Sin Always Means Death, #68

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:24, (context, vv. 21-30)

Death is defined in a very basic sense, as the cessation of life. You’ll simply stop breathing, and your heart will no longer beat. You’ll be brain dead in a matter of minutes. And perhaps it’s then you’ll suddenly realize that you really do have an expiration date. (Will it be a burial, or a cremation?)

I don’t want to sound morbid. That really isn’t my intention. I know I can be blunt–but please, don’t dismiss this ghoulishness as the prattlings of a really weird person. I sometimes think we really need a jolt; it teaches us to take life a wee bit carefully. Our days are numbered–whether we like it or not.

“Teach us how short our lives are
    so that we can become wise.”

Psalm 90:12

The words of Jesus can be somewhat stark and terribly pointed— It’s silly I know, but there’s something here that feels like you’ve got a pebble in your shoe. It annoys you, but you’ll try pretend its not a real problem, you’ll survive, you’ll do just about anything but sit down and shake it out, or else you’ll learn to walk funny. But he’s now speaking truth to us, and his words are crystal clear, they cut us like a scalpel.

There’s a militancy in verse 24, something that’s granite hard, and it doesn’t flex like we want it to. Spiritual honesty has never come easy to humans, and to be honest, we’ll choose varying intoxicants over what is real. “Truth. You can’t handle the truth”, is a line from a movie that somehow got stuck in my brain.

Experience has taught me that truth is almost always negative when it’s first encountered.

“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” can be chilling, and if we’re really, really honest it might feel like a steel-toed boot in our solar plexus. It somehow takes the breath right out of us. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, they begin to suffocate. They can’t handle what he’s saying, so of course they fall back, they resort to their carnal specialties–accusation and slander.

Believing–that seems like it’s the critical component. I think that Jesus spoke this truth with real compassion. He’s not like us. He’s not fighting back. He simply declares what’s true–and believe it or not, he desperately wants them to believe him. He loves each one of these religious rascals, and because of that–truth has to be plainly spoken–he wants to save their souls.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

C.S. Lewis

   

 

The Very First Stone, #63

“He stood up and said to them, 

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7 (context vv. 3-10)

The religious police had caught them together, and they held her (just her?) for the express purpose of embarrassing Jesus. Ideally, on the holy grounds of the temple they could challenge him about the Law, and when Jesus tried and failed, they could then humiliate him to the crowds. He would lose a lot in the credibility department (or so they thought.)

“They set a trap for Jesus. If Jesus said, “Let her go,” then He would seem to break the Law of Moses. If He said, “Execute her for the crime of adultery,” then Jesus would seem harsh and perhaps cruel. Also, He would break Roman law, because the Romans had taken the right of official execution for religious offenses away from the Jews.”

-David Guzak

Adultery is expressly prohibited by the seventh of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) which says simply: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” There is no ambiguity to this. God had made it clear that adultery was wrong, and she was guilty. (The man she was involved with wasn’t charged–which is a bit interesting.)

Jesus, being sinless, was the only one capable of judgement. Having complete authority he had perfect right to carry out God’s verdict. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. I suppose that’s why this passage is so evocative to many.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:11

All of her accusers had quickly left. Jesus simply wrote something in the sand, and whatever it was, it did the trick. There was no other thing that would of caused them to leave so quietly, and abruptly. They suddenly refused to enforce the penalty of the Law, and just skedaddled.

The adultery was still an issue though, it wasn’t overlooked. Jesus spoke directly to her about it, she wasn’t off the hook yet. “From now on sin no more” is after all a command, and that relationship with her lover must be forsaken. Jesus was serious. What she would choose to do from this point on was critical.

Jesus insists that she understand the why behind them departing so quickly. I think it’s important for her quite specifically, she knew that not only was she forgiven, but that now she could live without guilt or condemnation. The condemners were gone. She was free. Absolutely free.

“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”

Billy Graham

The World’s Hate, #57

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

John 7:7 (context, vv. 1-8.)

