Cracked to the Core, Yet Not Without Hope

I found myself thinking about the scales again today. I wrote about this idea awhile ago. This kind of thinking that somehow we will be alright on judgement day when we stand before God if our good deeds outweigh the bad on his scales of justice. Those who are concerned about this spend a great deal of time trying feverishly to please God, appease God, to somehow win his favor by good deeds.

And while this thinking forms the basis for every other world religion, this is the antithesis to the good news (Gospel) of Jesus.

What if I was 51% good and 49% wicked. This would work just fine if talking about owning shares of the kingdom of God. However, this would be a failing grade in school… unless God graded on a curve. As I thought more about this I realized that according to God’s way of reckoning I would have to be 100% good to inherit the kingdom of God. Even if I somehow managed to be 99% good, he would still call me to account for the 1% – and the price to pay for my sin would be more than I could bear.

(When the bible talks about being good it isn’t just talking about an avoidance of evil but of a very actively loving life – pure altruism.)

I came to the conclusion from my last excursion through the Bible that God doesn’t even give us a 1% chance of being good. We are indeed evil through and through – cracked to the core.

“As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)

Cracked to the Core, Yet Not Without Hope

I have a confession to make. I lied to someone the other day. They had been reading my blog and they were worried about me. I told them that my blog is “delayed” and that it reflects things I used to think and where I used to be (albeit just a few short weeks ago). But, to say that I am “all better now” or that I have somehow “arrived” is simply not true… nor will it ever be… until God perfects all believers together one day in glory.

The simple and yet profound truth is that I will never be able to glory or boast in my flesh. As a Christian mentor once told me, we are cracked to the core. But this need not lead to hopelessness and here is why: because, as believers, we don’t for a moment depend on ourselves or our own merits for salvation. We are not our saviour – Jesus is.

If I did depend on myself as my saviour, I would live in absolute stark terror at any given moment (as I did for seven long years of severe depression). But as it is, I no longer give way to fear, but instead, I depend on Christ’s mercies. I no longer grasp for control… I just simply trust. This lack of control is deeply unsettling for the ego and this is precisely why many still suffer from anxiety. We must let the ego go. I have been saying again and again throughout this blog that the ego must be put to death. It must die just as Jesus said it must.

I focus on this problem of ego in most of my blogs because I still deal with this on a daily basis. Don’t we all? Isn’t this same ego in everyone? Paul writes that this is the sin that lives within us (Romans 7). The way I see it is that everyone seems to be attempting to glory in their flesh and inciting others to do the same. We flatter one another and we flatter ourselves. The Scriptures, however, are designed to expose this pride and set us free from the sin within us. Psalm 36:1-2 says:

“I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (NIV)

Yet God envisions a life for each and every one of us that is free from sin. This is the life of faith! Now instead of blindly following the commands of the old master of sin, we have a new master – Christ! We now get to be slaves to love’s impulses. We get to do whatever love prompts us to do! We get to be slaves of righteousness, slaves to God, and finally free! (Does it seem odd to anyone else that slavery to God leads to freedom?)

Fortunately, for believers in Jesus Christ, the ego (sin) has already been crucified with Christ. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

It may seem that I am too hard on myself as I often use myself as an example in my blog. It would be unkind to use anyone else. But I cannot emphasize enough how profoundly sick and broken I am as a human being… but nevertheless, I have hope. Can you explain that? I have a hope in Jesus and this pulls me forward. It causes me to grow in Christ and in love. It also gives me the courage to forgive myself and find grace.

The Christian life is simply this: Christ in us, the hope of glory. (see Colosians 1:27)

When we find this hope at work in us this shows us that God’s love is at work in our life – for love always hopes. Hope calms our fears, tenderly forgiving and cleansing us from every wrong. Hope picks us up, dusts us off, and puts us back on the path to life.

It’s all about Christ now – Christ in us! Christ, who alone is holy perfect love, who alone never sins (always loves).  So we have a choice to make. We can choose to cling to our own righteousness (which is on par with filthy rags – menstruel cloths) and perish forever seperated from God and love and hope and all things good. Or we can cling to Christ who is our righteousness and so be saved in the fullest sense of the word. Clinging to Christ is the essence of true faith.

