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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

It’s Holy Week and devotions abound as believers recount and remember the passion story. Despite what our culture promotes, bunnies and colorful eggs, this is our high holiday, the most important part of the Christ story. Without Good Friday and Easter, the Christmas story is meaningless. But what stands out today?

I was caught off guard by these two verses (John 13:18 & 21): “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me [from Psalm 41:9].’” . . . After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus knew. But here’s the point: they all knew. He told his disciples plainly. It’s not like the truth was hidden inside a parable or a mystery. Scripture goes on to say they didn’t understand, but ultimately, I believe they simply chose not to draw a conclusion. They didn’t want to know.

We see this all the time even today. The narcissist says, “are you gonna believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” The perpetrator says, “I couldn’t help it, my childhood was bad.” The victim says, “I thought he would change.” The voter says, “He’s just exaggerating, he doesn’t really mean it that way.” The cheater says, “It was just that one time.” Lots of excuses for not knowing or not seeing or not believing.

The worshiper cries out in song, “Open my eyes, I want to see Jesus,” even though God is actually present already, all around. The prayerful one asks for guidance, instruction, and counsel while God is speaking all the while within. We are not listening. We are not looking. We are not believing what is already there.

Jesus was betrayed by more than just Judas Iscariot. He was betrayed by all of the disciples by one degree or another. Even the beloved John could have acted at the disclosure Jesus gave him. Maybe he tried to stand up to stop Judas and Jesus stayed his hand. Maybe. After all, the ultimate betrayal had to happen one way or another.

And then there’s the rest of us, who waved our palm branches as Jesus entered the city only to cry out “crucify him” a few days later. Not you? Then tell me you have not required grace for the lie you told yesterday or the company copier you used for your tax forms or the joke you made about the lady in WalMart. We know. And we betray.

Each day has challenges and just like Peter, we will commit many misdeeds before the rooster crows even once. Betrayers abound, see them for who they are and forgive, respond righteously, and move on. And why must we forgive? Because we have done no less.

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enticedWhat does it mean to be enticed to turn away? Intellectually, of course, I understand that to be enticed is to lured or beguiled by an expectation or hope for something better. But this phrase comes at the end of a long list of plentiful promises including a “land flowing with milk and honey” in which generations would experience fertility in their families and their land. They were promised a win-win. And yet, the warning came too and in the end, proved to be on target. Never enough.

 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. [Deuteronomy 11:8-9, 16, NIV]

Human beings are notorious for never being satisfied. Most of us who live in the West are prime examples. We have more than we need and we want more still. I am no stranger to this dis-ease. I am living within the norm of this culture and mind-set. Only until we travel to other countries where people walk to a pump for their water or eat the same staple food every day or die of an unchecked pandemic, do we have our eyes opened for a season.

We have it all and yet we are enticed away by the “other gods.” Do we really imagine that the mere facade of better, faster, or bigger will be the antidote to what ails us? I am ashamed at the number of times I have allowed myself to covet what others appear to have, to know, to enjoy.

Not today then. I choose to wrap myself in the armor of God’s contentment. If only for a little while, I will be mindful of “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” [St. Patrick]

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Photo of Graced with Light art installation by Anne Patterson

Photo of Graced with Light art installation by Anne Patterson

It’s a big deal, the blood of Jesus. The shedding of this particular “lamb’s blood” became the ultimate conciliation of humankind to God.

We had blown it again and again. Symbolically, through the Old Testament stories, one failure after another, whether it was Adam & Eve, or the generation of Noah, or the forty years wandering in the desert. People continued to kick against the ways of God, the very path laid out for them through the Law. But we humans could not follow without failure, missteps, selfish choices, and lies. We had a lousy track record.

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved; and he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times. [Ephesians 1:7-8, Living Bible]

God sent many human prophets to warn the people. And for a season, they would straighten up and fly right, but within a generation or two, we took the stubborn road. God changed his tactics: he went for an inside/out method since the outside/in method did not work.

Change the heart and the actions and righteous behaviors would follow; renew the inner man/woman and they might willingly surrender to God’s way. For this reason, I suppose, we were all offered grace abundantly. Jesus was grace. Jesus is grace personified. Grace is our salvation.

How can I be anything but grateful for this covering? Oh yes, I am grateful for grace.

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prayer bwPray continually. Are you kidding? Who can do that?

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:16-21, CEB]

I mean it! Outside of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite “lay brother” (not even a monk because he did not have the necessary education), who does that? It was Brother’s Lawrence’s words, maxims, and prayers that were compiled after his death into the Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. And what does Brother Lawrence “do” most of any day? He was the cook and bottle washer in the monastery, and all the while, he practiced awareness of God and ultimately, prayer. He prayed continually. Yay Larry.

But what about you and me? I can barely manage to remember to pray the hours, that’s one prayer every 4 hours during the day.

So, just to get a little break from this guilt-producing mandate, I googled it. And there might be a reprieve of sorts. One writer suggested that this passage could have more to do with consistency than non-stop talking (although, I have been known to do the latter under certain circumstances). Another writer advanced that the passage could mean a “ready response” to circumstances, so that the first comeback is a prayer instead of a smart remark. And yet another writer proposed that the verse could refer to an awareness of the beauty around us, thereby giving thanks or when tragedy strikes, ask for mercy, etc. Or, perhaps all of these together make for continually?

