Saturday, June 30, 2007

No Longer Condemned

She had sinned. The sick feeling in the pit of Jessie’s stomach grew, and a heavy weight seemed to fall onto her shoulders. As she recognized her sin, she was overwhelmed by the feeling that she was unclean. Filled with revulsion at herself and acutely aware of her unworthiness, she became timid to approach God in prayer. She had failed, after all— and not only once. Although Jessie had repented, the words guilty, guilty, guilty still echoed in her mind.

Learning to deal with sin is one of the fiercest struggles in the Christian life—and often, one of the most discouraging. I have discovered that the more time I spend studying God’s Word and in prayer, the more my own hideous unrighteousness is revealed to me. In the illumination of God’s holiness, my sinful thoughts and behavior are laid bare. In fact, my knowledge of my own sinfulness is growing continually. Like Jessie, you and I may listen to a convicting sermon or message, and then leave the building filled with an overpowering sense of discouragement and frustration, not joy. Even after repentance, the guilt that my sin has wrought often burns within me. The nagging question is: Now what?

It’s tempting to think that the feeling of guilt which results is beneficial. Somehow, we think that if it’s so painful, it must be a good thing—but it isn’t. C.J. Mahaney put it best:

“Don’t buy the lie that cultivating condemnation and wallowing in your shame is somehow pleasing to God, or that a constant, low-grade guilt will somehow promote holiness and spiritual maturity. It’s just the opposite! God is glorified when we believe with all our hearts that those who trust in Christ can never be condemned.”

The Answer: the Cross

Two nights ago, I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. Suddenly, I felt a strong sense that God desired me to get out of bed to kneel prostrate on the ground. Although I do not often pray in that position during the middle of the night, I knew that there was a specific reason for it that night. I began to pour out my heart to my Father, and immediately, one of the main things that He impressed upon me was the glorious truth of Romans 8:1. The verse cries triumphantly, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” None! All our sins were atoned for at the cross where Jesus died. He suffered the penalty that we deserved, and the burden of our sin has been completely removed. We are forgiven and set free! I needed this reminder on Thursday. I had once again been feeling the weight of my failure to live up to God’s commands, and consequently, I was discouraged and frustrated with myself. But as I prayed, the wondrous truth of the gospel changed my disheartened attitude into thanksgiving and joy. Jesus suffered a brutal death on the cross for the very sin that I committed yesterday, and last week, and this morning. Because Christ is the propitiation for my sins, there is now no need for condemnation!

In fact, when we linger in our guilt, we are telling Christ that His sacrifice was not enough. We are adamantly insisting upon carrying a burden that He has already removed forever. If you have placed your faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, you have been justified by His blood. You now stand spotless and blameless before God’s throne-- clothed in the glorious righteousness of the Son of God!

Why, then, is it so easy to fall into this pattern of self-condemnation, when God so clearly desires the message of the cross to be ever-present in our hearts? A fundamental misapplication of the gospel lies at the root cause of this issue. You and I feel condemned only when we do not let the power of the gospel transform our lives. Our minds must be constantly renewed by the truth of God’s Word, and we ought to make it our daily goal to search out the depths of God’s unmerited grace towards us. God wants us to be firmly convinced of our position in Christ! When we meditate on the life-transforming truth of the gospel, we will be filled anew with awe and wonder at the great God we serve, not weighed down with guilt.

Acknowledge your sins before God. Admit the depths of your depravity and confess with tears the sinfulness of your heart to Him. “But don’t stop there!” says Mahaney. “Move on to rejoicing in the Savior who came to save the worst of sinners. Lay down the luggage of condemnation and kneel down in worship at the feet of Him who bore your sins.” Yes, recognize your sin. Then turn to the cross with a heart brimming with gratitude and joy, for there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

I Had A Witty Title...

...but it's now forgotten.

The time has come for our Rare (Approx. Once A Year) Personal Update. Since we're positive someone out there has wondered how we're doing (to that lonely number, we send our thanks) we've decided to supply an answer.

Lindsey has been busy doing all things Lindseyish, including the Three R's: reading, writing, and...reading. ('Rithmetic isn't Lindseyish.) This past week, she and her family had a blast at the Sacramento Rebelution Conference. Unfortunately, Lindsey also forgot her camera (though no one has since allowed her to forget that she forgot) or else we'd have more to show for it. More recently, Lindsey has been under the weather. If you think of it, please pray for her.

Kristin has been reading an assortment of interesting books, babysitting, and this past month attended the 2007 New Attitude Conference. College is on the horizon, so she's been studying (a lot, from what I've heard.) On a more significant note, she's about to celebrate her graduation (!).

