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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Is there grace for me here?

This is the singular question I asked upon joining the membership of a church five years ago.  This was my primary concern because, ultimately, a place where the gospel is preached must be a place where grace is extended to all people – not just some.  Not only that, but I know my own desperate need for grace.

After several months of feeling left completely out of the grace equation, I felt I had to ask.  When I looked around, I recognized that others were afforded love and grace that was continually, purposefully withheld from me personally.  Think junior high.  In junior high, one is very keen to the fact that they are not part of the accepted group.   It is an obvious observation because when the pariah walks in, she is avoided.  She sees them talking to everyone but her.  It doesn’t take too long to figure out that, no matter how many times she invites them, they are never coming over and that she will never be invited by them.  No matter what she does, she will never be good enough to meet their standards or be a part of whatever it is they are doing.

Still, we joined this particular church as members and continued to be avoided and accused by men who should have loved us; men who weekly claimed to offer grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy to all alike.

Finally, the initial red flag I had feared from the beginning was realized as right as rain.  I found that there was not grace for me or my family there.  Others, perhaps, but not us.  We were unmistakably avoided, repeatedly accused, and eventually slandered and excommunicated for reasons no one cared to discuss with us personally.

Sometimes people just don’t prefer you.  In these times, any offense will do.  Any irritation becomes criminal.  Every disagreement is grounds for nothing short of divorce.  When our hearts are hardened, whether our gracelessness is displayed toward a people group, a race, a religion, or an individual whom we simply do not prefer, the deceit within our hearts will justify almost anything including gossip, slander, maligning, misrepresenting, hatred, oppression, injury, and even murder.  Yes, this is the root of the transgression of the sixth commandment: You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

(Read and watch more on that here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/command-number-six-you-shall-not-murder/  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jjfBYaQjnQ)

Sometimes preachers get sent to preach to people they simply do not prefer.  Yesterday, I watched, in living color, the story of a man sent to preach to a group of people he hated.  When God called him to the task, he refused it.  He ran in the opposite direction as fast as he possibly could.  He got into some “deep” trouble and he ended up doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do in the first place…but he was NOT happy about it.  In fact, he was so angry when those no-gooders repented and believed the truth of God that he wanted to die.  His name was Jonah.

But what would cause a God-fearing, scripture-loving, truth-telling man of God to hate the very people he had been sent to preach to?

The Ninevites were not nice people.  They were cruel, ruthless, wrath-bearing killers.  They were all kinds of evil.  They were not part of God’s elect Jewish nation.  They did not follow the Law of Moses and the only sacrifices they made were men, women, and children from other people’s families.

Jonah, on the other hand, did all the right things.  From childhood, Jonah loved God and his people.  He prayed; he served; he did good works; he followed the law; he obeyed God.  Surely he was entitled to things those evil people were not – things like God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy —right?

Wrong.  Funny thing about love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy – no one deserves them.  God gives them as he wills to whomever he wills.  It is not our call despite any position or privilege we may or may not have within God’s church.  Jonah was a prophet who heard the very voice of God for himself and even he did not have authority or preference when it came time for God to pass out his mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace.

(You can read more about Jonah here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/running-away-from-gods-will/ http://www.lulu.com/shop/lori-rodeheaver/tomato-sandwich-rebellion-one-little-girls-journey-through-the-book-of-jonah/paperback/product-21012747.html )

Yesterday I received a letter from the second church who chose to avoid, accuse, and condemn me personally for reasons I have yet to be told.  As I sit wondering what on earth I did to cause so many people to hate and exclude me, I can only think of Jonah.  Regardless of whether I am indeed the worst sinner in the world and deserving of this kind of dismissal, the question that begs an answer is why?  What is the reason and why won’t anyone show me that reason so I might be able to see it and repent?  Isn’t repentance always the goal of excommunication?  Where are my accusers and why are they not accusing me of that which I must repent lest I be lost and damned?  Better yet, why are they not preaching the gospel to me in truth and love?  Am I beyond help?  Is anyone?

