Your Conscience. Does It Condemn You?

April 30, 2019

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,  how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit  offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our  consciences from dead works to serve the living God?  Hebrews 9:13-14

Any of us who have lived with a guilty conscience know the relentless nagging that isn’t easily silenced.  There is only one cure for it – the blood of Christ.  Yet, we try all other cures.  I know really well of which I speak.  I tried them all.

  • I tried to just do better and not commit the same sin over again.
  • I tried to not let guilt dominate my life. I drowned my shame with distractions.
  • I tried to convince myself that I should make it up to God by performing better.
  • I tried to pinpoint why I felt guilty but thought of nothing. Guilt persisted anyway.
  • I soaked in the guilt of false accusations and believed other’s anger must be justified.

Feeling guilty can have so many roots and not all of them provide concrete evidence that there should be guilt. For instance, living with a blamer and developing an overly sensitive guilt trigger is one dynamic that produces false guilt.  But the context of this scripture is to underscore the cure for a justifiably guilty conscience.  Sin was committed and the bigger the offense, the more difficult it is to believe that God forgives and that’s that.  By faith, I must believe that the blood of Christ has cleansed me of all sin.  The past is forgiven and this day is a day permeated with God’s mercy.  It’s a new clean slate.

Does a guilty conscience have anything to do with evangelism?  Could it be that the person I’ve been sharing Christ with is impaired to see Jesus and believe because his own conscience has failed him?  The answer is emphatically yes!  As long as a person has not repented of his sin, the result is layers upon layers of deception.  His conscience is in one of three states; unreliable, absent, or seared.  Without the blood of Christ being pleaded for on his behalf, he will not be able to see his sin clearly. While ‘pleading the blood of Jesus’ yields many powerful results, the most astounding to me is the power of His blood to affect a skewed conscience, rectify its reasonings, and then cleanse it from all effects of deception.  The reason we do it for someone else is to give him an opportunity to see his sin clearly – as God sees it – and then repent.

You may be one who feels guilty today but you actually are not.  Or, you may be one who should feel guilty for something unrepented but you actually don’t.  Consciences, in and of themselves, are not reliable rudders unless they have been cleansed by the blood and then are submitted to the mind of Christ.  Only He can reveal our sin to us.  The One who knows if we sinned is the One who shed the blood to forgive it.  He is the total package.

You came to set the captive free.  For any of us who are captive, in any way, to the self-condemnation of our own skewed conscience, speak to us and help us settle this matter today.  Thank you for your shed blood.  Amen

Picture It And Dream!

April 29, 2019

But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come.  In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation ), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.  Hebrews 9:11-12

The things of heaven are always more glorious than the things of earth.  Take your favorite three things ~ then picture those same three things in heaven.  Compare how they will differ, if you can.  For me it would be rich colors, black raspberries, and beautifully marked cats.  Those who have had near death experiences try to describe the colors they saw and they can’t!  There are not words for their vibrancy.  Black raspberries?  There will be no thorns when you pick them.  Each one will be perfect.  There will be no sour ones, rotten ones, or diseased vines.  Cats?  There will be as many as you’d like to engage with.  My home there will be full of them.  (Don’t come visit me if you don’t like cats.)  Every feline will be friendly and present no danger of attacking.

If this is the case with lesser things, how much more will spiritual things take on heightened significance in the kingdom!  Everything God has made for us to enjoy will eclipse all good things here that we think are so great. (Things even He has fashioned that we’ve corrupted.)  While the blood of animals took care of man’s sin problem on a temporary, ongoing basis, it was obviously incomplete.  The blood of Jesus was the supreme sacrifice that, once and for all, put our sins (past, present, and future) behind His back.  He would no longer make them re-appear to condemn us.  He, unlike human beings, forgives completely with no trace of shadow.

Then, there’s the matter of the high priests.  How much better is our perfect High Priest who is seated at God’s right hand!  His mediation between us and God is perfect.  His intuition and knowledge of us, in mediation, is not skewed at all.  He pleads our case better than we could because He is more merciful and more gracious than we are to ourselves.  What if He said to us today, “Be as gracious toward yourself as I am toward you.”  That’s hard to fathom and goes against the other message we envision hearing from Him.  “Be as hard on yourself as I am on you.”

