I get myself in a quagmire every so often. It starts like this. I start reading from the Gospels. This time it was Luke 12, mostly red letters. Should be lots of good stuff just for me from Jesus right? Takes about 2 verses before I begin to get this sinking feeling, this sense of condemnation that Jesus is talking about me and what He says is true and… what am I to do with that?
Watch what you say. Nothing is hidden that will not be known. (Gulp.) Have you ever said anything (or thought anything) that you’d not want repeated out loud? OK well keep moving…
Ah a ‘have no fear’ passage. That always hits the nail on the head for me. Strike two. Oh and it continues with one about being a bold witness for Christ…hmm. That sounds like a Strike Three!
But there’s no stopping. Soon we’re into the Rich Fool’s story. He loved his stuff. Enough to enlarge his storage spaces for it so he could relax, assured that he would have enough in case of come-what-may… Not a happy ending to that one. Do you know anyone like that, any pack rats hoarding treasures?
And on we go while the sinking feeling grows. Never mind fear, now we’re dealing with anxiety. None needed, not over your life, your food, your body, your clothes… what’s left to direct my anxiety towards? It’s all about priorities. Am I seeking the Kingdom first or looking out for myself? My heart will be wherever my treasures are.
OK. Maybe I’m just too introspective but I find it hard to be around Jesus’ words for more than a sentence or two without a sense of my own shortcomings. And it’s not like I can just reach down and pull up my socks. This stuff gets to the core of who I naturally am. If I try to be brave and keep reading it gets worse. Jesus is coming back. Will He find me doing His will (that’s a little elusive at this point, or maybe not elusive enough, depending how you consider it) when He comes. Because, oh here’s a ‘cringer’ “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required”. I know I have been given much. What do I have to show for it?
I am at this point pretty well mired in guilt. Jesus has a lot to say that shows up who I am at heart. Continuing to Chapter 13 we have a tower falling and killing 18 people who are no more guilty than myself. And the warning, ‘unless you repent you will all likewise perish’. (Gulp again.)
Repentance is pretty key here, and is perhaps the answer to my quandary over how to take these words and find life in them, not just guilt.
Then Jesus tells a parable of a pathetic fig tree. It’s not bearing fruit despite being planted in this man’s vineyard. He says, “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground.” Yikes! Fortunately he decides to give it one more chance—some tilling and manure and a year’s time to get producing. And I’m feeling like an unproductive fig tree now.
Need I go further to explain the quagmire I find myself in. Here are Jesus’ words, words meant to give life, to reveal a radical ‘nother Kingdom, a high calling. And here am I, living out of keeping with this kingdom. And trying to straighten myself out. Yes, that’s why I’m reading Jesus’ words in the first place! And facing guilt and death instead of life and peace. But do you know what comes next? Jesus comes across a woman who has had ‘a disabling spirit’ for eighteen years and could not fully straighten herself. Ah, here I am, disabled by guilt unable to straighten myself out. And what does Jesus do? He calls her over and simply says, “Woman, you are freed from your disability, and He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.” (Luke 13:10)
I went to bed last night chewing on these things and trying to find resolution. Is it in repentance? Trying harder is not going to ‘cut it’; I know that. What is my problem anyway? Bouncing these things off my best counselor and friend this morning we reasoned that it seems to be an issue of unbelief. For every one of these instructions of Jesus there are reassurances of God’s care, God’s promises, God’s provision for every need. In short, things to be believed. Why then do I focus on the negatives? I could blame temperament. Mine is surely fallen. I have need of vision of how God designed me to function within this personality without the sinful habits of negative, unbelieving thought. This is surely wrong thinking that I should cringe to read the Words of the One who comes to feed my my daily bread and wash my feet along the journey… Lord, forgive, straighten, heal…for Your glory, that this old fig tree may yet bear fruit worthy of its Keeper.
The Sequel—Justified Freely by His Grace
It occurs to me that I have been praying recently to be shown my own sinfulness lest I take my salvation for granted and hum along in a smug self-righteous state. Hmm. Could be I’m seeing it. What do you think?
But also this passage (Acts 26:18) grabbed my attention. Jesus is giving Paul his mission to the Gentiles—“to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Dealing with sin is the point of the Gospel, and not just our initial salvation but also our sanctification is by faith. Where did it start to be about my effort to get things right?
Paul goes after the Galatians for this and how many times must I read it to drill it home?! Apparently once more: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”(Gal.3:3-5) There it is again, faith. Hearing with faith. It’s not about whether I feel forgiven, accepted in the Beloved, justified by His grace… It’s about standing up straight, looking Jesus in the eye as He leans over and says, “Woman, you are freed from your disability” and believing the work is already done. What else does “justified freely by His grace” mean? It’s about God’s righteousness, not mine, that he made this plan to justify the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom.3:24ff). And my part? to acknowledge where I am and to believe that He will fulfill all these good words in me in His good time…
So where’s the quagmire? Where the quandary? I had a friend once look me in the eye after I was finished reciting my woes and say, “I don’t think you really have any problem…” Took me kind of by surprise. Reminded me of my tendency to magnify what I perceive as negative. And it may be just the counsel I need to hear this time. I am disabled only by my unbelief. In all truth I have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of [my] trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon [me], in all wisdom and insight….to the praise of His glory!” Eph.1:7,8ff What more is there?
Only thanksgiving for His glorious grace that reaches down to straighten a disabled woman and show mercy on a barren fig tree…
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom.4:7,8)
It’s amazing, this grace in which we stand! May He give us eyes to see it more and more…
P.S. If you’ve made it to this point, you deserve a break! Come by and we’ll have tea ( ; And bless you for sharing my mental meanderings. It means much. –LS