I've been catching up on some much needed reading time. So far I'm enjoying what John Piper has to say in his book, The Dangerous Duty of Delight. However, it may last me all summer, since I want to really chew on it before returning it to my shelf. I'm also running errands for my family since the new arrival driver's license. It's been a long time coming. (You can draw your own conclusions there. Laugh if you want.)

Most of the other items on my To-Do list are for Beauty from the Heart...wait...that's still a secret. Oops. If anyone asks, you didn't hear about it from me. Besides getting myself in trouble with my big mouth, I'm also hoping to brush up on my foreign languages during the summer (...which may only enable my mouth to get me in more trouble.) But for now, I'm almost out of words.

Adieu, zai jian and hasta luego.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Real Beauty" Wins Film Festival

This past year, Dove launched an advertising campaign entitled the "Campaign for Real Beauty," in which it produced commercials that highlighted the need for self-esteem. One commercial in particular drew attention as it revealed the special effects and airbrushing that contribute to a single advertisement. (See film above, or by clicking here.)

Again making headlines, recently this short film won the Film Grand Prix at the prestigious Cannes Advertising Awards. Alison Leung, a representative of Dove, stated, "We are thrilled that Evolution has been recognized as it will hopefully encourage even more people, especially young girls and women, to watch the film and get involved with our various resources that promote positive self-esteem."

As exciting as it is to see the popular standard of "beauty" challenged and the insecurities girls face finally brought to the limelight, Dove's short answer of promoting "self-esteem" sounds hollow and even trite. Can self-esteem truly provide a solution to the problem of beauty?

A teen girl may tell herself she's beautiful, but in the face of an onslaught of media, her declaration is like treating cancer with Tylenol. Not only is it the wrong medicine, but the results of self-esteem pep talks can be dangerous. Paul Greenberg commented in a recent column: "Have you taken a good look lately at American politics, academia, fashion, journalism and public life in general? It over-runneth with the kind of self-esteem that cometh before a fall. There is such a thing as unearned grace - don't I know it! - but self-esteem is unearned folly. Its fruit is pride, not humility."

To me, the fact that women of all ages are disturbed by what Hollywood considers physically attractive is evidence that the culture doesn't have the answers. Mantras of psychologists, no more than the opinions of marketing advisers or make up artists, can replace the fulfillment bestowed by the Creator of beauty.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To Nibble....

My diet requires no sugar but quite a bit of healthy food. Unfortunately, my taste buds require quite a bit of sugar, and could care less about the healthy stuff. Usually, I can withstand the urge to give in to my demanding taste for sugar because I know the pain I'll be in later. But today was understandably difficult. I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for my family. For those who may not know, cookie dough is a long-time favorite of mine. And while I was placing them on the pan, I began snitching little scoops. As I was about to plop the tenth spoonful of cookie dough in my mouth, my hand mechanically froze in midair directly over my mouth. My eyes, still focusing upward waiting to taste the delightful morsel, dropped and followed my hand back to the bowl. Ooops! Just in the nick of time, my conscience began whispering softly to me, you know you shouldn't be having that... I rolled my eyes and sighed. I had gotten off easy that time, or so I thought. Seconds later, my conscience decided it wasn't done and gave me another jab. I began to feel convicted that my spiritual life resembled the many nibbles I had taken from the cookie dough. Ouch.

I nibble a little of God's Word here and there, enough to satisfy my craving for Truth. But the nibbles are not enough to satisfy the hunger I should have for God. Tasty little bites every other day is not what God expects of the Christian, nor can I grow in godliness, discernment, and wisdom.. I must study and meditate on what God has written in order to grow in these areas. It must become more than just impromptu bites here and there. Psalm 119:16 says,
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
I had come upon that verse in my devotions, but I pretended to ignore it and move on. But there was my conscience once again poking and prodding me to sit up and take note. I neglect God's Word more than I read it. Another nice jab to my flesh. Double ouch!

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the New Attitude Conference. Oh yes, I had a grand time meeting people, worshiping and studying the Bible with fellow believers, but there was a hidden torment within my soul that was equally great that same weekend. As the first worship session started on Saturday night, I was feeling distant towards God and because of this, my worship to Him felt fake. Was I lifting my hands heavenward because 2,999 other people were? I knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't put a finger on my problem. Here I was about to spend an incredible weekend listening to inspiring authors and teachers, and I felt estranged from God and everyone else. I knew God was in the Kentucky International Convention Center, it was I who was wandering around in a galaxy far, far away. God wants us to draw near, but how do you bridge a chasm millions of miles wide?

