Tag Archives: sin

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Where Do We Begin? The Rubble? Or Our Sin?

I love it when Popstars are the Prophets. I love it when a song, a lyric, a melody moves into you, through your ears and straight to the heart, making us change the way we think about the world around us and our role in it. Bastille has a song like that for church leaders. Turn it up!

Bastille: Pompeii

The Important Question

Did you hear the question that singer Dan Smith asks over and over and over in the song? “Where do we begin? The Rubble? Or our Sin?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The song, “Pompeii,” juxtaposes a city being overtaken by, well, the very historic volcanic pyroclasm (you can never say that word enough), and a life taken over by sin (“my own devices”).

It’s a portrait of sin collapsing upon a life, the way that the volcanic cloud crashed over the rooftops of Pompeii.

“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices //
In your pose as the dust settled around us.”

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Cosmetic Theology

The question, “Where do we begin? The rubble? or our sin?” is the right one.

The Church is in the sin/forgiveness business. The Gospel is about a God who steps into the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius in our lives and begins to sweep away the ash, revealing a life that will now be overcome by his, and only his, love.

As a church leader, I’m often tempted to ignore the painful distraction of walking with others through the rebuilding of their exploded lives. It’s even more tempting to get cosmetic, to fix something that needs fixing, paint something that needs painting.

Where do we begin? Addressing the pain and destruction of sin in the lives of those we are called to love and lead? Or to remodel the sanctuary and let people work it out on their own?

When we look at Pompeii, we see a city in need of new walls, fresh paint and manicured lawns. If we were able to get a contractor and a capitol campaign, people could move back into Pompeii. But so what? Who needs another retail condominium?

There were real people in Pompeii. People like you and me, who had experienced personal cataclysm long before an environmental one:


People sin. We do. It’s the way things are. It’s not popular to talk about. At all. Sconces and pew cushions…now that is more like it, right? It might be easier, but it’s not the Church.

The question is: Do we have the courage to get down into the messy, complicated, uncomfortable reality that all people wrestle with daily?

Bastille ask a question that we need to answer: Where do we begin? Since the Gospel proclaims freedom to those who are covered in sin, would we rather proclaim that freedom? Confront sin and point to the God who forgives it? Or redecorate the Welcome Room and perfect the practice of something closer to a theology of cosmetics.

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. [Gal 6:1;MSG]”

God in the Ruins

When Jesus answers the question, it’s always going to be about beginning with sin. Rest assured that as Christ would walk through the uncovered ruins, the rubble wouldn’t be on his mind.

The people would.

Forgiveness is measured in lives, not walls, souls, not paint. A cosmetic makeover is nice, but soul-change is necessary. While a new color scheme is great, a new life is greater.

The truth is, living like Jesus never feels nice. We tend to want to point out the cosmetic changes that will one day make “all the difference,” but Jesus looks beyond the gloss and bokeh – pries deep into the places and spaces we believe are too dark to be seen and plants a light there, makes a home there, speaks to us from there. Where does he begin? In the places we most wish he wouldn’t.

And that’s where we belong.

hamartia missing the mark

Rachel Held Evans and Sinning No More

Yesterday on Rachel Held Evan’s blog, she published a very endearing narrative on The Woman Caught In Adultery and Sinning No More. If you are not familiar with the Bible story you can read it here.

Hopelessly Hopeless I Hope So by Jack Batchelor on 500px.com

Hopelessly Hopeless I Hope So by
Jack Batchelor

At the heart of her post is a pushback against Christians who weaponize the Gospel, it’s intentions and it’s passages. We need to do this. Christians have to embody the Gospel and that’s really difficult to do if it’s a bullet. Scripture isn’t a bullet, but it is a sword.

With really sharp exegesis, Evans kind of blunts a very important moment in the ministry of Jesus. Here is where she lands (according to her post):

It’s one of just two times in his recorded ministry that Jesus said this—“go and sin no more”—and I don’t believe for a second he expected this woman to do such a thing…at least not forever, at least not for good.

We all wrestle with Jesus’ words here because all of us wrestle with sin. I believe that Jesus certainly didn’t believe that the woman would never sin again, “at least not for good”, but I’m not confident that it wasn’t his expectation.

I love it when preachers (like me) talk about sin and bring up the Greek word for it, ἁμαρτία. When we say something in Greek, it means that we know what we are talking about. And what I love even more is the follow through we tend to add, “The greek word hamartia is an archery term that means ‘missed the mark.’ It means we are aiming for the bullseye, but we miss it. We don’t hit what we are aiming for.”

