Friday, May 9, 2014

How Long Has That Been Like That?

I think we've all had that moment.
The one where you are driving by the same place you've always driven by and you suddenly realize you've been missing something, or someone real sneaky like added something to the landscaping.

This happened to me on Thursday evening. I was on my way home from my bi-weekly men's group and my wife's bi-weekly women's group and I drove by these wooden carvings that I've driven by for years. These carvings look like totems to the gods of golf and they come complete with a carved golf ball. I mean seriously, whoever did this work or commissioned the work has to have been a huge fan of golf and possessed of a goodly amount of money. In fact they have to truly worship the sport; because I just can't see putting these things in your yard if you aren't obsessed with the it. These things are only endearing in that, the town I reside in is a small town, and one expects eclectic things like this in a small town in Southeast Minnesota.

You try putting these things in your yard in a more urbane city and your neighbors will have the planning and zoning commission raining municipal hellfire down on you in no time. One can only imagine that more cultured and sophisticated city dwellers would drive through our little town and comment at how quaint and precious these things are. Of course they would also comment on how unsightly they are and about how they would never put them in
their yards. Yet it is still so cute and oh so small town country folk like.

But anyway I got sidetracked there. I've always noticed these carvings. One just can't drive by them without seeing them. And there is something oddly comforting about driving by them when it is -25 degrees with 5' of snow on the ground and they still stand there playing their perpetual 18 holes without ever getting anywhere. But what hit me today wasn't their presence in their accustomed place. Instead what I noticed and what caused me to take a second glance was the golf ball.

For the first time I noticed that despite the artist's best shot at carving a perfect golf ball, dimples and all, that thing was totally misshapen and not round by any sense of the imagination. In fact it looked more like a rectangle with the edges rounded off. The first thought that went through my mind was "Well that ball is never going to fly very far". Now despite the obvious fact that it's an over-sized wooden golf ball and the golfers are wooden and over-sized themselves, the aerodynamics were of little to no consequence. One would imagine that if one of the chaps standing there for perpetuity were to come to life and take a swing, that ball would probably take off quite well. I wouldn't want one of them taking a swing at me considering their size.

The second thought that went through my mind immediately following that odd set of observations was "Well how long has that been like that?" Mind you that was probably the most inane and idiotic thing I could have said at the moment, but it was honestly what went through my mind. Of course the answer to that question was "Since it was made you moron."

But here is where I am going with this. How often does this happen to us in our walk with Christ? It can be an issue of seeing a doctrine clearly taught in a favorite passage of Scripture that we have never noticed before, despite the numerous of times we have read it. It can be something as powerfully impacting as hearing the Gospel proclaimed from the lyrics of a song that you have listened to a thousand times, but for some reason you have missed it because you have become all too familiar with the song. The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt, and I would add that often times it also breeds blindness. Sometimes we just don't have the desire to see what should be readily visible to us.

And no place it this more apparent than in our own lives. How many times have I willingly overlooked a sin that is besetting me and is growing in me? How often have I ignored the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit? Proverbs 29:1 says this to us:
"He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing."
This stiffening of our necks to the rebuke of the Holy Spirit leads us to become blind to the sins that are having their ways with us. Eventually this sin becomes all too familiar to us and not only do we cease to struggle with it, but we also cease to see it for what it is.

I deal with this often, not only in my life, but in the lives of many of the people I deal with on a daily basis. They just don't see that the thing they are most in love with is wrong.
Often times they have been told that it is  merely a societal issue with what they are doing that makes it wrong. Some have even been sold a bill of goods that has promised them that they are genuinely good people who have been born again but are only victims of the wiles of the devil. I often deal with those who see what they are doing as only a societal issue but take a dim view of others who have, in their minds and by their perspectives, committed far more heinous crimes than they have ever dreamed of committing. To some degree they are right. One would have a hard time ever seeing a man or woman who is destroying their own body with meth or heroin as a plague on society, as long as they are only hurting themselves. At the same time anyone who victimizes a child, in any way, is truly the worst of the worst in society's eyes.These views, when considered through the lens of societal mores and values, makes perfect sense. Yet as Christians we are

not called to make our judgments based on what society dictates as the worse crime or the acceptable bad behavior.

