Relationship or Religion?

My best friend in the world, from ages eight to eighteen (except for three long months), was Mark Maxam. Inseparable companions, we walked to school together, slept over on weekends, jumped off church roofs together, and shared every conceivable secret.

relations-vs-religion

We also wrestled. One day, when I was ten, Mark put me in a scissor-lock that I couldn’t break. So, I bit him. He released me with the roar, “You bit me!” The blood-blush of mortification set my cheeks on fire as I bellowed back, “No I didn’t.”

The thing is: he knew I was lying, and I knew that he knew I was lying, and he knew that I knew that he knew that I was lying. The shame of my scarcely-veiled deceit (not to mention my little nibble) sent me on an emotional, self-protective tail-spin.

I left his house in a huff. I neither called him back nor visited.

Three months later, Mark stopped by my house and silently resumed our friendship. After a few days, I hesitantly asked why he never mentioned my biting. He answered,

“I realized friendship is more important than being right.”

What is the Sound of God’s Voice When We Sin?

I once told a friend of a recurring temptation of mine. Over the next month, he shared my secret with a dozen other friends, spicing up the tale with the fib that I had yielded to the temptation—even though I hadn’t. His betrayal shocked me. I skipped several lunch and dinner appointments, unsure who had heard and what they thought.

When we sin

His disclosure also angered me. I obsessed over his treachery: How could he have divulged my secret temptation? And why worsen my shame with the sneering proclamation I had done it! I would never have betrayed a friend like that.

One day, as I fumed over his relational-adultery, I sensed God’s voice speak into my seething self-pity: Sam, why are you so angry? I thought the answer obvious: My friend had stabbed me in the back! Then I remembered a verse:

“I tell you, when one sinner repents, there is joy among the angels of God.” (Luke 15:10)

I thought, Sure, I suppose there would be joy in heaven if this jerk (I mean, friend) repented. His public confession might even bring me a bit of joy here on earth.

And I sensed God say, “I’m not talking about his sin; I’m talking about yours.”

Why Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene is called The Apostle to the Apostles; she was the first human to see the risen Christ; Jesus ask her to preach to the apostles the truth of the resurrection; for a time, she was the church.

Mary Meets Jesus

Why Mary Magdalene? Of all the followers of Jesus, why does God choose her?

What can we learn from Mary?

What four words does Jesus say to Mary Magdalene that we need to hear today?

Listen to this 31 minute podcast from Easter Sunday:

Mary Meets The Risen Jesus – Sam Williamson

(Ignore the feedback in the beginning. It goes away.)

Sam

My Ugly Remorse

Last Sunday night my mood turned ugly. I was talking with a friend and he said something that lit a fire in me. I ranted and raved; I said harsh things about someone not present, and the best efforts to silence me merely aggravated me.

I went to bed angry, and I woke up remorseful.

Remorse

Why had I said those things? I was embarrassed, contrite, and a bit ashamed of myself. I was in a mood to repent. Then I read My Utmost for His Highest,

 We trample the blood of the Son of God underfoot if we think we are forgiven because we are sorry for our sins. The only reason for the forgiveness of our sins by God is the death of Jesus Christ.

Chambers’ words aggravated me more. (Maybe my anger hadn’t dissipated completely.) Here I was genuinely sorry for my sin—in the mood to repent—and Chambers said my sorrow plays no part in my forgiveness. Not one tiny morsel.

How important is sorrow in our forgiveness?

The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

Within the span of seven short days, I met two people who formed two completely divergent opinions of me. I could do nothing to change their rock-solid first impressions. That week of mistaken judgments happened thirty-five years ago, but it feels like last week.

The pig and lamb

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I barely had enough money for Raman Noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern day WWOOFING). For a bit of manual labor, they provided me with food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)

The weekend before I boarded my plane, I heard my first talk ever on being a man (though I completely missed its message). On the way to Israel, I stopped in London to visit some friends who were doing mission work. With the talk on manliness ringing in my ear, I swaggered, spat, and tried (unsuccessfully) to play the man.

During a two hour dinner party in London, I was introduced to a young woman who promptly deemed me shallow, insincere, and stupid. (I skipped dessert so I could quit while I was ahead.)

A few years later she married a friend of mine, but her opinion of me was chiseled in stone. I once loaned her husband ten thousand dollars; she felt I was being manipulative. But if I forgot to send him a birthday card, she felt my true colors were revealed.

To her, I was a jerk, and everything I did or said, or failed to do or say, reinforced her judgment.

Making a List of Our Sins

A few weeks ago, I spoke with someone who felt horrible about forgetting a commitment. She felt her accidental negligence caused unnecessary stress for a good friend. And it probably did.

deep sorrow

She felt bad (understandably) and kicked herself (metaphorically) for her mistake. She couldn’t shake the pain of disappointing a close friend. The oversight overwhelmed her thoughts and dreams. She couldn’t find a faucet to turn off the fountain of self-condemnation.

I suggested that her pain was triggered by an unrealistic expectation of her own perfection; that this one omission was possibly not an anomaly; and that she probably makes dozens (maybe hundreds) more mistakes every week. Her problem was a false, high opinion of her perfection.

I’m always good for a pick-me-up when you need it most.

I suggested that she make a list of every sin (and mistake) she had committed in the last week. A month would be better. I partly proposed a list to shake her self-punishing perfectionism, but mostly to help her recognize God’s unshakeable love of her in her imperfection.

That same day—literally a few hours later—someone sent me an email that condemned the “horrific practice” of listing our sins, claiming sin-lists are evils that rob us of freedom in Christ.

Who’s right? At the risk of making a mistake (that I could add to my own list later); I am.

How Do We Forgive Betrayals?

I ended last week’s story of betrayal with the faint beginnings of a desire to forgive. But our wanting to forgive doesn’t mean we’ve granted forgiveness any more than wanting a beach vacation gives us tickets to Tahiti. It’s a start, an important start, but only a start.

Our desire to forgive is undermined by our memories, recollections of the betrayal that relentlessly resurface with stunning clarity. With the vividness of slow-motion video, I recall a half-erased whiteboard, the buzz of a fly, and the shadows on the wall.

A friend of mine remembers the jingle of an ice-cream truck and the smell of lilacs through the screen porch.

Memory

We want to forgive, but images flood our mind, and something in our soul recoils. We try to forgive and forget, but those memories scratch their way out of the holes we buried them in.

We want justice; somehow, in some form or fashion, we want payment. Like David, our heart cries, “Let death take [them] by surprise; let them go down to hell while still living” (Ps. 55:15).

Or as Freud said, “One must forgive one’s enemies: but preferably after they’ve been hanged.”