That Makes Me White as Snow…

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

What Can Wash Away My Sin (Nothing But the Blood of Jesus) by Robert Lowry (emphasis added)
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Last week, I was out shoveling snow. It is not unheard of for us to get snow at this time of year, but it is not usual to have this much, this early. I don’t like shoveling, but I love watching the snow fall– thousands of individual flakes floating around, glinting in the light, and turning everything a pure, sparkling white.

It doesn’t last– the snow gets blown around, and the snow near the streets gets brown and dingy from the traffic. It turns slushy or gets piled up into heaps like so much garbage. The snow in the country gets crusty, even if it stays relatively white. It looks colder, harder, more brittle. There is something pure and magical in new-fallen snow that even snow itself can’t replicate. Artists have tried to capture it in paintings; scientists have tried to study it and replicate it; Hollywood has tried to use substitutes in movies (sometimes painted corn flakes, or sometimes soap flakes). There is still something about real, new snow that is unique and fragile and filled with promise–even in its coldness, it speaks of laughter and joy. (Maybe not while I am shoveling it, but…)

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God is the creator and sender of snow. He has storehouses of it (Psalm 135:7; Job 38:22) And it is the image God gives us of forgiveness. (Isaiah 1:18) The purity and softness; the glimmer and weightlessness; the crisp, other-worldliness of falling snow–that is the picture of a forgiven heart! Just as God sends snow to refresh the earth when it looks the most bleak and dead, so God sends forgiveness to hearts that feel cold and dead inside, weighted down and dirty with guilt and shame and Sin. God covers our sins with His forgiveness– and He brings renewal from the inside; new growth, new blossoms, new fruit from what was empty, barren, and used up. And even when snow gets dirty, or crusty– a fresh blanket of new snow revives, cheers, and brightens the landscape.

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God’s forgiveness is compared to snow, but it is far more powerful. White snow can cover up brown and barren trees and gray streets for a f, but God’s forgiveness comes, not in white, but in bright red. It comes through the shed blood of Christ, freely and lavishly given to wash away the scarlet stain of Sin. Red cancels out red, leaving purity and newness that comes from no other source. No artist can capture it; no scientist can discover its makeup; no Hollywood studio can recreate it; nothing on earth can compare or compete with its wonder and power.

Today, I am thankful for the message of snow, and even more thankful for the forgiveness that God offers. He may have storehouses for the snow, but His power to forgive is beyond measure, and His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23)

Sometimes, It’s the Little Things…

The other day started out frustrating. I went to the pharmacy to drop off a medicine container for a refill. There was a line. The man in front of me had a dozen questions, and demanded to speak to a specific staff member. By the time I reached the front of the line, I felt as though I was already running late for the rest of the day. I said I would pick up the refill later in the day as I didn’t have time to wait. Then, I went to buy a birthday card for my nephew. When I went to check out, there was no one at the regular counter– I had to use the self-check machine. It asked if I had a “rewards member” number. I entered it, but the machine didn’t register the number. A staff member (who could have checked me out at the regular counter!) helped me re-enter the number. Instead of discounting the price of the card, the machine ADDED to the amount, “rounding up” for a particular charity. I asked the staff member why this happened, and she said that I must have agreed to round up my total. I said, “No,” I hadn’t done so, but she said I must have done so some time in the past, and the machine automatically rounds up every time I make a purchase.

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It’s not that I want to be parsimonious–I like to think I am a generous person. But if I hadn’t typed in my “reward member” number, I would have saved a little money. To be more exact, I would have saved three cents! Now I know that sounds really petty, but sometimes, it’s the little things that really sting. After waiting (not all that patiently) at the pharmacy, this hidden consequence of a past act of generosity, coupled with the inconvenience of using the self-check, really made me angry.

