The Shame of it All

“Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5

It never really seemed to bother me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (my Mother did not spare the rod, and I am the better for it), grounded me (in fact, she once grounded me for the rest of my life), took away privileges, added chores, or even yelled at me.  I was sort of immune to her anger.  But oh, let her say she was ashamed of me, and my heart would shatter into a thousand pieces.  To make my Mother ashamed of me was the worst thing I could ever do.  It meant she had a standard she believed I was able to live up to, and my actions had betrayed her trust in me.  That cut me to the quick, and I can still feel the piercing pain when I remember those times. And the guilt. Lots of guilt. Guilt that I carried around on my back and in my heart long after she had passed from this life into heaven.

Add to that the guilt and shame of being abused and rejected, of making my own mistakes, hurting others, and rolling around in the mud-pit of my own sin, and it is a very heavy load to bear.  No wonder it was so hard for me to step out into the life God has for me.

I “do guilt” well – I used to joke that guilt was my Spiritual gift.  I’ve logged many hours in counselor’s offices trying to shake free from all that shame and guilt.

Maybe I’m the only person who has carried that burden, but I’m pretty sure I’m not.  I’ve talked with many of you, seen your shoulders stooped under your own load, and prayed and cried with you for release and freedom – we are kindred spirits.  The Shepherd/King David  cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4).

God did not create you and me to bear heavy loads of guilt and shame.  But when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they opened the floodgates and the natural result of sin came rushing in on us.  Eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow our sin has caused Him, we slink back into the cave of despair, with our bags of guilt and boxes of shame.  “I have to hide myself away, I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me.”

Bill Gaither wrote a powerful and beautiful song called “He Touched Me” and the first lines go like this: “Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame.”[1]  I can relate to that.  What misery is ours when we just stop there – shacked and bound, burdened and ashamed.  But listen to the next lines: “Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same!”  Oh the blessed release when we allow the hand of Jesus to reach out and take away our burdens and shame and break the shackles from our feet.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free – as He read from Isaiah – “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”( Luke 4:18-19, emphasis added).  He told Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the word to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17).  Jesus came, not to point to you with all your bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!”  He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Rest from the weight.  Rest from the shame.  Rest from the guilt.

This morning I came to God, with my head and eyes downcast, ashamed and guilty, expecting chastisement and rejection.  And God had me sit right here and write these words, as much, if not more so, for me, as for anyone else.  He had reached out His nail-scarred hand and took my bags of misery, and now He bids me rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in Christ Jesus.  I invite you to do the same.

“He touched me, Oh He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul! Something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.”

Merciful Father, Your grace is beyond understanding, but I drink it in dry water poured out on the dry, parched ground.  Thanks and praise to the Lord who sets me FREE! Amen


[1] He Touched Me, Bill and Gloria Gaither-1963

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A Second-hand God?

