Bounce

Financial calculationWhen I was a teenager, I got my first paying job at a fast food restaurant. My mom helped me open a checking account.

I felt like big stuff having a checking account. I loved that I had the power to write checks.

I loved that power too much.

My mom carefully taught me how to balance my checkbook. For a short time, I kept up with it. After that, I sort of estimated. Or just believed the money would be there.

My mom insisted I balance the checkbook one night, and I realized something very important.

The check I’d written that day was going to bounce. It wasn’t even a check for stuff I needed, but just stuff I’d wanted to have.

I felt embarrassed about it, and I tried to brush it off as no big deal. But Mom wouldn’t have it.

Mom told me the store could put my name on display at the registers for the clerks to look at, to make sure not to accept anymore checks from me. And, to top it off, the bank doesn’t look keenly on bounced checks and charges an overdraft fee—and I didn’t even have any money in savings for the bank to draw from.

After I realized more of the gravity of the situation, Mom told me she would pay the debt—I think the check was for something like $200 and much of the money I didn’t have.

I didn’t realize it at the time nearly so much as I see it now, but my mother was presenting a clear picture of the Gospel for me that day.

First, God gives us the freedom to choose how we will spend our lives. But in Adam, we all chose to turn away from God and now we have a sin nature that makes right choices impossible apart from Christ.

Second, we all get in debt to sin. And not sinning for things we need—just things we want. We have no excuse for the sin we get ourselves into. We’re careless about getting ourselves into sin. We don’t realize the full consequences.

Third, we defend ourselves when confronted with sin. We try to brush it off or justify it as if it’s no big deal—or we regress into self-pity and remorse.

Fourth, God convicts us of our sin. We see that we have no excuse and that we have no way out on our own.

Fifth, God offers to pay our debt. We can start all over again, debt free, by belief in His Son. (For someone who is already a Christian who sins, we get a fresh start in our walk with Him.)

This miracle is made possible by grace. God takes our debt—sure to bounce back to us on Judgment Day—and pays it all off. He takes on our poverty, and we inherit His righteousness. This is the power of the cross.

He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14, NLT)

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Heavy Load

Heavy Load

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

When I was fourteen years old, I went on an oversees trip to Hungary.  Since we were first stopping in Oklahoma for training, I needed two bags: a regular one for the OK camp and a backpack for the oversees travel.  The backpack needed to be sleek, innovative, carry all I needed for the oversees part, and, above all, be very light.  I’d have to carry it through the airport and up & down the streets of Hungary.

My mom invested in what in 1998 to a non-hiking family was a very expensive backpack.  I think we paid $89.  And this was not money we had floating around in the sky.  I knew what a gift it was for my mom to buy it.

It was a beauty.  Lithe, streamlined, and heavy-duty.  Exactly what my mom had in mind.  It was designed to be no burden.

There was one problem, though.

My hoarding.

When I got to Oklahoma, things fell apart at the seams.  I experienced a tremendous amount of anxiety about leaving the country, and my backpack became my security blanket.  Rather than leaving the intended amount behind at the camp and packing only what I needed, I tried to stuff as much as I could in my backpack.  I don’t remember all that I crammed inside, but I do remember knowing the things inside were going to be ruined by the pressure.   And I was right.  Cookies I’d wanted to save were crumbled, and shampoo or something like it burst on the airplane flight.

I remember the time I started realizing how alone I was.  At the airport, the guys would help carry the girls’ backpacks voluntarily, but few wanted to carry mine even when I pleaded.  I remember at one point the thin, short, sweet leader of my group carrying my backpack herself to help me out.

I was embarrassed none of the boys really wanted to help me.  But this made me want to hoard my things even more.  I needed this stuff.  It might help me get through what was looking like a very long trip.  So throughout much of the trip, I kept even things I knew I was never going to use.

I stored a bent, melted box of chocolates simply because my mom had bought it for me and I didn’t want to leave it behind.  I didn’t want to leave anything behind.  Even trash.  Somehow trash became sentimental for me, and I didn’t want to part with it. And even if the stuff didn’t help me, how could I leave it behind now?  If I threw things away, I’d have to take them out of my backpack first.  And the other teens would think I was weird for keeping stuff like a crumpled box of ruined chocolates in my bag.  They might even make fun of me.

The more time went by, the heavier my load felt.  By the time we were walking down the streets of Hungary, I was feeling a numb twinge in my back I’d never felt before.  This started a back pain that did not resolve itself just because we arrived back home.  I’d done too much damage, lifting something that was far too heavy for me to try to carry.

