Freed from Sin!

Greetings of Joy!

 Happy are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;

Those words of David are quoted by Paul in the early verses of Romans 4, and may be used to expresses the popular understanding about believers and their sins. Occasionally we dare use a related expression concerning our sins—that they have been “washed as white as snow”. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we sometimes get a demonstration of these ideas—like in this picture of our “picnic table” last November. But this is one of those places where our concepts about sin, and many of our most loved songs, fall short of what Jesus actually accomplished on our behalf. Let me explain.

When the snow fell last November, our picnic table was dirty, we had weeds in our terrace garden, and the pots on the table were laden with moss. But the snow covered it all. You can’t see those “yard work shortcomings” in the photo. But I know the snow—beautiful and white as it was—only hid them from view. Despite our “formal” expression of our “doctrinal position,” we often think about ourselves as if Christ effected a similar covering of our sins (and particularly our sinfulness [make no mistake, His work was effective as to both sins (the thoughts & acts) and sin (who we are)]—but I am getting ahead of myself). Our thoughts of “covered, but still falling short” are regularly reinforced through our words, including our use of the theological term “atonement” (literally “covering”), in spoken or written word (like the phrase “Christ’s atoning work”) or song (“full atonement, can it be?”). What does Papa tell us Jesus’ death accomplished as to sin? Significantly more than covering—much more!

Repeatedly the writers of what we call “the new testament” describe the work of Jesus in strikingly bold terms, expressing not “covering” but “removal”! We hear these descriptions frequently, but (I suggest) we often “mistranslate” them back to “covering”.  Papa, grant us ears to hear as fresh the greatness of Your provision in Jesus. Thank you!

John the baptizer described Jesus as a lamb—the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (resist the tendency to let your theology limit the import of Father’s Word!) I don’t think John is proclaiming “universalism” here, but he is saying something prophetically profound [remember, Jesus says John was the greatest of the prophets]. Try to enter into John’s imagery. A lamb, a sacrifice, but not an ordinary sacrifice—Jesus is God’s lamb, Whose sacrifice will “take away” sin. Such is the consistent testimony of the new testament writers. I will provide only a few examples, without commenting on each. Listen to the Spirit speak:

For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Romans 6:10)

[A]t the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself . . . having been offered once to bear the sins of many . . .. For the law . . . can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. . . .[I]n those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins . . .. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. . . . [B]ut He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God . . .. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. . . . Therefore, . . . let us draw near with a sincere [pure] heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience . . .. (Hebrews 9:26, 28, 10:1, 3, 4, 12, 19, 22)

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (“full and complete sacrifice which takes away wrath and brings blessing”) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (I John 2:1 & 2)

This is a lot to take in, so I’m going to stop for now! I’ll send you something more before the end of the week. For the next few days, take the time to talk with Papa about this, read these passages again (or more fully in your own Bible), explore with Him whether Jesus addressed sin and sins at a level well beyond what you have previously accepted—particularly in terms of the significance and application to you personally. Amid all that, ask Him to enable you to follow John’s instruction—

Behold (contemplate, consider, look upon and take notice)!
Jesus, Who took away your sin
.

 Rejoice!

John

Rejoice!

Again I say, Rejoice!

If Christians are forgiven, why aren’t we the happiest people on the planet? Why is our reputation (at least in North America) so tied to words like guilt & shame rather than to free & joyful? There are many reasons, no doubt. But the one which Papa has laid most heavily on my heart lately is, we don’t live forgiven! We claim we are forgiven, we might even sing about being “washed white as snow,” but too often the claim hasn’t moved to the place in our personal experience that we dare actually live as if it is true. Indeed, we generally misunderstand what it looks like to live forgiven.

