Clean

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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.

 

Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.

 

*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.

 

Surface

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It wasn’t the kind of day when people think about going to the lake. I heard no boats, or children’s laughter, or squealing teens in the middle of a splash fight. I smelled no sweet  poplar sap or tangy sauce from smoking barbecues. The quiet off-season offers a different perception.

Someone suggested creating a photographic meditation during the Lent season as a preparatory discipline for Resurrection Sunday. If this were a religious requirement to add to a to-do list in order to appease an angry or narcissistic god, I would not participate, believe me. This is voluntary. I respond to this appeal to worship creatively. I make no promises about blogging the process daily. Not everything on the journey is for public consumption, but I will share my thoughts today.

Today’s word is surface, and yet, divergent (maybe even contrary) thinker that I am, I find I find myself drawn to go beyond the obvious and look for objects below the surface.

In a discussion with the religious “experts” of his time, who accused him of breaking the law by healing someone on the day of obligatory rest, Jesus said this:

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

The people who couldn’t hear pushed back.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. (John 7:16-24 NLT)

Look beneath the surface.

We took a course on parenting teens. The teacher urged us to engage with our kids when emotional issues arose so we could understand the beliefs they held “below the water line.” The example he gave was of a girl who was desperate wanted to make a cheer-leading team and devastated when she didn’t.

After a heart to heart talk, the mother learned her daughter had accepted some lies about herself. Making the squad would squash her fears that inadequate attractiveness, or athletic talent would hinder her acceptance by people in her world. Under the water, lying unseen, was the shallow belief that her worth, her safety, her happiness, depended on what people thought about her and not on what God thought or could do. She was on the verge of making dangerous choices based on an unexamined false assumption.

The example prompted me to examine unconscious beliefs in my own life. One of the questions coming out of that experience was, “Why have I placed the approval of  humans (who can be very disappointing) ahead of the approval of the One who loves me perfectly and so selflessly that he was willing to give his only Son to demonstrate that love?”

In the altercation with the religious experts Jesus says it is possible to see below the surface. Their motive was not based on love. His was.

Jesus’ demonstration of love changed everything. God’s new covenant was not a reform school arrangement with punishments for breaking rules meant to clue rebellious kids into the fact that they are not actually in charge. God’s new covenant is based on responding to his love. Since you can’t say yes to love if you can’t say no, freedom is an essential part of this arrangement. Grace offers freedom. Grace is a terrifying concept to religious experts who are themselves motivated by fear of punishment.

Solomon, the king who was granted wisdom in response to his request to rule well, wrote:

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

When we are being rational we use reason. When we rationalize we try to give actions, which seem right to us, the appearance of reason. We can be quite convincing — especially to ourselves. Sometimes our “appearance of reason” involves false ideas about God.

How can we know what lies down there? First, by admitting there is stuff down there. Second, by asking for help.

I keep coming back to Psalm 139. The psalmist sings about being intimately known by the Creator from his first moment of existence. It ends this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Jesus is saying, “Look beneath the surface.” The surgeons who removed the nasty malignant tumour in my guts in October would not have been able to do so if I not had the guts to subject myself to diagnostic scans or to sign consent forms. I admit it was a struggle to trust them. It hurt. But now it is done and I am healing well.

In this season of preparation I am asking the Lord to help me see beneath the surface and lead me in his way of thinking.

Change my heart, oh God. Make it ever new. I give consent.

And I don’t say that lightly.

Christ-Confidence

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My help only comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

I thought that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he was giving them an example of how to serve others. That was part of it, but for some there was more. Peter didn’t want his feet washed. He saw himself as one who looked after Jesus. He was the guy who bragged he was willing to take up arms and fight to protect the honour of the Son of God. After all, didn’t Jesus himself re-name him and gave him the identity of “Rock?” That sounds pretty solid and trustworthy.
 
When Jesus told him it was necessary to submit to the foot-washing thing it was the beginning of the week of stripping away all of Peter’s confidence.

A song keeps playing in my head — “Killing Me with Mercy” by Misty Edwards. It’s about Peter’s undoing.

What are You doing Lord, kneeling in front of me?
I feel indignant Lord, that You’d ever wash my feet
I’ll never let You see the dark and dirty
It’s just too much for me
I know who You are, and I know where I have been
It offends me Lord, that Your knees are bent
I’d rather You be strong and make me pay
But this is too much for me.

 

It was as if Jesus was saying to Peter, “Let’s get this straight. You are not here to meet my needs. I don’t need you to tell me how to do things. I don’t need you to defend me. I don’t need you to clean up my image. You need me, because without me you can do nothing. Nothing.”

 

The events that followed proved that. Peter’s courage, the character quality he took pride in, failed miserably when he denied Christ. He was stripped and broken. Without a shred of self-confidence he ran and wept struck with the horror of his own neediness.

 

For those wishing to press on in this journey to know Christ there comes a time of stripping away everything we have come to rely on in ourselves. This often comes after experiences of feeling close to God and seeing him work through us, sometimes in astounding ways. Peter and the boys had seen miraculous healing and demons fleeing when Jesus sent them out on their own. They were doing the stuff! Even Judas did the stuff. They were with Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem to a spontaneous riot of approval -and you can bet they soaked up the “friends of” benefits. It was just after that when Jesus challenged their pride.

 

I’ve watched people go through this process. It’s where I have been for the past few weeks. I won’t lie. It hurts very deeply. The very thing we think makes us of value in the kingdom, the reason God chose us for his team, the potential he himself has identified in us, is proven to be too fragile to serve him adequately.
 
Misty’s song again:

I’m a fragile stone
I’m a vow that’s broken
I’m a rock that’s crumbled at Your feet.

 

Judas was also devastated when he realized what he had done when he betrayed Jesus. He ran away and allowed his pride to kill him. Pride says, “I should have been able to do this! I am too ashamed to go on because I do not believe there is anyone to turn to. There is no hope.”

 

Peter, on the other hand, humbled as he was, did not finish himself off, although I bet the thought crossed his mind. Instead he waited and when he met the resurrected Christ on the shore cooking fish over a charcoal fire, just like the one that horrible night, things had changed. He knew he could not love God adequately. He knew he deserved rejection. Jesus’ offer of love was even more uncomfortable than it was the night of the foot-washing.

 

And that’s when Jesus could use him. He still wanted him. When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost he spoke with a boldness that was not his own. He spoke with the boldness of the One who knelt down and washed his stinky feet.
 

But You still want me
You say my love is real, though my love is weak
You still believe, the vows I make, I break, I make, I break
You still want me
You’re killing me with mercy, I can’t breath
You’re wrecking me with Your kindness, I can’t receive
What am I supposed to do with a God so humble?
It’s breaking me
 
I’ll just believe
And let You love me.

 

Misty Edwards, Killing Me With Mercy, from Little Bird album, Forerunner Music