Brokenness . . and Christianity

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

Photograph by oatsy40Do you have a few cracks?

Have you taken inventory of your chips lately?

Ever worry that if there’s even one more faintest touch of trouble, you’ll crumble?

. . Have you ever shattered?

When you think about human frailty, who comes to mind?

Yourself?

A close family member who disintegrated after a final blow of ‘bad luck’?

Maybe a coworker who landed in prison?

A successful friend who had to take disability after an unexpected turn in life?

Or perhaps some stranger who just had too heavy a load, now wasting away in an insane asylum?

I would guess hardly any of us first thought of the most fragile human being of all.

If you’re now putting on your theological cap and guessing again, you might think of Samson or Saul or Adam–all ruined by their lack of self control.   But you’re still not right.

Who is the most fragile human being?  Who has the weakest vessel of all?

Absolutely, unequivocally, Jesus Christ.

If you’re astonished, think only of this: Who has been the most crushed by sin?

He [Jesus] took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” (Luke 22:19, NLT)

There has to be comfort, overwhelming comfort for the believer who realizes that Jesus has experienced their own sin, shame, and suffering more intensely than they have themselves.  When I stop to picture it, I’m awestruck: the picture Jesus gives us is one of Himself being divided into pieces and ground to bits to nourish His followers–the very ones who wound Him.

There is no one on the entire earth, no matter how much trouble they have been through, who has ever gone through such an experience.  Jesus chose to be spent, utterly, for us.  His spirit was crumbled to powder under the weight of our sin (though He kept His purity throughout), and His body was destroyed beyond anything we can imagine by the agony of our guilt(see Isaiah 52:14).

What does this mean for the believer?

First, that the awe of who Christ is cannot ever be overstated.

Second, that we shouldn’t pout or despair when our fragility is revealed.

Whether our cracks come by our own sin, or by things we didn’t have any say in (like  sickness, unforeseen circumstances, or the sins of others) we can always hold onto what Christ did when He faced the burden of brokenness.  He didn’t brace Himself with supernatural power.  He could have.  But He didn’t.

He chose to shatter.  For you.  For me.

So many times, when I’m confronted with breaking, I try to guard myself, defend myself, flee in fear, or search for a hide-away.  But really, I don’t have to be afraid or angry or bitter.  I can instead peer through the cracks to the

all surpassing power  . . from God

that is inside of me.  As a believer, I no longer have to be consumed by my brokenness.  I don’t have to be terrified or worshipful of it.  I can simply give it to God, and follow the example of Christ in opening my hands to receive wounds that will allow Christ to be seen more clearly through me.

Through . . me.

What treasure to be a vessel who belongs to Jesus.

And what an honor to be broken so that He can be revealed more stunningly in my life day by day.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

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Photograph by oatsy40, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/oatsy40/

Photograph under Creative Commons License.

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Mercy

Christians, preach the mercy of God to yourself.

–From Pastor Daniel

Christ has received the punishment for our sin–there is no revenge on us.

–From my Sunday school teacher, Kevin

Have you ever been afraid you made one too many mistakes?

Missed one too many dental appointments?  Forgot one too many birthdays?  Flunked your New Year’s Resolution one too many years?  Botched one too many tests?  Failed a friend one too many times?  Lost your phone one too many times?  Told a lie one too many times?  Wrecked your car one too many times?  Gotten fired from a job one too many times?  Lost your way one too many times?  Gotten one dollar too many in debt?  Argued with someone you love one too many times?  Broke your promise one too many times?  Wasted the day one too many times?

Disappointed God one too many times?

Sometimes I live in fear that I just broke the last straw.  I broke the rule one time too many.  I missed the last chance.  I went too far.

Can I come back?  Have I ruined everything?  Do I still matter?  Do you still love me?

These are the questions of the insecure heart.

Sometimes we try to ask forgiveness like we are offering God lambs to be sacrificed on His altar.  We try to be sorry enough, pay it all back, make up for it, do something good enough to offset the bad.

