A good day.

I had planned to post this on Small, Still Voices this week, but we’re currently taking a little hiatus. I didn’t want to wait to post this, seeing as it refers to the days we commemorate this week, so I’m going to publish it here as part of my personal act of worship.

IMG_1079

Community, we know what Friday is. It is a day of remembrance, and we call it good– because it is. This day we mourn our sin that caused the death of our Savior, but we also marvel at His grace, at His beauty, at His willingness to sacrifice His own life for the sake of ours. This day we think about His death, but we also know that the death of Christ was not the end of the story.

Today, I want to think about the night before this good day. I want to think about the night Jesus was betrayed, about the songs he might’ve sung at the last supper Passover meal, and the prayer he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am blessed to have been able to visit Jerusalem and see what’s left of the garden on the Mount of Olives, the tiny park of majestic, ancient olive trees enclosed in a metal fence. Olive trees can survive for centuries, but these trees may or may not have been there with Jesus on the night of His agony. It doesn’t really matter, because it was still beautiful to see these gnarled, stubborn trees growing and growing for so long that part of their trunks have to be held up by cinder-blocks just to keep them upright.

IMG_1430

The place was real, the olive press. Jesus knelt here and asked for the cup to be passed, asked to be spared from the suffering that would press His blood into the anointing oil of gladness that would save the world. And yet, He submitted. “Not my will, but Yours be done.” He prayed for us, too. He prayed for his disciples that couldn’t even stay awake long enough to keep watch and pray with Him.

Before going to the garden, Jesus ate a meal with His disciples, the Passover meal, where it was tradition to sing Psalms 113 to 118. I love studying these psalms and thinking about Jesus singing them. (We can’t know for certain that He did, but it is likely, and the psalms speak of His glory regardless. For this post, I am going to assume that these hymns were sung at Passover.) In Psalm 115, the disciples would sing about the idols of the nations with mouths that cannot speak and eyes that cannot see, and all the while here is their God sitting among them, signing hymns with them.

In Psalm 116, Jesus would sing, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, your faithful son” (v.12-15).

Finally, in Psalm 118 comes the prophecy: “The stone the builders have rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (v.22-23). On the night of His betrayal, the night that led into His suffering and death, Christ would sing verse 24, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I encourage you to read these psalms today. I encourage you to think about the garden, about the suffering and obedience of our Savior. But most of all, I encourage you to draw closer to that Savior, because He has conquered death and is very much alive. Sunday has already come, friends, it came a very long time ago. Let us rejoice and be glad in the goodness of our God.

Photos by Robyn: Sculpture by Rick Wienecke; Olive tree from Gethsemane.

Advertisements

True Righteousness

Yesterday in my Shakespeare class, my professor brought up the term “imputed righteousness.” This is how he described it: “Mankind is irredeemably sinful and does not deserve to be saved, but God, purely out of grace and generosity [and through Jesus Christ, though he didn’t explicitly say that], chooses to pretend that we are righteous so we can go to heaven.”

This may or may not be the actual definition of the term, and he might have just had poor word choice that day, but the way he said it got me thinking. Because that word “pretend” really really bothers me.

Overall, the concept is good, that by grace we have been saved, not by works. That there’s nothing we can do to get to heaven, but God must — and does — save us. I understand that. I believe that. I know that to be true.

But God doesn’t pretend that we’re righteous. He makes us righteous.

How can we ever expect to walk in victory if we go through our life dwelling on the fact that we are sinners and unworthy of Christ’s love and salvation?

It’s not like God’s up there going, “Oh, you’re a sinner… But you know what I’ll do? If you believe in me, I’ll just pretend you’re a saint, then you’ll be a-okay and can come into heaven.”

No, we become saints when we give our lives over to Christ! His blood not only covers us, it transforms us. He makes us holy. We don’t have to live a life bound to the flesh anymore but can walk in the freedom of the Spirit.

To impute actually means to attribute, to credit. God attributes His righteousness to us. He clothes us with it. He gives us the righteousness that we cannot get for ourselves. He doesn’t pretend that we’re in right standing with Him, He makes it that way.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Amen.

Child, you’re forgiven and loved.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

In the words of Andrew Farley in The Naked Gospel:

This verse is an invitation to become a Christian. John is addressing nonbelievers who claimed to be without sin.

Did you notice that this verse declares they’d be purified from ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS? The phrase “all unrighteousness” is reminiscent of forgiveness passages elsewhere in the epistles. Here, John isn’t asking for a one-by-one tallying of our sins in order for Christians to stay forgiven and cleansed. That would be ludicrous, given the impossibility for any human to truly comply!

Think about it. You’ve already committed thousands of sins you’ve forgotten about. You can’t possibly remember them in order to confess them and become forgiven for them. That’s why Christians have to be purified from ALL unrighteousness – once and for all!

The contextualized interpretation of verse 9 may be new to those of us who have viewed the passage as a prescription for Christians who just committed an individual sin. First John 1:9 has been a “bar of soap” routine to stay cleansed and in fellowship with God.

What a tragedy! In adopting this view, we fail to acknowledge that ONLY BLOOD (NOT WORDS) brings forgiveness. We miss the fact that Jesus’ once-for-all blood sacrifice brought LIFELONG cleansing. So we dialogue with God to FEEL forgiven and cleansed. This feeling serves as our confirmation that God just forgave us. But some aren’t able to conjure up this feeling. And as a result, they end up doubting their forgiveness.

