The Most Important Prayer A Christian Can Pray

April 29, 2013

Luke 22:42

We talked in the last blog about taking up our cross and following Jesus.  And the whole point of the cross is to provide the device for crucifixion, for the death of the one being crucified thereon.  That’s what happened to Jesus – He was crucified on the cross He carried out the city gates of Jerusalem so long ago.  So when He says to us in Mark 8:34, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” He is telling us to follow Him out to die – die to ourselves so we can live for God – so God can live through us.

Now this was all a mystery to me for a long time.  How do I die to myself?  How can I let the Lord effectively and consistently live through me?  It seems like I got in the way far too much!  As Dr. Rogers, my theology professor in seminary used to say, “The problem is, everywhere I go, I go too!

Then I learned the secret of The Most Important Prayer A Christian Can Pray.

If you ask believers, “What is the most important prayer a Christian can pray?” …the answer you will often receive is “Why, it is the sinner’s prayer!”  This refers to the tax collector in the temple in Luke 18:13 who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  Important?  Yes!  This is the most important prayer a non-Christian can pray – or some form of that prayer, confessing to God his need of a Savior because he is a sinner.

But The Most Important Prayer A Christian Can Pray is modeled by Jesus Himself when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:41 and 42 (NKJV):

And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down, and
    prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me;  nevertheless
    not my will, but Yours, be done.”

Did you get that?  Jesus did not want to go to the cross.  He did not want to endure the horrific physical torture of the next several hours.  But more, He did not want to be made sin and sinner before His holy Father and have the Father’s wrath poured out upon Him.  He was totally holy and sin-free before being nailed to the cross.  He had never been separated from His Father.  But Jesus would be made sin and sinner and take the punishment of every misdeed and rebellion against God committed by man through history!  He was repulsed by that!  And He pleaded with the Father to “…remove this cup from Me….”  That is what Jesus wanted from His own will!  And yet He prayed, “…nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.

The problem with you and me is the sinful nature within us.  We want what we want!  Never mind what God wants!  This selfishness lies at the root of all sin!  And dying to one’s self is sincerely praying what Jesus cried out to the Father in the garden, “…nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.”   “It doesn’t matter what I want, Lord.  What do You want?  Tell me and I will do it!”  This is the best way – the only way – to die to yourself – to be crucified – so God can live His life through you.

And it is not a one time decision, either.  How often have I decided to follow Jesus and ten minutes later something comes along, and I say, “Forget what I said, Lord.  I’ll take over from here!”  No, it is a moment-by-moment attitude of prayer that confronts every decision which we find ourselves facing!  Jesus alluded to this in Luke’s version of the Lord’s challenge to His followers:  “And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross DAILY, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 – emphasis added).  Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:31, “I die DAILY.” (emphasis added).  Following Jesus is a moment-by-moment decision to let Him be Lord!

What is the alternative?  Remember the light and easy yoke Jesus invites us to share with Him (Matthew 11:28)?  The alternative is the heavy and hard weight of sin!  Yes, you are making your own decisions.  But actually what you are then saying is, “…nevertheless not Your will, but MINE, be done!”  And that is dangerous!

My own testimony?  I called the shots of my life for a long time, both before I became a Christian at age 19 and for a long time after.  I have gone through addictions, anger, depression, even suicidal thoughts.  I hurt far too often, and life was a struggle.  I have found rest, joy, peace and a lot more – only as I yield to my Lord’s will.  Do I do it all the time?  No.  I still struggle with wanting my own way.  But I am learning, and I expect I will keep on learning until God calls me home.

But one very important gem I have learned is The Most Important Prayer A Christian Can Pray:  “…nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.”   Simple!  Not easy, but simple!

Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear!

April 26, 2013

Mark 8:34-37

Fanny Crosby, the great blind hymn writer of a hundred years ago, wrote a hymn called “Keep Thou My Way”.  Here it is in its entirety:

                   Keep Thou my way, O Lord, be Thou ever nigh;
                   Strong is Thy mighty arm, weak and frail am I;
                   Then, my unchanging Friend, on Thee, my hopes depend,
                   Till life’s brief day shall end, be Thou ever nigh.

