A Valuable Work In Progress

Valuable Work In ProgressThere is a very old saying (much, much older than I am) “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The intent of this quote is that you don’t lose something valuable when you discard what is undesirable. Unfortunately, people can be and have been mistreated this way as well. Sometimes this happens by labeling people by their issues, behaviors or struggles, and sometimes this happens when people label themselves by assuming a particular issue, behavior or struggle IS their identity. Someone can be or can even feel “written off” by other people who disagree with them or their lifestyle. This has happened since the days of the bible and as often as people are labeled or judged, we are just as often our own worst enemies. We know ourselves better than anyone else, we are most aware of our own shortcomings and we assume those around us are as focused on them as we are. When we know that God is aware of our issues this becomes an even bigger problem because our tendency is to run from the only one who not only can help, but is so serious about saving us that he gave his life for us. Even while we mock and reject his sacrifice of love he waits for us patiently because he is loving and good. What makes us so nervous about being honest about our sin issues with God?  Most of us have a  really hard time seeing God completely. We get stuck on an attribute that we either like or dislike and focus on one small portion of him. God is a very big and extreme God. The bible describes him as both a lion and a lamb, and yet even that is just one small glimpse of a description. When I was standing on the beach in Monterey CA, I was watching the waves crash into the rocks and appreciating the soft sand on my feet. I thought about all of the people like me who love the beach for the soft warm sand, and then I was looking out at those giant waves crashing onto the rocks and thinking about how dangerous that would be if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought about being capsized at sea, and how extreme and dangerous it is out there on the open sea, yet how peaceful and beautiful that same view could be from the view of a cruise ship. I thought about how big and powerful God is… like the ocean, and yet how peaceful God is… just like the beach and the soft sand. The bible describes God’s voice like “the sound of many waters,” which could be like the sound of waves crashing if you’re visiting the beach. That is both a powerful and a peaceful sound all at once! Sometimes we as humans have a hard time grasping or even wanting to accept that God in his his full and enormous capacity is this extreme in his nature. One example of this is that God is very serious about sin and sin has to be punished. Another example is that God is full of love, grace, mercy and kindness and he forgives sin. Both of those statements are actually fully true, but cannot be separated from each other. God is very, very serious about sin because sin not only damages the people he loves, but sin has a penalty that destroys relationships and separates us from him. He knew there was no way we could live a life in relationship with him and also pay the penalty for all of our sin. Because of his mercy and grace he paid our penalty through his son Jesus to restore that relationship with him that he always intended. This doesn’t mean we continue living in sin. It means that he loved us enough to not leave us in our mess! It means that we surrender our lives over to him just as he surrendered his life over for us first as an example of love. It’s not about a list of rules, he does the work in us as we surrender. It’s love in action in the purest form. It’s a daily relationship and that’s why no two people can ever compare notes in their relationship with God. It’s a personal walk. Kind of like a personal trainer working with someone on an individual plan. He will push you, encourage you, and hold you acountable but unlike the trainer, his motivation for you is love. 

The problem is, overall, the general population concludes that we’re all pretty good people so most people don’t think they are in need of saving in the first place. Nobody wants to be told they have sin issues. We live in the “Don’t judge me” culture. After all, who are you to tell me what is right for me anyway?  Think of a time that you have accidentally touched something so filthy and disgusting that your internal radar went into overdrive. What was your reaction? I know for me personally it goes something to the effect of me throwing the offensive item as far from me as possible, as quickly as possible and depending upon how bad the violation, it may also include me washing myself with bleach repeatedly. Yes, I know this may sound a bit extreme and I do confess to be a bit of a germ-o-phobe but everyone has their limits, so for this illustration if we can all think of what those limits may be for ourselves. Whatever that filthy vile thing is that we could never bring ourselves to touch. This is what the sin in our life is like. The problem is, we don’t view it quite that way. In fact, we have gotten so cozy with our sin that we have taken up an identity with it. We have given our issues cute pet names and over-moralized ourselves. I have heard people say things like “God knows my heart” so many times as if to excuse or clear themselves of responsibility for their actions. In most cases it was used to justify manipulative behavior. The bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things And it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives?” Jeremiah 17:9.  Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”  The best analogy I have ever heard for us trying to get to heaven on our own merit was when someone compared it to us trying to swim from the United States coast across the Pacific Ocean to try to get to the Asian coast on our own. Some of us might be able to swim for a half mile to a mile, some more conditioned athletes might cruise for a few miles before hitting sheer exhaustion, picked up by the coast guard only to find out we didn’t even make a mark on the map. Nobody is going to “almost make it”.  It’s just impossible! The biggest relief should be to know that we don’t have to work our way into heaven. This is not an excuse not to give God our very best. It simply means we were never meant to do this out of our own effort and trying to do so on our own makes us bitter, frustrated and hateful people. When we think we are not what we are expected to be we lose hope and feel trapped.

If we are not supposed to stay in our sin, but we are not supposed to work our way into heaven then how does change come? This only comes by daily relationship. Time spent with the Lord in worship (thankfulness and appreciation for who God is, prayer (conversation), and in his word (read the bible- doesn’t have to be a lot! Just something to take with you for the day.) This is what brings change. The more we read his word and the more time we spend with him the more we become like him. The good news is that he is not disgusted or surprised by our imperfect condition. He already knows us and loves us through our weaknesses and does not expect perfection.  He just expects us to grow.

God is not angry at you. He is not waiting for you to get things together before he’ll help you. He’s ready for you right now. Right in the middle of your mess. He’s never loved you more! He wants you to trust him to walk this out with him. No matter what it is, he’s seen it all. Just you and him, step by step. I promise you that it won’t make any sense to you while you’re in it, but if you’ll just trust him day by day you will see change. You will want to give up over and over and you will run into opposition but keep your focus on him and you will look back one day and see just how far he led you out of your mess and you will know it was God that did the work. He is so patient and so loving. I can tell you from my own experience that I have stumbled through this and he has never once deserted me.  One of the most encouraging verses to me is this one. Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence. For He knows our [mortal] frame; He remembers that we are [merely] dust.” Psalm 103:13-14

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