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I have been accused -always and ever accused.  Yet, none of the accusations made against me have been specific to any certain word or deed I have supposedly done.  All accusations and charges against me personally have been just that – personal attacks meant to injure and abuse.  No facts or specific situations wherein I have been found guilty have ever been brought up to me or discussed.  All accusations have been generalized, vague, broad-brush character assassinations.  No specifics; no examples.  And that’s how you falsely accuse someone without telling them why; without giving them an opportunity to reconcile, to be forgiven, to be restored, and to be a part of your fellowship.  That is how you exalt yourself to the position of judge, jury, executioner, and, yes, god himself.  That is how you rid your life of those you do not prefer.  I believe the Biblical term is “favoritism” and “partiality.”

Nevertheless, I know my own heart.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am not entitled to God’s favor.  I do not deserve grace or mercy or love or forgiveness.  The very nature of those gifts precludes merit altogether anyway.  So, if those who claim to be God’s people do not love and accept me, I have no grounds by which to argue for a seat at their lunch table.  I am a sinner and nothing more.  I am Nineveh and I deserve nothing but God’s wrath and judgment.

The truth is, the very men who tell me and my family that we are not welcome in God’s church must, in doing so, recognize that neither would they be if we use only the law to determine inclusion.

Thank God for His mercy!  Thank God for His love!  Thank God for His grace!  Thank God for His forgiveness! I may not ever be on the guest list at any church’s preferred people parties on Sunday mornings, but I know that my name is written in His Book of Life.  Thank God!

As for Redeeming Grace Fellowship, I have a few questions and a very few things I need you – and anyone unknowingly walking into your church – to know.

Dear Dana and members of Redeeming Grace Fellowship,

My family and I love you all very much.  We forgive you for all the things you have done to hurt us.  We ask that you would do the same for us.  We want only reconciliation and restoration. We don’t understand the reasons you have chosen to avoid us, abuse us, and remove us because you have not told us those reasons.  The silent treatment we have received and the absolute avoidance you all have conducted over the past year and even beforehand is not a Biblical method of dealing with erring brothers and sisters.  The Bible teaches us that if we have a grievance or if someone hurts or offends us, we are to go to that person individually, privately, and talk to them about how we feel we have been wronged or how we feel that person is sinning.  The goal of correction and discipline within the church is always repentance and reconciliation, not avoidance, exclusion, and exercising the silent treatment when asked for reasons for the avoidance and exclusion.

Telling your members they are not qualified to pray with other members is not a Biblical practice.  Telling your members they are not called to do ministry within the church to which they belong is not a Biblical practice.  Calling an emergency meeting of the entire church and having a session of gossip and slander about members who are not present is not a Biblical practice.  Avoiding accountability after doing such things is not a biblical practice.  Pretending nothing happened after doing these things and refusing to talk it over to find the root problem is not a Biblical practice.  Refusing to answer phone calls when questioned about why you feel the need to exclude, avoid, and remove members of your congregation is not a Biblical practice.  Speaking with the entire congregation about reasons why certain individuals are members of your church but are not welcome to attend any longer while simultaneously refusing to talk to the individuals themselves about these things is not a Biblical practice.  Failing to clearly address the sins of members and correct, pray with, and help them understand what they are doing wrong, your concern for them, and their need for repentance is the opposite of what the Bible teaches leaders in the church to do.  Telling your members it is inappropriate to pray with them about the unrest, injury, and overt division within your church is antithetical to what the Bible teaches. Telling a member that she is the problem when she is asking for clarity about why she is being removed is not a sufficient, helpful answer.  Telling her she is being divisive because she openly disagrees with a man who is telling the congregation that they cannot use Biblical methods is not a valid accusation.  Telling her she is divisive for attending a member meeting as a member is not a valid accusation.  Having the congregation vote to remove members after refusing to speak to those members for months – all after telling the congregation they are not welcome to attend despite their membership is not a Biblical practice.  Sending a letter informing individuals that they are no longer members without responding to their numerous, serious inquires asking why and when these matters could be discussed is not a Biblical practice.

