Socks for Christmas


It’s a cliché to say that one of the benefits of aging is wisdom, but the older I get, the more I realize that being clichéd doesn’t make something less true.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is that God uses even that group of people who drives you nuts. You know, the ones who are doing it wrong in your estimation, whatever the it might be. Their way is not your way, so they naturally irritate you.

The Church of Jesus is overrun with people who give advice. They seem to be the mature ones who have it going on. They always have a sure word in season and out. Problem is, most of the time it’s out of season, especially when you’re in the middle of the worst battle of your life and they come around with their Scripture hammer and whack you upside the noggin.

Do these folks ever lend a hand to help you? No. Do they let you cry on their shoulder? No. Don’t they just really hack you off? Heck, yeah.

What we don’t seem to have enough of in the Church are people who DO lend you a hand and let you cry on their shoulder. They’re the compassionate ones. Their eyes mist up when you tell your story. They’re the first ones on the phone to you when the grapevine distributes your bad news.

Everybody should be in that compassionate second group, right?

Well, you would think so.

But what I seem to be finding out is that while the compassionate group is nice, folks in that category aren’t always the best at helping you get out of your rut. A shoulder to cry on is swell, but it may not be enough a few months down the road. Odd as it may seem, the advice-givers may have the advantage here. You know, the one’s who you were about to strangle when they brought their aloof “I’ve got the answer to everything” attitude into the midst of your agony. Truth is, they may actually have something worth hearing. The other truth is that you may not have been in a place to hear it when they first dumped it on you. You needed compassion more than advice. Compassion has its limits, though. Cutting to the heart of the matter, it may also be true that the cause of your pain is your own stupidity, and while a shoulder to cry on is nice to have, sometimes a brain is really what’s needed.

Ideally, the Church would be filled with people who are both advice-filled AND compassi0nate. But if my own experience bears witness to what is normal, I’d say those rare people are just that—exceedingly rare. Most of us are going to run into an advice-giver or a compassion-giver but almost never both in one person.

So the next time you feel like the world is ending and some advice-filled sage comes up to you, drops his load of wisdom on you, and bolts, don’t get riled up because he didn’t hold your hand and say, “There, there, call me anytime, even 3 a.m. Better yet, I’ll come over tomorrow.” Uh, Mom...not what I had on my list...And if you do find compassion with those who will weep with you, don’t expect that they’ll have answers to your dilemma or a good word in season. They may not. Your personal diamond may be the rough-looking rock, and you don’t see it for what it’s worth.

And if you do stumble across person number three, who has both realities going on, recognize that you received a rare gift in the midst of tough times, that highly sculpted and polished stone

In other words, whichever kind of person God sends your way, be appreciative of the gift, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for. Remember, when you were young and green, Aunt Ida’s handknit wool socks seemed like a lousy gift Christmas morning, but when your feet were cold, they were exactly what you needed.

Whatever Happened to Sin?


Long time ago, the Garden: the universe was corrupted by two humans who chose sin over the Almighty. God immediately cursed those two, then gave a promise that sin would be dealt with by a perfect sacrifice.

In short, it used to be about sin.

Christians throughout history understood how pervasive sin was. Knew that it was a ball and chain that kept them in bondage. The whole Reformation started because Luther was overcome by his own sinfulness and was begging for release. Sin killed, then killed some more.

It used to be about sin. The freedom we are to proclaim to the captives is freedom from sin. The ancients understood the ugly stain they could not wash out. Seekers wrestled with sin and fell upon God seeking forgiveness from it. The grace that promises to lead us home was offered freely to us when Christ paid our penalty, the penalty of sin. It used to be about sin. Preachers railed against sin. They understood that conversion came only after people understood the depths of their own depravity. Those preachers brought people to the cross, the place where sins were laid down and forgiven. Those converts knew they were saved because that crushing load of sin was removed. They wept over the release from that oppressive taskmaster.

But in churches today, the message has been changed. It is no longer about sin; it is about what we can get from God. Christianity has become the religion of meeting felt needs. Need your car fixed? We Christians can help with that! No one to pal around with? Hey, let’s get a pickup game of basketball going! Can’t walk the walk? No sense feeling guilty about it!

Many seekers, especially in America, don’t want to hear about sin, so our preachers oblige them by not talking about it. “Too scary, too off-putting to people.” “That message doesn’t work anymore.” “You can’t catch flies with vinegar.” So in the place of the message about the depths of sinfulness we all possess, many churches have adopted a message that says, “You are entitled to special treatment, and God is right there to give you anything you think you need.”

Last year, I heard a presentation advertising small groups within a church. This was a multimedia extravaganza that featured numerous real-life stories of people currently attending the church’s small groups. The clip ran almost five minutes, but when it was all said and done, the name of Jesus had never been mentioned. People talked glowingly about what they got from their small groups, but nothing was ever said about triumphing over sin, getting closer to Christ, understanding the Bible, or any of the traditional Christian issues. Instead, we all heard about going to baseball games with others in the group, having someone bring groceries over in a tough time, and the like.

It’s now all about what we can get. Because of this, few people ever talk about sin anymore. I wonder if seekers ever wrestle with their sinfulness. Considering the dearth of time we all claim today, perhaps others simply cannot devote much mental energy to thinking about their own sin since so much time is commanded in getting felt needs met.

The “new” churches that adhere to this self-centered paradigm wrap their evangelistic efforts around conducting felt need analyses or interpreting neighborhood demographic studies rather than working to show people the depths of their depravity and the person who can release that burden, Jesus. We are on the verge of losing the entire sin perspective as we abandon the very core of why Christ came in favor of making everyone happy, lest they find another, more accommodating church to attend.

Jesus said that if He be lifted up, He would draw all men to Him. Are we lifting Him up and showing Him as the Redeemer and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Or have we reduced the Savior to little more than being a sanctified version of Santa, doling out whatever we ask for in the absent shadow of a missing cross?

Joy unspeakable comes from knowing that we will not have to pay the price for sin because Christ already has. In the midst of our endless desire to have our felt needs met, do we still remember this?

Whatever happened to sin?