Category Archives: Redemption

In Christ: Neither Democrat Nor Republican

Since the original sin, division has been the plight of fallen humanity. For many cultures, race and ethnicity has been a boundary separating people. Fortunately, in America, the walls of racial and ethnic division are coming down. This isn’t to say they don’t exist at all any more but to say that racial and ethnic discrimination is regarded as morally wrong and something society must overcome. But… Even as the walls of racial and ethnic divisions are toppling, are Americans erecting new walls based on their political ideologies?

Unless You’re A…

Let’s look closer at who Americans are choosing to associate with and where they’re choosing to live. In his book The Big Sort, author Bill Bishop says,

As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and in the end, politics. Little, if any, of this political migration was by design, a conscious effort by people to live among like-voting neighbors (p. 5).

He goes on to say that, “In 1976, less than a quarter of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. By 2004, nearly half of all voters lived in landslide counties” (p. 6). This doesn’t mean that politics is the only factor Americans are basing their decision on where to live but it does suggest that politics has become an important factor, perhaps a very important factor.

Two days ago I read an editorial piece titled Is America Dangerously Divided? discussing how Americans are separating based on political affiliations. In the article, which is based on this recent Pew Research survey, we are told that:

More than six-in-ten of consistent conservatives and about half of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. People on the right and the left also say it is important to them to live in a place where most people have similar political sentiments. And three-out-of-ten consistent conservatives say they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Democrat (compared with almost a quarter of across-the-board liberals who voice the same concern about the prospect of a Republican in-law).

Apparently then in a culture where tolerance is a preached, Americans have their limits and they’re spelled D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T, R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N, etc… So it seams that if I’m an _________ and you’re a _________ then we apparently can’t be neighbors, friends, not even family members.

One In Christ!

This is a great opportunity for the church in America except that many Christians identify themselves also as Democrats, Republicans, or some other political party. So maybe Christians – we who profess faith in Jesus Christ – need to think afresh about the gospel our faith is to be aligned with.

An ancient daybreak prayer of the Jewish male was, “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” It was this kind of culturally acceptable thinking with its social distinctions that the gospel of Jesus Christ sought to obliterate and this aim is the issue that permeates much of the New Testament. Consequently, the gospel of Jesus Christ is as much social as it is theological. That is, just as the gospel is a theology statement about the God’s work in the world, so it’s a social statement about his intention for the world (Tweet that!). Thus, in Jesus Christ, God is not just reconciling all people to himself but is also reconciling all people to each other as well so that all people becoming one community belonging to God (cf. Eph 2:14-16).

The Apostle Paul expresses one of the clearest statements of how the gospel of Jesus Christ upends the social-reality of the world saying in Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NET). But given the increasing political division that is shaping American culture, might not the gospel also be there is neither Democrat, Republican nor any other political party, for Christians are one in Christ? 

Our Baptism Into Christ Professes…

This is neither to suggest that Christians are not entitled to side with a particular political view when they believe that such belief is right and for the good of society nor is it to suggest whether Christians should or should not vote. The concern is that in America many Christians, some more so than others, align themselves with one particular political party or another. This happens even as the gospel has often been absorbed into the various American political ideologies. So its seems that Christians would do much better to identify themselves from the point of their baptism rather than some political reality that belongs to the old dying world (or anything else belonging to this dying world).

So much needs to be said about what it means for Christians living into the reality that they are neither Democrat nor Republican but baptized into Christ. Yet for our purposes here, I’ll mention three quick implications. First, Christians don’t have any business in dividing from people because they are Democrat, Republican, or of some other political (socialist, libertarian, etc…). This includes deciding where we might live, whom we socialize with, and whom we marry (it’s a shame that any marriage could be affected by politics!). Second, Christians must also remember that the kingdom of God, to which we belong, and it’s values are neither red or blue, right or left, but wholly other. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ whom we confess as Lord, as our baptism into Christ professes, and therefore our discernment and practice of what is right must emanate from this allegiance rather than from any affinity we have to a political party. Lastly, while this post has focused on the growing political divisions in America, Christians must remember that ethnic, gender, and social divisions are unacceptable. After all, the gospel is the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, that creates a community of people fueled by the Holy Spirit who loves all people just as God does. It’s this good news that Christians must be witness of!

