God Covers our Sin with Paint that Matches

69925409_10215556925499489_3976346959622438912_o(This article was posted on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

I had to do some touch up painting on the exterior siding of our house since we had some planks replaced recently.  In my first attempt yesterday, I used a color my wife and I picked out called Grey Sanctuary.  We thought it was going to be a good match.  Not so much.  It was too light.  We went back to Lowe’s, and they did a digitized color match using a small piece of the old siding that Linda found lying around.  This morning, I painted over the light places and it blended in perfectly.  You can’t easily tell what was painted and what was not.

The dramatic results of the two different paint colors I had used was a great illustration of the contrast between what it looks like when we try to cover our sin versus how it looks when God covers our sin.  I realize that human illustrations fall apart if we try to take them too far.  Maybe there isn’t any direct mention of the word “paint” in the Bible (at least not in the NIV that I use). 

However, the concept of covering is actually a predominant theme, so the function of paint as a covering might be helpful.  I know the power of a good illustration to help God’s people see an abstract concept more clearly and how this greater understanding can be applied in their own life.

This got me to thinking more about what I reflected on a couple of weeks ago that I posted on my blog here.  In my previous article, I looked at Ps. 32:1-5.  What stood out is the contrast between what God does and what man does with respect to sin.  In verse 1, David boldly stated: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  God had indeed covered over David’s sins, which was a blessing David did not take for granted.  God covered the sins of His people so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that. 

However, before David confessed and repented of his sins, he had tried (and failed) in many ways to cover up his own sins.  The story of Bathsheba immediately comes to mind.  He had no authority to do that. 

As I thought about the contrast between my first and second coats of paint, I could not help but notice the stark differences between the results. 

The first coat represented my own limited human attempt at putting on a fresh coat of righteousness and repairing my own mistakes from the past so that I would look better to others.  There were dozens of drips of many colors that needed to be hidden from view.  There was a major gouge from a flying umbrella a few years ago that I was embarrassed about.  There were rotten planks that brought me shame and regret from neglect.  No matter how much time we took to find just the right color to match, our attempts fell short.

The next day, when I applied the professionally produced color match paint on with a new brush, I saw how right the color was.  My drips were erased.  The big scratch was no more to be seen.  All the scars and imperfections in the old siding were covered in a shade that blended perfectly. 

Isn’t that just how God’s covering of our sins turns out for those who have faith in Jesus Christ?  Our attempts will always fail.  There are no works we can do to add to what He has already done on the cross to pay for our sins.  His covering is perfect, since He is the Master Painter.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

 

As High as the Heavens are above the Earth and as far as the East is from the West

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I have been reading in Romans this month.  It is one of my favorite books.  (I invite you to read a series on the book of Romans that I posted on my blog a while back.)

I started in Romans 4 . . .

I began to read the first verses of Romans 4.  But that is not where I ended up.  I took a journey back to the Psalms to find some great reminders of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, Paul is writing of “the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”  This is what God did for Abram in Gen. 15:6, which Paul mentioned in Rom. 4:1-6.  It is indeed a precious gift that is freely given to those who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation.  I believe this change in status is irreversible.  This is often referred to as the great exchange: Jesus took the penalty for our sins and gave us His righteous standing before Almighty God.  This righteousness that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ leads the Apostle Paul to conclude later in Rom. 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

As you may already know, the Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament quite frequently, which is a topic I enjoy greatly.  When I read Rom. 4:7-8, I saw that Ps. 32:1-2 was quoted:

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

I flipped back to Psalm 32 . . .

I had to stop.  I felt led to take a look at Psalm 32 a little closer.  I made a few observations.

King David uses several terms in verses 1 and 2 to describe how amazing it is when one fully understands that he or she is completely forgiven by God: “transgressions are forgiven . . . sins are covered . . . sin the Lord does not count against him.”

This status of being forgiven of ones sins was short-lived by the Old Testament believers in Yahweh, in accordance with the system of blood sacrifices which had to be done repeatedly and did not truly take away their sins.  (See Heb. 10:4).  These sacrifices provided temporary covering of sins.  It fell far short of the full atonement that followers of Jesus would experience when they were born again.  This state of forgiveness was enough to maintain a relationship with Yahweh, but it was incomplete by design, to point to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for us on the cross.

David then moves forward in Ps. 32:3-5 to describe a personal experience he had when he was faced with the depths of his own sin in light of God’s forgiveness.  I believe he mentioned this so that no believer, including himself, would ever take God’s grace and mercy for granted.