I found a seat among the thousands of others who seemed to be enjoying an intimate communion with God, and I sullenly pleaded with God to remove this distance from me. Lord, I want to draw closer to you this weekend. I want this distance between us to end, this gap to disappear. I want an intimate relationship with you...because I need you more than ever. But why this separation? How did this happen?

Simply because I was neglecting God's Word. It wasn't rocket science. When I fail to spend time in God's Word, my relationship with God becomes distant and joyless. I confessed my sin of neglect and recommitted myself to a daily diet of God's Word. But to let's be real here, it's easy to make a commitment to commune with God daily at a convention with thousands of other worshipers. But would I feel the same urgency and desire when I was back at home?
"The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Matthew 26:41
Old habits die hard...
Now that I've been home a few weeks, I'd love to report that every day has been a wonderful day of feasting in God's word. I wish I could say that my relationship with God is in tip-top shape, but truthfully it's far from there. I've begun the tedious process of retraining my "old-self" to quit nibbling and spending more time digging deeper into the richness and vastness of who God is through His Word. Just like with the cookie dough, I must resist the temptation to just sneak a nibble of the sweet stuff and neglect the meat. Quick nibbles provide an instant burst of energy, but do nothing for my relationship with God long term.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." -Psalm 34:8

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Beauty, At Last

There must have been a reason Jesus was a carpenter. Although on the surface it may seem Jesus was simply following His surrogate father, Joseph, into the family business, surely our sovereign God had a purpose in choosing that profession for His Son. Of all occupations, why did He pick carpentry? Why not fishing or farming?

Perhaps it is because Jesus had been a carpenter of hearts since the beginning of time. He was always working at sanding, carving and polishing the hearts of men. It was only fitting that He continue the line of work on earth.

The tale of one of His earlier carpentry projects has survived the ages. The storyline began like a Hollywood production: A simple country boy captured the heart of a nation through a single act of heroism. He was an instant celebrity. But life took a turn for the worst when the country boy's popularity began threatening the king's fragile self esteem. Although he would never dream of usurping the government, in envious fury, the paranoid king sicced assassins on the innocent hero. The glamorous storyline ended there, as the young man spent the following months as a refugee, hunted like an animal, crying out to God to answer why.

Gene Edwards speculated:

"David the sheepherder would have grown up to become King Saul II, except that God cut away the 'Saul' inside David's heart. That operation, by the way, took years and was a brutalizing experience that almost killed the patient.... David accepted this fate. He embraced the cruel circumstances. He lifted no hand nor offered resistance. Nor did he grandstand his piety. Silently, privately, he bore the crucible of humiliation. Because of this he was deeply wounded. His whole inner being was mutilated. His personality was altered. When the gore was over, David was barely recognizable."

In one of the darkest hours of David's life, a transformation took place. Under the steady hand of God, David's scars became beauty marks. His heart was carved away and replaced by a heart after God's own.

This transformation is commonly known as "sanctification," yet it is perhaps better described as a death. It is a dying to self in order to be alive to Christ. C.J Mahaney explained it like this:

"Sanctification is about our obedience. It involves work. Empowered by God's spirit, we strive. We fight sin. We study Scripture and pray, even when we don't feel like it. We flee temptation. We press on; we run hard in the pursuit of holiness. And as we become more and more sanctified, the power of the Gospel conforms us more and more closely, with ever-increasing clarity, to the image of Jesus Christ."

However, sanctification is not an earning of God's love in any way; He has already declared us beautiful by virtue of Christ's blood. Beauty in Christ is given to us upon receiving salvation. Yet the etching of our character and inner beauty takes time to develop.

Two friends have recently challenged me by their stunning inner beauty. One demonstrates maturity beyond her years as she balances her highschool studies with helping care for younger siblings and her Alzheimer's ridden grandfather. The other spends her days running errands and assisting her invalid mother. While these young women's faithfulness is not heralded in the streets, their inner beauty silently radiates as a testimony to God's work in their lives.

My friends would be the first to admit that their sanctification process has been anything but painless. It is not easy to face a mile long "To-Do" list with a smile every morning. The development of inner beauty requires constant peeling and scraping of pride encrusted hearts, and often includes the loss of many a tear. Soren Kierkegaard mused, "God creates everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use, He first reduces to nothing."

And yet, these dear girls are pressing on. They are encouraged by David's reward; that someday God will set down the sandpaper, dust them off and be able to say: "Ahh, a little beauty, at last."


Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings. p.24-25

C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life. p. 117

Do you have any role models (historical figures, friends, parents, relatives, etc.) whose inner beauty shines in the way they live? What have their examples taught you?

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