Of Faith and Politics

A young pastor recently received a heartbreaking message from someone close to him. It was not what one might expect from a member of one’s flock. It was not directly related to personal tragedy, problems within the church, misconduct within the church, or disagreement with a recent sermon. Also, it came in the form of a simple statement, “Because you were slow to speak, I didn’t know if you cared.”

As anyone listening knew immediately, the pastor’s remorse over the situation was honest and heartfelt. He had a reason for failing to speak into the situation immediately, but that comment made him realize sometimes there are no good reasons for waiting to take action.

The details of the pastor’s mistake are unimportant to the discussion or thinking I hope to start here. It was as you can easily imagine dealing with the current turmoil in the United States, and one horrible incident in particular. Still, the situation placed the pastor in a terrible quandary. How did he lead the church into a politically charged situation without crossing the boundaries that are supposed to exist between faith and politics?

Personally, I feel he did a great job of making it clear this church was not going to involve itself in political activity. He also made it clear the church had a role to play in the problems facing this country today. In fact, the church already plays a role in helping detail with societal issues. Not a political role, but a spiritual leadership role.

The problem of course is that many within churches across this land have preached a different message. Though the message may have been indirect, it was clear. Paying attention to current events, especially politics, is detrimental to one’s faith. It could also endanger the church’s standing as a religious entity.

I cannot tell you how many of my church friends almost brag about their lack of interest in current events. They seem to feel they can withdraw from that aspect of society and let God take care of it. Either that or they just don’t want to be bothered with the realities of daily life. Of course, there are a few who seem to feel politics is part of their religion. It is likely both sides heard something different in the pastor’s remarks that Sunday.

The problem many seem to have is understanding faith and religion are not the same thing. One can have faith in God, believe the Bible is the Word of God, and still be political. This will sound very judgmental of me, but I wonder about the faith of anyone who feels politics and societal conflicts will damage their faith in some way. To me, my faith leads me to believe there is a purpose to all of this mess, and it is all part of God’s plan. Our job is to pray, work, and believe He is in control.

My church considers itself a church without walls. It also tries its best to teach lessons that can be “Monday morning relevant.” True in most cases, those lessons are how we should present ourselves to the world in ways that bring glory to our Father. In some cases, that means being involved in the mess out there. Yes, prayer works, but sometimes the answer to our prayers requires us to get a bit sweaty and get our hands dirty.

By getting our hands dirty and working up a sweat, I do not necessarily mean working a kids camp, leading a small group, or mowing a widow’s lawn. Those are great acts of service, but when we do those we are in a way preaching to the choir. Even when we reach out to organizations as my church home does, supporting activities in minority communities, or economically depressed areas the effort can be more about feeling good than really being the hands of feet of Jesus.

Whatever outreach we do, should bring about change in us as well. The purpose of serving is not to make us feel good. Hopefully, that is one of the benefits, but another benefit is to bring about change within us or strengthen are faith, enhancing changes made in the past.

People must be able to see God in us if we are to make a difference in the world. They cannot do that if we hide from the problems.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Monastically Speaking

In Traditionally Speaking, I suggested the coronavirus pandemic may change traditions that many, me included, feel are essential to human interaction. Other traditions may develop to replace handshakes, hugs, and other forms of personal contact, but that is a subject for another time. Here, I want to speak of something looming on the horizon that may change more than traditional forms of physical greetings and mutual agreement.

Specifically, we should be concerned about the current and future crises such as COVID-19. As we have seen, governmental and medical entities have been quick to press for limitations on what some would call liberties. The powers that be instituted guidelines or regulations involving social-distancing, quarantines, and outright banning of some activities and traditions in the interest of public health.

One can only imagine what the world will look like in a few decades. Viruses, murder hornets, civic unrest, and outright terrorism may turn the United States and other modern nations into societal and cultural equivalents of some third world countries.
Yes, that last paragraph may make me sound as if I am a bit of an alarmist. If that is what you think, fine, but do yourself and me a favor.

Take another look at what has been happening throughout the country this spring. We have seen isolation-induced increases in some classes of crime and mental disorders. We have experienced rioting in the streets, which are direct threats to our society. Now, one of the most stabilizing forces in society is being threatened as well.