It is this horribly flawed view that tells us that a man getting trashed on Saturday night but getting a sober cab home is a righteous man while the guy next to him who attempts to drive home drunk but gets picked up for drunk driving is a criminal. It is this view that allows us as a society to see two sixteen year old high school students engaged in sex in private as being in charge of their own bodies and exploring a good thing. Yet the nineteen year old man engaging in sex with his seventeen year old girlfriend is a criminal and faces the most severe judgments and life altering penalties that society and the justice system can throw at him. I am not attempting to give anyone a pass here. I am not looking to make light of any of these issues that so often end with justice being served in the eyes of culture and society. What I am trying to do is point us to the reality that all too often we, even the most orthodox amongst us, turn a blind eye to our own sins as we gaze so eagerly at the sins of others. Because each of the things I just listed above are indeed sins; and God views them as tragically severe.

Yet, every so often what we need is for someone who loves us to come up to us and ask the hard questions. How many times have I been in need of hearing "How long has that been like that?" as someone points out what should have been glaringly obvious to me. All too often though we spend as much time ignoring the
planks we see in others. So much so they end up building themselves nice little houses of sin and rebellion. We are terrified of hearing "Ignore my speck take out your own plank man!" So instead we allow ourselves to be hardened to our own sin and the sins of those around us that we love the most. I know this seems to run counter to the thought process that we perceive being out there today. But I am convinced that it isn't. I am convinced that we have become so myopic in the "ophthalmological" sense that we have become dangerous to one another. We are starkly near-sighted almost to the point of blindness. So we ignore our own sins and to avoid having them pointed out we ignore the sins of those we love.

So we all get really wrapped up in this strange ignoring of sin. We gather together and we love one another by way of service to one another. We read to one another from Scripture and we pray for one another. We sing songs together and we just get really used to and familiar with one another. We have these drive by relationships that allow us to get used to seeing everyone around us without really seeing them. We talk about "pressing in" (that's the new Christian phrase for forcing people to be transparent) on one another but we never really put any weight on the pressing. We talk about accountability partners, but we never really stop and hold anyone accountable. Mostly because we are afraid that they may do the same for us.

All of this builds and builds and piles up and pretty soon, as result of our blindness and the fear of being exposed by others, we become these walking talking misshapen people. It takes something drastic to happen before any one will say about us, or we will say to ourselves, "How long has that been like that?"

The elder who sees his marriage and his ministry destroyed as a result of infidelity didn't just slip into it one day. The Christian woman who has her kids taken away from her for abusing them didn't just lose it one time. There were tell tale signs in both of these cases. The guy who was so faithful about coming to worship and other functions but slowly starts to fade out of the picture only to get arrested for possession of narcotics and ends up locked up for a long time or in court ordered treatment didn't just get wrapped up in that type of mess one day.

Two things happened in these cases and in a million more like them. The person guilty of these things hardens themselves to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the people closest to them did not love them enough to point out the planks. So everyone fails in this. Oh sure it is a catastrophic failure for the guilty one, but is just as much a failure of the local church as well. There are always signs. There are always indicators and we have to be willing to watch one another in love. We have to be willing to not wait until the last minute when the problem has erupted like Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii is buried. We can't wait until nothing is left but a destroyed brother or sister, a wrecked home and a reeling church family. That is when it has become too late. That is when we are left scratching our heads and asking ourselves and everyone around us, "How long has that been like that?"

If we love one another in light of the finished work of Christ. If we are living outwardly what the Gospel has done to us inwardly, we will pay careful attention to ourselves and to those around us. We have to be so very careful to not be like Cain when God asked him where his brother was, and Cain replied "Am I my brother's keeper?" Because, if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be their keepers, and they will be ours. But if we think we aren't, we are sadly wrong. Because when those we claim to love the most and share the most with through the bonds of the Holy Spirit, fall, the wreckage of their fall will cry out against us when God asks us where we were before it all fell apart. And scratching our heads in disbelief and bewilderment over the mess and saying to God 'How long has that been like that?" just isn't going to cut it.

God has loved us enough to send His Son to die in our stead despite our utter worthlessness and undeserving state. He has loved us enough to send the Comforter to encourage and convict us. And He has loved us enough to put other believers in our lives. So we would do well to not ignore the problems we see creeping in to each others'  lives as if we are waiting for them to become tragedies...

Soli Deo Gloria,

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