Tag Archives: gospel

My only comfort

For three weeks now, I have been sitting beside my daughter’s bedside in the hospital. I have documented the journey on my facebook page. But, long story short, she was finally diagnosed with herpes Simplex 1 encephalitis. It is rare, brutal, ugly, with a high fatality rate. You can find all of the details on wikipedia so I won’t give them here.

But I would like to document here some of my thoughts, now that I am getting them together.

Yesterday was an awesome day. She’s eating with a full appetite. Pizza, fries, mashed potatoes, ice cream…

This morning, she said, “heyo dad!” when I walked in. It is really fabulous.

But that is the limit of her words. The virus has caused damage in the part of the brain that processes speech – but she is young and the brain is remarkable. We are hopeful.

When you look death right in the face, when your loved ones go through trials like this one, you learn to say things like this:

What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sin and redeemed me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head….(Heidelberg Catechism, Q1)

We have trivialized Christianity into a political movement, a culture war, a movement of power rather than a cry of helplessness.

We have become a church of moral busybodies, so concerned about what others are doing and so afraid of everything…and we forget that there are real things to actually fear.

And when we forget the real curse that is on the world, we turn Christianity into a weird ethical system that is all about homeschooling, courtship, virginity, tattoos and earrings and power plays and making sure women “know their place” and we forget that it is about redemption.

Because bondage is real, death is real, the curse is real, my sins are real.

I don’t need to win a culture war. I need a savior.

I don’t need an ethical movement. I need a savior.

I don’t need moral busybodies. I need a savior.

When you forget that, then you are no longer a Christian in your thinking.

When you stare death in the face, that is when you remember the power of the resurrection. That is when you know what Paul meant when he said that he counts everything else as dung that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And thank you, Great Physician, that my little girl is eating and saying “Heyo, Dad!”

Thank you, Shepherd of Israel, that her face lights up when her friends visit.

And thank you, Father of Lights, for the light in her eyes.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey

As if…

I have a recurring dream. I don’t remember if I told you about it or not. But we always need reminders.

In my dream, I committed adultery.

No, it wasn’t a steamy “sex dream”. No, it wasn’t with anyone that I know. The “other party” wasn’t the point of the dream. In my dream there is no face, no name, no memory of the act itself.

For my dream doesn’t begin with the sin. It begins with my wife finding out. I have to see the look on her face. I see the face that I know only as loving and warm and inviting turn into  a face of hurt and hatred and coldness. It is a nightmare of the worst kind. It is knowing that things will never be the same. That I have forfeited the most precious love. That I have lost a treasure that I will never get back.

It spreads to my kids. It spreads to my church. I lose everything. I am fired from my job, my family won’t speak to me, my kids only look at me with disgust…I say in my dream – O, that this were only a dream! O that I could wake up! And I am overwhelmed with despair, because in my dream I am convinced that it is real.

And then I wake up. It takes me a moment to get my bearings, and then I hear her breathing as she sleeps next to me. I cannot describe the relief and the joy when I realize that I am awake. It was all a dream.

CS Lewis once described an island where dreams come true. The sailors, as they sailed the “Dawn Treader” to the island, were excited about it – until they understood. This isn’t a place where your wishes come true, or your day dreams come true. It is where your dreams come true. Terrifying indeed.

In a very real sense, my recurring dream is a true one. We used to know God as a friend. We used to see his face shining on us. And then, in the Garden and in our actual lives, we committed adultery against him. We raged against him in hatred. We refused to acknowledge how good he was to us. We treated him like an enemy. We made for ourselves idols – the pornography of the spiritual realm. And we inherited it all from Adam. God poured out every good thing on us in abundance (he still does, in fact). And we despised him, looked on his gifts with contempt and hatred and pride.

And God is perfectly just. He will by no means clear the guilty.

Is it possible to wake up from this nightmare? Is it possible to be loved again, to live with God as if we had never committed adultery against him? In our living nightmare, we can’t erase it.

If my dream was real, even if my wife would be able to eventually forgive me, there would always be that hurt and anger and hatred that I CAUSED. It would never be the same again. I don’t think she could ever have that same look in her eye again – that look of trust and safety and peace. I think there would always be a memory of what I did.

(I don’t know why anyone ever commits adultery, by the way. How can anyone wish to go through this nightmare! – but that is the power of sin…)

How much greater is our adultery against God! How can we wake up from this nightmare?

Psalm 126 sees the shadow of such a time – when the bondage was over and God’s people awoke from their living nightmare:

1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
  2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
  3 The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.
  4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.
  5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
  6 He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.
  (Ps. 126:1-6)

How can that be? As if…

God sent his only begotten son into the world. He is the well-beloved son, whom God loved perfectly because in the flesh he obeyed in all things. He (as our mediator) never committed adultery. He always loved God perfectly, even when he felt the full weight of God’s wrath on the cross. He always obeyed. Always loved. Always was faithful. And he didn’t do it for himself.

In eternity, he was always with the Father, and was always true, eternal, sovereign God. He did not obey in order to earn God’s favor for himself. He became flesh, born under the law, and obeyed so that you and I might stand before God as if we had never had nor committed any sin. As if…

He took God’s wrath against our sin and gave us his righteousness and now when God sees us, he sees us as we are in Christ. As if…

As if we had never sinned.

As if we had obeyed God perfectly from the womb.

As if we had never fallen in Adam

As if we had never said those hateful things, or thought those ugly thoughts.

As if we had always loved as we ought to have loved.

As if we had never played the whore with other gods, with our affections, with our worship…

And because he loves us as if Christ’s legal record is ours, he sends us his Spirit to dwell in us in love, so that one day our “as if” becomes our reality, when complete victory is ours and we stand before him free from sin and death and misery at last.

