From elf to orc to elf

“Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers. Tortured and mutilated . . a ruined and terrible form of life.” –Saruman, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by New Line Cinema. [1]

If you want to know the first half of your story, J.R.R. Tolkien had it about right.

Elves. Beautiful, immortal, flawless.

We were like that once.

If that were where the story ended, the Happily Ever After would follow straight after the Once Upon a Time. But . . it isn’t. Between the two lies the biggest catastrophe of human history.

We were taken in by the dark power. Satan, to be exact. Oh yes, he tricked Eve, sabotaged Adam . . and within the halls of time became the worst memory of all:

The fall.

But what happened next is something so unexpected, not even the great J.R.R. Tolkien could capture it in his stories.

The orc . . had the chance to once again . . become elf.

It’s as though time unwinds. The torture, the mutilation, the ruined and terrible life . . all play backwards, like a movie on rewind. And suddenly, we’re back at the beginning, beautifully, stunningly standing in the Garden of Eden once more.

This is what it means to be redeemed.

To go from elf to orc . . to elf.

This is the story of everyone who has ever believed the sacrifice of Christ has the power to change you back into who you were created to be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
 (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

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

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The Gift

In my last few years of being young enough for VBS (Vacation Bible School), I got to go to a simply incredible program offered by one of our local churches.  The church transformed a large empty lot into “Jerusalem”.  The lot was dotted with tents and stations and costumed actors.

We were divided into small groups, and we each had a teacher who brought us into a huge assembly in the morning.  There, we would sing songs and see actors perform Biblical events.  Those same actors would walk around outside in “Jerusalem” throughout the day, adding a masterful realism.  I was in awe.  I am ever so grateful for the work this church placed into presenting the Word of God to children.

The most profound moment for me, however, was something of extraordinary simplicity.  It is to this day a radical shaping of how I have come to understand salvation.  And I can say that even about twenty years later, I still haven’t delved the depths nor mined all the jewels from what I was taught that day.

Our teacher had tiny presents, each lovingly wrapped.  She had us gathered on a quiet side of the camp, and she said something like this,

“Jesus gives us salvation as a free gift.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it.  It’s a present.  He wants to give this gift to everyone.  There is only one thing you have to do to receive His gift.  You have to take it.”

She showed us her basket of little presents.

“I have a present for each of you,” she said.  “I’m going to ask you if you want to receive it.  If you do, it is your gift to have.”

I remember that she came to each of us, intentionally.

“T.J., would you like this gift?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

She gave me the little present.

I was almost trembling.  I had been afraid of myself, afraid I would say no.  I opened the present with nervous fingers.  I was absolutely delighted–and a little surprised–to receive the gift.

I think back on that time, and I realize how close I have stayed to needing that message my whole life.

For most of my life, I have gone through long stages of feeling inadequate to receive salvation.  I have struggled for months and years at a time with wondering if I have ever been saved, or have lost my salvation.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me any gift at all, much less the most priceless gift in all the world.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me His Son.

Are you like me?

Do you doubt that God could ever love you?  That He really meant you in John 3:16?  That He really wants to just give you something without prerequisites, conditions, and qualifiers?  Do you struggle with wondering if you’ve done enough since you were saved to somehow earn “keeping” your salvation?

So do I.

And yet . . the clues are already in place to lead me to a different conclusion than endless self-inspection and despair.

After all, God gave me an undeserved gift when He sent me to that VBS.  He gave me another undeserved gift when He sent me to my teacher, who would make the Good News so clear that day.  And He gave me another undeserved gift when He had my teacher prepare that object lesson for us.

I already have proof in my life that God gives undeserved gifts.  So do you.  If you want to know what God is like, read Jesus’ description (and Jesus would know, since He is God) in Matthew 5:43-45.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (NLT)

I spend much of my life wondering whether God would give me His gracious gift of salvation.  But I haven’t been thinking about how many gracious gifts God has given me already that show His willingness to love me and offer me mercy!  These gifts reveal God’s nature to me and give me confidence that He would really give me the most awesome gift of His Son.

 . . And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. (Romans 5:16, NLT).

Salvation is really a free gift.  We don’t earn salvation.  We can’t “keep” salvation by doing good things.  We can simply receive salvation from Jesus.

All the complications and constructs of trying to somehow be worthy are demo’d by these two words: free gift.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 7, 2014 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shame

Man Crouching With Hands Over Face

Shame can do one of two things in our lives:

  • Bring us to deny it as we try to get away from the shame that will eventually destroy us

or

  • Bring us to a growing regret and grief that will destroy us (sometimes sooner or more visibly)

Different people have a propensity toward one or the other.

For Pilate, it was denial: I’m not responsible.

For Judas, it was growing regret and grief: I’m not forgivable. 

For both, their response to shame destroyed them (Pilate’s conscience[1] and Judas’ life).

Jesus introduced a new way to deal with shame.  One of His most devoted followers showed just what this new way would look like.

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

The apostle who wrote this was one of the worst traitors in history.  After pledging to give his total allegiance to His closest friend, he lied about Him three times.

He lied because he didn’t want to die with Him–even though he’d been so sure just hours before that he could do just that.

He lied in front of a crowd, and he even lied in eye shot of the friend who had washed his feet and given him bread to eat just hours earlier.

Peter was a total coward.

He ran away in shame when he began to realize how horrific he had actually been.

And the friend he had denied was the Son of God.

If this man had betrayed you, you wouldn’t pick him to write on behalf of you, through your inspiration, but that is exactly God did.  God showed the exact purpose of shame we experience in this life through Peter’s letter:

. . not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

Shame has purpose through Jesus Christ.  The purpose is to repent.

What is repentance?  Really, it’s giving your sorrows to God in exchange for His honor.

Like trading a dishonorable discharge for a purple heart.

Like exchanging a hangman’s noose for a royal crown.

Like trading the last-place loser’s shoes for the winner’s laurels.

Shame is the realization that we carry the hammer and nails for our own cross.

In Christ, repentance is the realization that we can give our hammer and nails to the One who already bore them.  In Him, we can walk out of our tomb with the stone rolled wide away.

Peter could especially write about God’s love for the shamed because Peter had lived God’s love for the shamed.  When he penned his words, he was writing them not just for others, but also for himself.

