There is Freedom in Forgiveness

The word forgiveness brings up all kinds of feelings and images for people. Some see forgiveness as being weak, allowing those who have hurt you to “get away with” the pain they have inflicted. Some see forgiveness as giving permission to wrongs, others see it as allowing evil to exist unchecked in the world. However you view forgiveness, I believe it is fair to say that the word carries with it strong emotion. Shakespeare could just have easily written the words, ‘to forgive, or not to forgive, that is the question.’

Whatever your view of forgiveness, one thing remains true, God calls us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. He does not follow that statement with a litany of exceptions to this command. It is complete and absolute, without exception. We are called to forgive, just as God forgave us. Let’s be clear, I do not know what sins have been committed against you, so I cannot, and will not claim to fully understand the pain that you may have suffered, and continue to suffer because of them. I would never want to do anything to negate what has happened to you. My sole desire in sharing this is to help you understand the toll that unforgiveness takes on your life.

People who hold on to wrongs, injure only themselves not the person whom their grudge is against. Unforgiveness festers in your heart, it makes you bitter, angry, resentful, and at its worst can cause you to injure others. All the while, the individual(s) who sinned against you, continue on as they were. Forgiveness is not about them; it is about you and your relationship with God. By living with unforgiveness in your heart, you are creating separation between you and God.

Remember God forgave us for all the sins we committed and have yet to commit. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, in this world we can do to make amends for, or to earn that forgiveness.  If we could in our own power make ourselves righteousness, and restore our relationship with God the Cross would not have been necessary to reconcile us to the Father. He forgave us in the midst of our sin, our injuring others, and in our denial. When we didn’t even realize we needed forgiveness, He forgave us. His love for us, and His desire for us to be reconciled to Him was so great that He forgave it all…ALL. He made the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus, who paid the price for all our sin, so that we could return to God.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it Is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

All scripture speak aside, unforgiveness puts you in bondage…ties you to the person who wronged you, forever. Unforgiveness is bondage, it is handing your life over to another, your emotions, your heart, to the person who has hurt you. Living in unforgiveness is like handing the reigns of your life over to someone else and letting them drive you. The hate, anger and resentment that festers in your heart will overtake your life and you will be unable to move forward.

The word forgiveness (aphesis) mean loosing someone from what binds him. It stems from a verb meaning to send away. Forgiveness grants freedom to those who are in bondage. Those bonds tie you to the hurt that others have caused either intentionally or not. Forgiveness allows you to send away the pain that holds your heart and mind hostage. Imagine for a moment, what it would be like to not have those feelings shadowing you. To be free from those negative feelings associated with that person or action.

Forgiveness is not something we can do on our own. We are broken and resentful people, unable to do anything good outside of God. Sure, we may forget for a while, we may stuff it down and chalk it up to ‘no big deal’. However, there will come a time where something will happen to remind you of the pain that was caused, and it’s like living through it all over again. In fact, the longer you stuff it, the worse it will be when it comes out…and it will come out.

The only way to be rid of the root of bitterness is the loosing of forgiveness. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every for of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

Yes, I do know what I’m saying. I know that pain and bitterness has become part of who you are and you’re not sure who you will be without it. You feel justified in your anger and desire for revenge, but if you hold on to that bitterness, your hands are not free to hold onto Christ. Forgiving those wrongs does not make them right, does not mean you approve, does not mean it was OK, it means you are loosing that which binds you, sending it away.  You can’t do it on your own, but you don’t have too.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably ore than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

My prayer for each person reading this, is that the Holy Spirit will reveal the unforgiveness in your heart, what which binds you and keeps your heart hostage. I pray that He will work in your life and enable you to let go and forgive those who have hurt you, just as Christ forgave you.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change our world!

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We are not immune!

we are not immune

While I was listening to Jack Graham this morning on the radio, he said something that I loved and feel many of us need to hear, Christianity is not immunity. Think about that for a moment, do we believe that because we have put our faith in Jesus that our lives are now going to be easy and that everything we want is going to quickly fall into place? No, really, think about it. How often have we gotten frustrated or angry because what we thought should happen, didn’t. Or what we thought God should do, He didn’t. If we really take a good hard look in scripture, we quickly see that Jesus never promised us a smooth ride. In fact, He offered up the opposite. And in the midst of it, He calls us to be at peace, without anxiety, full of hope and joy.

Paul tells us, ” You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:10-17

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-4

Consider it joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Being a Christian does not mean our lives will be free from troubles, in fact, it’s quite the contrary. Our very existence is in opposition to the world. What we believe the world considers foolish, and we are told throughout scripture is that we will face trials and persecutions, just as Christ did. It is never a matter of if but when. If we follow Christ, we will have a share in His sufferings. Anyone who tells you differently is not sharing truth.