And we are delivered from our captivity as if we had awakened from a dream. Can you imagine the laughter and the singing and the joy, when the dawn comes?

Lift up your eyes! Already the light of dawn is breaking through. Already God sees you in Christ and you are greatly loved.

And the devil hates it. He has many “teachers” who will try to convince you that Jesus’ righteousness isn’t enough. That you still need to do something. That your adultery will never be clean and washed away. They will always have one more thing that you need to do. They may speak of the gospel in passing, but they will always turn back at the last minute, like Columbo on the old show, and say, “Oh, Just one more thing. You have to…”

And there it is. Add one more thing. Do one more ritual. Follow one more precept. Keep one more statute.

They will try to rob you of the joy of belonging to Christ.

As if…

Hold onto that joy. In this vale of tears, we stumble in many things. We say sinful things. We lash out.  We offend in many things.

And we ask forgiveness of our loved ones. We weep over sin. We beg again for the gift of the Spirit. And our hope is this:

Even then, it is as if we had never committed nor had any sin. We are washed clean. It is different than God saying, “I pardon you”.  When a judge pardons, he is releasing the penalty that is due the crime. But with a pardon, the crime was committed, even if the penalty is released.

But that isn’t really the gospel. Yes, there is a pardon. Yes, there is forgiveness. But it goes deeper. It goes to the wakening of the dream. We wake up. It is “as if”. Yes, we did it. But in the wisdom of God, he has provided a way for us to be truly clean – as if we had never sinned. He has provided a savior.

Jump! Shout! Rejoice! Lay aside the burdens. Walk out of the false churches that continue to tell you how much better you need to be and crawl to where the gospel is proclaimed. There you will learn the true measure of Christ’s gift.

Wake up, you who sleep – and Christ will give you light!

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Filed under Gospel, justification

Things I’ve been told

They tell me that I scold men too much.

They tell me that they feel sorry for my congregation because I lead them astray by teaching women that they are image-bearers of God with dignity and honor.

They tell me that I rob men of their masculinity by teaching them that imitating Christ means to take the lowest place and become the servant of all, including their wives. Christ did, however, give himself for his bride, the church.

They tell me that I cause divorces and wreck marriages by teaching men how to love their wives instead how to rule over them.

They tell me that I am unbalanced, and am soft on the sin of women because I teach that lust comes from the heart of man, not from the outfit of the woman.

They tell me that I am a feminist because I believe that the Bible teaches that every believing woman is also a prophet, priest and king along with every believing man.

They spit the word “egalitarian” at me like a curse because I believe women have a voice, should be treated as co-heirs of eternal life, and have a right to make decisions and use their gifts for the glory of God, just like every believing man.

And they tell me to stop. They command me to be silent. I make people uncomfortable.

And I worry sometimes.

 

And then I hear of judges who tell rape victims not to report their rape because they will ruin a good man’s life.

And then I hear of husbands punching their wives in the same room that they lead “family worship”.

And then I hear of pastors beating and molesting the children under their care. And I hear of other pastors who knew about it and gave them “a good talking to” but didn’t want to ruin their ministries.

And then I hear of youth pastors raping the children under their care, and calling it “an inappropriate relationship”.

And then I hear of women crying out to their church leaders that their husbands watch porn every night and are asked if they are satisfying them in bed.

And then I hear again of women who are beaten over and over again year after year and when they finally divorce they are excommunicated for being bitter.

And then I hear of wives who cover the altar of the Lord with tears and are told to “submit more”, “suffer a little while like Jesus suffered,” “God hates divorce”.

And then these same wives are shot by the husbands they tried to get protection from.

And then I hear of husbands threatening the wives with weapons, fists, words of hatred, vile contempt and the wives are blamed for not submitting enough, making them mad, provoking them, wanting it…

And then I hear that these are not rare occurrences. These are not unusual. These are the hidden corners, the long dark corridors, the valley of the shadow of death that are walked through by so, so many men, women and children.

I know that salvation is not the same as activism. I am not an abuse advocate. I am a minister of the word, a pastor, a preacher of good tidings of great joy. I will not get sucked into the abyss of darkness and pain nor is it my desire to draw you into it.

But as a minister, I do need to shine a light, expose evil, untwist the scripture that is continually twisted to keep the weak in bondage to the strong.

When the church of Jesus Christ becomes an institution of worldly power and money, the powerful always oppress the weak, crushing them underfoot, and they will use whatever means they can to do it.

And I love the church of Jesus Christ far, far too much to keep silent. For this reason, I will not keep silent about the horrors that so many of our brothers and sisters suffer. Nor will I allow the light of Jesus Christ to grow dim or fade, but will continue to lift the banner, proclaim liberty to the captives, and bind the wounds of the broken-hearted as much as I can.

Even though I know it will infuriate a lot of people who like being in power.

There can only, ever be one head of the church, and he will never give that honor to another.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord, to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
tho’ there be those that hate her
and false sons in her pale,
against the foe or traitor
she ever shall prevail. (Samuel John Stone)

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Filed under Abuse, Gospel

Cain and Abel

In my sermon The Dark Places, I wrote the following:

If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

A kind reader suggested that I turned the names around. It happens. Sometimes I turn the names around, especially if I am going too fast.

But in this case I have the names correct. When Cain was born, Eve called him Cain – saying, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

Cain was something. The heir apparent, the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent – in Eve’s mind.

Our natural religion is that God is bound to be impressed with our religious services. Cain was the first Pharisee – no faith in the promise, because he didn’t need it. He was something. He was the man from the Lord.

