The Church Is for Sinners

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., 2005)

And I am sure of this,

that he who began a good work in you

will bring it to completion

at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6 ESV).

In my first pastorate, a man said to me that he would not go to church because there were too many hypocrites there. I had enough rapport with the man to say: “You’re right so join us—we need another one.” We often have the idea that Church is just for those who have no problems, for those whose life is always rosy, who never have rebellious children, whose spouses are models of virtue, whose bosses love everything they do, who never have an impure thought. If that is who you think you are, you don’t need the Church; but then, you don’t need the Triune God either, or so you think.

And we Christians should be willing to admit that we have a long way to go in our growth in holiness. Pretending is hypocrisy, though we should not tell everyone all our problems. Yes, we have been forgiven by God through the merits of the death and resurrection of Christ, but we are still growing, still being forgiven. We have been adopted into God’s family, but like legal adoption today, that does not automatically make the child instantly and perfectly like his new father. It does make the child an heir to the father’s estate, and if we parents are rich so is the child. But it takes a lifetime to train a child and for the child to grow into the kind of person we as parents desire him/her to be. Likewise, the Father adopts us into His family based on the legal attorney Jesus Christ, who puts up the bond, the surety, who is Himself our pledge, our guarantee of the completed adoption. This gives us a change of legal status, but inwardly we are the same as before the adoption. But the Father and the Son gave us the Holy Spirit to make us better over time—but that is the key word, TIME.

Consider that our heavenly Father is seeking to “rear” us in the faith all our lives, that he brings about problems so that we can learn to be mature, to respond in faith and love to one another and to love His providence, that His priorities are not money, farms, cars, bank accounts, though there is nothing wrong with those in themselves.

And this heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, in His Church, the bride of His Son, so that we can care for one another. We are our brother’s keeper. And consider further that our sibling Jesus has already been through all the trials we have and knows what they are like, but also as God He gives us the grace we need to grow. We are in a family that is supposed to love its own as the badge of our relationship with God: “By this shall all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What do we do when our loved ones are sick? You care for them.

We are called to live by a different set of priorities from the world, to consider the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be the highest priority and our church family second. (Church and family actually go together.) Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? That is the philosophy of the world, but our riches belong to another family—the Church. Our estate and inheritance are from Christ, not in pursuing ever more schemes to make money. Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank accounts that can quickly evaporate. We have an inheritance that is infallible:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who

according to His abundant mercy

has begotten us again

             TO a living hope

                                                                                                    through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

                                                                                         from the dead,

               4 TO an inheritance

                        Incorruptible

                     and undefiled

                                                 and that does not fade away,

                                             reserved in heaven for you,

        5 who are kept by the power of

through faith

TO salvation

ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 NKJ)

The world does not expect Christians to be perfect, but it does expect us to be genuine, which means we must be willing to confess mistakes when we make them and then seek to make things right. Remember the case of the televangelist caught with a prostitute? At first he was contrite, submitted to the discipline of his brethren, and agreed to the time suspension from the ministry that they placed on him. This was a good start, but then he rebelled, rejecting their authority, and put himself back in the ministry under a new church. It was a great testimony to the world to see the Christian Church at work, helping a fellow brother to grow in grace, exercising the authority of Christ, saying to everyone: “Yes, we are sinners, but we are willing to forgive when a brother repents.” Who could have faulted that? But the preacher rebelled and neutralized the great testimony.

In the early 1970s, Ruth and I were living in Dallas while I attended seminary. W. A. Criswell was a great Baptist preacher in Dallas, TX, who loved the Lord, preached great Gospel sermons, and had a large congregation in downtown Dallas. He was highly respected in the community. Dr Criswell was interviewed on a local TV station. The interviewer was very caustic, and assuming all the self-righteousness she could muster, she forcefully demanded to know why it had only been in the recent past that his church had opened their doors to African American Christians. I’ll never forget Criswell’s answer, for it stopped her cold, and she stuttered for a comeback. His answer was something like this: “We sinned, and we’ve asked the Lord to forgive us. Now we are glad to have our black brothers and sisters worship with us.” That was genuineness! The interviewer changed the subject! We are not perfect but sinners, so let us recognize that! But let us be confessing sinners, not arrogant or rebellious ones. Pride will destroy us, but humility will lift us up in great favor with God and man. AMEN

Forgiveness: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

8 October 2014

© Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw 2014

Last time (7 October 2014) I wrote that we forgive only when someone repents, but also that we must overlook most things, which is what I want to emphasize this time, lest we go around with a chip on our shoulder, daring anyone to say anything, and we jump them for their sins.

 

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

 

Introduction

Have you seen a nervous cat, one that hisses at everything in its path? When I grew up, people used to say, “She is as nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

A perfect illustration is the movie War of the Roses? I commend it to you, for it is a graphic illustration of how things can escalate when forgiveness is not extended for small things, peccadilloes quickly becoming Mt. Everests, thereby keeping the dominoes from falling. The stars in the movie are three who made a number of movies together: Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglass, and Danny DeVito. Turner and Douglas are married and have the last name Rose, thus War of the Roses. DeVito is the attorney for Douglass in the divorce suit between the Roses.

Initially the Roses are very happy, their spats are few and quickly gotten over, but for some inexplicable reason, their relationship gradually becomes like two cats who spit at one another every time their paths cross, with backs arching. Neither one is willing to admit any wrongdoing, not even one mite. They become increasingly irritated with one another until it escalates to horrendous proportions, one upping one another until they injure one another’s pets, destroy vehicles, and so on (see the movie). Both want the house, and neither is willing to give an inch. She wants him to move out, but he wants her to admit to wrong doing, even one little pinch of wrong doing. She refuses so he won’t move out.

Then he devises a plan for them to “share” the house: they will have certain areas that belong to each and the other is not allowed in those areas. Then each can have the kitchen but at different times. When Douglass presents this “sharing” plan to DeVito, complete with architect’s diagram, showing who gets what area, DeVito asks: “And this is a rational plan?” Douglass smirks and replies: “I have more square feet than she does.”

I won’t tell you the end, but this is what happens when things are not dealt with as we go along. After a while people are angry with one another over silly things, and don’t even remember what the original problem was.

Last time I wrote about not forgiving unless there is repentance, and I stand by that, but we must also learn to forgive in the sense of overlooking most problems without making hisses into fur ball fights. But how do we tell the difference? That is where wisdom comes to play. In my life or the lives of others, if something is not a blatant violation of the Ten Commandments, I usually overlook it.

Moreover, we must learn people. Some are naturally more forward than others and do not mean to offend. Others are more sensitive and get upset quickly. Some are transparent while others are opaque. Do not evaluate others by your standard, but by God’s standard in the Ten Commandments; moreover, we must overlook most things.

I’ve seen two people when they first meet, hiss, scratch, and mangle each other like two cats who are tied together by a small rope and thrown over a clothesline. Once again, I say don’t be angry because others sin differently and you don’t like it. For every fault we find in others, they can find something else in our lives, like not being patient and tolerant.

What is the best argument for the truth of Christianity? It is not so much the long, intellectual, sustained argument that dismantles evolution or attacks how people think, but the longer I live the more I’m convinced that it is love, both for one another in the body of Christ and for the world at large. Remember what our Lord said:

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).

Keep the peace by keeping your tails to yourself and avoiding rooms with rocking chairs. Keep short accounts; overlook 99.9% of things. Remember, just because someone else sins differently than you do is no reason to attack them in person or in private. If God has forgiven us trillions of dollars of our sins, what is it for us to forgive them a few cents?

AMEN. Ώ