Clean

“I’m dreaming of a white…” Oh wait, I guess it’s too late for that! But winter isn’t over yet – and as long as we don’t get more than three snow days (we want our spring break!), let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

There’s something about snow that fascinates us. For some it’s a sentimental excitement stemming from childhood memories. For many it’s the relief of a day off of work or school. And for most it’s just the unmatched peace and beauty of that glistening, soft, pure white blanket covering the world around us.

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Last week we had the opportunity to be in Vermont for one of their first snows of the season. It was awesome! No matter how much I dislike the cold, I love a good snowstorm.

But I was reminded, as I am every year, that the beauty is short-lived. A couple of passes by the plows spreading sand and salt and that wonderful white perfection is now an ugly half-melted mess of dirt and ice. Even the snow that wasn’t anywhere near the street seems to be quickly littered with little specks of debris.

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It’s the story of humanity that runs from the first pages of Scripture all the way to us in 2016 – moments of glory, quickly followed by moments of failure. Great acts of obedience soon plowed off to the side by the temptations of the flesh. Hearts of pure trust tainted by the debris of doubt and self-interest.

The story of King David might be one of the most poignant. As a young man, David was chosen by God to be the next king of His people. And though the road to taking the throne was not necessarily pretty, David continued on in obedience. This obedience resulted in great blessing and David was so successful it seemed nothing could take him down.

Until one spring, when a series of selfish choices led him to do the unthinkable – to sleep with a woman he was not married to and then, in an attempt to hide his guilt, order the death of her husband. His cover was blown by the prophet Nathan, who confronted the king in his sin, exposing the dirty mess of David’s heart.

In response to these events, David penned one of my favorite psalms:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
(Psalm 51:1-7)

This psalm stands in stark contrast to almost every other psalm David wrote because instead of proclaiming his own righteousness before his human enemies, David confesses His sinfulness before God, acknowledging the enemy within. In verse seven, he declares that the desire of His heart is to be made clean – to experience the purity of being made “whiter than snow”.

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Every winter, I find myself wishing there was a way to clear off the roads and keep people safe, but then somehow return the snow back to it’s original pristine perfection. Unfortunately, once it’s contaminated, there’s no going back – no amount of rearranging it, bleaching it, or covering it up would ever work. The only way to restore the purity is for the snow to melt, evaporate, and be regenerated back into new, fresh snow.

We know from 2 Samuel 11 that David did make an unsuccessful attempt to “clean” himself by covering up his sin. And when confronted by Nathan, he could have continued the pattern by trying to rearrange the mess and make it look a little less ugly. He could have pointed the finger at his past or his enemies, making excuses because of all he had been through. He could have tried to sugar-coat it with a layer of fancy fluff to make what he did not seem quite so “bad”.

But he didn’t. Instead, in Psalm 51, David’s defenses melted. He admitted his transgression was great by acknowledging that “great” compassion was needed. He confessed that his sin was “always before” him and then he owned it by declaring he was “sinful from birth”. David knew that the only way to be made clean was to accept God’s verdict and then allow Him to do the “cleaning” work.

One of the greatest temptations we face in our world today is the temptation to try to “clean” ourselves – to clear our name by covering things up or blaming someone or something else. In a world where tolerance is valued over truth, it’s easy to just rearrange the details with some sugary fluff and call it “all good”. But we’re not doing ourselves any favors – it’s not working.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Like David, the only way we can be made truly clean is to agree with God in His verdict and then allow Him to do the cleansing work.

And thankfully, He already did. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6) The “washing” work was done on the cross and now all that is required is for us to accept it. When we do, we become like that fresh, pure coat of snow – the dirty mess of our sin is gone in the eyes of God – and we are made new.

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For those of you who are looking forward to some southeastern Pennsylvania snow as much as I am, there’s some good news in our extended forecast! I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I can’t wait to look out my window and see that beautiful scene. Even if it’s going to melt into a yucky mess a couple days later – I’ll take it!

I feel David’s pain when he described his sin as being “always before” him. I may have my moments of glory – when obedience and trust just seem easy – but the moments of failure always seem soon to follow. And even though I know I’ve been made clean in the eyes of God, my eyes still see a whole lot of dirt and debris.

But like the constant cycle of the weather, “renewal by the Holy Spirit” is a process. Not only have I been made new, but I am always being renewed by His Spirit at work in me. The messes I get myself into may cause a meltdown, but every one is an opportunity for Him to remind me that He and only He can make me clean, and that no matter what I see, He sees me as “whiter than snow”.

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