Maybe one day Americans will slowly begin to see why the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the good news!

Sex, The Sinner, and Jesus

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. Many of us are familiar with it… But maybe we’ve forgotten it. More on that in a moment.

Sex…

Over the last couple of days I posted some links on Facebook to some blog posts regarding the subject of sexuality titled Why I Didn’t Wait and Homosexuality: Have I Changed My Mind? The first blog, written from a woman’s perspective, explains the problem with treating sex as nothing more than a casual meaningless activity. The later blog post is written by a seminary professor who while remaining convinced that the traditional view of what the Bible teaches on homosexuality is correct, explains how his posture has changed on this issue.

I realize that the vast subject of sexuality is a sensitive and contentious issue, especially in a culture where there is such a diversity of views. Nevertheless, I posted the links because they both offer a short but well-written word from a perspective that seems to get lost in the broad conversations on sexuality among Christians (and I agree with them too).

Something’s Bothering Me…

As I said, I realize that the subject of sexuality is difficult but as I read comments and responses, something began to bother me. Well, it’s actually something that I known for a while but now is an occasion to say something. It seems that for some Christians who hold to a more traditional view regarding what the Bible says about all things sex, this view is held alongside a certain degree of self-righteousness. For instance, we might mention how Jesus hung around the “sinners and tax-collectors” – those Gentiles who were regarded as pariahs among the Pharisees in Jesus’ day – and someone will inevitably insist that this doesn’t have any bearing on how we engage LGBTQ people.

Sometimes, perhaps many times, it seems as though anyone whose sin is of a sexual nature is somehow more of a sinner than someone whose sin is not. If you’ve ever listened to someone’s fear of what would happen when their church finds out they struggle with pornography, have been sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend, have feelings of same-sex attraction and may have even acted on those feelings, etc… then you know what I mean.

I’m not trying to make light of sexual sin or any sin for that matter. But I do believe the grace of God is bigger than any of our sins. But when sexual sin is singled out or when we think we are on higher ground because sexual sin is not our sin, something is afoul.

Eyes Upon Jesus!

So let me come back to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. The Pharisee stood in his self-righteousness and praised God that he was unlike those other sinners, as though his own sin wasn’t so bad. The Tax-Coleector caught a glimpse of God as he looked to heaven and knowing that he was a sinner, simply asked God for mercy.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this parable and I think it begins with the one telling the parable. Jesus. He’s the fullness of God’s self-revelation. When we see Jesus, we see God and when we the Righteous One, we see how unrighteous we really are.

As Christians, as those who profess to follow Jesus, we need to keep our eyes fixed squarely upon Jesus. When we do, we become keenly aware of our own sins and lose our ability to pick up the metaphorical stones. For when we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we realize that we have too many of our own sins to be casting stones at any other sinner (including the person guilty of sexual sin). When we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we recognize our great need for the grace of God in our lives and the lives of others. When we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we learn to, as Preston Sprinkle so wonderfully said, “Not, love the sinner and hate the sin, but love the sinner and hate [our] own sin.

When we do so, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, we’ll learn how to engage people who need Jesus as much as we do (and be sure to read The Irritation of Incarnation by Dan White Jr.). These days I have more questions than I used to have. However, though I still hold to a traditional or conservative view regarding what the Bible says about sex, there is nothing about the teaching of scripture that precludes a generous and hospitable demeanor towards others. Maybe then we’d create a culture in our church where people could find the courage to let others bear their struggle with them without fear of condemnation.

Fix our eyes more upon Jesus and be thankful that he has a seat reserved for us all at his table!

Creating A Non-Judgmental World

We all have made some poor choices that we would love to have a redo if we could. Sometimes these choices come with greater consequences than others. For some, the bad choices come to define their life. For example, if someone is a drug addict or has spent many years in prison, they are defined in society by their status as an addict or prisoner.

Like it or not, that’s often the reality. But what if we could change that? How could we do that? That’s what I want us to think about a little more.

There isn’t any denying that we all make mistakes, use bad judgment from time to time, and just make some poor choices. But sometimes when we see others, especially those in which it is very apparent that their life hasn’t turned out well, we only see the poor choices they make. That is, when we encounter an alcoholic living on welfare, we only see someone who has made a choice to get drunk every day rather than getting a job. We could describe any number of different circumstances that people live in but the way we see them would likely still be for the poor choices they’re are making.

