Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Do We Deal with the Sin in Others?


Did you read that word in the title without blinking? Or did it make you angry or uncomfortable? When you hear the word 'sin', do you think of Reverend Lovejoy (my favourite quote of his) saying,

"Oh just about everything is a sin, have you ever sat down and read this thing [the Bible]? Technically, we're not allowed to go to the bathroom."

I hope as I write this, you don't think of me as one of those tubthumping curmudgeons who don't believe in dancing, drinking or any form of pleasure. It's funny that for the last couple of years, it's only been my "christian" contacts who think I'm harsh and judgmental. (yes they've called me judgmental). My gay friends, my friends who smoke, the other parents in the kids' tennis club, my Catholic friends, the disabled people I worked with last week, the affluent managers I coach sometimes, the longterm unemployed with no self-esteem ... all the people that you'd imagine a fundamentalist christian would offend and judge ... they call me warm and accepting ... maybe I've become only judgmental about christians ... hmm ... :)

Anyway, it was probably sin causing me to write the paragraph above. Pride! Oh dear ... I should get back to whatever it was I was actually going to write about...

A question that has been bothering me for a few years now, percolating in the depths of my brain, was fully formed in my mind just an hour ago, it came to me with clarity: "How do I deal with sin in others?"

See I'm pretty good at knowing how to deal with it in me: I either take steps to uproot and destroy it ... or I ignore it and hope it'll go away but secretly like it and hope God will do something about it without me trying. :)

Because of that second option, to even think about other people's sin begins to sound like hypocrisy and judgmentalism to me.

But I still have to deal with it because let's face it, we're all confronted with other people's sin all the time. My youngest son asks me "Dad why did they do that?" after the car he and his Mum are travelling in gets hit with an egg ... and hit so hard that the egg (hitting the driver's window at an angle) smashes through the seal and splashes across the inside of the glass all the way back to the windscreen!

My response to him: "It's good that you don't know why, son. I hope you never understand why people would do a thing like that. It's basically just sin."

Sin can be defined as ignoring God's expectations and, yes, rules. It can also be defined as doing something that gratifies the "sinner" at the expense of others (including God). Both work for me.

And I've been stewing over what is the disciple-of-Jesus' response to sin in 21st Century postmodern enlightened Australia? And in emerging non-traditional non-institutional church where you have to figure it out for yourself instead of just doing whatever the Holy Man (ie., ordained minister/priest/pastor) says?

There's an emerging orthodoxy within christian circles that says "Well you can't challenge anyone on anything. Judging people is the ultimate unforgiveable sin". This is probably an understandable reaction to the bible-bashing or shunning of people like my gay friends, my affluent friends, my divorced friends, my longterm unemployed friends ("they're just slothful!") by Big C Church in the past.

In the end, all I have that even has a hope of objectivity for me to build my life on is the written word of the Bible. If the Bible is not an authoritative source of direction and wisdom for you, I don't judge you. I do suggest that the things I write here will probably not resonate with you. If it is, then I hope together we can explore some "answers" to the question I started with, some directions ...

It's 4 am here and I've already typed for 30 minutes. I can feel sleep overtaking me so I'll just make a start on the next part of my thoughts on this topic...

When christians are looking for stark definitions and commentary on sin, they turn to the writings of Paul. Paul is very blunt about many things, particularly things he believes are just not ok. Paul's "conservative".

When christians are trying to make the point that we should be permissive and inclusive, they turn to the figure of Jesus and say "He hung out with drunks and prostititutes and swindlers; he didn't judge people; etc etc".

See, that's interesting to me. The outcasts, the "reprobates", the every-day people - yeah, they all felt very comfortable with Jesus ... well most of the time. There are some exceptions.

It was mostly the people with power who had a problem with Him, yes. But there were also times when the "crowds" - as in middle and working class people with a few criminals thrown in there too - got sick of Him or offended by Him and they rejected Him too...

