Big Sins, & Little Ones

I was struck by a comment I read today by John Ortberg. He was writing about a high-profile minister who stepped down from a large church. And in the comments that the church leadership made regarding the reasons, they said the pastor had been guilty of “arrogance,” but not “immorality.”

Ortberg goes on to ask: “When did arrogance cease to be immoral?” Why do we only seem to equate immorality with sexual misbehavior? Are the only immoral things the things we do that are tied to our sexuality?

It is striking that in the New Testament, there are no less than ten lists of spiritual vices. They cover the gamut from selfishness, to greed, to quarreling, to anger, to murder, to disobedience, to love of money, to sexual immorality. None of those apply to you? Click on one of the links, and you’re sure to find one that does. Each is a reminder of the ways that we are tempted by “immoral” behavior. Some make the headlines. Some barely make a ripple.

But if we are serious about walking with the Spirit, then we will guard our lives against any form of immorality. Whatever title we have (or don’t have). Whether people notice (or not).

At the same time, I think it’s important to note that different actions have different consequences. Some sin does destroy a family, and leave hurt lives and bodies in its wake. Others have lesser public results. But while some sin is dramatic, all sin is deadly – because all sin leads us away from the life we are called to in Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, it is much easier to point fingers at the sin of public figures. It is pervertedly comforting to be able to say to yourself, Well, at least I didn’t do what HE did. But if we take seriously the Bible’s challenge on this subject, then we will start with our own lives – and our struggle to live up to the calling that we have. And we’ll not shy away from dealing with those areas where we falter and stumble. Our sin may not make the news, but it is newsworthy – and is the kind of sin that the Good News addresses. And no matter what choices we have made that separate us from God, His grace is enough. For a high profile pastor. And for middling folks like you and me.

Laughing (and Learning) with Kids

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from a child – a kid I barely knew. I was visiting my sister and her family who serve a church in New York City. We were with them one Sunday, and after the service, we did some sightseeing. Along for the ride was Jermaine, a neighbor kid who lived next door to my sister.

We visited Central Park, and then went for a look around the American Museum of Natural History. As we walked along, we came across a display with a manatee in it. Jermaine, reflecting on the lesson that morning at church, said, “So that’s what the Israelites ate.”

I love kids. There is something about their innocence and lack of inhibitions that makes for a wonderful – and sometimes wonderfully hilarious – combination.

Jermaine’s hysterical, and almost correct insight, happened over 4 years ago. Sadly, I have yet to find a way to work it into a sermon or a lesson.

But it fits this week’s blog, as I reflect on some recent interactions I have had with kids in three different settings.

One: I invited several children to join me on stage at church on Sunday to talk about the series we just completed, Discover Your Mission Now. And so on Sunday I found myself talking with Liam (age 7) about what he has learned. God wants us to be nice, he said. That’s a nice, safe answer. But then Liam proceeded to challenge his middle school brother to put that message into practice. It was as if Liam had been waiting all seven years of his life to finally get an audience and a microphone, and he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. This message is for you, Landon!

Second encounter: Our church hosted the Asante Children’s Choir last week. It was a great time with some wonderful African kids. They were sweet, polite (calling us men, “Uncles,” and the women, “Aunties”), and they never stopped hugging us.

Before their concert, we fed them dinner, and I sat with five of them as they ate. I asked the children how old they thought I was. Three of them guessed that I was in my 20s, and one suggested that I was only 18. And this was the same kid who had guessed, completely on his own, that I am the minister. Eighteen and the minister? I think I was still learning to tie my shoes when I was 18….

The third encounter, unlike the other two encounters, is ongoing. About a month ago, our family opened our home to a four-year-old boy who is a distant relative. He needs a place to stay for several months, and so we decided our family would be a good place for him for as long as he needs us.

And what a fun month it has been, as we get back into the groove of having a preschooler around. He is active. He loves to laugh. And he came to our house never having given anyone “knuckles” (you know; where two people bump knuckles together). So, I was proud to teach him that.

He talks in a way that makes us smile. Through him, I have learned that my first name has at least two syllables – as he calls me Uncle Ja-eff. He enjoys playing “way-gos” (legos), and his favorite drink is “choc-it” milk.

And he’s learning some things about church. After walking through our worship space at church, he asked about the pool of water up front. It’s a baptistery, we told him. “What’s a bad mystery?” he asked. I tried to answer that question, as best as I could – at least in regard to what a baptistery is.

But you know, I think he’s half right in his description. How God loves us and changes us and gives us new life is certainly not bad, but it is a mystery – one I can’t fully understand or explain. And I’m glad I don’t have to. I simply need to embrace and receive it.

And come to think of it – isn’t the same thing true of children?

The Tale of Two Doctors

I have a great doctor. Though I don’t see her very often (which I guess is a good thing), doctor visits aren’t something I dread. She is kind, thoughtful, and takes time with me. She genuinely cares how I am doing.

I haven’t always had a doctor like that. I had one several years back who seemed to be the opposite. I remember going to him with symptoms I couldn’t pinpoint. At one point, apparently frustrated with me, he said, I think it’s just in your head.

I wasn’t very happy with that answer (especially because it turned out not to be true; my head was just fine, thank you). In the end, he just didn’t seem very interested in the (real) needs I was facing.

Two doctors. Two different approaches. Only one who made a difference. Isn’t it amazing how two people can go about their jobs so differently?

But is it any different for you and me? Whatever you do, you have a choice. Will you do it because you have to? Or because you are getting paid? Or simply to get through the day? Or because someone told you? Or because it’s your duty?

Or will you go about your day, your work, your life, doing it wholeheartedly, as if to the Lord?

You see, one approach just gets the job done. The other sees the job as an opportunity to serve – God and whoever He sends our way.

So, which approach to life are you using? Today? Right now? And which approach will make the most difference for others? For that matter, which approach do you think will make the most difference in your life?

An Unexpected Guest

Last night, my youngest daughter had a volleyball game about 30 minutes from our house. Correction: she played seven games, over the course of two sets. Most of the games had a lot of points and volleys, which added up to, well, a lot of time. So, by the time we got out of the gym and on our way home, we were all tired and at least one of us was hungry.

It’s at that time that Sophie, my oldest, called from work. She had made a new friend – a guy who was pedaling across country – and she wondered: could he spend the night at our house?

It’s after 9:00, we still aren’t home yet after a long day, and now we might have an unexpected house guest? I’d love to say that my first response was: Sure, come on. Let’s bless this guy with a place to crash, before he hits the road again. But, honestly, my first thought was primarily about why this wasn’t a good idea.

But my daughter was persistent, and so we made it work. And though we didn’t have much time with Dillon, I learned a bit of his story. He is from Pittsburgh, and he and a buddy decided to take the last half of this year off to bike across America. But then his friend landed a job he couldn’t say no to, leaving Dillon on his own. He decided to go for it anyway. He began the trip in early August in Astoria, Oregon, and plans to make it to Virginia Beach, Virginia. By Google’s calculations, that is 3,061 miles – not counting all the side trips that Dillon has no doubt made. And the 2 extra miles he had to bike getting from Sophie’s ice cream shop to my house. Just today, he planned to pedal from Louisville to Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky – about 130 miles.

As we were getting settled at home last night, Sophie told me: I have been praying for someone to bless. She had been putting into practice the challenge we have been giving at our church (Fern Creek Christian) to daily seek to let God use us to bless others. And, lo and behold, Dillon shows up at work, and ends up crashing on our cot.

Did I mention that my first thought wasn’t one of excitement? Did I mention that yesterday was a long day? But the truth is – blessing others isn’t always easy. It involves sacrifice. Hard work. Openness to new things. And it might even cost a little money.

But sometimes we get so caught up in making it through the day, we forget to make something of the day. That was the lesson my daughter reminded me of last night, when her new friend needed a place to shower and sleep. I was reminded that I am not here for me, or for my comfort. That God uses us in simple ways, when we simply open ourselves to him.

Your story probably won’t be the same as Sophie’s (unless you happen to live between Louisville and Virginia Beach; if so, be on the lookout for a biker on a mission who may need a shower). But even though your story won’t be the same as Sophie’s, that’s the point. All our stories are different, because our lives are different. But the challenge is still the same.

So, who are you letting God use you to bless today?