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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WHY HIM? (Zacchaeus – part 1)

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” [Luke 19:8 (NLT)]

The little ones at Sunday school love singing the song about the “wee little man” who “climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” While “wee little man” makes Zacchaeus sound somewhat endearing, if we were casting him in a movie, we’d hire the short man audiences love to hate: 4’10” Danny DeVito who, with his deep raspy voice, has specialized in playing mean-spirited ruthless people. Zacchaeus was a tax collector (publican) and could have been the poster boy for corruption in Judea. Under Roman rule, people bid on the right to collect taxes. While publicans had to pay a fixed amount to Rome, in lieu of salary, they could charge far more than required and keep the difference for themselves. As the chief tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus got a share of everybody’s taxes and had become a rich man.

Although Jewish, a publican was excluded from Jewish social life. Considered unclean, he was made to stand with the Gentiles at the Temple. Despised by both the Romans and his fellow countrymen as a corrupt collaborator, Zacchaeus may have been rich but it’s hard to think he was very happy.

By this time in Jesus’s ministry, our Lord had attracted quite a following and a crowd of people surrounded Him as He entered Jericho. Whether it was a guilty conscience, discontent, or simply curiosity, Zacchaeus wanted to see this unusual rabbi. Perhaps the miserable man had heard that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and other sinners. Unable to see over the heads of those in front of him, the little man unsuccessfully tried to make his way through the crush of people. As disliked as he was, there may have been a few extra shoves and elbow jabs as he was jostled by the crowd. Determined to see Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed up into a tree to get a better look when He went by.

The children’s favorite part of the Zacchaeus song comes when they point their fingers, and call (as did Jesus), “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today!” I don’t think the children wonder why Jesus chose this man but I’m sure the people of Jericho did! Picture a crowd following someone like the Pope. Imagine their shock if he stopped his motorcade and called into the crowd, “Bernie Madoff, come over here. I must come to your house today!”  Why would someone as holy as the Pope want to spend time with the notorious Ponzi schemer who bilked thousands out of billions? Stunned, the crowd around Jesus was asking a similar question, “Why would the good rabbi pick out Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, and want to spend time with him?”

Perhaps, out of all of those people looking for a Messiah to save them from Roman rule, Zacchaeus was the only one who saw the need for someone to save him from sin! Jesus hadn’t come for the self-righteous; He came for the ones who knew they were unrighteous. Rather than the self-satisfied, Jesus came for the lost. Like the publican in Jesus’s parable about the Pharisee and tax collector (found in Luke 18), Zacchaeus knew who and what he was: a sinner in need of redemption.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. [Luke 18:13-14 (NLT)]

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TRUE LOVE

Love never gives up. Love never cares more for others than for self. Loves doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (MSG)]

8-19-1967When I married my husband, I was only twenty years old. Although I would never have admitted it then, I had no real concept of what true love actually entailed or the seriousness of the vows I was taking. Standing in front of a minister and 200 guests, I promised to “love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health” and to forsake all others. I vowed, from that day forward, to “have and to hold…for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and to love and cherish him until we parted at death. I said those words without the vaguest understanding of just how bad “for worse” could get or how little money “for poorer” might be. I didn’t consider that sickness would mean much more than a case of the flu or how long it could be until death would separate us. Having known each other for less than a year when we wed, neither of us had any idea how difficult it actually is to cherish someone whose words or actions hurt us or with whom we disagree. I doubt we’re the only ones who entered into marriage so naively.

Today is our anniversary and, in the fifty-two years since our wedding day, we’ve experienced good and not so good times, periods of plenty and sparseness, illness and well-being, tragedy and joy, fullness and emptiness, anger and forgiveness, excitement and tedium, labor and leisure, turmoil and peace, discontent and satisfaction. We know from experience that it’s not always easy to love, comfort, honor, forsake, and cherish.

We used to joke that we only stayed together because of the children (neither of us wanted custody of them) and the grands (neither of us would risk losing them)! But, that isn’t it. Paul’s words about love in 1 Corinthians 13 were read at our wedding and those words have guided us ever since that day. Early in our marriage, we realized that love is more than a feeling; it isn’t something one falls into or out of. Love is a conscious choice and one we choose to make every day. None of us are loveable all of the time; we can, however, choose to be loving all of the time!

Father in heaven, let your love fill our hearts and lives. Thank you for giving us people to love, comfort, honor, and cherish. Thank you also for placing people in our lives who somehow manage to love, comfort, honor and cherish us, as well. Shower your blessings upon them.

O God … look mercifully upon these thy servants, that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace. [From the Solemnization of Matrimony in “The Book of Common Prayer” (1952)]

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13:13b (MSG)]

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