One of the societal trends I have noticed in the last ten years is that people increasingly make excuses. Everyone has an excuse as to why the work I’m paying them to do hasn’t been done, why they can’t fix my car right in four tries, why the pictures came out fuzzy, why they burned my meal at the restaurant, and on and on and on.
What baffles me about this trend is that the reason for that failure to execute never is “I made a mistake.” It’s always something more along the lines of “My distributor can’t…,” “My manager won’t…,” “The service center we use isn’t…,” and the ubiquitous “It’s their fault, not mine.” I’m convinced that the next time I actually hear a person say, “I messed up,” I’m going to hand him $20 and say, “Thank you for taking responsibility for the problem.”
Honestly, it’s that bad.
What makes it worse is that there is no greater source for excuses than in our churches. Nowhere else summons up the patter of random deflections than in the group we meet with on Sundays.
The curious thing about this, though, is that it is usually not the church entity itself that is making excuses for itself, but individual Christians within those churches. It is the nature of any volunteer organization, which a church primarily is, to have somewhat more slack rules of operation, but what makes us Christians so unwilling to take the blame when something goes wrong?
“We were supposed to have a prayer meeting on Wednesday, but Steve couldn’t…,” “Someone was going to visit our elderly shut-ins this week, but…,” “It’s not my fault that no one put together the youth group program until the last second and…”—well, it just gets tiring.
The grace of God is cheapened when we use it as an excuse for not doing what we say we will do. Jesus didn’t take too kindly to us making excuses:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
—Matthew 25:41-46 ESV
The Church in America needs to dump excuses. We’re using them to excuse ourselves from taking responsibility for our actions (or inactions, as the case usually is.) We need to own up when we make mistakes. We need to stop acting like grace is there to excuse us from doing what we need to do.
Excuses may seem like little things, but they break the heart of God when He sees His Church so ready to spout them and so unwilling to own up to our responsibilities as ambassadors for Christ. For every witness we bear, our anti-witness through excuses only undoes that work.
It’s time to be more responsible. Or as the word of God says:
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much….
—Luke 16:10a ESV
If we wonder why the Church in our country seems so lackluster, perhaps this is the place to start.
11 thoughts on “The Little Things: Excuses”
Excellent post. I find the inactivity in the church frustrating as well. The church that I belong to has about 4000 or so members, yet it is like pulling teeth getting anyone to show up to do anything that speaks to the verse from Matthew that you quoted. The usual excuse is that people are busy or that they are committed to “family time”. We’re not that busy and I doubt that we’re that committed to “family time”. We’re just selfish.
“The grace of God is cheapened when we use it as an excuse for not doing what we say we will do. Jesus didn’t take too kindly to us making excuses”
uh…that scripture about Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats isn’t about making excuses, Dan. It’s much more serious than that. It’s not really about “what we’ve done” per se, either.
Jesus goes on to say, “I never knew you.” That is the crux of the Lord’s teaching in this passage. Not excuses, not people who forgot, not people who didn’t help others (although helping others certainly is one proof of real salvation). Jesus is saying in effect: you are going to hell because I didn’t know you. You have not been saved by me and covered by my righteouness.
This is pretty serious stuff. If I were you I wouldn’t be threatening people with hell for not following through.
I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I think the things you write about are always very timely. Thank you.
Thanks for coming to the site. I appreciate new readers.
We’ll have to disagree on the issue of Christians being too busy. I’ve blogged on that topic numerous times—I believe we are too busy and are getting busier. I talk to people all the time about this and know generally how some of the people I know live. All of us are too busy.
Even this morning I had to make a decisions about attending a men’s breakfast at my church. My wife and I got home very late from a small group we attended the night before that. Both my wife and I get about six hours of sleep a night, never enough for staying healthy. I let her sleep in on Saturday to make up the difference and if I’d gone to that breakfast she’d be running on empty all weekend.
So we’ll have to disagree. If we were willing to rethink our jobs, the way we live in community, and several other factors, I think we would all be better for it. BTW, did you read my business series? I talked about some of this in that as well.
