Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boasting In Our Mistakes

Another media darling in the news, this time with a chorus line of affairs--too shocking, too outrageously good for TV ratings to keep private.

The morning "news" shows that once catered to him now turn their back as they parade his mistresses before the American public.

Every time I visit an online news site, it seems more women readily vomit forth even the tiniest details of their sordid affairs. I rapidly click to another screen, refusing to read, to watch, to google, to twitter, or anything else that might continue to popularize and glorify this sin.

But one picture on an online news site caught my eye--a news interview, an appearance of lip-service penitence from a former mistresses, and a golden cross dangling from her neck...all while thousands tuned in to feast on the gossipy, sordid details, filling our country's fascination with illicit sex.

Two things bothered me about this image. First is the idea that if I am a Christian and am truly ashamed of my sin--even after I repent to God and turn from my sin--then it's still ok to glorify my sin by publishing tell-all books or hosting TV interviews, exploring every detail of that sin.

Glory and shame--it's a contradiction that just doesn't work where sin is concerned. In a way, recounting the details of one's sin in such a public forum is a "boasting" in that sin.

Jeremiah warned against boasting: "This is what the LORD says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth" (Jer. 9:23-24).

Although Jeremiah wasn't speaking directly about boasting over one's sin, he is clear that there is only one who is worthy of our boasting--God almighty.

Don't get me wrong--forgiveness needs to be sought between the person who sinned and God as well as between that person and the others she hurt or offended by her sin...but the public nature of these soul-baring confessions seems to be leading to another sin, the sin of pride.

Isaiah also speaks of glorying in one's sin. He says, "Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes" (5:18). The image here is a person walking through the center of town as she drags a cart-load of sin behind her for the sole purpose of giving others the chance to look at her sin.

In Hebrew, the word "ropes" refers to a "twisted, finely crafted cordage."* In other words, this is a heavy, multi-corded rope used to drag a heavy sin-laden cart. Some may argue this means there's a lot of sin stacked on her cart. I'm not so sure. If the consequence of one sin is death (Rom 6:23), then it stands to reason that one sin is a heavy weight.

I'll address a second issue in next week's post.

For now, I want to leave you with the question I have been asking myself--how do we know if it's glorying or boasting in our sin versus just sharing with another to help her avoid our mistakes?

I'm not sure, but I think the answer lies in our focus and on whom we might hurt in the process of "sharing".

Perhaps we should ask of anything we share about our personal sins, do I spend more time focusing on my sin? Or do I focus on how God forgave me and still uses me?

* Baker & Carpenter. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament. AMG, 2003.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Unimportant Body Part

One minute, I was cutting an onion while the twins noisily pushed each other, jockeying for the best position around my feet. The next, the knife slipped and I found myself staring at a thin white oval sliced from my fingertip.

The finger, itself, turned a ghastly white, seemingly not knowing what to do. But then the blood finally came, and it took an hour and a half to stem the flow. As wounds go, this one wasn’t deep enough to need stitches or to excuse me from most household duties.

And yet for the better part of a week, I have learned how important a fingertip is. With each diaper change, each child picked up, each letter typed on the keyboard—I have felt the throbbing. Even my nightly sleep is delayed by the steady pulse, a reminder of how my entire body suffers when even the most seemingly insignificant part is hurting.

When speaking of the body of Christ, Paul made a similar observation about all parts holding equal importance in the Kingdom of God. He said, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many….But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?” ( 1 Corr. 12:12-14, 18-19).

In our culture, emphasis seems to be placed on the big mega-churches, on the well-known Christian speakers making headlines, on the published Christian authors and what they can accomplish for Jesus.

Yet, Scripture is clear that each person in the body of Christ is important, no matter the man-imposed hierarchy of giftedness.

Each small off-the-map church proclaiming the richness of God’s Word. Each seemingly insignificant person who shares a cup of water in Jesus’ name. Each unknown person who suffers or is martyred for the cause of Christ.

From America to India to China to Haiti—every Christian in every country is serving a role in God’s great plan. And when one suffers in the body, we all suffer.