High priests, while there were some great ones prior to the cross, were historically poor.  Some were self-serving, prospering on power.  Others added to the law, making the burden of following God so heavy that it encouraged some to give up trying.  God must have winced, pleaded, and then gotten angry as many high priests stayed unteachable even in Jesus’ presence.  Our perfect High Priest wears His power well.  He fulfilled the law and extends grace instead of rules.  He was humble rather than unteachable, a servant rather than One who was propped up by others’ adoration.

Ah yes, the things of heaven.  We dream.  We long.  Some days we groan.  And until then, deferred hope feeds our perseverance.

Your glory, my home.  Your perfection, my joy.  Amen

I Feel Guilty For Feeling Guilty

April 26, 2019

The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing. This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience. Hebrews 9:8-9

A conscience is a tricky thing.  I can look at my own conscience as a rudder, a moral compass.  It is not.  It only leads me to do what I believe is the right thing.  It is not reliable to sift through my own flawed views of what is good and bad and make holy choices.  The writer of Hebrews wants me to know that the gifts and sacrifices the priest offered in the holy of holies did not purify a person’s conscience.  What did that mean with respect to those people under the old covenant?

The nation of Israel (just like me) was driven to perform religious ritual in order to make them feel better about themselves.  They checked off religious duties to assuage their guilty consciences.  And when they had finished performing, there was always the compulsion to do more to please God.

It is easy for me to be trapped by the same thing.  The enemy loves religious ritual.  He encourages the drive within my own heart to try to make God happy and make myself feel better about me.  I haul my good deeds into the holy of holies and remind God of all the things I’ve done that should make Him pleased with me.  But when is enough really enough?  I will just get up tomorrow morning and obsess whether I should do more today than I did yesterday?  Does God expect a similar performance, or a steeper one?  My conscience is never purified.

So many of God’s children live with nagging guilt.  It is their own conscience (built on a faulty belief system) that leads them astray.  What is the cure for any of us who do good things because we feel we should rather than because we love God?  How can our hearts be at peace and get off the treadmill of performance?  Only one way.  By acknowledging the lies in what we believe and asking God to re-write them through the power of His Word.  Scripture is a sword that puts its point on the very thing that needs to be sanctified.  His Word comes and reminds us that it is by faith alone that we are able to please God.  The point of the sword makes me squirm and I am given a choice to argue – disregard – and then perform in spite of what I read, or to defer to the truth of God’s Word and rest in His salvation.  Only in resting and abandoning the treadmill of ritual will my conscience be cleansed.

“Peace, be still…” Jesus says to the relentless waves of never-ending performance.  His standard is never impressive personal achievements but trust in the cross where my salvation was secured, I was justified, and God is forever pleased in the finished work of Calvary.

Look at my to-do list, Lord.  Reveal to me the secrets of my own heart which so often leads me astray.  I want to rest before I rise up to ‘do’.  Amen

A Lampstand And No Windows

April 25, 2019

Now the first covenant also had regulations for ministry and an earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was set up, and in the first room, which is called the holy place, were the lampstand, the table, and the presentation loaves.  Hebrews 9:1-2 

The first time the golden lampstand is mentioned is in Exodus.  God gives detailed instructions about the construction of it and how it was to be placed in the tabernacle.  He was very precise in how He wanted it designed, not because He was picky and hard to please, but because each feature of the lampstand is rich is symbolism.  A man named, Bezalel, was the chief artisan in charge of making it.  Can you imagine the weight of responsibility?

