Everyday Gospel, continued (part 2 of conversation with Jake)

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure. Because he's a nine-year-old boy? Good answer.

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure.                       Because he’s a nine-year-old boy? Yep, that’s probably it.

Sunday night Dave took the crew out for ice cream. Jake decided to stay behind. As soon as everyone left, I found out why.

“Mom, I need to talk to you about something.”

He’d been waiting for just such a quiet moment.

“What’s up, bud?”

“I think I have an idol.”

It took me a moment to process that one. It’s not a phrase a 9-year-old boy often uses.

“Where did you hear…? Never mind. How ‘bout we sit down together.”

After we were snugged into the chair-and-a-half, with Jake’s hand rubbing the back of my hair, I asked, “What do you think your idol is?”

“Legos.”

“Why do you think Legos are an idol?”

“Because I think about them so much. I would rather play with them than read my Bible. I know that reading my Bible is good, and Legos are keeping me from doing as much of it as I should. I think they’re an idol.”

Ah! A repeat of our conversation the week before.

I held my hands up as if they were scales and launched into an explanation of how we can never do enough “good” to earn God’s acceptance. It’s impossible, which is why He made another Way.

But the anguish in Jake’s face stopped me.

I thought of what I’ve learned through spending time with believers from other cultures—how our Western view of salvation as a transaction is not the only way God presents the Gospel in Scripture. It is justification, yes, but it’s also reconciliation and restoration. It’s relationship, made possible through Christ.

“J-man, what do you think your dad would say if you told him, ‘Dad, I know you’re a runner, so I’m gonna’ start running four miles a day to make you love me more’?”

Jake’s face screwed up as if I’d bought him a hot pink shirt. “Mom, Dad already loves me. That’s not gonna’ make him love me more!”

I grinned.

He was quiet, his brain connecting the dots, seeing in them a picture, a constellation of beauty.

We talked more, about how we know someone loves us, then specifically about how we know God loves us. We talked about God’s joy in Jake’s enjoyment of Legos, how Jake’s creativity, imagination, and collaboration please God; they are gifts from God. We talked about how good things CAN turn into idols (and I thought, “Even Bible reading, clearly!”) and what we do about that.

At one point Jake said something truly beautiful. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like this: “So God wants me to read my Bible so I can know better that He loves me! It’s NOT so He will love me more! That’s not it at all.”

I laughed aloud in delight.

But part of my heart grieved.

Not at his words, but at this truth: my son, like I, will forget, time and time again, that God loves us simply because HE IS LOVE. Jake, too, will wrestle with guilt over “not doing enough.” He will lose the joy of being loved freely by God. He will equate “doing” with relationship, and he will wonder what he has done–or not done–to feel so far from God. He will assume God has withdrawn in anger and fail to realize that his own efforts and guilt have actually pulled him away from God rather than to Him.

I am grateful, not only for strange but wonderful conversations with Jake but also that God is revealing my own tendencies through my son.

But I still don’t want him to wrestle with my struggles. I want him to feel as sure of God’s love for him as he is of his dad’s (and, boy, am I grateful for that!). I want him to draw near to God with full confidence in His grace and mercy.

I want him to fiercely love God—because he knows God first fiercely loved him. I want him to know that God never, ever stops loving him.

I want for him what I want for myself.

And I can be confident that God, Who is a far better parent than I, wants the same for both of us.

Crimson berries, white snow

I took this today in our front yard. What an amazing blue sky!

I took this last fall. (It’s the same picture, just uncropped, that I used as my new header)

On the tree in the front yard hang the leftover berries from last fall. They were bright before frost, but now they look almost black against the snow. It brings to mind Isaiah 1:18. God says to the Israelites, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”

I think of scarlet and crimson as beautiful colors—like the berries before the frost—but God spends 16 verses describing the crimson and scarlet of the His peoples’ sins, and it’s ugly! “You’re rebellious,” He tells them. “I’ve loved you and cared for you, but you have rejected and ignored Me. All your ‘churchiness’ is nothing but show. You’re hypocrites, following an outward religion that has no goodness to it. In fact, you offer sacrifices to Me and then go out and live without love for others, abusing and neglecting the helpless” (my paraphrased summary)

“Do you think that’s what I, the GOOD GOD, want?”

The scarlet and crimson of verse 18, then, are NOT beautiful. These people are as far from the purity of white as they could be. The crimson and scarlet have set into the fabric of their souls, and they are irreparably stained.

We must remind ourselves that we are no different. OUR sins–collectively and individually–are scarlet and crimson. We, too, are irreparably stained.

This takes on deeper meaning when we see the terms “white as snow” and “white as wool” applied to Christ: Daniel 7:9 says, “…the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool.” Revelation 1:14 describes Christ’s head and hair as “white like wool, as white as snow.”

Our crimson stains and Christ’s white purity are as unalike as possible. We drip with sin, as if we have been dipped in a vat of it, formed in it (Ps. 51:5). Now let’s look at what is in the vat. It is not simply liquid color—a straightforward red dye. No! To understand how God sees this crimson sin, we must go to another verse in Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The polluted garment is–to be as graphic as Scripture is–like the underclothes a woman would wear during her menstrual cycle. They would be permeated with a bodily fluid that stunk and stained.

THAT is the crimson, the scarlet.

God the Pure One cannot condone and “coexist” with our stench. He would cease to be perfect, sinless God if He said that our disregard for Him and our injustice toward our fellow man was “okay.” Though He longs to hold us in His arms, that is not possible as long as we are stained and dripping with this crimson.

We have tried, over and over through the centuries, to fix this problem ourselves. All religions are simply our efforts to make ourselves fit for communion with God, worthy of his approval. But we cannot do this, though we claim to. But any “god” we can reach through our own efforts must be a god of our own making–and therefore not truly Divine.

So we must be changed, somehow made pure. Some outside agent must be applied to go over our stain. That’s exactly what God did in Christ. Christ, unstained and pure, took on our human flesh, a body that was stained with the effects of sin, that would suffer and age, that had the same bodily functions ours do, with emotions and frailties. He was “in all points like we are…”

“Yet without sin.” That needs an exclamation mark! He had no inner stain and He kept Himself unstained!!! THAT enabled Him to do an amazing thing for us. His death allowed us to be covered with new garments–HIS complete, utter goodness, white as snow.

“Though your sins are like scarlet”–permeating to our very core, as much a part of us as dye becomes part of a garment when the garment is dipped in it–“I will make them as white as snow.”

With the covering of Christ’s purity, our stains—past, present and future (God is not bound by time)—are overwhelmed, and God the Good can draw us near to Himself. His Spirit enters our hearts like a bleaching agent, and begins transforming us from the inside out, a process that will end (oh, Heaven!) with us being LIKE Christ. Selfishness and pride will never again seep from our hearts. We will be pure not only in standing (with Christ’s covering) but in practical actuality.

I am thankful I opened my curtains yesterday and noticed the shriveled, darkened berries and the gleam of snow behind them. I am thankful for this reminder because my gratitude is in direct proportion to my realization of my need for Christ.

Same berries after the frost

Same bush after the frost

“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 ESV).