Jesus didn’t come to sell us fire insurance. Salvation is not about God distributing “get out of hell free” cards. No, salvation is a transformed and Spirit led life. And THIS is glory!

Prayer:

God, teach us again to die to ourselves and to submit to your Holy Spirit’s leading. We trust that you, who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it. Thank you that salvation is all your doing.  We give ourselves to you. We give ourselves to love in Jesus name.

Eat His Flesh, Drink His Blood… What?

I woke this morning with Jesus words on my mind.

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53 NIV)

Let me tell you that first of all, Jesus is not talking about some bread and some wine, or “communion” as we commonly misunderstand it. He is talking about a whole different level of communion – a real communion – with him. To think he is talking about wafers and wine actually becoming his flesh and blood is only a sad distraction that only serves to rob Jesus words of their real power.

Jesus uses this hyperbolic language to powerfully drive home a point. One of the most important points that we need to hear is in this statement. Jesus intent is to shock his Jewish listeners  – with this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood – into really paying attention… into adopting a whole new mindset and worldview… or not.

As it was, most who had been following Jesus stopped following Jesus after this teaching. It was hard to “swallow”. He explains later that these words are spirit and they are life.

Here is a link to a really good and very insightful presentation of what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood: http://loveintruth.com/amf-docs/flesh1.htm

In the above article (the link) he says at one point: “Jesus is teaching us that we need to depend on Him utterly, moment by moment, in order to survive.”

Just as Jesus taught in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches. He supplies our life, moment by moment dependence and trust. It isn’t like gas in a car, as if we just stop in every once in a while to get refueled, but a plant. We all know the moment you sever a branch it is dead. It may look alive for a while – like a rose in a vase, or a christmas tree – but it is dead. It is cut off from it’s source of life. So, two things are important:

  1. To be connected to our source of life – Jesus.
  2. To stay connected to our source of life – Jesus.

What connects us to the vine – to Jesus – our source of life? What can we do to stay connected? Leave a comment below!

I Read the Bible in 66 Days… So What? Now What?

I read the Bible in 66 days… so what?

The truth is, if I am not a more loving person; more obedient to Christ and more like Christ; if I haven’t really changed for having read the Bible, then what was the point?

I think we all have an amazing capacity to disregard the most important things in life (such as paying attention to what our Creator and Savior has to say to us). Just consider the fact that we all just have one short life to live and yet we twitter it away entertaining ourselves. We waste our lives watching T.V. or movies or playing solitaire or facebook games or by watching youtube videos of cute kittens and other such time-wasting nonsense. Or even worse, we misspend our lives pursuing sin.

 If we don’t obey the word and really live the word, then can we really say that we are the “good soil” that Jesus talked about in his parable of the soils? (Read the parable here). Aren’t we instead the hard soil, thorny soil, or the rocky shallow soil? But only the good soil produces the fruit of the Spirit – which is love.

Jesus own brother James tells us:

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
(James 1:21-25 NIV emphasis mine)

So this is what we must do:

We must confront ourselves, and keep on persistently confronting ourselves with the Word of God until we change… until we become like Christ in every way… until we truly love and God’s Spirit is glad he made a home in us (if he indeed has). Incidentally, the Bible tells us that we aren’t even saved if the Holy Spirit is not in us! I once shared that fact with a few Christian friends and they argued with me! But this is what God’s word says!

“Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8: 8-9 NIV)

In subsequent posts, I plan to give the top highlights of my journey through the Bible, but this blog is about taking a frank look at the seriousness of taking God and his word seriously.

THE BIBLE IN 90 DAYS CHALLENGE!

Even though I have just finished reading through (and praying through) the entire Bible I am going to read it again starting January 1st.

Why am I going to read through it again so soon?

While I definitely learned a great deal about God and grew in my relationship with him, I know there is so much more work to be done in my heart. As I read through God’s Word this time it grated against my pride and ego (as it is designed to do) and for portions of the time that I was reading it, I reacted with resistance and fear. In many ways I was still running away from God. This is what sin does! It runs from God! But we must not let sin have its way to the detriment of our souls. We must keep coming to God!

But here is some really good news: We can change! It just requires perseverance and persistence to come to God and to really listen to what he has to say! Jesus will conform us to his image by his Spirit if we just keep coming to him and obeying him! Jesus said, “make a tree good and it’s fruit will be good”. Jesus can and will “make our tree good”, but he alone can change us. We can’t change ourselves!

