THE ANCHOR

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. [Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)]

duluth MN harbor - anchorThe sign in front of a nearby church read, “Our hope is anchored in the Lord,” which got me thinking about anchors. I’d never given them much thought until we took a Windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine many years ago. Accompanied by four friends and a crew of two, we sailed for a week. At dusk, we’d lower the sails and anchor in a harbor for the night. After breakfast, we’d pull up anchor for another relaxing day of sailing by lighthouses, granite cliffs, fishing villages, and even a few seals. One day, however, gale force winds replaced the gentle breeze and the calm sea turned violent. The sky darkened as rain and hail poured down on us. We immediately pulled into the nearest inlet, lowered the sails, and dropped two anchors to keep from being blown into the rocks! If we’d had two more anchors (as did the sailors in Acts 27), I suspect we would have dropped them, as well. After donning my life jacket and slicker, all I could do was pray and hope those anchors held. You really don’t appreciate the worth of an anchor until you’ve needed one in a storm!

Since the anchor symbolized hope in the ancient secular world, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews would have understood the author’s use of the anchor as a metaphor for hope. It is a vivid picture of what keeps us steady and safe in the storms of life—times of trial, danger, hardship, anxiety and uncertainty. An anchor, however, is only as secure as that to which it is fastened. The anchor of hope is not buried in sand or hooked onto a rock that might pull loose. The believer’s hope in Christ is secure, because it is fixed in the very presence of the Almighty.

When the epistle writer says that hope “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary,” he’s referring to the Holy of Holies—the inner room of the Temple holding the Ark of the Covenant. Only the high priest could go into this holy place (anyone else would be killed). The priest entered just one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only to offer a blood sacrifice. The Holy of Holies was the special dwelling place of God and the curtain emphasized His inaccessibility because of man’s sins. When Jesus died, the curtain tore in half, symbolizing that the way to God was now open to all.

Just as a boat’s anchor holds it safely in position, a Christian’s hope keeps him safe and secure. Like an anchor, God will keep us steady in the storms of life—when the wind of fear blows, suffering rains down, opposition crashes into us, trials threaten us, and uncertainty rocks us to and fro. A boat’s anchor goes down and digs into the bottom of the sea but a Christian’s hope goes up to the heavenly sanctuary and attaches itself to God!

What an anchor is to a vessel in its tossings, so the hope is to us in our times of trial, difficulty and stress. The anchor is outside the ship, is connected with it, and keeps it secure. [W.E. Vine]

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. [Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)]

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

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FORGIVENESS CAME FIRST (Part 3)

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronIn all three accounts of Jesus healing the paralytic whose friends carried him to the Lord, Jesus forgave the man before healing him. While the combination of both forgiveness and healing demonstrated Jesus’ power over both sin and disease, His offer of forgiveness before healing might lead us to think there is a causal relationship between sin and sickness or forgiveness and physical healing.

Connecting sin with disease goes as far back as Job and their cause-and-effect/retribution theology is part of what got Job’s friends in trouble with God. Nevertheless, associating calamity and suffering with sin continued to be a common point of view in 1st century Judah. Thinking sin and misfortune related, even Jesus’ disciples asked Him whether it was the sins of the blind man or his parents that caused him to be born sightless. Jesus’ answer clarified that sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness. Later, when Jesus heard about Pilate’s ruthless execution of some Galileans, He made it clear that the murdered men, like eighteen others who died when a wall collapsed on them, were no worse sinners than any other people. Rather than explaining the why of such tragedies, Jesus pointed out that all people are sinners—sinners who should repent so they’re ready for the eternity following their unpredictable lives.

While illness can be caused by God (as it was in the case of King Uzziah’s leprosy, Nebuchadnezzar’s madness, and Herod’s worms), we must remember that we live in a fallen world. While all suffering is due to man’s fall into sin, not all suffering is because of a specific sin on the part of that individual. While some afflictions may be the specific consequences of sin, for the most part, sickness is just part and parcel of living in this fallen world of ours—a world where all creation “groans” under the consequences of our sin.

