The secret to gratitude begins with the gospel

November 27, 2015

This would have made a good Thanksgiving post yesterday, but better late than never…

Andrew Wilson, whose praises I’ve sung on this blog several times already, gave an interview this week with his wife, Rachel, about their new book, The Life You Never Expected, which comes out in the States next year. The book is about their ongoing adventure of parenting two autistic children in light of their Christian faith.

In the following excerpt, Wilson discusses what he’s learned about gratitude from the experience:

I know I’ve got to get my head around the fact that what I deserve is death and condemnation, and, instead, I’ve received life. And you start there with the gospel, really. The center of the gospel makes you grateful as you consider it—and your eschatological hope and all the rest—compared to what you have. So you stop feeling grumbly about what you have.

But as that sets in in your heart, it begins to spread sideways as well and you become grateful rather than entitled to people… other people—you know, human organizations and institutions and the like—and start thinking, “This isn’t just that I’m grateful to God that he’s given me this instead of eternal separation from God. It’s changes the way you think about gratitude toward other people as well. And you begin to feel happy and excited about things that other people assume is their rights.

Next he talks about his gratitude that in Britain he has access to health resources that many parents of autistic children in other parts of the world don’t have.

But [gratitude] starts with the gospel, and you realize this is just scandalous, and I’ve got so much more than I should have. And as that seeps through bits of your life, it does begin to change [you]. Obviously, that’s a very nice picture of it; it doesn’t always feel like that, but I genuinely think I am a much more grateful person, and I have a much better theology of gift now than I did three years ago because of learning to see gifts everywhere.

He means “scandalous” in the sense that we take so many of God’s blessings for granted.

When I hear things like this, it reaffirms my conviction that we preachers need to preach the gospel in every sermon, in one way or another. We need to continually remind ourselves of the fact that “what [we] deserve is death and condemnation,” whereas what we receive in Christ is eternal life.

File under “ontological argument for God’s existence”

November 24, 2015

We discussed St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence way back in Philosophy 1001 at the Georgia Institute of Technology 25 years ago. The argument has proven to be surprisingly resilient—and even my prof expressed admiration for it. At the same time, like most people, I fear that we’re playing with words more than saying anything about God.

Nevertheless, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga updated it recently. I’m posting it here not because I necessarily buy into it, but because I want to remember what it is, and this puts it rather plainly.

Premise #4 is the trickiest for me, but, as Wilson says, it follows from the meaning of “necessary.” Christian theology teaches that God is a necessary, rather than contingent, being; he doesn’t depend on anything else for his existence. You can substitute “maximally great being” for “necessary divine being.”

Anyway, for what it’s worth… From Andrew Wilson:

Here’s a quick, and surprisingly robust, argument for the existence of God. It amounts to a late twentieth century Plantingan rehash of Anselm’s ontological argument, and it goes like this:

1. It is possible that a necessary divine being exists.
2. If a being possibly exists, then it exists in some possible world.
3. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in some possible world (from #1, #2).
4. If a necessary being exists in some possible world, then it exists in all possible worlds.
5. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in all possible worlds (from #3, #4).
6. Therefore a necessary divine being exists (from #5).

The conclusion obviously follows from the premises, so the only question is whether the premises are probably correct. Both #2 and #4, in effect, are simply ways of stating what the words “possible” and “necessary” actually mean, and as such are not as controversial as they might appear. So the real debate is over #1 – but this, to most people, sounds intuitively correct. I’m not saying it will compel people to repent of their sins and follow Jesus, but it’s a good one to pull out at parties, isn’t it? (Presumably it depends on the parties.)

Sermon 11-22-15: “The Goat within Us All”

November 23, 2015


The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is often used by preachers like me to urge their congregation to be like the “sheep” in the parable. And since most of us are more “goat”-like than “sheep”-like, that means we need to “try harder.” The problem with this approach is that it ignores the context of the parable. Jesus is speaking here of Final Judgment. Salvation or damnation hangs in the balance. If the only difference between “sheep” and “goats” is that one did something that the other failed to do, then are we saying that we have to earn our way into heaven?

I hope not! If so, I’m lost, and so are you!

