Posts tagged ‘Sin’

The Beauty of Simplicity

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In our complicated world and time, simplicity can be a blessing.

When the prophet Isaiah is preaching, the people of Israel accuse him of insulting them with his simple teaching. They scoff at him and ask:

Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:9-10)

The people of Israel accuse Isaiah of trying to teach them the ABCs and 123s of theology when they fancy themselves to be graduate-level students. They are not dopey youths; they are highly educated and enlightened adults. So, they scoff at Isaiah.

What they do not perceive is that it is not merely Isaiah who is trying to teach Israel the basics. It is God Himself. But since they will not listen to Isaiah, God will use foreign invaders to get through to His people. These invaders will conquer Israel and carry them off into exile until they learn to listen to God. Isaiah warns:

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people. The word of the LORD to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:11, 13)

As we read the rest of Isaiah, we quickly learn that the Israelites were not heeding God’s most basic commandments. They were worshiping idols, plundering the poor, and abusing the vulnerable. The Israelites did not need a graduate-level course in theology, even though that’s what they demanded. Instead, they needed to obey what they already knew to do.

As we enter into a new year, Isaiah’s message of simplicity presents us with a question: what simple things are we overlooking in our lives to which we need to attend? Have our hands become stingy or our words become prideful or our thoughts become lustful or our relationships become callous or our prayers become rote or our hearts become cold? To us, Isaiah would also say: “Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.” A little attention here and a little attention there to even the most elementary matters in our lives can go a long way.

Often, a new year is an opportunity to set lofty goals and make grandiose resolutions. If you have such a goal or resolution, I certainly don’t want to dissuade you, but I do want to invite you, along with whatever big project you plan to tackle this year, to continue to consider the smaller and simpler things in life that need your attention and affection. Attention to small things can make a big difference. So, begin with those. And remember: those small things are gifts from a big God.

January 3, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When the Heavens Open

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The prophet Isaiah requests of the Lord:

Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down. (Isaiah 64:1)

As Isaiah makes his request, he is remembering when God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, giving him His law, and the mountain trembled in fire and smoke:

When You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You. (Isaiah 64:3)

Though the people trembled when God gave His law, they did not obey His law, and so God has hidden Himself from people:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Because of Israel’s sin, rather than rending open the heavens and coming down, God has closed up the heavens and gone home. So, Isaiah ruefully asks:

How then can we be saved? (Isaiah 64:5)

Around 730 years after Isaiah mourns God’s hiddenness in heaven, the Gospel writer Mark records:

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

In Christ, the heavens are torn open once again as God returns to His people once again. But that is not all that is torn.

When Christ dies on a cross, Mark recounts this scene:

The curtain of the temple was torn open in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

The curtain in question is the curtain that guarded the Holy of Holies – the place where the ancient Israelites believed God dwelled. When Christ died, it was torn open so God’s inner sanctum could be seen by all and any.

It turns out that God does eventually answer Isaiah’s prayer. But He answers the prophet’s prayer in a greater way than he could have ever imagined. Not only does God tear open the heavens and come down, as is revealed when Jesus is baptized, He also tears open the curtain to His own inner sanctum so that we may go in, as is revealed at Jesus’ death. Because of the cross, we can walk right into the place of salvation.

The heavens that once separated us and God separate us no more. God is with us – and, one day, we will be with Him.

October 25, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Real Grace for Real Sinners

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Whenever the topic of sin comes up in a Bible study or conversation, I have a friend who will joke: “Since we’re talking about sin, how about we all tell each other the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He always gets a laugh, but it’s always a bit of a nervous laugh. I’m don’t think many of us – or, let’s be honest, any of us – are comfortable being forthcoming about the worst thing we think we’ve ever done.

Sin is strange like this. We will speak freely in generalities about how we are sinful, but when someone asks us to get specific – especially about the sins that most embarrass us – we fall silent. We may be comfortable with the idea of being a sinner in general because we know that everyone sins, but when it comes to our specific sins, we can sometimes worry that we’re the only one who has ever done what we have done. And, if people found out what we have done, they would reject us in disgust.

