Sheepwalking

I’m reading Tribes by Seth Godin bit by bit. Even though not everything applies to my setting, it’s interesting to read his different perspective. I thought this was particularly provoking:

I define sheepwalking as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line. (96)

He’s talking about a business, but I believe he’d have no problem recognizing the same issue in a church. He might have said, “I define sheepwalking as the outcome of leading people who have been taught to be obedient and giving them brain-dead ministries and enough fear to keep them in line.”

On the next page, Godin considers it in light of the goal of education.

Training a student to be a sheep is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior, and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep? (97)

Back to a church, one reason why a pastor may prefer docile sheep is that the sheep will continue to need him. That’s not just wrong, it’s counterproductive. Part of the pastoral role includes equipping sheep not to need the shepherds, at least not to the same degree, and certainly not more as the sheep mature. A pastor can’t help people mature by teaching them that they always need to hold the pastor’s hand.

Pastors should want sheep to be obedient to God, not necessarily to get “in line” with all the church programs. Shepherds should want a flock that fears God, while being trained to bear God’s image without the shepherds always watching over their shoulder. Maybe the first problem is that too many pastors are sheepwalking themselves.

A Spiritual Advantage

One very significant benefit for us is that all of us who believe are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. While the Spirit has been at work throughout all of history since His hovering over the face of the waters on day one of creation, since Pentecost, He lives in the hearts of all His new creations.

The advantage plays out everywhere, but we should see the application for our Lord’s day worship, for our weekly liturgy, and for our regular celebration of communion.

The Jews were no less responsible to worship wholeheartedly even though their worship was prescribed in detail, with God-appointed times and places and ceremonial procedures. As fun as an annual seven day camping trip to the capital city may sound (think: the Feast of Booths), the Israelites were obligated to do it, even when business was suffering and the kids were out of control and the weather was scorching.

We, too, have various distractions week to week. Things are often out of place and it seems that the last thing we want to do is gather for corporate worship, or to eat and drink in practice of this ancient ordinance.

But not only do we have the truth, not only do we have the freedom and opportunity to meet as well as the provisions to do so, we have God’s own Spirit filling us, strengthening us, transforming us, producing fruit in us, and blessing others through us. Our celebration of the Lord’s Table need not be dry, it is wet with God’s gracious presence in us.

Confession Ex Nihilo

Last week we began a short series called Confession 101. Lesson #1 was, and is, that sin is bad. Sin blinds and rots and kills. Sin is bad.

Lesson #2 is: we all sin. Not only is sin destructive, it destroys every son of Adam and daughter of Eve. The apostle Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We sin by transgressing, by crossing lines that God said not to cross. “Don’t lie.” We also sin by missing the mark, by failing to live up to other lines. “Love God with all your heart.” We all sin, both ways.

The apostle John wrote that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Any claim to be sinless is senseless. Additionally, “If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). Believing lies may seem foolish, but saying that God lies is foul, heaping sin upon sin.

We all sin. This is not only the pronouncement of an evangelist, but also of a worship leader. John addresses his readers as “little children” and acknowledges that while we ought not to sin, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:2). We all sin, Christians too.

Our weekly time of confession is not a conscience goose chase, it is not confession ex nihilo, confession out of nothing; we each have plenty of material to work with. As Christians, we’re in even more trouble when we think we have not sinned. The Advocate works on behalf of guilty people who make the plea for forgiveness. That’s good news, because we all sin.

That Movie Script We Wrote

We don’t want to diet, we want to diet while winning the $250,000 Jello grand prize for being the biggest loser while confetti drops from the rafters. We don’t want to go for a run, we want to cross the tape under Olympic stadium lights on our way to the gold medal stand. We don’t want to die to bring life, we want to sort of lay down on the soil’s surface and hope that Miracle Grow sized fruit will come anyway.

We get ourselves into trouble by some of the stories we tell ourselves. In doing so, we miss the amazing realities that Christ promises to us if we will just follow Him.

It’s not possible to be glorious and born in manger. Or is it? There’s no way to be glorious and walk around with fishermen and tax collectors for three years while they ask stupid questions. Or is there? It couldn’t be glorious to be beaten, spat on, executed after bloody torture for crimes one didn’t commit. Or could it be?

We really ought to pay attention to what Christ did and what He says to do. It can’t really be more joyful to give rather than to receive, can it? We can’t really increase our influence by asking someone for forgiveness, can we? We won’t really make a difference if we love our enemies, will we? We can’t really be strengthened in heart by eating a small piece of bread and drinking from a small cup, can we?

