Wednesday, July 7, 2010


The word 'sin' makes me shudder. Not because I loathe it like holy people do. It's more of a gag reflex. In college I ate a bad burrito from Taco Bell and puked everywhere. For years I couldn't eat there. Simply thinking about Taco Bell made me twitch.

For me, sin is like a bad burrito. A traumatic association from gobs of gastric acid. I don't want to go back, but my reasons aren't noble. Shivers and cold sweats are hardly indicators of courage. But I've discovered that not everyone thinks about sin the same way. I think there's a sin spectrum with two extremes and most of us in the middle.

Extreme Left (Sin? What the #%&* is that?)

For some people it's a joke. An antiquated word. They think in terms of legal and illegal. Sin would be about someone's perception instead of anything objective.

I'm jealous of those people. I wonder if it's fantastically liberating to live like that. No constraints! Imagine running toward whatever cliff you felt like and stopping short only because you want to. It seems exhilarating and autonomous. I'd drink too much with my buddies. Or live at a casino by night and the ocean by day. But it doesn't work for everyone. Humanity is littered with casualties where people shot over the cliff and splattered in random heaps of pain along the sidewalks.

Extreme Right (Sin? Haven't seen it for years!)

There are others who take sin very seriously. They see explicit and absolute Divine standards. Their hatred for sin runs so deep that they live in another realm. Seriously, how do monks do what they do? For me, stuff like eating or talking is pretty normal. For them? Pushing the envelope.

My mental picture of me in monastery is comical. I ruin everything. I whisper too loudly. I eat way too much. And I definitely smuggle Frank's Red Hot Sauce for monk's bread. At first I get bored and mischievous, but eventually wilt into depression and bitterness. I finally set fire to the monastery and run away with my new friend Barthelmes, the monk I corrupted.

Deep down I'm afraid if I pursue holiness that at 70 I'll have forgotten the taste of submarine sandwiches and the sound of my own voice. I secretly wonder if anything enjoyable is by definition fleshly and therefore sinful. Maybe that's why I hold back from surrendering to Him. Allegedly my desires will change over time, but to be perfectly frank I'm not interested in a life without food and sports. Call it idolatry, but pass the ketchup.

Extreme Center (Sin? Let's not discuss that.)

Between the perfect people and the wild people live the rest of us. We've found comfort somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum. For us sin is vague and gross and just beyond reach. We're safely removed from dastardly evil, but we're not prudish either. A smidgen of sin is tolerable; not worth fretting about. Just don't go crazy. Other than that let's not talk about it.

Fine by me! It's not a happy topic at all. It brings ugliness to your doorstep. It eliminates excuses, pokes a God sized finger into your chest and says, "YOU." You're guilty. Bam. No way around it. And I think deep down everybody knows that already. We really do. Who honestly doesn't think they suck? I say no one.

We know we're sniveling creeps, we just don't care to dwell on it. Like the fact that I haven't looked in the mirror since I got fat. Seven years ago I could have looked all day. I was honestly convinced that Abercrombie and Fitch wanted me to model for them. I'm a dork. But now? Less is more when it comes to mirror time! Combing my hair in the dark is my newest aspiration. It's not overt denial; I know I'm fat. I'd just rather not dwell on it, thank you. Unfortunately, not looking doesn't make me skinny. Geez, I wish it did. I'd be so hot right now...

Extreme Me (Sin? Yum. Puke. Gag.)

Like I said before, the real reason sin makes me gag is because at the drive-through I ordered sin with a side of sin and I barfed my guts out. For me stepping back from ministry, feeling humiliated in front of family, friends, and supporters was like a gut-wrenching, nose-flowing, vomit explosion that makes you never want to eat again.

Currently the gag-reflex alone is working like a wonder drug. I've finally surrendered. You actually do reap what you sow. I can't soldier on with major character flaws, chalk it up to humanity, and pretend I'm a leader. The end will not justify the means. I have to stop everything, turn 180 degrees, and face the shadow. (For the record I hate that phrases like 'sowing and reaping' and 'ends justify means' are coming back to bite me in the butt! Before you know it I'll have bumper stickers like "hurt people hurt people" plastered on my jalopy.)

When I finally make eye contact with sin I'm terrified. As much as I may want to I can't arbitrarily choose where to land on the philosophy-o-sin spectrum. I wouldn't actually be happy anyway. Deep down I believe right and wrong extend beyond societal morality. I do. Whether or not God wants me to be a monk will have to wait for another blog. If He's real, and sin's real, than I'd better man up.

That leaves me in a wretched situation. My performance in light of His perfection is beyond appalling. Sin becomes more than a one-time burrito. It's a monster in the night. A frightful force that finds me, tricks me, and beats me senseless. Or maybe that's giving it too much credit. Maybe I found it? I don't know.

Turns out I'm totally powerless to defeat it. I've tried. Earnestly I have. The only way I've found relief is to line up my demons and tackle them one at a time, biggest first. I have no idea how sinful it is for me to watch too much TV, play poker, or drink 7 Diet Cokes a day. But I can tell you this, I am more whole than I was six months ago. Caffeine addiction and all. Why? I dunno. I think it has something to do with facing the music. But while I'm here I'll take the bad-burrito-gag-reflex all day long. It's a sweet insurance plan.


  1. Hey Matt, I'm curious about something. In your blog you wrote,

    "I've finally surrendered. You actually do reap what you sow. I can't soldier on with major character flaws, chalk it up to humanity, and pretend I'm a leader. The end will not justify the means. I have to stop everything, turn 180 degrees, and face the shadow."

