It must be time for the Oscars because I hear people asking, “Who are you wearing.” My favorite response was, “J. C. Penney.” It is a great question to ask any time of the year. And considering what Paul wrote in Galatians the answer is Christ. Galatians 3:26 -7 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
This is a favorite theme of Paul. He must have had a secret desire to be a fashion designer because in Romans 13:14 he wrote, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Ephesians 6 he has a whole wardrobe for us. He starts with a breastplate of righteousness. He tells us what shoes to wear and ends with a helmet. Now that’s not something you would see on the red carpet in Hollywood. Or maybe so.
Paul wants us to be ready for anything Satan hurls at us and when we are wearing Christ we are ready. In Romans 8 we read that nothing can harm us. No powers of darkness nor angels of darkness are a match for us because we are more than conquerors in Christ. Paul saw some really rough times. He was stoned, shipwrecked and bitten by a snake. Not to worry. He had Christ.
Jesus told us not to fear those that can harm our bodies. Our bodies, unlike our heavenly identity, are temporary clothes. When we are worn out, wrinkled and maybe torn apart by God’s enemies we will toss off this corruptible and put on a whole new body and wardrobe that will never tear or even fade. See I Corinthians 15.
So who are you wearing?
I’m sitting here staring at a blank computer screen unable to think of anything to write about. My face is illuminated by light from the screen. There is just nothing there. Wait a moment. I have an idea. According to the Book of Revelation in heaven there is a record of my sins. But, according to the promise in John 5 about my not being judged because of Jesus’ mercy, my sins are blotted out. Blots are messy and if John understood the delete key on a computer I’m sure he would have said deleted instead of blotted. Therefore, I am going to assume my page is like my blank computer screen reflecting only light. I like that idea. Considering the challenge of filling a page with text can be quite daunting, I have never been happy with a blank screen, but now I am. The blanker the better. Hmm. If something is blank can it be blanker or blankest? The thing is blank is sufficient. I would be being piggy if I wanted blanker.
One of my earliest memory verses as a child was I John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” One thing is for sure I am a good confessor. I’m the best. As soon as I realize something is wrong I confess. It isn’t because I think I will be thrown out if I don’t get right to it. No. A good parent doesn’t throw a child out of the family every time they do something wrong. No, I am quick to confess because I don’t want to cause Jesus any grief because of me. Love makes us want to please our lover.
It’s not every day one is cursed by a gypsy. It wasn’t me. It was my wife. I was sitting in a park in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was a glorious day and my wife had drifted off a way to take a picture when a 50ish woman, garishly dressed with bangles and beads, approached me and took my hand. Turning it palm side up she began slowly chanting something in Russian. About this time my wife returned and intervened before I was relieved of my wallet. As my wife shooed the sorceress away she was rewarded with a spewing of words and arms waving signs of incantations finished off with a spit on the ground. We didn’t need to know Russian to imagine what was just said. For the next week I carefully watched my wife scanning her for any disturbing signs of deterioration or incoherency. The palm reader would be highly disappointed as my wife just keeps getting better and better with each passing day.
Don’t you just love Romans 8? “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? . . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That is just about the best thing anyone has ever written. Praise God.
One of my graduate students has a 16-year-old student who says he is anxious to start a family. He is from a home with nine children whose parents do not work. He wants a child so the government will send him a monthly check just like they do for his mom and dad. My grad student is motivated to motivate this young man to catch a glimpse of what life can be as opposed to what life is.
As a teacher I have come to realize less than half my job is to dispense information. Over 50% is to motivate. Unless a student sees the value in something and wants it, the classroom experience is wasted. In one of my undergrad classes this semester I have a student who just doesn’t care and until I can motivate him to care he is wasting his money. (It probably isn’t his money, but that of someone who does care.)
It is the same with preaching. So often preachers have used fear as their chief motivator. Some preachers are so hot one can smell the brimstone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is nothing stronger than love. God is love. The Good News is all about how much we are loved. Good preaching isn’t making people feel like they have to change their lives. Good preaching is making people want to change their lives. I once had a church member, a physician, say to me, “When are you going to stop preaching all this love stuff and get down to the basics?” After I caught my breath from shock I said, “Love is the basics.”
I don’t want to scare the hell out of people. I want to love them into Jesus’ arms.
Do you have some deep dark secret? Do you live in fear that someone will find out and tell? Are you worried that this blight on your character will become common knowledge and you will be socially shamed? I wish I could assure you that will never happen. But what I can assure you is that God will never be the gossip or the tattletale. In Romans 10:11 Paul quotes Isaiah in telling us, “Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” Phew. Isn’t it great to be a Christian? God is a keeper of secrets. As a matter of fact He keeps them so well He even chooses to never think of them. They are blotted out.
If you haven’t read Romans 10 recently I would encourage you to try it today. There are some other gems waiting for you. Verse 13 is grand. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul quoted that from the Book of Joel. Joel is not a book we often reference when speaking about forgiveness and salvation. We might even be tempted to think Paul used it out of context. However, once Paul has referenced it, we are certainly able to do so.
Romans 10 is part of Paul’s concern about his people and their continued rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. He goes on in chapter 11 to tell us God, in His power and wisdom, will find a way to save them and we might not understand how He does it but He is God and His love is unbounded. His judgments are unsearchable and we do not want to be like the prodigal son’s brother and resent the Father’s love. We also are partakers of mercy.
One of the great mysteries of life is how do we understand our very own minds. The process of trying to do so is called metacognition or to put it simply, thinking about thinking. Metacognition enables us to understand our values, where do they come from and why are they valid. This is in opposition to accepting ideas merely because some authority has declared something to be so. I am reminded of a bumper sticker that reads “God said it so I believe it.” That could mean “God said it so it’s true.” That is a very economical way of thinking that requires the consumption of very few calories. But how about asking ourselves, “Why did God say it?” Now we have ramped up the burn. Serious thinking enhances weight loss.
