Sin and death and mowing lawns

When I first was in ministry, the area where I pastored had a group of people who were teaching on a subject I would call “hyper grace.” A few years later, when I was pastoring in the Twin Cities, there was a Christian radio show focusing on what they perceived to be “apologetics” and how to trip up people to understand they were truly “sinners.”

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The deceit in our heart

I am writing/praying my way through Acts right now and come to Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira lie about the amount they are giving in the offering and God strikes them dead.

We have so many questions about why God struck them dead. This thought occurs to me this time around in my reading: Too often we’re bothered by God’s actions and not nearly as bothered by the actions of Ananias and Sapphira. God’s dealing with us bothers us much more than what we did in getting that response from God.

Words that sound incredibly strange from Bonhoeffer

These words may have truth, but in our day they seem to be incredibly strange:

When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community. Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing.

“Well… what is sin?”

“Well… who are YOU to judge?”

The way to wholeness and healing is to recognize there is a sickness. We need that calling out in our lives once again.

Sin won’t go away

We want to rename it, ignore it, ridicule the thought of “sin,” but the fact of it just won’t go away.

We do our best to ignore it, though. Bill Arnold in his commentary on 1-2 Samuel in the NIV Application Commentary noted this:

Once “sin” is no longer in the church’s vocabulary, there is no longer a need for words such as “forgiveness” or “grace.” Sin really has taken up residence in our hearts and found expressions in less offensive ways. (p. 547)

Save us from the “Rah Rah” Resurrection

Every year there is some comment, post, article, etc., out there that will wonder why Christians go through the “morbidity” of Lent or “dwell” on the crucifixion. It’s a braggadocious claim about how they live in the resurrection power. Jesus is alive!

Jesus IS alive. And the resurrection IS where we dwell. We live in the power of the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.

But the grave has to be considered to understand the power of the resurrection. And considering it once in some bygone era is like saying, “I love you” to your wife on the wedding day and then thinking that’s all done.

The POWER of the resurrection is only effective because of the grave. To remember and consider brings to remembrance the incredible depth and power of the resurrection. It is a refresher.

But it is more. The more I walk in the discipline of Lent the more I consider not just my own sin, but just how deep the problem of humanity really is and how desperately we need the work of the cross and the resurrection in our world. I don’t want just the “rah rah” cheering of a resurrection Sunday, quite honestly.

The Spirit brings me to a place of humility where I just don’t feel like a “cheer.” I sense the depth of sin and then understand the need for the power of the resurrection. And that saves me from a “rah rah” Christianity. It saves me from pat answers.

The depth of humanity’s problem comes home to me right now in the issue of human trafficking. Over the past year or so I have dug deeper into the issue and have asked my church to step into this issue as well. We have had some in-depth discussions and right now the awareness of the issue is the biggest thing. The “what” to do is still uneven because laws are uneven, treatment of prostitutes is uneven, and even our acknowledgement of the existence of human slavery is uneven.

Over the past several months I have been able to wrap my mind around the statistics. Today when I hear a presentation and the statistics are given, I only confirm what I am learning. I am hearing the same numbers… and the numbers are staggering. I am also thinking about the numbers not only in terms of sex trafficking, but in labor.

Last night, however, was another layer of the depth of this problem. I was in a meeting with the presenters being from an organization helping women and girls get out of trafficking. The statistics were not “shocking,” meaning they were still the numbers I had learned. But one of the presenters was a young woman who came out of that slavery. Her personal story brought home again the utter horror of sex trafficking. She told of the physical and mental torture applied in her own life to keep her trapped.

It is these stories, and it is not lost on me that I heard this story during Lent, that save me from a “Rah Rah” Resurrection mentality. I am reminded of the depth of sin. I am reminded that the problem is worse than we like to admit. One of the gods of this culture is sex and we just don’t like to name it. If we have struggles in some area, we call it an “issue.” We pretty it up with other names, but the beast is still the same. It is sex. It is the god we worship. It demands full allegiance and will slap down any opponent or any potential rebel with a fierceness that causes people to simply shrink back and stay in bondage.

We are a nation of addicts and it is sexual addiction driving the slavery involved with human trafficking.

In just this one area I have been impacted since that meeting feeling the depth of the problem. It is the absence of fathers. It is the absence of authority. It is the absence of standards held high as to what true sexuality should look like. It is the absence of parenting. It is the absence of spiritual parenting.

And make no mistake: this is a problem that must be exposed and addressed as a truly “justice” problem AND a spiritual problem. It’s a both/and problem. And we need both/and solutions.

We have more people bound up in human trafficking today than we had slaves on plantations in 1860 in the United States. And then that gets multiplied around the world.

And “rescuing” people out of just sex trafficking isn’t enough. It is one person who has suffered physical and mental abuse for years. They don’t know how to function. They have to be trained in living. Think of the tremendous amount of human capital it takes to take ONE person out of some sexual slavery situation, where they have only known abuse since being a young child. The mental state that person is in. No education. No job skills. No mental capacity to handle properly interacting with men or women…

The TIME it will take to help that person gain a new perspective on the world. The money it will take to house and feed them… then educate them. Then find them a job. Then keep them close in ongoing relationship so they know how to handle human interaction in a healthy way…

Now, multiply that by 3 million, if we could save almost everyone just in the United States involved in sex trafficking. (And that estimate is low.)

And it is at this point I am overwhelmed by the stunning depth of human depravity. My own desperate need for the cross and resurrection is brought into perspective. And then I see the utter bondage of humanity. It is here I cry out for repentance… and resurrection. And it’s not feeling very “rah rah” in this moment.

Lent keeps me in focus. It’s not a pleasant walk, but friends, we need this walk. We MUST understand that no matter how much we say, “This world is in trouble,” unless we come to a place in our lives where from time to time we face the facts, we are only saying hollow words.

And realize this: I have only mentioned one thing. Human trafficking. I have not touched on war, poverty, refugees, persecution…

It is a world in trouble. It is a world in need of a Savior. It is a world where I know I need the power of the resurrection and not just some “rah rah” attitude.

Lent brings me back to the place where I quit the trite phrases, roll up my sleeves, and wade into the muck and mud of this world knowing I live in the power of the resurrection.

The situation is dark. Our Savior is great. Our work is needed.

Thank you, Lord, for Lent. 

I dream of a day when we quit ranking sins

It’s not about particular sins. It’s about SIN. It’s about our rebellion against God. It’s about our desire to be our own little gods.

But when we are in our own little rebellions, we feel better about pointing out someone else’s “worse” sin. I pray for the day, just in my own life, when I’m done to ranking sin.

9 So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written,

There is no righteous person, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands.
There is no one who looks for God.
12 They all turned away.
They have become worthless together.
There is no one who shows kindness.
There is not even one.[a]
13 Their throat is a grave that has been opened.
They are deceitful with their tongues,
and the poison of vipers is under their lips.[b]
14     Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.[c]
15 Their feet are quick to shed blood;

18 There is no fear of God in their view of the world.[e] (Rom. 3:9-18)