We forget that the Lamb of God has already come.  There are no more lambs to offer.  The sacrifice is over.  The new life has begun.

To be a Christian is to receive the sacrifice of Christ.  The merit is all Christ.  The life after is learning to be like Him.

It would be something like if I flunked a chemistry test (which is very believable).  A student approaches me and offers to give me his A+ paper.  I receive his paper and receive his grade.  But he doesn’t just walk away.  He begins to coach me in chemistry.  But the whole time he coaches me, and the whole time I improve, I must still have his A+ paper to save me from flunking.  The test is already over.  I’ve already failed.  And I’ve taken his paper for my own.  None of that changes by my improvement.  (And besides, if at any point I was the one tested, I would still fail to make that A+.)

Christ is the only one who lives a perfect life on this earth.  He is the only one who can coach us towards holiness.  He’s earned the right.  But it is always only His sacrifice that brings us to Heaven.  One day, we will die to our flunked self, and the only thing left in us will be the perfect work of Christ Jesus.  That is what God will see in us.  But it is not this work He has done in us that brings us to Heaven.  It is the work He has done for us that brings us to Heaven.

That is mercy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

On Jaws and Failure

Great white shark

I never watched Jaws.  I don’t want to watch Jaws.  But I did see the beginning clip of the movie on TV several years back.  I’m not sure that I remember it all that correctly.  But here’s how I remember it.

An attractive girl is swimming in the waters.  She comes up for air, and there are underwater shots to let us know something terrible is going to happen.  We can see her legs kicking under the surface.  The depth looks like a black-blue bottomless pit.

We see her from above the water again, and suddenly she takes in a sharp breath.  A look of terror is on her face.  The ocean has betrayed her.  At the same instant, she goes down in the water, just a little, and we know something has tugged on her, because you can’t go down in the water feet first without momentum.

And then, before she has time to plan any strategy or even face that she is in her last moment, she plunges down.  We never see her again.

–Have you ever felt like you were down for your last plunge, caught off guard, struck helpless by surprise, not sure if there is any hope of getting back up again–or maybe sure there isn’t any?

I don’t know anyone who would seriously place odds that they could outlive a hungry shark in a tank.  No one in their right mind would volunteer to be thrown into the waters with such a shark, to see who would win out.  There’s no comparison between a 10-ton shark and a something-pound human.  There is no competition between a shark’s teeth and a human’s fists.

I would think the most terrifying moment would be going under.  There is no way anyone by human strength could fight back to the surface when a shark is pulling its prey down to the depths.

Maybe, though, the most terrifying moment is actually the last breath.

There have been a lot of people throughout history who have been lured into the ocean by temptation and dragged down to their last breath by their sin.  Judas is the most memorable example.  He called the shark upon himself, as we all do when we sin, and then found himself hopelessly sucked under by its power.  Seeing no way up, he committed suicide.

I think most people who commit suicide simply see the power of sin more clearly than we.  Would to God that we saw the seriousness of sin as they do, and would to God that they saw the grace of God as revealed in His Word.  For centuries, people who commit suicide have been harshly judged.  The great tragedy is that many who commit suicide are a great deal wiser than those of us who keep our lives until natural death ever will be on this earth, because those who are ready to commit suicide have seen the reality and ramifications of sin as we do not.  What we would call mental illness I see often as the crystal-clear clarity some have of the depths to which the shark can pull them.

Thousands throughout history have taken their last breath in this struggle, whether through suicide or illness or accident or murder.  Sometime or other, they gave up getting out of the sin that locked its jaws on their soul.  It is just more powerfully revealed in those who commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there for all of us.  We are all startled by the power of sin, and we will all be dragged under for the last time by something beyond our ability to fight if we do not find salvation.  Powerless, hopeless, astonished, and terrified, we will die just as so many before us have died.

–David didn’t seem any different.  Once a man after God’s own heart, he had become a man after the heart of another’s wife.  Probably Satan had imagined if only he could seduce David into this kind of sin, he would be able to pull him under for the last time.

