Tag Archive for Jesus

Your Will Be Done

Then they arrived at a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.”
He took with him Peter, James and John, and began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed.
 “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them.  “Stay here and keep watch for me.”  (Mark 14:32-34 PHILLIPS)

It’s hard to imagine Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, being “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.”  And yet, it happened.  Jesus was facing the greatest test of His time on earth, and He was facing it as a human being.

 

It’s difficult to wrap your brain around the concept of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human, rather than being some sort of a spiritual half-breed.

 

But if there are any doubts about Jesus being fully human, his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane should put those to rest.  He knew what He was about to face, and He needed strength to get through it.  Matthew’s account of this episode words it this way:

 

He took Peter with him and Zebedee’s two sons James and John, and began to be filled with anguish and despair.

 Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . . stay here. . . stay awake with me.”  (Matthew 26:37-38 TLB)

 

Despair.

 

The One who was the Light of the World, who came to bring hope to everyone in it, was filled with . . . despair.

 

So considering this, is it any great wonder that we can feel despair when we face our moments of greatest testing?

 

And to take that one step further, usually when we are having our moments of fear and torment, the worst thing that we are facing is the unknown.  We are scared, because we wonder what is going to happen.  Will I have the strength to endure this trial?  What will people think of me if I fail?  What am I about to lose?  Do I really want to know the answers to these questions?

 

Jesus didn’t have the luxury of fearing the unknown.  He knew EXACTLY what was about to happen.  And it scared Him.  A lot.

 

Let’s be clear about this.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew why He had come to earth.  He knew He had work to do, and He knew He had to finish that work.

 

But Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph said this:

 

“Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me.  However, your will must be done, not mine.”  (Luke 22:42 GW)

 

 

Jesus knew going into this time of prayer what God’s answer was going to be.  He knew what He had to do, but He was NOT excited about it.

 

Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will.  He did not want to go through with His arrest, torture and execution, but more than that, He did not want to go against His Father’s will.

 

The Greek word regarding God’s will in this sentence is ginomai.  This signifies that Jesus is not only saying that God’s will must be done, but that it must be.  In other words, God’s will is eternal, just as God is eternal.

 

In light of His knowledge of this, Jesus really didn’t have any illusion that His prayer was going to be answered with a “yes.”  And yet, He prayed for God to let Him off the hook anyway.

 

Perhaps this knowing was the greatest reason for His despair?  He knew He wasn’t getting out of this.  I can’t even imagine what He must have felt like in the garden.

 

And yet, He remained submissive, because He never lost focus on what His greatest mission was.  And that was simply for God’s will to be done.  Jesus was sincere about completing His work.  He isn’t just saying “Your will be done,” to sound pious, like it’s the right thing to say while praying.

 

It is, of course, the right thing to say, but it is also the right thing, period.

 

Because God’s will wasn’t about Jesus the man doing something He didn’t want to do.  It was about Jesus the Savior bring God’s plan of salvation to fulfillment:

 

Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do.  And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body.  Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time.  (Hebrews 10:10 ERV)

 

This sacrifice began not on the cross, but in the garden, when Jesus made up His mind to be in agreement with God’s will.  Because of this resolution, and the confirmation of His purpose that it signified, we are able to approach God today as His adopted children.

 

But this is about more than our salvation.  Heaven will be awesome, of course, but what about the here and now?

 

Do you ever have situations that you know you won’t be strong enough to face  by yourself?  Isn’t it helpful to know, then, that even Jesus needed to be strengthened not only by angels and the Holy Spirit, but also His three best buds?  It is much less difficult to say to God, “Your will be done” when you have your closest friends surrounding and supporting you.

 

It is not likely that any of us will ever have to face a crucifixion, and we DEFINITELY won’t ever have the weight of the sins of the world upon our own shoulders.

 

Nevertheless, when I am faced with something I really don’t want to do, and fear is holding me back, it helps at least to know that the God to whom I pray knows a thing or two about fear and apprehension.

 

But it helps me even more to know that He still got the job done.

Whatever We Ask: Part 5–Unstable

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 NABRE)

 

Back in 2012, we ran a series on Doubt, in which we discussed that doubt could be healthy if you put it to work for you by testing new information in your search for Truth.

 

Nevertheless, doubt is not always a healthy thing.  It is one matter to doubt one person’s interpretation of scripture or another individual’s worldview.  It is quite another to doubt God Himself.

 

God knows what you need.  He knows it before you know it.  He is not only capable, but also willing to meet your needs.  Yet, it is not your need that He responds to when you pray.  It is your faith.

 

Prayer is based on trust.  We ask God to meet our needs and hear our petitions because we believe and trust that He will handle the situation.  If we didn’t believe that, why pray at all?