A ruling by the United States Supreme Court concerning the states’ authority to regulate certain businesses and activities should scare the hell out of us all. In a case brought against the State of California, the high court equated churches and church services with “lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances.”

Essentially, the supreme court ruled believers had no more right to assemble in worship than patrons attending the local cinema. Tangentially, the court is saying church members have fewer rights in the area of assembly than protestors. Apparently, protestors have the right to assemble, despite social distancing orders. If you doubt that consider how protestors are being handled.

Protestors are not being arrested for coming together. Instead, they are being arrested, if they are arrested, for violating curfews, blocking streets, destruction of private property, assaults, and other crimes. Heaven forbid they should be arrested or even cited for standing shoulder to shoulder when the rules were “six feet apart!” Yet, in some areas of the country, worshippers are being told they will be breaking the law if they hold services, even if they practice social distancing. In closing, one final thought on this aspect of the controversy.

The governors of some states, as well as five Supreme Court Justices, have decided churches are nothing more than businesses. If pressed, on this issue, I can already hear the response from members of the court, and the officials shutting down church services. They will say, if they have not already, that worship does not require a church. They will claim, if they have not already, individuals and families can exercise their faith and their first amendment rights, without a church!

Again, I can sense the reaction of many if they have gotten this far in my thoughts. They will smile wryly and say or think something such as, “That’s right! You don’t need a church to have a relationship with God.”

My response to them, and to the supreme court is simple. Coming together in fellowship and worship is essential to followers of Jesus and others whose faith is derived from or an outgrowth of the Bible. Individual faith was tried in Biblical times, and it failed miserably. People who believed they could have a one on one relationship with God went into the wilderness and did their human best to make that work. It did not, as the monasteries and monks of today are living proof.

God did not only create a man. He did not only create a woman. Through Adam and Eve, he created a people. He did not create them to be alone with Him. He created them to come together with Him as a people.

Monasticism did not work in Biblical times. It will not work in modern times. Even monasticism supported by social media gatherings will not work. If this Supreme Court decision stands, those who want a secular society have been given a windfall. Another crisis requiring controlling gatherings may bring about further restrictions, and other, as yet unknown, reasons for controlling the size, frequency, or purpose of gatherings may create additional restrictions.

It is possible, our grandchildren or great-grandchildren may be worshipping in cellars, back rooms, or hidden locations, as is the case in other countries. Justice Roberts opened the door for this possibility by siding with the left-wing of the court.

May God help us all.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of God and Me

As mentioned in my last post, my relationship with God was somewhat tortured and complex in times past. Much of that was due to the tortured and complicated relationship my parents had between themselves and with God. After all, the first god a child knows is his or her father. Daddy is, in the eyes of a child, all-powerful, all-knowing, and, if needed, he might be able to walk on water. When good old dad turns out to have feet of clay, a kid’s faith can go south quickly.

My brother and I were raised to respect our elders, be as competitive with each other as possible, and heed Dad’s commandments. We were taught about the Bible and Christianity simply and fundamentally using a ten-volume set of illustrated books The Bible Story. For many years we prayed to our Lord, asking Him to take our souls if we should die before waking.

That little prayer and the Bible stories were all we needed at the time. In fact, some of what I learned during those years stuck with me after I rebelled against God, so-called Men of the Cloth, and people who claimed to be devout believers. Later in life, even when I was angry at God, I had a bit of peace that helped me avoid hating my enemies. I knew, at some level, we all get what we deserve in the end. I watched that play out numerous times. I was not that good at loving my neighbor, but I was able to avoid hating or dwelling on those who wronged me.

The downside to the way I believed was also one of the things I held dear; we all get what we deserve eventually. It took a while for me to get mine, but get it I did. Yes, I had done my share of less than honorable things and treated people in ways that might have appalled my mother if she had known.

God first got my attention in 1989. The details are not important here. Suffice it to say God showed me how foolish and self-absorbed I had been in a way I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was not as bad as the trials Job faced, but it felt that way to me. Also, unlike Job, I had no faith in anything other than myself. Still, at the time, I did as I learned to do as a teenager, ignore the pain, and make things as right as I could. It worked to some degree, but some of the damage could never be completely healed.

