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. [1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)]

Blackpoint - Lake Geneva WIMy grandmother lived in a beautiful large house. To the left of the foyer, behind closed French doors, was an elegant room she called the “drawing room,” but it wasn’t an artist’s studio where people drew. With its grand piano, silk draperies, formal furniture, and crystal chandelier, it was a room saved for entertaining special guests. Strategically placed near the front door, guests could go directly into it without passing through the rest of the house. As splendid as the room was, I never saw anyone in it; family and close friends always gathered in the “library.”

Instead of a drawing room, Aunt Ruby’s large farm house had a front parlor reserved for special guests (like the pastor). Close friends and family, however, always gathered on the front porch or around the farmhouse table in the kitchen. When I grew up, our special room for guests was called the living room even though we really lived in the den! Whether it was called a drawing room, parlor, living room, salon, or just the “good” room, many homes had a room set apart with the best furniture (sometimes covered in plastic) for company. This room was off-limits and kept pristine for special occasions and honored guests.

While we might conceal unfolded laundry or dirty dishes from guests, what do we keep hidden from God? Do we keep Jesus out of the dark corners of our lives and only allow Him into the “good” room? Do we hide our faults and weaknesses from Him the way we would unmade beds from a guest? Are we so ashamed of things both done and left undone or of the scars left by things done to us that we keep them hidden behind closed doors? Or, are we humble enough to open those doors, turn on the lights, and show Jesus everything there is, including our lapses, laziness, and lies? Do we trust Him enough to let Him see the mess left by our impatience, anger, and every stupid selfish decision we’ve made?

If our sins are forgiven, why do we need to confess them? Why do we need to let Jesus out of the parlor to see the real us? It’s not that He doesn’t already know what’s in the rest of our messy lives. Our sins were forgiven at the moment of salvation but it’s through confession that we lay claim to that forgiveness! By keeping Jesus in the pristine parlor, we’re denying, diminishing, concealing, excusing, or blaming others for our sins. Confession is trusting Jesus enough to let Him all the way into the house—into the dirty corners and locked rooms of our lives. Confession is how we build a relationship with Him and begin to be the people Jesus wants us to be. Don’t keep Jesus in the fancy drawing room; let Him into your heart!

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. [Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)]

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Bryce - UtahSince you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

Having worked in a garage as a teen, my husband enjoys those shows in which cars or motorcycles are renovated, restored or customized. Either the mechanics seek a wreck in the hope of restoring it to turn a tidy profit or a car’s owner brings in a vehicle for a rebuild. Derelict vintage cars and cycles are restored to their original glory in some of the shows while, in other programs, vehicles are upgraded and modified in truly remarkable ways

Turning rust-buckets into pristine collector cars of beauty or ordinary cars into extraordinary muscle machines is a little like what God does with us. Rather than just a little body work like buffing out a scratch, pin-striping, or filling a ding with Bondo, God does complete restorations like the ones done on shows like Fast N’ Loud or Counting Cars (only without the tattoos). Whether we know it or not, we’re as damaged as the rare E-type 1964 Jaguar left to rust in a barn for over forty years. Purchased for fifty thousand pounds, once restored, it was sold for four times that price. God, however, doesn’t have to buy us because Jesus already paid the price for us. Moreover, God isn’t concerned with turning a profit. Out of love for us, He does a complete overhaul, not to make us appear new, but to actually make us new!

As the original manufacturer, you can be sure God uses only OEM parts rather than aftermarket or recycled ones. No soul is too damaged, no job too hard and God won’t stop at something like a simple honesty fix when He sees a tough patience issue. He’ll get out His heavenly tool kit to work on a selfishness adjustment, replace the foolishness with godly wisdom, file down that vanity, and then get to work on that persistent case of pigheadedness. Even a pesky obedience problem can’t deter Him from His holy work. He’s not going to stop until we’re completely rebuilt.

When we accept Christ, we’re reborn or regenerated and taken from spiritual death to life. A momentary act, regeneration is the exclusive work of God. It’s like towing a broken-down car out of the junk heap and into the shop. The restoration part is called sanctification. TV’s restoration specialists usually have a deadline in which to complete their work but God’s sanctification work is never done; it’s a process that lasts a lifetime.

There is, however, another major difference between the car restorer and God. The mechanic doesn’t need the cooperation of the car to do his work. Sanctification, however, is a joint effort between God and us. We must do our part to mature and become more like Christ. As God continues His work in us through the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened in our continual struggle against sin. Because this process of putting away sin and putting on godliness never ends, we won’t be leaving God’s garage any time soon. It is only when we return to our rightful owner at Christ’s resurrection that we will be completely restored.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)]

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Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (MSG)]

Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past. [Henry Ward Beecher]

zebra longwingSeveral years ago, one of my children asked if, with the benefit of hindsight, would I do it all over again—leave school, get married at twenty, have three children, and be a stay-at-home mom. Admitting that I had no idea what marriage and motherhood entailed when I did it, I would have enjoyed having had a life of my own, a career, and an opportunity to live without parental responsibility. Nevertheless, I added, in spite of the sacrifices, challenges, and trials over the years, I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve lived or the children God gave me for anything.

