If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

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Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

Such WERE Some of You {Another 1 Corinthians Sneak Peek}

I’ve been busy working on the Becoming a Woman of Conviction in a World of Compromise study of 1 Corinthians again this week, so I’m letting some of that do double-duty by posting another sneak peek for you. In September, you will have an opportunity to do the study with me online, or (if you live in the Brandon, FL area) live at Bell Shoals Baptist Church. You’ll be hearing lots more about that as it gets closer, I promise. In the meantime, would you pray for me and for this study? The deadline to have the workbook written and ready for formatting is fast approaching and I’ve only written two out of seven weeks. Ha! (I choose laughter over tears . . . most days.) If only I could write, play trucks, cook, clean, pay bills, menu plan, and hang out with my husband all at the same time. 🙂

The following is application of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, focusing in on verse 11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

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I’m a big fan of room makeover shows. Do you remember TLC’s Trading Spaces? “Two rooms, two sets of neighbors, two designers, two days, $1,000 each.” I was addicted, folks! (And  I’d still give anything to have Laurie Smith come work her magic in my home!) But whether I loved the finished product or hated it, I always thought to myself, “There’s no way that’s going to last.” What may have looked good on camera wasn’t very likely to withstand the wear and tear of real life. One thousand dollars may be enough to redecorate a room for a TV audience, but it takes a much bigger budget (and a lot longer than 2 days!) to permanently renovate a room so that it stands the test of time.

Christianity is not a spiritual room makeover show. God is not interested in merely redecorating our lives; He wants to renovate our lives. He’s not in the business of making us better versions of ourselves. He’s in the business of total transformation – of gutting all the old stuff and re-making us into the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). The price tag on that renovation? Nothing less than the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18, 19)!

To use another metaphor, salvation isn’t some spiritual version of plastic surgery – it’s a heart transplant! The message of the gospel is not that God accepts us in all our sinfulness, forgives us, and then leaves us in our sinfulness with the command to do the best we can at being nice Christian people. The message of the gospel is that God accepts us in all our sinfulness, forgives us, and then indwells us with His Spirit so that we might live lives that are radically transformed from the inside out!

We’ve got to put an end to the line of thinking that Christianity is merely cosmetic; that life in the Spirit is some lofty notion to discuss in Sunday school but has little bearing on our everyday lives; that Jesus is some kind of divine self-help guru sent to improve us rather than a Redeemer sent to save and transform us. That’s nonsense! You and I have not just been saved from sin. We have been saved to an entirely new life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)! The Corinthians had pretty much forgotten that, and I’m afraid many of us have as well.

Does your life story have an obvious “but” in it? Does is contain something to the effect of, “I used to be _________________, BUT then I met Jesus and I’ve never been the same!” Is the “but” in your story evident to everyone around you? Does it magnify the beauty of the gospel and the worth of your Savior? Is your former life really your former life?

But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified” (v. 11). By the grace of God, that is who you are, sweet sister. Because of Jesus, your story has a “but.” It’s time to start living like it. No more compromise! It’s time to make purity an absolute priority.

It is Finished

crucifixionDr. Eric Frykenberg was a veteran missionary to India known for his great storytelling and vivid descriptions of scenes from his 50-plus years in Asia. One day someone asked him, “Dr. Frykenberg, what is the most difficult problem you have ever faced?” Without hesitation he answered, “It was when my heart would grow cold before God. When that happened, I knew I was too busy. I also knew it was time to get away. So I would take my Bible and go off to the hills alone. I’d open my Bible to Matthew 27, the story of the crucifixion, and I would wrap my arms around the cross.”

“And then,” Frykenberg said, “I’d be ready to go back to work.”

Am I writing to anyone whose heart has grown cold? Who’s just too busy? Who needs to get away with her Bible, open to the story of the crucifixion, and wrap her arms around the cross?

Can we take a few minutes and do that together?

