Bearing My Great-Great-Grandfather’s Guilt

dark-bibleYesterday I tried to make the case that, as white Americans, we need to be sensitive to the discrimination and injustices that black Americans have suffered. Denying slavery, Jim Crow laws or racial profiling doesn’t ease tensions; it simply serves to confirm perceptions that we neither understand nor care to understand what black Americans have collectively endured.

The bulk of discrimination, sadly, was and is all too real. Contrary to popular opinion,  however, a percentage of the injustice seems to be their perception (possibly augmented by past experiences) rather than actual injury.

The two examples I cited yesterday underscore this point. The young man that I called “boy” projected racist motives onto my remark even though I had no way of knowing the connotation of what I’d said. He perceived the racial slur that most people mean, and therefore assumed that I was also making a racial slur.

Similarly, my then fiance’s comment that every black person in the south can point to a tree where one of their ancestors was lynched may have been hyperbole. Someone I respect sent me a Direct Message on Twitter after reading yesterday’s blog post, mathematically challenging the claim my ex made. Possibly, my ex had heard so many accounts of KKK lynchings that it certainly seemed like every black person in the south could point to a lynching tree.

Perception can often affect beliefs, and therefore magnify anger. From what I’ve read, this magnified anger came out at the MLK50 Conference last week in the form of demands that white American evangelicals adopt an attitude of continual repentance for the sins our ancestors committed against blacks.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine, settling in Georgia. He was 16. Soon after, he fought in the Civil War with the Confederacy. For years, I struggled with guilt and embarrassment that he essentially fought to preserve the sin of slavery. I also felt guilty and embarrassed that my grandmother occasionally expressed racist sentiments.

Scripture, however, teaches that each person is accountable for his or her own sin, not for the sins of his or her predecessors.

14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. ~~Ezekiel 18:14-17 (ESV)

If God doesn’t hold me responsible for the sins of my grandmother or my great-great-grandfather, why should anyone demand that I live in perpetual repentance for what these two did? If Christ’s blood completely atoned for my sin, why should anyone hold me responsible for sins that my ancestors committed — sins that have absolutely nothing to do with me?

The assertion that I must continually repent for sins that I didn’t commit goes directly against the Gospel. Jesus dealt with my sin at the cross. Only He knows whether or not my grandmother and great-great-grandfather had saving faith, so He will judge them accordingly. Yes, actions like theirs devastated American blacks, and the repercussions extend to our present time. But the guilt isn’t for me to own.

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Hoaxes Surrounding Christ’s Resurrection

He Is Risen

Being a known practical joker, I always enjoyed April Fool’s Day. I played some pretty good pranks over the years, having learned from a mother who took far too much pleasure in waking us up every April 1st with the proclamation of some fictitious catastrophe. (You’d think we would have caught on after a few years, right?)

Yesterday, however, I had no desire to play any April Fool’s jokes,  nor did anyone attempt to play one on me. The excitement of Easter, coupled with the first Sunday in months that weather allowed us to attend church, captivated my attention. I felt like worshiping the risen Savior, not like playing jokes on anyone.

Yet I thought a lot about hoaxes in relation to Christ’s resurrection throughout the day yesterday. Over the past two millennia, for instance, those who reject Christianity have often claimed that the resurrection was the most colossal hoax in history. According to Luke’s gospel, the disciples didn’t even believe the women who first discovered the empty tomb.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. ~~Luke 24:1-12 (ESV)

Notice verse 11. I can just picture the apostles rolling their eyes and muttering snide comments about women overreacting. Who were these dizzy dames trying to fool?

Obviously, Peter ended up verifying that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, and he led the others in preaching the resurrection to the known world. Ten of those original apostles died gruesome deaths because they refused to recant their confidence that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and the apostle John suffered intense persecution. People simply don’t put their lives on the line like that for the sake of a hoax.

But a hoax indeed was perpetrated when Jesus rose from the dead. The Jewish authorities knew very well what had really taken place, but instead of repenting and trusting Christ as the Lord and Savior, they conspired to counter the truth with a mammoth hoax intended to keep the Jewish people from believing the Gospel.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. ~~Matthew 28:11-15 (ESV)

How preposterous to think that Roman guards, who would be executed for failure to guard that tomb, would actually permit that cowardly bunch of disciples to fake a resurrection that they didn’t even believe would happen! Could there possibly be a more ridiculous hoax?

Sadly, to this day many people, including highly educated people, fall for that absurd little fabrication instead of believing the overwhelming evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The theory that the disciples stole His body is probably the greatest hoax of all time!

