Describe Your Daughter
As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, but then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile.
“She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.”
(Robin is very good with words.)
“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” 1 asked. “Isn’t she ‘Yes, of course she is, but that’s not how I think of her,” Robin answered. “Why not?” I queried. “Because I love her” came the reply. “And why do you love her?” I pressed. “Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.
“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.
Taken from Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison by Richella J. Parham Copyright (c) 2019, pp.15-16 by Richella J. Parham. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Saints: Eating With Sinners
Why did it disturb the religious leaders that Jesus ate with “sinners”? To eat with someone is an important symbol of fellowship. And in those days, the Jews had a rule: one is not to have such fellowship with outsiders until they are changed. If and when outsiders came to repentance, and when they had proven they were sorry by acting like insiders, the Jews could join with them and eat with them—and not a moment before.
After all, God’s people had no business mixing with unbelievers, right? Jesus appears on the scene with a new approach. He introduces a brand-new idea. He connects with sinners before they repent, before they change, so that they will change. He goes to those who need him even before they know they need him! He seeks out the least, the last, and the lost so that, hearing his voice, they can experience new life. Rather than keeping them at arm’s length, he embraces them.
David Schuringa, Today: The Family Altar, May-June 2002, June 2, 2002.
How Transformation Happens
In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith describes a new Christian he happened to know who came to him one day feeling dejected. He was so excited to be a follower of Jesus, but he just couldn’t shake an addiction that had developed prior to his becoming a Christian.
Carey, you see, struggled with pornography. He was in sales and so part of his job was traveling from city to city, staying in hotel rooms. The temptation was always there. When Carey became a Christian, he thought this temptation would go away but it didn’t. When they met, “Carey’s face suddenly looked sad. I really need your help,” he said. “I will if I can” Smith replied. “Well, I’m really conflicted in my walk with God right now, it seems the harder I try the worse things get. My family is fine, and my work is going well, but in my relationship with God, I’m at the end of my rope. ‘Usually a good place to be, I said, but he gave only a puzzled glance.”
After a bit more talking, Smith interrupted, “who are you?” He asked. “Well, I’m a Christian.” “What does that mean? I asked”
“Well it means that I believe in Jesus and am trying to follow his commands. I go to church, study the Bible and have devotional times when I can find an hour here or there. I try not to sin, you know; I try to be a good person, but I know that deep down I’m still just a sinner.” “I have no doubt that you’re trying, Carey,” I said. “And I also sense that you’ve been trying quite a while, with all of your effort, but it isn’t helping.” “Exactly” he said.”
“So let me see if I have this right. You’re a Christian, but you’re also a sinner. Is that right? Yes. So if you’re a sinner, then what behavior would be normative for you? I asked “Well, I guess sinning. But that doesn’t seem right. “And it certainly doesn’t feel right, either, I suspect. The reason, Carey, that it doesn’t seem right or feel right is because it isn’t right. Your approach is consistently failing , right?” Right, he concurred.
Maybe there’s another way…and that other way is what I want to talk with you all about this morning. The focus, ultimately, is about the stories we tell ourselves about our identity. Are we, first and foremost sinners, or, as our scripture text told us, “new creations, where the old has gone and the new has come?” In order to get there, we need to continue to put to death the language of “I’m just a rotten sinner” and replace it with “I am a new creation”.
I think a part of the issue here is that we are so aware of our sinfulness, and if we’re not, it’s probably because we are a sociopath, that it feels better to refer to ourselves as just a “lousy sinner,” or even a “forgiven sinner”.
This way, we feel as though we are being honest about our shortcomings. But the problem is that when we use that language all the time, inside our heads, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and so we find ourselves like Carey, stuck in our sins.
As Smith has accurately put it: “the teaching that we are fundamentally sinners leads to failure.” And this is hard for us because many of us come out of traditions where pastors spend their entire sermon yelling at the church to get their acts together, that they sinners and that God is angry at them. The preacher who yells at his church may have a lot of remorseful Christians feeling guilty at the end of the service, but they don’t have any tools to change, so ultimately they will go back to the same struggles they started with.
Now don’t get me wrong, sin is a problem…in fact, it is most of the problem when it comes to our lives. There are churches that will gloss right over sin as though it doesn’t exist, and that is a problem too.
But when we start with our sin nature, when we focus on it incessantly, then it can become very difficult to avoid doing it. It’s kind of like if I tell you not to think of an apple. What’s the first thing you are going to do: think of an apple because I just put it in your mind.
So, we need to shift our perceptions. We need to shift our stories, and our scripture text gives us a good idea of how to do that. After spending a couple of months meeting with James Bryan Smith, his narratives, his story began to change. Instead of seeing himself primarily as a sinner, he saw himself as a child of God. A couple years later James ran into Carey and it was clear his life had been transformed. He told James “The day I got it was when I was preparing for a trip out of town. I used to get nervous, and I would pray, “Lord, I don’t want to fail you again. But this time I had no anxiety.
“When I got to the hotel room, I walked to the television, closed the doors of the console and smiled. I whispered to myself, “I know who I am. I am a child of God. I house the fullness of God. I was never tempted to turn the TV on, I’m not prideful, I know that sin remains, as you taught me. But it doesn’t reign anymore. I used my free time to read and rest. I knew I could sin, and I knew God would still love me. But I didn’t want to sin. That when I knew it had finally taken root in me. I never knew it could be this easy.
Brothers and Sisters, you too house the fullness of God. You are not defined by your sins but by your existence In Christ. Our job is to change the stories in our heads to match that reality.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source material from James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series), InterVarsity Press.
Putting Ourselves in the Way of Sick and Needy Sinners
Here is the first step of prayer in a universe where God has put on flesh to be with us: we must put ourselves in the way of his friendship to sick and needy sinners. The heart naturally resists this posture and disposition. If we see ourselves as healthy and self-sufficient, invulnerable and spiritually impressive, we will miss Jesus’ healing and friendship. “Go and learn what this means,” he says. It takes time and honest observation of our hearts.
Taken from The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World by John Starke Copyright (c) 2020 by John Starke. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A Sinner or Saint?
I heard about a pastor who was asked by a man in the community to do his brother’s funeral. Neither of the men had been churchgoers or showed any religious inclinations. The man offered to give $25,000.00 to the church if the preacher would call his brother a saint at the funeral. The brother had been a real sinner in the community and everybody knew it. A friend of the pastor asked, “You are not going to do it, are you?”
The pastor said that he was going to do it because the church needed the money. The word got out that the preacher had sold out to the family for money and the church was filled for the funeral. The pastor stood up and this is what he said, “The man we are burying here today was a liar, a cheat, and a drunk; however, next to his brother who is sitting here today, he was a saint!”
See Also Illustrations on Brokenness, Confession, Evil, Idolatry, Pride, Repentance, Saints, Sin, Violence