You are . . .

I don’t typically study the Bible like I’m picking apples, jumping from branch to branch looking for the fruit. I prefer to work through an entire book, slowly and carefully and glean everything I can from the whole. Context is so important to understand and apply the Scriptures appropriately. Recently I studied through Colossians, and I detected a theme Paul had carefully woven throughout this epistle. It’s one you will find through most of his letters. (That’s another favorite method of Bible study – to work through all the books by a single author such as Paul, Luke, or John.) The theme I discovered is “Once you were . . . but now you are . . .” and it is one of the most encouraging words to me in Scripture.

Paul said, “Once you were”: slaves to sin, deceitful, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy, drunkards, angry, envious, wicked, fearful, filled with hate, dead in sin, lost in darkness, and most of all alienated from and enemies of God. . . This is the life you and I once lived – it was our normal, just as it is the norm for anyone without Christ. We lived for ourselves with one goal – to satisfy our flesh.

And this is what He says: “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43: 4). Those are His words, not mine. Who you were before Christ is not who you are in Christ. Oh, and one more thing God says about you: “You are mine” (v. 1) From His heart to yours Beloved, it’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

“But,” Paul wrote, “now you are . . .”: washed, sanctified, justified, saved, renewed, restored, pure, holy, righteous, set free, children of light, and best of all reconciled to God, accepted, adopted, and dearly loved.”  If you are in Christ, this is your new normal. This is the truth about who – and whose – you are. But maybe you don’t recognize yourself this way. Maybe you can’t shake the ugliness of your past. Maybe some people in your life keep reminding you of who you were. No doubt the devil keeps bringing up the old you. But this is where you must take God at His Word – literally. No matter what anyone, even your own confused heart, tells you – God gets the final say.

Love much

 “First Day in Heaven” by Kerolos Safwat.

Jesus is a dinner guest at the home of a man named Simon. Simon is a Pharisee – that means he is very important in the religious community and very well respected. He is also very arrogant and looks down on people who are not as “holy” as he thinks himself to be. While Jesus sits around the finely decorated table, a woman enters the house. This woman was well known in the community as a “sinful woman.” She has earned a living among men and is an outcast among the ”good” people.  The house has fallen silent as she moves among the crowd with an alabaster jar in her hands. Every eye is on her but her eyes are fixed on one person – Jesus.

As she kneels at His feet she is weeping and her tears make tracks in the dust that clings to Him until His feet have been washed clean. She reaches up and pulls away her head covering and gently wipes His feet dry with her long, cascading hair, then kisses them. Finally, she breaks open the alabaster jar and pours the costly perfume out on those clean feet.

Simon, like all who are gathered there, is shocked that Jesus has permitted such a sinful woman to touch Him. But listen! Jesus is telling Simon a story about a good man who forgave the debts that others owed him.

“Who will love him more?” He asks.

“The one who had the biggest debt canceled,” Simon answers.

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus says.

Then he turns away from Simon to look at the woman. Do you see the love in His eyes? “She had done something very beautiful for me,” He says. “She loves much because she has been forgiven much.”  Then Jesus blesses her and says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

This story is your story. You have a sinful past just as she had, but Jesus has forgiven all your sins – just as he forgave hers. You love Him much because you have been forgiven much. Listen carefully to Jesus as He looks at you with love in His eyes and tells you, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Go and fulfill the things that God is calling you to do. You have been washed in the precious blood of Jesus, Beloved. You can leave your past behind and go forward in peace.

But I don’t want to be a cattle rustler

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Genealogy is a big deal these days. But then again, it’s always been so. In the very early years of the nation of Israel, land rights, property, and position were determined by genealogical records. Many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.  Like the lines of Issachar and Zebulun who, during the forty years of wilderness wandering were commanded by God to guard the tribe of Judah, the royal line from which the kings of Israel (and the King of Kings) would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. The Bible notes that almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons of Issachar and Zebulun were still at their post, protecting the king in his palace.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham and his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit and more than a few nuts. My maternal great-great-grandfather was a cattle rustler and my great uncle spent more of his life in jail than out of it. There is a long sinful thread running through my paternal family. Does that mean that I am destined to follow their paths? Not if God has anything to say about it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  When He saved me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me.  My family heritage is godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness, and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was I tell him who I am: God’s daughter. Beloved, don’t accept the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

Dance Anyway

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David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer. When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart. But sometimes life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us. We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.

Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring Him great glory, yet you also have a past that has weighed you down with shame and regret. You think, “I can’t dance (or sing or write, or whatever that desire is), people know my past and they will not approve.” My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers.

King David tried to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle. But his first attempt was a humiliating failure. At his second attempt David celebrated, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and his wife chastised him saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20). Sound like some voices you’ve heard lately? David replied: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21). He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes – that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life? Everyone out there has made mistakes. If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again. And that is all the more reason why we should– to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Celebrate before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

From Broken-down to Beautiful

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The white car sat forlornly on the side of the road, pushed out to the edge of the property. The tires were missing and its front end was buckled from some sort of impact. I passed it every morning on my way to work – it’s wasn’t a pretty sight. That is until one midsummer morning when I noticed that green vines were beginning to curl out from the crumpled hood and around the back end. Day by day the vines progressed taking over more and more of the broken-down car. Then came the flowers – bright blue blooms swarming over the vines and covering the car until it became a mound of morning glories. That old broken-down wreck was now a beautiful sight to behold. Every morning as I passed that spot, I looked over at the lovely mound of flowers, their faces lifted to the sun and I smiled.

Your life may feel like a wreck today. It may be a series of circumstances you couldn’t control or choices you made yourself, but there you sit – broken, pushed aside, going nowhere. Oh, my friend, God specializes in bringing beauty from ashes – (Isaiah 61:3). I know it’s true because He did it for me. He took this broken-down woman with nothing to offer but pain and foolishness and made my life “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (61:3b). He took on all my sin and shame and gave me His holiness. He washed me clean, dressed me in robes of righteousness, and gave my life meaning, hope, peace, and Joy.

If you will allow Him, He will do the same for you. He will cover you with the precious, blood of His Son Jesus and His love will turn your broken-down life into a garden of splendor – a thing of beauty.  And every time you look at yourself you’ll smile at what God has done.

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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Some time ago I ran across some old photos of myself.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hairstyles and some really strange fashion sense.  I saw something else. Somewhere between 10 and 15, the girl in those photos took on a dark demeanor and I remembered my past – things that had been done to me, and things I did to myself..  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those dark eyes. God said, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul said, “You were once darkness…”  Then he gives the contrast: “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  Like painting a before and after portrait he said,  “You are not who you once were.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are free from your past. You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once held captive to sin, you are now bound up in God’s love. You have the power to say no to sin.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” 

Beloved, I want so much for you to understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all your transgressions; you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound to a painful, sinful past or those dark desires.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  Because you are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

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.

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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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, 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?

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. 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 sexual 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. 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.

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.

My Past is not My Future Anymore

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I’ve been reading recently through the genealogical records of 1 Chronicles of the sons of Israel. I know, that’s pretty dry stuff – who begat who and thus-and-so is the son of so-and-so. Most people I know who try to read through the Bible end up skipping the first 9 chapters of this book. But I’ve read the Bible enough times to begin to pick out some names I’ve run across before and to see things I’ve never noticed in these passages.

Stick with me for a little Bible study lesson before we get to the application.

Genealogy is very important in the eastern cultures, even today. This is very different from the western culture with our sense of independence. While there is inheritance and some businesses that are passed down through generations, the west does not value the generation interconnectedness of the east. Land rights, position and particularly religious authority are traced back many, many generations. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem 70 years after the Babylonian captivity, genealogical records ensured the rights of property and position. This was especially important for the Levites – or descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, the temple servants who were assigned their position and work by these records. If a Levite could not prove by the genealogical record that they had rights to a position in the temple, they were not permitted to serve.

Each one of Jacob/Israel’s sons is listed along with the list of many of his descendants up to the fall of Jerusalem.   As I read through these names I saw a trend emerge. Much like the Levites, many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.   One that caught my attention was the line of Issachar, another of Jacob’s sons. If you have the time and inclination, read the 2nd chapter of Numbers where the tribes of Israel are arranged around the tabernacle in their camp and in their order of travel. Judah was the royal tribe and they were “front and center” in the arrangement. They were edged by the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, who were charged with protecting the royal tribe, from which King David and King Jesus would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. For all the years of wilderness wandering and awaiting their settlement in the Promised Land, Issachar and Zebulun stood watch over Judah. The genealogical listing in 1 Chronicles highlights “the mighty men of valor” and the number of “men ready for battle” in the record of Issachar (1 Ch. 7:4-5). 1 Chronicles 12:33 says 50,000 “of the sons of Zebulun” were in David’s mighty army. Here’s the point: the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun were still faithful to their God-given charge more than 900 years after it was first issued. Almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons were at their post, protecting the king.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues on through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham, and his many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries and leaders in ministry. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe you don’t have a lineage of preachers and missionaries and godly prayer warriors. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit, and more than a few nuts. I remember hearing my grandmother talking about her grandfather who was a cattle rustler, and a brother who spent more time in jail than at home. Maybe your family has a sinful “legacy” like mine does, and you can trace, not the influence of God, but that of evil through your family. Does that mean that you are destined to follow your family’s path? Not if God has anything to say about it.

Our key verse is a promise that when we come to Christ, we have a whole new story, all our own yet to be written by “the Author of our faith,” Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Your past and your family’s past are no longer the story of your life. If you are in Christ you are “a new creation,” and what you will become is up to God not your past, your parents, grandparents or anyone else. For many years I fell victim to the sinful thread that ran through my family. It was “my destiny,” like those before me. But God said “NO.” Just as He did for so many before me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me (Hebrews 11). This is the heritage I stand on today. This is the history of my family: godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was and what my “destiny” is, I tell him that I am God’s daughter and my future is secure in Christ, and his destiny is destruction.

Dear friend, don’t stand back believing the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

Holy Father, thank you for giving me a new life, a new name, and a new destiny. Thank you for the new lineage of godliness that is mine as Your child. Give me courage to walk forward and leave the past behind me. Amen.