“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for he has clothed me with garments of salvation. He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10
On December 1, 2018, my children and I found this bountiful seashore along our beach path. Most people see a pile of dirty shells and debris. I see an invitation from God to make our soiled and spotted “linen garments” clean again.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27
Over the years, my children and I have developed a spiritual language using seashells. It is through this language of shells that we describe the connections we perceive in what God has “written” about His kingdom. These mini-wonders upon the sand contain and reveal attributes of the creation. As a result, when we find paper fig shells, we no longer see common paper figs; instead, with the eyes of our hearts we see the “linen garments” of righteousness as reflected in these Gracious shells.
On this first day of December, we were given, and, therefore, collected hundreds of linen garment shells spotted with barnacles. We decided to see and use these barnacle-covered shells as symbols of our own spiritual practice of personal repentance, and to invite others to join us, as we prepare our hearts for the Advent season and the coming new year.
During the month of Elul, each year, leading up to the Jewish New Year, faithful Jews will engage in what is known as Teshuvah. These are the actions of making one’s heart clean and ready to be used by God through the practice of repentance; that is, identifying one’s own sins in light of God’s Word, confessing these sins before Him, and turning away from them in order to whole-heartedly turn back to the Lord.
The traditional practice of Teshuvah, during the month of Elul, first became necessary when Moses, having come down from Mt. Sinai with the first set of stone tablets (on which the ten commandments were written) and finding God’s people worshiping a golden calf, threw the stone tablets down and broke them into pieces. This act symbolizes the pattern of idolatry and the ensuing brokenness that happens to the hearts of God’s people when we turn away from God toward idols.
After the tablets were broken apart, Moses once again ascended the mountain and sought the Lord for 40 days, serving as an intercessor and a “type of Christ” as he repented on behalf of the people for their idolatrous hearts. At the end of those 40 days, (now called the days of Elul) Moses descended the mountain with a new, second set of stone tablets, upon which were written the same ten commandments. God in His mercy was inviting the children of Israel into the same grace, but with a new beginning. I believe this is God’s message to His church in this season of Advent.
If you find yourself in a heart-broken or heavy-laden state, ask yourself where you may have become double-minded and tethered to the things of this world. These soul-ties which weigh us down will eventually tear our hearts apart. We tried to make them sources of our happiness, and they have proven themselves to be insufficient and this has rent our souls. I believe the first broken stone tablets are a picture of the hearts and lives of countless Christians today. May we, like Moses, return and ascend the mountain of God for the renewing our own hearts.
“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2Corinthians 3:2-3
How do we use paper figs as symbols of our repentance and renewal? How do we return these heavy-laden linen garments we carry to their originally intended states of BECOMING?
First, I used a very sharp knife to cut off the barnacles. It didn’t take long because of the knife’s incisiveness and because the barnacles were not part of the original fabric of the shell; there was a difference in their make-up.
“For the word of God is living and operative, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Next, I rinsed off the remaining barnacle debris by immersing the shell in water to make it clean.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25b-28
We, who have believed in the work of Jesus on the cross, received our linen garments at the time that we first believed. This is the process known as Justification (swapping a heavy home covered in the blackness of sin, ponderous ark in shell language, for our light-weight linen garments of righteousness, paper fig.) We didn’t receive these coverings of righteousness as a result of our own acts of righteousness, but because we placed our trust in His righteousness, as revealed on the cross of Calvary. Since that time, however, many of us have turned aside, time and again, and placed a measure of our hope and trust in other things and in people instead of in Christ. In this we have become spotted by the world. Certainly, we have not lost Christ, but we have covered over his revealing work through us with our own sinfulness. We need to return to Him for the washing off of the spots of this world in order to let His beauty be seen once again through the testimonies of our lives. This is part of the sanctification process, which means to be continually “set apart” from the world more and more.
