Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hard to love and ugly

I am pretty sure that my pastors must have some kind of microchip implanted in my brain. How else could they deliver a sermon every single Sunday that sounds like a page from my life? They are up to something. I just know it. ;)

Our church is going through the book of Colossians and today was Colossians 3:5-6.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

The pastor talked a lot about how if Jesus is our only hope, then our actions should follow suit. His biggest fear, he says, is that we will think that behavior modification is the path to salvation. That if we just do this thing or don't do that other thing, but don't deal with the heart issue, that everything will just be hunky-dory. Then he said something like, "There are so many people here who have been sweet and nice and quiet in the church and they stay under the radar. They are leaving sins in their hearts unchecked because they think they've cleaned up their outside but not their inside and no one ever noticed them enough to speak into their lives about their heart issues."

It was at that point that I considered having my place swept for bugs. I just know they're listening in on me. Do you hear me, pastors? I am on to you.

I've always known that I'm a sinner and I need a Savior and Jesus is the only way to Heaven. But I've never fully realized my tendency to blame others when things go wrong, or when I'm sad, or when life is overwhelming. For example, I've been indulging lately in feeling lonely. This inevitably leads to feeling angry and bitter. Clearly, this is everyone else's fault because they don't reach out to me even though I try to be more engaging. Shame on them for failing. And this is also not something I signed up for, but my hearing loss forces me away from people and makes communication harder to achieve. So really, it is not my fault that I get mad or frustrated - if I wasn't hard of hearing, I wouldn't be this way. So obviously, it's not my fault that my actions haven't been lining up with the person God has called me to be. Obviously.

Then I did that thinking thing. Ugh. It always gets me into all sorts of trouble. I thought. And I pondered. I toyed with the idea... "What if it's not them? What if it's me? What if I have particular sins that drive people away? What if I am not as marvelous and wonderful and delightful as I think I am? What if I am not a victim but an instigator?"

I've always been that fly-under-the-radar kind of person. I'm nice and helpful and bend over backwards for people. But I don't let people get too close. I'm open, but not vulnerable. I'm the shoulder to cry on but I won't lean on yours. On top of that, I'm pushy, nosy and demanding. I'm a know-it-all and think highly of myself. My soul is so riddled with pride, criticism and self-righteousness. My problem isn't other people and what they've done or not done to me. My problem isn't that I live with a profound hearing loss and all that that entails. My biggest problem is that I'm a sinner, that there is something inherently wrong with me, that I love to sin and do things that dishonor God and hurt my relationships with other people (We don't think of it like that, that we "love to sin." But it's true, we do. We're more passionate about making ourselves happy - even with seemingly good things like families, food and fellowship - and feeding our egos than we are about loving God).

The problem is me. Maybe when I pester people to go out to lunch, that's a turn-off because what I'm really doing is not respecting their boundaries and demanding my own way, that my needs be served. Maybe when I get mad that other people seem to have more friends, I'm really just coveting that they got what I wanted. I'm like a three-year-old complaining that the other kid is playing with that toy, even when I have a perfectly good toy in my own hands. I'm greedy. And maybe, just maybe, all the overthinking I do isn't the result of some drama that just came to me... maybe I'm actually the instigator by all the thinking I do because I'm trying to control something that I can't.

See, those are the earthly things Paul is telling us to put to death. I loved the colorful way our pastor put it today (I'm paraphrasing. I don't take notes during the sermon, so this is based on my own recollection. Eek): "Be passionate about annilihating anything that would rob you of your affections for God. Put it to death."

That sounds trite these days. Put our sin to death. Jesus is our only hope. God is enough. Jesus died to bring you to God. We say them so often and they've been absorbed into our church-ese that they don't mean anything to us anymore. Indeed, I had even been getting a little anxious with our pastors because they basically were preaching the exact same sermon every week. Didn't matter what the text was, the final message was always, "Jesus is our only hope." I wanted to scream, "I KNOW! So now what?!"

