Tag Archives: Sin

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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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Judge Not (Part 4) Necessary Judgements

How lovely to see others through the eyes of mercy. And painful. At times it is necessary to see with those eyes the damage we do to one another when the faithful act unfaithfully through sexual sin. St. Paul gives us a powerful complement to Jesus’ command to ‘not judge’ when the Apostle implores us as church men and women to exercise wise judgments in regards to our fellows who have fallen into grievous sins. Why? St. Paul understood that unchecked sexual immorality had power in the believing community to impact the purity and holiness of others.

Paul’s Greco-Roman world differed significantly from the Hebrew community of Jesus in regards to sexuality and spirituality. The Apostle advanced the Gospel among citizens who worshipped many gods and goddesses and whose sexual practices reflected that diversity. Whereas Jesus liberated the poor from the legalistic shame of the Pharisee, St. Paul contended with the near shamelessness of new converts emerging out of an idolatrous, highly sensual world.

In I C 5, St. Paul describes a man in the Corinthian Church who was committing incest with his father’s wife. And the Church was proud of it! (1C 5:2) The severe nature of the sexual immorality at hand coupled with an arrogant tolerance of the sin inspired St. Paul to exhort the members of Christ’s body at Corinth: ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? Expel the wicked brother from among you.’(12, 13)

In other words, we must discern when the integrity of the Church is being violated. That matters to Jesus and it should matter to us: we must each do our part when members are violating each other.

St. Paul clearly is ‘passing judgment’ on this Corinthian man, and he does so without reservation. His reasons are clear: tolerating sexual immorality among believers has an especially pernicious impact on the whole: ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ (v. 6) Such tolerance undermines the moral standards of the community overall.

Commenting on Paul’s judgment and discipline of this man, Pauline scholar Dr. Robert Gagnon writes: ‘If the Church refuses to take a firm stand against an obvious and severe violation of sexual immorality then its resistance to other types of sexual immorality will be weakened beyond repair.’

Unlike Jewish disciples who were subject to myriad regulations concerning sexual purity, the Corinthians boasted of their sexual liberties as a sign of their progressive, grace-filled faith. St. Paul reminded them in Chapters 6 and 7 of the power of the human body to bind them to intimate communion with God or to other gods and goddesses. He is simply applying Jesus’ mandate: serial, unrepentant immoral behavior puts one at risk from inheriting the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 5: 27-30: Jesus implores us to destroy what stumbles us so we can avoid hell!)

St. John the Apostle invokes the same principle in regards to ‘tolerating’ the prophetess Jezebel whose teaching ‘led the servants of God into sexual immorality’ at the church in Thyatira. The Apostle prophesies intense suffering for all in the church who fail to repent (Rev. 2: 20-23). Strong language: both St. John and St. Paul bring judgment, a sword intended to separate the holy from the defiled in order to preserve the integrity of the whole.

That integrity includes the invitation for the defiled to repent unto the mercy of God. In truth, mercy motivates both John and Paul in their judgments. St. John invites the Thyatirans to turn away from their deception and so avoid suffering; St. Paul implores the Corinthians to turn the immoral man out of the fellowship so that his sin might be destroyed, his soul saved (1 C 4:5). The purging of impurity from the fellowship is married to the hope of restoration for the fallen.

The excesses at Corinth and Thyatira demanded decisive, divisive judgment in order to preserve the dignity of the faithful.

What matters to Jesus, to St. Paul and St. John and I think Pope Francis is that we do not over-emphasize the threat of others’ sexual immorality. We run the risk of magnifying ‘specks’ and missing our own planks.

Two keys here: although we can and must judge certain acts as being a grave, we must entrust ultimate judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.’ (CCC 186)

The basis for such moral discernment is our personal reckoning with moral vulnerabilities. Scripture and Church teaching command us over and over to make wise moral judgments about ourselves. The horizon Jesus has opened for us frees us to make wise moral judgments. And we must, if we want to engender life in our fellows, not confusion or lust or fear.

Solomon implores us to ‘preserve sound judgment and discernment; they will be life for you’, an antidote to not getting entrapped in sin. (PR 3: 21) ‘A man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself,’ (PR 6:32) and I dare say, his marriage too. How blessed we are, when through God’s mercy we have removed the plank from our own eye and can help our brother remove the speck in his.

We want our churches to be safe and clean sanctuaries. But still earthy and honest enough to welcome dirty sheep so they can have a fighting chance to become clean! Perhaps this is among Pope Francis’ main points: Rather than a Church which clings to its own security, He wants a church that is bruised and hurting because it has been out on the streets…‘ If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is because so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the light, strength, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus, and without a community of faith to support them…’ (EG 49)

Might we be empowered by a renewed Gospel that has power to open the horizon of others and grant them a new vision and a new hope for their lives? These men and women surround us in our daily lives: persons with SSA who are blinded by both homosexual fatalism and the stigmatism of the Pharisee.

Might we trust the truth that has set us free, divine love that surpasses our weaknesses and compels us to build bridges rather than walls with others? Let us not be content with being a tidy truthful church but a messy fruitful one. Let’s manifest the mercy that has power to open for all a whole new horizon.

