Thinking Little About Shame

November 14, 2019

…keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:2

Shame is a powerful catalyst.  If I know I’m going to go somewhere and will feel any kind of shame, I will want to avoid going.  If God is calling me to a place where shame has been felt in the past, I will have to prepare myself to focus on God and His love for me.  Only He can counteract the toxic effects of being in the presence of humiliation.

What is shame keeping you from today?  Whom are you avoiding because of how they cause you to feel?  What setting is it that tempts you to believe that you are worthless?  Perhaps you are still healing from the last time you were in the company of someone who despises you.

It’s not just people who cause us to feel ashamed.  It can be a humiliating event.  The next time you have lunch with some friends, ask everyone to describe their most embarrassing moment.  Shame and humiliation will be involved.

Jesus didn’t ignore the shame of the cross.  He looked at it square in the eye and chose to despise it.  Instead of shame defining how He felt, He focused elsewhere.  What power God gives His child to endure shame!  Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s sustaining grace.

John Piper wrote this piece about Hebrews 12:2

Listen to me, Shame, do you see that joy in front of me? Compared to that, you are less than nothing. You are not worth comparing to that! I despise you. You think you have power. Compared to the joy before me, you have none. Joy. That is my power! Not you, Shame. You are worthless. You are powerless.

You think you can distract me. I won’t even look at you.  You are ugly and despicable. And you are almost finished. You cover me now as with a shroud. Before you can say, ‘So there!’ I will throw you off like a filthy rag. I will put on my royal robe.

You think you are great, because even last night you made my disciples run away. You are a fool, Shame.  That abandonment, that loneliness, this cross — these tools of yours — they are all my sacred suffering, and will save my disciples, not destroy them.

Farewell, Shame. It is finished.

As I read this, I was reminded that I must always look at the bigger picture, not my specific set of circumstances.  Whatever shame I have suffered never concludes my life’s novel.  It is a dark thread amongst the many golden threads of grace and redemption.

Your people spend a lifetime healing from shame.  You did it in an instant because You knew Your Father’s love and saw your eternal destiny.  Amen

What Is A Weight?

November 12, 2019

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Hebrews 12:1b

Spiritual weights are anything that slow us down.  The baggage we drag behind can largely be demonic residue from our choices. Weights can feel heavy but if the weights are comprised of enjoyable vices, they will feel light for a time.  We won’t notice their effects right away.  Nevertheless, they have still reduced our freedom to run and time will reveal that.

Spiritual weights are usually presented as sins; things that we chose to do that were outside of God’s plans for us.  To take inventory, we’re given a list of common sins and asked to check the boxes, similar to what we do when filling in paperwork for a new doctor.  Yes – I’ve had this.  No – I’ve never had that.  Let me emphasize that this approach is far too elementary for a spiritual inventory.  Less obvious things can hold us back and they don’t show up on a sins checklist.

  • Wrong beliefs are weights. If I believe lies about myself, falsehoods I’ve come to wear like an overcoat, that covering is heavy to my spirit.  The danger is that it’s so familiar that I don’t think of taking it off.
  • Bad attachments are weights. If I am connected to another whose passion is not Jesus, then I have placed myself in a precarious position to be influenced by their thoughts and behaviors.  I remember the words of my parents.  ‘Choose your friends wisely.’  Unwise associations create a drag on my windspeed.
  • Listening to critical voices imposes another kind of weight. ‘You’re stupid. You’ll never get it right.  ‘You can’t make up for all the ways you’ve failed me.’  These wound the spirit and cripple my limbs for moving forward.
  • Harboring resentment and refusing to forgive may be the heaviest of all weights. When I, as a child of God, put on His crown and decide to sit in His seat of judgement, I wilt under the burden. I was made to dance and worship the King, not try to become One.

All of these involve our inside world and their damage is much more sinister.  No wonder the Psalmist asked God to search His heart.  He didn’t trust himself to do it.  I don’t usually recognize what is sabotaging me either.  But God always knows and is eager to reveal it to me; not to nit-pick, but to lighten my load.  He is a compassionate cheerleader.

Once identified, I’ll throw it off.  Lord, I believe Your interpretation of ‘weights.’  Amen

A Message From The Cloud

November 8, 2019

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1

Before you read the scripture, I bet you saw the title and thought of computers, data, and what it means for us to store digital information in the cloud.  But there is another cloud mentioned in Hebrews 11.  A cloud of witnesses.  Who is it that makes up this company?  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. What a group it would be if we could gather them together today, in the flesh, and host them all in one setting.  What would fellowship look like?  How long would it take for us to ask all the questions on our mind, to hear all their stories, and to glean their advice and encouragement?

