Who We Are & Who We Can Be Pt.1

When I was seven I was caught shoplifting

I had been enjoying some unsupervised free-time in the toy department when I decided that I’d help myself to some Star Wars figurines.

This wasn’t the first time I had stolen something.

There wasn’t a high degree of difficulty involved because someone else had already opened the packaging. I simply waited until I was alone in the aisle and then placed three of the toys in pocket of my windbreaker. I walked out the door, got in the car, and headed home to enjoy the results of my inter-galactic crime spree.

I enjoyed them for about 2 hours.

When my mother found me playing with the toys, she asked me where I had gotten them. I knew that I needed to say that I had taken them from the store, but I didn’t tell her that.

I told her that “I found them”.

She didn’t believe me.

I was taken to see my father.

I told him that they were “given to me” by a stranger.

He didn’t believe me.

I was taken to see the retail manager.

I told him that I had stolen them.

He believed me.

If you know me well you’ve heard this story and how it turned me from a life of theft, but I want to point out that it took a significant amount of work by many people to turn the tide of rebelliousness and burglary in my life.

I had a proclivity for theft and no desire to turn from it.

I could explain my inclination to pilfer by describing an early childhood of deprivation and poverty, but at the end of it all I would still have to admit that my parents had instructed me against stealing and that I knew what I was doing was wrong.

Even though I knew better, I still “talked myself”into stealing.  Afterwards I mentally and emotionally justified my actions. I was a child thief, and I didn’t care about the moral implications:

Being a thief got me what I wanted.

I was revealing who I was by what I’d chosen to do.

There was a reason for why I didn’t “fess up” when I got caught, and you might think that it was because I didn’t want to get into trouble. While it’s true that children don’t enjoy being punished, I have to admit that my deviance went above and beyond that of a typical child:

I also didn’t want to stop taking things that didn’t belong to me.

Getting caught meant that I would be more closely supervised. Confessing to my crimes meant a kleptomanic curbing, and that would keep me from “getting what I wanted”.

How I responded to my crimes revealed who I was choosing to become.

This blog series will take a deeper look into how we respond to our transgressions, and how these responses help determine the trajectory of our lives.

While each one of us participates in the soul-crushing behaviors of human failure, we also have the opportunity to respond to these moments of self-destruction in ways that participate with God in his resurrection and re-creation of humanity.

We’ll be diving into the failures of six different Biblical characters and examining their response to the correction of a sovereign God; each of them revealing through sin “who they were”, and demonstrating “who they would become” through their responses.

Part 1 will cover our desire to escape accountability by denying responsibility.

Part 2 will look at how God defeats this by demanding we examine ourselves against his standards.

Part 3 delves into the choices we make in adversity and how they point us towards relationship with God, or exclusion from his presence.

Part 4 investigates how confession and repentance move us from a path of destruction and point us towards restoration with God and mankind.

Part 5 examines the connection between spiritual defiance and mental or emotional illness.

Part 6 considers how we “come back” after making a mess of things

As we begin, I’d like to illustrate the human propensity to deny the role we play in interpersonal, global, and spiritual corruption.  “Covering our tracks” is demonstrated in 4 common behaviors meant to escape personal responsibility:

Denial Refusing to acknowledge our sin or failure.

“I know you’re upset, but I just don’t see it that way.”

Distraction Pointing out the sin or failure of others.

“Your problem isn’t with me, it’s actually with ‘those people.'”

Deflection– Acknowledging sin but placing the blame on someone or something else.

“Well if I’m angry, it’s your fault for making me angry.”

Minimization- Admitting fault but comparing ourselves favorably to a “larger” problem.

“Ok, so I stole, but it’s not like I murdered somebody.”

These behaviors are demonstrations of a mindset that goes over and above the assertion that “it isn’t cheating if you don’t get caught”; they attempt to satisfy the belief that “if we don’t get punished then we aren’t actually guilty.”

While matters of truth do eventually slip out passively over time, history reveals that justice very rarely “happens” without the faithful work of courageous and trustworthy people.

Working to reveal the human responsibility in a matter is often the first step in helping to bring someone to a confession that begins the process of human and divine restoration.

I know because I’ve experienced this myself.

My response to the theft of the Star Wars men was not one of personal responsibility. My initial response was to deny that I had broken any rules or laws.

After that I tried to label the items a “gift”.

A faithful investigation into the facts of the situation, by trustworthy and caring individuals, revealed otherwise.

As believers we have some specific responsibilities to God in the areas of honesty, self-examination, submission, and confrontation.  When each of us is willing to go beyond our self-centered desires for preservation and spiritual autonomy we open ourselves to the work of God in our lives.  This work transforms our nature, and that change is demonstrated in our behavior.

The work is often difficult, frustrating and painful.

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:2-3

It was the diligence and just behavior of responsible people who “held my feet to the fire” that brought me to the point where I made an honest confession of not only what I had done, but the kind of person that I was.

This was the first step a new movement.
That movement was the first in a new direction.
That new direction became a new trajectory for my life.

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”James 5:19-20

Continue to Part 2

2 Responses to “Who We Are & Who We Can Be Pt.1”

  1. Brian November 15, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    “He who is forgiven little loves little.” I’d say at least half of my spiritual growth comes from repentance.

    • Jon November 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      So true, so good.

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