How Far is Too Far?

The news headlines are littered with stories of celebrities of all stripes falling into moral failure. It’s not a new occurrence by any means, but the reaction to the news seems to be changing.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping a woman. As a result, he has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, been removed from the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, and all references to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” have been removed from the Television Academy’s web site.

Tanya Harding pled guilty to a felony charge of hindering the prosecution in the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. The US Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 National Championship and banned her for life from being an athlete or coach. However, they did NOT strip her of her 1991 national title.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle-area, was removed from his position after it was found he had been, among other things, abusing his power. As a result, his books were removed from Christian book stores and he lost his position in other ministries.

Pastor Bill Hybels was forced to retire early due to alleged misconduct that spans over 40 years. It is yet to be seen what the fall out will be.

Theological differences cause people to react as well.

Rob Bell wrote a book that argues for universal salvation. His books were removed from Lifeway Bookstores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

When Eugene Peterson made a statement that seemingly supported gay marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his work, including his The Message paraphrase translation of the Bible. Peterson clarified his stance supporting traditional marriage, and all was forgiven.

My question, and I don’t know that I have a great answer for it, is where is the line?

If we look back at our national history, many of our Presidents have had some serious moral failures. FDR incarcerated Japanese-Americans and he refused to accept more Jewish refugees. Jefferson and Jackson defended slavery and were responsible for executions of Native American peoples. JFK was unfaithful to his wife. Yet all of these men did good for our nation. We celebrate them, we honor them.

So my question is simply, “How far is too far?”

Obviously, we hold those who claim to be moral leaders, such as clergy, to higher standards. If a person preaches about the sinfulness of adultery and then is found to be having affairs, his credibility is shattered. It’s hypocritical we say and we ban his books from our bookstores.

In theological differences we do the same thing – if someone becomes heretical in their teaching (by our standards), we tend to believe that all their previous teaching, not matter how on point or beneficial to us in the past, must be bad as well.

Where do we draw the line? When do we say that someone has gone too far or done too much to be remembered for anything other than their sins?

When Jesus was confronted with the woman who was found committing adultery in John 8, he told the crowd that whoever had never sinned could throw the first stone. Then the accusers slinked away, one by one.

The fact of the matter is that we are all sinful people, and if our whole life’s story was bared out before the world – our inner most thoughts scrawled across the pages of a magazine – we may not look so good either.

I am not saying that there should not be consequences for these men and women – there should be – no one should be given a free pass just because they can make us laugh, make a good product, or pass good legislation. There is no legitimate excuse for sinful behavior.

But before we join in on the stoning, we need to make sure that we remember that we, too, are sinners in need of a Savior. None of us is perfect, and we are all deserving of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

The Fake Apology & the Garden of Eden

Children misbehave.

It’s an undisputed fact.

And adults then react (or overreact) to those poor choices.

One thing that I can remember seeing over and over growing up is that when two kids got into a fight of some kind, the adult in charge would often make them apologize to one another and then give each other a hug. As you can imagine, and have probably seen, this doesn’t generally work well.

The first obstacle is generally the perceived authenticity of the apology. “No, Johnny. Say it like you mean it.” The second is similar to the first, as the hug is genuinely quick, with the two barely touching, or on the other end of the spectrum, the two turn it into a mini-wrestling match to who can squeeze the hardest.

Neither of these outcomes is generally what the well-intentioned adult wants, but if done with just enough sincerity, it passes the sniff test and all goes back to normal.

Just a few days ago, someone asked me the question, “Why did God place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden in the first place?” For him, it would have been better if human beings just didn’t have the option to sin in the first place. Then we’d all be with God for eternity, no one would be separated from God, and there would be no sin in the world. Pretty great, right?

The answer to the question, however, goes back to those fighting kids I talked about in the beginning. In order to actually love someone, one must make a choice to do so. There has to be a conscious act of the will to make the decision, “I love you.” That can’t happen when it is forced. Just like when Johnny is forced to apologize and hug his enemy, though he’s saying the right words and doing the right actions, his heart really isn’t in it. There’s not a choice to love at that point.

When God created humankind, he gave each of us a choice to love him and worship him in return. Yes, he could have created us to be like robots – or the stubborn child – who would simply reply that we loved him, but that would not have been true love, would it? True love requires choice.

So God provided us with the choice – will we follow him or not? Will we love him or not? Will we choose to put him first in our lives? Without that choice, our love for him is just as meaningless as the child’s forced apology and hug.

