understanding one’s weak points

I remember Jesus expressing disappointment, maybe even consternation at times over his disciples’ lack of faith. There are general areas we need to keep growing in, some weak spots we need to shore up. There are weaknesses common to us all as humans, then there are especially vulnerable points peculiar to each one of us.

It seems to me that it would be good to have some understanding of our vulnerabilities so that we might not only be aware of such, but somehow work on trying to understand how we can do better.

There’s a whole list of the possible weak points we might have. One can think of the so-called “seven deadly sins” for a start (see Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung). We would do well to learn from the tradition of the church, wisdom God has given the church through the ages.

We often react more than anything else, and our reactions usually aren’t helpful. We often fail to get to the root of our problem, much less deal with it in any effective way.

We need wisdom from God gathered, yes by the Spirit and the word (Scripture), but within that we’ll find that we need the help of the church, counsel from others. In the meantime we need to do the best we can with what we have, where we’re at.

This is not a snap of the finger, quick fix. Such a remedy is more like a bandage which might be good to stop the bleeding, but may fail to deal with the cause. We need to take the long look, to patiently work at finding what our problem is, and what Scripture prescribes for that. We need to quit jumping with our limited knowledge along with lack of knowledge, even misunderstanding, trying to solve the issue ourselves. Otherwise we’ll never get very far, and we’ll always struggle in certain areas, susceptible to the enemy’s attack.

This will be a lifelong endeavor. We’ll be making progress in some things, only to find we need to work on something else. Part of the journey we’re on here and now. In and through Jesus.

the sin of gluttony

…put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:2

Winn Collier in a helpful Our Daily Bread Ministries “Discovery Series” booklet entitled, “Walking Free: Overcoming What Keeps Us from Jesus,” covers the so called “seven deadly sins.” It is most helpful in both understanding the actual sins, and what we can do about it, with an accent on God’s grace. See that for an excellent summary look into each, including gluttony.

Gluttony it turns out is more about trying to satisfy the God-vacuum of our hearts with other things, food being just one of them. Of course the actual term gluttony has primarily to do with food, as does fasting.

We want more and more of what’s pleasurable, of what we like. When all the time the greatest pleasure is God and to be in God’s presence. What  is actually the case is that we’re replacing the greatest pleasure, the actual worship of God for what ends up being idolatrous pleasures, such as satisfying our every desire, whatever that might be.

Gluttony is probably akin to greed which is listed in the New Testament as a deadly sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In the Roman Catholic teaching, it along with the other seven sins is listed as a basic sin (not deadly) from which other sins derive. Gluttony ends up being a kind of substitute for the worship and practice of loving God. Instead we’re all taken up with our own cravings, warped as they are due to our sin. And whenever we violate loving God, not loving our neighbor will follow:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:49

Food and all the other of God’s gifts to us is not the culprit. It’s our own brokenness in putting the gifts above the Giver. We are indeed given all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). But we are good at becoming obsessed over whatever in the place of God.

Thankfully God is present to help us find our way back to him with repentance and a renewed commitment to leave behind what is destructive to us and to others. To find all that we long for in God, while we enjoy God’s good gifts to us. In and through Jesus.


getting rid of root sins

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

In looking to Christ to become more like him, we indeed look to scripture and to the church. We need both, although we have to measure all that is said from scripture. But the church together, not least, the church from its beginning to the present day, must hold prominence in our deliberation over scripture and its meaning. Of course it points to the Word, Jesus, in whom the scriptures come to life.

One of the important emphases of the church through the centuries has been sin in the sense of deadly sins (“mortal”) and sins which do not take us out of the realm of God’s grace in Jesus (“venial”). James decries sin at a number of places in that letter. I was struck by an emphasis against envy and selfish ambition and I realized that those sins can and have been a significant factor and part of my existence even as a Christian and professing follower of Christ.

I have been going slowly through scripture for awhile now in addition to my normal Bible reading, and now in James, was struck and remained on (even went back to) this point James makes, quoted above in both considering my own life, and acknowledging as well as confessing such sin to God.

Of course we won’t be sinless in this life. 1 John 1 makes that clear. But we should be making progress in holiness, becoming more holy in our growth in grace. Even while at the same time realizing that at times we may not well understand our true condition or what is happening in our lives since it is God who is at work in ways that we often can’t track or comprehend.

