with difficult relationships. It’s not ever having enough time.

It’s in those, shockingly normal activities, to which Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) How do I know that Paul’s referring to the mundane, everyday life here? Because he follows this command with, “Do all things without grumbling…” (Philippians 2:14) Nobody grumbles about heaven. Nobody grumbles about the great sacrifice Christ paid on our behalf. Either of those will get you kicked out of a deacon’s meeting faster than if a couple of poker chips were to fall out of your pocket.

Think deeply on who Jesus is, the depth and filthiness of your sin, and the glorious forgiveness that God offers us in Christ.

Think deeply on the promised life to come, eternity spent in the presence of God.

But don’t neglect the “glorious middle,” the glorious, yet unglamorously normal life that God has called you to right here and now.

That’s more important.

Don’t leave your Gospel zipper undone.

* justification – the moment when God declares you “just” before him, as a judge declares a criminal just and free. This happens the moment you place your faith in Christ.

* glorification – this will be your nature after death, where you will be made whole for eternity, in heaven with God.

** I’m not advocating salvation by works here. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone. I’m talking about ongoing, progressive sanctification.

 *** image via Creation Swap user Mirian Trinidad

 

 

On golf, discipline, hypocrisy, and community

Growing up, I played a fair amount of golf. My parents would drop me off in the morning and pick me up later that afternoon.

Many days, I was by myself, just me and the narrow fairways.

image credit: Creative Commons

There’s something epic about that picture to me, even now. Here’s the picture:

A 12 year old beating buckets of range balls on the dew-soaked ground until his hands callous over while the sun comes up. Walking 9 hours on a golf course by himself, evaluating every shot, pouring over every sliding putt. Kicking himself every drive that trickled into the second cut of rough. Spending hours on the putting green engraining that perfect putting stroke.

Gotcha fooled

And I’d love to say that that was the real picture. But more often than not, halfway through the first bucket of range balls, I’d decide to call it quits and just start my round. By hole 5, instead of lining up every putt, I would try to break my speed record of how quickly I could finish the hole.

It wasn’t gritty. It wasn’t hard, disciplined work. There was nothing epic about it. No Braveheart music was playing in the background as the sun set.

For too long, I operated by myself spiritually, too. And I don’t mean that I wasn’t a part of a local church. I don’t mean I was intentionally trying to go it alone. It just sort of happened.

The trap is set

Sin snuck up on me, and I chose to bury it.

Instead of bearing my soul, I hid it, covering up with a mask of, “It’s all good.” Putting on a facade, I chose to battle my sin alone, me-and-Jesus style.

The more I wore my mask, the fuller and more beautiful it became. Me-and-Jesus style was safe, but damaging. It was safe, but kept people at a distance. It was safe, but held me back.

It wasn’t gritty. It wasn’t hard, disciplined work. There was nothing epic about it. No Braveheart music was playing in the background as the sun set.

It was a life of acting like I was okay. Acting like I always had it together. Acting like I had all of the answers. Projecting an image I wanted you to see. But in my heart, knowing I wasn’t taking the steps of faith I needed.

Bringing other guys into the battle with me made all of the difference. Jesus was more than enough for my salvation…but sanctification was another thing. I needed authentic community. I needed significant relationships where I could be honest. I needed to be known.

God’s not created us to go through life on our own. The more you try to, the less fulfilling you’ll find life to be. You’ll also find that sin overtakes much quicker, fears conquer, doubts are more persuasive, sin more enticing, passing problems overwhelm much more fully, and the daily grind of life takes its toll more rapidly.

You were created incomplete…needing to be invested in. As much as you need to be invested in, you also need to invest in others. That’s the double-edged beauty that is community.

Authentic community is real, messy, gut-wrenching, and full of grace and hope.

I need that.

And so do you.

Let love be without hypocrisy. – Romans 12:9

* image credit: Creative Commons user FoxyPar4

 

 

 

The Old is Gone, 11s on the 1s

Graphic by Matt Gruber

In a concerted effort to use fewer words and drive home a more powerful point, I’m writing 11-word posts.  You can see other posts in this series HERE.

They don’t attempt to answer every question you may have.  They aren’t going to change your life.  But, hopefully they’ll make you think.  And since they’re so short, you don’t have an excuse not to read them.

The Old is Gone

God’s love is much bigger than your past failures. Believe it.


 

The problem with kittens

Kittens are cute, right?  I mean…who can resist a kitten?

They sneak, they pounce, they purr…and they’re just so cute and cuddly.

But there’s one glaring problem with kittens…they’re going to soon become cats.

Though it’s a longer discussion for another day, I could make a great theological argument why cats didn’t appear on the scene until after the Fall of man in Genesis 3 (j/k).  And for the record, cats are never mentioned in the Bible (not j/k).  Ever.

