Tag Archives: Guilt

Execution Lessons

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42 (NIV)

Just last week I read a news blurb of a convict who was executed. It was your typical news flash on such stories in which just the basic facts were starkly recounted with little embellishment. Years ago, he was convicted of murdering his own wife. Before he died he expressed regret for what he’d done. He apologized to his loved ones, acknowledging the he understood why they couldn’t forgive him, but expressing the hope that they might someday be able to do so. He then said that he couldn’t wait to meet Jesus. He was given a lethal injection and died a few minutes later.

Fascinating. For some reason, I’ve found those few lines of news unusually coming to mind in the days since I read it. There’s more to that story.

Today’s chapter is Dr. Luke’s account of Jesus’ execution. Much like the news blurb, it recounts many facts with little embellishment. What embellishments Luke adds create more questions in me than answers.

With the eye of a playwright and storyteller, I find myself making a mental list of the characters in the story and how they contribute to the narrative.

Jesus, the lamb led to slaughter, refusing to speak or offer a defense.

Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish religious leaders are the power brokers playing their own chess matches of personal power, public opinion, and political intrigue.

Jesus twelve appointed male disciples and heirs to His earthly ministry are the key characters not present (John was there, according to his own account, but Luke does not record this).

The oft forgotten women who have traveled with Jesus, supported Jesus, and provided for Jesus and his disciples are there at a distance, witnessing the execution. This includes Jesus’ mother. One of the women is, ironically, the wife of the head of Herod’s household.

The Roman soldiers are carrying out their duty and having their sport with the victims. As an added perk they get their choice of the victims’ spoils.

The presiding military officer, a Centurion, is observing.

Then there are the three executed convicts.

What struck me was the convict who was crucified next to Jesus and came to Jesus’ defense. The only character in the entire saga of the passion who comes to Jesus’ defense is a convicted, guilty (by his own confession) death-row inmate. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he said.

How did he know about Jesus’ kingdom?

There’s more to this story.

Had he been among the crowds in Galilee, or in the temple courts, who heard Jesus teach? Had he and Jesus spent time talking in a holding cell as they waited to hear the Roman soldier announce “Dead man walking.”

I find so much intriguing about this man. Jesus didn’t explain the Four Spiritual Laws and lead the man in the sinner’s prayer. Jesus only defense was to one of the weakest and least powerful characters in the story, an executed criminal by another executed criminal. The only act in this man’s “death-bed conversion” was simply to acknowledge Jesus before another convict, and humbly ask to be remembered.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the spoken faith of two guilty, convicted, executed criminals. I find myself thinking about my own guilt. I find myself thinking about Jesus’ repeated teachings about simple, small faith being all that is required. It is indicated from the story that this is true no matter the moral standing of the one expressing such simple faith.

Sometimes I think that we religious humans complicate things that Jesus presented as very simple.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Featured photo on today’s post courtesy of PWBaker via Flickr.

The Look

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Luke 22:61-62 (NIV)

As a child, I had a healthy conscience. If I had done something wrong, it weighed on my heart like the proverbial millstone Jesus referenced as just punishment for causing a little one to stumble. Looking back, it’s fascinating for me to think about the things that sent me into attacks of shame and the the things I could convince myself weren’t “that bad.”

It starts at such an early age, doesn’t it? The mental gymnastics of moral justice: What’s bad? What’s very bad? What’s not a big deal (if you can get away with it)? What sins weigh heavier on the scales of justice within the family system, the school system, the neighborhood system, and the peer group system?

It was fascinating for me to become a father and observe just how opposite two children with the same genes can be within the same family system. One daughter’s conscience was impregnable. She always pled “not guilty” no matter how red-handed she might have been caught. She remained stoically resolute, stuck with her plea, and quickly appealed any parental verdict as prosecutorial overreach and abuse of power. At times it was comical, at other times it was maddening.

With the other daughter, all it took was a look. A look of condemnation, or worse yet – a look of disappointment. Her little spirit wilted. Tears flowed. If nature helps to determine temperament, then I’m pretty certain she got that from me. Oh, that parenting could always be as easy as a look.