In 1544, a dear friend of Martin Luther’s named George Spalatin offered some advice to a local pastor who wanted to know whether it would be permissible to preside over the wedding of a man who wanted to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. Spalatin gave this pastor the green light to perform the wedding. When Luther found out about the guidance Spalatin had given, he was aghast and harshly criticized Spalatin.

After being criticized by his dear friend and mentor, Spalatin fell into a deep depression because he assumed that he had committed a grievous sin that could not be forgiven. When Luther found out about his friend’s despondency, he wrote him a letter where he reiterated to his friend that though he thought his advice was wrongheaded and sinful, he himself was not unforgivable:

The devil has plucked from your heart all the beautiful Christian sermons concerning the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which you used to teach, admonish, and comfort others with a cheerful spirit and a great, buoyant courage. Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. Therefore, my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

Luther reminds Spalatin that there is no sin for which Christ did not die. There is no mistake – even the mistake of poor pastoral advice – that Christ cannot forgive. This means that the worst thing we have ever done is not beyond the reach of grace that comes from God’s one and only Son. We don’t need to be afraid of our biggest sins because we have an even bigger Savior.

So, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done? What sin would you prefer to keep secret? Don’t let that sin shame you into staying away from Jesus. Don’t let that sin shame you into hiding from others. If Christ can handle the world’s sins, He can handle your worst. He wants to. Because He loves you.

October 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Dirt to Stars

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At the church where I serve, we end each service with a commission from the apostle Paul:

Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)

This picture from Paul is tied to the very beginning of history.

When God creates the cosmos, He fashions a couple of ruling bodies. On creation’s fourth day, He speaks into existence the ruling bodies in the sky:

God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)

The stars, moon, and sun, Genesis says, “govern” the day and night. They are heavenly ruling bodies.

Then, on the sixth day, He creates some more ruling bodies on the earth:

God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Human beings, Genesis says, “rule” over all creatures. They are earthly ruling bodies.

As Genesis goes on to explain, these human beings who rule over the earth come from the earth:

The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

And yet, there is this hope that human beings, like the heavenly ruling bodies, will not just be dirty and dark, but will shine like the lights in the sky. Sin, of course, dashes this hope when God tells Adam that He will return to the dirt:

Dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)

But Paul restores this hope. He says we will “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). But how? Paul explains:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Paul says when we live without grumbling or arguing, we shine. We go from being dirt from the world to offering light and hope for the world.

This world is full of dirty stuff. Let’s not add to it by our grumbling and arguing. Let’s shine light on it by our joy and peacefulness. This is our world’s need – and the Church’s call.

May 3, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Fig Tree Undone

Yesterday began Holy Week, which commemorates the final days of Jesus’ life along with His crucifixion and resurrection. On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus performs one of His most puzzling acts:

Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard Him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree You cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)

What an odd episode. Jesus fierily curses a fig tree for no apparent reason. What is going on?

When Adam and Eve fall into sin after disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis records:

The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

An old Jewish tradition claims that the forbidden fruit itself was figs, with a Talmudic rabbi writing:

That which caused their downfall was then used to rectify them.

In other words, Adam and Eve tried to use the fruit with which they sinned to cover their sin.

But Adam and Eve’s pitiful fig leaf getups prove useless. They cannot hide their sin from God. God confronts them in their sin, curses them because of their sin, but then blesses them despite their sin:

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

God sacrifices and skins an animal to make a garment far better than anything they can make for themselves.

Jesus’ strange fig tree curse hearkens back to Adam and Eve’s fig leaf failure. Our pathetic attempts to hide our sin never work. So, on His way to the cross, Jesus graphically condemns every human attempt to fix ourselves in our sin when He curses a fig tree and its leaves. But in its place, God sacrifices His Son and gives us a garment infinitely better than anything we can come up with by ourselves – “a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10)

Jesus’ curse on the fig tree undoes the curse of our sin and reminds us that there is a better tree – not a fig tree that brings death, but a cruciform tree that grants life.