So often non-believers will cite the ugliness of “church people” as the reason why they don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity. I believe this is the same reason why the passers-by on the beach did not pick up the barnacle-covered figs. They looked ugly and beyond repair. We, with our soiled and spotted linen garments, make this life in Christ seem unbecoming to other people by allowing the barnacles to remain.
Paper figs are the one kind of shell under which you can place a light and the light will easily shine through it. This only works well, however, after the barnacles are removed and the shell is made clean.
Join me in ASKING the Lord the ways in which you have taken on the spots of the world by living in the ways of the world. His Spirit that is in you will be faithful to reveal this to you. Ask how you have turned toward people or things to find your sense of purpose, identity, peace, safety, sufficiency, or happiness. Looking to these people or things, instead of to God, is a form of idolatry and needs to be confessed as such. By confessing your sin, you are allowing God to cut off what has become attached to your life and has detracted from your own beauty and power in Christ, your BECOMING. Let Him cut off and wash off these things so that His light can once again shine from within you into a dark and needy world.
In so doing, I believe you will find yourself less heavy-laden by these burdens (embodied by barnacles) and once again able to enjoy the weightlessness and cleanliness of His linen garments. You will also find it easier to forgive the people who have disappointed you because you will be able to see the part you played in looking to people and things instead of to God as a source of happiness and fulfillment. If you find your life is under the knife of God right now, don’t despair. Anything that is truly part of your eternal identity will not be lost to you! What is to come will be more beautiful and more complete than what you are experiencing now; and according to the scriptures, it will also be more than you could ASK or IMAGINE.
Come Church! Return your hearts into the hands of God, who is the Lover of your soul. He longs to heal your broken heart and make you clean again.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Revelation 19:7-8
A friend of mine reminded me today that “advent” means “arrival,” the coming of a notable person. That notable person, who will soon return for His Bride, is Jesus Christ, our Husband Redeemer. Let us prepare our hearts for His glorious return. May we practice Teshuvah, as we enter into this Advent season, in this final month of 2018, making ourselves ready to enter a new year as proper representatives of His BECOMING Bride.
“The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” Revelation 19:14
“A noble wife is clothed in fine linen…” Prov. 31:22
One final observation my children and I made at the beach that day was how we found scattered among these paper figs (that is, among the linen garment shells) many whole ponderous ark shells. These are the shells that I consider to be the “Pre-BECOMING” shells, representing those who have not yet placed their trust in Christ Jesus. Ponderous ark literally means “heavy home,” representing the heavy burdens one feels from sin accumulating upon an already heavy-laden soul. These shells are covered in a black moss-like substance called periostracum, that, interestingly enough, is not a result of life in the ocean, but rather comes from the DNA of the creature itself. We are born with sin and brokenness already in our DNA, ask any scientist to confirm that even the code has been damaged along the way, and the world into which we arrive is one with death and much sin, watch the news any day to confirm this reality. Certainly, children are negatively affected by sin even before they volitionally commit any sin. Everyone in this world needs to be made new! Therefore, on the beach that morning, I not only perceived a dirty church in need of the subsequent washing of God, but also, scattered among these dirty linen garments, non-believers being invited by God to trade in their ponderous arks, covered in the black of sin, for the clean light-weight linen garments of righteousness through Jesus Christ.
For those of you who have never experienced the glorious washing of your sin by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and who are still under the heavy burden of your own sin and brokenness, I write to you now. Through believing in Jesus and His work of forgiveness on the cross, the Lord will replace the heavy burden you carry with light-weight and transparent linen garments of forgiveness. He will do more than clean the outside of you, He will make you clean from the inside out by making you an entirely new creation in Him.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
If you know you are a sinner and are aware that only God, through the life of Jesus Christ, was good enough to be a perfect sin offering, then just tell Him you want to believe. ASK Him to make your heart clean, to remove your heavy burden of sin, and to cover you in His linen garments of righteousness. He will be faithful to answer your prayer!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30