MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Don’t you think Christmas brings out the best in people? And I’m not talking about people in the mall, or even people in mall traffic, I’m talking about people who take seriously the wisdom that it is better to give, than to receive. It’s refreshing, especially after studying the seven deadly sins for the past six weeks, to witness such widespread generosity. It seems like everywhere I go I see Angel Trees, Toys for Tots boxes, and efforts to support our troops. And you read about professional athletes, like Kurt Warner, who invest not just their money but their time to serve the less fortunate. I am so thankful that there’s something good left in us, despite all the pride, envy, lust, anger, greed, gluttony, and sloth.

Sometimes it seems we witness so much heartache, so much greed, so much anger, so much that is downright evil, that the decent act becomes striking. Were you awestruck on September 12, 2001 to see the depth of character of so many Americans? Or after the Tsunami of 2004? Or after Hurricane Katrina? We may be wholly imperfect beings, but there is a glimmer of something beautiful in each of us.
I’ve often wondered where that goodness comes from. The answer is found in Genesis 1: 27 which tells us that “God created man in his own image.” Each person is an image-bearer of God Almighty. The flicker of that image may sometimes be very dim, but nothing can fully extinguish it. Nothing can change the fact that each man, woman and child were made in the image of God.
Today I celebrate the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He’s my Savior because I know that I could never earn my way to heaven. The very idea, after taking a hard look at my own life through studying the seven deadly sins, is laughable. Earn a place in eternity with a holy, perfect God? Absurd. Presumptuous. Arrogant. No, I need a Savior for sure.
But the birth of Jesus is not just about eternal security, it is about the here and now. It is about being an image-bearer. The life of Jesus–his example of loving unconditionally and yet without compromise–is the goal, and the provision of the Holy Spirit is the way. As followers of Christ we need to take seriously our responsibility as image-bearers and embrace the power through the Holy Spirit to do so.
The Apostle Paul said “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Merry Christmas and may your image-bearing of God Almighty be evident to all in 2009.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

A reader wisely pointed out that I have never really talked about where the seven deadly sins come from, and I greatly appreciate his observation because it’s an important point. The seven deadly sins are not listed by Jesus or Paul, or grouped together anywhere in the Bible in a systematic way. It was the early church fathers who came up with the list, although there is ample biblical support for each one. And it is not meant to be a complete list of sins in general, but a list of sins that are pervasive and deaden our relationship with God Almighty. Of course, no sin is deadly in the eternal sense–thanks to the birth we celebrate tomorrow.

But pride is the very worst of the seven. C.S. Lewis called it “the spiritual cancer,” and it was pride that caused the fall in the first place. Adam and Eve ate the apple because they wanted to be like God. They acted in self-centeredness, they itched for recognition, and even though God told them not to eat the fruit, in that moment, they believed they knew better. And why was the Tower of Babel built? Do you remember? So that the people could make a name for themselves. Pride.
Sin often has its own punishment; think of the personal destruction that gluttony and lust wreak in a person’s life. But pride is the one sin that God vows to address himself. James tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). St. John Cassian wrote about this saying that the evil of pride is so great that God himself is its adversary. How wretched a thought to have God as an adversary! Yet even in the most noble of efforts pride creeps in. We may aim to serve the needs of others, but we often retain the itch for recognition. I itch like crazy.
Denial of sin is also a paramount issue that stems from pride. We are tremendously creative beings when it comes to rationalizing why we are not responsible for our own actions, or why in this particular case, what we are doing is not actually wrong. It is pride that fuels this fire of denial. Pride causes one to chafe under the rule and sovereignty of God (William Backus), and this attitude of the heart burns its gruesome branding into everything we do.
Pride is ugly and pervasive. So what’s the cure? What is the spiritual calamine that tames the itch for recognition, that thwarts the self-satisfaction, self-seeking, drive for status, authority and control? Humility is the obvious cure, but how do we obtain it?
Jesus tells us that “whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 (NIV). But what does this look like practically? A child is open to learning–they know they don’t have all the answers. A child is trusting and unpretentious. They have no authority and they know they are not in control. Not that a child is free of pride (at least I know mine aren’t), but certainly we can agree that children are generally more humble and more trusting.
Perhaps the best thing to do is meditate on all of the passages in the Bible that address pride and humility. When we become convinced that God hates pride, and cracking your Bible open will convince you of it, then we will take more seriously our efforts to root it out. We can pray about it and meditate on the humbling reality that no matter how sinful we are, God sent his Son to die for us. You may be so prideful that you don’t even think you need a Savior – but you know what, even that doesn’t matter. God still sent his beloved Son to die for YOU.
Merry Christmas and please check back tomorrow for a special Christmas blog.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

So a bit of blogkeeping: we’re in the final stretch here on the deadly sins. I’m going to finish up with the sin of pride before Christmas, and then I plan to do a special post on Christmas Day, which I hope you will check out. Also, I have a Christmas offer for my readers. Thanks to the C.S. Lewis Institute, a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to purchase Mere Christianity at a greatly reduced price. I have now moved a case of Mere Christianity from Virginia to Florida and back. I haven’t been giving away Lewis as quickly as I intended, so I would be very honored to mail you a copy if you’ve never read it. To say that Mere Christianity is a life-transforming, amazing articulation of the Christian faith is a grave injustice. So own your copy today, while supplies last, and Merry Christmas! (email me your address: lewis.offer@yahoo.com)

Now, back to the deadly sins. Lust is hard to write about for two reasons. First, this is the one deadly sin I don’t really struggle with (see definition below), and secondly, it’s the one I am most inclined to be judgmental about. I wouldn’t be so silly as to claim I’ve never had a lustful thought, but physical attraction for me is a secondary issue. I needed a man that was smart, funny, driven, and disciplined. I needed a man that knew God. I needed a man that would spur me on despite my sloth. So it is just a testament to God’s abundant provision that Will Jackson meets all these needs and is sexy to boot!
Many commentators claim that lust is not merely about sex–that it can involve a preoccupation with things in general, but usually those cravings fall under other sins like envy or greed. Not that the classification should be legalistic, but in my opinion, lust primarily revolves around sex. And there’s so much to talk about even when we limit lust to its sexual manifestations, that in this posting that’s what I’m going to do.
Our culture is obsessed with sex. Would anyone dispute that? But one of the problems with the bombardment of imagery that we face everyday is that it blurs the distinction between loving sex, i.e., sex within marriage between a man and a woman, and lust, i.e., the longings and actions which treats others as objects for sexual pleasure. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. It might be fun. It might pleasurable in the moment, but ultimately it’s degrading. Our culture scoffs at this truth, in fact, some readers might scoff at this post. But it’s the truth anyway. We might try to merge love and lust. We might cling to the idea that lust leads to love. But it doesn’t. Physical attraction is important, but that’s not lust. Lust is when you look at another person and think how they could give you pleasure. And this is just not something that I do.
But I know most men seriously struggle with lust. They are visual beings and our culture feeds those eyes of theirs in every way possible. As a wife and mother of three boys this reality gives me a sick and helpless feeling. I’ve dreaded writing about it, because I don’t even like thinking about it.
But refusing to think about it, doesn’t make it go away. In fact, acknowledgment and accountability are two things that could help. For those who struggle with internet pornography, I know there are ways to sign up to have your computer tracked. One site that looks good is www.xxxchurch.com, and there are lots of churches that have support groups as well. Like everything else in life, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
One other thing that really bothers me about lust is the defeatism that is often conveyed. Boys may be boys, God may have created males with different drives, and they may be more visual, but Philippians 4:13 is still true. If you know Christ, then you should be telling yourselves, even in the most tempting of situations, that you can overcome lust. Just like me with my slothful inclination, tell yourself that through Christ, “I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.”

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Isn’t it interesting how some of these deadly sins aren’t really even part of our vocabulary anymore? We rarely hear the word glutton except in the phrase “glutton for punishment.” Yet many of us eat too much, shop too much, and all-around consume too much. We let ourselves off easy by playing a comparison game. If we aren’t morbidly obese or an outright alcoholic then is it really gluttony?