In verses 3-4, prior to David’s repentance (which brought him great rejoicing in v. 5), he felt guilty about his sin, and rightfully so.  Perhaps this was what he sensed after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband sent to the front lines of battle to be killed.  Whatever his sin was, before he dealt with it through confession, he said that his bones were wasting away.  He groaned all day long.  He felt God’s hand was heavy upon him.  This was not God’s mighty hand of protection that David often spoke of, but God’s Spirit laying conviction on his heart.

When he could take it no more, David acknowledged his sin to the LORD.  He did not cover it up.  He confessed it and received God’s forgiveness.  His guilty conscience was at peace.  This is reminiscent of what the Apostle John taught Christ-followers to do in 1 John 1:9 when we sin.

What stuck out to me in this passage was the contrast between what God does and what man does.  In verse 1, David mentions that God covered his sins.  This is what atonement means.  God covered their sins so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that.  But before confessing, David tried in many ways to cover his own sin.  He had no authority to do that.

I jumped over to Psalm 103 . . .

Meditating on Psalm 32:1-5 helped me to better understand what the Apostle Paul was arguing in Romans 4 about the righteousness that is freely given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ.  I went back to Romans 4.  Before I continued, I noticed that I had written another passage in the margin next to verses 7-8.  It was a parallel passage about the blessedness of God’s forgiveness.

Psalm 103 was also written by King David.  Like the previous one, Ps. 103:11-12 also describes the full extent of God’s forgiveness.  However, David does not focus on his personal experience in this blessed state.  In contrast, he uses a little bit of math and science to get his point across.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

This picture of God’s love for those who fear Him going in a vertical direction farther than the eye can see, combined with the idea of our sins being removed in a horizontal direction as far as you can possibly go on this planet reveals the greatest demonstration of God’s love and forgiveness.

When you put the vertical and horizontal lines together, what do you get?  A cross.  Hallelujah!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

168 Soldiers of Integrity (Part 2)

IMG_2548soldoutarenaweb_1(Note: This is the second of a two part series.  I invite you to read the first article here.)

In part 1, I used the words I had written as a Staff Sergeant in the fall of 1995 to describe how God worked in me and in the hearts, heads, and hands of a faithful team of men and women to bring fifty soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas to the Promise Keepers (PK) Conference in Houston in June 1995.  In the article that follows, I will continue this story where I left off, highlighting how God brought 118 more soldiers to attend the PK Conference in Dallas in October.

Provision

I was looking forward to a little rest between the June Houston PK Conference and the October Dallas PK Conference, but it was short-lived.  After Father’s Day weekend (where I attended the Denver PK Conference), I began to contact some of my fellow Fort Hood Promise Keepers.  I was pleased to learn that shortly after we returned from Houston, Chaplain Hayes (our chaplain that had organized the previous event) had already initiated the process of getting scholarships for Dallas.  She realized that it was probably going to be attended by greater numbers than the Houston Conference, and wisely proposed that $4,000 be approved at the Fund Council Meeting in mid-June.

However, in discussing the proposal, many of the chaplains there (some of which had gone to the previous PK conferences) thought that $4,000 was too small a figure.  In a short time, it was bumped up to $6,500, and approved.  The amount was amazing in itself.  What was even more incredible, though, was the timing.  Had she delayed her request until July’s meeting, we would have lost our chance completely.  Most likely, not even one soldier would have been able to go.

When Chaplain Hayes gave me an update on the plans for Dallas, she mentioned that she had heard that the conference was expected to sell out early.  I decided to call the Texas PK office on my own to see exactly how much time we had.  I remember the day well; it was June 29th, a Thursday afternoon.  The gal who answered the phone said that because the Dallas Conference was the last one of the year, and all the other conferences were sold out, thousands of men were registering daily.  They anticipated that the Dallas conference could possibly sell out by the Fourth of July weekend!  I got off the phone feeling a little bit sick inside.  I got right back on the phone and asked several godly men I knew to fervently pray that somehow we would be able to get a check in the mail in time.

The next morning (Friday, June 30th), I called Chaplain Hayes, and explained the situation.  We both came to the same conclusion.  We did not have the time to get the names of who was going to Dallas, and then send in the money, as we did for Houston.  The only way we could send anyone at all was to go ahead and get a check cut now for the total approved amount.  The $6,500 gave us 118 registrations.  We were both confident that over the next few months we would be able to find the men to go.

