Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choosing what to quit and who to serve

Below is the message I shared at Good Shepherd's new worship experience, 'Shepherd 701'.  The message is actually based on a blog post I wrote last week, about biting my fingernails.  So this post can serve as an update to that post, both in how I am doing with the nail biting and in that it is a more fully formed treatment of the idea of serving either the law of sin or the law of God.  
Hope you find it meaningful. 

Romans 7:17-25 (New International Version, ©2011)
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!   So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin.
So here we are in this season of Lent. 
It is a fairly common practice to give something up during Lent
Truth be told, I am just not very good at this: I usually pick some type of food to give up.  Then I end up fixating on the food and talking about it  - or more likely complaining about not having it all the time
I feel like this sort of defeats the purpose, so I was actually not going to give up anything this year.
But then I decided to try something a little different
This year I am trying to give up biting my fingernails. 
Which isn’t the typical thing to give up, I know, but I have been trying for literally years to stop, so I thought it was worth a try.
As I struggle with breaking this habit this week I was struck by Paul’s words in Romans 7, words we just heard a moment ago:
‘For I don’t do the good I intend to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.’
Isn’t this a great summary for much of our lives? 
We, so often get caught up in doing the things that we don’t want to do and manage to miss the opportunities to do the things we want to do or know we should do.
This doesn’t seem to make any sense – why would we keep doing things that we don’t want to do?
Well, for most of us it just isn’t that simple
I want to stop biting my nails – most of the time.  Sometimes I do it without even realizing that I am doing it. 
But, if I am being completely honest, there is often –in fact almost always – a moment of realization
A moment when I know I am about to bite my nails.  And in that moment, I don’t want to quit – I want to bite my nails, so that is exactly what I do. 
It’s in moments like this, usually about things much more important than nail-biting, that we are giving in to the ‘law of sin’ or sinful nature living within us. 
In that moment we are presented with a choice between the freedom of following the law of God and slavery to the law of sin. 
Too often we choice the law of sin. 
We do it of course because there is some reward or satisfaction or pleasure.  Sin usually looks or feels good – at least for a moment.
But sin, choosing the law of sin, has consequences too
Right now this is the first time I can ever remember that at least one of my fingers doesn’t actively hurt. 
That is a ridiculous but true statement. 
The pain in my fingers is a consequence of giving into that momentary impulse. 
But we need to understand that whenever we give into the law of sin in our lives – there is a consequence – that sin leaves a mark.  Aching fingers, hurt feelings, broken and torn lives. 
And the more often we give into any one sin, the deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal, the bigger the scar in our lives, and relationships.
Sin is about deception, tricking us to choose pain and brokenness and slavery over freedom, wholeness and fulfillment. 
  It may not always seem like it, but we always have a choice: a choice to give into the sinful nature living within us or to accept and rely on the love, grace and power of Jesus Christ and the law of God that is at work within us.  
It’s a choice we make many times every day, and each time we give into sin we allow ourselves to become more enslaved by the very sin we seek pleasure from.  
But, each time we choose to rely on God we grow closer to God and also closer to who we are supposed to be.
So, while we are incapable of always choosing freedom, wholeness and life our will power, strength and choice is not the end of the story
Listen again to the passage from Romans, this time in The Message translation, starting at verse 24:
Romans 7:19-25 (The Message)
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
The choice we are offered is to stop relying on ourselves and to lean on and lean into the love, grace and peace of Jesus Christ. 
Jesus Christ who loves us, wants what is best for us and has the power to guide  and save us. 
Through his actions he has set right even our hearts and minds and decisions if we would but choose him. 
And that is indeed good news.

1 comment:

  1. from a fellow nail-biter, well said! Great post, Chip.