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Showing posts with label Questions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Questions. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Questions about Jesus, Baptism, and the Bible

Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus appreciates people who seek answers.  Christ do for those who don't care, but those who seek, find.  Over the next few weeks, I will answer several questions about religions, heaven, forgiveness, and even racism for people who are seeking answers.  Let me start with a few general questions people have asked about the personality of Jesus, baptism, and the Bible.

Does Jesus have a personality?  Does Jesus have a sense of humor?
Let me start the answer with two points:
1)  People are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2)  Jesus is God. John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word [Jesus]  was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, people are made in God’s image. We reflect His character the way a mirror reflect our face.  We are God's mirrors.  Granted, because of sin, our ability to reflect God's perfect character is broken; however, just as a shattered mirror still reflects an image (albeit distorted and imperfect), we still reflect the image of God (although imperfectly).  People have personalities because God has a personality. People have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor. 

Furthermore, Jesus was fully God and fully human. This is a mystery. However, it is an essential element of understanding Jesus's character. Jesus was simultaneously God in every way and also human in every way. Jesus was the perfect example of what humanity was design to be.  Therefore it must be true that Jesus has a personality and a sense of humor.  The stories from Jesus' life also bear this out.  The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding party--a place of joy and celebration--and he made wine, which is a substance people use to enhance joy at a party.  It seems reasonable that Jesus was at the wedding to party and celebrate with everyone else.

People were drawn to Jesus because he was a real person with an attractive personality.  He had emotions just like the rest of us.  He experienced, sorrow, and anger.  Jesus even showed humor in many of his parables.  We often miss his joke because there is a cultural divide (have you ever watched a comedian from another country and scratched your head because they didn't seem funny, even though everyone else was laughing?  Ever struggled to find humor in British comedy?  There's a cultural divide that affects humor.)  An example of humor is the irony in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  We usually miss the humor, but Jesus' original listeners would have caught the ionic humor.

So yes, Jesus had a personality and humor.  An important question for you is this:  do you know Jesus as a person with a personality? Is he a real person to you or is Jesus just a historical figure or a picture you've seen in a stained glass window?  The main point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is not dead, but alive and he wants to have a real personal relationship with you.  He wants you to talk to him like you would to a real person, because he is a real person.  And he must be a real person to you or your religion is just not enough.

What is the difference in immersion and sprinkling as it relates to baptism?
Ephesians 4:5 says, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”  Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism is how we initiate people into the Christian faith, the family of God, the Church.  There is only one baptism, but it can be celebrated in different forms.

Baptism by immersion is when we "dunk" a person entire body completely under the surface of the water.  It can be done in a baptismal pool, a river, a lake, or any large body of water.  Baptism by immersion is a beautiful ceremony that symbolizes how a person who becomes a Christian has died to their old sinful ways and has been raised to new life as a new creation in Christ.  The person is symbolically buried as they dipped below the water's surface and raised to new life as they are lifted back up.

Another method of baptism that is more common in my Methodist church is sprinkling.  Through sprinkling, the pastor dips their fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkles a few drops of water on the person's head.  Sprinkling as has deep symbolic meaning.  In the Old Testament when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He had His priest sprinkle them with blood and water in a purification rite.  God claimed the Israelites as His very own people, a royal priesthood set apart as holy.  As we sprinkle a person with water through holy baptism, we recognize that God has chosen and purified them to be part of His holy people, the Body of Christ.

Another method of baptism that we see less often in my part of the world (but that is just as valid) is pouring.  Through pouring, a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the head of the baptized.  This method recalls how God pours out His Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized into the Christian faith.

In all these methods, we recognize baptism as the sacred ceremony Jesus command us to practice that God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  God does not save us through baptism, but He marks us as His own people and gives us help to grow in the faith.  We want as many as are willing to receive this special help God offers through baptism.  God can and does offer His full assistance regardless of the amount of water we use.  (It has been said that the minimum amount of water necessary for a valid baptism is only three drops--one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The amount of water used is not important; faith is what matters.

But why do Methodists (and many other Christian denominations) baptize infants?  Infants are not old enough to understand what God is doing or have faith.  However, their parents (or Christian sponsors) are and they bring their child seeking the assistance of God and the support of the Christian community to raise their child until the child is old enough to understand and have faith for themself.  

