The following was written during a dark time in my life and originally published in January until I pulled it down. Looking back on it now six months later, I can say God has been so wonderfully kind to me and moved me past so many of these struggles. Most of what follows is admittedly self-focused which is perhaps the most dangerous trap any of us humans face. I realize that, sadly, this is where most people live. Here it is:
Blue Like Jazz is a book and recently released film by Donald Miller. I must say that most of the movie was painful to watch. But, the film ended so well that you couldn’t help but cry and clap and absolutely love it! Perfect.
This movie will not be appreciated by anyone who isn’t willing to explore how disenchanted liberal Christians see the world and how their faith finds expression. To be perfectly honest I have a very real struggle with how to uphold the standards and truth of the word of God while still genuinely showing love to people. As the movie points out, the truth and salvation comes after one knows they are loved, and rarely the other way around. People intrinsically know what sin is and that it makes them miserable. What they don’t know is how insanely loved they are in spite of it all.
After watching the film I had this desire to just be “real”. You know what I mean? Cut through the crap and get to the deeper heart issues. The only problem I have found with “getting to the deeper heart issues” is the inability to do so. And even if I had the clarity of mind to perceive the true nature of my heart, would I like what I found?
I have been terrified to be real. But I am even more terrified that I don’t even know what “real” even is. What is “real”? I could reveal all my sinful thoughts, words, and deeds and paint you a picture of myself that would leave you doubting if I am even a Christian at all. But, on the flip side I could just as easily tell you all sorts of things I think, speak and do that would leave you thinking I am a saintly dude.
Both images of me are flawed and wrong wrong wrong!
All this thinking brought up some very serious identity issues. Who am I? Am I really accepted as I am or does a major heart transformation need to take place first? How do I be “real” without being a self-destructive devil? Is ‘devilish’ really at the core of who I am as so much of my thinking and failures would sometimes demonstrate? Or does the struggle with sin and “trying to do right” define me? Or are both wrong and something entirely outside of myself define me? I think the last option is central to understanding the gospel message and what happens to us at salvation.
Whenever I have heard someone say, “I’m trying to find myself.” I think to myself, “Why in the hell would you want to do that?”
Sadly, my own history and experience tells me I am a sinful wretch. I want to be a hero, but instead, I find I need a hero to save me… from myself.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
So here is a bit of me being real with you:
I have been going through a rough patch lately… like the last 35 years. (I can’t believe I am as old as I am and still have no clue how to truly live well.) There have been several days recently that I swear and curse most of the day, have too much to drink, and wouldn’t mind so much if I died in a car accident.
I think I’m dangerous. Not like physically dangerous but so pent-up with all kinds of mental stuff that I’m about to explode. I desperately want to be on the right side but feel so stuck on the wrong side. I feel so at war with myself, like I’m coming apart at the seams and that I’m not safe to be around, or safe to be an influence upon others.
So, does my “being real” mean that I vomit all this wretchedness that I find in me onto others? God forbid. But on the flip side, does it mean that I only present some sanitized version of me that isn’t true at all? Puke! No. I don’t think hypocrisy is what God has in mind for us either.
Wouldn’t it be glorious if we could become genuinely loving and good and selflessly serve our fellow human beings? That’s what I really want. But is it possible? Is it conceivable that this is precisely God’s intent and fully consistent with the message of Jesus? Yes, I believe it is.
The last several months have been some of the worst self-introspecting and miserable seasons of my life. I was saying “B.S!” to what I perceived to be just a sanitized hypocritical yet “presentable” me. I was in an identity crisis. And God was going above and beyond to reveal his trustworthiness to me and forgive some pretty blatant rebellion.
Paul writes in Romans 7 about what “sin” really is and I am truly comforted by what he has to say and most especially the distinction he makes between “us” (our identity) and “sin” that lives in us. It’s an extremely important distinction.
A few years ago God gave me a profound dream regarding the nature of sin. He pulled back the veil and let me see the “distinction” for myself. Praise God for the distinction! You are not sin. I am not sin.
