The New You

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This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.

Where Did Jesus Go?

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One of Joy’s favorite games is “Where’d it go?” She’ll cover her toes with a blanket and put her hands up in an “I-don’t-know” gesture and say “Where toes go?” She does the same with pictures in a book, or a stuffed animal, or a bean under the edge of her plate. We’ll look around until she reveals the hidden thing then laughs with glee at my surprised face.

Do you suppose God was playing Joy’s game with the devil that Sunday morning: “Where did Jesus go?” He’s not on the cross. He’s not in the tomb. And then the great reveal – “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). I wonder if He laughed like she does when He saw the shocked and terrified look on satan’s face. He knew the resurrection of Jesus spelled his doom.

It’s Easter Sunday around the world and the Church will gather to celebrate the risen Son of God. Teachers and preachers will tell “the old, old story” of the empty tomb.  Oh, but it’s more than a story and much more than a game. It’s the single most important event since creation that changed everything. The whole world was dark, but the darkness gave way to the Light. Mankind had no hope until Hope walked out of that tomb. Satan saw his plans crumble like dust.

That’s awesome on a cosmic scale, but what does Easter Sunday mean for you? It means eternal life if you have put your faith in Jesus. It means that you have a place in heaven for all eternity. It means no more sickness (no more COVID and no more facemasks!), no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more death. It means being with loved ones who have departed this life. It means you will see your Savior face-to-face in all of His glory and worship Him forever and ever.

“Where did Jesus go?” From heaven to earth to the cross to the tomb to life again. I guess it’s true: You can’t keep a good man down.

Do You See the Man in the Middle?

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“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused, and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turnaround, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  He recognized, by divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King who could give him eternal life.  He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). 

I don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were supernaturally opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus’ suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

Oh, Beloved, will you open your eyes to the Man in the middle and receive eternal life?

More Than Just a Name

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Do you recognize any of these people? Vincent Damon Furnier, Barry Alan Pinkus, Harry Lillis Crosby, Robert Allen Zimmerman, Paul Hewson, Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere, Reginald Dwight, Steveland Judkins, and Columcille Gibson. You may know them better as Alice Cooper, Barry Manilow, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Bono, Cher, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Mel Gibson. It’s not uncommon to change one’s name to fit a particular persona or just because you don’t like the name you were given at birth.

I have a love-hate relationship with my name. Dorcas is not exactly a common moniker. It is frequently mispronounced and often misspelled. It was the cause of a lot of teasing and unkindness when I was a kid. I toyed around with nicknames, “DeeDee,” “Dory,” and “Dixie” until I borrowed Beth from my middle name, Elizabeth. That’s how I’m known from Tallahassee to Tuscaloosa to Graceville. When we moved back home after 22 years away, I had to reacquaint myself with Dorcas again.

But I discovered the story of Dorcas (Tabitha in the Greek) in Acts (9:36-43) and found beauty in my name. Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the widows and the poor. She fell ill and died and the townspeople sent for Peter who prayed, and she was restored to life. Naturally, I identify with her because of our shared name, and because I also sew. But recently a new parallel came to light that makes me love my name. Dorcas was dead. I was once dead in my trespasses and sins. Dorcas could not raise herself to life. I could not raise myself out of my sinful, dead state. Peter came to help Dorcas. Jesus came to help me. God raised Dorcas back to life through Peter’s intercession. God raised my dead spirit to everlasting life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He used the same divine power to raise us both from death to life.

Dorcas’ story ends by saying “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). I want to tell the world what Jesus did for me so that many people will believe in the Lord. It doesn’t matter to me if you call me Dorcas or Beth, as long as you let me tell you about my Jesus who brings life out of death.

Skinned Knees and Old Sins

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When I was a kid I hated to skin up my knees and elbows. Of course, there was the pain of the injury, but what was even worse to me was the bandage. Mom would plaster one of those plastic adhesive strips with a gauze square to my body part and it would sit there all day, gluing itself securely to my wound. Actually, the bandage itself was not the problem cause we had those cool ones with cartoon characters printed on them. What I dreaded was when the bandage had to be replaced at the end of the day. My mom didn’t believe in coddling me so it came off with one swift jerk. Oh, the pain! Oh, the wailing! It’s a wonder those wounds ever healed because they were constantly being reopened and irritated.