Forty years of following Jesus has taught me many things. Lumped up in my top-ten is the hard lesson, “people dislike truth.” We are all fallen, and the fig leaves we find don’t cover much–they’re always wilting. And yet we avoid the light, and make up things that are really illusions (or delusions.) We find a mask and wield it to prevent the truth from penetrating our hearts.

Darkness is everywhere it seems. We see it in politics, religion and the media. We see it in our self, and others. It’s grim and sad and proud. And it’s disturbing that it actually turns into a solid hatred. And as believers, and part of the Church, we catch levels of flack from different levels of darkness.

“If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you.”

John 15:19, Amplified

Jesus knows every heart, He evaluates and can’t find anything good. “The works are evil,” and every place He looks it is night, spiritual darkness. When you’re dark spiritually, you’re in a very bad place–you are still lost in your sins (Luke 19:10.) I’m sorry, but I am telling the truth.

The world system still hates Jesus, and we’re despised by association. We must be aware. As believers, we’ll never fit in. Much of persecution is satanic, the devil originates much of it. There are countries today that blast believers with dark attacks. I’ve read that more Christians have been killed in the last century than all the others, combined.

“Princes, kings, and other rulers of the world have used all their strength and cunning against the Church, yet it continues to endure and hold its own.”

-John Foxe, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 

Forgiveness Finds a Place at Simon’s Table, Entry #36

“And Jesus answering said to him, 

“Simon, I have something to say to you.” 

And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

Luke 7:40, (context, 36-40)

This has to be one of my favorite passages of scripture. Simon, who is a Pharisee, has invited Jesus for dinner. I suppose he intends to impress Him, or at the very least he wants to Jesus to look more favorably on his religious sect. It’s simple PR work for him. (Maybe even tax deductible?)

But in comes this woman, and she spoils everything. The ESV translation describes her as a “sinner” and a “woman of the city,” (whatever that means?) She bursts into the dining room wielding an alabaster flask of ointment. She kneels and weeps, and uses the locks of her hair to rub the perfume on the dirty feet of Jesus.

She is crying, and I have to believe she’s very aware of her sin–nobody has to tell her that she has wasted her life. Simon, on the other hand, finds her behavior with Jesus quite objectionable. He’s obviously disturbed by her presence, and he only can only see her outside actions, his vision never really extends to see her broken heart.

And yet Jesus is quite aware of the tension that’s now developing. He’s spiritually sensitive to all that’s swirling around Him, and we see Him jumping at the chance to teach Simon (the Pharisee) a lesson on true forgiveness.

It seems that a certain moneylender had two men that owed him money. One was indebted with just a modest sum; the other was bound by a huge debt. It seems that both men couldn’t repay what they had borrowed. So inexplicably, the lender cancelled the debt of both of them, the little and the big. These men were now free. They owed nothing–not a red cent.

OK now. Who will “love him more?”

Jesus compares the responses of these ‘ex-debtors’ and takes it to a very logical conclusion. “Who will love him more?” Simon obviously understands this line of reasoning, and we hear him responding correctly to Jesus’ lesson on mercy and grace.

Simon realizes there are those out there who are terrible sinners, they are wicked and have walked in sin and darkness for a very long time. They’re irrevocably stained by their sin, it has shaped them to the point that their personalities have been altered. Sadly, they know all of this, and it breaks their heart in two. They tell no one, but God knows.

The schooling Simon receives is the Kingdom logic that corrects his definition of God’s mercy. The kindness that God bestows on us is proportional, those who “owe” much are forgiven much. And as a result they love much.

When you see a person weeping at the altar, overcome by their sense of sin and they seem terribly broken, you’ll understand the love they now have for Jesus. A tremendous debt has been forgiven, and they get up and walk away as free men and women. They now finally understand how to love. They have been forgiven.