“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42
I have been a Bible Study teacher for more than 10 years, it is my passion and my calling from God. I take very seriously the responsibility to “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I take very personally the care and feeding of “my sheep” as Jesus charged Peter after His resurrection (see John 21:15-17). The spiritual health of those God has entrusted to me is my constant prayer. So last night, when one of my “lambs” called me to share a revelation from God as she meditated on the material we are studying, I was overcome with thanksgiving and my eyes welled up with tears of joy! There is nothing that blesses any teacher’s heart – whether a Bible teacher, school or college teacher or even the master craftsman training his apprentice – like when your student “gets it.” When the bell rings in their heart and the light goes off in their head – and the lesson taught becomes a truth received.
Take a few minutes to read John 4:1-42. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.
This account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is rich with so many wonderful illustrations, one could write a book from all the treasures in this just passage of Scripture. And I may just do that someday. But I want to focus on verses 28-30 and 39-42.
This woman, with her sinful track record and obvious disregard by her neighbors, went back into the town and told the people to come and see this remarkable Man, “who told me everything I ever did” (v. 29). She wondered aloud if this was “the Christ,” the long awaited Messiah of the Jews. They came, because of her testimony and her witness of the Man. Verse 39 says “Many of the Samaritans…believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” But verse 40 tells us that they didn’t just take her word for who this Man was, but they urged Him to stay and they listened to His Words. And the beautiful result is in verse 42, our key verse. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  They spent two days listening to Jesus, and they came to a personal knowledge and a personal relationship with Him.
Too many of us have settled for a second-hand relationship with God. We go to church every Sunday and listen to the words that are preached. We may go to Sunday School and hear the lesson brought by the teacher from the material of a writer in another place. We may even go so far as to attend a Bible study class and listen to the leader, and read the lesson. But we don’t make it our own. We settle for what someone else tells us about God, and we wonder why He is not so real to us.
God created you that you might have a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Him. Jesus came to interact personally with people, and He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us in the most intimate way. Bible study and listening to godly teachers and preachers is vital to our spiritual growth, but if we don’t take those Words and make them personal, we have full heads and empty hearts.
God knows your heart and your needs, and He has a Word just for you. He has a purpose just for you. You won’t find it anywhere else but at His feet.
I will teach the Word of God for as long as He gives me breath. There is so much to learn, and so much to share, the Word of the Lord never gets stale or boring. But the ultimate goal of every teacher to teach ourselves out of a job – to stir in our students a hunger and passion for the Word, and the God who wrote it. I pray that you make His Word your own, and that you never settle for a second-hand relationship with the God who created you, loves you, and died for  you. I pray that you will be able to say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you  – but now  – my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).
Holy Father, thank you for godly teachers and preachers who lead us into the riches of Your Word.  Lord, be real to me today. Speak to my heart of intimate things. Draw me to You so that I can know You for myself.  Amen.

Hold My Hand

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8

When my son was much younger he was afraid of thunderstorms, especially those that came through at night.  Like every child, he wanted to be near his parents, where he felt safe; but he was at the age where he really wanted to be “a big boy.”  He didn’t want to give in to his fears, but his fears were very real.  I’ve been there, and I am sure you have as well.

I remember one night in particular, when a storm rolled in just as his dad and I were going to bed.   He said to me, “Mommy, I’m just gonna lay down here by your bedroom door.  I really don’t need to get in your bed anymore.”  “Okay son that is a good idea.  I am here if you need me.” And so he curled up with his pillow and blanket by the door.  The thunder crackled outside and lightning flashed through the sky.  “Mommy, I am going to lay down here on the floor beside your bed. Don’t step on me Mommy!”  “Okay son, I will be careful not to step on you. I’m here if you need me.”  Another bright flash followed by a crash of thunder.  “Mommy will you put your hand down here so I can hold it?”  “Of course son, here’s my hand. I’m here if you need me.”   Suddenly the sky lit up and a “BOOM!” rattled the windows.  “Mommy, I’m comin’ up there!”  And in just a few minutes, nestled in my arms, one hand reaching out to touch his dad, my son was fast asleep, even as the storm raged on.

Doesn’t life throw some awfully frightening storms our way at times?  The rain pounds down on us and we frantically search for a safe haven from the lightning.  I think the emotional and mental thunder is the worst.  The crash of a breaking heart, the crackle of frayed nerves and the BOOM that rattles our lives makes us want to reach out to someone, anyone who will comfort us and make us feel safe and secure.  Where do grown-ups go when the storms roll through?

Like many, I turn to the Word of God, and especially the Psalms. Psalmists like King David and Aseph, one of the Temple musicians, peppered the book of Psalms with both pleas and praise for God’s protection during stormy seasons.   God is called, a “shield” (Ps. 3:3, 5:12, 7:10,), a “refuge and stronghold” (Ps. 9:9), and a “place of shelter” (Ps. 55:8), just to name a few.  David finds security “in the shadow of [God’s] wings” (Ps. 17:8).  One of my favorite phrases is “But God…”  Over and over again, the Psalmist expresses his fears over the storm he is in, and then turns his heart around by saying “But God…” as he proclaims his confidence and trust in the Lord.  Psalm 73 could have been my son’s verse: “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.”  And David expressed what I am sure were his feelings that stormy night: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8).

