Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goodbye to Sinful Pride

This is a draft of this morning's sermon. I'll try to edit it later.
Purple. Purple can be the color of repentance—but this dirty purple cloth stands for pride.
Purple is the color of pride because a long time ago only the most wealthy and the most powerful could afford it. The purple color came from crushed shells, crushed like people are crushed when they run into this sin. People all over the world are crushed by powerful proud people… so much suffering, slavery, prejudice, persecution, hatred—people not thinking of others but only of themselves and their own advantage—when we were in Puerto Rico after Christmas I started reading this book “Caribbean”—it’s such a beautiful part of the world but so much war and killing and slavery and suffering… so much comes from pride.
Pride likes to be in control. Pride likes power. In the Garden of Eden how did the devil tempt the man and the woman? It wasn’t really about eating the fruit… Genesis 3:4 says that the real temptation was to be like God, knowing and deciding for ourselves what is good and evil--not needing to listen to God anymore, to be strong and wise and good – and in control. Like God.
Pride keeps me from seeing the truth. I don’t need to learn any more. I don’t need to listen. Pride says “I have my mind made up—don’t confuse me with any more facts.” When I have suffered in my life for a long time often it’s because of pride. People who love me try to tell me I am wrong about something, but when I am proud I keep on going no matter what they say. Pride keeps me addicted. Pride does not let me seek a cure.
Someone has said that it’s insanity to keep doing the same things the same way and expect a different result—I wonder if it’s less insanity and more just being stubbornly proud.
So who is proud in our gospel today? The Pharisees—who lived holy lives so everyone would know how good they were—and King Herod. King Herod’s purple purpose was stay on top, to stay in power, to stay in control. And you don’t need to be a king or queen to relate to that. How often do I want to stay in control? Like I’ve said before—we don’t look at sins to point at other people—we look at them so you and I will personally go to the cross. So you and I will know the price Jesus paid to release us – me – and you – and you – to release you and me from my terrible pride.
You and I – we’re always wanting to be in control.
Pride is the original sin. But what God wants… what God wants is for us to let Him be in control, to let God see us and take us as we are, to admit that we are weak and foolish and full of sin, to let ourselves be gathered by God like a mother bird gathers the little chicks under her wings.
Look at verse 34 of our gospel lesson… “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” says Jesus. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her little ones under her wings, and you are not willing!”
When Jesus says this he’s not actually talking only about a particular city. There was violence in Jerusalem again earlier today… It's impossible to think about Jerusalem in Israel and not be so sad over the division there… and the wall that is going up between Israelis and Palestinians.
Suzanne Guthrie writes: “In Christian symbolism Jerusalem is everyplace… Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is the whole Earth. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.” War comes from pride. Patriotism can be good, but it can also give me lots of reasons not to think that maybe, just maybe, there are parts of life where I am wrong.
We are Jerusalem here in Dassel and Cokato—and when we are divided there is this same sadness, and this same yearning God has to gather us all under his wings.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her little ones under her wings, and you are not willing!”
You and I don’t like to be dependent like a baby bird, with our ugly little mouths open waiting to be fed. We want to think that we are good and loveable –
• We are sometimes like Narcissus, a handsome young man in Greek mythology. All he could think of was himself – he couldn’t get away from his reflection.
• And we’re sometimes addicted to being respectable – addicted to thinking that we’re really good people doing the best we can. We say “no body is perfect” but inside, we think we’re doing pretty well, and, after all, we’ve been in this town for generations and gosh darn it, my great-grandparents built this or that church or were charter members.
But when you or I are proud, we are not willing to be gathered under Jesus’ wings – under the wings of the cross --+-- like a bunch of poor, frightened baby birds.
Is that why we don’t have people lining up for prayer ministry during communion on Sundays, because we’re just too proud?
Or, is it pride that keeps us from being desperate like Abraham who cried out “O Lord God… all is lost… I don’t see how your promises are going to come true.”
Is it pride that keeps us from following God, so we look up like Abraham, see the stars in the sky, and hear God say, don’t be afraid! Look! See the stars… look… how many are there? That’s how much I am going to bless you and those who come after you—as many as the stars… “So shall your descendants be.”
There is a glorious future when we give up our pride and come to the Lord.
So, it’s time to just give it up.
It’s time to quit hanging on to anything besides the goodness of God—the goodness of God we see on the cross, where Jesus died for proud people like me.
Are you stubborn? Are you self-reliant? Have you been in a position where the people who love you have been trying to tell you something but you just won’t listen?
I’ve been in a situations where dear God-loving friends have told me to just give something up and I am so stubborn. I’ve been in situations where I have suffered so much because I just won’t learn.
When that happens, God leaves me alone… Verse 35 gives us the terrible truth—God can just leave me to suffer… “your house is left to you.” Go ahead and live like you want to… go ahead and suffer… you won’t see me until you are willing to say “Blessed—how wonderful it is to give up control to the Lord.” Someday we will learn that we’ve been proven wrong. Someday, one way or another, we will come to our knees before the Lord, and when we live and die in trust, he will save us… even from our pride.
In the newsletter this month I put in a piece written by my daughter’s friend Gintare… She writes something like this: Going back is not my number one preference. I would rather keep on going—even if when I do I arrive at a dead end. But when I decide, humbly, to turn around and get back to the place where I did make the wrong turn, my Savior Jesus will be waiting for me there, to reaffirm that I am his beloved child, and that he still delights in me, no matter what.
So we take our pride, bring it to the Lord, and huddle, like little frightened birds, under his wings.
Pray for the removal of pride.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sin Roster

