We Need A Better Scapegoat Than Matt Lauer


There is a fairly common human impulse to find a scapegoat.  

We will put forth a person who has done some evil deed, and our righteous anger at him is supposed to absolve us of any of our own moral guilt.  And his punishment is supposed to be enough to lower the cosmic justice deficit so that our punishment just gets graciously overlooked, like a first time $40 overdraft fee (he said with experience).  

We collectively put forward someone we all agree did something truly hideous to be our divine judgment-bearer (because even those who don’t believe in god believe in God).  

“This one.  Take him as our offering.  He has _________.  We are all outraged (and secretly grateful it wasn’t us who was put forth for our sins).  We have banished him from the good graces of our society.  Please look away from us, now.”

But even righteous outrage won’t make a man righteous.  And another person who deserves punishment getting punished doesn’t make me any less deserving of mine.  I need more than just a pointed finger and another sinner getting his just desserts.  

I need a truly righteous man to give me his righteousness.  And then I need him to take my punishment for me.  

Now, there was actually a time in the reign of King David when God punished the land for the sin of a man long dead, but allowed for an imperfect human scapegoat to bring a temporary end to His judgment.  

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year.  And David sought the face of the Lord.  And the Lord said, ‘There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’  So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them.  Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites.  Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.  And David said to the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you?  And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?’  The Gibeonites said to him, ‘It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.’  And he said, ‘What do you say that I shall do for you?’  They said to the king, ‘The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.’  And the king said, ‘I will give them.’  But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.  The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together.  They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

2 Samuel 21:1-9

God allowed the deaths of these men, with their bodies hung up for all to see, to be His people’s scapegoat.  He allowed them to be put forth as the people’s representatives.  

But this was all foreshadowing the Great Scapegoat to come once and for all 1,000 years later.  His body, hung for all to see on another mount (but before the same Lord), would appease a far more terrifying judgment.  And it would bring a far greater healing than an end to a famine.  

If I may repeat myself:  This is a very basic human impulse, this desire to put someone else forward as the evil one.  After all, we each know we’ve sinned, and we know what the penalty for sin is.  So what hope is there but a scapegoat?  But being outraged about Matt Lauer or Russell Simmons won’t save you.  And they cannot be your scapegoat (or mine).  We should hate sin, both our own and that of others, but we cannot expiate our own individual guilt by trying to put forward a famous person with his own deviant sexual sins to answer for.  He won’t do.  

We need a better scapegoat.  We need, in fact, the best one.  

We need the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of His Cross.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

2 Corinthians 5:21

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This Great Revolution


The greatest revolution in history is the revolt of the Kingdom of Jesus against the ruler of this dark air, against the principalities of self-love and pride and idolatry and greed that have set themselves up as “kings” in this world.  

The greatest revolt of all time is the one eternal light is mounting against these temporary shadows.  

The church, flawed though she is, is the instrument of that revolution.  She is the people of the coming victory.  

The church, the beloved wife of Jesus Christ, is a people of dangerous love.  She is a people of violent forgiveness.  Christians are a battering ram to the world’s worst lies, both the ones it’s told and the ones it’s been sold.  Our Christian kindness undermines the world’s bloody economy.  The church’s mercy upends this world’s dark systems.  

Our love of children assaults abortion.  Our care for the poor undercuts materialism.  Our promise-keeping in marriage takes a baseball bat to lust.  Our humble serving stands against belligerence and hate.  Christian kindness towards our enemies is an assault on everything Hell stands for.  We are fighting against something just by being children of God.  

We are ice cold water thrown into the face of a world stunned and punch drunk by bitterness and rivalries and selfishness.  We make war with hate by the audacious power of love.  We overcome evil with good.   

We are the people of the greatest revolution.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21

15 Seconds For the Bitter

  

Often, the chain that binds your heart to bitterness is self-righteousness.  It’s the controlling, constant belief that you did not deserve what was done to you.  And so you can’t forgive.  You can’t stop re-living it.  You can’t stop hating.  

If that’s you, let go of the illusion that you are intrinsically righteous, and you will find your heart freer to forgive.
In Christ, we can know that our sins against God are far more offensive than any sins committed against us.  And we are offered forgiveness by grace through faith in Him.  

Preaching this great Gospel to one’s self helps to foster forgiveness and kill bitterness.  Because no man is ready to forgive from the heart more than the one who knows how wicked he was before Christ.  

Where self-righteousness locks you to bitterness, the Gospel frees you to forgiveness.  

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

Matthew 6:14-15

30 Seconds On Grace

  
Christian, the grace you extend is the grace you really believe in. 

If you do not forgive the sins and mistakes of others, it is because, regardless of what you say, you do not approach God with the posture of one who has been forgiven of wrongdoing.  

Instead, you see yourself as more righteous than those who have wronged or inconvenienced you.  And so, unlike Jesus Christ, who truly was holier than those who wronged Him, you refuse to extend them mercy.  While Jesus spent Himself on His enemies’ forgiveness and rescue, you plant yourself on a throne of judgment and refuse to be gracious.  

What do you really believe about grace?  If you want to know how you really see yourself in relation to God, don’t look at your words.  

Look at how you forgive.  

And this could just as easily be a letter to myself.  

