Sin much? Love much.

“You need to start praying that God will show you the depth of your sin.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment. It didn’t sting like it does when someone boldly calls you out—at least not at first. It was a conversation with a mentor, my mom, and her delivery on this kind of thing is always gentle. But gentle with conviction.

And wisdom. It is one of many conversations that I play back over and over, even years after the fact. I’ve got dozens of these little gems, life lessons, that I can trace back to coffee and a chat with my mom.

When I did feel the sting, it wasn’t because she was calling me out for being a sinner. She was telling me I was a Pharisee.

At the first of the year I began reading through the New Testament, but lately I’ve been on a quest to understand worship. Everything I read gets filtered through that lens.

Church culture has staunchly settled on 20 minutes of music selections on Sunday mornings, calling that worship. But if we even bother to attend physically, we may check out spiritually. There continues the ubiquitous dispute over what we have labeled worship style. Does those two words together sound contradictory to anyone else? No? Just me?

But, if you go looking for guidance in the bible, worship in scripture can be perplexing. Often the word appears with little detail except, “And he bowed and worshiped.” In other places the word is used when a biblical figure makes a sacrifice, as when Abraham prepares to offer Isaac and tells the company with them, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5, ESV)

Huh. I’m not much further along than I was when I started this whole worship quest thing.

Then my morning reading brought me to this story. Jesus has dinner at the home of a Pharisee—you knew I’d get back to the Pharisee thing, right? A woman with a bad reputation found out where Jesus was, and her arrival at the feast made Simon the Pharisee indignant. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and poured perfume on them.

“He can’t be a prophet,” Simon thought. “If he were, he would know all about her.” I can just see Simon rolling his eyes and exchanging looks with other Pharisees at the table. In that age, in Simon’s world, the touch of such a woman—even a loving gesture on your nasty stinky feet–would be repulsive.

Never fear, folks. Jesus set the man straight. And true to form, He used a parable to illustrate His point. Rather, He used a parable so that Simon could make His point.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:40-43, ESV

See what He did there? He set this up for Simon to expose his own hypocrisy. From the parable, it may sound like this woman who seemingly had morals like an alley cat owed a bigger debt because of her sin. But if you read the gospels, a lot—an inordinate amount, really–of harsh words and stern warnings are reserved for the Pharisees, the supposedly less sinful.

John the Baptist kicked off the show by calling them a “brood of vipers” and talked about the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7-12). Later Jesus would soundly castigate them with words like “blind guides” and “hypocrites” because, among other reasons, they slam heaven’s door in the face of genuine seekers. And, oh yeah, the Pharisees are not actually entering the kingdom, either (Matthew 23:13-14). Then He would call them sons of the devil because—guess why?—they don’t love Jesus so there is no way that God can be their Father (John 8:42-44). Those two things—loving Christ and being God’s child—are irrevocably connected.

Here’s what it boils down to. Judgment is the same for anyone who does not respond to the invitation of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When He separates the sheep from the goats, there are no sub-categories. There’s not a special place for those who didn’t quite make it to heaven but aren’t so bad that they should go to hell. Either you enter the kingdom or you don’t.

Furthermore, the price for the woman’s sin and the price for the Pharisees’ sin is exactly the same—it cost the Son His life. Period. He didn’t have to give an extra sacrifice because these sins are worse than those sins. There’s no special negotiation that took place for those whose behavior serve as a cautionary tale trumpeted by the self-righteous.

What is so special about this woman is her worship. One difference between her and Simon the Pharisee is she knows the depth of her sin. Another is the depth of her love. Remember, loving Jesus and being God’s child are connected.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  (Luke 7:44-48, ESV)

Worship encompasses a lot of things. There are many examples in the bible that don’t look like this one, and we won’t always engage in such an emotional display of affection for the Lord. But I still feel there is a model for worship in this story that is important. Worship should always be more than a passive deference to God. I became His child because I love Jesus. It should be evident in my worship.

