Ten 21st-century sins (and one remedy)

The funny thing about sin is how it can lure us into thinking ours isn’t so bad. Most of us who sit in church have mastered the big ones. Not all of us, obviously, but most of us don’t smoke, chew or dance with the girls who do (as we say in the South). We grew out of getting drunk. We don’t kill or steal.

What, then, are the sins of our generation?  The quiet, insidious ones that sneak up on us and steal our joy? Here are ten thoughts to challenge your ideas about sin and your place in this fallen world:

1. Entitlement. Another generation might have called it greed. One of my friends wisely noted that a sense of entitlement actually disables our ability to connect with others, perhaps because it fosters a spirit of competition (which kills community). We condition ourselves to weigh everything and everyone against some unattainable ideal or against what we think we deserve. I deserve what you have or I deserve more or you deserve less.

2. Fear. Related to this one is shame and unforgiveness, both of which are generated out of a spirit of fear. Shame is “in” these days (google it), so we’re finally calling out this base emotion that keeps us trapped in immaturity. It refuses to acknowledge that the One who lives in me is greater than the one who lives in the world. It also causes me to practice a self-protective posture. A self-protective (read “fearful”) crouch is fundamentally opposed to the personality of Jesus.

3. Jealousy. One of my Facebook friends also mentioned “professional jealousy,” which is an insightful twist on a very biblical sin (“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” – James 4:1). We wouldn’t think as adults of voicing our jealousy over a friend’s car, raise, or more functional spouse. But we won’t think twice about subtly sabotaging successful co-workers. Subtlety in this context is another term for passive aggression, which I personally consider to be among the most evil of community-destroying behaviors.

4. Anonymous anger. Yet another version of passive aggression, this one often manifests itself online (an addiction to being online gets an honorable mention here as a valid 21st-century sin). The heart beneath anonymous anger — the kind that shows up in traffic, in the comment sections of news sites, in gossip, in tweets about people we don’t personally know — reveals a lack of compassion. This is a heart sickness that comes back to bite us. Paul says as much. “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).

5. Passivity/ sloth. The other end of active anger is emotional disconnection. This one will sneak up on us from behind. Over-stimulated by so much aggressiveness and so many words, we find ourselves disappearing into binge-sessions of NCIS (preaching to myself here) or worse yet, reality TV (where we can feel better about ourselves because at least we’re not them).

6. Instant gratification. Trolling website after website, gathering pictures of stuff on our Pinterest pages, which we then become impatient to own or make. No boundaries. No patience.

7. Self-deception. One friend says this is us “trying to convince ourselves that we as individuals are more valuable than those around us.” Related to entitlement, self-deception takes us a step further down the road, adding fantasy to frustrated destiny. When we are not honest with ourselves, that gap between who we are and who we want to be is a breeding ground for frustration.

8. Objectification. Clumping people into piles then slapping broad labels on them, we learn to treat people who aren’t like us as if they have nothing to teach us. That includes those who live in other political camps and even those who live in other sin camps. But what if the people who are least like us are actually doorways into the Kingdom?

9. Narcissism. The friend who voted this one onto the list specifically mentioned selfies, which seem innocent (and probably are) until the accumulation of them begins to make us believe that we are the center of our universe around which everyone else is circling, hitting the “like” button as they pass by.

10. Pride. The deep root out of which all our contemporary sins sprout turns out to be the oldest sin in the Book. As a sin, pride never seems to go out of style. Oddly, its bedfellow is self-hatred. Pride and self-hatred are two sides of the same coin. It is us, like the proverbial “man behind the curtain,” doing our best to make ourselves appear more powerful than we are so we won’t be labeled worthless, which is what we actually believe.

Which of these is your personal battle?

Choose your sin, and the remedy is the same: humility. Or Jesus, whose primary personality trait is humility. It is the willingness to get outside ourselves, to get over ourselves, to believe in something bigger than ourselves. To place our time and emphasis on loving God and loving others rather than protecting self.

