Toward Mending a Divided World

Everywhere I look, I see divisions. There are lines drawn between people, pitting us against each other because of skin color, finances, gender, political party. Even in the church, we put up boundaries to keep from mixing with people who are different. I lament the way we are separated. I’m tired of it.

So, when I found Jesus Outside the Lines, I began reading it immediately, finished it in a day, and immediately wanted to hand a copy to everyone I know.

This fantastic book, written by Pastor Scott Sauls, gently leads us away from an us-against-them mindset and toward loving our neighbors despite our differences. He begins with an introduction that reminds us of Jesus’s call to love all people, even those who do not love us. He shows how kindness to people who do not agree with us flows naturally from God’s mercy and compassion to us.

Sauls addresses two different ways in which we must love across divisions, and these are the book’s two parts: within the body of Christ and outside of it. In each section are several chapters addressing particular issues that are difficult for Christians.

The first section covers loving our siblings in Christ across internal borders. It includes chapters addressing political and economic differences, among others, and how we must love people who voted for the other candidate or who earn more or less than ourselves. It is equal parts exhortation and encouragement. It is easy to say we must love our family; actually doing it can be difficult!

The path is harder still in the second section, because we are also meant to love those who do not believe as we do. This part addresses far more subjects, because there is so much to keep in mind when we talk to non-Christians. Should we affirm or critique? Should we be hopeful or realistic? What do we say when we are called hypocrites? How do we talk to those outside the faith about chastity?

Sauls doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but rather helps the reader think through this important question: How do we love our neighbors, especially when we do not agree with them? The question is crucial since we will disagree with nearly everyone on one point or another. As people of God, we must treat each person with loving kindness, regardless of their beliefs.

The majority of people I interact with during the week are not Christians. It can be challenging to relate to classmates who center their lives around something that is not God, and sometimes this fundamental difference threatens to divide us. But I don’t want this to happen; I care about many of them, and I want to be someone people can count on to listen when they need to talk, to be kind when they are hurting. I want God’s light to reach them. This book provided guidance about the confusing mess of human relationships in light of God’s word and his love for us. It gave me permission to affirm and encourage non-Christians around me and to be friends with them. It also reminded me that critique, not criticism, is sometimes the most loving thing to do, and I ought to do so with an attitude of gentleness, not judgement. 

If you want to learn how to talk to people who aren’t (yet) believers or how to handle politics with other Christians, Jesus Outside the Lines is a great resource. It would be valuable for anyone who wants to build friendships with people who don’t agree on every issue, whether inside or outside the church.

Those Who Are Forgiven Much, Love Much

Of all the devastating interactions in the Gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees, this one has to be near the top of the list:

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)

The Pharisee and the Sinful Woman

The context of that quote is Luke 7:36–50, a fairly familiar story. Briefly: Jesus is invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee, and as they are reclining at the table a “woman of the city” approaches Jesus, washing his feet with her tears and anointing them with expensive ointment. The Pharisee is horrified that Jesus would allow such a sinful woman to touch him.

Jesus knows the Pharisee’s scorn and tells him how the woman’s hospitality has exceeded his own (the Pharisee’s). Jesus tells a story about a moneylender cancelling two debts, one ten times as large as the other. Which debtor will love him more? The one with the larger debt.

Then Jesus speaks verse 47 (quoted above) to the Pharisee and turns to the woman and repeats, “Your sins are forgiven.” The implication for the Pharisee is clear to the reader—his sins are not forgiven.

But there is (to me) a natural question that flows out of the logic of this passage. If those who are forgiven much, love much, and if we want to grow in our love for God, should we also focus on how much we have been forgiven? If so, wouldn’t that involve dwelling on our sin?

Forgiveness and Forgetfulness

There’s an impulse among modern Christians to forget our sin after we know our forgiveness from God is secure. We know the mental and spiritual anguish that can be stoked by focusing on our failures. And we’ve heard the forgive and forget mantra enough that forgetting is an essential part of forgiving and being forgiven.

What is forgiveness between people? There’s a good illustration in Matthew 18:21–35, where Jesus again uses the analogy of a debt. When we forgive others, we absorb the debt caused by their sin against us so that they do not have to pay it. Among other things, this means that we will no longer hold that sin against them. We don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen, as there may be necessary consequences to sins, but we won’t extract any personal retribution. (I use the phrase “personal retribution” here in contrast to legal notions of justice that forgiveness does not erase.)

We can be sure that God acts this way toward us when he forgives us. He does not remind us of our sin nor use the memory of our past to harm us. (You may protest that Hebrews 8:12 says that God “…will remember their sins no more.” I think John Piper is correct when he reads that as God will not call to mind our sins in a punishing, vindictive way.)

