The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

Header image based on "El belen azulgrana" by jacinta lluch valero, CC By-SA 2.0

My Calm, My Safety, My Courage

What I love about being a Christian is that it calls out the best in me. It encourages me to make the kinds of changes in my life that will make me a better man. It spurs me to the kinds of changes that will bring my heart, my mind, my words and actions in line with the kind of person God wants me to be.

But my Christian faith does not leave me with mere encouragement. It follows up the encouragement with the very real power to make the changes God wants me to make. That power is the gospel. That power is Jesus Christ, my Savior, who died for me and lives in me.

That gospel message assures me that Jesus came because of his great love for me. I am a sinner in need of his deliverance. And Jesus came to win that deliverance for me. He, the righteous one, came to offer his own life in exchange for mine. He came to take my sins, and offer me his righteousness.

John, the apostle, puts it this way: “Christ’s forgiveness is the most amazing motivation to not sin again. Christ’s forgiveness is also the guarantee that when you do sin again — and you will sin again — then that sin too has been forgiven.

The gospel is the most highly-motivating “carrot” to lead us on to more fully experience our freedom from sin. And even more importantly, the gospel is the most secure safety net in which to land when we do fall into sin.

The gospel points us to Jesus Christ, the one who, as our advocate with the Father, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins — the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. He offered his life up on the cross to atone for our sins, and reconcile us fully to God the Father.

It’s just like Van Gogh once said, “I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Jesus is my calm. He is my safety in the midst of danger — especially the danger to myself that’s created when I sin against God. He is my courage to attempt to become a man who brings glory to God in everything I do.

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2, NIV). 

Jesus, thank you for being the perfect sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice, for all my sins. Thank you for sacrificing your life so that I could be reconciled to the Father, and enjoy everlasting life in heaven with you. Give me courage to become the person you want me to be, bringing glory to you in all I do.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 30, is Daniel 5:17 – 6:28, 1 John 1:1 – 2:11 and Psalm 136:1-12.

Header image based on "Vincent Van Gogh I feel a certain calm..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

The Big “Why” for Practicing Forgiveness

It is tough to live with people whose nature is to bully, abuse, oppress and torment. To live at peace with such people is nearly impossible. Because if this is their nature, they don’t — and they won’t — be sorry for their ill behavior, or try to change.

How do you forgive such people? How do you move past it?

Intriguingly, the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written were under persecution. And likely, this was not just occurring from one group of people, but from two groups of people — both the Jews and the Romans. Socially, the Hebrew Christians were becoming outcasts. And physically, they stood to lose their income, possessions, property and even their lives.

Sadly, many of their brothers and sisters in Christ were leaving the church because that seemed the only way to avoid persecution. So imagine facing stiff opposition while simultaneously feeling like your closest friends and allies were deserting you. It would feel like an act of betrayal.

Yet, the author still tells the believers, “Don’t allow all the bullying and the abuse get to you. They may oppress and, at times, even torment you. And don’t allow your brothers’ and sisters’ betrayal suck the life out of you either.

Whatever steps are necessary to avoid holding a grudge, you should take those steps. Don’t allow your anger to become bitterness. Because bitterness inevitably leads to jealousy, dissension, and even immorality.”

Wow. Talk about a tall order! But the author wasn’t done yet. He pushes the bar still higher: “Be at peace with everyone — including your tormenters. And even when they don’t act right, you still must. You are set apart, and you must show that you are set apart, even when all around you are being unholy.”

But the most important thing is not the “wow!” It’s the “why?”

The author is here to remind us of the why. We are here, he says, to insure that everyone — even our enemy — knows about the grace of God. We are here to help others understand how generous, how forgiving, how merciful our Savior Jesus is. Bitterness and unholiness will only hinder and prevent us from sharing God’s love in Christ — and that just can’t happen!

Peace, forgiveness, holiness and sharing the beautiful message of the gospel is the way to make sure no one falls short of the grace of God.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV).

Lord, help me to have a forgiving heart, as you have a forgiving heart toward me. By your Spirit’s power, rid my heart of bitterness and fill my heart with holiness. Have mercy on me when I fall short. I want to help others know of your grace.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 15, is Ezekiel 28:1 – 29:21, Hebrews 12:14-29 and Psalm 126:1-6.

Header image based on "Why?" by BuzzFarmers, CC By 2.0

One and Done

How many things would you change if you had the power to change repetitive tasks into “one and done” tasks?

Sometimes we try. We buy a new vehicle so that we don’t have to keep taking our car into the repair shop, incurring bill after bill. Eventually, the new car grows old and we find ourselves taking that one to the repair shop, too.

Or we take out our live lawn and replace it with artificial turf. Nevertheless, even though it appears relatively natural and we don’t have to mow anymore, it’s just not quite the same.

For other things, it doesn’t even pay to try. So we simply accept the necessity of repetition. We brush our teeth several times a day. We unload and reload the dishwasher. We sweep, we mop, we dust, we vacuum. We refill the gas tank. We top up the oil. And then we do it all over again.

And again. And again.

That’s exactly how Old Testament sacrifices used to work. Daily, sacrifice after sacrifice would be brought to the temple to atone for sins committed and offer thanks God for blessings received. The priests would slaughter the animals, prepare the grain, flour and oil offerings, and repeatedly offer them up on the altar.

