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

Anchor for the Soul

Merriam-Webster defines the word “anchor” this way:

  1. a device usually of metal attached to a ship or boat by a cable and cast overboard to hold it in a particular place by means of a fluke that digs into the bottom 
  2. a reliable or principal support :  mainstay
  3. something that serves to hold an object firmly

The author of the book of Hebrews recalls the hope we have in Jesus — our hope of forgiveness despite the ugliness of our sins, our hope to have the power and the help of the Holy Spirit to change our way of life, our hope that heaven is real and that Jesus is preparing a place for us there.

And in his letter to the Hebrews, the author calls this hope an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

The words strongly imply that our souls are never steady all by themselves. But you already recognize that, don’t you? Experience alone would tell you that. Worry, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, greed, lust, envy, jealousy — these are all winds that blow our soul around and create waves, waves that cause our soul to bob unsteadily and erratically through life.

Nothing within us will keep us steady. We need something outside of ourselves to hold our souls steady. We need something reliable to be our support and mainstay. We need something that can resist the force of the winds and the waves and hold us firmly in place in the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

And that “something” is the hope that Jesus gives us. Hope secures us to the bedrock of God’s promises and holds our soul steadily in place.

So the bottom line is this: Don’t set sail in life without an anchor on board. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you don’t need an anchor for your soul. Take Jesus, and the hope he gives you, with you everyday wherever you go.

Then you will have a soul that is firm and secure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the hope that I have in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and Savior. Help me to carry this hope with me every day in life and use it as an anchor for my soul. I want to live a life and have a soul that is firm and secure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 5, is Ezekiel 7:1 – 9:11, Hebrews 6:13 – 7:10 and Psalm 119:161-168.

Header image based on "Ancora, ancla, anchor." by Miguel Campo, CC By-SA 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

It Takes One to Know One

There are all kinds of catch-phrases we use: “That’s the pot calling the kettle black… It takes a thief to catch a thief… I can’t put anything past him because he’s been there.”

And my personal favorite, “It takes one to know one.” Apparently, this little phrase is a classic retort to an insult, one that dates all the way back to the early 1900’s.

The author of the book of Hebrews uses this idea in a much more gentle, compassionate sense. He is referring to Jesus in his role as our High Priest, our intercessor. And he tells us that the reason Jesus is so good at mediating is that he completely gets where we’re coming from.

Why? Because he’s human too. He was made like us in every way. Though true God, at his conception he became true man as well. “He entered into every detail of human life,” as The Message translation puts it.

He became human so that he could destroy death by his death. He lowered himself and humbled himself so that through humility he could defeat Satan and break sin’s power over us. He stepped down from his throne in heaven so that he could make atonement for our sins and bring reconciliation between God and man.

Never doubt that Jesus understands your position, no matter how painful it might be. He’s been there — and probably worse than “there,” depending on where your “there” is right now. If it takes one to know one, he knows you perfectly. And he perfectly empathizes with all you’re going through.

He knows exactly who you are. And he knows exactly how you are. And that’s no put-down. Because the very same One who “gets” you is here to help you.

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18, NIV).

Lord, thank you for becoming one of us. I know you were willing to do that because of your great love for us. I also know that you fully understand me. More importantly, you have paid for my sins and you will stand by my side when I am tempted and help me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 31, is Obadiah 1-21, Hebrews 2:1-18 and Proverbs 26:13-22.

Header image based on "Happy Twin Girls" by Donnie Ray Jones, CC By 2.0

Keep It Together!

Starting with Moses and ending with Malachi — with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others along the way — God delegated many different prophets to speak to his people. There were many spokesmen, but with one voice they all made sure the world would hear of God’s plan to rescue them from sin and death.

Sometimes people think it’s still that way. They look for signs and revelations from God. They want to hear his voice directly, or they latch on to someone who claims that they have heard his voice directly. And there are certain people all too willing to exploit those who seek God this way.

The author of this letter to the Hebrews says that things have changed. Now God speaks to us through one person. That person is his Son, our Savior Jesus. If we want to know God, if we want to understand his plan for us and his message to us, then we are to listen to him. We do this today when we read what the evangelists and apostles recorded and reported in the New Testament.

By his Son, God created this beautiful world in the beginning. Jesus shows us exactly who God is. Jesus paints a portrait of God and all his characteristics so vibrant that it leaps off the canvas.

And just as Jesus created all this, created us and all our loved ones, this same Jesus continues to provide, protect and nurture us. He is the Creator and he is the Sustainer too. Just as he created all things from nothing by his powerful world, so he redeems us from our nothingness and purifies us from our sins by his powerful word — the gospel.

Jesus now sits in the seat of power, commanding and controlling all things for the benefit of his church — for your good, and my good. So when we listen to him, when he becomes our One Source (of information), and our One Sustainer (of life, peace, joy, and forgiveness), then his power becomes our power.

Keep it together, people tell us. With Jesus’ love and authority in our lives, we absolutely can and will keep it together, no matter how challenging the circumstances. Because he holds it all together for us by what he says to us — in his powerful word.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 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 1:1-3, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to daily draw on your word for my life. I know that your words and promises help me keep it together. Without you, and without your word, I also am sure that I cannot keep it together. I repent of trying to live independently. Help me to know you, Jesus, as true God, and my Creator and Sustainer.

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 30, is Lamentations 3:40 – 5:22, Hebrews 1:1-14 and Psalm 119:129-136.

Header image based on "Holding together" by Tom Good, 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