Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I'm stuck on an idea I came across in John Owen recently (not surprised at all are you?).  One of his arguments about the power of indwelling sin is that, as trees planted by streams of water, we as believers should be growing fat on the goodness and mercies of God.  We should be fruitful, joyful, and exuberantly filled with the richness of Christ.  That we are not so is the strongest evidence that indwelling sin is our most formidable enemy.  Instead of living lives characterized by this fatness, we live live out a hollow, emasculated, talking faith.  Rather than lives overflowing with the fruit of deep communion with God, we live in shallow platitudes that show up as rules about how to eat, vote, or school our children.
...but to see men living under and enjoying all the means of spiritual thriving, yet to decay, not to be fat and flourishing, but rather daily to pine and wither, this argues some secret, powerful distemper, whose poisonous and noxious qualities hinder the virtue and efficacy of the means they enjoy.  This is indwelling sin.  So wonderfully powerful, so effectually poisonous it is, that it can bring leanness on the souls of men in the midst of all the precious means of growth and flourishing.  It may well make us tremble, to see men live under and in the use of the means of the gospel, preaching, praying, administration of sacraments, and yet to grow colder every day than others in zeal for God, more selfish and worldly even habitually to decline as to the degree of holiness which they had attained unto. 
He wrote that nearly four hundred years ago, and it is the same story today.  Indwelling sin reduces the fulness of life in Christ to a weary trudging mess that leaves us even less holy than when we first sought our savior's love.

About a year ago I felt like I should start memorizing Psalm 119, but given how long it is and how slow I am and how powerful my sinful nature is, I finally just started a week ago.  Judging by past experience, I expect I will finish in about three years if I don't give up by the fourteenth verse.  I've been mystified by verse 7: "I will praise you with an upright heart, as I learn your righteous laws."  It reminds me of Hebrews 10:14: "because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

Upright but still learning, perfect but not yet made holy.  There is some crazy tension about living in the fatness of Christ while still a sinner.  How to drink deep of his abundant renewing mercy in such a way as to overflow with the fruit of the Spirit while living in a state of continual confession and repentance.  Trying to live in this tension makes me feel like I've been chasing my tail so long I'm about to pass out.  Or like when I tried to roll down this giant hill with Quinn a few years back, and ended up having to sit with my head between my legs for ten minutes trying not to throw up because I forgot I was too old to roll down giant hills, or really any hills for that matter.  In fact, I would say the past few weeks I have been passed out spiritually, dizzy from too much reeling.  I just read the opening of Psalm 119 over and over and let the Spirit cry out on my behalf as I lay mystified, unable to form two coherent sentences about God.

But this picture of fatness is what I've been praying for.  How's that for a totally un-chic prayer?  Obviously I'm not hipster enough, and yet I can't helping thinking that the sleek, sophisticated trappings we use to modernize our religion and convince ourselves we've somehow progressed merely cover a festering heap of sin and shame, just like they did four hundred years ago.  So I've been praying for fatness, for the belly laugh of a portly gentlemen who has just pushed himself back from a feast and finds himself so overcome with joy he has to hold that giant, quivering bulk to keep himself from falling right over with merriment.  Because maybe, just maybe our souls are a little too skinny for our own good these days.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

caught up

There's a fine line between honesty and self-indulgent whining.  Sometimes, I'm not sure which side of that line I'm on.  But since I write to process rather than impress, I don't suppose you have to read this.

I think I have a form of emotional bulemia.  seriously.

I've still been reading John Owen (because I'm the slowest reader in the world, apparently), and studying how the sinful nature captures your affections, mind, and will to accomplish its purposes.  I think I need to stop reading though, because as it took me weeks to wade through these pages my sinful nature was using the very same tricks I was reading about to take over.  You'd think I'd be a little smarter, since I was reading about it, but apparently not.  So grief and shame built up over the course of those weeks until I was finally able to purge them a few days ago during a sweet time of confession.