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New Pharisee 3

Only through the Cross and the mercy released from the One who gave all can we counter the new Pharisee.

Boy, do we need it now. I am witnessing a new Pharisaic tendency in Christian spokespeople for ‘GLBT’ (etc.) communities. Instead of surrendering the sexually broken ‘selves’ to Jesus, these ones make huge efforts to justify their homosexuality. Though some claim orthodoxy (no sex outside of marriage), they nevertheless seek to integrate the gay self and ‘celebrate the grace of God in homosexual terms.’

Precepts of the new Pharisee include:

  • Exempting themselves from a theological anthropology that defines humanity as made in God’s image as male and female. Instead, these GLBTers define their humanity as fundamentally homosexual. Same-sex attraction sets them apart from straight people. Being ‘gay’ figures in profoundly to how they define themselves.
  • A split between being and doing. Though some may not believe in acting upon one’s homosexuality, they encourage strugglers to integrate their homosexuality. Given the momentum toward gay affirmation throughout the Christian culture, I suspect that abstinence will fall way as these ones find ‘good’ gay partnerships.
  • According to Christian GLBTers, Jesus chooses to not effect much, if any, change of their sexual inclinations. Alan Chambers is now infamous for his assertion that 99.9% of all persons with SSA seeking change do not change. Implicit in this assertion is that nature figures in more profoundly to the roots of SSA than nurture. For the new Pharisee, gay people are probably hardwired at birth and the redeeming power of Jesus does not touch this ‘gay’ foundation. Though one might say in the abstract that the ‘fall’ is responsible for SSA, (s)he actually concludes there is nothing wrong with it.
  • A new narrative in which one has little if any psychological brokenness undergirding their SSA. The new Pharisee need not muck around with messy relational and family-of-origin factors, cultural influences, or specific incidents that altered one’s sexual development. ‘Gay’ just is and needs no healing. ‘Healing’ efforts are framed as an old paradigm that they rather smugly refuse on the ground of their rather normal lives.
  • Scandalizing reparative therapy. Christian GLBTers scorn clinical efforts to overcome SSA. They suspect any therapeutic effort to ‘change’ on the ground that it manipulates and may even abuse people who cannot change anyway. Despite the fact that most have not actually surrendered their sexuality to a constructive course of action, they denounce such action and claim that the only just action is to integrate their homosexuality.

In our current Living Waters group, we are asking Jesus through His blood and Spirit to reveal the deep wounds that set us adrift in the first place. And He is answering, with insights that can only be understood as reparative, and with a Love that can only be experienced as healing.

In my small group, men from a variety of backgrounds are opening to the grace pouring from Calvary into the foundations of their humanity. We open our lives to God and each other. He comes as we prayerfully welcome Him; He offers Himself as the answer to our deepest needs for love and identity.

While preparing for one such meeting, God reminded me of a series of toxic early experiences in relation to other males. I felt the pain of these memories deeply. A few nights later I had a dream. While driving quickly through a strange town my car stalled and I sought help. I saw a small boy lying wounded and unattended in the street. I began to pray for his healing. I then felt a warm masculine presence reaching his arm over me and praying for the child too. It was a strong, tender man: Jesus? Perhaps. His very presence healed me as I sought to give life to the wounded one in my arms.

The Cross opens the horizon of our real brokenness and real healing. Mercy exposes faulty foundations and secures them in Love. Only Mercy compels us to drop our self-justifications. Manifest in a merciful people, Jesus makes a place for the new Pharisee at the foot of the Cross.

‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Me.’ (Luke 7: 22, 23)

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New Pharisee 2

‘Your most merciful Heart is all my hope. I have nothing for my defense but only Your mercy; in it lies all my trust.’ St. Faustina Kowalska

The New Pharisee 2 Photo by RottnApplesHow do you restrain the inner Pharisee? Stay near the truth of your own sinfulness and the Cross. That fount of Mercy confirms our worst impulses but also cleanses us at their source. Then, together with all the saints, we discover the depth and power of love that becomes our offering to others. We become good gifts, the fruit of Calvary to a hungry world.

I witnessed this profoundly at our first Living Waters meeting last week. The newly revised material centers on that theme of becoming good gifts to others. Together we expressed our starting points: SSA, addiction, high anxiety, and the ache of old wounds among them, as well as how shame hovers over these problems and veils the gift we aspire to be for others.

I wondered where to go with the ministry time. We needed the Cross, pure and simple. Before I could finish the call to come forward and unite our need for Mercy with the wood of Calvary, I saw in a flash a dark strain of sin in me. Prior to the meeting, Annette and I had just discussed an unresolved issue. For the first time, through the illumination of the Spirit, I saw my sin clearly.

Love for her mingled with remorse and shame and I knew only Calvary would suffice. At the Cross (literally), together with fellow strugglers, we lingered. We endured the shame of sin for the joy of discovering our Advocate in overcoming sin. Over the course of our 20 weeks together, we shall learn that Mercy alone is our cure. We will continue to make that great exchange: surrendering sin and receiving in turn a double portion of His blessing as we pray for each other.

