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

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

Coached Up!

Every now and then we need to be “coached up.” It’s never a pleasant experience. Having your coach confront you and point out corrections that need to be made can be tough.

It’s usually not that great for the coach either. But what makes it all worthwhile for the coach is when he gets to witness his coaching bear fruit. When positive changes get made, and people line up with the right way of doing things — well, then it’s really rewarding for everyone concerned!

Kudos go to the apostle Paul, the “coach” of the Corinthians. And praise also goes to the Corinthians for taking the apostle’s coaching in the right way.

Instead of becoming angry and petulant about the coaching Paul had given them, they took it in, made the necessary changes and came back stronger than ever. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and retreating into their shell, they came out fighting and successfully put their house in order.

How do you take coaching from those who care about your soul? Is it tough to take direction and advice? Is it difficult to receive correction? Do you resist admitting wrong, or avoid saying that you’re sorry for sins you’ve committed?

Do you tend to become angry and petulant? Do you feel sorry for yourself and feel a strong urge to retreat into your shell?

Because these are all common temptations for every one of us, Paul carefully reminds us how critically important our spiritual coaches are. And even more, he demonstrates how important our humble attitude is. Godly sorrow leads to salvation. And what could possibly be more important than staying on course to reach that destination!

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the spiritual coaches in my life who call me to repentance for my sins. Help me to listen to their coaching and allow godly sorrow to rule my heart. Keep me from worldly sorrow and feeling sorry for myself. I want to be earnest and eager, as the Corinthians were, to clear myself of the tangles of sin and always be ready to walk a straight path with you, longing to please you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 4, is Isaiah 5:8 – 8:10, 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 105:23-36.

Header image based on "Coach (Dad) Pumps Up the Team" by Jim Larrison, CC By 2.0

No Longer Condemned!

In the world of construction and buildings, “condemn” means “needs to be demolished and destroyed.” The building is no longer considered fit for use or occupation.

In the world of people, the definition really doesn’t change all that much. Merriam-Webster says that condemn means “to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation.”

Putting the two together, many of us, whether we know it or not, live under a sense of condemnation. There’s a little bit of a “looking over our shoulder” feeling in our hearts.

Because we know our own sins and wrong best, we especially feel the threat when our conscience is troubling us. But intriguingly, even a string of good fortune will sometimes leave us wondering when the other shoe is about to drop.

That’s a form of condemnation too. So are questions like these: When is everyone going to find out what kind of person I really am — that I a fraud? When am I going to be caught and punished for the wrong things I’ve done, the hurts I’ve caused?

Paul knew that anyone who doesn’t have a good sense of God’s forgiveness, or our Savior’s power over sin, would feel this way. He recognized that especially the Romans, who often felt that their lives were ruled by the fickle Romans gods, or by “fortune,” or by their own powers of virtue and personal skill, would be subject to such feelings unless they really came to understand grace.

So he tries to make his statements as clear as possible. In fact, in Romans 8, Paul becomes very pointed. Condemnation? There will be absolutely none of that for those who by faith are covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness.

Why? Because we have been set free from the very law that would condemn us. God sent his Son to be a sin offering. Sin is dead. The law is entirely fulfilled. It no longer has any power or authority to harm us.

Yes, because of the weakness of our sinful flesh, we have failed to meet the righteous requirements of the law by our own efforts. But God sent his Son to be our perfect substitute. In our place, he has fully met every requirement of the law. And God has fully credited Christ’s righteousness to our account.

So no more worries about being punished by God. No more anxiety about divine threats hanging over our heads. No longer do we have to fear that we are headed for the torments of hell.

Christ is ours. And we are his. By the Spirit’s work we live under absolution, and no longer under condemnation. In God’s eyes we have already fulfilled his law perfectly.

No matter what anyone else may think or say about me, I know what God thinks. He loves me. He does not condemn me any longer.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 23, is Hosea 8:1 – 9:17, Romans 8:1-17 and Proverbs 17:25 – 18:6.

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to be the perfect sin offering for me. Thank you for forgiveness and absolution. Help me to no longer feel a sense of condemnation, because the truth is, I am no longer condemned by you.

Header image based on "Condemned" by Karl Frankowski, CC By 2.0

Caving in to Sin: The Devastating Reality of the Christ-Follower

In writing the Romans, Paul made it clear that a Christ-follower is no longer under the control of sin. Jesus has emancipated them from the power and authority of sin. It cannot master them any longer.

But the apostle also made it clear that this is not the same as saying that they have been removed entirely from the reach of sin. While sin can no longer force them to do anything, it is still a powerful influence in a Christ-follower’s life.

