Sin

Detective Work in Sin Patterns

Detective Work in Sin Patterns

Overcoming sin patterns is an incredibly arduous task. It is primarily difficult because we are terrific analyzers of patterns in others, but remarkably inefficient when it comes to discovering sin patterns in our own. But we should be in the business of pattern detecting.

Say you have a tendency to overreact to situations in your life. A pickle jar falls to the floor and shatters into millions of pickle-flavored crystallized pieces of glass. You then look to the heavens and declare that Zeus and Apollos have betrayed you and perhaps even the God of Abraham was in on the conspiracy. Those around you look in amazement at just how much that pickle jar meant to you. After all, no one would weep and cuss if the pickle jar didn’t have sentimental value.

After you come to your senses, you realize that the pickle jar wasn’t really that valuable and that you wept in vain. You may even feel embarrassed by the scene you caused. What do you do now? You can begin by asking God to forgive you. And he does. He is slow to anger. But then what? Well, you must begin with an analysis of those patterns. If you need help you can even ask your friends or family if they see a pattern. If so, you may need to do an autopsy of the event examining the body of evidence left in those patterns in the last few days and weeks and determine why things cause you to overact so easily. Be so familiar with that particular sin pattern that you become highly self-aware of the need to avoid repeating that action and pattern the next time. Say to yourself: “Self, I need to kill this pattern before it kills me.” Keep thinking and examining that sin pattern until you become so tired of its affect that you learn to despise it.

What to do when I am planning to sin?

A wonderful piece by Ed Welch offers some thoughts on this profound question. Welch writes that there are two patterns:

1. Confess—then ignore. A couple indulges in premarital sex and feels guilty. They confess it to the Lord, and promise God and each other, never to do it again. But it happens again, and then again. By the third time they are not quite sure how to proceed. They still might feel a little horrible, but why bother confessing something that you know you will do again? They know that making guilty promises doesn’t work and, by this point, they admit that such promises are lies anyway. They expect to do it again. Better just to let this phase run its course, they conclude. Marriage might come soon, or maybe the sin will gradually die out. Then they can re-engage with God.

2. Confess—try—feel really bad—be hopeless—try to ignoreThis is a slight variation on the first and takes a little longer to spiritually quarantine the recurring sin so that no one messes with it anymore. For example, someone might not be planning his next descent into porn, but he has done little to interrupt that descent such as share his internet activity with an accountability partner. He can confess his next nine falls (leaps?) into porn, but once it gets to double digits he starts to wonder, what’s the use? Then this sector of life gradually closes to divine activity, though those bad feelings never quite go away.

The article is helpful for those counseling and for those tempted to do what they know to be wrong.

Confessing our Envy

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 73:3 that I “was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It is clear that as we come into worship this morning, we all have this one sin to confess: envy. At some time this week, we have desired something that someone else has. Maybe you desired that luxury car, perhaps that dark desire you pray no one ever finds out, or the celebrity life, whatever it may have been, you and I are guilty of envy. We have worshiped at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. We have placed our desires at the center of the world, and we want the world to answer them. “Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts.”[1]

What is that consuming thing without which our lives have no meaning?  What is it? Ponder that in your hearts as you come to worship this morning.

The purpose of worship is to direct your attention to the priorities of the kingdom, and in order to change our priorities we need to confess our envy. As Paul Tripp writes: “Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship.”[2]

Prepare your hearts to confess how you have desired other things before the kingdom of God; confess your self-centeredness, and then be assured that the kingdom of God is within you.

Prayer: O gracious God, our hearts are full of envy. We imagine ourselves with a different life, and when we do so we forget to give you thanks for the gracious life you have given us. Do not allow us to drift from your goodness. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Why am I Angry?

Why am I angry? Why do I lose control so often? How can I change?

These are all questions we have considered. We don’t have to ponder too long before we realize that anger has made a home in our hearts many times.

The first instance of anger in the Bible is in Genesis 4. Cain was angry because his offering was not accepted (Gen. 4:5). We can offer some theological insight into the nature of this offering, but for our purposes, the result of this offering/worship rejection was the murder of Abel. We can then conclude that unrighteous anger ( I argue that there is righteous anger, but that anger is rarely righteous) is a result of unacceptable worship. The first recorded sinful act in the fallen world was the result of anger. Uncontrolled anger is a result of false worship. The one who is angry and sins has made his desires and agenda the center of the universe. Anger is the definition of self-worship. It is the manifestation that one’s world is not where it should be and so everyone–or someone close– must conform his world to theirs.