In this sermon, I’ll offer what I hope is a grace-filled way to understand the parable—one that will inspire us into doing good works rather than guilt-ing us into it.

Sermon Text: Matthew 25:31-46

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.


Last Sunday marked the end of an era: In the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, a future Hall-of-Famer, who now holds the record for most career passing yards, who has won a Super Bowl, and who is easily among the best to have ever played the game of football, Peyton Manning was benched. His coach put in the second-string guy. I can’t blame the coach: Last Sunday, Manning finished the day with just 35 yards on 5-of-20 passing, zero touchdowns, four interceptions, two sacks and an almost unheard-of zero passer rating. For the season, Manning has nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. It’s not good.

Manning went from being a hero to being a goat. It’s not the first time Manning has been a goat, just not usually during the regular season. In fact, the only knock against his career is that while he’s been consistently heroic during the regular season game, he’s sometimes been goat-like during the playoffs—and in two of this three Super Bowl appearances. Of course, football is a team sport, so he doesn’t deserve as much blame as he gets. Besides, this season, one problem is that he has plantar fasciitis, which I know from painful personal experience is just awful!

Heroes and goats… Have you heard that expression before? Sports writers, sports-talk radio show hosts, and sports fans use this expression often. I don’t know where it comes from—but it’s clear from today’s scripture that being a goat back in the first century was no better than being a goat in the twenty-first century! Read the rest of this entry »

Re-blog: “When Loving Hurts”

November 20, 2015


From my friend Julie’s blog… Music helps me when I’m hurting like this. I can’t think of a better song for the occasion, or a better performance of it.


Originally posted on :

IMG_0629On Wednesday I walked into court carrying my beautiful, rambunctious, amazing little boy. A few hours later I walked out with empty arms. I did everything in my power to fight for him, to make his voice heard. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. The court decided, and I believe they chose wrong.

In the midst of this excruciating heartbreak, I am grateful for the chance to have loved him so deeply. I am grateful for the unconditional love and forgiveness he so often gave me. He taught me so much about patience, trust, hope, and love that will forever change me.

There are so many times I look at our broken and hurting world and wish there was some way I could help when praying alone doesn’t feel like enough. Fostering is one way I have found to attempt to make a difference. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, there…

View original 375 more words

Adam Hamilton, you’re not helping!

November 20, 2015


I complained in my previous post—just a  few hours ago—that we often risk missing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the four Gospels. I said that we turn scripture passages such as the Good Samaritan and the Sheep and the Goats (which I’m preaching on this Sunday) into messages of works righteousness. The message is “try harder or else!”—or why mince words? “Try harder or be damned for eternity!”

Was I exaggerating? Consider today’s blog post from Adam Hamilton, which is an appeal for us Christians in America to support the immigration of Syrian refugees. Much of what he says is reasonable. But then, like many fellow pastors this week, he badly mishandles the parable of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25:31-46. He writes, “In the parable it appears that the goats thought of themselves as religious.” [Probably true.] “They were therefore surprised when, at the last judgment, they were turned away.” [Definitely true.] He continues (emphasis his):

So, why did the goats turn people away who were in need? I think it was because they were afraid and they allowed their fear to override their compassion and humanity. And the sheep? They found the courage to overcome their fears and to act with compassion and love.

I’m sure the “goats” failed for a host of reasons, which likely included fear, but that’s beside the point. Here’s my problem: Jesus’ words here are about nothing less than Final Judgment, salvation or damnation, heaven or hell. Does Hamilton really mean to say that the difference between those who are saved and those who are lost comes down to our ability to “find the courage to overcome our fears” or not?

Do you see the problem? It’s downright Pelagian! Without qualifying his words, Hamilton is implying that we’re saved or lost based on what we do! This isn’t the gospel of grace; it’s the gospel of good works! It’s the gospel of “try harder or be damned.”

I’m guessing Hamilton doesn’t mean to imply this. After all, like me, Hamilton is a Wesleyan-Arminian. He’s supposed to know as well as I do that while we cooperate with the Holy Spirit (theologically, we’re synergists, not monergists), even our cooperation is made possible by grace, such that none of our good works contributes anything to our salvation.

But if Hamilton isn’t talking about salvation, why does he use this particular parable, in which nothing less than salvation is at stake?