The “unnecessariness” of my heavy load, the shame I experienced from carrying trash on my back, the difficulty finding any of the handsome boys to carry my backpack for me, and the deep damage of the experience to my back and, far worse, to my feelings . . reminds me of what it’s like to carry a heavy spiritual load around in this life.

The backpack God gives us to carry around our spiritual stuff is incredible: ergonomic, state-of-the-arc, and intricately designed for every good thing we might want to carry.  But sin—our choice to turn away from God—ruined the way we look at our backpack.  Rather than storing precious memories and good works to show our Father, we often pack away grudges, failures, disappointments, and our most horrible mistakes.  The problem is, we were never meant to carry such weighty, bulky things.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

Jesus makes an incredible claim, and it’s not the world’s sort of claim of trading in our old backpack for a larger model to carry more sin.   God’s claim is that we can dump the wadded-up trash, ruined possessions, mold, and dirt in our backpack directly on Him.  (For the origin of this analogy, please see Max Lucado’s beautiful book Next Door Savior or the booklet He Did This Just For You.)

Jesus suffered for your sin and my sin personally at the cross.

I could hardly convince the boys at the airport to carry my backpack, even with cajoling and pleading and pathetic flirting.  But with God, we don’t have to worry about begging Him to forgive us—He is eager and waiting to do so!  The Message of the Cross is God running up to us, arms outstretched, ready to take our worst burdens on Himself so we can be free.  All we have to do is hand our heavy load over.

Jesus, I give you my heavy load.  The burden is grave.  Please empty my bag of its disgusting sin and fill it with Your featherweight grace.  I bow down to You, Jesus, the only One able to carry my load.

Thank you for wanting to.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

Grace Contagious

Grace is contagious[1].

Highly contagious.

And even the most stubborn, hard-core hater can’t go to the local drugstore for a vaccine against it.  Even he, yes, he! . . Even she, yes, she! . . Even the ones you can’t even picture smiling or giving, even THEY can become infectious with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Find someone to give grace to today.

And don’t be surprised if it’s the person you DIDN‘T have in mind.

Oh, make no mistake, it will probably be someone who really annoys you–and not just a little bit!  Or someone who you struggle with hating.  Or someone you’ve had a long-term grudge against for 21 years.  God will give you the opportunity to spread His grace to people like that {and also the teenager who cuts you off in traffic and the man interrupting your dinner date with his loud cell phone conversation and the coworker who goes on and on about political beliefs that are opposite to you and . . you get the idea 😉 }.

Grace is contagious.

Spread it around.

Can’t do it?  No way?

None of us can.  Only Jesus can give you the quality of grace.  The world will look at it with wonder and confusion or even recoil and call it a disease.  But once you receive grace, you see that you are ‘infected’ not with a pathogen, but infused with benevolence meant to bless every single person in the world.

. . And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. (Luke 11:4a, HCSB)

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[1] I don’t know who first said this, common phrase on internet.

I am Yours

The most moving line in the movie Luther is a Scripture that a monk overseeing Martin Luther gives him one night when he is flat on the floor of his chamber cell, trying to defend himself against Satan in a crazed monologue. [1]

Luther is rambling, ranting, and crying out in an effort to overpower the work of Satan in his life.  He is frantic in his fear of going to Hell, and he keeps trying to ward off the Devil and his attacks.

Luther chronicles Martin Luther’s morphing life from trying to appease God to discovering that Christ has already taken away his sin, and the first breakthrough moment is when the overseeing monk intervenes as Luther rants and gives him a single line to cry out to God,

I am Yours.  Save me.

In the darkest times of his life that follow, Luther retreats in the arms of Christ, crying out,

I am Yours.  Save me.

The prayer is the core of faith in Jesus Christ.  We rely not on our ability to defend ourselves against Satan, but on Christ’s ability to defend us, rooted in His work on the cross.  It is the work of Christ, not the work of us, that saves us.

A heartbreaking part of American Christianity is that many in the church never or rarely get to the point where they see what the atoning work of Christ has done for them.  Either they are not saved, or they live out their existence on earth as immature Christians because they have little concept of what they have been saved from.  They see Christ more as a character from the Marvel comic series who rescued them from the world’s evil, rather than recognizing that Christ is the Lamb of God who submitted to anguish for our individual, very personal sin.  They do not know how to cry out to God for forgiveness and salvation.  They instead merely ask Him for forgiveness and salvation the way they might ask for the certain title of a book at Barnes & Noble or where the jackets are located at Macy’s or on what aisle the caulk is found at Lowe’s.

