Four-letter words can get you into trouble. You know the ones I mean, right? I mean—my baby sister got her mouth washed out with scouring powder one time for saying the wrong four-letter word! Some four-letter words leave a lot to be desired—words like “hate,” “fear,” “poor,” and “junk.” Other four-letter words are really pretty good–words like “good,” “nice,” “hope,” “love,” “sale,” and “FREE.”
One of my most favorite four-letter words is actually a two-word phrase. AS IS.
My sister and I like to go to estate sales to look for unusual items. Sometimes we stop at a sale “just because”. We don’t really need anything. Chances are, whatever we take home with us is something we’ll never use. But we buy it anyway. Why? Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt or the fact that we got something really neat for next to nothing. Or maybe its just that little sticker or sign on the table that lures us in—AS IS.
Our Mom liked to shop at the outlet mall in Traverse City when she went north with us. Her favorite shop was the Pendleton Store where she got really wonderful woolen suits and jackets for less than half price. Inevitably, she found something that she wanted (not always needed, mind you) and then spent countless minutes trying to find the described flaw in the item because everything in the store was sold AS IS. They are “seconds,” irregulars,” “out-of-stock” items.
Whatever the phrase you use, the bottom line is these are “damaged goods.” A missing button, a ripped seam, a fabric flaw—something about the item is out of perfect. The same is true at estate sales, garage sales, auctions and such. Whenever you see the words AS IS. That rule, simply put is:
NO REFUNDS NO RETURNS NO EXCHANGES
If you were looking for perfect or brand new, you’re in the wrong place. You have been warned. If you truly want this particular item, then you must take it AS IS.
Now, if you have ever dealt with another human being in your lifetime, you will notice that you have entered the AS IS section of God’s creation. Think for a moment about someone (anyone) in your life—your spouse, parents, child, best friend. If you’re totally honest, you have to admit, sometimes, that person is slightly “irregular”. If you are looking for perfection in the “people aisle” of life, then you’re looking in the wrong place because people aren’t perfect!
Guess what? Christians aren’t perfect, either!
What Is Normal?
Sometime ago there was a magazine article in the grocery check out that caught my eye. The headline read “Totally Normal Women Who Stalk Their Ex-Boyfriends.” It was the “normal” part that stuck me. What would a “normal” woman look like? As a matter of fact, what would a “normal” man look like? And if the obsessive stalking of an ex-lover isn’t just normal but TOTALLY normal, what do you have to do to be a little strange?
We all want to be “normal.” But the Scriptures insist that no one is normal—at least, not as God describes normal. In the prophet Isaiah we read, All we like sheep have gone astray.2 I like the quote of a fellow pastor that I read some time ago. “I have been comforted for more than twenty years by the thought that Jesus welcomes not only sensible sinners—but stupid ones as well.”
A Compassionate Jesus
Jesus came into this world of ours and saw first-hand what sin really is—with all of its heartaches and filthiness. He died because of that sin; yet, He always had great love and compassion for those who committed the sin. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? The thief on the cross? Nicodemus…Peter…Paul?
Now, don’t misunderstand this. Jesus Christ was not a weak, soft, sentimentalist who never condemned sin. More than once He stood before a sinner and demanded, Go and sin no more.3 But He was never so blinded by their sin that He could not see something good in them, some quality that made them worth saving and redeeming.
In Matthew, the question is asked, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”4 Incidentally, the word “sinners” was often used by the Pharisees and others to refer to Gentiles, outsiders, or non-Jews…and that is US. When Jesus heard the question, His response was simple—
Jesus was a great community builder. He understood what it was to see people with their AS IS tag attached, and He accepted them anyway. Today, I want us to see Jesus and His attitude toward sin (and sinners) by looking at three well-known encounters that He had with folks like us.
Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-106
Remember Zacchaeus? I love Zacchaeus. He was “vertically challenged.” He was a little guy with a big problem that Jesus was coming to town. He hurried downtown, only to find that he was too late. Jesus and His entourage were already on their way through town, and Zacchaeus could not see the Master because of the crowd. He couldn’t see over the people because he was too short, couldn’t see around the people as they were too closely packed together and it was too dusty to see underneath them. So, Zacchaeus, a man of great wealth and dignity, decided he would scramble up the nearest tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus.
To me, this has always been an amusing story. Here is Zacchaeus, a grown, wealthy and important man climbing a tree. Can’t you just see him perched on a branch, legs swinging down below his robe, watching the procession below? All he wanted was a glimpse of Jesus. But, as Jesus got to the sycamore tree, He stopped…and everyone else stops. He looks up…and everyone else looks up. Jesus sees Zacchaeus…and they ALL see Zacchaeus—AS IS tag and all!
He must have turned forty shades of red. Talk about embarrassed!! It’s one thing to have a “tag”—we all have a “tag.” But it’s an entirely different thing when we put ourselves in a position where everyone can see it! I’ve been there—haven’t you? All the eyes of the world on you and your AS IS tag?
