Measuring up

img_0026Several weeks ago my daughter, Mary, found her not-quite-three-year-old daughter, Emma, peering intently into a mirror. Curious as to the cause of her staring, Mary asked what she was looking at. Stoically, Emma replied she had no eyebrows. It was one of those moments when Mary most likely had to fight to control any laughter that threatened to erupt. After all, Emma was quite serious. Her light-blond brows are barely discernible and that, she realized, set her apart from the rest of her darker-browed family members.

img_0478Little more than a week had passed since Mary’s recounting of the eyebrow incident, when Emma approached me, tape measure in hand, and asked if I would measure her. I obliged, measuring around her tummy, a place or two on her legs, and both little arms. I knew her request was inspired by wanting to be like Mommy, her very favorite person. You see, Mary uses that same pink tape measure to periodically assess her progress since starting a strengthening and conditioning program last fall.

The occurrence of these two incidents in such proximity to one another impressed upon me, yet again, that much of what our children (and grandchildren) learn from us is caught rather than taught. And, ever-observant, they easily detect discrepancies between what we say and what we do. Consistency between verbal and behavioral lessons is crucial. But, when such consistency is lacking, our deeds supersede our admonitions as the old adage, “actions speak louder than words”, attests.

Most of us truly want to be good examples, to live lives of integrity. Yet, in spite of our best intentions, we frequently struggle to do what we know is right, what we yearn to do. The Apostle Paul described this tension between giving into the flesh and obeying the Spirit in his letter to the Romans (Romans 7:15) and to the Galatians. (Galatians 5:17) In fact, he described himself as the chief of sinners not withstanding all he did and sacrificed for the early church. Instead, he focused on the great grace that had been shown him by the only perfect One. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Oh that we would do likewise. Instead we too often compare ourselves to our fellow sinners, thinking, “I’m not that bad.” (Luke 18:9-14) But the thoughts and behavior of our fellow sinners are not our standard. Jesus’ perfect righteousness and sinless life are. We are to be holy as He is Holy. (Leviticus 11:45; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:14-16) Furthermore, Jesus made it clear that keeping the Law begins in our hearts and encompasses more than our actions:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

The longer we walk with Jesus and the closer we get to Him, the more easily we recognize our flaws and failings. There are times when a thought pops into my mind, uncensored, appalling. I’m shocked and saddened at the darkness that still dwells in me. Yet I know my dismay is evidence my heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh that desires to obey God. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) It also reminds me that the One who began a good work in me is faithfully transforming me into the image of his Son and will finish what He started. (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

I long to be a good role model for my children and grandchildren, someone worthy of emulation. But, even more, I want to point them to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2); the Servant Leader who set us an example in all things (John 13:14-15); the One who died that we might be clothed in His perfect righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21) He alone is our flawless standard.

O Lord, please help us to remember that all we have and are is a gift from you, leaving no room for boasting or comparing. (Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:17-18; Ephesians 2:8-9) And may we grow to resemble our elder Brother more and more, by the power of your Spirit at work within us.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Logs and Specks

img_6403One recent Grammie day[1] found me, 7-year-old Joshua, and almost-three-year-old Emma having a pleasant chat about some kid-friendly subject. Somehow the topic turned to an episode of disobedience on Emma’s part. I watched as my sweet, spunky sprite withered under the weight of her brother’s words. She rounded her shoulders and gazed intently at the floor while Joshua relished telling every detail about the infraction and the ensuing Mom-administered discipline.

Joshua’s words trailed off and Emma cast a cautious glance my way, no doubt wondering if I would compound her embarrassment by adding to Joshua’s diatribe. I calmly confirmed her behavior was objectionable and not to be repeated, but quickly turned my attention to her accuser. Most Grammie days provide at least one opportunity to quote the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12) This was such a time.

“Joshua, how would you like it if Emma told me all about your misbehavior and how Mommy disciplined you? Do unto others!”

I followed up with my best effort at an age-appropriate explanation of Jesus’ teaching regarding putting a higher priority on making sure our own behavior honors Him before we start pointing out others’ flaws. As recorded in Matthew 7, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we’ve been hiding and blame-shifting. (Genesis 3:1-13) Burdened with shame, we attempt to take the spotlight off of our own failings by magnifying the short-comings of others. But the One who knows our every thought and action (Psalm 139:1-12) isn’t impressed by our diversionary tactics or our self-righteous attitudes, as recounted in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Likewise, Jesus refused to allow the woman caught in adultery to be used as a pawn by the sanctimonious religious leaders who were trying to trip Him up, yet again, by presenting Him with what they hoped would be a no-win situation. Instead, Jesus reminded them of their own sinfulness:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

Forgiveness instead of condemnation. Isn’t that what we all long for? Praise God, we have a Savior who took our sins upon Himself and bore the penalty we deserved. (Isaiah 53:4-6) Furthermore, when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

We’ll continue to struggle with sin until we’re called Home, as so eloquently described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. (Romans 7:15-19) Indeed, each one of us has plenty of logs to deal with. Nonetheless, there are times when we must address the sins of others. Speaking truth in love, we are to restore them gently, being watchful lest we too be tempted (Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 6:1), always remembering how much God has forgiven us.