As I was musing on these ideas and talking with Papa my mind went to a couple of words of Jesus, recorded by Luke. Sometimes a few words, taken out of context, lead to big problems. At other times, the Spirit uses the “word of God” (or perhaps “utterance” or “saying” of God) as a knife or short, cutting, sword to get to the heart of a matter quickly and directly (Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12). The words of Jesus which the Spirit brought to mind arise in the context of a dinner party (depicted here by Rubens). Jesus had been invited to the house of Simon for dinner. Simon was a strict adherent to the law of Moses, as interpreted by the fathers—he was “a separated one” (Pharisee). After they reclined around the table a woman of ill repute got into the dining hall with some perfume and knelt near Jesus’ feet. I think her plan was to put on the perfume on his feet, but as she started to act on that part of her plan she was overcome, started crying, and then felt she needed to undo the unanticipated effect of her tears–little “splash spots” in the dust–she decided to try to “deal with it” by wiping his feet with her hair and then apply the perfume. Simon, bound up with all the burdens of Law (and proud of his own separation from sin), used these actions to justify himself and think less of Jesus (“If this man were a prophet he would know what sort of person she is [sinner!]”). So here’s the question: Which one is living forgiven?

Of course, you know the answer. But the conviction still remains, because too often we live like Simon, not like the one at Jesus’ feet. Although the story begins with the dinner, that could not have been the beginning of the story because Jesus tells Simon (and us) that this woman’s actions were motivated by gratitude. She was not groveling in order to be forgiven, trying some how to make up for how bad she had been (that might have been Simon’s approach to sin, but not her): She was grateful that she had been forgiven—which Jesus then again affirmed (Luke 7:47, 48). I love the way Eugene Peterson translates Jesus here: “. . . She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

It is that last sentence which Papa brought to mind as I was thinking what to write next on this issues of sin, forgiveness, and cleansing. The passages I shared on Tuesday are significant. They tell us something of the magnitude of Christ’s work on our behalf—the actual removal of sin, a washing which gives us a pure heart and allows us to draw near to a holy God. Despite our puny efforts to classify the sins of others as greater than our own, sin put each of us in desperate need. Our problem, too often, is that we don’t comprehend the greatness of the provision—which extends beyond our sins to the removal of sin itself (Romans 6:7)!* Yet, if we continue with our self-justifying “comparison to others” approach (like Simon of old), we miss the blessing. We lack the joy. When we experience living forgiven, we gratefully adore The One Who took away our sins and our sin, Who made us clean. We hear Him say “your sins have been forgiven.” The phrase as Papa brought it to mind wasn’t from Peterson’s translation, it was: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

How much have you been forgiven? Do you really believe that?

Talk with Papa about it!

John

Clean and Forgiven

Our experience of forgiveness matters. The one who experiences great forgiveness, shows great love. Our experience of forgiveness affects our love for Jesus!

I suggest that when we still feel dirty, when we fail to live forgiven, it is because—despite our ability to speak the correct words about forgiveness—we don’t really believe what God says about forgiveness! As I typed that I was reminded of a statement Donald Miller shares in Blue Like Jazz: “We don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do.” As to forgiveness, to say we believe God forgives, yet to still feel dirty or unclean after acknowledging our sin to Him, often expressing a new determination to do something to “make up for” our “falling short” or “prove” to God we are serious (“this time”) about changing, betrays what we really believe. We don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do. God’s forgiveness is granted freely, although it cost Him supremely. We understand something of the high value of full and complete forgiveness, and our actions betray us as not really believing God has given full and complete forgiveness!

I’m speaking here particularly to those who consider themselves followers of Jesus. Most of you will be familiar with the words of I John 1:9:

If we confess (acknowledge) our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to (continually) cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yet, how often do you acknowledge (confess) your sin and simply thank Him (express gratitude) for cleansing? Particularly as to that sin which, for you, seems to snare you again and again and again—do you really accept His full cleansing (from all unrighteousness, not just the particular sin acknowledged), or do you find yourself groveling, promising to try harder, maybe even not feeling “clean” until you have actually acted on your promise? I’m not trying to diminish the idea that there are times Papa tells us to do something specific as a result of our sins, I’m talking about our experience of forgiveness on God’s terms (“confess”). Papa may call on those who are clean to act, but that is a universe away from our own effort to get clean by doing! Have you ever imagined that when you go to Papa with “I did it again!”, He responds (honestly) with “Did what again?”

