Restitution vs. Reconciliation

We recently had an issue with one of our kids who thought that by doing extra chores after they sinned rebelliously they would avoid the consequences of their sin. This is what I explained to them.

I want to talk with you about this sin. I think it is good that you did some chores after your sin. It is a sign that you recognize your sin and wanted to make restitution in some way. This is a key theme in the Bible and I am glad you want to follow it. I also want you to understand that nowhere in the Bible does restitution – even where it is made perfectly – eliminate the guilt from the sin that required the restitution. This is also true today, especially considering that you did do something but it did not truly restore what was lost from your sin.

God wants your heart, not your restitution. Restitution is something God in His mercy provided to make civil society work better. If people went around sinning all the time with only eternal consequences life for the righteous would be pretty hard. We see that today in countries where certain types of people are allowed to be sinned against without any kind of consequence. In lots of countries, those people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Restitution is God’s invention and a way He shows his mercy to those who have been sinned against, but it is not sufficient to save anyone.

Many people try to use restitution to say they don’t deserve consequences for their sin. You see this all the time in the news. Someone does something wrong but they want no punishment because of all the good they have done. Or they tell the judge “I’ll never do it again”. These people miss the point. The Bible is clear that there is a big difference between discipline and restitution. Restitution is to protect the heart of the victim against bitterness and restore his/her loss, not to save the sinner from the kind of consequence that will drive him or her to Jesus. Sacrificing something of our own choosing does not in any way remove the guilt of our sin.

The most famous Bible account of this is in 1 Samuel 15. Here God commanded King Saul to destroy everything of the people he was going to war against. After the victory, Saul had a better idea. He decided he would “obey” God by keeping the livestock but sacrificing the best ones to the Lord. God condemned him for that and actually said He was sorry He ever made Saul king. This is the place where we find the verse “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God wants us to do what we are told to do, not find ways to make up for our failures. This one “little” sin is what caused God to rip the kingdom away from Saul and give it to David.

Think about the implications of that for you. You cannot go through life believing that you can disobey and find a way to “make up for it” later. God loves you too much to let that happen and we love you too much to let that happen. This next point is extremely important. To believe that restitution somehow eliminates your guilt is to deny Jesus Christ, because the truth is His death is the only thing that can eliminate your guilt. The guilt for our sin is not gone because we got better or made up for it but because Jesus paid for it already on the cross. You cannot make past sins go away by future good works.
I hope you know how much I love you. I pray that you will consider these things and how important it is to confess your sin to the Lord and to those your sin against. Ask for forgiveness. It waits for you at the foot of the cross, not in a sink without dirty dishes or a freshly vacuumed floor.


Establish the Work of Our Hands – II

In my last post I talked about Psalm 90:17 as it relates to my current situation and some of what it means that Moses prayed that God would establish the work of Israel’s hands. This time I’d like to talk a little about how that plays out in the lives of people like me and others who have lost a job, seen income reduced or are otherwise affected by the economy right now.

To me the most important thing to remember here is that Moses looked to God to establish the work of their hands. He had a nation of 2,000,000 people at his disposal and he still turned to God to establish the work of their hands. I am reminded of the verse “Unless the LORD builds the house the laborers labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Moses knew that to be true and he trusted God who is completely trustworthy to be the one who directed their steps and established their work. I am a very proud guy and I am often very tempted to think my success is up to me rather than trust God in this way.

More than that, I think it’s important to remember that God is not impaired by economics. Things can be very bad in the economy and God can do what He wants anyway. Do you remember the story in 1 Kings 17. God sends Elijah to meet a woman who is supposed to feed him. This occurs in the middle of a terrible drought and things are so bad for the widow she plans to use all she has to make one last meal so she and her son can eat one last time before they die. Her economic situation was much more desperate than almost anything anyone with America, Canada or Europe’s safety net permits. Yet God provided for her so that her flour and oil did not run out (even though she KNEW there was only enough for one more cake left).

Why did God do this? It wasn’t to be nice to the widow. I presume there were other families equally desperate during this time and we don’t have any records of God being so merciful to them. The reason He did it was to feed Elijah in a way that brought Him glory. God established the work of the widow’s hands to promote His glory.

This is where I start thinking about Job 42:1. After seeing the error of his thinking, Job confesses “I know that you (God) can do all things. No plan of yours can be thwarted.” God does have a plan. His plan might not have anything to do with our economic prosperity or America’s re-emergence as the single global economic superpower. But whatever His plan is, it will not be thwarted under any circumstances.