Hardly aware of this, I’ve been in a process for some time of removing myself from that which feeds my foolish self-ambition and fuels my envy of others. In very tangible ways actually over matters which in themselves are not necessarily bad at all. In one case simply abstaining completely from a practice, in fact removing myself not only physically, but in every other way from a particular pasttime which for me too easily became sin. In the other case, accepting humility when others are better than I and hopefully learning to be content with that humility over the self-ambition which had been all too prominent before (even while I was to some extent blind to that) and the envy which naturally accompanies it.

The goal? Not to arrive to sinless perfection (an impossibility), but to live in God through Jesus, in his grace given to us in Jesus. A grace through which we can continue to receive forgiveness and be changed, helping us to live more and more in his will, in the eternal life present in Jesus.

living in an angry culture

I referred to a timely, helpful post over at Jesus Creed by “T” entitled, Spiritual Politics in an Age of Anger. I commented that I haven’t listened or watched such media (except for a snippet or two, recently with no desire of going back, but rather the desire to stay away) for years. But that the challenge for me is to be around people who regularly imbibe such, and if you let them can go on for hours and hours talking about it. Not that such can’t turn into a useful, good discussion.

Actually I have my own toxin that hits closer to where I live which over the years I’ve gradually left and this year I’m leaving behind completely. It is perfectly innocent in itself (although not without issues), but I find myself lurred into signficant time reading up on it, and caught up in a kind of anger or unhealthy attitude for me, that I want no part of. I’m sure others involved in what I’m leaving behind have no such problem (or very little at the worst). I know at least one such person.

But in regard to the anger spoken of in the post, the greatest danger for me is to react in anger: tit for tat, fire in reaction to fire. James 3 speaks about the evil that the tongue can bring, certainly out of anger which is said to come from the pit of hell and which James says we’re to be slow to arrive at, and that anger does not bring about the righteousness God desires (James 1). And then ends with what true wisdom is:

first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

It is a struggle, and it’s not like I think I can arrive to any sinless perfection in connection with it. But it is a vice, even one of the “seven deadly sins” I don’t want to be caught up in. Something to be aware of, to pray about for oneself and for others. As we seek to follow the one who gives us the peace and salvation we need.

sloth equals the failure to love

John Frye wrote a helpful post on sloth from Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.

Sloth plain and simple means the failure to love, although there’s much more to consider in that. Of course the true love from which all other created love flows is in view here. It is not the absence of work, in fact a person might work around the clock and yet be slothful to the core. One might work even with love in view, while neglecting love to those closest to them such as their spouse and children. Surely this has been a trap for not a few.

This challenges me, but it encourages me at the same time. Oftentimes I seem to have little heart to do what needs to be done, other than making sure I do what I must do to provide for my wife, to make a living. I can lack heart due to lacking love which is actually a contradiction to the faith, because at the core of the faith is love, God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit at work in and through his people in the world. A love which is especially devoted to others in the faith, but spills out to everyone else, including even one’s enemies. In following the way and indeed the heart of Jesus.

I needed this reminder this morning, something I hope to keep in view. So as to remain in that active love which we receive and give in and through Jesus.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on the value of the tradition of exposing “the seven deadly sins” for Christian spiritual formation

As for the early desert fathers, self-examination prepares us to look ahead to what we can and will become. It is not regretful or narcissistic navel-gazing. It is a first step toward becoming more than we are now.

The premise of this book is that the tree of capital vices, each vice rooted in pride and shooting out branches of further vice and sin, is a helpful tool for engaging in this type of self-assessment. These seven vices name perennial areas of human weakness and typical displays of pride’s provide-your-own-happiness program. To study them is thus to study yourselves. When you look closely, what do you see? And what does seeing yourself clearly make you yearn to become?

Examining the vicious malformation of character canvassed in this book is meant to prompt us forward, in a more clear-sighted way, toward being people of better character, people whose lives are well lived. In the Christian tradition, this is not a self-help project but a Spirit-empowered movement. At the same time, however, it is not a license to drift along, but an encouragement to be intentional, reflective, specific, and energetic about moving with the Spirit’s formative work. Like Augustine, when we look back on the way our lives are disordered by vice, we are moved to pray for the future, “Order me in my love.” The vices, their offspring, and the remedies traditionally suggested for them give us the language to identify and track the disordering of our desires we must actively resist. Discipleship takes discipline—the work of straightening what is bent, restraining and strengthening our capacities, working loose the bonds that constrain us.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 182, 183.

the self-emptying of Christ

Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ emptied himself, or as the New International Version renders it, “made himself nothing”, taking on the nature of a servant. Christ became human, became what we are, so that from the saying of old, we may be what he is, or be like him.