Several years ago I heard something which was shocking at first, but which Papa has used to alter how I react to my own puny promises to try harder, or my sense of continuing guilt even after confession: All such things are ways our flesh says, “Jesus, your death wasn’t enough!”

After I got over the shocking audacity of this truth about my fleshy thinking, the Spirit began renewing my mind and transforming my response amid confession. Some of my thoughts were given expression through some “revised lyrics” Papa gave (to the tune White as Snow)—

Freed from Sin, Freed from Sin,
Though the thought overwhelms me,
You have said. It is so!
I am clean and forgiven!
Praise the Father, what great love;
Praise the Son, now raised above;
Worship Him all here below, yes worship Him,
Bow down low.

White as snow, white as snow,
Though I often forget it,
I confess, You restore, and continually cleanse me!
Praise the Father, what great love;
Praise the Son, now raised above;
Worship Him here below, yes worship Him,
Bow down low.

What value do you place on the death of Jesus? Is His death fully sufficient to totally remove God’s wrath and bring blessing (“propitiation”)? Is God fully satisfied that the penalty for your sinfulness and sinful acts (all of them) has been “paid in full” by Jesus? Really? And how about you? Are you fully satisfied that the penalty for your sinfulness and sinful acts (all of them) has been “paid in full” by Jesus—or does your response after confession betray an attitude toward Jesus that says, “Your death may have satisfied God in Heaven, but it’s not good enough to satisfy me! Let me add to Your work by . . ..” Even as to such an arrogant attitude, Jesus continues to show His wounds to Papa and say, “Abba (Papa), forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!” And Papa, Who always hears The Son, has forgiven you. Really! I pray that His Spirit will make His full and complete forgiveness real in your experience.

Live as one who has been blessed, because you are.

John

Who Am I?

As I prepared to write to you this morning I had two memories from my early years come to mind. One is this thing we laughed about—How do you get down off an elephant? Except for those who haven’t heard the question before, there is usually a bit of puzzled pondering. But, of course, you don’t get down off an elephant! You get down off a duck!

O.K., that tells you a bit about my childhood! (It explains a lot, doesn’t it?) Here’s the other memory—I was in high school, going out for a Friday night with my friends (or a date)—that detail has been lost to time. But what hasn’t been lost is the instruction my father would give (for he did this more than once): Remember who you are! After I finished writing to you last time I felt I should spend a couple of weeks talking about who you are in Christ, because too often we approach the Christian life as if we’re trying to get down off an elephant—because we don’t really understand who we are. When we understand who we are (and some of you do), our problem is that amid the living of life we forget who we are. I want to talk to you about that in my next couple of emails by sharing with you some ideas expressed by a simple (yet profound) affirmation Papa gave me several years ago, and which I have shared with many since. It is an affirmation I hope you can fully embrace, and more fully appreciate as we explore who we are. For I am convinced beyond belief that I am a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of The King!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to “unload the whole truck” in this email, but I want to begin (strangely enough) at the beginning. I am. I pause there because when I share with people about this issue, even with college age friends, I find a kind of “disconnect” between what God says is true about all of us who are “in Christ” and what we really believe to be true of us. Somehow we resolve the difficulty of not living out God’s description of us (“holy” or “saints”) with how we actually live, and particularly our struggles with sin. We’ll talk about that more in the weeks to come, but for today I want to emphasize that what I am writing is not about “theory” or “theology detached from life” (a terribly dangerous exercise in any event!). The things I am going to share are not “theoretically true” or “positional truth” or any such! These things are actually and literally true of everyone who is in Christ. Our problems with living it out generally arise because either (i) we don’t know who we are (so we’re like the Romans, to whom Paul asks “Or don’t you know . . .” [6:3]) or (ii) in the moment, we forget who we are. If we don’t know who we are, we spend much of our time trying to get down off a duck! When we know who we are, but forget in the moment, we fail to experience the victory in which Jesus leads us.