When Abel was born, Eve called his name Abel – which means vapor, wind, vanity – nothing. He was a nobody. He wasn’t a somebody like Cain. He was the other, he was “whatev’s”

The only thing he had was the he believed the promise – that God would provide a sacrifice for sins.

So when Abel was accepted and Cain was rejected, natural order was overturned, Cain’s religion was proven faulty.

God put Abel over Cain because Abel had something that Cain would never have. The righteousness of Christ imputed to him.

This is why Cain killed him. This is why the cross is an offense. This is why Jesus was crucified.

Cain is the Jew of Romans 10 seeking to establish their own righteousness and not accepting the righteousness which is by faith.

Cain is the Pharisee of Luke 18:

I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
  12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
  (Lk. 18:11-12)

I can see Cain saying the same thing, over his offering of the fruit of the ground:

I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like this nobody over here. I thank thee that I can bring this great offering, this astounding offering, this offering that is the greatest, most wonderful, most supreme offering of all. And that I am not like the loser that is my brother “Nobody”

But God rejected Cain and his offering.

Cain was something, but salvation is only for the nobodies. Christ came only for those who take up their crosses – reckon themselves dead, nobody, poor.

Jesus died for the nobodies.

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mk. 2:17)

Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (Lk. 18:22)

So I had the names right. I should have explained it better, I guess.

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The Dark Places

From a sermon preached at First Reformed Church in Yuba City

Text

John 8:1-12

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not .

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(Jn. 8:1-12 KJV)

Sermon

In the house of our life we have attic with dark corners. In those dark corners there are boxes that hold our dark things.

One box is called pride. One is lust. One is called fear. There is trauma, guilt, pain, secrets that we hide from even ourselves…all the things we keep carefully hidden.

We keep hidden in our attics those things that cause us shame –  the things we try to get rid of but can’t.

The tears that we shed and then swallow, and bury. The shame that we will never, ever talk about. The feelings of being unwanted, alone – the emptiness of life.

Other boxes are filled with our pet sins. These are the things we don’t want to be rid of: The grudges that we nurse. The lusts that we hide. We keep those grudges carefully hidden and keep the outside of our house clean and smiling. But we keep records. We carry every offense up to the box in our attic and hide it carefully. Then we go up in secret and go through the boxes – reminding ourselves of all the ways that someone hurt us while the hatred grows into murder and rage.

 

Sometimes those boxes are filled with lusts. CS Lewis speaks of this.

Lust “sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself”

We keep a place in the attic of our minds for our imaginary harem, our grudges, our “if onlys”, our regrets, our desire for pre-eminence, our hurts, our loneliness, our ignorance, our shame and guilt. All of these and more hide in the dark corners. And in the dark, they grow. The darkness creeps about and takes over.

I think that these boxes of dark things are carefully stored away because of our fear of death – when death entered the world it brought a lot of ugliness with it. The ultimate uselessness of life – the insignificance. That in the end, nothing matters. We are only fit for the grave and no one will even remember my name.

But that is unbearable, so we hide away our treasures – those things we think will bring meaning and hope and significance and power and control to our lives. Even if that hope is in fantasy, we carefully store it away. At least we can control our fantasy. At least we can pretend we are powerful, wise, desirable, worthy of love…

But the ugliest box of all is the box of records that we hold on to – all of the proof that we give ourselves that we are really just a little bit better than Abel.

It’s a trophy room of our own accomplishments – those things that we think add up to make us just a little purer, holier, wiser, stronger, smarter, than our neighbor…

It is called pride, and it is the ugliest dark thing of all. Every moment of self-righteousness, every moment of cutting insight, every biting remark, taking someone down to size. I may not be perfect, but at least I am______, and the blank is filled with as many answers as there are people. Nice. Tall. Good (deep down), pretty, wise, handsome, not that guy… And the darkness grows.

It overcomes everything, it overwhelms everything. Eventually, there can be no pretense of light – for darkness devours all – except one thing – the light that God sent into the world.

In the introduction to his gospel, John says this:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

(Jn. 1:4-5 KJV)

Why Jesus has to go

This is a story of darkness and a story of light.

The scribes and Pharisees had already determined that Jesus must die. They had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The problem was this – they believed that if the nation sinned, God would destroy them. God sent them into exile once before because of sin. They didn’t keep the Sabbath. Now, if they wanted to stay in the land and have victory over the Romans, they had to do their part – obey God. Keep the Sabbath. Bring back moral fortitude.

When Messiah comes, he will straighten people out. He will bring back law and order and usher in the kingdom of God, where everyone knows what right and wrong is, and everyone does what they are supposed to do, and everyone is righteous and pure. The foreigners are over there where they belong, and there is morality in the land, just like it is supposed to be…

And now – here is the problem. Jesus is here, and everyone is wondering if he is the messiah. The reason that they are wondering is that he is doing miracles that only the messiah can do. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, demons are cast out. But he also eats and drinks with sinners. He also “breaks the Sabbath”. If only he validated our desire to be better than the other guy, if only he validated my fig leaves and hiding places, if only he validated my own system of what is right and what is wrong, there would be no problem. But he won’t play along.

This was where their darkness was revealed by the light. If Jesus eats with sinners and he is messiah, then that means that he fellowships with sinners. But that can’t be. Everyone knows that we are the righteous ones. Everyone knows that God only blesses and heals righteous ones. But if Jesus blesses and heals sinners, that means that everything I think I know about righteousness is wrong…

And this, Paul says, is the offense of the cross.

Nothing will make a man angrier than one who takes away the box that proves he is a little better than everyone around him.

