Oh, How I Love Your Law! Or Do I?

I was pulling off the interstate the other day and I saw a policeman on the bridge. He was clocking people. Just waiting for the wayward speeder. On the inside, I was cheering for him to get someone. Why? Because I hadn’t been speeding that day.

I have this secret fascination with the police. I would love to ride around with one and watch him bust the bad guys. The police do a great job and I commend them. They are the first in line to uphold the law of the land. I cheer for the law. When I read about a criminal getting his rightful sentence by a judge and jury in the paper, a part of me cheers. When I see an episode of COPS on TV and the bad guy gets his comeuppance, my just side feels like all is right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had two speeding tickets. One of those had a reckless driving and an improper passing attached to it. On both occasions, I was very respectful to the officer and knew he was doing his job. He was upholding the law that I had broken. I knew I was caught and he was right to bust me for it.

But then . . . I think about my adultery. I got caught red-handed. I was discovered by my wife at the time. Of course, God already knew, but her discovery laid bare my sin before the entire community. My ex-wife told my family, my friends, her friends, the church, and anyone she could about what I did in her anger. I deserved that, I suppose.

What was worse, I realized that God wasn’t kidding when He said, “your sin will find you out.”

God is the ultimate policeman. However, He doesn’t always pull us over when He sees us speeding right away. Sometimes He lets us get away with it for a while. Sometimes He lets us think we’re really, really smart. He gives us a chance to right our own path. He gives us a chance to wallow in our sin.

But finally, He’ll bring down the hammer. It hurts. Bad. The justice that I demand that other people get, I hate when it is applied to me. Yeah, I know it’s a double standard. I don’t mind when it’s a speeding ticket that I can pay. But when it’s the huge cost of adultery that costs me everything, including public humiliation? That’s a little more difficult.

Was I ready to pay the price to be with Cynthia? Absolutely. But I didn’t like it when the law was applied to me.

Now, over a year after my transgression, I have a different attitude. God is a just judger. Thank goodness He judges like He does. He is gracious in His judgment. You know what? He is more than fair in what He does. If He really wanted to judge me like I deserved, He would strike me down before I ever got out of bed in the morning.

Even after my soul was saved, my heart still needs to be protected against anger, pride and hatred. I have to seek after the Savior. I am an angry man against those who have judged me wrongly.

I had a conversation with Angelica recently that might shed light on this. She talks to a lot of people from Angel Falls about me. People who have decided that they will never speak to me again. She told me that they ask questions like, “Does he take care of you?” or “Does he do what he’s supposed to?”

She said she answers, “He pays his child support on time.”

To me, that is an inadequate answer. I have gone above and beyond what I should do. I go above and beyond what 99.9% of most deadbeat dads do. I pay my child support based on seeing my kids only once every other week, despite the fact that Angelica asks me to watch them four days a week. I love my kids. I don’t care about how much child support I pay. I just do what I do because I want the best for them and I want to see them taken care of.

Strangely, even if I could tell all those people at Angel Falls that I love my children and pay more than I should in child support. Even if they could see that I’m doing as best I can despite the sin I committed, if they could see that I’m doing right by Angelica, even though I hurt her and that we are getting along better now that we ever did, they wouldn’t care. People judge by unfair standards.

And I used to as well. We all do.

We judge by the standards that we set up for ourselves. But that’s not right.

There are only two things that ultimately matter. First, we will only and always be judged by the standards that God has set up for us. And secondly, that we see ourselves through the eyes of Christ.

Are you seeing yourself through Christ’s eyes? Or are you overjudging yourself? Are you your worst critic? Do you give yourself the harshest treatment possible and then slink into a corner? Christ doesn’t do that. He gives us grace when we repent. He approaches us with mercy and love, forgiving us of what we have done.

On the contrary, it’s quite possible that we are underjudging ourselves. We think we’re better than anyone else. We are prideful, full of ourselves and think that nothing can defeat us. In that case, nothing will get through to us but an eventual downfall. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

So, when I get pulled over again someday for speeding, I could argue. I could argue that I was going under the speed limit. But it won’t matter. All that matters is the radar detector on the officer’s dashboard.

And all that matters is God’s law. The law that we can love or hate. But it doesn’t matter whether we love it or hate it. It is what it is. And our heavenly Father gives it out with compassion, love and mercy – but it is just at the same time.

Our Myth Of Christmas

If I was still pastoring, my church would have to hear my yearly rant on Christmas and what we’ve made it into. I’m not a fan of this time of year. For a lot of reasons. But I like it for one reason. But I’ll get there.

I just got back from Wal-Mart so I’m a little more cynical than usual. People are always frowning this time of year. And they’re frowning at church when they’re singing Christmas songs. Oh, I’m just getting started. I don’t even know where to start.

Christmas cards. So pretty. So divine. There’s always the ones with the wise men traveling with the star in the sky. Or the three wise men huddled around the manger, animals all around, giving their gifts to Jesus. So kingly. So humble. Snow all around. There’s the baby Jesus in the freezing cold wearing his diaper while the three noble kings from the orient bow down and offer him gifts.

Somewhere in the background, you can hear, “We Three Kings Of Orient Are“. . .

There’s a problem, though. A problem that most Christians should know about but don’t. If you read Matthew 2 carefully, you’ll learn a lot about these guys. It never says how many there are, just the number of gifts they bring. It never says the star led them straight to Jesus. They had to ask for directions. They weren’t kings, they were more like astrologers. And guess what? They didn’t get there until Jesus was a young child. Not at the time of his birth. Go read it. It’s all right there. Jesus was living in a house at the time.

The “wise men” don’t belong in a nativity, that’s for sure.

“Oh, Arthur,” you’ll say. “You’re being so picky. It’s part of the story.” No, it’s not. For a group of people who pride themselves on a high view of Scripture and not adding to or taking away from it, we sure take liberties with the Christmas story, don’t we? There’s an old saying that we should speak where Scripture speaks and be silent where it is silent. Well, get ready, there’s more.

There’s also some lovely Christmas depictions of Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem while she’s really, really pregnant. Was she? Bible doesn’t say she was really pregnant. For all we know she could have just been barely pregnant. And who said she rode a donkey? You’ll say, “What else did she ride?” Point is, we romanticize the thing. Why do we do that?

I had a friend a few years ago who invited me to her church play. Someone had written it and directed it and they were really excited about it. She said it was very biblical. I asked, “What’s it called?” She said, “The innkeeper.”

I paused for dramatic effect. I’m famous for that.

I said, “What innkeeper?”

She said, “You know, the innkeeper who said there was no room at the inn and told Mary and Joseph they couldn’t stay there.”

I pulled out my Bible to Luke 2. I said, “Show me the innkeeper.” She looked and looked and finally showed me the verse about there being no room at the inn.

I said, “Yeah, but there’s no innkeeper.”

She said, “But there had to be an innkeeper.”

I said, “You’re about to tell me I’m a know it all, but it wasn’t like a Holiday Inn Express. In those days, an ‘inn’ was like an addition to someone’s house. There was a census and a lot of people crammed into a small space, into someone’s living quarters. It wasn’t an inn like we know it, hence, no innkeeper. I’m sure the play will be great and the heart is there, but there’s still no innkeeper.”

She said, “You’re a know it all.”

Yeah, but there had to be an innkeeper because John Piper wrote a poem about it. See Arthur? You’re taking it too far. It’s just people being creative. Yeah, yeah. I’m sure his church can tell the difference, it’s the rest of Christendom I’m concerned about. But I’m still not sure.

Then, one of my favorite scenes on Christmas cards, paintings, etc. The angels that appeared to the shepherds. Little chubby angel babies singing in the sky about the good news of Jesus’ birth. Now, come on. You all have to know this is ridiculous.

Are we even reading our Bibles or are we just perpetuating a tradition? Luke says that the angels stood/appeared before them. Doesn’t say a word about hovering in the air. And guess what? No chubby, fat angel babies. They don’t exist. The Bible describes a “company” or a “host”. These are military terms. These are strong, warrior angels. These shepherds were scared. Remember the angel said, “Fear not”? Fat little angel babies wouldn’t have had to say, “Fear not.”

Don’t even get me started on Christmas songs.

Okay. Do.

Not to get too picky, (too late), but I heard an adult Christian the other day talking to another adult Christian about whether the little drummer boy was really at Christ’s birth. Seriously. Seriously.

I’ll mention one song I really, really hate. There are several. I hate them because they’re seriously, theologically flawed and they perpetuate our fictional ideas about the truth about the Christmas story. One of the best ways we learn good (or bad) theology is through our music. If we sing good songs, we learn good theology. If we sing bad songs, we learn bad theology.

Exhibit A is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Yeah, it’s meant to be lighthearted. And it starts like that. It’s cute. It’s fun. But it strikes way, way out in the end. A wind tells a lamb who tells a shepherd boy about Jesus. So far, so-so. But then the boy tells the king and the king, in response tells everyone how wonderful this is and how the baby will bring us goodness and light.

Who was the only king around during this time? Herod. What did he want to do to Jesus? Kill him. And he sent out spies to find Jesus. Who were his spies? The wise men.

I’m done complaining. But I have a point. What if we watered down, added to and took away from the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection like this every year? People would melt down. But it’s okay to do it to the Christmas story?

What’s the story really look like? It looks like this. A young girl, Mary, who was probably around 14 or 15, a virgin went back to Bethlehem with her bethrothed, Joseph. Was she scared? Probably. Don’t fool yourself.