These actions, and many other actions like them, which have all been practiced in your assembly are not Biblical, Redeeming Grace Fellowship.  Repent!  Please, please repent.  Please speak to us.  Please seek the Lord and the scriptures and see whether the things you have done to us and others in your assembly have been done according to the Scriptures.  The Lord is not pleased with leaders who abuse His people.  He will not bless your assembly unless you repent of these actions and attitudes.  He will not bless a church when they are running away from obedience to Him.

A church without grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness is not a church.  By definition, a place void of these essential elements is properly termed a club, not a church.

Lastly, if this excommunication were Biblical, would that not mean that we could not join any other church until the matter was reconciled with you and we repented of the grievous sin which caused it?  In your letter, you encourage us to go elsewhere and “peaceably get involved.”  There is no peace for an excommunicated member who refuses to repent to the point of being thrown out of a church.  That ex-member must make peace with God first, correct?  He or she must repent!  He cannot just go to a new church and “peaceably get involved” can he?  How?  He is at odds with God and man according to his spiritual authorities who have deemed him anathema!  Please, please explain this to us.  Either we need to reconcile with you all according to whatever charges you have against us and repent or we cannot go anywhere else to any other church and “peaceably get involved.”  Sinners must repent and be forgiven before peace can be made between they and God and others.

To that end I ask, why has not one single member or any leader contacted us after our many attempts to discuss these things and be reconciled?  (Save one couple who has since rescinded their own membership due to these numerous, unbiblical actions and practices.) Do not your own bylaws as well as the scripture text state that every effort must be made to bring a person to repentance before excommunication?  Why has that never once – not one single time! – been done by anyone?  Even criminals must be told what they are being charged with and why they are under arrest.  How can you claim to love Christ while hating your brother and sister? If the gospel is true, why can’t we be reconciled to one another as the gospel calls us to do?  And lastly, if you can do this to us – people who you have so many things in common with from skin color to theological understanding to socio-economic status to family dynamics – what will you do to those who are unlike you in many other ways and how will they feel when they come to your club?

In summation, we have but one single question for all of you individually and I do hope you will all come to us with an answer for yourselves.  It is this: WHERE IS THE LOVE?  This is God’s house!  These things ought not be so!

We love you no matter what you do or don’t do in regards to these injuries.  We forgive you and we pray for you daily.  We miss and love you.  We want only to be restored to all of you rightly.  Please consider your actions and do right by the Word and Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Kyrie eleison.

In Christ,
Tim and Lori Rodeheaver

 

 

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Have you ever felt all by yourself?  I have.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I picked up my Bible first thing and read Isaiah 59.  Instead of giving me life, I allowed the Enemy to steal the encouragement of the Word and accuse me with it.  If I had just stopped at verse 1 and meditated, I think I would have had a different kind of day.

Behold, the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; ~Isaiah 59:1

It’s verse 2 that did me in.

but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear. ~Isaiah 59:2

The condemnation I felt as I read this was overwhelming.  Being in a place where justice is not evident and wrongs have not been righted personally, it was easy for the Enemy to use that against me and bring accusation and discouragement.

Despite the fact that we all sin, to feel as though God is not hearing or acting on our behalf because we are separating ourselves by our own sinfulness is quite a place of despair – especially when you’re not really sure what sin it could possibly be.  Still, this is the reality for us all until Christ saves us.  After we are made right with Him, however, he hears us.  He acts upon on behalf.  He forgives our sin and he guides us in all truth.

The people Isaiah is speaking to here are not right with God.  They may be His covenant people, but they are not acting in accordance with his order.  Verses 3-8 describe their sin in detail.  They are speaking lies, making trouble, harming one another and they are failing to call for justice and plead for truth.  They are doing wrong and they are refusing to do right.  These are the reasons God will not listen to them or bring justice to them.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ~Isaiah 59:9

Therefore – because of these reasons and all your wrongdoing, lack of concern for righteousness and justice – because of this, justice for you is far away; righteousness is not with you.

Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice. ~Isaiah 59:15

Truth is lacking.  That is a powerful statement.  When truth is lacking, much evil follows.  Even those who sought truth and stopped sinning had a hard lot.  They became prey for those who did not repent.  The Lord saw this.  The Lord was greatly concerned for this particular society of people.  The most offensive thing to God was perhaps not even the sin itself – it was that there was no justice.  There was no judgement.  No repentance.  No reconciliation.  God longed to be made right with these people but there was not even a shred of repentance.  Their hearts were as hard as ever.