And that’s the crux of the matter in the Philippians passage. Yes, Philippians 2:5-11 is a great Christological passage and poem, most likely a hymn of the early church.  But one must read it in context, seeing that the first four verses of this chapter, what precedes it most certainly shows that Christ in his incarnation and obedience to the point even of death on a cross, is to be our pattern for living. We in Jesus are to humble ourselves in that way. With reference to our relationships with each other.

I tend not to think, right or wrong. that the deadly sin of pride and perhaps a form of pride, vain-glory are troubling and sticking points with me. However when pride (and/or vain-glory) rears its ugly head, then I am aghast because I hate it, and there seems to be nothing I can do about it. In fact that is the very reason God may let me struggle with it for a season, so I can catch a small glimpse of just how ugly it is, and just how helpless I am to do anything about it myself.

But God will do that work, the work to help us humble ourselves, even as Christ did. And this happens, according to the Philippians passage, in relationships. We are to do this, indeed become this within the context of our relationships with others in Jesus. This will take time, it is indeed something we are to do, but something we can’t do apart from God’s ongoing work of grace. We  are told immediately after this to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us so that we will choose to do his good will. And as we see further in that passage, as we follow God’s directives, we are in that way to be a light to the world, in and through Jesus.

Of course only Jesus was completely humble. We want to grow into more and more of that humility together in Jesus for the world.

little by little

If you’re like me, you have a tendency toward procrastination. Deadlines to meet, or things we need or ought to do are a part of life. And I doubt that meeting every one of them is as essential as some people might think. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to Martha supporting her sister Mary for not helping get needed work done, but instead sitting at his feet, drinking in his words.

Just the same we do have responsibilities, things we really have to do sooner or later, as well as things we should get done. But this reminds me of thoughts that sometimes seem to be like flashes to me: I need to be in ongoing prayer for so and so. I need to take more time to simply be quiet before God, I need to keep reading, etc.

Rather than get lost in the immensity of all I don’t get done, I think I need to concentrate on what is essential, while working at the rest little by little. It is easy for me to get overwhelmed in what needs and should be done; there is always plenty, especially when one “owns” a house that is a bit older.

And in all of this I want to continue in what I think is God’s word to me right now: “Slow down.” And all that means for me. It is a nuanced word for me, and I have to work at understanding just what it means and involves in my life. But it certainly means first things first: relationships with God and with others.

Little by little I hope I’m moving in a good direction, and for sure keep working at making the one thing needed, my priority of life.

anxiety as a symptom

In our Spiritual Formation time yesterday at our church, I had occasion to ask Byard Bennett just how anxiety is related to “the seven deadly sins.” He said that anxiety is symptomatic of a number of the sins. These sins, just as the virtues tend to feed off each other. In the case of anxiety it is part of the downward spiral which comes from a number of them, such as pride, vain glory, acedia, and surely all of them. And that anxiety is a response to one’s set view of life, or acceptance of a lie, being undermined. The idol proving to be empty. Of course Byard said much more than this.

Entering into the conversation was the importance of our minds being renewed. And of taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. And of course the necessity of working out our difficulties not on our own, but with help from others. In other words learning to depend on God and on each other as members of Christ’s Body.

On the one hand we need to promptly obey Scripture. Such as in the many times we’re told to not be afraid, but to trust in God. Or not to be anxious. Or to forgive, etc. On the other hand, we need to work on the change that comes so that we are becoming different people. People who are characterized by a different mindset, a different spirit. So that when the hard times come, we are moved less and less by them.

I have tended to see anxiety as simply an aspect of unbelief. That it is symptomatic of that is certain, but that it can come from a host of others sins, really of any sin is something to consider. And be awake to, so that when anxiety occurs I can seek through the Spirit to trace it back to its source.

Of course God is working to make us to become more and more like his Son. That is a tall order. But it includes a commitment to walk the path he walked, and to learn to regard our lives as completely his. There is so much more to all of this, and thankfully we can trust God to help and give us what we need each step of the way.