Peter, through God’s inspiration, gives us the realization that the clock is ticking.

God is holding back right now in patience.

He is giving us time to process our shame.

The question is, what will we do?  Will we deny our shame, spend our lives growing in regret and grief . . or will we repent, as God Himself is wanting?

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Veil

About three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ISV)

Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice again and died. Suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, rocks were split open, tombs were opened, and many saints who had died were brought back to life. After his resurrection, they came out of their tombs, went into the Holy City, and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things that were taking place, they were terrified and said, “This man certainly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54, ISV)

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:33-34, ISV)

It was already about noon, and the whole land became dark until three in the afternoon because the sun had stopped shining, and the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” After he said this, he breathed his last.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “This man certainly was righteous!” When all the crowds who had come together for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they beat their chests and left. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, were standing at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:44-49, ISV)

The veil . . torn.

The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from view:

TORN.

The veil that separated God from man.

TORN!

The veil that only the high priest could enter through, only once a year, and only with a sacrifice of animal blood . . TORN by the High Priest who entered with His own blood as the sacrifice.  That is who Jesus Christ is.

The Tearer of the Separation between God and Man.

In a mystery we do not understand, God was denied access to God.

As Jesus carried the sins of the world to become sin for us,  He lost his relationship with His Father.  God lost relationship with God.  He Himself gave Himself to be the blood.

Innocent animal blood made it permissible for the high priest to visit God once a year in fear and trembling, but God’s blood, offered to God, by God, made it possible for God Himself to rip the curtain in two.

As Christ was separated from His Father by the unbearable burden of sin He carried . . God departed from God for the first time in history.

One infinite Person of God, the Father, was just to condemn sin . . and another infinite Person of God, Jesus the Son, stood in our place to be condemned.

The penalty of sin demanded that the Judge require payment in full . . and the Judge Himself was the payment.

God the Father ripped the veil with His own hands to make way for God the Son–the Sacrifice and the High Priest–to come through.

Jesus was exactly right.

It was finished.  Right then.

The veil in the temple, separating the Presence of God from us, ripped from top to bottom, torn by the Father as the nail-scarred Son stepped right through.

The way from God to man . . opened.

OPENED.

Not since Eden had it been opened.

And now, the Son stepped through, introducing the Father to us.

The Holiest of Holies . . wants to adopt you and me.

And now nothing stood, and still nothing stands, in God’s way to reach us.

But millions die without entering through the veil.

Why?

We have our own veils we place up to block the Light of God out of our lives.

These veils serve as idols, woven by Satan, to prevent us from seeing our salvation.

These veils and not our sin keep us from Christ.  That is, these unholy veils are sin, but it is active use of them as an obstruction that keeps us from Him.

Even that obstruction, that sin of a blocked heart, can be forgiven when the heart repents.  You must actively, persistently hold the veil up with all your might if it is to remain.

To keep yourself separated from God, you must willfully hold your sin up as the veil to prevent His Light from coming through.

The most important question you can ask yourself is, Will you?  Will you allow your veil–whatever it is, Satan isn’t particular on the threads you use–to block the light of God from reaching your soul?

Or will you drop your sin-reeking, self-made veil to let the love of Christ through?

For when you drop your dark veil, what you see is the Light coming through the real torn veil.

And then you see that nothing, absolutely nothing, separates you from God.

I choose the Light.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:16-21, NLT)

Have you ever been broken by God?

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

I don’t know for sure about you, but I resist being broken.

I’ve never broken a bone that I know of except for maybe a rib, but one of the most painful experiences I had as a child was a time when astonishingly I did not break a bone.

I was in a park on a playground, and I’d guess I was about 8 or so.  I was fascinated by the teeter-totter, and I wondered how the mechanism worked that tilted it up and down.

I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I went over to the teeter-totter to check out the axis.  While I was sticking my hand in to see how the mechanism worked, two kids got on either side of the teeter-totter and started using it.

It was one of the most extreme pains I’ve had.  The weight of the teeter-totter bearing down on my arm was so agonizing I could not even find my voice to tell the children to stop.  I’m sure it all took place in a matter of a few seconds, but I found my voice and in what seemed to me to be a dazed murmur asked them to get off the ride.

They got off, in surprise, and I pulled my arm out.  I was in shock about what had happened as I held my throbbing arm out.

Since then, I’ve rarely put my hand in any kind of mechanism again without seriously thinking about it first (I’m reluctant to get something out of the garbage disposal).

The idea of God breaking us is not one I think any of us can honestly say we are comfortable with.  For one thing, many believers still don’t fully trust that God is love, and so when they (and most of the time I am included here) think of Him breaking them in their lives, they think secretly of some ill-purpose or ill-will.

I would assert that we try very hard not to be broken by God.  Have you ever been listening to a sermon that was convicting, and found a way to distract yourself?  Have you ever been reading a book that was too uncomfortable about radical devotion to God, and found something else to do?  Have you ever felt God convicting you of a sin and been too fearful to face the consequences?

We are masters at resisting God’s breaking.  At 3:00 in the morning, if God is working on your heart, you can not only read a book, but you can turn on the TV, surf the internet, play a video game, or chat on Facebook.  Some people are even able to work from home and answer emails or write new proposals during the uncomfortable time.

The goal for us seems in whatever way possible to resist God’s breaking of us.

And for reasons that seem very valid to us.  God’s breaking of our hearts can be far more painful than the time my arm was caught in a seesaw.

But why would God want us to break?  If He doesn’t desire to be mean to us–He doesn’t enjoy kicking us around the way a criminal might kick a dog around–and He doesn’t seek as an end result for our sorrow, then why would He cause something so terrible to happen to us such as breaking?

Here are a few reasons I can think of.  You might add your own.

