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Posts Tagged ‘pardon’


Year ago Charles Barkley made all kinds of waves with his “I am not a role model” commercial. It makes a pertinent point. Athletic ability is not to be confused with character. Although this commercial is over 20 years old, we still struggle with this concept.

Some athletes appear to be teflon. Their indiscretions and/or alleged crimes are quickly forgotten, or never earnestly discussed. Others face a lifetime of disdain from the public for their indiscretions and/or alleged crimes.

I used both terms because some people do some things that are morally evil but which are not crimes. For instance, when Tiger Woods crashed his car that day we learned that the man who is possibly the greatest golfer in history is also a sex addict and deviant. As far as we know he didn’t break any laws. His actions, however reprehensible, were between consenting adults.

And then there are the allegations against Kobe Bryant. Only God, Kobe and the hotel worker know what actually took place that night in Colorado. He managed to avoid criminal charges but it ended up costing him quite a bit of money, including that huge diamond to make atonement to his wife.

Neither Tiger nor Kobe are reviled today. At his last All-Star game this weekend, Kobe was applauded and honored. He was a great basketball player, and should be honored for that. Yet it also seems that we’ve somehow forgotten about that night in Colorado (and I’m sure he’s glad about that). Mike Tyson has some how become viewed as popular and desirable again even though he was convicted of rape (the actors in The Hangover were reported to be excited to work with him, but despised Mel Gibson). Director Truman Capote remains in Europe an admired artist with a statuary rape charge hanging over him. Bill Clinton survived numerous allegations and impeachment to remain a celebrity President.

Other athletes don’t have it so easily. Pete Rose is a divisive figure. There is a small group that wants to move on from his gambling on baseball, but most people seem to want his role as pariah to continue. Barry Bonds is still not liked by most baseball fans. John Edwards became politician non grata.

Why is it that we give some people a pass, and make others pay the rest of their lives?

It isn’t about how nice the celebrity or star appears. Tiger was never known for being congenial. Kobe doesn’t have a reputation for being an all-around great guy.

It isn’t about talent alone. Bonds was the greatest player of his generation but remains a largely hated figure.

This is quite the confusing conundrum. Why do we disremember (choose to forget) the indiscretions and crimes of some celebrities and public figures, but not others? We somehow omit these events when we talk about them. This is not just compartmentalization- separating their personal and professional lives. We don’t say x is a great athlete/politician/actor but a horrible person. We extend their greatness to include their character, even if it is not warranted.

Another interesting conundrum is the tipping point for particular celebrities and public figures. For years the rumors regarding Bill Cosby were ignored. Suddenly they began to matter. The man behind many beloved figures- Fat Albert, Dr. Huxtable and more- was suddenly one of our most hated men. Why do we suddenly re-remember, making those events a part of that person’s history again?

Some of that is shifts in public perceptions regarding the alleged offense. Sexual assault is now taken more seriously. But this doesn’t explain everything. The example would be Kobe. So perhaps it was the overwhelming number of allegations that sunk Cosby.

Another factor is the advent of social media. Stories that died rather quickly in the past can take on a life of their own now as people share information (whether fact or rumor) on Facebook, Twitter or blogs. This can impede our attempts to disremember. Or, in some cases, aid them thru mass disremembering as people reject the allegations.

We all have actions we regret; parts of our personal history that we want to omit. Some of us are haunted by them. Some of us are able to deceive ourselves into thinking those events never happened. For instance, in 2003 Val Kilmer played adult movie star John Hughes in Wonderland, which was about the murders in Hollywood connected with Hughes. The premise of the movie was that Hughes played a role in leading the killers to the house, and actually participated in the robbery and murders. He dis-remembered, telling himself it didn’t happen until he actually believed it. Some of us have mastered it in our personal lives.

As a Christian I have to deal with those parts of my story that are unpleasant. I can’t be haunted by them, but I can’t pretend they never happened either. Confessed to God, they are pardoned because of the work of Christ. When I remember them I have to also remember His pardoning work precisely so they don’t haunt me and control me. But I don’t pretend they don’t exist. I acknowledge them as a part of my story, the ugly part which displays the mercy and patience of God with me in Christ. I incorporate not only my sin but Christ into my story.

Public figures who are Christians can be honest about their pasts. They speak with regret, not gladness. But they have no need to hide it. They don’t need, nor do they need us, to disremember it.

We need to change our relationship with our heroes, and celebrities. Rather than compartamentalize or disremember, we can integrate their stories. We can see their virtues, and their foibles. We don’t have to expect them to be perfect, and we don’t have to deny their wrong-doing. But we can evaluate their wrong-doing. It is okay to get rid of your Aaron Hernandez shirt. There can be points beyond which you can’t go, so to speak. Our desire should be to know, and act upon, the truth. It should not be to deny the truth. We don’t need to “shut down” allegations, but rather evaluate available evidence as best we can.

The issue for us isn’t the avalanche of noise created by social media, or the media. The issue should not be the shifting sands of public morality. We don’t have to follow the crowd like a pack animal. We can be principled, wise and gracious. Being gracious is not ignoring the offense, but acknowledging it while determining this isn’t the sum total of the person. This also means that we treat others fairly, not favoring particular people and castigating others who’ve been alleged (or have actually done) far worse. This means we don’t ignore the allegations against Christians who are famous. In all cases we let the evidence speak, and then evaluate how we will respond to them. This is because no one is “all good” nor “all bad”.