Tomorrow evening our youth director and seminarian will begin our Lent series on the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins."  I introduced the series on Ash Wednesday - you can read a draft of that message at What's In The Way?". 

Here's the sin roster & schedule as of today:
  • SLOTH - Wed., Feb. 24
  • PRIDE - Sun., Feb. 29
  • ENVY - Wed., Mar. 3
  • ANGER - Sun., Mar. 7
  • LUST - Wed., Mar. 10
  • GREED - Wed., Mar. 17
  • GLUTTONY - Wed., Mar 24
There is only one way to get free of these sins. We see that one way at the cross of Christ. It doesn't work to develop "virtues" (good habits). Read "Deadly Virtue" to learn about that dead end road.  The only way is to die with Christ.  How does that happen?  Through God's Word and the "symbolic yet real" gift of Baptism. 

We'll be looking at Romans 6:1-14 to learn more about this.
      What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Praise God that we can be set free -- not through OUR death, but through the death and resurrection of the one who suffered in our place. All praise to Jesus the one Savior and

Friday, February 19, 2010

Deadly Virtue

During Lent this year we are going to the cross of Jesus with the "Seven Deadly Sins" and all the other garbage in our lives. The other garbage includes all the "good" things we do under our own power.

Virtues like being a good, hard worker, being humble, self-controlled, content, self-confident, and even LOVING may make you and I easier to live with, but those same virtues will keep us away from our Savior unless we recognize that they are fatally flawed and as damnable as the worst of sins. Our good qualities, no matter what they are, will not save us. They can also become terribly irritating to the ordinary human beings out there in the world unless they come from a humble and desperate relationship with the Servant Savior, Jesus Christ.

The following is from "The Double Cross" by Steve Swanson (Augsburg Publishing 1980).
Martin Luther says we have three enemies: “Sin, Death, and the power of Satan.” When we first discover that sin is our enemy, we cast about for some sort of friend to help us combat it. Unfortunately, our first choice of a friend to combat sin is usually not Jesus Christ, but rather a set of actions we call virtue. When we single-handedly team up with virtue to combat sin, we always discover virtue to be a false friend. Apart from the power of the Spirit in Jesus Christ, virtue always double-crosses us. Misguided virtue betrays us, stabs us in the back. Any virtue that we develop on our own is eventually twisted into sin.

So we bear a double cross: the cross of deadly, damning sin – and the cross of perverted and “deadly” virtue. It is only through the Spirit’s call that we can be pulled away from the double cross and directed to the single cross, the cross of Jesus Christ. On that cross Jesus died to forgive our sin and lead us to real virtue, to real sanctification.

