How do we bring about change?
There is no real debate about the presence of problems in society. One must simply open the newspaper to see the chronicles of brokenness. Each day we read of domestic violence, drug abuse, abortion, corporate greed, gang violence, and terrorism. There is no shortage of problems.
But how do we fix this? The common approach is to work on the symptoms. To do this people spend money, try to change the environment, work on education, and even provide technological advantages. In other words, the common approach to fixing problems is to work on the external. Presumably, we believe that if we can fix the environment around a person then people will thrive.
How does God fix the problems? As the Creator and omniscient One, he has a unique even a privileged perspective. We should hear it.
It was Jesus who taught that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk. 6.45). It makes good sense then that we can get a good read on what is in our hearts by what comes out of our mouths. Particularly as Christians, we can learn a lot about what we believe about the gospel by listening to ourselves talk.
There is one phrase that is particularly indicting. It is a phrase that unwittingly slashes the gospel tires while making a personal excuse. In other words, this phrase deflates the gospel of its power while inflating us with an excuse. As a result, I think we should dump it from our vocabulary. The phrase is: “I can’t.”
Everybody has one of those friends who is supremely skilled in deconstructing the plots of movies or books. This person adeptly peels back the layers of the story like one of those wooden Russian dolls; they just keep on going and going. My wife and I love going to movies with this guy. In some ways we get more out of the pre and post movie than the actual movie. He thinks deeply and comprehensively about the story as a whole and the various individual parts.
I don’t think I can become this guy in the theater but I desire to be him in the prayer closet.
Let me explain: I have become more “skilled” in identifying the overt sin in my life (selfishness, frustration, envy, etc) but it is the underlying sin that I too often miss. In particular, I am talking about the tendency toward a sinful, self-bent even in the pursuit of good things!
This is as troubling as it is difficult.
Let me give some examples:
I was recently spending some time with a minister who is nearing retirement. He was going through his office and packing up boxes, books and other personal items. He directed me to a large box and told me to take a look. I saw dozens of manilla file folders with names on them.
“What are all these?” I asked.
“Funerals.” The pastor said.
“How many?” I inquired.
“Over two-hundred.” He soberly replied.
There in his office I was struck with so many emotions. Here stood a man who has buried over two hundred of his parishiners. And here I stand, a young-buck having buried a grand total of zero of our members.
The seasoned pastor went on to tell me that he cannot throw this box away because in every folder is a life.
“In every folder is a life, a soul. And in each one is a piece of my life.” He said, holding back obvious emotion. I almost lost it too.
One of my first jobs was selling shoes. This was a good fit for me because I played a lot of basketball and bought a lot of sneakers. One of my early practices was evaluating people based upon their shoes. Some of this was a necessity as you would try to match them up with their current tastes and needs. However, the practice, which became a game, also became a habit. A habit that continues to this day.
I still find myself sizing up runners, ballers, hipsters, thugs, businessmen, etc by their kicks. I have to work to devalue my various subjective conclusions about people.
When diagnosing the heart there are few better than the Puritans. I have returned over and over again to John Owen for wisdom and help in this area. Today I was aided in his observations concerning temptation. This quote is found in a Puritan Paperback from Banner of Truth (You can also find it in Volume 6 of Owen’s Works). Notice Owen’s careful assimilation and articulation of the practical with what is biblical…
A temptation, then, in general is anything that, for any reason, exerts a force or influence to seduce and draw the mind and heart of man form the obedience which God requires of him to any kind of sin.
Straight from the headlines, an Amish community in rural Ohio recently suffered a series of attacks in which members of the Amish community had their homes invaded. Men and women had their hair forcibly cut, men having their beards shorn, a great indignity for Amish men.
Startlingly, the criminals were fellow Amish. The attackers, led by a man named Sam Mullet, were a disenfranchised group, upset at a local bishop’s decision not to excommunicate several others who they felt had broken community laws. To commemorate their attacks, they are said to have taken pictures of those whom they assaulted. A great irony in these attacks is that The Amish way of life is intended to protect its members from the sinful influences of the outside world. (There is also something incredibly ironic about a movement to cut people’s hair being led by a man named “Mullet”.) Unfortunately, this way of living fails to account for the fact that sinful influence can never be escaped because we are all corrupt. No matter where we go, as long as we are there, sin will be there too.
The Biblical doctrine of Total Depravity, one of the doctrines collectively known as the “Doctrines of Grace,” states that the basic nature of man is corrupt, that he is inclined toward evil, and that he is unable to do anything that merits God’s favor because he is unwilling. Total depravity is ultimately oriented toward God and sometimes expressed toward others.
The scandal surrounding the football program at Penn State University is dominating the news. The allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted several young boys on school property and with the apparent knowledge of other university officials is causing a range of emotions. People are spitting angry at the accused and their hearts are shredded for the victims. The details being reported are flat-out disturbing.
Several years back I experienced one of those “ah-ha” moments. My wife and I were hanging out together and seemed to be quite enjoying some time of conversation.
Then she lovingly hit me with this forearm shiver: “Did you ever notice that you are always the hero of your stories?”
It knocked me off of my feet. My wife was saying that I routinely made myself out to be the hero in all of our talking about life, family, and even ministry. She mentioned how rare it was to hear of my own vices, instead, she said, she heard of others’.
As we talked about this in the days to come we realized a few things:
I’ve got this habit that I am concerned is a problem. I have actually been working through it to decide if it is just a marginal matter of etiquette or if it is an important matter of gospel consequence. I’ve decided that it is both.
My issue is that I regularly finish other people’s sentences. If you pause…then I march in and finish your thoughts. It’s kind of like I am playing conversational Wheel-of-Fortune and I am trying to solve the puzzle. I shout out the answers, even when it’s not my turn. Somebody needs a buzzer.
This inclination towards sentence hijacking is exacerbated a bit by the fact that I live in the Mid-West. Here people talk a little slower than the Massachusetts cadence I was raised in. And when I say they talk slower I don’t mean that the words are slow in their pronunciation but rather in their articulation. It is not at all uncommon for some people to take a 20-second time out mid-sentence and then finish in a late-round flurry. This is not an excuse, it’s just a context.