And He didn't judge? Hmmm. Jesus was much firmer on the topic of sin than even the Jewish Law. (And this is just my limited understanding, my Jewish friends may be able to show me that he was actually interpreting Jewish Law here). He said, (I paraphrase)

  • "It's not just what you do, it's why you do it."
  • "You can do all the right things for the wrong reasons and still wind up on God's scrap-heap."
  • "No one can fault the things you do, but the motivations of your heart and the burning selfishness in your mind, these negate your 'righteous' behaviour."
  • "You're full of it. You're a murderer, you're a liar, you're a hypocrite."
[see Matthew 5:20-30; 6:1-8; Luke 11:39-54; John 8:42-47 just for starters]

So for now, I just want to flag the tendency of the New Testament writers to not go soft on sin, but to actually call it for what it is. In terms of dealing with it, well, God willing, I'll explore that with you in another post ... or in the comments that follow this one...

Question: Does noting the sin in other people mean that we don't love them? (ie., Is it a betrayal of the principles of love and grace?)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Awakening Light

When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.

- Albert Camus

Friday, April 11, 2008


"And so, since God in his mercy has given us this wonderful ministry, we never give up. We reject all shameful and underhanded methods. We do not try to trick anyone, and we do not distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know that." (2 Cor 4:1-2)

I have been apalled over the last decade at how easy it is for "apostles" and "prophets" and "pastors" to outright lie with a straight face in order to save face. To bend Scripture to suit their will instead of bending their will to allign with Scripture.

Whenever you come across the opposite of of Paul's qualities and behaviors (verses above) in a church leader or parachurch leader, please people. Don't make excuses for them. They are practising sin.

Don't just blindly follow them, thinking that's what you "have" to do. God doesn't expect you to follow immature and insincere people. Verses like these make it clear that some "leaders" are NOT our true elders, are not following in the footsteps of Paul, Timothy, Silas ... let alone Messiah Jesus.

Sadly, they're just dysfunctional people, unwilling to repent or grow, desperate to enjoy power over other people's lives and in real need of some good ol' fashioned disciplin'. :)

Be free of them and look for elders and teachers who reflect the behaviours that Paul writes about above. There are plenty of them. They're out there. Thank God (literally) I'm meeting them again!

Monday, March 24, 2008


Our "house" church drew together yesterday - easter sunday - for pizza, homemade hotcross buns, oreos and cheese and crackers. Oh, and also to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

We were wonderfully led through a series of ten passages of scripture by Brother Dave ... and we would pause after each passage and unpack it as it struck us. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had gone by before we reached the final passage, read by my eldest son from his favourite book Revelation. The passage was a wonderful counterpoint to the pain and loneliness of Jesus on the cross, and the confusion straight after the resurrection. It described millions of people worshipping God and "the Lamb", totally clear on who He is, totally for Him, totally besotted with Him.

It was a beautiful time and we remembered particularly that Jesus as a Jewish man with no earthly father, unjustly treated, abused and abandoned by his friends, tasted of human suffering so totally that no one can say "He can't judge me". We also paused to remember his abject aloneness as well as the confusion that the disciples were in, which reminded us that when we are in crisis, it's normal to not be able to quote scripture and feel like everything's ok. Just as they had no idea what was happening, so do we often.

But joy comes in the morning. Resurrection comes and God ushers in a new day with new thinking, new challenge, new calling and new blessing and power available to us.

Praise be to God and to the Lamb who was slain, and who lives again to intercede for us.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Oy! I last posted more than a month ago. Sometimes Life just gets in the way of the things you love, but eventually you get time for them again as you work through what's coming at ya!

Indulge me today, people. Rather than just the final verse of Joshua, I'll pick pieces from the last THREE verses (it's still Famous LAST Words, anyway). :)

Israel served the LORD as long as Joshua lived. They also served him as long as the elders who lived longer than Joshua did. These elders had seen for themselves everything the LORD had done for Israel.

The people of Israel had brought Joseph's bones up from Egypt. They buried his bones at Shechem in the piece of land Jacob had bought... That piece of land became the share that belonged to Joseph's children after him.

Aaron's son Eleazar died. His body was buried at Gibeah in the hill country ... Gibeah had been given to Eleazar's son Phinehas.

