Look, Mom, No Hands


This isn’t really a Mother’s Day post about my mom who has been deceased these past 16 years, but I’ll dedicate it to her. It’s actually a devotional meditation posted originally January 2011.

– – – – –

Kids love the spotlight. They run, jump, turn somersaults, dive into the pool, what have you, then rush back to the adults close by. “Did you see me, did you see?” they ask.

Inevitably their antics get braver and bolder. When I was growing up, one such bit of tomfoolery was to walk up the stairs on the piece of each step outside the railing.

I remember, too, learning to ride a bike. For some time I had training wheels, but eventually those came off, and I was on my own. The initial fear I felt when the safety wheels were no longer in place soon gave way to confidence.

And one day there came a time when I could balance well enough that I could take my hands off the handlebars.

“Look, Mom, no hands.”

For some reason, Mom wasn’t as thrilled as I was over this new development. She knew what I didn’t — that even a small pebble in the road could upset the balance I enjoyed, and consequently upset the bike, and me along with it.

I suffered a bike accident or two in my day. One was on gravel and tore up my elbow and knee. Another gave me a concussion and landed me in the doctor’s office (so they told me).

Funny thing, I wasn’t so quick to relinquish the handlebars any more. In fact, I was more inclined to grip tight. When I was ignorant of the dangers, I showed off my perceived independence from the mechanism that kept me moving forward. But when I learned of them, through the hard knocks of accidents, I began to cling tightly.

So it is in our spiritual lives, I think. In our spiritual immaturity we may think we can manage on our own: Depend on God … for everything? Why would I do that? He’s given me a brain. Doesn’t He expect me to use it?

Well, yes, but He also delights in being involved with His children, in giving and loving beyond our expectations. And He knows our weaknesses. He knows what tares can do to wheat.

He warns us and woos us and reaches out His hands, inviting us to take hold and hang on, to cling and never let go. And we do. For a time. But then we start feeling comfortable and self-assured. I can do this, we think, and we loosen our grip, maybe even let go, just for a second. “Look, Dad, I’m on my own.”

It’s a sure recipe for disaster, except for God’s sustaining love.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
– Ps 37:23-24

I might not cling to Him as He wants me to, I might be prone to wander. But God isn’t show-boating or feeling the need for independence. He’s looking after His children, even we who need to learn our lessons the hard way.

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Published in: on May 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Difference Between Religious People And Christians


horse_and_carriageThis is not rocket science. In fact, I’ve written about the difference between people of other religions and Christians on other occasions, but I’ve generally left the door open when someone professes to be a Christian. I mean, I can’t look into their hearts. I don’t know what their relationship with God is. If they say they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, then who am I to say they haven’t been?

Some time ago on the radio broadcast Truth for Life, Pastor Alistair Begg gave the clearest, simplest way of identifying the difference between religious people and Christians.

Someone who is religious believes and obeys in order to be accepted by God. A Christian, on the other hand, believes in order to be accepted by God, and obeys as a result. Put in slightly different terms, a religious person works to be justified with God, whereas a Christian works because he is justified with God.

The differences seem small and even hard to tell apart, but the two positions actually are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s the cart before the horse idea. One man has a cart and a horse, the other man has a horse and a cart. What’s the difference? Everything. The first man goes nowhere. The second has a wonderful conveyance that takes him wherever he wishes to go.

So too the religious person is stuck with his own inadequate efforts trying to make himself acceptable to God. It will never happen, in the same way that a cart will never pull a horse. The Christian, on the other hand, confessing his inability to measure up to God’s standard, and accepting the completed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, receives a full measure of God’s grace and is accepted by the Father. As a result, he obeys God in the strength and through the power of that grace.

So who’s a Christian? Not the person who believes his work is in any way meritorious in bringing reconciliation between him and God. It really is that simple.

Condemnation And Conviction Are Two Different Things


prayer_meetingIn the exchange I had a week ago with a couple atheists on a different site, one person who described himself as a former pastor who no longer believes God exists, said he has never been more at peace. I answered that I can understand completely why that would be true: only Christians have the unsettling discomfort of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a burden for the lost.

Guilt! the atheists cried. That’s what is so terrible about Christianity, and Christians. That religion is all about making you feel guilty for everything. (And how dare you say he has no compassion—but that’s a subject for another day).

It seemed so odd to me at first, because I don’t live with guilt. I live under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which means I am warned from doing things that wouldn’t glorify God, I’m reproved for things I’ve done or said or thought that don’t please Him, and therefore am led to the throne of grace where I can pour out my sorrow and be reminded that Jesus Christ paid my debt, that I am a new creature, and that Jesus has set me free from sin and guilt and the law.

So guilt? Not on my worst days do I live under the weight of guilt. I don’t doubt that some Christians who were raised with a legalistic framework or with a works mentality, might have old habits to break from. But even as they struggle to find the freedom in God’s grace, they can assert with their head, if not their heart, that they are only in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross.