Enter into the conversation the story of a prostitute. She’s obviously made some poor choices right? Well, yesterday while attending a meeting for the Howard County Task Force on Human Trafficking, I listened to the story of a survivor… a woman who is a victim of human trafficking, who was a former prostitute. It was nice to hear the story of her recovery and the strides she is making towards living a fully functional life. But as I listened I also heard the story of a girl who was eleven when she was molested by an uncle and the story of a girl who was just a teenager when a man took her into his house, first caring for her needs which was all a facade to make her more dependent so that he could use violence and drugs to control her and force her to make him money as a prostitute.

It reminds me years ago of meeting a woman in Memphis who was dying with AIDS. That woman grew up in rural Arkansas and came to Memphis in order to catch a bus bound for Los Angeles. She never made it out of Memphis, as drugs had their hold on her life. She started using drugs as a young teenager when her step-dad, who had already been molesting her, started giving her drugs to mask the physical pain endured as he sold her out to some friends.

That’s pretty horrid to comprehend but there’s a point why we need to hear stories like this. Such stories remind us that no matter how poor choices people make for themselves, if we’ll take the time to listen and dig a little deeper then we’ll uncover the many poor choices that someone else made against these people. In other words, when we hear the story of a teenage child being forced into prostitution, on some level we must begin to ask if such a person ever had a choice? When we encounter a homeless veteran who’s ailing from physical and mental health issues because of the injuries suffered during war, we might see beyond whatever choice he or she is making because we know there is more to the story.

But here’s my point. It’s too easy to make judgments about others based solely on what we see when there’s often so much more to the story that we don’t know… And that we won’t know if we’re not willing to listen first and understand rather than passing judgment. So maybe we could recognize that there’s always more to the story than meets the eye, as the saying goes.

And that’s how we’ll change the reality of a world where people are often defined by the poor choices they make. Instead of passing judgment, we can see people through the lens of the gospel and create a new world where people are defined by the image of God they have been created in and the image of Christ God is redeeming them to bear.

How beautiful of a world that will be!

Community, Sexuality, and Redemption

“I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman!” That was the ancient daybreak prayer that Jewish men recited. So what a radical vision it must have been to hear that a day was coming when the Lord would pour out his Spirit upon all people in this oracle from Joel 2:28-32.

For a better understanding of this passage within it’s historical context, I suggest this post by John Mark Hicks. The significance of this oracle cannot be underestimated. Biology, sociology, and nationality matter not, for as is has been declared, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In fact, the apostle Peter will even recite this entire oracle in Acts 2 to declare the outpouring of the Spirit as the sign that the promise of the Lord’s redemptive grace has been fulfilled in Jesus and is available to all. So we cannot underestimate the redemptive significance of God pouring out his Spirit upon all people. It is the declaration that all people matter to God, not just the Jewish male. All people are invited to share in the new Spirit-empowered community that God has created in Christ, for all people are equal.

It’s very important that we remember this is for all people. To that end, we’re on solid ground saying that one’s race, ethnicity, social-standing, and even sexual identity matter not because all are equal, all are welcome! But it is this last point – sexual identity – that needs further explanation. I still hold the conviction that same-sex relationships are not the will of God for our lives but I don’t believe that a people should be unwelcome in this new community because they identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans-gender. That is because we all, regardless of our sexual identity, come as equals… We’re all sinners!

All Are Equal ✟ All Are Welcome

Regardless of our sin, we come in response to an invitation that God has extended in Jesus Christ who offers us salvation. However, this salvation is a lifetime journey. To borrow the language of Paul, salvation is justification, sanctification, and glorification. What God is doing is inviting us into a new community that belongs to Christ where we have been justified, are being sanctified, and will be glorified. But justification, sanctification, and glorification are not requirements for accepting this invitation from God, they are the results–more precisely, the result of God’s finished work of redemption.

