The Yoke of Shame

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. Romans 4:7-8

Every person is born with a sense of shame because of Adam and Eve’s sin. We know we are flawed and are therefore shy before a holy God. The more we add sin to our resume, the more shame grows and the heavier the yoke becomes.

I have fought my own internal battle over the years. I have asked myself repeatedly, “How can I get over what I’ve done? Has Jesus totally forgiven me?” The yoke had me by the throat.

Worshipers in the ancient world knew shame well. They would bring their sacrifices; animals, even newborn babies, to kill at the altar; all because they had a sense that they needed to calm angry gods. Their faith was in the wrong god but their conscience was keen in sensing that there was One higher than them who was just and holy.

Are you living out a life sentence of depression as you rehearse your failures? Does your track record haunt you like a ghost? If you have confessed your sin but still feel guilty, realize that when God forgives, he separates your sin from you. One of the words for ‘forgive’ is to ‘send away’. God took that ‘thing’ for which you repented, took it off of you and put it on Jesus. When you can’t hold your head up, you must remember that you are not your sin.

Satan accuses. People name call. But Jesus calls His forgiven children ‘righteous’. The beautiful names He confers on us form an umbrella under which we live and enjoy peace with God. The names are numerous, each one meaning something beautiful, and it is each one of these that I must rehearse when I am weighed down by shame. Whether people-inflicted or Satan-inflicted, shame need not be my yoke. It was Jesus’ yoke when He died in my place. I am to live like Abraham. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21

How do I take off this yoke? Believe God. See yourself standing in the flow of God’s forgiveness and then walk by faith.  Be sure to have a plan. Satan is the perpetual accuser of the brethren. He will come at you again with old tapes. Be ready with scripture. You will have to quote it out loud and be assured that he will flee. Remember, you are forgiven whether you feel like you are or not. Feelings are unreliable but the Word of God is true and abides forever.

For every one who is deciding to walk in forgiveness, by faith, remove the yoke of shame from their shoulders, Jesus. Amen

A Religious Yoke

They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them. Mattthew 23:4

Jesus came down hard on the Pharisees when He told them that they were placing a heavy burden of rules upon the people, adding more and more laws that ‘The Law’ did not include. The people labored under it. Jesus called that burden ‘heavy’ and referred to His own burden as ‘light’.

As a young monk, Martin Luther confessed that he didn’t love God, he hated Him. He felt that he just couldn’t please Him. Luther beat himself, fasted for days, slept outside in the cold, and all because He felt the guilt of his own sin. He couldn’t sleep at night because he thought, “Can I possibly do everything that God requires of me?” His mentor told him that confession is to bring relief to those burdened with guilt, not add more. But Luther was so bound up by a religious yoke that, though he confessed constantly, he found little relief. While some around him made their complete confession in just a few minutes, Luther would go on and on for hours. Nagging guilt caused him to be an overachiever; so much so that he advanced in the ranks of the monastery very quickly. It’s a reminder to me that perceived holiness is often driven by forces other than a love for Christ.

How do I know if I suffer under a religious yoke?   I have a nagging feeling that I’m not good enough. I have no peace. I don’t feel forgiven. I don’t believe I’ve paid enough yet for my sins. I feel I have a long way to go to prove to God that I’m sincere. I keep myself insanely busy to dull the ache of unworthiness. I become an overachiever with a need to eclipse the successes of those around me. I need to be God’s ‘teacher’s pet’. At that point, I am the older brother in the prodigal son story who kept all the rules but was probably only looking out for his own inheritance. He felt his father owed him; which is easy to feel if I’ve been a rule keeper. Under a religious yoke, let hard times come and my underlying attitude can be, “God, how could you? After how good I’ve been?”

If I labor under the yoke of religion, I believe that my good behavior proves to God that I’m really a good child. I am bound to the law and ignore the fact that Jesus already fulfilled it. He did it because I couldn’t. Jesus took my sin, annihilated every reason I’d have to perform, and gave me His righteousness. I’m invited to rest in my salvation.

If you suffer under the torment of a religious yoke, how do you escape it? Repent of self-exaltation and minimizing the power of the cross. Affirm again that you have been saved by faith alone – which is where Martin Luther ended up. He began to see that the scriptures were really the language of a loving Father to little children. He was free to worship and celebrate such a great God who provided such a great Salvation from self.

Break the chains of the yoke of religion where we are yet bound. Amen

The Prayer For Hard Stuff

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Hebrews 13:20-21 

There’s a certain kind of personality type that enjoys taking aptitude tests.  I am one of them.  I like to see how people are wired and understand why they do what they do.  My enjoyment includes the exploration of spiritual gifts.  It’s a wonderful thing for a person to discover their unique areas of giftedness; gifts that are birthed, sharpened, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

But as the book of Hebrews closes, the writer has bigger dreams for his audience.  He’s not only wanting them to do what they do well, he blesses them to be fully equipped in every area of their lives to accomplish God’s work.  He is thinking of the whole person, the one who is fully mature and spiritually well rounded.