    How do you know when you have to take that time out? We all know that we're flawed, but how do we know when our flaws require a step back from ministry?

  2. Hands down winner for QP (Quote of the Post) -"nose-flowing, vomit explosion" yummo!

    I'd be fine if we didn't have sports -sorry but it's true - I just can't live vicariously like that. However, food is a whole different thing - I really have a blast cooking and eating. The truth is God made us to enjoy stuff. My buddy Eric yells "You are ever-present, Lord!" everytime he sees a DC-9 fly over b'c it reminds him that he's a grease-loving, motor-head and God made him like that and he can enjoy being who God made him to be. I don't have to take my love of food and use it to feed the homeless in order for it to be worship - I can make a great meal and enjoy it and the fact that I'm enjoying what God gave me and who God made me is worship. Thank God.

    Ayn Rand's philosphy of Ethical Egoism challenged me with the concept that without self-interest there is no hope. Granted that a bunch of her ideas are crap, but there was a piece of that one that made me realize that the way God put this whole thing together included a very real benefit package for us and there's nothing wrong with liking that.

    So, feel free to roll down the Self-Loathing knob a bit and worship with your enjoyment.

    However, I have to tell you that diet soft-drinks are of the devil and I'm convinced that at your exorcism you will likely cough up cans of Diet Coke- (I had an employee that would only drink Diet Coke from a can, not a bottle, because aluminum has a lower specific gravity than plastic and therefore the soda can get colder - working at Cornell was strange)


  3. That's a great question Ashley. I wish I could offer you a great answer. At this point I don't trust my advice about anything, so please take the following with an evaporated-ocean of salt.

    I say you know it's time for a timeout when you are sliding steadily in the wrong direction instead of what you're shooting for. When things are getting worse instead of better it's a pretty good indicator you need help.

    Another huge thing is accountability. It's great to have people who love you who can say "yeah, you need help," or "don't be crazy, you're doing great." You gotta pick trustworthy people though.

    And sometimes I think God sovereignly stops us in our tracks to deal with us. He has a way of knowing when and how to do that.

  4. You made the suggestion to read your blog from the beginning, so I read this and then started from your first post. That was about 2 minutes ago.

    No I'm not a speed reader, and no I didn't read anything else. As I prepare to comment, the first thing that pops into my head is, I'm sorry.

    I'm sorry because I am not that clever, intelligent, insightful, (insert whatever impressive sounding adjective that relates to your creative type folks).

    I say that because I am sure what I have to say has already been said, but I have no time to spend researching your prior posts, as I am a missionary and everyone knows we do nothing but toil for the Lord 24/7.

    We all screw up, we all sin. We sin because it is fun. If it wasn't fun we wouldn't do it, rather, we would all turn down the opportunity to sin and bust out with a:

    "nose-flowing, vomit explosion"

    I am not sure what your sin was, frankly I could care less. I doubt you could have screwed up any worse than I or countless others have. I absolutely mean that.

    But now that you have screwed up, you have choices.

    You can either run around having yourself a big pity party, doubt your abilities, degrade yourself in front of the world, but that won't help you, your situation, your supporters, nor will glorify God whom you serve.


    You can suck it up, and get to work. Getting right with God isn't easy. He cuts out, rips off, burns, destroys all those things in us that separate us from Him. Those desires to sin. It hurts because we want sin, remember that its fun.

    If we choose the second route we become a testimony to others. There is no sin that is not common to man. You have a great opportunity to help others out of a similar situation. You can use this to be a light to others.

    Was that God's plan for your life?

    No, but his plan NOW is to use it for His glory.

    Yeah it hurts, yeah it sucks, but allow God to redeem this situation, which I think is what you are trying with this blog.

    Sorry its long, and sorry if its harsh.

  5. Aw, man - I waited too long to read and missed the un-edited version :)
    I'm with James - I'm going to enjoy eating and talking (especially eating. I really like food. Making it, eating it, talking about it, looking at it . . . uh oh, I may have an issue.), but seriously- I'm going to enjoy all that "amoral" stuff and try to keep my ear open and respond when He tells me there is a problem. There's enough that's pretty black and white that I have still to deal with!
    I think the gag-reflex is totally valid. Doesn't it say in Proverbs that if we repeat our sin we're like a dog that eats it's own vomit?
    A distaste for vomit is a great sin-deterrent. We can hope that someday it evolves into something more, but it's not a bad place to start.

    I read something the other day that was so striking for me. Beth Moore was asking God why He chooses to use people like us. We screw it up so badly! Why did He make us so that we gravitate toward sin?
    The response she gave was this: "Our infirmities, insecurities and insufficiencies neither surprised nor repulsed Him. They were all part of the human package. We wonder how divine God could choose us, while God delights when hearts so prone to wander choose Him! What could be His greater source of joy - for perfect people to do perfect things, or for pitifully self- and world-centered humans to fight the daily battle to become God-centered? Beloved, our victories bring far more delight to God than our defeats bring disappointment."
    If I could really believe that last line, what a difference it would make in how I live my life. I think that the entire concept of grace is tied in there somewhere.
    p.s. I love that James signed his comment "Barthelmes" :)

  6. Got through your first blog, I had a hard time figuring out what you were calling "common to man" and you own thoughts concerning the different approaches to sin.

    Anyways, there's hope against sin, Jesus died so that we could walk in grace (not trample it) to empower us to walk holy and without sin like He did. Its not about attaining, its about reaching and not giving up. I'm gonna get back to work, check this out:

  7. Hi there Matthew... you dont know me.. I dont know you... but your funny and honest. Your the type of guy that makes Jesus look approachable.