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Jeremiah 29

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I think I’m going to restart doing this regularly. I have a few creative outlets I’m focusing on right now, but I currently have none where I am specifically focusing on Scripture, save for sub 140 character twitter posts, but that hardly counts. This type of writing is also nice to do because it’s fairly easy and I hold it to a very low standard. These blog posts aren’t completely without thought, but they don’t require very extensive thinking either.

Jeremiah 29, huh. There are so many rabbit trails on which we could travel. I’ll work on staying focused and brief.

How about Jeremiah 29:12-14. These verses are a part of a message sent to people from Jerusalem who were taken and are now living in exile in Babylon. God chose to use this time to speak hope to His people in their time of potential despair. They didn’t heed Jeremiah’s warnings and repent, thus God chose not to prevent their conquering. So, now what. God didn’t protect them because of their sin. As covenant breakers in a foreign land, where do they stand with God? The passage in its

12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

The Jewish religious practices ascribe a lot of importance to objects and geography in the worship of YHWH. So much emphasis is placed on these things, the very presence of God is thought to be directly connected to them. God is where the Ark of the Covenant is. The Holy of Holies is where God’s presence is strongest. As one moves outward, the potency of God’s presence decreases. It’s next strongest in the sanctuary, less in the outer courts, still less in the city of Jerusalem, and still present, but weaker in the land of Judea as a whole. The further away one gets from the Temple, the further away one gets from God Himself.

If the presence of God is geographically related, then the exiled Jews have a problem. They’re in Babylon. They’re really far from Jerusalem and they can no longer make trips to the Temple. God directly addresses any fears about His absence. YHWH lets them know His presence extends even to Babylon. Away from home, under power of a foreign rulers, in the midst of a multitude of other gods, YHWH is with them. And He’s as available for relationship as ever. They need only seek Him truly and honestly to find Him. The promise of presence is wonderful and unexpected news to a people who thought their sin drove them away from God.

These words were penned to a very specific group (Jewish exiles in Babylon), at a very specific time (during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar – I don’t know dates people), with a very specific message (God will bring the Jewish people back to Jerusalem). How might a message of return from exile apply to followers of Jesus thousands of years later?

For most of human history, the people of God have been a people in exile. Followers of Jesus are no exception. We are told by new testament authors to identify so strongly as citizens of the kingdom of heaven that we consider ourselves as strangers in a foreign land wherever we find ourselves in the world. We are told to live like those whose home is elsewhere, whose home is different, than the place and culture in which we currently reside. In our exile, God speaks a message of hope – including promises of His presence where we are and promises of a return back to where we belong.

Ultimately, the people of God then and the people of God now are waiting for the same grand return from exile. It is the sin of the world which makes followers of Jesus exiles at present. It was the sin of the Israelites which made them exiles in their time. It was sin in the garden which exiled humanity from the world as it should be. All people of God across history look forward to this final return, when redeemed humanity is brought back to the home for which their heart has always yearned.

Simply Church: Dealing With Each Others’ Sin

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment

We established that in the New Covenant Family we all still sin, this sin destroys the family, and our older brother, father, and their spirits are bringing us out of this sin. But we, as brothers and sisters, also have to deal with the sin of one another. Handling the sin of a brother against a brother is one of the most difficult parts of being a family. We do damage to our siblings. It’s intolerable that the family of God would do this, but it’s also inevitable.

It’s difficult to be a family. We hurt each other. Like our sin, this should never happen and it is bound to happen. We wrong each other in so many ways. We gossip with other family members. We lie to each other. We speak derogatory words to one another. We point out flaws in painful ways. We ostracize. We condemn. We judge. We ignore. We refuse to listen. We envy. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time. We’re all sinners (that’s who Jesus came to call after all). Sinners hurt people when they interact with them.

When we are sinned against, Jesus tells us, as a family, there is only one way to handle it:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against your seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17)

These words are wonderful and frustrating. All of the actions of these two sentences are difficult (more on this difficulty can be found here).

It is often difficult to tell someone how we have been wronged by them because we have to admit that in some way our dignity was dishonored. We have to acknowledge that we were treated in a way that is embarrassing because we weren’t valued. Humility is required to admit we have been hurt. It is scary that our brother won’t acknowledge his/her involvement in this devaluing of our personhood because this affirms (wrongly) that dishonor is simply the way we should be treated. Rebuking someone about how they’ve wronged us is simply an uncomfortable thing to do. There are a number of things that make rebuking someone for their sin difficult, but it has to be done in a proper functioning family.

