Tag Archives: consequences

Six Things I Hate

1.  Wisest Kid Commercials. Really? Now adults are so pathetic that we can’t even pick out something for lunch or dinner?  Someone, somewhere needs to put a stop to this cultural craze that has us believing that younger is wiser.  Sometimes kids stumble upon charm…but wiser?  Honestly, we need some adults with the intestinal fortitude to step up and say, “Knock it off.  If I want wisdom, I’ll ask someone who has a few more laps around the track than I do; not someone with a fake beard who can’t even tie their shoes.”  Wise-guy kid maybe (yes, I initially thought to use another word there, but this blog is rated “G”).

2.  Donut Ditherers. You know, patrons at the local donut shop who, after waiting in line for at least ten minutes, start to think about what they want WHEN THEY GET TO THE REGISTER.  “I’d like a dozen donuts please.  One…ummm…one chocolate frosted, one glazed…no, wait, ummm…”  Fifteen minutes later (note: more than a minute per donut), the Ditherers finally leave–oblivious to the charm fest they’ve left in their wake.

3.  Movie Seat Clusterers (yes, I made up a word). You’ve experienced this.  You get to the movie a few minutes early (so that you can get some popcorn and be seated in time for the trailers).  The theater is practically empty.  But, no matter where you sit, the boneheads who come in after you, decide to SIT RIGHT BEHIND YOU!  Dozens, nay hundreds of empty seats, and they decide to SIT RIGHT BEHIND YOU!  Honestly, I know I am neither charming nor popular nor, well, any of those things that would attract a crowd.  Why oh why oh why?  And, if you decide to sit right behind me, do not compound your lack of grace by ENGAGING IN CONVERSATION WITH THE CHARACTERS ON THE SCREEN.  The people in the audience with you can hear you, and are annoyed by you, BUT THE CHARACTERS ON THE SCREEN IN THE FILM CANNOT HEAR YOU!

4.  Stoplight Micro-Millisecond Timers. It happened again today.  I was first in line at the stoplight; it turned green; before my brain (which I admit is sometimes on the “slow cycle”) could process the change in color, the Uber Intenser (yes, another made up word) behind me HONKED HIS HORN.  Trust me, nowhere in the arctic wind chill of this winter wonderland is a destination worth the stress that comes with constant horn honking and pedals to the metal.  I could understand if I’d taken to reading War and Peace at each stoplight.  But honestly, a micro-millisecond?

5.  That I hate these stupid, minor things and that I let them get to me so often. Where in the world is my perspective?  The Apostle Paul said that the travails of this world are “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17).  Since he was talking about things more egregious than traffic honkers or movie squatters, I have to wonder why it is that I let the “light and momentary” become so weighty and permanent in my mind.

6.  That I do not hate the things that God hates. “Hate evil, love good,” Amos says (5:15).  Why is it that I don’t hate the injustice that plagues our world?  Why is it that so many people without Christ doesn’t bother me enough to be more purposeful in my relationships?

Perhaps you have a similar list; perhaps you don’t.  If you do, maybe we should give the trivial over to God and let Him fuel our spirits with His own concerns.  Maybe.

© All Rights Reserved. Scripture Quotations from the NIV.


One “Aw Sh**” — Sin and Grace in the Christian Community

I know that I am a sinner.  I have often thought in recent years of a theology lecture I heard in seminary.  The professor was dealing with the notion of “sinless perfection.”  He was in his late 60s and, during the course of his lecture, he paused in a personally poignant moment to say, “The longer I am alive, the more aware I am of my sin.”

I know that I am a sinner.  I resonate with the words of the Apostle Paul who called himself “the chief of sinners.”  I listen with intensity to Romans 7:14-25, echoing Paul’s sentiment in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am!”  In concert with the Reformed theologians I admire, I know that all the decisions I make and all the actions I undertake are tainted by my sin nature and frequently directed by my “own evil desires” (James 1:14).  Trust me:  I know that I am a sinner.

So, when I stumble in major ways, I am never completely surprised.  Of course the word “stumble” might seem an attempt to soften the impact of one’s sinful missteps.  Perhaps so.  But I think that many of us, much of the time, are limping along through life anyway.  Stumbling is what we do–sometimes others see it; oft times they don’t.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of any particular stumble, a “stumbler” can feel like the embodiment of an expression I encountered years before while in the Air Force.  And it demonstrates, I think, how far short the Christian community can fall from the biblical mark with respect to treatment of those who stumble.

The expression in question goes something like this:  “One Aw Sh** wipes out a thousand Atta Boys.”  Former military readers will immediately understand.  For others, let me explain.

The military is a place that is intentional about the recognition of jobs well done.  But it is also an institution that has few tangible ways to reward folks when they do well.  You can’t give raises or bonuses; you can’t immediately promote people; you can’t even excuse them from facing hostile fire the next day.  What you can do is pause during the action long enough to say, “Well done!  Good job!  Thanks for serving your nation so faithfully!”  When I was in the military we called those kinds of expressions “Atta Boys” (Yes, women are also recipients, “Atta Girl!”) “Atta Boys” come in several varieties (medals, letters, etc.), but they are key instruments of reward and recognition in any commander’s leadership tool kit.

However “Atta Boys” have an evil big brother:  The “Aw Sh**.”  The “Aw Sh**” is often a knee-jerk response to some gross error in judgment on the part of the offending military member.  The power of the “Aw Sh**” is overwhelming.  If an “Atta Boy” is a shiny package, dressed with a bow on Christmas morning, then the “Aw Sh**” is September 11th–towering careers simply collapse.  I grant that the stakes are unusually high in the military, but I have seen one “Aw Sh**” take down officers in the middle of stellar careers, people who had accumulated a mountain of “Atta Boys” over the course of decades of service to their nation.

Now, what does this have to do with sinful stumbles in the Body of Christ?  This: everything a person has been or striven to be as a Christian can easily be swallowed up in one “Aw Sh**.”  I know the biblical standards for church leaders and the heavy investment in character the Scriptures mandate; I am not diminishing any of that.  What I am saying is that, particularly in moments of crisis, when church leaders are struggling with appropriate responses to failure, we must take the whole person into account.  Otherwise we may discard people as if they are so much septic tank toxic waste.

Jesus was heavily invested in the recycling business, but some reflective observation leads me to believe that church leaders often quickly bypass the recycle bin and head straight to the dumpster.  It is sometimes the case that an entire body of work, life, and ministry is compressed so tightly as to be seen through the lens of one episode of failure.

I believe that grace is “sloppy.”  The legalists own the bright lines in the sand and the sharp-edged shades of black and white.  Agents of grace, those who carry the name of Christ, and who believe that His model in dealing with sinners was gentle restoration, often color in more nuanced shades and move with less clear lines drawn in the sand.  Look with me at a few episodes from Jesus’ ministry.

I think one of my favorites is John 21:15-25.  Peter, the leader of the “remedial boys,” had committed the seemingly transcendent sin:  at a key moment in Jesus’ journey toward the cross, Peter had looked over at Jesus and said, “I don’t know the man!”  Surely Peter’s action is a contender for the unpardonable sin.  Jesus:  Messiah, Lord, Master, Teacher, Healer, Miracle Worker, The Son of the Living God (by Peter’s own confession), had been denied.  How much worse can it get?  All the sins packed into all the sin lists in Scripture seemingly fade away into nothingness in the face of this monstrous thing.

And yet, post-Resurrection, when Jesus encounters Peter on the Sea of Galilee shore, He deals with Peter in a supremely gracious way.  Jesus uses simple math (one statement of love to match each statement of denial) to restore Peter to first among equals within the gang of (then) eleven.  Peter was so deeply moved he said something goofy–again (see verse 21).  I think this passage has transfixed everyone who has carefully read it.  It particularly stirs my heart because of the spiritual and emotional distance Jesus traveled to restore Peter, the fallen leader.