The look. That’s what struck me in today’s chapter. I find it fascinating that Luke included this little detail. Peter utters his third denial and immediately the rooster crows. With that audio cue, Jesus turns and looks directly at Peter. The denial, the rooster, the look. The weight of his denial, his sin, and the hollow emptiness of his emphatic assurance to be imprisoned and die with Jesus all come crashing down on Peter in a moment. He runs. He weeps bitterly.

As a child with a healthy conscience, it’s easy for me to feel that weight. I identify with Peter.

Me, too, dude,” my spirit whispers to the weeping, shamed, unworthy Simon. I totally identify with Peter at that moment; The seemingly ill-chosen ”Rock” and ”Keeper of the Keys.” By default, I ‘m ready to sit down with Peter and have a shame-induced pity party.

But, there’s something else I noticed in today’s chapter: Jesus knew. Jesus not only saw Peter’s impending denial and failure to follow-through on his assurances, but He also saw past the failure to the sorrow, repentance, and restoration. Jesus’ perceived that Peter’s fall would ultimately help mold him into a more solid, humble, and capable leader. Much in the same way that, as a father, I knew that one daughter’s tender spirit was going to develop into a heart of compassion that God would use in one way, and that God would use my other daughter’s strength of will and resolution for different but just as meaningful purposes.

In the quiet this morning I find the realization that I’m quick to sit and wallow with Peter in the failure and shame. This, however, means that I am slow to accept God’s perfect knowledge of me, my shortcomings, my failures, my heart of repentance, my restoration, and all that He is molding me to be for His Kingdom purposes. Embracing the former without embracing the latter is to accept an incomplete reality: Jesus remains very disappointed in me and I remain shamed and self-condemned. Within days, the resurrected Christ would stand on a beach graciously prompting from Peter three “I love you’s” to replace the three ”I don’t know Him’s.” Peter remains on course for the journey of love, faith, leadership, transformation and sacrifice to which he’d been called from the beginning.

It’s so easy for me to see “the look” of Jesus as one of a disappointment. But just as I could “look” at my daughters and see beyond their momentary infractions to the amazing individuals they would grow to be, “the look” of Jesus always sees beyond my failure to the fullness of all I am and will be in Him.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Legalism’s Tragic Imitation of Faith

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:3 (NIV)

Legalism /ˈlēɡəˌlizəm/ noun  1. Excessive adherence to law or formula. 2. Dependence on moral law rather than personal faith.

I was a young man when I had the opportunity to pastor a relatively small, rural congregation. Taylor was just a newborn. I’ll never forget meeting informally with one of the church elders to get acquainted over a cup of coffee.

Where are you going to send your children?” he asked me early in the conversation. “Public school or Christian school?

What I didn’t know in that moment was that the question was a litmus test. The elder was raised in a denomination that practiced a form of legalism, and the education of children was part of the “moral law” for this particular denomination. You sent your children to Christian school, and there was no other acceptable option. If parents couldn’t afford it, then grandparents and other family members were expected to pitch in and foot the bill. If you failed this test then there would definitely be social repercussions.

By the way, I failed the test, but that is a different post for another day.

Along my faith journey I have encountered legalism in a number of different populations. I think it important to note that every brand of  denomination I’ve encountered, from Roman Catholic to Lutheran to Baptist to Reformed to Quaker has its own legalistic groups within. Both of the definitions pasted above fit hand-in-glove to what I’ve observed and experienced. What’s been fascinating to observe is how religious legalism seeps into every system with which it comes in contact. While living a among a group of legalistic Christians I found that the legalism was not confined to how the church operated, but it became how the connected family systems, social systems, educational systems, and business systems functioned. I certainly found individuals within these legalistic systems to be sincere and motivated by what they truly believed was “right.” So were many of the Pharisees for whom Jesus had such harsh words of rebuke.