  • Salvation.  The most obvious reason is salvation.  Many people feel broken before salvation, though some (because they were a small child or because they had already gone through a breaking time previously, or for another reason) may not experience this breaking pre-salvation, but post.  After months of feeling broken, God in His grace brought me to His salvation in a time of healing.  God knows how each of us work.  Many come to Him in broken-hearted repentance.  (For me, much of this repentance came after inviting Christ into my life.  I was on a journey to confessing [and admitting] all of my sin before God, a journey I’m still working on, fearful that He wouldn’t forgive me if He really knew me.  But I did come with the mindset of already knowing I was a sinner, and having known that for years.)
  • Confession to evaporate guilt.  There are two ways to look at this: God is cruel or God wants you to be free of entanglements and burdens.  The entanglement and burden of unconfessed sin is huge.  If you are too afraid to give God a sin because you think if you “acknowledge” it He’ll stop loving you (personal experience here), then you carry a weight that God doesn’t intend you to carry as His child.  And He will increase the pressure and pain of that weight until you give it to Him, so you can walk free.
  • Confession to evaporate denial.  Sometimes, it’s easy to not give certain sins to God, mainly if we want to keep doing them (again, spoken from experience).  Rather than looking at God as someone who is all to overjoyed to punish you for your sin, realize that He wants you to walk a life that is a witness to others, and that He is working to bring about your sanctification (the purity of your walk before Him).
  • Eternal perspective.  It is so, so easy to hear the message of Christ drowned out by the so-called ‘goodies’ of this world.  I find myself struggling to resist looking at magazine covers as I walk through the grocery store aisles; distracted by bulletin boards that idolatrize materialism and physical beauty; and overwhelmed at times by the plethora of possessions one can own in their lifetime–each with the personal, very intimate, and totally deceitful promise of a and then I lived happily ever after claim.  Other times we feel inundated by work or relationship demands, sexual cravings, physical needs, retirement concerns, etc.  The list is nearly endless.  And in all this, the eternal perspective we should have is forgotten or put on a back burner.  When God breaks us from these things, what happens?  We are able to focus on the delight of Him, and to truly draw others into His Presence.
  • Passion.  Becoming dull for God can begin to happen in a single moment.  One choice can cause us to stumble and fall out of fellowship with Him.  In this time, we are not only on a self-destructive path for ourselves, but we do warfare against the precious testimony we have toward the world.  God wants to create in us a zealous, earnest passion for the lost, for His Truth, and for His everlasting love.
  • HumilityWe can get to where we think we are the coolest Christians on the block.  God breaking us reminds us to have an eye out for the broken.  When we are standing proud with our chest puffed out, showcasing the ‘metals’ we think we’ve earned in our Christian walk, we nearly always ignore the needs of the lost around us.  God wants us to remember the lost, including the ‘undesirable’ lost.  And not just to throw money at them or pity them, but to reach out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!
  • Dependence on God.  It’s hard to believe, but sometimes in our Christian walk, we can think we are soo special that God could scarcely do without us, rather than that we cannot do without Him!  Ever been there?  I have.  When God breaks us, it isn’t an act of trying to force us to see Him as boss, but a gracious kindness to remind us that He is our Life.  When we stray from dependence on God, we become dependent on things that serve as ‘mini-idols’ in our lives, like our relationships, our career, our plans, etc.
  • Bravery.  When we have an area in our life that we feel we can’t achieve victory over, God can give us the courage to have victory by breaking us of our love for that wrong thing or or the fear holding us back from doing the right thing.  God can break us of our fear of sharing our testimony, witnessing to people on the street, etc., or our love of materialism, forgiving those who have hurt us most, etc.–by destroying the false hope we have in doing something wrong and destroying the false fear we have in doing something right.

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

I am so afraid of being broken.  I am so afraid of suffering.  If you’re like me, you probably are, too.  But there are times in my Christian walk when I’ve prayed for God to break me.  In fact, one Christian song we sing, Hosanna (Hillsong United), invites God to do just this with the line,

Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

We may artificially request for God to break us and be shocked by the very real answer He gives us.  True brokenness is terribly painful and we struggle to accept it, even from the hand of our Rescuer.  But think about the verse from the Psalm, and these other Scriptures, and you and I will see a bright torch of Hope in our brokenness.

“Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart.” (God, Ezekiel 21:6, NLT)

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (David, Psalm 34:18, NLT)

My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart’s desires are broken. (Job, Job 17:11, NLT)

“I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD.” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:15b, HCSB)

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (David, Psalm 147:3, NLT)

I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (David, Psalm 38:8, NIV)

Ezekiel (whom God commanded to groan), David, Job, and Hannah all followed God.  They had hearts that sought Him.  Job is a man whom God said about him,

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8b, NIV)

Surely Job had a life that we should look carefully at to learn what a follower of Jesus might expect to experience in this world.  (By the way, “blameless” does not mean “sinless” but that he followed God exceptionally and was forgiven of his sin.  In Job, he refers to sin he has had in the past, and indeed he sins against God in his anger/doubt towards Him.)

What do we find?  Job had a time of intense grief, questioning, doubt, struggling, and terror.  God broke him.  And in this, Job discovered the wonder of God.

What about Hannah?  She wanted children, probably more than just about anything.  Maybe even more than she wanted a relationship with God.  But she came to God in great brokenness, laying her grief at His feet, and she rested in whatever answer He would give her.  Then, when God did give her a child, she did something that seems almost unthinkably hard–she gave her first child to Him, to live in the temple.  She got to see her child, the boy she’d so longed for, once a year.  And how did God honor her for giving over what she most wanted to Him?  He gave her sons and daughters to raise, and the baby she dedicated became perhaps the greatest Old Testament judge during the time before the kings.

And David?  David lived a life of soaring highs and terrible lows before God.  After he became trapped in sexual sin, he killed men, including the husband of the woman he had violated.  He became terribly broken (see Psalm 51).  God forgave him, and in his beautiful, broken Psalm about his sin (Psalm 51), we find these words:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:12-18, NIV)

David knew something that many kings who came after him didn’t: only the Messiah could truly take away sin.  No matter how wealthy David was, or however mighty a warrior he was, or however talented with musical instruments, nothing and no one but God could take away his sin.

In summary, there are many reasons why God might break a person.  For a lost person, the reason is always for the purpose of salvation.  For the saved person, God sanctifies us through times of brokenness.  Resisting His brokenness as a lost person is to resist Eternal Life.  And resisting His brokenness as a believer is to resist His work to purify your life and testimony here on earth.

In a time of brokenness, however deep and fearful and even hopeless it may seem, remember that God’s ultimate desire is not for you to remain in this brokenness, but for you to be saved by it (if you are lost) or for you to experience His delight more deeply and draw the lost to Him (if you are already saved).

