Little Sins, Big Sins

avalanche sign
Photo credit: <a href="">Paul Downey</a>

1 John 5:13-17

I’m writing to you who’ve embraced Jesus, God’s child, so you’ll know that life is forever yours. It’s a confidence that comes from being related to God. If we ask for anything, God hears, and we have confidence that God will provide.

If you see a brother or sister committing an infraction – one that’s not lethal – pray for him or her. God will restore life to those whose infractions aren’t lethal. There are lethal errors, though, and I’m not talking about praying for those. Any unjust action is an infraction, but not all infractions are lethal.

Some like to say that “a sin is a sin is a sin,” and “whose to say one sin is worse than another?”

John’s letter implies that not all sin is equal. Not all violations of justice are the same, John says, because there is a difference in how much harm is done. Some, in fact, are lethal. Some are possible to overcome by prayer (but see that John has also defined prayer as action). Others, John thinks, are beyond hope.

Perhaps one of the worst kinds of mistakes is mixing up which kind of sin is which. Some people (and some churches) make mountains out of molehills, while ignoring much more serious matters. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to focus on molehills than to climb mountains. Still, nobody ever died of a molehill. People do die in avalanches.

The Theological Duck Test

Image via <a href="">Wikipedia</a>

1 John 3:7-10

Kids, don’t let anyone fool you. People who practice doing right the way Jesus did right are righteous. People who do wrong are the devil’s children. The devil has been doing wrong from the beginning, but the child of God appeared to put the devil out of business. People who are God’s children don’t do wrong, because God’s nature is their nature. They can’t do wrong because they’re Gods children. So you can tell the children of God from the children of the devil, because if they’re not doing right, and if they don’t love their siblings, they’re not God’s.

This is the theological duck test.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

For all the theological wrangling over propositions and faith statements and right belief, the crux of the matter comes down to whether someone is in the habit of doing right or not. If they’re righteous, then there is something of God in them. If they’re bent toward wrong, then it makes no difference what they say they believe in.

“But how does one know what is right and wrong?” you ask. John’s letter doesn’t pretend to lay out a system of ethics. John doesn’t go into much detail or lay out lots of rules. There’s just one clue. You can tell someone’s doing right by how they treat their siblings. Siblings broadly understood. Brothers and sisters of the human race. Is it loving? If so, it’s right.

Beyond that, the terms to describe love are left for you to work out. But there’s another test for that: the elephant test.

It is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it.

The Gospel According to You

Luke 1:1-4

Photo credit: <a href="">Daniel Sandoval</a>

Already, many have tried to piece together the story of what took place among us by passing along the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ original students. So after taking a close look into the whole thing from the beginning, I’ve decided to write the whole story down so that you, the God lover, can know how everything you’ve been told about really happened.

If the New Testament gospels were ordered by date, they would be:

  1. Mark (around 70 C.E.)
  2. Luke (between 80-85 C.E.)
  3. Matthew (around 90 C.E.)
  4. John (sometime after 100 C.E.)

As such, Luke is a second generation account of Jesus. And there are already other accounts out there. Conflicting accounts. And this is the next generation’s attempt at sorting it all out.

It’s something every generation has to do for itself. It has to take the often conflicting stories it has received from the previous generation and stitch them together into something that makes sense. Something that can provide a meaningful framework to carry on with life.

Some stories are restitched, others are cast off. Still others, which haven’t been told in years, are patched back in. The order gets rearranged, and the themes change. Which makes each generation’s telling unique and somewhat mystifying (and at times vexing) for the generations immediately before and after.

This Advent, if you’re inclined, here’s a spiritual exercise: Write your gospel.

Without looking at the ones in your Bible, open up a notebook (or a new document in your word processing program) and start writing the story of Jesus in your own words. From the beginning to the end. How it really happened. For you. Here are some things you may want to include:

  • Nativity. When was Jesus born (or, like Mark, when did he show up) and how?
  • Beginning the work. How did Jesus start doing what he was doing? Why? With whom?
  • What Jesus did. Where he went, and who did he meet? Whose lives did Jesus touch and how did he do it?
  • What Jesus said. What were his teachings? Who was he talking to?
  • Who were the characters. Who were the protagonists in this story? Who were the “bad guys”? And how can you tell the difference between them?
  • Name the issues. What were the bones of contention? How do they (or don’t they) get resolved?
  • Ending. How did it all end? And what is the meaning of crucifixion and resurrection?

Perhaps by Christmas you can present it to the world (or just keep it for yourself) the gospel according to you. But if that’s too fast a pace, take your time to do some deep thinking about it.

Tell you what: If you want to present it to the world, you can send it to me and I’ll publish it on line here at the Scarlet Letter Bible in 2012. Just drop me a line via the contact page and we’ll make the arrangements.

Do What Matters Now

Philippians 1:9-11

This is what I earnestly want for you: that you may love richly and discern keenly so that you will be able to decide what really matters. That way you will have no regrets and nothing to hide when this life is over. And then I wish for you to be able to actually do what matters – the way Jesus did. That would be glorious indeed.

Whatever reservations you might have about Paul, he got this one absolutely right.

Love richly. Discern keenly. Decide what really matters. And then, do it. This is how we make something of our lives during the short time we have on the planet. I’ve known a lot of people who have looked back at the end of their life, nostalgic for what might have been. It’s one of the saddest kinds of conversations. But I’ve also known some who have looked back and said, “Yeah, I did that. It was awesome.”

Of all the things in life that you can’t get back, time is one. The people you love are the others. What really matters to you? What are you going to do about it?

Now wouldn’t be too soon.