By forgiving the paralytic before healing him, Jesus wasn’t implying his paralysis was the direct result of his sins. Rather than seeing a man with a paralyzed body, Jesus saw a man with a troubled heart whose greatest need wasn’t mobility but forgiveness! What good would the ability to walk do for a man who remained spiritually broken? The paralyzed man’s most pressing need was forgiveness and, regardless of our physical ailments, forgiveness is our most pressing need, as well. Jesus didn’t die to heal our bodies; He died to heal our souls!

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. [Ephesians 1:6-7 (NLT)]

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. [Psalm 103:2 (NLT)]

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HE FORGAVE (Part 2)

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” [Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV)]

roseWhen Jesus forgave the unnamed woman’s sins, he caused quite a stir among the Pharisees and religious leaders who were His fellow dinner guests. People can forgive an offense against them, but they can’t forgive an offense against someone else or God! While I can forgive your $10 debt to me, I have neither the right nor the power to say you don’t have to pay the $150,000 you also owe the Bank of America, Sallie Mae, Capital One and Chase for your mortgage, college loan, car financing, and credit card purchases. A person can’t do that but God can! Because only God has the authority to forgive people’s sins, implied in Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman’s sins, is a claim that He is God.

This wasn’t the only time Jesus shocked the Pharisees by forgiving sins. On another occasion, a paralyzed man’s friends brought him to Jesus for healing. When Jesus told the man, “Your sins are forgiven,” the religious leaders accused Him of blasphemy. The Hebrew Scripture made it clear that only God has the prerogative to pronounce forgiveness. The book of Leviticus laid out an elaborate temple system of offerings for intentional and unintentional sins, with different animals offered for different kinds of sins. Every year, there was a special Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, with its elaborate forgiveness ritual in which the nation’s sins were paid for with the sacrifice of a goat and the people’s forgiven sins were laid on another goat (the scapegoat) and sent into the wilderness. To the Pharisees, Jesus daring to pronounce forgiveness without being a high priest or making a sacrifice was a blasphemous claim to divinity. His actions would have been blasphemous had He not been God. As both the Great High Priest and the final sin sacrifice, however, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law.

Knowing their concerns, Jesus addressed the religious leaders and asked whether it was easier to pronounce forgiveness or heal. He then told the man to pick up his mat and go home! As the man arose and started walking, the crowd was astonished. By healing the man, Jesus confirmed His authority to forgive. The physical healing was as much for the religious leaders as for the paralytic. Although the man’s forgiveness couldn’t be proven or disproven, his healing was obvious to all and there was only one being who could both forgive sins and heal broken bodies—God!

Jesus’ healings were observable acts that identified Him as the Messiah and yet the very people who should have recognized Him seemed to deliberately turn a blind eye and deaf ear. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, or a voice to the mute, He was fulfilling Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy of salvation made some 700 years earlier.

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. [Isaiah 35:4-6 (ESV)]

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THE UNNAMED WOMAN (Part 1)

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. [Luke 7:37-38 (ESV)]

hibiscusWhen entering someone’s home, while we might be offered some hand sanitizer or asked to remove our shoes, none of us expect the host to provide us with water to wash our feet. Back in Biblical times, however, hospitality was quite different. No one wore socks and the shoes and sandals bore little resemblance to the Nikes, Tevas, and Keens of today. Between the dusty roads and the oxen, horse, donkey and camel droppings on them, people’s feet were filthy. Foot washing was an expected sign of hospitality and a good host always offered water so a guest could wash his own feet. If the host were rich enough, his servant did the washing and, if the guests were honored enough, the host might do the washing. For example, both Abraham and Lot offered foot washing to their heavenly visitors and, before feeding them, Laban provided Abraham’s servant and men water for foot washing. On the last night of His life, Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples.

