THE SHADOW KNOWS

The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. [Proverbs 15:3 (NLT)]

black vultureAfter eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. Did they think God wouldn’t know what they had done and come looking for them? Did they really think trees could hide them or that fig leaves would cover their transgressions? We’re not much different. I remember when my brother used his questionable artistic skills to crudely enhance the illustrations in one of my mother’s favorite art books. Thinking she’d never look for it, he then hid the defaced book at the back of the bookcase. She, of course, did find it; like God, parents have a way of discovering our misdeeds!

While Adam, Eve, and my brother failed at hiding their transgressions, sometimes people appear to be successful at covering theirs. I have a friend with a “lead foot” who brags of talking his way out of numerous speeding tickets with such heart-breaking stories (none of which are true) that policemen are usually comforting him by the end of his tale. We all have ways of trying to conceal our wrongdoings, deny culpability, or avoid punishment. A word of caution: while our methods may work with people, concealment, rationalization, misrepresentation, and deceit will never work with God.

In the introduction to The Shadow, an old-time mystery radio program, this question was asked: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Said with an ominous laugh, the answer was, ”The Shadow knows!” At the end of each melodramatic episode, the Shadow’s eerie voice reminded listeners that, “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay…The Shadow knows!” While I have my doubts about the invincible crime fighter knowing what’s in our hearts, I know who does see the evil lurking there: God. We can hide, conceal evidence, lie, and deny responsibility, but we can’t fool God. We must never forget that He sees us all, all of the time.

Father, forgive us our sins and for foolishly thinking we can conceal them from you. Thank you for watching over us, for holding us accountable, and for your beautiful gift of forgiveness.

In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You. [Saint Augustine]

O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you. [Psalm 69:5 (NLT)]

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LAMB OF GOD

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. [Isaiah 53:7 (NLT)]

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29 (NLT)]

lamb of godAs I put away our various nativity sets until next December, I noticed they all include at least one lamb. Since shepherds came to see Jesus, it’s logical there would be a lamb or two in most depictions of Christmas. Nevertheless, as I packed up the figures, I thought about the shepherds and sheep visiting the child who was both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. That Jesus took on both roles is a bit of a paradox. The shepherd may have watched over the sheep but, in the end, his lambs were destined to be slaughtered for food or ritual sacrifice.

Nowadays, the whole concept of animal sacrifice seems alien and primitive to us but lambs were sacrificed to God as far back as Abel. Israel’s history as a nation began that first Passover in Egypt when they smeared lamb’s blood on the doorframes of each house. The sacrifice of a lamb as atonement for sin appears frequently in the Hebrew Bible and, of the 151 Old Testament references to lambs in my NLT, 125 are about their sacrifice to God. By Jesus’ time, the priests in the temple sacrificed a lamb every morning and night, on every Sabbath, and at the feasts of the New Moon, Trumpets, Tabernacles, Pentecost, Passover, along with other occasions. The purpose of these animal sacrifices was sanctification (to purify the people from sin), righteousness (to obtain right standing with God), and forgiveness. Being a perfect lamb without blemish did not bode well for a lamb and being the sinless Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world did not foreshadow a good ending for Jesus. Yet, “Lamb of God” is what John the Baptist called Him.

John’s words pointed to Jesus as being the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sins but I don’t think he grasped the full implication of those words. Until the very end, even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand that being the Lamb of God meant that Jesus would willingly submit and go “like a lamb to the slaughter” to suffer and die on the cross. There was however, only one way the Lamb could take away the sin of the world. For the one perfect and final sacrifice to remove man’s guilt and open the way to God, the Lamb’s blood had to be shed and His life relinquished.

