Shameless

It never really bothered me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (she did not spare the rod, and I am better for it), grounded me (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 break. Just writing about it, I can still feel the weight of it.

It seems all my life I’ve carried a heavy load of guilt and shame. I know well the words King David cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). From being abused and rejected, making countless foolish mistakes, hurting others, jumping into the pit of sin, and feeling responsible for the actions of my child – every failure left me with eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow my sin has caused Him. Rather than “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” I slink back into the cave of despair because I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me. Something tells me that you can relate.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free from guilt and shame and the evil that caused it. Listen to His words to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you and me with all our 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.

Do you come to God this morning with a load of guilt and shame? Are you expecting chastisement and rejection? Look up, Beloved. Jesus has stretched out His nail-scarred hand to take your heavy bags of misery. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in His love.

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?

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.

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. 

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.

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?

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light.”  Ephesians 5:8

One of my responsibilities at work is to cover my bosses’ classes from time to time when he must be away.  He had to be out one day and we were talking about what I needed to do for his class as “the sub.” We laughed as I recalled some mischief I pulled on substitute teachers in the past and then I said, “That was before Jesus.  I don’t do that stuff now.”

Paul had that same message.  In Romans 6 when he talked about the difference between who we were before Jesus and who we are now.  Before Christ, we were dead to righteousness and alive to sin.  We “used to offer the parts of [our] body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness,” (v. 19).  Throughout his letters, he describes some of the things in which we indulged in our pre-Christ state.  Things you would expect like murder, sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, anger, drunkenness, selfishness, lying, stealing, envy, greed, obscenity, and things you might not expect like foolish talk, coarse joking, and gossip.  Paul said that is who we were.

But if you are in Christ, that’s not who you are anymore. Let me say that again: YOU ARE NOT THAT SINFUL PERSON ANY MORE.  Paul said, “But now you have been set free from sin” (Romans 6:22).  But now, you are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), dead to sin and alive to righteousness.  You are not bound to obey your old sinful desires and the temptations of the world. You can leave those sinful actions behind and live for Jesus.  You are not who you once were.  I don’t know about you but that gives me tremendous hope.

When those old familiar desires rise up and the enemy dangles that favorite temptation before you, you can say – “I don’t do that now.” And you can walk away.  You really can Beloved. Because that’s not who you are anymore.

What Do You Think…

“What do you think…” Matthew 22:42a

What are thinking about right now?  What should I make for supper? What is that noise in the engine of my car?   What are my kids up to now?  Every moment, a vast number of thoughts are running through your mind, many you are not even conscience of.   Did you know that your thoughts make up who you are?  Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (New King James Version) Your attitude, beliefs, words, and actions are all the culmination of your thoughts.  Perhaps it is time to think about what we are thinking about.  I think there are at least three important thoughts we need to consider.

We should think high thoughts of God – When Jesus asked the question we see in our key verse, He was speaking to the Pharisees.  He asked them specifically “What do you think about the Christ?” The fact that He was addressing the religious leaders of His day makes it all the more important.   These learned men spent their days pouring over the Holy Scriptures, the very words that not only described Christ, but were inspired by His very Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)  Yet they still missed the essence of who Jesus was – they could not see that He was God.  Because they did not have the right thoughts about God.   Their image of God was cast in their own minds from their own image.  They had a very human view of God.  I wonder if Jesus were to ask the same of you and me, how we might answer.  Truly, it all depends on how we think.  We are to have a high view of God. We are to think of God as He has described Himself in His Word. Leviticus 19:2 is God’s most important self-declaration: “Be holy, because I, the Lord Your God, am holy.”  When we think of God, we must first and foremost think of His holiness. Jeremiah 9:24 gives another high view of His attributes: “I am the Lord, who exercises … righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  The Lord is righteous in all His ways. He has also testified to His might and power: “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1).  Jesus identified Himself as one with God when He said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) It is only as we think rightly of God that we can see Him as He is – Holy, Righteous, and Mighty; the Way and the Truth and the Life.

We should think loving thoughts of others – In addressing the question of (again) one of the Pharisees, Jesus reiterated the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then added a new wrinkle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)  In addition to thinking high thoughts of God, we are to think loving thoughts of others.

Paul expounded on Jesus’ words in Romans 13:9 when he wrote, “Whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He is simply stating that when we regard one another in love, as Christ has commanded (John 15:12), we will never think of lying, cheating, envying, stealing from or harming others in any way.    He says we are to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10) and adds that “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  How would your life and mine be changed if we thought of others with honor and brotherly love?  How would their lives be different if we sought the good of others before our own?  Paul said that we have a “debt to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) It is a responsibility that we bear as Christians to express love to others – it is the commandment of our Lord and Savior, who showed His love for us on the Cross.

 Lastly, I believe God would have us think true thoughts of ourselves.  One of the hardest things for us to do is to think of ourselves as God does.  Perhaps that is because the world and Satan continually works to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us.  The message of the world is that we are terribly flawed if we are not the right height, weight (especially weight), or body shape. If we don’t have the right hair style or perfect white teeth, if we don’t drive the right car, have a successful spouse or brilliant children, we are of no value.  If that weren’t enough to destroy our sense of worth; Satan works on the flaws in us that others cannot see – flaws that we know are there.  He taunts us with temptations, then ridicules us because we succumb to that same temptation.  He continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought and every harsh word; and when we grieve these terrible things about ourselves, he drags us even further into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless.

But God wants us to know that Satan and this world are liars.  He wants us to think of ourselves as His Word declares: We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), “accepted by Christ” (Romans 15:7), “the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians5:21), “chosen , holy and blameless before God” (Ephesians 1:4), “redeemed and forgiven” (Ephesians 1:7), “God’s workmanship, created to produce good works” (Ephesians 2:10), “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8), “chosen of God, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12), and “made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). The ultimate evidence of your worth is the same evidence of God’s love for us – “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)  The truth is that Christ thought so highly of you and me that He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem us – He gave Himself.

Philippians 4:8 is a great lesson in how to manage our thought life, we would do well to put these principles into practice. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Holy Father, High and lifted up, please keep my mind focused on praising You, loving others and thinking rightly of myself.  Transform my mind Lord to think thoughts that please You. Amen