March 29, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sunshine & Branches

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When an elderly priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense at the temple in Jerusalem, it marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there were around 20,000 priests serving at the temple in the first century. Many of them never got to bring such an offering before God. So, Zechariah, when his lot is drawn, is obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. But an already overwhelming moment becomes even more potent when, in the middle of Zechariah’s liturgical service, an angel appears to him, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom could have easily qualified to be members-in-good-standing of the AARP by this point in their lives, will have a child who will, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “prepare the way for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). At first, Zechariah is skeptical of this angelic announcement, but his suspicion quickly melts into praise and hope, both at the promise that he and his wife will have a child and that his child will prepare the way for the arrival of God’s salvation. At the end of a song of celebration, he muses:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heavento shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

In his song, Zechariah celebrates both his child and God’s Messiah. He describes the Messiah as “the rising sun” who will come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This picture of light was a common metaphor for the Messiah among the prophets:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And:

For you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)

In a world full of the darkness of sin, the Messiah would bring the light of righteousness.

When Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah as “the rising sun,” the Greek word Luke employs is anatole, a word which refers to the east, the place from which the sun rises. What is fascinating about this word is that it can also be translated as “branch,” as it is when God speaks through the prophet Zechariah, who lived over 500 years before the priest Zechariah did:

I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

God calls the Messiah “the Branch,” the Greek word for which is anatole. In a world full of death, the Messiah would be like a tree that sprouts and brings life.

This one little word speaks to who the Messiah is in multiple ways. He sheds light in the darkness of sin and he branches out from death with life. Though Zechariah, more than likely, did not understand the fullness of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish when he sang his song, we live in what the apostle Paul once called “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, we have the benefit of historical retrospection to understand more fully how Jesus changed the world – and how Jesus still changes lives. And because of this, we, like Zechariah, can have praise to offer and hope to hold this Christmas.

December 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Name-Calling

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One of the most common responses to last week’s vice-presidential debate that I heard was that of a sigh of relief. It was noticeably mild-mannered compared the first presidential debate held a week earlier. Both President Trump and Vice-President Biden came under sharp critique for their name-calling of each other. Check out these headlines:

‘Will you shut up, man?’: Debate devolves to name-calling as Trump derails with interruptions

First Trump-Biden Presidential Debate Devolves Into Interruptions, Name-Calling

First Presidential Debate Turns Into Fighting and Name-Calling

Quite apart from politics, name-calling, in general, concerns me. As anyone who has been badgered or belittled on a school playground knows, sticks and stones may break some bones, but names can also hurt you.

Last week, as I was preparing to lead a study on Isaiah 1, I came across this passage:

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to Me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure.” (Isaiah 1:10-11)

Isaiah encourages the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah to hear the word of the Lord. Historically, the prophet writes these words around 740 BC. The towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, were famously destroyed by fire and brimstone some 1,300 years earlier. They no longer exist. So, to whom is Isaiah speaking?

Here, the famed cities are being invoked metaphorically to refer to the rebellious people of God – the Israelites. Isaiah is making the point that the wickedness of the Israelites has become so great that they might as well be the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – cities renowned for their depravity. In other words, Isaiah is calling the Israelites names.

Name-calling seems to be an awfully unbecoming behavior for a prophet of God. And yet, what sounds like disrespect at first is actually an act of desperation. He asks earlier:

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. (Isaiah 1:5)

Isaiah longs for the Israelites to repent before they become afflicted by God. Isaiah’s name-calling, then, is not meant to insult, but to implore. The prophet is imploring people of Israel to understand just how precarious their spiritual situation really is. So, he uses the most jarring example of systemic and sanctioned sin he can think of: the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Of course, this is not the only time Isaiah calls the Israelites names. Later in his book, he writes:

But now, this is what the LORD says – He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

God calls the people of Israel names to help them understand their sin. But He also calls them a name to promise them redemption from their sin:

Mine.

I’m not big on name-calling, but that’s a name I’d love to be called by God any day. Because of Christ, I know I am. And because of Christ, you are too.

