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. 

Good News!

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The truth is I am a sinful woman. I can’t deny it, and I can’t change it. It is my nature – my very human nature. If you don’t believe me, look at the evidence. My life is riddled with sin.

I identify so much with Paul’s statement: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). I would beg to differ with him about who is the worst, but that’s not the point of this verse. The point – the glorious truth that overcomes my sin is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . .” If my family were not still asleep at this early hour, I would be shouting!  I was lost in my sin, condemned to death and hell, and Christ Jesus came to rescue me! What grace! What mercy! What love!

You are also a sinner. You can’t deny it and you can’t change it. It is your very human nature and the evidence is all over your life. And you know it, don’t you? You might even think you could challenge me and Paul for the title of “worst sinner.” Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners — to save you. That’s good news!

Jesus is the Son of God – the same God who created the whole universe, He left the perfection of heaven to die for sinners.  Sinners like you and me. He lived a perfect life, without a single sin. He was falsely accused, beaten, and was crucified on a cross – not for anything he had done, but for every sin you and I ever committed. He paid the price that we owed for our sinful human nature – a price we could never pay. He wants you to be saved.  He wants you to claim His free gift of mercy and grace. He wants you to receive His love.  He has done everything for you – all you have to do is believe and say “Yes, I receive your gift.”

Beloved, whom do you know that needs to hear the gospel: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. You could be God’s instrument of grace in their lives today. Will you share the Good News?

Bible Study

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You’ve heard me say this before, and I’ll say it to my dying day – one of the most important Bible study lessons I’ve learned is to not take any Scripture out of its greater context. That is crucial to understanding the text and making the right application.  When we isolate a verse or passage we can make it say pretty much anything we want. I’ll give you just one example.

Two points are always taught from the miracle story in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus met ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (13) And He did. He told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” which the Law demanded. The first point is that the lepers didn’t wait around until they saw their flesh restored but immediately did what Jesus said, and “As they went, they were cleansed” (14). The lesson is drawn that obedience proceeds blessings. The second, and you’re probably familiar with this one, is that only one of the ten healed men returned to thank Jesus – and this brings the lesson of gratitude.

But the point of this miracle story is not just a reminder to be obedient to God’s commands nor to be grateful for what God has done for you, although these are both important lessons and life habits that we should adopt. They are secondary to the miracle-working power of Jesus which added evidence to His claim to be the Son of God. That is Luke’s point throughout his entire gospel – the greater context. Luke stated his purpose for writing in 1:1-4. He wanted to assure “Theophilus” of “the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Now we don’t know who Theophilus was, but we know what he was taught. The heart of the gospel is in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Without that firmly fixed in our minds, Bible study misses the point.

Beloved, I am passionate for you to get into the Word and get to know God’s heart for you – it begins and [never] ends with Jesus.

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?

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

The Real Cowardly Lion

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I write notes and comments in my Bible. Sometimes dates when a Scripture spoke powerfully to a need in my life. Sometimes a verse that connects to what I’m reading, and often notes about what the Spirit impresses on my heart. And there are a few snarky comments scattered about. I saw one when I was skimming through 2 Kings. In chapter 18, Hezekiah is the king of Judah. He is a godly king and trusted in the Lord. The scripture says that “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord . . .” (v. 5). I sure hope that can be said of me when my life is done.

In Hezekiah’s 4th year an enemy army began a march through the middle east, capturing cities with ease. The chief office was Sennacherib and he began a push into Judah, coming dangerously close to Jerusalem. He called a conference with King Hezekiah just outside of the city. The armies of Judah and the people were all gathered atop the wall, watching and listening as Sennacherib made threats and even claimed that the Lord had sent him to destroy them. He said the king was a fool to claim that the Lord God would protect them. He said that if they would surrender to him, they would have more than Hezekiah could provide. He said that no other nation’s gods had been able to deliver them out of his mighty hand. Then he said, “How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hands?” (v. 35). And here I have jotted down this note: “Oh, you don’t know Who you’re messing with!”

Friend, if Christ Jesus has claimed you as His own then you have an enemy – satan. He stands only as close as God will permit him and He bellows threats. But he is all talk. He doesn’t have the authority to pull off his threats. Not when God has you. Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion – but all he can do to you is roar. Jesus took away all of satan’s power at the cross and the empty tomb. Sennacherib didn’t know who He was dealing with, but satan does. You need to know it too, Beloved. You have a mighty, mighty God on your side.

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

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.

The Auction

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“Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:17)

A wealthy husband and wife traveled around the world collecting costly works of art. Their home was filled with the finest sculptures and paintings. In time the wife passed away and their son grew up, joined the military, and went off to war. One day a knock at the door brought the terrible news that his son had been killed in battle. The man shut himself away, alone in the house with all his valuable treasures. Soon a friend of his son from the military came with a brown-paper-wrapped package – a portrait he had painted of his son shortly before he was killed. The father thanked the friend and placed the painting of his son in its place.

When he died his estate announced a great auction and the most important art collectors and dealers from around the world came. The auctioneer gaveled the auction open and displayed the first painting – the simple portrait of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for a bid. No one said a word. He asked again, who will give me just $25 for this painting? No one moved. They weren’t there for sentimentality, they were there for the great sculptures and beautiful paintings. Finally, one man in the back raised his hand, “I didn’t come here to buy anything, I just wanted to watch, but I’ll take the painting for $25.”

“Going once, going twice, sold to the gentleman in the back for $25.”

Then the auctioneer rapped the gavel on his stand and announced, “The auction is now closed.”

“Closed! There’s a whole house full of treasures to be sold.”

The auctioneer said, “The old man’s will declared that only one painting would be sold – the painting of his beloved son. Whoever takes the son gets it all.”

God sent His beloved Son to redeem lost souls. He said that whoever believed in His Son would become His child and would have rights to all He owns – heaven and earth and all the universe and eternal life. The Son is the Way to all the treasures of God. Actually, the Son is the greatest treasure of God. All those treasures can be yours if you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. It’s an incredible offer – you trade your sinful life for the glory of Christ. Don’t pass it up, Beloved.

Whoever takes the Son gets it all.