Road Striping … and Your Sins

Recently the county road-striping crew was at work near our home. They re-striped one of the roads close to us, and, well, it’s … interesting.

Now to be fair, I guess it’s possible that the guys that normally do that job were on vacation. So, perhaps, these folks were just fill-ins. I don’t know.

But, anyway, they didn’t clean up anything first. They just painted. Right over top of weeds that were growing, small branches that had fallen, even an aluminum can. White paint marking the side of the road obliterated leaves and insects. But when the first rain came afterward, those twigs and leaves were washed away, leaving a silhouette of their shape surrounded by white paint.

Like I said, it’s interesting.

Aren’t you glad that’s not what the Lord does with your sins? He doesn’t just cover them with some pretty paint. They’re not hidden beneath a veneer of make-up. No, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, they’re gone!

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

They’re not just hiding. They’re erased. Wiped out. Taken away. They’re gone!

(By the way, after finding the raccoon photo above, I don’t feel quite so bad about the job our local guys and gals did.) 

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Leaders, Do Your Whole Job

Leaders in the Church have an obligation to push people toward the truth.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul says, “Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times, and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching, because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. They will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NCV)

Let’s be clear that Paul first says we should “Preach the Good News.” The gospel – there is a God who loves us so much that even though our sin separated us from Him, He sent His own Son to die and take the punishment that we deserved so that we can now be in right relationship with Him – that Good News should be the foundation for everything that happens in the Church. But if we just stop there, then we miss the rest of what this passage says. We also need to “tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong.” If we don’t, then it is conceivable that they “will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.”

My pastor made a statement years ago that has stayed with me: “The gospel has a catch – it’s only for the guilty.” He’s right. Which is why leaders must “tell people when they are wrong.” We have a mandate to call sin sin.

Of course, we must still love people in the midst of their sin, but we dare not overlook or ignore the sin. As leaders, we’re to keep watch over their souls. (Hebrews 13:17)

Suppose someone comes to me and tells me how much he absolutely loves eating. Food is clearly a gift from God, he explains, and he thoroughly enjoys indulging in that gift. Well, if he weighs 450 pounds – and doesn’t have any medical issues that would cause him to be overweight – I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that gluttony is a sin. Yes, food – with all its different flavors and textures – is a gift from God. But that doesn’t mean we should partake of as much as we can at every opportunity possible. Overeating – overindulging the flesh – is a sin.

If I explain this to the man and he understands and repents, he may still have eating issues that he will need to deal with, but at least he’s on the right track. On the other hand, if he refuses to acknowledge that his behavior is sinful, then there is a problem. At that point he is willingly and willfully walking in rebellion against the Lord.

Church leaders have an obligation to depict sin as the thing that separates people from God. Why did Jesus say that if we forgive peoples’ sins they are forgiven, but if we retain peoples’ sins they are retained? (John 20:23) If people are unwilling to repent, we can’t offer forgiveness as the Church. Why were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? Sin is clearly not to be trifled with.

And please recognize that I am not saying this in any sort of condemning way. The point is that when people repent, there is ALWAYS forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) But if we refuse to acknowledge our sin, then we’re in trouble (1 John 1:10).

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Gangs, the Church … and Family

Francis Chan tells the story of something that happened in his previous church – a congregation of more than 5000 people in southern California. One morning he baptized a young man. The guy had been a gang member but came into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus. He got involved in the congregation, but later ended up leaving the church. And when someone asked him why he left, he responded, “I didn’t understand church. When I was baptized, I thought that was going to be like being jumped into the gang where it’s like 24/7 they’re my family. I didn’t know it was just somewhere where we just attend on Sundays.”

Chan seemed close to tears as he continued, “That makes me so sick that the gangs are a better picture of family than the Church of Jesus Christ.”

What a sad story. But he’s right. If we really saw ourselves as family – not just a place to go on Sunday mornings, but actually family – it would change how we live and interact with one another.

Think about how frequently the New Testament refers to Christian believers as “brothers.” Jesus said we should call God “Father.” Galatians 6:10 says that we are the “family of believers.”

We are family. Not just a collection of folks who get together occasionally, but true family.

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Lutherans, Methodists, and Praying for Revival

For several years, a Lutheran pastor friend of mine and his church had been crying out to God for revival. During prayer one day he felt the Lord speak to his heart, “I cannot give you what you are asking for, because if I do, you will use it against the other churches in town.”