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Solomon, Proverbs 17:22)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Solomon, Proverbs 15:13, ESV)

Although this blog might seem like a detached commentary on the pain of brokenness, it is far from it.  I write this during a time of very personal and painful brokenness in my life.  I am not fully out of the feeling of having my arm caught in a seesaw yet.  I still feel the new wound of brokenness and I still have an unsettling, restless angst of, What if it does not go away?  I don’t know who said this first, nor is that really important, but I hold to the line, God does not waste our pain.  Whether you are a believer or not, God isn’t bringing suffering on you because He enjoys tormenting you.  Rather, He longs for you to be saved, or, if you are saved, to know Him better.

Although much of my heart still wants to resist the experience of breaking in my life, and though I still at times feel like a wild animal struggling to be tamed, I believe in, I hold to, and I desire to cling with white-knuckled grasp to the love of Christ.  I know that times of breaking are not senseless, needless, or for the purpose of my destruction, but rather to bring my heart closer to God, to bring my will in dearer alignment to His, and so that I may “rest on His unchanging grace” (Edward Mote, hymn On Christ the Solid Rock).

And one more Scripture each for unbelievers and for believers going through a time of brokenness.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9, NIV)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)

Top Five

Think of the five worst disasters you have ever made in your life.  The Top Five.

Not accidents, and not something that was done to you, but the worst disasters that you yourself ravaged in your life.

The worst.  The secrets. The ones you don’t talk about.

The ones you might (or would) consider committing suicide over if news of them became viral on the internet.

We all have them.  We might not admit to them (even to ourselves).  But we remember.

We may have tried to make excuses for them (blaming them on our childhood, other people’s evils, or chemical malfunctions of our brain).  But in the end, in our heart, we know we are responsible.

Question: What do you do with your five worst sins?  (And what do I do with mine??)

Do you try to bury them?  Refuse to think about them?  Distract yourself?  Self-medicate?  Go to a psychologist?  Become so busy you can barely remember them?  Punish yourself?  Try to make up for what you’ve done with ‘good things’?  Try to make things right?

Or do you play the blame game (it’s not my fault . . if you only knew the reason why . . it’s complicated . . I might have been partly at fault but I did what I did because someone else . . if I’d been on the right medication . . if I’d had time to . . if I hadn’t been provoked . .)?

Now imagine something terrifying.  Imagine that the Highest Being in the universe, the Judge of all existence, the All-Knowing All-Wise All-Discerning GOD of All Truth . . knows your sin.

He doesn’t just know it casually.  He doesn’t just know it from afar.  He intimately, personally knows your sin.  He is fully aware of it, but not just aware, but fully capable of understanding why you did what you did, and totally able to judge you for the evil that was in your heart despite any circumstances or people you think led up to your sin.

He is fully able to separate out what everyone else did, and find only and exactly your fault and the precise debt that you owe, and hold you absolutely responsible for that portion which is unpaid, unpunished, and completely inexcusable.

Now imagine that, because He is fully just, absolutely perfect, totally fair, and in the highest position of authority in the universe–and beyond–He has every right, responsibility, and capability to judge you for your sin.

The question is, What do you think He will have you pay?

Do you think that, for those worst sins you’ve listed in your mind, money could pay them off?  Could you pay enough, if you were a billionaire, to make things right with the people you harmed (assuming they are still living)?  Could you do enough ‘good things’ for that person (again, assuming they are still living) that you could make full restoration of what you’ve done?

Hmm. It might be possible.  Maybe you could make full restoration with the person you harmed the most.  But what about all the people you have ever harmed?  Do you know all their names?  Do you know where they live?  Can you make all the things you have ever done wrong, right?  Could you figure out how?  Are all the people still alive?  Would all of them let you?  Would they all accept what you are doing as payment?

What if you could?  Just imagine, just suppose that you could.  Somehow, you could cross off not just the five worst sins you’ve done, but every sin, ever that you’ve committed against anyone ever in the world.

Are the Top Five sins erased?  Is the record forgotten?

In your efforts to make things right, you may feel like you’ve made some progress–and really, you have–but you have not covered the infinite distance toward restoring your relationship with God.

When David said,

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:4, NIV)

–He wasn’t kidding.

What had David done?  Well, in his Top Five sins he’d taken another man’s wife (a man who served him) and then killed that man to cover up her pregnancy.

So what was David saying?  Was he saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong against the man he killed?  Was he saying he didn’t have any apologies to make to the family whose son, brother, etc., he’d murdered?

NO.

He was saying that, while the harm he’d done against this man (and his wife) was repulsive and vile, it wasn’t a sin.  Sin is an act against someone who is unsinful.

A sinful man doesn’t have the capacity to be sinned against.

One way to look at this is, picture a whole bunch of pigs in a pig pen, filthy and soaked with mud.  If one pig splashes mud on another pig, he can say, “I’m sorry, I splashed mud on you,” and he can even say, “Let me try to get the mud off of you I splashed on you,” but he cannot say, “I made you dirty.”  All the pigs in the pig pen were already dirty from their own wallowing in mud before any other pig starting splashing mud on them.

We are all filthy with sin.  So while the Bible encourages and commands us to treat each other as we want to be treated and to make restoration as God prompts us, we cannot sin against each other in this sense.  All of us are unholy.  To sin is an act against a holy being.  So we don’t sin against each other.

So the Top Five sins you’ve committed?  They aren’t sins to the people you did them to as rightly judged by them (or by anyone else).  That doesn’t mean you didn’t harm them, or that it wasn’t wrong, or that they can’t acknowledge it was wrong, or that an earthly judge doesn’t have the right to convict you for the wrong you did.  But it does mean no one on earth can judge what you did as sin against THEM since no one on earth is capable of judging your sin (since we are all SINners).

But who did you sin against?  (You know where this is going.)

You sinned against GOD.

God is holy and can rightly judge that you have sinned against Him by sinning against the people He created in His image.  But that doesn’t mean the only sins you are accountable for are those you’ve done against others.  Any sins you’ve committed against God (like not worshiping Him alone, serving anything else rather than Him, cursing Him with your language towards Him, etc.), He also rightly judges.

When we actually realize this, the list of things we think are on our Sin List greatly expands.  The list includes anything and everything we have done in insurrection of–and therefore rebellion towards–God.

WOW.

Can you imagine standing before God on holy Judgment Day and just dealing with your Top Five sins?  Just think of those.  Question: How will you deal with them?  (And HOW WILL I??)

Will you give God an excuse?

Do you think He’ll believe it, since He knows you better than you know yourself?

Will you try to buy Him off by citing good works?

He’s a fair Judge and can’t be bribed.

Will you cite quotes from your favorite psychologist or bring with you medical books and magazines that explain your behavior as chemical malfunctions the brains?

You’ll have no such luck.  God knows exactly what you are responsible for, and He holds you responsible for exactly that.  God made you–you don’t have to explain your brain’s design to Him.  Further, He knows that you are responsible for the reason your brain doesn’t work right (if calling the disposition towards sin nature means not working right–as well as any genuine issues you have).  Yes, even the genuine issues we have, we are responsible for because they are a part of the curse we justly received when we invoked GOD’s judgement upon ourselves by our sins!  You and I are responsible because you, like me, like everyone else, actively chose rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden and every day of our lives since we have been born.

You chose when you were two years old to pull the hair of your little sister; you chose when you were in college to burn music illegally; you chose when you became a parent to lose control and scream at your kids; you chose when you were a senior to take that extravagant vacation instead of giving money to the poor.

Whatever sins they are, your whole life, there are sins–SINS and SINS–and even if you could be so fortunate as to only be held responsible for the Top Five, it wouldn’t matter.  You’d still be infinitely condemned.

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Think of your Top Five as sins that Scripture places like rungs of condemnation on a ladder. Rungs on a ladder that cannot be removed.
Where does this ladder lead you? You might be surprised.

So you may be thinking, This is the most depressing blogs I’ve ever read and the worst news I’ve heard in my life.

And that is absolutely true, if you’ve never read the Bible.  But if you have read the Bible, do you realize that the condemnation cited in the Bible towards sinners is FAR WORSE than anything I could possibly conjure up here?

The theme of condemnation appears OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and in case you didn’t get the message, it is from Genesis to Revelation.  Condemnation for sin!  Condemnation for sin!!  Condemnation for sin!!!

Whole groups of people destroyed for their sin lust.  God takes sin so seriously that, when He ordered annihilation of a people and all their animals and property as a perfectly fair penalty for their sin, and Achan the warrior took a few things to save back, not just he had to be annihilated, but his whole family.  He had placed his whole family under the annihilation curse because God takes sin that seriously.  (You can read the historical account in the book of Joshua, chapters 6-7 especially.)

You can be angry about God’s judgment.

You can stomp on the floor.  You can shake your fist at God.  You can say you don’t believe in Him because you don’t like His fair justice.

Or you can recognize that God’s standard of holiness is nothing like our self-made standard of what’s acceptable.  Sin against God has the worst penalty because it is the worst travesty in the universe.

You cannot sin against God and live with Him forever . . Period! . . unless . .

You grasp hold of the ladder of condemnation Scripture gives for your sins . . and see that, at the top, is the stunningly beautiful plan of redemption.

God in His mercy doesn’t speak of condemnation in Scripture for the purpose of His delight in punishing you.  Rather, what does He say?

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)

The ladder of condemnation that Scripture reveals is an upward ladder, not a downward one, and at the top is the extraordinary NO CONDEMNATION of the cross!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

The cross is at the top of your ladder of condemnation!

As you climb you may hardly make it to the first rung before you can scarcely bear to see your sin any longer.  Just a glimpse at your Top Five sins can utterly destroy you.  (‘Just’ your worst sin–or ‘just’ any sin–can.)

I have to be honest.  When I came to Christ, I did not ascend the ladder of my condemnation all the way.  I held some sins in fear and hiding, fearful to climb the rungs to see all of who I really was.  There were things I left in concealment, or wallowing in excuses.  And I showed God only the sins I was comfortable with showing Him.

But what I found was that He pulled me up, from the rung I was on, to the top, and He forgave not only the sins I showed Him, but all my sins.  This is because I gave my faith to CHRIST JESUS, who is my HEAVEN at the top of my ladder!  He is the total surprise grace I would have NEVER expected to find at the top!  If it weren’t for Him, my ladder would have led down to Hell, but by His mercy He used my condemnation to show me the path HE had build from it up to Him by His work on the CROSS!  (By the way, how terrible the fall for those who see that the ladder of condemnation leads to the cross, ascend most or all the way, but never ask Jesus to pull them from the ladder onto the landing at the foot of His cross.  How much deeper the plunge into Hell!)

The last four years or so have been on the path that comes after the foot of the cross, the path that ascends into Eternal Life, and on that journey, Christ has given me gracious opportunities to glimpse at my Top Five.

Why do I say gracious?  Because I see the purpose of these glimpses is to get me to confess them and yield them over to God–and to leave them far behind on the rungs of the ladder where they belong.

The holiness of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a fire, and that fire BURNS DOWN and WHOLLY CONSUMES my sins on the rungs of the ladder!

My sins are no longer on rungs–that is what GOD has done for me.  I was afraid they were still there, but only when I turned to look back have I seen that they only exist as condemnation in my mind, not in the mind of God.  He has burned the ladder of condemnation down.  If I had come to Him with them long ago, I would have seen it.

The gloriousness of the burned ladder is IMPOSSIBLE to describe.  It, too, is a theme in Scripture, the third theme: worship.  From Genesis to Revelation, is the worship of a perfectly, perfectly, perfectly GLORIOUS God who forgives sins through Jesus Christ.

Look again at your list of Top Five sins.  Are you a believer?  Have you asked Jesus to come into your life and be Master of your soul?  Do you believe in Him?  If so, do you realize that that list is present in your mind, and is held triumphantly in the hand of the Accuser (Satan), but it is not on your record anymore?  Do you realize that the list Satan is holding is blood-soaked and unreadable, and that it is a BIG TRICK to keep you feeling condemned and miserable and nearly useless for the Kingdom of Christ?  May I encourage you to show that list to God?  You cannot pull it from Satan’s fist, but you can show it to God by pointing to it in Satan’s tightly clenched fist.  GOD is fully capable of pulling it from Satan’s fist.  That list is already taken care of, and one day it will be destroyed beyond God’s memory.  Hallelujah!