Let me express what I’m saying another way. When God has completed his work of redemption, when Christ comes again, when heaven and earth again become one and God dwells among people (cf. Rev 21:1-4), I fully expect that there will be people who have struggled with sexuality, including people who struggled with same-sex attraction all their life. I expect this just as much as as I expect that there will be others who have struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol, or with anger and hatred towards people of other races, or with selfish and greedy desires, or with with being honest and ethical in their business practices, and so on. We all are sinners and we all still struggle with sin in one form or another. Throughout our journey we confess our sins to God and cling to Christ as our only hope of salvation, a hope the Sprit dwelling among us assures us of.

In the words of the African-American spiritual, when Christ returns the entire new community of God’s people will have one common testimony, “I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in…” What we need to learn how to do now is become as welcoming and inviting as God has been to us and is to all people. Then we’ll be a community where sinners just like us can discover the grace of God, find healing from any injury and be transformed by God the mercies of God which are new every morning.

A Preview of Heaven

It’s been a couple of weeks since writing anything extensive for this blog but I hope to get back in the rhythm of regular blogging soon. In the mean time, here is a piece I wrote for the Connecting Newsletter published by the Columbia Church of Christ. As the title suggests, it’s about heaven but read it because it’s also about the life we are living right now as the church.*

• • • • • • • • • •

With all the books that focus on people going to heaven for a brief time, there’s obviously a curiosity about what heaven will be like. There’s nothing wrong with such curiosity if that leads us to seek after God.

Having said that, what is generally spoken of as the after life in heaven is what the Bible refers to as a “new heaven and new earth” (Isa 65:17; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). But instead of turning to stories about the alleged near-death or momentary after-life experiences of a few people, we have a preview of this heavenly life that’s much closer than we may realize.

A Little  Bible and Theology First

The book of Ephesians has a lot to say about what it means to be the church, the body of Christ. The church is described as one body in whom both Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God and each other through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Having raised his Son from death, God has made the church alive in Christ. The apostle Paul describes this redemptive act as God’s “eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:11, NIV). In other words, the life we anticipate in the appearing of the new heaven and new earth is already taking shape in the church. Therefore, if we want to know what life will be like “in heaven” then we should look at the life God has made us to live as the church.

Of course, as the church, we don’t always live as an accurate portrait of what the heavenly life will be like. This is why we must speak of the heavenly life as “taking shape” in the church. In a way, we are like soldiers in basic-training. Over the course of the training, the soldiers look more and more like they belong to the military but all along the way there are setbacks when the soldiers fail to live by the standards expected of them.

So given the fact that sometimes the we fail to live as a heavenly portrait, we can’t rely exclusively on what we see and experience in the church. Therefore, if we want to know something of what life will be like “in heaven” then we must also read what scripture has to say about who and what we are called to be as the church.

A Witness of God’s Redemptive Salvation

That as the church we are a preview of heaven has some important implications that matter now. As the church, we are the reconciled body of Christ which is a body of one where all are equals living under the Lordship of Christ. The values that divide people from one another in the old life that is passing do not have any place in the church. In the church it matters not what color of skin we are, what sort of economic status we have, what sort of education we possess, or what our gender is. Such social statures remain in this old passing life but because of the gospel and by the power of the Spirit, we as the church must overcome such distinctions and live as one.

We must remind ourselves this because we are a portrait of what the heavenly life will be like and because values such as elitism and racism remain alive in the world. Whether obtained ethically or not, the recent racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling remind us that prejudices remain a part of the larger culture. That racial discrimination in America was defended by Christians reminds us that we’re not exempt from failing to inhabit the gospel as the way of life and live as the reconciled body of Christ. Our calling to live as a portrait of what the heavenly life will be like is our witness to the redemptive salvation God has accomplished in Christ.

As it is when the new heaven and new earth appears with God dwelling in the midst of it, so should it be in the church today. If we enjoy worshiping and serving the Lord today then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy the hospitality of our neighbors then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy sharing with others of what we possess then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy the company of people from different races, ethnicities, and nationalities then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy learning from and working as partners with both men and women as equals then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come.

And as we do… Then we have a portrait, a foretaste, a preview of heaven!

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This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (May 7, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

This Is God!

I’ve not blogged much of late because I’m very busy working on a paper for a class. But I thought I would share with you a video of me preaching :-).

This is a sermon I preached before the Picayune Church of Christ in Picayune, Mississippi on Sunday, April 13, 2014. The message is titled “This Is God!” and it is based on the text from Exodus 3:1-10.