I am reminded of a story in the book of 2 Kings 5 about a man called Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army under the powerful king Ben-Hadad. But Naaman had a big problem. He had contracted leprosy. Not only would leprosy destroy his skin and extremities, but it would make him an outcast and a pariah, and ruin his legacy. When he heard that there was a prophet from Israel who could heal him, he pulled out all the stops and went to see him. But Elisha did not come to the door. Instead, he sent Naaman instructions through his servant, and told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

Naaman felt insulted and infuriated. Why? It was such a simple solution– no drastic diet, no expensive and painful treatments–just take a bath in the river! But the Jordan River was considered dirty. That’s where the poor and destitute bathed, and where animals drank. Naaman almost lost his opportunity to be cured through pride over such a little thing. Thankfully, he was talked into doing what Elisha had asked, and he was completely healed. He was so grateful, that he asked for some dirt (!) so he could build an altar to the God of Israel who had provided his healing!

So often, God uses the little things to point out what really matters. After my less-than-gracious reaction to a couple of minor inconveniences, I had to step back and take a look at my morning from God’s perspective. The line of people at the pharmacy all had needs, and, like the man ahead of me with questions, each one had a right to service. It wasn’t their fault I was impatient or feeling “late”– and, it turned out, I wasn’t really behind schedule after all. I just didn’t like waiting! And my anger over the self-check machine was out of proportion. I still found a birthday card for my nephew, and I had the ability to go to the store, pick out the card, pay for the card, and I got to spend time with my nephew later that day. And some worthy charity got a whopping three cents!

Sometimes we fail to see the importance of the “little” things in life. And we allow “little” problems to grow all out of proportion. We allow petty injustices to fester; we withhold forgiveness; we get angry over perceived slights, and hand on to pride or envy. We forget to lift up “little” burdens and requests; we are blind to the “ordinary” blessings that fill our lives; we lose opportunities to do the simple things that can help others–a smile, a word of encouragement, a helping hand–we miss out on the miracles that hide among the “little” inconveniences of our day.

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My prayer today is that God will open our eyes to the “little” things in our lives– opportunities, mercies, blessings in disguise– and that we, like Naaman, will find healing and joy where we least expect it!

For more on Naaman, you can check out these links: https://www.logos.com/grow/important-detail-forget-story-naaman/ https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/tackling-the-sickness-of-pride-like-naaman.html

Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out

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When I was a child, my Mom used scripture to teach and correct me. One of her favorites was found in Numbers 32:23b “..you may be sure your sin will find you out.” This was a warning not to try to hide or excuse bad behavior. I could lie about cleaning my room, but sooner or later, Mom would find out. I could pretend to eat my peas at dinner, but sooner or later, my pile of uneaten veggies would show up as evidence. And I could be nice to my little sister around company, but that wouldn’t fool those who knew us well, or convince my sister that I wasn’t going to be bossy after they left. Most importantly, God would know what I did– and I would know that God knew!

Sin is more than just a simple action, or an accident. Sin is an infection–a poison. And it leaves traces, and scars, and has consequences– not just in actions or consequences, but in the shaping of our minds, attitudes, and character. Sin– concealed, denied, ignored, or excused–breeds and grows; it poisons our thoughts and emotions. Instead of reacting openly and honestly, we become defensive, secretive, paranoid, and apprehensive.

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Praying involves communicating openly and honestly with God. Sin will get in the way of that communication. Not on God’s part– He is unchanging. But on our part– we will not be fully open with God. We will be suspicious of His goodness, and doubtful of His mercy. We will try to hide our guilt and our true motives. As early as the Garden of Eden, this is the pattern. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. “Where are you?” asked God (Genesis 3:9). Certainly He knew where they were, and why they were hiding. But Adam replied, “…I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10) When God asked Cain about his brother, Cain tried to cover-up the murder with distractions. “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”(Genesis 4:9) God never asked Cain whether or not he was responsible for his brother. But God already knew that Cain had killed Abel; Cain’s attempts to redirect the conversation did nothing to hide his guilt– it merely confirmed that Sin had wormed its way into his thoughts and attitudes. Cain never asked for forgiveness. He never confessed to the murder of his brother. Instead, he received the punishment for his sin– banishment and isolation. Later, Cain’s descendants even bragged about their family history of murder and exile! (Genesis 4:23-24)

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Of all the people we might try to impress, God cannot be fooled by our false righteousness. He cannot be impressed or distracted by arguments or justifications. And He can’t ignore how Sin is poisoning us, and leading us toward death– both physical and spiritual death. Even “little” “secret” sins will infect our relationships– with God and with others– and cause us to grow emotionally and spiritually numb. Unfortunately, the poison of Sin can cause us to withdraw further from the very source of healing. We attempt to bargain with God; to justify or excuse our actions in our own eyes, asking Him to ignore our condition. We may even be defiant, knowing we deserve punishment, but doubting God’s willingness or ability to bring about justice. We march boldly in the opposite direction, doubling down on our bitterness, anger, or shame.

