Homesick for Home

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Four months and some days ago we returned back to the States from having lived in Cambridge, England for almost six months.

I began missing Cambridge the moment the taxi driver drove us out of the city toward London.

It is funny what a place can do to someone. I am homesick for Cambridge, even if it was my home for a brief moment in time. Her streets, churches, colleges, bicycle paths, foliage, river, parks, and people have all left an impression on my heart and mind, and if I close my eyes I am immediately transported back onto her streets on my bicycle soaking in the sights, smells and sounds.

As I continue to reflect on our sabbatical and specifically our time in Cambridge, I am humbled by the many spiritual lessons I have learned. But this particular lesson is one that the Teacher continues to teach and one that I hope He doesn’t stop teaching. And it is this: Cambridge points to something better – a better home.

I have been homesick before. I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to pursue a masters degree having no immediate family less than seven hours away. In fact, I had no family east of the Mississippi River. I was alone and missing home.

When we were living in Cambridge, I, also, had moments of homesickness, especially around Thanksgiving. Not only did we not have family to celebrate with us, but since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, it was for all practical purposes nonexistent in the world in which we now lived.

Even though I have had these homesick moments before, this time living back in the States missing Cambridge has been different. For one, I have a deep longing to be there. But what makes this homesickness especially different is that every time I think of Cambridge, God redirects my thoughts to the new heavens and the new earth. It is not as if missing and longing for Cambridge is a bad thing (it’s not!), but longing for Cambridge has been the impetus for longing for something better than Cambridge. The Holy Spirit has used Cambridge to point to something better than itself.

For those of us living in places free of persecution, it is easy to romanticize and memorialize this world as if a particular place will bring about inevitable happiness or as if there is truly heaven on earth. When I have had these types of moments with Cambridge when I only remember the good and not the bad, I will talk to some of my American friends living there. By the end of our conversation I am reminded quickly the things that I hated about living in England: no clothes dryer, a hot and cold faucet, high costs of living expenses, not prescribing antibiotics unless you are “dying,” its often impractability, and leaving dishes to dry without rinsing off the soap. To put it succinctly, Cambridge is not perfect.

If I move back to Cambridge tomorrow, I would not necessarily have a better life. To be sure, I would find many things to complain about and I am sure I would be restless at times. I will not have reached heaven on earth. Cambridge, ultimately, would not be my final home, nor would I want it to be.

Yet, coming back from Cambridge reminds me of what it means to long for something better, for something that I love, for a place I want to go. Jesus has redirected my longing for Cambridge to longing for that promised, blessed new earth when all will things will be made right and when all will be at peace and rest because God will be our God and we will be His people. Knowing Jesus has given me a foretaste of what is still to come. His presence has put into my heart a longing for that eternal home.

Cambridge is not my final destination. The new earth, where God and man will dwell together again in perfect peace and love, that is where I am headed. That is where I long. And, until then, I will be homesick for something better than Cambridge. I will be homesick for Home.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” Revelation 21:1-5a

Is There Enough Room For Women In Vocational Ministry?

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When I graduated from divinity school in 2008, I was filled with the excitement that consumes many graduates, namely of finding a job in the field for which I had spent so much time preparing. I began looking for a ministerial vocational place where I could exercise my gifts and learning. However, after several months of not finding a job in ministry, I settled for an internship position at a Baptist newspaper doing work that typically a 20- or 21-year-old college student would be doing.

It was humbling. And a little embarrassing.

I thought my degree – a M.Div. – from a reputable divinity school would place me on a fast track into ministry. I was wrong. Although I am extremely thankful to the managing editor of the newspaper for giving me work when no one else would, not to mention the internship eventually turned into valuable full-time work, this experience laid the foundation for questioning my call to ministry that I was so certain of at age 15.

Did I really hear the voice of the Lord call me into ministry? Or, was this a call born out of a desire to give my whole self to the Lord no matter what vocational form it took? Had I just wasted time and money training for something where there is no work for someone like me?

And I am not alone. I have listened to many women describe similar experiences. In fact, one example of this can be found over at The Gospel Coalition, where several months back Liz Lockwood gave her story in an article titled, “My Wonderfully Confusing Call to Ministry.”

Liz, like myself, felt called as a teenager and went on to seminary to train for this calling. During her years at seminary, though, she encountered some obstacles that put into question her calling.

She writes: “While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?”

Liz reconciled the tension between her original call and reality saying, “I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. … Rather than keeping ‘ministry’ in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him. These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth.”

To be sure all Christians are “called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life” and I have often wondered if what I interpreted as a vocational ministry call was actually just this – the call of every believer. And for Liz this is her conclusion, a reinterpretation of her calling, and this is a conclusion that many women are arriving at.