“What do You mean, Lord?” asked the pastor.

The Lord impressed on the pastor that he was already in the habit of telling people that his congregation was the best church in town. If God gave them a serious spiritual outpouring it could easily cause them to become even more haughty.

“God, I didn’t realize. What should we do?” he asked.

The pastor immediately knew the answer: Pray for the Methodist church down the road.

He confided to me that this was probably the most difficult thing God had ever asked of him. At that point in his life he would have rather been martyred than to pray for revival to come to a Methodist church. However, he was obedient and began to pray for the church. Within a few months the Methodist church had a new pastor and revival broken out. Within two years their attendance had tripled.

Through all of this the Lord taught the Lutheran pastor a very serious lesson about unity and prayer. God is not so much interested in blessing our little projects. He wants to bless the Church. Not a particular denomination. Not a particular congregation of people. The Body of Christ.

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The Amish Do What?!

Some time ago I read a story about a family that had moved into an Amish community. The Amish are pretty private, especially toward outsiders – those who aren’t Amish.

But the mother in the family had been able to form a relationship with some in the community. And one day she asked an Amish woman about why they didn’t own cars. The woman’s response was amazing. She said that for long trips they would use public transportation or hire a driver, but for each of them to own their own automobile would lead to the breakdown of their community. It would separate them.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that we all adopt the Amish way of life. But, it seems apparent to me that this woman understood something about the priority of relationship that we in the Body of Christ would do well to emulate. She didn’t just pay lip service to the priority of unity, she lived it.

You might be familiar with the late Zig Ziglar. He was a well-known motivational speaker. He said that too many people give up what they really want for what they want now.

And he’s right. We say that Christian unity is important, but when it interferes with our life-as-usual, suddenly it is not really a priority.

Maybe we need to rethink our priorities in the Church.

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Rating Sins

We in the Church have a tendency to rate sins like they rate events at the Olympics. We’d probably rate something like adultery as a 9.5. Embezzling funds from the church, that’s likely a perfect 10.

But, here’s the deal. Galatians chapter 5 lists out what Paul called the “acts of the sinful nature.” And that list contains things like “sexual immorality,” “idolatry,” and “witchcraft.” Those are all things we would expect to be there. Each of those is going to rank pretty high on our Olympic scale for rating sins, right?

But, also included in that list are things like “discord,” “dissensions,” and “factions.” See, these things – from our usual perspective – are probably only about a 2 or 3. They just don’t seem all that bad.

What we don’t seem to understand is that those things are just as heinous to the Lord as the others.

But God doesn’t use our sin rating system. To Him, sin is sin. James 2:10 tells us that whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles at just one point, he’s guilty of breaking all of it.

Now, even though from God’s perspective all sin is the same, the effects that sin has in people’s lives can vary.  And the problem with disunity is that the effects can be subtle and often go unnoticed.

But it’s still sin and it’s still wrong.

Maybe we need to truly look at this issue from God’s perspective. Instead of discord, dissensions and factions, let’s consider how we can encourage, build up and strengthen the people and leadership in our churches.

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Searching for the Perfect Church

They’re searching for the “perfect” church. They go from one congregation to another, desperately looking for that which – honestly – does not exist. Like others before them, they will eventually realize that their efforts are futile. They will not find such an idealistic congregation. Of course, we know that people can put on a good face for a while, but eventually the imperfections become obvious.

In his classic book about Christian community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christian community can never meet idealistic expectations. “God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Because – this side of heaven – we will always be dealing with imperfect, sinful people, Christian community can never be perfect. There will be people – like you and me, for example – who sometimes put our own desires ahead of others. Or we get cranky. Or envious. Or mad. Or don’t measure up to whatever standard someone thinks we should.

Bonhoeffer continues: “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight… The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. The community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”

He’s right. If we harbor any notion that we might eventually find a fellowship of believers where there is no disagreement, no strife, no tension, we are grievously mistaken. The sooner we recognize that reality, the sooner we can get on with the life God has for us here and now.

Christian community must include the Biblical elements of forgiveness, repentance and self-sacrifice not self-fulfillment. It is about considering others better than self and considering others interests over our own. We walk in love with one another because we know the great love that has been lavished on us.

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