 

But we still do that sometimes, don’t we?  Have you ever offered up a prayer because it seemed like the thing to do, but you didn’t really expect that your prayer would be answered?

 

Jesus’ brother James is not one to mince words, as you can see in the passage above.  He explicitly says that someone who doubts when he prays will not get the answer to their prayer that they hope for.  The key word there is “hope.”

 

There are two different kinds of hope.  There is expectant hope, where you are welcoming an event in advance that has not yet come to pass, and there is “I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I sure HOPE it does.”

 

Again, what is the point of praying if you don’t expect an answer?  Do you believe that God is God or don’t you?  If we offer up a prayer from a position of worry, then we are literally “of two minds.”  One mind is thinking of God answering the prayer, and the other is thinking of a Plan B.

 

When we do this, what we are really doing is making God the Plan B, because worry and anxiety will always cut in line ahead of whatever else is present.

 

So clearly, it is a daunting task to hold both kinds of “hope” in your mind at the same time.  Just as you cannot serve two masters, you cannot persevere on two different paths in life simultaneously.

 

So when James says that a person who does this is “unstable in all his ways,” he is not only saying that this person is indecisive, but by extension, that he cannot be trusted.

 

That sounds inordinately harsh, but think about it.  We’re talking about Christians here.  If we can’t even make up our minds about relying on the God we claim to serve, then who would ever rely on US to follow through on anything?  A person who spends their life in an endless “What If?” loop never gets anything done that needs doing.

 

So if that’s what unstable looks like, then what about stable?

 

Throughout the Bible, the image of a rock is used to denote stability.  God Himself is referred to as the Rock on many occasions.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also uses this image to describe a life lived by faith:

 

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-5 HCSB)

 

Notice the “and” in Jesus’ statement.  It’s not enough to hear what He’s saying and answer with a “yeah, but. . .”  Stability and security come not from passive hearing, but from active LISTENING and the follow-through that accompanies it.

 

Now having used the word “security” there, I am reminded of one more issue regarding the answering of prayers.  One that is particularly sticky to us here in the USA.

 

(Come back for the conclusion in Part 6—Prosperity)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 4–(Un)answered Prayers

All prayers are answered.  Sometimes the answer is, “No.”—Bono

 

 

One of the pitfalls of the Christian life is how easy it is to backslide from “highly favored child of God” to “spoiled brat.”

 

We have seasons of life where everything seems to be going our way, and we give God the glory for that.  But then life throws us a curveball, and the whining starts.

 

“Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  He said He’d give me anything I ask for.  Haven’t I been ‘doing it right’?”

 

The truth is that God does answer prayer, but not always in the way that we expect.

 

Sometimes we get excited and run up ahead when He needs us to hold back and notice something He wants to show us.  Sometimes selfishness creeps in and the “desires of our hearts” become more like the cravings of our appetites.  And sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the answer for what it is when it comes.

 

God is not a vending machine or an ATM.  We exist to serve Him, not the other way around.  For this reason, the point of prayer isn’t primarily to address our own needs.  Jesus explained it this way:

 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.  Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well.  (Matthew 6:31-33 NCV)

Prayer is your Out box.  When you put something in your Out box at work, do you pull it back and put it in your In box again?  No, you put it in the Out box because you are finished with it.

 

Whatever it is that you are praying for, God has a plan for it.  It may not be the plan you would have scripted for yourself, but think for a minute.  Who’s smarter, you or God?  Don’t you think it might be possible that Father knows best?

 

There’s more to it than that though.  Logic alone will tell you that God is bigger, more powerful and more able to meet your needs.  The question is, “Do you TRUST Him to do that?”  Do you believe that He not only knows what’s best for you, but that He WANTS what’s best for you?

 

How you answer that question will determine how you respond to His answers.  If you really believe that God’s way will lead to a better result than anything you could have come up with, then it becomes a lot easier to roll with the changes when they do come.

 

(But what happens if we don’t?  Come back for Part 5—Unstable)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 2–Ask, Seek and Knock

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.  (Matt 7:7 TLB)

 

Sometimes, that seems too good to be true.  God really gives us anything we ask for?

 

If that were the case, then it would be all too easy for us to make selfish requests of Him.  Just as James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand, it seems logical that being tapped into the greatest power source in the universe could make us a tad greedy and ambitious.

 

So why does Jesus tell us to ask then?

 

If you think about it, when do we ask anyone for anything?  It’s when the one we are asking either has or can get something we want but don’t have.  When Jesus tells us to ask, He is simply giving us permission to do so.

 

Along with asking, Jesus tells us to seek.  He tells us this to let us know that God not only can be found, but He WANTS to be found.