This is a significant issue! As I have already shared, I have been planning on writing to you about these things for at least a couple of weeks. Last night, as we flew to California, I was finishing my first read of John Stott’s The Radical Disciple. As I read, I came upon: Nearly all our failures stem from the ease with which we forget our comprehensive identity as disciples. Stott wrote this as his final book, by hand, when he was 88. After years of following Jesus, in many different contexts, he says nearly all our failures arise because we forgot who we are! Whoops! Let’s make that personal (for you and for me). Nearly all my failures to live as Papa intends arise because I forgot who I am! Not theoretically, but actually. Not at some future date but right now, in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4:11).

You could now quickly answer, how do you get down off a duck?, may Papa give you boldness in responding to the question, Who are you?, with:

I am a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of the King!

 And may He grant that you hear his voice as I so often heard my father’s, don’t forget who you are!

John

Loved As You Are

John Glenn’s true hero

For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as a heart-stirring American hero. He lifted the nation’s spirits when, as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice.

But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind:  Annie Glenn.

They have been married for 68 years.

He is 90; she turned 92 on Friday.

This weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s flight into orbit. We are being reminded that, half a century down the line, he remains America’s unforgettable hero.

He has never really bought that.

Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort that is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than he has known

anyone else in the world.

John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when — literally –they shared a playpen.

In New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends. When the families got together, their children played.

John — the future Marine fighter pilot, the future test-pilot ace, the future astronaut — was pure gold from the start. He would end up having what it took to rise to the absolute pinnacle of American regard during the space race; imagine what it meant to be the young John Glenn in the small confines of New Concord.

Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything.

Annie Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was generous of spirit. But she could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty. It haunted her.

Her stuttering was so severe that it was categorized as an “85%” disability — 85% of the time, she could not manage to make words come out.

When she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, she was laughed at. She was not able to speak on the telephone. She could not have a regular conversation with a friend.

And John Glenn loved her.

Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl.

They married on April 6, 1943. As a military wife, she found that life as she and John moved around the country could be quite hurtful. She has written: “I can remember some very painful experiences — especially the ridicule.”

In department stores, she would wander unfamiliar aisles trying to find the right section, embarrassed to attempt to ask the salesclerks for help. In taxis, she would have to write requests to the driver, because she couldn’t speak the destination out loud. In restaurants, she would point to the items on the menu.

A fine musician, Annie, in every community where she and John moved, would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends. She and John had two children; she has written: “Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone? ‘Hello’ used to be so hard for me to say. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor. Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone?”

John, as a Marine aviator, flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 during the Korean War. Every time he was deployed, he and Annie said goodbye the same way. His last words to her before leaving were:

“I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.”

And, with just the two of them there, she was able to always reply:

“Don’t be long.”

On that February day in 1962 when the world held its breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him toward space, those were their words, once again. And in 1998, when, at 77, he went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, it was an understandably tense time for them. What if something happened to end their life together?

She knew what he would say to her before boarding the shuttle. He did — and this time he gave her a present to hold on to:

A pack of gum.

She carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was safely home.

Many times in her life she attempted various treatments to cure her stutter. None worked.

But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who ran an intensive program she and John hoped would help her. She traveled there to enroll and to give it her best effort. The miracle she and John had always waited for at last, as miracles will do, arrived. At age 53, she was able to talk fluidly, and not in brief, anxiety-ridden, agonizing bursts.

John has said that on the first day he heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity, he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude.

He has written: “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more.” He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his own valor, but his awe is reserved for Annie, and what she accomplished: “I don’t know if I would have had the courage.”

Her voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly gives public talks. If you are lucky enough to know the Glenns, the sight and sound of them bantering and joking with each other and playfully finishing each others’ sentences is something that warms you and makes you thankful just to be in the same room.

Monday will be the anniversary of the Mercury space shot, and once again people will remember, and will speak of the heroism of Glenn the astronaut.

But if you ever find yourself at an event where the Glenns are appearing, and you want to see someone so brimming with pride and love that you may feel your own tears start to well up, wait until the moment that Annie stands to say a few words to the audience.