Why do I not like cats?

1. You don’t own a cat. A cat owns you.  Which is a problem.

2. They don’t come when you call.

3. One day they love you, and the next day they act like they don’t know you.

4. Claws. I’ve been scratched by many cats.  And it was in those moments that I wish I had claws so I could scratch those cats back.

5. Teeth. I’ve been bitten by a cat.  Not the best day of my life.

6. I’m allergic to cats. I realize that this final reason is specific to me, but it’s enough of a deal for me to include.

I can put up with a kitten.  All of the problems with cats above are small when the adult cat is just a kitten.

And the same thing could be said about our sin.  Our sin, when it first starts, is rather manageable.  Under control.  Not all that damaging.  “Acceptable” by you, and others.

But the problem is that, just like kittens, you can’t stop its growth.  It’s inevitable that a kitten will grow into a cat.

A little bit of pride grows into hate.

A second glance at a girl becomes a life-altering struggle with lust.

A “little” lie matures into a difficulty with telling the full truth.

A tiny anger problem grows into an uncontrollable temper.

A little unthankfulness grows into greed.

When you notice sin in your life, take care of it before it has the chance to grow.

But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15

 

At least it’s worse than mine

Ever seen the show Hoarding: Buried Alive?

If you want to feel much better about the socks you have on your floor and your unmade bed, go ahead and watch this show.  As my wife and I watched it, I honestly was blown away at the trash that has piled up in these people’s homes.  It’s so visible to everybody else that there’s a problem here.  But check out this quote from one of the people highlighted on the show:

I just found out I’m a hoarder.

My response to the TV (come on…I’m not the only one that talks to the TV, am I?) at that point:

Seriously?

The camera pans out to her living room, almost filled to the ceiling with stuff, with a pathway just barely wide enough to walk through to get from the front door to the kitchen.  The kitchen table is so full that it can’t be eaten on (and hasn’t been for 6 years).  In order to get into the bedroom, she has to move bags of more stuff and a cabinet.  When the bedroom door opens, more stuff is piled nearly to the ceiling.  Her husband hasn’t lived at home (because of the hoarding) for years, and her children are suffering as well, with one son saying lamenting the fact that he can’t ever have any friends over to hang out.

She’s just now realizing she’s got a problem?!?

Can I get a collective, “Wow.  That’s sad.  That’s so messed up.”  Go ahead…everybody say it together…

Isn’t it so easy to notice someone else’s sin?  It sticks out like a sore thumb (their thumb, not ours…if it were our sore thumb, we’d probably notice it).  And it’s almost comical that they don’t see it themselves, right?

The flip side of that coin must be true as well…you have faults that are obvious to those around you, yet you go on not noticing them.  Others look on and wonder, “How does he not notice?” … “Does she not even care?”

Why do we like to find people that have sins that are “worse” than ours?  Because it helps us feel better about ourselves, easing our consciences.  And it keeps our own struggles at bay.  If there’s somebody out there worse than me, I don’t have to worry, because me and God…we must be good.  Because God grades on the curve, right?

Which explains why in our churches, small groups, family gatherings, and circles of friends, it’s easier to say, “You’re not allowed” than to say, “I’ll walk this journey with you.”

We need others to help us see ourselves for who we really are…and are willing to say, “You’ve got mustard on your face.”  Because our hearts are deceitful…even to ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9).  We can walk through life thinking we’re pretty awesome…and other people are pretty rotten.  And shows like Hoarding:Buried Alive only amplify that tendency.  But if we have people in our lives that love us, encourage us, and are willing to walk through the junk with us…life’s much easier.

My sin’s not worse than yours.  Yours isn’t worse than mine.  We’re on this journey of the Christian life together.

And we’re better together than on our own.

 

The Battle

The battle against sin is a tough one, isn’t it?  The more and more we fight against it, the more and more it seems to keep creeping up on us.

And if you try to say you don’t really have any sin you’re dealing with, you’re fooling yourself.  (See 1 John 1:8)

John Owen, a Puritan, in his book The Mortification of Sin, says,

“Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.”

Why is this fight against sin so tough?  Because we’ve got flesh and bones…and a Spirit.  And they don’t like each other.  (see what I mean HERE)

The Apostle Paul understood that, and explained the battle well HERE.

Our battle with sin is a battle to the death.  That besetting sin that keeps following you won’t give up until one of you dies.  It’s relentless.  It doesn’t take a day off.  And the moment you take a day off, it’s ready to strike.  Owen again rightly points out:

“Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting; but, if let alone, if not continually mortified, will bring forth great, cursed scandalous, soul-destroying sins.”

