We Need to Talk About the “S” Word

Rembrantd’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”

We need to talk about the “s” word.

No. Not that “s” word. The three letter one.

No…not that one either.

Sin. I’m talking about sin. (What did you think I meant?!)

We need to have an honest conversation about sin.

Recently, a friend and I were talking about the pervasiveness of sin. There’s not a square inch of creation, including and especially the human heart, that it does not mar. In our conversation, she shared with me a quote from Kevin Watson’s book, “The Class Meeting.” He says:

Many people struggle to affirm the doctrine of original sin (the idea that every person has been deeply damaged by the consequences of sin) and, as a result, that sin is inevitable and unavoidable, making it necessary for us to be saved by the grace of God. Yet, the same people who deny original sin, who feel that people are not that bad, are also adamant that “nobody is perfect,” that no one is capable of avoiding sin or incapable of avoiding sin. The operating view of too many people is something like “People aren’t all that bad, but they are incapable of being all that good.” [emphasis added] What a depressing (and inaccurate) view of human nature and possibility of life in Christ!

Guys- if people aren’t really that bad, then we don’t need God to be that good

And if we aren’t capable of being all that good, then God’s grace is such a waste on us. Why bother?

Sin and grace are two opposing forces, always at work against each other for more ground in our hearts. Sin is the power that moves us away from God; grace is the power that moves us back towards God.

The Good News is not that sin isn’t that bad. It’s that no matter how great the power of sin, the power of grace is greater still. The Good News isn’t that nobody’s perfect and so you don’t need to be either, it’s that in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we can be made perfect in love. 

Anything less than this is not good enough news to be the Gospel. 

There really are two kinds of people— there are Younger Brothers and there are Older Brothers (You know, from The Parable of the Prodigal Son.)

I’ll give you one guess as to which one I am. 😩😩😩

Older Brothers and Younger Brothers have more in common than not— they are both subject to the guilt of sin and susceptible to its power. But their one difference makes all the difference—Younger Brothers know it, and Older Brothers don’t (or at least won’t admit it). Older Brothers know how to hide their sin, especially from themselves. They may even know how to present it as if it’s a virtue. Not so with Younger Brothers. There’s no hiding their sin, and so they are much more likely to seek God harder, and often, sooner. As a result, they are the ones who experience God’s power in mighty ways.

Meanwhile, the Older Brother becomes more and more jealous of the Younger Brother for the grace he’s received and more and more bitter towards the Father for the grace that he hasn’t.

I understand the Older Brother more than I’d like.

The truth is that the same power received by the Younger Brother is every bit as available to the Older Brother. The only necessary thing is repentance. It’s really hard to repent, if you don’t think you need to! And if you don’t think you need to, or if you’re pretty sure you need to but aren’t aware of your own personal brand of sin, then you might consider, for starters, pride. (And you might also consider gathering around you a few people who will help you see your blind spots and love you anyway.)

Because when it comes to sin, here’s the kicker— the degree to which we are wiling to be made aware of, acknowledge, and repent of our own sin, declaring before God our need to be saved and our inability to be saved apart from Jesus, is the degree to which we experience God’s power for our very own selves.

So no matter who you are, if you long for the power of God in your life, then it’s time to get serious about your sin. Take heart— God is GENTLE and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.

Grace, grace, God’s grace! Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Even mine. Thank God.

How NOT to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

 

It was the second day of the New Year and I had already blown it. You know what I mean— the resolutions. And while I’m not one to really make resolutions, (I usually choose a word to be my focus for the year.) I can’t help but feel the fresh start that the New Year represents.

But not even two, full measly days in and Old Leah showed up. I blew all the smoke, and angry hollered about all the things, and cried all the ugly tears, and scarred all the children for life I was just pretty sure.

I should have called it a win that neither Caleb nor I could remember the last time Old Leah visited. But I was still so mad at myself! For one thing, January 2nd had to be an all-time low. I usually make it at least a week or two before I fall so miserably off course. Plus, I thought I was better! I thought I was past this sort of thing! I thought New Leah had finally arrived and was here to stay.

And that’s exactly where I went wrong, of course— thinking I was better, past, arrived. Somewhere, deep down, I must think that eventually, I’ll no longer need grace. That some day, God and I will have successfully worked Him right out of a job in my life.  Why do I keep treating Christianity like a self-improvement plan? It’s not about self-sufficiency, but utter dependency. The goal isn’t to need Jesus less but to ever increasingly become more and more aware of just how fully and completely we have always needed, need this moment, and will always need Jesus.