Since then I've felt... well... empty would probably be the best way to describe it.  Like I vomited out all my filth, and although I'm feeling cleansed by Christ, I'm not feeling filled by him, either.  I keep recalling that example Jesus gave about the man who was cleansed of one demon, and when the demon returned, he brought seven others with him.  I'm desperately not wanting to binge on sin again yet I find all the quiet in my head makes temptation all the more difficult to fight.

As the school year dies down I'm trying to acclimate myself to free time again.  My moments outside work are so scripted throughout the school year that I get to May and have to teach myself how to live slowly, without an immediate agenda.  Unfortunately at this same time of year I also approach the anniversary of Emmett's death.  Last year I felt the anticipation of a difficult season looming on the horizon.  This year I find myself feeling an immense relief to have survived the year relatively sane and unscarred mingled with a quiet simmering panic that won't seem to go away.  I've been trying to pray through the origins of the panic and how best to deal with it, but it still baffles me.

I attended my first official hootenanny this past weekend with a friend at a local farm.  I listened to the music and watched the bumble bees drill their holes as the sawdust drifted down through the fading light. And I felt a deep wave of grief, the likes of which I haven't felt in a long time.  I'm not sure why, perhaps it's that I have time and space in my life to feel again.  Perhaps it's another approaching anniversary.  Perhaps I'm just nuts.  Whatever the reason, I find myself unexpectedly caught up again, and I'm nervous about making it out intact.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

honest mess

When Emmett got sick a few years ago and I started blogging, I largely gave up writing in my journal that I've kept since seventh grade because it seemed redundant.  Every now and then, though, I pull it back out because I can't bring myself to open my computer and be completely honest.  I haven't pulled that journal out in over a year, but this morning I was halfway through an entry when I thought, "oh, crap, you're going to make me post this aren't you?"  So here is what I wrote in all its honest mess....

...This morning I find I need to tuck myself away in a closet of private confession. Oh Lord, I have cherished sin in my heart.  I - who professes to love you, who rejoices in praising your name among your people, who delights in your tender, compassionate love - I have been secretly feeding a thousand cherished lusts and self-indulgences.

I have lusted after relationships and food and material things.  I have indulged in spending, eating, and gossip.  I have been impatient, ungracious, boastful and malicious.  Even when these sins were unnoticed or comparatively small, I enjoyed them, welcomed them, planned them, and sought to continue in them like I was the whore of Babylon.  I can list specific instances where you hemmed me in or pinned me down to keep me from sin, and I responded by squirming and trying to get around you.

Yet you have laid your hand upon me.  You have brought me into the sanctuary and shown me truth.  I know better, and still I have let sin wriggle into my heart and chain up my soul.  I have driven nail upon nail into the heart of Christ every day and dragged others down with me in my sin.

I have been tempted to compensate for my sin by setting up rigorous laws, an elaborate series of self-deprivations and self-imposed humiliations.  I am tempted to make myself feel better by some elaborate and rigid system of ordering my life to impose the outward appearance of holiness to compensate for the inward decay of my heart.  There was a time when I would have done these things with a desperate desire to earn your love, frantic to bribe you to love me, eager to make myself worthy.

But this time is different, I weep because I am confident that you love me, despite my sin.  I never expected to have this kind of confidence, to have no desire to cover my self-indulgent sinful nature with a more self-righteous version.  I no longer want rules to take away my freedom because I'm not strong enough to walk rightly.  I don't want to give up indulging in sinful pleasures merely so I can indulge in self-righteous condescension.

I want your Spirit that sets me free to run in the paths of your commands.  I want to get a little angry with you because that Spirit is so hard to hear and then have you laugh at me because my sinful nature fabricates that excuse to trick me into sinning.  I want to wrestle with you and lose.  I want to live in freedom, knowing and accepting the risks of falling down.  I want to teach these crippled legs to run instead of confining them to a wheelchair because I'm afraid of being found out as a sinner.

But today my soul is weary with the sorrow of my own sin, so strengthen me according to your word, not according to mine.