There is a REALLY AMAZING episode of the show Person of Interest (Watch it here) that really spoke to me recently about change. I loved the last few moments of this episode! (If you must, just skip to the very end to watch it).

Jesus once said:

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5-9 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be fruitless! Jesus warning is real! If we remain fruitless (loveless) we are in very real danger of being condemned. (Incidentally, there was an actual real fig tree that Jesus condemned and it withered instantly. He had likely looked for fruit on this tree every time he passed that way on all his trips to Jerusalem and never found any.) The Bible warns about people who are “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.

I don’t want this to be true of me, do you?

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you shall free indeed!”

This is not a matter of reforming our flesh (the sin that lives within us). No, sin cannot be reformed, but must die every day as we pursue a life of following Christ. Our victory over sin is found as we simply receive the victory Christ gives us, by faith. It’s that easy! Yet our pride does not allow for something as simple as victory by faith, does it? If we didn’t work really hard to kick our habit, if we didn’t overcome anything on our own, then our pride cannot accept it. This is why people pass up their victory over sin. They are too attached to their pride.

I sense that there is still a transforming work God wants to do in my heart and life and so, starting on January 1st, I will be reading through the Bible once more, but this time, I will do all I can to obey, live, and act on what I read and not resist God. (I will also be reading it in 90 days this time). Who will join me?

(Bible in 90 Days Challenge!)

Please leave a comment below! Disagree with me about something? Tell me! Challenge me!

How am I supposed to grow if no one ever challenges me? How are you supposed to grow if you never allow yourself to be challenged? Read the Word in the new year and let it challenge you to change!

More Than I Dreamed Of

Zechariah 3 tells of a man named Joshua who was the high priest. He is standing before the LORD dressed in filthy clothes (representing his sin) and Satan is there to accuse Joshua. What is the LORD’s response? He rebukes Satan and refuses to listen to his accusations. He removes Joshua’s filthy clothes and provides him with clean garments.

Was Joshua guilty of all Satan was accusing him of? No doubt he was, but the LORD overrules Satan anyway and says, “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Have you ever felt like that? Like a stick snatched from the fire?

A long time ago this passage of Scripture was shared with me by two separate people within the same week. I was the “firebrand”. Not exactly flattering to be called a firebrand, but yet, it is still hopeful. I am worthy of the flames, but instead I am rescued from the flames. Not only that but God takes this dried up worthless scorched stick and grafts it into the vine and causes it to bear fruit. Because he can. Because he’s good. Because redeeming and restoring is just what he does.

I just read how Paul said he was the chief of sinners and God chose to show his grace to him so that the very worst sinners could be encouraged and say, “Perhaps there’s hope for me too.” And indeed there is. But we must still take hold of that hope and do something with hope, don’t we?

My question is, do we want to continue living varying degrees of ruined lives? Or do we want to finally discover what Christ was talking about with offer of an abundant life?

He says, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10)

Do we really want this? To what lengths will we go to get it? To what lengths must we go? These are all questions I am asking of myself.

The following song is one I wrote inspired by the Scripture in Zechariah 3:

 

Self Esteem, and Why We Avoid the Bible

In third grade, my elementary school started a self-esteem program. My mom was concerned about the humanistic values that she suspected would be in this program and so had me excused from attending these seminars. So, while everyone else in my class went to the self-esteem seminars, I was left alone in the classroom.

And I have struggled with self-esteem ever since… if only she had let me go!

I’m totally kidding! My mom was probably right. After all, what does the world know about how to truly find value and worth as a human being?

Doesn’t God Want Me to Have a Good Self-esteem?

My little girl Ellie has discovered Veggie Tales. She is 18 months old and has never watched television or videos… up till now. We thought it would be fun to play her some veggie tales and now she is hooked. When she is in the living room she will point to the dark tv screen and say, “Bob? Bob? Bob?” (asking for Bob the tomato – I was just now reminded of Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”).

One of the episodes we watched together last night was  called, “A Snoodles Tale”. Written in the style of Dr. Suess, it is a lesson in self-worth.  I was touched. The story talks about a snoodle who struggles with self-worth and is brought down by all the other snoodles who belittle him because he isn’t good at anything. When he is finally told his worth by his creator, he is transformed from being burdened and weighed down by all the pictures others have painted of him to being so lighthearted and free that he begins to float above the ground and finally makes use of those wings he was given.

