Grace and Sin

Love and Judgment

©New Testament 3 Productions; Dining with sinners at Matthew’s house
©New Testament 3 Productions; Dining with sinners at Matthew’s house

I have a friend who is perplexed about the emphasis “we” Christians place on sin.

Well, I admit, sometimes I’m perplexed, too.

Color Sin before Christ is accepted

(Is our mission to call out sin?)

I often read or hear the following rationalizations from evangelizing Christians:

“If we don’t point out their sin, they might be damned to an eternal hell.”

“If we don’t judge them, we’re not doing our job as Christians.”

“We need to take a moral stand in this immoral world without values.”

Jesus tells us not to judge; plain and simple. And Jesus only called out one group of people: the Pharisees. Yet, he also formed individual relationships with at least two of them – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Instead of calling out sinners, Jesus dined with them. Sharing a meal first century Jewish culture meant acceptance at a deep level.

 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 (Luke 6:37)”

“If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The thing is, no one will listen unless they feel safe, unless they feel loved. And really, it’s never a matter of “they” or “them,” but of he or she; individuals with whom we take the time to establish authentic and loving relationships. Individuals with whom we take the time to learn history and struggles and hurt and pain. Jesus loved first, drew individuals to His heart, creating the desire to follow Him.

If the death of his Son restored our relationship with God while we were still his enemies, we are even more certain that, because of this restored relationship, the life of his Son will save us. (Romans 5:10 GW emphasis mine)

Sin after Christ is accepted

(Are sinners separated from God?)

Christ died on the cross; He took our sins and buried them forever. More important, His resurrection brought us back into a redemptive relationship with our Father. He has restored us into our Father’s arms.

Sin can lead us to an earthly hell and make us “feel” separated from God. But,

All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Jesus. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. It is central to our good news that God was in Christ making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 The Voice)

If God does not hold our sins against us anymore, why do we? How can our sin separate us from God if Jesus took them away, once and for all?

 

©2011YourPerspektive
©2011YourPerspektive

When we focus on sin, we miss the point of the Good News. Rather than fixating on sin, shouldn’t we stress God’s love, His grace and His mercy? Shouldn’t we extend an invitation? Invite someone in and get to know him? Welcome someone to dinner and make it safe for her talk?

If it’s true once people know the love of Christ they desire to transform their lives; if it’s true lives can only transform through a relationship with Christ, then we must love first. For if we judge and expect people to repent before they feel the love of Christ, we task them with an impossible burden, just as the Pharisees did to the people of their day.

It circumvents Christ, ignoring the cross and undermining the Gospel of Jesus.

What will separate us from the love Christ has for us? Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. As Scripture says:

“We are being killed all day long because of you.
We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The one who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties.  I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us. We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation. (Romans 8:35-39 MSG)

Thank you, Mel Wild and Little Monk for the inspiration for this blog. Pebbles and ripples…

Shadow

Shadow-Man

When we are faced with choosing love

Our gazes do not see

The precious ones God placed on earth;

Our heart gives breach entrée.

 

A neighbor we ignore today

Expands the fissure’s gap.

The less we love, the more we’re prone

To Shadow’s fearful trap.

 

The less we love, the less we love

‘til friends and kin laid bare.

Susceptible to darkened heart

We even cease to care.

 

And enemy – well, who could love

Such wretched sinners strayed.

Yet, Jesus did; forgave them, too.

Could he your heart persuade?

 

We boast of being Christians, but

Our acts his words demean,

His call to love, to walk his will

Create a vast ravine.

 

Shadow-personAs shadow overtakes your heart

And chasm seems no end

The answer is to love and hear

Both enemy and friend.

 

The more we love, the more our heart

Desires to love free.

The love of God takes over and

We love our enemy.

 

We see beyond the surface; yes

We see the tears below.

Our heart sees pain and hurt and wounds

The heart denies to show.

 

And as we’re willing to accept

God mercy, love and grace,

Outside of Shadow’s grip we rise

Into the Light’s embrace.

 

Thank you, Little Monk, for the inspiration for this poem.