This wasn’t just the wife of any man.  This was the wife of a man with great integrity, very little means (at least compared to David, see Nathan’s analogy in 2 Samuel 12:1-14), and loyal to David to the nth degree.

Just to get David to sin in such a way would be the death sink.  Satan probably had hopes that the nation of Israel would not recover from their leader’s great sin, and God’s beloved people who be scattered, falling into the crevices and pits of sin everywhere that Satan had dug them.  That was something like the plan, I think.

But an opportunity came up that delighted Satan even more.  A chance to cinch the bite of sin on David’s life.  If the shark had been 10 tons before, Satan found a 100 ton shark of sin to sic on David.  How was this?  Satan discovered (or it may have been preplanned) that David had gone so far down the road, gotten so lost, and was so completely out of his relationship with God that he could actually be seduced to murder the man whose wife he had stolen.

Death, from this world’s perspective, is ultimate, permanent, and closes any opportunity to make restitution.  Whereas David could have made great apology to this man, fallen on his knees before him, and hoped to make some kind of life of forgiveness between the two of them . . all chance of that was gone as the curtain between the body and the soul was torn apart.  There was no going back.

And then came the conviction.

What a painful thing is conviction, especially over the worst of the sins we commit!  Easier a dagger to the heart.

Satan enjoys conviction, I think, to a point.  But he recognizes it can always lead to repentance, so it is extremely dangerous.  Satan wouldn’t-and couldn’t–bring conviction upon us, because he’s not righteous and it takes righteousness to do so.  But he can still enjoy the misery of a person who has fallen under the conviction of God.  I use “fallen under” because it really is a falling under.  Conviction is something like God lifting His hand in permission for the shark of our sin to drag us down, down, down, down, down.  It is Jonah in the monstrous, stink-smelling belly of the fish.  It is Judas throwing down the pittance of money that bought the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is David hearing from Nathan,

“You are that man!”

(2 Samuel 12:7b, NLT)

David’s journal (the Psalms he wrote) become outpours of deep, almost hopeless, sinking.  He was in bad shape, and he knew it.  There was no earthly way up.  He might as well have committed suicide as try to make things right.  Everything in his life was falling apart; it was as if the columns of his kingdom were falling down around him. How could he ask for mercy?  This was before the time of Christ.  There was no provision in the law for forgiveness of cold-blooded murder.  There was no sacrifice, no sacrifice, no matter how great, that David could offer before the Lord to be made right with Him once more.

The agony of this pours through the journal he left for us.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3, ESV)

Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;

my health is broken because of my sins.

My guilt overwhelms me—

it is a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and stink

because of my foolish sins.

I am bent over and racked with pain.

All day long I walk around filled with grief.

A raging fever burns within me,

and my health is broken.

I am exhausted and completely crushed.

My groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:3-8, NLT)

All day long my enemies taunt me;

those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

For I eat ashes as my food

and mingle my drink with tears

because of your great wrath,

for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

My days are like the evening shadow;

I wither away like grass. (Psalm 102:8-11, NIV)

This is heavy duty anguish.  David is ruined.  Satan might as well be clapping his hands in glee.  The fight is over; sin has won.  David has nothing within himself he can do to make up for the sin.  He can’t work hard enough, pay back enough, do enough good to outweigh the bad.  He is ruined; he is ruined.  It is over.

“for God all things are possible.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 19:26c ISV)

David opens up his diary for the world in Psalm 32.

Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.

When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat.
Selah

Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
and you forgave my guilt.
Selah

For this reason, all who obey you
should pray to you while they still can.
When troubles rise like a flood,
they will not reach them.
You are my hiding place.
You protect me from my troubles
and fill me with songs of salvation.
Selah

The Lord says, “I will make you wise and show you where to go.
I will guide you and watch over you.
So don’t be like a horse or donkey,
that doesn’t understand.
They must be led with bits and reins,
or they will not come near you.”