“The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”

― John Stott

Doing Jesus’ Work, #28

“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”

Matthew 10:7-8, (context vv. 5-15)

Heal. Raise. Cleanse. Cast out. What a job description for Jesus’ disciples! He truly believes that those who follow Him are ready, and it’s time for them to go to work. I suppose they could keep sitting at Jesus’ feet, just soaking up His teaching, and watching Him do His miracles. But this isn’t what they’re called to do. They’ve sat long enough.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s vital that we absorb His words to us. It’s absolutely critical that we hear His voice and really do find our rest in Him. We must intimately listen to Jesus and be filled with His Spirit. Yet it strikes me that far too many disciples think their life is an inward one; a concentration on personal growth and one’s own spiritual attainment. But I don’t think this is the case.

The disciples must go to work.

Jesus ‘commissions’ them to go out and proclaim the ‘Kingdom come.’ The labors of Jesus must be done by these inadequate (and sinful) men. Heal. Raise. Cleanse. Cast out. It’s time for them to go out and meet the desperate needs of the world. But stepping out can be a scary thing.

The works that these disciples are to do are truly marvelous. They now have an ability and an anointing to do remarkable things. Jesus is comfortable that His disciples are ready, and yet knows that when they return they will have much to learn from Him. It seems however, that we are waiting for a certain amount of “perfection” before we step out.

Most of us, I suppose, are ‘hamstrung’ by our own sin. We see know our inadequacies and deep weaknesses. Most of the time we feel completely unworthy. Seldom do we think we’re ready to spread the Kingdom news to a needy world. Our own sin, we believe, disqualifies us from ministry to others. It seems Satan is very quick to neutralize us, and to annul the “work” of the Father. He accuses us, and we listen.

We’re overwhelmed by what we see within us, and as a result we seldom see the needs around us.

It seems we shelf His work and replace our faith into some sort of personal rehabilitation program. “When we are finally holy enough, we will hit the streets.” Until then, we will try to get enough personal purity to work His miracles. Commendable I suppose, but I don’t think this is what Jesus intends. I’m convinced the work itself is a vital part of our sanctification.

“Have thy tools ready. God will find thee work.”

-Charles Kingsley

Eating With Sinners, # 20

Courtesy of Holy Spirit Catholic Church

“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, 

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:11-13 (context vv. 10-13)

God is not against us because of our sin. He is with us against our sin. We barely believe this. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s one of those pure and unadulterated grace ideas and somehow that just might confuse us. It’s counter-intuitive to everything we know; and it’s the tragic way of the religious world.

Jesus is now sitting and eating with sinners!

Can we even grasp how amazing this is? His guests at the table were the awful–the nasty dregs of a nice proper society. Tax collectors who had renounced Judaism for Rome. There were the sinners who were the unacceptable. (Even the whores and the drunks showed up!) Can’t He do any better than this?

It seems to me we’re living in this world ‘blind and dumb’ to what grace really is. Our legal analysis seems right on, but we have to admit we’ll sometimes operate under certain dictates of a ‘comfortable’ propriety instead. “What can we do to merit God’s love and become acceptable?” How can we truly fellowship with a God who is completely holy?

We see (or read) of the Lord who chooses to fellowship with the ungodly rather than the religious. That shakes us to the core, as it should. He loves associating with unacceptable people. That alone should floor us-and maybe scare us too.

The religious Pharisees found ‘grace’ to be unacceptable. They walked and breathed legalism. Keeping the Law was their way to be acceptable in God’s eyes. And they were now angry, or maybe somewhat mystified, by Jesus’ incredible desire to associate with evil people. But they’re misunderstanding the grace and mercy that resides in God’s heart.

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.

–Anne Lamott

Do we seriously understand the kindness and grace of Jesus? Does it ‘saturate’ your mind and heart? Are you completely ‘marinated’ in God’s outrageous love for you, the ugly? Think about this; ‘Could it be that pharisees are still alive and well today?’

Eating with sinners. We read that the Pharisees objected. It strikes me that these guys were trying to attack Jesus by ‘splitting’ the disciples from Him. They wanted them to question His actions. This is Satan’s strategy.”Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” ‘Why’ seems to be the voice of the disbelieving and ‘ungraceful.’