And here’s the crazy part— God actually wants us to need him. I only have three people who need me, and I cannot possibly fathom this. (And also, what does it say about my mothering that I keep trying to get them to need me less?)

So the grace of the whole miserable thing was the reminder of exactly what will never ever change no matter whatever else does— I need Jesus.

It’s all too easy to get lazy and start to coast on previous grace and previous growth. We forget how desperate we really are for God. Worse, it’s all too easy to get cocky and start to think our growth is from our own effort. We decide we don’t really need Him. Sin is so pervasive— not even our gratitude is immune to it. What starts as gratitude so quickly turns to sloth or pride.

It’s a discipline to stay desperate for Jesus.

I think what I’m realizing is that I only get better to the degree that Christ-in-me gets bigger. There is no Better Leah without Bigger Jesus. It’s not me that’s growing as much as Christ growing in me. Spiritual growth is turning over more and more space to Christ-in-me because Christ will always take up as much space as I give Him. 

So, if you don’t want to blow your resolutions this year (or, if, like me, you already have, but you don’t want to wait until next the New Year to saddle back up), there’s only one way to do it: don’t make it your goal to keep resolutions, but to keep needing Jesus. You aren’t possibly able to keep your resolutions in the first place, which is why most people don’t even make them. But this alternative— of never taking inventory of your life or setting goals— isn’t any better; just the other side of the same coin.

There’s only one way to succeed at New Year’s Resolutions— don’t keep them, but offer them. Make them your prayer, a place for Jesus-in-you to grow, a discipline of dependence.

Merry Christmas from the Hartmans!

I chose not to do a Christmas card this year because all the reasons. When you don’t get one from us, it’s because no one did. So consider this your 2017 Christmas love from the Hartman family. If you are one of those over-achieving holiday types with some nifty way to display all the cards (and you happen to care that badly) feel free to print!

This year seemed to fly by more quickly than usual. So in an effort to catch up and look back, here’s a short recap of each of us, beginning with the youngest.

Dean turned a year old in September. Like any infant-turning-toddler, he is changing and growing so fast. Dean is very expressive and is usually either smiling or scowling, both of which are really cute. He may never take to solid foods. Dean loves tractors, shoes, books, and anything Wesley is doing. But his absolute favorite thing is to ride a dirt bike around the yard with Caleb.

Wesley will be three in January. He is as rough and tumble as he is tender and sweet. Wesley loves dinosaurs (“sharp teef”), mountain lions, dirt bikes and anything Caleb is doing. (His presents this year included a toy gun and his very own tape measure.) If Wesley can climb it, he will jump off of it, which is to say everything, including us. Wesley’s vocabulary has exploded this year and he says all kinds of cute and sweet things (that I can’t seem to write down fast enough). For example, at almost every meal, even if he doesn’t like it, he tells me “this is the meal I ever had!” (Of course, he means best meal.)

Claire turned 5 in July and, and in September, we officially became a homeschooling family. (What?! That’s something I honestly never thought I’d say. In fact, I actually SAID it was something I’d never say. Good one, God. You’re hilarious.) It has already been so good for her, for me, and for our whole family in many ways. Claire loves all things horses, to do craft projects, and she loves to read and be read to. Claire is as precocious and persistent as ever, and it’s been so fun to see these qualities mature (a little bit) in the last year.

I can’t seem to get over just how big all three of them are.

Caleb had a full year of teaching, coaching, and making beautiful and functional things out of wood. (But, after last year, which was all these things plus building our house and welcoming a baby, it seemed like a breeze to him!) His cabinet business is really beginning to take off and he officially became Hartman Custom Cabinetry Inc this year. It’s been an exciting challenge for both of us to figure out how to be small business owners. Caleb is faithful as ever— in busy times and in slow times, he does the best he can, the next right thing.

I spent the year doing my darnedest to shape the lives of my little people while God uses them to shape mine. The two are one and the same, I’ve learned. And the longer I do this thankless and relentless work, the more I seem to settle into the sacrifice of it, the more comfortable I become with being at the end of myself, and the more joy I seem to have.

This year turned out to be a lot of transitions for us— some big and some small, some we saw coming and some we didn’t, some circumstantial but all transformational. (I’m going to try to write more about them in the coming year.) But, in all things, God has been so faithful.

So, Merry Christmas from the Hartmans! And all the blessings to you and yours in the coming year.