Perhaps it is a simple case of a misunderstanding of calling. But as I have been reflecting on the issue for the last several years I am coming to a different conclusion. While to be sure there are both men and women who mishear or misunderstand a call to vocational ministry, I believe that many women are questioning and redefining their call as a result of a lack of a vocational space for women in ministry.

Historically, Christian ministry has been mostly a man’s world. This doesn’t mean that it is a man’s-only-club where women aren’t allowed. It does mean that there are fewer jobs for women and fewer women in certain spheres of ministry. Sadly, too often the conversation has been on what women cannot do. As a result, the conversation we are not having sufficiently is how can we create a larger space for women in vocational ministry.

Having a conversation

I think the first step toward creating a larger and more welcoming space for women in vocational ministry is by simply having the conversation. Pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents and deans, publishers, and presidents of Christian entities, my hope is that you will be leading the way in discussing what women can do and how valuable they can be to reaching the world with the gospel and strengthening and discipling God’s church. I am not talking about a revolution in the church for women to be accepted as senior pastors. Scripturally, I am not convinced that this should be done. Rather, I believe by building on the following statements, the Christian community can begin to have intentional conversations about how we can create a larger vocational space for women called to ministry.

  • The Imago Dei is complete in both men and women. This means that both men and women are needed to display the image of God. The Imago Dei isn’t confined to marriage but extends to all areas of life, most importantly the church, where men and women are complementing each other in displaying the image of God.
  • Women are important to the work of God.
  • Women, who are teaching Scripture and representing God and the gospel to his people as a vocational ministry, need to be theologically trained.
  • Even when men are taken out of the equation and who is left are women and children, they, just as much as men, need to be taught sound doctrine by sound, theologically-trained ministers.

Further, I want to see intentional, balanced, Gospel-centered conversations about women in ministry turn into intentional acts of using women in ministry.

Creating a larger vocational space

The following are some suggested conversation starters and practical ways to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry.

How can we broaden the vocational space for women in churches? Most churches have either no woman on its ministerial staff or one or two at best. Many times the churches that do employ women on staff will be at a larger church where the ratio might be 10:1, men to women. Let’s look closer. Vocational ministerial jobs (not secretarial or administrative) for women are often part-time, underpaid and do not require any theological training. In order to make vocational room for women, one suggestion is when there’s a ministerial position open for which a church has no biblical objection to hiring a woman and when it already has a male-only staff, it could choose a woman for the job instead of a man.
Other suggested changes are to hire women who have theological training, create full-time positions, pay women ministers at the same or similar salary to the men in comparable positions, and intentionally use female ministers’ gifts even if it takes her outside her job description. Perhaps place her alongside the male ministers for the response part of the Sunday service. Ask her to read Scripture or pray during the service. Ask, What are we communicating to the world and Christian community about the importance of women in ministry by whom we hire and the positions for which we hire?

How can we make vocational space for women in Christian publishing? Often time women are published based on their marketability rather than their credentials or quality of material. Also, the field for publishing Christian women seems to be much more competitive than its male counterpart thereby making it more difficult as a woman to get published than a man. One suggestion is for publishers to work with seminaries to find its best women graduates who feel called to teach and who are solid theologically to write for them. I can count at least 5 women who I know and who have graduated from Beeson who just want to write Bible studies but cannot find an open door into publishing to do so. Perhaps publishers can do a better job at engaging in intentional relationships with the female population of seminaries and divinity schools so that they are cultivating the next generation of women writers who will give them the best material possible and so that they are communicating to women who follow through with training that it is of value. Through these partnerships publishers could invite seminary female students to its conferences and events giving them opportunities to teach. Ask, What are we communicating to the world by who and what we publish? What are we communicating to young females about the importance of theological training for publishing?

How can we broaden the vocational space for women within seminaries and divinity schools? Consider evangelical Christian studies departments at colleges and universities or consider seminaries and you will find a small number of women on faculty. Perhaps you will find no women. Consider the female population at seminaries and you will find it is very small. Also, consider what degrees are being offered to women. Two spheres within Christian higher education are highlighted here: female faculty members and female students. A simple solution to both is for Christian institutions to intentionally hire more female faculty members and recruit more female students. Ask, What conclusions can be drawn by the outside world when it looks at the faculty and student population of seminaries? Would it be that it is a man’s world? Is there any value to female students taking courses like biblical theology, biblical languages and preaching courses in preparing them to teach Scripture even if only to other females, youth and children? What are seminaries and divinity schools communicating about the importance of women in vocational ministry by whom it hires, recruits and the degrees/programs offered to women? Are we only training ministers to teach sound doctrine to male Christians or are we training both male and female ministers to teach sound doctrine to both genders and to all ages?

