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Posts Tagged ‘Pride’

I have shared more than a few personal stories, and have tried to somehow relate them to a Gospel message that might be encouraging or insightful.  Sometimes I have tried to make them humorous, but others are simply just facts of life where I have failed or struggled with the God to whom all hearts are open. I guess you can consider the stories confessions of sorts.

Who knows? But what I do know is that one of the things that drives all of these stories – is my inaction. Places where I have failed God by my inability to act upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My most painful experiences as a Christian, are those times in which I did not put physical form to the love of Jesus Christ.

Sure, I have faith. Having faith for me is usually the easy part. I have experienced too many supernatural things for me to so easily discount the ability of God to exist. And logically, throughout all of my searching and wandering, I have yet to find a more compelling case than that of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only as evidenced in the Scriptures, but in my own life as well.

The problem with faith however, is that it is useless all alone. It can no more save a man’s soul, than raise the dead. Faith requires a body to enact it. Every time in the New Testament, when Jesus heals someone, he always says that it is their faith that has made them whole. The thing is, he always requires a physical action to prove that faith.

In James, it is written that we must be doers of the word, and not only hearers. Those who only hear the word, are like people who look in a mirror. They look at themselves, and turn away, only to forget what they are like. But those who study the perfect law, the law of Christ, and put it into practice, those people will be blessed. (James 1)

James continues this in chapter two, where he admonishes those who believe that faith alone will save them. For even the demons believe in God. But faith must be accompanied by action. Who are we to disagree? Time and time again, it is proven that a person of true faith will act out on his faith. They will abide by the Lord’s commands: love God, and love thy neighbor.

How can we love our neighbor if we do not show them our love? If I never speak to my neighbor, can I truly be loving him? How will I show my love if I never offer to mow his yard? Or the widow across the street, how will she know my love for her if I never offer to fix her mailbox that has been smashed by renegade kids?

The Scriptures say that they will know we are Christians by our actions. For a healthy tree bears forth good fruit. But inaction is the sign of a tree that is dying from within. It is the fig tree that the Lord curses and which withers away.

According to Ezekiel, the sin of Sodom was that she was full of pride, and had plenty of food. She was prosperous, but did not aid the poor and the needy. Because of this they were haughty, and did horrible deeds. Inaction is just as sinful as physically committing evil deeds.

The Book of Common Prayer portrays this beautifully in the Confession of Sin: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…” it adds, “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…” It recognizes that the two go hand in hand.

Faith without works is not only useless, it is dangerous. For it leads to arrogance and pride. Self-righteousness leads to Pharisaism. It wasn’t the faith that the Pharisees had that he opposed – it was the way they approached faith. Their faith did not care for the poor and the oppressed. It had no action behind it.

God does not wish sacrifices of blood and flesh, but sacrifices of justice and mercy. How can we offer those sacrifices if we do not choose to act on our faith? The faith that teaches us to not only love God, but to love our neighbors as ourselves?

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I was a pawnbroker for a while. It was a career choice that I honestly do not regret one bit, even as I moved further away from the ethicalness of that particular industry. The job provided me with amazing benefits, I was compensated fairly for my work, and I got to help people every day (albeit in a limited manner).

The job also gave me a lot of stories about folks. I’ve had times when people came into the pawn shop with tears literally streaming down their faces, trying to pay the light bill – or buy formula for their baby. There was an opportunity to help meet a lot of needs for folks. That’s one of the reasons I stuck with it for as long as I did. However, you also become a bit jaded.

I’m reminded of a particular time when these two young (and not unattractive) ladies came into the shop. They were looking at our selection of James Avery jewelry (faith-inspired silver and gold jewelry which is popular in Texas). One of the ladies picked out a ring, but wanted to sell another piece of jewelry to pay for it.

Now, that is not normally an issue. But to sell something to a pawn shop, you have to provide identification so that if it comes up as stolen, the police know who last had it in their possession. When I informed the young lady that I needed her state identification or driver’s license, she responded: “You see, ummm, I’m a prostitute, and I have warrants out for my arrest, and I don’t want the cops getting my information.”

The poor girl was probably only eighteen or nineteen years old, and she was already selling her body on the streets of San Antonio, Texas. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the police already had her address – it was already on their system via the Texas State Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead, her friend (also a prostitute) gave me her identification to use, and so we completed the process and they walked out with a James Avery silver ring.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of a hooker buying a piece of jewelry inspired by Christianity. But looking back, I’m a bit more thoughtful about the encounter. She bought a silver ring with a heart on it, inspired by God’s everlasting love for humanity. There are so many things I wish I had done differently with that encounter. So many things I wish I had thought instead of the self-righteousness that was in my head.