If you’re serious about fighting against sin, why not do some real battling?  Bring someone into your story.  Confess your sins to someone other than God.

Setup boundaries.  Understand your triggers.  Know your weaknesses.  But don’t try to go at this alone.

Eternity is worth it.  And that’s what’s at stake.

I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons a lot lately.  Check out this video below…seems they’ve done some real battling against their addictions.  I’ve posted some of the lyrics below it.

May you find a new resolve to fight against your sin.

The Cave

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

 

Sin disrupts community

After having looked at cows, rhinoceroses, anteaters, and sloths, God puts Adam in a deep sleep.  When he wakes up, he sees Eve and immediately notices that she’s much different than anything he’s ever seen.  I imagine she had that angelic light and chorus around her as Adam laid eyes on the one he would spend the rest of his life with.   Adam manages to stammer out these words:

This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man. (Genesis 2.23)

Adam and Eve rapidly move from this level of relationship to one of blame-shifting, hiding, deceiving, lying, and pride.  What’s the result?

Disrupted community.

Enmity.  Pain.  Difficulties.  Frustrations.  Sweat.  Shame.  Banishment.  Broken relationships.

Sin in the OT is first a relational breach.  Adam and Eve are separated from each other and from God.  Things that should bring great joy would forevermore be painful and difficult.  And maintaining and growing the relationships that matter most would be far from easy.

Don’t think that your sin only affects you and your relationship with God, and that, since it’s just between you and God, it won’t make a difference in the lives of others.  There is a horizontal aspect to sin.  It erodes community.

To think it only affects you is to think to little of sin and its consequences.

Have you ever noticed your personal mistakes having a negative impact on community?

 

Hindering the work of God

Would you ever ban somebody from being a part of your small group?

That question has been going through my mind after I read an article about some  American pastors who went to Uganda to speak against homosexuality.  They preached in support of a bill that

…creates a new category of crime called “Aggravated Homosexuality,” which calls for death by hanging for gays or lesbians who have sex with anyone under 18 and for so-called “serial offenders.”

The bill also calls for seven years in prison for “attempt to commit homosexuality,” five years for landlords who knowingly house gays, three years for anyone, including parents, who fail to hand gay children over to the police within 24 hours and the extradition of gay Ugandans living abroad.   ABC News article

So these American pastors are encouraging people to hunt down homosexuals because homosexuality is wrong and destroys the family.  They have also met with the Ugandan government and preached their message to them.

Is this the way the church should treat lost and broken people?

NO!

Even if you agree that homosexuality is a sin, and destroys the family, inciting a manhunt is not what God would have us do.

Here are a couple of tips on dealing with the lost and broken when they’re in our small group.  Though the sin of homosexuality may make you uncomfortable to talk about, I encourage you, for the sake of those who need your grace and love, to consider the following:

1. Remember that Christ didn’t die for you because you were good. He died for you while you were still his enemy.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

2. Remember that sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a process. And processes take a lot of time to finish.  In fact, the process of sanctification won’t be complete in this lifetime.

3. Remember that God hates your sin. He hates it so much that He would deny you a relationship with Him, if it weren’t for Christ.

4. Listen. People appreciate when you ask them to share their story.  But they feel loved and valued when you actually listen and engage them while they’re sharing.

5. Speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth is good.  But truth without love is abrasive.  And hurtful.  And unhelpful.  It doesn’t have the other’s best interest at heart.  It’s self-serving and self-focused.  It’s un-Godlike.

6. Be open and honest about your own struggles. This helps you to fight against pride, and makes others feel more comfortable in being honest about their struggles.

7. Invite an open dialog. Instead of condemning the lost and broken, ask if they’d be open to thinking through what the Bible has to say.  And don’t let the conversation drift into a discussion that slams one sin, and minimizes another.  It’s easy to condemn the sins that we don’t struggle with.  It makes us feel better about the sins we constantly have to battle. Don’t fall into that trap.

8. Be quick to forgive. Those quick to forgive understand the true nature of their sin against God.  Those not quick to forgive don’t truly understand the nature of their own sin, and the loving mercy of God.

9. Offer prayer and further pastoral care and counseling to those open to it.

Notice that I didn’t say, “Ask them to leave.”  OR, “Point out every passage in the Bible that condemns their sin.”  OR, “Petition the government to hang them.” (see article above that does just that)

Those who are broken and lost don’t need our heaping condemnation.  They need our pursuing, relentless love. Jesus, to an adulterous woman, said these words:

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”John 8:9-11

A sin is a sin, no matter how small.

Do you treat some sins as worse (in God’s eyes) than others?