I have totally been there… unable to conjure up the feeling of being forgiven…

Farley goes on to talk about confession:

Let’s clarify an important point. The meaning of “confess” is “to say the same as” or “to agree.” Believers should agree with God on all accounts – not just about sins but about everything. Although we don’t confess our sins IN ORDER TO RECEIVE new portions of forgiveness and cleansing, we should still AGREE with God concerning the folly of sin. We’re His children, and it is only His ways that fulfill. We’re designed from the ground up to agree with Him, depend on him, and live from Him.

But it’s equally important to recognize that we don’t impel God or put Him in motion through our confession. He’s not waiting to dole out forgiveness and cleansing. WE don’t need to keep “short accounts” with God, since He has already destroyed the record book!

God has taken away our sins. He remembers them no more. As believers, our forgiveness and cleansing aren’t dependent on our memory, our confession, or our asking. Our forgiveness and cleansing are solely because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Let me take a moment to bask in that truth. Wow. Thank you, Jesus.

Now Farley addresses James 5:16.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

Confession to trusted friends and to God is healthy. It’s normal and natural to talk about your struggles with people who care about you. The indispensable truth to grasp, however, is that confession does NOT initiate cleansing in your life. We’ve already been cleansed “once for all” through the onetime blood sacrifice that needs no repeating.

Let’s be honest about our struggles, but let’s also be clear about what the cross accomplished. The Catholic goes to a priest, and the Protestant thinks he does better by appealing directly to god. But any system that doesn’t factor in once-for-all forgiveness is intrinsically flawed.

God doesn’t want us to think that human priests apportion forgiveness to us. Nor does he want us to envision His doling out forgiveness from heaven on a “first come, first serve” basis! Instead, He wants us to ascribe real meaning to Jesus’ declaration, “It is finished.”

Only then will we turn from sins for the right reason. Our motivation shouldn’t be to obtain forgiveness in return. We’re already forgiven and cleansed children of the living God. Our motivation should be the fulfillment that comes from truly being ourselves.

Wow.
In my life, forgiveness has been so polluted by obsessive compulsive disorder and this compulsive need for the “bar of soap,” to ask for forgiveness over and over until I feel cleansed…
That is NOT the Gospel.
The Gospel declares sin is finished. It is done, I’m forgiven once and for all. Jesus died ONCE for ALL sin, He doesn’t die daily.
Yes, I still sin, and when I do, I am not acting in the way God intended me to, I am not living from the new creation. So, I need to agree with God that yes, I did that, and it was foolish, and I need Your help to overcome it. But I also need to thank God for forgiving me for it, and cleansing me once and for all. I have already been forgiven. I don’t need to ask a certain way or a certain amount of times… Thank you, Jesus.
ONCE AND FOR ALL.

I will try to fix you.

Why do we always want to fix things?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but ever since we can remember, humanity has had this burning desire to fix things – objects, relationships, people…

Why?

Is it that maybe we were born with some inherent perception that the world was broken?
That something just… wasn’t right?

Where did that come from?
This idea… that something is broken and WE have to fix it….
And when we can’t… then what?

I’m just wondering when it was that the first person noticed brokenness.
Did they fracture a bone?
Did their shelter fall?
Did someone close to them grow ill?

I can’t fix people.
I can’t fix this world,
I can’t stitch hearts back together,
Or slap a band-aid on poverty.

But I want to.
I have this unrelenting desire for reconciliation.
But where did that come from?

Since the beginning of time, humanity has tried to reach God in whatever way they can…
Building a tower to heaven, setting rules and regulations to follow, crying out in desperation…

I wonder, then, how we were so instinctively aware of such a separation.
We knew that we were separated from God, He was up there, and we were down here, and we needed to do something about it… we needed to fix it.

So we tried, and we still try, and I still try, with all our human efforts,
And I fail.
We always fail.
Because we can’t bridge the gap.

Yes, perhaps we were the ones who broke it in the first place.
I don’t know, is that part of our instinct as well? I mean, would we try to fix something if we weren’t the ones who broke it?
I think now we would, but maybe that’s because somewhere inside us, we feel at least partly responsible, for whatever it is that’s broken. I’m not sure, the line blurs…

But what happens when we can’t fix it?
What happens when someone comes in and says,
“There is nothing you can do. I have already repaired it for you, you need only to accept.”

My girls the other day asked about the idea of God being like “tape.” Meaning, can He tape you back together when you fall apart? It was an interesting concept, and a difficult one to answer.
Because yes, God can piece you back together, but tape just sounds so… messy.
And maybe it is messy. I have no doubt that restoration is a painful and messy process, but I believe that in the end one can be completely healed, without the tape that only masks the tears and jagged edges.
But then again, being broken and being restored changes a person. When you are pieced back together by the God of the Universe, you are not the same as you were before.
My friend visually explained it by the tape being another color, like blue. In that sense, you can see signs of God’s work in the restored person, but you can also see that they were broken.

I feel like I’m covered in a mess of blue tape. And I feel like nobody knows it. But I do.

Tape just sounds so… preliminary to me. Like a starting point. Perhaps a better idea is some sort of glue… or stitching. God can stitch you back together, and for a while, you’ll have stitch marks, but eventually they fade and become a part of you… I don’t know if I’m making any sense here or if I’m even being technically correct…

I just know that God can bring true restoration.
He made us to be restored.
He knew we would break this world He gave us, this life, this relationship,
And He made us anyway, with a plan to fix it – to heal us.
We were made to be restored.
To be reconciled to Him.

Perhaps that’s where our desire to reconcile comes from.
In the book Soul Cravings by Erwin McManus, it talks about the desires we as humans have because we were created in God’s image. For example, we desire to create perhaps because we are like our Creator…

So, maybe we desire – maybe our souls crave – reconciliation, because so does our God.