The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?

You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. 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. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from 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 and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

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. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

Hebrews: The Sinful Heart

In our last Hebrews devotional, we looked at the difference between unintentional sin and intentional sin, or as Hebrews 10:26 said deliberate sin. The word “deliberate,” means to sin voluntarily or wilfully as opposed to sins committed without forethought, and from ignorance or weakness. Isn’t every sin a choice we make? Yes. And no.

As long as we live in this evil world you and I are going to sin. It’s in our human nature as descendants of Adam and Eve. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. And all sin is an affront to God. Sin doesn’t carry differing weights as “less” or “ more” sinful. So why does God seem to differentiate between unintentional and intentional sin? Because intentional sin reflects a heart that is not committed to God – the kind of heart, the Psalmist said, that cherishes sin (Ps 66:18) rather than God.

Paul talked about his struggle with sin in Romans 7 – you might identify with that chapter. He said that there was a war going on in his mind between his love for God and the ever-present pull of sin. It made him miserable. But for the man (or woman) who persists in deliberate sin, there is no war. There is no misery. There is no struggle against cherished sin because there is no love for God in his heart. Yes, this is hard to understand, and our cultural sensibilities chaff at such sharp tones.

But there is good news – John said that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7b). All sin. Intentional sin and unintentional sin. Sin we stumble over and sin we walk into with eyes wide open. John added that we must confess our sins to receive His forgiveness and purification (v. 9).

Most people who are trapped in deliberate sin don’t seek God’s forgiveness. They don’t confess their sin because they don’t want to give it up. I know someone who is deep in sin and likes it that way. He doesn’t want to repent and be set free because he cherishes his sin. Yet he has convinced himself that he is a Christian. I pray for him daily.

Is there a sin you just can’t let go of? Something you run after over and over? No sin is too much for the blood of Jesus – no matter how deep it runs. Beloved, why don’t you put that sin in the forgiving, cleansing hands of the Savior and be set free?

God of Mercy

For many years I carried a picture in my mind of God. He sat on His throne with a fly swatter in His hand and a scowl on His face. Every time I sinned – which was often – He would slap me down and tell me I was a disappointment to Him. I would ask for forgiveness and He would give it begrudgingly – and always with a warning to straighten up because He was losing patience with me.

Then I began to really study His Word and a different picture of God emerged when I read the Old Testament prophet Micah: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgressions . . . You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

I saw a God who was patient, gentle, and forgave without limit. I saw a God – the God that Micah saw – who “delights to show mercy.” I realized two things: God doesn’t expect me to be perfect – that is flawless – on my own. If that were possible – and it’s not – He wouldn’t have sent his Son to die for my sins. It is only by His Son that I can be made perfect – that is complete in Christ. I don’t know about you, but that is a huge relief to me.

The second thing I realized is it gives God great pleasure to forgive me. And there is much to forgive. He delights in being merciful. Let me be clear, He doesn’t take please in my sinfulness. He takes pleasure in my dependence on Him for salvation. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” (Matt 5:3) meaning those who realize their wretched state and come to the only One who redeems wretches. Like me.

I don’t know what you’ve done Beloved, but I know that it would delight God to take all your sin away and show you mercy. There is no scowl on His face when He looks at you – only love. He does not have a fly swatter in His hands – but He does have scars.

Hebrews: Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but they didn’t prepare me for the breathtaking sight when we visited the real thing. Every perspective we got as we moved around the rim was beyond description. The pictures were beautiful but they couldn’t do the real thing justice. The writer of Hebrews had set up  two tabernacles in his message – one on earth – a man-made structure with beautiful tapestries and rich gold and silver, and one in heaven: “the greater and more perfect tabernacle . . . not a part of this creation.” He did not attempt to describe it, but I am sure that he could have never adequately portrayed the heavenly dwelling place of God in mere human words.