I am Yours.  Save me

Radical is Luther’s cry for forgiveness, because radical is his awareness of what God has saved him from.  Many in the church never more than glimpse at the burden, the load of weight which Christ carried on the cross.  Many in America see His suffering as something “fated” to happen, not something purposefully planned at God’s greatest expense for the sake of you and me..  They do not know enough about God, or sin, to even realize the extreme sacrifice given on their behalf.

Jesus was at odds with many people who thought they were really wise, really philosophical, and really religious.  They trusted in their wisdom, philosophy, and made-up religion to get them into Heaven.  So they didn’t grasp even the smallest meaning within the Scriptures.  The atoning work of the Messiah was completely veiled from them because they were looking to themselves for salvation, not to Him.  Jesus said one time when some of them tried to trick Him because of their total ignorance of the true and living God,

“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 24:b, NIV)

Luther experienced the enormous torment of conviction because he knew the Scriptures and he knew himself.  He knew that God is holy, and he knew that he is not.  We shirk away from conviction because, at its full weight, it is nothing short of torment.  What we don’t realize is that the more we come to terms with who we are, the more significant the Messiah becomes.

Conviction by itself is deadly, though.  It is spirit-breaking, and in its vulnerability, suicide and madness are all too eager to flood in.  But a broken spirit in and of itself is no bad thing.  Actually, it is what God longs for within us.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

If I am really honest with myself, as much as I hate the suffering that guilt brings, I know that without it I would be unimaginably wicked.  Luther was so burdened by his guilt that he realized, in a society that believed otherwise, that no amount of self-inflicted wounds, monetary gifts, good luck talismans, patronage to the church, ritualized prayers, chants for forgiveness, or so-called good deeds could make him right with God.

At a significant point in the movie, after his pilgrimage to the ‘holy’ city of Rome, he is barraged with the poverty and sin of the streets.  He sees a monk going off with a prostitute and a woman abused by a crowd of men.  Then everyone falls to their knees as a religious leaders gallops by–and then the wild street life starts once more just where it has stopped.

Luther decides he will complete a ritualized prayer to help a relative escape from purgatory while he’s in Rome, where just such a feat is said to be possible.  Luther pays the money at a booth, and is given a paper for his grandfather’s release from purgatory to hold in his hand as he crawls up a long, long flight of stairs on his knees and chants a prayer at each step.

As he starts climbing, he prays dutifully, in the full use of the word dutifully.  As he keeps climbing, he starts looking around him, and sees this sea of impoverished, ill-educated humans crawling up the stairs with him.  A change takes place within him, and by the time he has reached the top, and he can stand, he looks down over them with overwhelming compassion and immense anger.  He watches them all climbing towards the top, where they can look at more religious relics.  He sees a man climbing who is missing a hand.  And the paper Luther holds in his hand that is supposed to release his grandfather from purgatory becomes a wad of fury in his fist.

I am Yours.  Save me

He begins to see that everything he has ever hoped would make him right with God is, at best, a disappointing venture that never leads to the self-righteousness it promises and, at its worst, an appalling masquerade intended to rob coins out from the hands of the poor.

Rather than see himself as ‘justified’ because of the rampant wickedness of the so-called church of his day, Luther still sees himself as in need of rescue, but he stops turning to religious ceremonies, relics, and false religious teachers to tell him what to do.  Here is the turning point of his life. Instead of the artificial religion of his day, he begins to look to Christ as he finds Him in the Scriptures.

Realizing that we sin is not equal to salvation.  Judas realized his sin, and killed himself for it.  But he could not pay for his crime through that, and he accomplished only quickening the day of his judgment by his decision.  Luther, for all the times he lay flat on the floor trying to fight the sin out of his flesh, and every time he abstained from something to try to make himself right before God, and all the times he inflicted punishment of some kind on himself, was no closer to God than he had been before, except that he now knew, by God’s grace, that those things did not work.

I am Yours.  Save me.

He had to be saved by Christ.  Not by himself, but by Christ.  The blessing of a terrifying conviction is that, if that person finds Christ, he is probably a thousand times more useful to God than the one who merely thinks he’s gotten forgiven from his ‘mistakes’.

To really know yourself and how depraved you are is a grace, because God is burning in your heart a passion for forgiveness.  He is giving you a yearning for Him.  If you turn to Him and cup your hands towards Him, His love will spill out not only just over your hands, but your whole body, too.  He will drench you with His mercy and you will know, far more than the Christian who has only known mild-mannered conviction, how beautiful His grace really is.  [2]

The more convicted you are of your sin, the more thirsty your guilt.  The more thirsty your guilt, the more the love of Christ can quench you.

The one who cries out with a heavy heart,

I am Yours.  Save me.

and trusts in the Messiah will soon cry out the unburdened heart’s longing,

I am Yours.  Use me!