He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. ~Isaiah 59:16

Here is most powerful verse in the entire chapter.  God saw that there was no one – no man fit, no one righteous, no one who cared.  God did not throw up his hands or shrug his shoulders.  God did it himself!!!  How glorious!  Sin abounded, yet grace abounded all the more!!!  Matthew Henry says it this way:

“Since magistrates and societies for reformation fail of doing their part, one will not do justice nor the other call for it, God will let them know that he can do it without them when his time shall come thus to prepare his people for mercy, and then the work of deliverance shall be wrought by the immediate operations of the divine Providence on men’s affections and affairs.”

To whom shall God perform this goodness?  This mercy?  To whom will he bring justice?

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. ~Isaiah 59:20

The Redeemer will come to those who turn from transgression.  Those who turn!  Those who repent!  Those who turn their eyes upon Jesus!  Amen!  God makes a way for sinners!  He does not cast us out!  He does not shun and avoid us!  He does not condemn and accuse us!  He saves us!  That is encouraging!

And the promises are laid upon Christ and his bride.  The church will continue always until the end of time and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!  Amen!

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adultery

The seventh commandment that God gives to Moses on Mt. Sinai concerns purity and chastity within marriage.

Adultery is generally defined as a married man or woman being sexually unfaithful to their spouse.  So, infidelity.  Jesus, however, defines adultery with more detail.  He says that unfaithfulness is found even in adulterous thoughts and gazes.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. ~Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows what is in a man (and a woman).  He knows how easily we are enticed and entangled in sin.  Jesus knows that thoughts often lead to actions and small errors often lead to big problems.  Jesus cares enough about us and our purity to tell us the truth.

Flirting with adulterous thoughts, flirting with anyone other than our spouses, and flirting with temptation on any level in word, thought, or deed is more than enough reason to be alarmed, take heed, and repent.  These seemingly “smaller” offenses are – according to Jesus – not small.

To look is to commit adultery.  To lust is to commit adultery.

If we consider the other offenses that we commit in this kind of sin, it is not hard to see why the seeds of adultery are so important to both understand and avoid at all costs.  Jesus’ advice is to pluck out our eye or cut of our hand!  It is that dangerous.  It is that important to avoid.

When we cheat on our spouse, we steal.  We lie.  We covet.  We worship another in place of God – ourselves and our forbidden partner.  We dishonor our parents.  We break almost every commandment God set before us when we sin in this way.  Men and women in the Old Testament were stoned to death for this.

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. ~ Leviticus 20:10

Death!  The penalty was death for both the man and the woman.  Now, the Pharisees tried to make it as though only the woman should be stoned but Jesus – what did he do?

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~John 8:1-11

We also have his example of the Samaritan woman, also known as the woman at the well, who had five husbands in John 4.  How did Jesus treat these women?  Or should I say, these kind of women?

In the first case he stood up to the bullies who hated her by stooping down in a public proclamation of his alliance with the sinner. In the second case he went the way everyone else always avoided and talked with a woman – a loose woman to boot – when it was taboo in order to teach her the truth and – get this – use her to save a whole town by her testimony!  Amazing!

Why?

Jesus knows that we are guilty of breaking this command.  The level of severity is the only difference between men.  Therefore, he does what God always does.  He gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud.  That’s why we see him siding with the adulterous women and making a point to go to the people and places others intentionally and painstakingly avoided out of superiority, pride, and religious condescension.

Yesterday my husband and I were talking about temptation.  We have both done our share of failing in this area.  Temptation is never going to go away until we die.  We talked about the verse in 1 Corinthians 10 about being careful when things seem calm and when we feel less tempted.  That’s when the enemy strikes.  But today the verse of the day on my Bible app was the following verse so I’ll just read them both.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~1 Corinthians 10:12-13

You know what this means?  It means God is faithful.  You can trust him!  Even though we will be tempted to look, to lust, to think impure thoughts, to flirt, to act scandalously – we will also be given a way out.  Every.  Single.  Time.  The way will not be some religious pretense that shuns and avoids “sinners” in order to look pious and holy on the outside and impress our religious friends.  The way will be grace for us and for the other sinners he allows in close proximity to us.