Later, I thanked God for not telling us the future or giving us do-overs. Knowing how difficult life is and all that can go wrong, we’d be terrified to do anything. Moses might never have signed on had he known leading the Israelites was a forty year project and that he’d never even step into the Promised Land. Mary might have refused the angel had she known she’d have to flee to Egypt or watch her child die a gruesome death on the cross. Would Paul have become an evangelist if, when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he’d known ahead of time about the brutal whippings and beating, shipwrecks, hunger, poverty, arrests, imprisonments, and betrayals he’d endure for the Lord?

Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Far too often, this is a time of regrets and wishing we could start over again. We’re sure that, this time, we could do it better than the first go around. Granted, if Esau had hindsight, he might not have asked for that lentil stew and, if David had known the ramifications of bedding Bathsheba and killing Uriah, he wouldn’t have brought her to the palace. Had they known how it would end, Sampson wouldn’t have dallied with Delilah and Sarah wouldn’t have given Hagar to Abraham. Be that as it may, there is no doubt they would still have made mistakes, just different (and possibly worse) ones.

I remembered my son’s question when we did our annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart character) gave up his dreams to fulfill the dreams of others and, when life goes seriously awry, he wishes he’d never been born. After an angel shows him what life in his community would be like if his wish came true, George realizes what a wonderful life he actually had. As for me—someone else had that exciting professional life about which I once dreamed when I was a girl. Instead, God blessed me with a good man, three wonderful children, great in-laws, five delightful grands, and a life of real purpose, love and joy.

Are there parts of the past that, if given a choice, we’d have skipped? Of course! We all have endured heartache, trials, pain, loss, and wounds we never would have deliberately chosen. Moreover, we all regret things that we’ve done or left undone and the hurt we’ve caused others. Yet, our experiences, both good and bad, are what made us who we are today.

While God doesn’t let us hit the rewind button and start the same life over, he does give us a whole new life when we accept Jesus. Because of God’s grace and forgiveness, the old life is over, done and gone, and a new one has begun. For a Christian, because of God’s grace, every day is a new day, the beginning of a new year, and an opportunity to love better and live wiser than we did yesterday. Instead of regrets on this, the first day of the year, let us have faith—not in the new year but in the One who makes all things new. It is, indeed, a wonderful life and it can only get better. Thank you, God!

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year; it is that we should have a new soul. [G.K. Chesterton]

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. [Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)]

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Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. [2 Samuel 7:16 (NLT)]

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! [Luke 1:31-33 (NLT)]

angelSunday, we will light our Advent wreath’s fourth candle—the purple one known as the angel or love candle. We’ll read Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Samuel that David’s kingdom would continue forever. Although we know that David’s earthly dynasty ended some 400 years after Nathan’s words, God’s promise was fulfilled in Jesus—David’s direct descendant who now reigns forever. Jesus is tied to the Old Testament prophecies in two selections from Luke 1 in the angel’s words to Mary that her son, a descendant of David, would reign over Israel and His kingdom would never end and Mary’s beautiful song of praise known as the Magnificat in which she expresses her understanding that God is fulfilling His promises with the birth of her son.

Christmas celebrates the fulfillment of the promises God made to the people of Israel. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection initiated the new age promised by the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. The message of Advent, however, is that the story is not finished. Jesus must come again before the fullness of all that God promised will be realized.

We’re caught in what some theologians call the time of “already-and-not-yet.”  The Kingdom of God that arrived with Jesus is a present reality that we can experience right now but it also is the future reality for which we hope! Although the decisive battle against Satan, sin, sickness, and death has been fought and won, the enemy hasn’t surrendered and the war is not yet over. We must continue to fight Satan, resist sin, and endure sickness and death until the time Jesus returns! The King has come and His Kingdom is here but, even though His Spirit is within us and His joy and peace are ours, the story isn’t complete. Got Questions Ministries explains it this way: “The present spiritual reality does not yet match up with the future, physical reality. One day, the two will be in sync.” As we light this fourth candle of Advent, we will eagerly look forward to celebrating the birth of God’s Son, all the while remembering that the best is yet to come! “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”

We may say that in the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body. Yet we have only the firstfruits. We look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom of God, when we shall enjoy these blessings to the full. [Anthony Hoekema]

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. [Philippians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. [1 John 3:2 (NLT)]

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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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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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