A second favorite episode involves the little tree climber, Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was not a leader among Jesus’ followers.  He was a notorious “sinner”–a “chief” tax collector no less, one of those men responsible for the weight of fiscal oppression felt by the populace of Galilee and Judea.  Zacchaeus was short in stature and short on character.  But he had heard that Jesus was coming and wanted to see Him.  We don’t know what Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus or what Zacchaeus thought of what he had heard; we just know that he wanted to see Jesus.  So Zacchaeus climbed a tree to secure a better view of Jesus.  Jesus spotted Zacchaeus among the tree branches and said that He wanted to go to Zacchaeus’s house.  Of course this caused the crowd to grumble; they knew Zacchaeus and they wondered why Jesus would want to hang out with such a dishonored man.

Yet Jesus did want to hang out with this particular sinner.  And, because Jesus chose to join Zacchaeus in his home, sometime during the course of that visit, Zacchaeus mended his ways and decided to make restitution to those he had cheated.  All this occurred without Jesus having done anything more than being a house guest.  Merely being in the presence of Jesus was enough to restore Zacchaeus to wholeness and “spur him on toward good deeds.”

I think the culminating episode is the account of the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-11).  This pericope is not well attested in early Greek manuscripts.  But something about it demands its continued inclusion in English Bible translations.  The elements of the episode resonate with everything we know about Jesus and His compassion and His grace.  Many questions surround this story:  How did it come to be that she was caught?  Was she set up as a test case for Jesus?  Where’s the guy with whom she must have been caught?  Was that guy in collusion with those who wanted to test Jesus?  Was there no one in the crowd who felt any mercy toward her besides Jesus?

We don’t have the answers to those questions.  What we do have is Jesus dealing with a horrific situation in a way that transcends the legalistic impulses of that day and time.  Because, on one level, the legalists were right–this woman’s offense demanded the Mosaic death penalty.  That is perhaps the most dangerous part of legalism:  on one level, legalists are often right.  But Jesus doesn’t operate on the level of “I’m right; you’re wrong” or self-righteousness.  He operates at the level of genuine righteousness.  And His genuine righteousness is always fully flavored by grace.  After Jesus challenges those in the crowd to assess their capacity to throw the “first stone,” He looks at the woman and says she is not the object of His condemnation; she is the object of His forgiveness.  He challenges her to live rightly and He restores her–right there; right then.

Those episodes from the Gospels are typical of Jesus and several things strike me about the way He dealt with those who stumbled.  The most significant is that Jesus was never in the “Aw Sh**” business.  No one failure, indeed no pattern of failure, was large enough to eliminate people from life with Him or even leadership in the Kingdom.  Peter was not left in the throes of his betrayal, consigned to some structured rehabilitation period; he was fully, completely, and immediately restored to his leadership role.  Zacchaeus had his eternal inclusion in the Abrahamic heritage emphasized for the doubters in the crowd.  And the woman caught in adultery heard those most precious words from Jesus, “neither do I condemn you.”

The second thing that strikes me is that Jesus had total awareness of the nuances of each and every situation.  Of course, He’s Jesus and, being fully human and fully divine, He had thoroughgoing information about the hearts and minds of people.  When Jesus made judgments, and He made many, He made them in that fullness of understanding.  Church leaders will never have that complete understanding of the behavioral particulars, emotional dynamics, and spiritual complexities of situations of sinful failure.

The third thing that strikes me about how Jesus dealt with the failures of those around Him is that He didn’t have to worry about Paul’s caution in Galatians 6:1.  There, Paul reminds his readers, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit (NIV, “you who are spiritual”) should restore that person gently.”

Since those charged with church leadership are not Jesus, I have five suggestions for those of us who act in His name on behalf of His Church.

My first suggestion flows from James 1:19.  Especially when dealing with life altering consequences and the potential for shattered lives, leaders must be “quick to listen; slow to speak; slow to become angry.”  In the middle of what appears to be (and may likely be) gross failure, leaders must understand, as best we can, exactly what has transpired.  That need for understanding demands extraordinary listening, careful investigation, and avoidance of rushes to conclusions or penalties.  We are, I think (at least I know I often am), too quick to assess a situation and draw conclusions.  I think that my ministry experience tends toward rapid diagnosis and response.  I am usually wrong–or at least incomplete–with both.  Each case is unique and demands meticulous attention.  We need to listen; we must resist the temptation to speak too quickly.  We need to not think of people as their “category of failure” and think of them as, well, people.  This need to “cruise” in a lower gear is a factor in the next suggestion as well.

