This Gets A Little Messy

Genesis 8

On Saturday, Holly-Rae wrote about Noah’s Ark from Genesis 7.  She mentioned that many people believe it to be a metaphor and I was reminded that the reason someone built a replica in Kentucky is to help us understand that these stories are real.  I will admit that when I read the story, I have the same thoughts.  In fact, it’s easier to read Bible stories as metaphors, in order to  pull every ounce of wisdom from them. For example, in today’s reading, I might review the powerful imagery of ravens, doves and olive branches (Genesis 8:6-11).  I’ll reflect on them and consider how they relate to my life today.  I might even work up a strategy or two so that will allow me to be more intentional with my life.  Most of the time I stop right there.  I take the wisdom and don’t even consider, let alone contemplate, the bigger picture.  It’s easier that way.  Truth is, stopping there debases God and the Bible.   In fact, it reduces my relationship with God to a self-help guru or a life coach.  Sure, I will walk away with big thoughts about Noah’s faith and maybe even his leadership capacity.  Those are good things.  But, those are not the purpose of the stories in the Bible.  When I read it right, God reveals to me who he really is.  To get there, I have to get messy.

Getting messy means that I have to ponder what kind of being, what kind of God, has the ability to do all those things.  In fact, how can that actually be?  I have to poke at my own understanding to determine why this God would do all those things.  I have to wrestle with what is good or bad about it. Even what I like and don’t like.  I have to discover that these are things that God wants to reveal to me about himself but I have to seek them out (Luke 11:9).  In my seeking, I would discover that God is far bigger than a piddly little flood.  This was nothing for him.  I would discover that the answers I find create even bigger questions about who he is and what that means for who I am.  He would reveal to me his righteousness and holiness along side his justice and his mercy.  In fact, I would encounter the mystery of God and begin to realize that there is no way I can really experience him in this lifetime (1 Corinthians 2:7).  In many ways, I would begin to feel like a foreigner here on this earth and understand that I was created for far more than this life.  My heart would start to sing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty” day and night, without ceasing (Revelation 4:8).

Or not.   I could just go with the metaphor theory.  Besides, I have a lot to do today.

From Forgiven to Forgiver

Mathew 6:12 and Psalm 75

I have LOVED the past week’s focus on prayer. Ever since BJ shared for the next several days, we get to assess our theology and see how it is revealed through our prayers’, I can’t stop thinking about what my prayers say about my theology. It’s been equally humbling and challenging for me to ponder.

As we move through the Lord’s Prayer, verse 12 STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This feels like one of those perfectly timed, witty, strategic responses that Jesus would use to turn hearts in an instant. You know… you who have no sin, throw the first stone. {insert emoji with big shocked eyes}

The first half of the verse – YES, PLEASE – we all want the perfect forgiveness that God promises.  The second half – YIKES – I do NOT want God to forgive me AS I forgive others.  Wait…does the “as” mean “like” or does the “as” mean “at the same time”? Either way, NOT IDEAL!!!  Jesus hits me right between the eyes with this one.

We have the first half of this where we need to verbally ask God for His forgiveness, and the second half calling us to forgive like He does. But how? How do we model His forgiveness? And how do we seek forgiveness from God (and others)? God doesn’t require perfection when we seek forgiveness from Him…yet we can struggle forgiving others when they don’t seek our forgiveness in a perfect way.

Forgiveness comes easier when the trespasser asks for it, shows true sorrow, and wants to change. Forgiveness flows more freely when they humbly come with an understanding of how their offense harmed you, and they seek restitution or some way to make things right.  There aren’t excuses, justifications, or accusations. Wow, if every sin against us could be committed by a perfect forgiveness seeker, this would all be so much easier!

At the same time, our own forgiveness-seeking conversations with God can be pretty pathetic, would you agree? I know mine are! And yet, He forgives us. Every time! Immediately! God forgives us amidst our imperfect forgiveness-seeking!  He blots out our sin (Acts 3:19) and removes it as far as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12).

When we are on the other side of this, acting as a forgiver, it can be much harder when the trespasser doesn’t perfectly seek forgiveness, or even worse, they don’t acknowledge the trespass at all. And yet, we are still called to forgive.

Why? Why does God care if we forgive others? I believe it’s because He knows that an unforgiving heart harms us more than it ever will the person we aren’t forgiving. God calls us to forgive others, for our own benefit. You remember as a kid when your parents would give a consequence and say it’s because they love you? Yeah, this feels like one of those times. God calls us to forgive others, not just because He loves them and forgives them too, BUT BECAUSE HE LOVES US. He wants unity for us. He wants peace for us. It’s for our own good, even though in the moment it is HARD.

And How? How do we forgive people in our world?  The only way is with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not in our sinful nature to forgive, but by the grace of God, we can extend His forgiveness to others. We can’t go solo on this one… I know when I have tried it on my own, it is imperfect and short lived.  My version of forgiveness becomes a cheap imitation. It’s like lipstick on a pig – and the lipstick WILL COME OFF. And my unforgiving, vengeful, pig heart is what’s left. Do you know what I mean?

