I just finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Crazy Horse: the merciless Indian wars in America.” It tells the story of the conflict between the settlers in the USA and the native Americans. And the story is very sad – painful – on both sides of the ledger.
Neither side was trustworthy. Both sides took scalps and desecrated bodies. Both sides had a mixture of a few good people with many bad. Both sides had an assortment of vengeful leaders. Everyone broke treaties and ignored pleas for mercy. And, in my estimation, both sides lost.
While there are many great things about our country and in our history, it is important for us to also recognize our warts. I enjoy celebrating – and remembering – why we call ourselves the home of the brave and the land of the free. I treasure the multiple ways in which we have been – and continue to be – a source of blessing to many countries. At the same time I mourn – and repent of – our greed, manipulation, and bullying as a nation.
For this, corporately and individually, it is meet, right, and salutary for us to place ourselves in the shoes of a character Jesus describes in Luke 18. “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18.13) It is a sad story when we simply go around exalting ourselves. However, there is good news, for Jesus goes on to say, “I tell you, this man went down to this house justified. … For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18.14)
Sin tends not to be a very popular topic … especially when we are the ones at whom the accusing finger is pointed. This brings us to another chapter in this sad story. While we often feel overly comfortable condemning certain sins (particularly those that we do not see pertaining to ourselves), and we generally feel comfortable with our generic, corporate confession, the tendency toward self-justification remains among us (“Don’t you dare accuse me of that!”).
So how do we apply (balance) these three scriptures to ourselves? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1.8-10) “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advise.” (Proverbs 12.15) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.1-3) Is there some sort of “God-pleasing balance”? Am I already violating that balance by simply addressing the issue?
In the forward of her most recent book, “Dare to Lead,” Brene Brown writes, “Before I go onstage, I whisper the word people, three or four times to myself. ‘People. People. People. People.’” This reminder that the audience – no matter who they are – is simply made up of people relieves some of her nervousness. As I remind myself of the same, I add one more word to the list – “me” – for I am always talking (and writing) also to myself.
So, when I talk about sins, knowing that I and the bulk of my audience ascribe to be Christians, my primary focus is upon sins more likely to be found in my audience. With that I do not try to accuse anyone individual of a particular sin, but rather hope to prompt all – myself included – to take a closer look at that log Jesus mentions in Matthew 7. Sometimes this is easier than at other times. In those other times, self-justification can become a real issue … which is the real sad story.
Yet, as the hymn writer William McComb reminds us, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me” – and there is no sadness in that story whatsoever.