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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

White as Snow

I wrote this journal entry July 16th 2006, one year into treatment for Andrea's metastatic cancer. These thoughts came to me as I cleaned a friend’s house. Yes that is the Ravella gene coming out in me again. It is a strange way to relax but I really do find cleaning very relaxing and so I found myself power washing her house and in the end these thoughts just flooded over me. It was an amazing time I will never forget.

Last Sunday Andrea and I went to Mary's house. I had offered to power wash her house the week prior. Mary lives in a white house and if you have ever lived in NC you know that after a while the humid environment can cause mold to grow on the houses. Mary's house was no exception and the once perfect white siding had a lot of black and green mold taking away from the intended beauty of the house. Mary was single at the time, and I felt God leading me to help her. So I offered to power wash the house knowing it was far to big of a job for her to do alone. I'm sure Mary felt I was blessing her, and I hope it did but in the end I was also blessed. Funny how God does that isn't it? Anyway as I was power washing the house these thoughts came to me.

I started on the worst part of the house that was covered in green and black mold. As i started spraying I was amazed how clean it became. The contrast from where I had cleaned and where I had not was amazing. I was instantly proud of my work. I thought this is going to look great! But as I finished the section and looked back over my work I suddenly noticed it really wasn't that clean. As I looked at it I started to notice a lot of spots and dirt remained. Where had all that been as I cleaned? It seemed pristine when I compared it to the original condition. So being a Ravella, I went back over the section again. And again it became whiter, yet dirt still remained. With each pass the house became cleaner but never perfectly clean. Relative to how it started it seemed perfect but without a portion left in the original condition the house just looked better, not perfect. I thought about leaving a small spot unclean just so when I showed it to Mary and Andrea they would remember what it had looked like and realize how clean it was.

At that moment I thought about sin in my life and how we tend to see ourselves. Do we feel clean relative to those around us? Do we realize that relative to God there is still sin? There is only one way to be perfectly clean, white as snow. It is the only way we can enter into the presence of our creator who is perfect in every way, who can not allow sin in His presence.

This made me think about the law, and its purpose. I have never really understood how the law fits into our life today. Was it abolished when Christ came? Was the Old Testament now null and void? I knew that could not be but I did not see its purpose in our "modern" world. I have to remind you I have not attended any seminary and therefore do not possess any degree that gives me the authority to explain such a complicated theological topic as this, these are just my thoughts that came to me.

Just as I tried to clean the house I keep finding dirt I was unable to remove, the law points to our inability to completely cleanse ourselves from sin in our life.

Romans 7:7
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet

The law, given by God pointed out the sin in our life, it was not intended to be the source of our salvation. Salvation comes by faith.

Romans 3:19-25
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. Righteousness through Faith But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

The law points out our sin by showing us our inability to live to God's standard of perfection. I had never known what clean was, had I never seen a "white" house I would not have seen Mary's house as dirty and in need of cleaning. Once I had knowledge of pure white, I was aware of dirt. Once the law made me aware of sin, I knew I had to find a way to be cleansed. So what are we to do with this knowledge now have?

One reaction is just what I did to Mary's house, I tried to clean it. We can use the law to make us aware of our sin and therefore try to fulfill the law to be clean. Just like I did as I tried to clean the house, we will find that the law only continues to point to sin in our life. And as we find ourself unable to completely cleanse ourselves we will think of new laws to obey as we attempt to purify ourselves through our own efforts. But just as I found with the house no matter how much I cleaned there was always some dirt that remained. With each new law we seek to close the gap and find some way to ensure a sin free life and thus fulfill the requirement for the law and provide us salvation, the right to stand before the God we serve.

There are some of us who are able to fulfill the law better then others and in comparison they seem "more righteous" then others and I guess that offers a sense of assurance that a "fair" God would take into account when He judges us. The problem is when God judges us He does not compare us to others but to Himself. The Pharisees tried to keep the law and they presented themselves as righteousness. They had dedicated their life to keeping the law and it was their security, so you can see why they were so threatened by Jesus who was saying you only had to believe in Him to be saved. The problem is when you seek purification by keeping the law you tend to become a judge. Your security that is based on your relative righteousness to others and there develops an attitude of superiority. Not to say that this same attitude can not exist in those who claim Christ as their salvation. Legalism exists in all religions and needs to be guarded against.

Matthew 7: 1-3

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Fulfilling the law is a very outward form of righteousness and lends itself to judging others. It is more about what we show to others then what is in our heart. I believe that no matter how hard you try to obey the law, in your heart you know you fall short. Just like my attempts to clean Mary's house, even though my first pass produced some spectacular results there was still dirt left. Just because it was cleaner then before did not mean it was clean. If the definition of clean is no dirt then any dirt that remained meant it was dirty.

