Why #Ballislife and Why It’s Not

Today on the blog, I’m writing about one of my favorite subjects: basketball! Hope you enjoy.

Why #Ballislife

Ball is life because basketball is like life. I’ve found the challenges I face on the court often mirror the challenges I face off of it. Because of that, basketball has often given me surprising insights into my life and walk with God. In particular, it has challenged me to examine my response to failure and adversity.

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Basketball has shown me that my default response to failure and adversity is usually frustration. Sadly, the basketball court is often a sad display of Christian character. Instead of sportsmanship, you’ll often find flaring tempers and heated arguments. I’m no exception. I try  not to show it outwardly, but my bad attitude often comes out in my scowling face and slouched body language.

Why do I get frustrated when I play basketball? It’s not the physical play or competition (I’ll come back to these later). I get most angry when I’m playing poorly–when I miss point-blank layups or have a string of bad turnovers. But its not the mistakes that make me upset per se, it’s that they make me feel like a loser. Mistakes damage my pride and I hate that feeling of wounded pride.

So what do I do instead? I project my wounded pride outward as frustration. I find another reason to be mad to avoid the truth that I’m angry at myself. So I’ll blame a hard foul, a  sketchy call, or an arrogant player. I place the blame outside of myself and feel better.

Basketball often reminds me of this important lesson: we are most volatile and dangerous when we feel like failures. Why? Because we project that frustration with ourselves outward against others. When we’re frustrated with ourselves, we react in anger at even the smallest of annoyances. We snap back at innocent questions and friendly gestures. We seethe with anger when a small thing doesn’t go our way.

And the greater the provocation, the stronger our reaction will be. That’s why I think so many of us get particularly angry when we play basketball. In and of themselves, competition and physical play don’t make us angry, but when we’re already feeling frustrated, they sure do add fuel to the fire. Throw in other prideful, equally-frustrated players and it’s easy to see why the flames so often escalate out of control.

I wonder how much damage has been committed by people who lash out against others because they are unable to cope with feelings of failure. It’s a scary and humbling thought because I see those same roots of anger running deep in my own heart, hidden beneath the surface of respectability. We must learn to come to terms with our failure and deal with our frustration, or someday we will erupt in serious and hurtful ways.

fear

Basketball has shown me that my second response to failure and adversity is often fear. Here I am in the middle of a game playing badly. As the mistakes pile up, I feel my confidence waning, even in my ability to make a simple layup or pass. Suddenly, it feels like everyone is watching, silently judging, and waiting for me to mess up again.

In that moment, there is a temptation to stop trying or to let my frustration take over. It’s easier to not try than to make a mistake. It’s easier to blame others than to face my own failures. But the game rages on and my team needs me.

It takes mental fortitude to continue competing hard in adversity. Competing hard means risking further failure. But that’s what good players do: they stay calm and remain aggressive, even after they’ve made countless mistakes.

Isn’t the same true of life? There are moments when our confidence wavers. After we bomb a job interview or after we’ve sent out countless applications and heard nothing in return. After we swore we would stand strong against a particular sin, yet find ourselves falling again and again. Our strength fails us. We lose courage to do even the simplest things, much less the daunting tasks in our lives. And yet, life goes on. Those same obstacles that terrify us remain before us. Our responsibilities don’t cease. People don’t stop depending on us. The Lord still requires us to be faithful.

How can we overcome frustration and fear on and off the court? There are practical steps to take. Hard work and practice will give us steadiness. Even when things go wrong, we are not easily derailed because we’ve put in the work a hundred times before. By continually exposing ourselves to adversity, we learn to be more comfortable in it. Over time, we learn that we can press on and that failure isn’t the end of the world.

These steps are good and there are countless athletes and individuals who succeed just by working hard and becoming mentally strong. And yet, for me, I’m reminded that I need grace both in life and to play the game. I am so weak that I need God’s grace to help me to practice and work hard. I am so timid that I need God’s grace to help me step out into the storms of adversity. I am so sinful that I need God’s grace to cover me when I fall into cycles of frustration and fear over and over again. I need God’s grace on and off the court.