In a legalistic group, observable public and social behavior becomes the standard by which a person’s spiritual standing is judged. Pressure is applied by the group as a whole to conform. Social acceptance or rejection is often the passive-aggressive form of reward or punishment. I’ve personally heard many tragic stories from individuals raised in these legalistic social groups. They’ve shared with me stories of being forced to stand publicly before the congregation in order to be shamed, and stories of church elders making weekly home visits to keep families toeing the line and under the church’s brand of social control.

Within the group I encountered as a young pastor the critical legalistic criteria of the denomination’s moral law not only included sending your kids to Christian school (controlled by the denomination, no doubt), but also strictly observing the sabbath (no work on Sunday), and attendance at two-a-day church services each Sunday (the “no work” law helped with this). Then there were all sorts of other unwritten, behavioral rules about the clothes you wore, the music you listened to, the businesses you supported, the people you dated and married, the acceptable colleges you sent your children to, and on and on and on.

It is written that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit in one’s life includes:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

I’ve observed that the “fruit” of legalism in groups like the one I’ve described are:

  • obedience
  • guilt
  • fear
  • judgement
  • threats
  • shaming punishment
  • authoritative control

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul is addressing a different form of legalism. In his case, it was the Jewish believers who’d been raised under the legalistic moral Law of Moses. Their adherence to these laws, along with others that had been made up, and the physical sign of being circumcised were the critical criteria. These followers of Jesus who came out of this form of legalism now wanted to apply their legalistic code to all followers of Jesus.

In today’s chapter, Paul tackles the issue head on by asking these legalistic Jewish believers two questions from their own scriptural tradition. Abraham was the spiritual “father” of Judaism (btw, Abraham was the “father” of Islam as well), and their scriptures said “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Not only this, but this simple “believe and you’ll be credited with righteousness” paradigm came before circumcision was a thing and before the Law of Moses existed. So, Paul argues, when Jesus says “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life, ”  he is simply going back to the original paradigm given to “Father Abraham” at the very beginning.

In the quiet this morning I’m seeing the faces of those who’ve shared with me their stories about being raised in legalism. Some are absurd to the point of laughter, and others are heart-breaking to the point of tears. I get why legalism develops as a human system. There is a social order produced, and we humans love our social order. The problem I’ve found, and that Paul is arguing, goes back to the definition I pasted at the top of this post: “adherence to moral law rather than personal faith.” Legalism actually chokes Spirit and Life and replaces it with a cheap imitation which actually destroys faith and, insidiously, feeds the flesh.

More about that in the chapters ahead.

Faith to Reach Out Amidst the Shame

“Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him….”
2 Kings 13:4a (NIV)

One of the things that I’ve learned in my years as a corporate coach is that most people are quite aware of their own faults. When I give someone the opportunity to assess themselves I find they are usually quite accurate about the opportunities they have to do better. In fact, I find that people usually have a harder time identifying their strengths even though they can provide a laundry list of their weaknesses. They are generally harder on themselves than I would ever be.

Along life’s journey I’ve found that it’s quite common for my guilt (i.e. “I keep messing up by thinking/saying/doing [fill in the blank]”) to sink into shame (i.e. “I’m such a hopeless case that I’m sure I’m so unlovable/unforgivable/unworthy that I don’t merit anyone’s love or forgiveness“). As I’ve spoken to people along my path I’ve found it quite common for people to feel convinced that God would never love them as they are or forgive them for the things they’ve done (or not done).

In today’s chapter, it is pointed out that Jehoahaz had, throughout his reign, continued to do what he knew was wrong in the eyes of God. He committing idolatry and allowed it to continue in the nation. Yet, Jehoahaz got to the point where he was willing to approach God, despite his guilt, and pour out his heart in seeking God’s favor. Despite Jehoahaz’s awful spiritual track record God listened. God loved. God granted Jehoahaz unmerited favor (e.g. “grace”) and provided deliverance.

This morning I’m reminded that there are times when God seems distant and remote, but it’s my own actions and emotions that have created the distance. Jehoahaz is a great reminder that I must have enough faith to approach God even when my guilt and shame have convinced me that I’m unworthy of doing so.

