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Posts Tagged ‘seven deadly sins’

The Road is Hard

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

This teaching calls to mind the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. One or more of these cardinal “sins” come easily to most of us. Jesus says, “…the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction.” Many agree that these sins lead to destruction, at least in the sense of bringing negative consequences. The unfortunate results impact both the person committing them and those with connected lives.

As if succumbing to one or more of the deadly sins is not easy enough, our society encourages and rewards many of these behaviors. We are told to take pride in our accomplishments; yet, there is a fine line between feeling proud of something we participated in and displaying an arrogant superiority over others. We are forever tempted to consume beyond our needs or means, leading to the sin of greed. “Sex sells” in advertising, but it is not the sort of sex that occurs as a healthy expression of a long-term, loving relationship. Lust is what sells products. Envy, gluttony, and wrath are center stage in movies and television. Sloth, or laziness, is a constant temptation for me on weekends when I often prefer stretching out for a nap to doing whatever else may need to be done. Jesus tells us that, easy as these behavioral choices may be, they lead to “destruction.” In the current context, this means they do not put us on “the road that leads to life.”

Most of us who have lived beyond middle age can attest that few thing in life worth having come easily, quickly, or without disciplined effort. Often, we must sacrifice a short-term reward in order to receive a greater reward over the longer term. This may be what Jesus refers to when he says, “…the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” He adds, “…and there are few who find it.” This means, in my paraphrase, that many people do not apply the contemplative intentionality required to build a life worth living throughout its course. The alternative way is simply too easy and enticing. As we grow older, there is often an element of regret for the “sins” of our past. We may wish we had lived more beneath our means, saving more for our later years. On the other hand, we may wish we had enjoyed our resources more freely, instead of being overly miserly. Certainly, we may wish we had spent fewer hours at work and more with family and friends. We make choices about our lives every day, and Jesus’ warning about the wide and narrow gates is encouragement to make our choices consciously.

Am I suggesting that Jesus does not want us to enjoy our lives on earth, that we should always seek the more restrictive and less pleasurable path, or that we should never just relax? Certainly not! I suspect what Jesus has in mind is to practice a more contemplative approach to our choices in life, gazing beyond the single step in front of us to assess where that particular step is likely to lead. A few chapters after this passage, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30). Following Jesus should not be tortuous, but we may have to exchange certain forms of gratification today for more wholesome rewards tomorrow. As we learn to find joy in the simple pleasures offered each moment, the road becomes easier.

The road that leads to life is hard, but not because it was created that way. The good road is hard because we so easily fall prey to get rich quick schemes, lose weight without diet or exercise programs, and sin without consequence temptations. The ecological maxim that there is no such thing as a free lunch is as true today as it ever has been, but only because an acceptable lunch today is so expensive in terms of its long-term consequences. Free graces abound in every moment for those with eyes to see the road that leads to life.

This is the 26th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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False Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

 Witnesses in Old Testament days, as now, were vitally important. The Jewish Law reads, “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained” (Deuteronomy 19:15). In other words, conviction of a crime based on the account of one witness would not stand. There had to be at least two witnesses to testify against the accused. The Law goes on to deal with a false witness, saying, “If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other” (Deuteronomy 19:18b-19a). As such, a false witness received punishment equal to the consequences for the accused, had the accused been found guilty. If a witness testified falsely against another, and the punishment for the accused behavior was death, the false witness would be killed.

The contemporary term for bearing false witness in a legal proceeding is perjury, which continues to be a very serious offense. The ability to apply justice in a fair and impartial manner is dependent on receiving truthful testimony from witnesses. Although the Old Testament Law is formal and bears resemblance to judicial proceedings today, the ninth of the Ten Commandments has a practical and daily implication – do not lie about others.

Lying goes beyond making a false statement about another in a court of law. It includes making false statements about others in social situations, including implying something untrue about another, such as occurs in gossip. Our legal system assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty, but social situations have no such protection. In Biblical times, two or more witnesses had to agree a person was guilty for a charge to stick. Today, one careless post on the internet, or a few careless words overheard by the wrong ears can tarnish a person’s image for years, even when there is no factual basis for what was written or said. Some people counsel us not to respond to false accusations; but sometimes when a person does not respond to an accusation, others assume the accusation has merit. Being falsely accused causes all sorts of complications. It is like asking a man if he is still beating his wife. There is no good answer, once the charge has been made. Similar to trying to cram toothpaste back into the tube, our words cannot be easily retracted. For these reasons and more, we must speak the truth. Speaking the truth is especially important when we are speaking of others.