Remember how Jesus calmed the storm in Mark 4: 35-41, and even walked on the tumultuous waves in Matthew 14:22-33?  He is still walking out on the choppy seas of your life and mine to calm the storm around us. Life is hard, but you don’t have to face it alone.  You have a Shield, a shelter and a refuge. Storms will come, of that we can be certain.  But God… God calls out “I’m here if you need me.”  He holds His arms open wide to draw His child near, and in the arms of God is peace, safety, security…and rest.

Holy Father, like a little child, I will draw close to You when the thunder crashes, all the way up into Your strong and reassuring arms.  You are my comfort in the storms of life.  Amen.

From a distance…

“Peter followed at a distance…”  Luke 22:54b

I remember reading a quote, though I don’t know who said it, that asks the question –

“If you don’t feel close to God anymore, who moved?”  A quick internet search yields more than 112 million hits, of people who are wondering why they don’t feel as close to God as they once did.  People are leaving churches by the droves because they feel that God is remote, unavailable and uninterested in their lives.   The pop singer, Bette Midler sang a song with these lyrics: “God is watching us, from a distance.”  In this age of “spirituality,” fewer and fewer people can testify to a close and personal relationship with God.  I’d like to tell you that Ms. Midler’s theology is way off and God is as near to you and me as our next breath.

Peter is the prime example of one who walked closely with the Savior, yet allowed himself to drift.  One of Christ’s most passionate disciples, Peter swore allegiance to Jesus-even to the point of death, saying “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). But Jesus knew that Peter’s bold talk would not sustain his resolve.  He told Peter “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (v. 34).   And sure enough, Luke 22:54-62 tells us that Peter did just as the Lord said he would.

How does one who walked so closely with Jesus turn away from Him so easily?  I’d like to offer something I see in this passage:

First, our key verse gives us one important clue – “Peter followed at a distance.”  By the words used in this verse, we see a contradiction in Peter’s actions.  He “followed” – which means in the original Greek, “to accompany, to be a disciple,” so he heads out with the heart of a disciple, to accompany his Lord and Teacher.  But he followed “at a distance” and this Greek word means “far away, at length.” Out of fear for his own life, Peter fell back, and the distance between him and Jesus began to work on his heart.  When he separated himself, his passion for the Lord cooled, and rather than a heart warmed by his love for Jesus, he warms himself by a man-made fire.  His passion for Christ has chilled to the point that he openly denies the One he previously swore to follow to prison and death.

It is the same with you and me – when we begin to allow the cares and offerings of this world to draw us away from our Savior, our hearts begin to cool toward Christ, and rather than draw near to Him, we turn and warm our cold hearts at worldly fires.  Is Sunday morning more about a sports event than gathering with the saints in God’s house?  Are we more concerned about keeping up with our favorite TV programs or with reading and studying God’s Word?  Am I having more “Facebook” conversations than heart conversations with God in prayer?  Is there an unconfessed sin that is driving you away from the One who died for your sins?  Am I reluctant to confess that I know Jesus at all?

Now let me offer this a beautiful contrast. God has made a promise to you and me: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Our Heavenly Father has promised, no matter how far we roam, He goes with us and will never leave us.  He commanded the Israelites to build a place for Him, that He might dwell in the midst of His people.  He came in frail human flesh, Jesus Christ, and walked among the very ones He would give His life for.  And He has sent His Holy Spirit to all who will believe in Christ for salvation; His indwelling presence to be with us through this earthly life.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, He declares “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, no anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  God has proclaimed that He will be with His children, and there is no power or force or thing that can take us from His love.  God is never distant from His beloved child.  The gap that you feel is not God pulling away from you.  He can never separate Himself from us, if we are in Christ Jesus.  Pop songs are not theology, God is watching us, but not from a distance.  He is watching us, caring for us and loving us from within our own hearts, as He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. He is as near as your next prayer.

Holy Father, when I think I have lost my way, and have wandered far from You, I need only call on Your Name, for you are always with me.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  Amen

Out With the Old, In with the New?

“Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”  Hebrews 9:15

New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make, and so hard to keep. Old habits die hard.  Old desires still burn within.  Chocolate seems all the more tempting in January than it was in December, especially when you resolve to lose weight.  Many of us make a resolution to start good habits, eating healthy, exercising, and reading the Bible every day.  These are good, life-affecting habits, but all too often we get sidetracked and let our good resolutions fall by the wayside.  I would like to encourage you in one particular good resolution, that of reading the Bible daily.

I love the Word of God.  It is my passion and my calling.  I am both a teacher and a student of the Bible.  I have been reading and studying the Bible for many years, getting up early every morning to spend time in prayer and to soak my spirit in God’s Holy and perfect Word, to study and dig deeper for understanding and nuggets of wisdom and truth.  God’s Word has changed my life – it has changed me from the inside out.  And it will do the same for you, if you don’t give up.

When we determine to read the Bible, we start off well, Genesis and Exodus are exciting books, filled with personal stories and great wonders of God from Creation, the Flood, to the calling of Abraham, and this family that God declares will be a great nation.  Exodus offers us the awesome burning bush of Moses and the plagues that brought freedom for the enslaved Hebrews, the parting of the sea, the people’s wanderings because of their disobedience, and the beauty of the Tabernacle of the Lord.

Then we start on the book of Leviticus, and all of the sudden we are bogged down in the mire of sacrifices and offerings and rules and regulations.  And our resolve weakens.  The book closes and the dust starts to build.  And Satan claps his evil hands in delight.  What is the point of reading this archaic account of sacrifices and things that have no bearing on us as New Testament Christians?  Why do we need to read about dead kings and prophets and people who are so wishy-washy towards God?  But – aren’t we being wishy-washy in giving up on this marvelous book about the God we have claimed our allegiance to?

One reason I love the Old Testament so much is that everything written in those “archaic” books points toward the One who is their perfect fulfillment – Jesus Christ.  For instance, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29).  The Old Testament is rich with evidences of Jesus Christ, a subject I will be studying and writing about more in the coming year.

The study of the Old Testament sacrificial system gives us all the more reason to rejoice and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ.  When we read of the severity of these sacrifices, and consider the weight of the rituals and regulations that the Old Testament Jews had to endure to be in relationship with the Lord God, it should tell us that 1) sin is a serious offense to God, 2) the price that had to be paid to cover man’s sin was extreme, and 3) our salvation came at the highest price – the life and blood of God’s Son.

A passage from the book of Hebrews isthe perfect example of why the study of the Old Testament is vital to understanding our redemption through Jesus Christ.  Look with me at Hebrews 9: 12-14:

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!”

In these verses we see the juxtaposition of the Old Testament against the New.  Before Christ, the blood of sacrificed animals was an external, or outward, cleansing of the people’s sin, and this only applied to unintentional sin (sins committed in ignorance-see Hebrews 8:7).  Levitical law stated that “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible” (Lev. 5:17). But the Lord made it clear, there was no provision under the Old Testament sacrificial system for intentional sin.  Listen to Numbers 15:30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly…blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s Word and broken his commands… his guilt remains on him.”  That is a chilling thought.  How many of your sins and mine were committed with the full knowledge that we were disobeying God’s Word?  Under the Old Testament law, we would remain forever guilty.

