An admission of guilt

Read: Leviticus 4-6, Matthew 25:1-30

I have a very early memory of my younger sister and I being in a convenience store with my father. As we were walking down a row lined with candy, my sister grabbed a gumball (shaped like a football—she remembers the incident) and, before my dad could do anything about it, popped it in her mouth and chomped down. I’m quite certain my father was a solid mix between livid and embarrassed. He knelt down in front of us and explained to us both that what had just happened was theft and there were consequences for it. We were marched up to the front counter and my sister made to apologize to the store clerk and pay for the consumed goods. We both learned a hard lesson that day. Sin is sin whether we realise it or not, and there are always consequences, even when the offense wasn’t intentional.

Today’s reading in Leviticus is all about the lengthy process required when unintentional sin is brought to light.

If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty.

Leviticus 4:27 (NIV)

Sounds a little harsh. How can a person be guilty of they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong? Like us kids in the candy store, whether we were aware or not, to consume goods before purchase is wrong. Claiming ignorance did not alter the fact that a theft had occurred—no matter how insignificant it seemed.

It is my understanding that in the Philippines, it is legal to kill/murder someone if they are suspected of being involved in the drug trade. Say someone from the Philippines then comes to Canada or the US and they see a drug sale going down and decide to take matters into their own hands. Bodies are left on the street and the offender feels as though they have done their new country a great service. But drug dealer or not, to kill another human being is very illegal and there are some very serious consequences for the crime. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get that person off the hook.

In Leviticus, God explained this concept to His people. You may have unintentionally sinned, but once you are made aware of your guilt, you are accountable and must take certain steps to ensure your atonement.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 (NIV)

It all seems a rather hopeless. Until you keep reading.

and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24 (NIV)

We have all sinned. But we also have all been justified. Like the Israelites, all we must do is admit our guilt before the Lord.

1 John 1:9

Our situation isn’t hopeless. It’s quite the opposite, really. Unlike the Israelites, our sacrifice has already been made once and for all. We need only to make our admission and accept the grace.

The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

A new hope

Read: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

A look at any news outlet these days will let you know that there are an awful lot of people who have no hope. Even those who think they do, don’t. This is nothing new. Hopelessness has plagued the human race since the very first humans walked the earth. Our own weaknesses and insecurities often overshadow anything or anyone who may be able to shine a little light into our lives.

This is what the Jews were feeling in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Pharisees had interpreted the law to a point that there was absolutely no hope in ever being able to keep it. In the first few verses of Matthew 12, we find Jesus and his disciples accused of breaking the law simply because they were hungry. If the need for a midday meal was enough to break the law, how much more did the Jews struggle in their daily life to keep up with the strict parameters the Pharisees put on them?

Yet Jesus fought against these man-made restrictions. While still keeping the law, he explained the freedom in it. Certain exceptions could be made within the boundaries of the law. Jesus emphasized his point by healing a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees considered healing work and thus, decided it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand established that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

Matthew 12:21

Jesus’ ministry was not to publicly put the Pharisees in their place, but rather to show the average person that there was hope beyond what they’d been taught. Their faith wasn’t all about the rules, but the freedom that could be found in them. The law was not given to stifle humanity, but to benefit them. And Jesus, in fulfilling the law, came to do the same.

It is in Jesus’ name that our greatest hope is found. It is in his name that demons must flee and sickness must vanish. It is in his name that we are set free and in his name that we find life everlasting.

Where there is no hope, there is Jesus. Where hope has faded, he brings a new hope.

What is faith?

As Christians, we talk about faith. A lot. It is our belief system. It is the basis on which we live our lives. It is our calling. It is many things. We know that just a small amount—the measure of a mustard seed—can move a mountain. It can heal the sick and open blind eyes. Faith can raise the dead. But how many of us can accurately define faith?

Let’s go the the old standby in Hebrews:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I once heard a pastor say that grace is God’s grip on us and faith is our grip on God. According to Noah Webster, her statement was more than just something to be typed on a meme and posted to social media.

The sense of the verb is to strain, to draw, and thus to bind or make fast. A rope or cable is that which makes fast.

Our faith, combined with God’s grace, brings us or draws us toward God and binds us to Him. Without faith, we have no grip whatsoever. Grace alone is not enough. It is not the binding agent, faith is.

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

FAITH: That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

When we are called upon to use our faith, our belief should not be in the desired outcome, but in the One who can bring it to pass. We must remember that faith goes beyond a little prayer and a hope. Faith is what binds us to God. It draws us closer to Him. It brings us to obedience to His Word and puts in line with His will. It is our judgement that what God has stated is the truth. And, if He promised it, He will perform it.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Dare to hope

As humans, we suffer. There are generally two kinds of suffering, the first being the sort that we have no control over—sickness, accidents, death. The second is of our own doing—suffering from the consequences of our actions.

It is the latter sort that the people of Jerusalem were suffering when Jeremiah penned these words:

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.

Lamentations 3:21-26 (NLT)

These words, from a book titled Lamentations no less, seem incongruent with what was going on at the time. Jerusalem had been warned over and over again to repent from their sins or the city would be destroyed and the people would either die, starve, or be taken captive. Yet over and over again, Israel refused to repent of their sins and went about their own thing anyway. We find Jeremiah here at the time when all the prophecies of destruction were coming to pass. How is it then, that he can still say that he dares to hope? When mothers are killing and eating their children? When princes look like walking corpses? Where is the hope in that?

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you will turn it into a blessing.

William Law

Amidst all of the pain and suffering brought on by sins of the people, Jeremiah remembered this:

Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion according to the greatness of his unfailing love.

Lamentations 3:32 (NLT)

Jesus once told a story that held similar principles. The prodigal son lived the way that he saw fit. He was forced to suffer and endure the consequences of his sin, but when he came home in repentance, love and compassion met him.

Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:40 (NLT)

Even in the middle of our consequences, we can still dare to hope. Because God is still God and He never changes. He loved us before we sinned. He loved us while we sinned. And He still loves us when we repent from our sin.

So if you’re in the middle, dare to hope because the unfailing love of the Lord never ends!

Daily Bible reading: Lamentations 3-5, Hebrews 8

How do I love thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43

Long before Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned these words, someone else wrote similar words of love. But they weren’t of a lover to a mate, but rather a Father to His children.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is.

Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)

Even Paul, as he wrote of the vastness of God’s love for us, couldn’t comprehend it in its entirety. They go much further than a sonnet.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

There is great power in knowing how much someone loves you. You know that person will stand beside you and fight with you—even for you. You know that you have someone at your back, at your side, or in front of you if need be. That love makes you stronger because you know that you are not alone.

How much stronger should we be because of the love that God has poured out for us? This is not a sappy, fluffy, poetic sort of love, but a love of great strength and power.

Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.

Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

When you love someone and that person reciprocates your love, you work together to strengthen that bond and to strengthen each other. Just imagine how much stronger you could be if you more fully understood the love that God has for you? Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words are frail in comparison to the greatness of the love that God has already bestowed upon us. Though we are loved freely, purely, and with passion, God’s love for us is far too great to be contained within the confines of iambic pentameter.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 22-23, Ephesians 3

God’s gift to humanity

Have you ever known someone who acted as though they were God’s gift to humanity? This person can do no wrong. Say no wrong. They are the be all and end all. Their talent and wisdom abounds… But they’re a complete jerk. You can have all the knowledge and talent in the world, but if you have no love, it’s all worthless.

If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I know all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)

We all tend to skip down in this chapter to the part about love being patient and kind. But what about why we should love? Have you ever wondered why this chapter about love is stuck right in the middle of a bunch of chapters about the gifts of the Holy Spirit? It wasn’t so that we’d have something nice to say at weddings. It is so that we understand that, while we should desire the gifts of the Spirit, we should desire to love more—because love is what makes the gifts work. Love came before them and love will endure after them. Without love, these incredible gifts that God gives to us are useless.

Like the person who believes they are everything to everyone, but loves no one, their words and actions are meaningless. How can someone receive a word of wisdom or prophecy if the person delivering it lacks love? How can the gift of faith be activated to heal if you don’t first love the person in need of a miracle? What is a gift worth if it is not given in love?

There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

God’s gift to humanity is not a know-it-all. God’s gift to humanity is love—the love He freely gives to us and the ability He has given us to love others. As Paul begins the next chapter, let love be your highest goal.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 3-4, 1 Corinthians 13