“Coming Clean” by Michelle Jones

Are you one of those people who gives your teeth an extra good brush and floss when you have to see the dentist?  Do you wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or tidy up before the housekeeper arrives?  How about shampoo your hair prior to a salon visit?

I don’t like using labels like “compulsive,”  “neurotic,” or “three sandwiches short of a picnic.”  Partly because I think labels alienate people, but mostly because I prefer my given name or an approved nickname.

Yes, I do all of these things.  One of them might, by itself, seem a bit quirky.  Two might deem an individual eccentric or maybe a little peculiar.  Once counting begins to feel like compiling though (and don’t get me started on my whole laundry obsession!), I think we’ve moved on from quirks and peculiarities to symptoms of deeper things.

It didn’t take much prayer to diagnosis my issue.  God was obviously interested in making a point.  Underlying each of my foibles—and possibly yours—is the basic belief that people never get things as clean as you want them unless you give them a little help, a head start, if you will, to raise them to your standard.  I see it as a favor really, though I must confess that I also mentally take some of the credit for great outcomes.

This may not seem like such a big deal when we’re talking about teeth or dishes, but we are a different story.  Redeeming an unclean soul is a much bigger job.  It’s a God-sized job, and we can’t contribute in any way.  On our best day, our standard is no standard at all compared to His.  His standard is PERFECTION.

On Easter—Resurrection Sunday—we celebrate and acknowledge our zero involvement in our salvation.  Jesus died to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, not help us with something we’re merely struggling to do better.  God sacrificed His Son to do more than just clean up our behavior.  He is “making us clean,” something we have no power or desire to be on our own.

There is a line in the movie “The Philadelphia Story” where Katherine Hepburn says to Cary Grant, “Oh Dexter!  I’m such an unholy mess of a girl!”  That’s my anthem more often than I’d like to admit.

I wish I did things well and right even most of the time, but I don’t.  I’m terrible with my money.  I am overweight.  Right now, my apartment is a mess.  My relationship with my mom could be better, and with my two older brothers.  Envy, dishonesty, hopelessness, depravity, meanness, and cowardice all live in me, waiting for permission to speak.

I am an unholy mess, but Jesus died—and beat death by rising again—for this unholy mess.  By His Spirit, I am becoming new day by day.  If I have any grace to replace my taste for vengeance, it is because He gave it to me.  If there’s any correction in me, it sprang from His wisdom.

We have no gifts to offer the world except that He empowers us with them.  We have no purpose that was not born in His imagination.  There is no forgiveness for an offense that wasn’t driven through the spikes that nailed Him to that cross.

Without Him, we are nothing and we can do nothing, least of all become clean.  And if we can say anything at all to God, or can hear anything from Him, it is because Jesus made a way for it.

Like David, I wonder sometimes, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8: 4)

I try not to spend too much time there.  It’s too easy to wallow in my own unworthiness and forget what I’m worth to God.  I am priceless to Him, and He proved that when He bought me with all that He had.  If I’m never good enough for someone else—if I am never pretty enough or smart enough or nice enough to meet another person’s standard—I have proof that I am worth a King’s ransom!

You got a bad deal, Lord.  That’s what I used to think.  Paying so much to get so little didn’t make sense to me for a very long time.  But Love, I have learned, is about giving, not getting the best deal.  To pay everything for nothing is PERFECT LOVE.

To take an unholy mess of a girl, and give her the power to become Your beloved daughter… That’s just GLORIOUS.

(Wow.  I thought I was obsessive about my laundry!)

Stop Smashing the Angels! by Michelle Jones

My mother seemed pretty average to me for most of my life.  Like many she cooked, worked, and expected chores and good grades in return for lodging my siblings and me in her uterus for 9 months and then putting a roof over our heads after that.  She did do some uniquely wonderful things though that I didn’t really appreciate until I was grown and on my own.

Good meal etiquette mattered to my mom.  We knew how to set a table at a young age, and eat with one hand in our lap until we needed to use the knife.  We didn’t talk with a full mouth, or chew with our mouths open.  Eating with elbows on the table particularly bothered her, and whenever she saw it, she would tell us to “Stop smashing the angels.”

A little history:  She explained to us once that whenever you ate a meal, God stationed angels around your plate.  I imagined they were very small and had good eyes and quick reflexes, because she said they purified your food, and kept you from choking on fish bones and such.

Elbows on the table in our house meant squashing these benevolent celestials and presumably leaving yourself defenseless against all sorts of gastro-catastrophes.  I couldn’t be sure if there was room in Heaven for angel killers with food poisoning, but I was not willing to risk it.  None of us were.  We took it for granted that the angels were there, and for the most part, we kept our elbows in check.

Many years and many meals later, I’m still certain the angels are with me; only now, I have scripture to back me up.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1: 14

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34: 7

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. Psalm 91:11

Lately I have been challenged by the notion of those tiny angels around my plate.  Mom never said anything about them watching out for my elbows.  They just watched out for me.  In return, I respected their presence and their position.  My table manners were proof of my regard for them.  That said, I wonder:

Do I take God’s presence for granted?  Do I recognize His position in my life, and if I do, is it provable by my actions?

If we’re honest, most of us don’t really like the idea of availability and accessibility as presumptive qualities.  We want the option to bestow or withhold our gifts at will, when it feels right to us.  Open for caring 24-7?  Who does that?

God does that.

“I will never leave you or forsake you,” He says.  We should believe that, and yet, how many times have we secretly wondered if—not when—He would act on our behalf in a circumstance?  Faith doesn’t wonder about God showing up.  Faith assumes He’s here already—even if He is invisible—and acts accordingly.

More than anything else, the names of God communicate a passionate determination to be close to us, as a protector, comforter, and defender.  He is jealous and fiercely possessive, tenderly affectionate, eternally devoted.  He demands our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.  He gave all that He had to have us in the Person of His Son, Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

This is not the behavior of someone who loves at arms length, or who takes time off from loving us.  Our God is not content to sit on the edge of a dish and look at us.  He will not be satisfied until there is no space between us, until He is the breath inflating our lungs, the rush of blood through our veins, the thump-thump pulsing in our chest.

He is Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord who is present and accounted for, not just watching us live, but giving us life.

What then is my response?

If I know He is with me, am I calling out to Him?  If I am certain He is God, am I worshiping Him?  If I believe He is omnipotent, am I letting go of the reins?  If I am convinced that He is faithful, do I trust Him?  If I know that I was worth dying for, will I refuse to barter myself for the attention and approval of men?

The Lord can be our Shepherd, if we’ll be His sheep.  He’ll find us green pastures, but He won’t make us eat.  The still water, the rod, the staff, the anointing oil—none of it matters if we insist on going our own way.

Oh, to have the wisdom and courage, in all things, to let God be God; to keep my elbows at my sides and let His angels run free!

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