I Can’t Forgive Myself

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

She is the town tramp with a well-earned, shameful reputation.  Women whisper about her when she walks past and pull their children close lest her degenerate nature somehow infect them.  Men look at her with disdain – on the outside at least – and lust for her on the inside.  No self-respecting religious authority would publicly be seen near her.  Yet here she is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears onto His dusty feet, tenderly drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume – no doubt funded by her illicit acts.  She is a sinful woman.  And Jesus loves her.  He who alone has the authority to judge her, instead forgives her.  The sin she carried into the house is left in a heap at those perfumed feet and she walks out forgiven and free from the weight of her shame.

David said it beautifully – “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him” (Psalm 32:1-2).  This woman is blessed.  She has been forgiven, her sins are covered and the Lord does not hold them against her anymore.  Jesus has spoken His forgiveness over her.  I cannot image that she spent the rest of her life wrapped in a shawl of shame grieving her past.  So why do we?

Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.”  The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today.  What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore?  Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your past – regardless of how ugly it is – is covered by the all-sufficient, all-powerful, perfectly-cleansing blood of Jesus.  Hear what the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?  They are gone. Done. Washed away.  If you continue to carry the weight of your sins around, you are saying that Jesus is not a sufficient Savior and that God is a liar.  He has declared you forgiven through the blood of Jesus – why would He say it if it were not so?  Why would you continue to hold onto something that is no longer there?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins.  Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists.  He wants to weigh you down with your past so you cannot walk confidently into your future.  Beloved, do not let him steal your freedom.  But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.  Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible.  One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexually promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down.  Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.”  This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling.  If something new comes to mind, write it down and add your declaration of forgiveness.  Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you. [1]

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself.  God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice.  There is nothing left to forgive.  Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

[1] There are times when we must also confess our sins to someone who has been wronged by our actions.  Prayerfully ask God if this is something you should do.

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God Knows My Heart

My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she did something she knew God would not approve of. She wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). The only hope for the human heart is a divine Savior. Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Will you always get it right then? I’m living proof that the answer is “No,” but a heart that has been rescued by Jesus is a heart that can be renewed and restored.
Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

Lessons Learned in 2017

Looking back over the past year, there are many lessons I’ve learned.  I’ve learned anew God’s faithfulness to care for His children, and I’ve gotten a tiny glimpse into His enormous heart of love with my first grandchild. I’ve learned that Jesus wants me to know Him, not just know about Him, and He wants me to teach the Bible, not just someone’s opinion of the Bible.  But I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how Jesus expects the church – make that how He expects me – to respond to the “least and the lost.”

What do good church folk do when someone comes in who is rough around the edges, who doesn’t dress in the acceptable modest style, who uses the language of the streets instead of the language of the sacred? Do we (and I’m including myself here) offer a handshake followed by a liberal application of hand sanitizer? Do we walk away shaking our heads at the way they’re dressed? Do we cringe at the things they say in our small group? Do we make it clear they they don’t fit in?  Jesus had a word for the religious leaders of His day that we as a church need to take to heart. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces . . . you will not let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

Look at the Christmas story one more time. God sent His son to be born to a poor teenage girl and to be raised by a common laborer father. The fact that they were poor is confirmed in the consecration offering they gave of a pair of birds (Luke 2:24).  He trained in the woodworking trade of his father Joseph.  The glorious birth announcement was given, not to the religious elite nor to the king, but to lowly shepherds doing the most menial work of all.  Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He was found among the lepers, the lame, the blind, women with scandalous lives, men who cheated their neighbors, the demon-possessed, and the outcasts.  His closest friends and followers were tax collectors and fishermen, not students from the best Jewish schools.  When he was in the company of religious folk, He didn’t rub elbows –  He often rubbed them the wrong way and the sparks would fly.  He saved His most severe rebukes for them, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, and a “brood of vipers,” but gently told the ones outside the religious establishment, “Go, and sin no more.” He blessed, He touched, He noticed, and He welcomed.  I believe He expects no less from those who claim to be His Body.  I think Jesus wants us to put away our hand sanitizer and our ideas of who belongs in the church and  to simply be a refuge of welcome. I think people need to feel accepted before they will accept the Gospel. Then I think we need to love them as we disciple them to follow Christ.  Is it easy? No. It requires effort and patience and a humble, obedient spirit, but so did dying on the cross.

I want to hang on to all the lessons God taught me in the past year, but the one I want to hold the tightest is this one: Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away (John 6:37). The truth is when He found me I was one of the least and the lost, and He welcomed me with arms stretched the width of the cross.  May my heart and my arms be open wide to whomever Jesus sends to me this year.

Holy Father, this year, let me be a caring shepherd to lost sheep, a warm embrace to a hurting heart, and a conduit of Your love to the one on the outside looking in. 

Advent Day 21 – What’s on Your Christmas List?

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?J) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in Immanuel – the God who is with us.  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck,’” but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact, this same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift of all and your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this gift isn’t jewelry, toys, or clothes wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  It is the peace, joy, hope, and love of God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Advent Day 19 – Promise Maker – Promise Keeper

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people” Luke 1:68.

When our son was born 25+ years ago, my husband and I were thrilled.  We had experienced seven years of infertility and heartache, but God heard our prayers and this little baby boy came bursting into our lives.  But in those seven long years of waiting I watched with an aching heart as my friends became Mamas – I hosted their baby showers and bounced their sweet babies in my arms.  I cried and prayed and cried some more.  I know God heard my prayers and saw my tears, but the time wasn’t right.

The Jewish people lived under the bondage of Roman rule and they cried out for a savior.  The Messiah had been promised for hundreds of years yet they were still oppressed by a cruel and heartless enemy.  Would God ever fulfill His promise?  Would salvation ever come?  Generations of Hebrews prayed the same prayer for relief, yet they went to their grave without ever seeing rescue.  Yet the God of Heaven had not abandoned them or His promise.  He had heard their prayers and saw their tears, but the time wasn’t right.

Until that moment when the angel visited Nazareth and spoke the words every Jewish girl had hoped to hear: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28).  Until all of heaven held its breath as the Son of God became the son of a young woman.

That day in the Garden sin came rolling in like a dark cloud of destruction and despair.  The human race was placed under the bondage of evil and death.  Even the planet felt the weight of the curse as it groaned for relief (Romans 8:19-22).  Yet even before man could cry out to God He promised to send Someone who would crush the head of the evil one.  He promised to redeem the world from the curse of sin and death. He promised to save the souls of men and women and break the chains of human bondage.

The first part of that promised was fulfilled in a stable in Bethlehem.  The final fulfillment is yet to come when the Lord Jesus Christ – that baby in the manger – stands on the Mount of Olives and ushers in the end of evil and sin and death.  God kept His promise when Jesus was born.  He will keep His promise of final redemption.  Don’t despair beloved, but keep your eye on the sky.  The God who promised is faithful. It is as good as done.

Read Zechariah 14:3-9

Advent Day 18 – His Name Will Be . . .

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

When my son was young, he loved to go to the playground at the local park which was almost always crawling with boys and girls.  He would join in with one or two children and for some reason he called all the other kids “dude”.  I told him over and over, “Ask them what their names are.”   One day on the way home I gently lectured him on the social grace of using people’s names.  He replied, “I only seen them today and I won’t see them tomorrow so I don’t need to know their name.”   Lecture over as I tried to stifle a laugh.  But he had a point – to know someone and call them by name indicates a relationship, ranging from playgrounds to the intimacy of lovers.

God spoke volumes in the name He assigned to His One and Only Son.  “Jesus” – Iesous in the Greek, yehosua in the Hebrew (translated Joshua) – carried the meaning “Yahweh saves.”  The Jewish people would hear Jesus’ name (and it was a common name at the time) and remember that the Lord had saved His people in the past and He had promised to save them again.  They recalled Joshua in the days of the exodus from Egypt, a mighty military leader and warrior who lead the armies of Israel against multiple enemies on the way to the Promised Land.  They clung to the hope of salvation and restoration from Roman rule.  Jesus was a name that spoke of the power of God.

But Matthew records another name that would be bestowed on this Child – Immanuel – God with us. This name speaks of God coming physically near to His people.  In the Garden, God walked with Adam, until sin came between them.  In the desert, God’s presence was in the cloud of fire, in Jerusalem His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple.  But now God Himself once more walked among his people.  He shared the street with His creation, broke bread together with men, and laid the hand of God on their children’s heads.  He lived among men – and died among them.

In a perfect combination of names, He personally brought the salvation of God to all humanity.  He is the victorious power of God and the intimate love of God.  He is Jesus – Immanuel – the God who came near to save us.

Let the Name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore – Psalm 113:2.

Advent Day 16 – Prince of Peace

“And He will be called . . . Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

I would guess that most of you reading this devotional are, like me, from the Western Christian tradition, that is, not a member of the Jewish faith.  Therefore, words and phrases in the Bible such as “Prince of Peace” don’t ring with the same significance to as they did to the descendants of the Hebrews.  Taken separately, these two words simply mean Prince as a ruler or leader of a nation and PeaceShalom – or in the ancient Hebrew – salom – means safety, prosperity, wellbeing, wholeness, and contentment. But when a Jew heard these words, they spoke volumes more – of the long oppression of the Hebrew people and their struggle to survive.  And they spoke to the hope of the promised Messiah.

The nation of Israel cycled in and out of oppression and blessing because of their hot-then-cold devotion to the Lord.  In 607 bc, after falling deeper and deeper into idolatry and disobedience, God took the nation of Israel away from the Jewish people and for seventy years exiled them in Babylon.  When they returned to Jerusalem, their homeland was under foreign rule; they were subjects of the Persians, Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the cruel Romans. They would continue under foreign rule until May 14, 1948 when they were once again recognized as an independent state.

