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.

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

How Jesus Decluttered my Life

MY desk on a good day

The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, boxes, toys, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood falls on all who will come and kneel beneath the cross, washing away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip-toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath. 

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless, and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get cluttered with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for 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. 

Are You Hiding From God?

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“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were? Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions? Not a chance. I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?” “Do you realize what you have done?” They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now they feared His presence and thought they needed to avoid their Creator. Sound familiar?

When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame, and to avoid Him at all costs. But do we really believe that He is unaware of our actions? Do you think God doesn’t see us cowering in the bushes? We can’t hide from Him. We can’t cover up our sin. But the love of God can (1 Peter 4:8). The blood of Jesus covers over our sins and makes us acceptable in God’s sight.

When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile. Eventually, he had to confess “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). You and I know that too. We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen. We can even rename it and make it sound like less than a sin, but it’s always there. When David finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness. His spirit was renewed, The Joy of God’s salvation was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)

Where are you? What are you trying to cover up? God knows all about it. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you. He will hide your sin under the blood of Jesus. He will restore your Joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony. Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Forgiveness

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Matthew called them “debts,” Luke called them “sins.” Either way, debts and sins require forgiveness. Both for us and from us.  In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught His disciples that forgiveness is “a two-way street” which oddly always leads to the same destination: righteousness. It is something we must request from God and something we must give to others.  Sin always leaves the sinner in debt – to God ultimately, but also to the one that was sinned against.  Forgiveness is the only remedy for the debt of sin.

We like to be forgiven. We want that feeling of relief when the weight of our sin is lifted off our shoulders. It is a gift not to be taken lightly or for granted. Peter reminds us that our redemption was more costly than “perishable things such as silver or gold . . . but [was bought] with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18, 19). So when we confess our sins and repent from them – which is part of seeking forgiveness – we are cashing in on the blood of Christ Jesus to cleanse us of our sins and pay the debt we owe to God because of them. That sense of freedom is breathtaking.

But Jesus also said that we must forgive the debts of those who have sinned against us. We must give to others the same grace that has been given to us. What’s more, He said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt 6:14-15). That’s pretty sobering. Matthew also recorded the parable of the servant who, after receiving mercy from the king to whom he was deeply indebted, refused to give the same to a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt. The king withdrew his mercy and threw the servant into prison. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (18:35).

Consider the debt you owe God for your sins. Now consider the debt someone owes you. Which debt is greater? Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to give, it is commanded of us on the basis of God’s forgiveness. If God has forgiven you, Beloved, what can you hold against anyone? To whom will you give the gift of forgiveness?

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

The Joy of Salvation

“In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’” Isaiah 25:9

What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?  A favorite toy? A special doll or musical instrument? A treasured book?  A picture, tickets to a sporting event or concert? Of course, every parent has that hand-made gift from their child that delights their heart. For me, it was a “walking Betsey doll” as a child, and the Christmas my husband purchased every color of embroidery floss that DMC made for my cross-stitch “addiction.”  As we wrap up this Advent week, I want to bring our hearts and minds to focus on the most important reason we have for JOY – the salvation of God – the greatest gift ever given.

Sometimes the best gift is something that we need and cannot get for ourselves.  This is the heart of God’s gift of salvation.  We needed to be saved from the punishment due to us for our sinful nature.  We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try to be “good enough,” no matter how much we work, no matter how much we give – we are helpless to secure our own salvation.  Mary’s beautiful song, called The Magnificat, expresses this thought: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant” (Luke 1:46-47).

A popular theology says that God saw His creation falling away from Him, into the clutches of sin and Satan, and He sent His Son in response.  But God’s salvation through Jesus Christ was His plan for the ages, from before the creation of man or the earth (ref. 1 Peter 1:20). Before God said “let there be light,” His Son was destined for the cross.  Why would God sentence His Son to die for you and me?  David answered in Psalm 22:20 – “He rescued me because he delighted in me.”  It’s that simple – God delights in you – He loves you, and He rescued you from the penalty of sin and the power of death because He delights in and loves His children.  God’s gift of salvation is available to every person, no one is exempt, no one is left out.  But the choice to receive or reject God’s gift is ours and ours alone.