I know there’s a good chance you are reading this on your phone or tablet in car line, in a waiting room of some sort, or in one of the few places a mom can read without a child interfering – that immensely treasured sanctuary often referred to as “the bathroom.”

So, since you probably don’t have a Bible handy, here’s an excerpt from John’s account of the crucifixion, which will be focus of our time with each other today. If you are one of the fortunate few that is at home . . . in front of her computer . . . with no screaming, fighting, whining, or PBS Kids in the background . . .and your Bible is not buried under the mountain of clean laundry you just dumped on your bed . . . and you have extra time to kill in the middle of the day (i.e. pigs are flying) – go ahead and read all of chapters 18 and 19. Seriously, you won’t be sorry.

John 19:28-30

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Here’s the phrase I want us to “marinate” in for a few minutes. (I already shared my favorite word in the Bible. Can I have a favorite phrase too? If so, this is it!)

It is finished!

Three simple words . . . volumes of significance!!!!

Forgive me for a second while I give you a little word study. I am, after all a Bible teacher and proud to be counted among the mighty army of “Bible nerds” out there. 🙂

The phrase is three words in our English translations, but only one word in the original Greek text – tetelestai. The same word is used in verse 28 where it is translated “accomplished” (NASB) or “completed” (NIV). It’s from the Greek verb that means “to bring to an end, to complete, to fulfill.” In the business world of Jesus’ day, merchants would use the word to mark a debt that had been “paid in full.

The spiritual significance is obvious (and exciting!). The Bible makes is ever so clear that we are all spiritually bankrupt. While the vast majority of people believe they can pay their sin debt off themselves through good works, that’s simply not the case. Our good works are like minimum payment on an enormous credit card balance – it doesn’t make a dent because the debt continues to accumulate. The alternative is to rely fully on Jesus’ ability to pay off your sin debt for you– which He did on the cross, declaring, “Paid in full!”

But it’s even bigger that that . . .

Most of us tend to view the Bible as a storehouse of little “truth-nuggets” that we can pull out and use in a pinch. If we are afraid, we find verse on fear. If we’ve gotten our feelings hurt, we find a verse on forgiveness. If we have a need, we find a verse about God’s sufficiency. If we are experiencing hard times, we find a verse on trials. You get the idea.

While I’m all about hunting down verses that apply to our specific situations, we need to be careful not to miss that fact that the Bible is much more than a source of user-friendly nuggets. The Bible is a story. More specifically, it is the story of a Holy, Sovereign God who devises a one-of-a-kind plan to rescue and restore a relationship with His fallen, sinful creatures who He loves.  At the very center of this one-of-a-kind rescue plan is the cross of Jesus Christ. Every verse, every chapter, every story in the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and His sacrifice. 

The reason I bring this up is because it is a vital part of comprehending the magnitude of the words, “It is finished.” What you and I need to understand is that when Jesus uttered those words, He was not just referring to His life on this earth. Nor was He merely referrign to our sin debt. With those three very simple words Jesus expressed the profound truth that the divine rescue plan that God instituted way back in Genesis . . .

The plan that continued to unfold in His dealings with Israel throughout the entire Old Testament . . .

The plan that made shepherds rejoice when a little baby was born in Bethlehem . . .

The plan that would obliterate the curse of sin once-and-for-all . . .

THAT plan was accomplished . . . completed . . .fulfilled. As Jesus breathed His last and experienced the full outpouring of the Father’s wrath on the cross, God’s rescue mission was FINISHED! That means nothing else was necessary. The sin debt of all those who had or would call on the name of Jesus was paid in full. For spiritually bankrupt people like you and me – that’s incredible, life-changing news!

So, how does this phrase/word help us wrap our arms around the cross? How does it refresh our hearts and renew our minds? How does it energize us to get back to our less-than-perfect lives and ministries once our kids realize that we’re hiding out in the bathroom?

This is how . . .