Five years later, God hit me again. Oddly enough, this time, I recognized this was a message, and I realized it was one I should heed. Yeah, I was a bit hard-headed in those days, but I was not wholly ignorant of my failings. When God arranged to give me a taste of my own medicine, I took note and knew exactly who was behind it.

It may seem narcissistic of me to think God was personally involved in my life to the degree I believe. After all, I had done everything I could to prove He was just a figment of His follower’s imagination, or they were nut-cases. Thankfully, our God does not abandon someone just because that someone is a jerk. He will give us numerous chances to recognize Him and accept His Grace.

For the record, I am not saying, as some contemporary Christian musicians have alleged, God recklessly pursues us, breaking down walls to save us. The reality is he is always there, and he is always giving us opportunities to look beyond our noses and our personal agendas. Still, if we just refuse to hear Him, He will let us fall into the abyss.

As my last post implied, we are all in the valley of the shadow of death to a degree. As we begin to, hopefully, emerge from the valley, we have choices to make. For those of us who believe, we are getting a glimpse of how dark things can be, and we need to reach as many people as possible to give them hope when the next trial comes. That means being open about who we are and what we believe.

This situation, this pandemic, this hysteria, whatever one calls it, is an open door for believers. The door may only be open a crack, but those who have strayed, those who doubt, those who fight Him tooth and nail, might be looking for hope in a way they have not in the past. The majority may still have hearts wrapped in steel, but some may have seen Him working through others during this crisis.

Those who have seen His work may be seeking to understand more than they ever would have in the past. They have been and will be watching those of us who claim to follow Him. They need to see how He sustained us and got us through this valley. If they do, they may be one step closer to walking with our Lord and Savior.

My prayer is that everyone sustained by Him during this mess will let those around them, especially the skeptics and unbelievers, know how they made it through these challenging times.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Apocalyptically Speaking?

Yes, I am coming back to the possibility that the apocalypse may be just over the horizon. I do not believe that, at least in human terms. In Yahweh terms, being just over the horizon might mean another eon or so. Truthfully, I do not believe that will be the case either, but parameters need to be set for any attempt at logical discourse.

This piece was inspired by my choir director. He asked me to say a few words of encouragement during a choir Zoom session. He also asked me to share a favorite verse that might be germane to our current situation.

When someone says favorite verse to me, two passages come to mind immediately, John 3:16 and Psalm 23. To be completely honest, Psalm 23 does not come to mind in an entirely theological way.  It was a favorite passage even when I was an in-your-face skeptic, unrepentant sinner, and a street cop. What a combination!

If you do not know why it was my favorite, you’ve led a sheltered life. People like me loved to paraphrase verse 4. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death on a semi-regular basis, and we could not be afraid. At least, we could not be fearful at the moment. We loved to say the reason we weren’t scared was that we were the meanest son of a gun in the valley. 

Years later, when I quit fighting God, I realized that was just my way of remembering Him and His presence without admitting it. Even in the depths of my depravity, I knew He was there and depended on Him. I just couldn’t acknowledge Him.

I think he put up with me because of the faith of the little boy baptized in frigid water when he was ten. The faith of that little boy survived as a kernel of belief that never left me. I just covered it up with anger and distrust.  Thankfully, I finally found that little boy again almost forty years after that baptism, but inner child stories are for another time.

My fondness for the 23rd Psalm wanted me to use it in my remarks to the choir. I thought I understood it, and I thought I knew how to use it during the meeting. Of course, I went looking for information that would contradict how I meant to use it, if any existed. Bible passages are highly debated at times, and I was sure there were differing views on this one.

I was right about the differing views. Happily, the one that caught my attention and seems to play well into the world today was by a Rabbi, who made a lot of sense. Possibly he made sense because of my feelings about one part of God’s plan and why the end has not yet come.

