Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

My Life

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“In Him, we were also chosen . . . according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

I have often joked that “guilt is my spiritual gift.”  It’s something I’ve always done exceptionally well. Now I know and am deeply grateful that, because of Christ’s redemption, God no longer sees me as guilty.  But I agonize over my past choices and actions and the negative consequences they brought.  The list is long – and I won’t drag them out, but believe me when I say I’ve made some messes along the way.   I’ve always seen them as derailments that knocked me completely off course.  I imagine the path my life should have taken, and how I have altered that path so that God could not do what He intended in my life.  Or have I?

Is God only in control of my life when I make all the right choices? Is His plan so fragile that I can destroy it with an ill-conceived mistake? Can it survive the careless actions of others in my life? Can He work within the craziness that is my life?

As I sit here today I have a small measure of wisdom that I didn’t have in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that God never lost control of my life, even when I turned in the wrong direction. He has never wrung His hands in heaven trying to figure out how to overcome my foolishness. I’ve seen Him take some of my biggest blunders and missteps and bring something good and positive and Joyful out of them. My life is not a haphazard crazy quilt of all my wrong choices, but a beautiful, if slightly eccentric design that God is still piecing together.  I love David’s musing: “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with Joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).  The path my life has taken has not always been easy nor straight and true, but God has never been caught off guard. I’m looking back at my life from farther down the road – now sixty years old – and I’m seeing that God’s good and gracious hand has been in it all along.

At the Name of Jesus

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The soldiers put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him” (Mark 15:16-19)

John wrote: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:8). Did you catch that? Even those who pierced him! All those who have mocked Him and ridiculed him will suddenly and clearly see Him as “the Lord of lords and the King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). And what will be their reaction? Paul said, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10). Every knee. Every tongue. And they will do so because His majesty will be on full display. Do you see how the soldiers were doing in jest what they and all of humanity will be doing on that glorious day? For those who rejected Him in this life, it will be a moment of abject terror as they confront the truth they so long tried to deny.

But for those who have received Him, who have believed in His Word, who have stood fast in the face of persecution and endured the slings and arrows of the culture in which we live, our knees will gladly bow in honor of His grandeur and our tongues will joyfully confess the Name and praise of Jesus Christ who is forever exalted in heaven and earth. I bow before Him now and offer Him my praise so that when that day of days comes, I will slip into the posture of worship as naturally as drawing a breath.

I pray you know Him today as your Savior and Lord. I pray on that day you will greet him as your King and His Name will roll from your lips with delight at the glorious sight of His face. If you do not know this Jesus, please let this be the day that you say “Yes” to the king of Kings and the lord of Lords.

Love One Another

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As long as I’ve studied the Bible, many verses still make me pause and wonder – what does this mean? 1 Peter 4:8 is one of those: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” The first part of this verse seems pretty clear – love one another. Paul said, “you have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Jesus is our Teacher and He taught by example. John said that Jesus “showed [the disciples] the full extent of His love” when He knelt before them with a washbasin and a towel (John 13:1-17). Love drove Him to wash their nasty feet. Then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humbly. Sacrificially. Graciously.

But it’s the second part of the verse that I want to understand better: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Peter may be borrowing from Solomon who said, “Love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:9). Certainly, we know that the love of God “covered over” our sins with the blood of Jesus. But Peter is speaking about loving one another, so this must have practical application for you and me.

Let’s first talk about what “covering over” doesn’t mean. It absolutely does not mean taking abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek safety and help now.  It doesn’t mean sweeping someone’s wrong actions under a rug and pretending nothing has happened. And it doesn’t mean not seeking wise counsel for difficult relationships.

Here’s what I am convinced it means: Love forgives wrongs and does not dwell on them or broadcast them. Here’s where I’m squirming with conviction. I want to talk about it. I want someone to know what this person has done to me. I want them to be just as offended as I am. That isn’t love. That’s ugly human nature.