Earlier I mentioned that being both the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God seems a bit of a paradox—that the one who cares for the flock couldn’t also be the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, however, turns our expectations upside down. In His world, the week are strong, the first must be last, we reign by serving, the greatest is the least, and we find our lives by losing them. Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God because, “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. …I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” [John 10:11,14-15]

Next December, when we set out our nativity sets and place the shepherd and lamb around the crèche, let us remember that, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus tends, protects and guides us and, as the Lamb of God, He defeated Satan by dying on the cross and taking away the sins of the world. The Lamb, however, is more than a sacrificial victim. In Revelation, John describes the victorious and very much alive Lamb, enthroned with God, serving as judge of God’s opponents, and praised by all creation!

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. [1 Peter 1:18-19 (NLT)]

And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”  [Revelation 6:12-13 (NLT)]

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THE HALL OF FAITH

It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:31 (NLT)]

red admiral butterflyThere are all sorts of halls of fame, honoring everything and everyone from astronauts to cowboys and hockey players, from blues music to rock and roll and country music. Even small town high schools have a wall of fame recognizing their outstanding graduates. The author of Hebrews selected a number of individuals to go in a Faith Hall of Fame. Pictured on its walls was an Old Testament all-star cast including Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Gideon, David, Samuel and Rahab. Hold it! What’s a prostitute doing in the company of kings, leaders, warriors, and prophets? It wasn’t their profession, however, that got these people selected for honor; it was their faith.

Considering that Rahab is an ancestress to Jesus, there are some who would prefer calling the pagan prostitute an innkeeper. Others, troubled by the implication of Joshua’s spies stopping at her house, would prefer the term innkeeper, as well. The Hebrew word used to describe her, however, was zonah, meaning harlot or prostitute. While Rahab’s house also may have served as an inn, she seems to have offered more than just a bed and breakfast to the men who stopped at her house. The reason the spies were there had nothing to do with Rahab’s profession; God led them to her as part of His plan. Moreover, it was a logical choice—her home was located in part of the city wall at the edge of the city and, with her steady stream of visitors, the spies’ presence could go unnoticed

Whether innkeeper, harlot, or both, Rahab knew all about the Israelites from her previous guests. She’d heard about their crossings of the Red Sea and the Jordan and their success in battle. When she told the spies, “The Lord your God is the God of heaven and earth,” she clearly recognized that the God of the Israelites, unlike the false gods of Canaan, was powerful. Recognizing the truth and acting on it, however, are two different things. This outcast woman took her life in her hands when she bravely defied the authorities and then relied on her enemies to save her. In faith, the prostitute became a traitor to her city and risked everything by trusting in a God about whom she knew very little. She bravely stepped out in faith and was rescued from a cursed city and a life of disgrace. In thanks for her assistance, she and her family were saved from Jericho’s devastation.

Rahab eventually married an Israelite, Salmon, and became the mother of Boaz, the man who married Ruth. Boaz and Ruth’s son (and Rahab’s grandson) was Obed who was Jesse’s father and Jesse was the father of David. Being King David’s great-great-grandmother places the once heathen harlot on Jesus’ family tree! Rahab’s history tells us that change is always possible and none of us need be stuck in a miserable shameful life. Regardless of the sins of our past, we can be saved and redeemed, forgiven and loved.

Rahab’s story of faith and redemption is just a preview of the grace of God seen in the New Testament. Our names never have to be recorded on a wall of shame; instead, our names can listed with the best of them in the great Faith Hall of Fame!

Free grace can go into the gutter, and bring up a jewel! [Charles Spurgeon]

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. [Hebrews 11:33-34 (NLT)]

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NOT GOOD ENOUGH

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. [Romans 3:23 (NLT)]

bindweedWhen I was in college, most of the girls in my sorority house played bridge. After watching a few games, newcomers would sit in and learn from the more experienced players as they played. We novices lost a lot of games in the process but, eventually, we became good players. One friend, however, wanted to start as an expert. She sat alone in her room with a deck of cards and a bridge book trying to teach herself. Unwilling to make rookie mistakes, she wouldn’t play a hand until she was a skilled player; that day never came. She wasn’t much different from the people who say they’ll join a gym once they’ve gotten in better shape; rarely does that day come either.

