Monday, March 23, 2009

Do the Reconcile: Why Christians Sin

It's amazing where you find new music.

As I've admitted here before, I used to pay DJ in my bedroom, spinning selections from my stacks of 45's given to me by my dad. Those stacks were an education in 50's and 60's rock and pop. There were even Sun records in those stacks, and they got a ton of play time on my fake radio show. Sun records were a big deal to me, because that's where Elvis Presley started his career. I've not been able to afford an Elvis sun record yet (they are quite pricy), but I've got a few Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins Sun discs. They were beat when I got 'em (no surprise here; they were great) and I beat 'em even more. Those grooves are well worn, and now sitting silent in my bedroom closet.

I knew every pop and crack on those records. When I was 8, I started buying a series of compilations called "The Sun Story", a six volume set that featured the biggest, non-Elvis stars to record at Sun. I had them all by the time I was 10 except for one: Jerry Lee Lewis. None of the record stores had it. They had mulitple copies of the others, but Mr. Lewis was in absentia. I'd never even seen the record until my trip to Nashville last year, and I almost bought it even though it was ridiculously overpriced, just so I could complete my set.

It was in Memphis that I saw Jerry Lee (a.k.a, the Killer) two years ago. He was pale, walked slowly, and was aided to the stage by people who flanked his sides almost the whole way. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when started to play, it was like 1957 had come to rest upon the record store where he was playing. I've never, I mean NEVER, seen anyone play the piano the way he did.

It's amazing that he's still alive. After all, Jerry Lee's life story provides the template for Rock and Roll bad boy. Sure, you might know that he married his cousin (his 13 year old cousin), but he behaved badly in so many other ways, too: he married his second wife while he was still married to his first wife, who he divorced a month later; he set his piano on fire at the end of a set in protest to being billed below Chuck Berry; he once visited Graceland (Elvis' home) brandishing a gun and demanding to see Presley.

In "Walk the Line", the character of Jerry Lee Lewis (riding in a vehicle with Elvis and Johnny Cash) says that they're all going to hell because of the music they play. Apparently, this did weigh heavy for a time on Jerry's mind. Possibly because of his upbringing, possibly because his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart, rebuked him so many times, Lewis had this struggle of reconciling his love of the world with his love of God. Jerry's recorded a ton of Gospel tunes, possibly as penance, most likely as an honoring of the God he knows and loves but couldn't follow.

Jerry Lee, much like Little Richard and most of those early rockers, had such a grounding in church, had really learned their trade in church, that when they made it big, they had a great crisis of faith. They seemed to wrestle with their fame and their faith, and it came out in their music, on albums that contained songs with sexual innuendo and carousing along side straight readings of hymns. Those artists really personified in their choice of recorded material the struggle depicted in Romans 7, and the struggle that we face daily, that of the new creation being tempted by sin, and the contradiction of the two warring factions in one body, one soul, one mind.

We studied 1 Peter 4 this last Sunday, and talked about this very battle. On the one hand, we are to follow the example of Christ:

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God." (1 Peter 4:1-2)

On the other hand, we can't seem to totally do it:

"So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." (Romans 7:21-24)

My re-reading of this passage allowed me to find what I'd not seen before. Paul says that, for a follower of Jesus, our inner being, our core, our heart and soul delight in God's law. Our core has been remade by the Lordship and saving grace of Jesus. The problem is that the outer lying areas, the hinterlands of our flesh are still warring. I think understand the fight a little better now. The biggest part of me, who I am really, doesn't relish in sin. I don't like it when I sin. But there is a part still lurking, on the periphery of me, that still wants it. It's a disease that you don't ever get rid of, but neither does it define you. It would define you without the blood of Jesus and indwelling of God's Spirit, but, because of Jesus, it's not first and foremost in your mind.

I think that maybe Jerry Lee let his core be overtaken for a time by sin. After all, if you don't fight, if you just lay down your arms and surrender, sin will just walk right in, set up camp, put up its flag and hunker down. Hopefully, in his more seasoned years, he's fought the good fight that he was taught to fight in his early years, before stardom and cousin-marrying got the best of him. For us, too, the lesson is clear: the fight is on-going. It never ends. As long as we protect the core, the inner most being, we're safe. We protect it by all the usual suspects: prayer, reading God's word and accountability. When we give up ground, though, the core is in danger of being overtaken. And when we wave the white flag, we're completely decimated. Sin is a warrior that takes no prisoners. It will conquer all at the highest cost if you allow it to do so. I've actually seen this play out, and it's no surprise that James explains it in this way:

"...but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:14-15)

You can see in so many lives what happens when people give root to sin. Maybe Jerry Lee Lewis is a cautionary tale from which we can learn. When we give sin a little ground, we're sacrificing so much more than we initially thought.

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