Posted in 1John, Hebrews

Feeling Guilty

“When He (Jesus) had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” Hebrews 1:3b

Do you often feel guilty? Do you find that many things you do are really motivated by a sense of guilt and fear instead of love? “Well, I’d better do this, or my husband will be upset.” “We better go there or our parents will be disappointed.” “If we don’t offer to do that for them then they might not do this for us.”

It is easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. God wants to break us of the habit of living out of guilt and fear, so that we can please Him by living in His love. But to get there we need to understand a little theology.

There is one piece of furniture in the heavenly tabernacle, the one Jesus entered into after He died for our sins, that wasn’t found in the earthly one: a chair. That’s because under the Old Testament sacrificial system the work was never done. The sacrifices the high priest made for sin had to be made again and again, year after year. Sin was covered but never removed. People still felt guilty because the sacrifice was imperfect. Hebrews 10:2 points this out:

“If the law and its sacrifices could make people right with God, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.”

The sacrifice Jesus made of Himself on the cross was enough to cleanse you of your sins. He sat down. The work is finished. You don’t get right with God by going to church, reading your Bible, doing good deeds, or by being a nice person. You could never be sure you were doing enough. Your own guilt would always demand that you try harder and do more. You couldn’t make yourself right with God, only Jesus could. And thank God He did. We must believe that truth to live free from guilt and fear.

“We who have believed enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:2) Jesus has made a rest for you, have you entered it? Have you sat down on His finished work? Once you have you can enjoy going to church, reading your Bible, doing good deeds, and being nice. You’re not doing it to get right with God (fear and guilt), but because you are right with God and just want to serve Him out of love. If you blow it, and we all do, you just need to confess your sins and He will cleanse you again. (1John 1:9)

Posted in Ephesians, Hebrews, Matthew, Micah, Proverbs

Why We aren’t the Judge

“All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

For years growing up my brother, Jimmy and I would come home from school, eat a bowl of cereal, and watch Gilligan’s Island. From time to time the entire episode would be about something that happened on the island in the past.

Skipper would start telling about the event and all of a sudden we were back there; but it was all from Skipper’s perspective. He was in the middle; he was doing the right thing while those around him were doing questionable things.  He was the hero; that’s how he remembered it.

The episode would return to the present, and then another character would start to give their version of the story (Ginger, the professor, sometimes Mr. Howell) and in their memory they were the hero. And then finally, Gilligan would start talking about it and we’d go back a third time. Where others’ versions had Gilligan at blame, Gilligan always had himself being somewhat heroic. Yes, bad things happened but he was actually part of the solution, not the main problem. The funny thing was we were never told what actually happened – only three different perspectives of the same event.

This is why Jesus told us not to judge. (Matthew 7:1) We experience life only from our own perspective and even our own motives are often hidden from us. When we feel others have wronged us, or betrayed us, it’s important to realize that that’s probably not how they see it. Instead of believing the worst and playing judge, we’re called to believe the best and let God be the judge. Where there has been definite sin, we’re called to forgive “as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.” (Ephesians 4:32)

All things are laid bare before Him to whom we will give an account. (Hebrews 4:13) God calls us to do what’s right in His eyes: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)  It’s humanly natural to have mercy for ourselves, love justice for others, and walk in the pride of being a judge, instead of submitting to God as the only one able to judge rightly. The Holy Spirit wants to help us live differently. He wants us to apply justice to ourselves while giving mercy to others. This is part of what it means to walk humbly with God.

Posted in 2Peter, Hebrews, John, Luke, Matthew, Psalms, Revelation, Romans

Stored Wrath: A Look into Hell

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5

God wants us to contemplate hell now, so we don’t end up there. We are told to behold both His kindness and His severity (Romans 11:22) as a protection from us ever having to experience His severity. In His mercy toward us, Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven, not as a threat to His enemies, but as a warning to His friends. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to go to hell.

As we take a look into hell from this text, we can see three things:

  1. God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves there. “You are storing up wrath against yourself.” Jesus died so we could be forgiven; He’s already tasted death for us. (Hebrews 2:9) No one needs to go to hell when God’s expressed will for all of us is to be saved. (2Peter 3:9)  If we end up in hell, we will have only ourselves to blame.
  2. God’s anger and wrath against sin is being “stored” now, but will be poured out then. We all outlive our bodies and will face the day of judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Those who have rejected Christ’s love and payment for their sins will make their own payment in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
  3. God’s judgment will be righteous. Those who have not received eternal life will eventually be destroyed in the lake of fire, body and soul. (Matthew 10:28)  They died physically once, received back their bodies before final judgment (Revelation 20:13), and then will physically die again in the lake of fire which is called the second death. They will eventually perish in hell (John 3:16) but not before they pay, by conscious torment, for every sin they committed against humanity. (Luke 12:47-48)  They will ultimately be consumed by eternal fire and will eventually be remembered no more. (Matthew 3:12; Hebrews 10:27; Psalm 37:38)

C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce, “Some would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. And to those who reject Christ’s rule He will say: ‘Your will be done.’”