Our identities are not sin for only one reason. It is only because Jesus became sin and condemned sin, forever separating us from sin and its ultimate consequences, identity issues, and yes, even its presence in our lives. This is the real shocker and a truth pill that most cannot swallow. It gets caught in the throat of so many “christians” who love their sin. Of whom I am the worst.
THE GREAT EXCHANGE
So Jesus became sin so that God could condemn sin in sinful man (Jesus) once and for all. What did he do to become sin? He certainly didn’t sin. He received the sin of the world upon himself. What then do we do to become righteous in God’s eyes? It isn’t anything righteous we have done. The Bible is clear on that. It is when we receive the righteousness of Christ, and only when we do this, that we are made righteous. And so abundantly righteous that God treats us as though we were Jesus Christ himself with all the loving affection of the Father to his Son.
So is Jeremiah 17 still true? Is the hearts deceitful above all things since Christ? Doesn’t Jesus make a difference to the equation? Does his sacrifice touch or effect this “sin” within us? Good question.
The New Covenant Scriptures regarding identity that came to mind were these:
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:6-15 NLT)
So, what does this teach us about identity? Is this really saying that our sinful nature is cut away? That it is no more?
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears,then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since 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. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:1-11 NLT)
This clearly teaches us that if we are truly a believer that we are indeed a new creation in Christ! What are your thoughts about this Scripture? Do you believe it? Or struggle to believe it? Leave a comment!
I noticed when I started posting again in this new year that it had been a four month break between posts. During this time I wasn’t quite myself. My wife has said it was a midlife crisis. I was in crisis to be sure and I knew exactly why as well.
In a post just before I went “off the grid” I told everyone how I sometimes felt that people are better off without me and how I would crawl into my gollum cave to spare everyone. Well, once again, that’s exactly what I did.
I had attempted over those months to write a post which talked about my struggle and identity crisis (that eclectic mess was a blog entitled “Blue Like Jazz”) and had accidentally posted it. Sorry to everyone who read that.
I want to tell you what was at the heart of my crisis because I think it’s important. I fear being a disingenous religious prick. In other words, I don’t want to be in your life as just one more person who doesn’t genuinely love you. And I know how selfish and unloving I can be.
Just yesterday I was hanging out with a few friends and dissed a mutual friend while I was with them. I thought to myself, I wish I wouldn’t have gone to hang out because of what I had said, and fortunately I only had two people that I needed to apologize to to make it right… which I did. But, did my apology make it right? I might have poisoned them against that person I spoke ill of. Damage was done. Which once again tempted me to say, they really are better off without me. It’s time to retreat to cave and mope.
Is this too much information? Do you despise me for my struggle? Does Jesus still accept me? Is it ok to be honest with the world in a blog about my struggle? Is this helping anyone? Is there any hope for me? Any lasting transformation just around the corner? I think so.
Why do I stubbornly cling to hope when seemingly all the evidence says, “give up, you’re a lost cause”? Because I know God is love and love always hopes. Because I know he has me, and won’t be letting go… ever, because love never fails and always perseveres. And at the end of it all isn’t that the most important thing to remember? God doesn’t believe in a lost cause.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8 (NIV)
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
So when I read this again I am struck by my need to be loving. I need to be getting to the love and moving past the selfishness. In fact I think it is essential to a true experience of the Gospel. Transformation must take place. As Jesus said, “you must be born again”, and “only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven”. However, “it is the Fathers good pleasure to give us the kingdom”. So what is needed? Humility. Realizing I haven’t arrived or even to admit I must be born again. As Jesus also said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)
Sometimes we just need the humility to say, “I’m blind”. Is there anything holding you or I back from a full transformation?
I am happy to report the Lord Jesus is good. By His grace I’ve learned to genuinely love my friends and neighbors. I enjoy fellowship with Jesus and my brothers and sisters everyday. I have never enjoyed being more than I do now. Notice I didn’t say existing, or being anything in particular, but just being and living an abundant life just as Jesus promised.