Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:
The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment. The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God. Sin is a denial of dependence on God and interdependence among neighbors, a refusal to be a ‘people’ of God and a counter-insistence that the individual ego be treated as something godlike. The people encountered in pastoral ministry today are sinners. But they don’t look like it, and many of them don’t even act like it. They rather look and act and feel like the youth they admire so much, struggling for ‘identity’ and searching for ‘integrity’. A quick theological eye that is able to pick up the movements of sin hiding behind these seemingly innocent characteristics will keep a pastor on track, doing what he or she was called to do: sharing a ministry of grace and forgiveness centered in Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Eleven, The Contemplative Pastor p. 125-126, 133, 134)
A three-letter word that has captured the attention of saints and sinners alike from the beginning of time. In the original Hebrew language of the Holy Scriptures, ‘sin’ is simply defined as ‘missing the mark.’
In other words, an archer who shoots an arrow at a big red & white target but misses the small center circle is a ‘sinner’ regardless of whether the archer hits the outer edge of the target or misses it altogether. When this definition of ‘missing the mark’ is applied to our sinful lives here on planet earth, ‘sin’ can take on a whole different meaning than what many in the church see it to be. Peterson, in this eleventh chapter of The Contemplative Pastor, hits the mark when he re-defines sin as “a denial of dependence on God and interdependence among neighbors, a refusal to be a ‘people’ of God and a counter-insistence that the individual ego be treated as something godlike.”
John Wimber, founding pastor of the Vineyard, used to talk a lot about ‘sin management’ and how he had spent most of his Christian life trying to avoid or manage his sin whenever and wherever he could. But after years of trying really hard to become one of the best ‘sin-managers’ in his church; only to fail as much as the guy sitting in the pew next to him; the Lord finally revealed to John that he might consider a different approach to his sinful condition. The Holy Spirit suggested that John spend more of his time focusing on Jesus while actively involving himself on a daily basis with the in-breaking of the Kingdom ministry of God, and poof! Over time, John began finding himself having much more productive time spent following Jesus, saying and doing His work, than wasted time spent on avoiding and managing his own sin!
My guess is that Peterson is suggesting a similar approach to the sin problem we all have.
Since theologically, everyone one of us will be ‘sinners’ (earth-dwellers separated from God, missing the mark on a continual basis when we try shooting arrows at the target of human perfection) the rest of our lives, we settle the issue quickly by living lives that focus more on embracing the God-sent Christ and His abundant grace and mercy toward our sin, and less on taking counts on who’s a sinner and who is not!
As I see it, we need to let Jesus escort us away from the shooting range where our self-launched arrows are flying madly about at these always-moving targets of human-perfection. Instead, let’s let Jesus lead us back into the Father’s House where our Heavenly Poppa teaches his kids how to shoot arrows the way He taught His Son to do it when He lived on earth.
As we talked in an earlier session, Jesus is the one and only ‘perfected-self’ who never misses the target. And rather than being some independent archer who tries his best at getting better at target practice, only to continually shoot himself in the foot, I suggest all us ‘sinners’ go over to Daddy’s House and let Him show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life of hitting the eternal targets of faith, hope and love.
Anybody up for that?
My prayer: As a sinner in need of great grace, I humbly come to You, Father, and turn in my bow, arrows and target ring. I’m tired of kicking myself every time one of my arrows misses the bulls-eye and believe, with my whole heart, that You’ve called me to something much more passionate in my life than managing sin until I die. I agree with Eugene Peterson and John Wimber, Jesus. I want to quickly admit that I’m a sinner separated from You and want to spend the rest of my days growing closer to You, learning Your fine art of marksmanship. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: How can I better embrace for myself, and then help others, to turn our focus away from a life of sin management and become much more intentionally passionate about pursuing Jesus? If indeed, sin is “a denial of dependence on God” and a refusal to live in “interdependence among neighbors,” than what practical steps do I need to take in becoming more dependent upon the Lord while also building more true community with my neighbors?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?
Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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