The Sluice Box

A few years ago, we took our grandchildren to a place called Dinosaur World. The day was highlighted by a stop at a gem-finding place. It was one of those venues where you purchase a bag of dirt and pour it into a tilted sluice box. Water runs through the box and washes away the dirt to reveal the hidden gems. Rose quartz, red jasper, amethysts, and other beautiful stones emerged with each washing. The kids were thrilled with their new treasure!

We are like that in a way. Every time we go before the Lord to confess our sins, we are washed in the sluice box of his forgiveness. The beauty of our potential is revealed through repentance. We emerge from this experience as humbled, forgiven people who reflect the light of Jesus in every sparkling facet.

Today’s psalm uses a powerful image of God as the Rock of our salvation. It is fitting. In the bag of rocks at the gemstone place, each gem is a small piece that was broken off from a bigger rock. To realize that God is our Rock is to acknowledge that he is our stronghold, our place of origin, and our constant source of strength and rescue. We are but small pieces, made in his image.

We are invited to come before our Rock with joyful shouts and singing:

Psalm 95 (New King James Version)

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

God’s greatness is our hope. Everything in heaven and on earth is his.

For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.

There is nothing for us to do but bow down and worship.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.

Do you need to present yourself before the Rock and find his salvation once again? Are you feeling broken, separated, small, or fragile? Do you need forgiveness to wash over you like the running water in a sluice box?

Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. In HIS hand is everything we need to make it through one more day.

The Rock of Our Salvation by Kathy Schumacher

When You Forgive, You Love

One of our New Year’s traditions is to watch TMC’s annual tribute to the actors, writers, and directors who passed away in the previous year. It is a sentimental overview of each one’s life and contribution to the movie arts. Every year it makes us sad, but appreciative. This year there was a very brief tribute to the great Hal Holbrook that caught my attention. They showed a clip from a Jon Krakauer movie called Into the Wild. Holbrook was talking to a young man and said this amazing line: “When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.”

As we say in my industry, that will preach.

It occurs to me in this first week of the new year that many of us are going into 2022 with the same grudges we carried in 2021 … and perhaps longer. There is a certain hypocrisy in that for believers. We fully expect that God will forgive our sins … in fact, we are counting on it. We know that Christ died for our sins, and we believe that when we approach the throne of grace with repentant hearts, our sins will be forgiven. This is the Gospel promise.

But when it comes to forgiving others, we sometimes set a higher standard than the one God sets for us. We hold onto hurts and offenses like they are oxygen masks on a plane that is crashing. We tell them over and over to anyone who will listen. We hurl them in the face of the one who inflicted the pain every chance we get. We rarely let a new argument pass without bringing up these ancient wounds, using them like a weapon to re-inflict pain back into the relationship. But rather than give us life, grudge-holding and unforgiveness only take us down in flames with the burning plane.

Listen to the wisdom that Proverbs 17 offers:

Proverbs 17 (Names of God Bible)

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,
    but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

This is a hard lesson today. It will require some soul searching. When an offense has become a comfortable blanket in which we wrap ourselves as a defense against the coldness of the offender, we can easily forget that God calls us to a higher account. We are reminded to forgive, even in those awful moments where forgiveness is not being sought. We are reminded to stop throwing the sin in the face of the offender.

We are reminded to seek love.

But truly, God’s direction to forgive is really for your own benefit. When you forgive, YOU are released from the offense. When you forgive, the memory of it can finally be given over to God and you don’t have to carry its heavy burden anymore. When you forgive, the prison of hurt, anger, and pain that you were trapped in is finally opened wide. You were the prisoner of the offense, not your offender, and only forgiveness can make you free.

This is not a call to forget. Remembering the source of pain helps us avoid it the next time. No one is supposed to remain in an abusive relationship after forgiveness. That is not God’s plan. Forgiving and walking away without holding onto the grudge is the best way to set ourselves free.

Are you holding onto a grudge? Do you bring up old hurts when you argue with someone you love? Do you dwell so much on past offenses that you can’t see the beauty of today?

Set yourself free. Forgive the offense and seek love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.

God’s Light Will Set You Free by Michelle Robertson

Clean Slates

Our journey through Hebrews continues this week as the writer again makes the case for Jesus’ superiority as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. He points out the futile efforts of the human priests, who can’t make a dent in the sin problem, and the single sacrifice made by Jesus that wipes out sin forever:

Hebrews 10 (The Message)

11-18 Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.