The more we are aware of what God has saved us from, the more God uses us in this life for the salvation of other sinners who He wants to become His, too.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9, NLT)

Luther reached thousands and thousands and thousands in his lifetime, and millions (and counting) after his death.  Had he not seen so clearly the grace of God that destroyed the sin of his life (which climbing millions of stairs on his knees could never so much as wound), I don’t think he could have ever become the mighty man of God he became.

Had he only been a little convicted; felt a little saved . . he would have only wanted to have become a little useful.

One time, when a religious man was way offended at the way Jesus was letting a woman with a public sin life cry at His feet, wash His feet with her tears and hair, kiss His feet, and pour perfume on His feet, Jesus said this,

“I tell you, her sins–and they are many–have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47, NLT)

Was Jesus saying it’s better to be a big-time sinner than to sin only a little?  No!  Jesus was saying that it is better to realize you are a big-time sinner than delude yourself into thinking you sin only a little.

Luther realized he was a sinner.  He had lived for years with the guilt of his past, and the nightmare that he kept sinning in his present.  His awareness of the dungeon of culpability he had been locked in by righteousness became incredibly powerful when Christ’s key turned in the prison lock and the sunlight of His mercy poured in.  Luther lived his life as a man in passionate loyal allegiance to God because he had seen where he had been, and he had an idea of what God had saved him from.  [3]

If we cry out to God with all our heart,

I am Yours.  Save me.

Then we will cry out to God with all our heart,

I am Yours.  Use me.

If we only halfway believe we are sinners, then we will only halfway want to serve Him.  If we think we’re not so bad and just needed a little help, then our service to Him will be as artificial, insincere, and destructive as that of the religious leaders in Luther’s day or those of Jesus’ time on earth.

I desire to cry out to God with the heaviest heart a sinner can have,

Jesus, I am Yours.  Save me.

so that I can cry out to God with the lightest heart a sinner can have,

Jesus, I am Yours.  You have saved me.  I beg You now to use me!

With David, we can cry out Psalm 119:94a, but, unlike David, we don’t have to hope our pursuit of God’s Law, through trusting the promise of the Messiah to come, will bring Him to save us.  Instead, we can hope in the Messiah Himself and His fulfillment of the Law.  Salvation is here.

I am Yours, save me (Psalm 119:94a, ESV)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11, ESV)

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[1] LutherMGM, 2003

[2] My pastor, John, gave me this illustration in two sermons that he did.

[3] No one actually knows how much God gave for us at the sacrifice of Christ.  As finite persons, we cannot understand what the infinite trinity of Persons, without beginning or end, gave up through the death of Christ Jesus.  We could not even bear knowing; it would burst our mortality.  God in His graciousness does not expect us to fully realize what He has done for us; never will we.  Nor do any of us understand even in full mortal capacity what He has done, because we are sinners and our understanding is crippled by sin.  In my salvation about 4 years ago, I certainly did not grasp the reality of what Christ had done for me.  I knew He wanted me; I am now on the never-ending journey of discovering how much.

The reach

One of the most intense scenes in Lord of the Rings comes when Frodo has fallen off the edge of Mount Doom, and is holding on by one hand[1].  The one ring has just fallen into the lake of molten lava, and Frodo has nearly been destroyed by its fall.  So bound is he to the ring that he goes over the edge with it and almost, almost ends his life in the same fire of its demise.

Mount Doom has began to rumble, the ring is beginning to melt, and Sam is down on his hands and knees at the edge of the cliff.  In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, despite Frodo’s betrayal of him and all that he has done wrong and his complete failure to destroy the ring of his own will, Sam reaches for his hand.

“Give me your hand,” Sam says. [1]

But Frodo doesn’t.  His reaching hand is bloody from the finger Golum bit off in his earlier struggle with, and defeat by, evil.

“Take my hand,” Sam commands.

Frodo brokenheartedly, lackadaisically reaches up to take his hand, and misses.  He nearly falls into the destruction below him.

As the mountain quakes, Sam strains even more, reaches even farther.  “Don’t you let go!” he shouts, as Frodo nearly gives up and lets himself drop.  “Don’t let go!  Reach!” Sam commands, and now Frodo strains with everything has.  This time, the two hands meet.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

“When you notice Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching out to Adam, you see how outstretched God’s arm is.  Every muscle on His face is contorted, and the hand is reaching as far as possible to make contact.  By contrast, Adam lackadaisically lets a limpish hand dangle with apathy in an attitude that seems to say, ‘If it meets it meets.’  That reflects the contrasting inclinations of the heart very well.” – Ravi Zacharias

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

When you think of your relationship with God, is He reaching for you?  Are you reaching for Him?