The Jewish people longed for a descendant of the line of King David – the Prince of Peace –  who would free them from oppression and re-establish their nation.  He would reign on “the throne of His father David, and  . . . over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).  At the time of Jesus’ birth they expected a warrior-King who would defeat their enemy and restore the kingdom.

They were right about the Messiah’s mission – yet they were also wrong.  He did come to defeat their enemy.  But their enemy was not Rome – the real enemy that had enslaved them was the curse of death and sin – the same enemy that has oppressed every human being since Adam and Eve. The same enemy that has enslaved you and me.  The Prince of Peace – the Messiah – came to break the power of that curse.  His mission was much bigger than freeing a nation; He came to free all of humanity.

You may not trace a Jewish heritage, but you can proclaim Jesus Christ as your Prince of Peace, the One who set aside His crown in heaven to wear a crown of thorns on earth that you might be free and reconciled to your Creator.  The mission of Messiah was to rescue you and restore you to the family of His Father.  At the cross of Calvary Jesus accomplish that mission.  For you.

 

Read: Colossians 1:19-20

Advent Day 12 – The Story of Christmas

“God is love” (1 John 4:16).

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” drops his blanket, and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It is a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.  Perhaps for many, it is the only time they hear the true meaning of Christmas.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Read 1 John 4:16-21

Advent Day 11 – The Heart of Peace

Photo from fanpop.com

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Peace is a very popular topic today.  Politicians and world leaders meet in an attempt to bring peace to conflicting nations.  The radio plays songs about peace, and great orators give inspiring messages calling for peace.  Yet there is so little peace.  The world is full of war, pitting nation against nation.  Neighbors battle one another, and even brothers and sisters, parents and children are at odds.

Can there really be true peace in this world? There can, and the One who can bring peace is the Prince of Peace – Jesus Christ.  He came to bring true peace; not the man-made peace the world seeks, but the peace we desperately need, peace with God.

While the world points to men and nations as the cause of strife in the world, the true peace-breaker is our sin.  Sin brings hostility within our family, our church, our community, and the world.  That is because at its truest essence sin causes us to be God’s enemy.  That is a harsh thought, but according to the Bible, it is the reality we inherited from Adam and Eve.  Sin in the hearts of human beings creates enmity between man and his Creator.  But Jesus Christ came to bring peace between God and man.  Listen to Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God’s love for us is so great that He paved the path to peace with the life of His Son, Jesus. Only when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, will we know true peace.  “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

This peace starts in one man’s heart, and as it multiplies in other hearts, true peace begins to take hold.  This world is looking for peace, longing for peace, even – strangely – fighting for peace, but we will not find peace at a conference or in songs or speeches. And we surely won’t find it on the battlefield.  Peace can only be found in a manger, wrapped in rough cloths and adored by ragged shepherds and all the angels of heaven.

Read Romans 5:6-11

Advent Day 10 – The Coming King

“We wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Titus 2:13

Advent is traditionally the time that we prepare our hearts for Christmas – the coming of the Christ Child, the Infant Messiah, the Son of God who became the son of Mary.   Now, on this side of the manger and the cross, we are still preparing for the coming of Christ – but not as a helpless baby.  Today we have the awesome hope of the Lord’s return when Jesus Christ will come in the fullness of His deity, “as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” (Rev. 19:16).

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people watched and waited in hope for the promised Messiah, who would break the power of their enemy and set God’s people free.  This Anointed One came, not as a great warrior or ruler as they expected, but as a wee baby, every bit as helpless, it appeared, to overcome the enemy as the people He came to save.  He came in humility “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). The star shone in the sky and the angels sang their praises when God entered this world.  But the vast majority of Jews missed the humble coming of their Messiah.  Certainly the religious leaders who should have recognized Him failed to see Him for who He was.  He lived and grew up and ministered in their midst, but their eyes were blinded to His true identity.

In the world we live in today, people still fail to believe that Jesus Christ is the Hope for all mankind.  Or perhaps they refuse to believe.  Like the Jewish people, our world is oblivious to the light of Christ and the praises that are proclaimed by those who know Him.

But there is coming a day – a great and glorious day – when Jesus Christ will come again.  At His ascension, the angels told His disciples, “Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  And this time, when He comes, no one will miss it or be able to deny Him.  Jesus told His disciples, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).   He will not come to a quiet and humble stable – He will come “with power and great glory”!  1 John 3:2 proclaims “when He appears…we shall see Him as He is.”  Paul adds to this picture: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).  When Jesus comes again, the whole world will see Him for who He is. Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue confess – even those who had refused to bow in worship and confess His name.  The world will be overwhelmed by His presence and overcome with awe at His glory and majesty.

Oh my friend, what a day – what a grand and glorious day that will be for all who believe, for those who have made a practice of bowing their knee and have savored the sweet taste of His name on their lips.  Our hearts will be filled with joy and adoration for our Savior.  If you belong to Christ, you have the great hope that Jesus will return as He promised, and He will bring you, His beloved child home.

As we prepare for the Christmas season, let us make ready our hearts – both for the coming of the Christ Child and the coming of our great and victorious Savior and King!

Read Philippians 2:5-11