Likewise, the work of the high priest ministering in the earthly tabernacle was a pale substitute for the work of our Great High Priest ministering in the heavenly tabernacle. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies with animal blood because blood was necessary to purge the sin and make the people clean – “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). But why? “The life of a creature [human or animal] is in the blood (Lev 17:11). Blood is synonymous with life – any physician will tell you that when the body runs out of blood the life is drained with it. This is the price of our sin.

Let’s spell this out. In God’s holy covenant only “blood makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:14). God in His mercy allowed for animals’ blood to stand in for our blood, but its effect was short-lived and only partially cleansing. But God had planned a better way; a way that would atone for sin “once for all” (Heb. 9:12), but it required perfect blood that was only available through a divine and holy being – but there’s a problem.  God can’t die. So His one and only Son became a man – a man with divine blood – that He might atone for humanity’s sin. He hung on a cross and dripped that perfect blood from His broken human body. Then He collected it in a bowl and took it into the heavenly tabernacle into God’s very presence. No other sacrifice would be needed. Jesus had done it all.

The blood of Jesus still stands as the only way to be clean before a holy God. But it is enough. Come, Beloved, and be washed in the perfect blood of Christ.

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.

A Baby Changes Everything

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“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son” (Luke 2:6).

They say that having a baby will change your life completely, and every parent knows that is true. You give your whole self away to your child and you never get yourself back. Your time is no longer your own – your days are filled with feedings and diaper changes, and more of the same through the night. Your money is not yours anymore – whoever imagined someone so tiny would need so much stuff? Your priorities are different, your goals are reshaped, and your entire identity is redefined. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a baby who will change your life in far greater ways. This baby will give your life direction and purpose. This baby will bring you peace in the midst of a storm. He will comfort you when you are weary and broken. He will lift you up when you fall. This baby will bring you immeasurable Joy. He can wash away the stain of guilt and shame and make you new. This baby brings hope where all hope is faded. He brings light into the darkest night. This baby brings healing of body and mind and heart. This baby will change the way you think and the way you live. He will transform your heart and cause you to love in ways you never expected. And if all that wasn’t enough, this baby will change your life beyond this life.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race. He brought peace between God and man. He broke the chains of sin. He erased the curse of death. This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved. He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave. He did it all so that you and I could have life – full and abundant and eternal. He gave Himself away so that you could get yourself back. This baby – the Lord Jesus Christ – changes everything.

Holy Sandpaper

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“. . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

One summer my mom asked me to repaint the porch swing so I grabbed some paint and brushes from the shed and headed toward the porch. She stopped me and said, “You have to prep it before you can paint.” We went back into the shed and she pulled out the electric sander and said, “You have to sand off the old paint and get the wood smooth.” And so I set to work, day after day sanding every inch of that swing. The wood had to be as smooth as glass before she pronounced it ready for primer and paint. That was more work than I bargained for, but in the end, that swing looked awesome!

When God wants to make a person ready for Himself, He also uses divine sandpaper to take off the layers of sin and worldliness and to smooth off our jagged edges. Sometimes He uses circumstances and situations that are rough – an illness, a job loss, a financial setback, sudden losses, unexpected responsibilities. But most of the time He uses people – at least it’s been true for me.

God has used “sandpaper people” to scrape off judgment and arrogance, to rub off selfishness, and strip away my “victim mentality.”  He used some of them to sand out my attitude of self-righteousness, to teach me humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  But most of all, He exploded my understanding about His unconditional love when He called me to be a conduit of love into others’ lives.  Every person left an indelible mark on my life – some imprints of grace and forgiveness, some scars of wisdom, and some cracks in the wall I had built around my heart.

Beloved, who has God brought into your life that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe they are the very ones He is using to prepare you.  Maybe they are there to teach you some valuable lessons about grace, compassion, forgiveness, or discernment.  Ask God what He’s up to in your life and theirs.  Not every relationship is going to be sunshine and roses – some people will bring on the rain.  But rain makes the roses grow and their fragrance is a sweet aroma.  Above all remember – every person is a soul God loves and Jesus died to save.  That’s reason enough to love them.