Are your hands struggling to meet?

Do you think of your hand as straining its hardest, but falling short?

Do you think of God’s hand as withdrawn, never allowing you to reach it?

Or have your two hands already met?

The scene between Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom is moving.  Most of us want to believe that God is like Sam, reaching for our hand.  Some of us believe that God, like Sam, is commanding us to reach His hand.  Those of us who are desperately trying to reach God want to believe He is still reaching for us, that He hasn’t turned away and withdrawn from us.  But we can never seem to catch His hand.

It may surprise you that, in actuality, the scene of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom has very little to represent about God’s hand, or ours.  As beautiful as the scene is, it is not nearly as beautiful, or as humbling, as what God’s reach for us looks like.

If the Lord of the Rings scene were to play out in a way that would represent what God has done for us, it would look very different.

We would still be off the edge of Mount Doom.  But this time, it would not be our hand holding onto the edge of the cliff as we dangle in mid-air.  It would be God’s hand holding us.  You may have never thought about it, but we are not held on this world by our own strength or ability.  It is God who has given us the breath of life and who keeps our lungs inflating and our heart beating.  None of us can hold ourselves to this earth.  We are all completely reliant on God for that.  Colossians 1:17 (NLT) says about Jesus,

He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

God’s first reach holds us into existence.  His second reach is to hold us into eternity with Him.

This is a reach that is very different than the reach to keep us in existence.  The first reach is the expected reach of a good Creator to His creation.  He must reach for us if we are to be and survive.  But the second reach is very unexpected.  It is the reach of the holy God to His rebellious humans (us). 

Sam reached for Frodo even though he had betrayed him, refused to listen to him, and gone against his directions in the most critical moment (which was to let go of the ring).  In a much bigger way, God loves us even though we have betrayed Him, refused to listen to Him, and gone against His directions in the most critical moment [which was when He told us (represented by Adam) in the Garden not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil; and which was when He commands us (you, I, and everyone) to follow Him so that we may be saved despite our disobedience and we still refuse].

God’s reach spans a chasm we cannot possibly bridge.  For us to reach God in spite of our sin would be like trying to walk off one side of the Grand Canyon to reach the other side.  When we rebelled, we broke alliance with God (see Genesis 3, Romans 6:20).  We cannot go back to who He created us to be any more than Gollum can go back to looking like a hobbit after his corruption by the ring[2].  It cannot happen.

Reach, Creative Commons Use

Sculpture by Kenneth Armitage, his last work, “Reach for the Stars”.
I wonder if the stars were what he really wanted to reach for . .
Photograph by Thunderchild7

Some of us don’t try.  We are like Frodo at first, believing we’re too far gone to even try to reach.  Or maybe we like our sin too much to leave it behind, even if it means falling into its burning destruction.

Others of us do try.  We reach out like Frodo with a broken-heart, trying to earn our way back to God.  But we can never reach that far.  Our sin separates us further and further from God.  We are moving away from Him, not towards Him.  The more we try to reach, the more discouraged, disheartened, and embittered we become.  There is no way for us to reach God.  We cannot be like Frodo, who, if he only tried hard enough, could meet the hand of Sam.  We cannot meet the hand of God no matter what or how hard we try.

This is where God’s second reach comes in to change everything.

Frodo’s hand was bloody from his battle with Gollum, a battle Sam couldn’t fight for him.  But Jesus’ hand is bloody from his battle with Satan, a battle He could and did fight for us.

We, like Frodo, always lose the battle with evil.  Just as Frodo couldn’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of the ring, we can’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of sin in our lives.  Scripture tells us that evil holds us captive and we are slaves to it.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:25-26, NLT)

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. (Romans 6:20, HCSB)

Our hand is so burdened by guilt, ignorance, and evil, that we cannot even lift it a millimeter up to God’s hand.  If our salvation depended in any part on our effort, the way that Frodo’s salvation depended in part on his own effort, we would be doomed.  We cannot reach for God.  Romans 3:10b-12 (NLT) says,

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,

they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,

not even one. (Romans 3:10b-12, NIV)

Did you catch that?

there is no one who seeks God.

We cannot reach for Him.  He must reach for us.  Not only has He created us and keeps us alive, but He must be the one to pull us up from the edge of the cliff.  He alone can do this.

If we were to reenact the Mount Doom scene with what God did for us, we would be held up first by His arm of sustaining power, the only thing separating us from a free fall into Hell.

And then Jesus would pull us back from the edge, dragging us inch by inch away from the lava of our choices and up to the cliff of redemption that stands as an isle of escape from the devastation below.