If the law was given to us to point out our sin but unable to provide us cleanliness that seems like a cruel joke by a perfect God. Where we given the law to let us know we are doomed?

The other reaction to coming to terms with sin in our life is to understand we are not capable of every being clean enough through our own efforts. To know we all fall short of the glory of God. I think the law was given to point out our weakness and inability to become clean through our own efforts. It was to point to the one way we are cleansed. To point to the only one who could pay the price for the sin we were born into, Christ who suffered and died so that the punishment the law demands was paid in full.

God did not give us the law force us to try then fail, only to try again and fail again, repeatedly beating our heads against the wall only to become frustrated trying to meet a standard that is impossible. The first rule of setting a goal in life is the goal must be attainable. But God never intended the law to be are source or way to salvation. He always intended us to be made righteousness through faith in Him.

Galatians 2:15-16
We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Christ fulfilled the law and by placing our faith in Him we are made righteousness.

Hebrews 10: 1-4, 7-10

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

I have come to do your will, O God.' "First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Abraham was counted as righteous not because he kept the law but because of his faith. God was not looking for perfection in an imperfect being. He was looking for someone who would trust and love God out of knowledge that he was imperfect and incapable of meeting the law. God still looks for that same heart in us. But we have the blessing of having the New Testament and the knowledge of God's plan and fulfillment of the law in Christ. We live under the new convent made in Christ's blood to look for the forgiveness of our sins. No longer do we need to offer a sacrifice every year to make up for our failure to keep the law. We trust in Jesus' sacrifice and we are born again, made a new creature and sin is dead to us. The law no longer condemns us, for we no longer live under the law. Though we will still struggle with sin in our life for we live in sinful bodies. (Unlike Andrea who has left her sinful body and sinful nature in the grave I visit, she is now made perfect in her glorified body...Praise God!) Our salvation and our promises are complete in Christ not in our works.

So where do works fit into our life as believers? Must we work? Once we accept Christ are we now indentured servants forever trying to pay back our debt? No not at all. James tells us faith without works is dead. To me that tells me that if I have faith in Christ and accept the gift of salvation yet do nothing with it then my faith is useless to anyone other then myself. And Jesus did not suffer and dies just for me. So we do produce fruit through our works. But these works are a result of our salvation not the source of it. Just as it is natural for a tomato plant to produce tomatoes, it is natural for a believer to produce fruit. If the tomatoes plant grows to record heights but does not produce a single tomato it is useless to the gardener. Just as if a believer understands and learns the promises of God written in the Bible yet never uses that knowledge to affect another person, he or she is of little value to God. They are like a dam in the river of living water keeping for themselves a gift given to them most probably through the faithfulness of a believer who helped them. The sacrifice of Christ has failed to spread through that believer to others. We are to be used by Christ for His glory. As we realize what was done for us on the cross we will see that there is nothing we should not be willing to do for Christ who first died for us. Even if He asks us to be a witness in cancer. Even if He asks us to die for Him.

So I ended my day of cleaning, four hours of pressure washing. In the end the house looked great compared to when I started. Mary and Andrea thought it looked great. I still saw the dirt. I saw my inability to remove the dirt no matter how long I tired. And I saw my own sin. I saw the gap between me and my creator. I saw that I could never bridge that gap on my own. Then I saw Christ who cleansed me.

Hebrews 10: 16-25

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. "Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. "And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It was funny how God used this simple act to help me understand this complex subject. I know there are books and books written that try to explain the theological concepts have written about and I do not think for a moment I fully understand grace and mercy and all that Christ accomplished on the cross. But that is the fun of serving God, He longs for us to grow ever closer to Him to be more Christ like each day. His desire is for all of us to grow in our knowledge of His plan. He knows the more we learn we will only be that much more amazed by His love. What a gift we have been given!

I walked away from Mary's house with a better understanding that only Christ has the ability to cleanse us. No matter how clean I may look to those around us without Christ we are still dirty, and thus unable to enter into His presence, the one without sin. We are born into sin and the law points out our sin so no one is ignorant of the sin in their life. The law points out the hopeless condition we are in, but Christ is the grace and mercy to remove the hopelessness. We receive what we could never accomplish or buy from the one who was without sin, yet was made sin on our behalf. That is the only way we can be made truly clean the only way we can be made as white as snow. That is humbling. But that is our hope, what allows Andrea to fight on. Its what allows all of us to face life's challanges.


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  2. I really enjoyed reading this especially as Easter approaches and the sacrifice that was made on behalf of all us sinners is on the forefront of my mind.