“The good news comes to us as a promise so that we can endure with hope. And we’re able to endure because we know that suffering and death will not be the final word of life. Jesus has not only died but Jesus has been raised from death and has been exalted as the Lord. And therefore the last word, the word that endures is the promise of life in Jesus Christ.

“…So I don’t know what you’ve been told about who God is but right here in this passage in the Bible, God does tell us who he is. And God reveals himself as the Holy Creator, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, who comes to deliver, to rescue, to redeem!”

The Web of Faith, Love, and Hope . . . And Doubt

In my church we sing the songs Lord, Reign In Me and I Surrender All. But to actually totally surrender ourselves to the Lord and let him reign in and over every part of our life… Well, that’s difficult to do.*

I tried doing this once. I prayed to God that he would have his complete way with me, transforming me into the likeness of Christ so that he could use me for service in his kingdom however he saw fit. Then my son died.

At the time, I wondered how Kenny’s death might be part of this process. As time went on and I began to see how God was using the tragedy of our son’s death to shape me, I became afraid to pray that prayer of surrender because I was afraid of what else it might cost me.

In some ways, I still am afraid of that prayer. But I know that I’m not alone.

What I’m speaking of is the struggle to trust God. And I know that there are many Christians who struggle with this. It’s not that we don’t have faith in God or that we don’t believe in Jesus. It’s a different struggle . . . a different sort of doubt. Imagine being hit by a car as you cross a street and then being asked to cross the street again. And so it is with life!

They Got Hit!

I imagine this is part of the struggle the Thessalonians were encountering. They put their faith in Christ and were taught to live a new life in Christ, renouncing their ungodly living, with the expectation of the immanent return of Christ. But when some fellow believers passed from this life before Christ returned, they got hit! Doubt set in and questions of trust gripped the consciousness of their faith.

After giving a report on some of his ministry happenings and exhorting the Thessalonians in godly living, the apostle Paul addresses the coming of Christ (1 Thess 4:13-18). This is Paul’s way of reassuring these Christians that they have not believed in vain. Paul continues on, saying in 1 Thess 5:8-10:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Paul actually uses the action language of “putting on” faith, love, and hope because of the promise of life — salvation through Jesus Christ.

Keep Putting On…

As mentioned earlier, there are times when I’m still afraid to completely trust God and perhaps there always will be. Yet I do try and as I do, I am consciously aware of my own sinfulness and the need keep allowing God to transform me into the likeness of Christ. I’m also aware of how much the sting of death still haunts me, casting doubts through unanswered questions. It would be easier just to say “no” in not so many words and keep God at an arms distance away. But that isn’t faith, nor is it love and hope.

Perhaps this resonates with you, even if in different ways. My word of encouragement is Paul’s word of encouragement: keep putting on faith, love, and hope, knowing that we have received a promise of salvation that God will fulfill in its entirety when Christ returns. It’s the promise of the life that we will have together with God.

And Gathered With My Church…

As a final thought, let me say a word about the church in relation to our struggles of faith. In the larger world of Christian blogging there’s been a lot of conversation about the church lately and whether we need the church? Putting aside the theological issues with such a question, I believe that the church does matter and that we do need the church because it’s the church that helps us put on faith, love, and hope.

It’s the church that has passed on the gospel tradition we belong too and the scriptures that teach about this tradition. It is also in gathering with the church for worship, fellowship, and ministry that we remind ourselves of the truth and in doing so, assembling as a church becomes a way of putting on our faith, love, and hope. When I gather with my church, the Columbia Church of Christ, I am reminded of God’s grace and truth . . . of God’s promise in Christ. And gathered with my church, the Holy Spirit strengthens me to carry on with this web of faith, love, and hope that is sometimes mixed with doubts.

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* A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (February 20, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

“I’m A Sinner! Can I be Forgiven?”

“I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?”

That was the question I was asked a few weeks ago and it was asked by a Christian. The truth is, I know a lot of Christians, including myself, who have been confronted with this reality once again and have wondered about this question. This can be a difficult burden to bear.