Taking the Blinders Off

If any of you sin without knowing it, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, you have incurred guilt, and are subject to punishment.
Leviticus 5:17 (NRSV)

I received an e-mail from a front-line manager of one of our clients. In a regular report that went to the executive team I had mentioned something that caused an executive Vice-President of the company to question the front-line manager’s handling of one particular circumstance. This caught the manager off guard and caused the manager to feel thrown under the bus. It had never been my intention to do so, and I honestly had not anticipated that my report would create the executive’s concern.

My initial human reaction was defensive. My report was accurate. I said nothing that was untrue. I was only doing my job. I couldn’t have anticipated how the report would be received. Yada, yada, yada…. My excuses did nothing to address the unintended injury. I quickly responded with a sincere apology and I committed to being more aware in the future and to letting the manager know if anything in my future reports might create similar questions.

Along life’s journey, I’ve observed that we often plod along with blinders on, unaware (or unconcerned) how our words and actions may affect others. When confronted, I have noted that our natural human reaction is usually the same as mine in this case: excuse, shift blame, and/or deflect personal responsibility.

Today’s chapter is a list of ways the ancient sacrificial system God established through Moses addressed mistakes we as humans with our blinders on:

  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 2)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 3)
  • and are unaware of it… (vs. 4)
  • When you realize your guilt… (vs. 5)
  • When any of you commit a trespass and sin unintentionally… (vs. 14)

The message is clear. Just because I am unaware of something I have done does not excuse me from responsibility for my words and actions. Guilt is not excused by ignorance or self-justification.

This morning as I read, I must confess that I found myself mulling over a few things others have recently said and done that pissed me off. Words and actions that created problems for myself and others. I thought of the human blinders we wear and the way these individuals act unaware, excuse their behavior, shift blame, and avoid responsibility. Then, I remembered the e-mail and my initial reaction to it. I have my own blinders. People are people. We are all guilty of unintended injuries, even to those we love most in this world.

Today I’m thinking of ways I can take the blinders off as I journey through the day. I want to be more aware of my words and my actions, and the potential or their unintended effects.

 

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Tattle-Tale

Source: Louish via Flickr
Source: Louish via Flickr

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Ezekiel 25:1-2 (NIV)

I was the youngest of four siblings growing up, which meant I was witness to the mischief of my older siblings. I was also the the most vulnerable, which meant that there was a better than even chance I was going to be the one teased and picked on. This, of course, meant that I was more likely to be the tattle-tale.

There is always risk in being the tattle-tale. Yes, you get to see the guilty party punished and receive their just desserts. You run the risk, however, of implicating yourself in the telling. Once the sword of parental justice falls on the evil older siblings, it might just come around and get you in the end.

With today’s chapter, God turns the spotlight of Ezekiel’s prophetic messages of doom from the nation of Judah to Judah’s neighbors. In sending Judah through the judgement of a Babylonian siege and packing into Babylonian exile, God knew that her neighbors would be gloating like a little sibling tattle-tale. God turns the tables and pronounces judgement on these neighbors, letting them know that they will not escape His punishment.

It is interesting to note that there are seven oracles of doom, and the last one is broken up into seven parts. One of more subtle and interesting layers of metaphor that exist in God’s Message are the structure and use of numbers. The number seven has special significance. It is a number of completion. There were seven days of creation and seven days in the week. There are seven seals, seven letters to seven churches, seven trumpets and seven bowls in John’s Revelation. One of Daniel’s prophecies was of “Seventy sevens.” By implication, the seven oracles of Ezekiel represent a completeness of judgement not just for Judah, but for her neighbors as well.

Today, I am thinking about the fact that gloating over another person’s downfall is a kind of pride. The tattle-tale feels smug in watching their perpetrator be punished, but that doesn’t mean the tattler is innocent. When I point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at me. Three, the number of God. I get it. In God’s economy there is no hierarchy of sin. If you’re guilty of the least of it, you’re as tainted as the worst. I am in no position to judge. God have mercy on me, a tattle-tale, and a sinner.

Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

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