Infant baptism is not explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  This is because almost everyone in the New Testament became a Christian as an adult convert from another religion.  When an adult became a Christian they were baptized.  In some places, like Acts 16:31-33, the Scripture says a person was converted and baptized along with his whole household.  The text doesn't say who belonged the household, but this could have included children (possibly even very young children).
It wasn't long though (by the late first century) that Christian parents began having children who they wanted to raise within the Church from the very beginning.  They wanted to mark their children as God's chosen as infants.  Obviously, it is more practical to baptize infants by sprinkling than by immersion.  As Christianity spread worldwide, it became much more common for people to be born into Christian families that wanted to initiate them into the church as infants.

Infant baptism is one of the longest ceremonies we practice in the Christian church.  I don't mean that the service is very long.  Let me explain.  When parents bring me an infant to baptize, I sprinkle water on the child's head and God claims the child as His own and pour out His grace ot help the parents and community of faith raise the child to accept Christ for themself one day.  When the service is over and the parents leave, the sacrament of baptism is still proceeding; it is not over yet.  The infant's baptism will not conclude until the day the child grows up enough to understand and accept faith in Christ for themself.  Then they will come back to the church (maybe not even to me or my church; it could be another) and confirm their faith in Christ as heir Lord and Savior.  It may be 10, 20, even 50 years after the water was sprinkled on their head.  And it is in the moment that they confirm their own faith that the baptism that began in their infancy is finally complete.  So infant baptism in a very long ceremony that could take a decade or more to finish.

One more thing I must state, because I encounter this misunderstanding so often.  Many people confuse christening and baptism.  Sometimes people refer to infant baptism as christening.  So they will sometimes tell me, "I was christen as a baby, but now I want to be baptized as an adult."  If you were christen with water as an infant, you were already baptized.  Christening is one part of the baptismal ceremony.  It is the point in the baptism when we give the child their Christian name.  A long time ago, parents didn't not officially name their child until their baptism.  Then, during the ceremony, the priest asks, "What is the Christian name you give this child?"  And the parents would reply, "Bobbi Sue".  The act of naming the child is christening.  Then the infant is baptized by sprinkling water on it's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God pours out His grace on the child, the parents, the sponsors, and the community of faith that the child may grow up in the Christian faith and one day accept it for him or herself.  God has baptized the child and there is no need to ever do it again.  In fact, as a Methodist minister, I am forbidden to re-baptize a child.  To do so would not make sense.  Sense God is the one who baptizes, to re-baptize would like claiming God didn't do it right the first time.  An initiation only needs to happen once.  We can confirm the initiation or remember the baptism, but we don't re-baptize.

Is the Bible the Word of God to humans or is it humans’ words about God?
I suspect the root what's at the root of this question is the concern (or challenge) about the Bible's divine inspiration and/or reliability. This Bible is inspired by God and it is reliable.

To answer the question (and underlying concerns), I should start by saying the Bible is (in a sense) both God's Word and humans' words about God. Hear me out. The Bible is a collection of the stories about people's experiences with God. It was written by many different people over thousands of years. However, the Bible is inspired by God. What we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have and He uses the Bible to speak to us.

Different parts of the Bible were written in different ways. Exodus 32:18 says God inscribed terms of His covenant with Israel (summarized in the Ten Commandments) with His very own finger. In most places, though, the Bible was not written directly by God. It was written by people. Sometimes God dictated a prophecy directly to a prophet and said "Go say this!" or "Write this down and don't you change it!" But the majority of Scripture was written by regular people whom God inspired. People are flawed, and sometimes their flaws sneak into Scripture. (Example, sometimes people in the New Testament mix up quotes from the Old Testament).  Furthermore, peoples cultural ideas are not necessarily good or perfect (or even Godly) just because they are in the Bible.  However, God uses flawed humans (and their ideas) to communicate His Word to people.  As one old expression goes, "God can draw straight lines with a crooked stick."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the most important way God communicates with people today.  God inspired people who wrote the Bible and He also inspired the people who collected and compiled it.  Everything we need to to lead us to faith and salvation is within the Bible's sacred pages.  It is the primary source of all Christian faith and practice.  It is different from all other books in that God speaks directly to us through it when we read it—even to you personally.  You can certainly find help from many other books, but none of them can speak to you the way God can speak to you through the Bible if you read it through eyes of faith and an obedient heart.