Soooooo much history in and behind these verses. But here's my read of it, personal bias and filters well and truly on:

First. Israel honored great leaders and contributors in Joseph and Eleazar. (If you've read my post about Joseph's bones, I love the resolution here of that incomplete story: the great man is finally laid to rest!)

We live in a day of reformation in the church. As an older style of leadership dies away over the next 15-20 years, lets not adopt a position of "Good riddance!", but let's honor them. And not just honor them, but take their bones - their "presence" and legacy - with us into the future.

Our history is built on the acts of fallible human beings as well as those of an infallible God. I've written (and ranted) extensively about the abuses of power that many "christian" "leaders" have committed and continue to. Thank God that these men/women (though they often make the most noise and the biggest ripples) are in the minority as far as the clergy go. Most men and women serving God in formal pastoral and missional roles around the world (my own father included) are doing their best with pure motives; they carry on the tradition of centuries and we should treat/remember them with honor.

Second (and last). The people served the LORD as long as the Old Guard remained. We're not yet reading the next book of the Bible in this series of posts, so we can take some license and ask "So, did they stop once these leaders died off?" And so I ask us: Will we only passionately serve the LORD as long as these leaders are here or the current church structures remain?

I went out with a mate of mine to play pool last night; he's an "ex-pastor" like me. (When I write that it feels like I'm saying "ex-alcoholic" or something!) And we were asking the question, "As we deconstruct almost everything that "church" and "ministry" has come to mean over decades of our lives, what will we have left?"

As we believers in emerging churches or who are without-church-community continue to pave new paths, take new territory, explore new ideas, will we practically forget the holiness of God, the core of Truth that (rather than our subjective worldview) our world (Earth!) is built upon? Or will we indeed consolidate the gains of two thousand years of disciples and many more millenia of God's servants, and continue to build the Kingdom they all lived and died for?


Have I been a little preachy here? Are my sentences getting as long and convoluted as those in CS Lewis' Narnia books? Do you agree with my thoughts? Disagree? I welcome all comments (as long as they're clean and constructive). :)


If this devotion was helpful, please feel free to visit the other posts in the series by clicking Famous Last Words. And don't forget to visit the sister post to this, written by Yehudi01 who joins me in this project, writing from the Jewish perspective.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Another Day in ... Paradise?

In Kinshasa's slums children as young as 4 or 5 are being accused of witchcraft and sorcery, and people claiming to have spiritual power to cast out demons charge money to deliver these children from the power of witchcraft.

These children are being blamed for the ills of the household or even of the neighborhood. Sick animals, sick people, the lack of food and water are all blamed upon them.

A spiritual smokescreen masks the reality that these children are just not
wanted because they represent an unmanageable economic burden. Indeed, as
economic burdens, the easiest route for a family is often to accuse the child of
bringing suffering to them.

I encourage you to read the rest of this post at Square No More or the original report at The Observer. It is of course difficult at first examination to assess the truthfulness of the report this is based on. But while Pentacostalism can't solely be blamed for this situation (as many of the commentors on the post point out), it still makes me wonder again: where the heck is the "good news" of our Messiah when our theologies and practises contribute to this kind of insanity.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Walk by Faith

I'm a big believer that the journey of faith is meant to be an adventure. I think that the "command" in scripture to walk by faith is equally an invitation.

I love the much-preached-about story of Simon Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:25-33). Here's a few short thoughts on what walking by faith means to me, based on that story.

  1. It begins with either asking for or receiving a command/directive from God. (verse 28-9: "If it's You, command me to come to You on the water." ... "Come!") - God, what do You want me to do next? Jesus, if you want me to go do XYZ, just tell me, please!
  2. It continues by acting on what God says to do (verse 29) - this may be a personal word for you, spoken into your heart or simply acting on a scripture that's meaningful to you.
  3. Action that God considers faith is pointed at God or it's doing something alongside Him - just as Peter was looking at Jesus the first time he walked then walked beside Jesus the second time. In our lives, whether we feel that contact or not, it simply means we are doing something to be allied and alligned with Him, not for our own selfish purposes - Father, I don't want to do this just so you'll make me wealthy or famous, or even just for the buzz, but to know You and to live the adventure with You!
  4. Walking by faith for Peter was based on what he'd seen Jesus do. Jesus modelled, Jesus showed him what was possible. Peter copied then found he was doing it, joining in. Jesus models both the lifestyle and the possiblities for us... Maybe there's more to the command "Follow Me!" than just passively agreeing to a doctrinal position and saying a Sinner's Prayer...

