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When I Got Tired of Hiding My Sins

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

“The truth will find you out.”

When I was a small child, these words struck fear in my heart, because when my mother quoted them to me, it meant that even though she lacked sufficient proof to discipline me for my disobedience, she knew that I had sinned and was leaving my conscience to God.

This line from Numbers 32:23 was issued by Moses as a warning to Israel against violating their covenant relationship with God, but it also illustrates the general idea that even though we can bury the evidence of our sin and refuse to confess, we cannot escape the reality of our misdeeds.

When I read mystery stories, I always looked forward to the moment when the detectives would unmask a criminal. But in real life, I identified more with the criminal who hid his or her guilt, afraid of the moment when they would have to face the truth and its consequences. Nothing terrified me more than the thought of people seeing how bad I really was.

As I matured, I stopped wasting my mother’s time by lying about deeds that I had obviously done, but I sinned in other ways. People at church thought that I was a sweet girl, but at home, I was characterized by angry outbursts and disdain for others. When youth leaders praised me for my biblical knowledge and sterling character, I tried to convince them that I wasn’t nearly as godly as they thought, but they just chalked up points for my supposed humility, never understanding how bad I actually was. There was no way for me to convince people of my brokenness without shocking and alienating them, so I kept my public behavior up to the level of others’ expectations and felt like a total fake.

 

Confronting the Truth About Who I Am

I spent hours obsessing over my own perceived guilt and innocence, and this drew me even deeper into my lifelong interest in mystery stories. According to Hannah Anderson, who writes about how detective novels helped her discover the importance of truth in a chapter of her book All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment, readers gravitate towards this genre in search of “something that is more elusive in our real lives: certainty, truth, and resolution.” These are exactly the things that I was searching for—and yet at the same time was most afraid of.

Near the end of my teenage years, I devoured every single Agatha Christie mystery, enjoying the adventures of her famous detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, as well as those of her lesser-known detectives. Agatha Christie’s mysteries, published from 1920 to 1973, are famous for their ingenious twists and moral core; her detectives love justice and seek out the facts regardless of the personal or social costs.

As Hannah Anderson writes, “Pursuing truth requires more than knowing where the facts lead. It requires the honesty to actually follow them, no matter who they implicate.” When I reached the denouement of books where the murderer was a likable person or a love interest, I would inwardly groan, because I didn’t want it be them!

As I dealt with this fictional reality, I realized how much murder mysteries illustrate the truth of human depravity. We tend to assume the worst of unlikable people, while minimizing the sins of those who seem sympathetic, but we are all sinners, and our inner guilt doesn’t always manifest in our outward appearance. It pained me to think about characters that I cared about facing imprisonment or death because of what they had done, but this was the punishment that they had earned, and if the detective had not discovered their guilt, innocent people would have remained under suspicion.

The truth must come out, even when it is unpleasant, and seeing this reality at work in fiction encouraged me to be more courageous in facing the truth about myself. At the same time that I was reading a murder mystery a day, I became aware of red flags in my own life, recognizing that sin issues which I had ignored out of confusion and helplessness had become deep-rooted in my everyday habits and thoughts.

I could have spun stories about myself to ease the tensions between my problems and my ideals, but instead of looking for evidence to confirm a personal narrative, I held myself to the higher standard of truth that the best murder mysteries encourage, willing to deal with the facts in the most accurate, impartial way.

 

The Truth That Sets Us Free

I discovered that I was far worse than I had originally thought, and my feelings of guilt intensified. During this time, I became much less interested in explaining my sins away, because what I needed was forgiveness, not a better narrative.  This sense of desperation drew me back to a verse that I had memorized as a child: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

I clung to this promise, knowing that even though it was excruciating for me to reevaluate my life and face up to my sin, God would not leave me in the depths of my depravity. He promised to cleanse and purify me, and all I had to do was confess and reach for Him in faith.

“Truth is more important than my self-image,” I insisted, and as I accounted for the facts, faced reality, and moved forward in repentance, I learned what it means to be loved by a God who already knows everything about me (Psalm 139:1-5). The consequences that I had feared seemed paltry in comparison to God’s lavish grace, and I knew that His mercy had always been there for me, even during my worst moments.

As the psalmist writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). I was finally free to face the truth, and I knew what it felt like to be cleansed of my sin.

When I finally told people about my struggles, they responded with compassion and understanding, but my greatest relief came from the divine grace that I laid claim to in faith. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I am cleansed of my sin and clothed in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), and this frees me from the bondage of sin and from my old, constraining fear of reality.