Humility. An old remedy for what ends up being the oldest (only?) sin … pride.

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Making Peace (and progress) With the Mess that is Us

Funny, how we humans think.

We assume we’re the only people in the world who have the kind of psychotic, illogical thoughts we have. We say, “If people could hear what is in my head, they’d run screaming from my presence.”

It is a kind of narcissism, really; and we all have it to some degree or another. Either we think of ourselves as better than the people around us, or we think of ourselves as worse than the worst. The common thread with either option is that we think of ourselvesAnd we assume everyone else is thinking of us, too. This is what we do. On this side of the fall line, the human tendency is to think of ourselves too much, in distorted ways. We think we’re unique in our sin, unique in our brokenness — unique in all the wrong ways.

This is biblical in the sense that we live on this side of Genesis 3. But our self-centered, self-promoting, self-hating thoughts … these are most certainly not biblical. The Bible tells me there is nothing I am going through that isn’t common to everyone. Which means those bizarre, insane thoughts you have are probably a lot like the bizarre, insane thoughts I have. Like you, I scream and cry in private. I melt down and wish God would just strike me dead. Or I rail against everyone else and wish God would strike them dead. Like you, I deal with envious thoughts and doubt-filled thoughts and fearful thoughts (those are my specialty). And I get so angry with God for not fixing everything like I want it. I feel sorry for myself way too much, wondering why I have it worse than all the other pastors in the world.

I’m not above crazy and I know myself well enough to know it will happen again, even if I pray earnestly for God to move me beyond those moments.

If what I’ve described here sounds familiar to you, too, then welcome to the human race.

Here’s the encouragement, for what it is worth: What separates us from the real crazies is our ability to see all those self-centered, unstable thoughts for what they are. They are moments of weakness but they are most likely very normal. They are our truest, most fallen self bleeding through, but they are not evil. They are a fact of the human condition.

When we see our weakness, our sheer humanity, as some degree of separation from God’s best, we understand more intimately why we need a Redeemer. We need someone who can speak for us in the presence of Perfect Love — someone who can say on our behalf, “This one is with me.” We need someone who counters all our distortions of self with knowledge of the created good by which he defines us. We need an Advocate with the Father (see Zechariah 3 for a profound picture of how this works in the Kingdom of God).

You see, while we think of ourselves as unique in all the wrong ways, Christ our Redeemer (the one who spoke us into being), thinks of us as unique in all the right ways. He sees us as we are, and he also sees what he made. More accurately, he sees the image of God. More accurately still, the Father sees us through the filter of Christ. In other words, it is not our behavior or our thoughts or our basest selves that matter. What matters is our proximity to the Redeemer who speaks for us.

In fact, that’s all that matters.

And what Jesus does for us, we are now challenged to do for others. We learn from Christ to be other-focused and to see the best in others … to see what they may not see in themselves. How can we practice seeing people in our path as Christ sees us?

1. Assume the best.
Do you tend to be trusting or suspicious of people? We tend to see in others what we see in ourselves. Do you see the best or worst?

2. Address the gaps.
They say that in the absence of information, we assume the worst. Rather than filling gaps with suspicion, we would all do well to learn to ask for help in understanding.  Where there is a gap, assume the best and lean in, as Christ has for us.

3. Learn to bend.
Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Love does not default to defensiveness, does not self-protect at the expense of others. Love bends … and doesn’t break.

4. Build on their gifts.
Your mother said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. At the risk of disagreeing with your mom, I disagree. If you can’t say something nice about someone, why is that? What has you so jaded about the human race that you can’t find one nice thing to hang your hat on, can’t find one redeeming quality in another child of God? Instead, why not find at least one strength and build on it?

5. In your anger, do not sin.
This comes straight from Paul. I love how he words it. He tells me I am going to be angry sometimes. I appreciate that permission. But my anger never gives me permission to “break a bruised reed.” If I find myself dealing with too much impatience, too short a fuse, I may need to examine what has me living too close to the edge.

Chances are, it isn’t them; its me. 

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