Tonight, for the first time in 3 years we’ll come face to face with the person who embezzled a large sum from our church over a period of several years.  At our Thanksgiving Eve Celebration she will make some remarks to the gathered church.  With the exception of what some grace-stirred people donated to her restitution fund, she has paid her court-ordered debt to us in full.  That makes it easier for her to face us, but it has nothing to do with our ability or willingness to forgive her.  

Some people compartmentalize sins: eating too much food at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast, or holding a grudge for years, or vanity, or dodging taxes, are considered mild.  Sins like homosexual acts, adultery, drug dealing, obscene jokes and language, drunkenness or embezzlement, are considered awful.  Some who are “appalled by” the sins in this last category are “amused by” the sins in the first.

There’s a gospel flaw in that.  A single “mild” sin makes a person just as guilty in God’s sight as a person committing “awful” sins (James 2:10).  Which leaves little room for smugness.  God lumps the lot of us together as just plain sinners.  Proud pastors, tyrannical parents, griping homemakers, and lazy workers are sinners as surely as are the hookers, pimps, meth dealers, drunks…, and thieves.  Since the problem of sin is always the same, so is the solution for everyone: repent and put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.

That her theft hurt the church’s ministry for several years is irrelevant.  All sin affects someone or something.  We should not think others’ sins more calamitous than ours when we all bear responsibility for what took place at the cross.  On our behalf, the magnitude of what the Roman soldiers did to Jesus is without comparison.  Yet about these men Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  If Jesus could advocate for their forgiveness, and if God can forgive us though knowing perfectly our every sin and inclination to sin, how much more can we who have been so richly forgiven, forgive those who sin against us (Col.3:13); no matter what we think of the severity of the sin.  Tonight, we publicly do what we’ve privately done already: forgive.

The Petraeus Scandal: an Opportunity Missed

When General Petraeus resigned last week as head of the CIA for a extramarital affair, America’s fighting force lost a role model.  Widely admired inside and out of the military, the four-star won over those from both political parties and was frequently mentioned as a future presidential candidate.  There are few moral no-no’s in government service and an official said Sunday that the affair broke no laws.  But those in the clandestine services with closeted skeletons are a national security threat.  A secret affair with his biographer made the general a potential blackmail target for foreign operatives.

When my son was a cadet at West Point he had the privilege of hearing the general speak at his alma mater.  Petraeus was part of the Long Gray Line when he began to court the superintendant’s daughter.  The online picture of them on the Plain shows a fresh, corn-silk haired beauty.  They married 38 years ago, and surprise, surprise, both of them aged.  Children and the decades take their toll on every woman’s youth and looks (like age + male pattern baldness + donuts do to men).

Paramour Paula Broadwell has described herself as a fitness fanatic and although details about motivation are still sketchy, this much I know: a woman near 60 who’s given birth to several children can’t compete with a woman in great shape who’s 20 years her junior.  Perhaps there were problems in the marriage.  I mean, before all this.  No matter, this is a truism: men instinctively notice attractive women and all his life, a husband will daily see women who are younger and “prettier” than the one he goes home to.  Each one he sees is an opportunity.  No, not that kind.

In another era God stopped answering the prayers of Jewish men because they were tossing their aging wives overboard for younger women.  …the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant (Malachi 2:14).  “You made a covenant!” God thundered against the straying husbands.  “You promised!”  You promised to love her in sickness and in health, in wealth and poverty, in youth when you couldn’t take your eyes off of her, as well as in her aging years when she has wrinkles like you do. “You promised, and I was there when you did.”

Because of the promise a man makes to his beloved before God, whenever he sees a woman that captivates him, it’s an opportunity to reinforce his heart.  Instead of letting it meander unchecked and entertain “what if?”, a Christian man uses the opportunity to Keep [his] heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Prov.4:23).  It’s like working out; each time we properly exercise the heart, the muscle gets stronger.   No man can do this on his own, but we who have been born from above, are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  True, we can still sin, but because Jesus broke its power at the the cross (Rom.6:22), we DO NOT HAVE TO.

What Satan sells married men is a hoax: a different woman will make life better.  I doubt the general has found that to be true.  His wife is “beyond furious” and I can only imagine the reaction of his daughter who was recently married.  Will she trust her new husband?  The director of the CIA lost a job he very much loved.  And his popularity lies in ruins.  Opportunity…, lost.

Electoral Blues for Conservative Christians?

Earlier this morning CNN’s religion editor Dan Gilgoff blogged…

For many conservative Christian leaders, it was a nightmare scenario: Barack Obama decisively re-elected.  Same-sex marriage adopted by voters in some states.  Rigorously anti-abortion candidates defeated in conservative red states.  On multiple levels, Tuesday’s election results seemed to mark a dramatic rejection of the Christian right’s agenda, eight years after the movement helped sweep President George W. Bush into a second term and opened the era of state bans on same-sex marriage. 

“Nightmare scenario” is what opponents of conservative (ideologically and theologically) Christians would like to think.  Maybe God thinks: “It’s about time.”  True, in His revelation He specifically decries same-sex relations, and no sham marriage can make this sin sacred.  Plus, He called out Israel again and again for shedding innocent blood and what blood is more innocent than a developing child ripped from–or executed in, the womb?  And to our newly reelected president who claims to be a Christian–yet is an advocate for these evils, a holy God thunders, Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil… (Is.5:20).

Yet, are we conservative Christians as impassioned about Jesus as about our candidates?  If we are satisfied with no more impact in the community and nation than artificially imposing morals from above at the ballot box, perhaps God will continue watching as this country slides over a moral cliff.  Maybe dire circumstances around us will dislodge us from complacency; to do the hard, one-on-one work from beneath to love people and point them to the Jesus who renews the heart and mind.  From which comes a new bent towards righteousness.  I always vote for candidates who best reflect biblical values and show evidence of being able to lead.  But being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven lays a bigger assignment on us than simply voting and hoping our guy/gal…, wins.  We are after more followers of Jesus, not just more moral people.  

In a nationally publicized sermon on CBS in the mid-1900’s, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse asked what would it look like if Satan took over Philadelphia?  The Presbyterian pastor stunned millions with his answer as recounted by Michael Horton: All of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached. 

Believers of the early church had no legal rights to live–let alone vote.  Yet that primitive church flourished with a momentum that would make today’s campaign managers green with envy.  Lacking any political power it brought the Roman empire which killed many of its number, to its knees (think, Constantine).  The antidote to Gilgoff’s nightmare scenario is not more conservative Republicans, it is more people who turn to Christ in repentance and faith, and follow Jesus.