Wicked people have many troubles,
but the Lord’s love surrounds those who trust him.
Good people, rejoice and be happy in the Lord.
Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David, king of a nation, opened his diary for all to see the working of God.  Imagine a king or prime minister or president today publishing a book called something like, My Utter, Abysmal, Awful Failure: And the God Who Saved Me.  But that is something like what David did in writing Psalm 32 [1].

He was so confident in the love of God that he allowed his people to see his deep sink into sin.  He ends with

Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David’s heart was right.  In an instant, the shark keeled over and died, harpooned by a mysterious figure of the future.  This mysterious figure was working long before He was born into a stable in an overflowing city during an inconvenient government census.  But just like then, He chooses to work in the most real of circumstances.

He chose to be born not in a king’s palace during a time of glorious prosperity and peace, but instead in a lowly stable during a time of political unrest, corruption, and crucifixion.  And Jesus, the mysterious figure in David’s life, chooses to work even with David’s awful life.  I mean, let’s be honest–who would want to trade places with David right before the point God intervenes? Jaws wasn’t in the mind of Steven Spielberg yet, but David’s sin was an ever-present shark thirsting for his blood and pulling him further and further down, away from God’s Presence.

I imagine here a picture [2].  I see Jesus as the ultimate scuba diver, swimming to a depth no one else would dare go.  The pressure of the water is more than anyone else could bear, yet Jesus swims deeper, deeper, deeper.  Harpoon in hand, He swims right up to the shark, and the battle that ensues is nothing short of epic.  Tremendous.  Teeth cracking, flesh mangling.  Jesus, who would become so wounded by the effect of our sin that He was said to not even be recognizable as a human (see Isaiah 52:14).  And the shark, pierced to the heart and dethroned as the king of the deep.

Jesus comes in our darkest moments–yes, Jesus comes in our darkest moments and harpoons our greatest evil!  There is never, ever justification for you or me, whoever you are, whoever I am, to think all is lost and there is no reason to go on.  There is never, ever a reason for you or me to surrender to the shark.  The shark is ever-present, yes, but so–yes, so!–is Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1b, NASB)

Is there any help?  You betcha there is!  The only reason anyone dies in the depths is because their last breath was taken in despair or delusion, rather than to cry out for the Son of God.

–God will not save you if you don’t want to be saved.  It is your shark; you have to want to get rid of it.

–God will not save me if I don’t want to be saved. It is my shark; I have to want to get rid of it.

–And I do!  I DO!!!!!!!!  Like David and every other person ever gripped in the locked jaws of sin, I cry out to God to save me.  And He does. He DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ending to that scene in Jaws. . changes.

The girl still gives a gasp, still feels the initial jerk, still plunges under the surface of the water with no hope for return.

The silence tells the story of no hope.  It is such a long silence there is no reason to think it won’t be eternal.  The surface of the water gives no rustle of life.

It is so dark, so still.

And then, just as we are sure we have seen the end, something happens which utterly changes the whole scene.  As though thrown up from the depths–and as a matter of fact, this is just exactly what happened–the girl emerges, gasping for air.  Black water from the depths of the ocean runs down her hair and face as her mouth opens wide to breathe the sunlit air.  She blinks as her lungs expand once more; she can’t believe what she’s seeing.  The sun shines down on her pale face, and color, real, living color, begins to flush her cheeks.  Her eyes are wide, but in wonder, not fear, and then, true to horror movie form, the shark breaks the surface of the waters.

In all its horror, it thunders upon the surface of the water, a fearful wave created from the blow of its body.  Its full length is finally seen, its full weight, the magnitude of its presence, the hideous length of its countless teeth.

The shark is right by the girl, as close as it can be without touching her, and there is no doubt she will be ripped back down to the depth in greater fury then before.

But then, the viewer realizes something.

The girl is not screaming.

And the shark is not on its back, but on its belly.  Its jaws are on full display, but they are not biting.  Its eyes are wide open, but they are not set on her.  There is no dorsal fin to see.

The shark is dead as a doornail.