Are we, the evangelical community, guilty of creating and abetting a system that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for God to use women in vocational ministry?

Are we limiting what God can and wants to do through women by simply not having a big enough space for them to serve?

What blessings as a Christian community are we missing out on simply because we are not having a conversation or taking positive steps to engage more women in gospel-ministry work?

Grant it there are Christian entities, seminaries/divinity schools, and churches that are doing a good job or at least intentionally trying to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry. Places like LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham are a few that come to mind in my area. (And to be sure there are more!)

What if?

I believe it is important that we have this conversation about how we can create a larger vocational space for women because:

I believe our churches are only as strong as our weakest members.

I believe that together as men and women we make up the Imago Dei, and therefore, we can do better.

I believe that as we watch the salvation story unfold from Genesis to Revelation and see how God intentionally uses women far and above the cultural boundaries of the day, we can do better.

I believe that it doesn’t follow that just because a woman should not teach men means women and children should be taught watered-down theology or Scripture.

I believe that because many women are being taught watered-down theology and pop-psychology tinted Scripture we have created an environment where false teaching is growing easily and quickly among women.

I believe we should expect the same training of women as of our men. However, unless we have places for our trained, called women to go and serve, receiving theological training does not make sense. Getting into debt for seminary without the possibility of paying it off while using the degree is unwise.

And like Liz, women like us who once felt a call to vocational ministry might just conclude that we misheard the calling. To be certain, I do not judge or fault Liz for reaching this conclusion. We must assume that as God has revealed more over time to her that she did not necessarily hear a call to vocational ministry.

But what if?

What if there was more room at the vocational ministry table for women to sit? What would happen if theologically-trained women had more places to go exercise their calling, gifts and training? What if? Would there be less questioning, less redefining of ministerial calls among women if the ministerial vocational space were only bigger? What is the Church and the World missing out on by the Christian community failing, to some degree, to engage, encourage and train up more women for a ministry of the gospel?

(I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reply with any positive suggestions or thoughts that can help and encourage the larger Christian community to think through this issue.)

 

 

 

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

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As I drive down Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham this week it is as if every living thing is in bloom. What appeared dead and dull and bare last week is now shooting forth leaves and blooms this week. The changing of winter to spring has always been my favorite time of the year because there’s a rebirth in nature. The plants that once lay dormant for many months are now standing upright; trees, which showed no sign of activity, now wave their branches clothed with life. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new season.

 

What I have seen unfold in nature in Birmingham this past week correlates well to what I see happen in the Lent and Easter season. In Lent it is intended that we reflect on the gravity of our sins and the separation from God that our sins bring. For it is these two aspects that Jesus carries with him to the cross and bears with him on the cross. We prepare our hearts as we journey with Jesus in remembrance to Good Friday. It is winter. Death hangs over us.

 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” — Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death…” — Romans 6:23

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” — Romans 5:8

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:6

 

But on Palm Sunday the tone begins to change. Seeds of hope sprout forth as Jesus, fulfilling his role as the promised Davidic King and Messiah, comes riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” — Zech. 9:9

 

The people spread out palm branches, and, although they didn’t understand the significance of what they were saying, they rightly praised him as King of kings. This triumphal entry and branches serve as signs of his coming victory that “spring” was coming, although on Friday it would seem like the world would forever be in a perpetual winter.

 

And to be sure the deepest, darkest day of winter would come on Friday, when the King of kings, the Son of heaven, would die on a cross. The Son of God, who left all the riches of heaven and the blessed, eternal company of the Father and Spirit, came down, taking on the form and nature of those whom he created, whom had rebelled against him. Those who said they didn’t love him. Yet he still came down, not to show us how to do this life only or how to succeed and become the greatest. He came down to die, to suffer the just punishment of God, so that we, who believe, wouldn’t have to.

 

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

What great, great love that God has for us that kept Jesus from calling down angels, from taking himself off the cross and executing judgment on those overseeing his crucifixion, and enabled him to suffer all that he did with grace and submission. It was this incomprehensible love for us that took Jesus to the grave.

 

And there his body lay for three days.

 

But on the morning of the third day, the women were too sad, too heartbroken to have noticed that there was a change in seasons. Yet, God in his loving-kindness sent an angel to meet them at an open grave. Jesus, who was once dead, had now come back to life.

 

This Easter is a reminder for those in Christ and an invitation for those who are from Christ: that in Jesus we have passed by eternal death and have entered into eternal life.

