Saturday, May 27, 2017

It is finished

In Bible days, when a bill had been paid, the creditor wrote “It is finished” across the invoice. This is significant because each sin is a debt to God. However, when Jesus died on the cross, He loudly declared, “It is finished!” The price or penalty for all sin was paid. At this amazing grace, I weep.

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:24–28)

Christ bore my sin. His sacrifice was made once — to cover it all: past, present, future. The debt is paid, it is finished. How can I respond to this? The psalmist poured out praise . . .

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:1–14)

As today’s devotional reading says, Jesus Christ came into the world for this express purpose: to redeem hopelessly sinful people and put away our sin. He came to establish peace between us and God by the sacrifice of Himself.

Do I realize the evil of sin? This morning’s news verifies its reality. Sin says ‘no’ to God and by doing so, sinners so easily slide from pride in their own righteousness into unspeakable evils. Read the headlines. Humanity tries to rule itself and what is happening with that?

It starts at birth with ‘I want what I want when I want it.’ Good parents try to train selfishness out of their children, yet it pops up again and again. Why would a child grow up to be a terrorist, or a rapist, or a drug runner? It is the sin that we are born into, and even if that child never goes that far, doing my own thing and ignoring God is still sin, no matter how I strain at self-righteousness.

All the costly sacrifices in the Old Testament could not finish sin. Religious zeal and devotion cannot finish sin. Not even repentance, faith and a holy life can do it, nor can suffering the wrath of God in eternity do it. But the Lord Jesus Christ did it! By His one all-sufficient, perfect and eternally sufficient sacrifice at Calvary, the Son of God has put away all sin forever! It is finished.

There is only one remaining sin, the sin of rejecting Jesus and what He has done. That one seems to prevail, yet it is possible to be finished with it also. All it takes is a simple ‘yes’ from a heart that wants its sin to be done with, totally finished.

Lord Jesus Christ, what can I say to this? You have removed my sin. I stand before God, not in my own righteousness, but in You, and in all that You are. My debt is paid, my sin is finished, even what I may do next week is already crossed off the ledger. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless Your holy name!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rattling off those prayers?

God knows my heart when I am send up prayers that sounds like every other prayer, that ask for the same things without thinking about what I am saying. These are usually prayers of duty and not a matter of genuine appeal to God. People who pray regularly know what I mean.

Sometimes people pray with flowery language, hoping to impress others, wanting to be seen and admired for being pious. Jesus spoke against both kinds of praying . . .  

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them . . . . And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

He followed this admonition with, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:1–15)

Jesus warned His disciples not to fall into prayer as a repetitive duty or as a means of impressing those who heard them pray. Instead, He told them to come before God in secret if need be. Their praying was a conversation with God, not a performance.

He warned about repetition, yet did not forbid repeatedly praying the same request. On another occasion, He illustrated prayer with a story of a man who went to a friend late at night because he needed to borrow bread. The friend replied: ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?

Jesus said, “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:5–10)

This kind of persistent prayer comes from a burdened heart and a sincere need, not from repeating meaningless or silly words. For instance, I’ve heard prayers that repeat the Lord’s name in every sentence. While the praying person means well, we don’t normally talk like this . . .  George, will you hear me, George? I have this burden in my heart, George, and know that you, George, are the only one who can take it away. George, please hear me out, George . . .

I don’t talk to others without thinking about my words — why then do it in prayer? Jesus said that unbelievers did it to impress others. That is shameful. I don’t pray to people but to Almighty God. He is worthy of my full attention.

The prayer Jesus taught His disciples is really an outline for prayer, an example of the content that should be included and the attitude I should have while I pray. I’m to honor His name, desire the fullness of His Kingdom and that His will is done. I acknowledge that He rules and am in submission to His will. I also ask for daily needs, forgiveness of sin, protection, and so on, praying with reverence and thinking about His glory.

Sadly, the ‘Lord’s prayer’ is often prayed with mindless repetition, just as Jesus warned. We prayed it in school (back in the days before prayer was illegal), at weddings, at funerals, even in the morning and at bedtime, but often without thinking what we were saying, or that we are talking to God, our Creator and heavenly Father.

Jesus, I’ve often prayed because I knew I should, talking to You from a list of requests and usually saying, “God bless so-and-so . . .” without thought of what that person needed, or what You might want for them. Thank You for putting up with that bad habit, and for helping me learn to sincerely converse with You — fully engaged and aware of who I am talking to — and that You are not only listening but sharing Your thoughts with me.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Is there a ‘worst’ sin?

God does not think the same way I think. In my mind, the people responsible for bombs and destruction of young lives will suffer the very worst condemnation because that is such a horrible sin. But that is not what His Word says.

The big picture is that everyone sins because we are all sinners. Sin is going our own way, which can lead us to simple ignore God or far worse. Either way, sin is sin and not measured like we measure it.

However, John 3:16 is wonderful. It says God loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world so our sin could be forgiven and we could receive eternal life. Yet even this well-known verse has a caveat: God’s holy nature cannot tolerate sin and merely save sinners. Something must change — our attitude toward Him and toward sin. This pivotal point is about who we trust, not about sinning less and less.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17–18)

“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:35–36)

Today’s devotional from Donald Fortner is strong. He says that the greatest sin in all the world is the sin of unbelief. I agree. The Bible is clear that God can and will forgive any sin, even the worst we can do or imagine, but not that one. Since our salvation is based on believing in the Son, there is no salvation for those who refuse to do so.

Fortner says that unbelief makes God a liar. Unbelief says the gospel is a lie. Those who do not believe it have determined that the Son of God is not worthy of their trust. Unbelief exposes a prideful distain of God. It says, “I will do as I please. I will be religious (or not) as I please. I do not need Jesus.”

Here is where faith in Christ slams against my natural inclination. I assume horrid sins ought to fall under the wrath of God more than other sin, and normal people caught in the blast of horrid sin do not seem to fit in the same category. Human judgment assumes that those who do the unthinkable evils in this world are worse sinners than those who simply go about their lives without God.

However, this is not what Jesus said. Again, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God . . . Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

My eternal destiny is not about my sins of word and deed because they can be (and are) forgiven. It is decided on the basis of faith, on the basis of what I do with Jesus Christ.

The stock response is: “But what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” My response is: God knows the human heart. If a sinner acknowledges their sin and their need of salvation, God is perfectly able to reveal to that person whatever they need to know and believe. Evangelism is important, but it is also useless without the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is not limited; He can save whoever calls out to Him.

Jesus, my desire for justice so easily overrides Your desire for faith. I know that folks who go deep into sin are abhorrent to You, but also realize that those who merrily go their way without giving You a thought are in grave danger as well. No matter if I rate sins on a scale — unbelief is the universal sin. Give me a broken heart for the lost, whoever they are, but also the ability to hope. Help me to speak up when I must, but to trust You — I cannot open hard hearts. Also, keep me aware that without You, we are all under the same condemnation, but with Your grace, whosoever will may come and receive the gift of everlasting life.