Watch “A Snoodles Tale” HERE on Youtube

This is what it’s like receiving our worth from God and hearing from him how he really views us and how he really loves us… unconditionally. He alone can give us purpose and a glorious destiny. When we believe and receive that purpose and destiny, we begin to fly above the confines of everything we have thought and might think of ourselves and also above all the ways others have defined us.

After reading as much Scripture as I have thus far (now in Hosea) I am absolutely convinced that God isn’t at all interested in bestowing upon us a good self-esteem. In fact, I would propose and submit to you that God doesn’t want us to have self-esteem at all… good or bad. God has something far more precious and totally awesome to give us then merely good self-esteem.

Our worth is only meant to be found in God and was never intended to come from within ourselves, independent of God. In fact, independence from God is how we lost our worth to begin with. Our pride is independence from God and is a vain attempt to find self-worth apart from him. Instead we build our self-made identities based on abilities, accomplishments, possessions, self-improvement, etc…

“Self-esteem” is how we see ourselves and it is largely influenced by how others see us, or how we perceive that they see us. Self-esteem is based on the principles of pride and on our performance, not on the grace and unconditional love God extends to us. God is the one who made us and it goes without saying that he wants us to care more about how he sees us and to set us free from this trap of self-esteem. He does this by giving us what I will call God-esteem.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves altogether and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, we are then liberated to be the people he always intended for us to be, and it is beautiful!

Why We Don’t Read the Bible

Unfortunately, we are all bound, confined, and limited by our opinions of ourselves and of others opinions of us, that we don’t even think to go to God to find our worth. We are so caught up in the trap of self-esteem that we surround ourselves with only those who speak and think well of us, and we avoid everyone and everything that might cast us in a negative light… including the Bible.

While there is a glorious identity waiting for us to take hold of in Scripture, God must first break off and crush all our false ideas about who we are. We must first be humbled before we are even able to receive grace… before God can show us and free us with the truth of who we really are… in him.

God’s word is designed to deal a devastating blow to our self-righteous ego and kill any possible chance of a good self-esteem. This is why we avoid reading the Bible! It’s why I avoided it. It made me squirm like a worm on a hook. I felt cornered. Exposed. Undone. I mean, who wants to feel crummy about themselves? Who wants to be faced with all the various ways they have failed and the fact that at the very core, that you are a rotten person?

According to his law of love, God convicts the entirety of mankind and exposes us all for the self-centered, loveless creatures that we are. He then makes it abundantly clear just how much all our wretched sinfulness and rebellion has deeply offended him and incurred his wrath. We are all sinners and stand (or rather grovel) before him convicted, doomed, and damned because of sin. Apparently, sin is a really big deal! We would all be lost forever without someone to intervene and come to our rescue. Thank God Someone did!

All of this makes the good news of Jesus so much sweeter and more amazing! We are not without hope! The good news of Jesus is that he is our Savior. He is our hero who came to take the bullet for us. He became our sin and was condemned for it. On the cross, He absorbed all the wrath of God for sin! Jesus was convicted, doomed, and damned in our place that we might be saved as we trust in Jesus and follow Jesus! This is pure grace.

The Humbling Effect of God’s Word

Just the other day in Ezekiel I came across another contemptible sin I was guilty of. Upon reading it, I was so upset that I started swearing in my head and thinking, “Do I have any alcohol in the house?” I then remembered I had one beer left in the closet. I was planning to down the thing as quick as possible.  All while I was thinking this the Lord was speaking to my heart. In a very comforting voice he gently whispered, “Just come to me, just come to me.” As if to say he had all my sin covered and that it was alright.

I tried to have the beer anyway cause I still felt like crap. I opened it, took one sip and then poured the rest down the drain. I didn’t trust myself not to still attempt a bit of drunkenness. Then, as I sat at my kitchen table with my head resting on my Bible I said, “Okay God, now what?”

Any last flickering flames of self-esteem were thoroughly extinguished as I read for the umpteenth time of yet another way I had deeply offended God and I had to agree that I deserve his wrath. I just can’t win! And just maybe, this is the point.