Or, perhaps, it’s the goal. Is this verse any more difficult (or easier) than this one, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48, NIV]

And for this reason, I pray this prayer willingly. Join me. Daily.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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Art by Laurie Justus Pace

Art by Laurie Justus Pace

And this is the point, whether one believes or does not believe: God knows our hearts. God knows my heart. There is no sin I can craft in my head that is unknown, there is no good deed seed not watered. God is sovereign over the heart — the soul of humankind.

Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) . . . [I Kings 8:39b, NIV]

For this reason, when life circumstances challenge my way, there is only One who can truly help me or actually altar the course of my steps, transform the crushing press of deadlines and drama and duty, rally the troops of heaven on my behalf and, ultimately, on behalf of my loved ones.

Forgive me Spirit Father, Adonai. Forgive my stealthy forays into the world. Forgive my selfish ambition. Forgive my judgments of others. Forgive my callous eye. Relieve my fears. Strengthen my trust and resolve in You. Sustain my mindfulness that I might pray without ceasing.

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freedomInteresting. In today’s world, how often does a person use as their defense, “I didn’t know” or “Nobody told me.” And as a result, they believe this lack of knowledge absolves them of the crime. You’d think we’d get over it. After all, the “I didn’t see the stop sign” defense does not work in court, nor does “I didn’t know the speed limit” prevent an officer from giving us a ticket. And yet, we still say it and claim it and believe it.

 If anyone commits a sin by violating the directives I have given you—even if he was unaware of it—once he realizes it, he bears the guilt and must still accept the consequences. [Leviticus 5:17, The Voice]

The law works differently than grace. The law is immutable and enduring. The law has not gone away because of grace, it still exists; it is only our relationship to the breaking of law that has changed through Christ. For this reason, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] Sin still exists. Intentional or unintentional, blatant or secret, repeated or isolated, sin happens. Mistakes happen.

mercy on meInitially, I wasn’t fond of the centuries old Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” because I didn’t see myself as a sinner. I saw myself as foolish perhaps or selfish, but honestly, it wasn’t like I had killed anyone. (Why killing seems to be norm for being a sinner, I don’t know, but most people who say this phrase, use that act as the litmus test.)

During Jesus’s ministry, he called his disciples to the highest plateau of faith by telling us to walk the paradox line: love enemies, go the second mile, enter through the narrow gate, turn the other cheek, and so forth. And then, he tops these off with the ultimate impossibility: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” [Matthew 5:48] What? Absurd. That’s inaccessible. No one can do that. No one can be even close to the perfection of God. And I can just imagine Jesus smiling: “Yep. That’s the point.” And apparently, anything less than perfect is sin.

Sin is part of life. But how do we respond to it? Do we yield to sin and its backlash (as they say, “Karma is a bitch”) or do we call on the power of the Cross of Christ to stand between? It is the point.

sacrificePeter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” [I Peter 4:8] But Christ’s love covers ALL sins. We are encouraged to model our behaviors after Christ and practice love so that we can learn to be more generous of heart to one another. But there is only One who covers them all, from small to large.

Own up to the sin. But even better, own up to the sacrifice of blood that protects us all from the kismet of life’s choices.

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Art by Little-LadyBee

Art by Little-LadyBee

Reuben, eldest son of Jacob and Leah, has quite a sin in his past. There may be scholarly argument about it, but the NIV clearly states that Reuben slept with Bilhah, who was Rachel’s handmaid and concubine to Jacob and who bore two of the twelve tribal leaders of Israel (Jacob). What Reuben did was a slap in the face to his own father, and somehow, I think he intended it. For it was Reuben who also found the mandrakes for his mother (Leah) in hopes of helping her carve a more loving relationship with Jacob. It never happened. Reuben had some issues with his father.

And yet, it was also Reuben who tried to save his brother Joseph and his many-colored coat, despite his father’s favoritism.

When Reuben heard the plan, he tried to help Joseph.
Reuben: Let’s not kill him. We don’t need to shed any blood to be free of him. Let’s just toss him into some pit here in the wilderness. We don’t need to lay a hand on him.
Reuben thought perhaps he could secretly come back later and get Joseph out of the pit and take him home to their father before any more harm came to him.  The brothers agreed. [Genesis 32:21-22, The Voice]

Reuben had a bit of righteous indignation, whether toward his father, for the way he treated Leah or, in this case, about the impulsive decision of his brothers to kill Joseph. And yet, whether for good or for ill, Reuben was blinded by his own point of view.

This is a good warning for me. It’s a good warning for us all.

hero or villainWe have all sinned or made bad judgments/decisions along the way. That doesn’t mean we can’t choose rightly today or do a courageous and honorable thing. That thing in our past does work to keep us humble. And that’s not a bad thing really.

The hero act does not erase the past but it does give hope that we can change. All have a potential for good. But we must also take care how we view others: villain or hero?

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