Because it is finished, you don’t add anything to the saving work of Jesus. Everything that must be done for your salvation has ALREADY been accomplished! Your works magnify the glory and goodness of the Father, but they don’t secure His favor! That was true the day you got saved (if you are a believer), and it is still true today! As a mama who hates to “break the rules” but is well acquainted with failure, I cannot even express to you how freeing that truth is!

Because it is finished, you don’t take away anything from the saving work of Jesus. There is nothing you can do as a believer, no amount of failure or sin that can disqualify you from the blessings that God bestows on those who are His. You can’t undo what Jesus has already done! When God looks at you, He sees the finished work of Jesus on your behalf. He sees the words “PAID IN FULL” written across every sin you have or will commit. Those words are written across that abortion, that affair, that divorce, that period of life when you completely walked away from everything you knew to be true. When Jesus cried “tetelestai,” He was inviting all who call on His name as the only means of salvation to walk in complete and total freedom from the shame and guilt of confessed sin.

By now, I’m sure your brief window of opportunity to peruse the blogosphere, check up on your Facebook news feed, or thin out your inbox is all but gone.

What isn’t gone is your opportunity to make this Easter about a whole lot more than bunnies, ham, pretty dresses, and those milk chocolate Cadbury mini-eggs with that hard candy shell. (Which happen to be my favorite. My address, in case the Spirit moves you to send me some, is 2629 Brookv. . . 🙂 )

Have fun, hunt for eggs, do your best to steal candy from your kids without them noticing . . . but don’t forget to marinate on what Jesus accomplished, completed, and fulfilled so that you can really experience His amazing grace even when –no, especially when – your family members declare that you must leave the bathroom immediately, surrender your Kindle, and clean up somebody else’s poop (that may or may not be deeply entrenched in the fibers of your family room carpet).

By the way, I have really, really enjoyed “wrapping my arms around the cross” with you today, friend. We should do this again sometime soon.

 And now for one of my favorite songs . . .

My Favorite Word in the Bible

The Bible is packed full of words that thrill my heart, delight my soul, lift my spirit, and somehow manage to make my instinctively shy and reserved self raise both arms high in the air and shout “Praise You Lord!” at the top of my lungs (with complete and total disregard for whoever might be watching). I am forever wondering what really goes through the minds of those who end up next to me a traffic lights.

I’m talking about words like grace, salvation, redemption, justification, mercy, atonement, reconciliation, forgiveness, and so many more.

These words in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean a whole lot and certainly are not inherently life changing. But in the context of God and His amazing works, they can mark you forever, change the way you see your world, and radically transform the way you see yourself. Most importantly, they shape your view of Jesus. And nothing in this life matters more than how you see Jesus.

As a long-time student of the Bible, I’ve done my fair share of word studies. But there is one word study I will never forget. One that I just can’t shake from my thoughts, especially this time of year. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the word is so uncommon. But mostly, it’s because I was and still am uncommonly “wowed” by its meaning.

The word is propitiation. [prō-ˌpi-shē-ˈā-shen]

crucifixion

Strange, I know. You won’t even find it in most modern translations (it has commonly been replaced by the words “atoning sacrifice”), and I understand why. It’s a dusty old word that most people can’t even pronounce, much less define. But oh how precious it can be for those who try! So here’s my best attempt at a “brief” explanation. My heartfelt prayer is that the truths to follow will refresh and thrill your heart as much as they do mine!

A good place to start is in Matthew  26:39 where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before His arrest and crucifixion. He tells His disciples that His soul is “deeply grieved, to the point of death.” Then, He goes off to pray and this is His cry:

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Just moments later, at His arrest, He turns to Peter and says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me” (John 18:11)?

Though there is no way we can really enter into or fully understand Jesus’ experience that night, we can know one thing for sure – “the cup” was weighing heavy on His heart and mind.

So, what is “the cup?” Most people associate it entirely with the cross and conclude that Jesus was desperate to be spared from such brutal and bloody torture. Though I’m sure that in His humanity Jesus was profoundly burdened by the intense and agonizing physical pain that lied ahead, “the cup” He was given to drink was actually worse than the unimaginable brutality of the cross.