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We need to seek God’s mercy and grace through confession and repentance. God is faithful to forgive and eager to restore to us the joy of His salvation (Psalm 51:11) He will do what all our mind-games and excuse-making cannot do–He will remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And once the poison of Sin is drawn off, we can see and hear, think and act with a clear conscience, free of guilt and shame; free of secrets and excuses. We may still face the earthly consequences of our actions– punishment for things we’ve stolen or lives we’ve hurt, broken relationships or changed circumstances–but the eternal consequences of death and separation from God have been erased by the Blood of Christ and removed forever.

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And that will lead us to prayers of worship and thanksgiving, freely and joyfully raised!

For more discussion on this principle, see https://www.gotquestions.org/be-sure-your-sin-will-find-you-out.html

Mercy There Was Great, and Grace Was Free…

How big is God’s forgiveness? I know the Biblical answer: “As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 ESV); but sometimes, I add subconscious limits to God’s Grace. Sure, I know He can forgive my sins. And your sins. And even sins that make me shudder. I know that He offers forgiveness to all who call on His name in Faith. But sometimes, I question. I add qualifications–“if only..”–because sometimes, it’s overwhelming to think about the enormity and scope and freedom of God’s Grace.

Often, we see God as the great Judge– and He is–the only one with final authority to judge what is right and wrong; who “deserves” punishment or reward. But Jesus came, not only to be the perfect sacrifice for our Sin, but to demonstrate how much God desires to have us be reconciled to Him.

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The Cross is a stumbling block to many. I have some friends who find the cross offensive. They say that if God were truly merciful, He would simply forgive our sins without Christ’s sacrifice–just snap His fingers and say, “we’re all good.” They claim that God is harsh, that He delights in sending people to Hell, or He would’ve found a “better” way so that no one would have to suffer (or repent). But Sin isn’t just a trifling matter. It is not just a “boo boo” or a “whoopsie” when we defy the Sovereign, Eternal God. And it isn’t just a trifling matter to bring justice to a fallen world. Absolute justice without mercy would require that we die in the first instant of our rebellion–the moment we tell a lie; the instant we think a lustful thought; in the very act of taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Harsh justice would mean eternal separation with no second chances; no possibility for atonement; no hope of redemption. And Mercy without Justice is not true mercy. It is a cheap imitation. It offers temporary relief from guilt, without effecting any change.

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36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 ESV)
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The Pharisee in the above story wasn’t looking for forgiveness– nor did He receive it. But the woman who came to Jesus received both forgiveness and blessing. She did not receive it because of the expense of the ointment she used to anoint Jesus’ feet; she didn’t receive forgiveness because her need was so much more pressing than that of Simon the Pharisee; Jesus simply said her faith had saved her. Jesus didn’t refuse to forgive Simon–it’s just that Simon never asked for forgiveness. He wasn’t looking for it. He wasn’t looking for a relationship with Jesus– He wasn’t even really interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. Simon had invited Jesus to show off his own righteousness and get Jesus’ “stamp of approval.” And he didn’t pass muster! The short parable that Jesus told seemed to pass right over Simon’s head. Simon merely “supposed” that someone who had been forgiven more would love more. He didn’t know from experience, because He had never seen a need for mercy or forgiveness– nor the need to extend it to others! He didn’t value Mercy, because he had never desired it. Yet all of the Law and the prophets that Simon had spent his life studying pointed to the very great need we all have to be cleansed from our sins. Simon should have known that God desired “mercy rather than sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), and that the “righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4) Instead, he was trying to live by condemning others and comparing his efforts to theirs, instead of to a Holy God. The sinful woman, in contrast, desired mercy and craved forgiveness. And she got them! Forgiveness from Immanuel Himself, who would soon die to provide complete Mercy and Grace to all!

