You Are Not Discredited By Your Past

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. — Sirach 8:5, NRSV

It just has to be forbidden to ignore a tiger face-palming when you see one, right?!

Anyway…

Hypocrisy is something that bothers everyone, including the tiger. When we hear someone issuing a challenging word of truth, and we are aware of their own disregard for that truth, we often throw away the entire teaching. After all, who are they to teach us when they fail just like we do?

I’ve thought this way before, and it was wrong for me to do so. It’s wrong for anyone to use your past to discredit a vital truth you try to bring to the world. After all, if only perfect teachers are allowed to teach, no one is going to learn anything. I decided after a very unpleasant experience yesterday to write on this topic. I hope you will forgive me, as I weave in and out of addressing readers as both those who are trying to speak the truth and those who try to stifle it. I think it is fitting, though, because at one time or another, every person has played each of those roles.

Moving on.

Even before my larger “fall” from pastoral work, people would find ways to discredit me based on my age, political views, or education. This only happened, however, when I was speaking a difficult truth. When I spoke of the necessity of forgiveness, generosity, or humility on a practical, daily level, I was met with resistance by people who did not want to do the necessary work to make those things a reality, even if all I did was simply draw attention to Jesus’ words on the subject!

People who are aware of my own transgressions have asked me, “What gives you the right to teach anyone now?” It’s a fair question, but it’s also a load of garbage. I’ve found that the best teachers I’ve ever had weren’t the “pure” ones who were unfamiliar with my struggles, knowing only enough to say I needed to do better. No, the teachers that had the most impact on me were those who walked the path I was walking, had the experience to know how disastrous the results would be for me, and loved me all the way to a different end.

This whole idea that only the “perfect” can instruct is rooted in fear. If you are speaking a truth that challenges others to look at their own mess, you can bet there will be resistance. It is important to keep in mind that this resistance is not your fault, but it is the result of their fear regarding their own transgressions. We would always rather point to the sinful faults of others rather than allow them to draw our attention to our own issues.

The Scripture for today’s post comes from Sirach, which I know isn’t recognized by everyone as true Scripture. Anyone who uses this to discredit what I am saying, though, simply proves my point. After all, Jesus warns us about looking to others before we deal with ourselves.

  1. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 5:14-15, RSVCE
  2. “Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:1-2; 5, RSVCE
  3. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” — Luke 6:31, NRSV

When someone with a painful past tries to share some wisdom, perhaps in an effort to make some good out of having screwed up royally (like me), that is a good thing. It could very well be a sign that they either are turning or have turned from sin, and the writer of Sirach is right to correct those who would “reproach” such a person in chapter 8, verse 5. After all, “we all deserve punishment.”

Sure, maybe you haven’t faced a temptation or addiction that caused you to fall in any major way. Perhaps you haven’t killed, cheated on your spouse, stolen, been involved in gang violence, dealt drugs, or any of the other sins upon which we come down so hard. But did you know that pride is sinful? Also, self-righteousness is sinful. True, we don’t punish or address these as harshly as the others… But Scripture indicates that God will.

If you are like me, odds are your mistakes have been held against you when you tried to make a positive change. I know how that feels, which is why I wrote this post. You need to know that the fault is not yours. If you are trying to make your mistakes or painful past into something that helps others and people are using those very things to discredit you, that is their bloody problem. People that act that way are scared to see someone changing, because that means they can change. Lord knows, nobody wants to have to look within and face their own darkness. It’s easier to point out the darkness of others.

I hope this post is both encouraging and instructive. Face your demons and encourage others to do the same, as this is the only way we can heal as individuals, as communities, and as a family of faith. The response of others is something for which they will be held responsible. The only responsibilities we have are to change our ways, tell our story, speak the truth, and listen to others who are trying to do the same. I pray we all realize we are on this journey together, each of us in need of and redeemed by that Divine mercy revealed in Christ Jesus.

Peace be with you.

Violence and Christian Compassion

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did. — Luke 13:5, NRSV

When I look at the world and all of its violence, I always try to look and see how we as a nation are responding to it. News articles from a variety of sources, social media, church and dinner table conversations, all of these are indicators of our position regarding the death and violence that occur on a daily basis. For the most part, our position looks pretty bad.

