When speaking at a seminar, I stained my white suit jacket with a permanent
red marker, feeling much like the woman in this picture.
Yes, it was a costly, humbling, and clutzy gaffe.
But it was an accident, so why did I feel so ashamed?
I felt “found out,” as if I was wearing a scarlet letter.
Hidden inside that pure white suit was a heart that has
unkind, selfish, and impure thoughts — and a past
stained with shameful moments.
Tim Keller’s chapter this week is called “The Stain,” for, as he says:
We have a profound, inescapable sense that if we were examined we’d be rejected. We have a deep sense that we’ve got to hide our true self or at least control what people know about us. Secretly we feel that we aren’t acceptable, that we have to prove to ourselves and other people that we’re worthy, loveable, valuable.
That is the stain we all carry.
But Jesus, and only Jesus, has the power to wash us and make us clean.
He washes us with His blood, makes us His own, and cherishes us as His child.
Even when we fail, He is faithful and just to cleanse us again when we come to Him.
The Pharisees tried to rid themselves of the stain through outward appearances, washing their hands as diligently as a surgeon before going into surgery.
But Jesus tells us that what we really need is enough gospel faith to believe we are still loved.
He does want us, because of that love, to fear our idols and trust Him instead,
running to Him the moment His loving Spirit warns or convicts us.
Lent begins this week, so let us practice becoming great repenters,
running from our idols and into His arms.
He will be faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The purpose of Lent is learning to lean on His love,
experiencing the continual cleansing and refreshment the gospel brings.
So our symbol for this first week of Lent is the washed heart.
Bear with me while I tell you yet another pickleball story. After the holidays, I was trying to console a woman I’ll call Geri, a fellow pickleball player. Neither of us is very good at pickleball, and there are times when it is easy to get down on ourselves for our less than stellar playing.
Geri had had one of those bad days and was thinking of quitting, though she lamented, “Pickleball is always the highlight of my day — it’s my social life and so much more. So I really don’t want to quit!” But after playing poorly on New Year’s Eve at a special pickleball event, she’d stayed home sulking for the next week. When she came back, she told Twila and me she wanted to tell us her feelings. We encouraged her to vent, and she did!
I listened attentively, asking her questions, sympathizing with her pain.
Finally, I said:
“I would like to tell you a story, though you may think I’m crazy.”
She nodded, knowing my faith in Jesus, but waved her hand and said, “Oh, go ahead.”
I was having a day like you had, Geri, and my partner was steaming at me for missing balls. I started to pray frenetically: “Jesus, PLEASE, help me be better, help me not to miss, help me, help me, help me — PLEASE, PLEASE, JESUS…” All of a sudden I heard a voice deep in my spirit that was not mine. It was just one word:
I stopped in my tracks. He called me “Honey.” I realized the Lord was loving me, probably shaking His head, smiling, wishing I had that kind of desperation when praying for things of eternal significance. Yet despite my foolishness, He wanted me to know that I was His Beloved, and having a bad pickleball game really didn’t matter in the knowledge of His overwhelming love for me.
That one word woke me up. I almost cried right in the middle of the game for that tenderness toward me. Suddenly I was so much less anxious, able to concentrate, and we went from nearly being pickled (when you get no points) to winning the game!
Geri was quiet but then said:
I don’t think you are crazy, but let me tell you what really happened. That voice was your own voice, not God. You so needed to hear that that your subconcious spoke it to you.
So, I didn’t persuade Geri, at least not at that moment, but I know it was God’s voice. We try so hard to remove the stain by being good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, important enough…but Jesus says that what matters is the heart, and only He can cleanse it. When we receive His gift, He makes us His child, His BELOVED HONEY, who is altogether beautiful to Him.
He wants us to lay our deadly doing down, trust in His love, and come to Him so that we can be washed, confident, and faithful. All He really asks of us is faithfulness — and to leave the rest to Him.
Geri, like the Pharisees, doesn’t yet get it — but she has Christians praying for her, loving her, and speaking truth to her — so one day, she may, and He will take the burden of keeping up outward appearances from her weary shoulders.
In Matthew, Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones.”