Then Jesus does something incredible. He says, Zacchaeus, come down. I’m going to your house today.7 All Zacchaeus wanted was a glimpse of the Savior, but he received a personal invitation from Jesus to come down and walk with Him. And then the Lord invited Himself to his house! Before the day was over, Zacchaeus had repented of his sins, paid back everyone he’d defrauded over the years (at quadruple the rate) and became one of the best known “lights” of the New Testament.
What about us?
How many of us are truly seeing Jesus? How often do we get so busy in our daily lives that we miss out on the best Jesus has to offer us? Maybe we need to get above the crowd and see Jesus, realizing He sees us AS IS tag and all, and He still accepts us.
The Samaritan Woman – John 4:4-188
Jesus went against tradition and common sense when He cut through Samaria. That was off limits for most good Jews. But there Jesus was—tired and hungry and sitting at the well outside of Sychar while His disciples tried to buy lunch in town.
As He rested there, a woman came out of the city—a woman tired of all the gossip and tired of being abused and being the brunt of all the snide whispers from the respectable “ladies” in town. Her AS IS tag was big enough for everyone to see. She knew they were always talking about her behind her back. So, she came to the well at noon, fairly certain she’d be alone.
But she wasn’t. Jesus was there. And He was a Jew, of all people! Stealing a sidelong glance at the Master, she went about her business of drawing water. She took a drink herself, perhaps, and turned to go. Then, the Jew spoke, Will you give me a drink?8
At first, she was upset with the request, after all, Jews didn’t converse with Samaritans and men didn’t talk to women they weren’t married to. She responded with sarcasm. You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? 8
Bit by bit, Jesus tears down her defenses. Gradually, He works around to the real problem in her life when He says, Go and call your husband.8 Jesus was not afraid to approach the subject of her AS IS tag. When she told Him (truthfully) that she had no husband, Jesus’ response was quick and to the point. You are right. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband.8
Now if you or I had said that, I think we would have been in serious trouble. But there was something about His tone, the look in His eyes. Something about His whole demeanor that made her realize that Jesus wasn’t trying to tear her down. Rather, He saw something good in her—something worth saving. And gradually, He led her to see it for herself.
Jesus put His own reputation on the line. When the apostles returned and saw Jesus talking to that woman, they were upset. It went against all their traditions and sense of decency. But we need to see it for what it really was.is
Here is heaven’s holiest being—Jesus, the Son of God, God in the flesh—talking to a woman who was known by all to be immoral, of poor reputation, the object of jokes and gossip. But He sees something in her that is beautiful and worthwhile.
Think about it. For the first time since her childhood perhaps, this woman was seeing kindness, gentleness and love from a Man who was pure and wholesome. He was not someone who wanted to use or abuse her. Nor was he someone who avoided her in self-righteousness when he saw her tag. He saw something beautiful and wonderful and worth saving.
She got so excited she dropped her water pot and raced back into town. Forgetting about the insults and jokes, she told everyone she ran into about the Man at the well—Could this be the Christ?8 She found a man who saw her tag and accepted her AS IS. As the people came running to see Jesus, the Master turned to His disciples and said, “Open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest.”9
What about us?
How many of us are feeling beaten and defeated? How many of us, like the woman at the well, are trying to hide our AS IS tag? Maybe we need to sit with Jesus by the well. Maybe we need to be lifted up to see ourselves as someone really worth something in His eyes. Jesus sees our tag and still takes us AS IS.
The Woman at Simon’s Place – Luke 7:36-3910
Simon, a very influential Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dinner. We don’t know why. Maybe it was because Jesus had gained some notoriety, and Simon was either curious or wanted to rub elbows with someone who was becoming famous.
While they ate, a woman of the streets somehow got into the house and fell at Jesus’ feet. First, she wept and washed His feet with her tears. Then, she anointed them with a flask of perfume hanging around her neck. She had no napkin or towel, so she used her long hair to dry His feet.
Maybe it was her clothes, the lack of a veil covering her face, or perhaps Simon had done business with her before. Whatever it was that gave her away, everyone in the house (including Simon) saw her AS IS tag. Simon was disgusted. To himself he thought, “If this man was really a prophet, He would know what kind of woman she is.”10
Well, Jesus WAS a prophet, and He DID know exactly what kind of woman she was. He saw her tag, too. But He saw something that Simon could not see—her remorse and repentance. Simon saw a woman of the streets. Deep in sin, she needed to be punished for her sin. Jesus saw a sinner who needed forgiveness and whose life could be turned around. She had broken the Law, but she wasn’t alone in that. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.11 That includes us! The Law said she should be put to death. Jesus said that she needed help and forgiveness.
What about us?
