Oregon: Can We Be Forgiven?

11221701_962362960506268_4206203523865959049_nThis sidebar discussion has arisen from the recent shootings in Oregon. Hypothetical: The gunman holds his firearm to my head and demands to know if I am a Christian. Fearing for my life, I say, “No.” My life is spared. Am I forgiven for my denial?

The immediate answer to this one is obvious. Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows in the morning. Peter swears this could never happen. Then it happens. Is Peter forgiven?

In the Gospel of John, chapter 21, it’s quite apparent he is indeed forgiven. Here Jesus takes Peter through a process of healing and restoration. In addition, he is urged to get back in the saddle. “Follow me.” “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.”

Like all things Biblical, however, there is Scripture that seems to balance this out. In Matthew chapter ten, Jesus sends out his disciples to minister to “the lost sheep of Israel.” Before they go, he gives them some instructions.

“…Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown…”

Amid his words of wisdom, he says, “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Is this contradictory? It certainly seems to be. It certainly doesn’t sound as comforting as the restoration of Peter.

What are we to make of this? How do we handle this message? We’re not quite as quick to embrace this missive as we are the many stories of grace offered by the Savior of the world.

We can’t get around it…

We can’t get around it, however. Jesus said it. It is recorded in Scripture. We can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) ignore it. It poses a major problem for us, doesn’t it?

It poses a problem because every one of us has denied Jesus in some way, shape or form. We might not have told anyone we didn’t know him, but we’ve certainly done it in other ways.

When we refuse to feed the hungry, we deny him. When we ignore strangers, we deny him. When we fail to help the sick or visit the imprisoned, we deny him. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out Matthew 25:31-46 (his story about the sheep and goats).

So where does that leave us? Fortunately for us, that leaves us in good company—or if not good company, at least lots of company. Saint Peter is part of that company.

Jesus knows we all have and will deny him. He’s said as much. He also knows we need to be forgiven, healed, restored, and recommissioned for ministry—just like Peter. He came in the flesh, lived, suffered, died, and arose to fix us.

Come like little children…12096568_151475968534412_6291277078016278655_n

When he tells the twelve (Peter among them) not to deny him, he is obviously referring to a lifestyle of denial—a life of refusing to acknowledge his Lordship.

Jesus is not demanding perfection. He tells us to come to him in faith like children. He is cajoling us to live lives that witness to his glory—not reject who he is.

Oregon Revisited

XN DAVEIn the wake of the recent shootings in Oregon, a picture popped up on Facebook (and undoubtedly many other places as well). It was a photo of one of the current presidential hopefuls. He was holding a sign that displayed the ichthus.

In case that term is foreign to you, it’s Greek for fish. It was an early symbol used to indicate one’s Christianity. In those days, it was somewhat dangerous to be a Christian, so the simple fish sign was used clandestinely (kind of like a secret handshake).

“I am a Christian”

Printed above the ichthus were the simple words, “I am a Christian.” The point was immediately obvious to anyone who had been keeping abreast of the news in Oregon. The candidate was identifying with the victims of the shooting who had died because they admitted to their faith.

Upon seeing that image, many of us hastened to post our own such statement. I was no exception. Already on our way out the door to celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary, my young bride and I stopped for a few moments to post similar pictures.

I almost felt a little weird doing it, but it seems12105703_10153619627584631_6874127550738707742_n to be the thing to do these days. These pix (accompanied on Instagram and Twitter with #IamaChristian) are akin to faces with rainbows superimposed upon them—t-shirts that say, “I can’t breathe—bumper stickers that state, “It’s a child, not a choice.”

All these examples (and myriads more) are ways for people to somehow identify with a person or cause, make a statement, or simply be provocative. As I said, it seems like the thing to do.

I felt a little weird because I don’t usually jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I tend to be a tad more cautious. I follow the bandwagon at a safe distance until I think it’s safe, then I trot along until I can find an inconspicuous moment to climb aboard (which is probably why my clothing is always one or two styles behind the current fashion—much to my spouse’s chagrin).

“I felt compelled…”

For some reason, however, I felt compelled to go whole hog on this one. I shot from the hip. Not that I regret it, but it’s a little out of character for me. I’m usually much more deliberate.

The real reason I feel somewhat strange, however, has nothing to do with that. It has more to do with the feeling that I’ve accomplished nothing. What change was I able to institute? Have I advanced society and our culture one iota by posting my little pictorial statement?

12105907_151476265201049_300647793336067879_nDo the victims in Oregon feel better now that they know I’m a Christian? No. I’ll tell you who feels better. I do. But maybe better is not the right word. Stronger is probably more accurate.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:9-10 to declare, “Jesus is Lord” with our mouth. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I guess I’ve at least said something.

Oregon Raises Old Questions

Believe

Before it becomes blurred in our minds, we should ponder what we know about the recent shootings in Oregon. Soon, it will be just another senseless crime. The memory of it will be stirred in with others of its kind in the melting pot of our consciousness.

Stand and Declare Your Religion

Early accounts indicate the shooter told his victims to stand and declare their religion. If they admitted to being Christian, he shot them in the head. If they didn’t, he shot them in the legs.

During the Cold War, I remember hearing an apocryphal story about a group of Christians gathered for worship somewhere behind the iron curtain. As the story goes, a couple soldiers burst in the back door with machine guns and announced that all the Christians were going to die.

They told anyone who was not a Christian to leave immediately. Many people got up and left, no doubt scared out of their wits. When they had fled, the soldiers put down their machine guns and announced, “Now that the posers are gone, let’s worship together brothers and sisters!”

I heard that story told different ways in several different sermons. Whether it contains any thread of truth, I don’t know. I do know that a vile version of it was reenacted in Oregon (and in many other shootings recently). Except now, people died and no one worshipped.

The politicians are already scrambling…

The politicians are already scrambling to the nearest microphones. Their intent is to pounce on this moment for the advancement of their agendas. Meanwhile, the police are trying to make sense of this tragedy. The rest of us grieve and ask ourselves what we would have done. If I was standing before that young assassin, would I have admitted my belief in Jesus?

I ask myself that question every time something like this occurs. Would I have the courage to face a bullet for my faith? Or would I lie to save my own skin? It’s an impossible question. Hopefully, we will never find out the answer.

The fact remains, however, that we face these kinds of decisions every day. We do so in much smaller ways, of course. We don’t face death for our beliefs. We do face ridicule, prejudice, and condescension on many fronts.

We’re not face to face with a crazed young man or in the clutches of ISIS. We are not about to be shot or beheaded. We do sometimes face the possibility of being humiliated, ostracized, snubbed, or overlooked. Small taters by comparison, but real none-the-less.

Where do we really stand?

While losing some of my dignity may seem trivial compared with losing my life, the urge to back down is still there. Losing my status, standing, or position is still important. Having someone laugh at my beliefs or look down their nose at me is still uncomfortable in the very least.

While we hurt and grieve over the deaths of our brothers and sisters, let’s not forget to raise our own personal awareness. Where do we really stand?