I loathed myself just as Ezekiel wrote: “Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did.” (Ezekiel 36:31 NLT)

This is the humbling effect of the word of God. It humbles our pride. But, does God want to keep us in a perpetual state of loathing ourselves? No, of course not! He wants us to find our worth in Him and find pure unadulterated joy in our restored relationship and our new identity with him! He wants to show us a new way to be human and how to be what he always intended a human to be. Loving. Gracious. Kind. Forgiving. Free.

And yet, I foolishly still find myself attempting to find my value and worth in and of myself apart from him. I still try to think of myself as a good person. Every day my pride tries for a bit of glory and a bit of recognition. Every day I must, once again, die to myself just as Jesus said that we must. Every day we as humans still struggle with pride.

The Lord tells Jeremiah that, “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)

Jesus once said, “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NIV)

I don’t know about you but I am always attempting to make myself appear better, smarter, and more spiritual than I really am. Can you relate? Some of us do this by hiding our sin as best we can and then projecting a sanitized image of ourselves to the world (on facebook or twitter) trying to convince everyone that we are likable decent human beings who have important things to say.

I have seen thus far in my journey through the Bible that the entirety of the law and the prophets is designed to assassinate our pride, and then to lovingly restore us and yes, even resurrect us to a new way of life – a life marked by trust and love. I read the following verses today which just served to underscore this:

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us; 
   on the third day he will restore us, 
   that we may live in his presence. 

3 Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4 “O Israel and Judah,
what should I do with you?” asks the Lord.
“For your love vanishes like the morning mist
and disappears like dew in the sunlight.
5 I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—
      to slaughter you with my words,
with judgments as inescapable as light.
6 I want you to show love,
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
more than I want burnt offerings.
7 But like Adam, you broke my covenant
and betrayed my trust.

(Hosea 6:4-7 NLT emphasis mine)

Pride is the source of all sin. It is like that black tar that afflicted spiderman. It’s tenacious clawing, grasping, and wanting to possess us. To control us. Pride is our greatest enemy and we must fight it… but how?

What is the antidote to pride?

Confession? Repentance? Humility? Love? All of the Above?

(I can’t help but remember one of my first blog posts I ever wrote which I entitled: Baring My Soul. )

What are some ways you have found that are a good antidote to pride? Leave a reply below.

No Fear With Christ

A friend of mine reminded me today of the fact that Jesus actually did accomplish something on the cross. Just think about this: Jesus, once and for all, fully satisfied the wrath of God for sin! This was something I really needed to hear. I still have some false beliefs about a God of wrath who just might send me off to a dungeon and forget about me for awhile (or forever) because I pissed him off again with my sin.

Rather, God is someone I can come to (and run to) with all of my weaknesses and failings, because Jesus has compassion for all our weaknesses.

I wrote a blog just before last Christmas in what felt like a moment of inspiration entitled, “Why You Never Have to be Afraid Again”. As you have noticed by now if you have been reading my blog, I struggle with fear. I know I’m not alone in this. I hope to move past my fear into the love of God and hopefully help others do the same.

Why You Never Have to be Afraid Again

Love. This is what God is. That’s what the word of God tells us. “God is love”. The same letter John wrote that tells us God is love also tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. Because fear has to do with punishment.

This is why you never have to be afraid again… ever.

Remember Jesus, sweating blood in the garden? Remember that opening scene of the Passion of the Christ? Jesus is trembling with dreadful anticipation. What has gotten him so worked up? Then the devil comes along and whispers, “No one can bear the weight of sin. No one. Not ever.”

Resolute, Jesus faces head on what the coming hours hold. He knows exactly what’s coming. Luke records that Jesus was told about all that he would have to endure by two of his closest and oldest of friends, Moses and Elijah… on a mountain. On this mountain he enters the awesome glory of his Father and experiences a transfiguration. His clothes shone pure white. Whiter than snow. And here, his friends tell him of the suffering he will face.

They told of how he would suffer for love. For redemption. For the rescue of his beloved. You and I. And resolute he faced it. He overcame!

And this, this is why you never need to be afraid.  Ever.

When we fear, it simply just shows that we have not been made complete by his love… yet.

When we fear, we forget that yes, the suffering and the cross Jesus bore did in fact accomplish something.