Paul continues, “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corr. 12: 20-22, my italics).

You may feel weak and unimportant. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

And if you are suffering, there is a body of believers who would love to do nothing more than pray with you, share in your hurts.

God may never call you or me to fame. But as long as we are fulfilling the mission God has given each of us, as long as we are sharing in the hurts of our fellow believers...we know there is no such thing as an unimportant part of Christ’s body.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Taking a Practice Swing

He firmly grasps the wooden handle with both hands and stretches the sharpened ax out in front of him, learning its weight before he fulfills his task. With the crowd watching in curiosity and horror, the offender is brought forward and made to kneel down with her bare neck lying exposed on the block.

Then, like a golfer practicing before his putt, he tentatively raises the ax over his head before slowly lowering it until it hovers over his intended target, perhaps even slightly brushing the tiny hairs atop the woman's skin. One practice swing, maybe two. Until suddenly, with arms fully extended, he mightily swings the ax heavenward and then back down in a rapid arc, slicing clean through a life to rest on the wooden block beneath.

Or at least this is the image associated with beheadings in the time of England's Henry VIII.

The ax and the wooden block.

My heart pounds at these scenes. I close my eyes, knowing I would never have been a willing part of the crowd that watched such an execution.

Imagine my surprise this past Wednesday when God showed me a similar image in Scripture.

In Matthew's gospel, John the Baptist is in the desert, the "voice in the wilderness," calling all to repent of their sin and then baptizing the repentant in the Jordan River. Throngs of people came from around the region to see this prophet in camel's hair who subsisted on locusts and honey.

Then along came the Pharisees and Sadducees, two sight-seeing groups who had apparently come out of curiosity more than for the heart-changing message.

When John saw them, he criticized their evil hearts and warned them of God's judgment to come if they remain unrepentant: "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:7-8, 10).

My heart dropped when I read verse 10: "The ax is already at the root of the trees."

God--holy judge and executioner--isn't just giving an empty warning to these fruitless tree-men. He's taken the ax in hand.

And what's more? What gives me chills?

He isn't just holding the ax.

He's already taken his practice swing, bringing it down to rest on the root of the trees. All that remains is the moment when He says "enough"and arcs the weapon heavenward before it crashes down, exacting His perfect judgment.

It's one thing to think of God's judgment as coming in that ever-vague "one day." It's quite another to see an image of God preparing for that judgment.

As Christians, we must seriously consider our efforts to proclaim Jesus to those lost souls around us.

James says, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (Jas. 4:13-14).

We have only to look at this past week's news to see that it is too late for many of the possibly 100,000 who just lost their lives in the Haiti earthquake.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Alvin, Simon, and Isaiah??

I showed my youngest daughter how to push down the fur tuft on a plastic chipmunk's head so she could hear a greeting her daddy often gives her: "Helllllllooooo Gorgeous!" She smiled and did a little dance before snatching Alvin's red-shirted body from me and toddling to the next room, continuing to push his over-sized head, listen, and smile at the repeated compliment as she went.

A little over one year old and already stricken with vanity...loving to hear how wonderful she is.

For five days, she and my other two children were easy to locate in the house because they relished in having that little piece of molded plastic tell them "Helllllllooooo Gorgeous!" over and over.

But by Friday, the effects of being snatched and dropped too many times had taken its toll. My daughter fussed loudly as she brought a broken Alvin to me. I watched as she pushed his hair over and over in frustration, attempting to make him tell her what she wanted to hear.

Yet, despite her efforts, all Alvin would say was, "Hell, hell, hell."

If God can raise the dead, He can surely use a piece of plastic to speak in my heart the truth about reaping the fruits of vanity and pride, about how they lead towards hell rather than towards a life of humility and true, honest submission to Christ.

Isaiah 64 resounds in my ears: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people" (v. 6-9).

According to this passage, believing God means believing I am unclean without Jesus' saving blood. It means believing nothing I can do is truly worthy of God. It means I am mere clay, not able to adequately shape my life all by myself.

And if my actions don't line up with these beliefs, then I am guilty of unbelief...and I am guilty of vanity.