 

For this reason, Jesus also tells us to knock, not just once, but persistently and insistently.  Jesus is basically giving us carte blanche to be a pest in seeking out God and petitioning Him with our requests.

 

He is telling us that we aren’t going to wear God out or bore Him to death by bothering Him with our concerns.  This is because God wants us to see Him as someone that we can approach.

 

But really. . .ANYTHING we ask for?

 

It is clear from the context that it isn’t so much the substance of our entreaties to the Lord as our motivation for asking that is more significant.

 

Remember, we are not God’s spoiled brats, but His adopted children.  He chose us for His family, but we also had to choose Him as our Father.

 

The very nature of the relationship that Christians have with God is one of complete submission.  We ask of Him because He has not only the power and authority but also the WILL to give us what we ask.

 

However, the more we are in submission to God, the less likely we are to ask for something selfishly.  If our primary motivation is to please Him, then we would be more likely to ask for the kinds of things that He would want us to have.

 

(So what kinds of things are those?  Come back for Part 3—The Desires of our Hearts.)

 

DN=: Part 16–Hypocrisy

 

I find it interesting that the Greek origin of the word “hypocrisy” comes from the theatre.  You may know that ancient Greek plays were performed by actors wearing masks.  These actors were called hypocrites, not because of any character deficiency, but because they were literally “pretending under a mask.”

 

This meaning makes sense when you think about people whom you may have considered guilty of hypocrisy.  What they are doing is showing the world one face, their “mask,” while pretending to be something they are not.  One of these masks is self-righteousness.

 

 Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!  (Matthew 7:3-5 CJB)

 

Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy from the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most humbling passages in scripture.  However, as is so often the case when people use the Bible as a defense mechanism, many of us want to put a period where God put a comma (or in the case of the translation used here, a semicolon).

 

Notice that Jesus did NOT say, “You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye” PERIOD!  There is a “then” after the “first” and a “so that” after the “then.”  The purpose of taking the log out of your own eye is to clear your vision.  And the purpose of clear vision is to successfully complete the task of helping get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

 

Jesus is clear in noting that the fault does not lie with the person giving correction, but with the spirit in which it is given, namely that people with issues of their own ought to address those before pointing out someone else’s.

 

Nowhere in the passage above does it say that it is OK to have a splinter in your eye.  It also does not state that one must be perfect to remove a splinter.  After all, no human was ever perfect besides Jesus.  And since He is clearly advocating the removal of splinters from eyes by people who are less than perfect, it should be equally clear that imperfect people, under the right conditions, are qualified to remove eye splinters.

 

IMPERFECTION DN= HYPOCRISY

 

Have you ever tried to be perfect or maybe felt that you wouldn’t measure up if you were anything less than perfect?  It’s stressful, isn’t it?

 

Many Christians fall into this performance trap.  Sometimes we get the impression that in order to be worthy bearers of the name of Christ, we can’t slip up, lest the onlooking world should accuse us of hypocrisy.

 

I would like to do my part in helping break this cycle by saying that it’s actually a good thing for the world to see us fail.  It doesn’t seem so at first, when we are enduring the taunting, the ridiculing and the finger pointing, but when the dust settles, we have a unique opportunity.

 

We have the chance to publicly demonstrate personal responsibility by swallowing our pride and owning our fail as well as the consequences thereof.

 

In other words, we can take off our masks and show the world what’s underneath.

He turned now to his disciples and warned them, “More than anything else, beware of these Pharisees and the way they pretend to be good when they aren’t.  But such hypocrisy cannot be hidden forever.  (Luke 12:1b TLB)

The few of you who have stuck with me during the LONG pauses between posts in this series may have wondered what the delay was all about.

 

I knew that I was going to be closing out my series exposing the hypocrisy of the “=” movement by talking about hypocrisy itself and how those who bring that charge the most strenuously seem to be the guiltiest of it themselves.

 

Then I looked in the mirror one day and saw the log.  So I’ve been spending the past several weeks trying to figure out what to do with this log in my eye.

 

You see, the thing is, I’m a wanderer.  I guess we all are, because we are all susceptible to sin in general and the sin of pride in particular, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of wandering lately.  I can totally relate to what Paul was feeling when he wrote this to the Romans:

 

 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I do what I don’t want to—what I hate.  I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it.  It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned.  No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right.  I want to but I can’t.  When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.  Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.

 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned;  but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  In my mind, I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin.  Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in!  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  (Romans 7:15-25 TLB)

 

I think at some level I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish this without dislodging my log.

