Tag Archives: Sin

Thanksgiving: Back to the jail

“God moves in a mysterious way, His mercies to perform. . .” is the title and first line of a hymn written by William Cowper (1731-1800) in 1774. Believers in God’s works, omnipotence, grace, and pure, undeserved mercy apprehend well the truth published in this line.

My husband and I spent a couple of hours in our County’s jail on Thanksgiving, as we did last year, helping to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to more than 50 trusted inmates. Jail inmates prepared part of the meal, and the Prosecutor’s office received funding for the food. My husband, a county public defender, and I were among those serving the well-cooked, attractive meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberries, etc. The inmates were cheerful and cordial.

Witnessing the inmates’ conviviality gave me pause for gratitude for God’s merciful grace. All mankind errs. God forgives all who repent. Viewing the hard side of error–incarceration–is a sobering thing. It is also a beautiful thing, to see repentance perceptibly fulfilled, and the promise of forgiveness.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving, especially to all who apprehend and repent of their own sins and the gracious mercy that removes them from our blotters.

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Lord, is it I?

21 Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
22 And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”
23 He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. 24 The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it.”
–Matthew 26:21-25, New King James Version (NKJV)

In light of reading this text for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time, I thought. . . Lord, is it I? Judas asked the same question, but he calls Jesus “Rabbi,” not “Lord”–and correctly. Jesus was most certainly his Lord; He was Lord of All, but it was not given to Judas to acknowledge Jesus as his Lord. Judas was never of Christ’s true flock.

If the true Apostles could ask their master such a question, they must have known such a thing was possible. Of course it was. And of course it is for me. It isn’t even a matter of conjecture. It’s a matter of fact. I betray my Lord every day. Of course I do; I sin because I am a sinner.

Judas betrayed the Lord, turning Him over to those who crucified Him. Ah, but Christ died for my sins. My sins put Him on that cross as much as Judas’s betrayal.

But Judas and I are not similarly situated. I am a repentant sinner; Judas was not. By God’s gracious mercy, I was blessed with the gift of repentance; Judas was not.

God’s mercy in granting repentance to sinners so that they may repent their sin and be forgiven, is an infinite gift of grace we should truly celebrate. And ideally, it is why we celebrate Christmas.

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Effie has no sense of sin; she lives under the curse of the Fall, because all Creation fell under the curse with original sin. Effie has no guilt and very little accountability. That is probably why she can fall into relaxed sleep, any time, anywhere.

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No shades of grey in glory or along the way

I have a hurt foot; I saw my doctor, who said it was either one thing or something else; but either way, a remedy that will make it hurt more will eliminate the problem. So much for life with human medicine. And yes, I’ll use the suggested remedy. Beyond the sting, improvement will come.

John Gill (1697 – 1771) has been more uplifting. Last night I began reading his small amphora of vitality, Efficacious Grace. Gill’s persistent emphasis is the fact that the unwrought, gratuitous change God makes in sinners whom He chooses, does not improve them. Grace does nothing at all to improve sinners. No one receives grace to become a new, improved sinner. God’s grace renders sinners new creations: new—not improved—sinners, whose ultimate, greyless future is not improvement, but perfection.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve apprehended this teaching. Reading Gill at a particular time of somatic discouragement repositioned these things to their rightful forefront where I could see them at a needful time. The fact that they were still with me in the bright light of day could be due to the three-hour tussle with a migraine that survived three doses of two different triptans, before letting me sleep.

Sin isn’t about only our own sin; sin is the consequence of all sin from the onset of the Fall. A hurt foot and a migraine are the consequences of sin: mine and everyone else’s, since the first apple-tasting bash.

We don’t get any better at striving against sin. We can only be delivered from striving and from sin—actually made completely new. And not new again, but new as we never were, and as we will be.

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Now, here is a worthy aspiration:

“I want to go where I shall neither sin myself, nor see others sin any more.”

       –George Whitefield (1714-1770)

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Some godly advice from one who knew God well

“Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the
great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a
conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see
thy lust dead at thy feet.” —The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, pg. 79, Banner of Truth ed. 1967

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A cat, a bell, and a long slog toward hope

My cat, my cat, you are becoming unintelligible and I am humbled that I ever imagined a possibility of expertise with your afflictions. Yours wound me as my own.

Coolidge’s diabetes has gone renegade since his thyroid went volcanic. I can’t do radical increases with the long-lasting type of insulin he needs, and there’s just no chasing the numbers anymore—but if he’s stuck in the mid-200s, with occasional nosedives into the 40s and 50s, at least he isn’t stuck in the 300s, and he doesn’t have ketones.

And now the new wonder formulation of thyroid suppressant is making sores in his ears. And Friday he had a blood test for his T4 and it’s much too high. Still. His T4 was perfect when he was taking the pills, and of course the pills didn’t hurt his ears. But they made him inappetent.

It’s not my fault, but that doesn’t matter: I feel incompetent anyway. Frustrated, discouraged, and incompetent. I’m letting him down. After all, what’s so hard to figure out? An endocrine system is only a little more complicated than the whole rest of creation.

My husband gave me a little bell for my chain link bracelet. It’s such a pretty little bell, and my husband knew the significance of the bell to me. I hear the bell ringing as the ringer cries, “Unclean, unclean!” And so I am, unclean and yet scoured. A sinner saved by grace. Already and not yet: already redeemed and not yet perfected. That’s not for this life. The timing of our pastor’s exposition of this theme last week was a more than welcome refresher.

My cat groans, joining the rest of Creation that awaits the end of the effects of the Fall. Man took down all of Creation with him when he first sinned, when he rebelled against God. Disease and death are the consequences of man’s rebellion: hyperthyroidism, diabetes, ulcerated ears, and the inevitable end of each wondrous life itself.

My cat has, I think, a sense that none of this is his fault. We have always encouraged him to believe that nothing is ever his fault. Nothing could be his fault because he is not sin-tainted. Only humans can exercise a conscious will to sin. I sense that he knows it is I, not he, whose intrinsic defectiveness has brought certain unpleasant things—things like pin pricks, injections, caustic medicine, and sore ears—about. But my cat cannot abstract; he cannot hope. I can abstract and I do have hope; and I even have a little bell to bring to mind that I already have that for which I hope. But not yet.

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an entirely happy thought

Our pastor cited 1 Thessalonians 4:3 today, in the course of a sermon that did much–very much–to guide me around a sludgy mire of spiritual quicksand, sometimes known as pessimism, that I knew lay ahead but that I had so far managed to step around, but barely. The text reads,

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification. . .”

Yes: my sanctification is God’s will, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to derail it! Not even my well-practiced ploy, which is to focus on how much the sins of others grieve me, without stopping to reflect on how much my own sin grieves God every day.

Providentially, one of the hymns we sang today addressed this ploy explicitly. I say providentially, because my husband selected the hymns for the service, and he had not conferred with our pastor on his theme. God dovetails these things so faithfully and so perfectly. The verse was,

“Could we bear from one another what he daily bears from us?
Yet this glorious Friend and Brother loves us though we treat him thus:
though for good we render ill, he accounts us brethren still.”

–John Newton, “One There Is, above All Others”

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“Eradicate evil”? Then who’s left?

“And there is–there’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.”— MedStar Washington Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Janis Orlowski, 9/16/13

First off, I have no doubt in my own sin-dazed mind that Dr. Orlowski is a competent—likely a superb—physician and administrator, and someone who by all societal standards would be rated a Good Person. Unfortunately, what I take away from her passionate plea to Americans to unite to “eradicate evil,” is nothing. Nothing, anyway that makes any sense.

The idea of effectually eradicating evil is the great aspiration of humanism, but it makes no sense to a Christian molded in the exquisite logic of the doctrines of grace. As the pastor of my church in my former location said so many wonderful and so many necessary times, “All things are disciplined by theology.”

The idea that we could eradicate evil is a logical impossibility because we are sinners ourselves. To say that I am less sinful in the eyes of God than a mass murderer is like saying that I am closer to the moon than my husband is right now, because I am standing on a chair.

Man blew it at the outset in the sinless world he was originally given, but God’s grace has nonetheless abided with us. Thirteen dead is a horror, but it wasn’t 23, and could as easily have been higher. The 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting left 32 dead.

We could all get T-shirts with SAS (Sinners Against Sin) printed on them. Then what? Fortunately for us, the eradication of evil is not part of the human agenda. If it were, there would be no difference between the bounty and the hunter, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 is both profound and basic at the same time.

Sin is, and will be until the end of time, as old as man. We can’t rid society of evil, because we can’t rid ourselves of evil. We can’t rid ourselves of evil, because, “the enemy is us.”

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Gatecrashers

How funny: a pheasant strolled by my window, bobbling his head approvingly at me, or so he seemed to do, just as I wrote my title. I think he doesn’t mind my staying. I’m glad he doesn’t, because I consider his bobble-by a blessing: he inevitably brings beauty to my corner of God’s very good world. And I am thankful for my corner, and for the beauty my gracious Creator has allocated to it.

A good friend of mine recently experienced a difficult intrusion at her too recently re-secured gate, and it happened that just a day or two earlier, some ancient bitterness was lobbed over my own gate. The contextual circumstances of the intrusion battering my friend’s gate and my own are very different, but the same metaphor of gatecrashing that occurred to me, seems to apply to gates in general.

I wrote to my friend, “I can only think God sends such things to crash our gates—we think something is confined to a remote and settled past, and have effectively gated off that life sector, but then we have to go through the rubble all over again when our gates come down.” As I pondered Ecclesiastes 9 today, I realized that this sort of gatecrashing is a fact of life common to all of us, because we all sin within and without the gates of our own making, and in the very fact of having these sorts of gates–which in any case, are nothing but elusive vanity.