Thanks for coming to Cerulean Sanctum. I’ve seen a lot of your posts over at Slice.
To the issue, in his musical rendition of this illustration of the sheep and the goats, Keith Green ends it by saying:
“…the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scripture, is what they did and didn’t do.”
James has this to say:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
—James 2:14-26 ESV
And no, I’m not preaching works righteousness. What I am saying is that our claiming we are believers means nothing if we make up excuses about not doing the things the Lord commanded of us, no matter how much we say we believe. A dead faith is no faith at all and therefore cannot save.
That should be sobering to all of us who claim to be Christians.
The Lord has convicted me about that last post. i couldn’t go to bed until I came back and asked for your forgiveness. i stand by my comments, but my heart wasn’t right when I posted. We need to hold each other accountable and to sharpen one another but in the right spirit and for the right reasons. Mine weren’t right. There was pride there and self-righteous ness. Will you please forgive me?
It shouldn’t be about I’m right/your wrong, but what Lord is teaching us. You probably didn’t mean to “threaten” anyone. But I do believe that you must be careful how you use scripture to back up a point you are making. Actually the Lord doesn’t say in this passage “I never knew you.” It’s in Matthew 7:21-23. These accounts, taken together, help to clarify each other.
In Matthew 7, Jesus discounts their “works” – some actually looked like the real thing, but weren’t. Judging by the two passages, some people will not have earthly works, and some will have earthly works. Jesus does mention their works here (both real and false). But we know from other scriptures that works do not save, no matter how altruistic. Lack of works do not condemn – however a faith without works is dead.
The point is not what we have done, it is whose we are. Are we Christ’s?
Grace and peace to you. Have a blessed Lord’s day.
My last post of the day before I go to bed. Gotta be fresh for worship tomorrow and I haven’t felt at all well today.
Anyway, I forgive you. I will certainly make mistakes here in my blogging, as will everyone. I hope people engage me. I’ve changed things and deleted things based on what people have said.
I’ve been a Christian a long time, but I am still learning. This year has been a great learning time in knowing how to step back and not attack people. I hope that I can be a voice of peace in the blogosphere. I have learned to love people who disagree with me as much as those who say nice things. But I wasn’t always that way.
In the future I hope to write about the truth that not everyone on the blogosphere (and in our churches) has reached a perfected theology, yet. We catch people in various stages of growth and assume everyone is exactly where we are. God forgives me for all the stupid things I’ve believed in error over the nearly thirty years I’ve been a believer. Thankfully, I wasn’t immediately doomed for my foolishness and God was graceful with me. I now am in a stronger place because of that grace and His willingness to sharpen me. I have to always keep that in mind whenever I feel that I am in a position to correct someone I feel is doing something that needs correction. By the Lord’s grace I am getting better at it. I fear that I am better on the Web in that regard than I am in person, so God still has a lot of work to do on me!
Thanks for coming by. I hope you continue to lend your wisdom here.
I’ve actually been reading for a little while, but finally got up the courage to reply. 🙂
There was a men’s breakfast that I skipped yesterday for similar reasons, although part of it had to do with me being out of town all week for work. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that we aren’t busy, as I didn’t mean to imply that.
We fill our already busy schedules with fruitless activities and then make excuses about why we can’t/won’t be the church. We also do that with ourselves when we make excuses on why we don’t have more (or any) time for God. It comes naturally.
So, no need to disagree. I stand corrected and will clarify my point better the next time.
Thanks for the blog. I look forward daily to what you have to say.
An excuse is what you offer to avoid embarrassment, punishment, etc. A reason is why you do or avoid doing something. How do you tell the difference when one is offered?
Dan: “I messed up.” I’ll send my address later so you can send the twenty. ; )
Seriously though – thanks for continuing to think, Dan. I appreciate your thoughts even when I don’t always agree.
If you mess up, admit it. But it doesn’t do any good to gloss over the actual reason for a screw up. If Steve can’t lead the prayer meeting or the youth group needs help then jump in and help and don’t whine about it. But then find out why things didn’t work well to begin with and get it straightened out.