Does God saying it make it true or does God say it because it is true? In Titus 1:2 Paul says something that is translated in the King James Version as, “God cannot lie.” But in the New International Version Paul is translated as, “God does not lie.” A word for word translation of the Greek says, “the unlying God.” This leaves it viable for either idea. I personally like the New International’s idea because it makes God a moral being with choice and not the KJV’s idea that denies omnipotence.
It is important to know that God tells the truth because it is the truth. He tells us not to steal because stealing harms us and others. He tells us He loves us not because He has to love us, which would then not be love, but because He chooses to do so. God is loving and moral because it is, has been, and always will be the right thing to do and be.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, priests, pastors and counselors (sorry counselors doesn’t start with a P) have known for over a century how healing it is for one to express, either verbally or in writing, one’s feelings about stressful things. There is something very therapeutic about putting our feelings into words. It seems to focus our ruminations allowing us to place them aside so we can focus on other things – hopefully things more positive. Hundreds of studies collaborate on the benefits of finding a method of expression where one can be honest regarding inner things.
Surely prayer (another P word) is the most superior form of self-expression; not memorized recitings but deep reflections of one’s needs and wants. It is the most trusted place we can go. Our secrets will never be told unless we want them told. The one who listens isn’t a billion light-years away but One inside us that loves us dearly. Praying puts words into feelings and words become pictures for the mind to artistically arrange on the walls of the museums of our minds. Some we want to place in a prominent spot so we will think of them every day. Others are hung in places of lesser importance and some we can totally trash never to see them again.
Jesus, the greatest psychologist ever, told us we cannot have our sins forgiven until we forgive. It wasn’t that He was being harsh with requirements for forgiveness. He, who created our minds, knew that peace cannot come until we let go of hurts done by others. To sleep well is to not toss and turn with hate in our hearts. When we forgive others we do more for ourselves than the other. We destroy the hurtful picture and replace it with something beautiful and healing. It is the heart of the abundant life.
The worst ever combination of two words is “if only.” When my mom was in a nursing home I visited her each afternoon on my way home from school. During those visits I passed an uncounted number of people sitting in the hallways. On occasions two or three of them would be having a spirited conversation and over and over I heard those two words, “If only.” “If only I had finished school.” “If only I had married him instead of whom I ended up with.” “If only I had gotten that job.” “If only I had been a better mom, maybe my children would have done better.” We could go on and on with this dismal discourse. And a dismal discourse it is because it is pointless. What’s done is done. We cannot go back and redo.
What pales in comparison to the above scenarios would be someone having to say “If only” because they never accepted God’s gift of grace and they had to personally cover the cost of their sins. The Parable of the Ten Virgins closes with these solemn words, “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
We don’t want to violate the rules of Biblical interpretation by drawing a lesson that was not intended. Jesus did not mean He will not know these people. The lesson is about “If only.” The lost will indeed utter those words. But the saddest picture of all will be Jesus weeping and saying, “If only they would have gotten ready by accepting the gift.”
Seventeen years have passed since we were stunned by the horror at Columbine High in Colorado. It will be decades before the name Dylan Klebold will not make people pause and wonder why. Just now his mother, Sue Klebold, has written a memoir entitled, A Mother’s Reckoning. The publication of her heartbreaking story once again has put her in the spotlight and today she was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s program, Fresh Air. The last question put to her by Terry Gross was, “Do you still love your son?” There was a pregnant pause and with a voice full of emotion Mrs. Klebold said, “I never stopped loving him. I will love him until I breathe my last breath,” she says. “He’s like an invisible child that I carry in my arms everywhere I go, always.”
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12
And so our history books are filled with gruesome revulsion and disgust at our inhumanity toward each other. So often we try to paint it with nobility but it is useless because it is what it is – selfishness. And so we ask God, who watched His very own Son perish here, “When did you stop loving Satan?” And God says with a voice filled with emotion, “I never stopped loving him. I will love him until I breathe my last breath. He’s like an invisible child that I carry in my arms everywhere I go, always.”
As I pushed the rusty vine covered gate open enough to let me pass I could have been in a Faulkner novel approaching a southern gothic house uncared-for since the Civil War. Bric-a-brac still clung to the eaves cloaking human secrets behind webbed windows. The sagging wooden steps creaked as I mounted the porch guarded by an old cat quite unhappy to have me trespass into his vermin infested world. A Dickensian door knocker snarled at me as I rapped once then twice before a raspy voice called, “It ain’t locked.” The heavy door pushed back as I put my shoulder to it only to be greeted by an ungodly stench. To the left of the once elegant vestibule a door opened to something from a Stephen King novel. A skin-covered skeleton of a man lay on a sheetless filth encrusted pad. Water stained wallpaper hung by who knows what from the ceiling and walls. Carefully I kicked beer cans out of the way and reticently accepted his invitation to sit on a filthy chair by his cot.
For the next hour we spoke of wives, children, jobs and unfulfilled dreams. Upon his insistence I mixed rubbing alcohol into what appeared to be a glass quarter-filled with water. I literally gasped as he downed it with a gulp. The intervening years have dulled my memory of his name but not his dark blood-filled eyes. I still gag as I remember the smell more rank than any outhouse. Though I tried to visit again he would not see me. I guess I wasn’t the best of company.
I was wondering about his salvation and I remembered Hebrews 7:25. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” I wonder if in the eyes of a holy God if I am much different.