In regust–but not in fear–the girls begins to swim away from the ugly, floating corpse.  The implanted harpoon gleams in the sunlight.  She wipes her face of all the water of the deep, takes another big breath, and begins to swim for shore.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14, AKJV)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

(Lyrics from 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), by Matt Redman)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! (Psalm 146:1, ESV)

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[1] The collection of psalms are not placed in chronological order in the book of Psalms.  We might wonder at this, but, first of all, it’s very likely that the original hearer’s knew the events that occurred before psalms.  Certain psalms are marked with what events preceded them.  Hymn books are not sorted in chronological order, either, or some poetry compilations, and no one asks why this is.  Psalms, as poetry, lend themselves to a focus on themes other than chronology.

[2] The scuba diver analogy comes by God’s grace through C.S. Lewis’ diver analogy in Miracles.

I thank John Eldridge’s Epic for ideas in this blog.

Rather Hear

I would rather hear about the grace of God than the failure of man.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. (Hebrews 12:15, NLT)

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Photograph by Kelsey (Love Fusion Photography), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/supersonicphotos/, website http://www.facebook.com/lovefusionphoto

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on September 17, 2011 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Coals

Yesterday was a seriously hot summer day.

I have been staying inside mostly, because of my allergies, but I decided to go get the mail.

Walking barefoot down the path from our front door, I noticed something: the cement was very warm.  It was almost unpleasant, but not enough motivation for me to go back in the house and get shoes.

Then I stepped onto the driveway, and I realized something else: the cement on the driveway was hot.  This was unpleasant, but it didn’t hurt, and I was so close to getting what I wanted (the mail) and, besides, I have been known in the past for tough feet.  As a kid I could run up and down our gravel drive barefoot.  Yes.  I don’t know any other kid who would run the full length of our semi-rural gravel drive.  (Never got a boyfriend out of it, though, go figure.)

So I thought, My feet are still tough from those days of professional feet toughening, and I hurried down the driveway to the mailbox.  I had enough common sense not to step on the sweltering blacktop of the road to get the mail, so I figured I could endure a minute or so more of hot cement.

Now, what happened next happened very fast.

The temperature beneath my feet almost instantly switched from being hot to being too hot.

You know what the funny thing is?  I’m not sure whether I stepped out on the blacktop or not.  I don’t think I did, but I was so focused on getting the mail that I simply wasn’t paying attention.

I was at first a little bit in shock at the sudden heat wave from my feet.  Wasn’t this the same cement driveway I had just been on?  How could it now be too hot? It wasn’t as if I had been standing on it all afternoon, waiting for it to heat up.  What had happened?

Well, I didn’t have a mind to think about what had happened, because my feet were hurting.  I started back for the house and my feet started burning.  I was running now, trying to get back to the pathway that led up to the door.  I knew when I got there it would be cooler.

Oh, but I was wrong.

Because my feet were already burning, I got no relief when I got on the pathway.  Actually, the burning sensation became more painful.  I ran to the door and jumped the last couple feet.  When I got inside the house, my feet were off the heat, but mildly throbbed, reminding me of how seriously I had miscalculated the intensity and prolonged effect of the heat.

Now, fortunately, my feet stopped hurting almost right away.  And today I only have a mild tenderness that may be brought about by the memory more than an actual burn.

What’s interesting is I’ve been reading Proverbs in my One Year Bible, and I can tell you it made me think about this proverb more:

Can he [a man] walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? (Proverbs 6:28, NLT)

At first glance, we might think this is just a common-sense statement and move on.  But this question actually gives us deep insight into the nature of sin, if we will but pause, pray for wisdom from our Savior who discerns all things, and reflect on it.

Lord Jesus, please give us your wisdom as we read your Word, that we see what You want us to see.

Context is invaluable in understanding meaning.  This proverb specifically deals with men who seek out prostitution:

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

This certainly doesn’t fit with the mainstream media’s version of what happens.  In our society, we would often like to portray marriage as a revolving door in which the person who pleases us most at the time is on the other side.   But what does God say?

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24, ESV)

What a beautiful beginning for marriage.  God makes Eve from Adam.  Did God really think any animal or bird was going to keep Adam company, be his helper?  We know He didn’t, because He says

“I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The word “make” reveals what God was planning on doing.  This parade of animals was part of a clever plan to show Adam how wonderful and quintessential Eve was for him!  There was no deception here; God was simply showing Adam that, while all of God’s creation was special, Adam needed someone who, like himself, was made in the image of God (and, romantically, made from Adam as well!).

So when a man takes another man’s wife, he is pulling one flesh apart and making it two.  I think of the graphic visual that portrays, and infidelity becomes gruesome.

This is a very important truth about marriage, but there is an even deeper truth inside this Genesis story and inside the Proverb: our relationship to God.

Throughout the Bible, God describes our relationship to Him in ways we can begin to understand through our experiences with human relationships.  He describes those who trust in Him as His people, for example, and His children.  He also describes us as His bride, and lest we get all confused by this because we are fallen human creatures, what He means is that He loves us very much, He purifies us, He rescues us, and He brings us to His kingdom to live forever.

God uses this analogy to help us understand why it is so destructive when we sin.  When we sin, we are unfaithful to God, tearing ourselves away from Him to join ourselves with Satan.  This is why, when Adam and Eve sinned, they had to be pulled away from God, separated from His presence.   And this is one reason why Christ’s love for us is so profound.  He doesn’t just come along to rescue us as a prince does in a fairy tale, but He comes along and rescues us after we left His kingdom!  He comes along and rescues us even though we have been unfaithful to Him!

So when we read this Proverb, we can think not only about what happens when we are unfaithful to our spouse, but, even more profoundly, what happens when we are unfaithful to God.

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

Satan is always plotting for how He can pull us away from God.  Satan wants our clothes to catch on fire; he wants our feet blistered.  And he quite often achieves this by leading us away very gently, very mildly.

When I first stepped out on the pathway to get the mail, I knew it was warm.  But I didn’t think it was hot enough that it could eventually burn me.  Satan often prefers to pull a similar trick on us.  He has us step away from God into something a little uncomfortable, what we might think of as a “little sin”.

Over time, Satan tries to nourish our boldness like someone blowing on an ember.  He encourages us to explore sin a little more, go a little deeper.  This is like when I stepped out on the hot driveway.  This is more uncomfortable, and we usually have to face that what we’re doing is in rebellion to God.  So why do we stay there?  Sort-of like how I wanted to get the mail, there is something Satan knows we want–what tempts us most–and he keeps our eyes focused on that “prize” so that we will be led further and further down a path of sin.

But then it gets worse.  Sometime or another, one of two things will happen: we either step out into brash, life-deflating sin, which would be like stepping out on that sweltering blacktop . . . or we stay so long in sin we burn ourselves that way, like staying on the concrete pavement.  It doesn’t take a “blacktop sin” to burn our feet.  Just by lingering on the “concrete sins”, we’ll be burned.  In fact, even the little “pathway sins” will blister our feet overtime.

(I want to note something very important here: Whether or not we are immediately burned does not reveal whether or not the sin has hurt us.  All sin, however “small” or “trivial” we may think it is, leads us away to Hell.)

We think about Hell a lot as punishment, and it is.  But do we realize that we ignite ourselves?

The bad news is, every one of us has strayed outside God’s house of safety many, many times, and every one of us bears fiery scars.  The good news is, God does what people don’t: He stands at the doorway to His house ready to take us back in, no matter how many times we have failed Him.

One of the most moving stories comes in the life of a prophet named Hosea.  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  That’s right: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Hosea obeyed.  Throughout their marriage, Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him, but God would tell Hosea to take her back, to restore her.  It seems almost inconceivable that God would ask such a thing, or does it?

Hosea’s relationship with his wife was an illustration of God’s relationship with His people.  Time and time again, we are unfaithful to Him.  Time and time again, He is ready to take us back.

I think just about all of us have had the experience of doing something really stupid, getting hurt, and then being afraid to go for help.  Sometimes, when we do go to help, we get scorned, mocked, or endlessly chastised.  But God is simply not that way.  When we go to Him, He stands ready to take us in, ready to heal us.  And all because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple.  A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11, NLT)


Photo by DesignsbyKari, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/designsbykari/, website http://colormeducky.blogspot.com/
See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Mexican Dominoes

dominos lined up during a game

At a friend’s house last night, I was introduced to Mexican Dominoes.  It’s one of those games where you want as few points as possible after all the rounds.  Like golf.

My first game of Mexican Dominoes I had like 32 points.  Not good.  Another round I ended up with 54.  I had a blast playing the game with good friends, but if I’d actually been playing in a competition, I might have excused myself for a glass of water and sneaked away!  Nobody (nobody I know, anyway), likes the thought of accumulating “bad points” on their score that can’t be gotten rid of later in the game.  Although you can improve your score at Mexican Dominoes, you will still have to deal with the scores you got in earlier rounds.  So even if you won a round (g0t a zero for a score), it would basically be for nothing if you were carrying a heavy score from earlier rounds.

Our lives are actually a lot like Mexican Dominoes, except we don’t get to finally erase our score at the end of a game.  No matter how good I try to be in the present moment, the past is inescapable.  I carry a heavy score of bad decisions that cannot be made up for or scribbled out.  The score is so outrageously against me, in fact, that it’s hard to be motivated to even try in the future.

The nightmare of this life is that there is no way to go back and undo what we’ve done wrong.

The hope of this life is Jesus.

Jesus is the only one who never earned a single bad point, and so He is the only winner.  But He didn’t stop there.  Although He had a perfect score, He took our negative points on Himself and lost to them so we take on His perfect score and win with Him.

There is no way to erase a bad score in Mexican dominoes.  But there is one way to erase a bad life.  Jesus Christ has won the right not just to free us from our sin but also to give us His eternally righteous score.

Why would He do such a thing?  I mean, why wouldn’t He keep His unchallenged, perfect score for Himself and let us die and go to Hell without any chance for redemption?

Because the God of our universe cares more about people than the bad points they have earned.  He would rather erase our scoreboards and keep us than keep our scoreboards and erase us.

But God has made clear his love to us, in that, when we were still sinners, Christ gave his life for us. (Romans 5:8, BBE)

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” (Romans 4:8, NASB)

Wash away my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:2, HCSB)

When he [Jesus] sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (Isaiah 53:11, NLT)

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”(Galatians 3:11-13, NLT)

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

Pig Pong (Part 1)

When I was a kid, I played a game called Pig Pong.  You can’t even get the game anymore, unless you find it secondhand.  I don’t know why they stopped making it.  It was a blast.

The game was simple.  There was a plastic net, like a tennis net, only for the tabletop.  There were little red pigs that skimmed the top of the net which kept score.  There was a fluffy “ball” made out of something like Styrofoam.  And then there were the handheld plastic pigs.  When you squeezed them, they blew air.

All you had to do was puff your pig enough to get the ball to land on the other side of the net, using only the air from your pig.  Of course, the other person was fighting hard to puff the ball on your side of the net.

There was always this certain feeling when the ball was a few centimeters from falling on your side of the net.  The pigs were way too big to get under the ball, then.  It was too late.  The point was going to be lost.

Trying to get God’s favor through good works is kinda like playing a losing game of Pig Pong.  Like, I’ve got one pig puffing on my side of the net, and there are, oh, 6,000 or so pigs puffing on the other side of the net.  Pigs like temptation, accusation, and regret blow jet streams of air and the ball ends of flat on my side of the net every single time.

Point after point after point . . . I lose.  Over and over and over.  Because the enemy pigs are way, way, way stronger than my pig of sin nature, and they will win every single time.

They may tease me by waiting a few seconds while I puff madly at the ball, but they’re just teasing.  One gust and the ball is flat on my side of the net again.

Good works just don’t get you into Heaven if you can’t do them.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, ESV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.