Sin and virtue, then, aren’t as completely opposite as we might at first believe. One of the shocking truths about sin is that we seldom commit it for an avowed evil purpose. In Dante’s long poem Purgatory, he has Virgil say that all deeds arise from the love of good – which is to say that whenever we choose to do anything, however evil it might be, we do so believing our action to be ever so good.

This creates a label problem. If what we do seems good to us, we are not likely to call it sin. Likewise, when we finally come to recognize that an abused virtue is actually bad for us, we will think it absurd that we ever thought of it as a virtue at all.
What do we do?  "In the midst of this confusion" writes Swanson, we "finally cry out for help." We go, often with tears, hopefully with friends... We go in prayer to the cross of Jesus and to God's Word.  There, the Holy Spirit helps us "measure God’s will and God’s law against what our own good or bad action do for or to someone else."

"Wretched man that I am!" says Paul in Romans 11:24-25, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Only through Jesus and His gift of the Holy Spirit can we be saved and transformed for the good purposes of God.  Come to Worship during Lent and let God do His good work, stripping you of your sins and your homemade virtues, giving you a new beginning, every day, at the cross of our Lord.

Redefining Progress

The following article by Gintarė Varankeviciute is from the February 2010 issue of the LCC International University Student Times, published in Lithuania.
“If first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again“ and never forget that your life is all about forward movement towards a set and desired destination (whatever it may be). Forgive my ‘unsystematic’ writing techniques, but I assure you that they are used with an intention to show that there are times when we forget the other part of the sentence- our forward movement should have a destination- a purpose. If this issue does not apply in your life, I have yet another subject matter to address.
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity writes: “Progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Did you ever hear anybody say (loudly and proudly) that ‘moving backwards’ can be counted as a wise and sensible decision and that it can even be life giving? My assumption is that if/when one does decide to go back, he also will have to face the place where the wrong turn was made. ‘If first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off…lay down your pride, turn around and go back in humility’- a new definition of progress or ‘the most progressive man’ as C. S. Lewis would say.

I have to admit that going back is not usually my number one preference. Most of the time I would rather keep on going and hope that there is an alternative route somewhere along the way, that will get me back on the right track. I simply HAVE TO move forward. The further you go…the closer you are to…what? DEAD END?! At least that is where I find myself if I put my hope in that alternative route and not in the humbling truth that when I will decide to turn around and get to the place where I made the wrong turn my Savior will be waiting for me there, ready to reaffirm that I am His beloved, His creation and that He delights in me.

I don’t know about you, but personally, that gives me so much ‘breathing space.’ In this high-tech, fast-moving world, constantly demanding me to be actively engaged in ‘forward movement’ I find myself astounded, humbled and relieved by the unquestionable wisdom of ‘doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.’
Thanks Gintarė, for setting us straight.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's In the Way?

Here's a first draft of my Ash Wednesday message.  Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent.

Lent is a 40 day journey, a 40 day heart-cleaning.  During Lent God calls us to notice what it is in our lives--not in the lives of other people--During Lent God calls us to notice what it is in OUR OWN lives--in my life and in yours that keeps us from experiencing the Love and Joy and Peace that God gives. 

Two thousand years ago God the Father, creator and giver of all good--2,000 years ago God the Father sent his Son Jesus to be born among sinful human beings like you and me.  Jesus then carried our sins in his body to the cross, where they were taken care of once and for all.

As long as we live in these bodies, however, and as long as we try to figure things out with our sinful and confused brains WE WILL KEEP PICKING UP SINS that need to be brought to the cross over and over again, because this really is a broken and evil and sin filled world.

There are lots of ways to talk about sins--there are as many ways to sin as there are people in the world!  One way to talk about them in Christian history has been in terms of the "Seven Deadly Sins."  I'm not sure why they are called "deadly."  Every sin is deadly.  But, still, the list of "Seven Deadly Sins" is a helpful way for us to see what there is in my life and in yours that needs to be brought to the cross.

