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.

 

 

 

Where to “Marinate” When Your Marriage Gets Messy

I’ve read a lot of marriage books. I’ve been to a lot of marriage seminars. I’ve heard a lot of sermons about marriage.

I know how important it is to understand and seek to meet the needs of my husband. I am well aware of his love language and try to be intentional about “speaking” it (though I probably fail more times than I succeed). I try hard to make our home a refuge for him, be an encourager to him, and hit up Victoria’s Secret from time to time. I cook. I clean. I pay bills. I make sure our three year old doesn’t kill himself (among many other motherly duties). I calendar regular date nights. I work out, take care of myself, and try not to wear my comfy pajamas ALL the time (at least not any with holes or that I purchased last decade).

All that stuff is important. It really is.

But the longer I am married, the more convinced I am that a great marriage has a lot less to do with meeting needs and a lot more to do with forgiving faults; it has a lot less to do with filling love tanks and a lot more to do with emptying myself of pride.

When my marriage is struggling; when I am caught in the comparison game (“if only my marriage were more like so-and-so’s”); when my husband and I are like two ships passing in the night; when I’m flat-out ticked off that MY love language isn’t being spoken . . .

When I’m hurt; when I’m misunderstood; when I have no desire whatsoever to apologize or to overlook an offense; when  I’m tempted to turn into the “ice queen” and shut him out until he’s ready to “get with the program” (the program = whatever makes me happy) . . .

When the pressure cooker of busy schedules and sheer exhaustion produces an eruption of unchecked, unbridled emotion and things get really ugly . . .

When the plank in my own eye is all but lost on my pride-impaired vision and my own self-righteousness blinds me to how amazing my husband actually is . . .

There is one place I always go.

One passage of Scripture I always turn to.

One parable that never ceases to place the messy parts of my marriage – and my heart – at the foot of the cross and remind me that nothing, and I mean NOTHING my husband ever does (perceived or actual) even comes close to the horrifying mountain of offenses from which I have been graciously pardoned.

It’s the parable of the unforgiving servant recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. Here are a few facts you should know before you dive in:

  • Ten thousand talents (v. 24) = about 20 years wages for a common laborer
  • A hundred denarii  (v.28) = 100 days wages for a common laborer (pocket change in comparison to ten thousand talents)
  • The extreme difference is intentional!

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.’ 29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

This parable does for my marriage what no love language, lingerie, late night talk, or lavish date night can do. It confronts me with the one thing that has the power to transform my selfish heart. It confronts me with the gospel.

It turns whatever arrows I am pointing at my husband back on me.  It suffocates my self-righteousness and revives my desire to show grace . . .

. . . to forgive.

. . . to have mercy.

. . . to love.

. . . to really, truly love . . . as Christ loved me.

And, yes, I believe it can do the same thing for you.

So, when your husband doesn’t come home in time for dinner (again), when he prioritizes work over family, when he says something really stupid, when he makes a foolish purchase, when he comes home after having a few too many beers, when he “forgets” to help around the house or with the kids, when his hobby becomes way too important, when you catch him looking at porn, when he falls way short of your expectations . . .

Whenever he fails, however he fails, whatever he fails at doing . . .

Dare to linger in Matthew 18:21-35.

Dare to compare his offenses with the massive debt you’ve been forgiven.

Dare to compare your attitude toward him with the attitude of Jesus toward you.

Dare to allow God’s Word to be a full-length mirror . . . and look. Really, really look at what it reflects back to you.

Expose your heart – and your marriage – to gospel realities and refuse to walk away unchanged.

Don’t ignore what needs to be addressed. Don’t sweep sin under the rug. Don’t be naïve to the importance of confronting marriage problems head on.

But whatever you do, do it as a woman who’s been forgiven ten thousand talents.

When you don’t feel like it, when he doesn’t deserve it, and when you know it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference in the short run, choose hear your Savior say: “Should you not also have mercy on your [husband], in the same way that I had mercy on you?”

Then, choose grace.

Choose to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

 

 

 

 

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 . . .

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