The truth of sin’s misery opens us to the Mercy that can be ours. Steeped in Mercy, we become fruitful gifts. Why then do we strive to justify our own virtue?

Could it be that the enemy of our souls has blinded our eyes to the Mercy that is there for us? Perhaps the reason that we cling to dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors is because we do not believe that there is anything for us in their place.

How else can you explain the irrational power at work in the weaknesses of those who insist that the ‘gay self’ or any other number of ‘selves’ is their deepest, truest expression? Cut off from Mercy, these ones construct fortresses to defend them from the threat of non-being. Here the enemy empowers a host of powerful ‘solutions’ to repair a broken life. It may be a sensually-exciting relationship or solidarity with others seeking ‘equality.’

Yet one’s new power is not sourced in God but a kind of self-justification that resists God and insists on its own well-being. Those who don’t like these new ‘solutions’ are judged harshly. Kind of like a Pharisee…

We are now witnessing this new brand of Pharisee with a vengeance. Activists from the GLBT (etc.) community convey a kind of moral and psychological invulnerability which when countered provokes an ugly defensiveness. And the enemy empowers this cause. Never before have we seen such a radical and irrational shift in public opinion concerning ‘gender diversity.’ What was once commonly understood as brokenness is now championed as an often superior alternative to male and female.

Only Mercy can counter this new Pharisee. Only living water can saturate the broken foundation on which these constructs are built. Only Mercy can dissolve these defenses. The false confidence and fleeting joy of these fractured ‘selves’ can only be displaced by a greater love.

Only Mercy invites us to own our most profound hunger. Jesus becomes the meal. At the Cross, the site of His complete self-giving, we can lay down our lies and welcome the Truth that makes all things new.

‘You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” ’ (Rev. 3: 17)

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Lent Devotion 6: Open Door for the Broken and Accused

‘Since we have confidence to enter the Most holy place through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us by His body, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith…’ (Heb. 10: 19-22)

doors‘Save us, Savior of the world, for by Your Cross and Resurrection You have set us free.’  – ‘Mystery of Faith, Roman Catholic Mass

My friend Dean Greer returned broken to the church of his youth. He had left years earlier to explore the homosexual life; fed up with his folly and under the death sentence of HIV, he needed a place to rebuild his life. He discovered a hard truth: ‘The church extols the virtue of getting saved but once you’re in the doors they spend the rest of the time hiding all the things they came to get saved from!’

A broken man, Dean needed an open door though which he could discover broken Jesus in His broken body. He could not return to the old dispensation–secrets and lies–he needed to be known and loved by others the way Jesus had loved the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8: 1-12).

Like her, he was under the judgment of his sin and shame. And like her he needed to be surrounded by fellow sinners who might drop their stones before the Crucified and help him ‘sin no more.’ Through the church, Dean needed an encounter with beautiful Jesus that would surpass the pleasures of sin and stimulate truer, deeper aspirations.

Jesus ‘saved’ Dean years ago. Through fellow believers in the one broken body, he has been getting saved ever since.

The church at Philadelphia needed holy rescue (Rev. 3: 7-13). Christians there were few and harassed. Surrounded by Jewish persecutors who insisted that their claims to salvation were preposterous, the door of faith appeared to be closing in Philadelphia. Jesus reminded them: ‘See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut. I know you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My Name…Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of God.’ (Rev. 3: 8, 11, 12)

The church today is being harassed by all manner of secrets and lies. Church-based ministries that offer hope to people like Dean are persecuted on all sides. That ‘gay marriage’ is even considered by some Christians to be a just alternative belies the truth of how God made us and how He wants to redeem us.

And yet the good news of redemption cannot be stifled. The open door of God’s Mercy cannot be shut! Through Christ’s body, Dean (and hundreds like him) has discovered a river of life that has ruined him from returning to old ways of sexual sin and religious pretense.

What the church needs today is more than another stern lecture on conservative sexual ethics. Many abusive priests were ‘good conservatives.’ Of course we need the truth. But unless that truth leads us to merciful reliance upon Jesus and His body, that truth can imprison and accuse us.

Jesus clarifies the prisons we are in in order to open the doors of those prisons. He is the door that cannot be shut: the new and living way opened for us by His shed blood and made real to us by His broken body. I am proud to be among those who are morally weak and yet strong in Mercy; together, we persevere in holy love and overcome all manner of deception.

Now we offer ourselves to others in gratitude. Having been saved by His broken body, we become that body broken for others.  Once unstable and divided, we are being transformed into pillars that support His house, now and forever.

‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some do, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.’ (Heb. 10: 25)

‘I will make the valley of judgment a door of hope.’ (Hosea 2:15)

‘With solid reason is there hope for me in Him because You Father will heal all my infirmities through Him who sits at Your right hand and intercedes for us. Were it not so I would despair. Many and grave are those infirmities, many and grave, but wider-reaching is Your healing power.’ – St. Augustine

 

 

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