A Prayer For Me And The Church

This angers me. 

For those who think homosexuality is a sin, there is a line that should never be crossed. And this is it.

Daniel took on the collective guilt of his people in a prayer while an exile in Babylon despite not participating in their sins. And this pastor's behavior is a terrible sin. We must change. We must be better. We must show Jesus' love.

So if you are a Christian, please pray with this reworked prayer of Daniel's prayer. This isn't about nonChristians but about our failure as Christians to be who God wants us to be. We must change.

Oh, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled. We have turned aside from being loving and crossed into hate too many times. We have not listened to your teachings, which you brought yourself to all of the earth.

Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of your Church, those who are faithful and those who are stumbling, who find themselves in all sorts of places to which you have driven them because of the treachery that they have committed against you.

Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our pastors, our leaders, and those who have come before us, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God to live a life of love, which Jesus modeled for us when He walked among us.

All the Church has transgressed your law of love and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our pastors, by giving us over to our own selfish desires and allowing us to toil away at this institution we have created.

Just as it is written in the law of Moses, we toil in vain without your blessing. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his grace and blessing. Instead we tilted at the windmills and attacked others. So the Lord kept watch over our toil and watched its fruitlessness. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.

And now, O Lord our God, who sent your Son down to earth and established your kingdom through the Church and made your name known even to this day — we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your Church, your holy people; because of our sins and the iniquities of those before us, your kingdom and your Church have become a disgrace among all our neighbors.

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. Bless our work for your glory. Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the Church that bears your name.

We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your Church and your people bear your name!

Hate The Sin. Love The Sinner. Really?

There is a popular saying among Christians under a lot of attack lately: "Hate the sin. Love the sinner." It's origin is unknown, but its meaning has roots in Scripture.

Jude wrote, 

"But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 ESV).

Keep yourself in God's love, but hate the garment stained by sin. In other words, "Hate the sin. Love the sinner."

We must hate sin, yet we must always love the sinner. That is what the phrase teaches. Let's look at a sin that we would all consider a sin without question to test out the teaching. Murder, for instance. Let's substitute sin with the specific sin of murder. 

"Hate murder. Love the murderer."

We can all agree with that, right? Murder is horrible. It destroys. It hurts people's souls. It leaves families in despair. I hate murder with all my being. Yet, despite finding the sin of murder totally reprehensible, I am still called to love the murderer. I'm called to love the murderer and help bring healing to their lives.

Yet our natural instincts tell us to hate the murderer. We would much rather hate the sinner along with the sin. We want to hate the pedophile, the rapist, and the terrorist. But then we are reminded of this powerful teaching, "Hate the sin. Love the sinner." It is to our detriment to discard that teaching that keeps us in check.

And those who aren't wrestling with with loving sinners while hating sin don't understand that we can love someone despite their actions. Actually, we must love everyone despite their action. It is a misconception that we hate people who we think are sinning. And on the other end, we are sometimes viewed as too loving and accepting when we choose to love those who are, from our perspective, the most disgusting.

Which leads to me. I am a sinner. I can still be loved despite my sin. God loves me despite my sin. For while I was a sinner, Jesus died for me. He didn't die for me because I was perfect. Actually, His death is meaningless to me if I live pretending that I am perfect or that I must be perfect to receive His grace. He died for me because He loved me. And He didn't just die for me; He died for all of us. He died for the worst of us. He died for the murderer and the pedophile. So that in Him, we can move beyond the mistakes, the sin, that separates us from him into the life that He has called us to.

So in our debates on what is or isn't a sin, let us never ditch the concept that we are to love the sinner while we hate the sin.

Hate the sin. Always love the sinner.

We Are Exiles. We Are To Be Different.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who lived as exiles. They found themselves as followers of God in lands ruled by people who didn't desire to be faithful to God. Joseph in Egypt. Esther in Persia. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon. Jesus in Judea. These people weren't as concerned with organizing the State and public spaces into what they wanted. Instead, they were focused on remaining faithful no matter what the cost to themselves.

So it was through this lens that I have seen the hot button issue of the last few weeks: Transgenders and public restrooms. And as I was working through the stories of the exiles, I would read people's comments on Facebook and hear them in conversations. Collectively, we're trying to figure our response out. Yet, in the midst of it, I'm seeing Christians full of hate. I'm seeing people in the world full of permissiveness. And it got me thinking.

When we, as Christians, argue about bathrooms, we join in on the issue at hand being a political and social issue rather than a moral and biblical one.

Let's say that our whole public bathroom system is reshaped. Men are allowed into women's restrooms and vice versa. If that happens, I will then be able to go into the bathroom with my daughters and protect them if that is the fear. I just need to do what is best for my family under the laws we have. I don't have to enter into the social and political argument. I don't have to try and force my ethics on others. I don't have to behave in a way that is viewed as oppressive. I am an exile in Babylon, I can take a stance morally on the issue and understand that Babylon is going to be Babylon. I can love and stand up for truth at the same time.

In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they refused to cave to society and were thrown into the fiery furnace. They stood up for truth, literally and figuratively, when they refused to bow to the idol. Yet in standing up for truth, they still allowed Babylon to be Babylon. We don't see them trying to change Babylon.

The world can do what they want out there. There are way more immoral things in our society than people struggling with gender identity who want to use a bathroom different than their biological gender. And my favorite musicians, like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, no matter how much I appreciate their music, don't dictate my morals to me. That's up to God and the Bible. What Babylon does out there doesn't change what I'm going to teach my children. It doesn't change the teachings I will share in the pulpit. We, as exiles and followers of Jesus, won't let it control the views we have and the way we actually live.

But if there is something that we should learn from all the exile stories, it's that it's not our job to tell the world how to live. It's our job to show them how to live. It's our job to remain faithful even in the face of being unpopular or being punished for our views. We don't oppress others. We sacrifice ourselves.

History shows us that the approach of trying to capture power and control, of decreeing laws and trying to win political battles, hasn't done the church any favors. It also wasn't the approach that any of the exiles in the Bible took. The reality behind any political battle is force. We want to use the power of the state to get our way. When we push for laws, we are pushing for punishments to be enacted on those who don't live the way that we want them to live. And that doesn't seem to Christlike to me. It influences us to focus on politics rather than just being the most loving people in our community. It causes us to focus on the social issue of the moment rather than the totally transformative message, grace, and love of Jesus that changes everything.

This idea of being an exile changes the way we live. And if we truly apply it to the issues of our times, it will change our approach there too. It should empower us to be more compassionate, more faithful, and more focused on the mission of Jesus. We can't choose to fight the battles of this world and the mission of God. We must choose one.

Frederick Buechner wrote in the Faces of Jesus:
"If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own - and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion."
We are exiles. We are to be different than this world. We are to be crazy in a way. So we're going to be different than those around us. We're going to be different in our public life. Are we?