Hey, can I borrow five bucks?

Let’s say for a moment that I have a friend who loans me five dollars. I now have his five dollars (sweet!), but I am also indebted to him for it. It isn’t really mine. But when the time comes for me to repay him the five dollars, he says to me “Don’t worry about it. Consider it a gift.”

Do I still owe my friend the debt? Or has the debt been forgiven? That’s a pretty simple question to answer. It’s the same idea as if you pay off a credit card bill. Once the bill has been paid, then it’s paid. You don’t have to keep paying on a statement that has a zero balance, right?

But let’s ask some questions about the nature of my friend rather than about the nature of the debt.

Perhaps later in life, this friend asks me to do something for him. Does he ask me to “return the favor” (an interesting expression!) by saying to me: “Remember that time I lent you five dollars? You owe it to me to help me out.” If that is his response, has the debt that I owed him really been forgiven, or is that debt, which I offered to repay, still really being held over my head and as a result it wasn’t really forgiven at all? I have had friends like this, and what’s more, I’ve been that sort of friend too many times in my life… and no doubt still am, and will be for some time to come.

But maybe this friend is a different sort of friend than I’ve had and than I’ve been. Maybe I see this friend and say to him, “Hey, remember the time that I was in need and you lent me five bucks?”

This friend, in response, says to me: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What five bucks?”

This is the picture of a debt that has been forgiven… one that carries a zero balance, even though I never actually paid it back. That’s the sort of example we consider when we hear the expression “forgive and forget”. That’s the way our God sees us who love Him, as being completely free of the debt of sin that we carry in our lives. And because He has completely forgiven our debt, He has also completely forgotten it.

Jeremiah 31:33-34, and quoted in Hebrews 8, says this:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Get it? That’s the picture of the forgiveness Jesus gives us on Good Friday. God promises that He forgives us, and that the forgiveness we’re given is so perfectly complete that He will not even remember our sins. We are washed completely clean by the blood of Christ. In His salvation, our God looks at us and says “What sin?

Our response at Easter to the love – to the passion – that God showed us in paying our debt in full is not one that should be riddled with guilt, and our service to Him should not be a service that is done out of a sense of obligation or payback. God did the work to pay our debt simply because that’s how much He loves us… not because He’s expecting a returned favor. This is the very essence of the Grace of God.

Grace simply means “unmerited favor”. If that favor is one that we believe we can (or must) earn or repay, then our response to Grace trivializes the work of Christ. And if we believe that we are to go through life trying to earn God’s Grace, that isn’t Grace at all, is it?

You know, we’re not even obligated to say “thank you” for all of this, in the sense that saying “thank you” is a requirement for benefitting from Grace. But I hope that this Easter will be one in which we give thanks whole-heartedly to a God who loves us so much that He’d endure the cross on our behalf so that we could be free from the burden of a debt we owe but cannot repay on our own. We give thanks not because we’re required to do so, but because we are grateful to a God who demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Let our response to Jesus this weekend be gratitude and remembrance. Let it be one that is driven by love and an appreciation of Grace, rather than by a sense of thinking that we are earning or repaying God’s favor, because we’re not, and we can’t.

And you know what? There is nothing to earn that hasn’t already been given freely by Grace. And there is nothing we owe that hasn’t already been paid in full.

We all struggle with sin, and we should. Our freedom that Jesus bought for us on the cross doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want whenever we want. At the same time, we need to be mindful that God is not a cold and distant accountant or scorekeeper. He is our loving Father, and it is His desire to help us with our struggles just as we desire to help our own children with theirs. When we fall, although there may be consequences in our falling, our perfectly loving Father is not standing by to punish us but instead patiently picks us up, dusts us off, kisses our wounds (even and especially those that take a long time to heal) and helps set us back on our way along the path of following Him.

So that debt that you’re carrying around that burdens your spirit? That shame that you may be hanging on to that makes you question how anyone who knew about it could still really love you? It’s time to let those things go. Jesus bore that weight for you already, and Jesus already paid the debt in full so that there’s not a bill coming for it later.

Let go of it. Just let go.

Let our response to Easter be a grateful heart that is free from burden by the Grace of God. Let our response to His calling be born out of love, not a sense of debt or guilt, because those things are of our own making – not of His.

So my question for you is: what debts are you carrying around and bearing the weight of on a daily basis? That you’re hanging on to, even unintentionally?

Lay them down at the cross of Jesus on this Good Friday. Walk away from them and be free from their burden, covered in His grace and in the security of knowing that our debts are canceled, paid in full and forgotten, and we bear them no more. That’s how much Jesus loves you. That’s the work He did when He endured the cross. It’s not your burden to bear any longer. Jesus did it for you, and it’s done, and it’s finished.

Celebrate this weekend the freedom that laying those sins down affords you, and may your celebration be joyous and blessed.

Peace and Grace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ!

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No Skubala, Sherlock.

Words have meaning. There’s a word, in particular, that I want to introduce as part of introducing this blog to the cyberverse, and it happens to be the title of this blog: skubala.

The word appears only once in scripture (in Philippians 3:8). It’s a Greek word, used by the apostle Paul, who wrote 13 books in the New Testament. Paul was obviously, among other things, scholarly, educated, articulate, well-reasoned, and nothing if not deliberate. The fact that the word appears only once is further testament that Paul’s use of the word was intentional and had meaning.