Life isn’t just about getting to do what I enjoy doing.  I am called upon to function in a lot of roles and to work well with different kinds of people.  I can’t only hang out with people I like.  Difficult people grace my life and one or two are usually in our own families.  If I’m an impatient person, I will need to learn patience. If I’m an exhorter, I will have to learn to be quiet and to pray instead.  If I’m good at tough love, I will have to learn to be compassionate.  God asks me to be full of the Spirit around those who are angry, depressed, and grieving.  I’m also called to be full of His Spirit when others prosper and I’m in a tough season.  I will be called to do things for which I have little aptitude and, in my frustration, will others be able to tell that I love Jesus when I’m doing things  that offer little or no enjoyment?

I’m not sure Jesus had a personality type.  He was simply well-rounded because He was fully equipped by His father to fulfill His mission.  He was Spirit-filled in every area of His life and there were no gaps in His ability to function in any situation.  At 33 years of age, He had completed everything He had been sent to do and had functioned perfectly in every single relationship.  He never said the wrong thing.  He never had to offer an apology.

Even now, in my sixties, I still see areas of impairment.  Though my limps have been tempered through the years, emotionally and spiritually, I am still working on them.  I would like to say that I am fully equipped and mature but I’m not.  Oh, that I could always be Spirit-filled!  I am aware, even this morning, that today holds things for which I must ask for special graces to accomplish.  At the end of the day, I will offer a prayer of thanks for the supernatural breath from the Spirit who rose up to help me in my time of need.

Day by day, I learn more about grace and Your faithfulness.  Amen

 

 

 

 

Cure For A Nagging Conscience

Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do. Hebrews 13:18

Generally speaking, my conscience is my moral compass.  It will let me know when I violate what I know to be right.  While it is often reliable, it isn’t 100% accurate. If I was raised in a culture where bigotry was commonplace, I would grow up to discriminate with a clear conscience.  That’s scary!  And if I was raised around people who loved to inflict guilt, no matter how good I was, I never felt good enough. As an adult, I suffer from an overly sensitive guilt trigger and believe it’s the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Peace is never mine to enjoy.

It is possible to have a clear conscience.  It is possible to be free of self-condemnation.  It is possible to live at peace with God and with myself. The one who wrote Psalm 139 points me to the source of internal rest.   “You discern my thoughts from far away.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely” Psalm 139:2-4 The One who is holy is the only One qualified to shape my conscience.  I need Him because, though He created me with a conscience that knows right from wrong, the Fall of mankind has marred its reliability.  My Heavenly Father examines my heart, and the flow of my thoughts, and helps me sort them out according to His wisdom and righteousness.  I don’t need to be afraid of the One who can see clear through me.  Though He is holy, He is also Love.

Have you ever been uncomfortable in someone’s presence because you felt like they were studying you?  Their gaze was penetrating and invasive.  But Peter did not feel this way when Jesus looked at him.  On the shore of the sea of Galilee, he said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” John 21:17 Although he had recently denied Jesus, he knew Jesus could see the remorse in his heart.  He was not afraid of Love, even though intimate.

Guilt is a complicated thing and drives many to counseling.  But I can count on this.  God promises a clear conscience.  God’s Spirit is within me to convict me of sin and also assure me of sinlessness.  Satan’s guilt is tormenting, vague, and promises no end.  God’s conviction is precise, points to a particular offense, and offers closure on the other side of repentance.  His Word is my mirror, the only reliable rudder against the voice of the great deceiver of this age.

Peace with You.  Rest in Your presence.  These are mine as I live a cross centered life.  Amen

Do I Have To?

Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”  Hebrews 13:17

Do those who are in authority over me feel glad that I am in their lives?  Is my pastor pleased that I am in his church?  Is my spouse happy that I am married to him?  Have my employers been grateful that I’ve worked for their company?   Hopefully, the collective answer is yes.  But if ‘yes’, then why?

It might be because I like and respect them.  It’s easier to defer under those conditions. Oh, but when they are foolish, it is instinctive to be contentious and confrontational. I get my back up and resent my duty to submit.  I might even find ways to circumvent their orders.

I recall that the Apostle Paul instructed slaves to be good slaves to their masters.  He didn’t tell them to defer only if their masters deserved their allegiance.  In light of this consistent biblical precedent, this scripture from Hebrews highlights some interesting side notes.

  1. We are to obey those who have rule over us. (But, obeying God takes precedence if we are told to do something God would forbid.)
  2. The ones who have authority over us watch for our souls. (Some watch over us well while others give no thought to our well being.)
  3. Each one in leadership will give an account. Those who lead well will be rewarded.  Those who cause their people to suffer will not get away with it.  (Our part is to obey God and leave the outcome to Him.)

While talking with a woman recently about her marriage, she shared that her husband is a poor spiritual leader in their home. She made the comment, “It’s hard to show respect to someone ungodly, one who does not consider me to be a person of any value!”  Most likely, we will all know what this is like sometime in our lives; to be invisible, despised, unappreciated, to be held in low regard.  These are the very things that make it hard to submit to bad authority.  If I am struggling today, I have to remember that the person with whom I struggle is under God’s authority.  He may not acknowledge it but he is.  He, or she, will give an account of how they failed to represent God.

And, I am under God’s authority.  I am His child and I am under His umbrella. I know where to go home to heal from the wounds of injustice and the abuses of poor shepherding.  I heal in the embrace of the One who owns me and calls me precious.  He leads me and He serves me.  There is nothing He has not already experienced.  I am safe and I am of infinite value.

I choose to live above my feelings and, by faith, obey Your order of things.  I am yours and that joy is enough. Amen

You Can Thrive

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:8,23

My prayer this morning is this, “Jesus, show me what you pictured when you spoke this parable. Paint it for me. Rise up in me and show me how you feel about the power of what You describe. You are God and can see into men’s hearts. What does a hundred-fold harvest look like as it’s growing? Let me want this more than I’ve wanted anything – ever.”

Picture this slow motion movie ~ The best of all seeds fall from the hand of God. They land in perfect soil ~ fertile, aerated, and treated. The moment they hit the dirt, germination happens and from the first moment, the promise of something great begins to happen.

I can picture it, can’t you? Don’t you want it? I sure do. I want pristine conditions for spiritual seeds. How incredible is it that heaven’s seeds can come and grow inside of me! God is generous to share them without me having to go to heaven first. “The kingdom is here, now”, Jesus said.

What makes my heart the perfect place to grow heaven’s seeds?  I am open at all times. Willing to listen. Willing to learn. Insatiably hungry. Willing to lay defenses aside. Willing to be wrong. Willing to change.   When seeds hit my soil, no demonic birds can steal it. No limestone foundation comprised of unresolved issues prohibit growth. No weeds are anywhere in sight to crowd out the free expanse of this new planting. Stunning results are assured. What will I become with heaven’s seeds growing inside of me? There is no mystery here. I become the tree in Psalm One; battered at times by the winds of adversity but never fearing annihilation.

Today, I move toward this goal by engaging my personal Gardener. “I am the vine, my Father is the husbandman – or vine dresser.’ John 15:1 ESV I know that my Father constantly assesses the garden of my soul. He searches me and knows what it will take to improve my soil conditions. He never passes judgment to declare me hopeless if I ask for help. He gives specific spiritual guidance. He reveals every rock and why it’s there. He changes my appetite if I love the things of this world too much. He is my compassionate Healer when worries block my ears from hearing Him. He wants my harvest even more than I do.

I’m a picture person. Right now, I see Him slowly walking the pathways of my heart. He’s tilling and inspecting the soil…smiling at the possibilities.

Your seeds are infused with resurrection power – the same that raised You from the dead, Jesus. Don’t let me limit what You want to do by being unteachable. Speak into my soul and be relentless. In Jesus’ name, Amen  

I Am a Lattice of Windows

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.  Hebrews 13:16

How vast are the effects of obeying this verse but only if I understand what God is asking me to do.  It’s not just stopping to help someone carry a heavy package, or taking someone a meal, or even making a hospital visit.  ‘To do good’ means to show someone else the same kindness and favor that God showed to me.  I am to receive and then transmit what I received.  I am a conduit and the point of doing good is to leave an aroma of God, not myself.

A lot of people do good things and simple kindnesses are powerful, certainly.  But without God behind them, the effects are earthbound.  If I am to receive first, then transmit, I must experience the lovingkindess of His blessing.  May the Lord bless and keep you, may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and be gracious to you, and bring you peace.  Numbers 6:24-26  The Hebrew picture of lifting up a countenance is one of a father holding up a child in order to adore him.  God’s blessing starts with His delight.

Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 7.57.56 AMWhen the priest raises his hands to pronounce this well-known blessing from the book of Numbers, he faces his palms downward and touches his thumbs together.  The four fingers on each hand are split into two sets of two fingers each and this hand formation is called ‘the overlapping lattice of windows.’  Their tradition says that the Divine Presence will shine through the fingers of the priests as they bless the people.  King David asked God specifically for this blessing.  Make your face to shine upon your servant. Psalm 31:16  David was down and needed to feel the impact of God’s kindness.

As I am blessed, humbly blessed, I am told to rise, then go and communicate this same blessing to another person.  The particular deed isn’t as important as the Divine Presence of God that I take with me.  It’s the humility with which I love another.  It’s communicating what is often unspoken.  “God has loved me so much and I want you to feel that too.”

Lord, I don’t want to waste even one gesture of kindness.  Bless me and let me bless others in the overflow.  Amen