Are you out of a job as I am? God’s plan for you will not be thwarted. He has promised to provide for your needs and He will do it. You much be humble enough to accept the means of provision He decides. In the New Testament, that seems to be one another love shown by members of your local church.

Are you okay for now but worry about the future? God Himself will establish the work of his faithful servants and there is no cause to worry. There is nothing unemployment rates or national debt or the “wrong” president or Congress can do to stop that.

Are you comfortable living in the generous welfare the country has provided? With extended unemployment benefits, discount health insurance, food stamps, mortgage reductions and so many more things it can be tempting for even a believer to get content in his or her laziness. Remember that Moses prayed that God would establish the WORK of their hands. Paul said those who didn’t WORK shouldn’t eat. One of the very first commands in the Bible was for Adam to WORK in the garden. God invented work and we should seek to glorify Him in whatever work He gives us to do.

Selfish is as selfish does

I was recently in an online exchange with a lady justifying her family’s shooting off fireworks nearing midnight. She responded to a post where I said that I was thankful that the blood of Jesus covered the sins of people pursuing selfish pleasure like using fireworks late at night when people are trying to sleep. Her response to my initial note about this (on a public bulletin board):

What a ridiculous thing to say. How about we show a gracious attitude one or two days a year (4th of July and New Years’ Eve) to the families and friends enjoying each others company and celebrating the holiday. It wasn’t even completely dark until 9pm last night. It took us over an hour just to set off the little package of fireworks and sparklers we bought to entertain our 2 and 3 year old. The big fireworks at the lake were still going off when we went inside so I am sure there were those who came home from that and set off a few more at home. My kids were excited, our 3 dogs were crazy, my husband needed to get to bed so he could get up at 6am this morning. Big deal. It is one day a year.

Saying that doing fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th is sinful and the comments about selfish pleasures, horrible death of Jesus on the cross and repentance in relation to fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th of July (yes, that needs repeating) is absolutely asinine. It is those sort of comments that lead non-believers to think that Christians are a bunch of judgmental yahoos. A gracious attitude goes much further.

I didn’t know whether she was saying she wasn’t selfish, that selfishness wasn’t sin or that Jesus’ death isn’t required to cover sins like selfishness. Based on her thought on graciousness, she clearly doesn’t understand the Gospel at all. I am stuck by how many people in the south are just like this – defending their own righteousness rather than simply embracing the free gift. Grace only makes sense in the light of our sinful unworthiness. The simple fact is this lady loved her pleasure more than the peace and well being of those around her. She could have chosen to stay home so her husband could do their fireworks earlier, could have chosen to do their fireworks at another time or place, could have taught her kids that the laws about fireworks and disturbing the peace should be honored, even if it cost them something. She chose none of these but rather to feed her own desire to see smiles on her kids faces and good “family time”.

I have sinned worse than most people and I never killed anyone to my knowledge. Most sinners are not axe murderers. Most sinners are selfish or unkind or angry with their spouse or like impurity. To God, sin is sin. He will punish all sin the same way. The best news is that all the punishment for all these simple sins, as well as the big ones, was already poured out on Jesus on the cross for all those who put their trust in Him.

Afganistan is not the worst war

I was thinking as I watched a news report about General Petraeus’ change of command ceremony in Afghanistan about how badly the war effort there is going. We were largely unprepared for what we encountered. We gave ourselves far too much credit for early successes and underestimated the enemy’s ability to rise up again. We didn’t wage war with the enemy in a way that would be ultimately productive. We kept changing who would be held responsible for the prosecution of the war. Our enemy there is crafty and doesn’t see this with results that are measured in days or weeks but in years and decades.

The greater war I am thinking of is the war against sin we all fight. Some of us don’t even seem to realize we’re in a war in the first place which is why so many are losing ground. Those who have not turned from their sin do so because the deceitfulness of sin has blinded them from the truth. Satan is like the Taliban or Al Qaeda times 100. He is deceptive and the father of lies. Christians who are no longer slaves to sin still fail to win these battles for all the same reasons the USA and NATO is failing in Afghanistan. We do not prepare for the battle that we’re in. We give ourselves too much credit for past victories over sin and forget that while it may not be standing at our door in an obvious way, it is crouching there waiting for any opportunity to attack. We often do battle sin in a way that sacrifices long term benefit for immediate results by using crutches like rules and emotionalism instead of being motivated by love for Jesus. We blame others for our sin because they antagonize or tempt us, rather than simply face the fact that we alone are responsible for our choices.

What’s a Christian to do?