In chapter 5, a man is lame. Jesus says, “Take up your bed and walk.”

He picks up his bed. That was when the Jews decided that Jesus needs to go. Because it is the Sabbath day. If Jesus is the Christ, then he blessed and healed someone who had the bad manners to be sick to begin with. Furthermore, he healed a man who was the kind of man who would carry a bed on the sabbath.

If a man who would carry a bed on the Sabbath, and who was sinful enough to be a cripple, could be healed by Messiah – then what is the point of good works at all??

And that would mean that there is nothing that makes me any better than that guy – that beggar, the cripple, that man who works on the sabbath. There are only two options for me. One, change everything I think I know about purity, morality, righteousness. Or 2, get rid of Jesus. Change is intolerable. If I change my view, I have to view myself as needing salvation, as one who needs a savior as much as this adulterer. So Jesus must be destroyed.

And every new thing that Jesus did, they wrapped it up in the paper of their hatred and stored it carefully away in the box in the attic. And they got angrier and angrier.

But the problem was even deeper than that. The Pharisees weren’t allowed to just murder someone. They had the pesky job of proving that the person was in the wrong and deserved to die. And they had to prove it to two groups – Romans, and the common people. The Romans, because they alone had the power of death; and the people, for they could cause problems. If they went after Jesus now the way they wanted to, there would have been rioting. Everyone knew that Jesus was righteous, a healer, a prophet sent from God.

And if they went to Pilate and accused him of breaking the Sabbath, Pilate would ask one question: What did he do on the Sabbath? And there was no way that they wanted to answer that question. To answer that question would be to prove in a Roman Court that Jesus was the Christ. They didn’t even want to go there.

So they needed an opportunity. And now there is one right in front of them: a woman taken in adultery.

Another child lost in the darkness. We don’t know the circumstances. We know that it was the Feast of the Tabernacles – This was a time similar to Mardi Gras – in Jerusalem. It was celebration time and the streets crammed full of people partying. Hundreds of thousands of celebrants from all over.

It would have been a simple matter to find someone committing adultery.

It was perfect. They needed to test Jesus with someone that everyone would despise – and who is despised more than a woman committing adultery…Homewrecker! And every other name one could think of. It is part of our fallen human nature. A man is excused – just carried away by hormones. But a woman! She is a seductress, a Jezebel! Away with her!

She’s the perfect test.

The story

And so they bring her to Jesus. The put on a great front of respect. Master. Rabbi. This woman was taken in the very act!!

They are sure that this will get him. There is no question as to her guilt. They caught her actually at it! The man, of course, is excused. There was wine, she seduced him, blah, blah, blah…

But her! Look at her! Surely you can see how society will fall apart if we allow this sort of thing. We can’t have women walking around naked and seducing men. We can’t have this sort of thing happening or God will certainly destroy us. Surely, Jesus, you can see how important it is that you denounce this immoral behavior, or the demise of our society will be on YOUR HEAD!!

“Moses said she must be stoned. What do you say?”

We got him – they think to themselves. If he says, “Stone her”, we tell Pilate and all the people that he is acting like a king, trying to take the place of Rome as judge, jury and executioner.

If he says, “None of my business” we will say, Look at this pretender. Acting like a teacher, a Rabbi, and he isn’t concerned about the decay of society at all.

If he says, “Be merciful” then we will denounce him to the people. He eats with sinners and adulterers. You know, he is probably sleeping with her himself. You know how these people are. You know, come to think of it – he does have a lot of women following him around everywhere. They even sit at his feet like disciples. Something hinky there…

“So. Rabbi. What do you say”

And he goes right on with what he was doing. He ignores them completely as if he didn’t even hear them.

He gives them an opportunity to think about what they are doing. You are, right now, plotting murder. You are liars, pretending something that is not true. You are planning to destroy this woman, and while you are at it you will deliver me to Pilate for crucifixion…And you DARE think that you are one step above this woman, whom you despise as a sinner?

In the darkness of their hearts, the light is working – exposing their corners, exposing their pride

While the longsuffering of God is waiting, as it did in the days of Noah.

And he keeps writing on the ground. The beat goes on.

And they ask again.

We don’t know how many times they asked. He gave them chance after chance to change direction. But they were set.

If Jesus will not denounce adultery, then everything we think about ourselves is wrong. If adulterers can be saved by God and healed by the Christ, then that means there is no point to my law-keeping. If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

And finally Jesus stands up and points his finger right at their dark place – “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…”

And the light shines.

What happens next is the supernatural power of God. If the light of Jesus Christ did not shine in their dark places, exposing, convicting and rebuking, they would have formed a line with stones. But Jesus’s words have power.

The same God who said, “Let there be light” also shone in the hearts of these wicked men. John says of them:

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

(Jn. 3:19-20 KJV)

He speaks. And then stoops back down to write on the ground – letting the light do its work.

And one by one, convicted by conscience, they all begin to slink away.

Until only one is left.

She also has a dark spot. She is a sinner. It seems to be clear that she was indeed caught in the act. Adultery. No excuse. She is exposed before everyone.

What dark places were in her heart? The longing to feel something? Guilt? Shame? Perhaps as a young girl she was attacked, and felt herself no longer pure. Perhaps she figured, “Why not have fun. This is all I’m worth anyway.” Perhaps she had her own trauma and hurt and helplessness. Being helpless and out of control is intolerable to the human spirit. At least, she thinks, I can have my control back.

Or perhaps it was a fear of discovery? Falling in love with the wrong man? Or perhaps she felt as if she had no choice for whatever reason.