Here in Mark 7, he calls them hypocrites, a word meaning feigning virtue,
but hiding the deep stain of sin in their hearts.
Hypocrite comes from the word “actor.”
Yet I have also seen here, in this fellowship, women being honest about their sin
and asking for prayer,
asking repeatedly for God to search them and give them a clean heart.
Let’s keep it up this week, and continue through Lent,
for He calls each of His children His beloved.
Highlight from Last Week:
Your response to Mary’s suffering and testimony was so good. She, like John the Baptist, is trusting God amidst enormous suffering that in the world’s view doesn’t make sense. Diane commented on how encouraged she was by Jon Bloom’s article from last week on trusting God in the midst of suffering, and she quoted him:
“He does not always answer with the speed we desire, nor is his answer always the deliverance we hope for. But he will always send the help that is needed. His grace will always be sufficient for those who trust him. The hope we taste in the promises we trust will often be the sweetest thing we experience in this age. And his reward will be beyond our imagination.”
P. S. Sarah Dahl is continuing her We Wonder podcast for Lent, for those of you who were blessed with her Advent podcasts. https://www.wewonderpod.com
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
- How do you know God loves you? Share more than one way. Give thanks.
Michael Card sings “Jesus Loves Me” like this:
Jesus loves me, I know it’s true
Because He died for me and He died for you
When I think of all the pain that He went through
I want the world to know and I want to shout the news
Jesus loves me, this I know
It’s not just the Bible that tells me so
I can feel it, feel it in my soul
Jesus loves me, this I know
Jesus loves me, how can it be
That the only Son of God should care for me
To take away my sin and set me free
To take my life and make it all it’s meant to be
Monday: When Traditions Trump the Word of God
3. Read Mark 7:1-8
A. The Pharisees traveled a long distance to trap Jesus — of what do they accuse Him and His disciples in this passage?
B. How does Jesus respond? What does He call them and why?
4. Read Mark 7:9-13
A. What example does Jesus give of their traditions trumping God’s Word?
B. Often we close our eyes to an area where we have sensed conviction from His Word and Spirit. Our lack of faith may cause us to give up in that area — whether it is sharing our faith, over-eating, or caring for the poor. Be still before Him and ask Him to open your eyes, show you what to do, and give you the faith to do it.
5. Read the opening of Chapter 7 of Keller’s book (The Stain) up to the quotation of Mark 7:14-
16 and share what stands out to you and why.
Tuesday: What Makes A Man Unclean?
I stopped my subscription to People Magazine because all those physically beautiful people were demoralizing as I am becoming more like Solomon’s description of an aging person in Ecclesiastes 12. Our American culture values youth, physical beauty, and celebrity over age and character, but God warns us not to judge by outward appearance. He tells us that wisdom is often found in the aged, and we should show them respect. He also tells the Pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the Kingdom before them — for many of them realize their need and come humbly to Him. What, indeed, makes a man unclean?
6. Read Mark 7:14-23
A. What does Jesus say does not make a man unclean, and what does? (14-15)
B. How does He explain this to His disciples?
7. Read in Keller’s Chapter 7 from where you left off up to Outside-In Cleansing
and share what stands out to you and why.
(Tomorrow is a longer section in Keller’s book if you want to start today.)
Ash Wednesday: Outside-In Cleansing
In 1908, The London Times asked noted authors to answer “What’s Wrong With The World?” G. K. Chesterton’s response became famous:
8. Read again Mark 7:14-23, asking God to speak to you through this passage. Does anything stand out? If so, why? Would you pray about it here or privately?
9. Read Keller’s section called Outside-In Cleansing and share notes or comments.
Thursday: Behold, I Have Taken Away Your Iniquity
10 Read Zechariah 3 and summarize what happened and the main point of the story.
11. Challenge question: Give another example or two of this repeated theme in Scripture of God making someone clean from the inside out.
12. How is the Lord working in your life? Do you have a praise?
Friday: Inside Out Cleansing
13. Read Inside-Out Cleansing to the end of the chapter and share your notes and comments.
14. Do you have a God Hunt to share?
15. What stood out to you from this week and why?