We need to get that.  We need to get it deep down in our hearts.  Jesus does not shun and avoid sinners out of pride, pretense, preference, superiority, or self-preservation EVER.  Jesus goes to them purposefully and offers grace to the humble.  It is those who think themselves too high and holy to even be in the same town with “sinners” that he deals harshly with.

So, don’t commit adultery in thought, word, or deed.  Use the escape routes God is faithful to provide when tempted.  But don’t put on a religious show just to make others think you’re not guilty of this sin.  Confess it.  Don’t hide and pretend.  We are all guilty.  There is grace for the repentant and humble in heart.

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angelofdeath

Here it is.  In Exodus 12, we find the wages of sin.  Pharaoh had enslaved God’s people.  He had held them captive and oppressed them for a great period of time.  Their babies, save Moses, had been slaughtered, their lives had been greatly burdened, and their God had been mocked.

God, in his mercy, had not carried out swift judgement.  Instead, he send his prophets.  They dealt reasonably with Pharaoh.  God gave many warnings, signs, and wonders.  Pharaoh refused to listen.  Time after time, Pharaoh hardened his heart.

Finally, here in Exodus 12, God touches what is most dear to Pharaoh.  God smites his firstborn child.  Not only his, but all of Egypt’s firstborn children.

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. ~Exodus 12:30

There is not a person our sin does not affect.  When an influential person sins, the results are widespread and catastrophic.  Egypt was guilty of killing the Hebrews’ children.  Now, God’s perfect justice had taken theirs.

Like Pharaoh, when God has been dealing with us for a long time over a specific issue and we have not listened, he brings judgment to the place where we feel it most deeply.  Often, the judgement reveals not only our sin, but our idols.  It reveals our hardened refusal to deal with the very thing God wants to deal with.  For Pharaoh, his child was not just his child.  Pharaoh’s firstborn was Pharaoh’s future.  This was his heir; his successor; his life after death.  All of Pharaoh’s power would be gone once death came so his child was his immortality; his continuation; his very salvation.

Don’t touch my child, God.  My child is mine.  I will protect this part of myself and excuse my sin no matter how many times you try to deal with it.  Just don’t touch me there.  This part of my life if off limits, God.  Leave it alone.

We all have “children” in our lives.  These are our idols.  They are those things we try to make untouchable when God reaches for them.  Don’t touch my child, God.  Don’t touch my marriage.  Don’t touch my health.  Don’t touch my finances.  Don’t touch my family.  Don’t touch my job.  Don’t touch my recreation.  Don’t touch my relationships.  Don’t touch my ministry.  Don’t touch my plans.  Don’t touch my pain.  Don’t touch my happiness.  Don’t touch my fear.  Don’t touch me.  Just don’t touch me, God.  Leave me and my precious child the hell alone.

Pharaoh lost his child as a result of stubborn rebellion.  All those who followed him lost their children, too.  Matthew Henry notes that “…the Egyptians could have no help, no comfort, from their neighbors, all being involved in the same calamity.”

 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” ~Exodus 12:31-32

Judgement for one meant freedom for another.  God’s heavy hand upon this ruler humbled him to the place where he finally submitted to let God’s people go.  He even went so far as to ask them to bless him!  God’s people would no longer be enslaved and oppressed by the control and corruption of an unconcerned master.  God’s people were finally free.

This final judgement teaches us just how obstinate we humans are.  Look at what it takes to humble us!  Nothing short of death.  Consider the depths of our sin and the lengths God is willing to go to in order to set us free!  Where there is judgement, there is often hope; there is freedom; there is redemption if we just surrender – idols and all – and God passes over us in extraordinary mercy.