3 (Political Season) Wishes

  

  1. I wish someone would tell each candidate who hurls a rebuttal insult at another that rudeness isn’t strength.  Refusing to let things go is childish, sinful.  Overlooking an insult isn’t a sign of weakness; real forgiveness requires more strength than bitterness or pettiness.  The strongest Man who ever lived was also the most willing to forgive the unthinkable wrongs done to Him. 
  2. I wish someone would make clear that it is not generous to want to give away other people’s money.  If I demand the wealthy pay higher taxes while giving none of my own money, time, or energy away to my relatives or neighbors or anyone in proximity to me, I’m not really being generous.  Generosity sacrifices from itself for the good of others.
  3. I wish I would do better at remembering that kings and presidents and congresses matter, but not as much as Jesus.  His Kingdom will outlast and outshine every earthly one.  100,000,000 years after the last light’s been turned out in America, Jesus will still be delighting and awing His people.  

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

From 1 Timothy 2

Some Help for Feeling Like a Failure

  
Here’s how I’m going to try to help:  By clarifying.  Nothing can be done when you have a merely vague, depressing sense of not measuring up, just a shapeless fog of hopeless inadequacy or shame or self-loathing.  

So, permit me to put “failure” into four categories:

  1. Actual Moral Failure.  This is the simplest type, in my opinion, to define.  This sort of failure is the failure to do what is good and/or to actively do that which is evil.  It is, simply put, sin against God and/or others.
  2. Imagined Moral Failure.  This would be something you feel shame or guilt over, but which has not actually been revealed by God as sin in His Word.
  3. Actual “Earthly” Failure.  Here I mean a failure that is not directly sinful; it is a mistake or a shortcoming, but not an ethical violation against man or God.  This would simply be having truly failed at a task/endeavor at which you were trying to succeed.
  4. Imagined “Earthly” Failure.  This is (a) thinking you blew it, failed, or were inadequate concenring some task when in reality you were not the root cause of the breakdown, or (b) fretting about about something that is not truly a failure at all (like distressing about your looks or your lack of charisma).  These are mistakenly labeled failures, and they may be (wrongly) thought to be failures due to pride, misplaced priorities, insecurity, vanity, fear of man, or some other problem in the heart of the person mischaracterizing them as failures.  

Let me give an example of each:

Actual Moral Failure:  Gossiping about a co-worker.  

Imagined Moral Failure:  Having a normal, healthy sexual desire for your spouse, but believing it is strange or sinful..

Actual “Earthly” Failure:  Having lost track of an assignment at work due to not prioritizing your time well.

Imagined “Earthly” Failure:  Despairing about a relative not liking you when the reason is something truly outside of your control.  

Now, I believe that the only one of these four types of failure we should feel healthy guilt (or conviction), over is the first category. 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to God, and that He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We are not told to confess our inability to close a sale or our weight.  A little remorse or regret for a legitimate screwup at a vocation or for having forgotten something due to carelessness is one thing, but shame is for sin, and shame and sin are what Jesus resolves for all who trust in Him at the Cross.  

That is the consistent testimony of Scripture: We are, in our own selves, wicked and morally rebellious, morally damaged, and spiritually impotent creatures. And that, our actual moral failure, is what Jesus eternally rectifies in His perfect life, sacrificial death, and powerful resurrection. He has overcome the evil of everyone who believes in Him so that they can have peace with God.  

But while that first category is what we should be convicted about and seek forgiveness for (and is the type of failure that should generally attract most of our attention), what I find in myself is that I’m often drowning in shame or anxiety over things that fall into the latter three categories. To my own detriment, I might waste time and spiritual attention being:

  • Ashamed of things I’d heard or imagined were sinful (or less-than-holy), but which God never calls wicked (to which Paul would tell me, “for everything created by God is good, and and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer”). 
  • Despairing over not being as qualified or as talented as someone else I know. 
  • Allowing myself to become depressed or angry that I couldn’t provide something for my family which I’m not even called to provide (such as a perfect, magazine-spread house).
  • Hating myself for a dream not coming true that God never intended to come true.  

So instead of repenting over (turning from) real sins, I’m often dwelling on things that aren’t sins at all.  

Instead of resting in the forgiveness of my sins and letting the joyful, hopeful energy from that help me kill the remaining sin in my life, I can spend hours in anxiety over career missteps or things I don’t like about my personality or being angry that I’m not as captivating as another pastor. 

All right, a few words before exiting the stage:

Obviously these categories can overlap.  And I don’t mean to give an exhaustive description or explanation of failure and shame, here.  But this has helped me a bit as I’ve thought about failure from the inside of shame, guilt, and fear, recently.  

I’ll come back to these categories of failure in the coming weeks and expand on them, but I’ll leave this now by saying:  I hope God’s grace in Christ nourishes all His redeemed failures.  

Why I Pray for the End of Planned Parenthood

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Because it is an organization that, whatever else it may do, stops the hearts of infants and then sucks their bodies out of the wombs of their mothers. And that is wicked. It is evil.

Let me give you a few of my heart’s desires concerning the current American abortion debate: I want people to receive medial care. I want women who are pregnant and scared to be cared for and loved. I want children to be adopted, especially by parents who have been reborn by God’s Holy Spirit. I want women who have had abortions to be forgiven and cleansed through the sacrificial blood of Jesus. And I want the brutality of children being murdered and their corpses dismembered to end and to be repented of.

Those are all things I want, despite what I’m sure Planned Parenthood would have you believe about pro-lifers.

So why do I pray that Planned Parenthood be ended, even if it does other things beside perform abortions? Because there is no acceptable ratio of poisoned infants-to-HIV screenings.

I will gladly support the very government funds that right now go to Planned Parenthood going instead to any agency or health care provider that does not use metal pincers, vacuums, or chemicals to end the lives of unborn children.

It is an affront to God and an assault on humanity to proactively end the lives of infants as they grow in their mothers’ wombs. It is murder; sin against the defenseless infant and sin against his or her Maker.

And so I pray that it would stop. And that the organization that perpetrates it would cease to exist.