Two Ways to Justify Our Self

I love when I get the opportunity to talk with and teach students. They are at the stage of life where they are simultaneously beginning to define their self while trying to understand how their faith relates to the life they want to live. Yesterday we were talking about what sin is and how we overcome it. Broad topic. One common response in our discussion was that we overcome sin by following the rules. And while for the students, they are just beginning to explore if this is a good spiritual strategy, for most of us, it is our default way of functioning in our spiritual life. When push comes to shove, just try harder to stop sinning! This is simply our attempt to justify our self before God. “Here I am God, I’ve made my self good enough.” It is the Lie, another way – although a religious way – to pursue wholeness apart from God. Because we are broken image bearers, our focus is self-centered. As disciples, that concept extends to the functional ways we attempt to be right before God. Self-justification is the idea that being right before God is up to us. Our effort. Our results. It is the attitude that says grace was OK for salvation, but grace is not part of sanctification. And there are two patterns that we follow to do this. They are extensions of the old or false self  that is comfortable and familiar and at war with our new self in Christ. One pattern of self-justification is by following the rules. Then we can look to God and say I...

An Encounter with the Older Son

In Luke 15 we find one of the most memorable stories of our faith, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Chances are, even if you are not an avid church goer, you have heard of or read this story. The younger son wants identity outside of the father’s household – he lives to satisfy the false self. So, this son pursues a life that seeks wholeness apart from the father and his standards. Yet, this path ends with the son becoming aware of his own brokenness and his lack of satisfaction. Within it are many of the qualities that make following Jesus unique – grace, God’s faithfulness, mercy, and covering to name just a few. What makes this story of God so beautiful is that it is the father – the father who was wronged, disgraced, and sinned against – who waits for the son. The father runs to the exhausted, repentant son. The father forgives. The father provides the sacrifice. The father declares righteous. The father clothes. The father celebrates. There is an oft overlooked character in this parable. He is treated as an insignificant addendum. The older son. The one who will inherit all that is left. What if the father had left him in charge and given him the ability to speak on his behalf. How would the parable be different if these two brothers had interacted directly? Adapting their words from the text of the parable: Prodigal: “I have sinned against heaven and before our father. I am no longer worth to be called his son.” Older: “Look these many years I have served him, and never disobeyed his command, yet he has never given me a young goat, that I...

An Unfortunately True Story

A recent conversation with a hurting pastor prompts me to share this story from my experience… Almost a decade ago, I was an associate pastor with a lot of responsibility at a large and very fast growing church, and at the same time my marriage was in a bad place. For my part, I was trying squeeze out of my marital relationship a sense of affirmation and worth. For my wife’s part, she was struggling with issues of trust, responding to masculinity, and a general apathy to the idea of being married. Due to my need to prove my worth, I was working very hard to right the course of the relationship. The lie that I was believing was that if I just tried harder, the results would be different. So I set up opportunities to pray, do Bible studies, go to a conference, and offered to see a counselor. All with no response. I was frustrated, angry, miserable, and feeling rejected. My wife, too, was not in a good place through all this. It is in this context that I reached out to one of the elders at the church in which I served. Because of my people pleaser tendencies, this was a level of vulnerability that was unusual for me. I was desperate. This man was someone I considered a friend, so I told him some of what was going on, how I needed help as a husband, and I also asked if his wife would consider being more intentional in her relationship with my wife to help her process what was going on in her personal...

Falling Heroes

There are a plethora of fallen heroes of late. A popular Christian pastor, author, and network leader has publicly stepped down. Another athlete has be found to be regularly abusing his spouse. A politician running for president is beset by yet another scandal. Read the news. Daily heroes are falling in the sports world, in the political world, and even in the Christian community. The element of these stories that is most astonishing to me is not the offense of the people who we look to as heroes, but rather our surprise that these people are capable of disappointing us. (for a related post, see Up on a Pedestal) Maybe are surprised because of the amount of money they make. We have the flawed perspective that money perfects behavior. What we forget is that money or power or popularity provides a false sense of self. Having money may cover brokenness in a bought exterior, but the person on the inside will be unaffected. If you were unhappy or angry before having money, you will be unhappy or angry after having it. If you were unhappy or angry before having power, you will be unhappy or angry after having it. If you were unhappy or angry before having popularity, you will be unhappy or angry after having it. Another possible reason for our surprise may come from thinking that surely the affirmation of so many fans would perfect one’s values and beliefs. Yet, as anyone who is followed could tell you, the affirmation of the crowd is more of a noose. Behavior is determined by what will keep the affirmation flowing. The crowd will love...

A Church Afraid of Brokenness

There has been controversy surrounding a large, corporate, mega-church in the news. I first became aware of it upon seeing this tweet in my timeline: Churches make mistakes & those mistakes can deeply hurt people. It's great to see a church owning up to her mistakes. http://t.co/6HmgKMvJrU — Luke Norsworthy (@lukenorsworthy) May 29, 2015 Curious, I read a few articles to catch up. If you are not familiar with what has been happening at The Village Church and want to be simply Google “the village church apology” and you too can get caught up. But doing that is not necessary for where this post is going. So I replies with a tweet of my own (please excuse my typos): @lukenorsworthy @CTmagazine it would have been even better to see a church on up to its before being called out in the national media. — Scott Perkins (@theperkster) May 29, 2015 It indeed would have been a breath of fresh air to see a church own up to its mistakes before they became a national issue. But that seems to be the business-like environment prominent in our church culture. Jesus is the product to be sold. In order to show the product works, there needs to be more and more ‘fixed’ people. This in turn creates a church that does not know what to do with the reality of brokenness. We are broken image bearers of our Creator. While we are being sanctified in Christ our old nature and new nature do battle (see Gal 5:17). One of our most beloved hymns declares this truth… Prone to wander, Lord, I feel...

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