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The Cross shows us the high cost of God’s Mercy– and yet He gives it freely to those of us who don’t deserve it and can never earn it. And He does it without condition. When I ask for God’s forgiveness, there is no form to fill out; no waiting list; no qualification test. And no label, identifying me by what I have done or failed to do; by who I was or who I thought I should have been, or what others told me I was. I am redeemed! I am cleansed– thoroughly renewed! Every time! There is no limit on how much or how often God will forgive me–NONE!

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Except. “Aha, here it comes. I knew God would have at least one limit,” my friends would say. It’s not a limit of God’s love or willingness to forgive, but our limit in accepting and passing along God’s forgiveness. God will forgive us. Will we forgive ourselves? Will we withhold forgiveness from someone else God has forgiven? Are we a greater Judge than God? Are we more just? Holier? Harsher?

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Today, I want to spend time trying to grasp just how wide and deep and huge God’s Grace is toward us; how free and limitless His Mercy; how infinite His willingness to pardon and cleanse even my chronic pride and selfishness; and His passion for reshaping me and restoring me to be all that He created me to be! I hope you will join me.

Why Should I Pray for My Enemy?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
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If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!

But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.

  • Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
  • Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
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  • Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
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  • Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
  • Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
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One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!

Suing God

I have a friend who wants to sue God. She’s not entirely serious, but she has a lot of anger toward God. She feels that God “owes” her an explanation for her life circumstances, as well as a general justification for war, famine, and other evils that she reads about in the paper or sees on the news. She believes He (or She or S/he or It– my friend isn’t sure that God exists, but cavils at the idea of calling God “Father” or “He”–she finds it sexist) is being unfair in a thousand different ways.

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My friend doesn’t read the Bible, and is only vaguely familiar with the story of Job. Job wanted to take God to court. His life had crumbled around him, and he wanted God to explain why, especially as he didn’t “deserve” the circumstances he faced. Amazingly, in the Biblical account, we learn that Job was “right.” He didn’t deserve to lose his family, wealth, and health. He had done nothing “wrong.” That doesn’t mean that he was sinless. But he confessed any sins, made atonement– he even sacrificed to make atonement for any sins his children might have committed. Job was a “righteous dude!” My friend– not so much. Like most of us, she would probably be ready to admit that she’s made some mistakes here and there, though she doesn’t feel that they are particularly heinous. She’s more than willing to “let bygones by bygones” for herself and others– shouldn’t God do the same, without making us confess and humble ourselves? Who does God think He is, anyway?!

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But this is the point. God is GOD–He is not a man, or even a superman, that He is compelled to explain Himself to us; to seek our approval or accommodate our whims, wishes, or plans. In the story of Job, God never gives Job the explanation he’s looking for (again, amazingly, WE the readers are given a “behind the scenes” look and told exactly why Job is being tested and allowed to suffer). Nor does God justify Job’s circumstances or spell out his list his “rights.” Instead, He presents Job with a few keen questions to remind Job (and us!) of who God is, and who Job is not!

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Like my friend, I am often disturbed, puzzled, and saddened by some of life’s circumstances, and by the evils I see around me. But when I begin to question why, the Bible reminds me to ask a few keen questions: Did I create the world? Do I have the power or authority to re-create or re-order the world around me? Can I change my own circumstances, or those of others? Can I change nature, weather, geography, biology? Can I make times and seasons obey my instructions? Can I see a thousand years into the future, or remember a thousand years in the past? Am I immortal? Omniscient? Omnipotent? Holy?

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But more than that, I have to ask: If God never gives me answers or explanations for what has happened or is happening, or will happen– what will change? If God answers all my questions– what can I say or do about it? Can I teach God how to oversee the Universe? Can I explain to God what He already knows better than I do? Job’s ultimate response was worship. I have a choice to rage against my creator, or I can trust Him with my past, present, and future. I can worship God right now, in my “not-knowing,” or I can rebel against the one who gives me life and breath– the one who created everything around me, before me, behind me, under and over me– the one who is sovereign over the entire universe.