[At this point, I will skip over some of the minute details that happened the rest of that day that I painstakingly wrote down at the time. What is important to note is that this particular Friday was the last work day prior to the 4th of July holiday weekend.  Independence Day fell on a Tuesday, and so Monday became a training holiday.  Without a doubt, God pulled together a series of miracles for the Soldiers at Fort Hood so that we could keep our promises to bring them to Dallas.]

Planning

Now, we really had our work cut out for us.  Chaplain Hayes and a few others began the awesome privilege of planning for the upcoming Dallas PK Conference.  What we had in our possession was pure gold.  We could send me to this event, and most churches in the area could not.  We had the wristbands; we just needed to find the wrists to go with them!

Over the next three months of prayer and planning, the Lord honored our desire to have a spirit of unity.  He blessed our team’s efforts.  Our first immediate concern was how we were going to find the right men to go.  Fairness was key; we had to divide the registrations up so that each of the major units on post had a proportional amount, based on their assigned personnel.  We were given a breakdown of how the 45,000 soldiers on Fort Hood were distributed on post, and came up with some general figures.  The largest unit on post would get over 40 wristbands; others would get only one or two.

The team decided to proceed with one big group to begin a movement to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.  We then began to tackle the large logistical concerns for transportation and lodging.  One chaplain found a local church that would hold us all for one night.  Bus requests were approved, thanks to much hard work by another chaplain.  We planned a pre-conference meeting to begin learning the music for the conference and to pray for one another.  Someone ordered baseball caps that said, “Soldiers of Integrity” so that the group could stick together from the buses to the stadium.

Without much publicity, each of the units met their quotas, and all had waiting lists. In addition, about half-dozen men who had also gone to Houston signed up to work as volunteers for the Dallas event.  By the grace of God, there was not one wristband left over!

Praise

What we saw the day we left was unprecedented – four busloads of men from every major unit on post, representing all ranks, races, ethnic backgrounds, and denominations, deploying to Dallas to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and learn to become men of integrity.  We anticipated that Promise Keepers would have an eternal impact on much more than just these one hundred and six-eight soldiers.  There was no telling what the Lord was going to do in the families and the Fort Hood community as a result of the 1995 Houston and Dallas PK Conferences.  (I invite you to listen to this song from these conferences: “Rise up, O Men of God!”)

I hope you enjoyed reading this story of God’s faithfulness from start to finish as He worked in me, with me, and through me (and a whole host of others) at my place of employment to influence men for Christ.  This is another good illustration of Immanuel labor – God’s presence at work.

More importantly, I hope that this account might encourage you to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit when He whispers that He wants you to get involved in a project that is way too big for you to handle alone.  When God exceeds your wildest expectations, then God will get all the glory.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

168 Soldiers of Integrity (Part 1)

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The following is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession:

One small but exciting chapter in my life illustrates that God can use us at the right time and place in our workplaces to build His eternal kingdom.  In the spring of 1995 at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked behind the scenes to try to get a small group from my own chapel to attend a Promise Keepers men’s conference.  This simple act later developed into a major effort that involved several army chaplains from other chapels on post.  We were able to bring a total of 168 soldiers from all ranks, races, and backgrounds to the Houston and Dallas Promise Keepers men’s conferences that year.  These events were life-changing for many of these soldiers and their families.  It was a real faith-builder for me.  Only God could have pulled this off.

It has now been a quarter of a century since these events took place.  I would like to provide some more details about how it all came together by the grace of God.  I wrote what you are about to read below in the fall of 1995.  This story still gives me goose bumps.  I do not desire to bring attention to myself.  My purpose is to put the spotlight on God’s faithfulness.  He supernaturally intervened in numerous ways and worked through ordinary people to make it all come together for His glory.

Background

In 1992, I was a Staff Sergeant, stationed as an Army Recruiter in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I attended the Promise Keepers (PK) conference in Boulder with my brother-in-law.  The next spring, I was transferred to Fort Hood, so I was unable to attend the ’93 PK Conference in Boulder.  When the ’94 schedule was announced, there was going to be six regional PK events, and one of them would be in Denton, Texas in June.  Six men from my church, including my pastor, attended with me.

When the Promise Keepers registration brochure came out in late February 1995 announcing thirteen conferences, I was thrilled.  I could not get the Houston and Dallas PK Conferences out of my mind, since Fort Hood was located strategically about halfway in-between.  I felt called by God to be directly involved in getting some men from my chapel to go.  Initially, I envisioned about 20-25 men going to Houston in June and the same number going to Dallas in October.  I spent much time in prayer, more than I had ever prayed before.  I think that this foundation of prayer was key to what began to unfold.