More than just a common courtesy, foot washing showed acceptance of the guest and the absence of any hostility on the part of the host. Anointing one’s guests with oil was another act of hospitality, honor, and respect. The most intimate form of greeting was an embrace and a kiss—the way way Laban greeted Jacob and Jonathon and David greeted one another. Simon the Pharisee, however, was not a gracious host and violated the customs of hospitality. Although he invited Jesus to dinner, he offered no foot washing, oil or embrace. I suspect his motive for the dinner invitation wasn’t to learn more about Jesus but rather to demean the itinerant rabbi. Even if Jesus had been a mere man, Simon’s behavior was inexcusable. Jesus, however, was the Son of God. The Messiah had come for dinner and Simon had insulted him in the most disrespectful and offensive way possible.

The Pharisee’s dinner party was disrupted by an uninvited guest—an unnamed woman who was “a sinner.” Hers must have been a notorious life since Simon knew her reputation. It was this woman, a woman with a sinful past, who washed Jesus’ feet, not with water, but with her tears. Then, in a remarkable act of both humility and intimacy, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with her perfume.

The woman who knew she was a sinner demonstrated her love and faith in Jesus when the Pharisee, who was unwilling to recognize and admit his sinfulness, couldn’t recognize the Messiah sitting at his table. What an extraordinary contrast—the sinner who honored Jesus who was forgiven and the self-righteous Pharisee, blind to his own sins and disrespectful of Jesus, who was not.

The unnamed sinful woman performed an unselfish act of worship by pouring out her most precious possession and offering both her tears and love. Perhaps it is no mistake that her name is not recorded. Without an identity, she represents each and every one of us. When we come to Jesus as humble and repentant sinners, He will welcome us as graciously as He welcomed her and He will forgive us as generously as He forgave her.

If you could see what I once was, If you could go with me
Back to where I started from Then I know you would see.
A miracle of love that took me In its sweet embrace
And made me what I am today, Just an old sinner… saved by grace.
[Mitch Humphries, William and Gloria Gaither]

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [Luke 7:48-50 (ESV)]

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JOB’S LAMENT (Part 2)

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. [Psalm 22:1-2 (RSV)]

taos NMYesterday, I wrote about Job’s lamentation. 19th century bible scholar George Granville Bradley said this about Job 3: “Where in the world will you find a sadder strain of more hopeless, uncontrolled, and unbroken lamentation and mourning? … Filled to the brim, they run over with pain.” I have to agree.

Nevertheless, as sad as that chapter is, there is beauty in its words. Job’s anguished speech lets us know that it’s okay to express our emotions. It tells us that God doesn’t expect us to stoically maintain silence in the face of tragedy and pain. Job’s words, like those in the many psalms of lament, are the anguished cries of a faithful believer—someone who can uninhibitedly express his pain and grief to God.

Job’s lament, however, is not a laundry list of grievances. He’s not complaining about his sudden poverty, that no one will carry on his name, his loss of status, or going into gory detail about his physical maladies and grumbling that scraping his skin with potsherds brings no relief. Rather than an account of his misery, grief, and misfortune, his is simply a cry to escape his suffering. When God finally speaks to Job, He doesn’t take the man to task for his honesty in pouring out his deepest emotions; it is for accusing God of acting unjustly and questioning His wisdom.

Faith in God and despair in our situation are not incompatible. Out of the 150 psalms, one third are considered psalms of lament. Considered a man after God’s heart, David is credited with writing 73 psalms and many of those are laments. Clearly, ours is a God who allows us to be brutally honest with Him as we voice our anger, distress, fear, anguish, frustration, doubt, shame, heartache, and disappointment.

For some unknown reason, David felt that God has abandoned him in Psalm 22 and he echoed Job’s question of “why?” These same words were repeated by Jesus as He hung on the cross and, in His torment, cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Jesus was sinless, which means His anguished words were not sinful; feeling God is absent is not the same as believing it. Like Job and David, Jesus was calling out to God in His misery but their words of lament didn’t mean they’d lost faith in God. They wouldn’t have called out to God in their despair had they not believed their words would reach God’s ears!

