February 1, 2008

Stripping paint, peeling onions

Posted in Bad Christians, The Basics, Working through Life at 2:59 pm by Matt Porter

OnionsI recall the time my family purchased its first piano, an old upright which had been painted a rather dismal white-ish color. Whoever painted it should have been incarcerated because the wood underneath was nicely stained, and the paint did a great disservice to the instrument. In an attempt to restore the piano to its former glory, my parents decided to strip the paint, revealing the original stained wood underneath.

And, oh what a job it was. That paint tenaciously clung to the piano. The paint stripper heated the paint to make it easier to scrape off, sending the smell of burnt paint throughout the house. The ornately carved scroll work was the worst to clean, as both paint stripper and paint scraper worked best on flat surfaces. Eventually, the paint was removed, and the work of making it look presentable could begin.

My life is also being stripped. Layer upon layer of my identity is being removed. I guess the process has been going on for a while, but the tempo and intensity have increased lately. A major part of a man’s identity is his job, and mine is changing. In fact, I don’t even know what my job will be for the next several years. The addition of Emma to our family results in my playing a new role of father, one for which no amount of preparation seems adequate.

The Holy Spirit and my conscience have also been working overtime. Layer after layer of motives and masks are being scraped off, and I get to see more and more of the ugliness of my fallen self. This is by far the hardest part to endure, because I don’t even like what I find. When my job is unbearable, I can look forward to getting a new one; when I catch a glimpse of myself, there’s nothing redeeming about it. I have to admit, yet again, the depth of my own sin.

My faith is not immune to this violent deconstruction. Much of what I once held to be fundamental to Christianity I now consider peripheral, and much that I never thought important I am having to reconsider. I am coming to view a lot that seems part and parcel of being a modern Baptist as incidental to Christianity. I’m quite sure that I’ll have many, many posts in the future on this topic, but the biggest issue to me is the bait-and-switch of Law for Gospel that seems to take place, often quite unintentionally. We paint the Gospel as freeing us from the Law, and then we enslave ourselves to a new Law in its place. Don’t read Harry Potter; don’t associate with the lost; don’t smoke, drink, or chew (or go with girls that do); be sure to tithe (and tithe on the gross); show up every time the doors are open. Good Christians do this; bad Christians don’t. Bad Christians do this; good Christians don’t. The list could go on for pages. I’m not questioning whether some of these are good practices, or good ideas, or good social behavior; they’re just not biblical mandates. (Must move on before the entire post veers off topic.)

Stripping paint. Or maybe peeling onions. Layer after layer removed, sometimes so gently I’m not aware until its gone; sometimes multiple layers viciously ripped off together; sometimes a sudden crumble and tiny scattered fragments. Like the paint, it is a tedious, stinky job. Like the onion, it brings everyone in range to tears. What will be left underneath? Something of value, like the piano? Or will I be peeled away to find nothing left, like the middle of the onion? I’m starting to realize that left to myself, there’s nothing redeemable. My hope is that God can make something of the nothing that I am. After all, isn’t that what He set out to do?

Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God…[B]ut the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren…What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:21, 26, 28-29, 31)


  1. Lisa said,

    I just wanted to write really quickly and say that you know you’ll probably be a sermon illustration sometime in the near future, right? I’m referring to something Mom told me last night about well…. okay I won’t go into too much detail, but some people who you didn’t make very happy…. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  2. Matt Porter said,

    I quake with much fear and trembling…I never thought I’d end up as a sermon illustration. πŸ™‚ (Why does that sound like a threat…shape up, or you’ll be a sermon illustration some day!) You’ll have to call me and tell me what’s going on.

  3. Karla said,

    Matt, you are so right. Dwayne and I have had many discussions on this topic in the past.
    What truly brings Christ the most glory. This is what we are to live for. We, too, are finding ourselves going through a “change”; slowly but surely the Lord peels away what He needs to.
    What we once saw as “ok”, we now see differently and some things that we saw as “so important”, we see was just our ideas not truth..
    Keep up the good writing.

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