Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Monthly Archives: October 2010


Beggar: “Can you spare some change mate?”

Alex: “What do you want it for?”

Beggar: “To get some hot food from the chippy later.”

Alex: “I’ll take you there now and buy you some if you like!”

Beggar: “No it’s alright mate, don’t worry about it!”

Alex: “If you’re hungry, I’ll take you to the chippy and buy you a meal.”

Beggar: “Don’t bother mate, it’s alright!”

So what am I supposed to do?

What would Jesus have done?

Filthy Rags (part 2)

In part one I suggested that a deeper layer of meaning than that suggested by Francis Chan was that we could consider our ‘good works’ as ‘unfulfilled potential’ as opposed to disgustingly useless.

Here I want to take yet a further step back and consider that Francis might have missed the point entirely.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising Francis, heck the guy is one of my all-time heroes, I’m just wondering if he might have got it a bit wrong this time.

Lets have a look at the verse within its immediate context.

Isaiah 64:5-7

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins.

It seems to me that this verse is referring to people who have “continued to sin against” God’s ways, and then tried to ‘do good works’, as it follows on after, in verse 7: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you”.

To me, that speaks of a people that have rejected God and are therefore doing ‘good works’ insincerely.

It’s the kind of life that Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for in Matthew 23:13-36.  A short excerpt:

Matthew 23:23-26

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

It’s easy to criticise the Pharisees, in fact they are generally good christian ‘cannon-fodder’ but lets not be naïve or conceited, we are just as guilty of not having our motives correct when we do things.

Our encouragement comes from  Romans 12:2

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Only then, when we have transformed and renewed minds will we be constantly correctly motivated to do our ‘good works’ by our Love for God, which will then be pleasing to him and not like ‘filthy rags’.

Romans 14:17-18

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

(Thanks @rsgaston for inspiration and input.  Credit where credit is due!!)

Filthy Rags (part 1)

Apologies if the content offends you but please bear with it, there is a serious point being made.

Isaiah 64:6

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

I was struck today by Francis Chan’s interpretation of this verse in his book “Crazy Love“, where he says:

Many people look at their lives and weigh their sins against their good deeds. But Isaiah 64.6 says.

“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins.

The literal interpretarion of “filthy rags” in this verse is “menstrual garments”…      …But compared co God’s perfect holiness, that’s how our good deeds appear. God’s mercy is a fine, yet costly, gift. It cannot be earned. Our righteous acts,  just like menstrual garments, certainly don’t help us deserve it.”

It’s a fairly even and conventional interpretation of the passage, which in principal, I have no real opposition to.  However, I think that there is perhaps another layer which Francis Chan doesn’t explore, which may highlight something which I think this interpretation falls short of.

For ‘menstrual garments’, think ‘used sanitary towel’, which will probably disgust you and stop you reading, but hang on a moment (it gets worse before it gets better).

In Isaiah’s metaphor, Francis seems to suggest that our good deeds are distasteful and pretty pathetic, a poor effort and compared to God’s holiness; pretty disgusting.

I’m not sure I agree that the ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (Ephesians 2:10) are ‘disgusting’ compared to God’s holiness. I wonder if, to completely embrace Isaiah’s metaphor, we ought to think about these ‘filthy rags’ more along the lines of ‘unfulfilled potential’.

What, after all is the product of a menstrual cycle, that ends up on the ‘menstrual garments’?

It is the unfertilised egg and unused uterine lining, the life-giving nutritional, protective layer that supports and nourishes the beginnings of miraculous new life.

Would it not be perhaps more apposite to think that the ‘good deeds’ we produce are a shadow of what is to come.  Yes, they pale into insignificance next to God’s holiness, in the same way that menstruation pales into insignificance next to a newborn child.  Does that make them disgusting or useless or distasteful?

I agree with Francis’ conclusion that our good deeds don’t make us deserve God’s mercy and also that our good deeds are useless if we are doing them to try and outweigh our sins, but I think that the means by which he comes to that conclusion is a minimalistic view which possibly encourages apathy more than action.

I live my life from God’s love, not for God’s love, meaning I do things as my way of saying ‘thank you’, living in appreciation of God’s love and grace, not so that I can obtain that love and grace, by the things I do.  I am also fully aware that when Christ returns, not only will whatever happens be a big surprise for everybody, but what we do will be amazing and throw all our past lives into a shadow.

Once the fertilised egg of our faith implants into the ready and waiting uterine lining of God’s grace and love, the final birth of a completely ‘new creation’ at the transformation of ourselves (or resurrection if we have already died) when God’s kingdom is completely established on this earth, there will be no more ‘filthy rags’ of unfulfilled potential:

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power…   …so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

(Part 2 follows)


Reading Luke 5 the other day, I pondered over the end of the chapter.

Luke 5:36-38
He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.

I get the feeling that Jesus wasn’t just giving the listeners ‘top-tips for tailoring’ or ‘wine-cellar wisdom’.  Maybe on the surface it’s plain good advice, but looking at the passage as a whole, with particular attention to what immediately precedes the handy homecare hints (talk about feasting and fasting), I can’t help but think that Jesus is speaking to something a bit deeper.

My first impression is that there must be lots and lots of layers to the passage, but the one that comes out primarily to me is that of not mixing new & old.

Jesus could well be using the wine / clothes as a metaphor.  ‘If you pour new wine into old wineskins, they will burst and both are lost’ could well be referring to the renewing of both our minds and bodies as followers of Jesus.

We are assured that we are new creations, ‘being renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 4:16) but also that God lives in us if we ‘live in love’ (1 John 4:16), however, it seems that to be truly, completely able to be filled with God’s spirit, to become like Jesus, we need to be changed physically, permanently. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).

1 Corinthians 15 Tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”.  Which is maybe what Jesus was referring to when he suggested that the “new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined”.  If our bodies were to fully inherit what God has in store for us, we would burst open and be ruined, hence we need new, changed bodies to contain all the whatever it is that God wants to bless us with to inherit!

It gives me images of Agent Smith from the Matrix bursting open when Neo jumps inside him.  Maybe that’s just my twisted mind.

Lastly, Jesus says, at the end of that passage in Luke:

Luke 5:39

And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’

Where does that fit in?  Is it irony / satire / sarcasm? Is Jesus saying “people won’t want what God is offering because they are so addicted to what this current world offers”? Or is there another layer to the chapter in Luke?

I’ll have to think and pray about that one a bit more, anyone with any ideas?

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