God began to open doors

God began to bring together a number of individuals and organizations that He would use to make this dream a reality.  One of the first things I did was to get in touch with the Texas State PK Office.  They gave me the name of someone who was working with churches in the area.  I called him, and found out that he was planning to come to Killeen (just outside Fort Hood) that Friday.  He wanted to meet me and give me some brochures plus a “bootleg” copy of the PK Conference promotional video.

This was great timing.  Earlier in the week, I had stopped in to see the chaplain who was the senior pastor of the Main Post Chapel.  I told him about the upcoming conferences.  He encouraged me to make an announcement at the monthly men’s breakfast on Saturday.  Although my wife and I had only been attending the chapel for two weeks and I didn’t know anyone yet, I sensed that this was a perfect opportunity to be bold and seize the moment (which was the theme of the ’94 PK Conference).

After getting acquainted over coffee and doughnuts, with fear and trembling, I shared my experiences from the previous PK Conferences I had attended in ’92 and ’94 with the 15-20 men who came to the breakfast.  Right away, I saw the tremendous potential of this group.  I stated that I was willing to help organize a group from the chapel to attend both of the Texas PK Conferences.  The chaplain then put the men on the spot and asked them if they were interested in going to Houston or Dallas.  Almost everyone said that they were willing to go to one or the other.  I was very hopeful that we could get a fairly large group to go to Houston in a few months.

I began to pray consistently and fervently for “the right men, at the right time”.  Within a few days, I sensed that my initial vision for 25 men from Fort Hood was too small.  With a little effort, and a prayerful strategy to publicize the events, I imagined that 50 men was more reasonable a number to pray for.  It was well beyond what I could expect from my chapel alone; I knew I would have to coordinate with the other fourteen chapels on post also.  The more I thought about it, the more I because convicted that I needed to wholeheartedly pursue this as my number one ministry.  I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.  God was going to have to work through a lot of other people as well.

The team develops

Over the next month and a half, I was busy making announcements and showing the video at various places, and trying to get information packets sent to all the chapels.  I was not seeing many results beyond the Main Post Chapel, but help was on the way.  In mid-April, I began to discover the first of many whom the Lord was going to use to bring men to Promise Keepers.

One of the key men that the Lord used was an older gentleman named Paul.  He saw the PK Conference promotional video that I showed at the men’s breakfast in February.  Paul expressed interest in the conference, but had not said much beyond this when I saw him in Sunday School or chapel.  However, this many of few words was a godly man of action.

What I did not know was that Paul was a Colonel, commander of the 2d Armored Division’s Engineer Brigade.  He was so impressed with the PK video that he informed his chaplain about it.  He directed her to get buses, scholarships, publicity, etc., so that as many men as possible from his brigade, the division, and even men from other units post-wide could take advantage of this opportunity!  This good work played a vital role in doubling the number of participants for the Houston PK Conference, and was solely responsible for opening the door for over one hundred men to go to Dallas.

Colonel Dunn’s chaplain got $2,000 approved from the chaplain’s fund for scholarships for Houston.  She got the word out, arranged transportation, found lodging in a local church, and paved the way for many men to go.  A total of 38 scholarships were used from two from the 2d Armored Division Memorial Chapel and the Main Post Chapel and a few other Soldiers from a local church.

Later, we learned of several other small groups of men who went in addition to the big groups from the Main Post and 2nd Armored Division Memorial Chapel.  Altogether, there were fifty men that went to Houston, a direct answer to my prayers.  I do not know all the effects that this conference had on each of my brothers.  I do know that it had a Major impact (as well as a Sergeant impact, Captain impact, Colonel impact . . .) on our families, our chapels, and the units in which we are assigned.

God placed you right where you are for a purpose

This story reminds me of the story of Esther.  She was another ordinary worker whom God used at a critical moment in time to influence those around her.  God had a purpose for her life and work.  “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I challenge you to recognize that God in Christ has placed you right where you are are, the right man or woman at the right time to use you to influence your coworkers in small or big ways for eternity.

In part two, I will tell the story of how God brought 118 Soldiers to the Dallas PK Conference.  (I invite you to read it here.)

(I also invite you to read another article I wrote and posted on my blog that describes how God brought me to Fort Hood in His perfect timing, illustrating His sovereignty to bring good out of failure.)

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.