As happened with Job, one moment it can seem like God is smiling down at our lives when, suddenly, life goes down the tubes and it seems like God has turned His back on us. Feeling abandoned and alone in our suffering and sorrow, we must never be afraid to express our heartfelt emotions to the God who created us with the ability to have those very emotions! Dark and silent brooding turns us inward and away from God while expressing our shock, grief, and despair turns us outward toward Him!

Let us never be hesitant to approach the Lord in our tears and despondency. A child instinctively calls out to a parent when he’s hurting, sick, frightened, or lost; we should be no different. Rather than a denial of our Father in Heaven, a lament directed toward Him is both a plea for help and an affirmation of His presence and power.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. [Psalm 55:22 (RSV)]

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. [1 Peter:5:6-7 (RSV)]

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CURSE THE DAY! (Part 1)

Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? [Job 3:10-11 (NLT)]

baby feetAfter Satan took Job’s loved ones and wealth, the grieving man remained a pillar of patience and faith. Rather than blaming God, the stoic man acknowledged God’s sovereign authority saying, “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” [1:21]

Things took a turn for the worse when Satan attacked Job’s body. With boils from head to foot, Job’s body was covered with scabs, pus oozed from his sores, his skin was black and peeling, and maggots fed on him. As if that weren’t enough, the man suffered from insomnia, nightmares, fever, and pain in his bones. His symptoms sound as horrific and deadly as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever.

When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, the faithful man responded, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” [2:10] Although he seemed resigned to his fate, the despondent Job came dangerously close to falling into Satan’s trap when, in Job 3, he questioned God’s wisdom in giving him life.

I can understand someone like Job, someone suffering terribly who sees no end to the misery, wishing for a quick end to his life and praying for the release offered by death. What I find difficult to understand is Job’s wish that he’d never been born. Cursing the day of his birth and the night of his conception, the despairing man literally wished his life erased from its existence.

Until Satan’s attack, Job’s life appears to have been picture perfect for decades. With his many servants and more than 10,000 head of livestock, he was the richest man around. The father of seven sons and three daughters, he probably had numerous grandchildren. The family regularly gathered together for long feasts so they must have enjoyed each other’s company. A prominent man, well-respected in the community, Job was principled, generous and charitable. In spite of having everything his heart desired, Job’s heart remained set on God and the Lord called him, “the finest man on earth…blameless…a man of complete integrity.” [1:8] Yet, by cursing his very existence, Job wanted to obliterate all the blessings and joy that existed between his birth and his affliction.

In his pain, Job forgot about growing up in a loving home, playing with his brothers and sisters, the bliss of young love, the wonder of touching his wife’s belly and feeling his unborn child move, the delight of holding his children in his arms, the laughter of his family, the satisfaction that came from being able to right a wrong or help the poor, and the joy of bouncing a grandchild on his knee. If he’d never been born, he would have missed sunrises and sunsets, the taste of grapes, the sound of birds’ songs, the pleasure of a kiss, and the joy of praising the Lord. Although Job began his story as a sterling example of accepting of God’s will when disaster strikes, cracks developed in his spirit as his suffering intensified.

Job’s outburst of despair, however, does not mean that Satan won. While Job cursed his day of birth, he never cursed God. Moreover, even though he wondered why people who longed for death continued to live, Job never considered suicide. Because he operated on a false retribution theology, Job believed that God had forsaken him. Rather than losing faith in God, he lost faith in himself.

For many of us, these last several months have challenged our physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial resources and, like Job, we may feel overwhelmed by all that has beset us. Job lost perspective; let us not do the same. God did not forsake Job and He has not forsaken you! We must never forget our past blessings or rue the day of our birth. After all, had we never been given life, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know Jesus, be born again, or enjoy eternal life!

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! [Psalm 43:5 (NLT)]

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