God has created us in his image, and has given us the choice whether to love him or not. This choice to love is only possible because he first loved us. Without God we would not know what true love looked like. And the ultimate example of love was Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Kids, next time you’re forced to give that fake apology or fake hug, take a minute and remember that God did not give you a fake apology or fake love – he showed his true love by sending his Son to die on the cross for you. It’s up to each of us to choose how to respond.

Sticks & Stones? (Luke 22:63-65)

 The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and said, “Prophesy to us! Who hit you that time?” And they hurled all sorts of terrible insults at him. – Luke 22:63-65 (New Living Translation)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

This lie has been told to children for many years. (The first printed copy of the nursery rhyme was found in The Christian Recorder in 1862.) I call this a lie because, as we know, words can and often do hurt much worse than a broken bone.

Of course, the intent of the saying was to help children ignore taunts, refrain from physical retaliation, and remain calm. That’s not bad advice by any means, but the fact is that broken bones will heal; hurtful words which are spoken cannot ever be taken back.

Often the words of a stranger leave no lasting impression on us. We know that the stranger doesn’t really know us, and chances are good we won’t see him again. His words can most likely roll off us with no further consequence. We trust in the fact that he doesn’t really know who we are, therefore his words have very little power over us.

In contrast, the words that hurt us most deeply are the words spoken by those closest to us. The ones who know us intimately have the power to cut us to the core. The hurtful words they speak tend to stay with us. We begin to question our very identity because we believe that they know us so well, there must be truth to what they say. We think perhaps they know us better than we know ourselves. We take their words to heart, even if said in the heat of the moment, because we believe they wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true on at least some level.

In this passage, we read that Jesus is being mocked by the soldiers who are guarding him. We may quickly believe that this is like the first case I referred to – simply strangers. These guards don’t have a clue as to who Jesus truly is. They don’t know that he is the Creator and Sustainer of the world. They don’t know that he is the Son of God, sent to earth to die on the cross for their sins. They don’t know that hours from now, Jesus, while hanging on the cross, will ask God to forgive them.

While that is true, there is something more we need to consider: the guards don’t know Jesus, but Jesus knows them; that’s the very nature of God. We can’t gloss over the fact that God created these men. He knew them before time existed. He watched as they grew in the wombs of their mothers, whom Jesus also knew intimately.

These men, though they don’t know Jesus, were known by Jesus, and they are his children. He knows them and loves them more than anyone else on earth. He cares for their well-being. He cares for their eternal destiny. He cares for their families and their friends. These are not mere strangers – they are his children, created in his image.

Imagine being at the lowest point in your life. You’re literally being taken to your execution – for a crime you did not commit – and there, hurling insults and berating you in front of everyone are your children. Not only have they joined the crowd, they are leading the charge. They are actively taunting you, calling you names, and telling everyone that you are delusional. I cannot imagine that level of pain and betrayal.

Certainly the physical pain that Jesus endured on the cross was excruciating. Crucifixion was the cruelest form of capital punishment at the time. But the emotional pain that Jesus experienced – being rejected, mocked, and scorned – by the people he loves, has to be severe. Jesus loved these men and the crowds that they led so much that they were the very reason he was going through all of this in the first place! He could have called down his legion of angels and ended the torture at any time. Yet he didn’t. He stayed. He endured. And for what? For the chance to save his children from their evil and misguided ways.

We have all done things in our lives that we regret. We have all said hurtful words to our loved ones, to our parents, to our spouses. We know the sting those words have. For Jesus, the pain must have been infinitely worse. The people he loved, the people he knew intimately, were treating him like the worst type of criminal. They rejected him in word and deeds. And to this very day, men and women continue to mock and reject Jesus, in spite of his love for them. May it never be said of us that we mocked the very God who came to save us. Jesus’ physical pain has ended, but it seems to me that the pain of knowing that so many reject him would continue to this day.

Am I More Than a Label?

Labels. They are very helpful in most cases.

I want to know what is in my food. I want to know what is in my cleaning supplies. I want to know the warnings associated with my appliances. I want to know the side effects of my medication.

But labels can turn nasty when they are used on people.

He’s the fat guy. She’s the smart one. He’s the funny one. She’s the loud one. He’s a jerk. She’s a loon.

These types of labels take one part of a personality and purport that it is the only, or at least the most important, part of a person. We all logically know this to be true, yet we still do it. We continue to label people and try to define them and put them in a nice, neat box.