Now look back at Hebrews 9:12-14 and rejoice with me that the blood of Jesus cleanses – “once for all. All sins – intentional and unintentional, every act of rebellion and disobedience, every stumble and fall – is covered by the precious blood of the Lamb of God.  Oh I can hardly keep from shouting (and waking my family at this early hour)!  While the blood of animals cleansed the Jew outwardly and only from unintentional sin, the blood of Christ cleanses all of our sins – and cleanses us from the inside out.  Verse 14 says that Jesus’ blood will “cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death.” In other words, Jesus blood cleanses us from the guilt of sin and from the desire for sin.  Jesus cleanses us from within, where man’s sinful nature lives, the root of our passions and the impulse that drives our actions.   The blood of animals had no effect on man’s inner nature, on his heart.  But the blood of Jesus Christ changes not just our outward condition, but our very heart, soul and spirit.  When we surrender to this transforming power we will find that our sinful desires are replaced with a passion to know God and to live for Him in all we say, do, and think.

Oh how I love the Word of God.  It shows me who I am, who God is, and the price He paid to redeem me for His own, to change my heart and my life.  My ministry is to encourage you in the study of God’s Holy and Living Word – because it is life and light and nourishment to our very souls.  Don’t give up my fellow Bible student – there are riches waiting for you beyond your wildest imagination.

Holy Father, God of the Living Word – my heart is overwhelmed by the joy of Your salvation and the beauty of Your Holy Word.  Etch it deeply into my heart and let it always be ready on my lips.  Thank You for Your Life-giving Word.  Amen

Lessons from the Farmer

“Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God.”  Hebrews 6:7

Today begins a new year, shining and full of promise and hope.  Like a blank page, this year has endless possibilities for us – new stories to write, new songs to pen, new images to draw.  Like a kid on the first day of a new school year, I love fresh and new beginnings.

I always look for a Scripture on New Year’s Day that is hopeful and ripe with expectation, so when the Lord brought our key passage to my attention, I wondered what He was saying to me. It seemed an odd verse to start the new year – but as I studied the words and prayed, I began to see that this is indeed a word of hope and promise.

For some of us, this New Year’s Day signals a grateful end to the old year – a year marked with struggle, disappointment, pain, sorrow, hardship – I’m sure you could add to the list from your own experiences in the past year or beyond.   Like many others, I have been through a long season of storms and turmoil – and I am ready for it all to end.  That is where this verse speaks to me and two words stand out – “rain” and “tilled.”

Do you feel as though you have been standing out in the rain-wet and miserable?  Do you feel as if life has “plowed” you over?  Please hear these words from God – the rain and the tilling are meant to make your life and mine fruitful – “to bring forth vegetation.”

God means for us to drink in the rain that falls on us, just as Jesus declared “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus offers us Living Water for our thirsty souls, and He has said those who receive it will be conduits of this life-giving water – “streams of living water will flow from within him” (v. 38).

If you know anything about farming, you know that the farmer plows the field to prepare the soil for planting; sharp blades and tines dig deep into the fallow ground.  This is what I wrote in my prayer journal this morning: “Lord, I feel like I have been through a long tilling season – and sharp instruments have cut through my life.  But I think you have been plowing to sever the roots of plants that are not fruitful and break up clods that make it difficult to sow seeds in my heart.”  Take comfort in knowing that the plowing doesn’t go on and on. The land is tilled only to prepare for planting.  Hear the words of Isaiah 28:24-25 – “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has levered the surface does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?”  Plowing and tilling doesn’t go on forever; eventually the seed is sown for a fruitful harvest. Fruit that will bless others as well as bless you and me.  Its God’s own promise, there in our key verse: The fruitful ground “receives a blessing from God.”

My friend, if you have endured difficulties in the past year, take heart – God has prepared you that He might bless you and bless others through you.  Nothing He does or allows is ever without purpose, even the hard things. Especially the hard things.

Holy Father, I look ahead into this new year with hope in my heart, taking Paul’s words as my own: “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14a).  Amen.