You just have to love Eugene Peterson’s creative writing ability in this passage. ”It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.” Preach it, Eugene! We are indeed some very imperfect people.

The Holy Spirit confirms this:

This new plan I’m making with Israel
    isn’t going to be written on paper,
    isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
    carving it on the lining of their hearts.”

Again, the imagery of God’s new plan being written on the lining of our hearts goes a long way toward a deeper understanding of the depth of God’s plan. God desires his covenant to be engraved not just on our hearts, but on the lining … in other words, the deepest, inside part … of our hearts. Peterson reminds us that God does not desire a superficial relationship with us, but wants us to present him with the most inner part of our souls. He literally wants us to love him from the ”inside-out.”

He concludes,

I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins.

Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.

Let’s take this in a different direction now. If God provided the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, can we really be unforgiving toward each other’s sin? And if we continue to hold grudges and refuse to forgive one another, what does that say about the power of the cross? That our stubbornness is greater than the blood that was shed there? Does that make sense?

God calls us to forgiveness. Jesus made it conditional: ”Forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.”

Is God calling you to forgive someone today? Maybe it is time for you to wipe clean all the slates.

Blustery Day by Michelle Robertson

Betrayer

Have you ever been betrayed? Few things in life sting the way a betrayal stings. The wounds left behind can feel raw and open for a long time. Whether it happens in a professional setting or a personal one, even the memory of someone turning against you can cause pain. I know a woman who was terribly betrayed decades ago by a former boss. The boss used her position and power to undermine and derail my friend. She ended up resigning just one step ahead of an unfair dismissal. Her career never recovered. When she talks about it even to this day, you can feel her anger and grief as though it happened yesterday.

We know that our Lord suffered many betrayals in his lifetime. He was rejected by his own people and lied about by men “in charge.” His daily skirmishes with the Pharisees were a constant irritant as they rejected him over and over. The refusal of the high priests to acknowledge his messiahship was a constant attempt to undermine his divine authority. Even the disciples were confused and dull in their understanding of his mission. And then, of course, came the ultimate betrayal:

John 13 (Common English Bible)

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

Do you suppose it helped that Jesus knew it was coming? I don’t. This translation says that he was “deeply disturbed.” My heart breaks for Jesus in this moment. You and I have been in that place of being hurt by someone we loved and trusted. This pain is real.

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. 24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about.25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Poor Simon Peter! His love for Jesus and his loyalty made it hard for him to hear that one of them was about to betray the Lord. Imagine how it felt to realize that this tight team of men, who had lived and worked together for three years, was about to be obliterated by one man’s actions. They must have felt helpless at this news. All of them, of course, except the betrayer:

26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.”Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

The scripture makes it clear what happened. Satan entered Judas. It was a demonic possession. Judas is now being employed by the devil himself to finish Jesus’ ministry. This is being done to fulfill all of the prophecies about the messiah that foretold that Jesus would suffer and die so that everyone might be raised up with him into eternal life.

So who used who? Certainly God’s purpose is now being met by what Judas is about to do. God had the ultimate authority over Satan’s futile attempt to derail and undermine the power of Jesus. Jesus’ power only grew stronger through the crucifixion and resurrection. In this way, Judas was only a pawn…not of Satan, but of God.

Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him.29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

Judas had been accepted into the group and was considered to be trustworthy enough to “hold the purse.” He was a person of noble character. He was a follower of Jesus. He was an important member of the team right up until the very end. Yet his guilt over his actions that night led him to take his own life after receiving his thirty pieces of silver for his heinous deed. Perhaps in the moment when Satan released him, he couldn’t bear living with what he had done.

Let’s turn this around now and consider times when we were the betrayer. Have you ever gossiped about someone, spoken a word against someone out of jealousy, or actively undermined someone for your own personal gain? Have you betrayed a confidence or repeated a falsehood to make yourself look better? Did you ever cheat on a relationship? Are you guilty of betraying God? I imagine we all are. I am a betrayer. I bet you are, too.

If God is dealing with you on this issue, it’s time to come clean. Confess your actions to the person you have hurt and confess your sins to God. All of us carry some kind of “Judas guilt,” but we don’t have to let it take our lives as well. Thank God, you can be forgiven and cleansed of your betrayal!

Is it time to seek forgiveness? God is ready to hear you. Are you ready to speak?

Come Clean by Michelle Robertson

Turned Hearts

What tempts you away from the good things that you know you should be focusing on? Is it food, wealth, possessions, laziness, your neighbor’s spouse…the list is endless. All of us have a weakness for something we want that we know we shouldn’t have.

With Solomon, it was women. Perhaps it was wine, women, and song, but mostly it was women. (As in, over 1000 women.) He was the son of King David, who also had a weakness for women that weren’t his to enjoy. Solomon was a huge womanizer in a culture that thought little of women. His conquests were staggering, and his appetite was insatiable.

God loved Solomon and warned him about intermarrying with all these foreign women, but Solomon ignored every word:

1 Kings (Common English Bible)

11 In addition to Pharaoh’s daughter, King Solomon loved many foreign women, including Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. These came from the nations that the Lord had commanded the Israelites about: “Don’t intermarry with them. They will definitely turn your heart toward their gods.” Solomon clung to these women in love. 

Had Solomon clung to God, the rest of this story would have a better ending. Instead, he clung to these women in love. But I have to stop here and ask, what are YOU clinging to that threatens your relationship with God? Are you also turning away from God’s words of warning?

He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred secondary wives. They turned his heart. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods. He wasn’t committed to the Lord his God with all his heart as was his father David.Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes and wasn’t completely devoted to the Lord like his father David. 

“They turned his heart after other gods.” Our mamas warned us about running with a bad crowd. When you hang out with reprobates, you are likely to become one yourself. Mama was right.

On the hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a shrine to Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and to Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. The Lord grew angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from being with the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 The Lord had commanded Solomon about this very thing, that he shouldn’t follow other gods. But Solomon didn’t do what the Lord commanded.

Have you ever failed to do what the Lord commands? Sometimes temptations are so great they blot out everything else. Godliness, decency, moral living, and proper behavior are often the victims of a temptation to which we succumb.

11 The Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done all this instead of keeping my covenant and my laws that I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Even so, on account of your father David, I won’t do it during your lifetime. I will tear the kingdom out of your son’s hands. 

The punishment is pronounced, but notice that even in anger, God’s love for both David and Jerusalem results in a measure of grace being extended. But Solomon’s actions result in the loss of a united Israel. After his death, the kingdom divides and grows weaker and weaker. Eventually even Jerusalem falls.

13 Moreover, I won’t tear away the entire kingdom. I will give one tribe to your son on account of my servant David and on account of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Solomon the Wise turns into a King of Fools when he succumbs to his temptations. His strength becomes his weakness as he goes from following God to actually building detestable idols in his own backyard. We can see in his story that having wisdom is not a panacea against the wiles of evil. Being smart does not equate to having strength of character.

Where is God calling you to outwit your temptations? Have you stepped aside from God’s will for your life as you have chased after idols? Has someone or something turned your heart?

Through the grace offered by the shed blood of the atonement, you can turn away from those things and come back to God. Forgiveness is the blessing that is always available to the repentant person. Softly and tenderly, Jesus calls us to come home.

Come Home by Peggy Bryson

Caught

Caught….red-handed….without a hope of denying it.

Have you ever been caught doing something you shouldn’t have done, and then had to face the consequences? I sure have. I will never forget getting caught gossiping in the cloak room of my fifth grade classroom about a girl of whom I was very jealous. The teacher heard me, sent the girl out of the room on an errand to spare her feelings, and then made me stand in front of the class and repeat what I said while she condemned every word. I was HUMILIATED, and rightfully so. The sting of that experience is still with me.

When we are caught, feelings of shame and regret are immediate and overwhelming. Our first thought is “Why, oh WHY did I do it?” Right up to the moment of discovery, we delude ourselves into thinking that we will get away with our sinful behavior. Most of us can even rationalize that if nobody finds out, nobody gets hurt.

Then everybody finds out, and everybody gets hurt.

Such is the case in Psalm 51, written by David after he was caught committing adultery with Bathsheba and was confronted by his friend Nathan. He immediately felt the searing pain of knowing that he has sinned against God and now everyone knows it. Listen to the regret and remorse that flowed from his pen as he composed a song of confession:

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.

David is such a man of faith that his sinning against God was the worst part of it for him. He knew his wrongdoings. This sin was not done in ignorance of the Law that commands “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” He knew that he coveted another man’s wife and then had that man brought home from war to cover up the unplanned pregnancy that resulted. Then David sent him back to the front lines to be killed. Coveting, adultery, lying, murder…David was guilty on all counts.

Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

David was blessed to have received wisdom from God in the “most secret space.” He studied the scriptures. He experienced God’s power first hand when he faced down Goliath many years earlier. All of David’s experiences had been an adequate teacher of God’s will and direction for his life. It is this truth in the hidden places of his heart and soul that he walked away from in his pursuit of Bathsheba. There is no pleading ignorance here…David totally knew better.

As did I, when I sinned.

As do you, when you sin.

His song of confession then moves from pain to hope, and David reminds God that God alone has the power to wash this sin away. He writes that joy can be felt once more, but only after God wipes away all of his guilty deeds:

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!

Singing these words to the God that he loved provided a moment of humble obeisance for David, as the song now moves to a plea for a new, clean heart. This may be one of the prettiest verses in all of the Psalms:

10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and return unto me the joy of your salvation!” This should be our song today as well. God always inclines an ear when people confess with contrite hearts and humility.

Where is God calling you to lay down your sin so that you might take up a new and faithful spirit? God truly longs to sustain you with the power of the Holy Spirit, but you have to come clean first.

Don’t let the sun go down on your sin. Open yourself to God and ask for a clean heart to be created in you. And may the joy of God’s salvation make you sing.

Sunset Awaits by Michelle Robertson

Hidden Places, Secret Spaces

Our beautiful Psalm today comes from a moment in King David’s life when he had just been called out by his friend Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba. The affair resulted in a pregnancy, so David called her husband home from the war for a “conjugal visit” in hopes of a cover-up. Uriah did not “cooperate” so David sent him back to the front lines so that he would be killed in action. David thought he had gotten away with his deceit…until Nathan called him out.

Facing the enormity of his sin was far greater than the condemnation of his friend. David’s heart is truly broken at his own behavior. He is crushed by his own transgression, and he crawls to the Lord in agony. Only God’s forgiveness can bring him relief.

Have you ever felt that way?

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!

David understands that he can’t make amends based on his own character. He has to count on God’s great compassion. He longs to be made clean.

Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.

When David says “I have sinned against you—you alone” he is not discounting the damage he has done to Uriah and Bathsheba. But he is aware that the breach of trust he has committed with God is far worse than any human consequence. He has to tell the truth.

And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just offer God truth in your hidden places? Well, you can. No matter what sin has separated you from God, confession and repentance allow you to start over again. God will completely cleanse you of your guilt.

Repentance is a complete turning away from the evil behavior that ensnared you. It is walking away and not looking back.

When you do that, ask God to teach you his wisdom and fill your most secret spaces with his word. God’s faithful love will redeem you.

Secret Spaces by Kathy Schumacher

Dead to Me

Have you ever been so “over” something that you just wanted to yell, “This is dead to me!” A broken trust, the ninth consecutive day of rain, a cheating spouse, a relative showing up drunk and obnoxious once again, a contractor who ripped you off, waking up with yet another hangover…it is harsh but understandable to wish a situation or relationship to be “dead” to you when you no longer want to deal with it. Just. Go. Away.

Abuse, you are dead to me.

Alcohol and drugs, just go away.

Lying, cheating, soul-destroying behavior, you are dead to me.

Toxic relationship? Dead to me.

Rain, be GONE.

Scripture condones a “dead to me” response in a specific situation: when we declare sin to be dead to us.

Romans 6 (The Message)

1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

Sin! Just. Go. Away. I don’t live there anymore.

3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Baptism, forgiveness, and the new life promised from the cross guarantee that we have moved to a new land of grace. In that place, God comes alongside of us and offers his strength to resist temptation and sin, and helps us to not return to sin-country.

6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.

You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

Where in your life is God asking you to declare a certain sin dead-to-you? What behaviors and habits continue to drag you back into the miserable life that sin guarantees?

We aren’t called to a life where we get to keep sinning because we know God forgives. We are called to be included in Christ’s sin-conquering death so that we can be a part of his life-saving resurrection. So do better. Pack up that sin and leave it for good. God is speaking his language of redemption now…hang on his every word.

Just. Go. Away. By Teresa Holloway