                   Keep Thou my heart, O Lord, ever close to Thee;
                   Safe in Thine arms of love, shall my refuge be;
                   Then, over a tranquil tide, my bark shall safely glide;
                   I shall be satisfied, ever close to Thee.

                   Keep Thou my all, O Lord, hide my life in Thine;
                   O let Thy sacred light over my pathway shine;
                   Kept by Thy tender care, gladly the cross I’ll bear;
                   Hear Thou and grant my prayer, hide my life in Thine.

Some versions have the end of the next to the last line as “…gladly the cross I’d bear….

A little boy came home from Sunday school and his mother asked him what he had learned.  He said they sang a new song about ‘Gladly, the bear’!  “And he’s cross-eyed, mom!”

Can you see where he got that?  Kinda cute, huh?  But the truth in Fanny Crosby’s hymn is the secret of The Light Yoke about which we talked in the last blog.  Jesus said this in Mark 8:34-37:

    Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and
    follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall
    lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.  For what shall
    it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what
    shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  What is the cross which He directs you to carry?  Some think it is the physical malady with which they are afflicted.  Some say it is a grouchy husband or a nagging wife, or some other such burden.  That is not the cross which we are to carry!

If you were in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and you saw a man, surrounded by soldiers and a jeering crowd, and he was carrying a cross (or the cross beam of a cross) toward the city gate, what would you know about that man?  He was going out to die!  He had no future of His own!

When Jesus tells His follower to “…take up his cross, and follow me,” He is telling us to follow Him out to die! …to die to ourselves so we can live for God!  More specifically, He is saying that we are to die to ourselves – our own wills, plans, dreams – so He can live through us!

This is the secret of exchanging your heavy burdens for the Lord’s light and easy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30).  He takes it all from your shoulders, your burdens and even the burden of yourself – trying to run your own life.  And although the cross can seem to be very painful, it is the only way we can put to death ourselves so His will can be done through us.

And what is His will for you?  Specifically, I cannot say, for that is between you and the Lord.  But generally I think there is no better scripture that shows us what He intends to do in us and through us than what is written in Jeremiah 29:11 through 14:

    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper
    you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will
    call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek
    me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you….

Does that sound light and easy to you?  I want Him and His will for my life, even if it means I carry my cross and follow Him out to die.  Yes, it is painful to go to the cross and be crucified.  But the result will be wonderfully worth it!  So Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear! …I mean, gladly the cross I’d bear!

The Light Yoke

April 24, 2013

Matthew 11:28-30

I grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut.  By the time I was a boy in the 1950’s, my father farmed no longer with horses but with tractors.  We had two Farmall tractors, a 1939 A and a 1953 H.  But having lived in Amish country in Pennsylvania, I have seen many teams of horses pulling various equipment, wagons and buggies.  I have never seen a farmer, Amish or otherwise, use a yoke of oxen for the heavy farm work.  The beast of burden of choice, especially for the Amish, is the horse.

But I understand the concept of a yoke when pulling with oxen.  Just examine the photo at the top and you can see the heavy wooden curved neck piece, and the two steam-bent neck braces.  The design is to enable two oxen to pull together, to share the load of the pull.  If the yoke is built right, it is comfortable on the necks of the oxen and the pull of the pair can be powerful.

Jesus invites us who are trying to pull along our burdens to team up with Him.  He says in Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)…

    Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take
    my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and
    you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Now imagine a yoke designed for a pair to pull together, but one side is ten times or more the size of the other!  Guess who is going to shoulder the oversized side and carry the heaviest part of the burden?  It is Jesus Christ, the Lord, omnipotent Son of God and God the Son!  He, by far, carries the most weight of any burden a believer asks Him to share.  And I know – and so do you – that the burdens of life can really weigh us down, to the point where we do not think we can go on for another step with such weight on our shoulders.  It may be physical problems – yourself or a loved one.  It may be relational tension between a husband and wife and/or other family members.  It may be financial burdens that seem to crush us.  Maybe it is struggling with emotional or mental illness.  Eliphaz said it in Job 5:7: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”  Last I checked, sparks from a fire do fly upward!

