Category: Lent

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Having Nothing, Possessing Everything

Unless the seed dies, it remains alone.’ (JN 12: 24)

My son Sam’s death took time. His surrender to Jesus was syncopated at best: the sorrows and pleasures of sin alternately roused and deadened him. Though counterfeits made him sick, he managed to stave off the Divine Physician. Ultimately, his defenses crumbled and he pled for mercy. God took His advantage.

Rising into new life took time and effort. It was especially tough for Sam to get a grip on his finances. Like his old man, we don’t ‘think’ financially. Combine that with prodigal living, unpaid bills forgotten in a chemical haze, and general neglect of the big green, Sam faced a slow ascent to becoming financially responsible.

One big motivator was a beautiful girl he pursued who proved to be the real deal. But pairing up demands you give an answer as to how you handle money, beginning with an engagement ring. In God’s economy, one must be able to save a couple thousand in order to seal the deal. That was big for Sam, and he worked hard and saved so he could pop the question with a decent stone.

Having ordered a modest ring, Sam then asked her father if he could proceed. The man blessed Sam as his son-in-law-to-be. He then told Sam that he and his wife had found a one-carat wedding ring in a park and in spite of much effort found no owner. He offered the ring to Sam.

It was the ring that rich boys give privileged girls who expect big stones. Its cost would have at least doubled, maybe tripled my son’s outlay. Sam did not have the earning power. God did. He bestowed that ring on Sam as surely as the father welcomed his prodigal son with a classy ring (LK 15: 22-24). Only the ring was not about Sam’s future alone; it was about his pledge to another, to fruitfulness. Sam’s surrender unto sanctification broke the husk of his aloneness. God blessed him with a partner and shiny pledge that only He could provide.

Jesus calls all of us onto the narrow way of surrender. Along the way, He tosses in diamonds we don’t deserve but that He delights to give. I love that. Sam is following his old man’s footsteps. We don’t think much about money, for better or for worse. We are Kingdom-minded. Like St. Paul, we have nothing yet we possess everything. (2 Cor. 6: 10)

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Greed: To Grasp or Give Away

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

(Phil. 2:21)

The focal point of our faith and of most sanctuaries is the Cross. That emblem of God’s self-giving reminds us that freedom hinges on offering ourselves to others, to purposes that defy self-preservation. The servant is not greater than his Master. Jesus said it like this: the hard seed either opens or remains alone (JN 12:24). Fruitfulness requires surrender to the Sovereign will; the greedy self insists on gathering and defending its own securities. Greed gilds the husk of our humanity and renders us sterile.

We are naturally greedy. By that I mean we gravitate to securities that we can get our hands on. Fear drives our greed, as does envy: we look and long for what might give us the most power and so assuage the threat of extinction or at least insignificance.

I live in a Christian ghetto of sorts where few have much money and most are fairly generous with it. No Scrooges among us–wealthy misers who share only their misery. No, our greed is more subtle; it can appear justified, humane, and refined. But it’s the same old idolatry, the creature grasping after created things to give him the security only God can give. Take heed: ‘No greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.’

(Eph. 5:5)

Maybe we grasp after middle-class protections: retirement plans and insurance, the house on the lake for grandparents and kids, savings that soothe us to sleep. One friend confessed to me his obsessing over IRAs (I feared his association with political terrorists). We can squander much time and energy stockpiling on earth and lose the Kingdom—what it means freely to say ‘yes’ to God until we go or He comes. We must discern when we are padding our own kingdoms or availing ourselves to His.

Maybe it’s ‘quality-of-life’ stuff, good ol’ American consumerism that masks as wisdom or justice. For example, I know many seasoned Christians who have been exposed to so many church models they no longer settle with one. So they remain alone, high-minded and unchecked, disgruntled consumers that hurt the Church rather than help her. Or the spouse that after a decade or so claims to deserve more than the limited, frustrating person (s)he married. I recently sat with a couple who tearfully conveyed their mutual frustration and yet who are beginning to see Jesus’ purposes in the gaps. Do gaps in your church life and marriage inspire self-giving or greed? Jesus grants us the Cross amid idolatrous, consumer-driven options.

We have all been thunderstruck by the effective greed of gay activists. Their ploy? Take a common disorder and claim to resolve it by making it a boast, a right, even the basis for a marriage. But reframing a problem does not solve it. From every angle, homosexual practice is still delusional; it frustrates the very desire it claims to satisfy. Sex is for life, not to fuse misbegotten friendships. The ‘gay’ emperor is still naked and impotent. The greedy seed remains alone.

We overcome greed by giving our lives away to Jesus. Generous self-giving is the sole antidote to greed. That’s why we tithe; that’s why we thank God for hardship and unmet needs and frustrating people; that’s why we keep trying to love our fellow humanity. Ragged yet inspired, we offer our lives to Him and ask Him to multiply our gifts to others. Overtime He becomes our sight and our security. We find ourselves by looking straight at Him. He is God and He is enough.

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Sloth: A Slow Suicide

‘Sloth is a kind of oppressive sorrow that so depresses a man that he wants to do nothing.’ Aquinas

Not long ago I faced a series of events that tempted me to despair. I neither tend to hopelessness nor the depression it engenders. I discovered both in that hard season. What scared me was my temptation to not fight the low dark ceiling that had settled on my life. No hope, no aspiration, no action. I fantasized about throwing in the towel and doing nothing. Sloth wanted my soul.