How many of us have fallen short of the glory of God11 and deserve full punishment for our sins and shortcomings? Maybe we need to sit at the feet of Jesus. Maybe we need to look into His eyes and see Someone who will look at our tag and take us AS IS.
So here we are. Everyone of us has, at some point or other, broken God’s law. Our tags are big and in plain view. There’s no way to hide them. We’re all guilty. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.11 We all deserve to die without hope in the misery of our sins.
But Jesus stands before us and says, “I don’t want to punish you. I want to forgive you.” Jesus says, “I see your tag, and I’m willing to take you AS IS.” The most amazing part of all this is that once Christ has accepted us, He doesn’t leave us in that state. He restores us to a new life. He takes all the damaged areas out of our lives and makes us brand new.
A Servant’s Servant – John 13:5-1112
Visualize with me the upper room and the Last Supper. The disciples were gathered around the table to share the Passover with Jesus. Their feet were filthy. They didn’t have nice paved roads or fancy cars to travel in. They walked everywhere so. their feet were usually the dirtiest part of their bodies.
A good host would assign a servant to wash everyone’s feet as they entered. And usually it was the “servant’s servant” that got this task—the lowest guy on the totem pole. In that upper room, Jesus took that role. He became a “servant’s servant” to wash their feet.
In his book A Gentle Thunder, Max Lucado puts it this way:
I don’t understand how God can be so kind to us, but He is. He kneels before us, takes our feet in His hands, and washes them. Please understand and try and picture what I am saying. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus is washing my feet and your feet also. You and I are in this story. We are at the table. This is us being cleansed…not from our dirt…but from our sins. And the cleansing is not just a gesture; it is a necessity! Listen to what Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” Jesus did not say, “if you don’t wash your own feet.” Why? Because we can’t. We cannot cleanse our own filth. We cannot remove our own sin. Our feet must be in His hands. No, please don’t miss the meaning here. To place our feet in the basin of Jesus…is to place the filthiest parts of our lives into His hands.
This is our AS IS tag
The cleansing water of Jesus comes only when we confess that we are dirty. It comes only when we admit that we have travelled forbidden trails and followed wrong paths. And when we do, He will reach out His loving arms regardless of our sin and accept us AS IS tag and all. You may feel worthless and of little value, but Jesus sees you differently.
Trash to Treasure
Let me tell you about Ted and Virginia from Arizona. Ted inherited a blanket from his aunt—a blanket he really didn’t care for. But since his beloved aunt gave it to him, he tossed it on a chair in the bedroom, intending to pass it on to Goodwill. It stayed on that chair for several years until the “Antiques Roadshow” came through Tucson. Just for kicks, Ted and Virginia decided to take the old blanket to be appraised. They thought, at best, it would be worth a couple of hundred dollars.
Don Ellis, the appraiser that day, almost fainted when he saw the blanket. It was an original Navajo creation dating back to the early 1800’s. Only fifty were still in existence, and none in the condition of Ted and Virginia’s. Mr. Ellis appraised the blanket for $350,000. Ted and Virginia sold the blanket at an auction for close to half a million. From trash to treasure.
Diamond in the Rough
Sometime before the Civil War, a boy in search of work came to a prosperous Ohio farm owned by Worthy Taylor. All the farmer knew about the boy was that his name was Jim, and he needed work. Jim spent the winter cutting wood, bringing in the cows, and making himself generally useful. He ate in the kitchen and slept in the hayloft. Before summer was over, Jim had fallen in love with the farmer’s daughter.
Farmer Taylor refused to let them marry because Jim had no money, no prominent name, and a very poor future. Even though Jim was disappointed, he put his belongings in an old carpetbag and disappeared. Thirty-five years later, Farmer Taylor tore down his barn to make room for a new one. Carved into the rafter above the hayloft, he discovered Jim’s full name—James A. Garfield—who was then President of the United States.
People may look at us and think there’s not much hope for us. No money, no name, poor prospect for the future. But Jesus comes along and sees a diamond in the rough. He sees possibilities for all who will say “yes” to Him. He saw potential in the lives of Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman and the woman of the streets at Simon’s house. Jesus believed that people could change.
He can take our flawed lives and AS IS tags, and make our lives meaningful, beautiful and useful. God takes us where He finds us: sad or happy, rich or poor, honest or dishonest, successful or broken. He allows us to try and find ourselves. He will let us back ourselves into a corner where there is no escape from our own selfish and self-seeing actions.
What About Us?
When there is nowhere left for us to turn, when we are at the dead end of our lives, we look up and see that God has followed us into that pit of our own making. He stretches forth His nail-scarred hand of love to lead us to a better way. When we are willing to do ANYTHING to see Jesus, like Zacchaeus; willing to sit at the well with Jesus, like the woman of Sychar; willing to kneel at His feet, like the street walker, Jesus sees our remorse and sorrow and repentance. He sees our AS IS tag and takes us just that way. And He gives us a brand-new life. For now, and all eternity.