Filthy Rags

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18 “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, New Living Translation

“How can you be so inconsistent? I feel like there are two ‘Bryans,’ I don’t understand how you  can live like this.” This is what a dear friend said to me recently. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know how to answer. It was a bit embarrassing, but I couldn’t respond. Later, the Spirit ministered to me while praying about it.

I realize I should have said this: You’re absolutely right, I am a bit of a flake. But you only see the veneer, deep down  I’m much worse than you will ever know. I can’t defend my actions, and I desperately need a Savior. Would you pray for me to work this out?”

The daily struggle with sin is sometimes more visible than we would like. Even as a believer I can and do sin. That should surprise no one, and yet, I am the most surprised when sin breaks out. (Inconsistently is a factor in Bipolar disorder, but it’s more than that.)

In Romans 7 we are confronted with a man  who is constantly disappointed in himself. It can be wrenching to read—partly because it is so real. It describes us too well. At times it is like looking into a mirror.

Romans 7 describes what is wrong with us, who are attempting to keep the law from our own efforts. We slide into this from grace when we attempt to stand before God in our self-righteousness. We have a strong tendency to do this at times. We venerate holiness, but we fall woefully short. We aspire, but cannot attain.

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags.”

Isaiah 64:6

We have a problem when our heart doesn’t match our actions. It gets a little hairy when our sin is visible to others. We feel like hypocrites and taste guilt like it was sour milk. We’re certain we’ve shamed Christ in some irrevocable way. Now a lot of this can be satanic, he is “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10). We should neutralize his influence with the Word.

Whenever we stand before God, we should never come with our list of great things we have recently done for Him. It won’t be accepted. They are at best, filthy rags. They’re not fit for a King’s court. But yet we keep coming, parading our dirty rags. Self-righteousness is repugnant to a Holy God. I wonder when we strut into His presence if the angels don’t ‘roll their eyes?’

“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”

Charles Spurgeon

We forget that only Christ’s righteousness is accepted. Heaven is satisfied with His atoning blood that covers sin. The tension we feel in Romans 7 is there because it turns us away from our self-effort. Our ‘confusion’ over this chapter indicates the depth of our attempt to be righteous on our own.

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Our Salvation Is Quite Sure

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, and the three epistles that he wrote, and of course,  Revelation.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

 

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

 

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

 

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

 

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.

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His “Irresponsible” Love

“Nothing in the church makes people in the church more angry than grace. It’s ironic: we stumble into a party we weren’t invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in.

Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus’ irresponsible love, we decide to make grace “more responsible” by becoming self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include.)” 

— Michael Yaconelli

*****

Often there can be a frustrated hostility simmering just below the veneer of a religious person.  It can be seen in sudden outbursts of irritation that seems to come from nowhere.  It is often encountered when they feel the ‘spigot of grace’ has been open too long, too much water is being used, and the people are getting a little wild in showing their enthusiasm.  “They’re acting like ungodly pagans.”

Regulating the watering hole becomes a compulsion, and a necessary work of the “Church.” Jesus’ love is for all is a confirmed fact, but we must have some standards of decorum and appropriate levels of conduct and respect.  “We the keepers-of-the- spigot are called to take some responsibility in this,” we end up saying.

Celebratory shouts of joy are simply not acceptable.  Dancing in the mud is way ‘out-of-line.’  But there is an outrageous element to grace.  It is preposterous and disturbing.  It is untamed and wild, and not at all logical.  “We definitely prefer the thinking side of our faith,” we say.

Judas rebuked Jesus as he was getting a foot massage from the ungodly woman.  She had no business to be there in the first place.  And secondly, she has just poured this incredible fortune on the feet of Jesus!  Judas said, “way out-of-line!”  But there is a irrepressible love that always pushes its way forward.

For those of us who have first experienced God’s love and grace we must keep an alert out for our hard hearts.  First, He is in charge of how the water is utilized.  Second, [and we MUST believe this] when a man or woman connect with the water, there can be spontaneous displays of joy!

