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Driving through upstate NY State with my brothers yesterday, we noted how many properties had fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Once-thriving communities built on farming are no longer prospering.

Collapsed barns. Leaning silos. Boarded-up houses. Fallow fields.

And then, in the midst of the decay, we spotted one brand-new, freshly-reconstructed barn. Someone believed, hoped, and invested.

Decomposition is not sovereign.

I look into my heart, and I see collapse and decay.

Yet Jesus sees a place for investment, a place to show forth His renovating power. He renews. He pours in life.

He lovingly cultivates.

Fields of weeds will bear fruit.

Debt-Free

During a well-crafted “State of the Church” sermon this past Sunday at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Pastor David Cassidy mentioned the encouraging fact that the assembly is debt-free – its facility and land are all paid for.

Of course, it is a biblical principle that we seek to owe no man anything, and being debt-free gives the church much greater flexibility in making forward-looking investments.

DebtFree crossWe recently sold our house in New Jersey and moved to a rental here in Tennessee, and for the first time in a long-time, we have no mortgage. And you know what? When we got that final signed paperwork, it felt pretty wonderful!

But that feeling of freedom is only a tiny window into the complete liberation of the church of God. The wonderful fact is, the assembly of saints in Jesus Christ is debt-free in an unspeakably glorious dimension.

Every sin paid for; past, present, and future. All spiritual debts discharged. Debt-free through the free and gracious gift of the God to whom we owed perfect allegiance – but before whom we morally defaulted – living instead for the futile pleasures of sin.

Through the atoning death of Christ, He paid off the debt we could never repay. And that payoff, signed with blood, gives us the liberty to be the freed sons and daughters of God.

Every time I step onto that campus, I want to think about what it truly means to be debt-free. Not owing people or banks any money is a liberating thought. Not owing the God of all creation, despite all of my moral corruption?

Priceless.

Entering into Rest

There is undoubted value in entering into regular periods of physical rest. We sleep for a reason. We take vacations for a reason. And, if the book of Genesis (and common sense) are any guide, a weekly day of detachment from labor is a very good thing.

Sunset restWe are not machines.

Rest, however, is not only outward. That part is relatively easy – pull the sheets over your head; schedule a trip to some quiet lake; tell the demands of work to take a hike on weekends.

Where I’ve always failed miserably is inward rest. I have a striving heart, often driven more by fear than confidence. Figure it out – now. Implement it – now. Oh, and by the way…perfectionism.

Uptight much? Real warm and fuzzy right there. Relaxed.

This season of life in Tennessee is, in part, a hopeful adventure into a new realm of inward rest. Bringing up kids, building a career, living in the northeast, and dealing with internal emotional-psychological-spiritual short circuits all along the way has been exhausting.

Yet, God never fails. He is taking me aside and teaching me. He is reaching into long-broken areas of my heart and healing. He is helping me to simply see and believe Him, Who is the ultimate fountain of all rest.

True rest is not merely a practice. It’s a relationship.

Figuring it all out, and implementing perfectly?? Not happening – now or ever. Seeing, and beginning to quietly rest? That plant is growing afresh.

Thanks be to God for His marvelous, patient, lovingkindness!

Hope-full Purification

Trying to be holy without standing on a base of hope is like….well, it’s like running through a dark wilderness with a broken compass, wearing worn-out moccasins while carrying an angry and sharp-beaked octopus on your back. During an ice storm.

OK, the analogy is imperfect, but you get the point. If you seek holiness without a firm anchor in hope, you simply become a guilt-ridden Pharisee.

Trust me – I know from experience.

We see the God-honoring way of becoming holy in I John 3:1-3:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

First, we embrace God in a love relationship. We become, and then ARE, His children (a fact, a fixed identity. Done deal.)

Then, we embrace the fact that our ultimate destiny – our future identity, secured by an all-powerful God – is total conformity to Christ. We WILL be holy. A done deal that is getting done now.

Finally, we then are able to take on whatever efforts to actively purify ourselves. Practical holiness becomes practical only when we embrace our identity, our beloved-ness, our destiny.

Holiness is hope-fueled. Guilt, fear, and moral pride only lead to an external straitjacket of attempted behavior-modification. Orthodoxy and effort without humble and grace-filled hope only lead to defeat.

The Christian has to unlearn Pharisee-righteousness by resting in faith first. THAT will lead to sincere striving for sanctification. Fueled by strong hope.

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.

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