And then, the next part of this process is the person who sinned admitting their sin, being contrite for it, and turning from it back into right relationship. Who wants to admit they’ve done wrong? What if what we did wasn’t even technically wrong, it was just ignorant actions that unintentionally hurt?* As the person rebuking needs humility, the person repenting needs humility in relation to their siblings to, in a sense, put themselves below their sister in their request for their sister’s forgiveness. We need something from them because we want reconciliation with them.

Forgiveness is obviously most often the most difficult of all of these steps. Jesus’ words that we have to, essentially, always forgive a repentant brother or sister are especially difficult. At least for me, the reason it sucks so bad to forgive is simple and obvious, “They hurt me and they don’t deserve my forgiveness!” The exact reasons someone needs forgiveness are the exact reasons I don’t want to give it to them. When we forgive, we have to release the other of the wrong they did to us. The reconciliation of the relationship depends on us and we have to, in a sense, absorb the sin (I explain this quite poorly here). Forgiving is difficult, but absolutely necessary for our family to be a family.

Our older brother Jesus, a master of forgiveness and reconciliation, makes some pretty bold statements about these things. He claims that reconciling with our brother is more important than sacrifice for or going to a worship service for our Father. It doesn’t even make sense in our family to worship God our Father or make sacrifices to Him if we haven’t done everything in our power to make things right in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.

Jesus also says something surprising and frustrating about forgiving our siblings: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6). Pretty clear stuff. Unforgiveness makes no sense in this family because this family was started by the greatest act of forgiveness the world has ever seen. Our family began with forgiveness that allowed us to be reconciled with our Father and it continues with forgiveness that keeps us in intimate relationship with both our Father and our siblings. The only thing more unacceptable than sin in this family is refusing to forgive after all we have been forgiven.

Sometimes there is sin that is not directly against another person. Our goal in dealing sin like this is the same as our goal in everything else, how do we handle this like Dad would handle this? How do we handle this like our older brother would handle this? We do what families do, we love eachother. We give the sinner what they need. If it’s forgiveness, we offer it. If it’s a reminder of Dad’s love, we speak it. If it’s admonishment, we admonish. If it’s an embrace, we embrace. If it’s just to be there, then we just be there. We do whatever it is we have to do in order to love that person the way the Father loves them, all the while, with words and actions, pointing to the Father and our older brother.

*I’ve probably done this to you. And I’m so incredibly sorry. Help me change!

Another Way To Destroy Your Relationship With God

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Please read the addendum to the previous post.

As I was writing my last post on whoredom, I was thinking about a way that we keep ourselves from God by acting in a way that often feels like it’s right and just and what God would want. A friend who commented on my whore post cleanly summed it up, “I feel dirty.” It is true that we have earned death with our sin and that our sin has made us dirty and contemptible. This is not a bad place to be, but it is a horrible place to stay. Merry Christmas! The Messiah is here!

Jesus has come. This changes our very reality. Jesus has come to save us from our sins. Jesus has come to take away the sin of the world. Jesus has come to reunite us with our God by becoming sin on our behalf in so doing justifying us and through forgiveness, freeing us from the consequence of separation caused by our lustful betrayal. Jesus has come to purify us from all unrighteousness. Jesus has come to redeem our lost innocence, purity, and intimacy, bringing us back to the days when we walked hand in hand with God and returned His love in a world marked by the unadulturated goodness of God’s Kingdom.* Its freaking good news.

So, although you don’t deserve it you whore, forgiveness, purity, redemption, love, intimacy, innocence, unity, oneness, freedom, trust, and a new life have been offered to you. All of these things are at our fingertips. God, through Jesus, has offered them to us. God has found us in our infidelity and wrapped us in his loving arms, asking us only to also wrap our arms around him. It seems like a no-brainer to accept these. Or, at least, decide that we don’t want to be faithful to God because He’s not our type, and live as unfaithfully as we can because we don’t think the relationship is worth it. Accepting or a flat out oppositional rejection both make sense. But people often do a third thing.

People often, after realizing the depth of their sin and its destructiveness and their disgusting lifestyles and how horrifying their infidelity is, respond with shame and sit in shame and live in shame. They go around feeling dirty all the time. Dirtiness is their reality. They talk to God about how dirty they are and ashamed they are and sinful they are. They talk to others about their sin and about how bad they feel about it. They understand the horror of their sin, which is awesome, but they stop there. They try to comply with the rules that they believe God wants them to follow as they feel ashamed of themselves.