Mercy is always better that any “sacrifice” we can make. Does this bother you? (It should.)

The ‘healthy’ don’t need any help. No doctor’s appointments are necessary. And yet Jesus chooses out the sinners” instead. You need to understand this, to be called like this is the ultimate gift. Grace for the ungraceful is unreal. It seems oddly unnatural. And yet the Father’s grace is now waiting for you. You must believe this.

What are you struggling with?

What ‘distracts you? What are you trying to do to be ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes? Do you really believe that He desperately wants to sit down and have a meal with you, just as you are?

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.

-Anne Lamott

Be Clean, Entry #18

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, 

“I will; be clean.” 

And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Matthew 8:3 (context vv. 1-4)

He lives completely devastated. Leprosy was more than physical, it had spiritual consequences. He probably had been living as an outcast for many years. When he got anywhere close to the healthy they would shout out that he was “unclean.” They were afraid of him. He was the consummate ‘boogeyman.’

Lepers were excluded from any temple services. They could never ‘sacrifice.’ They wore their sin like a heavy coat, and they were destined to wear it for the rest of their sad lives. The Jews regarded them as cursed by God; never ever to be touched by anyone. They were the damned.

Can you even imagine the awful ugliness that life had given him?

To be clean was only a wonderful dream. It evaporated when he woke; it was never, ever realized. His disease ‘stuck’ to him permanently. (He must’ve realized that it was forever and ever.) He was cursed by God to live alone, and die damned.

It throughly amazes me that Jesus reached out and touched him. Most likely he hadn’t known any human contact for many years. I think the Lord knew and understood this man’s biggest need. To be touched was a bonanza, to be healed was ‘heaven.’

What sin has hypnotized you?

What ugliness degrades your spirit? Look to Him (and His mercy) and let Him touch you deep inside. The Law insists that contamination would spread to the person who touched the unclean, but Jesus being ‘clean’ passed on His wholeness.

That’s the kind of God I serve.

“Give up the struggle and the fight; relax in the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus; look up into His lovely face and as you behold Him, He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming. There is no short-cut to holiness.”

–Alan Redpath

 

The Doves in the Temple, Entry #11

“And he told those who sold the pigeons, 

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 

John 2:16, (context 13-17)

The temple was meant to be a place where people could seek and find God. It was meant to be a place of seeking, of sacrifice, and a place of worship. It had no other purpose other than linking man to God. It wasn’t architecture, it was ‘reconciliation.’ The temple was God’s plan of making a way for sinners to engage Him.

Along the line somehow it became corrupted. Unscrupulous man had a way figured to make money off of pilgrims. The temple required temple currency, hence the money-changers who made a tidy little profit. The birds, lambs and bulls were suddenly provided to the worshipers as a convenient way to ‘sacrifice.’ (That made it easier if you had the cash to spend.)

“So he took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins.”

John 2:15

Was this wrong? Did Jesus really make a “whip?” Did He really flip over tables like some sort of ‘religious’ brawl from some old western movie? I have to believe He did do this. Chapter 2:17 explains things like this:

“The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, “My love for your house burns in me like a fire.”

Jesus loved God’s house, at least for what it was designed for at the beginning. (Some translations use the word, “zeal.”) God’s heart is for fellowship with man. He desperately wants to engage us, to bring us directly into the “holy place of the Holies.”

He wants us there for the companionship. He seeks “friends.”

The doves? Jesus never hurt them. His anger wasn’t directed at them, but rather at the humans who made the birds available to be sacrificed. The Lord didn’t focus His displeasure at those fine feathered ones in the cage, rather He commanded that they be removed from the temple. No whip was used here, only understanding of the need for a kinder approach. (They’re just little birds after all.)

He really wants to fellowship with you. He will do whatever it takes to remove things that should’ve never been there in the first place. He ‘discerns’ the issues, and is very gentle, not an ounce more than is necessary will be applied to your life. He is supremely wise and astonishingly kind.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

-Francis de Sales