October 12, 2020 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Baseball Scandals and Echo Chambers

It’s the biggest shakeup Major League Baseball has faced since the steroid scandal of the 90s. The Astros coming up with an elaborate system to steal opposing teams’ pitching signs got them all the way to the World Series, but it cost them their reputation and has left their franchise in shambles. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments strike me as especially insightful as their scheme continues to unravel:

The culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic. At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to…an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.

Mr. Manfred’s point is critical. Not only can people justify their own questionable actions, they can justify each other’s if the payoff feels high enough. This can create an echo chamber where, if one were to look from the outside in at what was happening, the problems would be obvious, but, from the inside, the compromises seem merely logical and at worst paltry. The Astros February 13 press conference, which was long on excuses and finger pointing and short on apologies, demonstrated just how easy it can be to convince ourselves of our own rightness even when everyone around us is shouting, “Wrong!”

The apostle John once wrote: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The plural pronouns here are important. Not only can one person deceive him or her self about his or her personal sin, we can, together, John says, deceive ourselves about our corporate sin. This is why one of the fundamental assertions of Christianity is that we need someone outside of ourselves to tell us the truth about ourselves.

Theologians will speak of how salvation works extra nos – Latin for “outside ourselves.” We do not – indeed, we cannot – save ourselves. Christ must come in from the outside and do the work of salvation for us. The inverse of this is another Latin phrase, this one conceptualized by the church father Augustine: incurvitas in se, which means, “turned in on oneself.” This is the essential nature of sin. Sin draws us further and further into ourselves – our excuses, our half-truths, and our pathetic justifications. Christianity beckons us to turn from ourselves and toward Christ.

The crisis with the Astros Club does not just point to a problem with baseball, but to a larger broken condition in humanity. The question we must ask ourselves is this: where are we tempted to look to ourselves, rather than to Christ, to deal with our sin? When are we tempted to conceal, instead of to confess, where we have done wrong? The more we rely on ourselves to fix ourselves, the more damage we do to ourselves.

So, unlike the Astros, let’s not believe our own press. Instead let us press in to the One who is God’s Son.

February 24, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Growing Homes and Envious Hearts

Not long before our second child was born, my wife and I decided that it was time to upsize the square footage of our home.  Kids, it turns out, come with lots of stuff.  Our first home was a testament to that.  Closets and corners were packed with everything from diapers to clothes to lots and lots of toys.  We wanted enough room to spread out and stretch out a bit.  So, we put our home on the market and moved into a new, larger home, which, as you probably have already guessed, now has closets and corners packed with even more kids’ stuff.  No matter how much space you have, you always seem to find stuff to fill it.

The move toward larger homes is a decades-old trend.  Joe Pinsker, in an article published last week for The Atlantic, writes:

American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be.  In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.

This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that – 971 square feet – four decades later.

But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.  “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”

Larger homes, Mr. Pinsker reports, are not making for happier families.  Why?  It’s not because we don’t like the extra space.  I certainly appreciate the space in my home – and so do others.  It turns out that our happiness has very little to do with the amount of space we have in our own homes.  Instead, it has to do with the amount of space our neighbors have in their homes:

The largest houses seem to be the ones that all the other homeowners base their expectations on … Bellet sketches out an unfulfilling cycle of one-upmanship, in which the owners of the biggest homes are most satisfied if their home remains among the biggest, and those who rank right below them grow less satisfied as their dwelling looks ever more measly by comparison.

In other words, we’re satisfied with what we have until we see what somebody else has.  In this way, our dissatisfaction with our homes isn’t really a home problem.  It’s a heart problem.  It’s a struggle with envy.

Envy is a sin that’s virtually as old as, well, dirt.  When Adam is first fashioned out of dirt, it is envy that brings him down when Satan tempts he and his wife with the specter that they can “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  “Instead of being created from dust by God,” Satan says, “you can be sovereigns with glory like God’s.  Why live in a Garden when you can reign from heaven?  I’m pretty sure heaven has more square footage.  Wouldn’t that be nice?”  Satan hooks Adam and Eve by appealing to their envy.  And so, in envy, they try to stage a coup against God.  But instead of becoming more like God in majesty, they become mere mortals who die.

