Thursday, February 17, 2011

Excuses and other Lies

Last night as I was driving to park my truck and chipper, I had a frightening occurrence. At one major intersection, I waited patiently for the left turn arrow and then proceeded to turn into the proper lane of a four lane road. A short distance after making my turn I began signaling to change lanes, checked my mirrors, and seeing no vehicles, I began to change lanes.

Moments later I heard a horn honking. I checked my mirrors and still saw no one. I checked again and found a car to the side of me, whom I was about to crush. I eased away. The driver of the car backed off. I signaled again and checking carefully, changed lanes.

I wondered how it was possible that this happened. I have a ten inch convex mirror that shows the entire lane and that side of the truck. However this car must have pulled just ahead of the viewing area, a blind spot.

How did it get there? I was the first to round the turn. I was doing the speed limit. The other person must have been speeding to try to get around me. The other driver must not have turned into the legally required lane. This must have been the result of that driver breaking the law.

I was making excuses. It matters not what the other person did wrong. I am responsible for not turning into another vehicle. I am responsible even if the other person violated safety rules and ignorantly entered into my blind spot. I was wrong. Realizing this I wished for an opportunity to apologize to the other driver, but the driver turned off at the next intersection. How that person must have trembled! How terrible to be put into such a situation!

Excuses and blaming others are forms of lying. When I find myself doing this, I am in need of God’s forgiveness and restoration to His grace.

This is true for all Christians. Pastors especially need to be aware of this as people look to pastors as examples of the true faith and the way of life to which God calls us through the Gospel. If pastors make excuses for their mistakes and sins, what will those who look to them as fathers in the faith do?

The pastoral office is one for which no man is worthy, save the One who ordained it. All the rest of us are in perpetual need of being called to repentance. We need always to stand ready to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. When the matter is one of which people have encountered publicly, then the confession and recognition of God’s absolution need to be public, too. This is for the sake of the perception of the Gospel that people will receive.

On another pastor’s blog I recently asked him about a very simple mistake that he made. I knew not whether it was a mistake or a choice based upon some other reason. It turned out to be a mistake. But his response was first to ignore my question. Then when I asked again, he made excuses, blamed others for his mistake, even tried to divert attention to the Antichrist, and accused me of impatience and arrogance in asking why he did not answer my question. Each of these was deception on his part. He was being dishonest. He outright lied.

Here is the response that he gave:

Do you think my job is to answer your questions, pronto? Sorry, the pay for that is rather skimpy. I simply misread my computer calendar, and I don't have a Thrivent desk calendar, if they even publish it anymore.

The Lutherans are taking all their cues on the liturgical calendar from Rome now, so I suggest you write to His Holiness, the Antichrist, for additional details and advice.

If you know this pastor, please do not hold this against him. I have no desire to identify him personally. My desire is to hold forth an example of the way that pastors sin against the office, often without realizing it. I began with an example from my own life. I can recount other ways in which I have failed in this regard as well. The point is not to accuse but to preach awareness.

Here then is an explanation of what is wrong in this response:

First is the false accusation of impatience on the part of the questioner, namely, me. This pastor’s blog is set up for moderation of comments, which means that no one can post a comment that this pastor does not first read, examine, and then post. In addition to posting my comment, he posted several others as well. I waited another day after this before asking why he did not answer my question. His diversionary tactic was dishonest. It was a lie.

Next he blames Thrivent for not supplying him with a calendar. The hymnal that he uses has the calendar printed within. It is the calendar that I use, in coordination with my regular secular calendar. Even my secular calendar tells when Ash Wednesday and Easter occur, the festivals by which the Sundays in Epiphany are calculated. My question to him was regarding his ending of the Epiphany season a week early. This was his mistake. Thrivent did not cause this. Thrivent was not even driving in his blind spot.

Next he blames Lutherans in general for his mistake. There is without doubt a multitude of blame for which Lutherans in general deserve. But whatever compromises apostate Lutherans have made and are making, none of them had anything whatsoever to do with his failure to check the dates of the Sundays that he observes. Moreover, Vatican II, the alterations of which he attempts to connect to this issue, occurred long after the hymnal that he uses was compiled. Moreover, Vatican II and the Pope did not change the calculation of Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Excuse upon excuse. Lie upon lie.

Why should anyone care? Because lies are not of God but of the devil and of the sinful flesh. Lies work to diminish or even annihilate the life that the preaching of the Gospel generates. Lies undermine the pastoral office and the Church.

Lies must be recognized and confronted, condemned and rejected. They have no place in the life of a Christian. They have no place in the life of a pastor. But we are all liars. We all lie, both unintentionally and intentionally. From this we need to be called to repent.

Moreover, the attitude displayed in the making of excuses, the acceptance of lying to divert attention from oneself and one’s own mistakes, is infectious. It is a leaven that works its way through the entire loaf. This is true for the spirit and life of the pastor as well as for the congregation or even church body. Pastors must be on guard against this in themselves and in their daily service in the office of the Word.

Children follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Pastors have been ordained by God as spiritual fathers or overseers of those who look to them for guidance. This is a very serious matter.

Now while I have singled out myself and then also this other pastor, this is an issue that all pastors need to face personally. The making of excuses is a trait that we all have inherited from Adam. Cain did not guard against it and it made a murder of him. In trying to cover his own dishonor, in trying to cover the shortcoming of his own ego compared to Abel’s, Cain rose up and murdered his brother.

We do the same when we make excuses and especially when we try to shift the blame for our errors to someone else. We kill another’s reputation in order to try to save our own. Understanding this begins with the Eighth Commandment and moves to the Fifth, upward to the Third, Second, and finally the First.

In this we injure everyone involved. First we injure ourselves by not being honest with ourselves. Then we injure whomever we attempt to blame. Then, we also injure anyone who follows us in our sinful behavior.

How much easier and better it is to be honest and simply to say: “Oh, I made a mistake. I am sorry. Thank you for making me aware of my error. Please forgive me.”

Now, I pray that God will make me to remember this next time myself.

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