God’s love is greater

Psalm 36:5-10
I can’ help but “Amen!” that one line from the worship song “What a Beautiful Name.” It simplifies all I know about God’s mercy: My sin was great. Your love was greater.

Amen!

God’s love will always be greater. As Wesleyan Christians, we speak a lot about the grace of God. It shapes how we understand God’s redemptive work. So, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear us talk about it. Some take that to mean we’re soft on sin. Not at all.

The grace of God doesn’t excuse sin. It forgives it. It redeems it. Now, that’s not our get-out-of-jail-free card. Rather, it’s a reminder of how good God is to us. The apostle Paul asked, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it” (Romans 6:2)? Sin, he continues, has no dominion over the Christian heart because of God’s grace (Romans 6:14).

For that reason, in our reflection, it’s good to begin with what we know and are learning about God. We’re not ignoring who we are or what we’ve done. There’s no benefit to pretending. At the same time, it’s a bit self-centered if you only and mainly talk about how much of a sinner you are. Again, God’s love and grace are greater! Refocusing on God redirects our attention more to the goodness of God.

Psalm 36 offers us an illustration of this perspective. The psalm opens with a word about the wicked. Transgression runs deep in their hearts. In their eyes, they are well. Their mouths carry “mischief and deceit.” And while they lie on their beds, they plot their schemes. Notice the depth of their iniquity. It’s as deep as their heart and even gets as low as their bed.

Sounds bad, right? Well, let’s let the psalmist now broaden our perspective.

Whereas deceit runs deep in the heart, God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens. God’s faithfulness reaches the clouds. The Lord’s righteousness has the heights of the mountains. God’s judgments complete the fullness of the image by being like the great deep.

Do you see the comparison? Truly, our sin is great. It feels like it runs deep. But God’s love is greater. Amen!

We can also sense the psalmist’s affirmation of our premise to focus more on God’s love and grace first. He says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Do we need to reflect upon who we are and what we do? Of course. That’s a wise and mature way to grow in grace understanding. At the same time, let your reflection begin with God’s light, how good God is.

You won’t notice your sin less. Quite the opposite. You’ll appreciate more what God has done for us. You’ll question why and how sin grabbed you. And the depth of God’s steadfast love will be light to your soul.

Stay blessed…john

The way to freedom

Nehemiah 9:16-25
If you happen to find yourself in the middle of a reading like Nehemiah 9, you might not recognize what is happening.

For sure, there is an acknowledgment of sin taking place. The priest Ezra is recalling the history of his people. It’s better to say he is remembering the faithfulness of his God. He recounts several acts of power and mercy God shows to his ancestors.

God gave life to all people. God called Abraham to lead his people. When the people of God were in bondage, God freed them. They walked across dry land through the divided sea. As if that wasn’t enough, God led them by day with a pillar of cloud and by night a pillar of fire. And even if that didn’t quite make the point, God made a covenant that ensured their standing before the Lord.

And what was their response to all this?

Ezra says, “They acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey” God’s commandments. Even though God was “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” the people wanted their old life in Egypt. Now, this doesn’t sound like a confession of sin. Ezra and the people are remembering what their ancestors did. But who their ancestors were, they were, too. Generational legacies are hard to ignore.

At this point, they recognized the sin of their ancestors as part of their own. Their sense of sin was more communal than ours tends to be. We’re used to thinking of my sin. That’s not wrong, mind you. It’s incomplete.

Now, here’s the part you might miss if you merely happen upon this passage. Yes, it’s an acknowledgment of sin. But it’s part of a larger gathering of the people. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and there was a sense of renewal among them. This moment of national repentance was a part of their celebration and restoration.

Do we see repentance that way? Is confessing sin something we look forward to doing? Like Ezra did in Nehemiah 9, are we willing to acknowledge the guilt our ancestors passed to us? I wonder if it’s possible to know what true freedom from sin is unless we learn to do just that.

We should recognize what our sin does to one another. How sin keeps us from living in the image of God. And understand how sin breaks God’s heart.

But we can also rejoice because God forgives!

“In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” is a joyful declaration of peace, reconciliation and power. The more we’re willing to acknowledge how sin invades our lives, the more we can repent. And the more we turn to God, the more grace restores us. Thanks be to God!

Stay blessed…john