I don’t know where this scripture lands on you today. Maybe you’re in one of these places – or maybe all of these places (hello, self):

  • What sin do you need to confess to God today? Let’s die daily to sin, call it what it is and confess it.
  • Do you need to TRULY BELIEVE in His promise to forgive you? If you’re seeking forgiveness over and over for the same sin, TRUST HIM. He wants you to believe that He forgave you the moment you first repented and sought forgiveness.
  • Are you struggling to forgive someone today? We may choose and work toward forgiving someone (on the daily!), and the healing and reconciliation still take a lot of time and effort on this side of heaven.
  • Do you need to seek forgiveness from someone today? Romans 12:18 calls us to live peaceably with everyone as much as we are able, and to be reconciled to one another (Matt 5:23-24).

Thank you, God, for your forgiveness, even in the middle of my own imperfectly forgiving heart and imperfect forgiveness-seeking. Thank you for modeling forgiveness for us. God, I need YOUR POWER to truly forgive with my whole heart + mind. I confess to you that I imperfectly forgive and I need your help. Create in me a pure heart!  Move me from being Forgiven to also being a Forgiver! 

 

 

 

For God’s Glory

Tearing up another crumpled paper ball for the pile

Deuteronomy 21; Psalms 108–109; Isaiah 48; Revelation 18

I sat and sat trying to find the perfect story to explain Isaiah 48. I wanted to tell how we all take Gods promises and use them to glorify ourselves. Like the time that God honored my prayer for more business and I decided the growth was because of my superior product knowledge. I also wanted to tell about how we all have carved idols, we just name them other things. For example, I asked God for a car so that I can get to work more easily and he granted my request. I bought a Cadillac and quickly rose to the top of the parking lot. I am sure thankful for his great provision. Heck, I even tell anyone who asks that it was a gift from God.

If I were to write that story, I would also have to explain that these prayers are just like the Israelites. Isaiah lashes out at them in the very first verse. He illustrates that we are quick to invoke God’s name in all things, but our actions don’t reflect his commands. This is where it gets hard because people don’t want to hear about God’s commands. They only want to know about how loving and merciful he is. Besides, if he didn’t want us to sin, he wouldn’t have given us the desire to do so, right? That conversation would have taken us all the way back to the Garden of Eden. I would have to remind the reader that our bad choices demanded that God establish rules, even rules that are impossible to keep. Our failure to keep them illuminates the Truth. They can show us when we are stealing glory from him. The story would conclude with an explanation of why we are here. It would say God created us for his good pleasure and to give him glory. The answer is easy really. In fact, the answer to all of our problems lies right there. Give him the glory. When we do, he returns peace and righteousness. When we don’t, we get cut off and destroyed. In the end, I wonder why we didn’t pray for his glory and our righteousness in the first place.

If I were to write that story, I would feel really awful for having gotten it wrong all these years. I would wonder if there is still hope for me and if God could still love me. I would shed a river of tears feeling hopeless and guilty. And then I would remember Jesus.

Someday, I will write that story.

Two Diseases

1200px-Biohazard.svgDeuteronomy 13–14; Psalms 99–101; Isaiah 41; Revelation 11

According to John Calvin, “every man labors under two diseases. In prosperity, he exalts himself extravagantly, and shakes off the restraint; of humility and moderation; but, in adversity, he either rages, or lies in a lifeless condition, and scarcely has the smallest  perception of the goodness of God.”[1]  I was thinking about this as I read Psalm 100 today.  Consider how each of these “diseases” cause us to interpret the Scripture differently.

Psalm 100 (ESV) In Prosperity In Adversity
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Declare your gratification and happiness for everyone to see. Grumble to all the world, as loud as you can!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!   Come into his presence with singing! Be happy with what you have done. Sing away, life is good! Do your work, even in agony. Come into God’s presence with despondency
3 Know that the Lord, is God! Know that you have everything under control. Where is God?
It is he who made us, and we are his; We have evolved so wonderfully If he didn’t want us to be this way, he shouldn’t have made us this way!
and the sheep of his pasture We live in the land of plenty.  Go get yours! God doesn’t care!
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Look what you have done for yourself. Others should come to you for help! Go to God complaining and blaming him for all your problems.
Give thanks to him; bless his name! You should be thanked for all that you have done! Curse God for all of your troubles!
For the Lord is good; Man, you am good; The Lord is tired of us all!
His steadfast love endures forever for all the days of your life His wrath is upon us.
and his faithfulness to all generations Your kids and your kid’s kids will be set for life! we are on our own.

Father God, help us to see our attitudes as they really are and make us aware of the spiritual diseases in our hearts.  Heal our hearts, Lord, with your Word and your Truth.  Make them new.

[1]
Calvin, John (2011-11-15). Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 173172-173175). . Kindle Edition.