Dealing with Rot
One of my summer projects is related to a log cabin I inhabit periodically for writing, retreat, prayer, and as a base camp for the high country. I was checking out some of the logs this spring as we prepare to clean and stain the cabin, and found a few logs that felt 'squishy' when touched. As I began to press on the outer wood, wood which to the naked eye would appear to be completely healthy, the outer surface of this log crumbled away in my hand, revealing a rotten inner core. The rot will need to be removed completely, and it's possible that the whole log will need to be replaced.
Aside from the obvious bother, the whole incident has proven to be remarkably instructive as I pondered how things rot from the inside out. It's certainly true of logs, as I've now learned firsthand. It's also true of the human body, as most often those diseases which will slay us offer no visible outer signs until it's far too late. In fact, by the time one sees the outer symptoms, it's often too late. That's why check ups of the interior become increasingly important as time goes on.
This same dynamic is true for individual followers of Christ. Jesus' complaint regarding the Pharisees is that they'd adopted a paradigm that placed priority on maintaining proper outward appearances, and that this obsession with the outward had created a neglect of the interior. Of course, one can continue to keep the outside clean long ofter the interior has rotted away. People do this in marriages, staying in the same house, same bed even, 'for the sake of the children', or because the cost of honesty and dealing with painful issues is perhaps viewed as higher than the cost of letting the decay continue. People do this in their faith as well - showing up, using the right words, singing the right songs, yet all the while allowing destructive habits in the interior. Nobody is immune - believe me, I know this first hand.
But the reality is that rot never remains forever buried in the core. Eventually it becomes visible, but by that time far too much damage has been done, and the repairs will, of course, be far more costly than they would have been had they been dealt with early. That's why confession of sins, one to another is so important; it's why the 'soul friend' habit of Celtic Christianity is so helpful for so many; or why we're mentoring kinds of ministries are so important in churches. Those whose rot comes bubbling to the surface have usually been walking alone, or living two lives for an extended period of time, and it's simply unsustainable.
Of course, the same thing that happens to individuals can happen to churches, as Jesus rightly points out in Revelation 2 and #. We can lose our first love while maintaining an outward show of orthodoxy and zeal. So one must continue to pursue the simplicity and freedom from hypocrisy that will enable us to live seamless lives - roughly the same people in public as in private. This doesn't mean that suddenly everyone becomes our confidant, but it means that we're exercising vigilance to deal with the rot so that the inside of the log remains solid, because no matter how healthy a log looks on the outside, the real truth of the matter is this: the health of the core is the health of log!