I always appreciate receiving questions.  you can email me more at and I will try to answer them.  Let me conclude with a few questions for you to ponder and answer for yourself.
  • Do you have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? He is a person with a personality. You can talk to him and relate to him as such.  You must.  How could you delve deeper into a real relationship with the person, Jesus?  Will you?
  • Have you been baptized? Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus commanded us to be baptized and through baptism, we receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to continue to grow in our faith.  I would love to baptize you if you are willing.  If you live far away, I encourage you to seek a Christian community of faith to baptize you.
  • Do you read the Bible in order to let God speak to you? Do you study it with others?  The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Are you listening?  Are you reading?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris 2 - Questions About Forgiveness

            I want to thank everyone who has sent in questions over the past few weeks.  They've been thought provoking.  I will try to post comments about each one.  If you have a question, you can still post it in a comments section at the bottom of this blog.
            Today I will address a few questions about forgiveness.  And I will end with a challenge to consider two important questions, so be thinking about them as you read.  The first question is: what is something for which you need to be forgiven?  The second question is: what is something you need to forgive?  I hope God will speak to you about both of these as you read. 

 Luke 17:3-4
So watch yourselves!  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.

Matthew 18:21-22 21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

What Did Jesus Mean?
Here we have two texts where Jesus shares wisdom about forgiveness.  We are to forgive generously—extravagantly and recklessly.  Jesus says even if you have to forgive the same person seven times in one day, do it!  So does that mean we should forgive just seven times?  No!   70 X 7 times!  (Some versions say 7 X 7 or 77 times)  Sooooo… Are we supposed to forgive people 49 times, 77 times, or 490 times?  The point is not the number.  Jesus means you should never stop forgiving people.  Just keep forgiving as many times as it takes.  

What is Forgiveness?
Have you ever tried to define forgiveness.  It's harder than you think.  So I looked it up online.  According to Wikipedia: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  Let me highlight a few elements in this definition.  
·       Forgiveness is intentional – The first step in forgiveness, is recognizing that you have been offended.  This might seem obvious, but you can't skip this.  Sometimes people who grow up in the church skip this step because we've been told to forgive so much we almost think we don't have a right to be offended.  When someone does wrong to us, we immediately say, "Oh, it's alright.  Don't worry about it."  The Bible does say we should be quick to forgive, but we also need to recognize--especially if the offence is serious--that someone has mistreated us.  You cannot truly forgive if you don't recognize a mistreatment and glossing over it may lead to problems like passive/aggressive behavior.

·       Forgiveness is voluntary – It must be your choice to forgive.  It is not coerced.  No one can force you to forgive.  You must be the one who decides.

·       Forgiveness is releasing – Forgiveness let’s go of the debt.  Forgiveness releases the offender from the need to repay the debt.  More importantly though, forgiveness releases the victim from expecting repayment.  Some debts simply cannot be repaid.  When you keep expecting to be paid when a debt can or never will be repaid, you only keep yourself locked in a prison.

·       Forgiveness is increasing love toward the offender.  That doesn't mean you will necessarily like the offender (that is not love).  Remember, love is not a warm fuzzy feeling about someone because they make you feel good.  Love is sacrificial.  Love is what Jesus did for us on the cross. 