Jesus said to come to Him “…all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  But notice that it is still a yoke, designed for two to pull together.  So He will not totally relieve you of something to carry.  But what He asks you to bear is easy and light by comparison to what you bring to Him.  As a matter of fact, Psalm 55:22 (NKJV) gives us an idea of just how much the Lord is willing to carry: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you….”  It does not say “He will sustain the burden that you cast upon Him.”  It says He “…shall sustain YOU….”  Guess what?  We are the burden He carries!  He sustains both us and our burdens!  That’s a load to carry!

Isaiah 43:3 and 4 confirms this idea.  God is speaking to Israel, but the principle applies to us today.  He is telling the Jews that the false gods of the surrounding heathen nations will not deliver their devotees from captivity.  Those gods are lifeless idols, and they will be loaded upon beasts of burden and carted away, weighing down those weary beasts carrying them.  But in contrast, God says to His people…

    Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel,
    which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:  and
    even to your old age I am He; and even to hoar [white] hairs will I carry you:
    I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.

So if Jesus invites us to come to Him and give Him our burdens – which includes ourselves! – what then is it that He asks us to take up and carry?  What will give rest for our souls and is an easy yoke and a light burden?

The key is Mark 8:34-37, and we will look at that in our next blog.

But do not wait to come to Him with your burdens.  Tell the Lord your problems, and He will greatly lighten your load, even if you do not yet know the dynamics of how He does it.

Bold before God

April 22, 2013

Hebrews 4:14-16

In the last post I mentioned that, being Accepted in the Beloved (Jesus), we can obey the invitation in Hebrews 4:16:  “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  Indeed we can!  But there is more here to consider, and I believe it can help you in your prayer life as much as it did me.  Here is the whole quote from Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV):

    Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the
    heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession [of our faith].  
    For we have not a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
    but was in all points tempted [tested] as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore
    come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find
    grace to help in time of need.

The author of Hebrews is in the midst of telling us how greatly superior Jesus Christ is to all the laws and regulations, all the sacrifices and offerings, of the old Jewish covenant.  Jesus has made the way directly to God by means of His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf.  In light of all this, we are reminded that we have SomeOne who is now interceding for us in the presence of the Father just as did the Jewish high priest when he went into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle with the blood of the sacrificed animal.  But the high priest could only go in once a year on the Day of Atonement.  The veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was the boundary line that any priest, including the high priest, could not cross except on that one annual day.

But the veil was torn immediately after the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  It says in Matthew 27:51 and Mark 15:38 (NKJV), “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” which meant that God did it from above.  But in Hebrews 10:16-22 (NIV), there is added more meaning to the tearing of the veil:

    This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will
    put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds:  
    “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have
    been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.   

    Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by
    the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain
    [the veil], that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of
    God,  let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….

Jesus made the way to the very throne of the Father by the tearing of His flesh (a type of the veil).  These two scriptures from Hebrews chapters 4 and 10 are saying basically the same thing:  The way has been cleared.  Now we can approach God boldly!

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16).  So we can come boldly!  And why can we expect the Lord’s help?  Because “…we have … a High Priest who can … sympathize with our weaknesses, [because He] … was in all points tempted [tested] as we are, yet without sin.  (Hebrews 4:15).  He knows all our weaknesses and needs!  And not just because Jesus is God, and God knows everything.   It is because Jesus has been there and done that!  He, in one way or another, has experienced every test and temptation that we could ever face.  And He says to us when we come with our need, “I know what you mean.  I have experienced what you are going through, and I understand.  And I am big enough and powerful enough to give you…mercy, and … grace to help in [this your] time of need.‘”

So, Christian, be Bold before God!  He has made the way, and He wants you to come with all your needs!

Four Wonderful Words ……….

April 19, 2013

Ephesians 1:3-6

I came across four words in Ephesians 1:6 that greatly blessed my life.  The four words are these:  “…accepted in the Beloved.”  In the several Bible translations and paraphrases that I have in my library (I counted 23!), only four use the term “accepted” in verse six – King James Version, New King James Version, Young’s Literal Translation, and The New English Bible.  All the others translate the Greek word cha ri to’ o as grace or favor.  But being accepted is all because of His grace!