Too Troubled to Speak…

I wonder if that is part of the problem the writer of Psalm 77 is facing as he cries out to God for help (v. 1). The Psalm never reveals what the actual issue is that has caused such anguish but whatever it is, the Psalmist says “I was too troubled to speak” (v. 4). That’s actually one of my favorite lines in the collection of 150 Psalms because I have experienced moments in my life when I was too troubled to speak… because of sin, death, doubt, etc… I’m sure others have too. What the actual issue is, it has troubled the Psalmist enough that he wonders if the Lord will forever reject him forever, no longer showing love, mercy, and compassion (vv. 7-9).

That’s a horrible feeling to live with. I’ve been there in my own life before and I’ve sat across the table with others in this same state of emotions. But the Psalm does not end here. The Psalmist basically states that he will remember the mighty deeds of the Lord done in the past and then he recalls these acts (vv. 10-20). Here is the key to the question of whether we can be forgiven: Remember and Recall the mighty acts of God!

But What the Lord Has Done…

What has the Lord done? Did he not lead the children of Israel, unworthy of his mercy, out of slavery and into the promise land? Did he not forgive King David, who had an affair with Bathsheba and then had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah murdered? Did he not promise to love and show mercy to the adulteress children Israel by sending a prophet named Hosea who was married to a prostitute as an illustration? Did God not show his love and willingness to forgive by sending us his one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins? Did this Son not show grace and mercy to a sinful woman in Luke 7 who could only wipe the feet of Jesus with her tears of shame? Did the Son not show mercy to Peter and the other apostles who, as his followers, abandoned him when he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion? Did the Son not offer grace to Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul) who was a murderer and persecutor of Christ and his church?

And those are just some of the mighty acts of grace and mercy that I often recall.

Grace and Mercy!

When we are confronted with our sin, I find that there are two responses we try first. One is to wallow in despair, believing that God will not forgive us. I hope what I’ve discussed above reminds us that there is not any need for such despair, for the Lord does indeed does forgive.

The other response is to try and offer penance for our sin. Penance, as I am using the term, is the attempt to make ourselves worthy of God’s forgiveness by doing something to show how sorrowful we are of our sin. This is different from repentance in which we acknowledge that what we are doing is wrong and change so that we are not doing what is wrong anymore. In my experience, I’ve ministered with a lot of people who at one time were taught a legalistic approach to the Christian faith where we get right with God because of what we do rather than what God has done. For such people, including myself, it is always tempting to try and offer some expression of penance but that will never work.

God’s grace and mercy is just that. God forgives not because he is compelled to do so by anything. Rather, God forgives because he chooses to do so! God forgives because he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8, NRSV). This is why God does forgive us! And of course, it is this grace of God that should move us to turn away from sin and as the righteous people of God he has made us in Christ.

So remember the might acts of grace and mercy that God has done in the past. And that includes the people around you at church who all can only stand in the presence of God because of his grace and mercy!

And when you find yourself in that place where you are saying, “I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?” Remember that the answer is, “Yes, you are!”

Loving Ourselves As God Loves Us

And just like that, 2014 is well underway.* For some people, the new year is always a time to make resolutions which usually last for about a week.  I won’t complain because that’s how it always was for me. But I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore. I’ve learned that when it comes to making changes in my life, it takes much resolve than just an annual holiday to do so.

However, with every day I want to be a better Christian than I was before and I’m sure you do as well. We want to be a followers of Jesus who loves God and neighbor, who loves our spouses and children, who loves our brothers and sisters in Christ… Of course, we don’t always do that as we should. After all, we are mere mortals.

But Can We Love Ourselves?

Here’s a suggestion: let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. I’m not talking about some self-serving love where we put ourselves above others. Far from it, I am suggesting that we learn to accept ourselves as God accepts us — which we don’t always do well.

I love the prayer of David in Psalm 51. This prayer is David’s response after becoming convicted of his sin involving the affair he had with Bathsheba and his involvement in the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (cf. 2 Sam 11). From our human perspective, it’s hard to do more evil than that. Yet David turned to God in prayer and confession.

