Now No Condemnation

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. Romans 7:18-23

It seems that when the lights are out and I am in bed needing to go to sleep, my mind is most susceptible to the flood of thoughts about how I have legitimately failed or wounded my children, husband and others in the course of that day.  Sometimes I will want to go snuggle with my peacefully sleeping children as if to make up for my impatience, divided attention or otherwise hurtful or neglectful behavior toward them in the course of the day.  Sometimes this overwhelming feeling of guilt is blown out of proportion by my tired mind and heart.  At other times, very vivid moments are played like film clips in my mind’s eyes, unavoidably declaring me guilty as charged.

That control freakishness that could easily define me in the eyes of my husband condemns me as I lie there feeling it’s divisive power.  I can so easily be that person around whom he has to walk on egg shells, never knowing if he put the dishes away properly, offered the right food to our children, suggested a winning idea for a family activity and so on.  Oh how my sin condemns me and stifles the joy and freedom in those I love most!

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.7:24-8:4

This is the only thing that answer such a guilty conscience, and I am only beginning to grasp it’s glorious, life-giving implications. I used to think “now no condemnation” meant that it had all been a misunderstanding, that my felt guilt was just “negative self-talk”, “stinkin’ thinkin'” or being too hard on myself for things that are common to all.  But I stand “not condemned” not because my sins are common but because Jesus bore the full weight of the wretchedness of my body of death that I on occasion feel deeply.  It is because my guilt is accurate – I have been unfairly demanding of Chad, micro-managing and short with Terrell and my shame and despair in regard to these areas is right.  But the burden of their weight, their recovery and their redemption, both in my heart and those I have hurt, is carried by Jesus!

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Rev. 12:10

Satan’s accusations are so effective because, in many cases, they are true!  But they do not contain the rest of the story.  Like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe who betrayed his family and Aslan, the Jesus like figure in the story, his guilt was deserving of death.  But Aslan took his place and there was only one death to be died for the offense.  Jesus died one time for all the sins of all His people in all of time.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

I love this acknowledgment that I am both a fully accepted child of God and that the perfect likeness of Jesus in me is not yet apparent or even complete yet. This helps me understand a little better why my new creation in Christ still acts a bit like the “old man” in me. Why I still don’t do the good I want to do and yet still do the bad I don’t want to do.  I have been promised that His work will be completed even though it is quite obvious that there is still some way to go in that process.

My friend Melissa has learned not only the identity of her child in Uganda, but increasing tidbits about his personality and activities as their arrival is anticipated and they all wait to pick him up from the babies’ home there. He now belongs to them, is their child and is brother to Henry and Mary Taylor even though they haven’t gotten over there to make it official in Ugandan courts and by bringing him home. Should other infants and toddlers in the babies’ home be able to talk, an observer might tell their son, “You don’t have parents. You are just an orphan, alone like all the others here.” The comments would be right, from an immediate perspective, and yet utterly false. What will be has not yet been known clearly to all observers either here in Atlanta or there in Uganda, but it is true nonetheless.  What is declaratively true about me in Jesus is equally true, even if barely in part to my own heart’s eyes and the perceptions of those around me.

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:19-20

Over and over again, He shows me my unbelief and replaces it with greater faith – that I am not condemned even though condemnable, that His grace is in fact more than sufficient for me and that I can trust His redemptive work to be completed in me and in those who will need Him to recover from me. (:   Hee hee.  Hallelujah what a Savior indeed!

A Prepared Table

I have not had anything to say about the Gospel in my days this week, but interestingly, I have had lots to say to others out of irritation.  I am particularly skilled in the use of biting words, heavy handed judgments and sweeping critiques.  While my days have been wonderfully free of anything remotely resembling stress, internally I am filled with agitation, restlessness and discontent.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

My self-sufficient Christian inclination is to notice I am “grumpy”, acknowledge that being grumpy is my sin, repent and then look for ways to quit being so irritable or ways to be more actively joyful.  Unfortunately, that is like recognizing I have a fever and determining to be well without examining what has caused the fever.  Two things that keep being brought to my mind are Psalm 23 and my deep need for control.  I want my days to look a certain way, my parenting to look a certain way, my home to look and function in a certain way, my social life to contain certain relationships, my ministry to be particularly defined and basically to live as a marketable and clearly defined tidy package in my own eyes and those of others.

My home is constantly a mess, the laundry is constantly not finished, last night I burned our dinner, my children don’t actually “obey right away” or often even until a fourth or fifth hysterical demand, I can’t fit all the relationships I want to maintain while also maintaining a sane schedule and my mental capacity and self-discipline seem both to be diminishing by the day.  My helplessness to control my environment, the people around me and even my own heart is not a contrived spiritual thing to say, it is reality in Technicolor.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Phil. 3:20-21

The things that are not in my control, like the state of my home, the disorganization of my paperwork, the failed expectations of my parenting (to be creative and enthusiastic and fun all day every day – ha ha), and so on…are all under His control!  He is never not in control.  Things not going my way are still and always going His way.  His will is never thwarted, not even in the smallest detail.  The Psalmist answers a disturbed soul with “hope in God”, implying the disturbance just might be because hope had been placed elsewhere.  My deep down agitation has something to do with this reality that I can’t have things the way I want them when I want them and that my peace and well-being have come to rest in my will being done rather than His alone.  I trust my will more than His and want my way more than His.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23

He restores my soul.  What good news indeed.  And, as Paul mentioned above, He restores my soul by transforming me and not as I might demand that He transform my environment, circumstances or the people around me.  He is committed to restoring my soul, it is the very story of redemption to which the person and work of Jesus have been devoted.  In this restoration work, He makes me lie down, often when I think I should run faster and longer.  He is the One working the transformation in His way, by His means, in His time.  He doesn’t fly me over the valley of the shadow of death as if it is to be avoided at all costs, but walks with me through it and becomes more visible to me in it.  This valley of disturbance is the very one in which my hope becomes most strongly anchored, my faith becomes sight and my lowly body begins to resemble His glorious one a little more clearly.

And here is the part that keeps coming up in numerous readings over the past week:  He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies!  In the face of enemies, whether that means people who genuinely suffocate my spirit or make my heart feel condemned, or whether that means the various circumstances which work in opposition to my desires, or whether the enemy is simply my own divided heart which is counted righteous even as it is drawn to sin, I want to flee or hide or attack.  Sitting down to a lovely meal is the last thing on my mind.  After all, speaking of disturbed souls, my stomach would be in knots and that meal would have indigestion written all over it, if I even felt hunger at all. 

But His control over everything and my hope placed exclusively in His will being done rather than my own, invite me to sit in peace and enjoy the banquet even as enemies attempt to stare me down and intimidate me.  What would that even look like?  To enjoy the person in front of me with genuine absorption in the moment no matter how long my to-do list is for the day, to sit peacefully in a messy house just as if I were at a clean and simple spa, to love my children wildly even when their hyperactivity or carelessness would threaten my very last nerve, to be more interested in the people I encounter at a party or social gathering than my own marketability in their eyes…perhaps these are tables at which my soul is invited to be at rest.

What if I start to understand the person and work of Jesus as the Great Disturber of my soul, at work to actually bring comfort with his rod and staff?  What if instead of trying to ignore, mask or self-medicate my agitation and irritability I begin to ask Him to search my heart for the unbelief behind these raw and real emotions?  What if He replaces my strong belief in my own ideas and plans and “needs” with a more powerful belief in His control over all things so that I can enjoy that table, any table, He has prepared for me?
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

Easy Yoke Part 2

Walking down the beach yesterday, enjoying a delightful time to myself in the sunshine along the edge of the waves, I encountered an unseen but very powerful jellyfish.  I had just begun to walk into the water to cool off at about the furthest point in my walk and zap!  It truly was like being electrocuted.  My arms tingled for most of my return walk and there were moments I wondered if I’d be one of those stories in the news of weird fatal reactions to otherwise mild ocean encounters.  Today, the blotchy marks that appeared last night were joined by a long straight bruise along the top of my foot and side of my ankle.  Not cool you tenacled blissful moment invader!

Tonight, as I was supposed to be falling asleep, it occurred to me that this collision with the jellyfish is the perfect illustration of sin’s effect on me.  I was thinking about it because just tonight, in an otherwise pleasant setting, I encountered my unseen but very powerful sin as it took it’s effect on those around me and left me feeling electrocuted.  The exposure of this potentially lethal reality in my heart left me shaken and breathless, but without that cool spray the lifeguards had handy yesterday.  I felt similarly disoriented as I was simultaneously “guilty as charged” and yet encountering the sin in others as well.  And here is where that “not yet” of yesterday’s post (and the entire redemptive story in Biblical history) comes in today’s post.

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:12-14

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

The now but not yet:  there is NOW no condemnation (not because I am simply misunderstood or misjudged, but even in my unmistakable guilt) because Jesus’ one sacrifice grabs all my selfish neglect of the needs of others, my harsh and haughty words, my condescension and superiority, my disdain and disinterest and includes them in His own self-sacrifice.  He has NOW declared me perfect in Him even as I have NOT YET been made holy, perfect, complete and lacking nothing as an exact representation of Jesus.  Will I run to Him with these condemnable moments and receive His covering which is so much better than jellyfish sting spray?
His yoke is easy and His burden is light, or as the Ugandans apparently paraphrase His words, “My luggage is not heavy.”  Tonight my luggage got really heavy really quickly and here is why:  I was trying to process my own guilt, shame and identity and I was trying to sort through the processing of others in their guilt, shame and identity and I was worrying about their view of me in the process and I was feeling rotten about my lack of genuine, selfless love for them as exposed in the whole thing.  The sentence itself is long just as the burden was great and the yoke was impossibly mis-tailored.  (Is that even a word?)

Has He asked me to carry any of that luggage?  He reminds me, even now, that He is the only one who is just and who justifies.  It is His Spirit that leads me (and others) into all righteousness and truth, who loves genuinely through me and who takes me to Jesus and hides me in Him.  His yoke for me is easy because He is the author and perfecter of my faith, not me.  His burden for me is light because He became and owned all of my sin so that I can be called His righteousness.  He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me and will do the same for others.  I can lay that burden down.

The now but not yet is so readily seen on vacation where we taste not only the good things to come in terms of rest and feasting, but I face (even here at the beach with those I love the most) my desperately great need for a Redeemer and am brought face to face with a very great Jesus who joyfully, willingly, patiently, gently, compassionately, kindly and tirelessly meets my desperate need.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:15-25

Easy Yoke part 1

Our dinners at the beach are far from utilitarian.  They have more of a South American spirit to them in that they begin with hors d’ouvres and relaxed visiting, move into a culinary experience with wine (or cleverly named craft beers) with food that has been lovingly and proudly put together by different family members who genuinely enjoy the art of cooking, and go late into the night. We linger over the meal and around the table until well past the hour when our children should already be in bed, but they seem to buy into the experience themselves.  With this on my mind while sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, trying to decide whether I should go for a long walk, play in the waves or read a book, I was thinking about what makes vacation so vacation-ful. (:  It isn’t just the play and the laziness but it is the conspicuous absence of the toil of daily responsibilities. Even putting dishes away at the beach feels less burdensome than the same task at home. 

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  Gen. 3:17

On vacation, tidying up the living room or kitchen, running a few loads of laundry or washing off sandy beach toys just doesn’t seem as cruel and “toilsome” as the similar tasks do at home on a daily basis.  I think it speaks to the somewhat mysterious nature of the curse and the life to come when all traces of it will be wiped away.  While we still will work, because this was part of the dignity of man and imaging of God before the fall, it will not be wearisome labor.

He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” Genesis 5:29

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matt. 11:28-30

The “Now but Not Yet” of this redemptive story we find ourselves included in came to mind as I contemplated the person and work of Jesus in regard to my need for vacation and my receipt of His rest: 1) His reversal of the curse as minimally referenced through Noah is available even now as described further in Matthew and 2) while we get tastes of this rest, it is not yet perfectly undisturbed. (will have to be explored in the next post)

Now:  The idea of two oxen being strapped together by a “yoke” is clearly outside of my daily experience.  But, the idea of strapping into a three legged race may be slightly helpful.  If I have to do a mile around a track in a three legged race, I want to strap my leg to a swift runner, with coordination and rhythm, who is as focused on the end goal as I am.  To strap my leg to someone who just wanted to stop for refreshments the whole time, quickly distracted, who isn’t all that coordinated, or who is easily winded or nauseated by exercise would make for a really tedious experience.  Interestingly, I yoke myself to these kinds of partners, namely my own inconsistent will, all the time instead of Jesus and wonder why I am so worn out and in need of vacation.

Patrick Knaak, in a World Harvest Mission book entitled My Luggage is Not Heavy, wrote about this saying, “The default mode of my sinful heart is to chase after the idols of approval or success, or to insist on doing things my way.  And yet, yoking myself to my own willful independence to try harder to do better is the most wearying labor…”  For me, the anxiety about approval isn’t as simplistic as “like me, like me”, but means that I want to be found faultless before the most scrutinizing money managers, found perfectly pure in motive by my new neighbors in a not-yet-transitional neighborhood and those watching from a distance, found above reproach in my care and nurture of my children and found nothing but praiseworthy in my ministry and interaction with those around me.  But of course, if any of these things were possible, I would have no need for the person and work of Jesus because my righteousness would be sufficient.  I need to be yoked to Him because only His financial management is faultless, only His motives are perfectly pure in all things, only His care and nurture of His children is above reproach and only His ministry is life giving at all times.

The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.  I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.”  This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations.  Is. 14: 24-26

My daily labors at home, while absent of rolling waves and leisurely nightly dinners, might not have to carry with them the toilsome nature that I have felt more intensely at certain points.  Perhaps the toil comes when I attach to these tasks demands that Jesus has not given.  Jesus hasn’t asked that I clean my house for others to think me an exceptional house keeper, but simply to be able to find my stuff and enjoy the space more.  He has asked me to love on my children and train them in the refreshment, necessity and wonder of the Gospel, not create Stepford children who perform for the arbitrary and every changing standards of others. I want to manage my manna in Tupperware, trusting in my ample extra as a mark of superior stewardship – and I feel my jaws and insides clench even as I type that – cue the heavy burden and scowling willful independence.  Instead, God provides the exact resources for the very things He has called us to, and what He doesn’t provide I can trust we don’t need as I may assume.  Jesus asks me to wash the feet of others, to go, serve and love “the least of these” of whom I am one.  He frees me from both enslavement to their approval of my motives and from fear of disappointing others, because I rest in His righteousness alone.

 Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. Psalm 116:7

The Ocean of Scripture

We are at the beach and it, of course, is all we want it to be.  The expansive ocean outside our window, which makes our small children look even smaller, is both mesmerizing to watch and so much fun for swimming and playing.  I was trying to race my family back to our chairs by swimming through the waves while they walked on the beach.  Totally winded from swimming a sprint in the water, I looked up to find I had made little to no progress towards our destination.  That big ocean continually reminds me of its size and strength in contrast to my greatest aspirations and presumptions about my own.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Ex. 3:5-6

At breakfast this morning, Dad lamented his feeling that after a lifetime of reading the Bible, he really doesn’t have confidence that he can just pick up a passage and know with any accuracy how it is telling about the person and work of Jesus and His hope-giving redemptive work today.  Those weren’t his exact words, of course, but what he went on to say is what really touched something profoundly significant in my own life.  He said he spends far more time reading books about the Bible than the Bible itself.  When he goes out on the beach, he’d readily take a book about a redemptive figure or circumstance (like William Wilberforce or the folks learning from their experience living in Hard Bargain) than just taking the Bible out to the beach to pour over it instead.  (I’d readily take a brain numbing mystery and plow through the whole thing in a day.)The Bible, sadly, has been relegated to those private moments called “devotion” and then tucked away until the next day.

He was telling something more true about my own experience than I have even had the awareness to lament.  Why is this the way I relate to the Bible, I wonder?  For one, I know that whenever I have set out to “read through the Bible in a year” or just pick it up and enjoy its pages, my experience is like attempting to swim impressively in the ocean or even just play tirelessly in it.  I approach with the intention of conquering and I walk away in defeat, sometimes with water up my nose.

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Ex. 33:19-20

What I do find when I pick up my Bible, which is the very same reason I don’t pick it up more frequently, is that my small stature becomes even smaller when I approach it.  I have in mind to master the content before me, to own it like some newly discovered land I am entitled to possess simply because I won some battle of determination.  But instead, I find it will not be conquered, possessed or even subdued by me.  Instead, it overwhelms me with how much I don’t understand it, how much I don’t see clearly and, like my great effort in swimming the ocean route back to our chairs, the increasing distance and effort required to attain my goal is totally defeating.  

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. John 1:1-2, 14-18

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:27

“The Word” who is God, who nobody was able to see and then continue to live, became flesh and made His dwelling among us and has made Himself known.  Wow.  What if I begin to spend time seeing Jesus in all the Scriptures not to master, conquer, or complete them or Him, but just to gaze at Him the way I am comforted, amazed, splashed, worn out and relaxed by the ocean?  What if I quit evaluating my Bible reading, which only condemns me, and simply enjoy it as I do the ocean?  What if being anxious for nothing also includes my efforts and desired accomplishment in seeing Jesus in my Bible as much as it includes not stressing over making the very most of every second at the beach?  My accomplishment oriented approach to the Bible will have to be confronted by the person and work of Jesus even as He becomes what mesmerizes me in its pages.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.  Psalm 42:7-8