Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Handwriting on the Wall

And you, being dead in your trespasses
and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
He has made alive together with Him,
having forgiven you all trespasses,
having wiped out the handwriting of requirements 
that was against us,
which was contrary to us.
And He has taken it out of the way,
and nailed it to the cross.  (Colossians 2)

Remember Belshazzar (Nebuchanezzar's son)?  Big ol' party.  Lots of drinking.  Lots of worshiping idols.  A hand that appeared out of nowhere and started writing something on the wall.  People freaking out.  (You would too, if a bodiless hand appeared and started graffiti-ing up your wall.)  "Hey, remember Daniel?  Let's get him here.  He's really wise."

And what had the hand written?  "You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting" (Daniel 5).

A long time ago, in a galaxy state far far away, there was no midweek Bible study at our church.  The men had 9-to-5 jobs.  The women were stay-at-home moms, and many of them were involved in Explorers, a humongous, city-wide, non-denom Bible study.  They finally talked me into going, due in part to my desire for a preschool-like experience for my eldest kid.  Oh my goodness -- I'd never heard of so many rules for attending Bible class!

I broke rules on my very first day.  Explorers begins with opening worship, followed by small-group discussion of the previous week's lesson, and then everybody gathers again for what is essentially preaching on the week's passages.  You are not allowed to talk in the small-group discussion if you have not completed your at-home study of the passages and written your answers to the homework.  My first week?  I obviously hadn't done homework.  And I dared to talk.  Can you believe it?

(The ladies in my class were thankful.  They were confused by how often the Old Testament talked about "So-and-so, son of So-and-so, son of So-and-so."  I knew the explanation and told them the brief history tidbit.  And everybody was happy.  Until a couple of women from my church found out later that I'd broken the No-Speaking rule.  They were not happy.  Apparently, our small group gained a naughty reputation with the leadership for speaking too much and too candidly with each other.)

Over the weeks and months I attended Explorers, I grew to love the women in my small group.  Most of them were Baptist.  (In the South, "non-denom" has a decidedly Baptist feel to it!)  These women were burdened by the law.  They wanted to be good Christian women.  They desired the Lord and yearned for Him, but they were constantly being beaten up by the law.  They did not know Him to be a God of grace, but a god of rules and commands and laws and requirements.

Oh, another of the rules for Explorers small-group is "no denomination-specific discussion."  Everything has to be non-denom.  Uh.  Yeah.  I guess I broke that rule too.  I did manage (most of the time) to hold it in with regard to the sacraments and the office of the ministry and other Lutheran views.  But the gospel?  I had to speak the gospel.  How could I not?  And after all, supposedly all Christians believe the Gospel, right?  We're readin' the Bible here, folks!  How could we keep mum about the mercy of the Lord in Christ Jesus??

So when those dear women fretted that God would zot them for their inability to live as they ought, I talked about Jesus and His cross and the forgiveness of sins.  A few bristled.  Many sighed with relief.  Several hugged me and thanked me. 

Near the end of the year came the story of Daniel and the handwriting on the wall.  "You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting."

Oh, the outpouring of words that day.  The baring of hearts.  The fear.  So much fear.  "I'm not good enough."  "I am going to be found wanting.  I deserve to be destroyed."

Is there any greater joy than to be able to speak to a sinner: "But Jesus was the One put in the balance.  He took your sin.  He was 'found wanting.'  But His blood forgives your sin.  His righteousness is your own.  When God weighs you in the balance, all He finds is holiness and perfection.  No, it's not your own, that you earned.  But it is yours, because your Jesus gives it to you in His mercy and love."  And the person argues with you: "No, it just can't be.   You don't understand.  You don't know what kind of secret sins I have.  You don't know my heart's doubts."  And you get to "argue" back with them, "No, really.  He forgave all your trespasses.  He has wiped out the handwriting of requirements."

Sometimes it's really cool to be with people who aren't Lutheran, people who are tickled pink when they hear the gospel in all its fresh comfort.

Given the age of most of the women, and given how long ago this happened, many of the dear saints in my small group are probably already in heaven.  Someday I'll see them again.  And hug them.  And talking to them, my hidden Southern drawl will creep back into my usually-Northern voice. 

1 comment: