Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23, verses 17-18.
I’m not perfect. Many of you have seen, heard, or read of my extramarital activities; guilty as charged and it’s a charging guilt that never leaves me now. It’s a hard thing to forget even as I know He has forgiven me. Many of you also know of my ambition and desire to be more, to be published, or to stand in the spotlight. Sometimes that’s overwhelming, especially when I’m little more than a big fish in a little pond. Still many more of you who read these have seen me pony to the bar. Just this week I killed a consultant’s share of brain cells, sampling mojitos at a rooftop bar. In these things, I will confess envying the fun people because, well, I’m a fun guy and I like to have fun. In the course of my trips around the sun, I’ve had a lot of it, sometimes too much. Hank Jr. sang it best: “I have loved some ladies, and I have loved Jim Beam. And they both tried to kill me…” Guilty as charged there too.
Billy Joel sang this as well: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun. Only the good die young.” Is that your philosophy? I’ve done more than my share and I’m not young anymore; thank God I didn’t die yet. I have many friends who live by these words, throwing themselves headlong into things they enjoy doing. Quitting time can’t come around quick enough to get to the bar and get loose. Some people feel more at ease when they are running away from their responsibilities. Dance, drink, drugs, party, burn the candle at both ends, a beauty on each arm and maybe another in your bed: the sinners are much more fun. Yep, I’ve been a fun guy there too.
Why did it leave me feeling empty? Maybe I hadn’t contemplated these verses close enough in-between ordering the next round.
Please understand, I’m not condemning your partying; cite my mojito Wednesday mentioned above. In fact, I’m writing this at 38,000 feet with an empty beer can beside me (and I intend to ask for another full one). Jesus was a fun guy too, you know. He didn’t drink to get drunk, but you bet your bottom dollar that he drank wine, maybe beer or other spirits. Christ sought out the sinners wherever He went and met them on their level. I’m betting there were both laughter and tears at those dinner tables. Can you imagine Immanuel Himself having a full belly laugh? I bet it happened regularly. He shared His innermost soul with His best friends, knowing full well they would all betray Him. If it’s good enough for the Savior of the world, it’s good enough for me. I won’t condemn your partying if you won’t condemn mine. Maybe let’s just leave it at “everything in moderation” is the best approach because it is.
So, then, why does faith have to be somber? Why do we think it has to be serious, moody, pious and grave? Answer: it doesn’t! Yes, living a life of faith does indeed mean re-evaluating those things that were risky, dangerous or sinful, but then willingly living the attitude of saying “thanks but no thanks.” But there’s so much more than that! It’s a choice, and it can be a happy one. For most of life’s situations, faith is meant to be expressed in joy, smiles, happiness, laughing and contentment. Who wants to hang around with people who scream “JESUS SAVED YOU AND YOU’RE A DAMN SINNER AND EVERYTHING YOU DO IS NO BETTER THAN FILTHY RAGS!” Thanks, but no thanks. Yes, I know: there’s a place for the law and a time to remember it. But for God’s sake – literally – temper that with the love, please! Guilty here of being that damned sinner, but He came to buy me back. Me and you both.
No, faith doesn’t have to be a downer. It’s not about me, and that’s such an empowering attitude. Faith is about living in joy, and part of living in joy is not envying the life you choose to leave behind. I like my sauce, but I don’t envy the people who have to have it to get by, or those whose goal is to get wasted every weekend. Been there, done that. I like my female friends, but I don’t envy the man-whores (or woman whores) who think they’re flattering themselves with their latest conquest; been there and done that too. I don’t regret leaving behind my sailor’s tongue because it made me sound careless and stupid. Do you see how we could record a whole laundry list of our favorite sins and how we’re better than them? The truth is we ARE better than them and it isn’t a sanctimonious thing to say that. We can be better, we are encouraged to be better, we were made for better, and it all can start by simply respecting the LORD. In doing so, we see He does have hope in store for us, just like this ancient verse says. He really does know what He’s doing, especially with wayward Lutherans like yours truly.
Not long ago, I was having dinner with a new friend and co-worker. He is a late-middle age, non-smoking, non-drinking gay man. In talking with him I learned that I’ve rarely met a kinder, more honest and open, deeply faithful person in all my life. What, you say! Dave, he’s gay! How can you condone someone living in such an open sin? Answer (actually, 3 of them): 1) Big deal, I don’t give a flip, and I think you should be ashamed of yourself; now go look in the mirror and tell yourself how sinless you are, then come back and let’s chat. After all, I know some of your sins, too, and they aren’t pretty. Welcome to the club, pal. 2) It’s not my place to judge anyone’s sin as worse than my own (especially since I don’t want mine held against me). Yep, you’re still in the club. And 3) I don’t condone anyone’s sin (and don’t expect them to condone mine). God doesn’t condone them; why should we?
My friend’s words talking about faith, being disillusioned from religion (which has so little to do with ‘faith’ that it’s shocking), and simply living the Golden Rule as Christ wants us to made me feel encouraged. I don’t envy his lifestyle, nor do I envy his struggles choosing to live in it a world where it isn’t the norm. He and his partner have been committed to each other for more years than I’ve been married. According to him, they also haven’t had the instances of betrayal or infidelity that I’ve brought into my relationship. Who, I ask you, is the bigger sinner? Personally, I think my friend has much hope in the LORD, respecting Him and anticipating an eternal life without the struggles of this one. There’s a place for both of us in Heaven. That’s the purpose of the verse, especially for imperfect people like him and me. You’re imperfect too. Read those verses again, then go have a great, long holiday weekend. Now where’s the flight attendant? I’m thirsty.