The problem is that no one fits in a nice, neat box. We’re all a smorgasbord of personality traits, physical features, emotions, and beliefs, that make up the unique person we are. That unique person was created by God in God’s own image. That’s where we need to be finding our identity – as a child of God.

I’ve often heard that if you sin, you are a sinner; If you commit a crime, you are a criminal; or If you lose your temper, you are a hot-head. I will admit that there is SOME truth in that, but if we allow ourselves to be defined solely by our actions, then we’re missing the big picture.

We are not only the sum of our actions. Yes, our actions matter, and yes, that is how we are judged, but what truly matters is who God says we are. God says we are his children, made in God’s image.

Nothing that we can do will change the fact that God has created us – that he has perfectly and wonderfully made us. When we commit sinful acts, even gross atrocities (whether actual or in our minds), we are still made in God’s image. We are still his children. He’s never going to leave us or abandon us. He’s going to love us and seek a relationship with us NO MATTER WHAT.

Whether a person is a Christ-follower, an atheist, a pagan, or an agnostic, doesn’t matter. He loves each of us the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, male, female, old, young, tall, or short, God loves you, cares for you, and wants a relationship with you.

That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about your actions – he certainly does. What it does mean is that he loves us all the same. Sometimes love requires discipline, and that certainly is the case with God, but God’s judgment doesn’t negate the fact that he loves us. Our relationship with God will necessarily change how God responds to us – but he loves us all. He demonstrated that fact when Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

God has created each of us, and he desires that all people enter into a right relationship with him. But that doesn’t mean he stops or starts loving people based on their decisions.

If you’ve really screwed up lately, I want to give you hope. I want you to know that God still loves you and offers his grace to you. Don’t beat yourself up over your actions. Accept the consequences and move on. Do what you can to make things right, but accept God’s perfect love and forgiveness for yourself. God doesn’t label you based on your sins – he labels you a Child of God based on who you have been created to be.

The Root of Sinfulness: Pride

Pride. It’s something we come across almost every day of our lives. “Take pride in America!” “Hays High Indian Pride!” “Tiger Pride!” You get the idea. We are told to take pride in things. We take pride in our hard work. We take pride in our children. We take pride in our churches, schools or communities. Pride is all around us – and in many cases it’s celebrated as the appropriate response. Yet pride is listed first in most lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, and being humble – the opposite virtue of pride – is continually held up as the Christian standard throughout Scripture. So is having pride in our school really a sin?

The answer to that question is difficult at best. Being proud of an accomplishment, either collectively or individually is a good thing. We should feel good when something we do goes well. It’s a cause for celebration. Yet biblically speaking, those times of celebration must also include a recognition of the fact that God has allowed the blessing to take place, or that God has given you the talent to complete the task at hand.

That last statement rubs some people the wrong way. They will argue that they have worked hard to get where they are at and that God had nothing to do with it. That’s the sin of pride creeping in. God has created each one of us with certain talents, abilities and gifts. To ignore that fact or to take all of the credit when a job is completed is to cut God out of the picture. Certainly your hard work and dedication are commendable and essential to the win, but ultimately it is God who allows us and blesses us to succeed.

Pride is an excessive belief in one’s own abilities that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It is putting someone or something ahead of God’s rightful place at the head of your life. Augustine said it is “the love of one’s own excellence.”

In many ways, pride is the starting point of all of the other sins; it is the sin from which all others arise. We feel that our way is better than God’s, therefore we go against God’s directives. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said, “inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin … the root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule.” When we follow our own path as opposed to the path God has laid out, we are usurping God’s rightful place as Lord of our lives. That is pride.

Pride is a universal sin that affects everyone in some way. Counting the cost of pride, President Thomas Jefferson said that, “Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.”

Thomas Merton, a 20th century American author said, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

Josh Billings, an American comedian from the 19th century, said, “One of the best temporary cures for pride and affectation is seasickness; a man who wants to vomit never puts on airs.”

When we see pride rear its ugly head in our lives, our first response needs to be repentance. We need to change our behaviors and our attitude. One quick way to do that is to start recognizing what we have been given by the Lord, and how blessed we actually are. Then turn our moment of pride into a time of thanks for the Lord. A grateful person is not a prideful person. “A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves,” said Henry Ward Beecher, an American pastor.

If we combat arrogance and pride with humility and gratefulness, we will be well on our way to eliminating the sin of pride.

This article originally was published in ONE Magazine’s October 2015 edition: