10. Paint It White: The Covering of our Sins Has Been Accomplished

FOR EVERY HOUSE IS BUILT BY SOMEONE, BUT THE BUILDER OF ALL THINGS IS GOD. — HEBREWS 3:4

Has anyone noticed pictures of mudrooms lately? They are white with clean shelving, unmuddied boots, and a few jackets hanging neatly on pegs. So unlike what a true mudroom in a country house looks like. I wasted many hours looking at photographs of mudrooms. Mudrooms in magazines. Mudrooms in real houses. Mudrooms in Decorator houses. (I’ve lived in thirteen different houses in my life, and I had never lived in one with a mudroom.) But one thing was clear from the beginning—I didn’t want the mudroom to be white.

We collected things in a hodge-podge fashion: terracotta tiles for the floor and a new entry door from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore; small French doors to open into the kitchen from Construction Junction; a wood stove for the corner that was in the basement of the city house. I repurposed the top part to an old desk and painted it green to coordinate with the kitchen, and it is now a combined shelving unit and coat rack for one wall. We have done this mudroom one wall at a time, at about the speed of one wall per year. Including the floor. Including the ceiling. What was once the three-year plan turned into five years. But now that it is finished, yes, the walls and the ceiling are painted a creamy white–just like the other rooms in the cottage—and just like the white mudrooms that I originally rejected. 

Have you wondered about this white trend of living? Kitchens are white, bathrooms are white, living rooms are white, mudrooms are white. I’m guilty. All the walls in the cottage (except for a couple of accent walls) are creamy white. It just speaks to me of how we try to whitewash everything for the world—from the concrete nouns of our houses, cars, and things, to the common every day sins of our lives…

The contractor husband was my first boyfriend. In 4th grade I was invited to his 10th birthday party, except he failed to inform me it was a birthday party. (The first of many miscommunications…) I thought we were just going roller skating. I was fearful because I’d never roller skated before, but I went because I liked him! Rita, his sweetheart of an older sister, took care of me that afternoon and taught me to roller skate—held my hand as we went round and round, helped me up when I fell, and encouraged me the whole time. Then we went back to his house and the kids put their birthday presents at his feet! I was mortified that I didn’t have one for him. I must have cried because his mom, Clara, put money in an envelope and gave it to him and signed my name. Their whole family took care of me that afternoon! Six years later we were boyfriend and girlfriend again—for two plus years in high school. We broke up in college, married others, had children, lived our lives, and saw each other once every five years or so at high school reunions. Thirty years later, we met again…and now are happily married, redoing a cottage, and painting it white. 

A happy ending, yes, but there was divorce and sorrow in between. No matter, we like to paint our pictures with the happy endings, the fun trappngs, and sweep the other stuff under the rug. There are no unhappy photos on Facebook. Got an ex-husband? Block him. Don’t like what someone says? Defriend them. Our public lives are white; what color are our private lives?

Here is an unpopular truth that we all must hear and know: All suffering is caused by sin. Please note what I did not say: I did not say that God sends suffering. But He allows it, doesn’t He? And I also did not say that your suffering is a direct result of your sin. It certainly could be; but it could also be the direct result of someone else’s sin, and for some reason, perhaps a reason that you will never know, God is allowing it to affect you. And you can block God, or defriend Him for awhile, but can I just tell you from experience? It doesn’t work well for the long term.

Here in the twenty-first century western world, we don’t talk about sin very often. It’s pretty much out-of-fashion. While reading Yours Jack, by C.S. Lewis the other night, I came across Lewis’s writing on the seven deadly sins:

 “I was thinking of the old classification of the seven deadly sins: They are Gula (Gluttony), Luxuria (Unchastity), Accidia (Indolence), Ira (Anger), Superbia (Pride), Invidia (Envy), Avaritia (Avarice). Accidia, which is sometimes called Tristitia (despondence) is the kind of indolence which comes from indifference to the good…⁠1

That letter was written in 1930. Today, ninety some years later, many of these deadly sins are just a regular part of modern life. Gluttony is now called being a Foodie. In most circles one would be laughed (or scorned) out of the circle if one referred to their sexual proclivities as sin. Indolence is simply depression or despondence, which Janet Porter called the “new trendy illness” in a 2010 article in the Daily Mail.⁠2 Envy is capitalized upon by every television advertisement and just considered part of life. Avarice or greed is covered over by calling it financial planning or retirement strategies. Pride is simply caring for yourself, isn’t it? Being yourself, doing right by yourself, having confidence in yourself, taking selfies of your self, self, self. The only one of the seven that still gets a bad rap is anger, and these days even anger seems to be prevalent and OK. Just start reading comments on social media posts….

The main drawback to denying the sin in our lives is that in order to need a savior, we must acknowledge our neediness. If we are doing fine, we won’t need Jesus; it’s hard to repent when there is no problem. We have painted everything white. From kitchen cabinets, to mudrooms, to bedroom carpets, we have whitewashed our sins by incorporating them into regular life and making them normal behavior. And we are all fine, thank you very much.

In that same letter, Lewis speaks of besetting sin. What he means is that each one of us has a tendency toward one of those seven sins—our main character flaw. I can’t speak for you, but at different times in my life, each one of them has been a besetting sin. Yes, I own them. Many, many sins. But God is gracious and merciful to all us sinners who ask for His mercy. My bible is full of verses meant for us sinners to hear: 

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” — Hebrews 8:12

“There is no one righteous, not one….” — Romans 3:10

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

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the worst.” — 1 Timothy 1:15

“…He will never leave you, nor forsake you.” — Deuteronomy 31:6

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” — Romans 4:7

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” — Romans 8:1

There is no need for us to whitewash our lives, our mistakes, our sins—for Christ has already done it for us. His white paint, or bleach, was His own red blood. I’ve often mused on the words, cleansed by His blood. Those two words are such a stark contrast —cleansed and blood. I think the juxtaposition of those words is meant to be strikingly severe, so that we will never take the sacrifice of Jesus, of God, lightly. Blood covering us? No, it’s not so appealing, especially someone else’s blood; it only works if it represents something so amazing, so glorious, that we can hardly comprehend it—only then would we ever submit to such a crackpot idea.

That’s part of the gospel’s magnificence—it is so shocking, so unbelievable. Really, if someone wanted to make up a religion, who would ever have come up with such a preposterous, miraculous, staggering scheme? Only God. The apostle Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.

And again in a later chapter, he writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…

Yes, by the world’s standards blood cannot cleanse; happiness is all important, so do what feels good; if you are suffering, it must be someone else’s fault; and listening to (or believing) some ancient prophet and His followers’ writings is indeed, foolishness.

But in a sermon two weeks ago, I was reminded of some other words of C.S. Lewis: liar, lunatic, or Lord. He is one of the three, and we have to choose—no whitewashing, or wishy-washing. Jesus Christ is either what He claims—the son of God who comes to take away the sins of the world, or He is crazy and deserved to die on that cross, or He is lying about being the Lord of the Universe, and at the very least deserves the ignominy that He is receiving in the world today. Here is the official quote from Lewis:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”⁠3

I’m writing this on the Saturday that is sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter, so the Cross of Jesus Christ is definitely on my mind. Last week in church we sang “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart…⁠4 It is a beautiful worship song and it reminds me of one of my favorite verses in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

And I picture that hand of Christ outstretched on the cross, that wounded hand dripping blood, forming my name on His palm. I have fallen at His feet and called Him My Lord and My God. And His blood is allowing me, a sinner, to come before God. Cleansed by His blood, indeed.


For further study, read Romans 8.

Questions for thought:

  • Picture Jesus on the cross, His arms stretched wide, saying “I love you this much.” Write a love letter to Jesus.
  • Lesslie Newbegin talked about bending the majesty of Christ into our own likenesses rather than making His greatness the focus of our lives. How do you see that happening in the church? In your own life?
  • Romans 8 is filled with familiar cherished verses that are worthy of memorizing. Which is your favorite and why?
  • Verse 26 says the Spirit intercedes for us, and verse 34 says the Christ also intercedes for us. So not only did Christ die on the cross for us then, but He is still interceding for us now–to allow us to come before God. This realization should surely make us “more than conquerors”. Is your God too small?
  • Name your favorite hymn or praise song that sings the gospel story of Christ so much it brings you to tears almost every time…

1 Lewis. C.S. Yours Jack, p. 11.

2 Porter, Janet Street. accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html

3 Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan, Rev. ed., 1960, c1952, p. 41.

4 Cook, Vikki and Charitie Lees Bancroft. “Before the Throne of God Above.” Published by Sovereign Grace Worship.

Foreword: Faith and Grace

for every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

Rebuilding a house is an exercise in faith and grace, hammers and nails. And screwguns, and table saws, and paintbrushes, and caulking guns, and… The list of tools that reside in our basement and the still unfinished rooms goes on and on.

It’s been eight years since we’ve begun the work on our Apple Hill Cottage. God’s presence has been everywhere — from the very way we acquired the place, to now, as we continue to work on it while we live here, working and living out our faith with fear and trembling.

I don’t think it is a stretch to write about this old cottage and the metaphors of God that sometimes my mind manages to unscramble. Scripture is full of metaphors, parables, and figures of speech. Jesus himself was accused of not speaking plainly by his disciples in John chapter 16 when they said, “…Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.”– John 16:29. This was just before they agreed that he knew all things and came from God.

Scripture also compares physical houses with spiritual houses. The most famous scene that comes to mind is the parable in Luke 6:48-49 about the foolish builders who built their house on sand versus the wise builders who built their house on the rock of Christ. But there is also the story in Mark 13 when Jesus tells us about the man who leaves his house and puts his servants in charge at the door to keep watch. The servants do not know when the master of the house will return and some fall asleep. For we do not know when the owner of the house will return; and we don’t want him to find us sleeping. Jesus is really telling us that our spiritual house must not be in disarray when we meet him–we don’t want him to find us at the door, nodding off.

Paul also compares buildings and spiritual houses in Ephesians when he tells the Ephesians that they are members of God’s household, which is “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:20-21) And then he says, we too are being built together to become a dwelling where God lives by His spirit.

Comparisons of physical and spiritual buildings aren’t just in the New Testament:  Isaiah says, “You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall. You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for One who planned it long ago.”(Isaiah 22:11) Our buildings, our houses, our walls — the physical accoutrements of our lives — must be accounted for and approved by God who ordained from long ago the way we are to live now.

And Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord build the house, the builders labor in vain.” I wrote that several times on various unpainted, rough plastered walls throughout the cottage. Unless our spiritual house–our faith–gives glory to the Lord, our works (or fruits) are empty and useless in God’s eyes.

 

FAITH IS THE HAMMER

Faith is one of those slippery words. It’s hard to hold on to; hard to explain; hard to wrap our brains around. When I was a young teenager asking my mother hard questions about God, her answer was “You just have to have faith.”

I wish I had been told, way back then, that it was okay to have doubts; that the doubts precede and make stronger one’s faith; that doubts are just a part of faith: a stumbling block that one trips over, but Jesus is there to grab your hand to keep you from falling. Alas, I was a young skeptic  — and where does faith live when the house is empty of belief? Or if Jesus is not there to keep you from falling? As a teenager I had no foundation to my house of beliefs, so when they were challenged, it was easy to open the front door and wave goodbye. Carefree, I didn’t have to think about those troubling stumbles any longer. I was free to run.

But I wasn’t free. I was chained instead to the world and its culture of self. Even though it worked for awhile, when the self realized that it was fallible and not such a good self as originally thought, the house nearly collapsed because it was built on the sand that shifts with high tides and storms.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering and thinking about faith: where it comes from; why it appears, and then becomes as if it has always been. When faith shows up, it becomes the rock and all the previous wonderings and doubts become less important. But that rock of faith is shaped by our own knowledge and insight; all faith is prejudiced. Someone who has faith believes based on their own personal experience. God has made himself real and that awareness of God — the Holy Spirit — is foolishness to those who’ve never experienced it–unlike reason, which demands impersonal evidence and proof. (Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Zondervan, c2000, p. 33)

Madeleine L'Engle quoteMadeleine L’Engle says that “Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason.” (L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water. Waterbrook Press, c2001, p. 15) Notice what she did not say–she did not say that faith is the opposite of reason, or that faith is contradictory to reason, or that reason is real and faith is illusory. Faith is for the events or ideas, the tragedies or joys that we cannot understand. When reason fails us, faith can sustain us.

Hebrews 11:1 emphasizes this paradox of faith by actually using the word evidence in the description of faith — Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Another translation, the ESV, writes it this way: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The strong concrete words that describe faith –Evidence;  Substance; Assurance; Conviction–are the same strong hammers that build our houses of faith, belief, hope.

Jesus reassured us in Matthew 17:20 that if we have a small faith — the size of a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains and nothing will be impossible. What glorious words to fall back on when our fears and insecurities and doubts threaten to overwhelm us. It is just one more paradox of faith — that we don’t have to have it all figured out, that indeed, if we just have a tiny seed of faith, it can be used by God for seemingly impossible things.

William Lane Craig said, “You don’t have to have all your doubts answered to come to faith.”⁠(Craig, William Lane. Found on www.reasonablefaith.org)  An even more affirming thought on doubt comes from Francis Bacon: “If we begin with certainties we will end in doubt, but if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently we may end in certainty.”⁠(Bacon, Francis. De Augmentis found in L’Engle’s Walking on Water, p. 135.) May we all journey through doubt, disbelief, hesitation, and end in certainty.

bent nails

 

GRACE IS THE NAIL

The hammer of faith has to strike over and over — our faith can be challenged daily by the world, our jobs, our acquaintances, our families, our circumstances.  But the grace of the nail is this:  it holds; it bonds; it joins unequal things together; it supports and grasps and keeps from falling. Without seeming to work, the nail connects to something larger. It pierces with a hole and then fills the hole with itself, a secure fastener.

Read that paragraph again and use Christ instead of the word nail. I think of the title of Max Lucado’s book– He Chose the Nails. Christ himself was pierced with those nails on the cross, but in His case it wasn’t the physical nails that held him to the cross. It was His love. For us. Those nails were love; those nails were grace.  For us. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Belief in God, or faith, begins with the realization that you, me, we are not those good people we thought we were. That our selves are prideful, envious, selfish, lustful, lazy, greedy, gossipy, murderous even. But grace… Grace is admitting you have a hole and asking God, Christ, to fill that hole. But we have to ask. We have to say, Yes, God, I am a sinner and I need you in my life.

grace in God's heartGod and His grace are everywhere —in a newly built house, clean and sparkling and ready; in a humble cottage, bursting at the seams with children, love, strife, emotions; in the cold mansion on the hill, where it seems nothing will grow; in the tumbling-down shack in the country; in a crowded apartment in the city…. We all grow at different times and hear the word in different ways, but through grace, God is always available to us. Yet He will never force us to believe. His love though? His love is with everyone — those who scoff, those who question, those who seek, those who have faith, those who love Him.  All we need to do is hear and respond. And I am thankful that, after a long time in the desert, He gave me ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart that is open to Him. A heart that used to have a hole in it, but now is filled. I pray that everyone comes to know this faith. “Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24

Entire books have been written about grace and faith; I cannot possibly do them justice in this small introductory essay, but when I opened my bible to make sure that I had the exact wording of the Ephesians 2:19-22 text above — God’s household is built on the chief cornerstone of Jesus Christ — I discovered these defining words in the margin: Grace is the pure, undeserved goodness of God. All that is needed of us is our willingness to accept that grace through faith. Yet, that faith, is given to us through grace. When faith increases, so does grace; it is God’s circle of life.

William Lane Craig said, “You don’t need to have all your questions answered to come to faith.”  I wish someone had told me that earlier. But maybe someone did. Maybe someone planted that seed that just took a long time to grow.

Fifty years have passed since that first conversation about faith; I never did get hit with a lightning bolt, but life itself — the Spirit of grace — eventually brought me to belief. To hope. To faith. Later than many would have hoped. I read. I studied. I looked at sunsets, and flowers, and all of nature which reflects God. And eventually I prayed. And God made himself known.

I whined. God, why didn’t you make yourself known to me earlier? Then I could have raised my kids in faith — in your love… I would have lived for you longer, better, more effectively. But God is outside of time; he operates simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future, so all of God’s actions within time happen at just at the right time. He is never too early or too late.⁠ (Wilkin, Jen. None Like Him, Crossway, 2016, p. 71.) It is only our own perceptions of time that put boundaries on God. He is God Himself, who is eternal, everlasting, endless. He will redeem our time, grant us grace, but rarely on our ephemeral human time lines.

If we go back to Ephesians, Chapter 2, you will find the major passage in the New Testament for understanding grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast…” (Ephesians 2:8-9) So, God reveals His gift of grace to all of us at just the right time. May these small house stories — metaphors of faith and grace — either be a seed for you, or add to the hope of your own faith story. And may they be at just the right time.

Books read while writing these essays:

  1. Everywhere God, Alicia Brummeler
  2. Scribbling in the Sand, Michael Card
  3. Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
  5. He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado
  6. In the Grip of Grace, Max Lucado
  7. Grace Transforming, Philip Ryken;
  8. The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel
  9. Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas
  10. None Like Him, Jen Wilkin
  11. Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, N.D. Wilson
  12. Somewhere More Holy, Tony Woodlief
  13. Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright
  14. What’s So Amazing about Grace? Philip Yancey

Blogs read while writing these essays: The River Walk, Desiring God, Informing the Reforming, The Housewife Theologian, Reasonable Faith.

All Bible quotations use the 1984 NIV translation unless noted otherwise.


Note: In some ways this introduction is the hard theological part of the chapters that come next. The essays that follow are generally concerned with just one aspect of life or faith, while this introduction is more of a broad discussion on the basic and overarching doctrinal principles of faith and grace–two big fuzzy words that often get thrown around without delving deeply into what they mean. Let’s be less concerned with what the ‘theologians’ say about them, and concern ourselves with the personal: What does Faith mean to you? What does Grace mean to you? And what are your most personal and favorite Bible verses about Faith? Grace?