Am I really that dumb, I wonder, as to think I can manufacture a sense of peace and settledness for everyone I’ve ever known and sinned against, and shut it out (or myself in) for all time—just in case God’s grace becomes extinct? The correct answer is, yes, I probably am that dumb sometimes.

My sin is a debt to God alone, and my divine Creditor has one and only one payment plan: the blood of His Son, and the faith He has given me that only His Son’s blood has paid my debt— all of it— in one payment. How sad for those who find the terms too easy to be believed.

I think gatecrashers perhaps are sent to us also so that we will pray for them, who may know nothing of sin and grace at all— even as we are mindful and repentant of our own sin, and the sinful gate-building that it prompts.

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Why we don’t like toddler slappers

Man’s first sin was his decision to seize power that was not his; nor did it belong to some syndicate godfather. It belonged to God the Father. As a result, weeds grow, men hate, batter, murder one another; they ingest drugs that destroy the reason that made them men. We wish certain species would die out—starthistles, earwigs, toddler slappers—but they remain with us, for one thing, to remind us of our connection to our heritage: our heritage of original sin and our fall from original grace.

I was thinking about the toddler-slapper incident in this context, trying to understand why the slapper’s conduct was so thoroughly reprehensible, and why it deserves judicial penalties and societal censure. I can’t read the man’s heart, but only assess his alleged actions based on the reports I have read at some internet news sites I consider generally to be fairly competent, notwithstanding their pronounced liberal bias. I’m not going to use the man’s name, because it’s been in the news enough, and because I’m not writing about him personally, but citing the incident in which he was involved as an example.

Very briefly, for my marmot friends just emerging from under their rocks, a flight passenger slapped a two-year-old boy on the face, with his hand, while pronouncing a racial epithet as he instructed the child’s mother to “shut that N. baby up.” The child is the adopted African-American son of two obviously adoring white parents. The boy’s father was not on the flight with his wife and son. The assailant was determined to be inebriated.

As a preliminary matter, I have to confess some personal biases.

First, I consider it very wrong, and possibly criminal, ever to use corporal punishment on a child who is not specifically misbehaving. Crying in pain is not misconduct.  The toddler in this case, according to his mother (whom I regard as necessarily the world authority on his behavior), was experiencing ear pain due to changes in the plane’s altitude and air pressure. If you don’t know how much this can hurt, even without being slapped hard enough to leave a bruise on your face, consider yourself very lucky.

Second, I admit to not wishing to share a planet, much less an airplane cabin, with a hostile drunk.

My take is that all sin re-enacts the original sin of seizing power which is not rightly one’s to seize. The unmanly male passenger in this case seized parental authority to discipline a child who was not his, without permission from the child’s parent who was present, when discipline was not an appropriate remedy under the circumstances. The man failed to act as an adult and endure the sounds of the helpless child’s suffering.

The passenger used inflammatory language of the basest order, as it pejoratively alluded to a trait over which no human has any control. But I think it was more and worse than that.

This is just my scenario. Again, I don’t know this man’s heart. I know a baby crying can be very irritating—but there are things you just don’t get to do about it. To cross the line the way this passenger is alleged to have done, is a power raid.

The unwarranted strike, combined with the epithet, emboldened the passenger with a self-justified right to use force, even though it was not reasonable. The striker’s own magical thinking conferred a fictive power on the word—and on himself. He seized God’s power over the order of creation and re-ordered it his own way. He made himself a higher-order man, and a small, suffering child an “N.” He believed he could treat the N as he pleased. Perhaps the slap, fortified with the word, confirmed his fictive power to reduce the child’s rights, to put him in his place, according to his own sense of order. Maybe to put all “Ns” in their place—but I won’t impute broader motives from the scant evidence I have. The man’s lawyer says his client is not a racist.

I don’t see this as a case about political correctness. I distrust and dislike the growing obsession with political correctness. I see political correctness largely as a power raid, designed to assign entitlement to categories, rather than to individuals. The more we secularize our thinking, the more we need artifices like this to conceal the template of creation and the Law of God. We keep believing in the five-legged donkey when we count its tail as a leg.

The airplane incident is about real individuals, one with a torqued sense of reality, irrationally abusing another who is 1/30th his age, and who is learning all about reality, good and bad, in leaps and bounds, every day. The striker’s alleged action offends the sense of order of all reasonable people.

I really see this as a case of hardening in a pathetic individual who wants control over everything in his midst but his own life. I assume he has the benefits of an expensive education; he was a division head for an aerospace defense contractor. This incident cost him his job, and I think his employer’s response is creditable. When a person’s private thoughts leave a mark on the face of someone else’s child, we rightly just don’t like it.

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