When Sinners Act Like Sinners

We have such great expectations for church, but people get hurt so often! What’s wrong with the Church?

Brother Lawrence, a layman who cooked for the Carmelite monastery in Paris during the late 17th century, wrote one of the great mystical books of Christendom called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” In it, he observes that he is never surprised when a sinner acts like a sinner.

He was talking about people who did not believe the Christ, and who were still completely in their sins. But the truth is, even those of us who do believe in Christ still manifest our wicked nature sometimes. When we’re together in churches, we’re in a room full of other people who, like us, manifest their wicked natures sometimes. Some of them don’t even recognize their actions as wicked.

The secret to surviving hurt in the church is simply to remember that every one of us is a sinner in recovery. It is no surprise that in a church full of recovering sinners, sometimes we get hurt, and sometimes we hurt others despite our best efforts not to. That’s actually to be expected.

What’s great about the church is that God is there to help us pick up the pieces, resolve the hurt, and do better next time. In fact, He’s still there even if we flub the recovery. We might get offended and run off to another church. That’s silly, because we’re carrying at least part of the problem with us when we go. But God’s there at the new place, and He does not abandon the project of reforming our character just because we stupidly ran off.

The remarkable thing is that sometimes, we or our church-mates do genuinely good things by the Holy Spirit. When that happens, the world becomes a vastly better place for somebody. That makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

Do not expect the Church to be sin-free. You’re in it, and so am I, so we know it cannot be sin-free. But let’s devote ourselves to creating more instances where the Holy Spirit has directed our actions and produced life.

Books That Every Christian Ought to Read

I was asked elsewhere to recommend books for young Christians wanting to round out their Christian education. I made a list, and am reproducing it here. It’s heavy on Christian experience and light on systematic theology, but that’s me. If you want recommendations for learning systematic theology, you’ll have to ask guys who take systematic theology more seriously than I do.

Books that every Christian ought to read at some point, in no particular order:

  • Mere Christianity, CS Lewis
  • Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton
  • The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
  • Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby
  • Knowing God, JI Packer
  • The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges
  • The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer
  • Eternity In Their Hearts, Don Richardson
  • The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer
  • The Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan
  • The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The Great Divorce, CS Lewis
  • Confessions, St. Augustine
  • The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
  • My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
  • With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray
  • The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

I have read pieces of all of these, though there are some I have not finished.

A few notes:

You can actually read most any of Francis Schaeffer’s books and get more or less the same education. Elsewhere I recommended “The Church at the End of the 20th Century,” which is a less well-known title of Schaeffer’s, and “How Should We Then Live,” which is actually a book full of plates to accompany a film strip and lecture. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. “How Should We Then Live” has the added benefit of being a birds-eye survey of the history of Western culture.

“The Practice of the Presence of God,” by Brother Lawrence, is written in 16th century French. It matters very much which translation you buy. Pick up the copy you’re looking at and read several pages. If it sounds simple and a little repetitive, you’ve got a good one. If it sounds thick and complicated, put it down and find a better translation. The one I use is from Whitaker House; it’s an abridgement, but the English is clear and simple.

Some people say “Peace Child” instead of “Eternity In Their Hearts” for Don Richardson. There is nothing wrong with “Peace Child,” but I don’t agree; “Eternity” says things about missions that people need to know. Also, some people add “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot. I won’t argue with that. You can get “Splendor” as a documentary film. You can also get the dramatized film “The End of the Spear,” which is outstanding and tells the same story. “Peace Child” is also available as a dramatized film. It’s all good.

A lot of people recommend “The City of God” by Augustine, instead of “Confessions.” “Confessions” is personal, “The City of God” is theological. “City” is also huge, which is why I haven’t read it, but it is reflected everywhere in Christian theology.

A number of these can be found for free download on the Internet, as they are in the public domain. Familiarize yourself with CCEL, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. It’s a gold mine.

What’s So Good About the Good News?

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

Jesus heard from the Father that he was His Messiah when he got baptized in the Jordan river by John the Baptist. Then he knocked around for a few weeks, performing a few early miracles. And then, driven by a desire to know exactly what a Son of God was supposed to do, he spent 40 days fasting in a lonely place and praying. And after he returned from that period of prayer and testing, he walked into a synagogue in Galilee, took the initiative to read the haftorah portion of the week*, and read the passage at the top of this post. “Today,” he told them, “this is fulfilled in your hearing.” (See Luke 4:14-21)

When Jesus was first asked to declare the good news, full of the Holy Spirit and after seeking God earnestly, that’s what he said. So if we want to understand the good news, we need to pay attention to how he described it.