Next week, when you come on Wednesday, we'll look at the sin of "Sloth."  One of the dirty rags here in the front of the church is a symbol of sloth, and it's this one, this blue one.  When people say they're "blue" it means they're sad and have no energy at all. When we don't think we can do anything we sin against the one who gives us our life!  God wants us to trust him to bring us through those sad times.  So, during Lent this year, we'll bring all the things we don't do but should do, all the relationships we leave un-repaired, all the issues we leave un-studied, all the work for God we leave undone--we bring it and leave it at the cross.

After that we'll look at the others: Purple pride -- purple is the color of royalty.  Pride makes us want to run things, to manage things, to be "king" or "queen" instead of leaving management to God.  Green is the color of envy.  There is a kind of sick feeling we have when we realize that someone else has what we want.  We get sick with jealousy and think everyone else has it better than we do.  Anger - red.  I have seen so much anger.  And your anger--my anger--the way we get mad and hate each other--that does NOT do God's work (James 1:17). 

All these things--our pride, our envy and jealousy, our anger - they need to die.  They need to go to the cross with Jesus.  Read through the stories of Jesus death and see how all these things were the sins that brought Jesus to the cross.  And Jesus takes care of them there.  When we bring them to Jesus, he takes them and they die.

Let's see what else we have.  Filthy fuchsia -- there's an out of control color.  God gives us the gift of our sexuality to bind a man and a woman together for life, to make a family.  Outside marriage sexual relationships run wild and we sin against our own bodies.  Yellow--the color of gold--it stands for greed--wanting and using money for ourselves.  And orange, a fall color, a color of the harvest--this is for gluttony--eating and eating not for good, but more than what is good.  All these sins--these sins that harm us and others--they need to go to the cross too.

So that's what we'll do during Lent.  We'll examine our lives.  There are many more sins--fear, gossip, stealing, not honoring parents, not loving God above all things--but we'll use these seven during Lent.  Every sin is a barrier--sin causes a separation between ourselves and the life God wants for us--a separation between ourselves and God.  So we take those sins and bring them to the cross.  

And when we bring them, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control God wants to give us--those things can flow in our lives, and we will give glory to God who takes our sins and dies in our place, in your place, in my place, carrying all our sins in his body--and then, on the third day, rising and giving new life.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fixing Problems (or at least trying to)

Someone contacted me a moment ago to let me know that they were unable to play the audio of last Sunday's sermon because they needed PERMISSION or something.  I hadn't intended there to be that problem.  It is fixed now.  I apologize and am GRATEFUL to the person who pointed out the problem!  THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Many times we can fix problems if someone mentions them.  Many times we don't know if there is a problem unless someone speaks up.  That is true in so many ways.  For example, as we have been dealing with "issues" in our church recently I haven't known that some people were feeling uncared for and even rejected.  We've found out that is true, now, and we can begin to take steps to correct it.  But that "fix" will probably take longer.  We human beings are much more complex than an internet access issue!

In any case, THANK YOU to all the brave souls who let us know when something is awry.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

When All Is Lost (audio)

Preliminary preaching notes for the Feb. 7 sermon "When All Is Lost" were already posted Saturday evening.

Here you can find links to the audio and, below that, the key Bible texts.  When we admit we are lost, then God can do great and wondrous things with us, lifting us and giving us new life, new purpose, and new love.
  • Click HERE to listen to the 8:30 a.m. sermon.

  • Click HERE for the 11:00 -- it includes the song "Here I Am, Lord" following the message.  It also includes a 30 second GAP about 1/3 of the way through... that's where the tape was flipped over... sorry about that. 
Before each I read the Gospel from Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus calls Peter, James and John to follow him so they can "catch people." In that story there's a point where Peter sees God's power at work and falls to the ground, saying "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

A similar sentiment is heard in the "second reading" for the day from First Corinthians 15:1-11--a passage of witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead where Paul calls himself "unfit" to be one of Jesus chosen apostles.