. . And if you are not a believer, why not?  Surely you don’t want to pay for your sins someday.  Do you realize that the full plan of salvation is not for you to somehow get rid of your sins, but that CHRIST has already done it?  Look at the condemnation your sins have brought you that Scripture reveals to you, but then believe in Him who took that condemnation away!  He will teach you–and is fully capable to do so–how to live a life of holiness before Him, with, for the rest of your life, the mercy that, every rung of sin you build, will be forever burned down by His redemption!

I am convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that I canNOT pay for my sin.  By the mercy of God, I can face my Top Five, in already knowing He has paid for them (or, if I’d rightly faced them before I became a believer, in knowing He was willing to pay for them).  And I am also convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that He has overcome my list, my whole list, even my Top Five.  My list, however great, is NOT so great that it can overcome the GREATNESS OF GOD’S SACRIFICE.

Hallelujah.

The ladder is fierce.  But my soul is already at the top of the landing, at the foot of the cross, kneeling down at the feet of Jesus.  And He has burned the ladder down.

Hallelujah.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel

after that time, declares the Lord.

I will put my laws in their minds

and write them on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12, NIV)

________________________________________________________________

Photograph by Martin Cathrae, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/suckamc/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

A big thank you to the Answers in Genesis Conference this past week and especially to how Todd Friel’s message on Law & Grace blessed me.

Many thanks to all the pastors and mentors who helped in showing my heart and mind to the grace of God, and to Ben, who, when I get frenzic about my sin, reminds me of Romans 8:1.

On tools and truth

Using a hammer to try to get a screw out of a wall isn’t going to go well.  Neither is using a saw to try to ratchet up a car, or a pair of pliers to cut wood, or a car jack to hold wires.  Even a useful tool is completely useless and likely very dangerous in the wrong situation.

We know from everyday experience that wrong tools don’t help anybody out.  Every day, we choose the right tools for the right job–or pay the consequences.

So why is it that, when it comes to our eternal destiny, many of us hold the view that all ways repair our condition before God equally?  How could it be that all varieties of morality, all types of lifestyles, and all sorts of decisions could somehow all lead to the same right relationship before God?  That would be like checking the air in a tire with a can opener . . or using a pizza cutter to file your nails.  Think about this carefully.  Life experiences will tell you that not all tools can be used to make all repairs.  In fact, isn’t it true that, the more important a job is, the more specific you are about the tool?

A silly–but valid–example comes to mind.  I like to use an eyelash curler as a beautifying measure.  😉  One trip I was on, I forgot to pack my eyelash curler.  Would you be surprised to find out that, as much as I like to use my eyelash curler, I did not substitute it with a pair of scissors or a curling iron on the trip?  😀  Not surprising?  Why not?  Because it is my eyes!  I’m careful about my eyes.  I value my eyes.  I’m not experimenting on substitute eye lash curlers–only the right tool will do when what is at stake is my eyes!

Guys, you may not have gotten my eyelash curler example as much, but I bet you wouldn’t be caught washing your brand new car with an SOS sponge!

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you’re probably like me in that you value the right tools very much–and get frustrated when you don’t have them.

But here is a remarkably strange fact about us all.  Although we are very selective in the tools we use for everyday matters, wec an be totally tolerate of all kinds of views about where we’ll wind up for eternity.  That is, if you’re like me, you have probably spent more years of your life worrying about the right earthly tools to help you in daily living than you’ve been worried about the right heavenly tool to repair your relationship with God.

If the Bible’s claims are true, then we are all broken and in disrepair.  None of us are in a state to have fellowship with God.  All of us are cut off from His Presence forever.

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;

all alike have become useless.

There is no one who does what is good,

not even one.

Their throat is an open grave;

they deceive with their tongues.

Vipers’ venom is under their lips.

Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.

Their feet are swift to shed blood;

ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,

and the path of peace they have not known.

There is no fear of God before their eyes.

 (Romans 4:10b-18, NASB)

For thousands of years, people have sensed this disrepair and tried to find the right tool to fix it.  We have tried all kinds of religions that rely on our abilities and ego and understanding.  But none of them have worked.

But still, a predominant worldview is that any tool will work to get to eternal life.  That our relationship with God can be repaired as easily by Jehovah’s Witness doctrine as by Islam’s, by Buddhism as much as by Christianity, by the New Age movement as by agnosticism’s.  That it doesn’t really matter what you try to do to repair your relationship with God or gods or Mother Nature or whoever, as long as you try something.

Regardless of what religious view you take, you should recognize that this simply cannot be so.  If you cannot repair a dripping pipe with a pair of nail clippers, why would you expect to be able to repair your soul with any religion of your choice?  If there really is a God, isn’t it certain that your relationship with Him can’t be repaired in whatever manner you choose, but rather in the manner He decides?

The Christian God makes a serious claim: the only way to be made right with Him is through Jesus Christ.  Faith in Jesus Christ is the way to Heaven, because only Jesus can repair a right relationship with God.

Before dismissing the claim, I would urge you to check out the explanation for it in God’s Word.  After all, this is not about a deflated tire or a leaky sink.  This is about your eternal destiny.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jesus, quoted in John 14:6, NASB)

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:7b, NLT)

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:9a, NIV)

“No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person.” (Peter, Acts 4:12, GW)

“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity–the man Christ Jesus.” (Paul, 1 Timothy 2:5, NLT)

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant. (Hebrews 9:12-15, NLT)

I am the living one. I died, but look–I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. (Jesus, quoted in Revelation 1:18, NLT)

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15, NIV)

Never free?

Saruman says of Grima, “He will never be free.”[1]

He is so right.

He is so right because Grima believes him.

It’s a wretched, awful day for Saruman and Grima.  Their orcs have died in the torrent of water the Ents set loose.  The steel-like, impregnable-looking tower has lost its appeal now that it is sitting in water and guarded by an Ent.  The wicked Sauron who they swore allegiance to is no where to be found to help them (of course).  And conjuring Saruman and minion Grima are left to die whichever way they choose.

Saruman is in a determined craze to either get Gandalf to worship him (not happening) or bring as many down in his death with him as he can.