Or she just got beguiled. We don’t know. But here is what we know. She was a sinner.

And she stayed. She stayed right there as all of her accusers, one by one, left.

And Jesus looks up and sees her.

Is anyone left?

No.

Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.

Because sin entered into the world, we love our darkness and fear the light. We have nightmares of being caught naked, unclothed. Exposed to the world.

We nurse our secret sins; bear our grudges.

Bury our trauma, our hurt, our pain. We cry out, like Tamar, “Where will I take my shame?” – and we hear no answer. So we wrap it up, carry it up to the attic and box it. And try to convince it to stay put.

But it doesn’t. Those dark places make us fearful. We don’t trust. We don’t open up. We don’ t love.

We commit adultery, but we can’t love. We cannot protect ourselves from the hurt that others do us, so we put on our happy faces and smile, and keep careful track of our grudges. And then we find ourselves picking up stones to kill and destroy.

The dark places overtake everything until goodness and beauty are gone, and all that is left is pain and isolation, destruction and sorrow.

 

And we will take comfort in the fact that at least we aren’t adulterers – like this Jezebel here.

At least we aren’t those people. That guy over there needs Jesus just a little bit more than I do.

And then comes Jesus with the light. He shines in our dark places. Right there.

He who is without sin…

  • Adam, where are you?
  • Cain, where is your brother?
  • Abraham, Sarah – leave your country, your safety zone, your refuge and go to a place that I will show you.
  • Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one that you love…
  • Moses, take off your shoes. The ground you are on is holy ground.
  • Samuel, Samuel

We pray for the presence of God. We long for him to smile upon us. To dwell with us. To be near to us. And when God answers that prayer for his presence, the darkness will be exposed. That is what light does, and God is light. All of our pain and hurt, all of our grudges and lusts, all of our sin and shame, will be exposed before the Lord and Judge of all. You have no options. The light will come.

And when that happens, you have only two options:

The first option – you can do what the scribes and Pharisees did: slink away. But that option always ends the same way: with death. With your darkness growing until you find yourself shouting “Crucify him, crucify him” because you cannot bear to look at the darkness of your own heart. But you cannot destroy it. Darkness never stays the same. It consumes everything else. Except the light…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it.

The second option. Stand still and wait before the Lord. Lord, here am I.

Be silent. No excuses, no blame shifting, no denying. Silent. You did it. You were caught in the act. You cannot fool God.

He knows all of the dark places, and either you stand before him naked and exposed or you continue to slink away, continue to sew fig leaves together.

But if you come out of hiding and stand before him, naked and exposed; When you bring to him all of your sins and your lusts and your grudges and your pain and your grief and guilt and shame; you will always hear his voice: “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. Make an excuse. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it isn’t so dark. Maybe he didn’t mean it. Maybe I was just tired, or just afraid, or just….

And all of those things that we do to justify it only shut us away farther and farther from the light. The light exposes. Notice this woman. She didn’t say, “Look, here’s the deal. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I haven’t had a date in a long time, and I just got carried away with the moment…”

Or whatever her story was. She waited silently for the judgment of the Son of Man.

Neither do I condemn thee…

Aren’t you tired of the war?

Isn’t it time to lay down your weapons?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

(Rom. 8:33-34 KJV)

When you come to the light, there is no room for darkness. When you come to light the shadows flee away. When you come to the light the corners are opened and cleaned and filled with light.

There are no dark places in the temple of God – and you are a living temple, made up of living stones – Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone.

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Filed under Gospel, Light, Repentance

We can’t fix it

We really want to. We want to fix everything. We even sometimes wonder why God isn’t fixing it.

Ministers molesting children. Men and women breaking up their homes through adultery, violence, abandonment, hatred, reviling. Drunkards in the pulpits. Injustice everywhere.

Sometimes it is overwhelming. And sometimes I hurt all over hearing the stories – YOUR stories. I hear you and my heart grieves. And I can’t fix it.

I can’t talk your abusive minister and elders into removing your excommunication for divorcing your criminally abusive husband. I can’t convince your grown children to become Christians. I can’t take away injustice. I can’t humble a proud man or convince a hater to put on love.

I would love to fix things, but then I remember that I am dust.

Stalin just tried to fix things. Marx just tried to fix things. Hitler tried to fix things. Pol Pot, Mao, Kim jong Il…

The world is littered with the corpses of the powerful men who tried to fix things.

The problem is sin. And the older I get the more I understand how powerful, complicated, tangled, horrible, fracturing and evil sin is.

The spot of paint inside the painting can’t see the painting. How can I even see what the problem is? How can I fix anything when I can’t even fully understand the tangled web of my own heart? I am simply a small fragment of the whole tapestry that only the Great Artist can see. I can’t see the creation from the perspective of the creator, for I am not the creator.

But here is what I know: Jesus hates injustice far more than we do. Jesus hates violence and murder far more than we do. Jesus hates adultery, cruelty and reviling far more than we can possibly imagine.

So why does it seem as if he is doing nothing about it?

He did do something about it.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5 KJV)

All of the violence, hatred, grief, sorrow, murder, hatred and reviling came upon him. He became sin for us.

The fact is this: If he cleansed the earth of all wickedness, there would be no one left. That includes you and me. The wrath of God against sin doesn’t excuse me, because it doesn’t play favorites. When I cry out for justice, I also cry out for mercy, for without mercy I cannot stand a moment. God sees the heart. And that means that I am in trouble.

So before Jesus purges the earth of wickedness, he redeems a people for himself. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.

Those nails were meant for me. That crown of thorns belonged to me. The abandonment and shame were mine.