This way of explaining sin makes it sound like sin ‘just happens,’ like it’s an ‘accidental occurrence.’ If that were the case, we wouldn’t know what shame and guilt were. Sin is not an accident, though, at least not with me. I know when I do it. I know when I choose to do it.

We get it wrong when we use the ‘archery’ term so loosely. It sounds too, “Oops, I was aiming for the bulls-eye, but I missed the mark and shot the neighbor’s cow through the eye.” When we miss the mark, it’s because we meant to. We hated that cow! That’s the trauma of sin. We could have made another choice, but we chose not to.

I know when I choose to say the thing I shouldn’t.
I know when I choose to keep secret something that needs to be brought into the light.
I know when I click the mouse button and it’s not to a Bible website.
I know when my tongue has a choice to pray or curse, and I choose the latter.
I know when I can build someone up, but I choose not to.
I know when I can tear someone down, so I go right on ahead.
I know when I can honor my God, my family or my church and instead I choose a more selfish option.

The thing is…sin is never an accident.

Since it’s a choice, I don’t believe that Jesus is ‘missing the mark’ by expecting that she wouldn’t choose it. I don’t think Jesus is out of line using an imperative, expecting her to make a different choice from now on. That’s what it means to follow the Christ, to “change your hearts and your lives and trust this good news.” The letters ask us to practice self-control…kind of like it was expected. Kind of like in a way that produces holiness. I recently ran across an old interview with Eugene Peterson in which he hits on this and how it relates another Evans blog topic, the problems with the Church (of which, of course, there are many).

Holiness is the Christian life mature. It’s gathering all the parts and pieces of your life into obedience and response to God, and living with some energy. Holiness is a blazing thing, it’s an energetic thing. Part of the reason the modern church has lost its taste for holiness is that it was engineered. Although we were really firm about the fact that justification is by faith; holiness was by disciplines, work, arranging. So it became hedging around the rules, hints, regulations, and technology. Therefore, it became very boring and claustrophobic.

If Jesus meant something else when he said, “Go and sin more,” he sure has a funny way of saying what he’s not saying when he says it.

Looking at the story as a whole, Evans arrives somewhere really clever, and probably very accurate:

“She would sin, no doubt. But perhaps she would think twice before casting those stones. Perhaps she would stop for a moment to consider the irony of becoming just like her accusers.”

That’s a great point. Let this passage show that we are always in danger of becoming like our enemy. We are one relationship removed from doing to others what has been done to us.

To stop there, I’m afraid, makes the story too two-dimensional. In essence, you can continue to sin, to stay the victim, just don’t be like the people who call you out — however wrong heartedly or heavy handedly they do it. That doesn’t seem consistent with Scripture’s larger narrative, which C.S. Lewis talks about as a call to become ‘little Christs.’

I think that Jesus is once again laying out a Kingdom ideal. He’s providing a picture of what life in and through him can be like: without sin. Is this possible? Only through him. If this woman were to have followed him, to have walked in his footsteps, to sleep when he slept, to eat where he ate, to pray when he prayed, “go and sin no more,” would have been a lifestyle, albeit really challenging. And maybe she did just that. Maybe she actually doesn’t need us to use her story to make excuses for ourselves.

It’s an ideal.

How’s that working out for you?
The “go and sin no more” thing?
Because it’s not going so well for me.

Me neither, Rachel, but I have to look somewhere, to someone, don’t I?

And more and more, we don’t know where to look. Recently, I read an article about the flopability of Summer Blockbusters. The author noted that typically men drive blockbusters both in content and revenue, but this summer, men didn’t really glam on to any one particular film. They weren’t drawn into the identity politics of any particular hero. At the end of the article, the writer drew the conclusion that men don’t know who they want to be like anymore. †

I agree. We don’t know who we want to be anymore and a Jesus that just doesn’t want us to be bullies isn’t that appealing either. If he came out with a movie this summer, I don’t think I would have seen it.

But a Jesus that believes I can be more than I believe I can be, who asks more from me than I think I have to give, who isn’t afraid to lay an impossible task in front of me…I can get into that. A Lord who has the grace to forgive and does, that’s a Jesus that can expect things from me.

We can’t weaponize the Gospel, for sure, but let’s be careful not to neuter it either. It’s a sword, not gun. It’s got heart, but it also has teeth (“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Really?)

In the end, Rachel’s mostly right, we have to be careful that we don’t become like our accusers, but we also have a Savior who has shown us how to do that and it begins lovingly and demandingly, with a grace-filled invitation:

“Go, and sin no more.”

How do you feel about this story? Do you think Rachel is right?

† if I were Rachel, I’d link the source for this article. I’m not Rachel. I thought I favorited it, but I guess I didn’t. When I find it, I’ll link it!