My second suggestion is simple, yet close to impossible:  we need to ensure that we are “spiritual” in the Galatians 6 sense.  Jesus didn’t have this problem, but contemporary church leaders surely do.  Certainly the Bible is full of admonitions about sinful patterns of behavior, prescriptions for leadership responsibilities, and outlines of restoration processes.  But what I want to know is:  Where are “those who are spiritual?”  Because they are the only ones commissioned as agents of graceful restoration.

Looking back over the course of my ministry, I’m convinced that I haven’t really met many “spiritual” people capable of this restorative task.  Perhaps I have been hanging out with the wrong crowd.  I have met many who thought they were “spiritual” and I have participated in leadership meetings where we all thought we were.  But I am not sure many (maybe any) of us were.  And–I would be so bold as to say that if we think we are spiritual, we are probably not.  For myself, I am convinced that I was rarely among “those who are spiritual” when I was attempting restorative stewardship of the flocks assigned to my care.

I am not completely certain as to a conclusion about this business of spirituality.  Fallen, sinful, stumbling church leaders do, indeed, have this task of reconciliation and restoration.  I suppose I would simply flash a giant, yellow caution light in front of all who undertake this task.  Slow is the way to go.

Third:  We must realize that we can never have all the information we need to make the kinds of weighty judgments we will be making.  Omniscience is a non-communicable attribute of deity.  We cannot and we do not know all things.  Therefore we must be more tentative, less dogmatic, and more graceful in the application of consequences based on our assessments.  We must choose our words carefully, knowing that they have immense power to further wound the already wounded.

Fourth:  We need to ask, “How does this fit with the rest of what I know about this person?”  In order to avoid an “Aw Sh**” situation, we must carefully put anyone’s failure in the larger context of their whole person, refusing to simply see the last thing (particularly if it’s a failure) as the totality of truth about that person.  It simply cannot be the case (most of the time) that an accumulated lifetime of service is so fragile as to be destroyed in a single instance of failure (*Please see Postscript below).  And, as leaders, we need the maturity to see past immediate circumstances in order to bring to bear our wider understanding of the lives we hold in our hands and the issues with which we wrestle.

Finally, I think we must err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion, involvement rather than disconnection.  There are places in the Scriptures (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) where a period of exclusion from fellowship is discussed as a means of restoration.  Two things seem to be true about this practice.  The first is that we mere humans inevitably get this wrong.  If the subsequent reference in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 is to the same person discussed in 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church had let the whole thing go on way too long.

The other issue connected to exclusion is that I believe we often seriously misinterpret Jesus’ own words about the restoration process.  Jesus’ prescription for restoration does not, I believe, involve exclusion.  Matthew 18:17 is not, I contend, about excommunication or shunning or other exclusionary tactics.  It is exactly what it says:  a call to treat those who persist in stumbling the way Jesus treated Peter, Zacchaeus, and the unnamed woman–with grace and mercy and an invitation to Christ’s own presence.

I spoke earlier of “sloppy grace.”  What does sloppy grace look like?  As in all things Christian, I think it simply looks like Jesus; no condemnation (except, perhaps, for the legalists), gentle restoration, the realization that Jesus’ mere presence would be enough to spur folks on toward good deeds (Zacchaeus).  The cure for all things that ail stumbling believers is more time in His presence.  Jesus will help us kill our “Aw Sh**” tendencies and He will help prevent our discard of precious Kingdom citizens, but only if we watch Him in action and take our cues from His approach to people who stumble.

[*Postscript–Caveat & Alert:  There are particularly egregious failures (child sexual abuse as an example) that require: immediate removal of the person from any situation in which they can inflict further harm, a root level analysis of any person’s future leadership potential, extended periods of rehabilitation, and great caution so as to not create other opportunities for those who fail to wound additional innocents.  But even those failures, I believe, require an intentionality and purposefulness about restoration to some expression of Christian fellowship (not necessarily leadership) modeled after Jesus’ dealing with the failures around Him.]