The Rabbi’s analysis differed from others because it focused on the transition or maturation of the person praying. He focused on one word David used in writing the Psalm. He opined translators and others were substituting the meaning of another word because they did not completely understand the term used. I will not attempt to explain his reasoning here, as I am far from a Hebrew scholar or Rabbi.[i]

The bottom line is this. Psalm 23 lays out God’s plan for us if we’ll listen and cooperate. He will take us from a sheep, totally dependent on the shepherd to a level of maturity and confidence that is necessary for our spiritual growth and understanding of our place in the world.

Today, we are in the valley.  God has us here for a reason, and we are supposed to learn something.  Whether we learn it or not will determine whether we are mature enough to sit at the table as a strong Christian, or whether we will still be sheep. We can never be equal to God, but we can come closer to Him by becoming mature and firm believers instead of sheep who must be tended 24/7.   


[i] If you like, you can read his analysis by clicking here; https://theisraelbible.com/psalm-235-since-when-do-sheep-sit-at-a-table/

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of Easters Past

It is interesting what one can learn from old memories. Some memories bring smiles, while others bring tears.  Regardless of what emotion a memory stirs, there can be something to learn or understand from those memories.  The challenge is recognizing it.

Easter is one of the holidays younger children in the U. S. love. Winter is generally on the wane, if not gone, and summer is still several months away. Of course, it is also the day the Easter Bunny comes.  Kids love Santa but adore the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny brings candy and, there is no naughty or nice list!

Unfortunately, I suppose I have very few memories of Easter as a child. Did my brother and I hunt decorated eggs and candy? I am confident we did. I just do not remember it, and any pictures from those years were destroyed decades ago.

Still, there is one Easter memory from my youth I will never forget.  It was my first time playing Easter Bunny. I was, to say the least, excited.  I was playing a part in our Easter celebration, and I was doing so for an important reason.

My aunt, Mom’s youngest sister, and her children were living with us. She was recently widowed and was looking to start a new life. Starting anew meant finding a place of her own, and a job.  In the meantime, they lived with us.  Now, she and the kids faced their first Easter without a husband and father.

Mom decided we should make it as normal an Easter as possible. That meant an Easter Egg hunt was essential. Accordingly, she set the plans in motion, asking me to hide the eggs and candy. There you go! I was proud as a peacock and as excited as a fifteen-year-old boy could be about something other than girls, cars, and motorcycles!

Everything was going great. I was up early and started hiding the goodies all around the yard. Toward the last of my task, Mom was telling me to hurry as the kids were dressed and wanting to know if the Easter Bunny came.  I hid the last little treasure, heading in to tell mom the Easter egg hunt was ready.

Yes, I placed that last goody on the ground turned and jumped up on the back porch. At least, I tried to jump onto the porch.

I was so excited, I forgot the piece of steel cable strung between a column and the wall. I remembered it instantly when I felt it slam into my mouth. By that, I mean into my mouth, all the way back to my tonsils! As I was falling back from the shock and recoil, I saw something white flying through the air.

The cable extracted my left lower cuspid as cleanly as any dentist.  It became the Easter prize we never found.  Except for that little matter, Easter went well.

Well, I hope the last couple of paragraphs lightened the mood a bit, as this is sounding pretty grim.  With that said, you have every reason to wonder why I am writing an Easter story such as this.  What does that story have to do with the reason we celebrate Easter.

Today, I know He is always there. He will let us ignore Him and build walls trying to keep him out, but he is still there. Yet, at that point, He and Jesus were just legends I read about as a child.

Looking back, I regret not having the faith I’d had a few years earlier, or the faith I found again thirty years later. I had nothing to offer my cousins and aunt other than an Easter Egg hunt.  Yes, they had a bit of fun finding decorated boiled eggs and sweets. Still, that was hardly a replacement for a lost father and husband.

If I had not been in rebellion, perhaps I could have done more. I could have explained the real meaning of Easter. I could have prayed with them or for them, but I did not believe in prayer. All I could do was entertain them or try to distract them from their grief. That is just sad.

As I know now, God waits for us.  He waited for me, and I was a lost cause for so many years. He let me do my own thing for decades before putting me in the position I could not ignore Him, or those around me who tried to lead me back to Him.

I don’t know for sure what happened to my aunt and her kids after I left home. I did hear about them occasionally from Mom. From what I heard and what I remembered in the years I was around them, faith in God was not a part of their lives.

