Sunday, 11 March 2012

Just As We Are

We decided to walk home from Church today - not a decision we made lightly, because it is a loooong walk, but it was such a beautiful day that we felt it would be a waste not to enjoy the sunshine while we could! In England you can never be certain of the weather. It might be warm and sunny one day and the next, it will be cold, with icy winds blasting and rain lashing at the windows. Still another day it will be almost subzero temperatures (it's not uncommon to see snow in April) and then the following week, we will be back to walking about in shirt sleeves and summer dresses! All very confusing. But we're use to it and we know that when the weather is good, we better enjoy it while we can! And it was a lovely walk, thought my legs were very tired by the time we got home. We walked through the park, which is almost on our doorstep. It's a big park with lots of playing fields and paths, an old fashioned Victorian bandstand in the centre, a boating lake, duck pond and a children's play area with swings, slides and such. When the cubs were small we use to spend a lot of time there, and it was fun watching another generation of young parents enjoy the facilities just as we had. Everyone was smiling and there were children on bicycles, scooters, skateboards and roller skates flying about everywhere with their anxious mamas and papas running close behind! It was so good to see them, enjoying the healthy sunshine. And it seems like 5 minutes, sinse we were those anxious parents, running behind our cubs! How incredible it seemed, when they took their first bike ride without stabilisers! Wobbling precariously along, proud but terrified! Now we still follow them anxiously, but it's metaphorically these days - praying for their safety, and trusting that God will help them keep their balance and stay on the right path when they falter.

Today at Church our first reading was from the book of Exodus - Chapter 20, verses 1 - 17 which as many people will know without reading any further, is one of the two locations in the Old Testament where we find the Ten Commandments. As we sat and listened to the reading, it struck me how at times, I've found myself losing sight of these, as I strive to focus more, on what God specifically wills for ME, and my life, and in how best I can serve Him. It's as if I've strayed away from the bigger picture, to the finer details, which while important, are really the product of this far more fundamental teaching. For Scriptural teaching to be relevant, and therefore applicable, to everyone, there has to be some kind of benchmark by which we can all, man and woman, adult and child, measure our conduct, a set of rules that is easily applicable to our lives, no matter where, or when, or how we live. These rules are so clear, and so far reaching, that even today, they are used to form the foundation of the laws of the land in most civilised countries. We apply them, oftentimes without even realising it, as the basis for deciding whether our behaviour is morally acceptable or not. And they can be found here, in the Ten Commandments:-

"And God spake all these words, saying,
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's".
(Exodus 20, 1 - 17)

How easy it is for me to think "well, this is only a SMALL sin, so God won't mind, if I take it to Him later". It seems to me like there are some sins, which manage to slip through the screening process of the Ten Commandments. It's as if they don't really matter, because they're "only small". You know the sort I mean. When you read something in a magazine or watch something on the TV, that glorifies stealing, murder or adultery. Or when you decide one Sunday that as it's a sunny day, you'd make better use of your time if you stay home and help your husband get the garden tidied up instead of going to Church. Or maybe (this is the one I'm most guilty of) you've overheard your neighbour talking about her new kitchen, and you think "it's not fair. My husband doesn't earn enough money to pay for US to have a new kitchen, and I'm a MUCH better cook than she is!". (In truth, I am very happy with the kitchen that I do have. I like MY kitchen because it's in my home! And if Papa Bear earned nothing at all, I'd still be happy with whatever we had, as long as we had each other. But still, that's an example I think we can all relate to!).

I'm sure it's no coincidence that this morning's Spurgeon devotional, that Papa Bear and I read before we had even risen from bed, was about just this very subject ...

"Beware of light thoughts of sin. At the time of conversion, the conscience is so tender, that we are afraid of the slightest sin. Young converts have a holy timidity, a godly fear lest they should offend against God. But alas! very soon the fine bloom upon these first ripe fruits is removed by the rough handling of the surrounding world: the sensitive plant of young piety turns into a willow in after life, too pliant, too easily yielding. It is sadly true, that even a Christian may grow by degrees so callous, that the sin which once startled him does not alarm him in the least. By degrees men get familiar with sin. The ear in which the cannon has been booming will not notice slight sounds. At first a little sin startles us; but soon we say, "Is it not a little one?" Then there comes another, larger, and then another, until by degrees we begin to regard sin as but a little ill; and then follows an unholy presumption: "We have not fallen into open sin. True, we tripped a little, but we stood upright in the main. We may have uttered one unholy word, but as for the most of our conversation, it has been consistent." So we palliate sin; we throw a cloak over it; we call it by dainty names. Christian, beware how thou thinkest lightly of sin. Take heed lest thou fall by little and little. Sin, a little thing? Is it not a poison? Who knows its deadliness? Sin, a little thing? Do not the little foxes spoil the grapes? Doth not the tiny coral insect build a rock which wrecks a navy? Do not little strokes fell lofty oaks? Will not continual droppings wear away stones? Sin, a little thing? It girded the Redeemer's head with thorns, and pierced His heart! It made Him suffer anguish, bitterness, and woe. Could you weigh the least sin in the scales of eternity, you would fly from it as from a serpent, and abhor the least appearance of evil. Look upon all sin as that which crucified the Saviour, and you will see it to be "exceeding sinful."

I know, it's really hard. But it's meant to be! I had to think about this quite a bit, as we walked home from Church, and Papa Bear and I discussed it with the cubs as we went. We know that we are of course not perfect. Only God is perfect. We're not, and because of that, we are going to sin. But it's our contrition when we do, that's important, however small the sin (and perhaps, in recognising that the small sins are still sins, they're just as important as the big ones). Because in that, in recognising that we have sinned, no matter how small, and confessing it to God, we are forgiven. God love us just as we are - that's the wonderful thing. The Ten Commandments exist not so much to test us in our ability to keep them, but to test our love for God - because it's that, not just our willingness to submit to His will, that matters to Him. Our motive in keeping His laws, should be our love for Him, as our Father. Just like loving parents who guide their children to keep them safe, so does our Heavenly Father want to keep us on the narrow path. And just like children who mess up sometimes, and falter, and take the wrong turn, so will we, but as long as we recognise this, and show repentance, we will be forgiven. Little Bear reminded us of the hymn we often sing at Church, the words of which were written by the late 18th and early 19th Century poet, Charlotte Elliott, which you can listen to in the You Tube clip above. I think they are just right, and we all wished we'd sung this hymn today, because it seemed so appropriate for the reading we'd had, and for the one that followed, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians -

"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men
". (1 Corinthians, 1, 22 - 25)

Isn't it wonderful that God is so great and so wise? We may be weak and fallen but through His Son we have been given the gift of Salvation - that we may be forgiven for our sins and recieve eteranal life. We are reconciled to Him through His Son, our sins redeemed by His blood. At this time of Lent, that's a thought that I want to hold on to, trusting that I am loved as God's child, just as I am - and so are you.

Just as I am - without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - though toss'd about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come!