Why Ball is not Life

Something rare happened last weekend: I missed basketball. I joke with people that my weekend basketball attendance is as good as my church attendance and that if I don’t play, I have a feeling akin to having missed church. I’m actually not really joking. My basketball attendance is nearly perfect and I feel strangely disoriented when I go a week without playing. That’s why, last Sunday, even though (1) I was at my church’s evening Christmas service and (2) was just recovering from the flu, I still agonized with my decision that it would probably be wise not to play.

You can probably tell from that anecdote and the first section that I’m somebody who  thinks about basketball too much. It’s true. If I’m honest, I often idolize basketball by granting it too high a place in my thoughts and affections.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about why a trivial game like basketball, whether watched or played, can easily become such a huge idol for so many. Here’s a theory from my own experience: basketball offers excitement and purpose when life often feels mundane and aimless. Work can be tedious. We slog our way through the week. At times, church can feel mundane. We sleepwalk our way through fellowship and sermons. We feel tired. At the same time, we feel purposeless and aimless. What am I supposed to be doing? Why does it feel like nothing I do matters?

And then we step on to the court. We hear the sound of squeaking shoes and pounding basketballs and it’s as if we’re transported into a different world. Suddenly, there’s excitement. The rush of seeing your shot sweep through the net. The adrenaline of coming from behind to pull out a win. Suddenly, there’s purpose and direction. I know what I’m supposed to be doing! And it feels significant when I work hard and do it. Suddenly, there’s camaraderie as I work together with my team towards a common goal. Few things can provide us with excitement and purpose like sports so we can begin to depend on them for our day-to-day, week-to-week joy.

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But, like all idols, basketball will disappoint us. It will disappoint us, first, because most of us just aren’t that good. Basketball is, to some extent, a performance-based joy. When you set your heart on playing well and winning, you will be disappointed because sometimes (or most of the time) you’ll play badly and lose . Even if you learn to just enjoy playing, we can’t play basketball all the time. Sometimes we’ll get sick like I did this past weekend. Other times we’ll be injured or we won’t be able to play because of other responsibilities. Eventually, our bodies will break down, our athleticism will fade, and playing won’t be the same.

Basketball is a gift, one I hope to enjoy and play for a long time. Basketball can also teach us important life lessons about self-control, teamwork, and resilience. But, in the grind of daily life, we must look to Jesus, not basketball, to be our life, joy, and strength.

He gives meaning and strength to our work, even in the mundane. He changes us through the preaching of his word. He empowers deep friendships in the church. He forgives our sins. He upholds and sustains us even when circumstances are hard and people fail us. In the great commission, he gives us a glorious cause worth living and dying for. In our restlessness and confusion, he guides our path and gives us true rest.

 

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Marriage, Lust, and Difficult Beauty

The beauty of godliness is that it stands under pressure. Godly men and women don’t shrink back in the face of adversity; they rise up. They trust God and love others even when it is hard. They rejoice, endure, and hope in suffering as God strengthens them by his love (Rom 5:3-5).  God is glorified when his people stand under pressure, and he is at work fashioning us into men and women with that kind of character.

The ugliness of sin is that it can only do what is easy. It offers cheap joy, but makes us into people who crumble at the slightest pressure. It gleams like a valuable jewel at first, but slowly poisons our character. Sin destroys our ability to do anything worthwhile by destroying our ability to do anything that is hard. It erodes our courage to love and saps our strength to sacrifice. It makes us pathetic, weak, and boring. The more we understand the diverging destinations of these two paths, the more we will prefer the hard road of holiness over the easy road of sin.

In this article, I want to apply this idea to our battle against lust. In particular, I want to contrast the difficult beauty of God’s design for sex within marriage with the empty promises of lust. My hope is that as we see the wisdom and goodness of God’s way, we will learn to not just fight lust, but to truly prefer purity in our hearts.