What joy is ours when we choose this gift, when we accept this great salvation afforded to us by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Hear the words of Isaiah as he proclaims, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).  Do you hear the delight and rejoicing?  God takes away our filthy garments of sin and shame and condemnation and exchanges them for royal garments of salvation and drapes our shoulders with the robe of righteousness – His righteousness.  Oh if that’s not a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is!

Though He came as a baby, Jesus came to die for your sins and mine. This Christmas, open your heart to receive the greatest gift ever given, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  If you have accepted this gift, rejoice my friend in Christ, REJOICE!

God of heaven, my greatest joy is in Your salvation.  Thank you for giving me this gift that I could never afford on my own. “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Psalm 13:5).  Amen

From the Pit of My Sin

“If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.  2 Timothy 2:13

I am so grateful to know that when I fail in my efforts to be faithful to God, He will still be faithful to me.

I had planned a bright, cheery devotional for today’s post, but a long-time sin reared its ugly head in me yesterday.  When I realized I had again failed in this stronghold, I went into that pit of hating myself.  And that is just where Satan wanted me to go.  The fiery darts started hitting me: “You failed again – you are so weak.  Look at you – a Bible teacher and writer – you should know better.  God is disgusted with you!” Even as I prayed in confession and repentance, the enemy taunted me –”You have no right to ask anything of God now.  And what about all those people you have been praying for – what will happen to them now that you’ve FAILED?”

That is when the sweet, sweet Spirit of Christ brought 2 Timothy 2:13 to my mind.  “God will remain faithful.” Oh surely I am not the only one who needs to hear that today.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans he offered us this assurance – “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! (Romans 3:3)” That is good news to those of us who stumble and fall.  God’s faithfulness is based on who He is, as 2 Tim 2:13 says – it is not just one of His characteristics, it is His very nature.   You cannot be so perfect in your Christian walk to encourage His faithfulness, nor can you be so imperfect to cause Him to abandon you to your sin.

Psalm 103:14 says “He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”  By definition, this means that God knows our “inclinations, motivations and desires.”  In other words, He knows what makes us do the things we do, even if we don’t; things that Paul attested “I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)” This is the beauty of His mercy.  He knows that we are dust, but He loves us and sent His Son to rescue and redeem us.    He did not wait until we “got our act together.”  Romans 5:8 tells us “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His mercy is the evidence of His love for us.

Satan would have us believe that God is ready to write us off because of our human failings or that we have to beg and grovel for His forgiveness, but that is far from the truth of God’s heart. He is more than willing to forgive us our sins and restore us to wholeness.  1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Listen to His beautiful promise from Hebrews 8:12 – “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Does that sound like He forgives begrudgingly?  Let your heart sing with the Psalmists who wrote: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10)” “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness.( Psalm 130:3-4, emphasis mine)”

If He offered us so great a salvation at so great a cost, why would He keep us at arm’s length when we need Him the most?  He said to the children of Israel, “The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all people.  But it was because he Lord loved you… (Deuteronomy 7:7” God did not choose you or me because we would always walk in perfection, never fail, never falter and never need to bother Him for forgiveness.  He is drawn to us because He loves us, “warts and all.”

I came up off my knees this morning with a deeper appreciation for His great mercy, love and faithfulness, even, and especially, in the face of my failures and unfaithfulness.  I have a richer understanding of 1 Peter 4:8 which says “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  The love of God the Father has faithfully covered over all my sins with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

El Emunah – Faithful God – I am blessed because my transgressions are forgiven and my sins are covered by the blood of my Savior.  You have redeemed my life from the pit and You crown me with love and compassion. (Psalm 32:1, 103:4)  Amen.