Bridge is an experience-based game; in order to get good at it, you have to be willing to be bad at first. No one starts by winning every hand just like no one begins at the gym as fit as ninja stunt-woman Jessie Graff or The Titan Games’ Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Even the legendary Charles Atlas started out as a “97-pound weakling.”

Just as feeling incompetent might keep us from playing a card game or feeling uncomfortable in spandex can keep us from the gym, being weighed down with self-judgment, shame and feelings of inadequacy can keep us from God and fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Some people think they can’t come to church until their lives are less messy or their addiction under control while others think they can’t join a small group or do a Bible study because they don’t know enough Scripture or are in the midst of a divorce. God doesn’t require life masterpoints to come to His table nor does He expect the power and strength of competitive athletes. Rather than a country club for saints, His church is a hospital for sinners!

Romans 3:23 confirms what we all know; we’re sinners and not a one of us meets God’s glorious standard. The enemy wants us to stop reading right there. Whispering, “You’re not good enough,” he wants us filled with regret, self-doubt, and guilt so that we’re unwilling to bare our shabby souls before God. He wants us to believe that we’ll never be good enough to enter God’s presence, come before Him with our prayers, enjoy fellowship with His Son, be His son or daughter, or eat at His table. The enemy is partially right; there’s nothing we can do on our own to be good enough. The work Jesus did on the cross would have no value if we could make ourselves learn, earn, or work our way into God’s presence! The good news is found in the rest of Paul’s letter to the Romans: it’s the power of Jesus that makes us good enough to come into God’s presence and do His work!

Good enough, however, is not perfect and we will continue to have shortcomings. Like playing bridge, walking with Jesus is experience-based and we’ll make plenty of mistakes in the journey. But, if we keep at it, we’ll get better. Like the trainer at the gym, Jesus welcomes us as 97-pound weaklings but He doesn’t expect us to stay that way. Like any trainer, He’s going to challenge us to become stronger and better. Remember, God loved us so much that He gave His only son for our salvation. If that’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me.

Why God should choose the meanest, basest, most unworthy individuals with absolutely nothing to commend them at all to God, except their miserable, lost condition, and then exalt them to become the sons of God, members of the divine family, and use them for His glory, is beyond all reason and human understanding. Yet that is grace. [M.R. DeHaan]

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. … Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. [Romans 8:1,32-34 (NLT)]

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LIKE A CANCER

So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. … Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord [Romans 7:17-20,24-25 (NLT)]

Sin is like a cancer that destroys step by step, sometimes so slowly we don’t realize what’s happening to us. [David Jeremiah]

cormorantA suspicious spot was removed at my annual dermatology appointment. When the biopsy indicated cancer, I had Mohs surgery to remove it. In Mohs, the tissue is sliced off in stages and examined by the pathologist to determine if (and where) any cancerous tissue remains. If it does, the surgeon removes the next layer of tissue, the pathologist examines it, and the process continues until no cancer cells remain. While it’s a time-consuming process, Mohs spares healthy tissue while eradicating all of the cancer.

I had a fair amount of time between slicing sessions to ponder how sin is like cancer. Although I look at my face every day, I didn’t recognize that little spot as anything dangerous and I think we’re like that with sin. A large raised red patch would have been easy to notice—the same way a big sin like murder or armed robbery is easily spotted. Small cancers like mine are not so obvious to the naked eye just like a spot of envy, smidgen of gossip, slight stretch of truth, or speck of flirtation can easily be ignored. Moreover, both skin cancer and sin look quite different from one person to another and it seems we’re more likely to notice defects in others than in ourselves!

Unlike skin cancer, which some people get while others never do, none of us truly can avoid contact with sin! Like cancer, sin is opportunistic; it’s just waiting for a chance to invade healthy tissue (and lives). Just as a little spot of unnoticed cancer can grow both deeper and wider so can a little overlooked sin. Fortunately, both cancer and sin are treatable when discovered early enough; they both can be deadly when not.