A lot worse.

Throughout Scripture, “the cup” is a metaphor for God’s wrath. It’s His holy hatred of sin and uncompromising determination to punish it. It’s the full weight of His judgment on sinful nations and people. It’s His undiluted furry against anything that falls short of His holiness. It’s His righteous indignation against all who suppress His truth. (See Ps. 75:8; Is. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Hab. 2:16; Rev. 14:9-10.)

Regardless of how much or little we acknowledge God’s wrath, it’s a biblical reality. Not just for the murderers and rapists out there, but for everyone who falls short of His perfect standard. And that’s everyone, period (Romans 3:23). You deserve to drink “the cup.” So do I.

But we don’t have to. Jesus drank it for us. Every last drop of it. That’s propitiation, and that’s the heart and soul of the gospel.

If we want to really see the beauty of the cross, we have to understand that Jesus wasn’t just mocked, beaten to a bloody pulp, nailed to a cross-beam, and slowly suffocated by the weight of His own body. That was all a big part of His atoning work, but the physical torture was nothing compared to the spiritual torture.  In His death, He experienced complete separation from the Father and bore the excruciating penalty of the world’s sin (including yours and mine). He didn’t just deflect God’s wrath away from us, He absorbed it on our behalf. The sinless Son of God “became sin” so that we could become the “righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

For those who call on the name of Jesus, the cup of God’s wrath is empty because Jesus drank it all. All of God’s demands are satisfied and we get to spend our days claiming verses like Romans 8:1 where it says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or Colossians 2:14 where it says that all our sin debt has been “nailed to the cross” and done away with forever.

That’s basically what propitiation is all about. And guess what motivated God to provide it? Pure, undiminished, unconditional, extravagant, gracious LOVE.

First John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Other verses with the word “propitiation” are Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; and 1 Jn. 2:2)

Here’s the most precious part about the definition of propitiation – the part that just about brings me to tears every time I think about it: Because God is satisfied with Jesus, He is satisfied with me. The real me. The “me” that I know for a fact has never and will never come even close to measuring up to His perfect standard on my own. The “me” that yelled at her kid and chose sleep over time with Jesus this morning. The “me” that fails in so many other ways on a daily basis. That “me” satisfies a holy, righteous God. A-MA-ZING!

I want you to know that all of this is much more than a basic theology lesson to me. It’s my lifeline. It’s my confidence. It’s my refuge and the solid rock on which my eternal hope is secured. It’s the fountainhead of my worth and significance in a world that, frankly, makes me feel like junk sometimes.  It’s what keeps me from despairing when I fail and protects me from pride when I succeed. It’s what awakens my heart to praise even when it’s been broken into a hundred pieces. It’s a wellspring of joy when the journey gets bone-dry and all I want to do is curl up in my bed, cry, and ponder the daunting question, “What’s wrong with me?”  It’s what energizes me to get up early and stay up late studying the Scriptures so that I can stand and teach them in a way that honors my Savior and reflects the beauty and necessity of His sacrifice. For me, this is real truth for real life!

Because God is satisfied with Jesus, if you have placed your faith in Jesus, He is satisfied with you. Or, as Spurgeon puts it in today’s Morning and Evening, “Your acceptance is not in yourself, but in your Lord; you are just as accepted by God today, with all your sinfulness, as you will be when you stand before His throne, free from all corruption” (April 4). Don’t forget that, sweet sister. This Easter, marvel at the grace, the love, the mercy, the redemption, the life, and the forgiveness that was secured at the cross. But don’t forget to marvel at the wrath that was propitiated, absorbed, exhausted, and fully satisfied by Jesus . . . for you . . . all because of love.

And yes, my arm is raised and I’m about to shout, “Praise You Lord!” at the top of my lungs. Fortunately for the general public, I’m at home. 🙂

By the way, what’s your favorite word in the Bible? I’d love to know!

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