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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

August, 2013

On a recent Sunday, my wife, Charlotte, and I were listening to the radio after church. There was a program about the brain and a woman was talking about how memory works. At one point, she mentioned reading a document and finding “typos or infelicities”. “Infelicities?” I wondered. When I read something I’ve written, I might see plenty of typos but I don’t see “infelicities.” I might see bad writing, poor grammar, or just plain mistakes. But I don’t see “infelicities.” The dictionary defines “infelicity” as “something (as a word or phrase) that is infelicitous.” And “infelicitous” as something “not appropriate or well-timed, . . . awkward, or unfortunate.” In other words, it’s a way of sugar coating a mistake or something not done especially well.

It’s simple human nature. “To err is human,” but, as late vice president Hubert Humphrey said, “To blame someone else is politics.” Our mistakes, no matter what they are, are minor or someone else’s fault. They’re not real mistakes; they’re “infelicities.” Imagine the Lord’s Prayer changed to reflect how we really think about our mistakes: “And forgive us our infelicities as we forgive those who are infelicitous toward us.”

We don’t like to talk about “trespasses” or “debts” or “sin,” at least unless it’s someone else’s. Then it’s fair game. But Jesus said that’s not the way to be. “‘Judge not, that you be not judged. . . . Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’” (Matt. 7:1 & 3 ESV).

After the plague of hail, the seventh plague (Exod. 9:13-35), Pharaoh said to Moses, “. . . I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” (vs. 9:27b ESV). It took him seven plagues—blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, and finally hail (7:14-9:35)—but as soon as the hail stopped he “. . . sinned yet again and hardened his heart,” (vs. 34b ESV). And after the next plague, locusts (10:1-20), he said it again (10:16). He was no different from us today. Public figures, from performers to politicians, commit all manner of acts, from dumb to outrageous to criminal, and swear they will “never do it again.” And usually, even while they’re apologizing, they’re either doing whatever it is or thinking about doing it. The news is filled with examples and I’m sure you can think of at least as many as I can.

The Psalmist wrote, “Put not your trust in princes, / in a son of man in whom there is no salvation.” (Psa. 146:3 ESV). People—even the best of us—will let you down. And Paul confessed to the Christians in Rome, “. . . I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Rom. 7:18b ESV). We aren’t able to save ourselves. We’re not even able to stop sinning on our own. But we can have our sins forgiven.

The prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is an example for us. After he “came to himself” (vs. 17a ESV), the words out of his mouth when he stood before his father were “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’” (vs. 21b ESV). He knew what it meant to sin. And, thanks to his father, he learned what it meant to be forgiven (vs. 22-24). The prophet Micah wrote, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord / because I have sinned against him,” (Mic. 7:9a ESV). Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? But here’s the rest of the verse: “until he pleads my cause / and executes judgment for me. / He will bring me out to the light; / I shall look upon his vindication.” (vs. 9b ESV). Micah had sinned, just like you and me. But he had faith that God would “plead [his] cause.” God will “bring [us] out to the light” too.

The best way we can show that we are forgiven is not to keep sinning and asking forgiveness but to live in the light into which God has brought us. John wrote, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:10 ESV). If we have God’s love in us, God will help us keep from stumbling, and others will see that we “abide in the light.”


“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom. 3:21a,22b-25a ESV.)


Copyright © 2013 by David Phelps