Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 March 2017

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.  Hebrews 9, verse 15.

Part of having your conscience cleaned up is remembering that the things you once did held you hostage until you were set free.  You and I don’t need to be held as slaves by the memories of those things, but it’s fitting and proper that we remember how we were kept as slaves to sin.   As people who were held hostage by terrorists.   As bystanders who are victimized by criminals.

Think about it.   That little white lie, that exaggeration, that deliberate falsehood, that cover-up:   all of those things come from that little white lie.   It’s just as serious as the cover-up that destroys everyone around it.   That little white lie holds power over you…if you let it.   That tiny indiscretion holds you in its grip, until you see there’s a better way.   Without a way out, you can’t escape.   That tiny act of rebellion holds a gun to your head and threatens you with death.

The tempter knew this.   He reveled in it, looking for victims to use in his struggle against God.   He found them in Adam and Eve.   He found them in you and I.  Those tiny moments of pitting ourselves against God are moments when we align ourselves with Satan and deny God’s better plans for us.  “I know better” becomes the deceptive cry of alleged independence.   In reality, those words are just a vow of slavery.   C.S. Lewis said “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”   Bravo, Jack:   when we embrace our sins, we volunteer to walk into hell and lock the door behind us.   The tempter knows this, knowing the laws of God, the covenants of the Old Testament and how they convict us over and over again. Twisting those words is one of his favorite ways of continuously working to keep us focused on our sins.

Step back and take a breath now.   This is said NOT to brutalize you, to hurt you or guilt you.   There is hope, but you can’t do it on your own.  Good doesn’t result from some holier-than-thou Jesus-follower talking down to sinners like himself.  All alone you and I know what feels bad, and how things that feel good at first very often go sour afterwards.  We don’t need people hammering us over and over all the time.  All alone you and I can’t turn from our sins.  Brow-beating us with them doesn’t help, doesn’t make the situation better, doesn’t prove Jesus’ love.

Jesus proves Jesus’ love.   The way to turn from sins and for good to result from bad situations is by constantly reminding people that Jesus died for them.   That Jesus fully and completely forgives ALL our sins.   That Jesus fully and completely restored our relationship with the Holy God Almighty.   That Jesus took on all of our guilt and punished Himself with it so that holy justice wouldn’t have to punish us.   The Gospel was Jesus’ aim in living, dying, and living again.   THAT is what we need to remind ourselves with when the sins of yesterday bubble back up and threaten “I’m still here.”   No, they aren’t.   They’re gone and powerless forever.   Those memories can only hurt if we empower them.   Jesus gives us what we need to make that not happen.

When you realize that Jesus’ Gospel frees you from your sins, your conscience can become clean.   He cleans it up for you.   The guilt and tempting and re-tempting and hurt that you carried around don’t hold you hostage anymore.   Jesus holds your hand and you walk up to that locked door in hell, and He unlocks it for you, then leads you out.  He tells you that you’re forgiven.   He tells you that you are fully restored with God.   He tells you that He will be with you in all ways always, even up to the last second of your life.   He tells you that He has plans for you, that He wants to work new things in you and through you.   He tells you that, with Him, you have everything you need to stand and resist the tempting and persevere.  Those things you thought, said and did in the past may have held you hostage in the past.   But they don’t anymore.

For further reading:  Galatians 3:20, Luke 22:20, Romans 8:28, Hebrews 6:15, Acts 20:32.

Lord, thank You for setting me free, for making me clean, for forgiving me.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 March 2017

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!.  Hebrews 9, verse 14.

You know what I’m looking forward to most in heaven?   A clean conscience.  In heaven, there won’t be guilt, or tears, or angst, or sorrow over things we’ve done, said or thought.   There simply won’t be a place or time for them when living eternally in the presence of the Triune God.   Knowing Him fully will crowd all that out.

Until then, there’s faith.

Ah faith.   Please understand, I’m not bad-mouthing faith because it’s faith in Jesus that imparts into us His salvation.   Yet I must confess I find it tedious and a cop-out for Christians (like me) to constantly use “well, in heaven…” as our fall-back position.   I’m thankful Jesus secured eternity for me, but what about now?   I desperately need His help now to get through every day here.   Temptation lurks in every minute, and my conscience bothers me about things I’ve done here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps my faith is weaker than I know because, all too often, my conscience zings me about sins long ago forgiven, even forgotten.

My judgmentalism; my impatience; my adulteries; my foul language; my lying; my hatred; my idolatry; you name a pet sin:   I haven’t done some of these in years yet the fact that I did them, or even that things were done to me, still greatly bothers me.   Occasionally, the burden wells up from my soul and I feel real despair.

It’s a taste of what Jesus must have felt hanging there on the cross.   For the first time in His life, His eternal life, He set aside the dignity and self-control He lived and allowed sin to overwhelm Him.   Things He hadn’t done:   Jesus allowed all that guilt, angst, loathing, and insecurity to flood Him and take Him.   Indeed, only a few hours before, He had been on His knees in the garden, sweating rivulets of blood so great was his overwhelming sorrow at the knowledge of what He must do.  Now that sorrow truly overwhelmed Him as He not only felt my guilt but took on Himself the penalty for it.   He who could not die was killed by it, killed for us.