Webster's defines vanity as: "Inflated pride in oneself." Based on Isaiah 64, I believe this definition creeps up and catches most Christians unawares.

The first way our vanity may show is in that deceitful voice of the heart that belittles its own sinfulness and says falsely, "Sure I'm a sinner, but at least I'm not as sinful as that person." Or perhaps it's a voice of self-congratulation over obeying God's word that says, "You're such a good little Christian! You did your Bible study again today and even found time for more than just sentence prayers!"

But the heart speaks vanity and lies. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" It is vanity to compare my sinfulness to another's sinfulness. We must all remember that our sin--no matter how big or small our heart claims it to be--is enough to separate each of us from God permanently without Jesus' sacrifice.

The second way shades of vanity appear is as we seek to make any decision, however small and insignificant we consider it to be, without God's assistance. Any day where we don't seek God's face is our heart saying, "I don't need God today; I can take care of this 'small stuff' myself."

In a sense, we are trying to be the potter instead of the clay. Without seeking and accepting God's moment by moment guidance, we wobble on the potter's wheel, transforming ourselves into something less than Christ's perfect image.

Man's deceitful heart will repeat "Hello Gorgeous" to you and me at every turn. But life as God intends is only achieved by checking our heart against the truth of God's Word.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

No Camping Here

The art of photography is, in a sense, an innate desire within us to stop time--to capture some place, some person, some experience we simply want to remember or, in some cases, don't want to leave behind.

It could be a child's smile, a sunset spent with one's beloved, a wrinkled face full of laughter, or a simple landscape of a lazy summer day. We've all had those experiences that warm our souls, causing our hearts to almost will the minutes to creep slower so we can camp out forever in the moment.

And then there are those treasured moments not found in any photo but stored up in our memories. Perhaps those fond memories that remain alive sans photo are truly the ones our hearts desired to remain in forever.

I have innumerable memories of mountain-top experiences where I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay and soak up the warmth, the love, the feeling of completeness. And as you might guess, I have found most of those experiences in worshiping my Jesus.

An unusually uplifting church worship service. A women's conference where the spirit of fellowship with other believers permeated the room. A quiet moment in personal Bible study where I could feel God's Word speaking directly to my circumstances. An empowering old hymn sung with great emotion to an audience of pine trees.

In those moments, I could feel Jesus speaking directly to me. I could literally feel Him near.

And I didn't want to leave.

The same thing happened to three of Jesus' disciples on a literal mountain. Scripture says, "Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus" (Matt. 17:1-4).

Imagine being one of the chosen three in this intimate time with the Lord. Then imagine not only being in the presence of a flesh-encased Jesus, but being (for the first time) in the fullness of His glory.

I wouldn't want to leave. Neither did Peter: "Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (v. 4).

I understand this desire--to just permanently camp out in Jesus' presence without giving another thought to the evil, sin-ridden world that surrounds me. It's so much easier to keep my focus solely on God when I sit and listen as Jesus speaks, when I shut out the world so I can simply fall at His feet like the angels in Isaiah and sing "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Is. 6:3).

But Jesus didn't say, "Yes Peter; good idea. Let's stay up here forever."

No. After God the Father spoke to them in a cloud, they all descended from the heavenly glory found on the mountain and immediately came face to face with the horrors of hell.

Imagine the disciples' fullness, the kind of electrifying soul-filling excitement only found when one has met with God. Then, the shocking slap-in-the-face contrast of pure evil as they walked into the always-waiting crowd where a man asked Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son.

Jesus didn't say, "Ugh! You're ruining the moment!!"

Instead, he said, "'Bring the boy here to me.' Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment" (v. 17b-18).

This is how Christ means us to live.

He will meet with us. He will reveal Himself to us...but not so we can permanently camp out in His glory. God does not intend for us to hoard His glory all to ourselves.

To do so is definitely tempting. But how else will a lost and dying world learn of Jesus if you and I spend a lifetime sitting complacently atop the mountain basking in Jesus' radiance?

Jesus' plan was to bring His glory down to the lost crowds of people below.

How can we do any different than follow the example set by our Lord and Savior?