In the Ninth Commandment, God commands: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (Exodus 20:17).  The desire for something that someone else has – including the very specific desire for someone else’s home – is nothing new.  But it’s also nothing helpful.  Which is why God warns against it.

As Mr. Pinsker notes in the conclusion of his article, there are good reasons to be satisfied with where you live, even if where you live feels a little small at times:

“The big house represents the atomizing of the American family,” a historian of landscape development told NPR for a story on gargantuan American homes back in 2006.  “Each person not only has his or her own television – each person has his or her own bathroom … This way, the family members rarely have to interact.”  It’s comfortable, in a way, but maybe also lonely.

Square footage that is gained may translate into closeness that is lost.  So, tonight, make sure you give your spouse and your kids a hug that last a little longer than usual – no matter how big or small your home is.  After all, your foundation, frame, walls, windows, doors, and drywall don’t really make your home.  They do.

June 17, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

+ In Memoriam: George H.W. Bush +

When George H.W. Bush passed away nearly a week and a half ago, our nation lost a statesman, a war hero, and a president.

State funerals are relatively rare, but Mr. Bush, thanks in large part to his service to our nation as its president, received one.  However, when his son, George W. Bush, stood in the pulpit of the staid and storied National Cathedral to deliver a eulogy, he spoke not so much of Mr. Bush as a president, but as his father.  He reminisced:

To us, he was close to perfect.  But not totally perfect.  His short game was lousy.  He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli.  And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us.  Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband.  He married his sweetheart.  He adored her.  He laughed and cried with her.  He was dedicated to her totally…

In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this:  “We cannot hope to only leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account.  We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent.  A citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it.  What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there?  That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”  Well, dad, we’re gonna remember you for exactly that and much more.  And we are going to miss you.  Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever.  So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter can have.

It was this last line, at which the younger Bush choked up, that captured the hearts of many who were tuning into the service this past Wednesday, for his words were a reminder of what really matters in a life.  What is done from an oval-shaped office is certainly historically significant and nationally critical.  But what is done around a kitchen table is also significant and critical – perhaps even more so.  God calls us to love others personally long before He calls any of us to lead others politically.  George H.W. Bush knew this – and lived it.

In his book, The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks makes a distinction between what he calls “the resume virtues” and “the eulogy virtues.”  He writes:

Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.

At Mr. Bush’s funeral, the eulogy virtues were certainly on display.  And at a time when many are openly questioning whether or not these types of virtues really matter in public service, the life of George H.W. Bush reminds us that they certainly do.  The virtues we cultivate shape the decisions we make, the wisdom we display, and the legacy we leave.

With all of this being said, we must remember that, for all of George H.W. Bush’s commendable and imitable virtues, nobody is perfect.  The younger Bush said as much about his father.  But, of course, human imperfection goes far deeper and into much more shameful territory than the humorous examples given by George W. Bush of George H.W. Bush.  The younger Bush pulled a rhetorical sleight of hand as he spoke not so much of his father’s imperfections, but of his idiosyncrasies.  But each casket is a reminder that each of us has been infected by real imperfection, the wages of which is death (Romans 6:23).  This is why, as great and as needed as eulogy virtues are, they are not enough.  Something more is needed.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out that, at a certain moment in last Wednesday’s funeral service, during one of the prayers, Mr. Bush went from being referred to as “President George Herbert Walker Bush” and instead began being referred to as “our brother George.”  This was liturgically intentional.  The greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was not that he was a successful man with many resume virtues.  But it is also not that he was a good man with many eulogy virtues.  Instead, the greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was that he was a redeemed man, brought into the family of God by the blood of Christ – a brother in Christ.

The eulogy virtues extolled at last week’s funeral leave legacies, which make them of inestimable importance.  Redemption, however, gives hope, which makes it of eternal significance.  Our brother George may have been a good man, but, even better, one day, through faith in Christ, he will be a resurrected man.  His casket will be empty and last week’s funeral will be undone.  That’s Christ’s promise.  And that’s our hope.

Come, Lord Jesus.

December 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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