What Others Say

Mr. Tinsley, thank you for your well-written and insightful article about Luther.
I shared it with my children during family worship. It lifted us up.
Warmly, Kari.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dealing with Guilt

The Minnesota humorist, Garrison Keillor, once observed that people do bad, horrible, dirty, rotten and despicable things, then, instead of repenting, they just go into treatment.  “Whatever happened to guilt?” he lamented. “Guilt, is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Keillor’s tongue in cheek appraisal of guilt belies the truth.  While there may be a few socio-paths who feel no remorse for their actions and show no capacity for guilt, most of us know the feelings of guilt only too well.

Religious leaders sometimes revert to guilt as the trump card to keep church members and parishioners in line.  Parents use it with children.  Siblings, co-workers and even friends occasionally rely on it to get their way. When husbands and wives are unable to settle a heated argument, one or the other often reverts to guilt by recalling past offenses that were supposedly forgiven and forgotten.

In its best moments, guilt can protect and guide us, much like the pain that teaches us to avoid a hot stove or sharp objects. When we respond to guilt with confession and repentance, we can move forward to live a better life on a higher plane.

But guilt can be destructive and debilitating.

Sometimes we feel guilt over clearly remembered wrongs we have done. At other times we may feel guilty and not know why.  We wake up with a feeling of unworthiness and shame with no specific deed to identify as the source. Our feelings of guilt are irrational, leaving us at a loss to identify the source or the solution.  Guilt can lock us in its prison and shackle us so that we feel helpless.  It robs us of energy and steals our joy.  Guilt can leave us smoldering in anger or suffocating in depression.  

The good news is that Jesus came to set us free from guilt. 

When confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery, he dismissed those who condemned her and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11).

To the paralytic whose friends tore off the roof to get their friend to Jesus, he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” When he sensed the rising resentments among the Jewish leaders, He said, “’So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God.”  (Mark 2:1-12).

Paul wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2). And John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

We can live our lives free of guilt and self-recrimination. As John says, “ We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20).

An interesting thing happens when God removes our guilt, and we know it. Not only can we live with greater joy and freedom, we are also no longer compelled to heap guilt upon others.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Who Is Jesus?

He is the most controversial man ever to live.  His own family thought him mad.  The people loved him. One of his closest friends betrayed him.  The Jewish court convicted him of heresy.  The Romans killed him. He never earned a degree and had no formal schooling.  He was never elected to office.  He never wrote a book. When he died he owned nothing beyond the clothes on his back. But, within three centuries of his death, the entire Roman Empire worshipped him.

More books have been written about him than any other individual who has ever lived.  Entire libraries have been devoted to understanding his life and his teaching.  He changed the course of western civilization and, today, two thousand years since he was born, millions are turning to him in Africa and Asia. Who is Jesus?

 Leo Tolstoy, arguably the greatest Russian novelist spent much of his life wrestling with the teachings of Jesus.  In his later years he wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You, an attempt to implement the teachings of Jesus.

  When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home was bombed in 1956, he stepped out on the front porch to quiet an angry crowd that threatened to do battle with the police.  He said, “"We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: 'Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.' This is what we must live by.

Jesus remains popular in the United States.  A Barna Group survey concluded that two out of three Americans claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus "that is currently active and influences their life."  But who is the Jesus whom two thirds of Americans claim to know?

In his book, Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos creates a fictional story in which Jesus is seen according to the image of the beholder.  In so doing, he introduces “King James Jesus,” “Magic 8-ball Jesus,” “Testosterone Jesus,” “Free Will Jesus,”  “New Age Jesus,” and “Meticulous Jesus.”  All of this leaves us asking the question again, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus was the first person to pose this question.  When Jesus’ popularity was growing so that thousands thronged to see and hear him, he took his twelve disciples aside and asked them the question, “Whom do men say that I am?”  The disciples looked at one another and began repeating what they had heard others say. “Some say you are John the Baptist,” they said.  “Others say you are Elijah. And still others say you are one of the prophets.”  After hearing their response Jesus put the question to them more personally.  “Who do you say I am?”  In both accounts, Peter was the one who spoke first.  “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”  Peter’s confession was confirmed when Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to His followers for more than forty days with many convincing proofs. (Acts 1:3).

When Jesus asked the question, He was looking for more than a confession, a creed or mental assent from his followers.  If they believed in Him, Jesus expected them to put their faith into action.  Elsewhere he said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say.”  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Perhaps the most important questions any of us will face in this life are, “Who is Jesus?” and,  “Am I doing what He said?”  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What You Won't Do For Yourself

What I won’t do for myself I will do for my dog. Left to myself, I will sit around and vegetate. I know that other people don’t do this, but I do. But when I look across the room at my dog who follows me from room to room and is happy to be wherever I am, I know that he needs to walk. So, I get up, put on my walking shoes, find his leash and off we go. It is good for him and it is good for me.

This little act highlights an important point I have discovered. We all need to be motivated for someone or something outside ourselves. I have heard it said, “If you won’t do it for someone else, do it for yourself!” But I have discovered that doing it for myself is the lowest and weakest motivator in my life.

Some have assumed that our democratic system works because it is based on self-interest. If everyone looks out for himself, seeks to make the biggest profit and accumulate the most wealth, it all just seems to work out. But that isn’t true. Our democratic system works because people are willing to sacrifice their own self-interest in the interest of others. The key to American democracy is selfless altruism. Not greed.

Life is not like Monopoly. We don’t win by owning the largest number of properties, raising the rent and amassing stacks of money on our side of the board until we drive everyone else into bankruptcy. That might work for a board game, but even then the players seldom feel good about it. In life we win by giving ourselves away.

We are made in such a way that we must be called to something higher, something and someone outside ourselves. We will endure great pain, hardship, discipline and even death for people and causes that are greater.

When we live our lives and make our decisions based upon self-interest and self-gratification we are led into dead end tributaries, into a shallow existence that results in isolation and loneliness. When we choose to orient our lives around serving and helping others, we launch out into the deep where we discover meaning and fulfillment.

Howard Hughes, one of the wealthiest men of the twentieth century who spent lavishly to indulge his whims and idiosyncrasies, died a recluse, lonely, isolated and mentally deranged. The FBI had to resort to fingerprints in order to identify his body. Mother Teresa, who was penniless, spent her life caring for the poor, sick, orphaned and dying. When she died in 1997 the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded, had over one million co-workers serving the “poorest of the poor” in 123 countries. In 2010, the 100th anniversary of her birth, she was honored around the world.

This is why the Scripture urges us to put others first. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Monday, January 6, 2014

Prayer

It is often our last resort, the final step in a hopeless situation.  We refer to it with such phrases as “he doesn’t have a prayer,” or “there is nothing left to do but pray.”  But it is perhaps the most important and distinguishing characteristic of our humanity.

No other creature prays. We share many attributes with the animal kingdom, including instincts for hunger, reproduction and survival. All animals provide care and nurture for their young. Some construct elaborate shelters whether nests, caves, holes or houses. Many have complex social systems.  But no other creature has the capacity to communicate with the Creator and to pray. Only man is endowed with that gift.

I have never met or heard of anyone who complained that they prayed too much. But I have known many, including myself, who wish they had prayed more.  In our most desperate circumstances and in our finest moments, we cry out to God in prayer.  The greatest gift we can bestow upon another human being is to pray earnestly for them.

How can my prayer alter or change the circumstances or the outcome of events on earth? It seems more reasonable to understand prayer as a psychological exercise merely benefiting the one who prays. But Scripture affirms that there is more at work when we pray than we imagine.

Jesus prayed.  In fact, He rose early in the morning before sunrise and sought solitary places where He could spend time alone in prayer.  He taught us to pray, not as a public display to impress others, but in secret where “your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6).  He taught us to pray constantly with discipline and determination. His prayer life was so powerful that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. 

Prayer is not a matter of reciting particular words or repeating religious rituals. God looks on the heart.  He hears the person who is convicted of guilt and feels unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven. And God hears those who humbly seek to do His will, “The effective prayer of a righteous man,” the Bible says, “can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

The mystery and the miracle of prayer resides not in us, but in the One who created us and founded the vast universe that we have only begun to explore.  We are not cogs in an accidental machine that grinds its way toward extinction. We are created in the image of God and our very nature hungers for His presence.  He has endowed us with personality, intelligence and freedom.  He desires our company. He listens and He invites us to pray.

“Ask,” Jesus said, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you [who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  (Matthew 7:7-11).