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

 

“It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.” (The Book of Common Prayer, Palm Sunday, Collect)

 

 

My 100th Post: A Special Announcement

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Dear blog readers,

This post marks my 100th post since starting this blog in 2009, and I can think of no better way to mark this milestone than by sharing with you all something very exciting!

Many of you know one of the most important areas for me is the theological and pastoral question of women in ministry. I have often been grieved by how many American evangelicals have turned a conversation about women in ministry into a polarizing, negative issue. When speaking from our “camps” we have often defaulted to labeling, mischaracterizing, and caricaturing and as a result there has not been enough true and gracious dialogue.

So it is with great excitement that I share with you a new website that seeks to remedy this problem in part. It is my joy to introduce you to (drum roll please!) …

Passing The Salt Shaker

At Passing The Salt Shaker blog, a group of us — who share the same faith but differ on the gender debate — are attempting to model the kind of dialogue we want to see happen in all spheres of Church, ministry and society. Our desire is to bring up divisive issues relating to gender and to discuss them in the spirit of Colossians 4:6 that reads, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” We want the site to be a catalyst for more of these kinds of dialogues within local churches, denominations, ministry organizations, and the Christian community at large.

Also, we intend to discuss relative and important issues that we hope will not only create conversation in other spheres but also will result in solutions. We as individuals, churches, denominations, non-profits, and society can do better. We can do better in our conversations with one another, we can do better in engaging women in the work of the Lord, and we can aim for a better Christian ethic. It is our prayer that God will use this site to encourage and challenge us all toward self-examination (awareness of sin), biblical exegesis, Christian hospitality and a greater awareness of the issues at hand.

So who are the contributors? You can read about us here. When you click on our names it will take you to a post where we introduce ourselves. You can read mine here.

Currently we are not opening the site to comments but would love to hear feedback, especially in regards to topics or questions you would like to see discussed. You can e-mail us here.

A few of the other contributors also have written about the new site on their blogs. You might be interested in hearing from them concerning the site. You can read Alastair’s here and Bronwyn’s here.

If you are interested in the site and receiving updates on the latest posts follow us on Twitter @SaltShakerBlog and/or become a follower of the site on WordPress.

 

 

ISIS and Boko Haram

Every day it seems as if I hear more bad news coming from Iraq and Syria regarding the terror of ISIS. Today I am hearing reports of ISIS burning 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. A few days prior it was reported that they burned 45 people alive. Before that, they executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya simply because they were Christian. I reflected on persecution, specifically those at the hands of ISIS, in August here.

The following are some recent, relevant and resourceful articles and ideas regarding the pressing issues of ISIS and Boko Haram.

  • As I was getting ready to post last week about how should Christians pray in these times for situations like these, I came across a post written that day by Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on this very topic called, Should We Pray for the Defeat of ISIS, Or Their Conversion. He said everything that I was going to say and said it better, so instead of posting what I had written I want to direct you to his post here. I highly recommend it to you. In short, his answer (and mine!) to this question is to pray for both and leave it up to God to decide.
  • In this season of Lent, fast and pray specifically for those in harms way, both Christians and non-Christians.

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  • Last week on Ash Wednesday I drew a red cross on my hand with the number 21 (see above picture). This served as a visual reminder to pray for the family members of those martyred as well as for those who are at risk of death and persecution. It also served as a reminder to pray for justice and salvation in regards to ISIS members as well as for the Church in that area. Perhaps you can too find a visual way to remind you to pray for what’s going on in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria and to encourage others to pray as well.
  • I also want to direct your attention to another excellent article. With all the attention on ISIS, we forget about the terror of a group called Boko Haram in Nigeria. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, in his piece called, When Africa Bleeds, reminds us not to forget what is happening in Nigeria, which has the most Christians out of all the countries on the continent! This is a very important read and you can find it here.

This morning in my Scripture reading I reflected on Isaiah 25:8-9 and 26:19.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. … Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

The good news is that in Christ the reality of these verses has begun to be realized, but until the second coming of Jesus we will have to wait for it to be fully and completely realized. So we wait in eager expectation and hope of that day and together along with the rest of the saints will pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

 

Broken, Aware of Sin, and Repentant

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A few days ago I celebrated Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians historically have prepared themselves for the celebration of Easter by repenting, fasting and reflecting on their humanity and deep need of a Savior. The Ash Wednesday service is meant to remind each person of his or her mortality.

