The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde gives a detailed look at vanity and its destructive effects. The desire to save face, to look perfect, and to still continue in sin is the attempt of every believer and religious system that would hide sin instead of confessing and repenting. All of us are guilty of this at times, but some reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading to a seared conscience. Wilde's novel tells the story of a young man who made a deal with the devil to have a portrait of himself bear the effects of his sin while his body remained untouched. Over time the painting became more grotesque with each sin until it was completely devoid of any semblance to its original projection. Finally the weight became too much to bear. In an attempt to destroy the painting, Dorian stabbed it and the spell was reversed. The painting returned back to the original. Dorian himself took on the form of the portrait, and died with the full effects of his sins.
Like the portrait in the novel, our hidden sins always surface somewhere. If they are confessed and entrusted to Christ, then the penalty finds rest at the cross. If they are hidden then they surface in all manner of maladaptive, destructive means. For ministers and missionaries it seems that the portrait of projection so often becomes our children. We may be able to hide from the church or our people group, but our children see the fullness of our hypocrisy. They begin to manifest behaviors in public that we only reveal to them in private.
One of the biggest eye openers for me personally was during a difficult time in Haiti. During a family discussion, one of our kids explained that everything was almost bearable if Amy and I were not arguing. However, when Amy and I were arguing everything became unbearable. That difficult word spoken was a wake up call I needed to hear.
M. Scott Peck says this in his book People of the Lie -
Whenever a child is brought for psychiatric treatment, it is customary to refer to her or him as the “identified patient.” By this term we psychotherapists mean that the parents—or other identifiers—have labeled the child as a patient—namely, someone who has something wrong and is in need of treatment. The reason we use the term is that we have learned to become skeptical of the validity of this identification process. More often than not, as we proceed with the evaluation of the problem, we discover that the source of the problem lies not in the child but rather in his or her parents, family, school, or society. Put most simply, we usually find that the child is not as sick as its parents. Although the parents have identified the child as the one requiring correction, it is usually they, the identifiers, who are themselves most in need of correction. They are the ones who should be the patients.
If we don't have kids, then this attempted cover up manifests in the destruction of those we seek to minister to as we attempt to meet our own needs through them. The only healthy way we can minister to others is out of a fruitful personal relationship with our Lord. This requires us to be laid bare before him and stripped of all pretense. If this is not true of us, then we will only lay the weight of our own burdens on others.
All of the scandals that continue to surface are heartbreaking, but not surprising. In the mission world New Tribes attempted to house their children with other missionaries so the adults could be free to “minister” to the lost and unreached. This allowed the children to be vulnerable to those who sought to prey on them. Of course this was all covered up so that face could be saved. The sheer magnitude of allegations surfacing now in the American churches are overwhelming. Worse than the acts themselves is the attempts to cover the sin where it was allowed to grow like a cancer until it became too large to hide anymore.
However, when we do bring our own weakness made perfect in the strength of Christ it becomes contagious. Where we can confess our sins to one another and encourage each other in spiritual growth through love we find health. The picture is not pretty though. It looks like a mess. The good news is that we can take this mess to the cross where it belongs devoid of any pretense. Christ makes beauty from ashes.
There are some things here that are difficult to find. Over the counter drugs are mostly non-existent. You must be prescribed everything you need by a doctor. The fruit of socialized health care.
Shopping continues to be a unique challenge. Six people with backpacks can carry a lot of stuff, but you have to coordinate the effort like a special ops mission - including a contingency plan and exit strategy. Inclement weather adds a further excitement or frustration depending on the unique personal perspective of the person carrying out the mission. We also have to take into consideration our small fridge and cabinet space.
The brokenness here continues to manifest as time passes. We have began to offer biblical counseling. This has helped to show us what lies beneath the beautiful exterior architecture. We got some skateboards and started skating again. This has been helpful for my continued mental health. The same types of crowds seem to gather here as in other parts of the world. You can smell the weed burning from a distance. One of my kids always provides a famous Shrek quote as the first whiffs become evident upon approach “Brimstone, we must be getting close.” Intravenous seem to be the preferred method of delivery, and cocaine seems to be the preferred drug. Open preparation, injection, and discard are commonplace. Strewn needles lay here and there requiring an extra level of caution.
Euthanasia seems to be a popular choice to escape the pain of a life devoid of Christ. Legal in Italy and requiring a series of requirements, it is encouraged for those experiencing suffering. What hope is there if we have only evolved from a primordial soup only to return to nothing? Only hope of eternity in our fully restored image of God in Christ is there fulfillment of joy in temporal life.
The spiritual battle continues to rage around us as we bring Pust to a conclusion. A pagan celebration to scare away winter. Lots of people in Halloween style costumes and specifically guys dressed up with horns and sheepskins act out this historic event. There always seem to be the heaviest weight of spiritual darkness during these types of things.
It is truly a privilege to pastor the International Church. There is much love and realness among the believers here. To get this many believers together from so many parts of the world to love each other and share the love of Christ is truly a miracle. I thank God daily for this gift during this time in my life.
I have began to recognize that evangelism divorced from a healthy local church is a futile effort. However, the love of a healthy church bearing fruit in a community can be earth shattering.