  • Pray for the young men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan. The news accounts break my heart as I see people in their early 20’s losing their lives in this war. Pray for the families they leave behind – that they would turn to the Great Comforter to be their strength and sufficiency.
  • Use the media accounts of the struggle of this war to remind yourself that you are at war with a deceptive enemy, but that the stakes are much higher for you – your soul and eternity.
  • Battle the deception the way the Bible says to. Hebrews 3:13 says 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. God says a main weapon against the deceiver and is other Christians exhorting us – that is we should be coming alongside other people to remind and encourage them about holy living. It is a command, not an option. That also means that God has designed it so that we all need to be exhorted, as well as to exhort others.
  • We need to be alert. The Bible says ” Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Lions don’t jump up and down and announce their presence before pouncing on gazelles to devour them. The military uses sophisticated technology and recon teams to see the enemy coming so they are not surprised. We need to use the tools God has given us – prayer for ourselves and our families, the exhortation of those around us, a heart that grows in loving discernment (Phil 1:9).
  • Pray for the leaders whose decisions affect your battle with sin. Church leaders can make decisions that affect their people’s sensitivity to the war, their understanding of the severity and the consequences, and how prepared for battle each individual Christian is. We need wise leaders who see eternal things for what they are and lead us in the right direction – not fearing the battle but confident in the One who has already won it for us.
  • Finally, be confident that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion. I know it is easy for me to fall into sin, to lose a key battle, and to immediately become despondent or depressed. When we take our eyes of Jesus and look at our own performance it’s like forgetting about our secret weapon. If you are a Christian, all your sin has been paid for. Not most, but all. One of the great lines in any hymn ever written:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

We should pray that good will prevail over evil in Afghanistan. We should ask God to save sinners there who are blinded by the deceitfulness of sin. We should pray that our young men and women fighting there would discern the crafty tactics of their enemy. Their success is not sure, but ours is. It was secured 2000 years ago when the Son of God volunteered to serve by bearing human flesh and dying in the place of sinners who deserved death. Praise God that we cannot lose what He has already secured for us.

Lawbreaking is lawbreaking

So I’m driving from a client in Nebraska to the airport taking a little liberty but not too much with the speed limit when I see those flashing blue and red lights in in my read view mirror. I get pulled over and get a ticket for going 8 MPH over the speed limit.

What are my initial reactions? “I wasn’t going that fast. Are you kidding me, a ticket for 8 MPH over? Don’t you guys have any illegal immigrants to catch? Must not be any donut sales today. The state must have a large budget deficit.” I could add to the list.

What is the reality? The reality is that I probably was going that fast and nothing else really matters. I was breaking the law. In fact, people going 1 MPH over the limit are equally lawbreakers. They simply got grace and mercy from the authorities. None of the other issues matter, even if they are true. I was a lawbreaker.

Christians have to land on this truth! We believe that God demands justice for all sin – big ones and little ones. Trying to argue that 8 MPH isn’t enough disregard for the law to be punished defies everything we believe to be true eternally. The fact that so many professing Christians would have had the same reaction as me is only an example of how contaminated our consciences are by the world’s love affair with self that justifies all lawbreaking so as to live in the fantasy that right and wrong are defined by us and not the chief authority.

If you are not a Christian, please think about this. God has not punished you yet but He has every right to. Today you are receiving mercy but God’s mercy will not last forever. He has told us this and the solution in Hebrews 9:27-28

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Are you eagerly waiting for Jesus’ return? He is coming back and when he does there will only be two reactions. Lawbreakers who have acknowledged their sin and turned from it will have endless joy. Lawbreakers who have not confessed their sin and turned from it will have torment forever. There will be no second chances and no partial credit for a life that is only partially lawbreaking. Turn to the Lord while He has given you His mercy and patience.

Not in My Home

We have a great home built by a great builder and serviced by a great project manager. His name is Kevin Young. One of the things I love about Kevin is how attentive he always is when he enters our house. Anytime there is even a remote chance there is dirt or mud on his feet he takes his boots off before entering the house. He is concerned that our house is clean and the presence of dirt on his shoes will spoil it. I think most people would expect someone with mud on their boots to take steps to ensure they didn’t track it into their clean house and ruin their clean carpet.

I’m amazed that while most people would see this as an act of both consideration and in some ways reverence, many do not apply the same standard to heaven. We know we want our clean house to stay clean, but somehow we don’t recognize that God wants to keep his perfectly holy heaven that way. People think they can track their sin right into heaven anytime they want and God will be okay with it. He’s not going to do that. The Bible says God is only light and in Him is no darkness at all. He will not tolerate that being spoiled.