Grima, on the other hand, is totally terrified of what has happened.  He has the sense to realize Saruman has gone totally nuts in megalomania craziness.  He also has the sense to realize he has not one hope of escaping death.

Trapped on the top of a formidable tower with no way down, Saruman and Grima are confronted by Gandalf and King Theoden.

Gandalf offers Saruman a chance for life, and he has no desire for it.  To top off the impending doom, Saruman’s staff–his last realm of power–is snapped in half by Gandalf, who was once subordinate to him but now has greater skills.

Grima has been silently waiting his own death as Saruman raves madness down to Gandalf.  But then something happens that Grima does not expect.

King Theoden offers for Grima to come down.

“Grima, you need not follow him.  You were not always as you are now.  You were once a man of Rohan.  Come down.” [1]

Grima can hardly believe what he is hearing.  For a moment, he begins to consider what King Theoden has said, as Saruman continues his stupid ranting.

“Grima, come down.  Be free of him,” King Theoden says. [1]

To which Saruman says, “Free?  He’ll never be free.”

Have you ever felt like Grima?  Have you ever felt like your alliance with darkness has caused you to be on the top of an impregnable tower that you wish you’d never entered?  Does your sin ever make you feel as though there is no going back, that God wouldn’t take you in no matter what you did, no matter how hard you begged?

Rather than come down, Grima tries to free himself of the wickedness he’s become captured by, and the result is he dies.  Only after he stabs Saruman repeatedly does he realize it was not Saruman who destroyed him, but himself.  Grima destroyed himself–and he dies knowing that.  Had he but come down, he could have been free.  Even if he had not made it down, even if Saruman had killed him after only one step, he would have died having been set free by King Theoden’s words.  He would have died a man of Rohan.

There is no way that you can defeat your own sin.  There is no way that you can slay what has been haunting you.  In the end, all you can destroy is yourself.

It seems too simple an offer to simply come down, and yet King Theoden has every authority to offer this.  Grima is his subject.  He has rebelled and was owned by Saruman, but Theoden’s alliance has conquered Saruman, and Grima is once again Theoden’s subject.  Grima has a single choice to make.  It is the only decision which can change the course of his life.  He can either be free, or he can die Saruman’s subject.

Grima dies Saruman’s subject, and yet he came so close to not doing so.  But coming close isn’t enough.  He doesn’t take the freedom, and it turns out to be his last chance.  He is forever bound as Saruman’s subject–his treacherous subject–but his subject nonetheless.

Why didn’t he come down?

If you feel hemmed in by your sin, I could ask you the same question.  Why don’t you come down?  I could ask myself the same question, because I went for years feeling frightened and further and further in debt to a God I knew I could never pay.

God is like King Theoden in this story, because He offers us the chance to come down.  We were once His subjects, and He wants us to be His subjects again.

In the Lord of the Rings series, Grima is directly responsible for the murder of Theodred, King Theoden’s son.  Yet King Theoden chooses to extend his scepter of forgiveness towards Grima in an act of unmerited love.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t come up with this idea?  Our God, the Great I AM, sent His Son, Jesus, to earth, and we killed Him.  Even though you and I were not there at that time in history, by the evil in our hearts we would have done the same as the people who crucified Him.

But this is where the story takes a sharp turn from Tolkien’s.  Theodred certainly did not choose to die for Grima, nor would Theoden have ever sent his son to die for Grima.  But did you know that God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever? 

Just think about that!  Just think about that!

Jesus willingly went to His death for us, knowing exactly what He was doing.  He even knew that many of us wouldn’t turn to Him as soon as we hear about His death for us, but we would continue sinning for a long time before turning to Him!  Have you known about the cross of Jesus for a long time?  Do you think you’ve known about Him for too long for Him to forgive you now?  That is simply not true!  Like King Theoden extended grace to Grima even after he razed most of Rohan with his sin and killed even the weak, elderly, and children by his actions, God is still willing to extend His grace to you.  Will you accept it?

The price God paid to bring us back is the death of His Son.  Think of how heavy this price really was.  No one can imagine paying it!  But ask yourself this, very seriously: If the only way the price of my sin could be paid was by God sending His Son to die for me, then what will happen if I am faced with paying for my sin myself?

We cannot escape our sin by remorse, acts of penitence, good works, or even killing ourselves.  None of this will pay for our sin.  Only the Son of God, who is eternal and has the ability to take infinite suffering on Himself in a finite amount of time, could pay for our sin.  Do you want to take the penalty for your sin on yourself?  Can you bear it!?!?

Remember, God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever!!!

I know, I fully know, I cannot bear the penalty of my own sin.  I cannot even bear the thought!  It is enough to drive us mad to think of paying for what we cannot pay.  Just as Grima, trapped on that tower, had no ability to replant crops or rebuild houses, we cannot make up for our sin.  But the worst of all is, Grima could not bring back the dead, and that is what he would really have to do to pay for his sin.  He would have to raise the people back from the dead whose lives he cost.  And he knew he could not do it.

You may say, But I have never killed anyone.  But you say this because you don’t understand the consequences of sin.  Sin always brings about death.  Your sin and my sin causes destruction on this world that we are not even capable of understanding the full ramifications of.  To get a better understanding, just look at Adam’s sin of disobeying God once.  That doesn’t seem so serious, right?  But Adam’s one sin brought about all the havoc we see in the world today, like illness, injury, natural disasters, wars, murders, terrorism, and death of every kind.  Adam’s sin had a domino effect on the world.  And that was just one sin.

Do you think you have sinned, even once?  The Bible teaches that if you disobey God even once you have sinned and are guilty before Him.  We all know in our heart we have done this–many times.  I know there is no way I can make up for my sin.  I, like Grima, have done things I cannot pay for.  Even if I could imagine in my head that I could somehow plant new crops and build new houses, I could never raise the dead.  We might be able to make restitution on a superficial level, but we can never make up or pay back the depth of what we have caused by our disobedience.

The joy of my life is that I did not choose as Grima chose.  I asked Jesus to forgive me and be the Master of my life.  All my sin is paid in full–from birth to death.  I have been totally pardoned.  Unlike Grima, I chose to come down from the tower.  I am no longer Satan’s property.  I belong once again to the Kingdom of God.