But the more I reflect on the truth that Jesus is, in fact, my only hope, that my sin is so great that it separates me from God, and that apart from Him, I can't make myself good or right, the more I realize how much I do not live a life that responds to that hope. I cling to things like work and family and friends and company and TV and food and dreams of marriage to fulfill me but they never, ever do. Never. That sounds trite, too, to say that God is enough. But really, we live like God + ____ = enough. Oh, what a lie we buy into when we think that. How we insult God's holiness when we say as long as He gives us this, that and the other AND Him, then we'll be okay. But the truth is that if your family and friends and company and TV and food and marriage were pulled out from under you, if they were all gone tomorrow, all you would be left with would be the Lord and that would still be enough. Do you know that? I mean, do you really know that? Or are you waiting for God to give you things that you think make you happy, instead of resting in Him alone who is your greatest joy?

If Jesus is my only hope, Paul says, I should abhor the things that starve me of my affections for Him. Because God is enough, I should be waging war on "what is earthly in [me]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." I shouldn't be waging war on perceived slights or the unfairness of life, but on the things that would draw me away from the Giver of life... and rejoicing that He has brought me near by the precious blood of Christ.

One of the songs we sang at the closing of the service was "I Am One of Those" by Nathan Partain. Google it. Find it. Listen to it. I don't know how to embed audio or video here (I'm a slow blog learner), so you'll have to do the dirty work. But the last stanza brought it all home for me:

I am one of those, who was hard to love and ugly
Self-righteous, critical; religion was my stain,
Then I came to Christ to wash and be discovered,
Jesus came to me and covered up my shame.

I am hard to love and ugly... but Jesus came to me and covered up my shame.

Something's wrong with me. Only Jesus can fix it. This is the gospel. This is grace.


  1. I think your Pastor has his finger on the pulse of the whole world with this topic. I really struggle with passages that command us to love Jesus more than our own children. This is essentially what you're pointing out when you say about "marriage, friends, TV being ripped away." There's a hierarchy in my brain that puts Jesus right up there with Tim and Julia, but the bible doesn't say to love the Lord AS MUCH as your husband. So I suppose I sin every day.

    And yesterday I made a grocery list during my pastor's sermon. So my sin count isn't doing too well this week.

    This is a very poignant post. I think the world can only become a better place when we all accept that the only chance we have to change a thing is by first changing ourselves. It all starts with me.

  2. Ok, this is good. I liked how you remembered what your pastor said "annihilate whatever is robbing you of your affection for God." I am just learning what a heart issue sin is. There is something about marriage and children that really brings out the best in someone (not really). Thank you for this post and for your honesty about your own struggles.

  3. It's very rare that I will post a link to someone's blog post. But I just did. Great post. =)

  4. Thanks for writing this out... great reminder again of what I began forgetting since Sunday haha

    The section about "what a lie we buy into when..." brought back to mind a song I started writing last week - lots of the same thoughts, stemming from, of course, Colossians.

    Here are the lyrics, so far.

    I believed the lie that I could buy myself the things in life to somehow satisfy my longings deep inside when all I need is Your love,
    But I'm surrounded and confounded by the sounds of empty promises all claiming that this time around they'd be enough
    Come remove the appetite for things outside the Light, stay in sight and be my Guide to help me do what's right
    Light the fire of desire for the riches that are higher than the treasures this world can offer.

    Jesus You're all I need, and I can't live one day without Your mercy.

  5. How astounding is His grace that He not only saves us from damnation--the damnation we rightly and profoundly deserve--but He saves us to a deepening recognition of our sin and an expanding view of His holiness...

    He doesn't desire to keep us in that "earthly" state... but for our GOOD, He unearths the things that we hate--and didn't even realize--about ourselves. Thank you, Lucy, for your transparency... I loved reading this post!

  6. Anne - the with whom you mocked life silently for several yearsOctober 1, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    Good stuff, Lucy.