Not Ashamed (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 

And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.

That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. (New Living Translation)

Guilt and Shame

Shame is a nasty feeling. Whereas guilt is a function of the conscience, and helps steer us toward making things right with others, shame lays an unnecessary heavy burden on the soul. Guilt says that I did or said something that wasn’t good. But shame says we did or said something because I am a failure.

The Apostle Paul insisted to his young protégé, Timothy, that there’s no basis for shame when it comes to proclamation of the gospel. In fact, the Good News confronts shame by putting a wooden stake through its heart.

Shame is a vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets. But the light of the Gospel penetrates life, disintegrating shame and putting it to death.

God’s word is alive and powerful! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. God’s word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts. Nothing is hidden from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth. (Hebrews 4:12-13, CEV)

Not a Failure

From a particular perspective, Paul would seem like a failure to many. He was an up and coming star in Judaic circles, but gave it all up to follow Jesus. And then, his life was marked by continual hardship, even persecution. To top it off, he landed in prison. Ironically, Paul found himself in a bad place just for being a preacher of good. He never left his imprisonment, and was eventually killed.

Yet Paul had no shame about any of it. Rather, he embraced the suffering, the difficulty, and all the circumstances that went sideways. Why? Because he had complete faith in who he was serving and what he was doing.

A lot of people, especially church pastors, struggle with shame. Most of them don’t have “successful” ministries when looked at from a certain angle. They see themselves as failures, and end up leaving the ministry and never going back.

Our strength and our help, however, no matter whether we’re clergy or laity, is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth; our assistance is found in the Good News we proclaim, in Jesus Christ, who himself was not ashamed of being tortured and killed.

Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)

No More Shame

Christ has defanged the vampire of shame. And because of the work achieved on the Cross, we can now live in confidence, knowing who we believe, and trusting that the shame-busting Good News of grace will have it’s penetrating way in the world.

Salvation entails being delivered from something so that we can live for something else. We have been saved from the terrible grip of shame – which then allows us to live a vulnerable and confident faith in Jesus through the power of the Spirit.

Deliverance from shame enables us to respond to our holy calling from God.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4, NIV)

God chose us to be holy. He does not want us to live in sin. (1 Thessalonians 4:7, ERV)

“Salvation” is a wonderful word which needs to be reclaimed as so much more than going to heaven someday. In reality, it is the divine purpose by which God makes us just, right, and holy, forgiving our offenses and transforming us by the Spirit into the image of Christ.

Christ, in his incarnation, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension has redeemed us. Jesus has torn down every wall, removed each barrier, and built bridges in connecting us to a life without shame and with everything we need to live well.

Christians embody the life of Christ within them by living a holy life, free of the weight of shame, and boldly proclaiming a message of grace, forgiveness, and freedom from the dark secrets we all carry.

This isn’t merely an ethereal gospel; it is Good News of great joy that has real impact for the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.

O God, the author of peace and lover of harmony, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is deliverance and freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A Mountain of Good News (Isaiah 25:6-9)

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the covering that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    “See, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
    This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Mountains are a prominent and symbolic part of Holy Scripture.

Abraham sojourned to a mountain where he exhibited the pinnacle of faith in radical obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-19)

The Law was given to Moses on a mountain. (Exodus 19:1-20:17)

Elijah traveled 40 days and nights to meet God on a mountain. (1 Kings 19:11-18)

Jesus preached the most famous sermon ever on a mountain. (Matthew 5-7)

Because of such references, we routinely refer to extraordinary events as “mountaintop experiences.”

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains;
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (Psalm 36:5-6, NRSV)

The mountain is a contrast and antithesis to the valley of death below. It signifies God’s power and reign over all earthly rulers. On the mountain we enjoy a great feast of the soul, not to mention an actual meal full of celebration. After all, food and celebration always go together in God’s kingdom.

Whenever healing and/or emancipation happen, it’s time for a celebration. To celebrate significant events, and ritualize them so we remember them, is wise and much needed.