 

But then I considered the question that ends the passage above.  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  Well, duh.  Jesus already did.  I’m still working on my wood-vision, but at least I’m aware of it.  The fact that I want the log out of my eye is the evidence that it is possible.  Especially when I consider the alternative:

 

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it.  There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies.  (Hebrews 10:26-27 TLB)

 

The unfortunate fact that I am prone to wander from the Truth does not make the Truth any less true.  Therefore, it is not hypocrisy for an imperfect messenger to deliver a perfect message to someone that would benefit from it.

 

For these reason, I will press on, and continue doing what I have been called to do.

 

Because falling down DN= falling away.

 

DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.



[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 5–Confession

 

 

Once, at about age 30 (after I had rejoined the Catholic church), I went to confession.  The visiting priest hearing confession that day was Father Carlos from Colombia.  (His joke was that he would say in a thick Latino accent, “I am from Columbia . . . Missouri.”)

 

This was a face-to-face confession.  I grew up with the old school, priest-behind-a-semi-translucent-sliding wall-so-they-can’t-see-you kind of a deal (as if they didn’t know you by your voice).

 

But I went face-to-face this time, because I actually had something that I needed to confess—adulterous thoughts.  They were just thoughts—no actions—but by this time I had read the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus warned, “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, whoever has looked at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

At this point in my life, though I would not have called myself “born again,” my heart had been softened enough for me to feel true remorse and conviction for this sin.  So I felt like I needed to truly confess it, not just go through the motions of “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” Hail Mary conversion chart, yadda, yadda, yadda.

 

So for the first time ever, I’m pouring out my heart to a priest because I feel like I need to.  I feel like I actually have a slate that needs cleaning.  So I finish, and I wait for the absolution and penance, but then Father Carlos hits me with something I hadn’t expected.

 

“God has already forgiven you.”

 

What?  How is that possible?  I don’t remember exactly what Father Carlos said after that, but the gist of it was that God was actually loving and merciful, not condemning and judgmental.  He painted a word picture of a God that WANTS to forgive me, not punish me.  Totally New Concept!

 

But isn’t that how the one true God is?  We even sang a hymn in church called “Loving and Forgiving,” taken from Psalm 103, so all the evidence was there.  Yet it never clicked for me until this day.

 

This experience was the first time I ever felt the weight of sin being lifted from my shoulders.  By the time this confession ended, I was actually laughing with Father Carlos because of the freedom I felt.  (One problem there—if you laugh in a Catholic Church, even a small one, it echoes a LOT!  Many dirty looks ensuing from the LONG line still waiting.)

 

(So why was this so unusual?  For a couple of theories, come back for Part 6–Repetition and Tradition)

 

Intolerance: Part 3–Righteous

 

Since no one can measure up to the standard of God by his or her own efforts, it is therefore senseless to expect anyone else to measure up to our own standards.  

 

We are in no position to judge the nature, or character, of another, because we share the same sinful character.  To attempt to judge someone in this way would make us guilty of self-righteous intolerance. 

 

However, there is such a thing as righteous intolerance.  This cannot come from any person’s will or way of thinking, as Solomon wrote, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV). 

 

The only possible source of righteous intolerance is the only person who never sinned–Jesus.

 

One of the central tenets of Christianity is that Jesus is not just the only begotten Son of God, but is in very nature God Himself (see Philippians 2:6).

 

Being God in His nature, Jesus visibly displayed all of the invisible attributes of God’s goodness.  Being all good, He is diametrically opposed in His nature to all evil.  Therefore, Jesus is opposed to intolerance—the self-righteous intolerance toward people.

 

John 3:17 tells us that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  This was not because we deserved saving, but because He is good.  This is the essence of grace, which is the ultimate expression of tolerance. 

 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows his tolerance of people by showing mercy and grace toward sinners, even the very ones who put him to death. 

 

However, it cannot be disregarded that while Jesus was a friend of sinners, He was never tolerant of sin.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He uses over-the-top imagery to illustrate his intolerance for evil behavior:

 

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30 NIV)

 

One of the most common Bible verses to be quoted out of context by non-Christians (usually in attempts to self-righteously justify sinful behavior) is John 8:7.  The religious leaders are preparing to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. In response, Jesus is quoted as saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (KJV).”

 

Although this passage does not appear in original manuscripts, and therefore may not have actually happened, the point of the story remains clear:  because we are all sinners, no other person is qualified to cast a stone at us. 

 

Nevertheless, though none of us are righteous, we must remember that we will all be judged one day by the One who is. 

 

This is why, after showing mercy to the woman caught in adultery, He admonishes her (and us) to “go, and sin no more (John 8:11b KJV).

 

(Stay tuned for Part 4–Our God is a Jealous God)