It was to be made of pure gold – the most valuable of all metals.  How beautiful the symbolism. David said, “I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.  Psalm 119:127

It was to be fashioned as a tree with a base, a center shaft representing the trunk, and then blossoming into three branches on each side.  How many times is a tree mentioned as a representation of spiritual life.  How meaningful is the picture of a vine that branches into many smaller vines?  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

The end of each branch was to open like an almond flower, and it was the center of the flower that would hold the oil lamp.  The almond tree is mentioned often in scripture as the first tree to bear fruit in the spring.  Paul called Christ the ‘firstfruits’.  So rich a connection!  Not only that, but you and I are called the firstfruits of the Spirit.  “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.”  Romans 8:23  I also recall that God caused Aaron’s rod to bud and grow ripe almonds overnight.  This miracle proved to the people that Aaron was God’s chosen High Priest.

The lampstand was the center of all light in the tabernacle.  There were no windows – symbolizing the darkness of our world.  Jesus, as Light of the world, makes His church lights in this dark world.  For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.  Ephesians 5:8 

There was one tabernacle in an ancient land.  There was one functional gold creation within the tabernacle.  And yet, because it was conceived by God, it is layered with more meaning than you and I can comprehend.  Anything God creates holds profound implications on many, many levels ~ more than we will explore in our lifetime.

What more can be said about this today?  I believe it begs a few questions.  Am I a light in a dark place?  Am I one who bears fruit like the almond flower?  Am I living as a branch who feeds on the Vine, Christ Jesus?  Are the things of God as pure gold to my heart’s appetites?  This is enough food for today to satisfy the most ravenous pilgrim.

And to think, Jesus, that You are Light in my heart; and my heart is Your new tabernacle.  Wow.  Amen

Unhealthy Fear Of God

April 24, 2019

Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.  Hebrews 8:5-6

  • Moses was mediator of the first covenant. Jesus is the mediator of the second.
  • Moses brought the law down from Mt. Sanai to the people on stone. Jesus goes the final step by writing the law on the hearts of His people.
  • Moses commanded the people to obey the Law that they could see in front of them. Jesus inscribes the Law where we cannot see it – on the hearts of His people.
  • Moses commanded the people to obey it. Jesus, under the power of His Spirit, empowers His children to obey it.
  • Moses made sure the people understood that the price for disobedience was grave. Jesus provided His own blood to atone for sin and radically forgives upon repentance in this age of grace.

How vastly different is the old from the new!  Radically.  Jesus is the mediator for whom the people had been waiting.  Do I have any idea how blessed I am to be born in a time when God’s Spirit invites me into a relationship?  When I accept, He calls me His temple and moves inside.  He is not a judge to dread but a companion to be treasured.  His holiness is not fearsome and repelling – as it was for the children of Israel when they were too afraid to hear God speak (and asked Moses to speak on His behalf).  God’s presence and perfection is now cherished as He reveals Himself and gives me the ability to become like Him.

Those who are too afraid, even today, to hear the voice of God end up in blatant disobedience.  Those who are eager to hear it are eager to keep His Word.  That is an interesting dynamic.  A friend of our family has said repeatedly that he is too afraid to enter a church because if he were in the presence of God, he would be struck dead.  While that fear is unnecessary, it does not produce any remnant of holiness in his life.  He is quick to curse God and live recklessly irreverent.  Fear does not equal respect.  And was this not also borne out in Israel’s history?  Yes, they were too afraid to hear God speak but it wasn’t long until they also entered into blasphemy and open disobedience. Their wincing at the Light caused them to turn away from it.

Now, God’s voice is inside every believer.  When I’m quiet, when I commune in prayer, and when I read His Words, I can hear Him speak.  This proximity and intimacy bears the sweetest fruit.  Not only do I cherish obedience, I’m eager to sift through the thoughts and intents of my heart ~ knowing that doing so will lead me to think like Jesus, feel like Jesus, and walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

My heart ~ Your home.  Your Presence ~ my joy. Amen

Was He Unqualified?

April 23, 2019

Now if He were on earth, He wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law. These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.  Hebrews 8:4-5

When Jesus went to the temple, He didn’t enter the holy of holies.  On earth, He was not qualified to perform the duties as High Priest.  Man hadn’t disqualified Him.  He had disqualified Himself since He, as God, was the One who had set up the law.  He had established the protocol of the tabernacle and the role of priests. To be legitimate, all priests were to originate from the tribe of Levi.  He came from the line of Judah.