 


Of Sin & Consequences & Scooter Scars

I was at a seminar or conference somewhere; I don’t remember where.  What I do remember is that one of my favorite speakers was there; in fact, he’s the reason I decided to attend said conference.  Chuck Swindoll has, since the time I became a follower of Jesus, one of my favorites.  He is wise; he communicates with depth and relevance; and he is completely down to earth.  WYSIWYG in computer geek speak:  what you see is what you get.

On this particular occasion, Chuck was reflecting on the fact that he was a little older and that, as he had aged, he had come to realize that he held fewer and fewer things as rock solid absolutes.  Don’t misunderstand, he was not denying the verities of the faith; he was simply admitting that the determined certainty of youth had given way to a maturing recognition that we are not often as right as we think we are. 

In the context of teaching or preaching communication, he was identifying with those who sometimes say, “Well, I’m not as dogmatic about that as I used to be.”  Again, rest assured, the crux of Christianity is safe in Chuck’s hands; he was just, in a word or two (my words), being a little more humble and a little less strident than we often tend to be when we are younger.

I’ve thought about that approach a lot as I have, ahem, matured (not aged–there is an important distinction).  I ponder, from time to time, those things that I hold as rock solid basics.  And here’s one that I see with increasing clarity as time pulls me along:  I am a sinner.  Sinless perfection advocates to the contrary; I realize that the longer I am around, the more I see that sin ravages me and those around me.  Calvin was, I believe, right on this score.  Down to the depths of my DNA, I am a sinner.  In every crevice of my mind lurks the enticement (and anticipation of willful participation) to sin.  I sin most when I think I’ve gotten “past” some particular besetting sin; only to find that it jumps me like a thug on the street–crippling my relational capacity, derailing my work, and banishing the joy from my life.  I am a sinner.

What’s surprising to me, though, is how often I am still taken aback by the fact that my sin has consequences.  How my tendency to pride precludes me from hearing wisdom from others.  How my tendency to selfishness blinds me to the joy of giving.  How my capacity for criticism carves its way through the hearts and minds of others, diminishing their selves and their own capacity for goodness and grace.  Consequences.  “The wages of sin is death,” we are told.  But we (at least I) don’t often see that death comes in degrees and that every time I sin, I am an instrument of mortality to myself and others.

To be sure I know the reality of the grace of God in my life.  In fact, the enormity of my sin compels me to find refuge in the mercy of Jesus and His work on the cross.  “The wages of sin is death,” Paul says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).  However, I am more and more aware of the deep and lasting impact of my sin and the consequences that so quickly flow from my sinful decisions.

I was visiting family.  One of my nieces had a Razor Scooter–one of those mini-wheeled things that kids so use to dart and bob and weave through suburban streets.  I decided to take the scooter for a spin.  I went down the hill adjacent to the house, quickly gaining speed (make that:  QUICKLY GAINING SPEED!).  I realized almost immediately that I had not asked a key question:  How do you stop this thing?  So, barreling down the street, confident that I was breaking the sound barrier (How do I know I was breaking the sound barrier?  I could not hear my own screams), I decided there was only one way to stop:  I would head to the side of the street and tumble into the grass.  This was a superior idea, except that my advance team had failed to clear the pebbles from the side of the street.  I hit the pebbles, went down into a skin scraping slide and wound up (actually wound down, face down, that is) mere inches from the soft safety of the grass. 

Monkey down.  I say monkey down because I was wearing my monkey boxer shorts that morning and my first thought (honestly) was that, if I had to go to the hospital, the medical team would not take my wounds seriously because of the monkeys.  I mean, who would?  And my mother would have been right…the first diagnostic procedure in the emergency room is the Underwear Check.

Fortunately I did not have to go the hospital.  My wife and brother tended my wounds (BUT THEY DID LAUGH AT THE MONKEYS).  I still have scars on my hand though–I call them the scooter scars.  They remind me that my choices have consequences.  They remind me that I am a sinner.  They remind me that I desperately need the grace of God at work in my life.  They remind me that, as I (ahem), yes, age, I resonate more completely with the words of the Apostle Paul:  “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24,25).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.


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