Again, and again, and again.

Then came Jesus. As the author of the book of Hebrews states, his work was far superior to the work of the Old Testament priests. Jesus was the great High Priest who at Golgotha made one offering that covered the ransom for all sins, once for all. Jesus offered himself on the cross as the perfect Lamb of God, providing his own sinless life as the perfect sacrifice for sins, once for all.

Ponder it for a moment. And believe it for a lifetime.

Your sins have been paid for. All of them. No matter how serious. No matter how often repeated. Jesus has met your need. Forgiveness — full and free — is yours. Guilt and shame vanish before the blood of Christ, replaced by pardon and peace.

Jesus. One and done.

“Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for paying the price to forgive my sins. I am truly sorry for the wrongs I have committed against you and others. I have not loved you above all things. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I have repeatedly sinned against you. Please forgive me and give me pardon and peace. Change my heart so that I willingly obey your will.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 6, is Ezekiel 10:1 – 12:28, Hebrews 7:11-28 and Psalm 119:169-176.

Header image based on "Artificial Grass Lawn" by Perfect Grass, CC By 2.0

Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ 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'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

Header image based on "Red Heart" by Brandon Zierer, CC By 2.0

Is Forgiveness a “Have To” or a “Get To”?

The book of Philemon is very short — only one chapter. But it is also deep. And it is especially deep on the topic of motivating people to do the godly thing, and to do it for the godly reason.

Paul is appealing to Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. Onesimus had run away and according to Roman law, Philemon would have had the right to severely punish Onesimus for this.

As you read the following set of verses, take note of how Paul frames his appeal. Could he have demanded that Philemon do what he was telling him to do? Could he have pulled the authority card out, and told Philemon, “Hey, I’m an apostle. Don’t forget it. Forgive Onesimus. Don’t even think about doing anything different. I’m ordering you to do this.”

Yes, he could have. But he doesn’t do it that way.

Instead, he makes a request, and he does so in the hope that Philemon will be internally motivated by the love that’s in his heart — love for Jesus, and love for Paul, and even love for Onesimus — to extend forgiveness.

Why would he do that?

Because Philemon would recall that he had first of all been forgiven and loved. By Jesus. He would remember that without Jesus, he himself would still be a slave to sin, death and the devil. Gratitude would fill his heart and inform his actions.

Especially, in this case, gratitude would inform his actions in regard to Onesimus. Framed this way, forgiveness would not be a “have to.” It would be a “get to.”

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains” (Philemon 8-10, NIV).

Lord help me to love and forgive others as you have first loved and forgiven me. Not because I have to, but because my heart is so filled with gratitude that I get to.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 29, is Lamentations 2:7 – 3:39, Philemon 1-25 and Psalm 119:121-128.

Header image based on "Motivation in Somerset" by Sam Saunders, CC By-SA 2.0

Alone in Christ, True Freedom

To our natural selves, it seems to make a lot of good sense to pursue pleasure and the desires of the senses. Even our own bodies reward this pursuit. Eating good food, playing video games, having sex, and engaging in other pleasurable experiences have been shown to cause increases in the reward chemicals in our bodies.

A lot of people also think of pursuing pleasure as the pathway to freedom. That would seem to make some sense too. After all, isn’t the very definition of freedom that I can do whatever I want?

Unfortunately, what many people fail to do is take the long view. Pursuing pleasure tends to be an “immediate gratification” sort of thing. So, thoughts of where all this might eventually lead tend to be banished because of the overwhelming nature of the reward in the short term.

This is why we need God. Because what often occurs is that the pursuit of pleasure winds up leaving us in slavery to that pursuit, whatever it might be. What began as a journey toward perceived freedom ends up to be nothing more than a mirage and a lie — and a very dangerous, self-destructive mirage at that.

Talk to someone who has been caught up in an addiction and you’ll find they relate well to the terms “foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved.”

But take note. Paul tells Titus that God loves us even while we’re enslaved by pleasure. In fact, he wants to deliver us from our slavery, and that’s the very reason he sent Jesus for us. He even points out that we don’t have to do anything good to earn or win this deliverance. Deliverance doesn’t come about because we’re such good people. It comes about because God is such a merciful God.

The beauty is that with the Holy Spirit living in our hearts through faith, we learn not to take created pleasures and turn them into ultimate things. When Jesus remains on the throne of our hearts, we begin to enjoy earthly pleasures without needing them for peace, fulfillment or identity. Because Jesus is our peace, fulfillment and identity, we can enjoy games, food, sex and other pleasures within God-pleasing boundaries. And that allows us to enjoy them without being enslaved by them.

What has got you trapped and enslaved right now? God has delivered you already. I know, it’s impossible for you to believe that. But it’s true. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. The price of your freedom has been paid in full. Through baptism, you are released and set free from foolishness, disobedience, deception and slavery.

With the Spirit’s help, believe this. And walk out into your true freedom!

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your deliverance, your forgiveness and your kindness. By your mercy, you sent me a Savior from sin. Please forgive me for allowing myself to be enslaved by life’s pleasures and desires. Give me the faith, the courage and the strength to step into the freedom you have already won for me in Christ.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 28, is Lamentations 1:1 – 2:6, Titus 3:1-15 and Psalm 119:113-120.

Header image based on "Freedom Alone" by Martin Burns, CC By 2.0