Where’s the gospel? Where’s grace?

As I said in my previous post, if we rely on the gospel of good works, we’re all in trouble. Maybe in the instance of Syrian refugees, Adam Hamilton and others are “overcoming their fear” through their advocacy. But aren’t there plenty of other times in his life when he fails to “overcome his fear”? Aren’t there at least thousands of times in his life when he “did it not to one of the least of these”? Will he be condemned to hell for these failures?

Of course not! Why? Because we’re saved not because of what we either do or fail to do, but because of what Christ has done for us!

Otherwise, we’re doomed. Hamilton knows this. I just wish he would say it!

When we pastors use this parable to say something about works of mercy, which is perfectly appropriate, we need to also say that these works are a sign of salvation, which comes to us as a free gift from God by grace through faith alone.

By all means, there’s a warning here: Saving faith will include good works. And if we’re not doing these things regularly, in spite of our many failures, then it may be a sign that we haven’t truly trusted in Christ. The apostle James makes this point repeatedly.

But this isn’t Hamilton’s point here. Like many others, he’s preaching the gospel of “try harder or else.” And that gospel can’t save us.

Finding the gospel in the Gospels

November 20, 2015

I’ve blogged recently about how much easier preaching the Old Testament is when you believe, often against the propaganda of mainline Protestant seminary, that the Old Testament, like all of scripture, is about Jesus. Granted, to believe that, one has to believe that the same Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, inspired both Testaments—and that the sending of God’s Son into the world wasn’t a surprise or a change of plans for God; rather, from an eternal perspective the Lamb was slain “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

The gospel of Jesus Christ permeates the Old Testament. And of course it’s often the main subject of the apostolic epistles of the New Testament. It’s become clear to me recently, however, that unless we’re careful, we can end up missing the gospel in the four Gospels themselves!

What do I mean?

I’m thinking, for instance, of the scripture that I preached last Sunday, the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-36, and (even more) this Sunday’s text, Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. As I said in my sermon on the Good Samaritan, we can easily turn the parable into a message of works righteousness rather than grace: “What? You call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ and you don’t love your neighbor the way the Good Samaritan loved this wounded victim on the side of the road? Shame on you! You need to try harder!”

As I said on Sunday, I stink at trying harder! Don’t you? I mean, honestly… If the message of the parable is that we need to be like the Good Samaritan, aren’t we all in trouble? (Maybe I should speak for myself.) But when I hear a “try harder” message, I tend to feel more guilty and ashamed than convicted. Guilt and shame, alongside anger, are default emotions for me, unfortunately; I hardly need extra incentive to feel that way! :-(

Over the past week, I’ve noticed that many of my fellow Christians and clergy colleagues have appealed to the Good Samaritan as scriptural warrant for welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. (and especially into those southern states, like my own, whose governors have said they won’t accept any). More than one pastor I read said that this issue strikes at the “core of the gospel.”

Politics aside, does it really? Does the question of whether or how to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees strike at the core of the gospel? If so, what exactly is the gospel? Is it based on good works? Is it about what I do? Is it about “trying harder” after all?

I hope not. Otherwise I’m in trouble! Aren’t you?

What does Paul say? “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law can only condemn me. I have no righteousness of my own; it’s only because of Christ’s righteousness, which I receive through faith, that I’m saved (Phil. 3:9). I hope that this strikes closer to the core of the gospel than anything else!

Besides, it’s not as if social media activism—or “slacktivism”—would bring any of us nearer to the “works righteousness” gospel anyway! I’m not any more like the Good Samaritan if I tweet an angry tweet or post an angry Facebook post than if I don’t. If the gospel is about works, then I’m lost and so are you. We don’t need to try harder. We need Jesus!

What, then, is the primary meaning of the Good Samaritan if not to “try harder”? Feel free to read or watch my sermon. But my favorite part of the sermon was sharing an insight that the Church Fathers shared in their preaching and teaching about this parable: The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ. We need Jesus to be a neighbor to us. We are the helpless, dying victim in need of rescue. As I said last Sunday:

The most important meaning of this parable is that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is our Good Samaritan. We human beings, the apostle Paul says, have made ourselves God’s enemies because of our sin and rebellion against God. Satan has stripped us, beaten us, and left us for dead on the side of the road. We have no one to save us—until Jesus the Good Samaritan comes to us and offers us salvation.

