Monday, June 28, 2010

I’m Free!

Sometimes freedom doesn’t deliver all that’s promised.

Yesterday a neighbor’s parrot escaped. It landed in a tree a couple of houses away. They spent hours calling to it and trying to lure it back to its cage. Several times it took off and made a big circle before it went back to the tree. They finally gave up when it was too dark to see. All I could think is how to the bird, its new freedom must have seemed much better than living in a cage.

This morning as I was sitting on the porch, I heard its squawk and off flew the green blur. It must have spent the night in the tree. I didn’t hear any more sounds after that.

What the bird doesn’t understand is that its new freedom may become its destruction. Lack of food, predators or cold weather may bring a quick end to the fun.

We can be the same as the bird. We run after all kinds of things that promise pleasure and fun but the price is much more than we bargained for. Sometimes it is stubbornness and sometimes ignorance that put us in harms way.

A couple things that can protect us are friends who are not afraid to tell us the truth and fluency in God’s word. If we submit ourselves to these, it will go a long way in keeping us from being deceived by the false “freedoms” that are always calling and offering empty and dangerous promises. Sometimes our “cage” may be the safest place to be.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

When God Is Glad

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Psalm 51:8

In the pain
of my confession
it's hard to recollect
the fleeting pleasures
of my sin.

If there wasn’t pleasure in sin, we wouldn’t do it. But isn’t it so true that once the sin is done, the pleasure looks different? The gleam is gone, the price was too high, we have what could be called buyer’s remorse.

My shame
hides Your face.
My anguish
drowns out Your voice.
The lingering visions
of what I've done
my soul
my heart
my thoughts.

If we care about God, the pain of a broken relationship hurts the most. Hurts me… but what about Him?

I want to undo
I've done.
I want
to turn back time
so that
my thoughts would be
and my hands would be
lust was born
the deed was done.
I can't undo
what dark pleasure has wrought.

It’s too late now. No turning back. The debt has been incurred. The bill collector is knocking at the door.

So I come to You
just as I am.
I bow before You
shamed and unclean.
The searching light
of Your righteousness
puts fear in my heart
reveals more stains than
I ever thought I had.
I bow before You
because I've nowhere else
to go.
I confess to You
because I've no other
There's no place
to run
There's no place
to hide.
I can't escape
what I have done.
I can't erase
my stains.

We’ve been through this before. We tried to fix it ourselves but we came up short. All the resources we have don’t come close to what is needed.

So in my grief
I ask for one thing.
I long
to hear You sing.
I long
to see You rejoice.
For when my ears are graced
with Your song
and when I am blessed
by Your gladness
and when the angels
then I can be sure
that I've been given
the greatest
of gifts
the miracle
of miracles
the thing that only love
could purchase
the blessing that only love
could offer;

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. ( Zephaniah 3:17 niv)

"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." ( Luke 15:7 niv)

This is so good! God doesn’t grudgingly forgive but rejoices in the opportunity to forgive. Rejoicing and singing and heaven joining in.

A question from the meditation:

Do you still celebrate the amazing miracle of daily forgiveness? Is there evidence in the way you live your life that you have lost your sense of wonder at what God has given you?

It is a miracle; a miracle because it happens every day and keeps happening. When I am slow to seek forgiveness, that shows forgetfulness at the wonder of God’s grace. The same with people; God can extend His grace through them when I am willing to ask forgiveness after admitting wrong.


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Monday, June 21, 2010

Eating at Levi’s House

What is the lesson we should learn from this story?

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Mark 2:13-17
I heard a sermon yesterday that troubled me. A basic summary of the sermon is that Jesus ate at Levi’s house that was filled with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisee’s had a fit. The question was raised of who would be a tax collector today. Who would the religious people get uptight about if we or Jesus had dinner with them?

The speaker gave an example of having gone to someone’s birthday party that was at a gay bar. The implication was that a lot of religious people would have a problem with that. I wondered: what if the party was at a strip club? What if there was illegal drug use? Would the speaker feel the same; would he still have gone? Is there something about homosexuality that Christians are afraid to confront? Is there slippage in beliefs that affect us in this area?

He also made another comment about how in his ministry when they are trying to help the homeless get into a home they look at them as a family even if the couple is living together and not married. Several questions went through my mind on that one. What if you provide a home for a single mother and her children and then she wants to have her boyfriend move in because he is like a dad to the kids? What if the two “parents” in this family are of the same sex? Now if all you care about is providing housing, like a government agency, then these questions might not apply. But if you are a Christian ministry then maybe the call to repentance is greater than the need to provide a home. Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem when people turned away because they didn’t like what He demanded of them.

As I thought about the Scripture that the speaker used in his message the thing that really stood out to me was that right before this dinner, Jesus called Levi and Levi followed. I think we can safely assume that the reason Levi invited all of these other tax collectors and sinners to his home was so they could meet Jesus. I don’t think it was a wild party where Jesus was just another person in the crowd, laughing at the off-color humor and having a beer along with everyone else. He was the star of the show. He was in control; He set the tone and as we read later in the scripture, what he was doing was at the party was calling sinners to repentance.

