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Saying and Doing

I’m very glad that chapter 2 of the book of 1 John begins with an affirmation that the righteous sacrifice of Jesus Christ covers all sin. Because John is about to discuss the most common sin around.

Hypocrisy. Saying one thing, and doing its opposite.

Find me someone guiltless of hypocrisy, and I guarantee you they’re on the pages of a comic book. No such person. Certainly not me. In my best moments, my heart is an alloy of moral black, white, and grey.

But there’s a certain kind of hypocrite that is not merely imperfect. This is the kind that deliberately puts on a mask of deception – a false front of words – while their heart is far afield. That brand of self-deceived deceiver is what the apostle is going after here.

Affirming God-things on the outside, while treasuring sin and self on the inside. A walking contradiction. A living lie.

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (v. 4)

“The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (v. 6) (the hypocrite only engages in enough outward actions to keep up appearances).

“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” (v. 9)

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments (v. 2). Doing, from the heart, not merely saying. Not obeying perfectly, but sincerely. Not unalloyed, but with the power of God stirring within. Not externally, to impress the eyes of men, but from the heart, to please God.

You want to see a miracle? A heart growing in humility and sincerity, a heart of love for God – that’s a miracle. Not 100% holy behavior, but growing liberation from our native hypocrisy.

All hypocrites need the gracious forgiveness of Christ. The stumbling and far-from-perfect child of God needs cleansing each day, and that blood of cleansing is offered freely. But it is offered freely to the entire world – even the most awful hypocrites can be humbled, can turn from their pride, and can be made clean in Christ – so that they, too, become doers of the word, and not mere poseurs. Such is the power and love of God – turning hypocrites into disciples.

She was unclean. A notorious sinner in the town actually – perhaps a prostitute.

An immoral wretch, at the bottom of the totem pole.

Immoral womanBut she was intrigued by this loving, kind, forgiveness-dispensing Jesus, and she dared come to Him to express her appreciation and love in a tangible way – anointing His feet with very expensive perfume.

All this, in the house of one of the self-righteous religious folks of the day. Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus in for a meal (after all, on the prophet circuit, Jesus was head and shoulders above any contemporaries! He was really stirring things up with His authoritative teachings, His miracles, and His kindness to the lowly and outcast).

Because Simon was more interested in hosting a prophet than humbling himself before a Savior, he did not honor Jesus with the courtesy of providing water to wash His feet. In fact, when the unclean woman made up for Simon’s lack with her tears and perfume, Simon sneered in his heart – “some prophet – he doesn’t even know that this wretched woman touching him is a sinner!!”

Au contraire – it was Simon who did not know he was a sinner. And Jesus nailed him to the wall with a little parable about debts.

Read the rest of the story here. And then ask yourself; am I the forgiven sinner who loves his/her benefactor? Or am I the blinded sinner who denies his or her indebtedness, and therefore shows no love – feels no need – for a Savior?

Here’s the point: no matter how deep, wide, and long-lasting our sins – no matter how profoundly mired we are in our moral uncleanness – Jesus is far, far, infinitely and immensely far greater in His love and grace.

Did I mention far?? The Scriptures talk about His willingness to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. That’s…………….far.

The first work of grace is a spiritual awakening to our uncleanness. The next work of grace is a painful awareness of our utter bondage and helplessness in our rebellion. Conviction of sin is the awful mercy of God. Yes, we did all that. Yes, we are utterly foul and helpless. No, we are not righteous, not one bit.

Then we will turn to a Savior. Then we will worship. Then we will love much, having been forgiven much.

Cleansed prostitutes will be in heaven. Once-unclean and immoral people of every stripe, gender, race, and background embrace Him now, and will enjoy Him forever. But there will be no self-righteous ones there to sneer.

photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc

Now

The past 2 weeks have brought an unending litany of bad news in our nation and around the world. I don’t even want to list the events because it’s depressing to just mention it all.

It can be overwhelming, frankly. And our limited capacity to take in that much gloom is regularly swamped by an insistent flood of media that pounds us with stark imagery and doomsday opinioneering.

I’m finding myself shutting down and walking away, out of sheer self-preservation. You?

We aren’t designed to carry this much angst. And some of us double or triple the load, by continually carting around the baggage of past regrets, or constantly wringing our hands about an uncertain future.

