God Does His Best Work In the Mess

In just five days, my new book Forgiving Challenge and its companion written by my wife Forgiving Challenge Kids will officially be released. The book is organized through an acronym SCARS (Sin, Confession, Absolution, Restoration, Sanctification) that helps us on our journey to freedom. In anticipation of this launch, we’ll drop a blog each day around each of these concepts.

Today, the one that’s no fun. Sin.

My family has lived in Central Florida for just over a decade now.  A few times we’ve driven south and one of the places, believe it or not, that has always left an impression with me on the drive down is a place called Monarch Hill Renewable Energy.  It’s right off the turnpike.  All of a sudden, you see thousands of birds of prey circling in the air protecting a massive landfill.  Believe it or not, this landfill has now become one of the highest points of elevation in Florida at 225 feet high.  It was just 10 feet high a couple of decades ago.

And these birds of prey which get a bad rep, actually, have been trained and brought in to keep seagulls, other birds and animals away from congregating at the landfill.

Every single day, 20 million pounds of trash gets added to this landfill.  When Hurricane Irma blew threw a few years ago, 3 billion pounds of trash was piled on.  5000 homes are powered monthly by the gases coming off this landfill and 3 million gallons of garbage juice comes off this mountain monthly.

They estimate another 17 years until this landfill reaches its full capacity.  If hurricanes sweep through, it could be years earlier than that.  Once the pile of trash is high enough they put a tarp over it and then they eventually fully cap it off with sand and grass.  Over the years that follow, estimates are that it will take 30 years for the trash to settle.  And I didn’t realize this until my research but many former landfills end up becoming public parks.  Did you know that?  And in the last couple of decades, 70 golf courses, some of them ultra-luxurious, have been built on old landfills in our nation.

All of this leads me to this conclusion.  Human beings have come up with pretty inventive, creative, and cool ways to deal with our trash.  This is a massive heap of garbage.  And yet, we’ve learned how to build these things up, dispose of them all, and turn them into world-class golf courses.  Garbage to golf?  Like, good job, humankind!

But one of the reasons why I love this imagery is because as inventive, creative, and skilled as we may be at getting rid of our physical trash, when we try to do this with our spiritual garbage it leads to devastating consequences.  Today, we are looking at that spiritual garbage, what the Bible calls sin.

Sin is a small word that packs a mighty punch.

In a culture where we have become addicted to becoming offended, one of the most offensive things you could say to someone is that they are a “sinner.”  We live in a world that likes to accept and affirm all decisions and choices, when in reality, every single one of us is a sinner.

Paul, a follower of Jesus in the first century, declares in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”  Later, in verse 23, it would elaborate and tell us that “all fall short of the glory of God.” 

Without first understanding and accepting that you are a sinner, you will never be free.

What exactly is sin?

Sin is derived from an old archery term meaning “to miss the mark.”  If bullseye was the mark intended to hit, then technically, any attempt other than bullseye is considered a sin.  Big misses like when your dart doesn’t hit the board and lodges into the drywall of the home.  And little misses that are just off.

You will never be free if you cannot admit that you are a sinner.  The admission price into freedom begins with an admission of your sin. 

Even most Christians I’ve met don’t like admitting fault. Truthfully, I don’t either. But sadly, we are a far cry from the one that we claim to follow. We are not known for the same words as Jesus. Judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, political, out-of-touch, prejudiced, and bigoted are all words that get tossed around to describe Christians by non-Christians.

The first thing you might do when you hear what words describe Christians is refute the feelings of those that label Christians, or your church, in a certain way.  You might feel that they are wrong.  Perhaps you point them to all of the good deeds that Christians do.  Then you might go through your list that Christians are the first in line and most helpful in disaster relief, they’ve brought clean water to so many villages, and have been working on prison reform for decades. You might point to hostile media characterizations and think that that’s why the non-Christians say those ugly things about us.  You might even think about all of the great things your church, filled with Christians, has done for your city. But hold on a minute.

Barna Research found that more than half of the respondents that had used those harsh words to describe Christians based it on personal experiences with Christians.[i]

And let’s state the obvious: if 65% of Americans claim to be Christian, then out of the 215 million of us, there are going to be a few crazy ones who twist the Word of God and live a poor representation of Jesus. And there might even be a few of those crazy ones that inhabit the walls of your church! You might even be able to name a few right now!

But in reality, each and everyone of us is sinful, broken, and messy. We have to admit that we don’t always do things right, and we also don’t always do everything that we should do.

It is so sad that we who have received God’s grace struggle to extend grace to those who are hurting. The truth is that God has acted on our behalf while we were still sinners, and very plainly tells us that we are called to act as well.  We have a God who stepped down into our stories and made us right and has now given us the ministry of reconciliation.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The challenge we face in this world as Christians is that we are called to stand up against injustice and at the same time to stand up for Jesus.  We cannot escape this world.  The “cancel culture” mindset that has become popular is something that Christians must avoid at all costs.  It shows no grace and only judgment.  And yet, at the same time, we cannot embrace everything in this world.  The world is beautiful, but it is messy, sinful, and broken.

Jesus came to bring both grace and truth, but many Christians skip the grace and go right to the truth.  

How do you, then, operate with both grace and truth?  It comes by spending time in relationship with God. When you spend time in relationship with God, you recognize how holy He is and how broken you are. But, with God, He doesn’t let you stay in your brokenness. He makes you whole.

God loves you.  Deeply.  But He cares about who you are becoming too.  Deeply.

God loves you for who you are, but His freedom never leaves you just as you are.

A Christian research company found that those who were most likely to spread the Good News had a regular practice of confession in their lives.  Those most willing to talk about and spread the Good News of Jesus started with an understanding that they are the one most in need of God’s grace.[ii]

I’ve written more on the benefits of daily confession here. 

Sadly, I write and speak to a lot of pastors. I have found it true for myself and many other pastors that it is easier for pastors to give grace away to others but not spend time themselves receiving God’s grace.  For pastors to properly lead with grace they must regularly receive it themselves. It’s when we come from that place, that we ourselves were broken until Christ made us whole, that we can truly be the light in the darkness that Jesus is asking us to be.  Rather than leading with judgment and what we are against, we must lead with grace just like Jesus did for you and for me. This is how we change our reputation.

We are called like Jesus to stand in the middle of the brokenness. The middle is messy. But it’s in the mess that God does His best work. Sin separates us from God.  But the amazing piece of our stories is that there is nowhere that we can go that the grace of Jesus cannot reach us.  Sin can ruin you, but it doesn’t have to.  For as strong as sin is, Jesus is that much stronger. He can reach into slimy pits, climb up mountains, light up shadows, and descend into darkness to come and rescue us.

I love the lyrics of a new song called “Homecoming” by Cory Asbury:

Scarlet sins have a crimson cost,
but you nailed my debt to that old rugged cross.

Stop pretending like you are perfect and let Jesus clean up your mess. How has God cleaned up your mess?

[i] “A New Generation Expresses Its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity.” https://www.barna.com/research/a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity/. 21 September 2017. Web. 6 November 2020.

[ii] Im, Daniel. “Input vs. Output Goals for Discipleship. https://www.danielim.com/2017/08/15/input-vs-output-goals-discipleship/. 15 August 2017. Web. 6 November 2020.

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