Posted in Hebrews, Joel, Proverbs, Romans

Maintaining a Soft Heart

“How blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” Proverbs 28:14

One definition of the fear of the Lord can be inferred by its opposite. If hardening your heart is how you express not fearing the Lord; then the true fear of the Lord must involve maintaining a soft, responsive heart. So how do we do this?

First by repentance. To stay soft we must be good at repenting. Joel 2:13 “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” God doesn’t want us to fall into trouble, so He wants us to really repent (our hearts) and not just appear to repent (our garments). A great definition for repentance is given in the verse before our text: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Secondly by prompt obedience. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” Every time God speaks to us we have the potential of becoming softer or harder. Purpose to obey Him no matter what, small or big, if He will make it clear to you that it is Him speaking. There are many voices speaking today: our own anxieties, demonic influences, false religious expectations; but also the sweet Spirit of God. Test what you are hearing and if it is the voice leading you toward “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17), obey without hesitation and reap the benefits of having a tender heart before God.

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Psalms, Romans

Speaking from what God has Spoken

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5b-6

God wants you to know that He will never desert you or forsake you. People will come and go, even those who love us the most can’t be there all the time, but God is always with us. One of His covenant names is Jehovah Shammah, which means, “The Lord who is present.” Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Do you believe this? If you do then take the second step of faith and speak it with confidence. It is important that we speak what we believe.  To overcome our fears, we need to believe in our hearts God is with us, and confidently say with our mouths that He is our helper.

Romans 10:10 gives the importance of believing first in our hearts, but then also speaking with our mouths. “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Jesus gives the same principle of faith in Mark 11:23: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

Some have used this verse to teach “name it and claim it,” which has led to many abuses and caused many to throw out the baby (the importance of confession) with the bath water. But look closer at this verse and you will see that it’s not about confession first, but about believing in the heart first, and then speaking from the place of faith.

The only way you can ever believe with your heart is if God Himself has spoken to you first. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (rhema) of Christ.” A rhema (the Greek for “word” used in this verse) is a specific word from God for a specific situation. After God has spoken into our hearts (about a specific mountain we are facing), we complete our faith by speaking with our mouths what God has said about our circumstances. That’s when mountains move!

Posted in Hebrews, Jeremiah, Romans

Seeking God 

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

God tells us that if we will seek for Him with all our heart we’ll find Him, but there is a problem with this. Sin has so corrupted us that we are unable to wholeheartedly seek God without God’s help. “No one is righteous, no, not one… no one understands, no one seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

It’s sad, but even though we are able to be wholehearted about football or shopping or even our version of religion or church, it is not in us to wholeheartedly seek God without the Holy Spirit first inviting and freeing us to do so. When He reveals our sin, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness; when He shows us our emptiness, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His fullness; and when He shows us the depth of our need, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His help; but when left to ourselves we are apathetic toward God. Even when the Holy Spirit is helping us discern our dependence, we are able to harden our hearts instead of seeking God. (Hebrews 3:15) We do have a role to play.

The scripture quoted above from Jeremiah is in the context of the Jewish captivity in Babylon.  Is it any wonder that right before the verse quoted above, God assures them of His purpose for them, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) The judgment they were going through was not because God didn’t love them, or because He was mean and didn’t want them to have prosperous lives. It was because they weren’t listening without these extreme measures. Even then, they had a choice, and so do we today. If everything is stripped from us we can either be offended with God, or allow our desperate situation help us to be wholehearted in our seeking of Him.

Jesus died on a cross so that we could find forgiveness, help in time of need, a sure promise for the future, and a living relationship with God right now. So let’s respond quickly to the Spirit’s promptings and make this relationship our greatest priority while trusting God’s goodness for everything else.

Posted in 1John, Hebrews, James

Cleansed from Dead Works

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

What an amazing verse showing a glimpse of the Trinity working together in our redemption. Christ, who shed His blood for us, offers Himself through the Holy Spirit to God the Father who accepts His sacrifice on our behalf. The result is that we are cleansed of dead works. What are dead works? I think they may look like good works, but are from a wrong motive so they are dead in God’s sight even though they may be considered right in man’s. Hebrews 10:2 says that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is that we no longer need to feel guilty for our sins. It’s why His sacrifice is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices that could never remove the feeling of guilt but only added to the consciousness of sins.

It is easy as a Christian to live in guilt instead of grace. We feel guilty or condemned so we let that motivate us to do the right thing or, “to do our duty,” regardless of how we feel. We hope that by performing the act that guilt demands we will be relieved of guilt’s hold on us. The problem is that when we are done performing that act we will only feel guilty again for not performing another. Guilt is an insatiable taskmaster that makes you miserable and everyone around you miserable.

