Who You Gonna Call?

For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
Romans 6:9

I live with a fair amount of physical limitation. I can’t walk very far, or carry heavy objects (except on my back … the back is a wonderful burden bearer, but that is for another blog). And I can’t reach above my head. Because of this, my world is quite a bit smaller than most people’s. If it’s more than about 4 feet off the ground, it doesn’t exist for me, because there is nothing I can do about it.

Then there are the things that I can do, I should do, on some level I want to do, but that I just don’t do. My desk is an example of this. It is covered with papers that need some attention and disposition. I know what to do with each and every one of them, but I just don’t. In some respects, I can’t. No one can help me with this, and I don’t want to be reminded of my failures, so I put it out of my mind. I defend my failure by calling it a “vertical filing system” but I know better. I live in despair of my desk.

So when my daughter noticed the mold on the ceiling, my immediate thought was, “above 4 feet, it doesn’t exist”. A couple of days later, when my wife noticed it, I took the desk approach. “We probably need to get that taken care of.” She said that she was capable of cutting it out, and we let it go. A problem deferred is a problem solved.

A couple of days later I thought it was getting bigger, so I said to my wife that we really need to do something about that, sooner than later, and a remarkable thing happened: we did (and by we, I mean she got the mask and gloves and utility knife and plastic). When she started cutting into the drywall, it came off in pieces, clearly wet and damaged.

Once all the moldy parts were gone, we looked up into the hole and saw that the source of the water was a shiny copper pipe with the tell-tale bluish green of corrosion. We were not going to be able to deal with this on our own.

Fortunately, I have a friend who is a plumber (everyone should have a good plumber, auto mechanic, and small appliance repair guy). He knew just what to do, and he was able to come over, cut out the defective part and replace it with a good part and quality workmanship, and my leak was fixed.

There are a number of analogies that come to mind as I write this. The leaky pipe is the sin in my life. While it was originally designed and intended to fulfill a function, defects in the material or workmanship gradually caused it to be distorted in its function, just as the sin nature that I bear keeps me from completely reflecting the glory of God as I was created to do.

Sealed up in the drywall of the ceiling, the pipe dripped for some time, unnoticed. I can hide the sin in my life from others (and even myself) for a long time, by putting on my mask, pretending that everything is ok, or just taking a defensive “desk” attitude about it. Unfortunately, like the mold that ultimately erupted from behind the drywall, our sin will not stay hidden.

Sin is less about specific things that we do or don’t do than it is about a flawed nature that pits us in opposition to God, in rebellion against his ways and jealous for his glory. That is the root issue that needs addressing. The bad things we do are like the mold. If I just dealt with the mold and not the leak, the mold would certainly come back.

My plumber told me that mold never really dies, it just goes dormant. He said that mold needs three things to grow: food, moisture, and air. You can make it go dormant by treating it with a bleach solution, but if you don’t remove one of the three, it will come back. Similarly, even the redeemed retain a sin nature. If we feed it, it will flourish. That’s why we long for our ultimate redemption and new, heavenly bodies that are free from sin. In other words, God is going to remove the mold from our lives one day!

But the key point I wanted to make was that the only solution to this problem was to call upon someone who could deal with the root issue. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to deal with plumbing issues. Who you call makes all the difference. There was no question but that I needed to call someone who had what I lack.

Asking for help requires humility and vulnerability. It is a declaration that I am not up to the task, I am limited, I am weak. Many of us have a hard time with it. You can probably think of a problem in your life is staring you in the face like my desk, or the mold on my ceiling. You know it needs dealing with, but you either pretend it will go away, or you roll up your sleeves and decide to fix it yourself, in your own strength. Either way, there is no chance that you will ever let someone know that you don’t have it covered.

But sin is a much bigger issue than a messy desk or a plumbing leak. Whether you take the “desk” approach of ignoring sin, or think in all your DIY glory that you can fix it yourself, the problem will only get worse until you call upon the name of Jesus and trust in his atoning death on the cross to save you from that which you cannot save yourself.

How did I know that my friend was able to fix my leak? Well, I didn’t really (until he did). But I know him, that he is a man of character and integrity, and I know he has been a Master Plumber for decades, and I’ve had some experiences with him fixing minor plumbing issues for me, so I chose to trust in him, that he could do what he said he could do. And frankly, I was desperate. I had no one else to call. I took a chance and he didn’t let me down. The next time I have a plumbing problem (there’s always a next time), I will have more experiences to draw upon, and I will have even greater confidence in him.

