Monday, March 4, 2013

A Good Place to Start..

     I'm a sinner ... saved by grace... And there's a lot of us around. It's a large club:)
     I don't think I ever had to have anyone convince me that I was a sinner.  You see, I was the spoiled brat of the family who threw wall-eyed fits on the living room floor  but it was never because I thought it was the right thing to do... Oh no!   I did it simply because - it worked.  On my grandmother at least.  And being a bit hard-headed,  it took me a while to figure out that what works for Grandma doesn't necessarily work for mom.  To this day I'm glad my mother had small feet and wore soft soled slippers...  On rare occasions when the sole of her shoe met with my posterior, I found that I could, after all, give up my agenda, get off the floor, and conform to family standards.
     By the time I was in second grade, my teachers were talking about how good I was in class, how quiet I was, how polite I was.... I was still a bit rambunctious at home (although no longer one to fall on the floor and scream!) and so sometimes my mom would get these little positive notes from school, shake her head, and say:  "Quiet?  I'm not sure which little girl they are talking about here... This is certainly not the Cathy I know!"  But on those occasions  I knew she was teasing me and that being talkative at home  was really okay.
    By the time I was in the third grade, I was a straight "A" student and a fairly productive member of my family.  I would still try to slip out of household chores  on long summer evenings and I could definitely pick a fight with my brother and/or my sister, but at the same time, I loved my siblings enough to hurt when they hurt, etc.   I really appreciated the things that my parents did for me, like staying up all night with me when I was sick or comforting me when I was scared.  I was maturing.
     But there was something still missing in my life and that was the goodness of Christ.  Even though I was turning into a genuinely productive and loving member of my family, a good student, and was well on my way to becoming a decent member of society, my "goodness" was not enough to allow me to come into the presence of a holy God.  If I compared my actions and thoughts at age 8 to what I had been at age 5, then comparatively speaking, I could look back and say, "I've arrived.  I'm not a spoiled brat anymore..."
    If I compared my behavior to that of the girl next door, who was constantly in trouble, I could say, "I've arrived.  I certainly don't get in trouble all the time the way she does."  And since at this time in my life, I'd never heard of hormones or sex, I was still pretty innocent.
   But still, I was a sinner and one day I realized it.  Sitting in the balcony, I heard a pastor talk about the sinlessness of God and I knew I didn't measure up.  He talked about how the penalty for sin, any sin, is Hell and I knew that was where I was headed. When they gave an altar call, I asked God to save me and He did.
   Corrie ten Boom talked about her experiences in a concentration camp during WWII.  When she was still in the "trial" phase, such as it was, she was taken to a hut within a row of such structures in order to be interrogated.  She had seen one hut where someone had planted flowers outside of it and she hoped that when her time came to be interrogated she would be led to that particular place.  To her relief, she was.  The man who questioned her and her family turned out to be a "decent" person who hated his job but who felt trapped, not knowing what would happen to his family if he tried to go against the Nazis openly.  So he did what he could secretly.  Corrie once asked him if there was darkness in his life and he told her there was. HE talked about the darkness of worry concerning his family so many miles away, of his angst concerning the war and all the people around him who were suffering, of his disgust with his horrible job and his feeling of being trapped.In turn, he let Corrie and her family talk to him about God and he drank in every word that they said.  And finally, he took a sheaf of incriminating evidence against them and threw it in a fire in front of them so that it could never be used against them by Nazi authorities.
     He was a "decent" man caught in the devilish schemes of the Nazis, whom he abhorred.  Although he lacked courage, he did take risks to try to alleviate the suffering of those he could help.   Had the Nazis discovered the small things he did to help their prisoners, he could have been killed. So he wasn't even totally without courage.
     After the war, Corrie met this man again and led him to the Lord.  At first, it took a little while to get him to see that he was a sinner simply because he was not a Nazi at heart and had tried to do the right thing, even in the midst of an unprecedented and very cruel political maelstrom. 
     He was what Corrie ten Boom would have called a "decent" sinner.
     Some people are destined to be ax murderers whose thoughts are filled with horrible things.  Most people in "civilized" society, however,  are probably not in that category.  They love their families, exhibit integrity at work and in the community and  can honestly compare themselves to the "bad guys" who end up in the crime section of the paper and say, "That's not me. I don't even know how people can  think things like that, let alone do them."
     The issue from God's perspective is not how we rate compared to the worst of society. The issue is: how do we compare to the God of the Universe?  God is truth - He never lies.  He's never uttered a lie or acted upon one.  God is totally unselfish.  He's never broken at the head of the line or taken the last chocolate out of the box, if you will.  God is totally righteous. He's never had one sinful thought or committed one sinful action.  God is pure.  He's never used anyone for His own gratification or made false promises to get His way.  God is gentle and reasonable. He listens to His people and invites them to come and reason together with Him, promising that though their sins be red like scarlet, He will make them white as snow.
     God is amazing, all-powerful, just, and loving. However, there is one thing He cannot do. He cannot tolerate sin in His presence. Not one white lie, one selfish thought, one greedy act.  As light cannot co-exist with darkness, He cannot coexist in the same place with sin.  As light dispels darkness, His presence banishes sin - and the hearts that harbor sin...
      So we have a choice. We can look at others who are not as "good" as us and hope God will "grade on the curve". (He won't.)  Or we can accept the sacrifice of Jesus, who lived a sinless life and then died in the sinner's place, paying the penalty for sin for all those who believe in His atonement.
      Basically you either try to pull yourself up to Heaven by your own bootstraps.  Or you accept what Jesus did on the cross as payment for your sins.
      For those who have decided to accept the atonement of Christ as payment for their sins, Heaven is ahead.  But with this caveat. In Heaven, as wonderful as it will be, there is at least one thing that you cannot do.  That one thing is this: you can't warn others about the dangers of sin and the reality of Hell. The only time we can do that is now, here on earth.
      If God has washed your sins white as snow and covered your sins with His grace, then now is the time to share that information - the good news - with someone else.  If you aren't sure how to do it, I recommend the book shown below. It's a good place to start.

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