A Financial Illustration:
            Let me run through a simple example of forgiveness using a financial illustration.  Suppose you loan your son $1 million dollars.  He spends all the money and then you realize he cannot repay the $1 million and he never will.  You could:  get angry about it and cling to your anger, hate him for it, hold a grudge, and throw a fit.  You could sue your son for the money (in which case, you may get some money, but nothing close to the full amount; he simply can't repay what he doesn't have).  You could plot to ruin his life to make him pay for his mistake, but what good would that do?  None of these will things you could do will actually do anything to collect on the debt.  It is uncollectable.
            So instead of seeking revenge, you intentionally decide to forgive the debt.  This is voluntary, not forced.  You release your son from the debt.  He no longer owes you and you do not resent him for it.  The debt and any negative emotions related to it are erased.  In this case, you don’t get your money, but you are free from fretting about it; you are free from the need to plot and strategize, and worry about it or from making trouble for your son.  You don't get repaid, but you can move on from the pain of the broken trust.  You can have a new relationship with your son, so you forgive him and then you love your son, genuinely wanting what’s best for him, despite his failure to repay you.
            Well, you may never have a million dollars to loan, but we all know of real life debts that cannot be repaid.  How do you repay someone for a public humiliation?  What are you going to say?  "Ok, you humiliated me last week so I get to humiliate you this week and then we will be even."  is that really going to make things even?  What about a burglary?  A burglar might replace things they stole and go to jail, but how do they repay the psychological damage done to a family?  Can a drunk driver ever pay off a debt for someone they’ve killed in an accident?  What about their family?  What about murder?  Well, we have the death penalty, but even the death penalty cannot erase the debt.  Your loved one who has been murdered can never be brought back--even by the death of the murder.

What Forgiveness is Not: Now that we know what forgiveness is, let's take a look at what forgiveness is not. 
·       Forgiveness is not condoning – Condoning is failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness.  Many people struggle to forgive, because they think it somehow condones what the offender has done.  Not so.  Forgiveness does not in any way condone evil actions.  To the contrary, it recognizes that evil was committed, and chooses to fogive it.

·       Forgiveness is not excusing Excusing is saying the offender is not responsible for their action.  (Excusing is like saying a person had a terrible childhood and so they aren't responsible for what they did...)  You can forgive someone and still hold them accountable for their actions.  If someone robs you, you can forgive them and still prosecute them. Your forgiveness does not necessarily cancel the consequences of their actions.  It simply means, you have let go of the anger and hurt about the offence in your own heart.  Love may actually require you to hold people accountable for their sake and/or for the sake of society.

·       Forgiveness is not forgetting – The expression “forgive and forget” is not biblical.  I have searched the Scriptures and I cannot find it.  Jesus wants us to forgive, but Jesus did not teach us, nor does he expect us, to forget.  In many cases, it is not wise to forget an offence.  You should forgive someone who cheats you, but it would not be wise to forget what they did.  Don’t hold a grudge, but be aware that they may try to cheat you again.

·       Forgiveness is not reconciliationReconciliation is the restoration of a relationship.  You can forgive someone without reconciling or putting yourself back in harm’s way.  In some cases, reconciliation would not be wise or healthy. 
            One question that came in was: “Does forgiving someone mean you let them continually repeat offenses against you?” The answer is: No, because forgiveness is not reconciliation. 
            Reconciliation may not be necessary if the person is a stranger because there is no relationship to rebuild. You can’t reconcile a relationship you didn’t have in the first place.  One of my members at a previous church was a very sweet, prayerful, and godly women.  However, Suzy had a terrible accident.  She wrecked her car into a motorcyclist.  It was an accident, but it was Suzy's fault and the motorcyclist was nearly killed.  Suzy felt terrible about it and asked if I would visit the family in the ICU.  I did and expressed Suzy's remorse and prayed for the family.  Thankfully, they were Christians and understood forgiveness.  They forgave Suzy, but they didn't need to reconcile with her because there was no relationship to rebuild.  Furthermore, I believe they even went on to sue Suzy (really her insurance company) to try and recoup the money they needed for medical expenses (as they should have).  So we seen in this a few elements we've discussed.  First, that reconciliation is not always necessary as apart of forgiveness.  And second, you can forgive and still hold people accountable.
            Sometime, reconciliation is not advisable.  Reconciliation is not wise or healthy if it would be dangerous or result in abuse.  Reconciliation may not be wise or healthy if the person is unrepentant, otherwise they may feel it is ok to do the same thing again and they are likely to hurt you again (and again and again…). 
            There is also such a thing as partial or limited reconciliation. That means you re-establish a limited relationship with someone.   We find examples of this frequently after a divorce where children are involved.  You may never fully reconcile with your ex (and there are circumstances where full reconciliation may not be wise), but if you have children together and share custody, you probably need to reconcile to some degree just to cooperate as parents with joint custody.

