Therefore, sin is an extremely useful diagnostic tool for the human heart. And since a culture is the collective behavior of those hearts, we might say that cultural sin is the aggregate indicator of how little we love God.
But if our primary response to a sinful culture is to tell it to behave better, we’ve prescribed toward the symptom rather than the disease and, in the process, admitted we don’t really understand why people sin.
But far worse, by trying to spackle right conduct over the godless hearts of a declining culture, we seem to be saying that inhabiting a pleasant society in this life is more important to us than seeing those lost souls around us escape an eternity of separation from the God they do not yet love.
What does it profit the Church to gain the whole culture but lose all the souls?
On the one hand, many of the stamps are valuable, which is almost entirely a function of them being rare. On the other hand, many of the stamps are beautiful, which is simply a matter of whether I like looking at them.
Being motivated by beauty and not at all by some rarity fetish, I’m lucky to discover that most of the stamps I like best are also fairly common. Even so, I’m sometimes tempted to rethink my dislike of an ugly stamp just because I’ve discovered that it’s expensive.
I resist this by reminding myself that price and value are not the same thing. In fact, we live in a world where some of the most precious things are also extremely common. It’s almost as if God wanted us not to be deceived by money into thinking ugly things are beautiful simply because they pay well.
Instead, we must view anything which draws people to seek God as an opportunity, even if they’re only seeking Him to alleviate their fear and pain rather than to actually find Him. The real trick is to take this surge caused by temporary circumstances and transform it into lasting conversion and a real expansion of the kingdom. But how?
By giving the people who come more than they think they need. Instead of merely telling them everything is in God’s hands and that He loves them (both true), we need to give them Christ in such a way that having Him becomes more important than having the economy. That way, whether it recovers or not, they’ll keep coming. And this time, for the right reasons.
But about once a day, I’ll be coming up behind cars who are driving well below the limit and have to put on my own brakes to avoid running into them. The infuriating thing is that this seems to happen in those enforcement zones. So even though I’m braking for a proper reason, I know that it’ll look like I’m braking because of the cameras. And it kills me to think that a stranger in another car is going to mistake me for one of those idiots.
To prevent that, I’ll actually wait to hit the brakes until I’m past the cameras, even if doing so means that I’ve gotten unsafely close to the car in front of me. Some part of me would rather risk rear-ending the slow driver than be thought of as a guy who brakes for speed cameras.
See why it’s such a healthy thing to judge other people?
When I’m reading the Bible and other texts, listening to sermons, and doing a variety of activities, I almost become overwhelmed with insights and feel like I just can’t wait to get into the studio to formulate them. On the other hand, when I feel like I’m struggling to find something to say, I can usually look back and notice that I haven’t been doing these things as much.
It’s far easier to overflow when my mind and experience base have been filled, because then my little sermons are the best players from a very large draft rather than just the last player remaining to be picked when the deadline comes around.
Yesterday, after waiting to turn left into a strip mall, I watched a truck go around me, make a u-turn in the middle of the street and in the process suck up the only break in a long line of traffic, causing me to wait even longer. So I honked at him. That last part I sort of regret, but why did his actions so annoy me?
It’s simple. The most distinctive feature of bad drivers is their selfishness. In essence, they make other people suffer in order to get what benefits them. This is what makes them barbarians.
A much more rational approach is for all of us to follow the rules of the road because doing so tends to reduce the overall suffering of everyone. This is called being civilized.
But an even better way is to recognize opportunities where we can voluntarily benefit others at the expense of our own suffering, so long as in the process we don’t kink up the order created by everyone following the rules.
Being selfish improves to being fair, which improves to being generous. This progression is Christian ethics in a nutshell.
Sags and droops, so clearly unfirm,
Stretches and folds earned at full term.
What once was taut has now released,
A wrinkle here, and there some crease.
A bit more plump each passing year,
To better soothe her children’s tears.
The showroom floor no more her place,
A hall of fame instead to grace.
A child’s stuffed toy so worn and bare,
The marks of love are shown by wear.
Perhaps she ponders taking action,
Improving looks for satisfaction.
But such mistakes to her I’d say,
Though they may seem so wise today,
Eventually will prove quite wrong,
A yielding to some foolish song,
Which sings to her of looks gone by,
But only tears will make her cry.
If truth be told, she is a gem,
Her life in flesh poured out for them,
True beauty in no body other,
Than that which be called a mother.
See, the question starts from the premise that good people are entitled to rewards and bad people are entitled to punishments because our behavior controls God’s responses. But this premise is actually a heresy called legalism. In contrast, the Gospel shows that God’s goodness is precisely in that He loves all men, blessing those who don’t deserve it and can’t repay Him, a beautiful and stunning condemnation of our conditional notions of love.
So why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? Because this world belongs to God, not Santa Claus. And until we recognize that legalism is the at the heart of this objection, we’ll miss the fact that only the Gospel’s portrait of God can possibly answer it…by rejecting it’s heretical starting point.
Now consider a very un-typical American. He has no debt whatsoever because he has lived within his means. But one day he hears that there are people living in other parts of his world who lack food, clean water, and basic medical technology like vaccines and antibiotics. So he gets a mortgage on his home, takes a loan on his car, and maxes out his credit cards, and then gives all that money to a reputable aid program.
First question: Which one of these men seems normal to you, and which one seems like a lunatic?
Second question: If you didn’t know anything else about these two men other than what I’ve told you, which one would you suspect of being a Christian?
First, you might look at it and say, “No way. I’m never going to do something as ridiculous as that.” This is the sin of rebellion, an unwillingness to do what God likes.
Second, you might say, “Okay, if that’s what God wants, I’ll be sure to do it at least once in every service, perhaps at the same time just so that I don’t forget.” This is the sin of legalism, a belief that God can be pleased by simply following some rule or other.
Third, you might say, “Well, that’s interesting and beautiful. If God ever wants me to do that, I’m open to it. And if I never feel the need to do that, that’s alright, too.” This is called faith, a willingness to please God without succumbing to the temptation of thinking that you need to prove to Him or anyone else (including yourself) that you are doing so.
Well, I don’t feed them because I like them. Even if they are very unlikable that day, it won’t cost them dinner. I don’t feed them because they please me. In our house, even disobedient children get fed. I don’t feed them because they deserve it. In a very real sense, my children can’t deserve to eat since they quite literally have no way to earn what it costs to deliver a meal. So why do I feed them?
Because they have a need, because I have an ability, and because we have a relationship. I am their father, and I love them. In other words, they are not in control of whether I give them what they need. They just aren’t that powerful. Nor am I that evil.
I was with about ten guys from my church, nine of whom were staking out a position I knew was wrong. But the tenth guy was a good friend with whom I had recently discussed the very subject at great length, and we both saw it the same way. This knowledge that at least one person in the room understood me (even if I looked like a fool to the rest) removed all my normal insecurity and allowed me to do unorthodox things like keep my mouth shut and take criticism without returning it.
Already having the approval and respect of someone whose opinion really mattered to me, I was free to argue from love rather than from need. And even though my good friend won’t always be in the room and won’t always be on my side even if he is there, I do know that I have another Friend Who always will be both.