In Community with Sinners

2 Corinthians, Forgiveness, Luke, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

“This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes!” ~Luke 15:30

brothersangrybroThere’s a problem when we don’t see ourselves in community with sinners. We are all sinners. We’re all stained with sin.

In Jesus’ timeless story, the older brother’s sin is not breaking the father’s rules, it’s the pride he has in keeping all the rules. It’s not his wrong-doing, it’s his righteousness — his self-righteousness — that’s separating him from his father. The younger son wanted to make his own decisions, he wanted control of the wealth, so he left. The older son wanted the same control and he tried to get it by staying. “I’ve never disobeyed you,” he says, “Now you have to bless me.”

Both brothers had faulty hearts. They both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under the father’s rule. They each tried to do things their own way for their own benefit, not matter how it impacted the relationship. But the older son doesn’t see himself as a sinner.

“This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes,” he says. “He may be your son, but he’s not my brother. You can claim him as yours, but I don’t want any part of him. And remember what he’s done! Remember his terrible sins! We’re not just going to ignore his sins, are we?”

You’ll never forgive anybody if you think you’re better than they are. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. How do we forget that? Hanging out with sinners isn’t going to accomplish much, if anything, if you can’t see that all of us are in the same boat.

The good news is that the father’s love and grace covers every single kind of sin. Jesus gives us this story so we can see that God’s love and forgiveness can pardon any and every kind of sin and restore any and every kind of broken relationship. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. The father says, “I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt. I’m not going to wait until you’ve begged. You’re not going to have to earn your way back in to the family. I’m just going to take you back. I will cover your nakedness, your poverty, and your shame with the glorious robes of my love.”

The father pounces on his sinful son before he can clean up his life, before he can prove he has a changed heart, before he can even say his repentance speech. The father is only concerned with getting rid of the sin in order to restore the relationship. And the only way to get rid of sin is to forgive it.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” ~2 Corinthians 5:21

Sin destroys relationship with God. So God took care of it. God made his Son to be sin for us. And our sin died with Christ Jesus on the cross. God is reconciling the whole world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God takes care of the sin. He forgives it.

“For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation!” ~2 Corinthians 6:2

The Father is waiting for you. He’s looking and searching for you. And he’s waiting, not to condemn you but to welcome you. With a gracious heart, he’s running to you. With compassionate arms, he’s hugging you. With merciful lips, he’s kissing you and speaking to you words of forgiveness and reconciliation.



Election Perspective

Christ & Culture No Comments »


If you’re looking for something to read from a uniquely Christian perspective two weeks before the general elections, here are a few links to some really good articles. Regular readers of this space know my positions on the politics of this world versus the politics of the Kingdom of God. Hopefully, you’re also aware that I’m aware my positions are not perfect. In other words, I hope you know that I know there’s room for debate about my beliefs and practices. But I unapologetically maintain that the kingdoms of this world, the values and “truths” and motivations those kingdoms war to protect, and the foundational structures that keep those kingdoms going are completely opposed to the Kingdom of God, its values and truths and motivations, and its structures. The two kingdoms are totally opposite. And I find that it’s next to impossible to serve both.

However, most Christians I know will be voting in the general elections in two weeks. For a variety of reasons and motivations, with a mixture of hopes and concerns, most Christians will be heading to the polls. To those who are deciding to vote, I generally say something like this: I believe it’s OK to vote; just don’t pretend it’s an act of righteousness.

Randy Harris, a theology and ethics professor at Abilene Christian University, has written an article confessing the baggage he brings to these discussions. This is good for helping each of us come to terms with our own bias and prejudice as we consider how disciples of Jesus should engage the political systems of the world. Click here for his article “Electing to Follow Jesus: Claiming our Baggage.”

My brilliant brother, Keith Stanglin, has written a post on the Christian Studies blog called “Lewdness in Politics? Say It Isn’t So!” This is excellent social commentary tracing the media’s role — and our role — in giving us Trump and Clinton, the two candidates we actually deserve as a society. Keith shines a bright light on the hypocrisy of the media and those of us who indulge it with paragraphs like this:

“Lewd talk and sexual images, as well as those who peddle them, are mainstream. For instance, Howard Stern, once a shock jock who made a living and became famous for, among other things, treating women as mere objects for sexual stimulus, was, for four years, mainstreamed into culture as one of the celebrity judges on NBC’s family show ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Stern, whose comments on most topics make Trump’s look harmless, went straight from judging naked female bodies in his studio to judging women and children on stage, and no one seemed to notice or care.”

