Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Inconsistent Christian

I've procrastinated writing this blog. It's uncomfortable for me to look at myself honestly, write about it and then publish it for the whole world to see. I'd rather portray some nice image of myself, a picture of who I want to be, someone who always gets it right. Historically, we put on our Sunday best image at church, playing the part of the perfect family for a couple hours each week, rather than being honest about our imperfections. And that's what we do on social media, right?

So you may be thinking: “Then why do it, Mitch? What’s the purpose? What’s the benefit and the cost?” Yes, my thoughts exactly. Why not portray an image of my best self? It only shows part of the truth. God wants each of us to be authentic and has prompted me to do this… insistently… for several months… with ever-increasing intensity. Yet just as Jonah took a ship in the opposite direction, I’ve set this topic aside repeatedly.
Consistently Inconsistent
I wrote before that the one thing consistent about me is my own inconsistency. I re-read that post and see where what I wrote fell short. I put a timeline on something, but 2015 was actually a pretty good year despite what I felt. I sometimes feel such a sense of urgency and importance in a message that I convey the message with that same sense of urgency. I hear the Lord say “soon” and assume it is soon by human standards, but “soon” is a relative term. What seems like an eternity to me is a blink of eye to our eternal God, and I need to remember that He is patient. God will extend the timing of His judgement as long as possible so that (1) no one is left behind and (2) no one is left with an excuse. Ultimately, I’m grateful that He is slow to pass judgement, because it means He is patient with me… patient with my half-hearted, and inconsistent walk with Him. 

His patience is a reflection of His saving grace. Because of His grace, I don’t need to be perfect in behavior, desire or thought; I only need to be perfect in choosing to trust Him. Yet as simple as that is, it's often a decision that I need to make repeatedly throughout the day: struggling, stumbling, repenting and repeating. It is a decision to hand the struggle over to Him and obey the one thing He has told me to do until He gives me the next step. I may not have a singleness of heart and mind at that particular moment, but fixing my eyes upon Him, the anxiety and passion for lesser things fades. Especially during times of inner struggle, I am more keenly aware than anyone else of my need for Christ, yet even then I’m not as aware as my God and Savior wants me to be. He is changing me over time from glory to glory, always becoming. (2 Corinthians 3:18) I have a vision for what I want to become that includes how I measure my growth and guardrails to keep me on the path, but in my selfishness, I jump over the guardrails into the wrong lane. As the Apostle wrote: “I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do.” 

My salvation does not depend upon my faithfulness, but it rests completely upon God being faithful. Still, there are consequences to being unfaithful. It is like a pebble thrown into a still pool of water, creating ripples. No one likes to talk about our failings, but we learn more from our failures than our successes. In other words: every failure is a learning opportunity. Every stumble is a step in our becoming who we were made to be. I heard long ago that a smart man learns from his own mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. I can only hope to be smart in my failures, but you have the opportunity to be wise.
Publicly Inconsistent
My inconsistency has been both public and private. It's easy to see where my public inconsistency has hurt others. The world looks for believers to represent Christ; we are both ambassadors of His grace and recipients of His grace. When we don’t represent Him well, it has a ripple effect. We are rightly called hypocrites, sowing pain and doubt into the lives of those we should be encouraging and strengthening. 

Some of my greatest regrets involve not being consistent in front of my kids. On a family vacation, we decided to go horseback riding, and I lied about son’s age so he could ride along with us. It seemed so innocent in my mind. I easily justified it, but when my son discovered that I lied, it changed him in ways I don’t think he even realizes. On a different occasion, when one of my daughters was 12 years old, I flew into a rage, and even though I never touched her, I deliberately intimidated her to make her afraid of me. Sadly, it worked. My juvenile outburst both terrified her and created a wall between us.

I value kindness and consideration, yet what I did to my daughter was mean and manipulative. The truth is important to me, and there's nothing more detestable to me than a lie. Yet I lied. I can't live up to my own standards; how could I possibly live up to God's perfect Law? That is why God's grace is so important. It's my only hope.

I hate lies, yet I lie. Lies are at the foundation of all our depravity. Adam and Eve believed the lies of the serpent, which led to their fall. The illusion that wealth provides safety and security leads to greed. The perception that temporary pleasures will ease our painful situation leads to so many addictions and does nothing to resolve the root cause. Healing comes when we acknowledge and reject the lie, affirm the truth and resolve to live in truth. The most insidious lies are the half-truths, the ones that leave out that one important detail. We learn to use it as children: "He hit me first!" neglecting to say how much we provoked 'him' to hit me.
Privately Inconsistent
My private inconsistency is that kind of half-truth. Someone on the outside may wonder why I trust in a God who has allowed me to suffer, but they don't see all that is below the surface or understand how God disciplines the ones He loves because they failed to exercise self-discipline. I have privately been an inconsistent Christian, allowing myself to entertain wrong thought patterns that feed the old nature: lust, fear, pride, and laziness. It's God's discipline that dissolves the pride that would otherwise consume me.

My internal thought life can lead to wrong behaviors, yet I can often justify my secret sin as acceptable because "I won't follow through". In other words: “It’s okay to look at the menu so long as you don't order.” But I’ve learned that the internal thought life is where it all begins. It’s the battleground of the soul. While the struggle is only felt by me, the ripple effects pour over into the lives of others. It’s easy to see what we have done to hurt others, but what about what we’ve failed to do? When my thought life has been consumed by some “guilty pleasure”, how have I failed to spend time doing good that others desperately need? How have I failed to be there when my family, friends or neighbors needed someone like me? How have I lost the better thing that God had planned for me? The secret life creates ripples every bit as powerful even if it’s less visible. 

So, I try to be smart man, learning from my mistakes, and I strive to pass this wisdom on to a new generation. My key take-away is to seek a consistent walk with Christ, privately as well as publicly. I realize that I can’t do this perfectly, but as the proverb says: “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again.” It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful, and my Father in heaven cheers each step I take toward Him, no matter how many times I may stumble. 
Consistently Hopeful
I proclaimed decades ago that my only hope is in Christ. That remains true today. I was both amazed and excited when I discovered the meaning of Jesus's name: Yahweh Saves! His very name was a promise of what He has done for me! He has saved us, and He leads us to become what we were created to be.

I long to have the promised heart of flesh that replaces my stubborn and rebellious heart of stone, but until that day comes, I’ll remain in this state of becoming, struggling against the old nature that creates this inconsistent Christian walk. God and His promises are unchanging. We see His grace described in the Old Testament (e.g. - Ezekiel 18, Jonah), but it’s in the New Testament where Romans 6 -8 describes the victory of God’s grace over our struggles. It has become the cornerstone doctrine that distinguishes Christianity from other religions and that completes the law of Moses
However, not only creation groans. We, who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts, also groan inwardly. We groan as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the freeing of our bodies from sin. Romans 8:23
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