If I want my worship to be a genuine act of love for Christ, I need to understand the depth of my sin. I come back to that conversation with my mom often. That sting I felt for the exposure of my hypocrisy is not at all a bad thing. It makes me thankful for a rescue I don’t deserve, and for the enormous worth of the Savior whose life paid for that rescue.

For those who are in Christ, our sins, which are many are forgiven. We should “love much.”

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.

 

Death, Darkness, Law, and the Light

Daddy and Eden“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Matthew 5:17

On June 24, 2011, I arrived in Fort Worth to see my dad for the last time. My mom called while I was on the road to tell me that they had made plans to release him from the hospital to receive hospice care at home. But I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but without even seeing him, I knew he wouldn’t live through the night.

I’m no expert on how God communicates with believers, so I don’t want to cross a line and claim that it would happen this way for everyone. The day that I found out about his diagnosis—leukemia—I had the strangest sense that for a long time this testing of my faith had been rising up in the distance—the same way a mountain range appears on the horizon, slowly taking shape until each craggy peak is distinctly visible. God was preparing me. For several years before his illness, something inside me felt a little sad every time I said goodbye to my dad on the phone. One time, I remember actually saying to myself as we hung up, “Tell him you love him. There’s only so much time.” Simultaneously, God stressed his authority to me over and over. In every bible study, each time I sought His guidance, the Lord revealed Himself—He is on the throne. He is in control. He has proclaimed the end from the beginning. Even as I drove to Fort Worth on that terrible day, I heard from Him as clearly as if He were sitting in the passenger seat, “Katie, nothing touches you that hasn’t passed through Me first.” I prayed against bitterness. I asked to see His purpose.

The car rolled to a stop on my parents’ driveway, in the exact spot where I said goodbye to him on my previous trip. My parents always waved goodbye from the porch when a visit ended. On that day, he stood with me on the driveway and gave a hug I will never forget—the kind that’s almost too tight and your toes almost leave the ground but it’s exactly what you crave. I also needed words that he wouldn’t speak. I needed him to tell me, straight up, that he was dying. He kept it to himself. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have waited six weeks to return.

I flung myself and my luggage through the front door with acute urgency. Long overdue at the hospital, I was afraid that he would not live long enough for me to see him. Dread dripped from me, making every move clumsy and slow—like the all too familiar nightmares featuring monsters and dreamers with lead feet, unable to flee. There were only a couple of things to do: drop my bags, bathroom break, get to my dad. But I seemed to have lost the ability to efficiently command my own limbs.

With all of us in town at once, the only place available for me to sleep was my parents’ bed. Once inside, I froze at the foot of the stairs, staring up at their door just beyond the top step. On my previous trip, I’d peeked through that same door and saw him in bed trying to sleep. I remember how little of his hair was left. So very sick, but not admitting it—at least not to me. Now I was to sleep there in his place.

“There is only one door,” my brother had said of the loss that we faced. “There are no choices. One door. And you have to go through.” I really didn’t have time right then for metaphors, or for insight, or melancholy memories. My bags and I lumbered up the stairs while I attempted to push any real thought from my brain. Just put it on auto pilot. It’s time to go see him die.

On his last night at home, my mother found him, bleeding where he had fallen and hit his face on the nightstand. Leukemia patients are in great danger when they fall because their platelets might be so low that the blood won’t clot. She never knew how long he laid there, bleeding and bleeding. As I drove to Fort Worth, I’d tried to prevent myself from imagining what this had been like for them. She had called an ambulance, and I assume left the room the way it was when she found him. All day, I had sort of saved the inevitable hysterical crying fit for the impact of seeing the blood stain on the carpet next to the bed where I would be sleeping.

Mercifully, someone had cleaned the floor so I wouldn’t collapse at the sight of it. There was no trace of blood to be found.