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The  Difficult Beauty of Marital Intimacy – 

In his excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller shares a quote from author W.H. Auden:

“Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate”

What does Auden mean? He means that while romance may feel invincible in its early stages, it is still shallow and fragile. When you’re swept up in powerful emotions, it’s easy to serve your significant other and look past his or her faults. It’s easy to make sacrifices and big promises. But you still have an idealized picture of the other person. You’re still carried along by the rush that the one you love loves you in return.

Marriage takes that initial love and tests it with time, circumstances, and each spouse’s personal failures. As time goes on, feelings fade and faults emerge. Hardships strain the relationship. At times, affection for the other spouse might seem to vanish all together. But the difficulty of marriage, Keller and Auden argue, produces an “infinitely more interesting” — an infinitely more worthwhile, beautiful, and desirable — kind of love. Why? Because marital love is forged through blood, sweat, and tears. It grows through self-denying commitment and sacrificial love. It is carefully cultivated with patience, perseverance, and prayer. And because of that, marital love is far deeper and more mature than that of any passionate affair.

Keller, reflecting on how his relationship with his wife has grown over time, writes this:

When Kathy first held my hand, it was an almost electric thrill. Thirty-seven years later, you don’t get the same buzz out of holding your wife’s hands that you did the first time…[but] there is no comparison between that and what it means to hold Kathy’s hand now, after all we’ve been through. We know each other thoroughly now; we have shared innumerable burdens, we have repented, forgiven, and been reconciled to each other over and over again…When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you will all your strength and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience…To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial.To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is…what we need more than anything.

Something resonates in me when I hear Keller describe his relationship with his wife. There is something so right about this kind of love — a love forged in difficulty that strengthens us for any difficulty. Somewhere deep inside I know I am made to love and be loved in this way. And, at root, I recognize that this is because marital love in its purest form is a “lot like being loved by God”

The Difficult Beauty of Physical Intimacy

It is important to understand marriage because God designed sex to mirror both the difficulty and beauty of the marriage relationship. If we are to experience the joys of being united in sex, God tells us we must also embrace the hard work of marriage. We must relinquish our freedom and be “willing to unite with [a] person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally” through the marriage vow. Once we are married, we must put in the hard work that makes true intimacy possible — the sacrifice, the selflessness, the repentance and reconciliation.

But within this context of committed love, sex becomes something beautiful and meaningful. Keller continues:

…Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less

Physical intimacy reflects the deep intimacy of the marriage relationship. Just as the couple has joined themselves in every area of life and become one, in sex they experience deep joy in joining physically and becoming one flesh. Just as each spouse places the others interest above his or her own, in sex each selflessly seeks to bring enjoyment to the other (1 Cor 7:3-5). Just as in marriage there is joy in being fully known and truly loved, in sex husband and wife experience joy in being naked and unashamed (Gen 2).

God’s, in his design for marriage and sex, takes our fragile love and makes it strong. We enter marriage as selfish people who struggle to love when our feelings falter, or when trials come, or when our spouse lets us down. But through the crucible of marriage, God makes us into people who can love and stay committed through every obstacle. Marriage creates beautiful character in us. In Keller’s words, it “liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us

Now, compare all of this with the cheap pleasure of lust. Lust promises an easy and endless supply of instant gratification. It is divorced from relationship so it requires none of the sacrifices or hard work of commitment. It allows us to be selfish and isolated while still enjoying the pleasures of sex. It offers an escape from the difficulties and pressures of life. But it comes at the cost of our character. Lust destroys our ability to commit to a real life person who is imperfect and inconvenient. It destroys our ability to see those of the opposite gender as image bearers of God, not objects for our selfish desires.

The Difficult Beauty of Purity

If you’re like me, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s all well and good for married people but what about those of us who are single?” It’s easy for us as single people to envy our married friends. After all, while married couples must fight for purity, they can fight together with the one they love. They are able to enjoy the hard-fought benefits of physical and relational intimacy. But single people must fight for purity alone without a guarantee of ever being married.