At the cross, all that I am, and everything that I have done, is totally exposed, but even though this can be an excruciating thought, it guarantees that I will never have to defend illusions about my own goodness again. My sin will find me out, but the mercy of Christ will restore me, because the One who has always seen the whole truth chooses to love me anyway.

5 Things to Do When You’re Spiritually Dry

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

Everyone struggles with their faith at times, and it can be hard to talk about it.

During challenging times in my life, I have often felt that if I spoke all my questions aloud, talked through how I really felt, and was completely forthright about my lack of spiritual motivation, people would doubt the sincerity of my faith.

I loved God, and wanted to follow Him, but I went through stretches where I even doubted my own salvation. As I went through the motions of Christianity without feeling worshipful or close to God, I felt like I was living a lie, and this led to a cycle of guilt and shame.

As I grew in my understanding of the gospel, however, I understood that my walk with Christ is not dependent on my thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Jesus paid for all of my sin on the cross, and His perfect righteousness has been credited to my account. My standing before God is dependent upon that alone. On the days when I feel like a failure, I remember that God sees me in all of my sin and brokenness, but has covered me in perfect forgiveness and love. God does not judge me based on the quality of my devotional life, my theological understanding, or my feelings of love for Him. His conclusion about me is based on Christ’s work on my behalf.

Philippians 1:6 says that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It is because of this confidence in God that I am able to persevere through difficult stages of my faith and put these beliefs into positive action.

Here are five things that I have found helpful during times of spiritual dryness.

 

1. Read your Bible, pray, and attend church even when you don’t feel like it.

When the Christian life gets challenging, it is tempting to withdraw. That’s when engaging in spiritual disciplines keeps channels of God’s grace open in your life. If you avoid reading your Bible because you think it is lifeless and dull, you won’t be able to see God work through Scripture. God grows believers through practices such as reading and hearing His Word, responding to Him in prayer, and worshiping and fellowshipping with other believers. If you are faithful in these spiritual disciplines, then no matter how you feel, you are where He has promised to meet you.

 

2. Meet your physical needs.

As many have said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.” God created us as both physical and spiritual beings, and when we are sick, hungry, or tired, it will be difficult for us to feel passion for God. Don’t neglect regular meals, hydration, adequate sleep, and exercise, because they are important for your body and your soul. It amazes me how much a 15 minute walk in my neighborhood can rejuvenate me and reorient my thoughts and feelings towards God.

 

3. Look for ways to experience God in nature or art.

Sometimes, when my devotional times have felt inadequate, I have felt pangs of beauty and hope upon seeing a beautiful sunset, listening to music, spending time with a friend, or reading a good book. These experiences are secondary to God’s revelation in Scripture, but they have great power to uplift us and redirect our hearts towards Him.

As famous apologist and author C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word ‘glory’ a meaning for me.” Seek out good and beautiful things which fill your heart with gratitude towards the Creator.

 

 4. Recognize and accept your individual, God-created personality.

I am an introvert, and I sometimes imagine that if I were more outgoing, my Christian walk would be easier. I also think on occasion that if I were more inclined to outpourings of emotional response than to theoretical reflection, I would have a more vibrant spiritual life. I have to remind myself that God created me and everyone else with our own unique personalities and gifts. As 1 Corinthians 12 explains, the church is like a body, and each part depends on all the others.

It is good for different church members to have different functions, and no one is superior or inferior before God. In my experience, I see that while God has gifted others with outgoing personalities that connect with and unify groups of people, my quieter personality helps me minister to individuals who feel less comfortable and open in a crowd. Introverts and extroverts both meet important needs in the body of Christ, and we reflect different aspects of God’s character to one another.

 

5. Find friends and mentors who will encourage and guide you as you follow Christ together.

It is tempting to remain isolated during times of spiritual struggle, but God’s intent is for us to live in community with other believers, bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and pursuing Him together. It is vital for Christians to connect with others and discuss their spiritual lives in deep, transparent ways. In these relationships, people learn each other’s stories and can provide advice and encouragement that is tailored to specific needs. Such relationships are vital for accountability and support in the Christian life.

However, it can sometimes be difficult to find and connect with like-minded people. If you’re in that stage of life, make the most of the relationships that you already have, being open with people you know you can trust. At the same time, pray for God to provide future friendships. When I struggled with loneliness and isolation years ago, God provided for me in both unconventional and typical ways: I developed some lifelong friendships on an online Christian forum, and eventually, I met new friends at church. God brings people into our lives in different ways, at different times. Sometimes, the most we can do is just be open, willing to get to know people and seek connection.