Me – I’m totally into raking through the ashes of the past. For some reason, I can trust God for the future – He’s big enough for that – but then I hesitate to believe that He’s big enough to fill in all the cracks of my stumbling, stupid, and stubborn past. What kind of crackpot theology is that??

People often say that faith is irrational. Actually, my unbelief is irrational.

It’s hard to keep running the race when you’re carrying baggage, or doubting your arrival at the finish line.

seabiscuitGod is infinitely sovereign over the past, He is infinitely involved in the present, and He is infinitely in charge of the future. Because He’s…God. He’s infinite. Period.

I tend to hold to that theology in my head, while my heart still clings to some idol that is smaller than the circumstances of now, then, and later. That’s when it all becomes overwhelming.

The broken limbs of my faith will, however, heal in time.

We must be careful not to obsess over all the negativity that surrounds us, or that is inside us. Like moths to a light bulb, we find ourselves drawn to gloom and doom. And that darkness can blind us to our only hope for the entire timeline – God Himself.

Give yourself some space to think on good things (Philippians 4:8). Read Psalms that depict the over-all God in His exceeding glory. The past and the future don’t belong to us. Focus on now – including the many blessings that surround us. Let’s not let the gloom sink us. There is hope!

And perhaps, like me last night, shut down all the bad news and just watch Seabiscuit. Because out of busted-up and imperfect can come victory.

Scandalous Mercy

I am one small, finite, little-hearted, mortal human being, and my capacity for mercy toward others is really pretty meager.

The God who created all things, and whose language is that of infinitude, is not like that.

Let’s say you embezzled a hundred thousand dollars from an employer – knowingly stealing what wasn’t yours. Or you destroyed the reputation of a co-worker through gossip. Or you regularly lashed out in anger at those around you because of your petty and selfish heart.

Or you commited adultery – repeatedly. Or you curse(d) God on a regular basis. Or you were/are a card-carrying racist. Or you beheaded Christians in Iraq.

The zealous Jewish Pharisee Saul, who became the apostle Paul, was such a Christian persecutor. Yet Jesus Christ reached into his heart and turned him God-ward, forgave his sins, and gave him the commission to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the Gentile nations.

Scandalous mercy, that. How could such a murderous sinner find compassion from an offended and holy God?

Or how could good King David, having experienced all the rich blessings of God, turn around and commit adultery with Bathsheba, and try to cover up his foul deed by having her husband Uriah killed?

“God has taken away your sin,” said the prophet Nathan, once David woke up from his sin-soaked stupor and repented. Oh, David had to live with the consequences of his actions, and he experienced the sting of them for the rest of his days.

But where we might have given up and cried out for only justice, God’s heart swelled with both justice and mercy.

Justice carried out by substitutionary atonement – the death of one to cover the sins of another. The Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world.

Mercy to receive back the transgressor – even, as the apostle Paul called himself, the chief of sinners. Yes, even your sins and mine. All of them. No matter how foul.

We cannot be severe enough in our assessment of our own scandalous state. We are all sin-infused hypocrites (thank you for the reminder yesterday, Scott Sauls). But God’s mercy is an ocean, not a puddle. Forgiveness even for THAT? Even for ME???

Yes. God is big enough to cover you. He’s got this.

Scandalous mercy for scandalous people. That’s the good news.

Every once in a while, a dark and heavy thought floods my mind. I try to dismiss it because I know it’s not going anywhere healthy, but when things happen like the recent suicide of Robin Williams, I can’t avoid it.

What if I sink, too?

dark cloudsIf you’ve had a history of depression, I suspect you know the train of thought I’m talking about.

I remember feeling this profoundly the first time I watched the movie, “A Beautiful Mind.” Russell Crowe’s portrayal of mental illness in that movie rocked me to my core. It scared me.

Despite the fact that my depression is currently under control, what if the darkness returns and overwhelms me? What if I, like hymnist/poet William Cowper, enter a darkened state that plagues me for the rest of my days? Or – what if I develop Alzheimer’s disease and degenerate into helpless forgetfulness?

Morbid, I know – but you’ve thought about it too, right? Come on, be honest – our minds wander into these dark places whether we want them to or not!