In the Scriptures, Jesus has an encounter with a woman caught up in adultery. The religious teachers and Pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus stops them saying, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The men all begin to leave, until it is only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked her if anyone had condemned her. She replied to Jesus, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)

I think that day, in that pawn shop in San Antonio, that prostitute knew more about the grace of God than I did. At least, in her heart of hearts. I missed a chance to evidence that love with flesh and blood. In my head, I was condemning her, even though I was not without sin myself. Looking back, I can see that even though she was in a bad place in her life, she had hope in something greater.

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I finished my lunch, and paid for it. After the tip for the waitress, I paid ten dollars total. They swiped my debit card, gave me my receipt, and told me to have a good day. A sentiment which I returned.

When I walked out of the restaurant, there was a beggar woman sitting out front. She was missing an eye, and looked quite frail. A hospital band around her wrist denoted that she had probably just been released. She asked me not for money, but to buy her a meal. A taco in fact. I looked her square in the eye and told her I didn’t have any money.

A few steps later, I was in my car, already feeling guilty about the lie which I had spoken so boldly. Sure I didn’t have any cash on me, but that was a technicality. I had sufficient funds in my bank account to pay for this woman to fill her stomach. My keys had already found their way into the ignition, but I didn’t turn them. For a few moments, I had a crisis of conscience. I was busy after all, in a hurry to spend my Sunday doing nothing in particular. What an inconvenience this woman was to me.

Yet all the more, I heard the still voice in the back of my head, “When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.”.

She wasn’t asking for money which could be used for all sorts of evils. She was asking for a basic human need to be met. She was asking for her hunger to be satiated. How could I have denied her? Yet the deed was already done, I had already turned her away. How would it look if I waltzed back over to where she was and granted her request? What a jerk I would look like!

Who was I trying to impress? Certainly not her. She was hungry, and she just wanted some food. She didn’t care about my pride, that wasn’t even on her radar. She was worried about starving to death. And if I drove off, forget looking like a jerk, I would be committing an evil deed. To drive away from her would be a sin. I would be denying the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He who identifies with the poorest of the poor, and the afflicted and oppressed. Damn my pride and hypocrisy, Jesus Himself was asking me for a meal.

I got out of my car, and went into the gas station next door. After withdrawing some cash, and breaking a twenty, I went back to where the beggar woman sat. I pulled the ten dollar bill out of my pocket, handed it to her, and told her to get her some food.

“God bless you!”

I walked away, too ashamed for any reply. Knowing how unworthy I was of such words. And after I got in my car, and closed the door, I looked up into the heavens and got level with God: “You suck!”

He does suck sometimes. Because He calls us out of our convenience and comfort. And I’m sure there are a lot of things I could have done differently to make a better impact as one who claims to be a Christian, on this woman’s life. But I didn’t. I drove off, feeling guilt and shame. As I should. Who do I serve, God or Mammon?

In this instance, I’d like to believe that I served God. Although I don’t always make the right decision. None of us do. But the glaring temptation to deny Christ as beggar was almost too powerful to resist. Yet as I write these words down finally at the end of today, I am reminded of a parable.

A father asked his two sons to go tend to the vineyard. The first son vehemently objected, and refused to do his father’s will. The second son told his father that he would indeed go, and tend to the vineyard. However the second son never went, but the first son changed his mind, and did as his father had asked. Which one truly did his father’s will?

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I’m still trying to figure out how to define my experience watching “Selma”, last night. The closest I can come to, is that it was a spiritual experience. “Selma” is heart-wrenching, and beautiful.

The entire film, I could not help but think, “My God, what have we (white Americans) done?”. The answer to my question came in the movie itself. When any white person stands by, and does not speak out against racism when it rears its ugly head, we have implicitly condoned it. It is our sin of omission.

“Selma” also illuminates the activities of Dr. King in Selma, Alabama. His leadership of a non-violent protest against those who sought to harm and kill him. How disappointed I was to learn that while “Selma” had a full audience, a film that glorifies the life of a military assassin was sold out.

This is the sin of the Church in America – we have failed to speak out against the violence of this nation. We have implicitly stood by as our government systematically oppresses and murders its enemies – at home and abroad. Many in our churches have even explicitly supported or participated in such efforts.

We have glorified the military industrial complex as our savior and have placed our hope in our elected officials. Yet the Scriptures speak out, and proclaim a new way of life. That in the Kingdom of God, swords are beat into plowshares. That those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword. The Gospel of Christ is this: Love thy God, love thy neighbor, love thy enemy, love thine own self. Love.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Which then is the love of Christ? The killing of enemies for national pride? Or the sacrifice of one’s life for the freedom of others?

Skip “American Sniper”, Church. Go see “Selma”.

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