741) If We Say We Have No Sin…

A modern way of dealing with guilt:

JOLLY OLD SIGMUND FREUD  By Anna Russel

I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband’s eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find
And here’s what he dredged up from my subconscious mind.

When I was one, my mommy hid my dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now from kleptomania.

At three I had the feeling of ambivalence toward my brothers
And so it follows naturally I poison all my lovers.
But I am happy now I’ve learned a lesson this has taught
That everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.

Refrain:
Hey, libido,
Bats in the belfry,
Jolly Old Sigmund Freud.

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The Biblical way of dealing with guilt:

I John 1:8-10  —   If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I Corinthians 15:3-4  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Acts 10:43  —  All the prophets testify about him (Jesus) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Psalm 51:1-4…7-12…15-17  —  

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge…

Cleanse me, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise…

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Forgive me my sins, O Lord; the sins of my present and the sins of my past, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body, the sins which I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have tried to hide so that I have even hidden them from myself.  Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

–Bishop Thomas Wilson  (1663-1755)

373) Putting God on Trial

     

     Gunter Rutenborn  (1912-1976)

     Following the horror of World War II the nation of Germany faced a tremendous burden of guilt.  What went wrong with our nation?, they wondered.  Who is to blame for these terrible things that Germany unleashed on the world:  unprovoked aggression on weak and innocent neighbors, a world war, the slaughter of a whole generation of their young men who died as soldiers along with countless civilians, and the attempted extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe?  Who was to blame for this terrible agony brought to the whole world?

     One interesting response to this question came out already in 1945 in the form of a play written by a Lutheran pastor, Gunter Rutenborn.  The play was called The Sign of Jonah, and it begins with a group of refugees on stage, milling around and asking who is to blame?  Several answers are spoken by people from the crowd.

     Some said the obvious, that Hitler was to blame, who else?  Others said, “No, it was the ammunition manufacturers who financed him.”  Another said, “It was the apathy and blind obedience of all the German people that allowed it.”  Someone else said it was the diplomats of other nations who, in their weakness, attempted to appease Hitler by letting him have this nation and then that nation, believing all his false promises that war could be avoided.

     Suddenly a man comes out of the crowd and says, “I will tell you who is to blame for all this suffering– it is God, God who created this world of pain and allows these things to happen.”  Soon the whole crowd is agreeing and saying with one voice, “God is to blame, God is to blame, God is to blame.”

     God is then brought down to the stage and is put on trial for the crime of creating the world and all its suffering.  To make a long story short, the trial is carried out and completed, and God is found guilty.  The judge then pronounces this sentence: “The crime is so severe that this is going to be the worst of all sentences.  I hereby sentence God to have to live on this earth that he created, and to suffer as a human being.”  Three top angels are then given the task of carrying out the sentence.

     The first angel then walks out on stage and says:  “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence He finds out what it is like to be obscure and to be poor.  He will be born in the middle of nowhere in a weak nation with a peasant girl for his mother.  There will even be a suspicion of shame about his birth, and he will have to live as a Jew in a world that hates Jews.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     The second angel then comes on stage and says:  “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence he finds out what it is like to fail and to suffer disappointment in what he does and from his friends.  No one will understand what he is trying to do and everyone will let him down.  Even his closest friends will betray and desert him.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     Then the third angel says:  “I am going to see to it that God finds out what it is like to feel physical pain.  I will see to it that he dies a slow and painful death with plenty of suffering before the end.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     With that, the stage lights go out and the play is over; and everyone is allowed to sit for a while in the darkness with the realization that God has already served that sentence.  

      God was not, of course, sentenced for any crime by some human court.  But God did willingly and freely take on all that pain and suffering in order to forgive the sins committed by humanity against itself, those sins that marred God’s good creation, those sins that caused the needless suffering.  No, God is not guilty, humankind is guilty, but already, God, in Christ, has taken upon himself the punishment that we deserved, and as Isaiah wrote, “by his punishment we are healed.”  The play was written by a Lutheran minister, so he knew all of that, but he put the story of Christ’s passion in the context of that kind of play in order to speak to a generation of people that was asking those questions about guilt and suffering in a particular situation.

      Jesus did, in truth, experience all that he was sentenced to in the play.  He took our sins to the cross, and somehow, in God’s infinite love and wisdom, it is there on that cross that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins, and in his resurrection, we receive the promise of life everlasting, if we believe in Him.  Believe in Him and you will be saved.

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Job 13:3  —   I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.

Isaiah 53:5  —  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

I Peter 2:24  —  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

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A PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY by William Barclay:

O God, our Father, we thank Thee this day that Thou so loved the world that Thou didst give Thine only Son for us and for all mankind.  We give Thee thanks this day for Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord, and for His death upon the cross– that he loved us and gave himself for us, and that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  Help us this day to remember, and never again to forget, the love of Him who laid down his life for us.  Amen.

228) Deathbed Confession (part two)

     (continued…)   The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.  He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

    “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now? To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

     “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”

     The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, and told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, but that now she wanted to confess her sins.  And then he encouraged her to begin, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how, as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, got married, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sin, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

      She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe.  I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling him that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep here, you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves like the first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with, and that is what the second pastor did, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Believe in Him and you will be saved.

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Proverbs 9:10  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  –Luke 23:42

227) Deathbed Confession (part one)

     I heard this story from another Lutheran pastor.  I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.

     A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital.  She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well.  She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station.  The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that.  The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.

     The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her.  She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor?  I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.”  Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background.  She said, “I have no church background.  I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it.  I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are.  You have nothing to fear.”  She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more.  Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room.  He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.

     But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before.  She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught.  They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit.  She said, “No, don’t call him back.”  (continued…)

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Psalm 51:3  —  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Lamentations 3:19-20  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Hebrews 9:27  —  …It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgment.

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Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  –William Bridge