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We Have Sinned

We Have Sinned

This week as the story of yet another prominent Christian who had fallen passed through my news feeds, a young man who was pleading guilty to 18 counts related to sex with minors, I was led again to Daniel 9 and Daniel’s prayer of repentance.

We argue about the impact of prayer and what God does with our prayers a great deal. Does prayer change God? But there is a much more important question, in my view: Does prayer change us? Whatever it does, I think it reflects how we are thinking.

The Bible is quite hard on its main characters, never giving them a break. Their faults are put on display for all to see. Even the heroes of the Bible are presented with flaws. Daniel is one of those that is presented at all times in a positive light. There are those who believe he is the one referenced in Ezekiel 14:14, where he’s in a list with Noah and Job, both of whom are described as righteous.

But when Daniel begins to pray, he uses the third person plural: “We”

We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have incurred guilt, and we have rebelled by turning aside from your commands and decisions.

Daniel 9:5 (my translation and emphasis)

I think Daniel had something there about a response to sin.

You see, our tendency is to blame others. Other people in other traditions, using other forms of church governance, believing other doctrines, and just generally being different from me/us (the righteous one/ones) fell into grave sin. They should correct their traditions, fix their church governance, clean up their doctrinal statements, and become more like us!

For decades, Protestants have spent their time looking down on Roman Catholics because they had pedophiles in the ranks. We Protestants, being wise enough to allow marriage in the ministry, obviously wouldn’t have such a problem.

They have sinned. We’re OK.

But the fact is that we have sinned, and the more news comes out, the more glaringly obvious it is that we are all falling short.

We have sinned:

  • By looking at the sin of others and assuming we ourselves are immune
  • By ignoring what Jesus said about not lording it over one another and making hierarchies
  • By considering some people to be above accountability because they are anointed leaders
  • By failing to be accountable to one another
  • By turning aside less important people, claiming their word should not stand against the word of the holier, the more educated, the richer, the more powerful, or the more respected
  • By shifting the blame from perpetrators to the victims
  • By thinking our witness for Jesus could be made better by covering up than by confessing
  • By seeing the least of these as least, rather than as God’s children, pearls of great price
  • By thinking that we can ever criticize and judge from the outside
  • By believing, contrary to Romans 13, that our behavior is only church business, and refusing to report crimes to the appropriate authorities
  • By feeling all holy inside when someone’s sin is exposed and we realize (or imagine) that their sin is not one that attracts us.

If the church is to be a witness we need to be an honest and genuine witness to who we are. God knows who we really are. In a self-righteous prayer, we do not deceive God. We just deceive ourselves. We help ourselves believe that we are exempt.

It is in feeling that we are exempt, better-than, holier-than, more Spirit-filled, more Christ-like, more like a real church, and less subject to temptation that we prepare for a fall. Our fall, my fall, may not come via sexual temptation. But if I become superior and arrogant, if I fail to realize who I am, my fall will surely come.

May God have mercy on us all.

We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

I call this group of (people | entities | circumstances) the infernal “they” or “them.” They are the people who cause all the problems. They have no moral compass. They are disruptive. They lie. They are apostates, perverts, stupid, deplorable, weak, losers, socialists, libertines (sometimes intended to include libertarians!). Disgusting, all of them. They are doing it to us.

This is one of the unfortunate results of individualism. There are many fortunate results as well. I am not one who wishes we’d get back to some sort of day when the individual didn’t really matter, and everything was about the collective. Like most “old days,” the reality of the old days is somewhat less [whatever we wanted it to be] than our imagination makes it. There has always been a balance between a view that values the society above all and one that values the individual. The emphasis varies; the elements are still there.

One problem with western individualism, however, is that we can so easily use it to find ways to blame someone else while separating ourselves. I am not responsible for anything but the things that I, personally, have done. I take no responsibility for what my ancestors did (though I’ll cheerfully benefit from their actions). I take no responsibility for the wrong actions of my church, my party, my social club, or my industry. I, personally, am blameless. In this, I am wrong.

In politics right now it’s popular to blame the media. Despite the fact that media outlets come from many perspectives, and you can find one as liberal or conservative, libertarian or authoritarian as you might desire (ain’t the internet wonderful), somehow, the collective media is responsible for whatever it is that I think is bad. They have lied and propped up one candidate, they have lied and trashed another. Within the same day I can read about how they have both completely destroyed and totally built up the same candidate.

