Archive for October, 2010

Mercy and Sin

October 26, 2010

We must not confuse showing mercy and condoning sin.  It is easy to unintentionally do this when we show mercy/compassion to a sinner.  We must impact the sinner with compassion, while the sinner is guilty of wrong.  Keeping the two separate – mercy and sin – can sometimes be a challenge.

God clearly loves the sinner and wants us to do the same as we imitate Him.

Be like God:

Ephesians 4 ESV 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 5:1 NKJV 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

Who loves sinners and offers to save (forgive) them:

Matthew 9:13 NKJV 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

Luke 19:10 NKJV 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

1 John 3:5 NKJV 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

In some cases we keep our distance from condoning sin, perhaps because we may feel little mercy toward the sinner.  Two examples:

(1)  The drunk driver who murders an innocent person

(2)  The shooter or suicide bomber who murders a group of innocent people

In other cases, we may be tempted to go beyond showing mercy and compassion (which God does) to implying that the sin is not wrong (which God never does).  This is more likely to happen when socially and culturally “acceptable” sins are committed.  Two examples:

(1)  Adultery, where two consenting adults have sex outside of marriage

(2)  Homosexuality, where two consenting adults of the same sex have a sexual relationship with or without “marriage”

Drunkenness, murder, adultery, and homosexuality are all condemned in the New Testament, but we may have different attitudes toward the individual sins because of current cultural sensitivities which may often be promoted through the media, especially television.

Now, in the two sets of cases I gave above: each set has a problem.  In the first set of two cases, probably no mercy/compassion is going to be shown to the sinner.  That is not being like God, who is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34.6).

In the second set of cases, sympathy for (and perhaps identification with) the sinner may cause an overflow of mercy, perhaps even becoming emotional – while the reality of the self-inflicted wound of sin becomes muted (IMHO due to cultural influences).

Here is an example from the life of Jesus.  In John 14 we have the story of Jesus healing a man who had been crippled for 38 years.  Jesus told him:

John 5:14 NKJV 14 …See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.

Jesus clearly showed compassion to the man by healing him, but Jesus warned him about the continued practice of his sin.

Why do we sometimes have a tendency to say that sin is not that bad?  Well, I don’t know, but here are a few ideas.  (1) We have allowed the influence of Babylon to get into the church.  “Babylon” is code for the sinful things of the world: worldliness in the church.  (2) We become emotional and allow our emotions to erode our reason and cloud our judgment.  Someone says, “poor me”, and we agree with them.  (3) We may be tempted with the same sin ourselves and so we make a preemptive attempt to save face in case we succumb to temptation and are discovered.  “This” sin is not really that bad.  An example would be a straight person saying adultery is not that bad because it is not unnatural.

The Christian life is in some ways easy:

Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And in some ways hard:

Luke 14:26-27, 33 NKJV 26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. … 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

But it ALWAYS requires commitment to the way of Jesus:

Luke 9:23-26 NKJV 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”

We have no choice but to live “in” our culture.  Yet, the Christian must in the ultimate sense live “above” it, because he or she is living the life of Christ.  Let’s hate sin – and love the sinner.  We were created in God’s image.  Let’s work to restore it by living in God’s image.

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Humility = Weakness?

October 6, 2010

You will recall Moses, of Mt. Sinai and 10 commandments fame.  Yes, that Moses.  Do you remember the events that transpired back in camp while Moses was on Mt. Sinai with Yahweh receiving the Torah?  Ah yes, the sordid golden calf debacle.  Do you remember the details of that story?  Allow me to refresh you.

God told Moses that the people had corrupted themselves by making and worshiping the idol.  It is an easy inference from the Exodus text that they also committed fornication before the calf.  These two things, worship and fornication, were often associated in Canaanite idolatry.  Moses pleaded with God, who had determined to destroy the existing Israelite nation and start afresh with Moses.  Moses successfully convinced God to spare them.

When Moses returned to camp and beheld the spectacle, to employ some English understatement, he was disappointed.  Here’s what he did.

Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it. (Exodus 32:20 NKJV)

Moses directly  confronted his older brother, Aaron, who had been complicit in the calf episode.  Aaron wanted no part of the wrath of Moses and, attempting to shift the blame from himself to the  people,  responded thusly:

So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.” (Exodus 32:22 NKJV)

Though there is no extant video of Moses, Clint Eastwood’s icy stare may closely resemble the look Moses gave Aaron. 

Well, we could go on from here and recount how the Levites, at Moses’ behest, slew 3,000 of the unrepentant Israelites with the edge of the sword, but we’ll leave that for another time.

To say Moses was strong and assertive would be an understatement.  And yet, amazingly, we read this of Moses:

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 NKJV)

Moses was not weak – he was strong – and he was humble.

Moses was fearless in taking a stand for what was right, while at the same time keeping the best interest of the people he was leading before his own personal credit.  I believe that is a key.  Moses cared about God’s rights,  but he didn’t care about his own.  Therefore, he could be humble and this is what is meant by humility.

So, can I be like Moses?  Can I put others before myself in an attempt to help us all be more like Jesus?  Paul had something to say about this:

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well -being. (1 Corinthians 10:24 NKJV)

Again:

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4 NKJV)

And then, the example of Timothy:

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:19-21 NKJV)

Let us all show true strength by humbly putting Christ first and others before ourselves.

Faulkner and I

October 4, 2010

…I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it… William Faulkner, 1956

As everyone at White’s Chapel is by now weary of hearing, William Faulkner, of Oxford, Mississippi and now deceased, is by far my favorite secular author.  This is in part because he is a master teller of tales and in part because I can identify with so much of what he wrote about from my childhood,  lived 90 miles from Faulkner’s Oxford and fictional Jefferson, county seat of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

Many think William Faulkner was the best American novelist of the 20th century.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald would complete the triumvirate – but Faulkner is Caesar.  Conrad, Tolkien and Rowling (if you consider Harry Potter serious work) are all British.

Encouraged by his friend, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner decided to focus his writing on what he knew best – his “own little postage stamp of native soil.”  Most of his work is set in Yoknapatawpha County which is patterned after his home county of Lafayette.  The county seat of Lafayette is Oxford, which basically becomes Jefferson in Faulkner’s stories.  If you have ever read Faulkner, you know those two words: Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha.

Now to the lecture at hand.

I spend some time (probably too much) thinking about things I can’t change.  I can get upset, and even emotional about them.  A photo, with accompanying story, in a newspaper I read online sent me off again a couple of days ago.  As I pondered things, I decided I needed to do with my life what Faulkner decided to do with his writing.  I need to concentrate on what I know best, my own little postage stamp.  I need to work to change the things I can actually change.  So, I wrote this:

I Cannot

I cannot stop all the wars.  I cannot end all the dying and suffering.  I cannot stop the hurting of the injured and the suffering of the families of the injured and the dead.  I cannot look at the photograph in the newspaper of a young fallen soldier, who reminds me in his physical appearance of my own sons so much there even seems to be a physical resemblance – and wish him back to life.  I have no words for his parents to make his death somehow “worth it,” to explain to them how it is better that he is now dead rather than alive.  If I had those words, I would speak them.  If I knew where the button was that would end the suffering and death, I would push it.  But, I cannot do it.  I am powerless over events in the big picture.

I cannot make people live like they are supposed to live.  I cannot force people to give like they are supposed to, to keep themselves sexually pure, to show mercy and forgiveness, to stop getting their feelings hurt over trivia.  I cannot make people compare their suffering to what Jesus endured and understand how easy their life is.  I cannot put an end to greed, selfishness, and arrogance.  I cannot make people really put Jesus first in their lives.  I just can’t.

I Can

I can live in personal peace with my neighbor.  I can be easy to get along with.  I can turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and freely give to those who would forcibly take from me.  I can believe the Beatitudes – and actually try to live them.  I can seek and pursue peace in my own life, my own family, and my own congregation/church.

I can do my best to set a good Christian example before my fellow man.  I can teach others by my life that there is a better way to live than to follow the crowd.  I can try to make my personal world a better place for all in it – because I am in it.

I can do the best I can.  You do the best you can.