To the Candidates

From Second Philippians

(with thanks to the apostle Paul)

As I was directed to several verses this morning, it seemed to me a letter is in order to the politicians running for the United States Presidency.

As a reminder, the apostle Paul, who was in jail in Rome, wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them to grow and mature in their faith. He knew what staying immobile and stagnant would look like – he had already written to the church in Galatia about the problem of stagnation (Galatians 5:19-20) – and he didn’t want this to happen to the church in Philippi.

So, I address this letter, borrowing heavily from Paul, to those candidates who claim to be Christians (or who claim to uphold Christian values or who wish to appeal to voters who claim to be Christian or Evangelical or any other denomination who claims to uphold Christian values).

©KennethWyatt1987
©KennethWyatt1987

To All Candidates,

Grace and peace to you. May Christ’s Spirit bring you wisdom, integrity and compassion.

As you travel on this journey, we can all admit it is fraught with temptation. Those even in your midst would attempt to exert influence over you, gambling with your heart and mind to battle those also seeking office. Their intention is resolved to keep your focus away from the true struggle. It is not with your campaign opponents.

Those of us who follow Jesus ache as we watch you flail about in immature pursuits and misdirected messages about our Lord. We cringe because we know the world is watching. We grieve because we feel the Holy Spirit’s grief as you attempt to represent us and speak to our values.

As the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Some people tell the message about Christ because of their jealousy and envy. Others tell the message about him because of their good will. Those who tell the message about Christ out of love know that God has put me here to defend the Good News. But the others are insincere. They tell the message about Christ out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-17)

©Michael Halbert
©Michael Halbert

Pretending you are someone you are not is not the way. Denigrating one another is not the way. Spewing hateful words is not the way. Being spiteful and contentious is not the way. Being boastful is not the way. Telling half truths is not the way.

Certainly you can find ways to disagree while remaining respectful and humble. Clearly you can find ways to point out differences without sarcasm. Undeniably, as presidential material, you can find ways to lead the pack on higher ground.

 

If there is any encouragement in belonging to Christ, any comfort from His love, any fellowship in His abiding Spirit, any affection or compassion, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being united in that same Spirit. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, be moved to think of and treat one another as more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:1-3)

You see, we Christians who are watching but silent, we Christians who are waiting to cast our votes will determine who you really are by two criteria. And interestingly, they have nothing to do with party affiliation. They have everything to do with leadership qualities.

The First

Again, let’s turn to the apostle Paul. Before he was saved, he had status and wealth, education and title; he persecuted zealously those who he saw as a threat to the established leadership. Yet after Jesus opened his eyes and heart, Paul realized after a lifetime of evangelism what was truly important:

I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain [knowing] Christ…Whoever has a mature faith should think this way. And if you think otherwise, God will reveal it to you and make it plain. (Philippians 3:8, 15)

So are you mature in your faith; do you follow Jesus above all else? Do you show all people you follow him by illustrating your love through your words and actions?

The Second

In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote a book called In Search of Excellence. The authors coined the term MBWA – management by walking around. One of the points of walking around was to look for things people were doing right.

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes egregious mistakes. Do we honestly – honestly – believe our presidents are or should be pure as the driven snow? Or is it more important they humbly own up to past mistakes and let us know how they have overcome? And is it your job as a candidate to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye without first revealing the log in your own?

Wouldn’t it be something if each of you actually pointed out something the current President and the other candidates did right?

Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

And sorry, using the excuse, “There’s nothing there to find,” just doesn’t cut it.

 

At some point, you and possibly some other folks decided you have the qualities and character to be President of this fine country. You entered the race.

Now it’s time to flip that old adage: Put your mouth where your money is.

May the grace, love and wisdom of God be with you.

Today’s Good Samaritans

Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack.”

I saw this article this morning in the BBC press.

I longed to see it in the American press.

And it made me wonder…

if I was on a bus together with a group of Christians

and a group of LGBTQ folks

and the bus was stopped by people with assault rifles

and they demanded,

“All homosexuals identify yourselves!”

would we be as loving to our neighbors

as those Muslims were

to their Christian neighbors?

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)