 

My son, dog food, and satisfaction

dog_food1I had stepped out of the room and left my son to himself for just a second.  Typically, I hear him all of the time.  Sometimes he’s banging a toy on the table…or hitting his head on it…or crying…or crawling.  This time, when I stepped out, I listened for him, but couldn’t hear him.  As you can probably guess, 9 times out of 10, that means he’s up to no good.  This time was no exception.  Here’s what I said about it on Twitter:

Caught my 10 month old son snacking on dog food. Probably tastes better than his pureed snap peas.

I am positive that his pureed peas, though they look and smell pretty gross, are vastly more tasty than dog food.  Dog food was created for, well, dogs.  Pureed peas, while not created for me (thank you very much, I’ll stick with non-pureed veggies), were created for humans to enjoy…or at least for humans to consume and receive energy from.

I can’t imagine that Rex was truly satisfied with the dog food.  Though he cried when I took it out of his mouth, but at some level he was saying, “Thank you for taking that nasty stuff out of my mouth!”  I didn’t discipline him…he didn’t know better, the food was accessible, and it was something new.  I simply removed it from his mouth, and carried him away from the food bowl.  Like I said, he did cry, but it was only for a moment.

I wonder how many of us need some junk removed from our lives.  How many of us need God to come in and remove that thing that is ultimately unsatisfying?  That will ultimately leave a bad taste in our mouth and our stomachs unnourished…that “seemed like a good idea at the time.”  It won’t be fun in the moment, but looking at the bigger picture, getting rid of the nasty dog food is what’s best for you.  Go ahead and spit it out.  Turn from it.  Run away from it.  That’s what repentance is.

God’s ready and willing to forgive.  Even for our dumbest mistakes.  Why not give Him a shot?

 

Interesting Conversation, part 4

This is the last post that I’ll give based directly off of the emails that I have talked about in the last 3 posts.  You can read about this conversation here, here, and here.  It’s been helpful for me to think through these psychology issues and offer what I believe to be a God-honoring response to these, though I know they can be very personal.  I know that some of this hits very close to home for many of you, and I invite you to comment below.

Here’s the email I sent to the licensed psychologist that I have been having the ongoing conversation with:
Good thoughts.  Thanks for even being a bit self-disclosing.

I do think that medication is helpful and maybe even warranted.  Take, for example, the schizophrenic (schizoid/typal personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc.).  Many, if not all, have to be on varying dosages/levels of medication.  Life is likely intolerable for them and those around them if they are not treated physically.  But if we as humans are comprised of both body and soul, the meds only treat the body side.  We, as soul-care providers (I tried to use a generic enough term to lump  us both into), have a responsibility to look at both aspects.  This schizophrenic, though on medications, still has responsibilities in society, even if “society” for him is in the mental hospital.  From a biblical standpoint, I think that he still has a responsibility before God as well.  God will hold him accountable for his actions done on earth.  God holds all people accountable for their actions, even when the issue is completely biological.  Take, for example, Type I diabetes, which is clearly a physiological issue.  Though there was not a specific sin that lead to this, we still have a responsibility to God for how we respond to it.  Holiness may more difficult in certain psychological problems, but holiness is still the requirement for all men (Leviticus 19:2).  God is full of grace and mercy, but His requirements are the same for everybody.  Obedience will likely be more difficult for some, but not impossible.  Think about someone who is mentally handicapped, but functions at a high level.  They are held responsible for some tasks, right?  Obeying their parents may be tough, but it’s possible.

Medication doesn’t negate anybody’s responsibility before God.  “Sorry I was short with you today…I’ve just got a headache.”  Our impatience and anger are not justified because there are physical issues present.  We need to realize where our weaknesses are and address them biblically.  There are over 40 places in Scripture where we are commanded to do things to “one-another”: love one another, serve one another, submit to, encourage, admonish, be kind to, be devoted to, think of them better than yourself, prefer, build up, accept, care for, envy not, be truthful to, etc.  God is pleased when we take even small steps in the right direction.

Hardships in life, no matter what the cause or what the suggested treatment, are a chance for our true hearts to be revealed.  We are all sinners living in a fallen world.  And what do sinners do?  Sin against one another…lots.  God will not judge us based on how people have sinned against us, but based on our response to being sinned against.  For those who have been scarred more deeply by the effects of sin, obedience may be so difficult that we, humans, cannot see how it would even be possible.  Good thing others’ obedience is not placed on our shoulders!  We serve a big God, who is able to change the vilest hearts and the most corrupt souls.  Lest we think ourselves prideful, I put us both in that category as well!  We serve a God who can cure cancer, heal headaches, mend broken relationships, heal crazy people (see Mark 5:1-20), and, biggest of all, save sinners.  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)