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My friend wants to sue God– or at least demand answers from Him. I hope she will consider pur-suing Him, instead. He is big enough to meet our anger and our questions, and He is big enough to handle all the things we don’t know or understand.

“I Would Prefer Not To..”

Years ago, our high school class read a classic short story by the American author, Herman Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of an unusual clerk– one who begins as a good worker, efficient and conscientious, but ends up dying in prison, hopeless, ruined, and broken. His tragic downward spiral begins one day when the lawyer for whom he works asks him to examine a short document. This is a commonplace request, much like asking a writer to proofread her final draft before submitting it to the editor. However, Bartleby responds by saying “I would prefer not to.” The startled lawyer decides not to force the issue, and gives the task to someone else.

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Bartleby’s refusal to do what is expected of him escalates until he no longer does ANY work. He refuses to work, refuses to leave the office, and refuses to eat. He isn’t angry or violent, but he remains defiant until the very end.

So it is with us when we are living in sin and rebellion against God. It may start out small– some little habit or attitude. We know it is wrong, but instead of obeying God’s word, we calmly say, “I would prefer not to…” not to tell the truth, not to turn away from porn, not to help my neighbor, not to agree with God about my behavior.

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:6-12 (ESV)

God is patient. He is gracious and kind. He does not treat us as our offenses deserve. He gives us the chance to repent. He offers forgiveness. But every time we say to God, “I would prefer not to,” we get a little more like Bartleby– isolating ourselves, wasting our potential to be all that God created us to be, growing more defiant and more rebellious, until we waste away into a prison of our own making, and, finally, death.

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One of the things that makes Melville’s story so disturbing is that the narrator keeps trying to explain away Bartleby’s defiance–perhaps he is having trouble with his eyesight and doesn’t want to admit it; perhaps he was traumatized at a previous job; maybe there is a reason for his passive aggression. But in all of his attempts to understand, the narrator cannot save Bartleby from prison and death.

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Understanding sin cannot change us. Excusing sin does nothing to stop its consequences (see Romans 6:23). No one killed Bartleby, yet he died because he “would prefer not to” do the things he needed to do to live. His small act of defiance, which starts out singular and almost heroic (after all, who wouldn’t like to tell the boss, “I would prefer not to,” every once in awhile?), sounds innocuous. Such a little thing to refuse. Surely God would not punish us for so small a thing…until one small thing leads to another…and another; a bigger rebellion; a numbing complacency; loss of perspective; a heart of stone; isolation; starvation; imprisonment; death.

What am I refusing to do for God today? What am I refusing to give up? Refusing to admit? Refusing to listen to? Am I excusing myself? Do I tell myself I am not in rebellion because I have been polite in my refusal to obey? Do I comfort myself that my rebellion is really just a matter of “preference,” and will not be consequential? That God’s Holiness is less important than my comfort or convenience?

Many people coast through life in the belief that God is SO merciful and SO loving that He can’t also be Holy and Just– that His commands are really suggestions; that His wrath is mythical; that our own wisdom is sufficient for living a “good” life and pleasing Him. But God isn’t concerned about whether we live a “good” life– He wants us to have an abundant life– filled with joy and peace, love and relationship, both now and forevermore. In fact, He would “prefer not to” punish us. He is not “willing” (i.e. desirous) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that everyone would some to repentance. That doesn’t mean that He won’t punish those who refuse to obey Him, or those who refuse to turn from their rebellion and trust Him; only that He will continue to give us the opportunity to recognize our need for forgiveness.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:10-15 ESV– taken from biblegateway.com

God has made it possible for us to be more than servants. We don’t have to respond to God as Bartleby responded to his boss– though God has the ultimate authority to demand our loyalty and obedience. Through Jesus, we are sons and daughters and friends! When God gives us commands, like “Love one another,” they are still commands. But His heart is that we should trust that all of His commands are righteous, life-giving, and in our eternal best interest. But some of us are still saying, “I would prefer not to.”