But that question misses the point. Marriage and singleness are different. Marriage has its own unique difficulties (think about that married guy who doesn’t play basketball with you anymore) and singleness has its own unique benefits (go read 1 Corinthians 7). Regardless of whether we follow God’s design through marriage or chastity, obedience to God is better and more beautiful than lust.

Like marriage, fighting for purity as a single person is difficult. The tempter often comes when we feel most overwhelmed and lonely. In our weakness, he offers us an escape from the painful realities of life in a moment of pleasure. He offers control and power for our feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and insecurity. God’s way is so restrictive, he whispers, who would blame you for giving in? Life is so hard. You deserve it. Just this one time. No one will ever know.

And yet, as I understand the meaning of marriage, I realize that purity, even as a single person, is so much more beautiful than the enemy’s lies. Marriage and chastity produce the same godly character in us as we trust God. Both produce courage and sacrificial love. Both teach us to die to ourselves and consider others more important. Both build our ability to hold on to convictions and commitments even when circumstances are hard. And because of that, both marriage and chastity are equally beautiful in God’s sight, and should be in ours too.

Slowly, I am learning it is much better to turn to God and wait on him when I feel faint. It is much better to trust him to either provide a spouse or sustain me in my singleness. It is much better to treat my sisters with dignity and respect, especially when no one is watching.

Someday, Lord willing, I hope to be husband. If and when that day comes, I must be a man of character. I don’t become that kind of person over night or simply by getting married. I am forming my character right now . Nor am I waiting until marriage to exercise committed sacrificial love. God calls me to practice and grow in that kind of love now, in actively serving others and fighting temptation.

Difficult Beauty and the Good TensionThe more I understand the beauty of holiness, the more I want to pursue purity and leave behind sin. However, at the same time, I am painfully aware of how helpless I am to follow God’s design. I want to be steadfast in trials, but I am swept to and fro by the tides of circumstance. I want to be selfless, but constantly find that I am selfish. I want to learn to commit unconditionally, but instead see my tendency to draw back when others have nothing to offer me.

I find myself in the tension between loving what is right but finding myself unable to carry it out. And yet, I think it is good to live in this tension. Why?

First, this tension reminds me constantly that God is good and I am not. In his good design for marriage, I see that he is the Good Designer who perfectly demonstrates sacrificial and committed love at the cross in the face of the greatest adversity. As I labor weakly to imitate this difficult love, I gain a fresh appreciation of how hard it must be to love me. And as I fail over and over again, I experience from God the very thing I am unable to do — as I fail to show committed and sacrificial love, he shows me committed and sacrificial love.

Second, this tension reminds me that I must depend completely on him for strength. If godliness was easy, I could do it by myself. If godliness wasn’t beautiful, I could pursue another way. But godliness is impossibly difficult, yet irresistibly beautiful, so it draws me to God, the only one who can give me the strength to do what he commands. And because he gives the strength, he gets the glory in leading me to what is good.

By living in this tension and letting it direct us to God for forgiveness and strength, God can begin slowly reforming our hearts. Lust often feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Like no matter how far we run, it will eventually drag us back into its pit. However, as we trust in God, he can change us to love what he loves, and hate what he hates. He can give us the power to put lust to death.

Difficult Beauty in the Big Picture –  Finally, I’ve found it helpful to take this pattern of difficult beauty which we see in marriage and apply it beyond our battle against lust. We’ve seen that the root cause of lust is a failure to trust God in hardship to provide for our needs and be our joy. That is what breaks marriages apart. That is why we give in to lust. When the going gets tough, we doubt God and resort to our selfish, self-protective ways.

Lust is one symptom of this deeper problem, but this root manifests itself in many different ways besides lust. Two months ago, I wrote about how I resort to cynicism to protect myself from getting hurt. Last month, I wrote about how I resort to procrastination when I feel overwhelmed and fearful. And beyond that, I can think of countless other escapes I turn to in order to deal with adversity.