In thinking about the Grace for the Sinner series in light of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I am reminded that we cannot fully understand the grace Jesus Christ offers without first understanding our great need of it. It is when we are aware of our own mortality and sinfulness that the grace of Christ can become a transformative reality in our lives. We cannot be pardoned of our sins without first acknowledging that we have sin that needs pardoning. It is in this broken, aware-of-sin, repentant state that Jesus meets us and pardons us.

This is where we find David in Psalm 51. Unlike his predecessor Saul, when David was confronted with his sin (the one where he killed a man and committed adultery) David acknowledged it and repented (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13ff). It is sometime after the prophet Nathan’s confrontation with David that David composed Psalm 51.

David begins the psalm with a plea for God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God.” This is a cry that probably many of us know well. I am a sinner! Have mercy on me, O God!

Recently I, too, pleaded before God, “Have mercy on me.” I have an inclination to want to control my life. This desire to control materialized in two ways recently. For one, my husband and I have been trying to conceive. For several weeks I was obsessed with wanting to control the circumstances surrounding conception as well as obsessing with signs and tests that would tell me if I were pregnant. I became anxious and tried to exert “control” by talking and thinking about it obsessively. Secondly, I hate flying. I am scared of the idea of falling, but most of all I don’t like the feeling of being completely out of control of the situation. I don’t know how to fly an airplane if a pilot got sick and they needed an extra one. I can’t control the weather to make it so that we have perfect flying conditions. As we were to fly home a few days ago, I tried to control the uncontrollable by again obsessively worrying about the flight. I dreamt about it. I talked about it. I looked at the weather app non-stop. I was physically sick to my stomach as my nerves only increased with each day that grew closer to the day of our flight.

It was in the midst of trying to control two uncontrollable situations that my husband, like Nathan, spoke truth into my life. He said, “Kristen, you trying to control these situations is idolatrous.” His words were like a sharp arrow to my soul. Conviction spread across my body. And as I left that conversation in prayer the rest of the day, God began speaking to me about this area of sin. In my frail attempt at trying to exert some control over these situations I had made for myself an idol. I was trying to sit in God’s rightful place as sovereign Lord of my life. Instead of trusting God, I was trying to manipulate God or rather manipulate the situations as if God had no role and was nonexistent. This is a serious sin and one that I am ashamed to admit to you today.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

God’s mercy is dependent on and a natural causation of God’s great and abounding love for us. If we get what we deserve according to our sins God is just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)! But mercy gives us what we do not deserve as it acts not according to our sin but according to God’s steadfast love.

David recognizes his sin and his deep, deep need for forgiveness. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”

Over and over again in Scripture God pleads with his children to recognize their sin for what it is so that they might repent and so that he might show mercy (cf. Psalm 103:8-19).

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

The first step in receiving the grace and mercy of our great God is acknowledging sin and turning from it. And when God pardons you and me from sin it is not a pardoning with strings attached or pardoning that lasts only for a night. No. Grace, like its giver, doesn’t wear out with time or change like the moods of humans but rather is steady and sure. Grace does the work for which God intends it.

David in his prayer says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (v. 10).” The goal of the believer when he or she leaves that place of repentance and pardoning is a clean heart. God cleans up the sin and mess we make and sets our hearts back on him and on truth. He restores the joy of our salvation and places his praise on our lips (Ps. 51:12, 15).

I was still a little nervous when I flew home earlier this week, but I did not want to sin against God in the way that I had before. So I prayed that He would help me to trust in his sovereignty and his perfect will for my life. For those two flights home he placed an off-duty pilot going home across the aisle, a woman next to me whose hand I needed to hold because she was nervous, and a senator from Tennessee who loves the Lord. He surrounded me with people that brought calm and comfort to me. God is so, so good to us even when our terrible sin against him deserves the worst for us. He showed goodness and mercy and kindness to me by not only pardoning my sin but placing people to comfort me in the midst of something difficult. That, my friends, is great, amazing grace.

What areas of your life need cleansing? Is there sin in your life that you are refusing to recognize as sin? Or, are you aware of your sin but afraid to turn to God? Like me, do you sin against God by trying to take control of your life through worry or manipulation? Are you guilty of idolatry? Slander? Failure to trust God? Hate? Greed? Lust? Lies?

Spend a few moments confessing to God knowing that He is ready to meet you with grace and mercy and that He is ready to make your heart clean, your spirit right so that you might walk in truth and righteousness.

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners. So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen. (The prayer of humble access; The Book of Common Prayer)

The God Who Covers Our Shame

TGWCOS

When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don’t know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” they still hid themselves even though they were “clothed.”

“But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'”

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly “because I was naked” meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments — this act of mercy — came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

“‘…For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

God’s mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.