I don’t blame myself for the missed opportunity. In those days, God’s name was never spoken in our house except in vain. Nor do I blame my dad. Even though he is the one who banned God from our home.

Instead, I remember that Easter to remind me to hold on to and share my faith.  I do not intend to stand before God someday, with any more regrets of this nature.

Do you have notable instances where you failed to step up and share with someone for one reason or another?  Do you know someone with whom you feel the need to share your faith, but find yourself afraid?  If you do think about this story.

I understand I have been forgiven. I know I was not to blame. Yet, I wonder if I could have made a difference, and regret I didn’t try. Don’t let that happen to you.

© sinnerswalk.com

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More Signs, Maybe Not

Keeping with the theme of I don’t normally write about the End Times, let me share my latest bit of inspiration. First, I do not believe we are any nearer to the End than we were last Christmas.  God made it clear the End, or the beginning of the End, would come without warning. We had plenty of warning that something awful, horrific really, was just over the horizon for decades.  Even the current crisis was foreshadowed by past events.

For instance, one of the charges leveled against President Trump is he did not take the steps needed to avoid or mitigate the crisis. He was criticized for not taking steps based on past events, even though others had ignored the similar signs in the past.

First, the president’s job requirements do not include the gift of prophecy. Even if they did, he, like some prophets in the past, would find himself in trouble. Even hinting we needed to spend billions, even trillions of dollars to prepare for a possible unknown or “novel virus,” would have caused an uproar. He might have been ridden out of town on a rail if he claimed the virus might sweep the world in the unknown future.

Yes! The same people calling for his scalp now would have gotten out the pitchforks and torches.  They would have decried the president if he called for manufacturers to begin producing thousands, if not tens of thousands of ventilators, for people who might be sickened in the future.  Still, this is not about the president or politics. It is about the reality of the Bible, the history it teaches, and the prophesies it makes. 

The people, you and me, have always turned against their leaders eventually. Whether one is speaking of Moses, Jesus, Churchill, or anyone else, the people they lead can turn on them if things do not go as the people would like.  How could one expect anything else from people who turn against God in the face of the smallest challenge at times?

Yes, challenges do sometimes bring people together, seeking God’s blessing.  Unfortunately, by the time that happens, they have usually endured much pain and suffering.  This has been true since the beginning, and it has not changed today.  Well, one thing has changed. God no longer sends the plagues or disasters as he did in the past.  Instead, He sent Jesus to give us a way to be righteous since we are unable to live righteously. He sent Jesus to provide us with a way out of this mess we’ve made of His creation, but He is not punishing us.

He is not using this virus or any disaster as a way to bring us together, as some believe.  He just allowed sin and evil to roam. They do everything they can to beat us down and push us away from Him. Sadly, that is ridiculously easy at times.  Which brings me back to signs.

No, the virus is not a sign the end times are nigh. Neither is the number of earthquakes experienced in the United States over the last few years.  Neither were the other virus scares or concerns in years past. Still, they are part of His plan in some way. Perhaps they are a way to show mankind, or should I say humankind, we’re not as powerful as we think.  Maybe they are a way to warn us we need to do a better job of spreading His word and being a light unto the world. Then again, maybe they are just the way things go as a planet slowly ages and settles. 

Whatever the truth, there are things to be learned from this mess in which we find ourselves. As a society, culture, and individual, we are being tested. We are not being tested by a god sitting at the celestial version of a gaming computer, putting us through hoops for its amusement. Instead, God set us in a place and on a course that will test us until the End Times do come. 

How well we do on this test has nothing to do with our government, our false idols such as sports stars, personalities, or expensive toys. What matters here is if we believe, we love, and we do the best we can to do what is right in His eyes. Otherwise, we are no better than those who worship at the altar of power, money, sex, and control. 

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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Excuses Revisited

I admit it! Much to my chagrin, the current political situation and the COVID-19 crisis have me distracted.  My OneOldCop persona is completely overwhelming my AnOldSinner persona. While I have several pieces in the works, they are not coming together.  So, here is a link to the first piece I published at sinnerswalk.com. It is slightly edited, mostly for grammar’s sake.