How do you know that Jesus is actually able to deal with your sin problem? Well, you won’t (until he does). But his resurrection from the dead is proof that when he cried out “paid in full” on the cross that it really was. So ultimately, you will have to trust him, that he can do what he says he can do. And frankly, you are desperate. There is no one else to call. What I do know is from my experience, Jesus has proven faithful in dealing with every problem I’ve taken to him. So the next time I need to deal with sin (there’s always a next time), I have greater confidence in him.

Now if you will excuse me, this desk isn’t going to clean itself…

Holy, Schmoly?

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

Holy Week. Suddenly, I was struck by the oddity of that term. What makes a week holy?

In the Old Testament, there are two conflicting concepts, uncleanness and holiness. A number of things make a person ritually unclean simply by coming in contact with them. An unclean person was required to perform a cleansing ritual before coming into contact with others in the community or entering God’s presence to worship. The penalty for violating this requirement was steep, as God wanted his people to be very cognizant of how they were called apart, and to not take worship for granted.

The concept of uncleanness is intuitive to us. One time, a plumber friend was installing a new toilet for me. After he finished caulking around the base of the toilet, he washed off the excess caulk from his fingers in the toilet bowl. Even though I intellectually knew that the toilet had never been used, and was therefore “clean”, still inwardly I said “ewwww”. We know what toilets are used for and that they are therefore “unclean”.

On the other hand, the things in the temple, where God dwelt, were considered holy. The temple was surrounded by a wall, separating the building from the commotion of the rest of the city. Even this area was divided into different areas, the outermost area being as far as Gentiles and women could go. The next area was where men could go to offer sacrifices through the priests. In this place was the altar of sacrifice. Within the building was the Holy Place, where only the priests could go, to burn incense, care for the lamps, and replace the bread of the presence daily. Beyond that, separated by a thick curtain, was the Most Holy Place. Here, the presence of God dwelt between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. Only the high priest could ever enter, and then only once a year to offer the blood of the atonement sacrifice. The holy things were set apart from the common things, and were not entered into lightly.

Through the sacrifices, we have a powerful picture of the power of holiness. Once an animal was killed, skinned, and cut into pieces, it was placed upon the altar to be burned. Because this altar was holy, dedicated to the sacrifices of Jehovah, anything that touched it was also holy. In fact, simply offering an animal to be sacrificed made it holy. The portion given to the priest was holy, and could only be eaten by members of the priest’s family who were ritually clean. The clay pot in which the priest’s portion was cooked was holy, and had to be broken after use, to ensure it could never be used for any other purpose.

Here is the mystery and the majesty. While touching a dead animal would make a man ritually unclean, the priest was able to kill and sacrifice an animal and rather than becoming unclean, the animal became holy. Coming into contact with uncleanness makes one unclean, but coming into contact with holiness makes one holy. Holiness is more powerful than uncleanness.

Just as the dirt on the side of the mountain around the burning bush was made holy by God’s presence, so this week, the week of the Passion, is made holy by the intersection of God’s presence with creation. The triumphal entry, the teaching in the temple courts, the last supper, the betrayal, crucifixion, and ultimately the resurrection were the final acts of the incarnate God fulfilling purposes set in place before the creation of the world.

The Passover Seder begins with the youngest child asking, “why is this night different from any other?” In other words, why is this night holy? The Seder goes on to tell the story of how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt in great power, and passed over their houses because of the sacrifice of blood that covered them. God’s power revealed to Israel makes that day holy.

But Passover is just a picture of what God was going to do through Jesus. The blood of the Passover lamb caused the angel of death to pass over the houses of the Israelites, delivering them from the death of the firstborn, but only those who put their faith in God and remained in the houses marked by blood were protected. In the same way, the blood of Jesus causes the judgement of God for sin to pass over those who put their faith in God by claiming it for forgiveness. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt pales in comparison to the deliverance of all mankind from the power of sin and death.

If God’s presence in the temple made it holy, and God’s purposes for the sacrifices made them holy, and God’s power at Passover makes it holy, then how much more is this week made holy by God’s presence in Jerusalem in the person of Jesus, his purposes revealed in his atoning death on the cross, and his power revealed through the resurrection? Yes, this week is indeed holy. Let us not enter into it lightly.