All of these sins follow the same pattern of lust. They promise an easier way: a way to protect myself, a way to shy away from hardship. But they are always hollow. They fail to produce joy or character in us. Whereas God takes us straight into the heart of the storm, but his way ultimately produces lasting joy and character.

It’s helpful for me to see lust in the big picture. For me, it’s easy to make lust the central issue of sanctification. So that if I’m doing well with purity, I feel close to God but if I’m doing poorly, I’m despondent. But understanding the deeper root of lust shows me that I’m not necessarily doing well just because I haven’t fallen into temptation. I must look where I’m turning to when I’m under pressure. I must see if I’m exercising courage and love in other areas of life.

And when I fail in purity, understanding the root problem helps me to have a deeper repentance instead of just a hazy cloud of guilt and shame. It helps me to examine why I gave in to lust and how that reveals areas in my life where I am failing to trust God. At the same time, seeing the root cause helps me to have a deeper repentance for sins I might otherwise be apathetic about. More “respectable” sins like fear, anxiety, or cynicism which are less obvious, but just as damaging to my relationship with God.

Not only that, I can take the lessons learned from this post and apply it other areas of my life. When I am lazy, for example, I can learn to see the beauty of faithful hard work and the emptiness of sin. I can grow in my appreciation of God who is perfect in all his attributes. I can lean on his strength to help me in my weakness and for forgiveness when I fail. And, through his grace, he can help me to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sin and the Depth of David’s Repentance

psalm 51

This past Friday, I had the privilege of teaching from Psalm 51 – David’s famous psalm of repentance after committing adultery and murder.

When I first started studying the passage, David’s repentance felt remote to me. It made sense that he felt such deep contrition since he was repenting for two of the worst sins imaginable. But how did that relate to the ‘small’ and ‘ordinary’ sin I fight in day to day life?  Was I supposed to feel the same brokenness over my sin as David did?

As I dug deeper into the passage, however, I was struck by the depth of David’s understanding of sin. I saw that his words were not just for the adulterers and murderers,  but also for me. Psalm 51 shows my sin and my need for repentance. Here are two lessons in particular that stood out to me:

#1: Sin is First and Foremost Against God:

In verse 4, David declares “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” I had to think a lot about those words. What did he mean that he only sinned against God? Had he not also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and everyone who had counted on his leadership?

We find some helpful clues in the narrative account. Listen to how God describes of David’s sin through the Prophet Nathan :

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites…

…David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:7-9, 13 ESV)

We see similarities in this passage with verse 4 of Psalm 51. Both passages talk about doing evil in God’s sight and both end with David repenting of his sin to God.We also learn more about the nature of David’s sin. The primary sin in this passage is sin against God – David despised the word of the Lord.

That sin is heightened further by two factors. First, it is magnified by God’s past grace and generosity towards David. In verses 7-8, God reminds David of all that He had done in David’s life: he chose David even though he was not outwardly impressive, he protected and sustained David from Saul’s persecution, and he handed over all of Saul’s kingdom into his hands. And God was glad and willing to bless David more, if he came to him in humility and faith. Yet, despite God’s faithfulness, David scorned God’s word and rebelled against it.

Second, it is magnified by the extent to which David despised God’s Word. How did David despise God’s word? By sinning greatly against Uriah and Bathsheba. God includes David’s horizontal sin in David’s vertical sin against him. David’s transgression of the first commandment was worsened and heightened by his grave transgression of the second commandment.

Out of curiosity, I searched the terms ‘sinned against’ and ‘sins against’ on the ESV Bible website and was surprised to find the Bible nearly unanimously references sin as against God. It seems that while it is legitimate to talk about sinning against one another (Jesus does, for example in Matthew 18) sin is primarily against God – so much so, that it is right for David to say ‘against you, you only, have I sinned.’ God is the one most offended by our sin, the ultimate judge of sin, and the one to whom we must give account

How does this deepen my understanding of sin?  While Psalm 51 presents sin as being primarily against God, I often think of it as primarily against others. Because of that I reason that if my sin doesn’t harm others like David’s did, it really isn’t that serious and I don’t need to repent.