Yes, we can certainly ask our brothers and sisters for prayer, but we must take care that our prayer requests don’t become a gripe session. Because that isn’t love. This is deeply personal for me and I’m asking the Lord to help me love more and complain less.

Because people need love. A love that is patient, kind, humble, peaceful, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, hopeful, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased). Beloved, let’s commit to love like Jesus – I believe it will change the world.

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

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The world has many different views of what a “Christian” is.  In fact, the church is pretty confused about what it means as well. The title “Christian” was not coined by the Lord Himself or by His disciples. “Christian” was a designation given to the “Followers of the Way” – the first believers – by those outside the church (see Acts 11:26). It meant, “little Christs” because these people were keenly identified with Jesus by their words and actions. Not so much today.

To the culture, a Christian is someone who is filled with hate and intolerance. Strangely enough, the only ones the tolerant culture will not tolerate are true Christians.  In many churches today, a Christian is someone who shows up semi-regularly for church and throws a couple of bucks in the plate.  Oh, and they must not speak out against anything anyone chooses to do or be all for the sake of “love.”  Individually, a Christian is someone who posts Jesus memes on social media, right after posting something laced with profanity. They know just enough Scripture to prove themselves right in their own eyes.

Saying “I am a Christian” does not get you into God’s heaven. Paul said the key to heaven is a profession of faith. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is an important distinction between saying “I’m a Christian” and saying “Jesus is Lord.” What we are to confess with our mouth is the Name, the identity, and the Lordship of Jesus. And it’s not just words we spout, it must be a confession of our heart. I tried an experiment with this when I had to interview several non-believers for my Apologetics class. I asked each one to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and every one of them refused because they said, “I don’t believe it.” Remember what Jesus said – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And the heart that believes that Jesus is Lord will lead the mind and body to act like it.

Claiming to be a Christian has no saving power. Professing the Name and Lordship of Jesus Christ does. The true confession of faith is not what I am, but what Jesus is.

God Knows Your Heart

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My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she kept doing something she knew was a sin. She honestly wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it like a drug. We’d had this discussion many times over the years.  She stayed in this continuous cycle of sin and defeat. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart, I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand, and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). It’s why we struggle to break away from sins that we cherish (Psalm 66:18).  It’s why the devil has such a grip on the world – because sin, at its core, is not so much a matter of what you and I do but what our hearts desire. Our actions will always follow our hearts. And there’s only room in our hearts for one. If our hearts desire what the world offers, we will not desire God.

But there is hope for the human heart. He is the divine Savior, Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Covered by the blood of the Son of God our hard, stone hearts can become living flesh again (Ezekiel 36:26).

Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

Are you sorry for your sin?

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The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

Not Guilty!

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How foolish would it be for a pardoned prisoner to chose to stay in his jail cell? The warden would tell him, “The judge has pardoned you. You can walk out and go on with your life. You’re free!” His family would implore him, “You don’t have to stay here anymore. Please come home!”

How foolish are we when we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ yet continue to sit in the guilt and shame of our past? We’re like ex-prisoners who refuse to accept release. Perhaps it seems more pious to continue to mourn our sin, but in truth, it is implying that Christ’s work on the cross is insufficient. What sin have you committed that is greater than the blood of Jesus? What failure exceeds the power of God to forgive and restore? Are you listening to the enemy read off your list of pardoned crimes – or will you listen instead to the sweet voice of Jesus say “Forgiven!”? Charles Spurgeon says, “We stand in the sight of God accepted, as though we had never been guilty.” Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). If you have repented of your sins and received Jesus as your Savior, you are no longer guilty. That abortion? Not guilty! That affair? Not guilty! That time you stole something? Not guilty! That season of addiction? Not guilty! Whatever that thing is that weighs you down with shame – in Christ Jesus you are declared by God “Not guilty!” That ought to be good news to you and me. Beloved, take off that orange jumpsuit and put on the snow-white robe of the redeemed. It is time to come out of the prison of guilt and shame and get on with your new life in Christ.