You know what happens? Usually, they just sin more. People that feel ashamed and dirty rarely truly feel like it has much significance to do something shameful and dirty. If your hands are covered in poop, you’re not going to be very concerned about touching a pile of dirt. Then, they feel more ashamed and they go back to trying to make up for their terrible actions by complying with rules they think God has. They become unintentional Law abiders, defined completely by whether or not they obey the live according to God’s regulations.

You know what doesn’t happen? Intimacy with God. It’s really difficult to be intimate with someone when you’re trying to redeem yourself by following rules that can’t bring about redemption. It’s really difficult to be intimate with someone when you’re trying to earn their love when what you have earned their hate. It’s really difficult to be intimate with someone when you’re trying to deserve their forgiveness for something you can never deserve forgiveness for. You can’t be intimate with someone you are ashamed to embrace.

They also get a host of terrible advice. Here’s a small paraphrased sampling: “You’re a really good person and are awesome to be around, you don’t have to be ashamed.” “You have to learn to love yourself.” “Everyone struggles with that, you’re fine.” “If you just were more obedient to God’s rules, you wouldn’t feel so bad about yourself.” “You need to learn to forgive yourself.” You can keep saying these things, but they don’t help. I’m all for encouragement, but those who will not accept what God has offered them need to know the following.

They are sitting in their shame because of their arrogance. Here’s an enlightening what if scenario about a familiar story. In John 8 Jesus keeps a woman from being stoned who was caught committing adultery and says that he doesn’t condemn her, telling her to go and live more faithfully. What if she would have walked away and started throwing rocks in the air and running underneath them as they fell so she was hit by her own stones? Her self-condemnation would not be admirable or pious, it would be foolish and arrogant. If Jesus does not condemn her, who is she to condemn herself? How incredibly proud would she have to be to stone herself when she thought she deserved it! She would be trying to get what she deserved instead of accepting the freedom through forgiveness that Jesus offered.

This is what people do when they live ashamed of their sin. They have made the decision that they will not accept the free gift that God offers and instead will try to deserve it or will live forever knowing they are unworthy, thinking that knowledge of unworthiness and not accepting undeserved forgiveness is somehow admirable or pious. The reason there is no intimacy in living ashamed of one’s own sin is because to live in shame is to reject God’s forgiveness, redemption, new life, and reconciliation into intimacy. While there are always a million other issues that play into it, at the core, it is always only hubris that keeps one, who knows they need God’s grace, from accepting His undeserved gift.

Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up. If you are not lifted, you are mistaking shame and condemnation for humility. Life that is truly life is at your fingertips if you would simply let go of your arrogance and accept what God offers. You don’t have to live in shame any longer. You don’t have to distance yourself from God. You don’t have to engage in self destructive behavior anymore. You don’t have to punish yourself, condemn yourself, ridicule yourself, or hate yourself. You don’t have to feel dirty anymore.

“You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Merry F-ing Christmas!

 

*All of these concepts deserve books. But, as you know, sloth and apathy are the other lovers I am prone to embrace. I embrace them now by not writing multiple books.

Sin – The Burden Must Be Born

November 25, 2008 1 comment

Oh sin, you dirty little thing.  It’s so messy.  It’s so painful.  It so shameful.  It’s such a burden.  It always has a negative effect.  It always divides relationships.  It often destroys them.  It doesn’t just disintegrate over time, but it sticks around in full force until it is destroyed.  It requires some sort of payment.  It requires justice.  It requires death to the one who committed it.  Or… it requires an innocent person who was hurt by it to bear the weight of it, the pain of it, the shame of it, and the burden of it in order to free the one that committed it.  If the one sinned against does not take on the burden of the sin, the relationship is destroyed.  Lord, may what I’m saying become clear as I write and may you give me the words to articulate my thoughts, and may this be used to provide us perspective on what you did and how we should respond accordingly.

Let’s start with a human relationship.  For brevity, simplicity, and clarity we will act as if this relationship is purely horizontal between two people and there is no element of a vertical God relationships.  Although, to be clear, I do believe that in real life situations, even among atheists, the YHWH relationship is always a factor.  Imagine a husband-wife relationship in which the wife has had an affair with another man. Imagine that we are the husband. You’ve been deeply wronged. There are quite a few options here for the husband.

They all involve what we (as the husband) do with the guilt of the sin. He can keep the weight of sin on his wife, a sensible and just decision given it is her action, her fault, and her choice – the burden should be with her. This often looks like coldness toward the wife, biting words, biting gossip, a vengeful divorce, sinning against the wife in an equally painful way, and various other attempts to create justice by punishing the wife. Another option is ignorance, pretending she never had an affair or that it wasn’t a big deal, and going on with the marriage pretending the burden of sin isn’t there at all. This option will destroy the relationship, drive the husband to clinical insanity, and the wife will constantly feel her guilt, concerned about when the topic will come up.