When Jesus is fully present and we have received goodness from his hand:

  • Broken hearts are healed
  • Captives are liberated
  • Prisoners are freed
  • People who have been waiting for God’s favor, receive it
  • People who have been waiting for God to execute vengeance for them, see it
  • Those who have been mourning rejoice instead
  • They wear garlands instead of ashes
  • Where they used to faint, now they praise

Short version, the good news is that whatever is wrong in the absence of God, gets fixed in His presence.

Now, that’s good news — if it’s true.

And it’s true, but a lot of us have yet to experience it in full. God’s work is seldom instantaneous, it unfolds over time. This is why it is important to persevere in God — because those who wait on the Lord always eventually receive what has been promised. But sometimes it takes Him a while to bring us to the place where we can receive from Him what He wants to give us.

We get only as much of God as we are willing to expose of ourselves to Him. Most of the time we are not ready to draw close to God. We keep ourselves aloof from Him, afraid of what He might demand of us if we get too close. We busy ourselves with distractions and imagine that we already have everything that’s available. Meanwhile, the solution to every need of ours is in Him, and He will make it available to us if we will only draw close to receive it. The absence of an answer is never because God does not want us to have it; it’s always because we’re far away from Him. His will is always “Yes.”

I explain this in more detail in the sermon entitled “The Eternal Yes,” on the sermons page. Give it a listen.

You may be thinking “this is the prosperity gospel,” and that it is too good to be true. You’d be half right. I’m not saying that God wants us all to be as rich as Donald Trump and live in huge houses, but I am saying that whatever we need is available in Him, in proportion to how deeply we are willing to surrender to Him. And yes, it is too good to be true. But it’s true nonetheless.

Just because few of us have drawn close enough to God to receive as much of Him as is available, does not mean it’s not available. It means we have been content with sub-normal Christianity. There’s no virtue in that.

He who did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, give us all things? (Rom 8:32) If your experience of God has not been like that, you are missing things that are yours by inheritance. Setting right whatever has been wrong is the good news. It is God’s nature to heal what is broken. It is always — always — His will to do so.

Never doubt the goodness of God. Never doubt His will to do good… to you. Instead, set yourself to draw close to God persistently, expecting that the closer you get to Him, the more of His goodness (as well as His truth, His correction, and His cleansing) will be yours.

*Normal synagogue practice would call for a reading from the Torah, followed by a reading from the prophets. The second reading is called the haftorah portion. Any Jewish male who has received bar mitzvah is qualified to read either of these portions. Apparently visitors were invited to speak to the gathering and sometimes to read the haftorah, since both Jesus (Luke 4:16-17) and Paul (Acts 13:14-15) took advantage of this practice.

Exposing Ourselves to God

It was not God who dove into the bushes to hide when the humans sinned in Eden, it was Man. God does not hide Himself from us; we hide ourselves from Him.

If you ever wonder why God does not show up at your meetings, wonder no longer. It’s not God who fails to show up, it’s us. He’s always willing to draw close to us; it is we who are unwilling to draw close to Him.

This is why God said things to Israel like “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” (Malachi 3:7). He’s not saying “You first.” He’s saying “I’ve already done my part, so if you want to see Me, you have to change.”

This is also why the Psalmist says “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18) We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re cleaner than we are, but God is never fooled. Before we’ve been completely honest with God about the stuff that’s going on inside us, He’s going to seem far away. But if we tell Him exactly what’s going on, He’ll be near to help us. That’s not by His choice, but ours.

So the writer of Hebrews encourages us,

…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…

Heb 10:22-23

So the real question is, “In what ways am I unwilling to see God today?” If we ask that, He will answer, and will help us alter whatever it is we’re using to block Him out from some part of our lives. And the closer we get to Him, the more life we get from Him. All good things are available from the Father, if we just draw close enough to get them.

Come further up, and further in!

Why I’m Here

Western civilization is coming unzipped.

Christianity built the West. It was Christ who gave us reason. It was Christ who gave us the sciences and the arts. It was Christ who gave us contract law and free markets. It was Christ who gave us universal literacy and individual rights.

And now we are in the fists of a demented ideology that appears to have been formulated in hell to unzip Western civilization and replace it with a Tyranny of the Self-Deluded. Those least worthy of leading think themselves so superior to the rest of us that they confer on themselves the right to tell us all how to live. They are unmaking civilization and replacing it with their delusions.

I devoted a few years to blogging in an attempt to address this through politics. It was satisfying for a while and good therapy, but politics does not hold the answer. At the root of all the good in our civilization, stands Christ. At the root of the deterioration, we have rejected Christ.

So, I have devoted myself to teaching Christian religion to those who want to learn it. My goal is to rebuild the foundation, so that when the edifice of the West crumbles into dust, as it is already well on its way to doing, there will be something of value on which to start rebuilding.

Welcome to the school of Christ, where the Truth will make you free.

He’s Greater Than You Know

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