Posted tagged ‘Sin’

Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?

January 17, 2019


Toward understanding and healing the wounds of the church, I write this blog piece. The context is the very public struggles of two mega-churches in the Chicago are where I live. Last year, Bill Hybels resigned as the head of Willow Creek Church, after allegations of misconduct came to light. Just today I read about James MacDonald deciding to step down from leadership of the Harvest Bible Church in the wake of a lawsuit and allegations of poor leadership.

The two situations are different, though they both involve allegations against longtime leaders of two of the largest and most prominent churches in the Chicago area. Bill Hybels is accused of inappropriate relationships with women in the church. MacDonald is accused of mismanagement of money, heavy-handed leadership and related allegations. Both situations expose the nature of the human side of the church and the prevalence of sin in the church, even at the leadership level. (The Catholic Church is not alone in this respect.)

In the 1980’s, I became involved in a church that I thought, at the time, was the “perfect” church. It was a vibrant engaging church community. Worship was spirit-led and dynamic. The leadership was charismatic and inspiring. The church community was tight-knit and familial. This church had planted many other churches that were also thriving and growing. I spent 6 years there and knew the church intimately.

It wasn’t as perfect as I first thought, of course. People are people, even people who go to church. Within a year of my leaving to pursue what I believed God was directing me to do next, the church was splintering, disintegrating and falling apart. My pastor, the man who married my wife and I, divorced his wife within a few years of our leaving. Neither he nor his wife are involved in a church today (as far as I know).

We were devastated. This was over 25 years ago, and it still puzzles me. The coming apart at the seams of this church that I viewed as a model of what churches should be impacted me more than I would care to admit.

I realize now that I had invested more of my spiritual capital in the church and its leaders than I should have.

A friend of mine, a fellow church-goer, has been struggling with issues in his church – the leadership in particular. I have listened to him, recognizing the disappointment and disillusionment in his voice. Though I don’t know the details of the issues he has had with the leadership, I do know that he feels cut adrift; he is hurt; his faith is shaken. He has stopped going to church. He isn’t sure he can trust Christians anymore, and he is struggling to make sense of his experience. I can relate.

We left the last church we attended because of leadership, trust and personality differences that affected the people to whom we were closest in that church. Our friends were financially and personally hurt by leadership in the church. We felt we needed to stand with our friends and support them as they drifted away from the church, unable to remain in a church led by people who could not be trusted with their spiritual well being.

These are just the experiences I have had, but I don’t think I am alone in having difficult and painful experiences in churches and with the leadership of churches. Church is a messy business.

Many people turn away from the church and even from Christianity because of similar experiences. How many times have you heard someone say they don’t go to church because Christians are hypocrites? And the fact is that Christians are hypocrites!

But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

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All The Little Things

August 18, 2018


I spend some Saturday mornings meeting with people at a low-income, legal aid clinic. Many people come with “one” big issue, but the conversations often reveal a myriad of things they are dealing with. The one big issue brought them to the desperate point of reaching out, but that one big issue often belies many little things that plague them. The little things they tolerate in their lives, often lead to the big them that brought them to the point of desperation.

The circumstances aren’t always the result of bad decisions, bad behaviors or other failures, but often they are. We can be our own worst enemies, and lack of knowledge and understanding compounds the problems that result from those failures.

I often feel overwhelmed by the loads that people carry. Simple answers are rarely available. Many peoples’ lives are bogged down by a thousand little things, and the one big thing is the just tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The best I can do in our short session on a Saturday morning is to identify the key issue(s) to be dealt with and a strategy for dealing with them, but I can often only recommend treatment for the symptoms. It isn’t hard to see evidence of the virus behind the symptomatic issues that are demanding immediate attention. We might call that virus sin.

Sin, in its etymology, means simply “missing the mark”. We miss the mark in many small ways that we might assume are insignificant, but the little things add up. They form habits of thought and behavior that are counter-productive to achieving the things we all want – comfort, security, harmonious living with our family and world, and satisfaction in life.

Sin isn’t just doing something that God frowns upon. Sin is falling short of the way we are meant to live. A thousand little bad decisions, a thousand misunderstandings that are unwittingly adopted, a thousand little things that we allow to creep and remain, without addressing them, pile up and weigh us down.

To be fair, we all struggle with sin that threatens to undo us. Some of us just manage it better than others. Some of us learn to use our sinfulness to our own selfish advantage. Others are steamrolled by it and the sins of others that leave destruction in its wake. Regardless of our ability to manage our sins, it catches up to us – now or later. The most beautiful, white-washed tombs are as empty as a pauper’s grave. Sin also has real consequences for us and for the people around us.

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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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Sin, Salvation and Righteousness – God’s Plan for Us

June 25, 2018


I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read  it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.

In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.

To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.

These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.

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What Is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It?

June 25, 2018


One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.

A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.

These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?

Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?

I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.

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We are Participants in the Resistance Against Sin

May 29, 2018


“[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely….” (Hebrews 12:1)

In my slow walk through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, I am now in Hebrews. Before I was a believer, Hebrews was a book that had a profound impact on me. When read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), I felt the truth of that verse, though I had yet committed myself to the Word, which is Jesus.

Many years later, now, I still labor under the weight of sin that clings so closely. It can be hard reading these words, so many years after making that commitment, having to acknowledge the weight that remains, the sin that still clings so closely.

When I first read those words, and many others like them, I was convicted. I felt the sting of indictment on my life, and attitudes and condition. There was a harsh reality to them, a sharp edge. Reality can be like that.

It’s hard to read, to accept the indictment against me. It’s tempting to turn away, to ignore it. Like the person who fears he has cancer but pushes that nagging thought aside because it’s easier not to dwell on it. Even though we know that we should get a diagnosis, we find it easier, psychologically to ignore it.

But we might as well turn away from truth, from reality – from our very selves.

It’s an irrational response. If we get the diagnosis, and we don’t have cancer, we can stop the nagging thoughts. If we find out we do have cancer, we can address it. We can stop it before it gets worse. We can seek a cure. If we ignore it, we have no hope of overcoming it.

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Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 2

May 17, 2018


In the first piece in this series about hell, inspired by a talk given by Tim Keller in 2010, we explore the idea that hell isn’t a place that God sends us; it is the result of our own choosing. When we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, our most treasured thing, the thing we identify most with, that choice becomes our ultimate aim.

If we choose anything other than God as our ultimate aim, our most treasured thing, we lose ourselves to it. What we value most consumes us and we lose our identity to it.

Keller uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as the backdrop. The rich man, not even realizing he is in hell, demands Abraham to send Lazarus to him to wet his lips to relieve him from his discomfort. The rich man is delusional. He still thinks he has the wealth and station he enjoyed during life, but he has completely lost his identity. Abraham and Lazarus have names in the parable, but the rich man is without any name.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book, Sickness Unto Death, in which he defines sin as finding our identity in anything other than God. The word for sin, in the Hebrew, means, literally, missing the mark. To find our identity in anything other than Godis missing the mark.

The first point Keller makes about the idea of hell is this: when we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, the thing we most identify with, we lose our identity to it, and it becomes our hell. If the thing we cherish most isn’t our identify in God, we lose our intended identify (given by God who created us) to the things we have chosen over God. And this becomes our hell.

Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand the problem with our own hearts. We have a tendency to want things other than the purpose for which God made us. God made us for Himself, to reflect unique facets of His nature, and to have relationship, forever, with God. If we choose as our greatest treasure something other than this purpose for which God made us, we lose our identity to those things.

In this blog piece, we will explore this idea further.

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