 

The main business of following Jesus involves common, everyday habits. No artificially pumped-up spiritual high can ever provide the steady, formative influence of ordinary means of grace. Even when I come to God feeling exhausted and unmotivated, I have confidence that Scripture, prayer, and corporate worship will shape and change me as I follow Jesus. I don’t have to experience immediate impact from a devotional time or worship service to know that the effort was worthwhile, because I have seen how faithful God is to grow my character and love for Him through these habits. I cannot measure the value of every sermon or every prayer time, because I cannot see what God is doing behind the scenes. Instead, I trust that He will use these influences to produce spiritual fruit in my life.

In my life, following Jesus has often involved cyclical patterns of spiritual exhaustion and spiritual joy. It is always discouraging to return to a difficult time, but there are important lessons to learn from both joy and struggle, and I know that because God has been faithful in the past, He will be faithful again.

Feelings of defeat do not last forever, and God works through both my obedient choices and my failures, and brings me closer to Him. Because my standing before God is secured in Jesus, I know that I count on God, not my own efforts, for the future. No matter what, He will never let me go.

5 Reasons Why the Reformation Matters Today

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

In a conversation about our favorite historical figures, I asked a coworker if he knew who Martin Luther was. He responded with, “Oh! Is that the guy who nailed stuff to the door?”

“Yes, that’s him!” I said with a laugh.

For many people, Martin Luther exists in this single snapshot: a monk hammering the Ninety-five Theses to a church door. While some historians believe that the tale is likely apocryphal, his true legacy has greatly influenced me.

Martin Luther, a German who lived from 1483-1546, was a key figure of the Protestant Reformation, when Protestants—so-named for their protest against Catholic teachings—split from the Catholic Church. Luther’s involvement in this movement was shaped by his personal testimony of receiving God’s grace and overcoming doubts about his salvation.

God used Luther to help restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. Because I struggled with my own guilt and self-condemnation, Luther’s story resonated with me, as it showed that God can use struggles in people’s lives to draw them to Him and equip them to change the world.

This year, on October 31, we honor the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Here are five foundational reasons why his testimony, beliefs, and stand against the theology and practices of his day still matter today.

 

1. It reminds us to know the gospel for ourselves.

In the 1500s, the Catholic Church taught that salvation came through faith, works, and grace, and that those who repented of their sins before death would be punished for their sins in Purgatory before they could go to Heaven.

One very controversial practice was the sale of indulgences, which were credits that would supposedly reduce time in Purgatory for both the living and the already dead. This allowed corruption to flourish. One friar even advertised with the jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” (Estep, 1986).

Luther spent years fearing that he was not holy enough to merit God’s favor, and only escaped this struggle when he understood that salvation was about Christ’s righteousness, not his own. His experience with spiritual despair taught him that good behavior and church rituals could not remove the weight of his guilt (Perry, 2013).

As a professor and preacher, Luther encouraged people to focus on Christ and study the Scriptures. Things came to a head on 31 October, 1517: in his Ninety-five Theses, Luther protested the practice of selling indulgences and argued that the church did not have the authority to save souls. His writings were circulated widely.

Luther teaches us that the true gospel frees souls from spiritual bondage, and also frees people from dependence upon the gatekeepers of tradition. We should not depend upon pastors, speakers, or writers to make Christian teaching available to us. It is important to read the Bible for ourselves, know its truth, and be prepared to defend it against false teaching.

 

2. It reminds us that we are saved by grace alone.

As a monk, Luther spent countless hours in the confessional, trying to remember and recount all his sins. He also tried to attain holiness through pilgrimages, long hours of fasting, and prayer. He later said of this time, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

I will never forget what it was like to learn about Luther’s struggle to feel forgiven. As a church kid, I related to his fear that no matter how outwardly compliant he tried to be or how well he followed the rules, he could never remove the stain of guilt from his soul. Like Luther, I desired to follow Christ, but I feared condemnation and lacked assurance of salvation.

What transformed Luther’s life—and mine—is the knowledge that we are saved through grace alone. In Luther’s study of the Scriptures, he was struck by the language of righteousness in books such as Romans and Galatians, and came to understand that we are saved not because we do righteous acts in union with God, but through faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

 

3. It reminds us that following Christ always has a price.

Luther was summoned by church authorities and told to recant under threat of excommunication. His response was, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther chose this knowing that the authority of Scripture was of greater value than his reputation or comfort. Luther once said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Even in my ordinary life, following Christ requires sacrifice. I cherish this reminder that when I lay down my preferences at the altar and pick up my cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24), my ultimate security lies in Him.