Go on. Walk by faith a little!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Moses' Epitaph, Our Challenge

Famous Last Words, Episode 5, a series by Yehudi01 and myself.
You can see his corresponding article here: Moses and King Messiah ....

Imagine the following written on your tombstone, or said about you in a eulogy at your funeral:

"And it was through Moses that the LORD demonstrated His might power and terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel."
Not bad, huh? This is, in a sense, the sum total of Moses' life, the concluding remark about his "accomplishments" as a man. His epitaph.
And if this was all you knew about his life, just this one sentence, I wonder what kind of man, what kind of life you'd imagine.

I would probably picture an extremely serious and well-dressed man, broadchested, without scar or blemish, perfectly self-controlled. With eyes that are never quite focussed on an earthly reality. He would enjoy the respect of millions, be very wealthy and carry no regrets. Nothing would faze him.

This was far from the actual truth about Moses, if the last 4 books of the Torah have been any indication. His was an extremely hard life, at least for the last 80 years of it. He carried a burden of responsibility that I really don't envy. He experienced a huge measure of rejection and disrespect from 2 of the ethnic groups he identified with (Egypt and Israel). Leadership more often meant doing things that large groups of people weren't happy with than it making people rejoice. Two thirds of his life, he lived in barren places, and as an outcast for a third of it.
To top it off, the Moses we know from Exodus 3 onwards lacked confidence, had temper tantrums and - though he was sharp and strong at 120 - he really just plain suffered greatly in his life.

Once again as I contemplate this I'm reminded of how authentic and hold-no-punches the biblical record is. No Hollywood scriptwriter or marketing agent got their hands on this story. Moses suffered as much as he succeeded, and was a mix of good and bad humanity.

But it was through this both noble and flawed human being that God Almighty did some pretty almighty stuff.

Now it's certainly not fresh thinking for me to say "God usually chooses flawed human beings to be His conduits". We're used to that thought. We're used to being conduits of His mercy, His compassion, even His truth, His gospel perhaps.

But could we write "it is through Pete Aldin that God did mighty acts" or "it was through Daniel Abrahamson that Hashem demonstrated His terrifying power" or "it was through [insert your name] that the Lord did miracles" ... and IN THE SIGHT OF OTHERS?

I'm not writing this to condemn. I'm really not saying that just because we don't send plagues of locusts against the local nazi gang leader's house that we're not doing enough! I'm not suggesting that just because the neighbors haven't seen you split the water in the local swimming pool, you're a spiritual flop.

I'm just wondering how much of a correlation there is between the suffering & sacrifice of a life however flawed which is truly devoted to God (ie., holiness) and the potential for God to work POWERFULLY through that life ... and in a way that will enact His will and bring Him glory...

The last thought I bring from this verse is this (and it's not my own, I read this somewhere and loved it): despite the fact that we have had 4 books which place a major emphasis on laws and commands, God's will is not just about words, but about acts. Once again, it's not just what I know or what I say or even what I verbally agree to believing. It's about what I do and how that doing lines up with His will.

What will you do with these thoughts today? Where's the realm in which truly devoting yourself to holy action on God's behalf is being asked of you? For me, I decided (and this may be tangential) that as a Dad, I will fully accept that great parenting means a difficult life for a couple of decades. Difficulty and sacrifice that will (I prayerfully ask, Lord) result in God raising empathetic, adventurous, honorable, confident, spiritual men of my sons.