God has another solution for our guilt; He wants us to bring it to Him. If it is legitimate guilt because of sin, He wants us to ask forgiveness so that He can cleanse us, not by our performance, but by Christ’s performance for us on the cross. (1John 1:9) If it is illegitimate guilt, or condemnation, He wants to expose its source so we can take a stand against the accuser. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If Satan can’t keep us from Christ, He will try to make us unfruitful in Christ.

God loves us and He has died for us, so that we will have a life-giving and guilt free relationship with Him. “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Posted in Hebrews, Luke

Guilt Detectors

“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’… Mary has chosen the good part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:40-42”

Carbon monoxide is known as a “silent killer.” It is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that can kill you without you even realizing what is happening. Because of this many homes now have detectors that sound an alarm  if the air you breathe has become contaminated with too much of this gas.

We need a similar spiritual detector for guilt. We were created to live in response to God’s grace in a place where our relationship with Him is the priority. When guilt begins to infect us we lose track of the main event, as Martha did, and end up with the “bad part.”  As carbon monoxide kills us slowly physically, guilt based living slowly kills us spiritually. It takes the “want to” of grace and turns it into the “have to” of man-made religion. Christ died to “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14) He wants to expose guilt based living so that He can cleanse us and empower us to live by His grace.

Here are three detectors of guilt based living:

  1. I’m serving God but no longer enjoying God. God doesn’t take us from the place of delighting in Him, but we can easily lose it. Martha allowed her serving to be so central that she was distracted from fellowship with the Lord.
  2. I’m serving God but no longer enjoying people. Martha felt it was her duty to fix Mary. When you’re trying to fix people you are no longer able to enjoy them.
  3. I feel like it is my responsibility to meet the expectations of those around me. If you can’t say “no” to those who ask for help then I fear that you can never really say  “yes” to them. You have become a slave to guilt, and any need will get you moving. God wants more for us!

Mary chose the good part and Jesus is inviting us to choose it as well.  No more guilt; only His grace. Have you made that choice?

Posted in Hebrews, Isaiah

Living in Grace

“The Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.” Isaiah 30:18

Have you ever heard one thing, when the person speaking meant to communicate something completely different? Oftentimes we jump to negative conclusions because we are suspicious of the motives of others, or because we feel so bad about ourselves that we assume the worst. It is easy to do this with God. If our filter is the law, and we feel God’s motive is judgment, we will take any communication from Him as negative. This puts a weight of guilt on us leading us to live without the joy, peace, and the sense of expectancy that He wants us to live in. We know we’re saved by grace; now He wants us to learn how to live in grace.

A few years ago I lost some tickets to a play Alice and I were excited about going to. I had been careful with them all week long and kept them in a place where I didn’t think they could get misplaced but on the day of the event, somehow they were gone. After looking everywhere I was feeling frustrated and embarrassed for losing them. We contacted the ticket office and left a message on a recorder but as we arrived, I was fully expecting to have to pay again to see the performance. Instead, I was greeted by an elderly couple at the ticket table who were filled with mercy. Yes, they had received the message, and no, we didn’t have to pay again. “We all lose something once in a while,” said the man who sensed my pain and wanted to make it easy for me to accept the tickets they had made for us.

This is what God is like. He’s not thinking about the stupid thing we did and the judgment He’s going to bring because of it. He longs to be gracious to us and is waiting for us to look up and receive His compassion. He wants us to let go of past regrets; He wants us to succeed; He wants us to go forward; and He wants us to grow in our confidence in Him.

“Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Posted in Hebrews, Isaiah

Letting Go of the Past

“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; will you be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

It is hard to go forward when you’re stuck in the past. When we allow old wounds to embitter our spirit, it’s hard to love new people. When we allow yesterday’s failures to weigh on our minds, it’s hard to face today’s challenges. God wants to free us from our past, so that we will recognize the new things He wants to do in and through us.

Have you been really hurt by someone? Forgive them. “Yeah, but they’re not even sorry.” Or, “They’ve said they’re sorry, but that doesn’t make everything alright.” No, only you can make everything alright again by forgiving them. If they don’t deserve forgiveness, then remember that you didn’t deserve forgiveness from Jesus either. He gave you a new beginning and expects you to do the same for others.

If you choose not to forgive, you are the one who will suffer. You will also hurt the ones you live and work with. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it, many be defiled.” When we let hatred get into our hearts toward one person it will come out toward others.

“Do not call to mind the former things…” Let go of it. Pray that God will have His way in them and do your part by forgiving them of every word, deed, and thought they’ve had against you. If you don’t, then you will miss the new thing that God wants to do.

He wants to make rivers flow in the desert. Impossible! Not with God. He can do anything in and through you, if you will only believe. Christians should be redemptive. We must deal in truth and therefore recognize things for what they are. Yet at the same time we must see that part of the whole truth includes our God’s ability to move mountains. No situation is too difficult. No disease is beyond healing. No relationship is beyond repairing. No soul is beyond saving.