This perceived limitation did not prohibit the plans of heaven.  He did not need to assume an earthly, priestly role. After His resurrection, He would take His throne and assume a royal priesthood from the new sanctuary, the sanctuary of heaven.

A priest offered gifts and sacrifices to God for the forgiveness of sins.  But priests were not needed anymore after Calvary!  There are more than a few reasons for this.

  1. The blood of animals can no longer atone for sin. Only Jesus can.
  2. The presence of God is no longer in an earthen temple. The holy of holies is empty.  God’s presence rests in new temples – in the hearts of His children.
  3. Priests once entered the holy of holies in great fear, knowing they could be struck dead if they were unclean. We enter God’s presence with great confidence, knowing that we have been made perfect by the blood of Jesus.
  4. Animals were slaughtered continually but Jesus only had to die once.

Jesus offers the gift of salvation through the sacrifice of Himself.  His one-time death is good, for all time, for any who believe and make Him Lord.  Across the world, sacrifices are still being made to appease angry gods.  They either don’t know that Jesus was the sacrifice, or they don’t accept that He was their Lamb and insist, instead, of living in the shadow of what has already transpired.  They are playing copycat but are losing their lives because their confidence is misplaced.

The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.  John 1:29 

For every person who is trying to reach you in ways that won’t work, grace them with the eyesight to see what John saw.  Amen

What You Did When It Was Finished

April 22, 2019

We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.  Hebrews 8:1-2

When I get home from being away for an extended time, the monumental task of catching up with household chores, and then catching up with the ministry things that got put aside for a time, is daunting.  This is not peculiar to me.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  Ron laughs at me because no matter what time I get home (and Saturday night it was 2:30 a.m.), I have to go through the mail.  The next day, after a whirlwind 7-8 hours of re-organizing our lives, I say to myself, “Now, I’ll sit down!”  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of completion.  It calls for a cup of a coffee, sitting in my favorite chair, and surveying the clean and well-ordered landscape.

If this is true for you and me, can you imagine the sense of completeness Jesus felt when he sat down at the right hand of the Father?  I can assume that the celebration was a response to His last days on earth; his arrest, torture, and crucifixion.  It was not!  The joy of a finished mission was not even a response to the thirty-three years He lived among men.  The mission of the Lamb of God had been planned before God ever touched earth with His index finger.  His incarnation was conceived long before the Spirit hovered and breathed over our dead planet.  Before the foundation of the earth was formed, our perfect Lamb had been preparing.

The great events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus were foreshadowed all through the Old Testament. The setting up of the tabernacle was a teaser.  The near sacrifice of Isaac and God’s provision of a Lamb was a stunning prediction of what would take place on a hill outside Jerusalem.  There could only be one Lamb to take away the sins of the world.  All other lambs who were sacrificed down through the ages were only symbolic of the One to come.  The death of animals only covered the sins of the people for a brief time.  It wouldn’t be long until more sacrifices were required.  That’s why there were no chairs in the holy of holies, the place where High Priests sprinkled blood on the Ark of the Covenant. Not one of them sat down to enjoy a ‘once and for all’ sense of completion.  They would spend their lives in ritual ~ waiting for the day when the real Lamb of God would ‘once and for all’ die for the sins of the people, ever removing their sins as far as the east is from the west.

Our God-given imagination cannot begin to envision what Jesus’ homecoming was like, both the celebration and then the feelings inside of Jesus when he sat down to rest.  Assuming His throne meant that the plan of the ages had been completed.  He had anticipated it throughout the centuries, never second guessing it, so great was His love for His creation.  The plight of lost humanity with our individual faces on it propelled Him to incarnate without a thought for what lay ahead of Him.  Not once did He ever think, “Are they worth it?”

The deeply gratifying sigh of sitting down beside Your Father can be heard in my spirit today.  Let me never forget the joy You felt that when my salvation was won.  Amen