If you only read one of these articles I’m recommending, click here and read this one by Keith.

Christianity Today’s Andy Crouch questions why a lot of Christians are so quick to correctly criticize the Democratic nominee’s win-at-all-costs pursuit of personal and party power but reluctant, at best, to criticize the Republican nominee’s blatant disregard for Christian values and morals. This is an excellent article that points out and makes a strong case for the idolatry of Christians who justify their support of Donald Trump because of the Supreme Court justices that might or might not be appointed over the next four years. Here’s a sample of his article:

“There is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry — an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength — the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome — at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.”

Click here to read the whole article.

John Mark Hicks gives us a beautiful contrast between confidence in politics, politicians, and the nation versus confidence in our God, the Creator and Sustainer of Heaven and Earth. He uses Psalm 96 to draw a rich comparison between worry and worship. Click here to read “Say Among the Nations.”

And, finally, I don’t read Beth Moore; but I have a dear friend who, occasionally, will send me a Beth Moore post from her Living Proof Ministries blog. This one, “The Scandal of Election 2016,” is a reflection piece on faith in God as the sovereign ruler of the United States and, indeed, the entire universe, regardless of who wins the elections and which party is in power. In one section of her article, Moore describes how our political tunnel vision actually causes Christians to rationalize speaking and acting in decidedly unChristian ways:

“We are driving drunk on rage, swerving all over the road, fenders dangling and headlights shattered from our collisions with one another. Any means to our end. It’s okay to lie to shove people to the truth. To bully, harass, and threaten people publicly and relentlessly into doing the right thing. To twist the facts to straighten this mess out. To pull the covers off our opposition and throw them over our candidate. Our witness to the world has become the crimson-faced hysterical screams of Armageddon after Jesus said, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ We are so void of vision that all we can see is a big fat ‘T’ in the road ahead. It’s right or left. There is no other way.

Poor, poor God. He’s down to his last two options. And poor, poor us for having such a poor, poor God. We are called to be a people of faith in a God who never needed a man-paved road to get anywhere. A dead end means nothing to the God of resurrection.”

Click here for Moore’s complete article.

Each of us has to make our own decisions regarding our Lord’s exhortation that no one can serve two masters. He says we will either hate the one and love the other, we’ll despise one and embrace the other; but we cannot submit to and serve both. Each of us has to decide what to do with Christ’s insistence that his Kingdom is not of this world. Again, I think it’s probably OK for Christians to vote; just don’t pretend like it’s an act of righteousness.



Sin and Relationships

Acts, Evangelism, Jesus, Luke, Sin No Comments »

brothersheartNearly everybody defines sin as breaking a law or disobeying a set of rules. But in Jesus’ timeless story about the two lost brothers in Luke 15, our Lord shows us it’s possible to perfectly obey all the regulations and still be trapped in sin. Both the younger son and the older son had faulty hearts. One ran away from the father’s house and disobeyed all the rules while the other son stayed at home with the father and kept all the rules. But they both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under his command. They each tried to tell the father what to do and how to run his business. One rebelled against the father by being very bad. And the other rebelled against the father by being really good.

Sin destroys relationships. No matter what the sin is or what motivates it or who commits it, sin destroys relationship. Neither of the sons wanted the father; they each wanted what the father could give them. They wanted the father’s blessings, they wanted his riches, but they didn’t necessarily want him.

Like the lady talking about her husband and says, “I didn’t want to marry my husband for his money, but I couldn’t see any other way to get it!”

Sin breaks fellowship with the people in your life and with God. Sin wrecks that bond. Remember Adam and Eve hid from God, God didn’t hide from them. The separation doesn’t come from God’s side. The sin and shame and guilt creates the barrier. But even with the sin, God is still reaching out, he’s still seeking that fellowship.