If a person has a history of angry outbursts, then it might take more than a few sermons and counseling sessions to see change. Ultimately, Jesus is the model we are to follow. He was insulted, abused, and falsely accused, but yet he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23). Changing and conforming to the image of our Lord must be a priority. Anger cannot be moderated through self-determination, but through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the comforter of the afflicted and the One who calms the angry heart.

Changing then requires an initial affirmation that anger and its consequences is inconsistent with the Christian testimony. It elevates our agenda above others. It does not seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness. But changing from angry outbursts to  a soft answer demands constant accountability with people who know you best. Your pastor or close friend may be wise choices in confronting you in this process. Anger destroys those closest to us and it can affect jobs, relationships, and our communion with the Triune God.

We need to be confronted by the peace of God daily. Jesus Christ is the shalom of God to the world. He disarms anger with love and grace. In this sense, a grateful heart is the most fundamental response to anger. The one who worships rightly is most grateful. Gratitude is anger’s worst enemy. Unrighteous anger is a denial of God’s gifts to his children.

If you are angry and your family has been on the receiving side of that anger for a long time, then it is time to change. The angry heart never takes a break. Seek Christ. Seek help from your community, and worship rightly.

Gosnell and the Boston Marathon

One of the great problems of our society is the problem of prioritization. We have not disciplined ourselves. We have a disjointed hierarchy. Since this is the case we walk around limping as a culture. Christians, the architects of society, have a particular distaste for priorities. They want to tackle too many issues with the same level of enthusiasm and dedication. As a result, we have lost our battles again and again. I am not implying that we need to forget certain issues, but that we need to give more attention to others.

One such example of this is the recent cases of Kermit Gosnell and the Boston Marathon Bombing. The media has overwhelmed us with terrorist experts. They have played images again and again. On the other hand–by comparison–the media has avoided the details of the Gosnell case. Where are the terrorist experts when we need them? The grand jury transcripts are all available. The details are gruesome. While Planned Parenthood laments how dirty Gosnell’s facility was and how much cleaner their deaths are, we need to keep first things first. One monster who keeps body parts as souvenirs is no different than another monster who prefers to dispose of body parts. They are all guilty and filthy in every way.

We weep and expect quick judgment to befall the protagonists of the evil that occurred in Boston. The Boston Marathon bombing offered us a glimpse into sin ( I offered a prayer here), but the slaughtered body parts of born infants offers us a gigantic display of the barbaric nature of sin. This is what priorities look like.  Though Christ bore every sin, not every sin is alike. Though people die, not every death is alike. Though catastrophes happen, not every catastrophe is alike.  We know this instinctively, but at times we are afraid to bring it to light. Some may fear we are trivializing an atrocity to bring light to another. This is not the case. I am simply pointing out that certain atrocities are so humanly appalling that it deserves more light than others. I am trying to reverse the prioritization of a culture. I am asserting that not all evil acts are created equal. I am also affirming that God’s wrath burns brighter in some cases over others. I am asserting that when what God so wonderfully made (Ps. 139) is torn and broken, our weeping should last longer.

Marc Lamont Hill made clear his priorities when he stated the following recently:

“For what it’s worth, I do think that those of us on the left have made a decision not to cover this trial because we worry that it’ll compromise abortion rights. Whether you agree with abortion or not, I do think there’s a direct connection between the media’s failure to cover this and our own political commitments on the left. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s dangerous, but I think that’s the way it is.”

This type of clarity is rare, but refreshing. It is refreshing in an extremely morbid sense. Hill is one of those that acknowledge that his ideology is to be preferred over what is good, true, and beautiful. Simply put, a philosophy of death needs to prevail. Robert Frost once humorously observed that “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” The humor vanishes when we consider that for those dismembered infants life barely started. We lack moral prioritization.

So while we offer our prayers to the suffering and grieving in Boston, let us remember and keep reminding everyone through whatever means that what monsters do to the least of these must not be forgotten. Let us keep reminding everyone and ourselves that what monsters do seconds after birth or seconds (or months) before birth is no different. Let us keep reminding the world that God will not overlook evil. Let us keep first things first.