Sunday, March 25, 2012

These things happen.

Recently I read the transcript of an interview with Brennan Manning, an author, priest, speaker, and modern day monk. Through his books he has encouraged Christians to be more contemplative about their faith, and I think he's got some really good things for us to consider in Christianity. You can find out more about him here at his website.

According to his website biography, Mr. Manning is a recovering alcoholic. What I find really interesting is that his alcoholism began AFTER he became a Christian and AFTER he began a successful college ministry in Florida.

His explanation in the interview I read was that, simply put: "these things happen".

I've really had to wrestle with that explanation for awhile. A man becoming an alcoholic ...AFTER becoming a follower of Christ? Isn't Jesus supposed to give us new life? Doesn't the Bible say we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loves us? And doesn't the Bible say that sin shall not be your master because of God's grace? Isn't Christianity about leaving your old life of sin and following God in a new way?

Yes ...but.

Being a Christian doesn't mean life will be perfect. Following Christ is not an automatic cure for all that ails you. Sin is still present, addiction is still addicting, and we still have the freedom to resist God's transforming work in our lives. We must have the freedom to choose, so that we can choose to love Him - but unfortunately, that also gives us the freedom to resist and reject living the way He wants us to.

And so in the last year, I have seen some of the darkest, ugliest, most wicked sides of humanity. As a pastor I've been called to bring God's hope and truth and love into situations of indescribable depravity and sinfulness - but as a human, I wish I could forget those things. I've seen Christians confess their sin and humbly submit to God's discipline and experience His sanctifying grace, and I've seen Christians pridefully rebel against God's truth and resist His discipline - which of course always makes things much worse than they should have been.

All of those situations took place in the lives of Christians - people who love Jesus, have asked Him to be the Lord of their lives, and are influential in the local Christian community here in El Paso.

How does that happen? And more personally, why do I struggle with sins that I've been resisting for years? Why was it that I began a battle with depression AFTER I became a Christian?

As Mr. Manning put it ..."these things happen".

Let me be clear: that's not an excuse. That's not a cop-out. You can't just do whatever you want, ignore God's truth, and disobey Him by saying "these things happen". But ...I think it's an important aspect of God's grace that we need to understand when dealing with our own sin or the sin of others.

These things happen. Anyone who does not stay close to Christ can commit the most wicked of sins, while still being a Christian. Anyone who doesn't constantly choose to submit to Jesus can become an alcoholic, drug addict, pornographer, adulterer, cheater, liar, thief, idolater, arrogant jerk, or domestic violence offender - and yet still be a Christian.

So when we fall into those and other kinds of sins, and when we encounter the sins of others, we must live out two words in perfect harmony: grace and truth.

Grace is unearned, undeserved, unmerited kindness and favor. It's remembering the truth of Romans 8:1, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Truth is calling sin what it is, without sugar-coating or excuses. It's remembering the truth of Romans 6:23, that sin is a very personal offense against God which always produces death.

Grace says "These things happen." Truth says "It better not happen again!" But grace and truth combined say "These things happen. I know you're better than that. Let me help you so it doesn't happen again."

So are you struggling with a sin that keeps snaring you? Do you feel stuck in your sin, like you'll never be able to escape, wondering if you'll ever experience the freedom the Bible talks about? Do you think it would be easier to just give into sin because you're just tired of fighting it? Do you feel like scum because of what you've done? Do you think that if anyone found out what you've done, they would judge you? Do you wonder if you're really a Christian because of how you sin?

Be encouraged. Have hope in God. "These things happen". And be courageous enough to confess you sin to someone Godly, mature, loving, and trustworthy so that they can say "These things happen. I know you're better than that. Let me help you so it doesn't happen again."

"No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are in Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life in Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death." - Romans 8:1-2 (Phillips)