But let me give you the whole sentence in the NKJV that Paul wrote in these four verses:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us
    with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in
    Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without
    blame before Him in love, having predestinated us to adoption of sons by Jesus
    Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of
    the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

The idea is that in and through Jesus Christ, God has richly given us grace (undeserved favor), and by His grace He has given us several things:

•    He “…has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ….”  I don’t yet know all the spiritual blessings God has lavished on me, but I am learning, and the more I read my Bible, the more I understand some of those blessings.  I suppose we could say that we have a part in all the blessings the Father has poured upon the Son since He returned in triumph to be seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven.  I will share just one blessing, Philippians 4:19, that God has promised us through Jesus:  “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Contemplate this gem for awhile and see how many blessings from heaven are included in it!

•    “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world….”  God knows everything.  He knows who will accept Him and who will not.  Yet He still holds us accountable for our choice concerning His Son Jesus Christ.  But He has known us for a long, long time, even from before creation!  And knowing me, He knows all about me, my sins, faults, needs, strengths and weaknesses.  And He still chose me!  That blows my mind!

•    “…that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love….”  Holy (sanctified, set apart unto Him) and without blame (no sins for which to blame me).  We have that in Jesus Christ as we stand before the Father.  We actually wear Jesus’ righteousness – His goodness, His perfection – as a robe when we are in Him.  And it is because He loves us, not because we deserve it!  What we deserve is God’s judgment and condemnation!  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8 – NKJV)

•    “…having predestinated us to adoption of sons by Jesus Christ to Himself….”  Here is where I believe the predestination comes in.  We are going to be full sons and daughters when God gets done with us – just like Jesus!  John wrote in I John 3:2, that we are already His children, but “…when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”  When the Lord returns and we see Him by sight and not just by faith, we will be changed into the same full sons (and daughters) as He is with the same sinless nature.  In the meantime, we are in that life-long process of refinement toward that goal.  When we are born by God’s Spirit, Jesus, being God’s first Son, is our Elder Brother!

•    “…according to the good pleasure of His will….”  We have to always remember this.  It is not the pleasure of our will – what we want – but His!  Jesus showed us that in the garden before He went to the cross when He prayed, “…nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”  (Luke 22:42 – NKJV).  And I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that God’s will is always more pleasurable – more profitable – than mine, even if His way hurts sometimes!

•    “…to the praise of the glory of His grace….”  Remember, God’s grace is His undeserved favor.  If we have experienced His grace – and you surely have, Christian – we should be praising Him and, as Paul’s sentence begins in verse 3, blessing Him!  Have you taken time lately to just tell God how good He is?  This, too, is a privilege He has given us.

•    “…He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”  It is by His grace that God accepts us. It is in the Beloved that God accepts us.  Would He accept His own Son?  Of course He would!  And when we are in Jesus Christ (see I Corinthians 8:6) because He is in us by His Holy Spirit, then we are accepted by the Father as much as He would accept His own Son!

When you come before God next time with a request, remember this gem in Ephesians 1:6:  I am “…accepted in the Beloved.”  You don’t need to approach Him with fear and trembling, wondering if He will receive you and hear you.  As it says in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  We can relax and live our lives with enjoyment in His presence.  We are “…accepted in the Beloved.

Black Light Christians

April 17, 2013

Philippians 2:14-16

Most people are familiar with black lights which emit ultraviolet light resulting in fluorescence when the light hits certain surfaces.  Pure ultraviolet light is invisible to humans.  It is so-named because the spectrum consists of electromagnetic waves with frequencies higher than those that humans identify as the color violet.  Black lights emit some visible light as well as pure black light.

Ok, enough of the science lesson!  Now for the spiritual application.  There is a condition affecting some people, which results in them being what I call Black Light Christians.  To understand the idea of this concept, we have to look at several scriptures.  The first is Philippians 2:14 through 16 (NKJV):

Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless
    and harmless, children of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and
    perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding forth
    the word of life….

