“But I Do It Anyway”

failure-collapse
Once a church, abandoned and now left to rot
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, NLT

I hesitate to tell you this, but I have not found any hidden secrets to becoming a holy person.

To be sure, I wish I had figured this out sooner. I would very much like to come to you with the secret formula. I would easily latch on to this idea of a “magic wand” for every hurt. I think it would be good; and then again, maybe not. I’m certain it would be too much power for me to wield.

But the authentic Christian life is hardly formulaic. It seems to defy any attempt to explain, and then guide anyone else into that special place of true obedience or holiness. I’m supposing that you are just like me. I truly want to be right. I would love to be holy. But it ain’t happening. I always seem to end up back in the place I started from. Always, defeat and failure. (Rats!) Romans 7 is not an excuse to sin, but it seems to be an observation of our present condition.

I’ve always been mystified by the conundrum that is Romans 7. You see, I really want chapter 8, but I’ll settle for 6, and 5 would be good. But poor Romans 7 never gets considered. It’s been in limbo, I don’t really know what to do with it. (I honestly avoid it, after all chapter 8 is so good!) But way deep down, I have a strong sense I’m missing something vital and important.

I suppose it might be compared to making a really good ‘discipleship smoothie.’ Of course we must add to our blender Rom. 8. (Bananas.) And I suppose many would add Romans. 6. (Strawberries.) However, a lot of us would hesitate to include Rom. 7, we’re not really sure why. (Cauliflower?) Quite a few commentaries also hesitate.

Many good teachers and preachers regard chapter 7 as parenthetical. They suggest that Paul is describing his life before coming to Christ, and certainly not in a ‘present-tense’ discipleship. (Definitely a brain-twister.)

When I look at the Gospels, I see, across the board that those– the healed, forgiven, cleansed and made whole were always the most desperate. They have nothing, they bring nothing– they meet no requirement, but stepping out into pure poverty. They are the “zeroes.” (What about their smoothies, or don’t they get one?)

I don’t believe, at this point anyway, that there is a singular doctrine of sanctification. Perhaps we can truly do nothing in precise alignment. There is no such thing as a microwavable discipleship, and no instant breakfasts to be had. We truly come with a desperate faith– and we will end up with just a desperate faith.

This should be incredibly humbling to us all. It seems it takes some real repetitive lessons to learn humility as we meander (tra-la-la-la) down the way of God’s road of discipleship.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!”

Romans 7:21-24, NLT

Please (someone?– anyone?!) challenge me on this. I tell you, chapter 7 chafes, and then disrupts my comfortable life. Will I always be so misaligned? Or am I just a lousy excuse for a Christian disciple? If I’m out of line and screwed up– please let me know. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68.)  This happens to be my cry at this present moment.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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(Lord, have mercy on me.)

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Hell and Hope

inferno

Sometimes, I feel like a tour guide for believers that are walking through hell. I point out the different strugglers, and urge each one not to linger too long but to keep moving. We look on those trapped (they have no hope within them) but we hope that they are yet to reach out for the Savior. It is distressing, and yet somehow we understand them just a little bit.

Our journey out and down each sad corridor can be painfully disturbing for us. There are so many different types of prisons and chains used to confine and control. Dante wrote his “Inferno” (Italian, for hell), and somehow he in some curious way walks through the different levels (varieties) of hell with us. Virgil (Dante’s own tour guide) takes Dante through some pretty hairy stuff, and they pass through the very gate, which bears an inscription, of the infamous phrase “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Our own rescue from this dreadful place is based on that singular word, “hope”. Somehow, hope has distilled inside us, and that alone can enable us to walk out as the freed. We have chosen not to abandon hope, but to use it as our passport out of the bottom of hell itself. We show it to each guardian, and then pass through without any hinderance.

  • And so at last the poor have hope. (Job 5:16)
  • Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. (Job 11:18)
  • Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. (Ps. 10:17)
  • All day long I put my hope in you. (Ps. 25:5)
  • Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. (Ps. 33:22)
  • O Lord, you alone are my hope. (Ps. 71:5)
  • Your word is my source of hope. (Ps. 119:114)
  • “Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance— all who seek the Lord!” (Isa. 51:1)
  • And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matt. 12:21)
  • Even when there was no reason for hope, “Abraham kept hoping.” (Rom. 4:18)
  • We, too, wait with eager hope. (Rom. 8:23)
  • Rejoice in our confident hope. (Rom. 12:12)
  • The Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait. (Rom. 15:4)
  • Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
  • That you can understand the confident hope he has given us. (Eph. 1:18)
  • Our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all. (1 Tim. 4:10)
  • In order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. (Heb. 6:11)
  • This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. (Heb. 6:19)
  • Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm. (Heb. 10:23)
  • They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. (Heb. 11:35)
  • You have placed your faith and hope in God. (1 Pet. 1:21)
  • If someone asks about your Christian hope. (1 Pet. 3:15)

I suppose we must say (it’s clear) that hope is what sets us free from the difficulty that rests in our minds. Whatever DSM-IV has branded us, whatever a psychiatrist has declared us to be, and whatever our therapist has told us– our hope, that’s in Christ, will open all doors that are closed and locked.

Hope really is the Christian’s freedom from hell. Those of us who have been freed from our incarceration from our mental illness are amazingly liberated. I know the lostness of being very much lost. But hope is everything. When our hope somehow connects with Jesus, our souls are set free. We walk out of hell, with our souls soaring clean.

kyrie elesion, Bryan

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