It’s true that sin against others is serious, but the Bible takes our understanding of sin a step further. All sin is serious because all sin despises God’s word. Our sin is heightened the more generous God has been to us, or the more our sin overflows and hurts others. But even if David lusted privately after Bathsheba or harbored bitterness in his heart instead of killing Uriah, he would be guilty of great sin because he would be breaking the greatest commandment – to love the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

#2: We have Sinful Hearts and God Examines the Heart

In verses 5-6, David writes: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being. You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.’

David first laments that he was born a sinner. Many today use inborn sin as an excuse why they’re not sinful: ‘I was born this way. I can’t help it. Therefore, I’m not a sinner.’ But David reaches the exact opposite conclusion: ‘I was born this way. I can’t help it. Therefore, I’m a great sinner.’ David knows he is not a good person who happened to made bad choices, but a sinner with a sinful heart. Sin was knit deep into his nature from birth.

After confessing his sinful heart, David then declares that God examines the heart. He delights in truth in the inward being, he says, and teaches wisdom in the secret heart. He desires not just outward actions and religiosity, but genuine righteousness and faith that flows from the inside out.

David grasped this truths perhaps more than anyone else in Scripture. He was the man after God’s own heart in no small part because he realized that God valued his heart. That truth truth had been seared into his mind from the moment he learned why God had chosen him:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

And yet, despite everything David knew, his heart still strayed. It had grown dull, apathetic, and passionless. It had wandered so far that he committed adultery and murder. If David’s heart went astray, how much more will our hearts?

I tend to think of sin as primarily outward. Easily observable sinful actions like murder or adultery are clearly sin, but I often view heart sins as small or not sin at all. The Bible, however, takes heart sin far more seriously because it is the source from which all outward sin flows. Jesus, in Matthew 15:18-20, tells us:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

In Psalm 51, David asks forgiveness for the symptoms of his sin – the adultery and murder – but he also repents of his heart from which the adultery and murder flowed. Not only that, but David cries for God to strengthen his heart:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12)

This is humbling for me. I can manage my outward actions to a certain extent, but I cannot manage my own heart – my anxiety, jealousy, anger, pride, and much more. Like David, I must repent for the bad heart which constantly leads me back toward sin. And like David, I must constantly be asking God to renew and uphold my spirit so that I might obey him willingly and joyfully.

David’s sin and repentance are not remote from me. I began my study seeing myself as above David, only for God to point to me and say ‘You are the man!’. My symptoms might manifest themselves differently from David’s but they come from the same bad root – a bad heart that despises and drifts from God’s Word. This is no small thing. If I’m not careful, then someday – soon or years down the road – my sin will overflow in catastrophic ways.  I am in need God always: to forgive me for my sin and to uphold and strengthen my heart. Praise him for his grace in the Gospel!

For more on sin, check out the other posts in the Forgiven Much series:

Forgiven Much: An Introduction

Forgiven Much: For a Bucket of Rainwater

Forgiven Much: Nowhere to Hide

Forgiven Much: The Greatest Commandment

Forgiven Much: The Greatest Commandment

Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 29-31

“The same is true today, and if we are concerned about a conviction of sin, the first thing we have to do is to stop thinking about particular sins. How difficult we all find this. We have all got these prejudices. We confine sin to certain things only, and because we are not guilty of these we think that we are not sinners …the essential point is, that the way to know yourself a sinner is not to compare yourself with other people; it is to come face to face with the Law of God. Well, what is God’s Law? Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal? ‘I have never done that, therefore I am not a sinner.’ But, my friend, that is not the law of God in its entirety. Would you like to know what the Law of God is? Here it is–‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy strength. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Forget all about drunkards and their like, forget all the people you read about in the press at the present time. Here is the test for you and me: Are you loving God with all your being? If you are not, you are a sinner. That is the test… …So the test we apply to ourselves is…not ‘have I done this or that?’ My test is a positive one: ‘Do I know God? Is Jesus Christ real to me?’ I am not asking whether you know things about Him, but do you know God, are you enjoying God, is God the centre of your life, the soul of your being, the source of your greatest joy? He is meant to be…You and I are meant to be like that, and if we are not like that, it is sin. That is the essence of sin. We have no right not to be like that. That is sin of the deepest and worst type. The essence of sin, in other words, is that we do not live entirely to the glory of God. Of course by committing particular sins we aggravate our guilt before God, but you can be innocent of all gross sins and yet be guilty of this terrible thing, of being satisfied with your life, of having pride in your achievements, and of looking down on others and feeling that you are better than others. There is nothing worse than that… …I know of nothing worse than the person who says: ‘You know I have never really felt that I am a sinner’. That is the height of sin because it means that you have never realized the truth about God and the truth about yourself.”


