Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ category

God is the Fulfillment of the Desires He Built into Us

April 10, 2019


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalms 51:1-2 ESV

I have written about how we can’t throw out the Old Testament and accept the New Testament in its place, as modern sensibilities might suggest. (See, for instance, Jesus and the “Old Testament God”) The Old Testament is the seed for the New Testament. Everything revealed in the New Testament was first revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.

Moderns tend to want to view “the Old Testament God” as something different from the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the Old Testament.  Jesus says that the Old Testament anticipated and pointed toward him. (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27)

The Bible verse of the day quoted above was prayed by David in Psalm 51. David expressed the desire of all of us when he asked God to have mercy on him, to “blot out” his transgressions, to wash away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins. We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.

We do have the capacity to ignore our consciences and to deny that desire for forgiveness. If we do that too often and too long, our consciences become callous and dull; the desire for forgiveness diminishes; and we no longer have the sensitivity God built into us that drive us toward Him. Psychology tells us that we all have that conscience, but we do have choice in how we respond to it.

C S Lewis talks about how our desires and our needs have a correlative reality in something that fulfills those desires and needs. He observes that we hunger, and there is food to meet that hunger; we thirst, and there is water to quench that thirst; we have sexual desires, and there is conjugal love we have with another person that fulfills that desire… at least temporarily.

That those desires are only temporally met and satisfied, says Lewis, suggests that there is something else, something more. We also have a deeper and more fundamental longing within us to know God and to be known by God, to be forgiven by God and for eternal life and relationship. CS Lewis says that the reality we know, the satisfaction of temporary longings and desires, is some evidence of a more fundamental and satisfying reality that will fulfill our enduring and deepest longings.

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On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church

April 9, 2019

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

How could that be?! About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particularly faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded solely in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately – especially if the failure arises in the Church!

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

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The Innate Sin within Us

December 29, 2018


I find something incredibly refreshing in the stories of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ. Dr. Rosario Butterfield, David Bennett, Sam Alberry and others have had truly inspirational journeys in their Christian faith. I find unique comfort and encouragement in their stories.

With that said, I’m going to be unusually candid in this piece: I’m a heterosexual male. But that is not the candid part. I have struggled all my Christian life with heterosexual lust. That’s the candid part.

By the time I became a believer and committed myself to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in my very late teens and early twenties, I was very much a product of a society that objectifies sex, obsesses about sex and worships sex.

But, to be honest, I am not just a product of my environment. Attraction to women is innate in me. All of my life, as far back as I can remember, I have been attracted to girls. My first crushes are some of my earliest memories going back to even to preschool and kindergarten.

When I became a Christian, I began to recognize that the extent of the attraction, and the extent to which I fed the attraction, was unhealthy. In fact, it was sinful at the core. Jesus says if we even look at a woman lustfully, we have sinned.

The sin of sexual lust was ingrained deep within me. I can’t wholly blame the environment in which I grew up for the sinful lust that grew within me, though it was provoked and fed by that environment. The root of that sin grew deeply and innately from the core of my being.

I can only imagine a similar experience with same sex attraction. I understand Lady Gaga’s song, Born This Way, though I didn’t always understand it. While my heterosexual attraction is accepted and even celebrated in the world in which I grew up, my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have had to labor under a general societal distaste and disdain for their same sex attraction.

When I first heard the assertion that people are born with same sex attraction, I didn’t believe it. It defied biology. It didn’t make common sense to me. I figured it is a deviation from the way things are supposed to be. It’s nuts and bolts.

I have come to realize that maybe people really are “born that way” – like me having an innate attraction to girls as far back as I can remember. I didn’t choose it. It is the way it is.

The thing is that any unhealthy attraction that is over-indulged and idolized is sin. Any inner urging that invites me to think and act contrary to conscience and what I know and understand to be God’s desire for me, if I indulge it or act on it, is sinful. I fight the struggle every day.