Notice there is no qualifying factor regarding the statement, “…among whom you shine as lights in the world….”  In other words, you will shine!

Now look at Matthew 5:14 through 16 (NKJV):

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hidden.  Nor
    do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives
    light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they
    may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.

Again, there is no qualifier here.  It simply says, “You ARE the light of the world.”  You will emit light!

Think about it.  Simply by the fact of you being human, you have all the necessary equipment to shine, to give forth energy.  All living beings give forth energy.  And that energy can deliver sometimes subtle, sometimes very bold messages.  Have you ever been in the presence of a person who is in a bad mood?  Before they said or did anything to give their mood away, have you sensed the dark cloud around them?  How about someone who is happy and joyful?  Did you ‘feel’ that joy even before they gave you a cheerful smile?

I know that sensing and feeling are rather subjective.  But you surely can tell pretty quickly what is motivating that person by what they say and do.  As Jesus said, “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  (Matthew 12:34).  He could well have said, “Out of the heart, the hands move, the feet walk, the whole body operates!

So you give off energy from what you are within.  You give off light whether you want to or not.  This brings us to a warning Jesus gave us in Luke 11:34 through 36 (NKJV):

The lamp of the body is the eye.  Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole
    body also is full of light.  But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of
    darkness.  Therefore take heed  that the light which is in you is not darkness.  If
    then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole will be full
    of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.

Did you get that?  Your “light” can be darkness!  Now, according to Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.”  You are supposed to point people to the Father, adding your words to your works. And that pointing must be through the Son (John 14:6).  The light emitting from your life can either turn people off toward God or turn people on.  What is your life saying about Jesus Christ?

Further applying this – those who call themselves Christians, but only carry that name as a designation and not in actual conversion, do a disservice to others.  All they have to shine forth from their lives is their own human nature.  And, according to the Bible, that natural human nature is at complete odds with God and a lousy witness to Him!

But people who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior but don’t follow Him in obedience as their Lord, put forth a similar witness as the unbeliever to others.  They are living out of their own soul, and not the Spirit.  The “…light which is in [them is]… darkness.”  It is hard to tell the unbeliever and the back-slidden Christian apart.  Both emit Black Light!

Take heed that you are not a Black Light Christian!  Make sure you have Jesus Christ as your Savior and you are following Him as Lord of your life.  As it says in Philippians 2:16, “…hold… forth the word of life….”  Hold forth Jesus!  He is “…the light of the world.”  (John 9:5).

Forgiven and Free! – VI

April 15, 2013

Luke 11:4

This is the last blog in the Forgiven and Free series, and it is the logical result leading from the other five.  If you understand that God has forgiven your sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross, then you will have no trouble with fulfilling Luke 11:4:

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

Do you realize the price Jesus paid so the Father could “…forgive us our sins…”?  I don’t – fully!  And I won’t until I see my Lord face to face.  It is as Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:9 & 12 (NIV):

    For we know in part…. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we
    shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am
    fully known.

I just don’t have the capacity this side of heaven to fully comprehend all our Lord went through to purchase my salvation!  But I do know some things:

•    He was crucified – Crucifixion is perhaps the most painful and horrible death man has ever conceived and inflicted upon his fellow man.  It will shake you – but perhaps profitably – if you study Crucifixion in depth.

•    He went to the cross voluntarily – He said in John 10:17 & 18 (NKJV) – “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again.  No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command have I received from my Father.

•    He suffered physically – Jesus greatly suffered physically, not just from crucifixion, but from mistreatment after His arrest, being beaten, scourged, and generally abused.

•    He suffered mentally and emotionally – He was hounded by Jewish leaders for many months before His arrest.  And, according to Luke 13:31, he was also hounded by Herod Antipas.  He was betrayed by Judas, one of His own.  He was denied three times by Peter, one of His inner circle.  He was forsaken by all His disciples upon His arrest.  His mental and emotional strain was so great, He sweat blood in the garden!