But we can imagine it, right?  One of the themes of Michael Card’s writing is ‘reading the Bible with your imagination.’  He encourages us to enter into the stories we read and imagine what the people were thinking, why they did what they did, and what they would want us to know from their mistakes and their acts of faith.  (And, God’s reactions.)  As I go back and review chapter 11 and the many devotionals written on each character, I can ‘imagine’ some of their encouragements.

Abel ~ “Carve out your own faith apart from your parents and follow God to the letter.”

Enoch ~ “As the world caves into lawlessness, prepare to keep yourself pure even if hated and made the brunt of mockery.”

Noah ~ “Don’t get tired of obeying God – even when He’s quiet. Stay faithful.”

Abraham ~ “Climb Mt. Moriah and believe in God’s goodness no matter what.”

Sarah ~ “If you’ve hurt your testimony, stop hiding. Get up and take a second run.”

Yochoved ~ “If you hold your child of promise, God’s plan will prevail.”

Six out of 15 voices.  They blend together.  Each is passionate and insistent on being heard.  Not one is distinguishable above another.  Each cheer is lifesaving.  We must take time to review each of their stories to internalize their encouragement on a bigger scale.  We have not begun to mine their stories for gold.

Don’t let me be afraid to tell my own stories of fear and faith and victory.  In them are sermons for the next generation.  Amen

How Much Harder Did They Have It?

November 7, 2019

These were all commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised.  God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.  Hebrews 11:29-30 

The heroes of the faith, so many of them, lived when following God was so much harder than it is now.  They didn’t know God well.  They hadn’t seen the coming Messiah.  They had little history to review because the Jewish nation was still young.  And, scripture was also incomplete.

They had been given the law; ten impossible commandments to keep.  They held up a mirror to show them their sin problem.  So, what could be God’s plan?  That they would love and worship Him, follow His commands but know that when they failed, they could offer a sacrifice that would make atonement for their sins.  But in this process, they had no internal help with the sinfulness of their flesh.  There was no Holy Spirit to enable holiness, to whisper encouragement, to teach them individually and to write God’s Word on their heart.  Life was a cycle of worship, acts of faith, deeds of sinfulness, making sacrifices, then repenting and receiving forgiveness.

They did not know about a future event called Pentecost when believers would experience the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  Today, when my flesh is weak, I cry out to the Spirit to help me.  I do not need to offer a sacrifice for forgiveness.  The bloody ordeal was satisfied in Jesus.  I can rest in three things: 1.) In the finished work of the cross.  2.) In the sanctifying work of the Spirit and the sharing of Jesus’ divine nature.  3.) In the intimacy with God afforded to me because I’ve been justified and made holy.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His diving power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.   Through these He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, now that you have escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.…  2 Peter 1:2-4

None of this did our faith heroes have.  Yet, their faith was stellar enough that it challenges even us.  How did they do it?  There must have been an Old Testament kind of grace that facilitated a spiritual energy to obey and to remain steadfast.  This a mystery held in the mind of God.

I have everything I need today to live a life of obedience and faithfulness.  Oh, thank you.  Amen

Is It For Righteousness Sake?

November 5, 2019

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:10

Every person knows some degree of persecution.  Feeling unwanted.  Scorned.  Left out.  Rejected.  God has a heart for you if persecution from others has been part of your story – even from birth.  But there is another kind of persecution.  Righteous persecution.  That means that I will suffer because of my association with Jesus.  When I love Him more than others, that will affect what I say and the choices I make.  To align with Jesus is to be misunderstood and unpopular.  I can’t expect otherwise.  When Jesus entered ministry, His first sermon incited a crowd to stone Him even though He’d only delivered a paragraph.  His words were so sharp that they pierced through the unrighteousness of the crowd like a sword.  The Light of the world caused others to shield their eyes for they loved darkness rather than light.

Until I became God’s child, I was homogeneous with my world.  My parents, family, and friends taught me how to think and view the world.  I loved harmony (as I’m a peacemaker) so I lived rarely making waves.  God turns this upside down, whether we are peacemakers or not, as He becomes our Father and re-parents us to think, feel, and act like Jesus.  Supremely, that is our life’s goal as a new disciple.  I can sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus. .” but then continue to think for myself.  Never am I more hypocritical and salt-less.

If I am an angry person and my words repel others, I will be persecuted.  But, this is not the kind Jesus refers to.

If I am a judgmental person and walk around with a disapproving demeanor, I will be persecuted.  But, this is not the kind Jesus refers to.

I can be a dark person and suffer the exclusion of others.  But, this is not the kind Jesus refers to.

I can be a controlling person and suffer the criticism of others and even though I might be right at times, this is not the kind of persecution Jesus refers to.

‘For righteousness sake’ means that when I speak and act like Jesus, in the way He spoke and in the way He acted, I will be persecuted in the same manner as He was.  Even though humble, I will be hated.  Even though I love, I will be rejected.  Even though I desire to serve, my offers will be refused.  Even though, before God, I have committed no crime except to live out the Gospel, I may be stoned and imprisoned.  But I am blessed by God.  The end of Hebrews 11 says that the world is not worthy of God’s children who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

I will not hold a pity party.  You told me to expect it, forgive, and seek my comfort from You.  Align me where I’m out of alignment.  Amen

Even If No One Agrees

November 4, 2019

The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11:38

Oh, how differently God sees things.  The only thing that matters is God’s viewpoint.  His spiritual vision is uncluttered and there isn’t a trace of distortion; no cobwebs cloud his reasoning. His interpretation of people and events are right and true.  I shudder to think of some of the assessments I’ve made over a lifetime that were far from God’s appraisal.

Opposite viewpoints are the point of this scripture.  The world has regarded believers in Jesus one way – and in the time of the writing of Hebrews – they were expendable, worthless, stripped of all rights, and hunted down to be persecuted before being eliminated.  If I were able to interview the political leaders of that time and ask them why they despised Jesus’ disciples, they would have given an extensive list of reasons.  That’s the scary part.  Their minds were darkened by sin and rebellion.  God’s thoughts were far from their thoughts but still they were zealots of hatred.

While they considered disciples of Jesus worthless, God viewpoint was that it was really the other way around.  He said that the world was not worthy of their presence.  Such is the case for any child of God today who is being persecuted for righteousness sake.  (What is righteous persecution as opposed to self-inflicted persecution due to soulish behavior? That will be the topic of tomorrow’s devotional.)

For now, if you are certain that you suffer because of your love for Jesus, you are of infinite worth to God even though others believe you are contemptible.   It can be lonely to love Jesus more than the acceptance of others, more than you love family or a spouse, more than you love the praise of your children, and even more than you love the comfort of fitting in with others in ministry.  It is lonely to love God’s specific instruction and to walk in solitary obedience.

We are a peculiar people, and rarely will the world understand our way of thinking any more than it understood the peculiar stories and unique mindset of Jesus.  He interpreted his world in ways that could never have occurred to anyone else around Him.  He and His Father were one and that unity gave Him the discernment to make righteous judgements.  He said as much to the mixed crowd who were picking up stones to put a woman to death. He was alone as He forgave her.  They were united to condemn.  I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”  John 8:26

Stop now and breathe in the favor of Your Father who, even now, might whisper, “Well done.”

Encourage someone right now is about to cave and feels they can’t take one more minute of feeling hated.  Even for Your sake.  Amen

Faith Goes In Opposing Directions

November 1, 2019

Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11:35-38

I would like to invite you to take in this paragraph by a pastor from the 1800’s, G. H. Morrison.  His messages were described as pastoral and devotional.  He reveled in obscure texts.  He wrote his sermons early in the week and set out, the rest of the week, to discover how simply he could present them.  His painstakingly careful, and Spirit led wording, is never more evident than in his treatment of this passage from Hebrews 11.  The back and forth comparisons make me think of the Ecclesiastes scripture about the times: time to build up, time to tear down, etc.

With you, I ask God for the wisdom to discover how faith should be expressed in my life today.

Teach us, Lord.  Amen

Quote: Faith is not just when it brings deliverance to a man, but sometimes, when deliverance is offered, it gives him a fine courage to refuse it. There are seasons when faith shows itself in taking. There are seasons when it is witnessed in refusing. There is a deliverance that faith embraces. There is a deliverance that faith rejects. They were tortured, not accepting deliverance—that was the sign and seal that they were faithful. There are hours when the strongest proof of faith is the swift rejection of the larger room.  G.H. Morrison