Some people might say that their sin isn’t so bad and God will be okay with it. I can’t imagine why He would be. If a contractor came into your house and got your carpet just a little bit stained would you be okay with it? What if he just put a little smudge on your new wall? How would you feel about the whole reason he was careless was because he took for granted that you’d be okay with it?

That is exactly what many people do with heaven. They think that somehow because the Bible says God is Love that He will overlook every other characteristic he has like His justice and His holiness. He’s not going to do that. In fact, in His love he’s provided a way for us to have the dirtiest shoes you can imagine and still enter heaven.

Jesus’ blood is like those little blue cloth footies doctors wear. It doesn’t matter how dirty their shoes are because they are covered by the footies. Our sin doesn’t stain heaven not because it isn’t there, but because it is covered. The footies are one size fits all so they cover bid sins and little sins, public sins and private sins.

There’s one thing that’s required for these footies to work. Someone has to put them on. If you want the Jesus footies so God will let you into heaven you the first thing you must do is see the need for footies. If you don’t put the footies on you will not cover your sin and you will not get into heaven. The Bible says “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to his own way, and God has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” The question is not whether you need the footies, only whether you will put them on. Jesus said that all who come to me I will never cast out. You never have to worry about Him running out of footies. They are available for anyone who confesses that they are a sinner and do not deserve heaven.

God will not let you spoil His home anymore than you would let a contractor spoil yours. Repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, put the footies on and come inside.

Dying to self

This past weekend I had a chance for a little glimpse into what my wife must deal with on a much more regular basis. Elyse Fitzpatrick was holding a conference about 100 miles away from our home and my wife took our two older daughters there for the weekend to participate and visit the church that was hosting it. BTW – if you are not familiar with Elyse I highly recommend her work, even for men to read. Her perspective captured in her books “Because He Loves Me” and “Idols of the Heart” transformed my wife and our marriage which may be a topic of another blog post if she gives me permission to write about it.

Here’s what I had to work with. From about 2pm Friday until 3pm Sunday I had to watch two kids ages 5 and 6, take care of two daschounds, host a family from church who is temporarily moving out of their house to find work, prepare for a men’s breakfast at our home on Saturday morning and keep the house clean for our normal small group meeting on Sunday evening. It’s easy to say this was an unusually high amount of activity but frankly I think my wife deals with about as much at the close of every week when you consider her home schooling commitments and other ministry obligations.

How did it go? Well, initially not so great. As soon as she left I started trying to coordinate my approach to things as if it were a project from work which didn’t help. The problem with little kids and dogs and people in general is that they don’t fit into a project plan all that well. After muddling around for a while I came to a conclusion. All this was possible if I simply died to myself and my desires and gave myself fully to serving her out of the overflow of the love the Lord has shown to me.

What would that mean? Well, in practical terms I did not get to have nearly the liesure time I would have liked to have. I did not get to read a book I hoped to read in advance of our small group time. I did not get to eat the food I would have preferred because catering to the little ones was more important and somehow they like McDonalds more than Smokey Bones (I know it’s crazy but it’s true). I spent $20.50 to see a 90 minute movie (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) which I enjoyed more than I thought but is not the one I would have picked to see alone. I ate the same leftover pasta dish three times because the little ones liked her taco soup so much they didn’t want to share (I chose grace to them over exerting my rights). I didn’t get to sleep in on Sunday like I usually do when Kristen is around because she wasn’t there to get the kids up, fed, cleaned and dressed for church. I didn’t get to stand around church talking to people all the time becuase she wasn’t there supervise the little ones, get them to their classes, get them from their classes, etc.

Basically, I saw how selfish I am usually and how much having the best wife in the world lets me continue in my selfishness.

What did it take for me to make all this happen? First of all and most importantly it took a total and complete acknowledgement that there was no way I could do it. Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing”. He didn’t say apart from Him we couldn’t do most things – He said “nothing”. The reality is this past weekend gave me a chance to see how little I was really doing that any carnal non-Christian wouldn’t have also been doing. The non-Christian would have been the one sleeping in and letting his wife care for their kids, talking to his friends while his wife supervised the little ones at church, enjoyed being the pack leader of the dogs while his kids fed them and picked up their poop, ignored things that could be done on Saturday to prepare for the small group meeting on Sunday (using lesson preparation on Sunday as a convenient excuse to not be more organized so he could be helpful).

Paul said in Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. What I have been doing, at least in these areas where I have let my love of self dominate my desire to serve, is refuse give let Christ live in me.

I am very grateful for the chance to have this spotlight on my sin of selfishness in such a glaring way so even in my think-headedness I cannot possibly miss it and will be asking Kristen to forgive me for the many years I have let my selfish heart take advantage of her lovingkindness to me.