Why Forgive?   
            Why should we forgive? I mean, if it is so complicated and hard, why should we even bother?  We forgive because Jesus forgave us and he asks us to forgive others.  Psalm 65:3, "Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all."  Often, the thing that keeps us from forgiving someone is thinking we are better than them. We say, "How could you do that? I would never do that!" And so we feel they don't deserve to be forgiven. If you think you have not sinned, or if you think you are better than someone else, you need to rethink. All of us are guilty of sin. And all sins are equally evil in God’s sight. Therefore, you are no better than anyone else. 
            Your sins--regardless of how small you feel they are--led to Jesus horrible death.  Though he was completely innocent, he was arrested, abused, tortured, and crucified to atone for your sin.  Yet, despite this, Jesus willingly died on the cross to forgive your sin.  If Jesus went through all that for you, how can you refuse to forgive others when Jesus asks you to? 
            We forgive because it is the only way we can be healed.  Holding on to a grudge is like you drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other person. It’s ludicrous.  Refusing to forgive creates bitterness in your heart that will poison everything you do.  It will make you a bitter, angry person--even with people you love.  It will hinder your ability to trust others—even people who haven’t done anything wrong.  It will hurt your relationship with God.  Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
            We forgive because it frees us.  Proverbs 17:9, "Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends."  We are happier when we let go of our grudges.  It enables us to have better relationships with God and with people.

Forgiveness is Hard
             In just a moment, I’m going to ask you to pray about one thing for which you need to be forgiven and one thing you need to forgive.  But before I do, I want to share my two things.  First of all, one thing I need to forgive are church members who have disappointed me.  I have been a minister for 17 years and it is always very hurtful to be betrayed by a church member.  You would think a minister would have the whole forgiveness thing down after 17 years, but it can be very difficult.  I can still think back to a time in 2004 when some church members went behind my back and tried to have me replaced as the church's youth pastor.  It was very hurtful and the pain of their betrayal still lingers in my heart.  I need to let that go, as I forgive other betrayals. 
            Sometimes, though, it is not a blatant betrayal that I need to forgive.  You know, I pour my heart and soul into a church and it really hurts when a member of my church leaves to attend another church.  It is especially hurtful when I hear things like:  they didn't feel like they were being fed or they liked the music over there better or they had friends at that other church.  And I need to let go of my disappointment and just forgive, because I know I'm not perfect either.
            I realize I need to be forgiven because I have made mistakes as a minister.  I have not always been the pastor people needed me to be.  I have not always visited like I should--either because I didn't know or I was not able or (sometime) because I didn't want to.  And people have been so gracious to me.  People have forgiven my mistakes.  Often, I'm sure, I have hurt people and they have forgiven me and I wasn't even aware of it.  And I'm so thankful God has forgiven me and that people have been gracious and forgiven me.  And so I think if God and people have been so gracious with me, I should be gracious and forgive others too.

            So now I would like to challenge you to take a moment pray about your own situation.  What is one thing for which you need to be forgiven and what is one thing you need to forgive?  Pray about it. I invite you to go even further and write it down on a slip of paper.  Then, after you've prayed to God about it, burn that slip of paper as a symbol of letting it go forever.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris 1 - Questions About Sin

            Today, I begin a new series of blogs based on questions people have asked about religion, the Bible, etc.  Several people asked questions related to sin. So today I will address the topic of sin.
            In Genesis we read how a man named Joseph became the most powerful man in ancient Egypt besides Pharaoh.  But then that Pharaoh died, Joseph died, and 400 years passed.  There was a drastic change of attitudes of Egyptians toward the Israelites (the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The Egyptians loathed the Israelites who had grown numerous in the land. The Egyptians tried to wipe them out with slavery, hard labor, and genocide. 
            God raised up a prophet named Moses to deliver the people. Through a series of plagues, God forced the mighty Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. And by many miracles—such as parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground—God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Furthermore, God gave Moses divine laws to order the life of His people and keep them pure and holy.  Yet the sin of Adam and Eve still corrupted the hearts of these people; and as God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments up on a holy mountain, sin led the Israelites into trouble again.