And all of the injustice and hatred and cruelty that is in the world he bore in his body on the cross. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

But now that he has died and risen again, now that he has provided salvation, why doesn’t he come in judgment? Why is he allowing such evil cruelty to exist in his church?

Jesus does not delight in the death of the wicked. He is giving every opportunity for the wicked to repent. He does not follow the timetable of men, for he sees far more than we do. When he finally comes in judgment, it will not be the bloodbath of the kings of the earth, it will be no holocaust, no great purge of Mao or Stalin.

He will judge the earth in goodness and righteousness and equity. He will be merciful to those who confess his name, and he will come in judgment for all the cruel, the murderers, the liars, the hypocrites, the adulterers, the revilers – no matter what outer form they take. He knows the difference between the sheep and the goats.

The one who took our sorrows will also vindicate his own. He will come to pour out his wrath against sin.

And there is comfort in that. He will wipe away every tear.

In the meantime, I will do what I can do as a creature of dust. I will seek to find the right words to comfort and rebuke as necessary. I can listen. And above all I can point to the One who died for me and invite you to meet him, the lion who is a lamb. I can only do that with the Bible. I don’t have answers on my own. I don’t have the solutions on my own.

All I have is the word of God, the record of the apostles and prophets. But that is enough – sufficient to equip us for all that we need. It points us to Christ, who died for us and rose again the third day – according to the scriptures.

Hold to that. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.

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Here I am

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.” (Isa. 28:16 NASB)

As I was studying this passage, I saw something I had never seen before. The speaker is the Lord God. But there is an odd anomaly in the quote. The subject and the verb don’t seem to match.

The first word in Hebrew is “hineni”. It means, roughly, “Behold I”. It is used when one is summoned to announce his presence. Abraham says it to the Lord when the Lord calls him. Samuel says it to Eli, when he thought that Eli called him. It is often translated “Here am I”.

God also uses it for his own activity to announce his own presence. “Here am I.” He announces when he is coming in judgment, when he is making a covenant, when he is working redemption and righteousness and judgment in the earth.

Isaiah emphasized the “hineni” with the next word, which is a verb. But the verb is in the third person, when you are expecting the first person. “He is establishing”. It doesn’t fit the “Behold, I.” The Hebrew says, “Behold I he is establishing a foundation in Zion.”

Most translations and most commenters assume that there is a mistake in the verb, and that it should be pointed as a participle, translated, “Behold, I am the one who is laying a foundation”. Not too bad, except that I don’t like “fixing” the vowels in the Bible. And I think we are missing some poetic beauty. The meaning is there, but the emphasis is missing.

After Ephraim has finally rejected the Lord completely, mocking the prophet and dismissing the promised rest, ridiculing the promise of a redeemer, God could have easily dismissed his people entirely. He is scattering Israel in judgment. The Assyrian army will come and will carry the northern tribes away. They have made a covenant with death and therefore they will suffer the consequences of that unbelief.

But God will not cast off his people forever. He will gather together his church in a way that no one could ever see. Israel, Judah and all the nations together have become corrupt, unprofitable, cast away. They have all become “not my people”.

But God will lay a cornerstone, a stone of testing. True Israel, our Lord Jesus. He who believes in him will not be disturbed, restless, fearful – fleeing from one abyss to another abyss. But they will learn to rest.

How do we know? for God has announced his presence. Hineni. Here I am.

You have rejected me. But here I am.

 

I would translate the verse like this:

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Here I am.”
He is laying in Zion a stone, a stone of testing, a costly cornerstone, a foundation firmly placed. He who believes will not be hasty.

Isaiah 28:16

It is hard to capture in the English. But it is the announcement of God’s mercy in Christ. Here I am.

He has not left us with the covenant of death that we have willingly made, but has announced his presence. Here am I.

The covenant of death was broken because God took upon himself the flesh of Abraham in the womb of the virgin Mary. He paid that covenant and suffered the penalty of the broken covenant, that we might live. 

He didn’t wait for us to find him, for we weren’t even looking. “There is none that seeketh me.” He didn’t wait for us to overcome the curse ourselves. He didn’t come to find the righteous. He came to seek and save that which was lost.

The sheep have gone astray. they have been scattered. They have run from the shepherd. they have rebelled. And then he announces his presence. Here I am.

What we have in this verse is the promise of Emmanuel. God with us. There is where we find our rest. If we believe the promise, we can finally lay down our weapons and rest, even in the presence of our enemies.

Here am I. Such beauty in one little word!

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Filed under Gospel, peace, rest

I wanna know what love is

Yes, I know. A ridiculous song, and an even worse pick-up line.

That was my work-out music this morning, and then – because, you know, Valentine’s – Susan and I listened to my new Ed Sheeran album.

In one of his songs, he says something like “I can’t love you unless I love me first” or some such thing.

Whatever it was, it was the same sentiment as “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” which plagued the airwaves in the late 80’s. I am not sure if it was more offensive philosophically or aesthetically, but that is neither here nor there.

It goes back to 1 John.

I just finished preaching through 1 John. You can’t preach through 1 John without meditating on the nature and definitions of love. I like precision, and as a minister I believe we need to be precise in our words. I strive for precision, not sound-bites. So I think about words.

John tells us that “God is love.” Love is an essential attribute of God. God cannot be divested of love any more than God can be divested of Godhead. God’s attributes and his essence are identical, to put it into theological terms.

If you would like to learn more about this (and I think you should) I would recommend this excellent book by James Dolezal.

This means that there was never a time when God didn’t know what love was, for God is love, and God’s knowledge of himself is perfect.

