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Doing the same thing…

The quote is famous, especially among counseling folks, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  When I learned that the quote came from Albert Einstein, a scientist, it made even more sense.  Scientific experiments are designed to achieve repeatable results.  Repeatability is the bedrock of modern science.  But apparently that news still catches people by surprise.

People who are abusive to others expect their lives to one day be different.  The toxicity we sometimes pump into relationships is like nuclear waste; it has a half-life.  Just because we decide to do something different for a day, doesn’t mean we don’t live in the same mess we’ve taken so long to create.   But the first rule of change is stop doing what you’re doing.  You will not be able to keep doing what you’re doing and expect a different result.

This goes doubly so for the Christian life.  Why do we think our situation in life will change if we refuse to stop doing the same things, if we continue to refuse to listen to Him and despise His Word?  Why do we think that all the messes we’ve made with our life can be cleaned up with a bit of magic like the “Sinner’s Prayer”?  Google it.

Here are the truths.  God speaks.  We need to listen and obey.  He actively forgives but He does so in the ways He has promised to, in the places He has promised to be, in His Word preached and read, at the altar, at the font which is the spring welling up to eternal life (Jn 4).

But we say, No!” to all of it.  We say, “I don’t really want to be different because that would mean I would have to act differently.  I want to feel different not be different.”

I’ve been there.  I’ve done it.  I know it from the inside.  I continually repent of it and yet I still wrestle with it.  “Lord I believe, help, Thou, my unbelief!”

Eugene Peterson is probably my favorite non-Lutheran Christian pastor/writer.  He describes the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  I can attest to this too.  Since returning to parish ministry, I have been in the Word far more.  I have experienced the still small voice of God speaking in His Word.  It is what I know is sure and true and still I wrestle with regularity and consistency in reading and writing.   If you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, that doesn’t sound very pastoral,” you’re right. I look at the faith of some of the people I am called to preach to and I wonder if I look like a kid trying to swim flailing about in the pool as he would to the eyes of an Olympic swimmer.  Another great line I just heard in a film comes to mind.  “So you’re just like us?”  And the main character responded, “Not yet, but I’m trying.”  I will easily contend with Paul for the title “chief of sinners.”

And yet God still speaks.  And we benefit from it, whenever we turn to him and are willing to listen.  “Hear, listen,” is an interesting construct of meaning.  To the ancient Israelites, the concept was fully integrated with the idea “obey.”  If one was not obeying, one was certainly not listening.  How can we possibly expect to benefit from what God says if we refuse to listen to Him at all?  People hear the third commandment and hear Lutherans say that means “get to church” and obey/listen to what God is saying and they think its just a numbers game and that real spirituality is found outside the church.  To them I say, stop despising the preaching of God’s Word.  I’ve been there.  I’ve despised God’s Word.  Listening to the Word preached is what saved me.

Let me try a thought experiment with you.  What if God issued a memo and announced that it was now company policy that He would have an open door policy so that you could come by any time and meet with Him and chat?  What if, in addition to that, God announced that once a week, he would meet with groups of His people at the weekly company staff meeting?  And what if there He would do several things?  He would, officially forgive sins, serve a light supper, speak to company goals and directives and even lift up the lives of faithful employees as examples and even correct and rebuke those who had failed but not necessarily in a public way so as to not completely demoralize people and expecially encourage those folks and give them what they need to do better.

He does all these things.  I’m sure we could take the analogy further and it would break somewhere.  But God does these things.

I know the church is full of sinners.  I see one in the mirror when I get vested for services.  But God is there speaking, exhorting, lifting up, healing and forgiving.  He has promised to be there.

I promise to stay out of His way as much as I humanly can.

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