Casual Crimes

I boarded the plane with a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about South Africa tucked neatly in my briefcase and my purpose for going planted squarely in my heart. I was going as a prophet. I was going to direct my voice to the issue at hand: to set South Africa straight on apartheid. Those dormant protest passions from the sixties were rattling in my bones.

   But self-righteous feelings such as these are always short-lived. It doesn't take long for them to crash to the floor. Mine came down — down around my ankles — before I even got on the plane. All it took was for me to see a healthy, happy, white South African couple with their two children, apparently returning to their country after a visit to the United States. I saw them as I saw myself: simply trying to survive — trying to provide a respectable life for my family and a future for my children. I realized for the first time that if the power base in their country were suddenly turned over to the blacks, they would most likely have neither.

   As I watched this family in the boarding area, I thought

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about the fact that much of the problem in their country has been inherited. The apartheid state was not the result of a few horrible men and women who had nothing better to do one weekend than to dream up a scheme to oppress 24 million people. It is the result of a thousand casual crimes laid one on top of another through several generations. They were "casual" because each one of these acts taken separately could probably have been rationalized as stemming from good intentions. But they were "crimes" because their effects are a totally untenable situation. Sadly, the crimes of South Africa are so deeply entangled in history that it appears impossible to unravel them.

   I knew I would return from this trip a changed man, for I could already see in that nation a warning for my own life. I would return with a resolve to root out my own casual crimes before they became too deeply entrenched. It wasn't too late for me, but I didn't feel I could wait any longer.

   If it's time for me, it must be time for you; for we are living in an age of dullness, an age of moral and spiritual casualness in which the distinctives of our faith have been all but swallowed up by society. We have produced an environment almost conducive to casual crimes, where it's too easy to get away with them.

   But we must remember that there are consequences for all crimes, even the casual ones. This is an important part of God's order. Grace does not erase the natural repercussions of sin. When God forgives us and declares, "I will still love you," we often take it to mean "I will excuse you from the results of sin, too." But while forgiveness always restores fellowship, sin has left its wake. To make alliances with the smallest sin in our lives, to tolerate a casual crime, or to hesitate to respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit will leave a trail that we may not even see. As Paul observed, "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them, the sins of others trail behind them" (1 Tim. 5:24). The trail of casual crimes follows unseen, a track that must be cut off before it begins.

   Perfection is not the issue. Awareness and obedience, hearing and action, being awake and being faithful are our concerns. A good man is not a perfect man: a good man is an honest man, faithful and unhesitatingly responsive to the voice of God in his life. The more often he responds to that voice, the easier it is to hear it the next time; the more one ignores that voice, the fainter it becomes.

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   There is much to do. We have our private crimes to deal with, but we also find the victims of society's crimes all around us, needing our help. It seems an endless battle from which there is no rest. False teachers will say there there is nothing more to do since Christ has already won the victory. Although that's true, although victory is sure, merely knowing that we have won this war doesn't excuse us from the battlefield. The daily battles of life must be fought until the Lord's return.

   Until then, my battle is right here at 24 Green Street. It's a battle to stay awake, to avoid being drugged by my culture. It's a battle to comprehend the importance of every moment — to realize that everything matters, everything counts. It's a battle to keep remembering that I cannot dance around my responsibilities and my casual crimes without experiencing the consequences of my actions.

Chapter 21  ||  Table of Contents