Which leads to the next question – if God is love, and this is identical to his nature, then whom did God love before he created the heavens and the earth. We, of course, do not believe that creation is eternal. There was a time before creation where there was only God – before time and space and angels and men. God is the eternal I AM.

So whom did he love before he created? Love must involve a lover and a loved. There must be more than on person in order for there to be love. So whom did God love? The answer lies in the Trinity.

Jesus prayed,  “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

So here is where my mind is going after Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston: is self-love possible? By the very nature of love, the subject must reach out to an object outside of itself. To say that one must love oneself is to say that one must somehow divide into knower and known, subject and object, lover and loved, and turn love back on itself. Is love simply dissociation made into a virtue?

I think we must be precise in our language. Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum. Narcissus staring at himself at the pool is a mental disorder, not love. He has divided himself into subject and reflection, and has become an object of pity rather than a healthy human in God’s image.

In the words of Dylan – “He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool and when he sees his own reflection he’s fulfilled.”

So what should we call it? Dylan’s image certainly wouldn’t make a good valentine’s card. I don’t think “love” is the right word. It is a mental disorder, not love.

I think I know what they are getting at when they say, “love yourself”. But I would ask for more precision. I think that the world has enough narcissism. But at the same time, a person filled with shame and self-loathing is stuck unable to reach out of themselves to fully love another being.

So there is some truth to saying, “Love yourself”, it is just that the language is wrong.

How did Jesus put it:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(Matt 22:36-40)

And there, I think, is the key. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. But, it might be asked, how does one do that without first becoming a narcissist?

The answer, I believe, is in the first commandment. Love God.

If you love God, you also recognize and acknowledge the good gifts that God has given you. You refuse to despise and loathe your body, for God made it. You don’t reject the abilities God has given you, but understand that you have many good gifts given to you by your good Father in heaven.

You also know that Jesus came into the world to bear your sin and shame, so that is taken away and you have been born again. You are no longer the “worst sinner you know” but a child of the king, cleansed, sanctified, and in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s son.

This means that you are in the process of becoming more and more beautiful. You are chosen by God, loved by God, given every good gift by God.

So perhaps instead of saying “love yourself”, you should say, “loved by God.”

We love him because he first loved us, after all.

What this does is nip arrogance in the bud, condemn narcissism, and lifts our head above our own reflection to see that there is a whole other world besides the one in our head. There are people out there who need your kindness and love. There are people who need the glass of cold water from your hand and the meal from your larder. There are empty seats at your table. And you can only fill those seats in your heart when you look up and see the beauty and goodness and bounty of our loving God.

Correct perspective also nips shame in the bud. Forgiveness wipes the record clean and the new garments of Christ’s righteousness are made perfectly for you. A bespoke suit.

You are dressed for reception in the halls of the great king, who loves you and gave himself for you.

Isn’t this far, far better than “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

I apologize for getting Foreigner stuck in your head.

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Liberty

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Gal 5:1)

Let these words sink down into your soul. Grapple them to your heart, bind them as frontlets before your eyes.

You are complete in Christ. You are a dearly loved child of God. The curse of the law said, “Do this and live”. But that ensnared you in an endless cycle of attempting keeping up with a standard that you had already broken. How can you love God with your whole heart when God is angry with you because of your sins.

In the law, you can only approach God as a judge; never as a father.

But Christ fulfilled that law perfectly in your place. The curse of the law was placed upon him and he died instead of you.

And now you are set free. Set free.

Not to fulfill your lusts and to walk in hatred and enmity, but set free to love God and love your neighbor. You can now love freely without fear. You can walk in the commandments of God, which are good and give life and freedom of conscience. And when your conscience is free through the gospel you are free indeed.

So why are we so eager to be ensnared again in the endless cycle of “Do this and live”? Why do we spend thousands on books and conferences to tell us all the ways that we disappoint God, that we don’t measure up, that we have failed?

Why do we allow the celebrity preachers tell us that our clothes are too feminine or our voices are too high? Why do we allow the elite to tell us to “quit acting gay” whatever on earth that means? Does it mean that I am not supposed to like poetry and art? Does it mean that the schoolyard bullies were right and I am somehow not a man because I don’t play sports and don’t like hunting and can’t imagine sitting through an entire baseball game, much less playing one?

Why do we allow someone we have never met put us again in bondage by telling us how to submit to our husbands more, be more feminine, be meeker, be better, do more…? And then we pay them for it??

Does this make any sense to you?

God gave us Ten Commandments, and he added no more. As Christians we seek to please God. So here is what is pleasing to God. Love him and love your neighbor. And please quit paying celebrities to tell you how to be more manly, more feminine, more submissive, a better leader, what to eat, what to wear, what businesses to shop at, what businesses to avoid, what music to listen to, what books to read.

Why did we allow someone we never met convince us to never, ever allow our kids to read Harry Potter? Why did we allow someone we never met, who was never ordained and not married tell us to not allow our kids to date? Why did we allow an organization that spent hours and hours watching pornography so they could tell us how bad it is teach us about “family values”?

Does this make any sense to you?

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

If you like beer, buy one. If you want to wear a flowered pink shirt because you like the colors, wear it. If you like romantic movies and tear up at the end of Babe when the farmer says, “That’ll do, pig”, then by all means to so and don’t let some half-baked, self-promoting pseudo-guru continue to plague you with guilt because he has rolled his crystal ball and decided that you weren’t manly enough, or feminine enough, or submissive enough, or a good enough leader. (I need a deep breath after that sentence.)

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of the never ending line of rich, popular preachers continually adding more and more to the commandments of God?