A lot of people think God won’t associate with sinners, that God separates himself from sinners. No, God went out looking for Adam and Eve, right? “Where are you? What’s going on?” Our God walks with Enoch, he shares meals with Abraham and Moses, he dwells inside the tabernacle in the wilderness and inside Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Sin breaks relationship with God; but that’s always on the sinner’s end, not God’s.

God restores those broken relationships. Sin breaks and destroys and separates. But God in Christ came here to the sinners to find what is lost, to heal who is sick, and to fix what is broken. God’s mission is to restore the relationships, to reconcile all sinners back to himself. And he came here in the flesh and blood of Jesus to show us what it looks like.

Notice that at the beginning of Luke 15, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. That really ticks off the religious leaders who think God’s people shouldn’t have anything to do with sinners. But hanging out with sinners — eating and drinking with sinners, talking to and sharing with sinners — seems to be God’s strategy for restoring the relationship.

And sinners love it!

All throughout the Gospels, sinners are attracted to Jesus. Sinners are gathering around Jesus, they’re following Jesus, they can’t get enough of Jesus. And Jesus welcomes them. He eats with them. Exactly like the master of the banquet in the last story Jesus told in Luke 14. God’s strategy is a table. And God is bringing all people to that table. God wants all people to have fellowship with him. Table communion. A righteous relationship with God.

All people.

Even sinners? Yes! Even tax collectors? Yes! Prostitutes? Yes! Blue Jays fans? (……)

Yes, even Blue Jays fans and politicians and bank robbers and murderers and cheats! Everybody is invited! And God himself comes to us to demonstrate in living color what it looks like.

Jesus seeking out sinners and getting to know them. Jesus hanging out with the lost. Peter saw it up close as an apostle of the Messiah and he tells Cornelius in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good… because God was with him.”

No wonder the sinners and tax collectors loved him. Jesus went about doing good because God was with him. Jesus loved them! He accepted them! And it seems like he actually enjoyed their company. Jesus was good to sinners. Jesus showed mercy and compassion to sinners. Jesus shared his great joy and peace with sinners. And the religious people didn’t understand it. They wrinkled up their faces and called Jesus “a friend to sinners.” And Jesus said, “Thank you very much!” That’s the nicest thing you can say to our Lord.

What if we had the same reputation? What if we were known for hanging out with sinners? What if people criticized us because we showed so much mercy and compassion to sinners? What if our churches were known for sharing joy and peace with sinners?



Lost and Found

Evangelism, Luke, Salvation 1 Comment »


Jesus talks a lot about sin and salvation in terms of “lost” and “found.” His most well known parables in Luke 15 are about “lost” and “found.” Jesus came to this earth to, in his own words, “seek and save the lost.”

The story of the prodigal son is, of course, the masterpiece of all Jesus’ parables. This is the Mona Lisa. It’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla of parables. This is the story to which all other stories are compared. This is the one that grabs our heads and penetrates our hearts.

In this story, the younger brother is lost. It’s obvious. He’s run away from home. He’s left his father. He’s in a pig sty, the absolute worst of all unclean conditions. He has no resources, no community, no family, no friends. He’s far away from home. He’s the ultimate outsider. He’s lost.

But the older brother is lost, too. He’s working out in the field. He’s loyal. He’s committed. But he’s angry and bitter. He won’t be in the same room with his sinful brother. He won’t even acknowledge that they’re brothers. He’s unforgiving and judgmental. He refuses to come into the home. He’s a different kind of outsider. But he’s just as lost.

One of the functions of this provocative story is to show us that lostness comes in a variety of forms. To be lost means to not have a relationship with the father — an intimate relationship, a transforming relationship that’s changing your heart and soul. You might be wasting away in a pig pen in a faraway country or you might be working really hard on the father’s property out in the field. Either way, if you’re not in the home, with the father, you’re lost.

And the Father is looking for you.

Part of the appeal of this story is that the way the father acts with his son seems too good to be true. The way he lavishes his love on his rebellious runaway child, the way he pours out his forgiveness and mercy on his son, the extravagant way the father rejoices — it’s too good to be true.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'” ~Luke 15:20-24

Or, maybe, it’s so good it has to be true.