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Honor Your Father and Mother

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

The first four of the Ten Commandments address our relationship to God. We will have no gods before our God, we will not make idols, we will not misuse the name of God, and we will keep the sabbath day holy. The remaining six commandments address our relationships with each other. Commandment number five is to honor our mother and father, so our days will be long. As a child, I interpreted this to mean that if I obeyed my parents, they would allow me to continue living. If I did not obey…well, you get the picture (see Leviticus 20:9). To honor someone means to hold him or her in high regard or esteem. I confess I did not always do this, either as a child or as an adult. I was probably too quick to see the human frailties of my parents, although that was likely a result of my high expectations of them. Certainly, today, I continue to reap the blessings of two loving parents, and I grieve for those who are not so blessed.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond our relationship with our parents.  Our responsibility to care for the elderly is a common theme throughout scripture. Our parent’s generation, as well as the generations before them, laid the foundation on which we live today, both spiritually and physically. We have a responsibility to assure our predecessors are cared for, with love and respect.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond caring for the elderly. It is interesting to consider the setting in which the Ten Commandments were given. The Jewish people, recently exiled from their slavery in Egypt, were living for an extended period in the desert, awaiting admission to the homeland God had promised. There was restlessness among the people, some of whom were making the case to return to slavery in Egypt as a better alternative than waiting, in limbo, in the desert. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I suspect the Israelite parents, who spent their lives as slaves, were not among those making a case to return to Egypt.

An important and practical part of honoring our parents and elders is learning from them. As a child, I often thought the ways of my parents and grandparents were old-fashioned. As I have grown, I appreciate the wisdom of their ways. There is value in the traditions of those who have traveled these roads before us that we do best not to ignore. We honor those generations by learning from their lives in a way that respects their struggles and experience. By utilizing their wisdom and experience, we build upon that which has already been learned, thus helping assure better days ahead.

Come home to church this Sunday. Learn from the saints of the church.
Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—August 1, 2013 

“For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.  In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out;’ all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”  Psalm 10:3-4

The last of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride, is the most uncomfortable for me to contemplate.  In the words of a friend and mentor, “It plows awfully close to the corn.”  Pride is considered the most serious, as well as the source of the other six deadly sins.  Pride can be defined in a number of ways.  The most convicting definition for me is a desire to be more important or attractive than others.  It can also manifest as a refusal to acknowledge the good in others. Somehow we fear such acknowledgement will make us appear less “good.”  Pride is the ultimate form of self-love.  It is an inflated self-love that vaults love for self above even love for God.  Pride can also elevate love of self to such a degree that hate and contempt is felt for others.  I reluctantly confess, I struggle with pride over all else.

As we consider the other deadly sins it is easy to see how they all originate in pride.  Lust, gluttony and greed spring from a prideful self-love.  They transform something we desire into something we believe we deserve.  Sloth is an attitude of laziness.  Whatever we want to do (or not do) for ourselves becomes more important than the other needs around us. Wrath is entitling oneself to let anger to rage out of control.  It shows a lack of self-control and often results in harm to self or others.  Envy convinces us that something of value belonging to another should actually belong to us.  In the Psalm above, pride leads to a belief that there is no God.  We come to believe the universe revolves around us, so if there is a God it must be us.  Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.” 

The good news about pride is that, sooner or later, it leads to disgrace.  And disgrace, when we are willing to learn from it, leads to humility. Humility helps us realize the world does not revolve around us.  It helps us understand that our desires are not more important than the needs of others.  It teaches us that we have much to learn about life and living. Humility helps us listen more and speak less. Pride encourages the opposite. Micah 6:8 says the Lord requires us to “walk humbly” with our God.  Pride is the original deadly sin because it leads us away.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall. Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Singing the Blues,” based on Psalm 42.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Don’t allow your pride to keep you away!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

 

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Life Notes—July 25, 2013 

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Exodus 20:17

In my younger days I had a hero.  Actually, it was more of a man-crush. He was tall and handsome, cool under pressure.  He had an answer for every situation.  He was the smartest and cleverest person in whatever room he was in.  He was strong enough to fight his way out of physical danger, yet sensitive enough to treat women as they (apparently) wanted to be treated.  His cars were fast and beautiful. Attractive women adored him, captivated by his irresistible charisma.  His name was James…James Bond.  Yes, when I was young I was incredibly envious of James Bond.  He was heroic.  He was iconic.  He was a man’s man.  And I wanted what he had.  Most of the people we admire as heroes are only too human, and sooner or later their human weakness shows through and tarnishes their “shine.”  But James Bond was not human, and so he could be perfect—at least by a young boy’s definition of perfect.  In reality, no one person could be that strong and clever and smart and good-looking and resourceful and smooth.  And we would never have access to the amazing gadgets that “Q” made for him, few of which would actually work in the real world, anyway.