His brow is matted in sweat and blood; through the agony of His suffering He pulls us up.  Every moment is excruciating, and every moment we are totally helpless, totally reliant that He will keep pulling and not turn away out of either disgust of our sin or the grueling exhaustion of saving us.

The cliff is quaking, and all Hell is breaking loose below Christ, but He keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us until He has pulled us to the ground above the shaking volcano.

Though we betrayed Him, though we lost our war with evil, though we disobeyed every command He ever gave us, though we totally failed to listen to Him, He reached for us still.

This is what Jesus did for every single person when He died on the cross.

He pulled all of us from the edge of Mount Doom, and He saved each of us from the Hell below us.

Wait a minute, you say.  Wait a minute.  But I thought not everyone is saved.

That’s right.  But that’s not because Jesus has not dragged everyone up from the cliff.  It is because many people will choose to scorn His safety and refuse to follow Him out of the cavern.

After Sam pulled Frodo up from the edge, the two ran together out of the mouth of the cavern and to a rock to the side of the mountain, where they were safe from the catastrophic flow of lava down the mountainside.  Eagles rescued them and carried them away.

Frodo chose to follow Sam and escape, but many people will refuse to follow Christ and escape.  They will stay on that cliff inside that cavern of death as Mount Doom collapses around them and they are swallowed up into the lava below.  Many people will reject the redemption reached for them by Christ.  As my pastor says often:

People do not go to Hell because they are bad and people do not go to Heaven because they are good.  They go to Hell because they have not believed in Jesus or Heaven because they have.[3]

We do not go to Hell because we are bad, but because we have rejected the redemptive reach of Christ.  Christ has saved us from our sin.  We will either become guilty of rejecting that salvation, or we will run out of the cavern following Him in faith that He has rescued us.

If you or I find ourselves in Hell, it is not because of our sin.  It is because we turned away from the rescue that Christ Jesus, and only Christ Jesus, has given us.

Jesus is holding us in existence (e.g., see Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  And He has already dragged us up from the Hell we would have fallen into the moment we die (e.g., see John 1:4, John 3:16-18, John 3:36, John 6:40, John 11:25-26, John 12:47, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4-5).

The question is, will you follow Him away from Mount Doom, or will you turn away from Him and find out how terrible the consequences are that He pulled you up from by His death on the cross?

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

______________________________________________

[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

[2] See, Hobbits: Was Gollum a Hobbit? by William D.B. Loos, http://tolkien.cro.net/hobbits/gollum.html

[3] Paraphrase from my pastor, John Marshall

Photograph by Thunderchild7, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/thunderchild5/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

Saeed’s forgiveness

When we don’t forgive, we drink the poison ourselves and then wait for the other person to die. And we take the knife that has hurt us and we stab ourselves with it again! And this is the will of the evil one who wants to destroy us.

But when we forgive, we pour out the poison of the enemy and of the devil and we don’t let the poison stay in us and we don’t let the poison make us into poisonous snakes!  So that we don’t become like the person we despised and who persecuted and tortured us.

–Pastor Saeed Abedeni, writing a letter on scraps of newspaper to his wife after beatings and torture and weeks in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, one of the worst prisons in Iran

http://savesaeed.org/

Sign the petition.  But don’t stop there.

Start praying.

The solution to guilt

. . is not doubting the seriousness of sin, but rather realizing the seriousness of Christ’s work on the cross–and receiving it.

Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.

In Christ Alone  (written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)

Jesus said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30b, NIV)

Published in: on January 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The grasshopper

I’m not sure I ever believed I would really write about this, though I have thought about it before.  But I think now is the time.

I hate the term “defining moments”, because it’s really overused and seems cheap.  But there are times in life that you think maybe, just maybe, had more to do with many things that followed than you ever realized.  Set the tone for who you were going to be.  Led to things you wouldn’t have imagined, for better or for worse, from that one instant of decision-making.

For me, just such a time happened when I was about 7 years old and playing with a neighbor boy–I’ll call him Steve–about the same age.  There was another boy there, too.  I think he was a cousin.

I came over and immediately found a game being played I didn’t understand.  Steve, who was friendly to me–and who I secretly had a crush on–told me he and his cousin were in the “I Hate Grasshoppers Club”.  They asked me if I wanted to join.  I had no real idea what they were talking about, until Steve explained they tortured and killed grasshoppers.

I’m not sure I really even knew what the word torture meant.  Both boys were so friendly.  I decided I would be a part of their club.

But that wasn’t the defining moment.

We went into their backyard, looking for grasshoppers.  I was secretly hoping we would not find any.  They did, however.

