Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Up

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). As we approach Holy Week 2021, we ponder our spiritual brokenness and earthly mortality. We give ourselves to humble mourning and repentance for our contrbution to the death of Christ on the cross. As Paul Tripp notes, “We should be a rejoicing people. But this side of our final home, our rejoicing should be mixed with mourning as we witness, experience, and, sadly, give way to the power of evil.” We don’t have to look very far to see that we live, work, and relate in a world that has been twisted and bent by sin. Some of it our own.

God’s Cosmos
Is Beautiful and Broken

And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:25

BUT NOW

  • “…cursed is the ground” (Gen 3:17).
  • “…it will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Gen 3:18).
  • “…creation was subjected to frustration” (Rom 8:20).
  • “…its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21).
  • “…groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Rom 8:22).

God’s Image Bearers
Are Beautiful and Broken

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

BUT NOW

  • “…every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Gen 8:21).
  • “… I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5).
  • “…there is not a righteous man on earth who…never sins” (Eccl 7:20).
  • “…all have turned aside, they have together become corrupt” (Ps 14:3a).
  • “…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps 14:3b).
  • “…all we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isa 53:6)
  • “…all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
  • “…if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).
  • “…if we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar” (1 John 1:10).
  • “…tears…death…mourning…crying…pain” (Rev 21:4).
  • “…for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19).

God’s Son
Is Beautiful and Broken—For Us

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.
John 3:16

BUT NOW

  • “…Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6).
  • “…Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
  • “…Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3).
  • “…God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21).
  • “…who gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4).
  • “…who gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
  • “…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
  • “…who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).
  • “…Christ suffered for you” (1 Pet 2:21).
  • “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet 3:18).

God’s Gift of Repentance
Turns Us from Broken to Beautiful

In repentance and rest is your salvation.
Isaiah 30:15

David’s famous prayer of repentance, which the church typically reads and practices on Ash Wednesday, demonstrates the beauty of the king’s brokenness before God. My analysis of his literary artistry is as follows: 

The addendum (vv. 18-19) was possibly added later to correct the potential misimpression that sacrifices were no longer important or necessary in Israel.

Ken Miller writes, “David’s plea in Psalm 51 comes from someone one who has honestly faced himself for who he really is and what he has really done. No excuses, no explanations, no blame placed on circumstances or on other people. He knows he has committed sin and wants only to be honest and acknowledge what God already knows. He cannot have peace, he cannot please God, he cannot be of meaningful service unless God washes him and restores him completely. Far from David’s mind is any idea that God is lucky to have him on his side, that God should take what he gets and be satisfied, grateful for the assistance he has received.”

Miller is right. David came clean with God and thus got cleaned by God.

We fall down in repentance only to be lifted up in grace.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3

God does this to

“…bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.”
Isaiah 61:3

This is falling upward. And the best is yet to come.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:1-2 

Image Credits: hoodmemorial.org; powerpackedpromises.com; ericambasan.com.

Divine Hospitality: God at Home in a Fractured World

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.”
– Al Stillman


No doubt you’ve heard this line from the 1954 Christmas song by Al Stillman and Robert Allen: “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.” It was covered most famously by Perry Como and later the Carpenters, and has remained a holiday favorite for nearly seven decades. But did you realize there’s good theology in its message? 

In the birth of Jesus, God made this fractured world his own home. Indeed, the incarnation of Christ was the ultimate display of divine hospitality. On that first Christmas, God set a table for broken people everywhere, inviting them to come feast at Bethlehem’s manger. And it’s an all you can eat buffet!

After all, as noted previously, this is the God of “immeasurably more” than we can ask or imagine. Jesus, the Living Bread, came down from heaven to nourish everyone starving for the love of God. (Quite significantly, Bethlehem means “house of bread.”) When Christ was here in the flesh…

  • His life showed us how to live. 
  • His death made us ready to die. 
  • His resurrection gave us new life—and the confidence that, in him, all will be well in the end. 

At the end of God’s cosmic story is a new heaven and new earth. Eden, our original home, will be restored—only better than before. All God’s people will finally be made whole (and holy) forever. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more pain. No more shattered dreams and broken relationships. No more deadly diseases and debilitating disappointments. No more night. God’s immeasurable love in Christ heals beyond our imagining and invites us to come home to stay. With him. Forever.

Through his Spirit living in us, Jesus is still at home with us today. That’s why believers are called to extend his hospitality to others in our day. We’re his hands and feet on planet earth. The Christian faith is an embodied faith; we seek to live what we proclaim, even though we fall short many times. We seek to live as “earthen vessels” containing the divine “treasure” (2 Cor 4:7).

That’s exactly what Mary was. She was the original host of God’s Christmas hospitality. For nine months she literally was the first earthly home that Jesus had. But how could she possibly host that which cannot be contained? Solomon had a similar question. “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27). And yet, the God of “immeasurably more” became “measurably less” at Christmas. He did dwell on earth—as a baby! 

It’s hard to get our minds around such a mystery. Deity in diapers? Elohim with elbows and eyebrows? How can this be? T. S. Eliot described the newborn Christ as “the word within a word, unable to speak a word.” In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie (Robin Williams) described his own spatial paradox like this: “Cosmic, phenomenal power, itty bitty living space!” That was even more true of Jesus. He left the splendors of heaven to be with us in our distress—at great cost to himself. Christmas, then, was the ultimate transition—divine to human, heaven to earth, riches to rags, power to powerlessness—all of it to invite us to our true home with God. 

As we celebrate God’s hospitality at Christmas, we can rightly sing, “For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.” That very impulse comes from the God who made us, and then became one of us in Christ.

So, welcome to Jesus.

And welcome home.

Image Credits: shutterstockcom; wallpapers.fansshare.com; theconversation.com; studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen/.