Remember Who You Are

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17

What Paul was, was bad. We first meet him in the Bible as Saul in Acts 7, giving approval to those stoning the godly, Spirit-filled Stephen as he preached the truth about Jesus. He harshly persecuted Christians, imprisoned them, raged against and threatened them, carrying out orders from the chief priests with fury and zeal. But then, he was drastically saved by the power of the Lord Who crashed into his rebel-against-God life. His running from God was halted and reversed, his spiritual blindness gave way to new spiritual sight. (Acts 7:58; 8:1; 9:9-19; 22:20; 26:10-11)

But Paul, forgiven and transformed by the Spirit, would never forget who he was without Christ. He taught, reasoned, and preached the gospel, he planted churches, effectively ministering to leaders and congregations and bearing much spiritual fruit, but his natural depravity was always fresh in his mind. This letter to Timothy is one of his last, written from prison after having walked with Jesus by faith for years, and still he calls himself the chief of sinners. Mercifully and wholly forgiven, Paul knew his appointment and calling came from God, and it was Him he desired to honor. He knew that against the shroud of his blasphemous past and his dark heart of flesh, in contrast to his insolence and ignorant unbelief, the grace and love of Jesus sparkled like a translucent gem, and he was delighted to give Him the glory.

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When our early walk of dependent faith becomes a trot through complicated life, and the ride of time gets going, we may slide, even subconsciously, into living on auto-pilot, trusting our own inclinations, our ability to make decisions on the spot, to say and do the right thing. But it’s here self-effort blooms and a bit of self-credit and glory not belonging to us sneaks in. Beware! We must never forget our first love, and how He captivated us. We must always remember we were enemies of Christ, rescued by the grace of God for purposes and His glory alone. We must continually trust Him with all our heart, acknowledge Him in all our ways. Remembering who we were helps keep us grounded, and thankful. It also extricates pride and magnifies His grace and glory. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 5:6-8; Revelation 2:4)

May I, Lord, the foremost of sinners, ever hide behind You, the glorious King of the ages.

 

 

There’s Something About Red

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.” “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him.” “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” Leviticus 17:11,14; Luke 22:44; 23:33; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7

There is nothing like the color red. God made it to stand out. A stately Mrs. Lincoln in a rose garden, a male cardinal on a rainy day, ripe cherries on a fruit tray, glossy berries on a holly tree. Our blue blood courses through our veins, giving us life, but when we are cut and it hits the air, we bleed red, shocking with its color. We can be both drawn to and repulsed by it, a shout that seems not to fit in anywhere but is always a “pop” that startles our attention. The Bible has a scarlet thread woven from beginning to end that stands out as the theme of redemption and ties its unified story together.

In the garden, God covered Adam and Eve’s newly discovered shame with clothes of animal skins that necessitated the first blood sacrifice, and when God instituted the law at Sinai, the consecrated priests were to atone for sin through the shed blood of animal sacrifices. Not only was the life of the creature in their blood, but that very blood offered is what gave the ‘life’ of forgiveness and cleansing to the people. For us, our sins are scarlet and crimson shocks against God’s holiness, but wondrously, mysteriously, His red blood sacrificed on Calvary covers and cleanses them to become white as snow and wool. What wondrous love is this! (Genesis 3:7-13,21; Isaiah 1:18)

“See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”  ~Isaac Watts (1707)

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Where do I need His blood applied? Though I am by God’s grace clothed with salvation, what areas in my life continue on in red rebellion against His holiness and purity? What stubbornness pulses through me untouched, and needs to be sweated out like drops of blood in full surrender through agonizing prayer? What ongoing habits do I need to leave once for all at the foot of the cross? I can know what is true, yet fail to live as though I do. May it no longer be! (Romans 6:1,4,7)

Lord and Savior, whenever I see red, remind me of Your precious blood and life given so new, abundant life could be received. As You bring sins to my mind, let me reason with You in sincere confession and proceed as one fully washed and forgiven. May I never cease to thank You. (Isaiah 1:18; John 10:10; 13:8-10; 1 John 1:9)

 

You Must Be Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’  Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.”’” John 3:1-7

For an upstanding, on-the-surface-righteous Pharisee who had risked his reputation to approach Jesus, this requirement to be born again was startling and confusing. Why would he need to change at all, and besides, how could he possibly enter his mother’s womb again? But Jesus’s words dug deep, aimed to penetrate the soul and spirit of this legalistic leader. It was not Nicodemus’s behavior He was after, but his heart, and any heart not reborn cannot be His, no matter outward conformity to morality or rules.