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Where I live now isn’t like where I lived immediately before this. It isn’t about geography, or the population. There are many differences between here and there. One significant difference is its view of homosexuality.

There homosexuality was still in the closet. We knew someone whose son is a homosexual in a long term relationship with another man. Everyone pretty much knew, but they were considered “friends” for the sake of other family members. I really don’t recall seeing any homosexual couples expressing affection while I lived there.

Where I live now is known, so I’m told, as a popular place for lesbians to live. In the last month I’ve seen 2 different couples expressing affection. First, I was picking my family up at the airport and 2 reunited women had a few kisses. I was hoping my kids didn’t notice because I’m not sure I’m ready to have that conversation that HGTV wants to make me have. Last night 2 younger women made out briefly in the restaurant I went to.

In some communities, particular lifestyles are still closeted. In others, people are quite open. In the church, some sins are still closeted. Peter Hubbard considers this question after realizing that in all the years of testimonies he’d heard, he couldn’t remember anyone including SSA as part of that testimony.

Hubbard has a few theories in the first chapter of Love Into Light: The Homosexual and the Church. He also refutes each of these theories with the gospel.

Possibility #1: Homosexuals are not like us; they are “abnormal.” The church has often made this argument. We shouldn’t wonder why people don’t want to confess this particular sin in our congregations. They are (often for good reason) afraid they will be rejected.

“He couldn’t wait any longer for me to reject him, so he rejected himself for me.”

I’ve had people admit to having an abortion, giving up a child to adoption and addiction to pornography. Not homosexual porn however. I’ve had women admit to me that they’d been sexually abused. But no men (at least with me as their pastor).

I have had a few people admit to profound sins. One recognized at the end of our counseling session that they had crossed the Tiber so to speak. Fearing I’d never look at them the same way, and always have questions about them, they left the church. Right there, right then. One hung around for awhile, but I wonder if they were trying to get me to reject them in the months that came. Or perhaps they assumed I was rejecting them as a result of that confession when other issues were in play. People expect to be rejected and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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This is really part 3, but the 2nd part was limited to the idea of Gospel Pardon arising from the book.  I’ve now finished the first part of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  The 2nd part is an exposition of the law.  The first, and original, part covered some significant territory.  In case you didn’t read the other post, I’m reading the new edition with notes by Thomas Boston.

I previously wrote about the difference between the law of works and the law of Christ.  Fisher writes in the form of a dialogue between a legalist, an antinomian, a new convert and a pastor.  The pastor helps to sort out their misunderstandings about our relationship to the law.  I won’t revisit that territory.

The dialogue touches on the free offer of the gospel.  There was a strain of legalism that was hyper-Calvinistic which rejected (and still does) the free offer of the gospel.  They restrict the offer of the gospel to those who show signs of being elect- seeking Christ, and conviction of sin are two.  Some have since accused Fisher of teaching a universal pardon, or his doctrine implying one.  Thomas Boston protects him from such erroneous charges in his notes.

“… yet so long as the Lord has concealed their names, and not set a mark of reprobation upon any man in particular, but offers the pardon generally to all, without having any respect either to election or reprobation, …”  Edward Fisher

The Scriptures often make a general pronouncement of the pardon.  In fact, all men everywhere are commanded to repent.  we are merely calling them to repentance in light of the work of Christ for sinners.  God is the one who sheds his light into their hearts and converts them (2 Corinthians 3-4).  The elect will respond with faith and repentance.  The reprobate will not.  We are not to play God and try to discern whether or not someone is elect prior to offering them the gospel.

“… for all this general pardon, the formal personal pardon remains to be obtained by the sinner, namely, by his accepting of the pardon offered.”  Thomas Boston

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Still working through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Here are the sections on the Covenant and Christ our Mediator.

Chapter VII: Of God’s Covenant with Man

80. What is a covenant (in terms of God’s relationship with man)?  It is a bond sealed in blood by which God has redeemed His people, and outlines how we are to live as His people.

81. What is meant by the “covenant of works” (or, “of life”)? Does it have a present validity?  It was the covenant under which Adam lived in the Garden.  It is the covenant under which we all fell into sin with him.  All who are in Adam remain in the covenant of works and shall experience the just condemnation due them.

82. What is meant by the “covenant of grace”?  It is covenant in which Jesus is offered as our Redeemer who perfectly obeyed in our place  that we might receive covenant blessings, and died in our place suffering the penalty for our sins committed under the covenant of works.

83. Explain the statement that there is one unified covenant of grace with various administrations. Distinguish from dispensations. The revelation of that covenant was progressive and expansive.  Each successive covenant provided greater clarity and blessing rather than replace previous covenants.  In dispensationalism, each successive dispensation replaces the previous dispensation.

84. What are the signs and seals of the covenant? Circumcision and Passover in the OT; Baptism & the Lord’s Table in the NT

85. Are you personally committed to covenant theology? Yes.

 

Chapter VIII: Of Christ the Mediator

86. Why is the office of Christ as Mediator necessary for the salvation of God’s elect?  Apart from the work of a Mediator, we perish in our sins.  God is just and he can’t just wipe the slate clean.  Someone must be punished for our sins, and we need real obedience to receive covenant blessings.

87. Could God have pardoned sin without Christ’s sacrifice?  No, for no mere man is able to perfectly obey God but sin each day in thought, word and deed.  God is just and must punish sin.  No other substitute was available.

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This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

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