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

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

Tread on the Heights

Often we gauge God’s love for us by the outward circumstances of our lives. We begin to believe that what’s taking place around us defines how much God cares about us.

When Habakkuk wrote, Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Habakkuk, a prophet in Judah, was trying to forewarn the people of Judah that cruel Babylon would soon be coming to crush their nation.

This raised major questions, and Habakkuk puts those questions directly to God. Why is there so much evil in our world? How is it that the wicked seem to prosper more than those who are righteous? Do evil people get off scot-free?

Right away, Habakkuk starts off the book with a complaint, a bitter complaint he takes directly to God: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV).

God listens to Habakkuk’s complaint. And he responds. God wants others to hear his response and he instructs Habakkuk to make it plain to them.

The answer God gives is that Habakkuk must take the long view. In the short term, it may sometimes seem as if the wicked are getting away with their wickedness — and doing so with impunity. But eventually, God assures Habakkuk, they will be judged and justice will prevail.

God’s answer takes up all but the first verse of chapter two. Habakkuk absorbs God’s answer, and he responds with a prayer of triumph that concludes the book. The beauty of Habakkuk’s prayer is that it gives us a peek inside the heart of a man whose faith has been refreshed and renewed by God’s words and promises.

Habakkuk vows to stop judging God’s love by the circumstances and events that he is witnessing and simply trust God’s heart and God’s promises. Habakkuk commits to no longer allowing his feelings to be controlled by the externals, but rather by God’s willingness and ability to give him strength and help him through the tough times.

What we learn from Habakkuk is made plain. We do not see all that God is doing. And we cannot see all that God will do. But we can be completely confident that God is God, and he will do what is right in the end.

We can also know that God will strengthen us and carry us upward through the difficult times. God will renew our courage and confidence. Ultimately, through Christ, all God’s people will see victory and tread on the heights.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).

Lord, help me to find joy in you, even when my outward circumstances are not joyful. You, Lord, are my strength, in good times and difficult times. In Jesus, I am confident you will enable me to tread on the heights of eternal victory.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 27, is Habakkuk 1:1 – 3:19, Titus 2:1-15 and Proverbs 26:3-12.

Header image based on "Panorama from the summit of Jewel Mountain. Chugach Mountains, Alaska" by Paxson Woelber, CC By 2.0

We Rise Again

Life in a fallen and failing world brings with it many falls and failures.

Our own sins frequently trip us up. The sins of others beat us down. The devil jumps us, knocks us down, and mauls us. The world does its best to chew us up and spit us out.

We get knocked down. Not once. Not twice. But over and over. We’re flooded with guilt, shame, hurt, anger or frustration. We feel like we’re barely hanging on. Our will is broken.

Praise God, Jesus lifts us up again. And again, and again. He does it by his grace. Through faith. By the power of his word.

Though we fall many times, we will get back up. Not by our own power. And not by our own determination or perseverance.

We rise again by his power. The power of a Redeemer’s forgiveness. And the power of a Savior’s love.

The cross, and the empty tomb. Jesus experienced them first. But we experience them now, because their power is being reenacted every day in our own lives.

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… (Proverbs 24:16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 7, is Jeremiah 14:1 – 15:21, Colossians 3:1 – 4:1 and Proverbs 24:15-22.

Lord, when I fall, help me get back on my feet again. I need you because I fall often and fail frequently. But I know that the power of your death and resurrection are still operating in my life every day. I do fall. I will fail. But in your grace and forgiveness I will rise again. Thank you for the hope and strength, the determination and perseverance you give me.

Header image based on "regret - hanging on" by SuperFantastic, CC By 2.0

Make the Turn

There’s nothing God wants more than for people to turn to him in faith. God is our deliverance. God is our strength.

He is the deliverance and strength of the entire world. And, as Isaiah told the Israelites, “there is no other.”

He has earned our worship and thanksgiving. But even if we don’t believe that, our knees will recognize it one day, anyway.

So why not make the turn now?

Listen to the sound of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear the comforting notes of God’s faithfulness and love, his deliverance and strength. Recognize the pleading voice of your Creator and Redeemer.

And let those grace notes pull you around to Jesus, your Savior.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him” (Isaiah 45:22-25, NIV).