There is another way to deal with the guilt of sin. The third option is forgiveness. This is the hardest option for the husband, make no mistake about it. As free beings made in the image of a good God, we have  a natural desire for justice, and the husband has to give this up in order to forgive. Forgiveness, in one sense, is an act of injustice. In another sense, it is completely just because the husband who has been wronged and has every right to justice chooses to give up that right and clear the record of the sins of the wife against him. By giving up his right to justice, the husband takes on the burden of guilt. He has removed it from the wife because he, being the one sinned against, has a right to. But, still, an injustice has been done to him and if he does not seek out justice, then he bears the burden of the injustice. We have to take upon ourselves the pain, the humiliation, the shame, the wound, the scar, and taking on the weight of her guilt, erase her guilt by putting to death our right to justice – so experiencing the full weight of her sin.

Forgiveness is hard and incredibly painful, but it is the only way for the husband to have a real relationship with his wife again. Revenge, even equal revenge that equalizes injustices, might in one sense satisfy the husband, but it will destroy their relationship, not enable it. Pretending the sin isn’t there will allow for a pretend relationship, but that’s it. In order for the couple to be intimate again, the husband (us) has to absorb the injustice by exercising his right to remove her guilt and take it upon himself. It’s the hardest way and the only way to restore a relationship.

This action does require a particular response from the wife. If she chooses to be proud and refuses to give her guilt because she doesn’t deserve to have it removed, the act of forgiveness cannot be completed. We can only forgive and offer restoration, but he cannot force the wife to be humble and accept the gracious gift he has offered. If she doesn’t want forgiveness, the act can’t be done. The wife can also be proud by arrogantly expecting forgiveness almost demanding it because of her sense of entitlement to it. She then is trying to place her guilt on the husband, but it’s impossible – her guilt lies with her unless he chooses to take it from her, and in the proud act of trying to force the husband into taking on the injustice she is committing another injustice. Her goal is to acquire whatever she can from the relationship, and because of this, even if the husband (unhealthily) offers his forgiveness to a taking wife, the purpose of forgiveness is never accomplished because there can be no intimacy in a relationship of taking. What the wife must do if the act of forgiveness is to be completed is to, without a sense of entitlement but with a humble heart, undeservingly request and accept the forgiveness of the husband. In turn, the husband rightfully requests that the wife end her adulterous behavior.

In our imaginations we can feel what it’s like to be the husband, but in reality, we are the adulterous wife. God, may it be clear to us what You have done.

All sin, even things like murder and adultery, is primarily a sin against YHWH. It is the innocent party that is the most sinned against, and as humans, we’re never ultimately innocent.  Perhaps in one area we have innocence, but ultimately we are all guilty and deserve punishment. Sin is always against God because God is the only innocent in the world, both as a perfectly good Creator and as a human. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate example of God’s choice to take on the injustice that we have done to him and destroying the guilt, freeing us to be intimate with him. It is, in addition to being a powerful act in itself with deep spiritual consequences, a representation of what God does by choosing to be in a relationship with us. He takes on the pain, the wounds, the scars, the shame, the humiliation, and the injustice and erases our record of wrongs. We can respond to this either with pride or with humility. What he asks of us is to simply stop having the affair because it’s impossible to be intimate with the one we keep knowingly and deliberately hurting.  The freedom we have that comes from God’s forgiveness is not a license to sin against God, He will not be mocked in this way. To go on sinning, continuing in our love affair, while expecting intimacy with God, what we are trying to do is putting our guilt on Jesus and making him die for it. The problem is that it is not our right to put our bloodguilt on Jesus or expect Jesus to take it, it is God’s right alone to take up our iniquities and erase them. It’s His choice alone. And he chooses to take on the burden of sin for us adulterers who will undeservingly bow ourselves before him to request and accept his forgiveness.

I hope that something of what was in my mind was communicated well. My thoughts have been clarifying and transforming for me, and I hope some of the same for the reader of this attempt at articulation. A few exhortations… Appreciate all acts of forgiveness offered you.  They are powerful and selfless. Let your heart be sombered, humbled, and enlifened as you reflect on the injustice God took on and got rid of for you. Take full advantage of every opportunity to be intimate with God as it is the most precious and costly gift ever offered. Forgive as Christ forgave you.

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