Forgiveness

Ouch.

One of the reasons my professional reading has slowed down is that I’m purposely taking in more video content. As I grow in my professional life, I want to learn in as many ways as possible. I will often take in videos of others pastors’ sermons. I want to grow in my preaching ability, and this is one way to do it. And this morning, I watched this video:

Ouch.

This one hurt me. A lot.

In case you aren’t able to watch the video, here’s how it begins: The pastor asks, “Have you ever seen Matthew 18 happen? Have you ever belonged to a church where they actually followed this part of the Bible?”

Ouch.

He related a story where a pastor said they would start keeping Matthew 18, and his church asked him to leave. Because it’s scary.

So, what’s Matthew 18?

When your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. Just between the two of you. Not judging him, but because you love him. Because you don’t want him going to hell, because he has chosen to love his sin and deny what God says about his sin. If he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says his sin is more valuable, go with one or two others. Show him that you’re not the weirdo here. Show him that what he’s doing is that serious. And if he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says no, I want this sin more than I want forgiveness, I want what I get with this sin more than I want Jesus’s promises of heaven, I value this sin more than I value God himself, then go and tell the church. Mourn over this person. Ask if anyone has more information, or has a connection that they can talk to this person. And if that person listens… show him Jesus.

But if he still doesn’t listen, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. And how did Jesus treat them? He loved them. He spent time with them. But he never, ever let them think that they were good with God when they weren’t. The goal was always, always to put them in touch with forgiveness.

And as this sermon went on, I thought of… this man. That woman. These people.

I have failed. This shepherd has failed over and over again. I have run away from being a good shepherd. I’ve said I was too busy. Or I knew how it would end. I have let people slip away from God’s Word. I have allowed people to think that their sin and their Savior can be held in the same hands and loved in the same heart.

And in this sermon, I was the one called to repentance. I have not loved the people our God has given me to love. I have loved approval and business and praise more than I’ve loved the souls that Jesus died for.

I have sinned.

And as I sit here typing, my first impulse is to say, “And I’m going to do better.”

But… that’s putting the fruit before the vine.

Doing better isn’t wrong. Wanting to serve God well is certainly good. But before I am enabled to do that… I need God’s forgiveness. Confession isn’t just admitting that what I have done is wrong.

It is seeing that Jesus did better for me. He obeyed for me. And he died for me.

I need to go spend some time with my Savior and see this miracle.

And then… then, when I know how loved I am, when I see that I am forgiven that much, when I am empowered to see how loved these others are…

…then, and only then, can fruit come. Only then can I share Jesus.

His name is Doug.

It’s about eleven in the evening. I just got home. My wife is not very happy with me. The last thing I texted her was that the tow truck had just pulled up. That was over an hour ago. I should have been home at least half an hour ago. She thought I drove off a cliff on my way home.

Well, I didn’t.

The tow truck pulled up. Guy hopped out and took a look at the van. Pronounced it dead. Hooked it up for the tow to the shop. Thankfully due to the kindness of some others, I’d been able to get home and get my sedan earlier. The rest of the family was safe at home. Then it was just waiting around for the truck to arrive. And now, here he was! Didn’t talk much as he looked at the van. Reminded me a lot of my brother-in-law, in fact, in mannerisms and such. Got the van up onto the bed of the truck.

And then we started talking. And talking. And talking. About an hour of talking as we stood in the frigid parking lot and people left the bars on either end of the strip mall. (more…)

Heresy on Vacation

This to me says “Vacation!”

“The only answer is abortion.”

On this particular vacation, I made it my aim to read. I brought a bevy of books with me to a secluded location, cut myself off from the internet, and simply enjoyed life.

I only read one of the books I brought with.

One day while on vacation, my Bride and I ventured to the local Goodwill. We had taken our family to a place… well, not known for books. I wanted to browse the bookshelves here, and didn’t expect to find a whole lot. We returned to our vacation home with ten new volumes.

We’d found some little treasures. A hardback French translation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, purchased to use as a gift for a friend who delights in French. My Father’s Dragon, a delight of a children’s book, for my Bride’s mother. For me, Me, Myself, and Bob, Phil Vischer’s autobiography. I ripped through that one in about twenty-four hours; it’s a great account of how chasing your dream or your ministry is not chasing after Jesus. Vischer was brought to recognize this and writes about it at length near the end. I recommend the last few chapters all by themselves for some sobering and well-grounded thoughts.

Well worth it if you find this hanging around somewhere.

(more…)

Is being a pastor making me a worse husband, or a better one?