The sixth of the Seven Deadly Sins is Envy.  Envy grows out of jealousy, but takes jealousy to the level of covetousness.  Coveting what belongs to our neighbors is addressed in the Ten Commandments, as in the scripture above.  Although envy grows out of jealousy, its impact goes well beyond normal jealousy and desire.  It is not just a desire to have something, it is a desire to have something that belongs to someone else.  We do not envy things that can be bought in a store.  We envy something in someone else’s possession.  And sometimes envy can take the form of coveting something not so much because we want the object of our envy, but in order to hurt the other person by taking something of value to them.

So envy is sinful because it leads us to covet that which belongs to someone else.  But it is also sinful in that it is a manifestation of our dissatisfaction with the blessings we have been given.  It is not just admiring the green grass on the other side of the fence, but envy leads us to consider digging up the neighbor’s sod and transplanting it in our yard.  That’s not only sinful, it’s also back-breaking work!  Similar to lust and greed, envy takes what may be a normal desire and twists it into something abnormal.  It leads to separation from others and damages relationships, including our relationship with God.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  It is okay to be envious of another’s relationship with God.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—July 18, 2013 

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.  Do not fret—it leads only to evil.”  Psalm 37:8

Most of the time I am an even-tempered person.  Of course I get annoyed when my computer takes longer than normal to start up.  I do not appreciate when someone cuts me off in traffic.  And yes, I can get downright mad when relatively petty annoyances begin to pile on top of each other.  Sometimes my anger even overrides my self-control and words spew out of my mouth that would otherwise remain within.  I am seldom proud of my outbursts of anger and am thankful they tend to be rare.  I teach at a leadership institute one week out of the year and I tell the leaders-to-be that expressed anger should be a tool they use sparingly.  While they should not allow themselves to be controlled by their anger, applied strategically and sparingly anger can be an effective teacher and motivator.

But the fifth of the seven deadly sins is not anger.  It is wrath.  Wrath is anger on steroids.  It is also referred to as rage and manifests as uncontrollable, highly-charged emotional feelings of hatred and loathing.  It can lead to violent behaviors directed towards one’s self or others.  It can persist long after the presumed cause of the wrath is dead and gone.  The key is that it is uncontrolled and/or wildly excessive; meaning appropriate control has been lost and any number of unfortunate or unintended consequences may result.  Suicide is sometimes described as wrath turned inward.

In this series of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins I have defined sin as that which separates us from God.  The Seven Deadly Sins are considered the primary, or the originating sins which lead to most other types of sin.  These primary sins are identified as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  While anger is a normal emotion everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent and frequency, wrath takes anger to dangerous heights.  Where anger tends to dissipate relatively quickly, wrath boils ever near the surface, ready to explode in an emotional and destructive eruption with little provocation.  In a word, wrath leads to evil.

Wrath makes us unpleasant, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous to be around.  As such, it separates us from and even destroys our relationships with others.  Since we are called to be in relationship with others, it also separates us from God’s purposes for our lives.  It makes us less useful as tools for God’s work on earth.  And it makes us miserable as individuals.  In the words of William Cullen Bryant, “And wrath has left its scar—that fire of hell has left its frightful scar upon my soul.”

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—July 11, 2013 

“Then the one who had received one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’  But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’”  Matthew 25:24-25a

I love to nap.  Saturday and Sunday afternoons are simply not complete without at least a short snooze in the sunroom or on the couch.  It’s not that I need the extra sleep; it just feels good to take some me-time to relax. In fact, it feels luxurious.  Is it lazy to nap when there is work to be done?  Perhaps; but even Jesus took time to go off alone to reconnect and recharge. Sometimes, everyone must step back to keep moving forward.

The fourth of the seven deadly sins is sloth.  The passage above is part of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  In this parable Jesus tells of a master who gave one of his slaves five talents, one two, and one a single talent, with instructions to take the talents and use them for good.  The first and second slaves used their talents in ways that multiplied them.  But the slave given a single talent buried his, and when the master returned he took his single talent away and gave it to the slave with the most.

Sloth is defined as laziness.  While most commonly referring to physical laziness, its manifestation as one of the seven deadly sins is in spiritual laziness.  When we fail to use or develop the talents, gifts, resources and graces we have been given we become like the lazy slave who simply buried his talent.  According to scripture the lazy slave did so out of fear.  Perhaps it was fear of not being able to do as much as others.  Perhaps it was jealousy that others had been given more.  Sometimes we are reluctant to use our gifts because we feel someone else is a better cook, a better talker, or a better whatever.  And in believing what we have to offer is not good enough we simply bury, or hide, what we have been given. Sometimes we fail to take an action for good we are fully capable of taking.  It is said that evil exists where good people fail to act. The talents we have are given freely, but they must be put to use for good.  Similarly, our gift of salvation is free, in that we cannot earn it, but it is given with the expectation we will act in response to the gift.  In James 2:26 is written, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”  We are called to use what we have been given in service to others.  The rewards of faith may be free, but the impact of our faith is up to us.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Your talents are welcome there!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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