She got to a place where they thought they could find some room, a place where much of the community was staying, but it was cramped and crowded, wall to wall. But, no problem, God provides. There’s actually no mention of a barn, or a stable in Scripture. In Bethlehem, they have a cave marked as the birthplace of Christ. It doesn’t matter. They actually found somewhere to lodge and to find shelter.

We don’t know how long they stayed there until she gave birth, but she did. Any woman who has given natural childbirth knows it is a painful process and Mary’s wasn’t any different. But when it was over, she loved Jesus and held him. This young mother was with Joseph and regardless of what was going on around them, she had the promise of God and all she needed right there.

Imagine her surprise when a band of shepherds came in. Smelly, dirty, but they had news. They had just been told by angels of good news. That a savior had come and they wanted to see him.

What does the Bible say? She pondered these things in her heart. This young girl, who would watch her son grow up and eventually die for others just watched her newborn as God worked in history.

Simple. To the point. Yet glorious. A savior came because we needed to be saved.

What could we possibly need to add to that?

The Universalists And Brad

I’m about to head out to hear my preacher, Brad, preach at the local Unitarian Universalist Church.

I asked him, “How in the world did that happen?”

He said, “Every year they ask people from different faiths to come and preach. The usual Baptist couldn’t make it so they asked me.”

I said, “Do they have any idea what they’re in for?”

He said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m preaching on ‘What Christmas means to Christians’ and the need for a Savior.”

He won’t be mean, but he’ll tell the truth. Should be interesting. What’s really interesting is that Brad’s house flooded because of a broken pipe this week. He’s going to show up with a week’s growth of facial hair on his face and wearing the same cargo pants for three days. He’ll probably remind me of a shepherd from the nativity.

Pray for him, please.

(I’m wearing a suit to upstage him . . . 🙂

A New Home & Direction

It’s been a while since I wrote. A few things have happened and I’ll catch you up on two of them. God is working.

Cynthia and I joined Hope Hills and it was a moving time for us. But a few days before we joined, I felt the need to contact my home church in Pella, Virginia that had ordained me. I’ve talked to several fallen pastors who have done the same and reached out and let their ordaining church know about their adultery and tell them that it was well within their right to revoke their ordination.

I haven’t spoken to anyone from my home church in at least four years, but that didn’t make my letter to them any easier to write. I put it in the mail on a Wednesday and prayed that God would do as He would.

That night, on a whim, I called Ryan, one of the deacons I had been very good friends with. I hadn’t spoken to him in four years. I called his home and his wife said he was on a business trip. She gave me his cell number and I reached him immediately. He sounded very surprised to hear from me.

We talked for a long time as I shared my story with him, my adultery, my new marriage and what God has been doing for me lately in my life. After I was done with my long story, he paused and said, “Arthur, I’d like to say I’m not disappointed, but I am. I had a lot of respect for you. But it lets me know that any of us can fall.”

“I know, Ryan,” was all I could get out. I can’t tell you how many times people had said that to me, but the closer people are to me, the harder it is to hear that statement.

“But let me tell you something else. I haven’t really thought about you for a very long time. I woke up this morning here in Los Angeles. And when I woke up, I had you on my mind. And it wasn’t just a fleeting thought, it was strong, and I couldn’t shake it. I even called my wife and told her. We prayed for you. And then a few minutes ago, she texted me and she was a little freaked out and told me that you had called the house. Arthur, this is a God thing. He set this phone call up today.”

I’m not going to go into the rest of the call, but it was amazing and very encouraging. For the past year, I’ve been wondering where God has been. Really, for the past five years, I’ve been wondering. As a pastor I was frustrated that He wasn’t doing more at Angel Falls Baptist.

But now, in the past few weeks, as I’ve finally humbled myself, He’s been responding. Of course, He’s been here. But I’ve been in the way.

On Sunday, Cynthia and I joined Hope Hills Baptist. The pastor, Brad, had worked out what he was going to say to the church. That morning, he preached a moving message on the woman at the well. Cynthia and I walked to the front for membership and nervously awaited our introduction.

Brad looked at the church and said, “This is Arthur and Cynthia Dimmesdale. Arthur used to be a pastor at a local church, but he fell. He divorced and is now married to Cynthia. Church, do we believe that God doesn’t just cover our sins, but that he forgets them? (Amens filled the room). Arthur and Cynthia have been looking for a church where they can heal and be loved and here they are. Can we do that? (More amens). Then this is the last time I want to ever hear about what they did, because we need to love them as Christ loved them.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as the church welcomed us. Sure, there were a few there who were looking at us out of the corner of their eye. But, for the most part, we were welcomed greatly. In the welcoming line, a few of the people came up to us and said that they had been in our exact situation and knew how hard it was.

The past few weeks have been great. Especially great when I get out of God’s way and let Him work on me.

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