Letter to a Discouraged Saint and a Down-Trodden Sinner (same guy)

Good essay by Dan Gilliam over at Next-Wave e-zine.
Read it here.
Pentecost is coming, so what exactly is the “Church?”
The more I think about it, hear what people are saying (and I’m more interested in what un-churched people are saying, honestly), the more I read, the more I experience, I think Dan’s list is a pretty good summation or at least a good foundation upon which to begin, even though his intent is not to present what the “Church” is.

This is my experience. This I know to be true.
By Dan Gilliam
All people are born with a bent toward rebellion, a default setting toward sin, if you will. Even when it is not in our best interest we seem to have a mind and a will set on going against that which is good, against God, even against our selves. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I don’t think our desire is to be enemies with God; we just want to test the fences and see what we can get away with. Surrounded by all the beauty of paradise, only a fool would throw it all away for the one thing they were told they couldn’t have. History is full of fools. I am one. You might be another.
I don’t care what you believe about Adam and Eve or original sin. What matters most is that you know, regardless of your upbringing and in spite of your best intentions, you are incapable of not wanting that which you are not allowed to have. God knew this and was fully prepared to deal with our worst-case scenario. God provided a way for us to be perfect again in his eyes (through the second Adam) so that he could once again enjoy our company. We, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out how to deal with our propensity toward sinning. We can’t seem to get over the fact that we are still sinners. We like the saved by grace part, but are unaware that without full acceptance of our status as lifetime sinners we are unable to internalize grace with all its benefits and freedoms. This ugly but real truth of our spiritual DNA doesn’t mean, however, that we are doomed to act on every rebellious and sinful whim that crosses our minds, our wallets, or our loins. It just means that a spiritual awakening of the transformative variety is not an elective class for sinners like you and me. It is a required course.
Training won’t do it…
If this kind of rebellion against good and God could be trained out of you, I had as good a chance as any. I was brought up in a home with parents that gave me plenty of reasons to comply; good behavior was rewarded and misbehavior was punished. For some reason, though, I didn’t get it. In retrospect, it appears that I was destined to lie, steal, and be mean to girls and small animals all before the age of eight. I didn’t plan on being mischievous; it just came naturally. The week of my baptism, that act which washed my sinner’s slate clean, I was caught shoplifting by the manager of the local Ben Franklin dime store. It was there and then that I got my first glimpse of the fact that forgiveness of sins doesn’t automatically lead to alteration of behavior. I proved that you can be a Christ-following, church-going, bible-quoting do-gooder and still find yourself powerless over the innate drive to sin. My Christianity only made me a neater sinner, a forgiven fornicator, and a God-fearing gangster fully capable of stealing on Saturday and taking communion on Sunday. I would take this pattern to unprecedented levels as an adult. I would also learn to work harder to project the saintly image which provided (at best) a very thin veneer over my sinful crusty core. Sound familiar?
Talking honestly about sin…
From my perspective, we have two major problems in the church: One, everybody sins but we don’t talk about it, at least not honestly. This leads everyone to believe that he or she is the only sinner in the bunch and results in isolationism, even in the midst of a crowd. We feel separated by our sin, from both God and our fellow man, even though we may firmly believe (so we say) that we are forgiven. Our heads convince us that this idea is logical and acceptable but our hearts are far from accepting it as truth. “What’s wrong with you?” we say to ourselves, “If you really loved God you wouldn’t sin so much.” What a perpetuating mess. What a load of crap! The second major problem with the more popular expressions of church is that we have no plan or procedure for helping people access the power of God in order to find a way out of our sinful behavior. We are long on the beginning points of salvation and short on the process of sanctification which leads us to changing from the inside out. Last time I asked a minister about this he all but said it was not practical to deal with things like this in the worship service. I understand.
Chances are, with the church’s commitment to a main event type of gathering, we will not soon see any major changes in how we addresses the issue of sin as a body of believers. Too bad, because I think it’s a major point of the gospel. I think we miss it.
So, what’s a discouraged saint and down-trodden sinner to do? It’s quite simple really:
1. Find a way to do and be church with others who have a high need for honest relationships with God and people and who are willing to do the work required for authentic spiritual transformation. Do this however you can make it work with other like-minded people. You don’t need a bible teacher, a curriculum, or a book, though there are plenty of good resources available if you want to try some.
2. Develop a pattern and a plan for surrendering your heart, mind and soul to God, as you understand God, on a daily basis. Read a spiritual book. Keep a journal. Take a walk every morning and tell God everything that matters to you. Practice being silent before God so that God can speak to you.
3. Examine yourself honestly and regularly on paper. Write about the things that you have been keeping from God. What do you want God to remove from your life? Write about the pieces of paradise that you have been overlooking. Be grateful.
4. Confess your sins to yourself, to God and to another person so that you may be healed (James 5:16). Find a close-mouthed friend with which to be open. Bare your soul.
5. Forgive those who have harmed you and make restitution for the damage you have caused others.
6. Believe that God has the power to change you in God’s own time. You will soon learn how to recognize and avoid situations where you are most likely to fall back into old and harmful behavior. “Cast your cares on God because he cares enough to carry you.” (I Peter 5:7 paraphrased)
7. Prayer will become a way of life for you and cease to be an awkward one-sided conversation. Learn to listen for God’s voice in your daily activities. You will soon see how God is trying to speak to you everyday with the language of love.
8. Look for opportunities to share life and love with those around you. If you remain alert to the promptings of the Spirit, you will realize that giving it away is the only way you are able to keep it. This will be a natural and unforced activity. Most of what you have to say will be heard in how you live and treat people, animals and the earth. God is with you always, even to the end of a bad day.
Be aggressive about clearing away the wreckage of your past.
This is my experience. This I know to be true.