For those who only started reading my stuff recently, it will give you some background on my Walk.

Seeking an Excuse

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Of End Times: Around the corner?

Not that long ago, I would have found it hard to imagine myself writing something with End Times in the title. In fact, there is a possibility I may delete this file before it sees the light of anyone else’s screen. On the other hand, the reason I am writing this is due to the way several pieces of Scripture demanded my attention recently.

Like many people I know, I started reading my way through the Bible many times, only to quit somewhere toward the end of the Old Testament. After all, I know the New Testament reasonably well. I’ve listened to sermons, attended Bible studies for decades, was told all the Bible stories as a child. Even in the years I tried my best to shed any trappings of faith, I remembered the basics of the gospel I was trying to ignore. Well, this time, I will make it. I will finish reading the entire Bible, God willing, in the next few days.

As I wrote in “Question of Forgiveness,” part of the Lord’s Prayer caught my eye a short time ago. Suddenly it had new meaning, making me rethink what it means to forgive others as we want to be forgiven. Now, I am well into Revelation, and it too is speaking to me in a way I did not expect. As John began to relate his visions of God’s wrath smiting the Earth, I noticed a worrisome similarity to the aftermath of each bowl being poured out on the Earth. It did not take much imagination to relate them to the world in which we live today.

First, an angel pours a bowl of sickness and pain on non-believers. Next, blood flows from an angel’s bowl into the sea, and sea creatures died. Another turned the rivers and springs to blood instead of water. Yet another caused the sun to burn and parch all it touched. Darkness then fell on the world, and those afflicted by the sores and other punishment gnashed their teeth and cried out in pain. Next came dried riverbeds and marching armies, only to be followed by terrible natural disasters.

We studied all of these verses just months ago in a men’s bible study. At that time, they were just the recounting of one man’s visions. Their reality was no more significant or no more imminent than when the Apostles said His time was near, and all should be prepared. Indeed, there was no feeling of imminent or impending doom. This time it was different.

To this minute, I am not the least bit concerned that fire will be rained down on the Earth tomorrow. Oh! I am a bit worried the shirtless horseback riding president of Russia or the always smirking president of Red China may hit their big red button in frustration at some point. They might create a man-made apocalypse. Still, I do not think it will be the final devastating judgment coming down to us from Heaven. Please note, however, that does not mean the end is a thousand or even a hundred years away if one is paying attention to the world today.

Time in the Bible is one of those issues everyone loves to debate. Were the six days in Genesis 144 hours, or were they six long periods in which an immortal being labored? What does it really mean when the Bible says he will come soon, or the time is near? Is that a few months, or a few decades, or a few centuries. Obviously, it would seem, “near” in this context was not less the 2,000 and something years unless He came, shook His head, and gave up on us.

The visions related above are allegories to some extent. When they occur and what they will look like is up for debate and interpretation. Yet, if one pays attention to history and the modern world, it is clear actual events have mirrored or foretold the visions. From the plagues of earlier centuries to the coronavirus today, His wrath has been poured down on many. The sea is not filled with blood, but it is becoming cluttered with the life’s blood of modern civilization, from oil and chemical pollution to discarded plastics that harm everything they enfold.

Many, some scientists included, see damage to our atmosphere that will result in parching heat and other extreme weather patterns. Events such as millions of acres being devastated by wildfire. I could go on, but anyone with a brain can see the similarities in the visions and the world today.

Does that mean the end is nigh? Does that mean those still here are the unraptured, merely waiting for our judgment, yet to come? Like any honest believer, I cannot answer those questions. I can, however, say it seems clear the Bible was describing the times in which we live in many ways. The problem is, what do those similarities mean? I cannot venture even a guess as to what they mean in any way except one!

The authors of the Bible were either the best prognosticators to ever exist, or the One who knows all things shared His knowledge with them. I tend to believe the latter, and it makes my efforts to move closer to my Lord and Savior even more significant than it has been in times past.  I do not want Him to say He does not know me when those times do come.

 

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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A Question of Forgiveness

The human mind may be the most fascinating and befuddling part of human anatomy. For example, our mind stores data for decades. In many cases, we can retrieve that data with minimal effort. At the same time, we may not be able to recall why we walked from one room to another.