As God so often seems to do, He validated those thoughts with Scripture. I’m reading in the Psalms and got to 34:22

The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

I’d used the words “conviction of the Holy Spirit,” and I realized as I thought about the above verse, there’s a gulf between conviction and condemnation.

In fact, I just recently wrote about faith as the conviction of things not seen. In that post I tied conviction with the idea of being convinced, in the same way that a jurist only convicts someone of a crime if he is convinced by the evidence that the accusation is true.

Conviction, then, is a matter of agreeing with, based on evidence. When the Holy Spirit convicts a Christian of sin, we simply stop trying to justify ourselves or alibi out of our sin. We no longer pretend that what we have done, said, or thought is perfectly fine and acceptable to God. Instead, we agree with Him that we have fallen short, that we have disobeyed, that we have displeased Him, that we need to grow in the area He’s revealed to us.

Condemnation is an entirely different thing. That’s an accusation, a declaration, that we are guilty of something. But we’re not. We can’t be because Jesus took all our guilt on Himself. Because He “bore our sins in His body on the cross” I am declared righteous.

It’s a more complete transformation than a blood transfusion or a heart transplant. Those are only partial fixes and they are only physical and temporary. This new life God gives is permanent and complete. Romans 8:1-2 spells it out:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Revelation 12 identifies Satan as the one who is the accuser of believers. He stands before God hurling invective at Christians, but none of it sticks. What Satan doesn’t apparently understand is the extent of Christ’s work on our behalf. Romans 4:7-8 clarifies it:

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN,
AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.”

Ironically, the kind of peace this former-pastor atheist claims is the kind that comes when you get to do whatever you want without anyone telling you to stop or change or shape up or do better. But that’s only temporary and it’s oriented toward the self—if I’m at peace, it’s all good.

There is, however, a greater peace, one that is deeper and eternal:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)

This is the peace that a person can count on even when their world turns upside down. I have a friend, a man I taught with years ago and who I’ve reconnected with on Facebook, who is an example of a Christian with this kind of peace. From a recent FB post:

This past week doctors discovered a fast growing tumor in my pancreas about the size of a silver dollar, several spots on my liver and surround the portal vessel providing blood to the liver, pancreas and spleen. I start chemotherapy today and pray for one to two years of serving Jesus.

Please pray for [his wife] Suzy as my greatest caregiver. I know Our Lord is the great healer and will use my body for His miracles and His glory. These next months are planned to reach more people for Christ and encourage this generation and the next generation of Christian leadership.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to minister . . . I have been allowed to serve in the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His eternal kingdom. I look forward to seeing Jesus and worshiping Him in heaven, and I look forward to these next months with you, my family and my precious wife.

There’s peace that passes understanding, the peace that reconciliation with God gives, the peace that comes from one not under condemnation—though he still might from time to time feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 🙂

Published in: on January 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (60)  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

Watch Where You’re Bathing


David and Bathsheba031It’s not a popular position today to say that how a woman dresses has anything whatsoever to do with how a man might act, but let’s face it—women bear responsibility for suggestive behavior.

For example, an eighteen-year-old Notre Dame football player just recently grabbed public attention by posting pictures of his date with a hot porn star—a forty-two-year-old porn star. She’s old enough to be his mother, and a few months earlier, she’d be guilty of statutory rape. (Yes, reportedly some of the pictures were of the two of them having sex.)

Of course most of the attention is on the young man. Some think he scored big or that he’s looking for a role in the porn industry himself. Others wonder what his Catholic university might have to say about his actions.

But I can’t help but think, would he have taken pictures of himself and his date having sex if he hadn’t been drawn into porn by the women he watched?

Women have been seducing men since the fall, and men have been guilty of sexual sin for just as long, but only today, it would seem, we acquit women of all culpability.

Perhaps the most famous seduction story in the Bible is King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, though we generally think of Bathsheba as an innocent party. She was anything but innocent.

Yes, David had plenty of guilt in the matter. He did all the wrong things a man could do, it would seem. He stayed at home instead of going with his troops to battle, as he had been doing. It was the equivalent of staying home from work to watch porn.

He was lounging on his bed and only arose in the evening to take a walk. He saw Bathsheba—not a quick glance, because he made an assessment of her beauty—and inquired after her. When he found out she was married, he pursued her anyway.

But what about Bathsheba? She “just happened” to take a bath in full view of the king’s residence. Did she not realize how close she was to the palace? Or that someone walking on the roof (the equivalent of a porch) could see her as she bathed? I doubt if she was so oblivious.

In truth, we don’t know for sure because the story is told from David’s perspective. For example, when David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, how did she feel about their affair then? We only know that she mourned Uriah, but I suspect she carried a lot of guilt with her to that funeral and even to her subsequent wedding with David.