You were forgiven that day. Yes. ALL your sins erased. The sin debt you owed, cancelled. You are now “face to face” with God. A restored child. Loved for exactly who you are. For who he made you. Loved so unconditionally, with such ‘reckless’ abandon, that knowing this love cannot help but heal your every hurt, bring hope to all that is hopeless, bring comfort, redemption, and yes, even joy.

Accept it. Believe it. This is the true message of Christmas. Jesus came for you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you! So say ‘so long’ to fear and live… believing in his perfect love that casts out all fear.

Jesus and Joseph, and what they have to say to their brothers

The story of Joseph keeps coming back to my mind this week. I can’t help but think that Jesus has something to say to us from this story – especially in what Joseph had to say to his brothers.

I have to admit, it hasn’t been a good week since my last post. I spent the week running from God and avoiding him. Oddly enough, I have kept up with my reading through the bible… sort of. I am stuck in the middle of Jeremiah. Do you know how hard it is to read God’s word and really hear what it’s saying when you are at the same time avoiding the God who inspired it? I realized that this is why I avoided reading the bible to begin with.

I am not a particularly good Christian. In fact, I see myself as one of the worst Christians I know. I’m a rebel and a coward. This blog is not about presenting myself as a good role model at all but a desperate attempt to finally reconcile with God in some meaningful and lasting way. That I would begin to actually be a good friend to God. I know I’m not right now (or at least I think I’m not), and I must admit that right now I’m just in need of his forgiveness and grace. Which leads me to the question:

Does God hold grudges?

Most of us, I believe, still think that he does. The Bible tells us that for those who confess their sin and repent, that God forgives and forgets, but still we often fail to believe that God forgives so freely. At least I do.

A Lesson From the Life of Joseph

Many (including myself) see Joseph as a kind of archetype of Jesus. Their are similarities between the two. For example, Joseph was treated by his brothers in the same way as Jesus was treated by his brothers, the Jews. They plotted to kill them out of jealousy. Both Joseph and Jesus were prepared by God to be the savior of the world. And finally, there are striking similarities between the way they both forgive their brothers. (Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”)

As the story goes, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his favored relationship with their father Jacob. Offended by his dreams of grandeur and air of superiority which he freely and foolishly shared with his family, they plotted their revenge. Murder was discussed but in the end, they sold Joseph into slavery to Egypt.

After years of testing and character development, Joseph went on to become second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and was instrumental in providing the wisdom and guidance the world needed during a seven-year long severe famine.

Through a series of events which you can read about near the end of Genesis, Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob and his brothers in Egypt. He became their benefactor, protector, and savior.

Years passed and so did Jacob. Now, with their father gone, Joseph’s brothers thought that now surely Joseph would exact his revenge on them for how they had treated him. So they lied to Joseph. Here is the story from Genesis 50:15-21

But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.  So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

I think that in many ways we are like those brothers of Joseph. We know we have done God wrong. (I know I have.) And we wonder, will God remember and punish me for my sins? Will God make me pay for what I’ve done?

Many of us are often like Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin in the Patriot when he says, “I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me, and the cost is more than I can bear.”

We are just waiting for the hammer to fall. But, when we think like this, don’t we forget the cross? Don’t we forget that the hammer already fell long ago and drove nails into the holy perfect loving Son of God?

This is why God no longer holds our sins against us! They were already held against God’s own Son, our savior Jesus!

So, we don’t need to live in constant suspense thinking, ‘When will I be punished?’ But instead we can do as Paul recommends in Romans 5:12:

“So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (NLT)

I read this the other day and underlined it. Do you ever read something in Scripture and wish you could just grab the words off the page, put it in your heart, and then actually live it? That was my experience as I read this. I wanted to download it to my brain like in the Matrix, and start being a good friend to God!

But in the meantime, while I may be a ways off from being a good friend to God, it’s important just to know that God isn’t holding a grudge, that once confessed, my sins aren’t going to come back upon me, that his forgiveness is real and can be trusted.

Listen to God as he speaks kindly to us, assuring us of his forgiveness and his good intentions. Here are a few thoughts from Scripture to encourage us all:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)

“God is love” and love “keeps no record of being wronged”. (1 John 4:16 & 1 Corinthians 13:5)

How to Read the Bible and Completely Miss the Point!