No Condemnation…

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)
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I looked in the mirror this morning.
There it was again, right in the middle of my forehead…
“Failure.”

The label peeled off. But some residue was left behind.
I could feel it.
Every time I knit my brow,
Every time I tried to smile,
Every time I tried to look up.

I cried out,
“God forgive me. I’m a failure.”
But I thought I had been forgiven before.
Why was I still wearing the label?
Why did it keep coming back?

I looked closer at the label I had thrown away.
“Made in USA.”
Not “Made in Heaven”
Labels are made on Earth.
By other people.
In my own mind.

This time, when I looked up, I couldn’t feel it.
But I saw the others–
Wearing labels, just like me.
“Failure”
“Hateful”
“Unwanted”
“Used”
“Unworthy”

And the labels were all made somewhere on Earth–
“USA”
“Pakistan”
“China”
“Zimbabwe”
“Honduras”

The labels were hard to ignore.
Someone had put them there for all to see.
But what if I could look beyond the labels
And just see the faces?
Look into the eyes of my sister,
And see the beauty God had intended to be there.

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Father, Help me remember that there is NO Condemnation for those who belong to you. Condemnation comes from others. You are the righteous Judge, NOT the prosecutor. You have the authority to condemn– yet you offer Grace to anyone who will repent. Your only label is a banner of Love that says “Precious to the Lord.” Help me see Your label– whether in the mirror on on the street– whenever I look around.

Be Reconciled

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
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Why do we find it so difficult to be reconciled? We crave God’s forgiveness, but we withhold our own toward our neighbors, or family members. We let anger and bitterness keep us apart. We let pride keep us from doing what we know is right in God’s eyes.

I speak from conviction. I have been estranged from a cousin of mine. Years have passed since we’ve spoken. We argued about something, and simply stopped talking. I tell myself that I have nothing for which to apologize–that’s just the way things ended. And my life is far less stressful since we’ve stopped talking. I do not “hate” my cousin, or feel bitter toward her. In fact, I tell myself that I only wish her the best– I just don’t want to be involved in her life, or have her involved in mine.

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I know this is not what God wants. I know I should get in touch, and reassure her that “we’re okay”. Yet I am afraid to reach out and re-establish contact. Not because she poses any sort of physical threat, but she threatens my pride and my comfort. I find her difficult to talk to; difficult to understand. We have different ideas about boundaries and expectations–I find her “needy,” and she finds me “aloof.” I don’t think time will have made our relationship “easier.”

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But God finds her precious in His sight– and worthy of my effort to reconcile our relationship. That doesn’t mean that I must allow her to manipulate me or abuse my emotions, or that I must demand that she be someone she is not to make me more comfortable. But it does mean that I may be embarrassed or inconvenienced at times. I need to be willing to listen, even when it is difficult, and so speak, even when it seems like I’ve said the same thing before. And it means that I must learn to set healthy boundaries and insist on them– not to shut her out as I have been doing, but to keep our relationship balanced and safe for both of us.

God puts a great premium on our willingness to be reconciled to one another. So much so, that Jesus told His listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, that if they were ready to bring an offering, and they remembered that someone had something against them, that they should leave their offering– unoffered– and go be reconciled first. Being at odds with others puts us at odds with their Creator and the One who loves them. Whenever possible, we should seek to reconcile. Broken relationships are sometimes a reflection of our relationship with Him. It hinders our prayer life, as well as our witness to the Power of God to redeem and reconcile the world around us.

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God is aware that we are sinful people. And there are some relationships that are absolutely toxic. Reconciliation and forgiveness are NEVER about allowing another person to continue to abuse or manipulate you. Especially if this involves physical or sexual abuse. Forgiveness is not the same as accepting someone else’s manipulation or abuse. God, and only God, can redeem us and make us a new creation. Some relationships cannot be fully “reconciled” in this life. But “letting go” is not the same as “locking out” or “running away.” We must let others know that God can do what we cannot–He can restore broken relationships. He can make all things new.