That’s just being real!

Sin is still going to present itself to us as the attractive alternative, and constantly try to woo and win us over. Evil is going to be a constant presence in our lives, inviting us to do things that are pleasing only to our selfish, sinful nature — but not to God!

In other words, a Christ-follower is not leaving the battle with sin behind when he or she becomes a Christian. The exact opposite! They are stepping onto the field of battle!

And on that field of battle there will be some victories — all to the glory of God, and only by his power! But because we remain sinful, there will also be frequent failures large and small, and some massive. We can expect these defeats to be hurtful and harmful to others, and self-destructive as well.

Which means, in our struggle with sin, while there will be times when we bask in the glory of Christ’s victory over sin (which is also our victory over sin!), there will also be times when we are left feeling destroyed and decimated. Wretched, as Paul puts it.

Yes, the final victory is already ours. But for the battles along the way? Devastating losses will occur, and not infrequently. Paul says it so beautifully here: We remain wretched sinners, but Christ also still very much remains our Deliverer!

Thanks be to God!

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 22, is Hosea 6:1 – 7:16, Romans 7:7-25 and Psalm 88:9b-18.

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to deliver me from sin, guilt, shame and death. I am a sinner. I am still tempted daily to cave in to sin’s call. Forgive me. And create in me a clean heart. Give me the will and the strength to do your will each day to display my gratitude for your salvation.

Header image based on "Ball and chain" by Thomas Quine, CC By 2.0

Restored.

My aunt Mildred loved to restore furniture. And she was very, very good at it. Once, she even restored an old loom and got it working so that she could make various textiles on it.

But the most memorable of all were the pieces of furniture. When she got them, they would be ugly, old painted pieces of furniture. But when she was finished with them, they were beautiful!

All the dents and dings had been sanded out. All the old paint had been stripped away. And just the right number of coats of stain and varnish made the grain in the wood stand out and shine.

They were like new again.

Asaph, the court poet and musician, reminds us that God has the power to do the same to sinful humans beings like us. By promising to send Jesus to be our Messiah and our Lord, he made a solid plan, and put us on the path to full restoration.

All our sins and transgressions have been sanded away by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. All the shame painted on our hearts has been stripped away by forgiveness and the hope of the resurrection. The stain of Jesus’ blood and the varnish of his righteousness have made us beautiful in God’s sight once again.

We are no longer set aside for the garbage heap called hell. We have been saved, and are ready for the heavenly home that God has prepared for those whom he has redeemed and restored!

“Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, July 4, is 2 Kings 8:16 – 9:37, Acts 23:12-35 and Psalm 80:1-7.

Lord, thank you for restoring me to a right relationship with you through Jesus Christ, your Son and my Savior.

Header image based on "Kirsty Hull: Caroline (Vintage collection)" by Design Initiative, CC By-SA 2.0

When Are You Going to Get Your Act Together?

Jesus hung out with a strange crowd for someone who made claims to be the son of God. One’s expectation would be that, since God is holy, he would only want to be around people who have their act together spiritually.

Not so. Not even close, actually.

The Son of God most loved to hang out with people who did not have their act together. People like tax collectors who were best known as government-sponsored rip-off artists, and sinners so notorious that they couldn’t hide the fact from anyone — those were Jesus’ dinner partners.

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him” (Mark 2:15, NIV).

When Jesus overheard the religious people of his day questioning his disciples about this, he told them plainly that these were the very people he had actually come to be with. These spiritually-broken people are the people he had come to serve and heal.

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” (Mark 2:17, NIV).

The real problem is not that you don’t have your act together.

No one does.

The actual damage is done when you refuse to recognize (or simply fail to realize) that you don’t have it all together. Arrogant denial was the hallmark of those religious folk — the teachers of the law and the Pharisees — who never really got what Jesus was about. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for people like this.

Jesus came for hopeless sinners. People who carry a lot of guilt. Those who are ashamed of the things they’ve done. Men and women who feel like they just can’t stick on a godly path in life because, try as they might, they’re constantly sliding off the path. Folks who feel weak and burdened, beaten down and alone.

Broken people like me and broken people like you.

Our reading for Monday, February 16, is Exodus 19:1 – 20:26, Mark 1:29 – 2:17, and Psalm 22:12-21.

Jesus, thank you for coming to heal me from my sins. I do not have my act together. I need you. I ask for your forgiveness for my sins against you and others. I ask for your Spirit’s strength to change and make those changes stick so I can have the same heart you have.

Header image based on "The Sinner in Me" by Johnston, CC By 2.0