Although my physician kept my medical record, biopsy reports, and before and after photos, once our sins are forgiven God does not remember them. Being saved means that our confessed and repented sins are forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. Being saved, however, doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to struggle with our propensity to sin any more than having that one spot of cancer removed means I’ll never have another. Just as using sun block with a high SPF is no guarantee against skin cancer, being saved does not guarantee a sin-free life. While sin no longer reigns, like a stray cancer cell, it manages to survive and will try to destroy us.

A dermatologist and pathologist were needed to diagnose my cancer but a little prayerful reflection is all we need to find the sin in our lives. When we ask God to point out anything He finds offensive in us, we can be sure the Holy Spirit will make His voice heard. We go to a doctor to eradicate cancer but, to free us from sin, we go to the Great Physician: Jesus Christ! When a cancerous growth is excised, the doctors and nurses do all of the work but the work of cutting out the sin in our lives requires our effort. Granted, we’ll be empowered by the Spirit but it’s up to us to yield to God’s will and obey His word. While the Holy Spirit enables us to overcome sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions, it’s up to us to say “No!”

Christ is the good physician. There is no disease he cannot heal; no sin he cannot remove; no trouble he cannot help. He is the Balm of Gilead, the Great Physician who has never yet failed to heal all the spiritual maladies of every soul that has come unto him in faith and prayer. [James H. Aughey]

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:11-13]

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WHAT’S YOUR ORANGE?

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. [Luke 18:22-23 (NLT)]

orange“What’s your orange?” the teacher asked her remote learning class. Before having them answer, she explained the “monkey trap.” In Southeast Asia, hunters capture monkeys by drilling a hole in a pumpkin. The hole is just large enough for a monkey’s hand but too small for his fist. They secure the pumpkin to a tree, put a piece of sweet juicy orange inside the gourd, then retreat and wait. Eventually, an unsuspecting monkey comes along, smells the orange, and reaches through that small hole into the pumpkin. Once he’s grabbed hold of the orange, however, his fist can’t get back through the same hole. The monkey pulls and pulls but can’t free his hand. While he’s struggling to pull out his orange-filled fist, hunters easily throw a net over him. Not understanding that he can’t have both his freedom and the orange, he loses them both. After telling this story, the teacher again asked her students, “What is your orange? What is it you can’t release?”

This lesson was part of an expanded on-line curriculum at my grand’s high school. Its purpose is to address the emotional issues encountered by the teens in this strange time of social distancing and on-line classes. Whether the “monkey trap” is an actual technique or simply a parable, its lesson applies to Christians as well as pandemic teens. Do we have an orange (or two)?

We’ve all asked God to save us from one predicament or another but, after promising we’ll do anything He asks, we often add a condition to that prayer and tell God not to ask us to give up the “orange.” We’re deep in debt but we tell God not to ask us to sell the boat or downsize the house. When our marriage is in trouble, we tell God not to ask us to give up the internet flirtation or the nights out with the guys. We’re having ethical challenges at work but tell God not to ask us to give up the well-paid position. Like the orange, some things are a whole lot easier to grab than to let go!

Like the monkey, we’re often held hostage by whatever our “orange” is: whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or another addiction; an unhealthy relationship, money, possessions, or prestige; or emotions like resentment, worry, anger, arrogance, remorse, pain from past hurts, guilt, or self-doubt. Whatever we’re holding tightly in our heart keeps us from being truly free to enjoy the abundance and peace Jesus offers. Until we let go of that “orange,” there’s no room for God’s blessings.

The gospels tell of the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer that he must give away all his wealth makes us all uncomfortable. Does God really expect us to give away everything? Giving away all we possess, however, isn’t a universal requirement and Jesus didn’t ask that of anybody else. What Jesus asked the man to do was to give up the thing that possessed him: his orange. That’s what He asks of us, as well. Every person has his own “orange;” we must recognize it for the trap it is, open our hands, and let it go. The rich young ruler’s “orange” was his wealth; what’s yours?

If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. [William Law]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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