So, Lord, please.  I don’t want my child to die but I don’t want my child to be my idol either.  Touch my child and make me willing to submit her to you.  Touch my marriage.  Touch my health.  Touch my finances.  Touch my family.  Touch my job.  Touch my recreation.  Touch my relationships.  Touch my ministry.  Touch my plans.  Touch my pain.  Touch my happiness.  Touch my fear.  Touch me and make me willing to submit everything to your good and perfect will.  Whatever you do, do not leave me alone with my idols.  I am listening.  Help me surrender all to you.

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murderer

Moses, a baby marked out for death, instead grew up as royalty under the care of those who once sought to kill him.  He was given a stellar education, position, power, and all the pleasures of Pharaoh’s house.  Still, Moses never forgot that he had been born a Hebrew.  Nothing he gained from his adoptive Egyptian family was enough to cause him to forget who he was, who they were, or where he came from.

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. ~Exodus 2:11-12

Moses observes an act of injustice against a Hebrew slave.  All allegiance to Egypt disappears in an instant.  Moses chose to forsake all he’d been given by Egypt in order to side with his own people.  Hebrews 11:24 calls his alliance with God’s people “faith.”

Although Moses’ delivering his Hebrew brother from an abusive Egyptian foreshadows the great deliverance God would bring about through him later, it is clear that Moses’ impulsive act was actually a sinful result of righteous anger.  In an effort to stop abuse, Moses became an abuser – an not just an abuser, a murderous abuser.

It is  good that Moses grew up and matured.  It is good that Moses considered the burdens of God’s people.  It is good that Moses recognized evil and injustice.  It is good that Moses had righteous indignation over the mistreatment of his brother.  Moses likely had the right motives.  He had the right perspective.  He even had the right beliefs.  But Moses sinned.  He murdered a man.  He acted unjustly on his quest to bring about justice.  He is a prime example of doing the right thing in the wrong way.  His sin led to fear, hiding, forty years of delay, and isolation from the very purpose he was raised up to accomplish.

For a moment, let’s consider what might have been different if Moses hadn’t sinned in his anger on his mission for justice.  Is there anything Moses could have done aside from killing the abusive Egyptian man?

Perhaps he could have implored Pharaoh for justice on behalf of the Hebrews.  He could have had the abusive ruler dismissed.  Maybe he could have tried to use the position and power he had to bring about positive change in Egypt or prayed earnestly before taking such rash, irreversible action.  Would his innocence have stopped the mouth of his Hebrew accuser who asked, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?…”  rather than repenting when Moses confronted him?  Surely he would have had more credibility in the eyes of both his Egyptian counterparts as well as his Hebrew brothers and sisters.

I digress.  Who really knows what atrocities could have been avoided if Moses hadn’t sinned so grievously in this case.  All we know is that he did – and we do, too, at times.  What we do know is that Moses’ sin delayed him.  He spent forty years in the desert.  It caused a long period of isolation from everyone and everything he knew.  That’s what sin does – even to those who begin with righteous anger, right beliefs, right perspective, and right motives.  It drives us away from the people and places we are called to love and serve.  We end up in the wilderness at the the mercy of God alone…

And maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad place to be when you’ve got some long, hard lessons to learn about doing things God’s way.

God redeemed Moses in that wilderness.  He gave him a family and some necessary training.  When the time came, God restored Moses and brought him back to Egypt for the very purpose he’d raised him up there for – deliverance.

When I think about Moses the murderer, I think about myself – a great sinner with a greater God.  There’s no telling what good purposes I’ve missed and delayed because of my sinful reactions to other people’s sinful actions, but I know that the God I know is the same God Moses knew.  The God who preserved baby Moses at birth preserved me at birth.  The God who gave Moses severe, unique, and serious life circumstances as prerequisites to his calling is the same God who gave me severe, unique, and serious life circumstances as prerequisites to my calling.  The one who allowed Moses to sin greatly, be restored fully, and become a real help and encouragement to his people is the same God who allowed me to sin greatly, be restored fully, and, I pray one day, will allow me to become a real help and encouragement to his people.  The same God who gave Moses a beautiful, undeserved family out of the blue clear sky gave me a beautiful, undeserved family out of the blue clear sky.

How unworthy we are!  Moses and I, that is.  How good our God is to save us, grow us, forgive us, teach us, redeem us, and use us despite our great folly and faulty foundations!