 

4. It reminds us that the gospel is for everyone.

Because the Germans did not have accessible Bible translation in their language, they depended upon the Catholic Church for religious education and training. The church taught that only priests could rightly read and interpret Scripture, but Luther argued that every person can receive faith and understanding from God. He spent many of his later years crafting a Bible translation of the New Testament in the German vernacular, making the transformative, authoritative text of Scripture available to ordinary people.

In churches today, we should not give special favor to the well-educated, wealthy, and beautiful, as if these markers of worldly success indicate spiritual strength. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer, and through Him, we have access to God. Spiritual gifts are poured out upon all those who put their faith in Christ.

 

5. It reminds us to depend on Scripture.

Throughout different generations, challenges to Scriptural authority vary, but the correct response remains the same. Christians must depend upon God’s revelation in Scripture as truer than any church leader’s vision or political system’s creed. They must also reject the temptation to prize other means of spiritual discovery as more important than the Bible.

Luther said, “From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”

In today’s culture, it is easy for believers to feel like the unbelieving world can never be persuaded by the Bible, and that we must find fresh, glamorous ways to attract people to Jesus. But these approaches discard the tool that best convicts of sin, reveals God’s glory, and teaches the gospel. As the Reformation and the rest of Christian history shows, the Bible is our irreplaceable source of truth, with the power to change both individual hearts and the world.

 

References
“Renaissance and Reformation.” William R. Estep, 1986
“Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.” Marvin Perry et al., 2013

How Narnia’s Fantasy Led Me to the Truth

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

At church as a child, when I was supposed to draw a picture of what I thought heaven would look like, I scribbled yellow crayon all over the page, conveying light and glory. Heaven was a mystery to me, and I feared it would be like my illustration: empty of all that I found beautiful in the world, characterized only by gold and blinding light. We would all be happy, and pain and tears would be gone, but wouldn’t praising God for eternity get tiresome?

My fears faded when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. In these classic novels by British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, children experience extraordinary adventures in another world and develop relationships with Aslan, the lion who represents God. Through the truths which these stories conveyed, I recognized God as the source and fulfilment of all beauty and goodness.

Fantasy stories are often criticized as escapist distractions from the real world, but The Chronicles of Narnia shaped my affections for God and showed me how to deeply love and engage with the world around me. The longings which fantasy awakes need not destroy one’s love for the real world or distract from what truly matters.

On the contrary, fantasy can highlight and communicate profound values which are too big and beautiful for us to fully grasp any other way. Someday, wrong will be made right, our Savior will return, and what we have lost will be restored to even greater beauty. Much of what we know about God comes from the incarnation: God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. Because we know God primarily through Christ embodying Him on earth, it should not surprise us that we understand theological concepts best when they are conveyed to us through familiar form and symbols. Narnia’s influence endures because it illustrates how God can be both love and thunder, what it means to seek nobility and honor, and how goodness and truth will win out in the end.

My desire for a world like this did not cast gloom over or dissatisfaction with my dull life. Instead, it deepened my appreciation of material and spiritual realities, because I learned that they belonged together. Heaven is not an escape from the world, but the ultimate fulfilment and perfection of the world which God created and called good. If God could make this finite, temporary earth so beautiful, why would I ever think that a new heaven and a new earth would be dull and lifeless? I came to believe what Jewel the Unicorn said of heaven in the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle: “This is my real country. This is what I have been longing for all my life, though I never knew it until now.” When Christ returns, we will live in resurrected, perfect bodies, experiencing the presence of God and the final satisfaction of a story well-told.

The knowledge that we will one day experience everything good in its true and real form should lead not to dismissal of the world, but to deeper enjoyment of it. The feelings I experience when reading the Narnia books, gazing at sunsets, or watching sunlight filter through the trees in my backyard are not wasted vanities. They are opportunities for worship, and hints of everything to come. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, the earthly things we find most enthralling “are good images of what we really desire,” and only break our hearts if we depend upon them. “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

In heaven, I will experience all of the beauty and joy that I have felt in a piercing but inadequate sense in my time on earth. This redeemed, new world will be more beautiful than anything I can imagine, and until then, I am right to cherish the beauties and joys which will be magnified there.

Good fantasy is not a distraction from reality, but promotes hope that there is more to life than what we currently experience. Narnia affirmed my deepest longings and showed me how to direct them towards God. When I read the following quote from The Weight of Glory, my eyes fill with tears, because C.S. Lewis showed me this beauty through his fantasy stories and immeasurably impacted my faith: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”