Rather than spending yesterday playing April Fool’s jokes, I celebrated the glorious truth that Christ the Lord is indeed risen. And I enjoyed this April 1st more than any April 1st I can remember.

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How Lent Denies Christ’s Atonement

Cross of Faith

Lent began last Wednesday, summoning all Catholics to 40 days of abstinence leading up to Easter Sunday. In recent years, some evangelicals have also started observing the season, making me want to  bang my head against the nearest wall.

In the present day, Catholic dogma teaches that Lenten sacrifice, which supposedly leads to repentance and deeper spiritual contemplation, is an act of obligation. Over the centuries, the particulars of the fast have changed, but the fact remains that during the 40 days (Sundays are excluded), one must abstain from some food or pleasure out of devotion to God.

In a blog post I wrote a year ago, I made the point that Christians should practice self-denial throughout the year rather than just during the six weeks preceding Easter. And the self-denial that Jesus requires of Christians is far more costly than giving up chocolate or Twitter for 40 days! I’ve already made my case in that post and this one, so its unnecessary to repeat my arguments today.

But in a conversation this morning, I realized that my objection to Lent boils down to the same problem I have with Roman Catholicism in general: it rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work on the cross. For all the talk of Lent enhancing our devotion to Him and drawing us to deeper repentance, we can’t escape its emphasis on human good works. As usual, the attention shifts from what Christ did for us to what we credit ourselves as doing to earn His favor.

The whole mess reminds me of the Galatian church in the First Century. The apostle Paul had preached the Gospel to them, but as soon as he left their region, false teachers swooped in and taught them that they needed to observe Jewish rituals in order to truly be saved. This adoption of legalism enraged Paul.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? ~~Galatians 3:1-6  (ESV)

Lent promises to draw people closer to Christ, but in reality it distracts from Him. Evangelicals, of all people, should recognize Lent as an unbiblical practice that completely negates the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. It repeats the same basic error of the Galatian church.

Sisters, I beg you to think seriously about participating in Lenten observances. Does doing so really honor the Lord Jesus Christ? Or does it make you feel spiritually proud, as if you’re doing something to curry His favor? Above all, remember that you come to Him only because He shed His blood on the cross.

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It’s Not About Why A Good Man Suffers

God Answers

Of course I’d read the book of Job many times throughout my 47 years of being a Christian, so its story hardly surprised me as I read it this week. Yet this time I noticed Job’s attitude. During the course of his trial, it degenerates from trusting God to questioning Him to flat-out anger against Him.

Job knew that He’d initially done nothing to warrant the severe suffering that God allowed Satan to heap on him. When his three “comforters” asserted that God was punishing him for sin, he vehemently denied their analysis. Sadly, as they persisted in their accusations, Job slid into the sin of self-righteousness, eventually demanding that God answer to him!

As we know, God finally puts a halt to Job’s temper tantrum by reminding Job that He created heaven and earth. Therefore He has authority to act however He pleases, and His creatures really don’t have any right to call Him into account. Thankfully, Job then repents of his self-righteousness and receives a restoration of God’s blessings.

Let’s talk about Job’s self-righteous anger against the Lord for a bit. I’d never really noticed it until this week, but I believe it holds a key to understanding the whole message of the book.

In college, a classmate who categorized herself as an agnostic summarized the book of Job as an exploration of the question, “Why does a good man suffer?” I thought of her assessment this week as I read Job’s self-righteous protests of his innocence, and I realized the glaring fallacy of her statement.

God used Job’s suffering to reveal Job’s heart. For all his attempts at piety and obedience, deep down Job ultimately trusted in himself rather than God for his justification. God used the trial to confront Job with his arrogance. Although he’d done nothing to provoke God’s judgment when the trials began, his reaction to the unfair remarks of his “comforters” led him to express his deep-seated self-righteousness. And it was ugly.

God, in His grace, allowed Job to recognize his need for a Savior. He graciously brought Job to repentance, and then rewarded Job for that repentance. The book isn’t about a good man who suffered as much as it’s about a good God Who uses suffering to show us both our sin and His wonderful grace.

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Saturday Sampler: February 4 — February 10

Doily Sampler Pink the Sequal

More extreme Charismatics should read Question 6: Is it right or ok to command God? by Clint Adams on Faith Contender. It’s a good reminder to approach the Lord with an attitude of humility.

Using Jen Hatmaker’s embrace of LBGTQ issues as an example, Michael J. Krueger of Canon Fodder teaches a helpful lesson in discernment with The Power of De-Conversion Stories: How Jen Hatmaker is Trying to Change Minds About The Bible. His essay demonstrates ways that de-conversion stories undermine Scriptural authority. It’s an important read, particularly as evangelicals increasingly try to reinvent Christianity.