I believe our memory is affected by how vital the data or activity is or was to us. I mean, if you walked into your boss’s office to ask for a raise, you would probably have an easier time staying focused than if you walked in to tell him or her the latest joke shared at the watercooler. However, some research shows there may be a scientific reason for the issue.1

Whatever the reality of this phenomenon, it illustrates the nature of the organic computer we call a brain. Which brings up the incident inspiring this piece. How can one read a Bible verse, study it multiple times, and completely miss the implications of the message, when it is as plain as day?

Of course, one answer is God can conceal meaning from us until we’re ready to hear it. Another is our self-worship leads us to believe we understand something when we don’t. That happened to me just the other day.

I have recited the verses we consider the “Lord’s Prayer” hundreds of times. I’ve heard Bible study leaders and pastors talk about them dozens of times. I’ve read articles about the sixteen-year study undertaken by the Catholic Church concerning the true meaning of the phrase “Lead us not into temptation.”2 I know that the true meaning of most passages in the Bible can be and have been debated endlessly.

Still, I was a bit surprised when a thought came to me out of thin air it seemed. You know, you’re trying to remember someone’s name, and work as hard as you can, nada. Then, you are doing nothing, or possibly just drifting off to sleep, and “BINGO,” you remember it! That’s how it was here. Suddenly, I realized I did not understand “… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us,” completely.

There is a caveat in this phrase I had ignored.  Perhaps, that is old news to you, but to me, it was like the cartoon lightbulb just turned on over my head. God may do exactly what the verse says, forgive us, as we forgive others, which may not be what we want.

Forgiveness is hard. In many cases, some of us may not be able to let go of the hurt, anger, whatever that keeps us from forgiving someone. Oh, we may say the words.  We may even pray for God to help us forgive or not judge the offender too harshly. Yet, at some level, we secretly desire the yahoo steps off the curb in front of a moving bus or at least gets a taste of his own medicine some day.

What if God does exactly what we ask in that prayer? If we have not fully forgiven the person who wronged us, would it be possible God would not forgive us?

Okay! I can hear the muttering now! Jesus is our sin substitute. He will go to bat for us. In a situation such as this, Jesus will plead our case since we accepted Him as our Savior. He’ll understand why we cannot forgive that person, and He’ll plead the case with the Father. Will he?

Jesus forgave the people who crucified Him. He asked his Heavenly Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. We, on the other hand, have supposedly accepted Jesus as our Savior. That means we are supposed to walk as close to his footsteps as possible. If we cannot forgive those who sinned against us, are we following in His footsteps? If we are not, might we not be left out in the cold when it comes to forgiveness?

I can still hear the mumbling disagreement mounting out there. No! Jesus wouldn’t do that. He paid for our sins with His blood. He wouldn’t abandon us just because we could not forgive those who wronged us so severely. If you believe that you need to read the part of the passage that no one ever recites, verses 14 and 15.

14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (ESV)

I know, that sounds so harsh you want to question if those are the words of Jesus or someone adding to His words at some point. While that is a possibility, there are other verses in the Bible indicating Jesus will “not know” some who claim to follow Him. In fact, He will drive them away. (Luke 13:27)

Of course, I could be wrong on this point. The fact I connected the dots in these verses could be my lack of humility and need to be smarter than others coming into play. I could be attempting to distort these verses to prove myself right. Sadly, that is not the case.

For example, consider this passage from The New American Commentary on Matthew. It states:

“Our plea for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the alienation that sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us. As v. 15 stresses, without this interpersonal reconciliation on the human level, neither can we be reconciled to God.3

Perhaps, this is old news to you. It was not to me, as I simply never thought of what might happen if I cannot, or will not, forgive someone who hurt me. I assumed, as do many, I suspect, my acceptance of Jesus as my Savior was all I needed. Now, I understand that if forgiveness is not in me, I will not be forgiven. God would not forgive me, because my inability to forgive others shows I lack faith. If I fully accepted Jesus as my Savior, I should follow his example and forgive others as He did.