The whole world is not going to be saved because of what you do. The whole world’s not going to be “found” because of your church’s outreach and mission efforts. But the stories in Luke 15 tell us plainly that as long as there is one single lost sheep wandering around in the wilderness, as long as there is one solitary coin buried in the dark corners of a dusty room, as long as there is one lost child, he will not quit until it’s not lost anymore.

Henri Nouwen, commenting on this timeless story, writes:

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”

Jesus gives us the parables, probably, to show us how to live. Yeah, maybe. More than that, though, he gives us these stories to show us the Father and who the Father loves. And the Father loves everyone.



Three and Done

Texas Rangers No Comments »


I expected the Rangers and Blue Jays to tangle for four or five games, I expected it to be a brutal series, I expected it to be a roller coaster of emotion all the way through. I believed the Rangers had the best top two starters among all the playoff teams, I believed they had the best young talent combined with the best playoff-tested veteran superstars, I believed they had the #nevereverquit mojo. I thought they would win it. I wasn’t going to be surprised if they lost it. But, either way, I thought there would be many incredible highs and lows along the way.

So, yeah, today I’m in shock. I’m still numb.

I wish I could blame one thing. I wish I could point the finger at one person, one play, one moment. I wish I could be mad at one thing.

But it was a total team failure. It was a complete meltdown from top to bottom. Pitching and hitting, baserunning and throwing, outfield play and behind the plate — it was a nightmare. The three starting pitchers gave up 16 hits, eight homeruns, and 17 runs in 10-1/3 innings for a 13.94 ERA. I have no idea what the Rangers hit with runners in scoring position, what their overall batting average was, or their on-base percentage, but I’m guessing it was just as bad or worse as what happened to the starters.

There was no roller coaster. Just one long four day cloud of dread and doom.

Pitchers and catchers report in 18 weeks.



Game One Links

Texas Rangers No Comments »


When the Texas Rangers are appearing in a divisional playoff series it’s always going to be a weekday afternoon start. For the team with the most division championships in MLB over the past ten years, including two World Series appearances, and the number four media market in the country, it would seem an evening prime time game would be in order. At least one. No, not for the Rangers. So, again, at work, we’re forced to start faking the cough during the mid-morning and then send out the vague email after lunch that you’re just not feeling right and need to go home. Hey, we’re all used to it by now (cough, cough).

I highly recommend that before the 3:38pm start, Texas time, you click here to read Jamey Newberg’s excellent preview of the Rangers-Jays series. I’ve always enjoyed the way Newberg writes, combining his expert knowledge of the game and his balanced observations with his unabashed love for the Rangers. He’s a real Rangers fan, no doubt. But his insights are just about as good as you’ll get anywhere else. Consider this from today’s Newberg post:

“We all want a championship here and, along the way, a knockout of the Blue Jays in a strictly figurative sense. But there’s no way any of us would want to skip ahead to the last page just to find out the result, right? The journey — as 2016 has exemplified — is such a huge part of the payoff. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out, whether it’s crushing or the best thing ever, but I have zero interest in finding out how it ends without embracing the experience of getting there.”odorpunchupclose

The Dallas Morning News has an outstanding preview section that includes a timeline of the intense rivalry between the Blue Jays and Rangers, with video, from the bat flip to the punch. You can find ballpark food comparisons and great player quotes about the series. It also includes lots of links to several national writers who seem split between picking Texas and Toronto to advance to the ALCS.

All of the previews include a heavy emphasis on the bad blood between these two teams. Sports Illustrated is picking the Blue Jays in five games. ESPN focuses only on the rivalry and doesn’t even predict a winner.

Personally, all the statistics through the grueling 162-game season favor the Rangers in any series they might play this month. Their historic winning percentages against winning teams and in one-run games, the 35-innings scoreless streak for the Rangers bullpen down the stretch, the high-powered offense, the best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in team history — all of these factors give me tremendous confidence going in. Who would be shocked if Texas takes this series in four games, breezes past the Indians or Red Sox in the ALCS, and wins their first ever title with relative ease? At the same time, Darvish has a tendency to give up early home runs and Hamels looked better in April and May since he’s looked since the All-Star break. And the Rangers offense is capable of going ice-cold for two or three games in a row. So, I don’t trust ’em. I love ’em, but I don’t trust ’em.

Let’s Go, Rangers!

Clap, Clap. Clap, Clap, Clap.