Exodus 32:1-8
1When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

5 Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

6 The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

7 The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”

Brief Exposition of Scripture
            It is almost unbelievable that the Israelites would turn their backs on God so quickly after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  It was God who brought ten plagues against Pharaoh, forcing him to let the Israelites go.  It was God who parted the Red Sea—a miracle so awesome no one could forget it.  It was God who provided for these former slaves as they journeyed through the dessert. 
            Sin is a terrible disease that darkens human hearts and minds. It caused the Israelites to turn their back on God, while He was still working to save them.  We still struggle with sin today.

What is Sin?
            Sin was originally an archery term. It meant missing the mark. But what is the the target for which we shoot?  God made us in His image. God intends us to be a reflection of His Holy Love. That Holy Love was lived out in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and each other.
            Jesus also explained the nature of Holy Love in the New Testament when he named the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...  And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
            When we think of sin, we usually think of all the bad things people do—lying, cheating, stealing, murder, etc. These are all sins, but they are sins (with a lower case "s") because they are only symptoms.
            Here's an illustration: When you are coughing, sneezing, and have a runny nose, you might say you have a cold. But the coughing and sneezing, and runny nose are just the symptoms. The common cold is actually cause by a virus—the rhinovirus. The virus is the core problem. The symptoms—the coughing, sneezing, and runny nose—are just the results.
            The core problem in the human heart is Sin (that’s Sin with a capital "S"). We don’t keep God at the center of our life. We don’t put Him first. We try to find in other things what only God can give.  That is the real Sin (with a capital "S").
            It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Remember, they chose to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Instead of trusting God who said not to eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve listened to the serpent who lied and told them the fruit would make them like God.
            The core Sin is we don’t love God above all else, we don’t trust God above all else, we don’t obey God above all else.  When this core Sin inhabits our hearts, it expresses itself through a multitude of little "s" sins—lying, cheating, stealing, murder, idolatry, lust… We forget about God who made us and saved us and we mistreat everyone. Ultimately, we destroy ourselves. As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” 

Are All Sins Equal?
            One of the question submitted was "Are all sins equal?"  As I have said, the core Sin (with a capital "S") is not keeping God above all else. So there is only one Sin. But what people mean, I think, when they ask this question is “Are all the little "s" sins equal?” And the answer depends from whose perspective you are looking.  Are you viewing the problem from people's perspective or God's perspective.
            If you look at the problem from people's perspective, it is plain to see societies loathe some sins more than others.  Murder is almost universally detested—regardless in which part of the world you live (though some cultures even view murder in varying degrees).  Other sins are detestable in one region while hardly even noticed in another society.  I recently read about a missionary who discovered this as he was serving as a professor overseas.  He gave his foreign students a multiple choice test.  Each question had 4 choices, one of them being correct.  Multiple choice tests are usually considered easier in America because even if you don't know the answer, you can guess and have at least a 25% chance of getting the right answer.  So the missionary professor was surprised to see students turning in test without even taking a guess on many of the questions.  He asked one of the foreign students about it. 
            "Did you realize you didn't answer all of the questions?  You still have time left.  Why don't you try to answer them?"
            "No, because I don't know the answers to those questions," replied the student.
            "But why don't you at least take a guess at them?"  Inquired the professor.
            "Oh no!" exclaimed the student.  "I couldn't do that.  If I accidentally chose the correct answer, I would be lying because I do not know the answer."
            The professor realized, the students of that foreign land valued honesty more than students in America, even more than the professor.  They saw sin in a different way.  Who is to say they are not right?
            How society feels about a particular sin can change quite a bit over time.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, considered playing cards a terrible sin because it was a distraction that wasted time that could be used for spiritual growth and to serve God and one’s fellow man.  Now-a-days, playing cards is often done in the church and we wouldn't think a thing about it. Our views have changed.
            Currently, the big debate in America centers on issues of sexual sin—especially homosexuality. To some, it would seem engaging in homosexual acts is the worst possible sin anyone can commit. Yet, society has become so much more accepting of homosexuality and sexual sin in general.  So it is easy to see that people, societies, and cultures do not see all sins as equal and perceptions of sin can change a lot over time. But what about God?