Now, Samaritans and Jews hated one another. They were enemies. An ordinary Samaritan wouldn’t have compassion on his enemy, a Jew—any more than we’d have compassion on those terrorists that attacked Paris on Friday. But Jesus the Good Samaritan had compassion on his enemies. An ordinary Samaritan wouldn’t risk his life on this dangerous road in order to save his enemy, but Jesus the Good Samaritan not only risked his life, he laid down his life to save his enemies. An ordinary Samaritan wouldn’t give his time, his strength, his money, in order to nurse his enemy back to health. But Jesus the Good Samaritan said, “I’ll take the sickness of your sin upon myself, and I’ll suffer your disease for you, even though I’ve done nothing to deserve it; I’ll gladly suffer it”—I’ll take all your bad stuff and give you all my good stuff; I’ll take your sin and unrighteousness and give you my righteousness—so that you will be eternally healed!

Church Council Homily 11-17-15: “Dead to Sin”

November 18, 2015


I delivered the following homily at last night’s Church Council meeting. I hope it’s clear below that I love Charlie Sheen. I’m rooting for him. He’s a gifted actor, of course. But it’s more than that for me: I recognize in him a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace at every moment. We’re not so different from him, are we? As I say in this sermon, we all have shameful, embarrassing, guilt-ridden secrets. It’s just that ours don’t get exposed on TMZ or in the National Enquirer! Something about his story scratches the grace itch for me.

Homily Text: Romans 6:1-11

This morning, actor Charlie Sheen was on the Today Show, where he announced to Matt Lauer and the world that he has H.I.V. He’s known he’s had the disease for about four years. He said the diagnosis led to “a temporary yet abysmal descent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking” that he called “a suicide run.” It was during this “suicide run” that the producers of the hit show Two and a Half Men finally fired their leading man for his erratic behavior.

Part of the reason that Sheen came forward with this announcement today is, well… he’s broke. You see, for four years he’s been paying lots of people to keep quiet about his illness—including women he’s slept with over the years who threatened to go public his secret. And when I say a lot of money, I mean a lot of money! Upwards of ten million dollars!

I get the irony here: For years—decades, even—we’ve known about Sheen’s drug and alcohol abuse; we’ve known about the prostitutes that he’s hired; but in his mind, it was H.I.V.—rather than all the other self-destructive things he’s done—that was so shameful and embarrassing to him that he was willing to pay ten million dollars to keep it secret! Which goes to show, of course, that some people don’t embarrass easily!

But it also goes to show that if even someone like Charlie Sheen isn’t completely without shame, then it’s safe to say that everyone has shameful, embarrassing, guilt-ridden secrets that they want to hide from others!

But this is where the good news of the gospel comes in. In his own way, Charlie Sheen expressed at least a little bit of this good news when he told Matt Lauer, “I think that I release myself from this prison today.” What a relief! He feels like he’s released from prison!

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ own words: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[1] A big part of the truth of the gospel is that we are all sinners—and before we can even receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ, before we can receive the good news of the gospel, we have to confess bad news!

We are sinners! It sounds like bad news. But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—that I am a hopeless sinner! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”[2]

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize that you share this problem with the rest of humanity, and that all you can do is “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be! Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

So thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!

But not so fast, you might think: It’s one thing for someone like Charlie Sheen to come clean about his sins. After all, I don’t know if Charlie Sheen has any religious faith, but he certainly isn’t famous for being a churchgoer or any kind of born-again Christian. That’s what we are! And doesn’t Paul say in Romans 6, the scripture I read earlier, that we shouldn’t sin anymore—and that if we still sin, then there’s something seriously wrong with us?

No. That’s not what he says.

While it’s true that we ought to sin less and less over time as we’re sanctified by the Holy Spirit—indeed, to become holier—Paul says, in spite of whether or to what extent we’ve been sanctified, we are still, at this present moment, “dead to sin.” This is, Paul says, an objective fact that is true of all Christian believers.

Why? Because of what Christ has done for us! “For the death [Christ] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” In other words, we are dead to sin not because of anything we’ve done, or do, but because of what Christ did, “once for all” —all means all of us—on the cross!

