Sin―an unpopular word in today’s culture.
We try to sanitize it by the words we choose to describe what an earlier generation would have called a “sinful act.”
Adultery becomes “an affair.” Lying becomes “stretching the truth” or “spin.” Destructive gossip becomes “sharing.”
Sin is “missing the mark.” That sounds pretty benign. It suggests that there are close misses, which might be OK, and misses so far off target that you can’t even see where the arrow landed.
Even people in the organized church, who should know better, may ask how far they can go before a sin becomes “serious.” It’s so easy to condemn the “big sins” like murder while ignoring the smaller sins, like selfish ambition and coveting.
In the past, the Church even coined terms to distinguish just how “bad” a sin was: venial for the little ones, mortal for the really big ones.
But by God’s definition, every sin is “mortal.”
Truth be told, there’s not a single human past infancy who hasn’t made choices that make us unfit to be in the presence of a holy God who can’t accept anything less than sinless perfection in his presence.
But that same God loves us, and He made us so we would find our truest selves when we love him in return.
So how can the conflicting demands of holiness and love be reconciled? Never by anything we can do, but God has made a way.
I hate sitting in stalled rush-hour traffic on an interstate. Whether it’s construction or, even worse, an accident where someone is hurt, it can try anyone’s patience to creep along at 5 miles per hour when you had planned to go 65.
Well, at least 45 mph because the road is packed and it is “rush” hour.
When I end up trapped between exits, kicking myself for not anticipating and taking that last off ramp, that makes it even worse.
But do I ever ask myself if there might be a good reason for me to be trapped, forced to wait when I don’t want to?
Living in the high desert of New Mexico has its advantages:
Sunshine for 300+ days of the year.
Dry heat in the summer so it has to be over 90°F before you even start to feel hot.
Dry cold in the winter so it can be freezing and still feel warm in the sun as long as there’s no wind.
No mildew to fight in the shower…ever!
But as wonderful as sunny days are, it’s the rainy days and the winter snows that make the plants grow.
When you live in the desert, you pray for rain, and you give thanks when the storm clouds form and precious raindrops fall.
But what about the storms in my life that I never asked for?
The rugged individualist.
It’s a popular motif in literature and film. The rebel with a cause…or even without one. Our culture idolizes the break-out personality, the trend-setter, the leader who carves his or her way through any obstacle.
And to some extent, that can be good.
Progress can come from examining the “way we’ve always done it” and asking whether that’s still the best way.
Years ago, when I was picking the college major that would set the course for my working life, I wanted to major in chemistry. I loved high-school chemistry. It was fun to work in the lab. It was fun learning how things worked. But girls didn’t normally go into science. One of my mother’s friends even told me I could always change my mind when I told her what my major was.
I stayed with my decision, and it lead to a career where going to work was as much fun as any hobby I had.
But sometimes I want to do things my way mainly because I think I know better than the person defining the rules. I want to be in charge.
It can be a good thing to try to change the rules when the one setting them is human, but what about when the instructions come from God?
It saddens me to see all the angry faces in the news coverage. It saddens me even more when I see them on friends. I’ve watched cracks develop in friendships of more than 20 years, and I ask myself, “why?”
Actually, I already know the core of the problem. It’s a fundamental flaw in human nature, and it can be a fatal one.
It’s a failure to love each other like Jesus commanded. Our natural inclination to like people who are like us, who agree with our opinions and value what we value…that’s not a bad thing, but it falls far short of what Jesus tells us to do.
Disagreements can sorely test and even break friendships, turning the affection of former friends into barely masked hostility.
But they don’t have to.
In a time of dissension and open hostility, we need to embrace the radical lifestyle of forgiveness.
Many Christians are now observing the season of Lent, the commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness right after his baptism by John the Baptist and the temptations he faced before he began his public ministry.
For some, Lent is a time of giving up something we enjoy a lot to focus more on God. For others, it’s a time of taking on something extra that focuses our thoughts more on our relationship with the Father through Jesus.
But for all of us who follow Jesus, Lent should be a time of self-examination to consider where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
To put it simply, it’s a time to focus on the foundation of our lives. When we follow Jesus, he is the foundation.
But what does it mean to say Jesus is the foundation?
Every mother has a pet saying that drives her kids crazy…until they grow up and see the truth in it. Mine was “Patience is a virtue; cultivate it.”
That statement drew more than its share of eyerolls when they reached their teens, but my favorite response came from my daughter when she was eight. We were running a little late getting out the door for the 35-minute drive to school from our house in the country. As I was trying to get my kids to hustle, my daughter turned to me as we were about to rush out the door.
I knew I’d made real progress toward teaching her what was important when she said, “Patience is a virtue, Mommy.”
And she was right. Hearing my own wise words in that sweet little-girl voice helped me remember how important it is that what we say and the way we act are consistent.
Patience doesn’t come easily to me. I’m a type-A sort of woman, and that’s both a strength and a weakness.
By nature and by training, I see a goal and work hard and fast to reach it. But sometimes that can come at the cost of not treating people the way God wants me to.
Do you ever stop and ask yourself why you do what you do?
I haven’t always asked myself that question as often as I should. When I did, sometimes I didn’t like the answer.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the flow of a typical day. So many things in life simply must be done as part of living.
Get out of bed. Get everyone fed. Get each one launched to school or work or whatever.
There’s housework and homework and work that comes home from work because there wasn’t enough time to finish it.
But the events of the day and the demands on my time are not why I’m on this earth.
I need to pause, take a deep breath, and ask, “Why am I here?”
I can phrase that as a more fundamental question, “What is the will of God for my life?”
As I prepare to do battle with Schedule C and Form 4562 for my taxes, the story of the agents of the Jewish rulers who were trying to trap Jesus popped into my head. Their question: was it allowed under Jewish law to pay taxes to Caesar?
That was a rock-and-a-hard-place question if there ever was one. To answer yes would anger the Jewish people who hated the Roman overlords. It was salt in the wound that those taxes paid for the Roman troops that occupied their land. To say no was to commit treason in Roman eyes and invite execution.
Jesus’s response was brilliant. He asked for a denarius, the Roman coin that was used to pay taxes to Rome. The head of the emperor was stamped on one side of every denarius. When Jesus asked his questioners whose portrait and inscription was on the coin, they had to say, ”Caesar’s.”
I can imagine a smile on Jesus’s face as he replied, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 (KJV))
But the question of how we divide what we have between God and Caesar goes way beyond taxes.
I’m glad I don’t live under an imperial dictator. But if I think of Caesar as all the demands placed on me over which I have little or no control, Jesus’s words take on a broader meaning.
Do we reluctantly “render to God” the things we should want to give him gladly?
It’s almost time to file tax forms again. As I gathered the information about the charitable donations we made in 2016, I started thinking about “good deeds” and what Jesus said about them.
I think most of us can agree that good deeds are desirable things to do. That’s why they’re called “good” deeds (duh!). There’s a real need for us to share our material wealth and our time with others who haven’t been as fortunate. It’s good for the folks who need some help, regardless of why we give.
But is it always good for us? The answer is…it depends.