Where I did have the breakdown was odd and unexpected. Shaking my hands dry at the bathroom sink, I caught sight of my own face in the mirror. A face which reminds me that, though I’m a long time Beasley now, I’m still a Prescott and favor my daddy. In that slight moment I confronted the features that I had inherited from him, and how proud I am to be his, how much I cherish the words she’s so much like her dad. Many, many things I had looked forward to in the coming years. Now fresh fear washed over me, fear of who I would be—who all of us would be–without him there.

“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I said through sobs to the face in the mirror.

But there were no choices—just one door.

Finally at the hospital, my anxiety rose with the elevator to the seventh floor. Nothing could settle me. Silence had hung between us, preventing us from talking about death. What would we say to each other now?

I had worried over that detail needlessly. Now at his bedside, I realized it was too late for talk. My family left me alone with him. I gently touched his arm, but he jerked away as if in pain. Words left me. I never spoke to him that I remember. After a moment, his eyes opened and fell on me, and he sat still so I could hold his hand. Quickly he looked away. I wish I had some assurance that he knew who I was.

For some reason, I imagined that the room would seem dim to him, growing darker and darker the closer he came to death. As I held his hand and watched him struggling, unsettled and in pain, I realized that someday we will all be there, facing the end. Suddenly I appreciated Jesus more than I ever had. Maybe I truly worshiped Him for the very first time.

Those few moments I spent alone with my dad are a turning point for me and my faith. So many things that I knew superficially, that I had believed with childlike faith, I now understand with more depth in light of God’s authority. The darkness is real. It is deep and vast, full of pain and horrors and evil. We should fear it. We should be racing to God for our rescue. Sin is evidence that this darkness exists, and we should run from it as if all the darkness of hell is nipping at our heels–because it IS. No wonder Jesus is the Light of the World.

Somehow, I did come to see God’s purpose in all this pain. Our sin separates us from Him. Without God’s mercy, that pain and darkness my father faced would be all we could hope for. Even after a lifetime of rule following, generosity, and goodness, my father could not reconcile himself to his God. We all fall short of God’s glory.

God is in authority over us. The law, God’s standard, is inflexible. It does not yield for anything. It is not redefined because of our weaknesses, because we refuse to resist temptation. It does not bend for our excuses, nor for any of our debate and reasoning. The law does not budge because we decide that evil is not evil after all. It does not change if we are rich or poor, educated or ignorant, or because we are born this way or that way. The law is the law even if you don’t believe you are under its authority. The law does not pass away—even for our good intentions or our seemingly right motives or for things beyond our control. The law must be fulfilled.

And this is a mission that only Jesus could accomplish.

We live most of our lives oblivious to suffering until it is thrust upon us. Believers spend years trying to understand the value of obedience to the Lord, trying to live in the belief that the rewards of Heaven—so intangible and abstract—are better than anything we could hope for here on earth. Yet Jesus did it in the opposite order. He understood suffering first. He already knew all the rewards of Heaven, but chose to leave it and suffer for us. He came to accomplish all that we can not. He followed each rule to the letter so that we could enter into relationship with the Father–so that what seems like the end, even though it is painful, does not lead to darkness after all. Jesus fulfilled the law.

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18

Grief left me so raw that I truly feel pierced by the truth of His Word. Darkness is so terribly dark. Why shouldn’t God make us face it, so that we turn to Him and walk in the light? I needed to see it, what it’s like when darkness closes in, to truly see Jesus’ worth and worship Him. I had to experience the pain to have real gratitude for God’s mercy and for the future with Him that Christ bought for me with His own life.

Three years ago today my daddy went home to the Lord. Once, when I was having miscarriages, I let loss interrupt my relationship with God. Now my father’s death is a catalyst that transformed my faith. I probably talk about it too much. It comes up in my teaching maybe a little too often. But my prayer is that someone reading this will allow God to reveal His purpose in their pain. I hope this story makes a difference to someone out there.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2