But Christ didn’t merely die on the cross for our sins—so that we could be forgiven—although that’s great news in and of itself. Even more, he died to our sins. And since we die with him, as represented by our baptism, as Paul says in Romans 6:4, we also die to sin. His death to sin has become our death to sin. And this is true, regardless of the fact that we continue to sin.

Paul’s point is, even though we still sin, we are no longer enslaved by sin.

Think of it this way: For the past four years, Charlie Sheen was enslaved by all these people who held all this power over him: the power to blackmail him; the power to force him to do their bidding, including paying them upward of $10 million. He was deeply in their debt, and he couldn’t afford to pay them anymore. By going public with this secret, he was set free from those forces who enslaved him. He’s set free!

Now, for all we know, these people who’ve been blackmailing him for the past four years might still come to Charlie Sheen and say, “O.K. Fork over the dough! You need to pay me!” And maybe he will still pay them—old habits die hard—but he certainly doesn’t have to anymore! He can tell them to get lost. He’s free from their influence! They have no power over him!

We who are in Christ are in a similar position: we no longer have to pay attention to that voice of Satan—remember, Satan literally means “the accuser”—to that voice that condemns us and makes us feel guilty: That voice that says, “You’re no good! You’re a failure! You’re a terrible sinner! God doesn’t love you anymore! You’ve let him down too many times!”

Like Charlie Sheen, we can tell the devil to get lost! We don’t answer to him anymore. He has no power over us. Yes, it’s no secret that we’re sinners; yes, it’s no secret that we fail; yes, it’s no secret that we let one another down. But it’s also no secret that God isn’t holding that against us! He isn’t holding it over our heads! He’s forgiven us through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus!

I have a friend in A.A. This year he’s celebrating, I think, 20 years of sobriety. He travels a lot—he’s a successful entrepreneur. But no matter where he is, no matter what city he’s in—he always seeks out the local A.A. chapter in order to go to a meeting. And I think, “What is it about A.A. that is so powerfully attractive and important to its members that they make a point of seeking out opportunities to go to it?” I want church to be like that! It ought to be like that!

And I think that one reason that A.A. is so important to so many is because the people who go there have nothing to hide! They are up front about their biggest problem. They begin each meeting saying, “My name is [fill in the blank], and I’m an alcoholic.”

In that spirit, I want us to begin this meeting the same way. Turn to the person to your right and say, “Hello, my name is… and I’m a sinner.” Please take a moment to do that right now!

Let’s pray…

[1] John 8:32

[2] Romans 7:18-19 ESV

I’ll let Brother Bob testify about our need for grace and forgiveness.

Sermon 11-15-15: “Jesus the Good Samaritan”

November 17, 2015


Have you ever noticed that in today’s scripture, Luke 10:25-37, Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer’s original question? The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told a parable that answered a different question: “Who proved to be a neighbor to this injured victim?” This sermon explores the meaning of this difference. I also relate this scripture to tragic events in Paris last Friday.

Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Last Friday night at 9:30, in Paris, several terrorists entered a popular concert venue where an American rock band was playing, and they began shooting. At least eighty people were killed. Shortly after that, more terrorists entered a nearby Paris restaurant and killed at least 18. Shortly after that, still more terrorists entered another nearby restaurant and killed at least 14 more. Several other Parisians were killed in the streets. Across town, at least two bombs exploded near a soccer stadium, during a match between Germany and France—which the president of France was attending. The stadium was evacuated.

When we hear about this kind of deadly violence, it’s very easy to identify with its victims—because they’re like us in so many ways. Just in the past week, literally the last nine days, I’ve been to a rock concert with my son. Just last Thursday night, I went to a sporting event at a large stadium in a big city with two of my children. On a few occasions over the past week, I’ve been to restaurants with my family or my wife, Lisa. To think that we could just be going about our business—our normal routines—and have our lives, or the lives of our loved ones, come to a sudden, violent end—just like that… We are so vulnerable. There is so much evil in the world.

What can we do as Christians? Read the rest of this entry »

My prayer for Paris from yesterday’s services

November 16, 2015


I prayed the following prayer during the services at my church. I also spoke at length about the attacks in my sermon, which I’ll post shortly.