Because the word is only used once in the Bible, there’s not a handy cross-reference in scripture to provide translation clues and cues and context.

Here are some of the ways that the word is translated by scholars in recent (and ancient) English versions of the Bible as it appears in Philippians 3:8:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (NIV – New International Version)

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, (NASB – New American Standard Bible)

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ (NLT – New Living Translation)

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), (AMP – Amplified Bible, which provides multiple word translations)

Yes truly, and I am ready to give up all things for the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, which is more than all: for whom I have undergone the loss of all things, and to me they are less than nothing, so that I may have Christ as my reward, (BBE – Bible in Basic English)

Not only those things, but I think that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him, I have lost all those things, and now I know they are worthless trash. This allows me to have Christ (New Century Version)

And my “weapon” of choice, the English Standard Version (ESV):

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Here’s the New King James Version (NKJV):

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

And the original King James Version (KJV):

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

Huh. Okay. So we see in the newer translations, the most popular rendering of the word is “rubbish”. The Olde English of the KJV departs dramatically from the new, referencing “dung“, which is even less palatable than “rubbish“. Others try worthless trash, dregs, refuse, less than nothing… etc. But man, that “dung” translation sticks with me (which I guess is better than sticking to me).

These are starting to paint a picture, but not quite an accurate one.

The New English Translation (NET) Bible offers us this rendering:

More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ,

… and back to “dung” again. But then the NET Bible offers a footnote for the word in question:

The word here translated “dung” was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. This may well be Paul’s meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces.

Huh. Shock value and vulgarity. In the Bible. From the apostle Paul no less. Who knew?

The Wycliffe New Testament translation gets it closest to right (and cracks me up):

Nevertheless I guess all things to be impairment for the clear science of Jesus Christ my Lord. For whom I made all things impairment, and I deem as drit [and I deem as turds], that I win Christ,

Turds. Say it with me: turds. I’m LOL at “turds”. Let’s call it what it is… okay, or not. You get the picture. Paul was deliberate in his language here, and we cheapen the value of scripture to pretend that he was saying something other than he was saying.

The Bible says in Proverbs 25:11A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

So what we have here is the word “shit“, plainly said, and that further, according to scripture, it is a word of golden fruit shining on a silver platter. And so it is.

Why am I dwelling on it, and why have I named by blog the Greek word for “shit”?

Let’s look at it in context… hopefully by now you’ve read the several different translations I’ve presented, and hopefully that’s caused at least a little meditation on the meaning of the verse. Paul’s point here is a simple one that required a strong emphasis to communicate his point: if you read the rest of Philippians 3, you’ll see that Paul (of all people) is making the case that he thought of himself once as a super-sized number one with a fried pie and a chocolate milkshake. Here was a Jew among Jews, a Man among men, a Hebrew of the first and highest order. An educated man. A righteous man. A man with a history and a purpose and a goal, and that he excelled in all he did.

Yet Paul considered all that he was, once great, to be something else compared to the righteousness of Christ:

Waste.

Rubbish.

Refuse.

Worthless trash.

Shit.

Yeah, none of those other words communicate the idea quite as well. Skubala. It is in fact a golden apple on a silver setting to describe the value the works of the flesh against the backdrop that is salvation in Christ. That, my gentle reader, was his point. Paul properly estimated his own worth against the worth of the work of Christ. He used shockingly frank language to draw a comparison, and he makes that point plainly.

And it is my point as well.

As I start out entering the blogosphere on these, Al Gore’s interwebs, I am struck by the vanity associated with even thinking I would have something to say that you might read. There’s nothing I have to say that compared to the Gospel is worth reading.

So esteem the value of this blog accordingly, please.

So as I state on my masthead, this blog is written on a certain topic, and demonstrates how completely full of skubala I really am.

The blog is called skubala, not with the intention of turning you off, nor even for shock value or vulgarity (both of which are popular devices in a crowded media market to generate an audience). It is called what it is called to remind me of the value of my own works in comparison to the value afforded me in salvation, because through Christ I am able to set my own worth – which is skubala – aside, and stand as righteous before a Holy God who loves me not for what I’ve done or who I am, but because I am His child.

You see, this lesson, and therefore this blog, isn’t really for you at all.

It’s for me.

Soli Deo Gloria,

-dhe

(p.s… what you will not find in this blog now or going forward is a defense that states that because Paul said “shit” that therefore we should find freedom in the Gospel for just saying things like “shit” any time we want. Shitty shitty shit shit shit. See? Not so very edifying for any of us, is it? No, it isn’t. Paul is given a pass, in part because his use of the word in context places all glory and honor at the feet of God, and in part because his words were inspired by the Holy Spirit. I’m not given that same benefit of the doubt in either case.

And further, the Bible tells us what proper use of language looks like. Check out Psalm 19:14, for an example. And no, I’m not going to quote it for you. Go look it up yourself!)

Obligatory first post

This is where I would otherwise talk about my grandiose plans for my blog and how I expect my thoughts and words will have a profound impact on any who would read them. Next post: Global warming solved, coral bleaching tied to excessive use of whitening toothpastes. Corals: less brushing but more flossing. Details to come.