Monday, March 15, 2010


I have realized how much our society and culture in this country prizes self-sufficiency. We have to do it ourselves. We earn whatever we get, we get what we deserve, we put in the effort, do the work and pull ourselves up by our boot straps. I have found that biblically, that mind set is pretty close to heresy. Instead of recognizing it, we have just adapted it into the church, and it's not new.

When Martin Luther was a young man in the monastery, he had the duty to serve communion. He was terrified because he knew he wasn't good enough. He learned to hate God until he found true grace. Luther worked so hard to please God, but always aware of his own short comings. He was more self aware than you or I. If we were as keenly aware of our sin as Luther, we would probably end up in the same place Luther did. He spend time incapacitated by his guilt, struggle and hatred. As I look at Luther, I see that there are stages or groups. It appears to me, there are basically three groups or stages.

The first group are the pharisees, the Roman Catholics, the legalists, who believe they are good enough. These are arrogant, prideful people who exist in the church who believe they have kept the law, done the work, are good enough and God owes them. Most of them would never say that, they would never admit it, but deep down that is how they feel. I'll admit that sometimes I struggle not to be there, after all, I'm a seminary trained pastor. I read, write, study, teach, preach, live and learn, always focused on God. Right? Did you see what the first letter of that horribly arrogant sentence was? "I". I am the subject, God is the object. Look at what "I" do. I made the decision, I have free will, I walked the aisle, I said the prayer, I found Jesus, I read my Bible, I go to church. God is auxiliary to my "religious" activities. This is where Martin Luther found himself, working to be good enough.

The second group is where I end up after spending time in this mode. It's where Martin Luther ended up. Disenfranchised, bitter and grieved. Martin Luther came to hate God. As John Lynch said in his message "True Faced", "pleasing God turns into how much I do to keep Him pleased". There is always more to do, more to read and study and work at. I can always be better, always be busier, more productive, sin less, care more and try harder. Eventually, I become so tired, my soul weary, my flesh exhausted. We blame God, the church, the Bible, we say things like "I don't like institutionalize religion", but the reality is we despise ourselves. We hate our faults, our short comings, and we feel inadequate, but we don't want to admit that, so we blame everything outside of ourselves. We are mad and angry at God because we are working so hard to do something He never asked us to do. We work so hard to be perfect when all along, He only asked us to trust Him. Sometimes we get a glimpse of that, and we become more angry. "How dare you ask me to give up my effort of self-sufficiency, after all, don't you want me to be better?" Does it resonate in your soul? Can you feel it? Your pride, your desire to pull yourself up by your boot straps, your desire to be in control. You want to do it, you want to fix it, you want to do it yourself. It began as soon as you became self-aware, at the age of two, you began. You wanted to do it yourself, be self-sufficient. We grow and learn to be more independent, it's part of our human nature. No one has to teach us how to be selfish or stubborn, self reliant or arrogant. So here you are. You are mad at God because you can't do it yourself, and you are mad at God because He wants you to trust Him and not try to do it yourself. You want to, yet you can't and the more you try the more bitter you become. This is why Christianity is dying in America. We are learning we can't do it. We are finding that our flesh, our temptations and our short comings easily master us. We are controlled by our fear and by our inadequacies. The only thing worse than being inadequate is being inadequate and unable to do anything about it yourself.

The third option is the place I desire to be, but I can't get there. Here is the problem, I struggle to get there on my own, and in my struggle I become self-sufficient for a short time. I quickly burn out, and I can't find the way to trust without striving on my own power. I am working to learn grace, which becomes a contradiction. I know it can be done, I believe Martin Luther did it. I believe that John Calvin did it, and gave us some keys in reformed theology. We kick and struggle against reformed theology because it takes the power away from us. We hate it, because we lose control. Somehow I must find a way to relinquish control. I can't find a way to live inside the paradox. I must find a way to live out my faith as a response, instead of living out my response to find grace. The Christian world as a whole is not helping me. I read books and articles and listen to messages and songs that tell me how to do the things I need to do in order to get a "spiritual life". If I just pray more, read more, go to church more, give more, then I'll get there. I can't find a method that's not a method. My entire life falls back into me trying to please God, which then becomes on what must I do to keep Him pleased. My Heavenly Father slowly degrades into the Heavenly School Master, ready to punish or reward me based on my merit. After all, shouldn't we get what we deserve?

So here I sit, coming back full circle. Striving to live in grace, but finding myself neck deep in works. Wanting happiness and fulfillment, not grace and relationship. All the time focused on me, what I did, what I do and what I want. I feel trapped and suffocated by my inability to escape the prison I have constructed for myself. The ironic part is I know God wants to free me, and for whatever reason, I can't or I won't allow Him to do so. I feel the inner struggle of Paul as he writes "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"Romans 7:24 (ESV). So I trust in words of Christ to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:9 (ESV). Even as I am trapped in this prison of my own making, even as I can't escape and I can't figure out how to get it right, I am still being saved from myself. Maybe I can't see it. It seems to me that Paul couldn't see it, feel it or grasp it either, but grace. Amazing Grace. It's sufficient for even me, the wretch that I am.

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