Monday, June 25, 2012

Help me start today

Romans 3:21-31 (NIV)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Here’s a lesson I want to teach my kids. I’m not sure when it will be the right time for it to sink in (laying the groundwork now is probably a good idea), but I’ll consider myself some degree of failure if I don’t pass this on: Everyone is equal in the eyes of God. We all sin. Yet God redeems us through Jesus — not by anything we do, but we are saved through grace alone. So being “saved,” if you will doesn’t make someone better than anyone else. You can follow all the rules you want, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t put your trust in Jesus.

As I’ve written before on various subjects, the first (and probably best) way to teach is to live the lesson. I must treat everyone equally, and if my children ask why, I can explain it’s because God treats us all equally, so who am I to show favoritism? Even if they don’t ask why, I’m still setting an example. I don’t recall ever asking my Dad about the various projects he supported (and in many cases still does) and why he gives so much energy to them, but when I look now at all the selfless dedication, it says a lot to me about his true priorities. I could say the same about my Mom and her dedication to church through various offices and positions and committees over the years. I don’t remember her ever sitting us down and explaining her motivation. She was always plenty good about sharing faith lessons, but it’s one thing to say “this is what it means to me” and yet another to put that lesson to work, to live your convictions and leave no doubt.

But maybe I just have selective memory. Perhaps I was given specific instructions. Certainly I was in Sunday school youth group and other Christian education platforms. Like many people, my time in college taught me just as much about interacting with other people as anything I gleaned from the classroom. It’s where I became my own person, where I truly learned things like the cost of trusting the wrong person, or the way you should actually get to know people instead of rely on the image they project — or that is projected on them.

Through my young working life I have continued to learn useful lessons, such as the importance of not saying something you may regret (or emailing, especially emailing) and the value of doing a job the right way, even if no one knows how much effort it took to bypass a shortcut. And in college and real life, it can be very, very hard to treat everyone equally, to remember we’re all the same to God and afford people that same respect we would demand for ourselves. It also can be quite difficult to live humbly, to constantly remember we have no reason to boast.

The temptation to judge others is challenging to resist — and I’m not talking about condemning others for their sins so much as simply arbitrarily deciding others aren’t worthy of our time or energy — and so is the rush to elevate ourselves. We say we have all sinned, that all are created equally. And then we ignore what we say and let our minds operate differently. These sins of the mind tend to sneak past my awareness. I’m busy congratulating myself for not stealing a car or committing murder, yet my heart has been plenty impure. I’ve broken no laws, of course, but I’m not living a life worthy of God.

Maybe the reason it’s tough to teach the above lesson to my kids is because it requires me to admit my shortcomings to them. I don’t presume they think I’m perfect by any stretch, but I can imagine it going something like this:

Me: We all sin, every one of us.
Them: Even you Dad?
Me: Yes, all of us.
Them: So, what bad stuff do you do?

I suppose my answer in that case would be to go over the times I have let them down specifically. “Remember when I got mad because you didn’t get in the shower? Remember when I yelled because you almost missed the school bus? Remember when I hurt myself and said some bad words?” Maybe that’s enough at this point. Maybe they don’t need to know I spent the entire time in the Target checkout line imagining the life stories of the people around me, making all sorts of improper assumptions. Maybe when they get older we can have that kind of talk, and maybe it will finally force me to be more like the person I’m called to be. Bit if we’re going to get to that point some day, I need to start building a road to get there now. Saying (or writing it) is easy, living it is the real challenge.

A prayer for June 25:

Lord, I have sinned and fallen short of your glory. I know you can see all my failings, all the times I have let down you and those who depend on me. I will be forever grateful for redemption through Jesus, and I vow to teach my children about your grace. Please help me be honest with them, now and as they age, revealing what is necessary to deepen our relationship as father and sons and also to help them grow in faith — the faith by which you will justify all who believe. Help me make a difference, and help me start today. Amen.

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