We know David grieved the death of their child, conceived in adultery, but we don’t know how Bathsheba reacted. We know God confronted David, through the prophet Nathan, because of his sin, and David repented. Did Bathsheba have that same encounter with God and the opportunity to confess her sin? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us because the story is focused on David.

Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly point out Bathsheba’s responsibility or perhaps her open seduction of the king, I think a lot of people bypass her part in the sin. He was the king, after all, and she had to go to him when he sent for her. Really?

If she had wanted to remain faithful to her husband, she could have refused to do David’s bidden the same way Uriah did when David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy by sending Uriah home. He wouldn’t go, choosing instead to sleep with the king’s servants. His sense of duty wouldn’t allow him to be with his wife while the rest of the army was out in the field of battle. Too bad David didn’t have that same sense of duty.

Too bad Bathsheba didn’t either. When David sent for her, “she came to him.” Would he have sent if she hadn’t been bathing where he could watch her? Clearly not or the affair would have happened sooner.

I want to be clear on one thing: I am not saying women who are raped are at fault. That kind of blanket statement is foolish.

I am saying that women dress to be attractive and that can mean, draw the attention of men to their sexiness. In other words, how some women dress is with intent to make themselves sexually appealing. How is that any different from what Bathsheba did?

If tight or short or low cut get men to turn their heads, is dressing that way really innocent, innocuous conduct? How can we continue to think women bear no blame for setting men up to fail when it comes to their lustful thoughts?

Of course David bore his guilt for his affair with Bathsheba, and so must every man who has lust in their hearts, whether they act on it or not. But because David sinned doesn’t mean Bathsheba was without sin. I suspect many of us women bear guilt of like kind to Bathsheba’s. If only we could value purity above the world’s requirement that women “be attractive”–i.e., head-turningly sexy.

Instead Christian young women swallow what society says: men want sex so women should show their sexiness. And we wonder why divorce rates are high in the church and young people are sleeping around. We might be preaching purity and abstinence, but we aren’t teaching young people, or married couples, for that matter, what steps to take to avoid sexual immorality.

One thing that will help for sure is if young women pay attention to where they are bathing.

Guilt


I’ve been working on a short story lately having to do with the concept of guilt. The idea came when I was listening to a radio program featuring speaker/apologist Ravi Zacharias.

As I was thinking about what topic to blog on today, I glanced at an article I bookmarked some time ago, and the topic is guilt. Ah-ha!

I began to peruse the article and came up against a troubling fact, reminiscent of some things I’ve read connected with the emerging church. There seems to be a movement afoot that a) lays guilt at the door of the church (not a person’s conscience or the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin); and b) wants to free up Christians from guilty feelings.

Here’s the part of the article I found most troubling:

He (God or your husband or your best friend) wants you to do one thing, you want to do something else. If you get your way, your joy is tainted by the selfishness you feel, and by knowing you will have to eventually pay that person back.

Thankfully, God isn’t like that.

Granted, God isn’t into payback the way we humans are. He doesn’t get His feelings hurt and because He’s miffed, insist on His way next time.

But what I find troubling about that quote is the idea that a Christian could say she wants to do one thing and God wants her to do something else, and she apparently thinks it’s just find for her to then “get her own way.”

Isn’t the Christian life about God’s will and God’s way? Since when do we get on equal footing with the Redeemer of our souls and decide to go our way instead of His? And not feel guilty about it. Because God doesn’t do payback.

This article shows the confusion of our time, I think. If I discern that I want to do one thing, but God wants me to do something else, to pursue my desires over God’s is sin. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Conviction makes me feel guilty—because I am!

The way to not feel guilty when I am guilty is to repent of sin. Turn from it. Stop doing it.

Of course, there is a “guilty” that comes from disappointing someone that may or may not be sin. If I “get my own way” in a disagreement with a friend because I am being selfish, then I have sinned and should feel guilty.

On the other hand, if I tried … say, to pick a friend up at the airport, but my car broke down, I can feel disappointed and even sorrowful that my friend was inconvenienced and I wasn’t able to fulfill my commitment on time. Those feelings may be similar to guilt, but there would be no real guilt in play.

The feeling of guilt can be induced, I believe, but real guilt cannot. Satan accuses the brethren, and I think he sometimes does that to our faces as well as to God’s. He wants us to feel defeated and incapable.

The answer is not to say guilt is bad. It’s to recognize when guilt is real and when it is not. Real guilt is easy for us to handle because Jesus Christ made it easy (that easy-yoke thing 😉 ).

I’m thinking right now, a question might help. When guilty feelings stir, I want to ask, Where are these coming from? I want to learn also to pray, asking God to give me the answer to that question. Left to myself, I can too easily fall under the influence of the enemy’s lies.

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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