When I was 21 years old, I got my second tattoo. My bandmates and I started talking about what we wanted to get and it spurred a trip to downtown Orlando to make our dreams become a reality. In what was definitely one of the more painful (literally) experiences I’ve had, I decided to get a word that held a lot of meaning to me tattooed on the inside of my left arm…
A lot of my friends at the time where church friends and so, whenever I showed off my new ink, I got great responses about how “awesome” it was or how they “really liked the meaning behind it.”
Conversely, I got an entirely different response from people who weren’t “church people.” Sometimes people made a face of confusion, or just said things like, “oh, cool.”
Then one day, I had a conversation I didn’t expect. A random worker in a store saw my tattoo peaking out from my sleeve and asked what it was. I pulled out my arm and showed her the tattoo that had held such deep meaning to me.
"Forgiven from what?" she asked.
"Its a reference to my faith," I answered.
"Ok, but what are you forgiven from? Did you go to jail or something?" she inquired with a look of puzzlement.
"Umm, my sin, you know?" I said like an idiot.
"Oh, ok," she said, clearly not understanding what in the world I was talking about.
The encounter lasted only about 20 seconds, and I bet the girl doesn’t even remember it, but it’s an encounter that I’ve thought about every year since it happened. I have no idea what store I was in, and I couldn’t tell you what the girl looked like, but I’ll never forget that question…”Forgiven from what?”
You see, it was a tough thing for me to not be able to answer that question in an intelligent way; in a way that she could simply understand. I began to realize that my “forgiven” tattoo was more of a fashion statement than a faith statement.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to do something that held a lot of meaning to me, personally. I was asked to speak (preach) at my church. There are a lot of reasons the experience held specific meaning to me, but I’ll spare you the story of my life and get to the significance of the last two weeks. I’ve finally begun to understand what it is I’m forgiven from…
Have you ever had the dream where you show up to work/school/the mall naked? It is a terrible dream. You feel helpless. You feel embarrassed. You feel confused. You feel exposed.
Being exposed hurts. It brings up insecurities, makes us defensive, and ultimately causes us to rethink how we ended up exposed in the first place. I love the following definition of exposure: “the act or instance of revealing or unmasking.”
Two weeks ago I stood on a stage and talked about God. I spoke of our need to be deliberate of where we focus our hearts, otherwise our hearts would settle somewhere else. I prepared for that message probably more than I’ve prepared for most things in my life, but what I couldn’t have expected was what would happen to me the following week. God began to expose my heart for what it was; not to the world, but to myself. I felt completely naked inside. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed.
At this point you may be wondering if I have some big secret I need to reveal. No, I don’t. My exposure had nothing to do with my actions, instead, it had everything to do with my heart.
"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." - Luke 6:45
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of…wow. That’s quite a statement isn’t it? What does that mean? Well, there is a profound point Jesus is trying to make to the people who were around him while he was speaking this truth.
The truth is this: Our “sin” is not an action. Its not that time you stole your friends boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s not that time you cheated on your test or assignment. It’s not that time you lied to your parents about going to the movies. It’s not even that one time…in Vegas. No, our sin, my sin, your sin, isn’t an action at all. Sin is a condition of the heart.
There’s a story in the Bible that takes this concept to the next level. I bet many of you are familiar with it, even if you don’t go to church.
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This story has been used by Christians and non-Christians alike to try and prove that nobody should be judging each other. My take away is a little different, though. I wish we had more commentary about this situation, but since we don’t, I’m left to my own wandering mind…
Why do you think they walked away? This question is what has led me to believe that there was much more going on than a simple change of heart. They were angry enough that I think they still wanted to stone her even after Jesus asked them the question. I think the men who brought the woman to be stoned were afraid that Jesus would expose them for who they really were if they didn’t walk away. Maybe in that moment God brought to their minds all the things they did that nobody knew about. Furthermore, maybe God brought to their minds the fact that even though they had not committed physical adultery, they constantly lusted after other women that weren’t their wives and had basically committed adultery in their hearts on a daily basis. It’s interesting the order in which they left. “The older ones first.” Maybe the older ones had more to hide since they’ve been alive longer?
I don’t know. I have no more special insight into what Jesus meant than any of you do, but those are the thoughts that I ponder when I read this story.
The bottom line is this: Our actions are simply a result of what is going on in our hearts. Some of us are just better at hiding how we really feel and who we really are than others. Despite this fact, God chooses to still use us. God chose to allow me to stand on a stage in front of people and talk about Him. Despite the insults I hurl at people without ever opening my mouth. Despite the inappropriate thoughts I have that I don’t act on. Despite my hidden desire to be selfish with my time, my possessions, and my resources. In spite of ME, God works in me and through me.
In light of that, I’m incredibly grateful, and I have a desire to lay my stones down.