Even though my joy for myself is indescribable, belonging to God means that He gives you a heart of love for others.  I know that I have come down from the tower, but I can’t simply stop at that.  I recognize that there are millions who still stand on top of that tower, totally hopeless and either believing there is no way down or not even realizing that they are trapped.  If you are one of those who has not made it down from the tower yet, I challenge you to receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior.  Satan will fight hard and long against you.  He will try to incite you, as Saruman incited Grima.  Satan will try to incite you against God or against me or against yourself or even against himself (Satan), but what he will try everything in his power to stop you from doing is from coming down from your lofty Hell and accepting the free Gift of Jesus Christ.

Come down, right now.  Come down and be free.  Satan can’t make you stay on that tower.  He can only try to make you think he can.

“I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” (Jesus, quoted in John 8:34b-36, HCSB)

[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.

The God who Suffered for Tormentors

What God did for us is not like any story we know.  He is the God who Suffered for Tormentors.

We were the tormentors.

I can get a glimpse of what God did if I think about a small analogy of it.  Suppose you invite me over to your house for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner.  But I’m jealous because you know how to make a great dinner and I don’t.  So while we’re eating, I take my steak knife and stab you in the arm.

You go to ER and get a medical bill that costs a small fortune.  And the police come and arrest me.  You could sue me for expenses and all the pain I’ve caused you–not to mention to take just vengeance on me.  But you don’t.  Instead, you pay the medical bill that I caused you.  Then you come to the jail where I’m in a holding cell, take my place, face the judge for me, and serve my sentence.

Have you ever heard of such a thing happening?

But that’s nothing compared to the story of the cross.

I serve the God who Suffered for Tormentors.

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)

Gríma

I have a knack of identifying with characters that others might not.  From the first viewing of The Two Towers, I had a powerful connection to Gríma.  Gríma Wormtongue.

I admit, not the nicest of names.  And not the nicest of characters.  Gríma is a groveling, no-good-for-nothing human who’s taken alliance with an evil wizard (an evil wizard who thinks less of him than a can of worms).  With a bit of skill in witchcraft and what can only be classified as worm-like conniving, Gríma has betrayed King Théoden, underhandedly murdered his son, and pathetically tried to win his daughter’s heart.  All this fails to get Gríma what he wants, of course, and when King Théoden wakes up from his trance he is not on the best of terms with Gríma.

Fortunately for Gríma, King Théoden doesn’t even realize at this point that his son is dead, or Gríma surely would be a goner.  In rage over the spell Gríma cast on him, King Théoden shoves the weakling villain down the outside stairs of the castle.  Gríma winds up on the landing with a bleeding mouth and a kowtowing spirit.

Gríma, outnumbered so outrageously–and so pitifully exposed as a powerless villain– answers this unexpected turn of events with what to me are the most haunting words in the trilogy series.

“Send me not from your sight.”

Send me not from your sight.

It’s manipulative, it’s artificial, and it’s pathetic–and, deeper still, it’s the cry of every scared sinner before a righteous judge.

King Théoden answers in the way we would expect–he tries to kill him.  In a tricking kind of way, the king is fulfilling Gríma’s plea not to be sent from his sight.  Can we blame King Théoden for responding in this way?  No.  Gríma is a completely worthless, very weird, and extremely unlikable groveling little villain responsible for abominable devastation.  This isn’t the kind of guy anyone would expect a king to give another chance.

Gríma does end up getting away, and his painfully pathetic saga continues, but I am still on that landing outside the castle.  In fact, I take a seat, take a thinker’s pose, and reflect on just how altogether marvelous Jesus Christ is.

What does Jesus Christ have to do with the scene that just unfolded?  Absolutely everything.

Because that scene that unfolded is the story of humanity–but with a turn that would have the best surprise we could possibly imagine look like a dud.

We are all Gríma.  We are all conniving, pathetic, evil-hearted creatures groveling at the feet of Satan.  We have all betrayed what is good and right.  We have all tried to twist good to look like evil and evil to look like good.  We have all played with other people’s lives–often the most helpless–for the purpose of growing more powerful ourselves.  And none of it works, of course, and we wake up one day to find we are not on the best of terms with God.

God has thrown us out of His Kingdom.  You will not be surprised to learn that this is not Heaven.  Down here, cars break and bones break, diseases grow and damnation grows, & dreams are buried and bodies are buried.

Once upon a time, earth was our Heaven.  Today, it is our graveyard.  Once upon a time, God walked with us in a garden.  Today, God the Father and Son are in a Heaven we have no hope of reaching on our own.

We are like Gríma on the landing of the stairs, wounded by our sin and by the curse God has placed on this world because of our sin.  We are in a state of morose pouting, withdrawal, anger, artificiality, manipulation, conniving, and utter patheticness.  And if we get even the tiniest glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of God, we know it.  We know God has sent us from His Presence because if we were to even glimpse at Him, we’d be goners.

But here is where the story takes a turn no one could possibly expect.

When we cry out to God, as wrapped in our sin as Gríma is in his ugly fur cloak, with all our best attempts to impress, with all our bitterness, brokenness, and bewilderment, with all our superficiality and conniving . . and with, at last, the plea of a repentant sinner’s heart before God,

“Send me not from Your Presence.  Bring me back to You.”

–What we find is not that God awaits with a sword to chop us down, but with a hand to help us up.  That hand is scarred with the print of a spike.  It is the hand that took our sin and drove it into Himself on the cross.

It is the hand of Jesus Christ.  And it is outstretched for you and me.

It is a grace King Théoden would not, could not offer Gríma.  But it is a grace God offers each one of us, even with knowing full well who we really are and what we have really done.

Maybe it is unimaginable to think of King Théoden as inviting Gríma back in his kingdom and giving the wretch new clothes and a seat at his table.  But it is not unimaginable to think of God doing this for us, if we come to Him through the helping hand of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has sent the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, to show us how to reach for His hand.  If you are broken and repentant before Him, you can ask Him right now, right where you are, and He will not reject you.

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea

A great high Priest whose name is Love

Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hands

My name is written on His heart

I know that while in Heaven He stands

No tongue can bid me thence depart

(From Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Lees Smith)

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22, NLT)