But the key text for the sermon is from Isaiah 6:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

9 And he said, "Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.' 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed."

11 Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; 12 until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. 13 Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.

Carried Through the Waiting

As I'm preparing in my office this morning, I'm listening to KTIS radio.  I just heard two WONDERFUL songs...

One is "While I'm Waiting." as sung by John Waller.  It's from last year's excellent movie "Fireproof."  Here are the lyrics--you can listen to a music video of the song at this link.

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I'm waiting
I will serve You
While I'm waiting
I will worship
While I'm waiting
I will not faint
I'll be running the race
Even while I wait

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it's not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting on You, Lord

The other song I just listened to was "He Will Carry Me" by Mark Schultz.  You can listen to it once at this link -- couldn't find a video.

You’re strong
I’m weary
I’m holdin’ on
But I feel like givin’ in
But still You’re with me

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him
Whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will
Ever need
And He will carry me

I know I’m broken
But You alone
Can mend this heart of mine
You’re always with me

And even though I feel so lonely
Like I’ve never been before
You never said it would be easy
But You said you’d see me through
The storm

When times of trial and despair come, the music of Christian artists lift and carry me because those lyrics reflect God's Word and God's heart for me, and for you. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

When All Is Lost

Here are some snippets from scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Feb. 7, 2010.
"Woe is me," said Isaiah, "I am lost."
"I am the least... unfit..." Those are Paul's words.
And Peter said: "Go away from me... I am a sinful man."

When have you felt all is lost?  Is there something you have done, or that someone else has done, something you said--has something happened that is so horrible that there is no possible happy ending?

If that is the case for you, God has brought you here today for one reason--God wants you to admit that there is no hope--no hope you can find on your own anyway.
  • God has brought you here so you can be laid out before God as one slain by His Word and almighty power.  
  • God has brought you here so you and I can be dead to ourselves--so that we will depend wholly, completely, totally on Him--and finally be raised up and sent out with HIS love and HIS power alone.
The Isaiah 6 reading (see Sweet or Bitter?) ends with God's words that bring hope only after all is lost--when cities lie waste, when the land is "utterly desolate," after the Lord has sent "everyone far away and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land."

Isaiah 6:13 says this, speaking symbolically of the people as if they were a forest:
"...Even if a tenth part remain in it it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.
Where we live now I don't get a chance to do a lot of work outdoors.  I shovel a bit and in the summer do some mowing.  But in other places I've certainly learned how plants and trees come back after you cut them down.  That's the sense here.

Another translation of Isaiah 6:13 says this:
The country will look like pine and oak forest with every tree cut down— Every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.
When all is lost, when there is no hope left, that's when God's good work really begins.
  • First God's Law comes to us like an axe or like fire or like a chainsaw, cutting down any ability you or I might have to stand on our own.  
  • Then, when we are laid out, charred and dead because of God's judgment on our sin--then the good news--the holy seed--new life--resurrection and purpose and joy--when all is lost the good news comes and we are wholly given to our Lord.
Today you are here to hear God's Word--God's HOLY Word which slays us!  You and I are here so we will give up on our own abilities and know the only hope we have is in a personal relationship with God--with Jesus--and receive that hope direct from God.

Today we are here, first of all, to let God examine us... Is there anything in me that is sinful or harmful or not given totally to God's purpose?  Is there anything in me that stands against my Lord? If so, God needs to cut me down so he can raise me up.

Psalm 139--the psalm after the one assigned for today--Psalm 139 ends like this:
Search me out, O God,
   and know my heart;
try me
   and know my restless thoughts.
Look well
   whether there be any wickedness in me,
and lead me in the way that is everlasting. (Psalm 139:22-23)
Are you willing to let him examine you?  Am I?

On Friday night Toni and I saw a movie where a family takes in a homeless African-American teenager.  There is a scene in the movie where an investigator comes to check on the family's motivations--whether they really have the best interests of the young man at heart or whether they are trying to manipulate the situation for other purposes.