Some of us treat our past like my mom treated my poor knees. We constantly rip off the bandage and reopen the wound. We agonize over our failures and sins over and over again. We pick at the wounds of yesterday and make them bleed and hurt, and we experience the pain as if it was new and fresh. I know. I’ve relived my past a thousand times. Every foolish decision. Every moral failure. Every sin. And the wounds bleed and never heal.

Dear friend, if you have been to the cross and claimed Jesus as your Savior, everything that haunts you from your past – every sin and failure – has been covered over by Christ’s blood. They have been forgiven and they are gone. The Bible says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The east is eternally separated from the west, the two directions will never meet. God has eternally separated the sins and failures of your past from you. He will never make you face them again.

But you’ve got to let them heal. You’ve got to stop reopening those old wounds. You are “a new creation in Christ; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corin 5:17). Let the old sinful you go, Beloved, and embrace the new you in Christ.

A Shameful Woman and a Gracious Savior

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Luke 8:42-48 tells the story of a very shameful woman and a very gracious Healer. She had “an issue of blood” or as we might say in the South – “She had woman troubles.” In that culture, a woman’s monthly cycle rendered her “unclean” for the duration (Lev. 15:19. Anyone who touched her or anything that she touched, such as furniture, would be unclean. This woman had suffered for twelve years!  Twelve years of being unclean had heaped tremendous shame and isolation upon her. Plus she had spent every penny on doctors who could not help her.  She was a woman in desperate need of divine help.

She knew the Law and the ramifications of what she intended to do. But she had heard of the rabbi’s healing miracles and somehow knew He could do the same for her. So she dared to approach Jesus, albeit stealthily. She thought she could receive healing without His notice, but – horror of horrors – He stopped and sought her out. “Who touched me?” He demanded (v. 45).  The disciples pointed out the crowd around Him, but this touch was different from the rest. He knew the touch of faith when He felt it. When she bravely came forward, He was gracious and merciful. Before the whole community—those who regarded her with shame and had ostracized her—He commended her faith and proclaimed her healed. Can you imagine how her disgrace surely turned to rejoicing? She “owned up to” what she had done – “In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed” (v. 47). Listen to Jesus’ response to her confession: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (v. 48).  Did you catch it? Because of her faith, the Lord not only healed her but claimed her as His own. And announced it to all her neighbors. Oh, had she never stepped forward she would have still been healed, but what a witness she was to the community.

Beloved, I don’t know what scandalous burden you carry. But I do know that when we are honest with the Lord, no matter what we have done or how shameful we feel, He honors us with healing and acceptance that is evident to everyone around us. I just really believe God wants someone to know that.

Okay, I’m Saved. Now What?

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Yesterday I wrote about God’s grace, about how salvation is a work that God alone accomplishes on our behalf. It is truly an amazing thing. But what comes next? Now that we are a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17) do we just wait around for heaven? No. Now a new work begins. It’s called sanctification and it’s not just behavior modification though your behavior will change. It involves a transformation on the inside that works its way to the outside.
Like salvation, sanctification is God’s work. But it is not His work alone. It is also our work. It is a combined, life-long partnership between us and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it well saying, “It is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13) as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). After His opus of salvation, God works in us through His Word and His Holy Spirit. We read the Word which “teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Spirit roots those truths in our hearts. He convicts us of sin, encourages us to persevere, and empowers us to obey and to walk in righteousness. That’s a lot! What’s left for us to do? Our part is studying His Word, praying, coming together with the Body (the church), and especially, responding in obedience to His commands and His promptings.
“Working out” what God is “working in” us is a daily discipline. And it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It will require everything of you. Part of sanctification is pruning – removing from us those things that hinder our progress – habits, addictions, wrong thoughts, immorality, prejudices, pride, rebellion, selfishness, anger, laziness, lack of self-control. Oh, He has so much work to do in me. But then He begins the building work – filling us with “the fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). That’s where we see the transformation on the inside working its way to the outside.
What’s the goal? That you and I might be “conformed to the likeness of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). That the world might see Jesus when they look at you. Beloved, will you join God in the good work of sanctification?

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.