But once again it’s not solely about outward behaviors. St Thomas Aquinas summarized gluttony as eating “too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, or with too much finicky fussing.” I’ve done all of these things. In fact, I do all of these things.
Years ago, before we started having babies, Will and I had a favorite Indian restaurant. We ate there about once a week, and we knew all the staff. The host would greet us at the door, “Jackson,” he would say, smiling brightly and showing us to our table. We always ordered the same delicious entrees with onion nan and mixed raita, and when they served the food it was as if the aroma somehow overpowered our manners, we became Kobayashi and Chestnutt wolfing down hot dogs. We laughed about it at the time, but now I see it for the picture of gluttony that it was. “Too eagerly” is a bit of an understatement.
So does this mean enjoying food is a sin? Of course not. Think about Jesus. There’s something almost magical about sitting down to dinner with friends, especially in someone’s home, like Jesus often did. Sharing a meal can be a great way to bond, to get to know someone, or to just leisurely learn something new about someone you’ve known a long time. But that doesn’t happen if your focus is on the food instead of the people.
I don’t know if I focus too much on food in social situations, sometimes I think I probably do, but I know that gluttony is a problem for me. I think about food too much and I eat too much. The solution is obviously self-discipline. After all I can direct my thoughts (see last week’s post), and I can intentionally place myself in situations where gluttonous overeating is not even an option. But another important component for the follower of Christ is to have a regular time of fasting. Dunnam and Reisman argue that “fasting is a means of practicing the fact that we cannot feed the spirit with the body’s food.” I’ve long had a ready list of why I do not, can not fast, but I’m feeling convicted about this. So I’m going to start.
How about you? Do you fast? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Outside of Nickelodeon’s Go, Diego, Go! which features a talking, three-toed variety, you really don’t hear the word sloth very often. In its simplest form sloth is really just plain laziness. So would you consider yourself lazy?

It is easy for me to think about all the stuff I do as a mother of three boys, and quickly conclude that laziness is not currently an issue in my life. I do not watch television (except sports on weekends with my family) and some days I barely get to sit down. But once again my interpretation has been a bit too convenient, because it’s really not about what you do as much as the attitude of your heart.

One of the books that I’ve been reading talks about how depression is linked to the sin of sloth. (What Your Counselor Never Told You, William Backus). Dr. Backus didn’t use Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh as an example, but really he could have. He so fits the description of the person who readily listens to that negative inner voice. Certainly clinical depression oftentimes has a chemical component, but can’t you just picture someone like Eeyore in a downward spiral emotionally, believing they cannot do this and they cannot do that. Assuming that person doesn’t like them, and that nothing really matters. I think we all have those voices, and I think anyone would end up like poor little Eeyore if they listened to them.

I am currently vacationing in beautiful Park City, Utah. The last few years I’ve had this intense desire to snowboard. I am six feet tall which means I have a long way to fall. And I can ski pretty well, so I really do not understand why, at thirty-six, I have this thirst to ride. But I do, so today Will and I took a break from the dreaded ski boots and enrolled in our second riding lesson. After a nasty wipe-out, which is currently memorialized by a giant and throbbing left knee, we took our lunch break. I sat there feeling pretty sorry for myself, thinking about how complicated life would be if I tore something or broke something, thinking about how bummed I’d be if I didn’t get to ski with my little boys any more this week.

But then it hit me. I’ve been studying about sloth, about how it is an attitude of the heart, how at its core it’s a denial of Philippians 4:13 which says that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (NIV). And as truth often does, that changed my whole perspective. I may have torn cartilage in my knee, I may have broken my coccyx too (although I really don’t think I did either), but I need not worry. I need not be like Eeyore or the tired little engine in the The Little Engine That Could. I may have a voice in my head that says, “I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.” But the great news is I don’t have to listen to it!

The message of the Bible is the exact opposite of nay saying Eeyore, and is even better than that of the noble little blue engine. The Bible says that I should always be telling myself that, through Christ, “I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.”