Somewhere in the course of all the reading I do, I came across this sentiment: “Be the kind of woman who can help a sister in Christ straighten her crown without telling anyone else it was crooked.”

Do unto others. Restore gently. Forgive much.

O Lord, if You kept a record of our iniquities, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3) Like sweet Emma and the careless words of her brother, we would wither under the weight of your wrath. But with You there is forgiveness. You are our compassionate Father, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) You know our frames and remember we are but dust. (Psalm 103:13-14) Please help us to do likewise, granting others the same grace we’ve received from You.

 

[1] My grandchildren and I refer to my bi-weekly, day-long stays while daughter Mary is at work as “Grammie days”.

Never say never

Unlike many of my posts, this week’s isn’t inspired by a garden epiphany or family events, past or present. No, this one is born of a desire to share some long-held reflections on the lives of two prominent men in Scripture. One’s actions remind me that no matter how long we’ve walked with the Lord, we’re still capable of committing unthinkable sins. The reclamation of the other affirms that God’s elect, even those who appear to be hopelessly lost, are never beyond His reach. The former shout a warning; the latter shines a beacon of hope.

King David
The shepherd-boy who slayed Goliath grew up to become God’s chosen king. Yet, after years of experiencing God’s favor and protection and blessing, he sinned by blatantly breaking several of the Ten Commandments. David didn’t begin by devising a murderous scheme. As is often the case when we go astray, his downfall resulted from a series of bad choices and poor decisions. Each one escalated the situation and led him further and further down the path of disobedience. (James 1:13-15)

IMG_64112 Samuel 11 recounts the whole sordid scenario. David’s first mistake? He didn’t lead his troops into battle against the Ammonites. (v. 1) He chose to stay home instead, which meant he was available to take an afternoon stroll on his rooftop. As he gazed about, he spied a beautiful woman, mid-bath. Instead of respectfully averting his eyes, he inquired as to who she was. Even when informed that she was a married woman, he had her brought to the palace so he could lay with her. (vs. 2-4) When this dalliance led to Bathsheba becoming pregnant, King David concocted a scheme to bring her husband back from the front lines so he could spend time with his wife. But Uriah was an honorable man and refused the conjugal visit while his fellow soldiers and the ark remained camped in an open field. Instead, he slept at the door of the king’s house. The next day, David encouraged him to go to Bathsheba, even making him drunk. Still Uriah refused. (vs. 5-13)

With his plan to avert suspicion about Bathsheba’s pregnancy thwarted, King David became more desperate and his devices more diabolical. He instructed his commander, Joab, to abandon Uriah on the battlefield so that the enemy forces could easily take his life. His wretched orders were carried out and Uriah perished. (vs. 14-25) David took the widowed Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son. (vs. 26) But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. (v. 27, emphasis mine)

God doesn’t let his children’s wanderings go on forever. Like a loving Father, He disciplines those who belong to Him. (Hebrews 12:5-11) And so He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with a story that at first incensed him and then brought him to his knees in repentance. (2 Samuel 12:1-9)[1] God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from our sins. (1 John 1:9) Nonetheless, we must often deal with the consequences of our behavior and for David, the consequences were dire indeed. (2 Samuel 12:10-14)

Saul
Saul’s transformation is every bit as astounding as David’s disgrace. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul was one of the most zealous pursuers and persecutors of the early believers. He was there, giving assent, when Stephen was stoned. (Acts 7:58) And when the great persecution of the church took place, he entered house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3) Still breathing out murderous threats, he obtained letters from the high priest empowering him to search the synagogues of Damascus for others belonging to the Way that he might bring them, bound, to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

But on the way, Saul encountered the living Christ. He was blinded by His radiant presence and convicted by His question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6)

Saul’s reputation for harassing believers was widely known so it’s understandable why Ananias was reluctant to follow God’s instructions to go to Saul that he might lay hands on him and restore his sight. (Acts 9:10-14) Nevertheless, God assured Ananias he had nothing to fear from the man He’d chosen to carry His name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15) His sight restored, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul began boldly proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God, confounding his listeners who knew him before his conversion. (Acts 9:17-22)

The man with a stellar Hebrew pedigree, (Philippians 3:4-6) who hated those of the Way and the Savior they worshiped became Paul, the apostle. He counted his upbringing and all he’d previously depended on to gain favor with God as loss in light of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ as Savior. (Philippians 3:4-11) And, just as Jesus told Ananias he would, Paul suffered much for his Lord. (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Two men. Two lives touched by God and empowered by the Spirit. Two stories recorded for our edification. (1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16) Ultimately, both are about God’s amazing grace. None of us is saved or lost based on our deeds. Our salvation is a gift from our loving Father, leaving no room for boasting. (Ephesians 2:8)

Let us never become complacent or proud, thinking we’re beyond the reach of temptation, but avail ourselves of the means of escape God provides. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13) Neither let us grow weary in praying for our unbelieving friends or family members, remembering that none of the Good Shepherd’s sheep will be lost. (John 10:27-30)

[1] See also Psalm 51, David’s powerful prayer of repentance.