1Notre Dame study on memory.
2Pope Francis approves new translation of Lords Prayer.
3Blomberg, C. (1992). The New American Bible Commentary: Vol. 22, Matthew (p. 120). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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Apologetically Speaking

I have been an apologist since shortly after finding my way back to the walk I abandoned as a teenager. Of course, I did not think of myself as an apologist. I was just a guy who spent much his life challenging anyone who admitted going to church, especially those who called themselves preachers. Now, I was suddenly telling people why they should believe, defending my understanding of the Bible, and giving my testimony through the changes in my life.

When it came to my attention, I was practicing informal apologetics. I decided I needed to know more about the subject. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that my version of apologetics was old school, ineffective, and amusing to many in the Christian community.

At one time, being told I was a minor leaguer or worse, totally without talent, might have hurt.  It might even have caused me to revert to behaviors, God helped me overcome. Thankfully, that did not happen.

Instead, I decided to become a first-string apologist.  Of course, that meant reading, study, and formal education in theology and apologetics.  For someone with eight grandkids, that sounded like a bit of challenge. Luckily, the only obstacle was surviving the truth my studies revealed.

The Almighty opened several doors allowing me to attend seminary.  Not only did I attend, but I also earned an advanced degree in theological studies. I was even considering more education, at least a certificate in apologetics, but something got in my way.

According to academic theologians, modern apologists must be prepared to go toe to toe with atheists and skeptics, including members of academe. I had no problem with that idea. Over the decades of my involvement in higher education, I butted heads over one thing or another with professors and others more times than I can remember. 

I did have a problem with the changes this attitude wrought in the area of Christian Apologetics.  Now, an apologist had to be a cross between a teacher, mediator, debater, and philosopher.  Okay, I understood the teacher, mediator, debater aspects of the matter, but philosopher? Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, etc. were philosophers, and none were believers in anything beyond themselves. While other philosophers might be classified as Christian or believers, most worshiped at the feet of humanity, the mind, or their own ego, not Yahweh or Jesus.

Still, it was possible to accept that one should be versed in philosophy to debate with atheists who preached the gospels of the philosophers mentioned above.  That changed for me when my young, bright and enthusiastic Apologetics professor essentially threw down a variation of Schrodinger’s Cat as one example of how arguing philosophy was essential to apologetics.  

It became clear modern-day apologists are, in many cases, merely debaters. Theologians who want to debate the other side, scoring academic wins on nebulous aspects of philosophy. Admittedly, the professor in question was only scratching the surface of the topic. Yet, his examples and explanations made it clear modern apologetics was more about mind games than belief systems.

Christian apologetics should not be an academic exercise.  It should be a serious approach to defending or explaining one’s beliefs. Indeed, an individual’s eyes can be opened by a logical argument. Still, the reality is the person’s heart must be ready to hear, or the evidence will fall on deaf ears. For example, the idea of loving God was always hard for me, until a rocket scientist turned pastor explained it from the pulpit.

Love, to me, was an emotional commitment, desire, feeling, or need toward another person or animal such as a pet. Loving some nebulous, all-powerful being, I would not meet until I died was a bit hard to grasp.  I firmly believed He loved me because the evidence of his love was always around me, once I opened up to it. Still, the idea of me loving Him was hard to fathom.

Then the logical, scientific-minded former engineer said, “Loving God is a choice. It is a choice you make, not an emotion you feel.” He went on to say emotion might come into it later, to which I can attest, but first, I had to make a choice. I could either love God or not, as I saw fit.

So, my purpose here is what? It is to make it clear we can all be apologists in our own way.  It is not based on how well we have memorized verses in the Bible.  It is not based on debating someone on the evidence supporting the accuracy of the Bible.  It is not based on one’s eloquence as a speaker. As the Bible teaches, it is based on God, making the other person receptive to the message.  If it is their time, they will hear what you are unable to say in a pastoral or academic sense. 

Our job is to share our faith whenever possible.  If we are truly living that faith, and it is their time, they will see it.  If they don’t, you may have planted a seed that will sprout when the next person responds to their skepticism, need, or fear.  Do not let your head or heart by bothered by Shrodinger’s cat or other paradoxes. Whether the cat is alive or dead, it has nothing to do with one’s Christian walk.

© sinnerswalk.com -2019

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