 

For other posts in the ‘Forgiven Much’ series.

Introduction

For a Bucket of Rainwater

Nowhere to Hide

 

Forgiven Much: Nowhere to Hide

The idea of this “Forgiven Much” series is to post short reflections on my sinfulness for the purposing of marveling at how much Jesus has forgiven me. You can read previous posts below:

Introduction

For a Bucket of Rainwater

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During my recent mission trip, I remember sitting with one of my teammates on the Japanese subway. We had just flown in from Beijing where we had spent a week and a half crammed into a small apartment in the hot polluted summer. My teammate and I were talking about some of the struggles and difficulties of the trip. We both shared something to this effect:

“At home, if you’re annoyed and frustrated after a long day, you can go out somewhere. You can go to your room and spend time alone. The difficult part of the trip is that there’s nowhere to hide. You’re being stretched by really long days. But you’re constantly around people so you don’t have time to really rest. There’s really nowhere for your flesh to hide”

My pastor in Irvine is fond of saying, “You never know what’s inside of a sponge until you squeeze it”. I think the reason why we as affluent Americans often have difficulty realizing our sinfulness is that we never get squeezed. For many of us, a good deal of our sinfulness is hidden by our comfort. If we’re feeling angry or frustrated, we can go to some quiet space. We can blow off steam by playing games or surfing the web. But what happens when those outlets are taken away? What are we really like under pressure? For me, I know that’s when my carefully hidden flesh comes roaring out–in the form of irritability, anger, unthankfulness, self-centeredness, and many other sins.

I’ve been seeing a lot more of my sin since moving home to Sacramento. Currently, I am without a room. I  have no quiet space to isolate myself when I feel like being alone. Combine that with a 6 year old sister who loves to talk and play more than any human I’ve ever met, and I’ve been having some growing pains. I’ve been seeing sin in myself that I never really had to deal with when I was away at school. I’ve been seeing how selfish I am with my “free” time, and how frustrated I get when people infringe on my comfort.

I suspect that’s why marriage and family are so difficult. Yes, you get increased privileges, but with those privileges come added responsibilities. A loss of privacy and places to hide our flesh. A loss of the ability to freely use our time as we choose. Before I rush naively toward the benefits of marriage and family,  I pray that God would continue to cultivate in me a heart that is willing to take on the added responsibility. I’ve got a long ways to go.

As I seek to grow in character and love, would I find rest in the truth that God knows my heart. My comfort might hide my sin from others and even myself, but he knows the ugliness of what I’m truly like when the sponge of my heart gets squeezed. Praise God that he loves me in spite of all my shortcomings.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV)

Forgiven Much: For a Bucket of Rainwater

I started this “Forgiven Much” series a long time ago but never got around to writing anything for it. Better late than never though, right? My idea was to post short reflections on my sinfulness in order to marvel at how much Jesus has forgiven me . You can find the link to the introduction below.

Introduction


Oftentimes the sins I struggle with most in daily life seem very ‘ordinary’ and ‘small’–bad time management, laziness, impatience, a lack of discipline, etc. As a Christian, I know I should feel deep thankfulness to Christ for every sin since all sin deserves God’s holy wrath regardless of how ‘big’ or ‘small’ it feels. However, in practice, this is difficult. How can we feel the weight of our ‘small’ sins?