In a guest post for Unlocking the Bible, Jen Oshman reminds us that Your Christian Life Isn’t About You. Well, duh, you say. But before you dismiss her article as being too elementary, check it out. Her process of reasoning just might surprise you.

Jordan Standridge consistently writes outstanding posts for The Cripplegate, and Why You Desperately Need the Holy Spirit perfectly exemplifies this point.

Similar to John Chester, I always believed one ought to dress certain ways for church. His article, Why I Don’t Wear A Tie in Parking Space 23, comes at the question from a much different angle than I do, but he makes pretty much the same conclusions that I’ve made.

Leave it to Leslie A of Growing 4 Life to come up with A Lesson from Football to encourage boldness for Christ. I also enjoy her unabashed celebration of the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory. Leslie, rest assured that not everyone in Boston roots for the Pats.

Justin Bullington, writing for Things Above Us, introduces a new series with his post, 8 Reasons Why The Next Missionary Support Should Be A Cessationist – Part 1. He presents compelling arguments that never would have occurred to me. I can hardly wait for the next installment!

Most of you may know that I am having trouble with my power wheelchair right now. This in turn causes secondary problems. So Michelle Lesley’s post, Basic Training: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically on Discipleship for Christian Women, ministers to me tremendously. If you’re suffering right now, you need to read this piece!

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False Converts Who Embrace Worldliness: Part 2

Narrow Gate

Yesterday I asked you to read Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) in preparation for today’s blog post. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can do so here. In this sermon, Christ lays out the high moral demands of a holy God, thereby demonstrating our abject need for a Savior.  None of us, apart from His grace, has the capacity to live in such holiness.

Notice, then, His command in Chapter 7:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

As we learn in John 10:7-9, Jesus Himself is the door (or gate). That reality carries several implications that frankly go against fleshly inclinations. Obviously, the primary stumbling block is the implication that only Christians will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such exclusivity flies in the face of our 21st Century value of inclusion. How dare the Lord limit salvation to those who would believe in Him!

Even more repulsive to postmodern sensibilities is the implication that Jesus would impose His morality on anyone. False converts may be okay with the idea of Jesus dying for their sins, but they then want to conclude that His grace gives them permission to continue in sin. Or they use incredible semantics to to explain why the apostles listed certain behaviors as sinful that we now understand to be perfectly acceptable.

In short, false converts reject Matthew 7:13-14 in favor of having a Jesus Who accepts them on their terms rather than His. If He must be the only Savior, at least He should save everyone (regardless of whether or not they believe in Him) and He shouldn’t tell anyone how to conduct their lives.

False converts miss the fact that, because He is Lord, Jesus has every right to determine both the criteria for salvation and the way His redeemed people ought to live. Thankfully, true believers accept His exclusivity and depend on His Spirit for the power to live in obedience to Him.

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The Sin Of False Converts

Serious Little Boy01When I first understood that someone could be falsely converted, I began wondering about the validity of my own salvation. This anxiety increased as I came to Reformed Theology and realized that I had received several erroneous teachings during the first three decades of my Christian life.

In one respect, Scripture commands such introspection (2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Peter 1:10). Many who consider themselves to be Christians don’t exhibit the qualities of those who have been transformed by the resurrected Lord. We’ll elaborate on that point momentarily.

But that introspection should never make doctrinal perfection the measuring rod for judging salvation. Although I rejected the doctrine of election for quite some time, for example, I believed that Jesus died for my sin and therefore I owed Him my life. I trusted Him as my Savior. He had elected me whether I believed in election or not, as evidenced by the faith He gave me to trust in His work of atonement.

Yet I struggled greatly to believe that my repeated sins wouldn’t eventually cause the Lord to revoke His saving grace. His own words troubled me:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ~~Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Had all my supposed ministry for the Lord been meaningless because of my sins? In my case, no. As much as I allow myself to sin, the Holy Spirit faithfully convicts me until I repent.  I then cling to the cross, assured that Christ has given me His righteousness. My trust reverts to His work rather than my own.

False converts, on the other hand, point to their apparent good works in an effort to distract God from their sinful lifestyles.  Jesus rightly calls them workers of lawlessness, cutting through their self-righteousness to expose their lack of repentance and trust in Him alone.

Dear reader, if you attribute your salvation to anything you’ve done (even saying a prayer or walking down an aisle too respond to an altar call), please examine yourself today. Are you trusting Christ’s shed blood on the cross, or do you proudly point to something you’ve supposedly done to merit His favor. If you dare to base your salvation on anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, prepare to hear Him declare that He never knew you.

 

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