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Facing the Demons

The words are rightly well known.  They are oft uttered in heartfelt worship.  Any genuine life of intentional discipleship rides on the wings of its application.  What words are those?  “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong” (I John 1:9).  Our chafing comes in the opening phrase, “if we confess our sins.” Most of us choke because we think confession is something others need to do.  The universality of sin is widely disputed in our comfortable existence.  Where evil (as a concomitant expression of sin) is encountered it is usually done so in the extremes of a group like Boka Haram.  And yet, boldly the Apostle Paul asserts, “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23).  John likewise declares, “If we claim, ‘We don’t have any sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).  However discarded, sin is still around and still present in our lives. By inference, I remember on a summer vacation, we found ourselves hiking in Yellowstone National Park, one of our favorite places on earth. We were hiking in the north central part of Yellowstone in a beautiful forested section with a small pristine lake. As we got about a half mile down the trail, we came upon a sign that said, “Danger. Bear Sightings in the Area.” And we paused. We held a debate on whether we should continue down the trail or not. I looked around and thought, “You know. Come on! This is so wonderful, let’s go.” And so, reluctantly, my wife followed me down the trail. She said, “What are you going to do if you come across a bear?” And I said, “I’m going to run and jump in a tree and climb it.” And Jolynn said, “Bears climb trees, Mike. They can get you there.” And I looked at this gorgeous small lake nearby and said, “I’m going to run into the water.” She said, “Bears fish.” I was lost metaphorically up a tree with no way to get out of danger.  No offense is meant or intended, but I submit so are you, so are we – individually and collectively.  By way analogy at some time or another we have shinnied up a tree that breaks under our weight or plunged into water that threatens to drown us. Consider another image from the Boston Marathon tragedy. In the film clip of the first explosion, one of the runners was literally blown to the ground by the shock wave.  We pray that may never happen again, but metaphorically we know the reality of being blown to the ground in the living of our days, sometimes because of what we have done and many times through no fault of our own. Sin is real in our lives and in our society.  It must be confronted.  A crucial aspect of intentional faith development is not to lie to ourselves about our lives or the reality within which we live.  The biblical advice is right on target.  If we confess our sins … then through Christ we can climb down the tree or get out of the water.  Facing the demons of our lives is a necessary element of intentional faith development. As a part of my Lenten blog series on Heading Towards the Cross, I shared Professor Scot McKnight’s list of false gods that clamor to reign over us, over the very best of us!
  • Individualism – the story that “I” am the center of the universe
  • Consumerism – the story that I am what I own
  • Nationalism – the story that my nation is God’s nation
  • Moral relativism – the story that we can’t know what is universally good
  • Scientific naturalism – the story that all that matters is matter
  • New Age – the story that we are gods
  • Postmodern tribalism – the story that all that matters is what my small group thinks
  • Salvation by therapy – the story that I can come to my full human potential through inner exploration (taken from The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight; pg. 157).
A part of the genius of Methodism was its conviction of holiness of heart and life to such a degree that intentional sin (sins of commission) could actually be dispensed with.  Methodists call this moving on to perfection.  The question is still firmly lodged in our ordination service.  At the Executive Clergy Session of Annual Conference candidates for ordination are asked:
  1. “Have you faith in Christ?
  2. Are you going on to perfection?
  3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
  4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
  5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?”  (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, Paragraph 336, p. 262)
The list continues.  The thrust is clear.  We are to be engaged in ongoing continual faith development.  Along with critical behavior change, we have to face the demons that trip us (and our society) up. Dallas Willard in his great spiritual classic The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God recalls a powerful teaching by an equally great Christian leader:  “The influential Anglican Bishop Stephen Neill, for example, says simply: ‘To be a Christian means to be like Jesus Christ.’ And, ‘Being a Christian depends on a certain inner relatedness to the living Christ. Through this relatedness all other relationships of a man – to God, to himself, to other people – are transformed.’”  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God, pg. 42).