           From God's perspective, all sins are equal. As the first part of Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death…”  Dead is dead; there's no such thing as a little bit dead. It doesn’t matter if the sin was a little white lie, a little gossip, homosexuality, or murder. All sins results in death and are equally evil in God’s sight.
            One of my childhood youth pastors explained it to me this way.  Suppose you have a crystal clear pane of glass.  It is perfectly clear except for one small smudge in the middle.  Even though 99% of the glass is clear, if you take a hammer and strike the small smudge, the whole pane of glass will break (not just the smudge).  The same is true of your life.  Even if you are 99% perfect, that 1% of you that is sin will shatter the other 99%.
            Romans 3:23 & 6:23a tells us the bad news.  Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glorious standard."  And the first part of Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death..."  We all sin and are subject to death.  The Good News is that God does not give us what we deserve. Because of Jesus, we can be forgiven our sins, no matter how big or small they are.  As the second part of Romans 6:23 says, "the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
            When we repent and trust in Jesus, every sin we've ever committed is forgiven.  Every sin we will ever commit in the future is also forgiven by God.  Isn't that wonderful news?  It is very wonderful news indeed! 

Should We Keep Sinning?
            If God is just going to forgive us, why not just keep on sinning?  No! Because you have to repent in order to receive God’s forgiveness.  Repentance is choosing to turn away from your sin and turn to God—turning away from all those little sins like lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  Ultimately, repentance means you choose to put God above everything else.  It means loving God above all else, obeying God above all else, serving God above all else, and seeking God above all else.  If you decide to just keep on sinning, you are not really repenting.
            Now, we are still imperfect human beings. We may still make mistakes. We have a lot of healing to do before we actually reclaim the perfect image of God. And God is gracious. He understands and is patient. He forgives again and again and again. But don’t abuse His gracious gift by willfully and knowingly sinning just because you know He will forgive you. God knows your heart.

Dwelling on the Past
            One interesting question that came in was:  "If God forgave me, shouldn’t people forgive me too and not dwell on the past?"  The question came to me on Facebook last week, but I have heard the question in various forms from different people through 17 years on church ministry.
            When we sin, we often feel terrible.  We struggle with shame and guilt and often the awful consequences of our sin.  It can be very difficult for us personally as we struggle to repent, accept God’s forgiveness, and even forgive ourselves.  It is a painful journey; one we would like to just put behind us.  However, the consequences of our sins  often linger; often, those consequences effect other people.  For example:  If you commit adultery and it leads to divorce, the consequences will last a lifetime.  Even though God forgives you, you may always have to deal with the scars of a broken marriage.  Your spouse may never forgive you.  If there were children involved, it may take years of hard work to repair the relationships; and they may always remember what you did.  Sin has a terrible and lasting effect.
            In the Bible, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, God forgave him.  However, David suffered the consequences of his sin though out his life.  In the short term, just after the sin, David’s infant son got sick and died.  In the long term, David’s family was full of conflict.  One of his own sons eventually lead a rebellion to steal the Kingdom from David.  David retained his Kingdom, but only after his son was defeated and put to death.  As an old man, David still struggled with guilt from the brokenness he caused by his sin.
           When we sin, we are glad that God forgives us and we may feel as though everyone ought to forgive us and move on too.  However, don’t presume to think people owe you forgiveness.  Maybe they should forgive you, because it would be better for them if they did.  However, don’t resent someone because they haven’t forgiven you yet.  You don’t have that right.  Remember, you caused this problem; now you are dealing with the consequences.
            Instead of telling people to forgive you and move on, be patient with them.  Be gracious and show real love instead of resentment.  Give them time to heal and give God time to work on their heart.  Pray for them; pray that God would heal them—for their sake and not just so you can be free of the shame and guilt.  In the mean time, bear the cross you have to bear until God takes it away. 

What is God Saying to You Today?
            As we conclude, I invite to consider what God might be saying to you today.  Perhaps He is calling you to repent of your sin and turn to Him.  Perhaps He wants you to make a new commitment to put Him above everything else.  Maybe you need to ask God to help you see sin more like He does and less like the fickle people around you. All sins are equally evil. Ask God to help you hate the sin within you.  Maybe you need to pray for those who need to forgive; perhaps there is even someone who needs to forgive you. Ask God for patience while you wait.

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