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Whatever our lives look like, unless we are born again, we cannot be God’s child. Today, we want our first birth to be sufficient. We want to be affirmed for who we are, for all our bents and choices, all our natural tendencies and hard-wired personalities. We strut our stuff for the world to see and celebrate, and expect God will join in the party. But our Savior’s words will quash our frivolity if we are willing to hear and heed: we must be born again.

Every one of us is born with inordinate affections, proclivities that are not of God, and He knows it. This has been the case since Eden, and Jesus graciously offers a way out. To say that because I was born this way you must accept it, is either not to hear Jesus’s clear words, or to ignore them as irrelevant for me. Jesus is no respecter of persons; His command is for all. We must be born of the Spirit if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Romans 5:12,15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Hebrews 4:12)

Why do I resist His words? Because I am in love with ruling my life? Do I chafe at His command as harsh, because He made me the way I am and I’m fine, thank you, instead of receiving it as a gracious invitation to believe in Him and have life abundant and eternal as a new creation? How compellingly do I extend His loving offer to the Nicodemuses in my life? (John 3:16; 10:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

O God, thank You for not leaving us to ourselves, for Your gift of rebirth, of salvation. Please awaken those dead to You to heed Your call to be born again, and may we all live and move and have our full being in You. (Acts 17:28)

Speculation or Stewardship?

“Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions… Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.” 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-19

Ephesus was a remarkable city, and it was a heady position to be a teacher, to be known as an authority in a place adorned with intellectualism and the elevation of man. Paul, an intellect himself, understood this warfare of minds, and instructed Timothy as he led the new church there to keep the main thing the main thing: ‘We live by faith, not sight, and not argument. Be a steward of eternal, unshakable truth, and don’t get sucked into speculations and endless talk based on supposition, hearsay, myths.’ The more we pontificate about things we do not fully understand, the greater grows our affection for the sound of our own voice. Vanity begins to trump earnest searching and discovery, knowledge puffs up and overshadows faith and love, and we lead ourselves and others astray. (1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:7)

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There is much information available to us today by way of genetic testing and ancestry discovery, along with an endless internet supply of ‘expert’ opinions on medical conditions, diets, education, how-to-do-whatever, spirituality, preparing for retirement. We can turn, almost subconsciously, to what we like to hear, or enjoy talking about, without consulting the Author of truth and filtering all we listen to, discuss, and decide through the lens of our faith. Paul admonishes Timothy to be a worthy and diligent steward of the faith given him, and to adorn himself with love and purity that are the hallmarks of Christians, intellectual and not. His high calling, in whatever relationship or conversation, was to keep faith and keep his head, a responsibility vital in the healthy building of this young congregation. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

What attracts me to doctrines of man rather than the doctrines of God? What I watch, do, read, listen to? How I feel? Are there places and people who set my soul adrift or my tongue loose, and how am I preparing for those interactions so I can meet them in confidence, faith, trustworthiness? How lovingly do I steer conversation away from meaningless in the direction of significant, eternal things?

Father, attune my mind to Yours, fix me in the grace and truth of Your gospel so I never forget what You have entrusted to me. Keep me grounded so I do not sway into empty, fruitless thinking and vain discussions. May I engage in this world with confident faith and Your heart for all I encounter.

 

Breath of the Lord

“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” “With the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” “Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth… The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan.” Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4; Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9

At creation, after fashioning man from the dust of the ground, God breathed into him, initiating the wondrous gift we call life. From the beginning, the invisible, powerful breath of God has given life, and throughout Scripture, this same breath revives and calls to renewed life the languishing, the weary, even the dead. And it is this divine breath that will one day do away with the evil one, our enemy. With one blow. ‘Whoo.’ The hope and promises and vitality from God’s breathed word are ours to learn from, be trained by, and own. (Isaiah 40:28-29; Ezekiel 37:4-6,9-10; John 11:43-44; 2 Timothy 3:16)

When I think about God’s very breath, I imagine the unspeakable and perfectly ordered power that spoke into being all His magnificent creation, that “said, and it was so,” that stopped the sea at its edges, that blows clouds across the sky, sways leaves and grasses, turns up the sea in white frothy caps to remind us Who is in control. I also marvel that He Who takes us into the storms is He Who measures their buffeting with His love and care, and when His purposes are complete, speaks them still and calm. (Genesis 1:9; Job 38:8-13; Psalm 107:25-29; Isaiah 42:5-6; Luke 8:24; 1 Peter 5:10)

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Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Mark 15:37,39

To add a dimension to the marvel of the creative and calming breath of the Lord, we must consider Jesus Who, fully God, came to earth as a breathing human to “breathe His last” for us.

“Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.”  ~Stuart Townend (1995)

Where my breath mocks, His loves beyond measure. Where I speak out of turn, He speaks truth. When my words sting and destroy, His soothe and heal. Allelujah. Where do I need a fresh blow from God today?

God, breathe on me afresh this day, and train me to inhale You as I exhale all that is not of You. As long as I have breath, may Your very life be mine, and the words I breathe bring honor to You and bless Your holy name. (Job 27:3-4; Psalm 103:1; Daniel 5:23)

Mercy That Gives

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.  Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.’ So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, O LORD, please let the LORD go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’” Exodus 34:1-2,4-9

Grace is God’s giving what we do not deserve, and mercy is God’s not giving what we do deserve. This passage expresses God’s wide mercy with voice and arms, rather than a withholding, as He meets with Moses. Following Moses’s throwing down and breaking the stone tablets in anger at Israel’s golden calf, we never hear a reproach from the Lord Who had inscribed them with His hand, Who Himself exhibits righteous anger, but we do hear a calm, firm “Let’s do it again.” When Moses readily obeys, the Lord meets him and proclaims Himself all Moses could ever want or need in a Master and Redeemer and Friend. (Exodus 31:18; Matthew 21:12-13)

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My mother always taught me never to say, “I told you so,” never to dig into what has already been regretted, or bring up what is past and cannot be undone. When we tend to remind someone of their error, or point out that we knew better, or prove our expectations were met in their blunder, or even teach an unnecessary lesson from another’s failure, our underlying motive is to elevate self and diminish the other. Pride swells into a cloud of my expertise, my righteousness, and the one who is already ashamed or sorry has no clear way to redemption.

Wouldn’t we benefit and build up others more by extending wide mercy that flows from a heart aware of our own foibles? If I tend to the plank in my own eye, I am much gentler with the splinter in another’s. When I acknowledge with humble gratitude that God in Christ has forgiven all my sin, my heart is kinder, more tender to forgive others. (Matthew 7:3-5; Ephesians 4:32)

Merciful Lord, may my attitude and treatment toward others exemplify Yours toward me, proclaiming Your great name and lavishing Your generous mercy.

 

The Search for Truth

Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After he said this, he went back outside.” John 18:37-38

In Pilate’s consternation over what to do with Jesus, in whom he found no guilt, he flirts with wanting to understand who Jesus is, but never allows himself to get close enough. A head on a stiff neck can ask a lot of questions without listening to answers. He reminds me here of Judas, who, having walked with Jesus for three years, never opened himself to the truth Jesus taught or exhibited. On Jesus’s final night before His crucifixion, when He washed the disciples feet, humbly illustrating the truth of His purpose, Judas took bread from him, then “immediately went out. And it was night.” He went straightway to arrange with the religious leaders for his Rabbi’s betrayal. It is more natural for a hard heart to avoid truth than to yield to its softening. (Mark 14:43-46; John 13:5-30; 18:1-3)

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There was a time when unconditional truth was our banner and reigned supreme- we cherished it, guarded it, wrote about it, defended it, taught it, were guided by it. Infallible truth still stands, yet it has been pushed to the wayside and muddied by opinion and emotion and everyone’s right to assert and choose their own ‘truth,’ what feels good and is convenient for the time being, what may change in a whim if they so choose. This kind of ‘truth’ exalts self over holy God, and should bring real trembling before Him.

Where do I go for truth? Have I decided, because of religious persuasion, political affiliation, or prejudicial thinking, that I can determine my best source of truth, whether from specific media, an author, or particular teachers? Does my belief change when my feelings or circumstances do? Am I more prone to quote people than God’s word? Where do I elevate a person’s opinion as expert on any particular subject, without praying for spiritual insight and weighing what I am told or taught with Scripture? What time do I dedicate to reading the Bible and listening with my heart and mind to its unchanging truth?

In the beginning was the Word,.. and the Word was God... In him was life, and the life was the light of menAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.'” John 1:1,4,14,17; 14:6 

Lord, Your law is perfect and sure and right and pure, reviving the soul, making wise the simple, enlightening the eyes. The sum of your word is truth. May I press on to know Jesus better every day, and boldly live by His truth. (Psalm 19:7-8; 119:160; John 17:17)