Life Lessons

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I hate to shake whatever fine image you have of me, but I’m not a model of wisdom. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid a high price for many lessons. Still am. Mom’s words remind me of a couple of lessons from Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. The Bible is full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. He was talking about obedience to His Word. While a house and a life built on sand can be brought down by the wind and rain, no storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on knowing and obeying the Word of God.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up. Aren’t you glad that our merciful and gracious God gives multiple second chances? The mistakes we make, our failures, and our missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you can be forgiven, so you could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Lay it all before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take that hard-won wisdom and start walking in the right direction.

Love One Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Sorry

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

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

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

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?

Jesus Loves Sinners

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In the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples wondered what they should do. Jesus had appeared to them and they recognized that He was the living Son of God. But what now? They had received no direction from the Lord at this point. Was their ministry season over? Peter, carrying the additional weight of his betrayal, decided to go back to doing what he knew best, fishing. I understand him. I’ve been in a season where my life was full of ministry, then a fall in my character took it all away and I wondered if God was done with me. Just like Peter, I discovered that the Lord doesn’t give up on His people.

After a night of futile fishing, Peter and the disciples who had joined him headed toward home. A man stood on the shore and called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (21:5) “No.” they replied. He then directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, where they caught more fish than they could manage. That struck a memory in John. He knew that man on the shore! “The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Peter, the impetuous one, jumped out of the boat and into the water. The shame of his betrayal must have nearly drowned him. But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t try to dodge Jesus. He was oblivious to everything else but his Lord.

It is so easy to fall into sin; even the greatest saint is one temptation away from the pit. What do you do when the dust clears and you’re standing there in the aftermath of your failure? Judas refused to come to Jesus for forgiveness. But Peter splashed his way to Him. We don’t have a record of those few private moments before the rest joined them, but I have this picture of a repentant Peter standing on the shore, dripping with water and tears. Oh, the blessed, tender heart of Jesus. He forgave His rebellious disciple and restored him fully.

Beloved, have you fallen into sin? Have you stumbled in your walk? Do not sit in your guilt. Do not run away in your shame. Run to Jesus. He has promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). He stands on the shore waiting for you with forgiveness and restoration in His hands.

Hebrews – Jesus is God

In our Hebrews study thus far we have discovered that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God, and the exact representation of God. In fact, He is God. And He does what only God can do. In Hebrews 1:3b, the author said, “After He [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

One day, Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum when four men, determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, tore through the roof to get him to the Healer. When we tell this story, we always accentuate the faith of the friends, and rightly so. Most people come to faith in Christ because of the faith of a friend. But there’s an even greater point to this story. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And the teachers of the law reasoned in their hearts, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). And that’s the point. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking. He healed the paralyzed man as proof that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). Jesus has the authority, the power, and the means to forgive us of our sins. Because He is God. That’s the argument the author is driving home throughout this letter. Jesus is God.

Remember that he is writing to the Hebrews – people of Jewish heritage who start their day with the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In a polytheistic world, they had one God. So the idea that Jesus also claimed to be God seems to contradict the core of their faith. The author is pressing this point because it is the foundation of his entire message. Jesus is God.

You and I may not have the same background, but we need to set our hearts on the same firm underpinning: Jesus is God. That matters because, as the religious leaders pointed out, only God can forgive sins. You need to know that when you cast all your sins on Jesus, He has the authority to make you right, holy, pure, and acceptable. Beloved, you are a sinner. But Jesus has done everything for you to be forgiven. He’s the only one who can save you. Because He is God.

P.S. I promise we’ll pick up the pace in this study and cover more verses in each lesson. But we need this foundation before we do, so hang with me Beloveds – there’s a lot of good stuff ahead!

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.

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?