We can enjoy greater joy, we can lead with greater (eternal) effectiveness, we can be knit more closely together with yarns of different stripes, we can be strengthened with His glorious strength if we will believe Him.

We need to do the next right thing, not the next superstar thing. We need to believe what Christ says, not what we imagine He might have said if He had read that movie script we wrote for ourselves.

Confession 101

It may or may not be obvious to those who attend our church, but the exhortation during the corporate confession part of our Lord’s day liturgy usually connects to some thread or theme from the sermon to follow. Why plow two fields when one field plowed twice might be more fruitful? That said, I have a few ideas for smaller, separate confession “series,” and this past Sunday I started a four-parter titled “Confession 101.”

The first lesson in Confession 101 is that sin is bad. Here are four reminders why.

First, sin separates man from God and, by consequence, from one another. No relationship can survive sin unchecked. Sin relentlessly pounds a wedge between persons. We cannot be close to our spouse, our kids, other Christians, or to God if sin reinforces her fences.

Second, sin blinds men from truth. Sin suffocates men with darkness; they cannot see the light because the eyes of their hearts misbehave. Sin scars the spiritual organ intended for insight with ignorance. We cannot be free from slavery to lies if sin be the tyrant.

Third, sin deceives men about reality. Not only are men blind, sin convinces them that they can see better. They have no need for a physician’s help because they believe themselves to be in excellent shape. Sin imagines substance out of shadows. We cannot be safe if sin confines men within her distortion field.

Fourth, sin kills men. It destroys the soul, spoiling a man’s today and stealing his tomorrow. Sin drives a man to work for a paycheck of death. We cannot live, now or eternally, if sin’s poisoning of the heart isn’t cured by Christ.

As Christians, we know that in Christ, on one hand, we are already dead to sin and that, with the other hand, Christ requires us to kill sin. Sin is bad. Don’t make a sandwich for sin and sit down to enjoy a picnic together (Romans 13:14). Either we will kill it or it will kill us. Let’s begin by confessing our sin to God.

The Field of Ego

I cannot find any certified definition or doctrine of egology. If theology is the study of theos, God, then egology would be the study of ego, study of “I,” study of self. Though many philosophers have written about the self and though we study ecology, from oikos meaning house or environment, apparently we don’t publish clinical studies in the field of the ego.

As Christians, we know that life is not about our ego; life is not defined according to the self. Paul said it simply:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

“Live no longer I (ego).” This does not mean that there is no life, it means that true life isn’t actuated by the pursuit of individual interests, by pursuit of me. Instead, “Christ lives in [us].” The living we do now is by faith in Christ, the one “who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us].” These are both past tense verbs, referring to His death, the sacrifice of His life so that we could have life.

In the context of Galatians 2, Paul is condemning legalism, condemning the pursuit of righteousness through works. Why? Because the ego uses the law to keep itself kicking. The ego hopes to use the law in hope of self-glory. That’s why faith is so important; faith looks away from self. That’s why the death of the ego with Christ is so important. That’s why communion is so important, not because we obey the ordinance, but because by faith we are constantly living on and in Christ.

A study of egology should be short for Christians who get that the ego is dead.

No Crown for Confession

We cannot be great without confessing our sins. True greatness upholds the greatest standard not a lesser one. The greatest standard is God’s law and His law requires perfection. A great man would not affirm an imperfect standard, nor would a great man falsely claim that he had attained perfection. A truly great man must hold a truly great standard and make a true evaluation of himself in light of that standard.

So, we cannot be great without confessing our sins, however, we are not great because we confess our sins. It is, on one hand, the least we could do. We were supposed to, just as the servant was supposed to make dinner after plowing the field all day. “So [we] also, when [we] have done all that [we] were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17:7-10). The master doesn’t throw a banquet to honor the servant who did his job for the banquet, and the Lord doesn’t throw an award’s ceremony because we’re honest about burning the roast on purpose. There is no crown for confession.

We cannot be great without confessing our sins. We are not great because we confess our sins. What to do? Confess our sins and be being saved. Christ is a great Savior. It isn’t our knowledge of His standard that’s great. It isn’t our acknowledgment of disobedience that’s great. He’s great! We only get to be great because of His grace. We seek greatness by getting on our knees and letting Him exalt us. We seek greatness by being forgiven and cleansed by Him as we confess our sins.