The dance of grace

We must change our thinking, e.g. repent, and insist that we ‘cease and desist’.  Our attitude is not acceptable or true to the Spirit of Christ.  We are the ones way “out-of-line” and we have not been good witnesses about his grace and love.  We had better turn from this sin, and ask Jesus to free us again.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  John 8:32

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We Shall Sun Ourselves in the Smiles of God

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“Heaven is where the unveiled glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.”

Ezekiel Hopkins, “A Puritan Golden Treasury”

Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. (Mark 2:19)

This was Jesus’ idea.  He was bringing correction to the lives of those who were very serious, and therefore most religious.  Our native tendency is to asceticism.  We evaluate ourselves religiously by our prayers and our fasts.

For serious people we have a serious religion, and we focus on doing serious religious activity, for that is what our serious faith demands.

Jesus pointed out that mournful faces are not indicators of a pious life.  How can His disciples mourn when Jesus the bridegroom is nearby? His disciples are going to a wedding, not a funeral!

Without question the New Testament believers are to know repentance and self-examination.  We should grieve over our sin, but that grief is to be based in hope, and in joy.  If you are saddened by sin, that sadness must be tethered to joy and not to despair.  Jesus has revolutionized forever the nature of religious faith.

The disciples could not mourn and fast while Jesus was present.   He does not wish His disciples to go mourning and fasting when they have no occasion for such exercises. His words are a defense of Christian joyfulness. Christ wants His friends to be glad. There is an utter incongruity in a sad and mournful Christian life.  It does not make sense in the light of what Jesus has done.

Our sins have been forgiven.  We have been dipped into the righteousness of the Son of God.  The fierce enemies of our souls have been eradicated by Jesus.  All of this is to bring out a song from a grateful heart.  We revel in the smile of Jesus and walk under the banner of a wonderous love.  We have His forgiveness and been given His favor.  We should be radiant!

 I pray that you’d would rejoice in this wonderful day he has made.

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The Blue Letter Version

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The ‘red letter’ Bible emphasizes the words of Jesus by making them red. But sometimes we can learn just as much by which words he didn’t say.  I would like to submit to you the ‘Blue Letter Version’ of things Jesus never said.

He never said:

V. 1) You’re too far gone to be saved.

V. 2) I’m so disappointed in you.

V. 3) This wouldn’t be happening if you were a better Christian.

V. 4) It’s okay not to love certain people.

V. 5) Everyone should be just like you.

V. 6) Its all up to you.

V. 7) You don’t have to forgive someone who has hurt you.

V. 8) You missed my will for your life.

V. 9) I’ve given up on you.

V. 10) This is a cross you must bear alone. 

When we think through these we should realize that each ‘verse’ is wrong. Jesus never said any of these; I am certain he wouldn’t even think these things about us. We can only surmise that what he did declare is real, and that his love for us is boundless and limitless. People like you, and like me, are loved in spite of our sins. His love doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John 6:37

There are other verses to consider. These affirm his love to each of us.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

1 John 3:1

The Blue Letter Version exists only in my mind. Yet sometimes I catch myself thinking things from our list. But in a way, each of the above is logical. But each are also wrong.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

I encourage you to listen to the ‘drum roll’ of grace that is beating from the heart of Jesus. He loves you with a supernatural love that can not be silenced. Accept his love (or not) and he will love you the same. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Securely attach yourself to this love.

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The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

 

The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.”So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!


It was the Sabbath. I was led to the synagogue by a Pharisee who promised me money. I had no idea what was going to happen. This is my story,

I was born with a deformity in my hand. It was misshapened and more like a club than a hand. I had perfect use of the other and I learned to adapt. It seemed perfectly natural to me now. I suppose I just got used to it, but it would be nice to have a normal hand. The children in the streets would always made fun of me. I suppose I became the neighborhood outcast.