Take, for example, the shooting of Botham Jean in Dallas. He was a man in his own apartment, which was mistakenly entered by Dallas police officer who proceeded to shoot him dead. In the wake of the shooting, news reports emerge regarding the marijuana later found in his apartment. It may seem like a trivial detail, but it’s actually an act of character assassination that is all too common, as if to say, “Sure, it happened. But look! It wasn’t one of the good ones!”

We tend to be stingy with our compassion. When someone is killed or suffers violence, our response is proportional to their innocence. Death row inmates (understandably) garner very little compassion, along with anyone who was committing a crime of any kind at the time of their death. Certain states even have laws that seem to say property is worth killing another human over!

For the Christian person, this must become unacceptable. Too many of us in the faith operate by this system of selective compassion, and it is exposing a frightful hypocrisy on the part of a belief system that centers on a God-Man who was put to death according to laws of His day!

So, if you’ve stuck around this long, you may be asking, “Why?” It’s an expected question.

After all, why should we show compassion even toward the worst of the worst? After all, don’t they deserve what they get? Perhaps they deserve worse!

Let me ask you this: do you want God to treat you as you deserve? He will, you know. Jesus says so multiple times, and it is even a central part of our most sacred prayer, remember?

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches us, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 5:14-15). If we know this and repeat it every Sunday, why in the world do we treat others according to a standard we hope God will set aside for us?

God weeps tears for even the worst killer in existence. He may even weep more for this lost soul. On the cross, God even bled for the worst of sinners. How then, as His people, can so many self-professing Christians not see the danger in refusing to practice the spiritual discipline of unrelenting compassion? It doesn’t amount to a lack of desire for justice, nor is it a means of condoning wrongdoing, but it is an expression of the grace we believe we have received from God. It is our way of loving back the One who died because of our hard hearts. Further, it is a practice that is applicable without regard for race, creed, profession, nationality, or any other worldly criteria that are often used to determine the worthiness of others.

The good news hidden in this message is that God does love and is eager to forgive us, regardless of our past. The challenge is that He expects us all to pay that grace forward to all others, regardless of whether or not we feel they deserve it. The Christian’s response to violence in this world should consist of heart-broken compassion and self-reflection. These responses do not exclude a desire for justice, but they do temper it with awareness, preventing us from transgressing in thought, word, or deed.

This kind of change is not easy. It takes practice and a lot of grace with ourselves and each other. However, if we start to make the effort, the promised blessing will follow. After all, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Peace be with you!

Wrath and Righteousness: Never the Twain Shall Meet

Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. — James 1:19-20, RSV

I did a pretty dumb thing this weekend, but I feel it must be shared. I’m not going into too much detail, but I don’t feel it necessary because we have all made this mistake at one time or another. Really, this is an effort to take responsibility and honor God’s grace in my life by sharing an instance in which I re-learned my own need for forgiveness.

This weekend, someone I consider a friend said something rude to someone very dear to me. I had been frustrated with some on-and-off rudeness all weekend, and this was the last straw. Therefore, I did what many humans do. I took the stand, gave a taste of the same medicine, took the shots… and made everything worse. What ensued was a fight, some tears, and what should have been a joyful weekend cut short.

This morning at church, James 1 was the Epistle text, which is perfect because of the quote above. The truth is, people, evil begets evil. My anger and rudeness in response to someone else’s only made for twice the anger and rudeness previously existent in the world. I think we forget that this is how it works. A shot fired, met by a shot in response, makes for twice as many bullets out there. An angry word or action prompted by similar choices makes for twice the damage. Death for death is just more death.

For me to grow from this, I had to realize my own error, first and foremost. I had to practice what I have taught numerous times: remove the plank from your eye before going after someone else’s speck (Matthew 7:3-5). I had reason to be upset, but I should never have reflected what I was so bothered by. None of us should do this, but we do it ALL THE TIME.