This they, a “they” of which the speaker is not a part and does not carefully define, is the infernal they. It is the “they” that commits all evil acts. Besides being infernal it is also highly mobile. It is very hard to find this “they” and cause them to change or take responsibility for “their” actions.

I’m aware that neither you nor I are responsible for everything. But here’s a suggestion: Drop out of the game of assigning blame for the stuff you didn’t do and take responsibility for what you have done and can do something about. In addition, if you are—and remain—a member of a group, take responsibility for that group. Yes, you can distinguish what you support and don’t, but you are a part of what the group does. This means Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, United Methodists, Baptists (of whatever variety), and so forth.

I would like to demote the word “they” in my vocabulary and promote the word “we.” The media is producing material that people watch and that produces sales for their sponsors. Yes, there are some things that the people in media want themselves. But there is little that motivates so effectively in our culture as money. For the media, readers, viewers, and listeners mean money. That’s the “we” I’m talking about.

We need to be more discerning in our viewing and listening. We need to be active in letting the media know what we do and do not want to see and hear.  But, you say, you can’t really change that whole mass of “them” out there. Don’t worry about it. Change you. Turn your TV off. Visit a different site. Read a good book instead (says the publisher!)

Try to find the “we” before you utter that critical word. What I can say for myself is that I am often much too fascinated by the seamier side of the world. It is too easy to persuade me to give views to a web site that is saying things that I really shouldn’t support. I can make the excuse that I am “checking out the other side” or “keeping informed,” but it really is just the receiving side of gossip, and the one who listens to gossip is just as responsible, I believe, as the one who speaks it. After all, if every time the gossiper said, “Do you know what widow Jones did?” the response was “No, and I don’t want to know,” gossip would die.

Wrong needs to be challenged, but let’s start with the wrongs we can challenge using the word “we.” Let’s take our example from the biblical Daniel. I’m reminded of his prayer in chapter 9. By all biblical accounts Daniel was a righteous man. No act worthy of blame is recorded of him. Yet as he begins praying (Daniel 9:5-6a), there is a powerful litany:

We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, and we have rebelled, turning aside from your commands and your judgments. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets …

Yet Daniel had done none of those things. It was not a matter of feeling or being guilty; you can drown in the guilt of others. What he did was he spoke for his people as one of them.

I think our prayers would be more powerful and our actions more effective if we learned his approach.

Eschatology: Daniel to Revelation

Eschatology: Daniel to Revelation


Sunburst in clouds with faint Christ figure emanating from center

Tonight I’ll be bridging the gap between these two very commonly associated books and doing a look-ahead to my several week study of Revelation. This study will conclude my series on Eschatology.

Amongst the small but diligent group that watches these, are there suggestions for continuation? I will doubtless keep talking, even if the audience is small!

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Eschatology: Daniel 10-12 Wrap-Up

Eschatology: Daniel 10-12 Wrap-Up

Eschatology study with Henry NeufeldI’m going to try to wrap up my discussion of Daniel. I must remember that my purpose here was not to do an extended study of Daniel, but rather to look at ways of interpreting the book and how they fit into and/or underlie one’s eschatological views.

Chapters 10 & 11 would take quite a number of studies just because of the detail and the fact that it matches history with which very few people are acquainted. So I will recommend some reading regarding this section but will generally summarize and then tie in the ways one might read Daniel with the ways one might read other apocalyptic literature and other statements on eschatology. I will discuss some specific points of the chapters, just not the entire outline.

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Eschatology: Daniel 8 with Intro to Daniel 9

Eschatology: Daniel 8 with Intro to Daniel 9

Update: I want to provide two reference links. These are not specifically recommended as better than others, but rather as somewhat representative of their category. The first, giving Daniel 9 (the 70 weeks prophecy) in an historicist context, is The Seventy Week Prophecy of Daniel (Bible Light). The second, showing a futurist interpretation, is Daniel 9:27 Commentary on the site Precept Austin. These two are largely recommended by being at the top of the Google results. In print I use the SDA Bible Commentary for historicist material (and related Seventh-day Adventist literature) and a variety of critical commentaries on Daniel for a 2nd century BCE termination for Daniel 9:27. There are a number of other positions as well.

I’ll spend a little bit more time on Daniel 8 and its interpretation and then look at Daniel’s prayer and some introductory issues on Daniel 9. Next week, April 14, I will be joined by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. to discuss the time prophecy portion of chapter 9.

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