Seeing Moses as a murderer is what led me to choose to study Exodus.  There is hope in the ministry for people who fail royally – even if we’re not royal-ty like Moses.  When I see Moses, I see hope – and rightly so – Moses the deliverer is a picture of Christ our deliverer.

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friend

Confession is the place where honesty and repentance meet.  The Bible tells Christians that we ought to confess our sins not only to God, but to one another.  It’s one thing to be knowledgeable about theology and teach it.  It’s quite another to share personal failure in light of that theology while teaching it.  I would venture to say that most people, if they are anything like me, learn much more from the latter teacher than from the former.  That said, honesty and genuine public confession is not only hard to do, but also hard to find inside the church.  I do not believe it is because we do not recognize our sin.  I believe it is because of the reactions we endure when we are most honest about ourselves in the assembly.

There is an ever swinging pendulum moving through the church erring on the side of naivety, then suspicion; believing the best then thinking the worst;  superficiality then fear – all of which are understandable when seeking to be real with those who are likely to misread, mistake, misunderstand, and even misrepresent our true stories of trial and transgression.  In other words, when it comes to sin we either don’t want to know or we think we already do; we think either more highly or not highly enough of ourselves and our brothers and sisters; we either hide our real selves or we quake in our boots and bail before the words we need to share ever even come out.  And that’s just fine with everyone else because they probably really didn’t want to deal with it anyway -or so we think.

But we all have those stories.  The Bible commands us to confess that we might be healed.  The implication in James 5:16 is that if we do not confess and pray with one another specifically about our own sin, we will not be healed.  Still, the utter frustration and crippling fear that comes alongside nitty-gritty authenticity is limitless.

Therefore, at the risk of being painfully repetitive, I have a few more words to say.  I don’t want to be redundant.  Really, I don’t.  Beating a dead horse is no fun for the reader nor the writer.  But after writing on Ephesians 5 three times over the past year and considering it’s message on countless occasions of solitude, I cannot leave this text without one final hurrah.

The problem lies not in what I said.  the problem lies in what I did not say.  I wrote about the context.  I wrote about the warnings.  I wrote about the commands and I wrote about the consequences.  Theologically, I think I covered the bases relatively well – for a girl, that is, without a seminary degree or even so much as a religious sounding surname to speak of.

Honestly, though, I’m having a problem.  I cannot move on to the next passage with peace.  Every time I try, I stop.  I consider my error and I drag my full of faults and failures feet.  I end up back at the beginning of Ephesians chapter 5 and I flail around trying to figure out what fancy linguistic form will fit this fetish.

“Be imitators of God.”

That’s just the beginning of a 21 verse, 25 command discourse given by the apostle Paul.

The problem is that when I consider myself, despite the fact that I do desperately desire to imitate God, I don’t know if I veritably ever really do.  Because Paul tells me exactly what imitating God actually looks like.  He says, “walk in love.”  I walk in love – sometimes.  Really.  I want to.  But I also walk in anger sometimes.  I walk in frustration.  I walk in impatience, fear, doubt, and disillusionment, just to name a few.  I pray repetitively every day for God to help me stop being angry, frustrated, impatient, afraid, unbelieving, and disillusioned.  But the next day is often the same.  But that’s just one command.  Twenty four to go, right?

I go on in the text.  Be moral; be pure; do not covet…

Fail.  Fail.  Double fail.  I can’t even walk into Walmart without wanting something I don’t need.

…be clean; no foolish talk; no crude joking…

I’d love to believe that I’m sophisticated, classy, educated, wise, and reasonable all the time.  Well, even most of the time would work for me.  But the truth is that I’ve often been anything but.  Ignorance may indeed be my middle name.  I can’t help but recall the foolish, thoughtless words which have left my lips in days past.  And don’t even make me finish the verse where he mentions being thankful.  Doubtless I have been one of the most ungrateful, spoiled children God has ever fathered.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?  Problem is, no matter what people say, this stuff is not small!  Paul goes on to tell me that God’s wrath is coming because of these very things!  His wrath! You know, that force that strikes people dead without warning when they complain about the redundance of his bread showers?