Testimony

Yesterday at church we were challenged to share our testimony. I have shared my testimony several times, but I haven’t shared it in this space in a long while (if ever), so here goes:

When I was about 4 1/2 years old, I became a big sister. I was excited about this, but after my younger sister arrived, I had a terrible time with jealousy and resentment. She was tiny and adorable, and she had my Dad’s blue eyes (they later changed to a greenish/hazel color like mine, but everyone commented on her eyes, and never on mine). One day, filled with this resentment, I made a rather impulsive decision to poke my sister in the eye with a sharp stick. At that age, I wasn’t completely aware of the danger and damage I would have done, but I still knew it was wrong. I didn’t succeed– my mother caught me in time and got a stern talking-to about what had almost happened. Not wanting to face punishment and Mom’s anger, I burst into tears and said I was sorry. Surely a show of remorse would make everything all right. That’s how it worked on television, and it had worked for me that way in the past.

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But this time was different. Mom was frightened by what might have happened, and unimpressed with my tears. She explained quite clearly that what I had attempted could have ended in disaster, and that no amount of “sorry” would have undone my action. I had to face punishment (probably less severe than I deserved, but it felt awful at the time). She also explained that she was both frightened of and disappointed in my action. She would tell my father, who would also be ashamed of my behavior. Now I was truly frightened. What if Mom and Dad never got over their disappointment? What if they stopped loving me? Not only that, but Jesus had seen everything: He knew what I had been about to do and WHY! I had learned about Jesus in Sunday School. He was kind and gentle and loved all the little children. What if He stopped loving me after He saw what I did? What if I had succeeded in hurting my sister and it could never be made right? What if I said I was sorry, and no one believed me? Even Jesus?

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I can still remember the feelings of terror and shame– that kind and gentle and Holy Jesus might be disgusted with me; that my resentment and anger had separated me from Him, and that I could not “undo” it or “sorry” my way out of it. Certainly, I was coming to realize that He had (through my mom) stopped me from completing my evil plan –WHEW!– but He KNEW that I would have done it. And I wouldn’t have been sorry for my jealousy, or for my sister’s pain in that moment. Not really sorry. I recognized in that moment that I wasn’t a nice person or a good or righteous person. If Jesus loved me, I didn’t deserve it.

Mom must have seen the change in me, because she stopped and took the time to walk me through the lessons I was still learning in Sunday School. We are all sinners, and unworthy of the love and blessing of a Holy God. Yet Jesus came and offered to love us– to love us SO much that He was willing to die to remove the sting and shame of Sin and its consequences. And Jesus’ love is SO powerful that it can take a rotten, sinful heart and cleanse it completely. Mom and Dad could love and forgive me. But it would involve more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” I had to mean it. I had to choose to let Jesus take control of my resentment, and my wrong thinking, and ask Him for forgiveness. In fact, only Jesus can offer complete and everlasting forgiveness! I am not a righteous person; others can see that I am not a righteous person– yet Jesus can see me, not as I have been, but as I can be– perfected through Him! I asked Jesus to do just that– to come into my heart; to live in and through me; to renew me and change my mind and heart to be more like His.

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Jesus Loves ME– this I KNOW
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong!

I had sung this song many times, but now it made sense to me in an entirely new way. That was over 50 years ago, and I must admit that I have had moments of failure and embarrassment; times when I have chosen my own will and emotions over what I know to be right. I have had moments of doubting whether Jesus could still love me after things I’ve said and done. But time after time, I come back to that simple truth that Jesus, for reasons I cannot explain or fully understand, Loves Me– He Really Loves Me! His offer of forgiveness isn’t phony or conditional or limited. Not because I deserve unconditional love or a thousand “second chances.” Simply because HE LOVES ME!

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And He Loves You, too! Right now, right where you are, just as you are– He Loves You! Whether you’ve never known that, or been sure of that, or whether you’ve had moments of doubt because of something you’ve said or done (or left undone or said)–Jesus Loves You! And He wants to give you a New heart and a New Life– one that is free of lingering shame and fear; one that is eternal and filled with joy and peace!

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That is my testimony. That is what I know from experience to be true of God– more true than anything else in the world.

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