I come home. I walk past my children, to my Bride. She’s in the kitchen, finishing up supper. She sees the look on my face. I embrace her, and she holds me. I don’t sob, but it comes close. There are tears. From the dining room, the children call out, asking if we can come in so we can all pray and they can eat. My Bride answers, “Pray by yourselves!” She continues to hold me.

Finally, we separate. I whisper through tears, “Think on this. Tell me how I can love you better.”

My Bride hasn’t gotten back to me quite yet; that was a few hours ago. I suspect she will, though; she’s amazing about things like that.

Why was I so shaken? I just returned from some marital counseling that has not been going well. I see the wounds that are so very deep. I see obliviousness in the wounding partner. And though my focus is on them, when they leave, all I can think is, “Is this me?”

I see the filled plate on the empty table my Bride prepared for me… and I was late to supper. Again. I hear my children asking me to play, and me telling them, “I’m tired. I’m sorry. Not right now.” I smell the burned pizza, because I was on the phone with a member and didn’t get to the oven on time. I see all the times I’ve failed her because I’ve been pursuing ministry… or because I’ve been selfish.

This morning, she laid our youngest down in the crib. He began crying a few minutes later. She asked me to take care of him… and I didn’t. My sinful nature declares, “You tried but you were too tired!” The truth is I was simply selfish. I wanted sleep, and I believed the lie that I needed it more than her.

The truth is, I am a horrible, sinful, selfish husband. My Bride deserves so much better than what I am.  (more…)

My Bipolar Week

This week was such crap.

He sat around the corner of the table, facing me. I asked him, “Do you admit that this is a sin?”

He paused only a moment to convey he understood the gravity of the situation. “Yes.”

“Do you have any desire to leave it?”

He paused. He considered. “No.”

He walked away, knowing he was living in sin, knowing he had no forgiveness, but that was ok because he loved his sin more than God anyway.

Let me tell you, that is a crap feeling. Knowing that someone was knowingly walking away form Jesus. Thinking they had something better. That this flash of pretend-goodness was better than everything that is good in heaven. That five minutes of two-dimensional game play was better than the endless full-immersion adventure of heaven.  (more…)

A Tale of Two Sinners

Last week I met two sinners.

One was a young woman who has been caught in the consequences of sin. She’s been avoiding me quite a bit, but she needed some paperwork for something else she’s involved in. She stopped by to pick up that paperwork, and as she was there, I asked her, “When can we get together? We need to talk, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m not going to ambush you, and I know you have other plans right now. When can we talk?”

She looked at me blankly. “What do we need to talk about?”

As she had a friend there that I didn’t want to involve in this discussion, I simply answered, “I think you know.”

Again, she answered, “What do we need to talk about?”

After weighing my answer just a moment, I responded, “Sin and grace.”

“I don’t think we need to talk about that.”

She walked away. (more…)

Am I like Jesus?

Hiding… refusing to make eye contact…

Am I like Jesus?

Last week I went to a basketball game in which some of the teens were playing. I had a great time, sitting in the bleachers with the parents and cheering and groaning. And a chunk of the way into the game, something whacks me from above.

I turn and discover a mostly-empty Gatorade bottle. Above, in the balcony, one of the younger teen girls laughing. She thinks it’s funny, but it’s also greatly disrespectful. I motion her. “Come down here,” I say. Blank face. I turn and watch the game, waiting for her to come.

My only goal is for her to come down and apologize. Then, I plan on forgiving her. Done and done.

Doesn’t happen.

Another girl comes up to me. “She’s leaving,” she says, her voice quivering. “She’s scared.” (more…)

Forgiveness Changes Us

Ephesians 4:29-5:2

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5    Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

God’s forgiveness changes us.

In the first couple hundred years after Jesus lived, Christians suffered terrible persecutions. Churches had to meet secretly. If the Roman government caught them, they could be tortured. Children would be taken away and given to other families. And those who refused to give up their faith would be killed. In fact, the Roman government paid a rather nice reward for anyone who reported Christians.

Imagine we are living then. Someone visits our congregation. He attends for a few weeks. He hears about Jesus. He hears about how much of a sinner he is, and how Jesus loved him anyway and gave himself up to take away those sins. And then this visitor reports our congregation to the Roman government. Over the next few days, many of your closest friends are arrested and taken away. You, somehow escape. He never reported you. Soon you gather together with the other survivors. Your pastor is gone. Some of your closest brothers and sisters have been carried away.

And to this meeting… comes the traitor. He weeps. He says that he is sorry. He confesses his sins. He begs forgiveness. Yes, he came to the congregation the first time so that he could get the reward the Roman government offered. But while he was there… the Holy Spirit created faith. And ever since he handed everyone over, he has been wracked with guilt. He begs your forgiveness. (more…)