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How to be a better Good Samaritan

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Photo by Ruths138

Photo by Ruths138

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help?

Several years ago, when my Dad was in the early stages of dementia, he lost most of his Christian friends. The reason was simple: They were too uncomfortable with his symptoms to be a friend to him during his life’s biggest, darkest, and final struggle.

So I contacted everyone I could think of at his church, and couldn’t believe the excuses they gave for keeping their distance–leaders included. As one of them so eloquently stated, “I’m not going to babysit.” A handful of people tried to help, but most of those same people also defended the excuses we were hearing.

We eventually found a long-term friend for Dad and regular, ongoing emotional/spiritual support for my parents from two other churches in town. Finally, we had found Christians who wanted to treat Dad with dignity, and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives! Then, amazingly, near the end of Dad’s time at home before moving to a nursing home, three people from his original church kindly came alongside him.

I share this so the other side of the story can be heard. And here’s the thing all Good Samaritans seem to know: When we fail to obey God’s command to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

Our faith, like western society, is terribly individualistic. So please humor me as I repeat: When we fail to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help? What’s it like for those people? We shield ourselves from those thoughts. It’s too uncomfortable, too convicting to realize that our sin has tangible, painful, and sometimes disastrous consequences for the people we overlook.

I wish Dad hadn’t spent the last years of his life aching for the sense of community that should’ve embraced him all along, and believe me, this is a lesson my family will never forget.

Sometimes we have only one chance to be a light in someone’s life, and sometimes we might be the only one to notice that person’s suffering. If we pass them by, the consequences are permanent.

So let us rethink the story of the good Samaritan and our own role in that story. When we cross paths with someone lonely or in need, let’s resolve to treat our opportunity with the gravity and careful thought it deserves.

Let’s start recognizing the difference between our excuses and legitimate reasons for not being able to help. When we’re being honest with ourselves, if we realize that we really can help, then let’s roll up our sleeves and enjoy the surprises and blessings God has in store for us along the way.

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Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

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In Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, Jerry Bridges gently focuses our attention on widespread sins in the church. Not only are they common, but they also go unchecked.

Bridges’ confession

Before expanding on these sins, though, he makes a confession to his readers: He’s not perfect, he has committed many of these sins over the years and he doesn’t pretend to be any better or holier than the rest of us.

He makes this confession right at the start, helping readers to understand his humble attitude while writing this book, which ultimately helps us to accept what he has to say about these sins.

Seasoned Christians still have room to grow

Next, Bridges walks us through those familiar Bible verses about sin, salvation and grace. He knows he’s talking to people who’ve heard these things a million times, but he reframes them to help us see ourselves—that is, lifelong Christians who think we’ve got this faith thing all worked out—in the centre of God’s plan of salvation.

Even now, as seasoned believers, with years of Sunday services under our belts, countless worship songs sung, who knows how many prayers said, devotions read and volunteer hours logged, we’re still sinners in need of God’s grace who have lots of room left to grow.

Down to the nitty-gritty: Sins Christians tolerate

Bridges covers everything from anger, judgmentalism, anxiety and impatience to worldliness, pride, selfishness and lack of self-control.

Sometimes we Christians purposely ignore these ‘respectable’ sins. Sometimes we just don’t take them seriously. Gossip and materialism are a couple examples of this.

Other times these sins are winked at or they’re the subject of jokes. I can think of a few, but I’m curious which sins you (reading this review) would file under this category?

Bridges hits the mark

I’ve grown up in the church and consider myself to have been a believer most of my life, (You know, the ‘asked Jesus into my heart at age 6’ story), and I’ve seen each and every one of these sins in myself and in most ‘mature’ Christians around me.

Some of them, like materialism and selfishness, are shied away from in sermons, Bible studies, devotionals and especially in conversation with one another. We’re so hardwired from birth to practically idolize individualism, privacy and a citizen’s ‘rights’ to do whatever he wants with his money that we hardly distinguish them from the true sins of materialism and selfishness that God’s Word tries to guide us away from.

Other sins, like anger, are sometimes wrongly interpreted. I’ve been angered by serious sin in the church (e.g. putting personal comfort over helping a neighbor in need), and for that I have been accused of the ‘sin’ of anger. We Christians don’t know the difference between good anger (e.g. at cruel injustice) and sinful anger.

Bridges also missed a few biggies

Bridges really does justice to most sins that we Christians often let slide. He invites the reader, after reviewing each issue, to consider instances in our own lives where we have committed those sins and how we can return to a belief and a lifestyle more reflective of God’s desire for us, His Bride.

There are a few sins, though, I wish he had mentioned.

Love your neighbor: We don’t do it
The second commandment, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, seems like a biggie in Scripture. And yet, growing up I’ve witnessed countless times when Christians have refused to help a fellow Christian in need.

Not helping one’s neighbor is often made to seem acceptable with the false teaching that people must suffer in silence, without asking for help, in order to prove that they’re trusting God. Scripture, on the other hand, is full of commands and examples of Christians tangibly helping one another and that this is linked to proof of our salvation. (See John Piper’s sermon on this.)

Church: The old boys’ club
I’ve gotta be honest. Sometimes the church resembles an old boys’ club more than a family of mature, caring believers who actually live by integrity. I’ve seen ‘mature’ Christians cover up fellow Christians’ sins and paving the way for that sin to continue. They also attacked anyone who brought those sins into the light.

Take the sexual abuse of children by clergy and other church leaders, for example. Consider the lengths to which ‘mature’ Christians have gone to cover up those sins, regardless of the fact that known pedophiles were free to continue abusing children because of the community’s collective will to keep it all quiet.

Accountability: Who’s it for anyway?
Often the church patriarchs and matriarchs consider themselves above accountability. Their age and status in the community gives them a kind of immunity from it.

Jesus and Paul’s clear instructions to deal with sin and conflict in the church (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Cor. 5: 11-13) are only applied to hot button sins (e.g. divorce, premarital sex, challenging ‘authority,’ etc.). These sins are loudly preached against and the people who committ them are publicly disciplined, cast out, or otherwise raked over the coals.

What about extreme sins, like when missionaries and elders and pastors rape children? No, we’re told, we must pray for those leaders and do nothing more. If we break the code of silence, we’re accused of the sin of judgmentalism, vengeance, anger and so forth.

You know in some ways, the Church is seriously screwed up. That’s why these are some of the very deep and dangerous sins I wish Bridges had covered in his otherwise stellar work.

4.5 out of 5

Overall, the book was a huge encouragement to me, in that Bridges’ gentle treatment of these common sins paints a bright, uplifting picture of what the Church can become if we simply want to. All we need is to humble ourselves—I mean totally forget our privilege, status and years of service—and decide that our lives will not be a breeding ground for these sins anymore.

No sin is respectable.

Speaking of respect, it isn’t easy taking on the attitudes of overly comfortable Christians. I respect Jerry Bridges for the courage to share this unpopular yet urgently needed message with us.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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