•    He suffered spiritually – Somehow, in the three hours of darkness – the last three hours on the cross, Jesus was separated from the Father and I believe He experienced eternity in hell!  It was during that time He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  (Matthew 27:46 – NKJV).  It was then that Jesus was “…made sin for us…”  (II Corinthians 5:21).  He became the sinner before the Father, bearing all the sins of every human being through all history!

Is there anyone who has suffered greater wrongs than what was done to Jesus?  If He could forgive us – and He certainly has! – is there anything done to us that we cannot forgive?  Or is there anyone who has wronged us whom we cannot forgive?

You see, this is really a logical argument from the greater to the lesser.  If we have been forgiven such atrocities against God – such grievous sins as those that would send the perfect Son of God to such horrible suffering – can we not then forgive others of their lesser sins against us?  The only reason to hang on to the wrongs done to us, the only reason we do not forgive others, is that we don’t begin to understand how much God through Jesus’ sacrifice has forgiven us!

Consider the servant in the Lord’s parable in Matthew 18:23-34.  I won’t reproduce all the scripture here, but I encourage you to read it in your own Bible.  In short, this particular servant owed his master an enormous sum, over nineteen billion dollars by one estimate – if it was figured in talents of gold!  He was forgiven all the debt when he said he couldn’t pay.  But this servant then went out and found a man who owed him about ten thousand dollars.  He would not forgive the man’s debt, and he demanded his incarceration until the debt was paid!  The master found out about it and withdrew the cancellation of the servant’s enormous debt, sending him to jail and torture until payment was made in full!

Jesus finished this parable with the statement of Matthew 18:35 – “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  It is much like the truth He taught us to pray in the Lords prayer recorded in Luke 11:2 through 4 – “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” (verse 4).

If we will not forgive others, it puts us in a dangerous position!  At best, we do not understand the forgiveness God granted us through His Son’ sacrifice.  At worst, we have never received that forgiveness in Jesus, and we will forever pay for our own sins in eternal hell!

Forgiven and Free!  Let us apply this to our own standing before God, and apply it to those who sin against us.  It will, in both cases, greatly bless our Christian life!

Forgiven and Free! – V

April 12, 2013

Hebrews 10:16, 17

Have you ever read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan?  Published in 1678, it is available today in modern English.  It is worth the read!  Christian, representing everyman, journeys from his home in the City of Destruction – a journey of many days and hard trials – to the Celestial City (heaven).  He is seen at first carrying a heavy burden strapped to his back – his sins.  After other attempts at relieving himself of this heavy burden, he and his fellow-travelers finally arrive at the cross of Jesus Christ.  They “…came to the place where Christian’s burden fell off his back and tumbled into a sepulcher.  Here then they made a pause; and here also they blessed God.”  But it is two thirds through the story before Christian is able to be free of his burden.  It is only when he comes to the cross, his faith solely directed to what Jesus accomplished thereon, that the sins that were so heavy upon his back were taken from him and buried forever from sight.

Wouldn’t that be something you and I would desire in our own lives – our sins gone from being such a burden, never to be seen again?  That is the subject of the last several blogs, and this one also.  Hebrews 10:16 & 17 (quoted from Jeremiah 31:33, 34) shows forth the gem of our sins forever gone:

    This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord,
    I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their
    sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

Technically, this gem applies to Israel in the future, but the application of it is a current reality for Christians ever since the birth of the Church at Pentecost.

First of all, the Lord had to perform heart surgery on those to whom He would reveal Himself.  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, and passed that sin nature to all of their progeny (Romans 5:12), man has naturally had a heart (a nature) that was stone-cold to the things of the Lord.  So before God could “…put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them…”, He had to do something drastic!  According to Ezekiel 36:26, He proclaimed, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”  That new heart would be receptive to the Holy Spirit.  It is upon that “heart of flesh” God would write “…the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus….” (Romans 8:2).

But the God-given desire to do His will is just the first part of this gem.  The second part is that “…their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”  God will not hold in His mind all the sins and iniquities that we have committed by our own wrong choices!