I don’t deserve that.   I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve such a thing from anyone, let alone my Creator and Savior.  My whole history has been one of sin, from my first cry on that day in 1966 until just now.   I’m guilty as hell for all of it and I should be.

…Except that I shouldn’t be.   Not any more.   Dealing in “should” is a chancy proposition because “should” is so subjective.   Here’s one instance where should is actually quite sure.  I shouldn’t be guilty anymore because, in Jesus, I’m not guilty.   I’m not guilty by reason of substitutionary sacrifice.   I’m made not guilty by Jesus hanging there on the cross and taking my guilt on Himself.   I’m made not guilty by Him saying “I’ve got this.   Go and sin no more.”   And I’m made not guilty by the very last words He offered us while He was here: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   That’s hope for right now.   Right now, in whatever I am going through, Jesus is with me, in me, seeing through me, acting through me.   He’s down for my struggle right now, and it’s His Spirit that gives me the courage to turn back temptation and turn away from causing myself more hurt.

Every time my conscience bothers me, I get to remind myself that Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice so that my conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to spiritual death.   My judgmentalism:   judged not guilty any more.  My impatience:   forgiven by God’s patience.  My adulteries:   made innocent again by the intimate soul of my Savior and true friend.   My foul language:  cleaned up and turned for a better purpose.   His purpose.   His mission.   I get to live the rest of my life as a worker in His fields, using the talents He gave me for the mission He has me on to meet, greet, and welcome others with the Gospel.   And when it get’s tough, the Jesus living through me is a whole lot tougher.

Yesterday, the pastor at church here in Paris shared a quote.   To paraphrase, it isn’t faith in Jesus that unites us as believers.   It isn’t church, or what we do, or even following the Bible.   The Gospel of Jesus is what unites us as believers.   It is the good news of His salvation that unites us and forgives us and gives us the promise of real hope.   Without the gospel, there is no good news or redemption.   With it, there are only unlimited possibilities for God’s real good here and always.  That’s hope for here and now to use throughout the rest of our lives.   And it’s hope to live past our numbered days here to start a life forever that will have no number or end.  On that our hearts and our conscience can always be clear.

For further reading:  1 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 5:2, Psalm 51:2, Psalm 65:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews, 10:2.

My Lord and my God, all praise and thanks to You for cleaning my conscience, for forgiving my sins when I don’t deserve it, for loving me when I’ve been unlovable.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 July 2015

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Mark 9, verses 33-34.

Two days ago, my wife and I drove from Texas to Minnesota.   If you’re counting miles, that’s over 1000 of them in one day; it took us just over 16 hours (with several stops along the way).   We talked about many things along the way, and we listened to a lot of music.   Sometimes she napped and it got very quiet (and sleepy) in the car.   During those times, I thought about many different things, including things I probably shouldn’t think about.   Where I’ve gone wrong in the past, my tawdry sins, fantasies about how things would be different if we had just a few dollars more in the bank, things to say in meetings this week (and things I wish I had said in past meetings):   a hundred different thoughts go through your mind when you’re driving that far while fighting white line fever.

I wish I would learn to use that time to pray more.   In truth, I did some of that, too, and that’s a good thing.   But rather than thinking about other things, it would be better if I simply talked to Jesus about those matters on my heart and brain.   If you’re like me, I don’t always do that because I don’t want to air my dirty laundry to God. It’s kind of a stupid thing because, ya know, He knows about it anyway.   It’s not as if I can hide them; I couldn’t if I tried.   He’s Jesus and He knows all my thoughts and memories inside and out.

Yet hide my thoughts I do.   I think that, out of respect for me, God doesn’t pry into my brain and use my sinful thoughts against me. He does that for all of us. Instead, He lets those thoughts nag at us through guilt and a guilty conscience, working to turn guilt into motivation.   This is one of the beautiful gifts of faith. I say that because there’s something healthy about confessing to Him the things we’ve done wrong.   One of our couples’ devotions this week talked about confessing a blanket of sins instead of every one individually.   The devotion derided that blanket confession, and I voiced my disagreement with it.   The confession depends on context and timing, I think. Sometimes maybe all you can do is confess everything.

No matter how it’s done, there’s value for us in rooting out our sins and confessing them to God.   They point out our inadequacies and when we’ve chosen failure.   They point out our desperate need for Him in our lives. Self-reflection then self-confession allows us to talk to God in a personal way, re-establishing the bonds with Him that He seeks out even though we had shut them down.   And it lets us get things off our chests, enabling us to better let go of guilt that could plague us into depression instead of motivating us to do better.   This is why Jesus questioned the disciples, giving them a chance to reflect and confess instead of simply hammering them with their shame and guilt. They knew they had done wrong, so Jesus met them in their sin and gave them an opportunity to reflect.

And they didn’t have to drive 1000 miles for it to happen.

Lord, thank You for the gift of confession and prayer with You.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.