For the Christian, Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s good promises. In Christ, we have deliverance from guilt, shame, death, and hell. Because Jesus Christ is risen from death and has conquered the grave, our salvation is assured and made possible. And so, along with the prophet Isaiah, we proclaim the good news of peace through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7, NRSV)

Celebration of the good news keeps any sort of spiritual amnesia at bay; and when future difficulties arise, because of our joy in salvation, we are able to recall the mighty acts of God and embrace hope for the future.

If we consistently practice celebration, the redemption experienced in the past is constantly fresh, like a sumptuous meal before us in an endless buffet of goodness. We can eat anytime we want.

Banquets are rightly associated with hospitality, generosity, and fellowship. Meals in the ancient Near East culture were much more than utilitarian; eating together was (and, frankly, still is in most parts of the world) a deeply spiritual event which communicates acceptance, encouragement, and love to one another.

God is the ultimate host. He throws the best parties. God ensures that there is plenty of food, fellowship, and fun. God’s joy knows no bounds. In the middle of a world beset with sadness, loss, and grief, God’s boundless generosity swallows up people’s disgrace and mourning.

At God’s Table, no one cries alone; everyone is comforted; nobody walks away hungry; and, every person is waited upon, no matter who they are or where they have come from. Indeed, there is always room at the Table.

Through Christ’s resurrection, death has been swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54)

Death no longer has any power to control, humiliate, or shame us into submission. Death’s threats are empty.

The Grim Reaper’s teeth have been pulled and his scythe has been broken. He is the party-pooper who is barred from entry.

There is life and abundance for all who ascend the mountain and feast with God at his Table. The invitation has gone out. The Table is spread. We need only to come.

In the joy of your Son, Jesus Christ, through his mighty resurrection and in expectation of his coming again, we offer ourselves to you, Almighty God, as holy and living sacrifices. Together with all your people everywhere and in every age, we proclaim the mystery of the faith:

Christ has died!

Christ is risen!

Christ will come again!

Send your Holy Spirit upon us, we pray, that the bread which we break and the cup which we bless may be to us a sacred communion, a holy celebration of Christ’s body, blood, and victory over death. We declare:

God has spoken!

God has acted!

God has provided!

May you gather all into your hospitable and abundant kingdom; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One benevolent God, now and forever. Amen.

Have Spiritual Eyes to See (1 Peter 1:8-12)

You love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him. So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him.

It was concerning this salvation that the prophets made careful search and investigation, and they prophesied about this gift which God would give you. They tried to find out when the time would be and how it would come. This was the time to which Christ’s Spirit in them was pointing, in predicting the sufferings that Christ would have to endure and the glory that would follow. 

God revealed to these prophets that their work was not for their own benefit, but for yours, as they spoke about those things which you have now heard from the messengers who announced the Good News by the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. These are things which even the angels would like to understand. (Good News Translation)

No less real than our actual physical eyes are our spiritual eyes – which enable us to see things invisible to our physical eyesight. Faith is the glasses that bring those things into focus.

To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, GNT)

Our life is a matter of faith, not of sight.

(2 Corinthians 5:7, GNT)

Faith creates the conditions for love. Cold dispassionate ideas and thoughts are just that; but faith gives us sight to see the true nature and meaning of love. Faith enables us to see Jesus Christ, who is Love incarnate.

This spiritual sight, made possible by faith, and bringing Christ into focus, is the basis for joy and the foundation of hope. It is more than joy; it’s joy unspeakable, beyond words, greater than the vocal chords can produce. It’s the sort of joy that takes your breath away.

Joy elevates us and brings us face to face with the glory of heaven. And once we have experienced this, our contentment is solely in Christ, and we have no need for anything the world offers. This is what it means to be saved.

Salvation always involves two equal and important facets: deliverance from something, so that we may attach to something else.

For the believer, with spiritual eyes to see in faith, we are saved from all the snake oil promises and allurements of the world; we are delivered from the weight of guilt and shame we carry; and we are snatched from the flames of hell and the machinations of the devil to ensnare us in evil.

The deliverance comes so that we can then connect with goodness, truth, justice, integrity, wholeness – with the love of God in Jesus Christ. Experiencing this wondrous spiritual fruit leads to a pure confession of faith:

But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him. (Philippians 3:7-9, GNT)

I am neither a Christian because I was raised in cultural Christianity, nor because it was all I knew at the time. Rather, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ – because I was given a great gift of faith and saw divine love given for me, even though I deserved none of it.