Now what does this mean for me?  With my compulsive/addictive personality, I have struggled with what old-timers called “besetting sins”.  These are the sins that we fall into again and again, even as Christians.  I thank God for His gracious deliverance of many of the “besetting sins” that plagued my life through the years.  Yes, He can free us from even ingrained habits and addictions!  When I would find myself in the slough of sin again, I would come to Him in confession.  And this is how I imagine the conversation went as I began to understand this gem of Hebrews 10: 16 & 17:

Me – “God, I did it again!”
God – “What did you do, my child?”
Me – “The same old thing, Lord, I did it again!”
God – “What did you do, my child?”
Me – “God, you know what I did!  It is the same sin I have fallen into so many times!”
God – “Tell me, what did you do?”
Me – “You’re omniscient, Lord!  You know everything!  You know what I did!”
God – “I have chosen to forget all those past sins you have brought before me.  Now,
what did you do?”

All those past sins are gone, paid in full by the blood of Jesus Christ who died on the cross in my place!  Now, when I stand before God, it is like I have never sinned before!  This sin I am currently confessing – though it be a “besetting sin” I have committed time and again – it is like I have sinned for the very first time!!!  And when I confess this one to my Father, it will also be gonefrom my record, from my burden, from His memory!

I know He is God, and being God He is able to do things we can’t.  He chooses to forget our sins and iniquities, and He will never bring them to mind again.  We, on the other hand, do not have such powerful control over our minds!  But when we bring up our past sins, or our enemy reminds us of them, we can say with the authority of God’s Word, “My sins are gonepaid for by Jesus – and God doesn’t even remember them anymoreSo why should I?  I am Forgiven and Free!”

Forgiven and Free! – IV

April 10, 2013

Saint Paul was a Roman citizen, born so because his father was a citizen of Rome.  Although he was a dedicated Jew who strictly followed the Mosaic law according to Pharisaical standards, Paul also was well-versed in Roman culture.  And this shows forth in Colossians 2:13 through 15 (NKJV):

    And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
    He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
    having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which
    was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the
    cross.  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle
    of them, triumphing over them in it.

This gem, gleaming forth from its setting of Roman law, has done much for me in helping me realize I am Forgiven and Free!  Years ago I read a book by Hal Lindsey called Satan Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth.  In it he explains how Colossians 2:13-15 works out in the lives of Christians, and I am indebted to Mr. Lindsey for his research.  If you can find a copy of his book, read pages 201 through 204 to get his full explanation.

What is referred to above as “…the handwriting of requirements that was against us…” is called in the New American Standard Bible, “…the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us….”  You see, when a prisoner was convicted under Roman law, the court scribe would prepare a certificate of debt listing every crime for which the convict was guilty.  If incarcerated, this certificate of debt was hung on the cell door.  It remained there until the person had served his full sentence.  Upon release, the certificate was written over with the word meaning “It is finished”, then handed to the one set free.  Under Roman law, the debt was fully paid, and that person could never be charged with those same crimes again!

When a man was condemned to death by the Roman court, the most cruel method of execution was crucifixion, reserved for slaves, pirates and enemies of the state, and later for lower, non-Roman citizens.  When a man was so condemned, a certificate of debt was written out to be carried around his neck on the way to the crucifixion site.  Once there, that certificate would be nailed to the cross above the condemned person’s head.  All who passed by, could then read the crimes for which this one was being crucified.

Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, wrote out the certificate of debt for Jesus.  Eerdmans, The New Bible Dictionary, article on Superscription, says, “…the superscription [certificate of debt] is the placard, consisting of a board smeared with white gypsum and bearing in black letters the name of the condemned criminal and the offence for which he was being executed.”  Jesus certificate was written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew (Luke 23:38; John 19:20) proclaiming the heinous crime of the condemned Lord.  What was the crime?  From the four gospels, the complete inscription was, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”.  Jesus was (under official Roman law) crucified for treason against Caesar, the Lord having claimed to be King.

But there was another certificate of debt nailed to the cross, according to Colossians 2:14, and it was invisible to the human eye.  On it were written all the crimes of every human being against God – sins against His holy standard of perfection – and the Father was acutely aware of every one!  Being sins against God, they stood against us, separating us from the Father both now and forever.  But it is written that Jesus, “…having forgiven you all trespasses; having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us…. He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Now here is the summation:  Jesus died on the cross in our place.  He paid for the crime of our sins against God.  Those sins were and are paid in full!  What words did Jesus cry out?  They are recorded in John 19:30?  “It is finished”!  “It is finished” is over-written on the certificate of debt that listed your sins and mine!  Now, under Roman law (which, by the way, is the basis of western legal systems), no one – not us, not Jesus Christ, nor any other person – can be charged with those crimes again!  Legally, before God, our sins are gone!

Colossians 2:15 states, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”  Anytime Satan tries to accuse us before the Father, Jesus simply has to wave that fully paid certificate of debt before his evil face.  The devil has to slink away in defeat, a public spectacle to all the saints and angels in heaven!  He is a disarmed foe!  Jesus has triumphed!  The only way he can hinder you is if you don’t understand the victory Jesus won on your behalf!

It is finished”!  Why, on earth, should you or I be burdened down with sins that have been nailed to the cross and paid for?  Think about it – we are Forgiven and Free!

Forgiven and Free! – III

April 8, 2013

David wrote in Psalm 32:1 & 2 (NIV), “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him….”  Loosely translated, it means “You’ve got the happies when your sins are totally gone, when you don’t have to be burdened down with them anymore!”  For those who have felt the weight of their wrong-doings and mistakes through life – and you can’t seem to get rid of that weight – the happies too often are far away.  And, yes, happies is the right word here, since “Blessed…” in the Hebrew in verses 1 & 2 means happy in plural form – happies!

But the Lord doesn’t want us to be burdened down with our sins.  Jesus took them upon Himself when He hung on the cross.  It says in II Corinthians 5:21, He “…was made sin for us….”  He became both sin and sinner before the Father, and the Father poured out His full wrath upon the Son instead of upon us who deserved it!  We are forgivenWe are free!  So why do so many Christians  have such a hard time believing that – accepting that – and continue to carry those life-destroying heavy sins?

We looked at Psalm 32:1 & 2 and Psalm 103:12 in the last two blogs which show us we are Forgiven and Free.  Now let’s look at the gem of two more examples from Micah 7:19 (NIV):

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and
    hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

The two examples here come out of the same thing…

•    Compassion – In the Hebrew, the idea is to love someone with compassion.  It actually means to fondle, that is, as one would lift up and hold a child who needs attention.

The first example is actually couched in a military term, and it is seen more readily in the Authorized Version of Micah 7:19: “…He will subdue our iniquities…

•    Subdue – In the NIV it is translated “tread … underfoot….”  It means to tread down or conquer, subjugate.  It is what would be done with an enemy that was totally defeated.

Our sins have been tread by God underfoot as a defeated enemyOur iniquities have been subdued by God, totally conquered and subjugated under His feet!  So why do we dig them out of the dirt into which they have been God-stomped and carry them around with us, making us dirty and weighing us down?

The second example in Micah 7:19 is recorded thus in the NIV: “You will … hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  Do you know that the deepest part of the sea is the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean?  It has been measured in its deepest part at 36,201 feet!  That’s almost seven miles deep!  Mount Everest is almost five and a half miles in height. You could cut that mountain off at its base, turn it upside down and dump it into the Mariana Trench, and you would still have 7,175 feet of water – over a mile and a third of water – above it!!  And down there, somewhere in those dark and cold depths, our sins are buried, never to be seen again by man or God!  Corrie ten Boom, that great Dutch lady who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for helping to hide escaping Jews, wrote in her book, Tramp For The Lord, “When I confessed them [my sins] to the Father, Jesus Christ washed them in His blood.  They are now cast into the deepest sea and a sign is put up that says, NO FISHING ALLOWED.

If God won’t fish your sins out of the deepest part of the sea, and if man can’t ever locate them to bring them up, why should you still try to retrieve them and carry them around?  Let your sins be buried at the ocean bottom, deep in the Mariana Trench!

Christian, our sins are gone!  We are Forgiven and Free!  Live like it!