We do have examples in Scripture, however, where Paul reminds fellow Christians of their sinful past. Here are two examples.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9–11)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:11–13)

In both of these situations, Paul notes what these people once were. But he does not stop there. He also reminds them what is now true of them.

Recall Sin and Grace

Putting this together, it seems like we should recall what we were, but that we should also remember what we are. We are sinners, but we are washed and justified. We are loved and forgiven. We were without hope and without God, but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Over time, we will grow in our understanding of how much we have been forgiven. We will see more of our sin, and we will see our current and former sin in greater, darker depth. This is part of developing and changing as a Christian.

How Much We’ve Been Forgiven

Returning to my question following the story of the Pharisee and the sinful woman, here’s the lesson. If we want to grow in our love for the Lord, we should focus on how much we’ve been forgiven.

This means recalling our sin, but never without also recalling God’s gracious forgiveness of that sin and our permanent standing with him as beloved children.

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Links for the Weekend (4/23/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Engaging Our Emotions, Engaging with God

Alastair Groves writes helpfully on what the Bible teaches about our emotions.

God doesn’t call us to avoid or squash our emotions (as Christians often suppose). Neither does he call us to embrace them unconditionally (as our culture often urges). Rather, he calls us to engage them by bringing our emotions to him and to his people. I like the word engage because it doesn’t make a premature assumption about whether the emotion is right or wrong, or how it might need to change. Instead it highlights what the Bible highlights: our emotions (good and bad) are meant to reveal the countless ways we need God.

Does Fasting Seem Strange To You?

Here’s a nice article from The Gospel Coalition Africa with a refresher on the practice of fasting. I liked the emphasis here on what fasting is for, not just what fasting is against.

Understood this way, the emphasis is more on what fasting is for—not for what fasting is against. Fasting is for focusing on God. It is a mindset of persistence that Jesus commends (Luke 18:1-8). It is urgent and daring. Fasting coupled with prayer desires to see the purposes of God come to pass.

The Gift of True Words

Melissa Edgington writes a lovely story about a woman finding a love letter from her husband years after he died. And there’s a lesson in here for all of us, too.

As I sat in her sunny room and listened to the quiver in her voice while she read her husband’s words, I remembered once again the immeasurable impact of expressions of love. We don’t say what we know and feel and appreciate often enough. We assume things are understood, and we underestimate the impact of our words. Write letters. Leave notes. Drop words into the space between you, and fill the unsure hearts around you with concrete understanding of all that’s inside of you. We will never regret gifting sweet words to another.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article written by Erica Goehring called Tending a Fruitful Life. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Me-Too Disease

Patient: Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.
Doctor: I didn’t really have a choice. You barged in without an appointment.
Patient: It was an emergency.
Doctor: Everyone says that. You know what, it doesn’t matter. What’s bothering you?
Patient: I’m having relationship trouble.
Doctor: You know I’m a physician, right? Couldn’t we talk about this at church on Sunday?
Patient: Sure, but you said to get in touch if I needed anything.
Doctor: It’s really just an expression. *Sigh* Go ahead.
Patient: Like I said, it’s my relationships. Lately, people have been ending conversations with me before we’re done. Abruptly. Maybe I stink.
Doctor: Excuse me?
Patient: I’m wondering if I smell bad. You know, body odor, bad breath, something like that. That seems health-related, right?
Doctor: Are these conversation problems only happening in person?
Patient: No. On the phone, too. In fact, my mom bailed on our weekly talk after just five minutes last night.
Doctor: Well, I think I know your problem, but I need to do a test. Let’s do some role-play conversations.
Patient: Sure, anything.
Doctor: OK, let’s pretend we’re catching up after the weekend. I’ll start. Good morning!
Patient: Hello! How was the weekend?
Doctor: It was good. Nice to be away from work for a bit, you know? My son had his last soccer game on Saturday morning, and—
Patient: Oh yeah? My son played soccer too. He never really liked it. No matter where they put him on the field, he wasn’t interested.
Doctor: Hmm. We’re getting somewhere. Let’s try one more conversation. We’ll talk about our childhood. I’ll begin.
Patient: OK.
Doctor: I grew up in Michigan, outside of Detroit. I’m the youngest of three brothers. My father—
Patient: Oh! I’m the youngest in my family too! I wasn’t even 8 when my siblings started leaving the house. I don’t know my oldest sister well at all.
Doctor: OK, I know your problem.
Patient: Really?
Doctor: Yep. You’ve got Me-Too Disease.
Patient: What?
Doctor: Me-Too Disease. You’ve got an acute version.
Patient: I’ve never heard of it.
Doctor: Most people haven’t. But it’s everywhere.
Patient: How did I get it?
Doctor: It’s genetic.
Patient: Wow. My parents never mentioned it.
Doctor: If you want to know the truth, everyone has it. Some are better at hiding it than others. You—you’re not good at this.
Patient: …
Doctor: Me-Too Disease is a condition of the heart. Your focus on yourself is so dominant that you relate everything you hear, see, or learn to your own situation. This is what you do in conversations. You listen only long enough to find a springboard for a story about yourself. Then you interrupt.
Patient: Wow. I guess I can see that. Is there treatment?
Doctor: Yes. You—
Patient: Let me guess: eat well and exercise, right? That’s what you doctors always say.
Doctor: No, not this time. Although you really should—
Patient: Everybody’s eating kale now. I don’t have to eat kale, do I?
Doctor: No way. No one should eat kale.
Patient: Well, what’s the treatment?
Doctor: Love.
Patient: Excuse me?
Doctor: I know this doesn’t sound very doctor-y, but the treatment is love.
Patient: I don’t understand.
Doctor: Your focus on yourself—it’s deadly. Maybe not for your body, but for your soul. And you’re seeing it in your relationships.
Patient: Oh boy. You’re about to Jesus-juke me aren’t you?
Doctor: You want your doctor to tell you the truth, right?
Patient: You’re right. Go ahead.
Doctor: Your obsession is natural, but it’s all wrong. God made us to worship him, not ourselves. So you’ve got everything backwards. And, to be honest, God hates it.
Patient: Yikes.
Doctor: When I said earlier that the treatment for Me-Too Disease is love, that starts with God. We should love other people and care for them. But that’s impossible without God’s love for us. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection bring us to God, but they also make it possible to love others. His love transforms us to love him and others.
Patient: I’ve heard this a lot at church.
Doctor: There’s more to say, but our time here is up. Especially since, you know, you didn’t make an appointment.
Patient: Got it.
Doctor: Let’s get together for coffee sometime and we can talk more about it, ok?
Patient: Sounds great.
Doctor: Oh, one more thing.
Patient: Yes?
Doctor: I was serious about the kale.

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Links for the Weekend (4/24/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

We’re Living a Pruned Life—Whether We Want to or Not

Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes about the limitations the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon all of us. And she wonders, helpfully, about what those limitations can teach us and how the change can ultimately be good for us.

This is what limitations do to us. They remind us of who we are at our core. They simultaneously reveal the spaces in our bodies, minds, hearts that we like to keep hidden, while at the same time revealing the spaces in our bodies, minds, and hearts that we didn’t know were hidden at all. I am revealed to be both worse than I thought and somehow better, too. I remember who I am without the trappings of fill in the blank.

Your Strength Will Fail

At Desiring God, Jon Bloom writes about afflictions and comfort—all the kinds of affliction we meet and the ways that God provides comfort.

Whatever it takes to help us experience this comfort, to help us set our real, ultimate hope on God, is worth it. It really is. I don’t say this lightly. I know some of the painful process of such transformation. I’ve received some of the unexpected answers of God to my prayers. But the comfort God brings infuses all temporal comforts with profound hope. And when all earthly comforts finally fail, it is the one comfort that will remain.

Are You Conveying the Loveliness of Christ to Your Kids?

On its blog, Crossway has published an excerpt from a new book by Dane Ortlund. I enjoyed reading about the attractiveness of Jesus’s love and how we can communicate that to the children in our lives.

With our own kids, if we are parents, what’s our job? That question could be answered with a hundred valid responses. But at the center, our job is to show our kids that even our best love is a shadow of a greater love. To put a sharper edge on it: to make the tender heart of Christ irresistible and unforgettable. Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Transforming Power of the Crucifixion. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (7/5/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Do I Need to Love Myself More?

Does the second greatest commandment (“Love your neighbor as you love yourself”) mean that we need to focus on loving ourselves? John Piper tackles this question in another episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast.

He’s referring to the fact that all of us have an inborn instinct, or reflex, to seek our own happiness and to avoid harm. In other words, our self-love that Jesus assumes in this commandment is our desire for happiness or our desire to minimize our unhappiness.

Touch

This article from Stephen McAlpine is so beautiful that I almost hate to describe it for fear that I’ll diminish it somehow by my description. Let me just say that he reflects on the power of human and divine touch in a simple and captivating way.

We love touch. We long for it. And there’s something biblical about its healing capacity. God forms everything but humanity with Word, but when it comes to us, the image is of hands shaping and moulding. And then there’s the deeply intimate act of God breathing the breath of life in the nostrils of the man.

A Dynamite Sermon

Pastor Waltermyer spent several days recently in Dallas, Texas for the PCA’s General Assembly. He told me that the sermon preached on Thursday night was one of the best he’s ever heard. The sermon was given by David Cassidy and was entitled “A Brief History of the Future.” You can find a video of the entire worship service here, and the sermon begins at 1:14:45. I’ve also tried to embed the video below.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published Where Our Gaze Lands, by Erica Goehring. Check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.