So, my heart fully and forever belongs to Christ. It is a life worth living, a life of faith, hope, and love. No matter the hardship, adversity, or crud which happens to me on this earth, I am thoroughly surrounded by God’s grace, peace, and love.

And if I have to explain it to you, you probably don’t have it. That’s because it takes a different sort of eyesight, a countercultural set of ears, and a new meaning of touch, smell, and taste.

This sort of deliverance from sin, death, and hell, and into a great inheritance of faith, is so incredible that the ancient prophets, and the even older angels, longed to know what this salvation truly is.

And what they foretold, and believers now know, is that the cross is the way to victory; death is the passage to life; suffering is the road to glory.

Therefore, our present afflictions need not discourage nor debilitate us, as though we were miserable without any hope. Even more, it is through these very troubles that we are blessed.

No matter the evil thrown our way, there is always glory attached to it. If we must suffer, let us do so in the same spirit as Christ suffered:

My dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful test you are suffering, as though something unusual were happening to you. Rather be glad that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed. 

Happy are you if you are insulted because you are Christ’s followers; this means that the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is resting on you. If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people’s affairs. However, if you suffer because you are a Christian, don’t be ashamed of it, but thank God that you bear Christ’s name. (1 Peter 4:12-16, GNT)

Allow your spiritual eyes to confirm the truth, and to behold the living Christ.

“Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself.” Jesus (Luke 24:38-39, GNT)

May you know Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again. And may you know the hope of glory, indescribable joy, and everlasting love. May you know salvation.

Victory Celebration (Exodus 15:1-18)

The Songs of Moses and Miriam, by Laura James

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him;
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
    his elite officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power—
    your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
    you sent out your fury; it consumed them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue; I will overtake;
    I will divide the spoil; my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in splendor, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;
    you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples heard; they trembled;
    pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;
    trembling seized the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
Terror and dread fell upon them;
    by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone
until your people, O Lord, passed by,
    until the people whom you acquired passed by.
You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,
    the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (New Revised Standard Version)

The ancient Israelites were freed from four hundred years of Egyptian bondage through the miraculous work of God. Then, as they were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to take his army and pursue the Israelites.

Literally sandwiched between the army and the sea, yet another miracle happened: God parted the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through on dry ground; and then God closed the sea up on the pursuing army. Today’s Old Testament lesson is the people’s victory chant of deliverance.

Portrayed here is Yahweh’s incomparable power over the mighty Egyptians, and protective presence with the Israelites. God was fulfilling the divine promise to bring the people out from bondage and into the Promised Land. Nothing can stand in the way of the Lord’s purpose.

By Stushie Art

God Rescues

Throughout the Bible, deliverance and celebration go hand in hand. For the Christian, this time of year is full of celebrating the resurrection of Christ from death. Because our redemption is secured, we rejoice in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus.

God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much; the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (Colossians 1:13-14, MSG)

God Protects

The Lord showed up and wondrously delivered the Israelites from certain annihilation. And God has also entered into humanity’s world and brought emancipation from sin, death, and hell through Christ’s redemptive events of cross and resurrection. We are shielded by God’s glorious grace and goodness.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5, NIV)

God Establishes

Deliverance is provided, and then the divine presence is with us throughout life. God doesn’t expect us to be on our own after we are saved from a calamitous situation. Grace is given for all things, not just some things. So, the Lord helps to establish us in faith and perseverance for a lifetime.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature…. Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. (2 Peter 1:3-4, 12, NRSV)

Our victory chant comes from God’s redemptive events. For the Christian, we are rescued from our precarious spiritual plight, protected and established by divine power, through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

“Victory in Jesus” by E.M. Bartlett, 1939

I heard an old, old story
How a Savior came from glory
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me
I heard about His groaning
Of His precious blood’s atoning
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory

Oh, victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood
He loved me ‘ere I knew Him and all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood

I heard about His healing
Of His cleansing power revealing
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus, come and heal my broken spirit”
And somehow Jesus came and brought to me the victory

Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me, and He bought me with His redeeming blood
He loved me ‘ere I knew Him and all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood