ADMIT IT

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” [Luke 18:11-13 (NIV)]

The man who is seriously convinced that he deserves to go to hell is not likely to go there, while the man who believes that he is worthy of heaven will certainly never enter that blessed place. [A.W. Tozer]

snowy egretA.W. Tozer’s words remind me of Jesus’s parable about the Pharisee and tax collector who prayed in the Temple. Acting as if God should feel grateful to receive his prayers, the Pharisee didn’t understand that he should be grateful that God listens! Rather than express thanks for God’s righteousness, power and majesty, the proud Pharisee thanked God for his own righteousness and then listed his virtues! Although it wasn’t required, he fasted twice weekly and was so fastidious about tithing that he tithed not just what was earned but also anything he acquired. If he were unsure that a farmer had tithed his produce, the Pharisee would tithe it again! Standing before God and proclaiming both his good works and his contempt for others (like the tax collector), the Pharisee is a perfect illustration of a man “who believes that he is worthy of heaven.” How wrong he was! Perhaps the Pharisee’s refusal to recognize his own self-righteousness was his biggest sin of all.

On the other hand, we have the tax collector. Standing apart, beating his breast in repentance, and feeling so contemptible that he couldn’t even look up, we find a man who clearly knew he was a sinner. Recognizing exactly who and what he was, the tax collector humbly came before God and, with a repentant heart, admitted his sin and begged for mercy.

When Jesus told this parable, He must have shocked his listeners. The Pharisee was considered the epitome of pious living and the tax collector of sinfulness. Jesus turned that comparison upside down when He said that it was the humble tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home with his sins forgiven.

It’s only when we’re sick that we see the need for a physician and only when we see our sinfulness that we see the need for a Savior. We must approach God as did the tax collector: by understanding our wickedness and the need for His mercy. The Pharisee didn’t understand that nobody deserves salvation and it can’t be secured by fasting, tithing or other good deeds. It is out of God’s love for his children that He generously saves those who repent of their sins. It is only when we know we’re sinners, deserving of hell and undeserving of God’s grace, that we are likely to find our way to heaven.

Don’t say that a loving God is going to send you to hell – He’s not. The thing that’s going to send you to hell is that you’re a sinner and you don’t want to admit it. [J. Vernon McGee]

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. [Luke 18:14 (NIV)]

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CHANGE OF ATTITUDE

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [Romans 12:18 (ESV)]

dilophosaurusThere was a bit of a kerfuffle behind us during church last week; it started during the Old Testament reading and continued to the Gospel. As best as I can figure, a bottle of water had leaked onto the pew. The women behind me sat on the damp cushion and made quite a production of detecting, discussing, and complaining about it first to her husband and then to her neighbor (whose water it had been). There was room enough to move down in that pew and plenty of other pews (with dry cushions) available, but the couple never moved. Nevertheless, throughout the rest of the service, I felt the woman’s breath on my neck every time she exhaled another loud sigh of misery.

Upon returning to our pews after receiving Communion, I realized she’d left church rather than go forward for the bread and wine. When her husband returned to the pew, I heard the woman whose water had spilled whisper her heartfelt apology once again. She asked what she could do to make it right. He casually said, “Nothing. Life happens; it was an accident and she has to get over it.” He then confided, “I’m sorry; she doesn’t handle things well.”

I thought of the story of David, Nabal, and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. David and his men were hiding from King Saul in the wilderness of Maon when they came across Nabal’s shepherds tending his 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats. Rather than stealing any animals for themselves, David’s men formed a line of protection around the shepherds and animals so that no harm came to them. At sheep shearing time, a time of celebration when the shepherds would get paid, David sent wishes of peace and prosperity to the wealthy Nabal. Explaining that he and his men had warded off both Bedouin raiders and predators, David asked Nabal to share some provisions with his men as payment for their protection. While their services had been unsolicited, David’s request was not unreasonable.

Nabal’s name meant “fool,” and the man lived up to his name; he not only refused but did so by insulting the slayer of Goliath. Upon hearing Nabal’s rude response, the angry David and his army headed out with the intention of killing every man in Nabal’s household. Fortunately, a servant told Nabal’s wife, Abigail, of David’s service and Nabal’s rashness in offending him. The wise woman quickly packed a large quantity of food and wine and went to David. Humbly apologizing for Nabal’s bad manners and offering the provisions to David and his men, she assuaged David’s anger and defused a dangerous situation.

I imagine Abigail frequently had to make amends for her husband’s churlish and stingy behavior and, from the way that husband handled the situation at church, I suspect that he is no stranger to apologizing for his wife’s peevish conduct. Living with someone who makes mountains from molehills, overreacts to minor annoyances, or takes every slight as a personal insult can’t be easy and I immediately prayed for him.

It was not until later that I thought to pray for his wife. It’s easy to pray for the Abigails and Abners—the long-suffering spouses—in situations like that. They have both our admiration and sympathy as they regularly repair any damage left behind by their spouse. After giving it more thought, however, I also prayed for his wife and others like her—the Nabals and Mabels of life. How sad it must be to go through life choosing misery over joy, tightfistedness over generosity, resentment over forgiveness, turmoil over peace, and complaint over praise. May we all be wary of behaving as a Nabal; it didn’t end well for him. When he discovered what his wife had done, Nabal had a stroke and died!

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. [Maya Angelou]

The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. …The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. …Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. [Proverbs 12:16,17:14,19:11 (ESV)]

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PERMANENT RECORDS

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:12 (NLT)]

I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again. [Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)]

great southern white butterfly

When I was a girl in elementary school, the teachers would speak ominously of our permanent records. While the threat that Santa knowing if we’re good or bad only worked during December, a teacher’s threat of, “This is going on your permanent record!” scared us into obedience the entire year! Perhaps elementary schoolers in the 1950s were more naïve than today’s youngsters, but my friends and I were convinced that each of us had a permanent record that logged test scores, grades, and attendance records along with every infraction or disciplinary action. Every time we used our outside voices inside, chewed gum in class, forgot the hall pass, passed notes, got in a spat, lost our lunch money, or were sent to the office, the transgression was documented for posterity. Passed from teacher to teacher and school to school, that record might even follow us from job to job.

Nowadays, the dreaded permanent record no longer may be a threat and yet, with social media postings, today’s youngsters are far more likely to have a real permanent record of their assorted transgressions than I ever was!

Fortunately, God doesn’t keep a permanent record of our transgressions. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid for our sins (past, present and future) once and for all. Once we repent and accept Jesus, our sins are both forgiven and removed. Erasing them from our permanent record, God chooses not to remember them. His forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean we’ll never sin; just as we didn’t get 100% on every test in school, we won’t do life perfectly. But, because of Christ’s sacrifice and our faith, our sins no longer have any bearing on our salvation. When we repent and ask forgiveness, God’s loving grace forgives us and yesterday’s mistakes have no bearing on today. God gets out his holy eraser again and again and wipes them away. Along with the Apostle Paul, we can forget what is behind us and look forward to what lies ahead.

If seven times a day we offend him and repent, does he forgive? Ay, that he does. This is to be unfeignedly believed, and I do believe it: I believe that, often as I transgress, God is more ready to forgive me than I am ready to offend, though, alas, I am all too ready to transgress. Hast thou right thoughts of God, dear hearer? If so, then thou knowest that he is a tender father, willing to wipe the tear of penitence away, and press his offending child to his bosom, and kiss him with the kisses of his forgiving love. [Charles Spurgeon]

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)]

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BE KIND

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailLast week, when Brandt Jean chose to offer his forgiveness and embrace the woman who killed his brother, he did it out of Christian love. Judge Tammy Kemp, moved by Brandt’s example, then handed the convicted murderer one of her personal Bibles and encouraged her to forgive herself. When the defendant asked her for a hug, the judge remembered a recent sermon about love and compassion and couldn’t deny her. Nevertheless, many people were outraged and turned their simple acts into political statements. They saw issues of race, civil rights, proselytizing, and something called “post-traumatic slavery syndrome” where there was only love, kindness, and forgiveness. Neither brother nor judge excused or absolved Amber Guyger of her crime; they simply extended compassion and forgiveness. Let us not forget that their actions were also in obedience to Christ!

This week, Ellen DeGeneres received backlash for sitting next to President George Bush at a football game. Responding to the outrage that a “gay Hollywood liberal” would sit beside “a conservative Republican president,” she pointed out that she is a friend to many who don’t have her same beliefs. The comedian added, “I think that we’ve forgotten that it’s okay that we’re all different.” In her own way, the comedian captured the essence of Jesus’s commands with her words, “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Last fall, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 80% of our population believes the nation to be either “totally” or “mainly” divided. Apparently, that’s just about the only thing Americans can agree upon except, of course, that most of those polled also believe that this divisiveness is the fault of the other side of whatever their ideology happens to be!

We are becoming a nation that views people through ideological eyes rather than the eyes of God. We see black or white, rich or poor, labor or management, rural or urban, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, friend or foe instead of seeing a human being. In his song Russians, Sting put it this way: “There is no monopoly of common sense on either side of the political fence. We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.” Whether or not we look like them, speak their language, come from the same background, believe the same things, or agree with their lifestyle doesn’t matter. They are people—people just like us, made in God’s image and precious in His sight.

The essence of Christian life is love and that love is active rather than passive. It isn’t just about turning the other cheek and not retaliating; it is about positive acts of kindness. As Christ’s followers, we must never hesitate to reach out in love to everyone (even those with whom we disagree). Moreover, as His followers, we must never be part of the divisive rhetoric that has become part and parcel of this day and age. The rules for conducting our lives were not written by man; they were written by God. The only side we should take on any issue is His!

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. [2 Timothy 2:23-25 (NLT)]

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. …If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! [Luke 6:27-28,32-33 (NLT)]

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ONCE AND FOR ALL – YOM KIPPUR

On that day offerings of purification will be made for you, and you will be purified in the Lord’s presence from all your sins. …This is a permanent law for you, to purify the people of Israel from their sins, making them right with the Lord once each year. [Leviticus 16:30,34 (NLT)]

goat

Today is the tenth day of Tishri (the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar) and the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. For our Jewish brothers and sisters, this day, with its themes of atonement and repentance, is the holiest one of the year.

The book of Leviticus describes the rituals the Israelites were to perform on this holy day every year. In ancient Israel, this was the only time the high priest could come into the Holy of Holies (the innermost sacred area of the tabernacle or temple) where the Ark was housed. Before he could come into the presence of God and the Ark to begin the ritual of atonement, he had to ritually cleanse himself from sin by bathing and dressing in spotless plain linen garments. He then atoned for his own sins and those of his family with the sacrifice of a bull.

Two unblemished male goats were taken from the community and lots were cast to determine which goat would be given to the Lord. The first goat was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark. This was the sin offering and made to appease the wrath of God and atone for the sins of the people. Then, having received forgiveness, the second goat was brought before the altar. As a way of transferring the sins of the people to the goat, the priest laid his hands on its head and confessed all of the peoples’ sins and transgressions. This goat, the “scapegoat,” was then sent out into the wilderness to carry those sins into the wasteland.

In this ceremony, the blood of the first goat ritually provided propitiation by appeasing God’s wrath and the second goat provided expiation by atoning for and removing those sins. This atonement ritual was to be repeated year after year. Without a temple in Jerusalem, there no longer are animal sacrifices or scapegoats, but Jews throughout the world continue to observe this day with about 25-hours of fasting, intensive prayer, and repentance.

Unlike the yearly sacrifice of goats, the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross had to be done only once. Christ was both our sinless high priest and the unblemished sacrifice. When He gave himself up for us, Jesus took God’s wrath upon himself as His blood dripped on the ground beneath Him. When He suffered and died on the cross, Jesus was both the propitiation and expiation of our sins for all time. By dying, this sinless man took on God’s wrath—the wrath we sinners deserved. Rather than take our transgressions into the wilderness, He “removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” for all time. [Psalm 103:12] Thank you Jesus!

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:22-24 (NLT)]

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HATTIE’S ADVICE

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)]

As I sorted through the papers that my mother-in-law had saved through the years, I came to a letter written to her in 1936 by her soon to be mother-in-law, Hattie. Hoping the young couple liked the mixer she’d given them, Hattie sent best wishes for a “long happy wedded life.” Wondering why such a mundane letter had been saved for 83 years, I read on. “May there be lots of love, joy and contentment in your home,” she continued, “forgiving each other as God forgives you.” Praying that my in-laws would have a long and “sweet contented life,” Hattie signed the letter “One who wishes you well in everything, Mother.”

Hattie’s prayers were answered; my in-laws were together for 68 years and, at least from my view-point, they did, indeed, live a “sweet contented” life. Could the secret to their marriage be hidden in Hattie’s advice to be forgiving? Is that why my mother-in-law had saved the letter?

I think of the story of a man who, when told by the doctor that he had an incurable case of rabies and but a few days to live, immediately got out paper and pen and started writing. When asked if he was composing his last will and testament, the man said he was making a list of everyone he wanted to bite! With an attitude like that, if the rabid man were married, I doubt that his was a happy marriage or that he lived a “sweet contented life.”

As I pondered my ability to forgive, I began to wonder how willing I was, not just to offer forgiveness, but also to ask for it. I’m not one to serve “cold shoulder and hot tongue” for dinner, give the “silent treatment,” or bring up past offenses but (and that’s a really big “but”), I also am not one who readily admits her failings. When I’ve committed the relationship sins of sharpness, impatience, pettiness, or indifference, I tend to assume forgiveness rather than apologize. Although my husband and I readily forgive one another, I think our relationship suffers if one or the other of us falls short and doesn’t admit it and apologize.

When we accept Jesus, all of our sins (past, present and future) are forgiven on a judicial or “positional” basis which means we will not suffer eternal damnation. Nevertheless, we should never take God’s forgiveness for granted or treat it as something we deserve. We must confess our sins for what could be called “relational” forgiveness in order to restore our relationship with Him.

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner calls unconfessed sins an abyss between us and God, adding that, once confessed, they become the bridge. I think Buechner’s abyss/bridge metaphor applies to our earthly relationships, as well. The prodigal’s father had already forgiven his son before the boy’s return but it was not until his son admitted the error of his ways that their relationship was restored. A certain amount of forgiveness is assumed in a family—husbands and wives forgive one another as do parents and children simply because love forgives. But, we must never take either the grace of God or the gift of forgiveness lightly.

Lord, give us forgiving and humble hearts. May we always be as willing to apologize and admit our errors as we are to accept both your forgiveness and that of others.

Few things accelerate the peace process as much as humbly admitting our own wrongdoing and asking forgiveness. [Lee Strobel]

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 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. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. [1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)]

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