Life was never normal for me. I lived on handouts and spent my days sitting on the sidewalk out of the hot Judean sun. I suppose that there must been sin in my life for God to judge me so, that is what they told me anyway.

When the Pharisee approached me with the promise of money I jumped at the chance. “All you have to do is stand there and show off your hand.” That was easy enough. I could do that. Little did I know that I was just a pawn in the Pharisee’s plan to trap Jesus.

I entered the synagogue which was a new experience for me. I had never been inside but the Pharisee who was leading me said it was OK, that I was expected. I stood in the back trying not to be noticed. I held out my deformed just like they asked me to.

At one point Jesus noticed me. “Come up here,” he said, “Come up front.” I had no idea of what was going to happen, no way of anticipating what Jesus was going to do. Jesus challenged the Pharisees. “Is it part of the Law to do good on the Sabbath day. Should we not do what is right?” I was scared, I had no idea what I was mixed up in. The room was very quiet.

Jesus was angry and I was afraid. He looked around to see if anyone would answer him. No one did although the answer seemed plain enough, even for me. Yet I still had no idea what was going to happen next.

Jesus looked at me. I sensed his love and his peace in his gaze. “Hold out your hand,” he asked me. There were no theatrics. No hoopla, just a simple command. So I did exactly that, and in an instant I was completely healed.

What more could I say. My deformity was turned into a healthy hand. Bones and tendons and muscle instantly reorganized themselves and something normal appeared where their was once twistedness. I flexed new fingers and wondered exactly what had happened to me.

It took me years to realize that there was a deeper deformity in the Pharisees understanding that Jesus wanted to heal. It was an issue of grace and goodness over error and legalism. Yes, I was healed on the Sabbath, but that was what was supposed to happen. People were meant to be made whole on God’s special day of rest.

It is a tremendous thing to have two healthy and whole hands. I marvel at the goodness of God every time I think about it. The Lord has been gracious to me and I rejoice at that grace. He has made me a wonder.

Lord, at times I feel deformed. But please don’t forget me. I will always stumble if you’re not holding my hand, Remind that being religious is a poor substitute for your nearness. Amen.

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Grace That Teaches

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”

– Titus 2:11-12, NIV

The grace of God can be very obvious.  It is seen by all.  It is not sophisticated, and you don’t have to jump through any ‘hoops’.  Everyone can see it.  However, there are a couple of things that will block it.  The sins of ungodliness, and the passions of this world system.  These will short-circuit His grace– sort of like dumping a glass of water on your computer’s keyboard.

It is ‘grace that teaches’.  We learn and take our lessons from handling God’s grace in our own lives.  We receive our education from that grace, it tutors us and we grow in understanding as we understand His love for us. Grace comes, and we receive our lessons, and take notes.  We begin to understand others, and get a handle on life and all its imponderables.

Grace educates, but legalism never does.  The Law has absolutely no ability to educate our hearts and minds.  But God’s untiring mercy explodes on us, and we begin to download all that He offers.  Learning grace expands us, and we develop abilities that we never dreamed of.  We start to do things that amaze us.

One of the most amazing things is that we learn to say, ‘No!’  This is perhaps the ultimate ability–to just say no.  Saying ‘no’ means we will not step in that particular direction.  We won’t travel down that road.  ‘No!’ is in a sense is saying, ‘Yes!’ to what God wants.  Learning to do that is what we are doing here.

Grace is so gentle, and she is a perfect teacher.  She teaches me to be merciful and forgiving.  All that she has, she imparts to me.  When I receive from grace myself, I become gentle and joyful and kind.  When I receive from grace, I become a much more fulfilled Christian.

There are things that work contrary to this.  Ungodliness and the lusts made by this world’s system.  The dynamic of grace somehow gets “turned-off” when we get diverted into these sins.  And this happens all the time, it seems.  But developing a self-controlled, upright and a godly life will give us a deep and eternal perspective.

We are not created for living in a garbage dump.  We are royalty–we are meant to rule and reign, as Kings and Queens.  We have been made ready by Grace for this place.

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