Disappointments of a certain magnitude and frequency that converge to become despair: that is the breeding ground of sloth. And sloth seduces us into that mire and consoles us: ‘Rest here, here in the darkness. See? God does not act on your behalf. Stop fighting; give yourself up to the dark current of sorrow.’ Paul refers to sloth when he describes the ‘worldly sorrow that brings forth death,’ in contrast to the godly sorrow that inspires turning to Hope Himself. (2Cor. 7:10)

According to Joseph Pieper, sloth is the most serious sin of all because it refuses God. Sloth seduces us to unbelief. No God, no hope–death. We may be unaware of sloth’s slow stranglehold because of counterfeit emotions. Such feelings mask as legitimate: ‘I am grieving, I am being real, I am finally authentic.’ But real grief draws us unto Jesus, as does realistic assessment of our desperate state. Sloth raises itself above God; it urges us to put down the cross and blanket ourselves in a godless, self-piteous resignation.

Sloth has immediate rewards. If there is not hope, then why try? And why worry about God? If He either does not exist or does not care about me enough to act, then why not eat, drink, and drug your blues away? Throw off the moral yoke and throw in a little fornication too…

I have witnessed a disturbing kind of sloth fueling the ‘gay Christian’ movement. Here a group of people who claim Christ as their Source forsake Him as the Redeemer of their sexuality on the grounds that ‘gay’ roots run deeper than the River of Life. Then the faulty conclusion: ‘He must have made me that way…’ Insisting on realism, the ‘gay Christian’ settles for less, a dreadful fatalism bordered by the low ceiling of the ‘gay self.’

The return? No need to aspire to fruitfulness, to the fullness of what Jesus intends for our sexual selves. It is hard work to become who we are: to shake off years of fear and hurt and rebellion and begin to emerge into the persons of God’s design. Sloth gives us an out: be something other than who God says you are.

Joseph Pieper says it best: ‘One who is trapped in sloth has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great to avoid the obligation of greatness.’ Truly this is the season to rouse ourselves, to shake off all vestiges of despair and to shake each other up a bit. We need to incite one another to chastity and fruitfulness and to refuse slothful ‘outs.’

‘Let us not forsake gathering, as many are in the habit of doing, but let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (Heb. 10: 24, 25)

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Anger: Passion that Purifies and Plunders

‘Be angry; don’t sin.’ (Eph. 4:26)

Anger cuts both ways. It can incite one to drive idols from the Father’s house; it can drive others to fill that house with idolatry.

We each face resistance to what we perceive as worthy goals. It helps to access the passion that motivates us to go against the grain. Anger may activate us to bore a hole through the hard wood of injustice, or at least what we perceive as unjust.

Maybe that’s the catch. What begins as ‘justice’ may devolve into a self-serving effort to get what we want, our way. In other words, our concept of ‘righteous anger’ can veil a selfish effort to justify ourselves.

People who have been mistreated often point to their wounds as justification for their defensive, angry behavior. They thus cherish the wound and brandish it like a knife in order to secure certain rights. When they bypass God with their wounds and in defining these rights, they run the risk of becoming despots, little gods who now seek to control others by virtue of the real injustices done to them.

Consider a woman who has been cheated on by her husband. Incited by real injustice against her, she can arise to hold the whole family hostage with her rage.

Or a man wounded by one creepy pastor or by a system that ultimately sides with the creep and not the victim. He like the betrayed wife is right to press through fear and expose that darkness. But anger too often morphs into an infectious stranglehold of hate (in this case, against the Church) which bars him from what could cure him.

The most obvious example of misplaced anger is gay activism. Citing real ills done to some children who are gender confused and claiming that suicide is immanent for any such confused soul who is not allowed to act out homosexually or get a sex change, activists have done a masterful job at changing how an entire civilization understands sexual brokenness.

Brokenness, what brokenness? We can no longer even speak of Jesus’ loving redemption of persons who repent from what Scripture defines as a perversion of God’s will for humanity in our ‘born that way, stay that way, get out of my way’ culture.

Still, anger can be a good thing. I am angry at what unfaithful men do to women and what clergy men can visit upon the vulnerable. And I am angry that the Church has often failed to understand such relational and sexual brokenness and to provide healing. That anger motivates me to do something about it. I want to go against the grain of a complacent Church that would rather play ‘nice’ than act decisively on behalf of damaged people. If she arose as the prophet, she may well begin to remove the stains that blemish her. She could become a healing community worthy of Jesus.

God got mad, so mad He drove idolaters from the Father’s house then submitted to misery in order to end ours at Calvary. His passion is always the litmus test for whether our passion will plunder or purify. In order for anger to motivate us rightly, we must submit our wounds to the One who bears them and cleanses them from bitterness and other infections. We must forgive our captors. I must continually lay down activists at the foot of the Cross—‘Father, forgive them; they know not their self-justifying ways.’

I want to arise and see and act on behalf of persons enslaved by a host of injustices. Let us be His witnesses, inviting them to kneel before the One in whom mercy and justice meet.

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