I have heard this Scripture used many times when Christians want to justify hanging out at places and with people that maybe they shouldn’t be around. There is a place for engaging the world on their turf but if we are going to do that then we need to be very careful so we don’t end up compromising. Are we hanging out with these people because it is fun? Are they the ones who are choosing the R or X rated entertainment? Are we afraid of losing their friendship if we hold to Biblical standards? Even if we start out with the purest of motives there is danger we need to beware of.

1 Corinthians 15:33 exhorts us: Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." It’s interesting to me that it isn’t the other way around. When we hang out with people in the world the likely effect is for us to become like them. I think the way to avoid the compromise is holding a high standard that calls them to repentance and not being afraid of them taking off in a huff.

So I’m not advocating that we hide in our churches. We have a lot to offer to a mixed up world and messed up people. What I don’t want to see is Christians slowly sliding down the slippery slope of liberalism where after a few years time they are proclaiming a Jesus that has been painted by the world and reproving those who question what they have become.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wrecking Balls and Restoration

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Psalm 51:12

You know whether a house is being restored or condemned by the size of the tools that are out front. If you see a crane and a wrecking ball, the house isn't being restored; it's coming down. Wrecking-ball responses to the sin of another are seldom restorative. This is one of the things that's so striking about Psalm 51 and the history that surrounds it.

This is a different perspective. I’d never thought of the wrecking ball idea before but I know I have used it in the past and it’s been used against me. The word that comes to mind is overreaction; the response was bigger than warranted. A child does a “small” thing and all hell is unleashed from a frustrated parent. A minor slip-up from an employee leads to a complete overreaction from a boss.

But God's response wasn't a wrecking-ball response. No, God's response to David was the small-tool response of restoration. I live in Philadelphia. It's an older city where much old-home restoration goes on. Pretend with me that you wander into one of those grand old stone homes that's being restored. And pretend that we're watching a craftsman remove one of the three pieces of a triple-crown molding that's on the wall of this wonderful old house. The carpenter is motivated by the vision that this house could be restored to its former beauty, so he's not yanking the molding off the wall with a crowbar. He knows that the wood of the molding is dry and brittle and, therefore, susceptible to cracking and breaking. So, he's using the small tools of restoration. He has a lightweight hammer and an apron pocket full of wedges. He tap, tap, taps a wedge into place, then moves a few inches down and repeats the process. Gently, the wedges ease the molding from the wall. You take a glance behind you, and you see three piles that comprise the three types of molding that trimmed the walls. And you're impressed as you look that there's not a crack in a single piece in the three piles.

What a cool example; I can really identify with it. As a handyman there are many times I end up doing a repair to a wall or ceiling where someone had to make a hole to do a repair. There are times where I see that when the hole was made, it was done with the repair in mind. It is cut straight and with as little damage done as possible. Other times, it looks like someone took to the wall with a hammer and just started knocking holes through it. In that case, the repair is much harder to do.

God's response to the sin of David is the small-wedge response of a Restorer. He uses the small wedge of the sight-giving words of a prophet, who tells a well-crafted story. He uses the small wedge of conviction, causing David's eyes to see and his heart to grieve. He uses the small-wedge of forgiveness, offering David his unfailing love and mercy. He uses the small wedge of reconciliation, drawing David to himself once again.

We see God’s intention for us in this. He wants to change and redeem us. He’s not mad and looking for an outlet to His frustration. Jesus on the cross makes this possible.

So, in his grace God hammers at you, not with the sledgehammers of condemnation but with the small hammers of restoration. He's constantly tapping the wedges of redemption into place. He's constantly working to separate you and me from our sin. He's refinishing us by his grace so that we can shine with his character. We're forever free from the fear of the wrecking balls of condemnation. He was willing to be condemned so that we may live in beauty and for the purpose for which we were first constructed, the praise of his glory.

A question from the meditation:

Where do you see God's small hammers of redemption working restoration and change in your life?

I see it everywhere in my life. If I were God I probably would have given up long ago and torn down the building. But God sees a future in me. He can look beyond my present condition and see what restoration will do.


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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Natal Trauma

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

. . . in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5

You probably don't need me to remind you of this, but there's nothing less innocent than childhood. You see the moral dilemma of children when they are quite young. For example, have you ever seen the body of a yet wordless infant stiffen up in anger? You know the scene. It's nap time. You've fed and changed him. You've sung every song known to human culture and finally he's asleep. You make your way to the door of the room and just as you're ready to make your escape, you hear this ear-piercing scream. You turn around and there he is, red-faced, his entire body rigid with anger. Now you have to visit what's going on there. Clearly, this little one isn't suffering out of need. All of his needs have been taken care of. No, he's angry, and he's angry because at that moment you're not doing what he wants you to do. His rigid-body scream is saying, "Mommy, I love you and I have a wonderful plan for your life!"

I think every parent has been in this place. After eight children I know it well.

A side benefit is sometimes we see ourselves in them. Even as adults we have the same attitudes and desires deep within. Sometimes seeing it in someone else helps identify it in me.

You see, when David says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me"(niv), he's exposing the ultimate natal trauma. There's a deeper birth trauma than the physical suffering that both mother and child must endure in order for the child to be born. The deeper, more profound trauma is the devastating reality that you can't stop yourself from giving birth to a sinner. It happens 100 percent of the time. It's the natal disease for which there is no inoculation.

It’s also something we will always have with us. We may fight our whole lives but it will always be there. It’s like an infection we can’t get rid of. We take a medicine to keep it under control but it waits for its chance to reemerge.

But there's more to be said about this universal natal trauma. When David says that he was sinful from birth, he's talking about something more significant than the fact that even babies do bad things. He's actually pointing to why babies do bad things. Being a sinner is about the disease of the heart behind the aberrant behavior. The moral problem of babies is not first about behavior. They have a behavioral problem because they want their own way. They want to live in the center of their own little universe. They want to be the kings and queens of their own little kingdoms. So, they are innately self-focused and rebellious. They have their own agenda, and they don't want to serve the will of another. That's why the infant stiffens his body at nap time and the little boy starts screaming in the checkout aisle of Toys R Us. Both instances of bad behavior are rooted in the most horrible of natal diseases, an idolatrous heart.

How frustrating it would be to have children and not believe in sin. You could provide the best upbringing and shield them from bad influences but they will still do bad things. What we see with our eyes is the best refutation of the idea that we are born with a clean slate or are basically good.

I remember how hard I tried to keep my children from bad influences. I hoped it would spare them from some of the bad things I experienced. As I look back now I see that their worst enemy was the sin within them. They didn’t learn to be selfish or self-absorbed; it came from inside of them.

This is precisely why David prays for mercy. If my problem is congenital idolatry, then I need something more than systems of behavior modification and emotional management. I need the rescuing mercy of a Redeemer who will take my guilt on himself, who'll take residence inside of me, and who'll continue to persevere until I've been completely cured of the disease that's infected me since birth-sin. Thankfully, that Redeemer has come and his grace is up to the task.

This is the biggest lesson we need to learn. We are bad within and we need to be saved from without. I can’t fix myself and I don’t need a program for self-improvement; I need a Savior who will transform my heart.

A question from the meditation:

Are you finding hope in the Redeemer who will fight the battle with sin on your behalf until that battle has been fully and completely won?

Why is it so hard to learn this? Jesus offers the whole package of salvation but we don’t think it covers all that it does. We think we have forgiveness of sin but the change we need is up to us. So to answer the question, YES! In learning this I am receiving hope. The bad things I see inside myself can be changed. But the change isn’t from willpower; it’s from God’s power.


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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Everyone's a Teacher

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Psalm 51:13

Do you know that God has called you to be a teacher? You say, "Come on, Paul, you've got to be kidding! I've never been to seminary. I freeze up whenever I have to say something in front of a crowd. I don't feel that I'm as biblically literate as I should be. I don't think God really intends me to be one of his instructors."

Let me explain what I'm talking about. Paul says, in Colossians 3:16 , "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom." It's clear here that he's talking about the myriad of everyday-life ministry opportunities that God will give every one of his children. According to Paul, you have been called to teach.

As I think about this, I realize that I can be a negative teacher as well. My bad habits and attitudes are passed on to my children and others.

This is where David comes in. He says, in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways." David is reminding us that what qualifies us to teach in the personal ministry context of daily life is the grace that we have received in our own moments of need.

I teach in this way not out of perfection or from the ivory tower of theology but from my life: good and bad. How encouraging it can be to find out that none of us has it together, we all have areas of struggle and failure. That is where I can teach; others can see God’s grace at work in my life; making something good out of my mess.

So, are you a good steward of your story of grace? Have you thought about how to tell your story in a way that puts God and his grace in center stage? Have you looked around and considered who's living with or near you who could benefit from your story of grace? Where have you been unwilling to talk honestly about how much you were (and continue to be) a person in need of rescue?

This is where honesty and transparency come in. We are not giving a lecture, wagging our finger in the face of someone but coming alongside, one sinner to another, rejoicing in the grace, mercy, forgiveness and power that God gives to us.

So, it's true; you have been called to teach. Maybe not as a pastor, small group leader, Sunday school teacher, or foreign missionary. But you have been called to a daily life of gospel transparency, where you're ready, willing, and waiting to share your gratitude for the grace you've been given with someone who needs it just as much as you.

Here is a question from the meditation:

What are your God-given opportunities to teach others God's way?

The biggest that comes to mind this week is in my family. I need this posture with my kids so they see that God’s grace surpasses the condemnation of sin.


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