It was the year I was bitter to go to school. This school, this campus that had shut down my vision, stolen my community, gated my home. This group of people whose values and structure and inside jokes and catch phrases were so new and different. Where the girls looked plastic pretty and boys wore their v-neck whites and we came in our sweatpants and ponytails, facing the day with our hair wet.
It was the year that I didn’t want to learn, or expand, or grow, or invite, or captivate. It was the year I wanted to curl up between heated blankets and shut out the world and drown my discontent and loneliness and fear and missing and longing in the mind-numbing pattern of ten-minute stories and thirty second commercial breaks.
It was the year I wished every moment by more quickly than the one before, the year I prayed would be over as soon as it started.
It was the year I closed the shutters on my heart, and battened down the hatches and stayed inside rather than facing the wind and thunder and fire-quake that precede the whisper of God.
How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That he should plant seeds deep deep down in a darkened heart that would root through the soil and tear apart hunks of rock and break up the sidewalks of routine.
Their catch-phrase: Preach the Gospel to yourself every day. And as I laughed, and sneered, and thought it overly simplified and far too cutesy, God pushed the seed deep down, and in the water of his whispers and the light of his love, it took root.
It’s nearly three years now since that year, and this seed is tearing apart my life.
Preach the Gospel to yourself every day.
It’s a phrase that is so meaningful, only the Holy Spirit can interpret my groans. And so powerful, and so vast, that words typed too quickly on a screen can hardly capture it.
But I’m going to try to share with you anyway, not just once, or twice, but a whole week of sharing, so that maybe, just maybe, God will take these feeble words and paling adjectives and plant them deep deep in the darkened, calloused places of your heart. And maybe, in three days or three months or three years or three decades, the roots will be tearing you apart, allowing sunshine and rain and wind and storm and earthquake and the still small whisper into the place you have duct-taped shut.
And this is the Gospel: that the God of the Universe found himself most glorified when he sent his son as a sacrifice for our sin. That the Lord of Heaven’s Armies was honored, awed, lifted up, acclaimed, blessed, celebrated, commended, lauded, exalted, extoled, magnified, and all these paltry little synonyms we have, when he gave himself – for you, for me.
So that we might be blameless before him, standing before him as Christ stands before him. So that when his gaze passes over us, he sees the righteousness of Christ. This is the Gospel: that the glory of God is found when he loves us like he loves his son.
Do we get this? Can we take off our shoes, hold our breath, fall on the floor, be speechless? Can we be quiet? Can we stop our trying and our describing and all these silly words?
He is God!
And, O Lord, I am not worthy of your holiness.
Guiltless, I named this year – and here is where this preaching the Gospel becomes part of the rhythm of my every day life. Because do you know what my heart tries to convince me?
That I cannot walk to God without an honor and glory I’ve made myself. That I must feebly sew together the fig leaves of my self-constructed righteousness to love him, to be near him, to come to his throne.
And I pick up my sermon and turn to my heart and say:
Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God…for God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ…sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Do you see why my words are so feeble?
While I fail, grasp, am greedy, groan, moan, complain and fall, God looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ.
There is nothing else to be done. There is nothing to do. The curtain is torn, the doors flung open to the Holy of Holies, and I, clothed with the white righteousness of Christ, may enter. At any time, after any failure.
No. Matter. What.
This is the Gospel. There is no guilt, no condemnation in Jesus Christ.
This is the Gospel. That I throw off my self-made shackles of shame and enter the throne room.
This is the Gospel. That the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is my friend, no matter where I stand in life, or how productive of a day I have had, or whether my check list is done, or my dishes are clean, or I’ve read the Bible only three days this week, or I forgot to pray for my friends.
This is the Gospel. I have been given the righteousness of Christ.
I stand guiltless before the Father.