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Nothing is Covered

December 14, 2018


“[N]othing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Matthew 10:26 ES

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your life played back on a large screen for the world to see? All of the things you did when you thought no one was looking splashed up on a giant screen? Nowhere to hide…. I think most people would shudder to think of it.

… and if you don’t shudder, you might not be thinking hard or long enough about what that giant screen might show – every unkind word, hateful thought, deviant desire, selfish indulgence, prideful arrogance, lustful dream and every act you have ever done.

The truth is that God sees it all. He sees everything you have ever done, everything you have ever thought, and everything you have ever desired to do.

Therefore, when Jesus said that “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known,” He wasn’t saying that in reference to God. God already knows. He has already seen all you have done, all you have thought and all you have desired to do.

If God has already seen all you have done, all you have thought and all you have desired to do, what was Jesus talking about?

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Are Christians Hypocrites?

July 14, 2018


The charge that Christians are hypocrites is a common one. Many people cite the hypocrisy of Christians as a reason they don’t go to church or consider themselves Christian. According to Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion” or “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”. As a Christian, I take this charge seriously, and so I feel compelled to address it.

In this world of fake news, we seem to be on hyper alert to what is fake. If Christians claim to be virtuous or religious, but they act like everyone else, most people would consider them “fake”. If Christians have ascribed to certain standards of morality and conduct, but don’t live up to those standards themselves, most people would call them hypocrites.

As I survey the Christians that I know and have known in my life, I find myself having to concede that Christians are guilty as charged. In fact, I need look no further than myself to come to that conclusion. I fail in my life on a regular basis to live up to the standards I believe in, though I recoil at the thought of putting up a false front about it.

Still, the answer is clear and obvious: Christians are hypocrites.

We are religious. It isn’t a pretense, for most of us. We try to be virtuous. That usually isn’t a pretense either, but we fail to live up to the standards we hold out. There can be no doubt of that.

Calling Christians hypocrites is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s that easy. You literally can’t miss.

But, that isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. It’s only the beginning.

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Search Me Oh God

April 22, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 67632305 Copyright: alazs

Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He is known best for betraying Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events occurred in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Given John’s characterization of Judas, it’s a bit unnerving, perhaps, to think that Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Jesus intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. He “called it” at the Last Supper.

Have you considered the fact that Jesus allowed Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do? John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.

The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan. It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”

What sort of man betrays Jesus? Was Judas just an evil person?

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Who Are You Not to Forgive Yourself?

February 6, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 31059699 Copyright: prometeu

Mary Poplin is a former radical feminist, new age spiritualist, liberal professor who became a Christian and spent some time working with Mother Teresa. Hers is an unusual and intriguing story.

Among other things, she talks about Mother Teresa’s radical forgiveness. For instance, Richard Dawkins wrote an entire book about Mother Teresa in which he criticized her vilely for taking money from other people, among other things. The brief glimpse Mary Poplin gives us into the life of Mother Teresa reveals a woman who, perhaps as much as anyone in modern history, lived the sacrificial example of Jesus. This stands in contrast to the stark, cold criticism of the atheist, Dawkins.

The point of this blog article isn’t a comparison between the two, however, but, to focus “radical forgiveness”. Mother Teresa’s response was: “It matters not; he’s forgiven.”

And when Dawkins heard the response, he wasn’t very happy about it. He scoffed that he doesn’t need to be forgiven, and he didn’t ask to be forgiven. Mother Teresa’s response when she heard about his response was to laugh and to say, “It’s not I that forgives; it’s God. God has forgiven him.”

The point here, is that though Dawkins had reviled Mother Teresa, she forgave him unconditionally. Mary Poplin, summarized Mother Teresa and her followers, “They didn’t have any hooks left in them.” They didn’t hold on to any ill will whatsoever.

I don’t know about Mother Teresa’s theology, but the example of living out the forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated and called us to live out is the key. It is radical, and it’s rooted in our acknowledgment that God is God, and we are not. You might as well call it radical obedience because it matters not what we think or feel about the subject.

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