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”(John 5:39-40 ESV)

Pharisees by Wilmer Murillo

Jesus said this to Jewish religious leaders. As you read the Gospels, it seems that if Jesus had a bone to pick with anyone, it was the religious leaders.

Among the religious leaders in Jesus day, the Pharisees were the most faithful to the law, the most zealous, the most “righteous”, and also the most conservative. They had the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) memorized and were extremely well versed and educated in every detail of the law, the histories, and the prophets. And yet, with all their zeal and Bible knowledge, they were missing the point. They had lost the plot.

If you ever have the chance to see the movie, Matthew – Visual Bible, you should! Bruce Marchianno was brilliant in the role of Jesus. I have read his biography, In the Footsteps of Jesus, in which he shares that his goal was to play every scene as a love scene. God is love, after all, and Jesus is God. The way he portrayed Matthew 23 was so powerful!

Matthew 23 is a rebuke to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts out by saying that no one should be called “teacher” or “father”, and that we all are brothers. All are equals in the kingdom of God!

Start at 3:05:00

The “woe to you” portion of Matthew 23 starts out with Jesus saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (vs 13)

Watching him portray Jesus speech to the religious leaders made me both uncomfortable and inspired. What was it that made Jesus so upset and angry? What was at stake that caused this confrontation? What was the big deal?

Would you be angry and upset if someone was trying to seduce your spouse into leaving you? That’s sort of what was happening here, only far more serious. People for whom Christ came to rescue were at stake, including you and me. These religious leaders were misrepresenting God to the people. The fact that God wanted to love and be loved and have us live in love toward each other, was all but lost in all the hypocrisy and hoop jumping and demands made by the Pharisee’s religion.

Legalism

Legalism says that obedience to the law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle in redemption. That seems to be the problem here with the Pharisees. They were careful to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in their efforts to keep every detail of the law in order to win God’s approval, and so save themselves. Yet they neglected love and justice, mercy and faithfulness altogether.

Based on the amount of divine revelation they had thus far, would the Pharisees have come to any other conclusion? How would they have known that it was faith in God’s grace rather than strict adherence to every detail of the law that “saves” us? Here are three things they had:

  1. In Genesis it says that Abram “believed God and God credited to him as righteousness”. So they knew righteousness comes by faith in God.
  2. They had the commands of Moses to love God with their all, and to love their neighbor as themselves. They ought to have known that love was at the center of a life of faith.
  3. They had a conscience which convicted them of guilt. When Jesus said, let him without sin cast the first stone in the story in John 8, not a single one could say they were guiltless. Every last one of them dropped their stones and walked away. Would not guilt drive anyone to God to seek his forgiveness and grace?

The Pharisees practically had the Bible memorized and from sun up to sun down their lives were consumed at every moment with God and his word. They were experts in all-things-God! But apparently the point of a life of faith is not to become Bible experts. In fact Jesus said to these bible experts, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33 NIV)

Did Jesus love the Pharisees? Of course he did! The apostle Paul was an especially devout Pharisee and it is likely that some of these same men who heard his “woe to you” speech were among those who eventually came to believe in him (Acts 6:7). Of course many (perhaps most) who heard his “woe to you” speech that day were the ones spitting on him, beating him, mocking him, and condemning him to a cruel death on a Roman cross just a short time later.

As I read through the Torah I wondered, “Would they get it? Would they get that this is all about love?” Cause I sure didn’t! Even though I went to Bible college and became a “Bible expert” myself, I struggled for years with a self-righteous judgmental religion and ended up loathing myself.

The Scripture that I started this post has echoed in my ears for years. I have spent most my life studying the Scriptures diligently, trying to formulate a philosophy (a world view) that would help me make sense of God and the world, and how I fit with either one. I was fairly content with all my philosophizing… and justifying myself… until I realized that my heart was empty when it came to grace. Empty when it came to love. Empty of life. Empty of Jesus. I was a proud “bible scholar” and the Lord needed to give me a much needed spanking! Thankfully, he did.

Eventually I came to realize I knew nothing at all if I didn’t love, and Jesus is the source of love. We must come to Jesus! The one to whom all of Scripture testifies about.

Jesus is the point! His love is the point! Without Jesus and his love we are nothing. Without Jesus and love we have lost the plot. Without Jesus and his love, our lives become meaningless and empty.

The following story is the Scripture that God put on my heart to share to end this post:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”