What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Kirks Go Camping, My Smelly B.O, and True Spiritual Maturity

This past Friday night Kelly and I embarked on something we've been talking about doing for quite some time: our first ever family camp-out.

It was just Friday night. It was just thirty minutes away down at Jordan Lake. We figured if everyone was melting down at 2 a.m, we could come home and get a decent night's sleep.

It actually went spectacularly well. Our kids were satiated with hot dogs cooked over the open fire and s'mores for dessert. We all (eventually) slept and we had a great time wading into the lake and playing in the woods. Score one for getting back to nature for the Kirk family, hopefully we'll be able to do something a little more ambitious next time.

Of course, being a guy, the fire makes the camp out for me. It was a small-ish one, but hey, open fire is open fire.

While I was there, I was surprised at how not-smelly I was. I generally associate camping with serious body odor, soot and ashes and everything smelling like smoke. I assumed that this was not the case on this particular trip because we weren't there that long and that we kept the camp fire intentionally small.

And then I got home. And once I was away from the great outdoors and the constantly smoldering fire, I realized that my previous evaluation of my odor was way off. I stank. Everything we brought with us stank. Smoke-smell permeated all our stuff. But it wasn't until I was out of it that I could recognize it.

And this is how it is with our spiritual and moral condition. Scripture describes coming to Christ as coming out of the darkness and into the light. As we do so, we begin to see ourselves as we truly were. The darkness had hitherto covered up many things. Now those things are exposed.

Often in Christian circles we talk about spiritual transformation as if it were an ever-increasing experience of personal improvement.

But Calvin and other Reformers talked about the Christian life not (primarily) as increasing personal improvement but as perpetual repentance. Spiritual maturity, they argued, was about repenting from our ever-at-work sin as soon as it was revealed to us. Cutting down the lag time between seeing our sin and repenting of it was the goal.

There are few places in our lives where we are more self-deceived than in our estimation of our own moral goodness. We will almost always think of ourselves way too highly or way too lowly.

This is why we need the light of Christ. If we're constantly judging by our own internal lights, we'll mis-diagnose the reality of the situation and therefore mis-prescribe what is necessary for healing.

All I needed on Saturday was a good hot shower and to either wash or burn my clothes (Kelly voted for the former). In my spiritual journey, the work is even simpler but more demanding: repentance (literally: "to change your mind" or "turn around") works a cleansing that's much more thorough.


Jon said...

Your point about the reformers perspective on spiritual maturity reminds of a conversation Kristen and I have been having off and on and is pretty much verbatim Kristen's perspective. (Guess she really is still reformed...)

The conversation has been about primarily mulling the question, "is the world getting better, staying the same or getting worse?" And not from a "those darned kids with the tattoos and piercings" kind of way, but in terms of the kingdom. I've been wondering how much of our perspective on the kingdom coming (in connection with social justice) is scriptural versus reading scripture with the baggage of an enlightenment perspective that says the world is ultimately getting better and better. Is the kingdom coming and therefore evil will one day be eradicated through the advancement of that kingdom? Or is the kingdom coming similar to trying to keep plates spinning, where we may be doing great in one area (urban renewal or AIDS relief in Africa) but then miss a whole other area (human trafficking or abortion)? And if the kingdom coming won't be marked by the systematic elimination of evil, than are we communicating it correctly to people when we allude to the possibility that "we can change this city once and for all!"

We then took that idea to the personal realm and asked the question, "are we as individual followers of Christ getting better, staying the same, or getting worse in our struggle against sin?" We both agreed that a Christian who is truly walking in step with the Spirit isn't getting worse, but haven't come to a consensus about whether we actually experience victory of sin (as in: particular sin struggles - lust, pride, selfishness, etc.) or will I still have the same sin tendencies on the day I die as when I first came to Christ. That's when Kristen suggested it's about quickness of repentance.

Sorry, that's a lot, but thoughts on any of the above?

Alex said...

jon, you always ask the easy questions!

let's start with the big-picture/kingdom question. i think that your analogy of "plate spinning" is most apt. we are to labor for the kingdom, but it will never be fully arrived until the day that Christ returns. there was some bad dispensationalist theology that taught back in the day (and some still believe) that Christians ushered in Christ's return as they made the world better and better and then Jesus would come back at some climactic point of "betterness."

But I think a more faithful view is what you talk about here: there will be places where we'll see progress, other places where we'll miss entirely. then the seasons will change, the sins of the culture will change, and we'll have different battles to fight, each generation being called to be faithful to serve the Lord in their time, given their circumstances.

That's not to say that there aren't genuine "advances." Clearly history is marked with Christians who served and led and bled and died to make genuine systemic change. But all changes made by humans are still in the realm of death. The change agents die. The changes they enacted also have a life-span of sorts. Whole cities have been changed, but never once and for all. It'll never be a 'done deal' until it's genuinely a done deal!

On the personal side of things, I think we can genuinely say "both." It is both true that I am maturing in Christ and overcoming some of my sin patterns. And it is true that as I draw closer to the light that I see my sin more and more clearly. And it is true that some sin patterns will always be with us--or at least the strong temptations will always be with us.

But the wise who are older than me say that eventually if you tune in you stop being surprised by your sin, you stop discovering new sins. It's the same core brokenness/idolatory being expressed in subtly different ways that you need to address through repentance before God. But we're never sin-free, as alas some super-free-will folks believe (see your local campus obnoxious preacher).

No surprised Kristen really is reformed--she grew up in a really solid, reformed church in Winston. Eventually that's going to leave a mark!

Thoughts/comments/push-back on any of this?

Jon said...

Yeah, makes sense. I think as far as the big picture question, I hadn't realized the dispensationalist side that said things would get better... I usually associated that with an end times perspective that said ultimately, things would go to hell in a hand-basket and then Christ would return.

So, my bigger concern I guess is if we paint a false idealism when we talk about social justice issues as Christians. (And I say false idealism because I belief the truth of the matter is ideal.) Maybe it's another case of our desire to "relate" to the secular world, which ironically seems to believe the world is not getting better, and yet for some reason is excited about getting involved in good, social justice causes. So we paint a picture of, "yeah, Jesus cares about that too!" but without the dose of truth that says, "but ultimately our attempts to fix it will be futile and only find meaning or purpose in the cross."

The example that came to mind for Kristen and me was Mother Theresa's ministry to the sick and dying. No matter if she had ten more lifetimes to continue her mission, there will always be sick and dying. And that seems futile for us and cruel on God's part to send us a mission that can't be completed, unless the point isn't to achieve something (like the eradication of disease)but to love and love and love with everything we have, to the point that it hurts and we have nothing left of ourselves to love with, for it's own sake - or rather, for the sake of the One who both loves and is love. How easy (relatively) it is to love when you expect to see lasting change as a result of that love. But what depth there is to the love and mercy that isn't just a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. And we, then, aren't caring about social justice because of a false enlightenment sense of progress, but because we are reflecting the character of the God who defends the cause of the helpless - even when they never rise above their (or our) helpless state.