Lord, I hear your voice. I am so grateful for the gospel. May the sweet music of your grace turn my heart toward your merciful heart for forgiveness, new life and salvation.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 19, is Isaiah 44:24 – 46:13, Galatians 4:21 – 5:6 and Psalm 108:6-13.

Header image based on "Turn" by Bill Smith, CC By 2.0

Live By Faith

There are really only two possible paths to God. One path works. The other does not.

One is the path of attempting to leverage the commandments and striving to be worthy. Rely on yourself. Obey the rules. Work hard. Be a good person.

The other is the path of faith. Not leveraging, but leaning. Not striving, but receiving.

This path involves relying on Jesus. He has obeyed for you. He has done all the work. Because of his perfect life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, you already are counted as a good person in the eyes of God. You are worthy, by faith.

The first path — the path of works — is a deceptive and dangerous dead end, because to reach God by this path you must have a perfect record. Falling short is not allowed. Missing the mark is not permitted. No mulligans. No second chances.

This cursed path ends not with God, but in death. Because by the dictates of the law that is the only thing we are worthy of.

The second path — the path of faith — trusts that the perfect record already exists. But it also recognizes that this perfection does not exist with us. This side of heaven, it never will. It only exists with Jesus.

For sinners like us, this is the only path. Because we need forgiveness every day. We need chance upon chance upon chance upon chance. And God’s grace in Jesus Christ provides us with just that. Jesus is the only path — the only way — that any of us will ever need.

So live! By faith in him.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith'” (Galatians 3:10-11, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my path to a restored relationship with God. Thank you for forgiveness, mercy and life — all as gifts of your grace. Send your Holy Spirit and grant me the gift of faith, so that I may receive and hold on to these wonderful gifts. I want to live by faith in you.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, September 17, is Isaiah 41:1 – 42:25, Galatians 3:10-25 and Proverbs 22:28 – 23:9.

Header image based on "The Narrow Path" by rabiem22, CC By 2.0

The Great Exchange

There are two answers to a question Solomon poses in chapter twenty of the book of Proverbs. Solomon inquires,

Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Proverbs 20:9, NIV).

The first response is: No one. No one can claim that they have kept their heart pure. There’s not a single human being that can say that they are spiritually pure. Not a one of us can crow, “I am without sin!”

By nature, each of us is a lost and condemned sinner.

And the second answer is: Anyone. Anyone, that is, who trusts in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. A believer has kept their heart pure because they have had a heart “transplant.”

In the sight of God, Jesus’ heart has been substituted for their heart. A Christ-follower can claim that they are clean and without any sin, because Jesus’ purity and Jesus’ righteousness have been transferred to their account by God, the Father.

By faith, each of us is a holy and sinless child of God, perfect in his sight.

This transformation of status before God is what Jesus’ perfect life and his innocent death on the cross accomplished for us. This is what Jesus’ resurrection perfectly guarantees us. It’s the “Great Exchange!” He took all our sins on himself. And he gave us all his purity and holiness.

This is going to be exceptionally helpful and valuable to us one day, as Solomon indicates one verse previous to his question.

“When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes” (Proverbs 20:8, NIV).

When God “winnows” from his throne on Judgment Day, we will not be separated from God forever. He will not judge us and throw us out of his presence. Because we, by Jesus’ blood and righteousness, are no longer evil, but good.

I hope that’s a confidence builder for you, starting right now!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 16, is 2 Chronicles 5:2 – 7:10, 1 Corinthians 10:14 – 11:1 and Proverbs 20:5-14.

There is no greater blessing than the Great Exchange! Thank you, Jesus, for making this valuable exchange for us. Help me, by your Spirit’s power, to trust you always as my Savior and my Lord.

P.S. You might wonder, “What is winnowing?” Well, after the grains have been removed from the stalks by threshing (in this case, by oxen), the grain is collected in a basket, the basket is raised, say, to shoulder height and tilted, and the grain is allowed to fall to the ground.

Winnowing separates the grain from the chaff. As the mixed grain and chaff fall from the basket, wind carries away the lighter chaff while the grain, which is heavier, falls into a pile on the ground.

Chaff, in case you’re wondering, is “the inedible, dry, scaly protective casings of the seeds of cereal grain . . .” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnowing

Header image based on "Winnowing the Grain, Axum, Ethiopia" by Alan, CC By 2.0