My Greek professor used to say that we all believe some Bible verses and not others. He told the class that because we were going to be pastors, we should at least know why we believed some verses and not others.

For example, no one has ever greeted me with a “holy kiss.” Many times In his letters, the Apostle Paul commanded we do that. Evidently no one believes those verses.

Matthew 12:32 is one of those verses we don’t want to believe: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

We can say anything against Jesus and be forgiven; we can accept that.

What we can’t accept is that there might be something that’s unforgiveable. 

When Jesus said this, he was responding to the religious leaders of his day. They saw Jesus casting out demons, and said he was able to do that because he was beholden to the prince of demons.

In other words, they admitted that Jesus was casting out demons, but it wasn’t because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. They said he was demon possessed too.

It turns out that Jesus wasn’t talking about a particular sin that was unforgiveable.

He was talking about the condition of their hearts. 

They were so sure of themselves that they couldn’t see God working right before their eyes.

The problem with being self-righteous is that you don’t know it.

CS Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity:

“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others, but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or to even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on and on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell.  In each of us there is something growing, which will *be* Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”

P.S. My Greek professor was speaking tongue in cheek. You have to accept all the Bible, the parts you like and the parts you don’t.

What are you apologizing for?

This week the Today Show did a story on what they said was a “growing movement for people to stop saying “sorry” so often.”  I don’t know how anyone determines that such a “movement” exists. The Today Show had only one source, author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren.

Warren said that she has “a fraught relationship with the words, ‘I’m sorry.’” She says “I’m sorry” habitually, compulsively, even when she doesn’t mean to, like when she apologizes to a coffee table for bumping into it. When she’s late for a meeting, of course, she apologizes instinctively, but she says “sorry” so often that her friends tell her to stop. To which she says, “I’m sorry.”

Warren says she also teaches her children to say, “I forgive you.”

She suggests that the potential problems with apologizing too much are that our apologies may not really be sincere, and that we might be in danger of letting others take advantage of us by not being assertive enough. 

Where do we draw the line between “proper self-regard and healthy, humble diffidence?”

As a Christian, Warren knows that she’s a sinner in need of repentance.

The Prophet Elijah was one of the greatest prophets, but his whole career was one of depending on God and the people the world had rejected.

More than once, God left Elijah to depend on birds for food.

How’s that for self-regard?

But then, what if we really believed the Gospel? What if we really believed that all we had to do was repent, and we would be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with the Creator. 

How’s that for self-regard? What greater affirmation could there be in life?

Believing that we’re a forgiven sinner lets us go out with both confidence and humility at the same time.

So Warren says she’s not quite willing to let go of saying, “I’m sorry.”  “At the end of the day, I’d rather err that way than not say “sorry” enough. And if that is wrong, which it may be, I’m very sorry.”

A place for you

Back in 1999 we moved to Montgomery, Alabama for what would be my last Air Force assignment. It was something like my 17th Air Force move.

For both of our sons, it meant attending their tenth school. Sean was a sophomore and went to the academic magnet school downtown. Patrick was a senior and went to St. James, a private college prep school.

At Patrick’s graduation, the valedictorian told how the “St. James family” had helped her during the most difficult time in her life. And what was that? It was when her family had moved across town when she was in kindergarten.

Some kids have it rough, I guess.

Jana and I grew up anchored in our hometown of Ashland, Kentucky. Our families never moved. We’re still friends with folks we went to kindergarten with.

But later, when Sean finished seminary and they asked him to list his hometown in the graduation program, he didn’t know what to say. He’d been born in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, but our home at the time was in Northern Virginia. Sean ended up listing Ashland, Kentucky, though he’d only visited there.

We are creatures of place.

But we always feel a bit out of place.

The Bible says the reason is that, at the Fall, the first humans were cast out of their first and truest home. Good luck finding a better explanation for why we long for home, but can never seem to find it. There isn’t one. 

But in one of the most beloved passages in Scripture, Jesus assures us that he’s prepared a place for us, a really nice place, and he’s come to take us there.

He says we’re not lost. We know the way home.

When we’re at home in him, we won’t think of moving again.

Running again

This Sunday, May 7th is the annual Pittsburgh Marathon. Many churches across the city cancel services because they find it’s just too hard to get around on Marathon Sunday. But for over a decade, folks from our church have been out on the street before 6:00 AM, blessing the runners. The starting line is just a block away, and thousands of runners pass by on Sixth Avenue. If tens of thousands of runners and family members from all over the country can find their way here, so can we.

We pray with folks in small groups or one-on-one or over the loudspeakers to runners in their corrals. Many people are nervous about taking on so big a challenge. In the moments before the race, they’re anxious, seeking a higher power. Hearing words of blessing, grace, and peace is important to them.

Every year we see friends we prayed for in past years. Some tell how I had prayed that God would send them a following breeze, and just when they thought they couldn’t take another step, God had answered that prayer.

Many are thrilled just to find our bathrooms open.

Nadine from Ohio thanks us by bringing us cookies.

I try to ask, “What are you running for?” It turns out that many people run for God, for a loved one, or for a cause that matters to them.

But shouldn’t we all know what we’re running for?

Shouldn’t we all ask ourselves what drives me; what is it in life that I just have to have to know that I’m OK?

As good a thing as running is, one day, our knees will say, “Enough.” Over the course of our lives, we’ll all eventually have to give up the things we’re running for.

That includes running.

And so, if we run through life for the One who gave us our knees and legs, heart and lungs, in the first place, we will “run and not grow weary, we will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)