A while back, I was watching a question and answer session. The particular question being answered was: “If someone just told one small lie,  would God be just in sending that person to an eternity in hell?” At the heart of the question is the same dilemma: what’s so bad about a small little sin?  Does it really deserve the full weight of hell?

The pastor told this analogy to illustrate the great sinfulness of small sins which I found to be very helpful.

“If a man is married to a woman, and his wife leaves him for another man. And that man has certain qualities about him which make him attractive, that’s one thing. I mean if a person commits a great sin. But think about the small sins, it’s almost like the small sin is that much more abominably wicked. Because it’s like your wife saying, “I’m going to leave you for 10 dollars. I’m going to leave you for a free meal. I’m gonna leave you for a bucketful of rainwater. Do you see the insult there? You’re gonna tread on the glory of God for something ridiculously small? You’re saying, “I’m going to have my will and I’m going to do it my way even though it’s such a stupid little thing to lie about.”

Traditionally, the answer I’ve heard is that a small sin is infinite because it’s against the glory of an infinite God. That’s true, but it’s more than that. My “small” sin is infinitely heinous because I trade the glory of God for absolutely nothing. I do this constantly in my everyday actions–when I waste time on the Internet and mindlessly find my joy there, when I look for almost any excuse to put off reading my Bible or praying, when I get into an argument with my parents just to win one little silly point. As stupid as it sounds, I choose ESPN and Facebook and having my way as Savior over the Living Christ.

I’m reminded of Jeremiah 2:4-5: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me,and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? (Jeremiah 2:4-5, ESV). Praise the Savior who forgives me even though daily I trade him for worthless buckets or rainwater.

…You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV)

P.S. If anyone else wants to take up this up with me, feel free to post your own reflections of your sinfulness and how it leads you to be thankful for Christ!

Forgiven Much: An Introduction

I’m writing this a bit on a whim, but that’s okay. It’s been on my mind for a while to start a new series of posts called “Forgiven Much”. The title refers to Luke’s account in chapter 7, verses 36-50, which tells a tale of two very different characters: Simon, a Pharisee, who is confident in his own righteousness and blind to his need for Christ, and an unnamed woman, who is notorious in the city for being a sinner. In the story, Jesus is dining at Simon’s house when a sinful woman enters and begins kissing Jesus feet, wiping them with her tears and anointing them with expensive Alabaster perfume. Simon is repulsed by Jesus’ acceptance of such a sinner and complains silently to himself. Jesus, however, knowing his heart, responds with this humbling parable:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 ESV)

Our Lord tells us this: he is who is forgiven little will love little, but he who has been forgiven will love much. That’s the way it is and there’s no way around it. For me, this is a scary rebuke. Underneath my knowledge and my right answers, I still struggle to understand the sinfulness of my heart.  The truth is I often don’t feel like I’m very sinful and as a result, I’m not often awestruck and humbled to the dust at God’s love for me. I think God has been teaching me over this past year that many of my struggles–whether its struggling day-to-day to find contentment and rest in Christ or wrestling with  questions of God’s sovereignty and justice in the Bible– come from an an inadequate knowledge of my sin. I have failed to understand how deep-rooted and widespread, how deceptive, and how serious my sin is. The goal of this series is a simple one: to meditate on the depth, height, width, and the breadth of my sinfulness in order that I might find fresh joy in the depth, height, width, and breadth of the forgiveness and love of Christ.

Every year, Berean, my church in Irvine, chooses a theme. My freshman year it was “Worship”, this past year was the “Great Commission” (I think, haha), and this year our theme is “Abiding in Christ”. If I were to try and identify a theme for this year, I think I would want this to be my theme. We have been forgiven much, and therefore we love much.

Also, I’m hoping that I can make these posts shorter but also more frequent. That way I won’t be weighed down writing these massive 1500 word essays (that I hate by the time I’m done writing them), but I can write entries that are enjoyable for me and more easily digestible for you. Until next time, adios!