Whether it’s our politics, faith, family, work, or other social issues and interactions, we tend to fight fire with fire, which just burns more stuff down. We reflect rather than combat those things we consider unacceptable, thereby actually strengthening their hold on us and our world!

So, before a new week begins, take a lesson from my mistakes and from the Scriptures: your angry actions don’t produce righteousness. Only reflecting the love of God will do that. Join me in walking in a new way, wherein we strive to minimize the negative forces of the world by refusing to imitate them, looking instead to love, grace, compassion, and truth. For if we want these things in our darkest hour, we must first be willing to give them to others in theirs.

Peace be with you.

Walking the Walk by Not Talking at All

“Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” — 1 John 2:9

There are a lot of these “Whoever says” sayings in the literature of John, and I dig it. This morning, the quote above from the First Letter of John paired nicely with a verse (or several) from Proverbs 17. 

In the Proverb, we are told “one who spares words is knowledgeable,” and “even fools who keep silent are considered wise” (verses 27-28). It seems a lot of the advice in Proverbs centers on shutting up more often than speaking up, which, with today being a major family holiday in the U.S., could actually be helpful!

No doubt, if you are gathering with lots of family or friends (whether today or ever), you know that it would probably be easier and of better quality if certain people just didn’t speak. Maybe you’re that person (no offense, but if the table plunges into silence after your “joke” about another race, religion, or political party, it’s YOU). All in all, silence can be a handy tool of faith, not just on these holidays when we are thrust into familial settings, but all the time! 

Look at John’s “Whoever says” comments in 1 John 2:1-17. John seems rather hesitant to believe what people say, especially about their own fathfulness. Further, he is encouraging his audience to be just as skeptical. 

For me, it’s sort of nice to see that this has always been a problem. People speak up, make signs, and outwardly promote their own strengths of faith and character… But their lives and who they are when no one is watching do not match the appearances at all. This is SO evident in the Church, it hurts. 

Part of that pain is knowing I have been a part of the problem. Sure I preached faithfulness, but I definitely did not tend toward practicing that faithfulness in many aspects of my life. I am currently in a position to address and heal from that, but the fact remains that most people who promote themselves outwardly are compensating for some serious sinfulness inwardly. We all have our hypocrisies. You know it. I know it. God knows it. If we can admit that (see last night’s post), however, we can move away from that practice, and a lot of it begins with just being quiet and doing what we are called to do. 

John has some great advice to glean when he says, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the dakness” (1 John 2:9). While “brother or sister” pertains to fellow believers in the text, I don’t think John would object to me expanding the meaning to include all people whom God has made. We can’t say we love God or are walking in faithfulness to God if we actively (or passively) are defined by emotions and actions that express hatred or lack of concern for those made in the image of that same God! 

If we are going to be faithful, it must begin with the real, personal practice of faith in the moments where no one will see or know. This is where I have failed before, and I bet you have, too. We must resolve to develop the habits of faithful love for ourselves and for (ALL) others internally before we can begin to externally direct our energies.

This means when we see or hear something that would normally have us jumping mercilessly down the throats of others, perhaps we stop and think about whether or not what they are doing or saying is comparable to any facet of our own lives. Maybe we let the hate or foolishness speak for itself this time around, and reserve our judgments for a more opportune and wisely discerned moment. Maybe we take that experience home with us and change how we handle our business first. 

***Disclaimer: If you witness a hate crime or bullying, yes, get involved to put a stop to it. Call the cops, make your presence known so that there are witnesses, etc. Don’t just stand there with your phone out or enter into this philosophical meditation before helping someone; just be sure your involvement is geared toward help of the victim, not punishment of the assailants. As always, be safe.***

There comes a time when we have to just stop talking and start (or keep) walking. We are in a world with so many voices, and so much deception, that genuine faith is really going to have to be something personally and communally lived and enacted, not just “promoted.” 

As we enter into the holidays (and the rest of our lives, really), let’s go forward seeking to actually live the love of Christ for others, and not just talk about it. Let’s DO something different so that we and others might experience something different. 

As we all know, this world could use some “Godly difference.” 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace be with you!