Almighty God, our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of need: Our hearts are troubled once again by the brazen evil and violence of fanatical men, eager to die in their conspiracy to kill unarmed civilians—mothers, fathers, and children, the young and the old, the rich and the poor—people who share one thing in common: they did nothing whatsoever to provoke or harm the killers who aimed to harm them. We are heartbroken, indignant, filled with righteous anger at this affront to the decency of civilized people. We implore you, God, to ensure that everyone involved in this plot will be found and punished, according to the just authority that you ordained governments to have. Guide the French government, guide and protect its police, its intelligence personnel, and its military forces as they do their good and urgent work to protect innocent French people from further harm. Enable all nations of good will, including the United States, to join them in this just cause and redouble their efforts to eliminate the threat of terrorism wherever it exists.

We pray that justice will be done, even as we remember that vengeance belongs to you, and it is yours to repay. Remind us that you alone will ensure that justice is fully and finally done.

We pray for the families of all the victims: comfort them, strengthen them, give them the peace that surpasses all understanding. We pray for Muslims of good faith who also want peace and abhor the evil that’s been done in their name. Keep them safe. We pray that Muslims around the world will find the love and mercy of your Son Jesus. And we pray for our enemies: We know your grace has the power to soften the hardest heart. Please make it so. Enable them to repent and throw themselves at your mercy, O God.

Give us, who are far from this latest terror attack, the assurance of knowing that our lives are in your hand: that whether we live or die, nothing separates us from your great love; that our time is short and our mission urgent to spread the message of the good news of your Son Jesus.

Make Hampton United Methodist successful in this task.

We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Thank you, Jesus, for the bad news of the gospel

November 13, 2015

In her November 10 post, “Taking the Merry out of Christmas: The Offense of the Gospel,” blogger Anne Kennedy reflects on two recent events that relate to the taking and giving of offense: the mostly fabricated indignation about Starbucks’s holiday-themed cups and the controversy at Yale relating to racism and free speech.

Before getting to her main point, she takes a well-deserved swipe at the Huffington Post’s “Christianity” section. Referring to the pastor who created the original viral video about Starbucks, she writes:

His chief offense, as I can tell from reading this article in Huffpo, is, and it should be predicated with ‘shut up stupid Christians’, is that he is an ordinary beefy American who is ruining the gospel, which Huffpo knows all about, shut up shut up shut up.

How curious, I thought to myself, that Huffpo believes the gathering up of offense is a Good Thing–you can see it all up and down their page–but as soon as someone who might be identified as a Christian considers it, it becomes instantaneously a Bad Thing.

I like this:

I think the true offense, and why Christians must, absolutely, be constantly told to Shut Up, is because it is the Christian’s job to reveal and speak about the very dire reality of humanity’s true offense. Offense is a problem, but it’s not ours to take. It is God’s to measure and judge. We offend him, every single tiny second. Our sin is a stench rising up in his nostril and sometime he will have enough and come and destroy the offender. If you haven’t flung yourself on his mercy before that you will find all your angers and minute micro aggressions have brought you to a place eternally perishing. The Christian’s job isn’t to take offense, it is to announce the offense of the sinner and plead with the sinner to repent. Starbucks has a lovely, carefully crafted little pagan deity on its cheerful red cup, a cup that pours out coffee to a humanity spiraling into the depths of depravity and sin. That young lady, screaming her rage, later cupping her warm coffee and scrolling down her expensive handheld device, is a sinner in need of mercy from God. She is the offender, not the offended.

Christians do have a purpose in this dark time, but it’s not spread a message of peace and love. Not initially. It’s to say to the person who is gathering their threads of offense and weaving them into a warm, cozy blanket of offense, “Stop It.” And that is the best, most sure way to offend everyone that I can think of.

As she rightly points out, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—as opposed, for example, to the lesser gospel I blogged about on Wednesday—begins with bad news. In a vain effort to grow our churches at the expense of the truth, we pastors often try to gloss over this bad news.

But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—what a hopeless sinner I am! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize the “very dire reality of humanity’s true offense”—and your own—that all you can do, as Kennedy says, is to “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be!  Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

Thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!


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