Are we willing to let God examine and try us--to even examine the best of our intentions?
  • Am I part of the church because I feel a dependence on God?  Or am I just trying to look good and be comfortable with my church friends?  
  • Are my attitudes about issues in the church really motivated by God's love and God's truth--or am I just trying to use religion to make me feel good about my prejudices?
These are serious questions.  The Word of God comes to examine EVERY area of my life and yours..

During the upcoming season of Lent we'll be looking at the Seven Deadly Sins.  How have laziness, pride, envy, anger, lust, greed and gluttony infected even our good intentions?

One of the resources we're looking at for the Lent season is a book The Double Cross--it shows us that not only are our sins deadly, but so also are our virtues. Anything we do under our own power are hopelessly infected and useless.

The ONLY way to find hope and help is to let God examine us, judge us, and lift us up by his grace.

We find a word picture of this in Hebrews 4:13... the verse tells us that we are "naked" and "laid bare" to the eyes of God--to the eyes of the one who will judge us.  The English words "laid bare" in that verse are from the Greek verb trachēlizō.  You can hear the word "trachea" in that... and the word gives us a picture of God who takes us and bends us back so our necks are visible...  the College Press commentary says this:
"It is as though God either has us by the throat like a wrestler or has our neck bent back ready to slay us as an animal sacrifice. We may prance a little now in insolent arrogance, but there will be none of that in the judgment."
When all is lost--that's the when the SECOND part of God's Work can take hold in our lives! 

It's when we know we are lost that God's good news comes in the most convincing and powerful way.
  • When we stop trying to protect or justify ourselves, then we, like Isaiah and Peter and Paul--then we can receive the amazing gift of God's grace.  
  • When we say, with Peter, "Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!"--
  • When we, with Paul, know that we are unfit to do any part of God's work--
  • When we, with Isaiah, in God's throne room, seeing the glory and majesty and perfection of God say "WOE IS ME! I AM LOST!" then our Lord can come, cleanse us, and give us new life.
When Isaiah heard the praises Holy, Holy, Holy... he knew he was NOT holy or praise worthy in the least... he wasn't full of praise.  He was full of sin. He could fake it no more.

But then, when all was lost, Isaiah received a gift.  

An angel came--a seraph--a messenger--and symbolically the seraph came and touched his lips with a burning coal from the altar of God.

It's like the gift we receive when we see our sin--when we see our anger, when I see my proud self-righteousness, greed and lust and fear--when God's Word comes through our defenses and when we are laid bare without one excuse and He gives us his sacrifice--his body--his blood--for our unclean lips--for our unclean hearts--for our filthy lives.

And that sacrifice, Jesus' sacrifice for us, it cleanses us like that coal from the altar of God cleansed Isaiah... and it sends Isaiah, and Peter, and Paul--and--believe it--you and me--to do God's Work in this world.

If we wonder why we might not have the joy and energy and peace of God that's needed to go out and bring more people to the Lord, it might be because we somehow are still trying to operate under our own power, because we're good people or something.  But we're not!  We are LOST in sin.

But that's okay somehow!  Because
  • ONLY when we give up on ourselves can we come to know the ONE who has provided the way for us to be forgiven... 
  • ONLY when we stop trying to impress anyone with what we have in ourselves--then we will come to know the POWER and JOY of the ONLY ONE who COMPLETELY FORGIVES and lets us start new and fresh and clean, every day, no matter what our sin has been.
  • ONLY when we know God owes us NOTHING but gives us EVERYTHING--then we can be God's humble, bold, forgiving, fiercely loving workers in the LOST world God loves so much.
Martin Luther says it this way--this is in the Small Catechism section on baptism:
"...our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and... day after day a new self should arise to live with God..."
When we know it's ALL GOD and NOTHING OF OURSELVES, then we go out with power and joy and grace and mercy and love to the lost world we know so well.

The results of our work--that is left to God.  There are times when the work is mainly to let God's Word do its cutting work.  But when that is done, we get to do the best work--lifting and raising and forgiving and sharing the life that comes only and directly from God.


See When Hope Hurts for another take on why it is sometimes so hard to receive God's gift of forgiveness, new life and hope.