The decision that this brought me to in prayer was that this weekend, I will focus on NOT DISCIPLINING MY BOYS TO MAKE LIFE EASIER TO ME, but training them lovingly and only enforcing limits and consequences for their best interests, not mine. [By the way, hold me accountable to that please. So far, a few hours into it, so good.]

May you be blessed in all that you do, knowing Him more and truly being a conduit for His grace, power, truth and love.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Leaving No Man's Land

Well folks, it's New Year's Day here in Australia and in my Bible time this morning, I turned to the last verse of Numbers. [What else would you read on New Year's Day??]

In this 4th Episode of Famous Last Words, I'm tempted as always to do some background digging into the text, and to construct a well-thought-out symposium on the verse...

But maybe 'cause it's New Years Day [and I'm worn out from celebrating last night, I may have had one too many root beers with my boys! :)] - maybe it's because as I read it, I had the sense that the meaning for me was a fairly obvious and simple one. So I'll keep this entry more from the gut...

Numbers 36: 13:

These are the commands and regulations the LORD gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.

When I read this, I immediately thought "This is much the same verse as the one finishing Leviticus." Then I read it again and realised, "No, boy, this is a verse about being on the verge of something new."

It's also about being at the end of something painful and bad. Here are the Israelites, at the end of 40 years of wandering in No Man's Land. My study Bible put it nicely (ok, so I did a LITTLE background reading!)...

"The lesson of Numbers is clear. While it may be necessary to to pass through wilderness experiences, one does not have to live there. For Israel, an eleven-day journey became a forty-year agony."

How many of us live in No Man's Land - the lifestyle, the situation, the choices that represent NOT God's will for us, NOT His Promises or plans, NOT even the best option we had available, but the results of deliberate decisions to withdraw from Him in some way.

The following considerations may sound harsh. But they are things I ask of myself first and foremost. I invite you to meditate on these thoughts too...

Perhaps it was that in the time that He had planned to "sideline" you, to put you under pressure which would purify, you actually chose the warm embrace of "sin for a season" [Hebrews 11:25]. Now that time has extended to years.

Perhaps it is that you wandered away from whole-hearted allegience to Him.

Perhaps you let the deceptiveness of worldly scientific "reason" undermine your faith. My 11 year old son said to me this morning, "I can understand why people find it hard to believe in God. They say, if God created us, who created Him? It's too hard to understand."

I didn't shout him down, because I think that's healthy that he's beginning to wrestle with these ideas. What I did say in the conversation that followed was "It is hard to understand. And personally I find that a wonderful thing, that I can't understand everything about God. I like mystery. And by the way, I think sometimes those people are hypocritical saying that's a reason to not believe in God, because they believe in other things they don't understand." I didn't even have to explain that last statement, I say the light dawn and he said "Oh yeah."

Perhaps some lunatic waving the "spiritual warfare" banner hurt you deeply. Or a man or woman using their position in a church community to insult or guilt-trip you offended you deeply. Or a prayer you prayed wasn't answered the way you wanted it to.

Or perhaps, it's just the longterm neglect of your soul, of your relationship with the Lord, of your actively putting it all into practise.

Whatever the case, right now, Divine mercy is available for you and I. You're standing at the Jordan, the boundary between No Man's Land, and the life God wants for you. A new "land", a new season, a new context, a new level - it's all waiting on the other side.

The river represents the decision to act, the decision to move forward. The Commandments given at the river were the sign to Israel that it takes submission to God - acquiescing to His will and His ways - to move into living in constant nearness to Him.

Lord, afresh today, I acquiesce to You. You are Father. You are King. I see at the start of a calendar year, there are 12 months of possibility stretching before me. But I want them to be about You and not about me.

I know that standing across the Jordan from Jericho is an indicator that moving forward will mean battle. All I know is that I don't want to live in No Man's Land, in wilderness! Guide me again, renew my knowledge of Your will, command me. Speak, for your servant is listening.


If this devotion was helpful, please feel free to visit the other posts in the series by clicking Famous Last Words. And don't forget to visit the sister post to this, written by Yehudi01 who joins me in this project, writing from the Jewish perspective.