Instead of continually searching your heart to see if you desire God enough, look at Christ and what he has given you. Instead of continually searching your wardrobe to make sure you clothes are manly enough, look at Christ, the Son of man and the son of God, and live boldly. Instead of searching the blogs to see if you are a submissive enough wife, simply look to Christ and live.

Stand fast in the life and liberty that he purchased for you with his precious blood.

Every time a new commandment is invented, we sell a little more of our liberty for a mess of pottage. It is the mentality of the slave. Quit making the bricks for Pharaoh. Quit giving these guys clicks. Quit going to their conferences and quit buying their books.

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

Look that transgender fellow in the eye and stop being afraid. Take your gay friend to lunch and stop being afraid. Love your wife boldly and quit fearing the opinions of people that you won’t ever meet.

As for me, I will continue to listen to Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, if I want to. And Pink Floyd and Queen when I want to, because sin isn’t something you catch off of a record. You might catch me listening to Gorecki or Passenger depending on my mood, but I certainly don’t check the opinion of some blowhard before I decide what kind of music I like. This is what liberty is.

If you look at my library, you will find Calvin and Berkhof, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. And I won’t ask your opinion before I buy a book I like. Because sin isn’t something you catch from reading the wrong books – otherwise Christ would not have died. If we could have been saved from our sins by proper censorship, we would not have needed Christ to die for our sins.

I will wear my sparkly paisley shirt and my lavender tie, and wear my stripey socks and use soap that makes me smell nice just because I want to, and I am created in God’s image and have no problem reflecting his beauty and strength and wisdom.

I will continue to moisturize because I like how my face feels when it isn’t all dried out and I just don’t give a fig anymore if some testosterone-challenged, knuckle-dragging, schoolyard bully thinks I’m effeminate or not. My wife likes me just the way I am and she’s the one who has to live with me.

And more importantly, God calls me his child. He has put my sins far, far away from me and calls me to live in liberty for his glory, and not according to the doctrines and commandments of men.

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Come to me and rest

13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying:`Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Exo 31:13)

If I did more, maybe I will be worthy of love. If I accomplished more, maybe I can leave a mark and not go down into the void.

If I worked harder, maybe people would like me more. If I wasn’t so lazy, perhaps I could get my father’s approval. If only I could have a few more hours, a few more moments, a little more strength…

If only I didn’t just spend an extra hour today resting, maybe I could have accomplished something…

It is subtle, but it looks just like the so-called puritan work ethic. Lazy boys starve and are cast away. Stupid boys are beaten and mocked. We’re just a little better than that. Read McGuffey. How will your kids learn Latin if you don’t work harder. That Ezekiel 4:9 bread won’t make itself. If you don’t work harder, your family might have to eat store-bought.

Stay vigilant. Don’t mess up. Don’t slack off. Even on the Lord’s day. God hates idleness. You are supposed to be taking a Sabbath, not slacking off. This is what makes this country great. Hard work, hard men. Let the others slack off. We’ve got work to do.

Don’t miss a trick. Don’t miss an opportunity. Pull up your man-pants and do more, do it harder, do it better. How will you get to college if you don’t get straight A’s. Slackers don’t win and losers don’t need to apply.

Perhaps if you weren’t such a lazy slacker, you could get God to pay attention to you. Perhaps if you weren’t so stupid and slow and good-for-nothing, you would be worthy of love…

 

And to all of these hateful voices, God says, “Stop.

“Take a rest. A Sabbath. You no longer work for the Egyptians. You no longer are a slave to sin. You no longer have to pretend to earn my favor. Child….rest.

“I commanded you to keep my Sabbaths so that you will learn that I the Lord sanctify you.”

I sanctify you…think of those words. Jesus himself pours his water over your head and cleanses you. His blood covers your sins from the sight of God. His righteousness fits your body perfectly. Your body – he made it. He made your mouth, he made your lips. He gave you your words, your speech, your tongue.

He knows that you are dust. This is why you don’t have to work for his favor. He knows you can’t. He carries you. He clothes you. He covers you. It is his pure water that washes all of the filth away.

Just rest, child of God. Just rest. One day in seven.

Silence those voices that tell you that 6 days and 24 hours a day are not enough. He knows you are dust, and need a rest. Buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and take a day. No dishes. No cooking. No cleaning. And just rest. Stop.

God gave this day to you, so that you would know that your Father loves you and knows that you are finite, weak, and human. Your bones need rest. You need rest.

Just stop. One day. Not a work that you do to earn God’s favor, but just stop and rest in his love. He sanctifies you.

25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
28 “Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Eze 36:25-28)

 

This is the Sabbath of God. The Pharisees turned it into a work to do to keep God from killing you. If you do it purely enough, then maybe God will leave you alone.

They missed everything. God gave the Sabbath so that man would know that Jesus is coming. He pours the water. He sheds the blood. He gives the Spirit. He gives rest to the weary soul.

And he gave us very practical instructions. One day in seven, rest. God gives you your daily bread. Your significance is found only in Christ. Your name is already written in the book of life. Your sins are already put away.

You already have God’s approval in Christ. How could you gain more? You already have treasure stored up for you in heaven. How could you gain more.

So rest. Let that email go for today. Let that phone ring for today. This is your day – God has given it to you. It is the Lord’s day, for he has risen from the dead. But he rose from the dead so that you could rest.

Rest, child. Let it go. Put it off. Gather with God’s people. Listen to the Lord grant you grace and peace. Sing praises to him. Pour out your heart to him.

Raise your voice to heaven. Watch the baptismal waters flow and remember that he has cleansed you from all sin.

Taste the bread and drink the wine and remember that his body was broken and his blood shed for you. For you.

So you can rest under his wings.

Rest.

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