The most well known portion of this prayer is perhaps vv. 10-12, the three verses we sometimes sing as a hymn,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

I used to read this Psalm as though David is bartering for absolution of his sin. It is as though if David will just offer a sincere enough confession and apology then God might just forgive him and restore his salvation. Such is the influence of a legalistic Christianity where God’s merit is earned by what we do. As it is, this makes us believe that penance is necessary when it comes to sin. If we will just pray a sincere enough prayer, confess appropriately, and so on, then maybe God just might…

I don’t want to minimize or negate the place of prayer and confession, as both are essential disciplines in the process of spiritual transformation. But neither prayer nor confession earns favor with God! David begins his prayer saying in v. 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (NRSV). Think about that! David is coming to God in prayer and confession knowing that the Lord already loves him with such a great mercy and that nothing will ever change this. David knows what we must know, that God still accepts him, that God will forgive him and restore him to the divine image bearing person he has been created to be.

Perhaps Then…

That is it! We all know who we are… the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly. But God loves us still and in his great mercy, God still accepts as we are and offers us the grace of forgiveness and restoration. So let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. Pray to God, confessing our sins and mistakes as necessary, but do so knowing that God already loves us with steadfast love and an abundant mercy. Perhaps then we can learn to better love others as they are, as God already loves them!

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* A similar article of the same title was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 8, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

I Don’t Miss Mayberry. . . And Neither Should You!

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mettitt

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mettitt

I’m old enough that I can remember watching The Andy Griffith show air regularly as reruns on television. I also remember watching the shows Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. It was good wholesome family oriented television that parents could watch with their children without having to worry about what those little ears and eyes might encounter.

Of course, The Andy Griffith Show took place in the fictional town of Mayberry. It was a small town, an all American kind of town. Neighbors knew each other, there weren’t any video games to keep children from playing outdoors, and the most serious crime was when Barney, the Deputy Sheriff would take Otis the drunkard to jail to sleep it off. That certainly seems like the ideal kind of place to live and make a life for ourselves. Heck, even though I didn’t grow up in a single parent home, it certainly would’ve been nice to have an Aunt Bee around always having a fresh-baked apple pie hot off the stove. If only we could return to way back when, right?

Wrong!

As the title suggests, I don’t miss Mayberry and what it represents and neither should you. As wholesome and pleasant as Mayberry may seem, I’m sure not a single Black person would enjoy going back to America’s Mayberry era. Not when being black meant being forced to ride at the back of the bus, not having the right to vote, and even being lynched. In fact, there’s more than a few groups of people that would not enjoy going back in time. That was a time when many still believed a woman’s place was nowhere else but in the home (not that there is anything wrong with women choosing to be homemakers) and sometimes that was a home where women were abused by their husbands while the law did little to nothing since it was a “domestic problem.” Let’s not forget the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, and many other groups who were marginalized and mistreated.

So no, I don’t want to go way back when and I don’t know why any other Christian would either. In fact, I don’t know why Christians would long for any idyllic American culture, be it the traditional culture that Mayberry represents or the more progressive culture that America has seemingly become.

Growing up, we would sing the spiritual This World Is Not My Home during church services. Some churches still sing it. But do we really mean it? Because whether it’s the down-home traditional America or the more progressive America, many American Christians seem baptize the American ideal as the best thing since sliced bread.

Can We Recover Our Hope?

Christianity in America really needs to recover a sense of eschatological hope. That is, the church needs to learn once again what it is to live with hope. . . to be in the present what it awaits for and what it already is in the fullness of time. The Apostle Paul writes Philippians 3:20-21,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Only when Jesus returns will everything in life, including our own bodies, become what it is meant to be. Right now we live with a promise which is hope to us in Christ because we know what our future is. So if this is what we are to eagerly await, why dream and politic for good ole’ Mayberry or it’s American antithesis? Christians belong to neither and await neither!

However, let me push this a bit farther. Within the context of Philippians 3:20-21, Paul is contrasting the Christian disposition of being set toward to the second-coming of the Lord with people who have their minds set on “earthly things (v. 19). While Paul is directly talking about people driven by hedonistic values where their own stomach becomes their god, it isn’t a stretch at all to say that Christians who for an idyllic American life also have their minds set on earthly things.

This is not to say that everything about America then and now is bad, as that would be a gross mischaracterization. There were and are many good things about America. Yet no matter how good we think America was or is, it will not be when Jesus comes again. One day when Jesus return, everything will be brought under his reign. Until then, the only way for the world to know now that Jesus is Lord is for us, the church of Jesus Christ, to live in hope of that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses. We can’t do that when we’re preaching sermons in the sanctuary, on Facebook, or else that says “I Miss Mayberry.”