And as she begins, take a look at her husband’s eyes.

 

WOW!!!  What a story

Beloved of Papa

I have been meaning to get back to you to discuss further your identity in Christ, and particularly the second words—a dearly beloved—from my oft repeated “affirmation of identity”—I am a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of The King. Frankly, for many (dare I say most), fully embracing God’s love for me can be a most difficult act of faith! We often “get” the theology and some key verses (like John 3:16 or Romans 5:8) into our heads fairly early in our journey, perhaps responding to further statements of the truth with “I know that already!”, but taking it into our heart (meaning our whole being) seems, at times, nearly impossible! Papa, please touch our hearts with your love.

I hope you took time to read the email about John and Annie Glenn (which I sent last week under the “Loved as You Are” caption). I shared it with you because I think both John and Annie show us something of love: John, who looks beyond the exterior/speech impairment and loves Annie as she is (not because he sees “potential” in her, nor even hoping to change her)—he loves her; and Annie, who is willing to be loved as she is—not allowing her impediment and “self-consciousness” to delay or block her enjoyment of John’s love for her. I’m sure you see where this is going. Yet, I expect you are already throwing up mental/theological roadblocks! “Sin is ‘way different’ than a speech impairment!” Really? Not on God’s side! The verses which so readily come to mind make it clear that while we were still sinners God loved us (and, if I can move on in Romans 5 I would ask with Paul, How much more now that we have been reconciled?). The problem is not on God’s side, but ours! In our counterpart role, unlike Annie, we are often so focused on our self and our failures that we cannot welcome and enjoy God’s love for us (by the way, such a focus is not of God but rather a fleshy residue of trying to do good, rather than the fruit of trusting Him Who has made us good—but that’s a separate email!). As William Newell points out in his summary of some key truths of grace: To consent to be loved while unworthy is the great secret. Experiencing constant affirmation God’s love in each moment is both liberating and encouraging. Yet how few of us live there!

Think about what it must have meant to Jesus to hear such an affirmation of love from His Abba. It is a story we are all familiar with. Jesus journeys out to the Jordan River, where his cousin, John, is baptizing people. The two of them talk and Jesus insists that He, too, be baptized by John. The scene unfolds as the water engulfs Jesus and as He comes up from the water the spiritual realm opens before them, The Spirit visibly descends upon Him in the form of a dove, and His Abba speaks from Heaven—this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Think about how Jesus must have felt. Can you enter into that with Him? What great affirmation! To know I am loved, just as I am, right now, in this moment. Of course, you might be playing one of those “but I’m not Jesus” recordings in your head right now (by the way, the ‘voice’ saying that to you is not Jesus!). How hard it is for us to remain focused! Our flesh works to keep us from the truth (for it fights against the Spirit)! Sorry. . . . Where was I . . ., oh, Think about how Jesus must have felt. . . . Loved by His Abba (Papa). Allow the Spirit to use your imagination (right now) to the point that you experience that moment as if you were the one over whom those words were spoken. Loved by Abba (Papa). How do you feel? What is it like to hear those words?

Of course, that was Jesus. Yet, with that vicarious pleasure still fresh, consider the words of Jesus in prayer. As our friend, as our older brother, He says to Abba (Papa) that He (Abba, Papa) loves us just as He loves Jesus! Really! I’m not making this up! Read it yourself in any version you choose, at John 17:23. Here it is from several:
. . . and have loved them as You have loved Me (nkjv)
. . . and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me (msg)
. . . and have loved them, even as You have loved Me (nasb)
. . . and that you love them as much as you love me (nlt)

You might need to ‘take a minute’ with that. You are sensing His affirmation, aren’t you? Let it flow! . . . Allow the Spirit to take you wherever He leads, and in the midst of His working consider returning with Him to your baptism, to experience it again—this time with your spiritual eyes wide-open to the spiritual realities. Hear the words of Papa, spoken over you, . . . This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased. . . . Loved by Papa. . . . Just as He loves Jesus!

I invite you to say with me: I am a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of the King.

Live as one loved of Papa, because you are.

John