Over the next length of time that seemed a few seconds short of eternity, I watched Steve shove the grasshopper in an empty milk gallon and fill it halfway with water.  Watching the grasshopper struggle in the jug was one of the worst moments in my life.  I really do mean that.  It isn’t because it was one of the worst things that has ever happened in my life, just by the act of the grasshopper drowning.  There are many things worse than a grasshopper drowning.  But it was one of the worst things that ever happened because I was a witness to it, and I did nothing.

I didn’t know then how much that one choice would be setting my feet on a path that I would struggle to break from for years and years.

But that wasn’t the defining moment, either.

Finally, when the grasshopper did not drown after a long struggle, Steve took a nail and said he was going to drive it through the grasshopper’s body.  We were standing on the cement driveway and he had an old nail.  In many ways, I can remember that event better than I can remember yesterday.

I remember that the babysitter–probably about 16 of so–had come out of the house and was watching, with something like a mix of skepticism and acceptance.  I remember thinking how it must be okay, to some level, to be doing this if a babysitter could watch and do nothing.

I remember watching Steve drive the nail in the grasshopper’s body, and the agonizing struggle of the insect’s kicking legs, and then a stillness.

But even that was not the defining moment.

I went home and I felt awful.

I many times tried to block the whole thing out of my mind.  To some people, it might seem trivial, even funny.  It was, after all, an insect–and there are millions of them.  To me, it was ghastly.  And it became worse every time I thought about it.  To this day, I have never gotten over the guilt of it–it is a very conscious, shocking guilt, like having cold water thrown in my face, every time I think of it.  I believe because I thought, ever after, How could I have let that happen?  I didn’t think I could have.  I didn’t know I was the kind of person who lets something like that happen.

It was a far worse wound because I had done it to myself.

The defining moment, though, was a part of the story I haven’t told.

Back up to when the boys found a grasshopper in the backyard.

I felt so sorry for the small grasshopper.  I did not want them to torment it.  And I also desperately wanted to be liked.  And I saw an opportunity to do something that was really I think the most horrible thing I had ever done in my life up to that point.

Off to the side, sitting on the porch, perfectly at peace, perfectly still, was a large grasshopper.

I said, “What about this one?”

I become ill thinking about it.

Steve let out some cry of excitement.  Both boys congratulated me.  They let the little grasshopper go.

And the grasshopper that struggled in the gallon of water for all those long minutes, the grasshopper that had had the nail driven through his body . . suffered because of me.

I have never let it go.  I don’t think I will ever let it go until I am face to face with Christ.  It has been on the earthly-permanent list of things I cannot forgive myself for . . since the moment after the grasshopper died.  I walked away from that house knowing something had happened . . I had lost something in myself that I could not get back, no matter how hard I tried.

But God has brought to my attention that, even in what to me is irredeemable, God has worked.

Because in the most extraordinary way, at the age of 7, I experienced the reality of substitutionary atonement.

One grasshopper died in place of another, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus died in place of me, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  But, in this case, I wasn’t innocent, too.  I was totally guilty, making the changing of places a trillion times more unbearable.

But Jesus wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Jesus claimed He was at the right place at the right time.  Jesus claimed, before He was ever placed on the cross, that He was going to be tortured and killed.  And He claimed that this was so all the guilty people who wanted to be innocent . . could receive their innocence back by His carrying of their guilt.

It’s an overwhelming premise.  It’s unequivocally the most defining moment in history: not the cross itself, but that Jesus reveals, in essence,

I will go to the cross for you.

When I realize what He did, to me it is more astonishing than His resurrection from the dead or any of His other miracles.  Stop here.  Look hard at this love.  Gaze at it for as long as you want.  It is not pretend; it does not go away.  This is the greatest miracle of all.

This is love supernatural.

But it is not just supernatural.  It is beyond that.  It is a love beyond what angels can afford.

It is the love of God.

I believe it is the love of Christ that is the best proof He is God, because there is nothing of such infinite quality in the entire world.

You can turn away.  It is possible.  You can click out of this blog and pretend you never read it.  You can scoff at the love of Christ.  You can even hate it.

But you can never find it anywhere else.

And if you turn away, you will be on your own when it comes to your conscience.

My sin has demanded the sacrifice of God.  But it in no way necessitated it.  God was under no obligation to act on the demand.

And yet He did.

By the love of Christ, I WILL NOT turn away from Him who, when He saw my future and my fall into the hands of eternal darkness and separation, volunteered Himself, revealing in essence,

Here I am.  Take Me instead.

And He did it knowing I was the one to point Him out.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

–by Stuart Townsend[1]

Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God,

smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV)

[1] From How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, Stuart Townsend

As a Christian, do I have forgive people if they’re not repentant of what they did to me?

I would have gone to Hell.

But let me back up.

I committed my life to Christ about three years ago.  Christ poured His love out on me.  I wanted to serve Him–desperately!  He had given me so much!  I wanted to be like the woman who poured out perfume on His feet.

I committed my life to Christ in a Saturday night church.  I was exuberant. I drove home in hyper joy.  I couldn’t wait to share my story with my mom.

It isn’t always a good idea to drive when you’re super excited.  I might have been speeding.  No doubt, I probably was.

Now, I knew speeding was wrong.  If I thought about it long enough, I would even realize it was a sin.  So it is no stretch of the imagination to say that I was sinning against God by my speeding.

What if I had lost control of the car and been hit by an oncoming truck?

Well, if we were consistent about what we sometimes say about forgiveness  . . .

I would have gone to Hell.

Imagine me standing before the gates of Heaven.  I try to pull on the gate, and it’s locked.

.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .

“God!” I yell frantically.  “It’s me!  I just received You into my heart!  I love you, Jesus!”

An angel skulks over to the door.  “What do you want?” the angel asks.

“Please!” I say.  “Let me in!  I received Christ in my life!”

“Nothing doing,” the angel says.

“What?” I ask in horror.

“God saw what you did.  You were speeding.”

“Speeding . . but . .”

“Speeding is a sin.”

“Yes . . but . .”

“Did you ask forgiveness for that sin?”

“Well . . . . . . . no . . but . .”

“Did you even repent?”

“Well, I didn’t actually repent yet, but–”

“Then what makes you think you’re getting into Heaven?”

“–But . . I . . .”

“–And that’s not even to mention all the songs you didn’t delete off your Ipod yet.”

“But I didn’t have time–”

“You weren’t even thinking of deleting those off.  You wouldn’t have deleted those off for another six months!”

“Well, but–”

“And what about that sin in your heart you’re holding onto that you don’t even realize is there?  It would have taken months before you’d even see that sin for what it is.”

“But!”

“Actually, you have no idea all the reeking, stinking sin you were entangled with when you died.  Some of it was so deep down you didn’t even think about it.  Other sins you would have waited months to get rid of, you were so attached to them!  Yes, you treasured sins that you didn’t even know you had wrapped around your neck!

“. . . . Now, would you really expect God to let you into Heaven knowing all that?”

“Well . .” I whimper, ” . . . no.”

“You wouldn’t, would you?” the angel asks sternly.

“No sir,” I admit, crestfallen and terrified.

And then, the angel begins to smile.

“But . .” he says, “you’d be wrong.”

My head pops up. “What?” I gasp.

“You’d be wrong,” the angel says.

The gate creaks open.

“Jesus teaches His children their whole lives about sin and repentance and holiness,” the angel says.  “But if knowing every sin you had in your heart and repenting of every sin you ever did before you died–including rash decisions and sins of the mind–was the qualification for getting into Heaven . . the only Person who could come through these gates is the One who never had to repent of anything, Jesus Christ.

“You were saved because Jesus died for your sins,” the angel continues, “and you trusted Him.”

“Oh my,” I cry, tears streaming down my face.  “I can really come in?”  I hesitate.  “But . . what about my Ipod? Can I go fix that really quick and come back?”

“Jesus forgave all of your sins on the cross when you trusted in Him,” the angel says.  “There is no bad music on your Ipod.  There is no secret sin in your heart.  It was all nailed to the cross.  When Jesus died, He forgave you of all your sins . .  . even the ones you wouldn’t know about until you came here . . . even the ones you wouldn’t have a chance to ask repentance for–like speeding.”

I tremble in delight.

The angel can guess what I am thinking.  “Enough standing here talking to me. Run on in and worship Jesus.”

I run.

.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .

If you step on my foot, say a bad word about me, stab me in the back, forget my birthday, lose my favorite DVD, key my car, scam me when you fix my transmission, break my window, spit in my face, steal my mail, cut me off in traffic, turn my friends against me, humiliate me in front of my family, get the last roll on the all-you-can-eat buffet, overcharge me for my meal, refuse to reimburse me for returned merchandise, call me in the middle of the night to ask if I want to buy monthly pineapples from you, mess up my phone bill, tear the ear off my childhood teddy bear . . . whether you know or not, whether you forgot it, whether you care about it, whether you enjoyed it, whether or not you’re sorry . . .

I will forgive you.

I cannot imagine how I could do anything else . . .

. . . when Jesus opens the gates for me.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

(Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)

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)

____________________________________________

[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.