Ok, now here’s the kicker: “Do not be partners with them.”

*Swallows hard*  Them?!  He’s talking about me.

And that’s where I stop.  That’s the part where I begin to wonder about all the things I thought I knew – chiefly, has he really saved me?  I’ve been all but convinced otherwise by some who say they know.  And if he hasn’t saved me, has he saved anyone at all?  I love the Bible.  I long for the truth.  Theology is the solitary subject I chose to study.  Nothing else has ever captivated me over the past two decades.  I puzzle over the height from which I fell.  I grieve over the great sin I have committed.  I console myself with the stories of David, Noah, Moses, and Peter.  Their worst failings play over in my mind like a broken record.  I wonder why God ever chose them.  I wonder why he chose me.  I realize that I am altogether terrified of the evil capabilities of my own heart.  I pray.  I confess.  I fast.  I mourn.  I seek peace and pursue it.  I repeat it all over again.  For just a moment, I find the truth.  I am that bad – and so are you.   I am far worse than any person has or ever will accuse me of being.  We are sinners.  That is why we need a Savior.  That is why we need Paul’s commands.  It is why the Ephesians needed a letter, a church, and a leader so invested in their progress that he was willing to lay down his likes, his liberty, and even his own life for the likes of them.

I do not live a life of sin, but there are times I have.  There are precious few kinds of sin I have left uncommitted – if any.  If any human is honest with himself he will conclude as much.

And that is why we must confess…in the church – to God and to each other.  We must confess.  We must stop reacting to one another’s sin as if we cannot believe it.  We must offer one another the same amount of grace that we, too, desperately need.  We must be honest about ourselves as well as with others.  And when we are, and they are, we must, must, must resolve to treat one another the way we want to be treated when we have lost a painful battle in the war against the enemy.   It’s one thing to be well versed in church culture and biblical truth.  It’s quite another to share personal failure in the midst of that background.  I would venture to say that most people, if they are anything like me, learn much more from the latter than from the former – teacher or otherwise.

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After Paul describes what a life changed by Christ looks like and reminds the Ephesians that they were forgiven, he begins chapter 5 with a “therefore.”  In other words, because of these reasons – God’s forgiveness and your new life – you must “therefore” be thus and so…

What must Christians be?  Paul says this:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. ~Ephesians 5:1-2

Imitators of God.  Because we are God’s beloved children, we are called to be like him.  Christ gave the world the most conclusive example of sacrificial love it has ever known.  Therefore, Paul tells Christians to imitate God, to walk in love, and to live sacrificial for others.  These commands are couched in familial terminology.  What child doesn’t imitate his father?  It is natural to want to do so – especially when we are loved.

Paul goes on to name quite a few things that are unnatural and forbidden for God’s children.  He tells us what we are not to be.  Paul insists that those who make their lives out of practicing sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filth, and foolish and crude talk have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.  He warns Christians not to be deceived because many will make light of these very things.  Do not listen to them Paul warns.  God hates sin.  A life lived justifying and dismissing fornication, homosexuality, idolatry, envy, foolishness, or even rudeness or unkind fun-making brings God’s wrath upon us.  His wrath!  These things – the things unbelievers all around us wink and smile about – are the very things that shut them – and, potentially, us – out of God’s kingdom.  Little wonder why Paul insists:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. ~Ephesians 5:11

Take no part!  No part.  Don’t wink at these things and look the other way when you see them.  Don’t get as close to these things as possible and expect to avoid them.  Don’t approve or applaud those who do them.  Take no part.  Expose evil for what it really is – what God says it is.  Consider all the commands Paul gives in this warning: look carefully; be wise; do not be foolish; understand God’s will; do not get drunk; be filled with the Spirit; sing hymns and psalms; give thanks; submit to one another.  And believe it, when you do, doubtless you will suffer for it just like Jesus did.

These are the everyday things we are exposed to in the world.  Every single day we have a choice.  Either we can participate and justify them or we can avoid and expose them.  The former separates us from God.  The latter proves we are his children.

Let no one deceive you.  Sin is not a non-issue.  Exposing it is your business.

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