That’s why this reading from Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional book, Morning and Evening, was such a comfort today:

“And I will remember my covenant.”
Genesis 9:15

Mark the form of the promise. God does not say, “And when ye shall look upon the bow, and ye shall remember my covenant, then I will not destroy the earth,” but it is gloriously put, not upon our memory, which is fickle and frail, but upon God’s memory, which is infinite and immutable. “The bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant.” Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God’s remembering me which is the ground of my safety; it is not my laying hold of his covenant, but his covenant’s laying hold on me. Glory be to God! the whole of the bulwarks of salvation are secured by divine power, and even the minor towers, which we may imagine might have been left to man, are guarded by almighty strength. Even the remembrance of the covenant is not left to our memories, for we might forget, but our Lord cannot forget the saints whom he has graven on the palms of his hands. It is with us as with Israel in Egypt; the blood was upon the lintel and the two side-posts, but the Lord did not say, “When you see the blood I will pass over you,” but “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” My looking to Jesus brings me joy and peace, but it is God’s looking to Jesus which secures my salvation and that of all his elect, since it is impossible for our God to look at Christ, our bleeding Surety, and then to be angry with us for sins already punished in him. No, it is not left with us even to be saved by remembering the covenant. There is no linsey-wolsey here–not a single thread of the creature mars the fabric. It is not of man, neither by man, but of the Lord alone. We should remember the covenant, and we shall do it, through divine grace; but the hinge of our safety does not hang there–it is God’s remembering us, not our remembering him; and hence the covenant is an everlasting covenant.

The book of Isaiah uses striking language to make a similar point:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15)

Even the bond, the memory, of a mother for her child may be broken. But God is way beyond these human limits. For which I am profoundly grateful.

I might, in fact, lose it. I might sink. I might forget. But my hope isn’t in MY remembering. It is in God’s infinite memory, and commitment, and power, and covenant. He alone is unfailing.

Ashes for Beauty

We’ve all heard of the phrase “beauty for ashes” – a lovely image of trading off a lowly and filthy state, for fresh, renewed beauty.

It is the language of the gospel. It is the language of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61 of his book.

It is the hope and yearning of any honest person who looks into his/her soul and sees the ash heap of sin and selfishness that defiles every one of us.

We mourn, and a symbol of that mourning in the days of Isaiah was to cover oneself with ashes in sorrow and humiliation.

But that’s not the end of the story.

beauty for ashesLater, in chapter 61:10, Isaiah proclaims that the period of ashes is to be followed by its opposite – a state of newness, light, and cleansing. The language is striking and even romantic:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in God;

for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Some people – and I confess that I am one of them – seem to feel more comfortable wallowing in the ashes, than rejoicing in the freely-given robe of righteousness. Instead of trading up to beauty for our ashes, we trade down – neglecting the good news of an infinitely forgiving and cleansing God in order to stare at the soot and the filth. As if a right posture before God was one of unending mourning. “Thanks for the beauty, but I think I’ll just cover myself with ashes again today…”

The mourning period is temporary. It is meant to lead us to repentance, then to embracing the beauty of Jesus Christ while putting away our ashes of self-will and unbelief.

Yes, we will still sin, and mourn our profound imperfection. But we’re now alive. We’ve been granted pardon and been adopted. We have righteous robes. We have beauty instead of ashes.

It’s time to clean up the mirror and see as God sees…

photo credit: sparktography via photopin cc

That was the title of a book I read many years ago, by author J.B. Philips. I really don’t remember any specific content, but the title pretty accurately sums up the core message.

We think small thoughts of God.

At times – many times over the years, truth be told – I’ve wondered if God could forgive my sins. If He could actually “do” this salvation thing. Can the Lord truly renew a wreck like me?

But then I thought – when I walk outside, I don’t question whether I’m going to feel enough of the sun’s light and heat to survive the day. I am confident each morning that the sun is big enough for me (and everyone else on this lovely planet, for that matter). There is so much more than enough sun that it would be silly to question its riches of power.

Yet, how much of the sun’s total energy output actually falls on the earth?

Oh, about one one-billionth of a percent.

Were I to stand at a street corner at 11 am, anxiously looking up at the sky and wondering if the sun would still be warm at 2 pm, I’d rightly be considered by my neighbors to be a bit daft. And my anxiety and questioning really wouldn’t change the nature of the sun anyway, would it? Doubt doesn’t diminish a single photon.

Sun

Do we walk out the door and question whether there will be enough air to breathe that day? Do we stand at the shoreline of the ocean and wonder if there’s water enough for a swim? Do we think the sun is insufficient to give light today, tomorrow, and next week?

Yet God, who made all of these things and billions of galaxies beside, is not enough to take care of me??

Hmmmmm….

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