Being a Christian does not mean we are now immune to the disease of this world, the disease of sin and death. It means we are in a constant battle for our lives, and the lives of those around us. What we are told in scripture is that when we face challenges, we don’t face them alone, we don’t need to be anxious, we don’t need to fear the trials and tribulations of this world because God has overcome the world. What does that mean? Well, it means that we’ll experience some pretty awful stuff in this life, but we do it so that we can have an eternity free from suffering as we share in Christ’s inheritance.

My grandmother used to tell me, “the human mind and body can endure just about anything, so long as we can conceive of the end.” We know there is an end, we know the battle is won, we know that we will finally be in the arms of the savior and the suffering will cease. It is that hope, that confidence that allows us to whether the storms of this life.

The particular challenges that you are facing right now, they are hard, they seem overwhelming, you’re wondering how you can make it one more day. Perhaps it’s your health or that of someone you love, perhaps it’s your finances or your job. I don’t know what your trial is, I do know that it is not insurmountable. I do know you are not alone. I do know that God’s promises are true and can be counted on. I do know that you are not facing anything that hundreds or thousands have not faced before you. I do know that if you hold on to Christ, it will not destroy you.

We are not immune to the sin of this world. Jesus blood is more like Teflon. the arrows of this life will fly at us, Jesus blood empowers us to stand firm against those forces and not be destroyed. They don’t have to penetrate who we are in Him.

Christianity is not immunity; Christianity is the rudder that allows us to navigate through the trials of this life until we can securely anchor ourselves in the Kingdom with our savior.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change our world!

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Unswervingly Spur

Spur Heb 10I was scanning through my Facebook feed this morning, and as I often do, I checked out my memories function. I found that on this day, on year ago, I posted this scripture, ” Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25

My attention was captured by the words, unswervingly and spur. Not sure why, but these words aren’t common in my daily vocabulary, and they caught my attention. So, I spent some time this morning looking up what the meaning of them are in Greek. What I discovered created a sense of urgency from this passage that I had not grasped before.

Unswervingly, in generic English translation it means to follow a direct path, to never turn aside and to be steadfast and loyal. In Greek, the word is anthistemi, which means to set against or withstand without giving up or letting go.  We are to withstand without giving up on the hope we profess. We cannot turn or be turned aside from that hope. We must hold to it with a single-minded belief that this hope we have in Jesus, that which we profess is based on God’s promises which are unfailing.

How often do we get derailed by the frustrations of life? If any of you are like, me right now you feel like you’re in a batting cage with a rogue pitching machine, no bat, no glove and the door is locked. The fast balls of life are firing you at you, and they keep getting faster and faster and you are getting tired of dodging and swerving and trying to get out of the way, desperately trying to not get hit in the head and knocked out. We are called as Christians to hold fast to the hope of God’s promises without being turned aside, to set against all that life throws at us without giving up or letting go. Easier said than done sometimes…

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

We will face all kinds of trials during our lives in this world, but God has overcome the world. We must stand fast, without giving up or turning aside from the hope we have in Jesus. We have the Full Armor of God, and it can withstand any fastball!

The second word that grabbed me here was, spur. Being from the Old West this word has an entirely different meaning, or so I thought. When I hear or see the word spur I think of an attachment to my boot which is meant to get my horse moving with a bit more urgency… Spur also means to provoke or stir up, to goad in to action or to incite.  It also means to urge or encourage to action, to move in vigorous pursuit of an object, to stimulate, to impel, to drive. We are to spur each other on toward love and good deeds and not to neglect meeting together. Spur does not mean suggest, imply, or consider. It does not mean that we should think about it or wait for the right time or even to hold off till it’s convenient.

The sense of urgency here is clear. We are to stand firm without turning aside, setting ourselves against all that comes at us in the hope of God’s promises. Additionally, we are to drive and incite each other toward love and good deeds. This is action! As I read this scripture with new eyes, I don’t see it as the warm fuzzy that I once did, encouraging me to remember God’s promises and to make sure I continue to meet together with the Body.

This is a call to action. A call for us to stand firm in our beliefs and to encourage one another to act as Christ has taught us. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

When we are sharing the negativity we hear on the television, radio, internet; are we spuring one another on to love and good works? When we put our wants before the needs of others under the guise of ‘preparing for the future’ are we unswervingly holding to the hope of God’s promises?

What is our witness to the world when we are acting like everyone else? Hoarding material comforts, spreading slander, taking political sides, and ignoring the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world? This is not who Christ called us to be.

Let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, build others up according to their needs (not our circumstances), get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, slander, and every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate, forgiving as Christ forgave us. This is who we are, this is what we are called to be, this is what the world needs right now.

Together, let’s be unswerving in our hope, and spur each other on toward love and good works.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change our world!

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God knows we choose

Romans-6-1

While spending time this week thinking and praying over what to write, I was brought back to a conversation I’d had recently.

I was having a conversation with a friend, on a variety of things when they made a statement that stuck with me. We were talking about some recent decisions they’d made, and they said, “God already knows what I’m going to do and loves me anyways, so why does it matter?” This statement reminded me of another friend who made a similar statement that, “If God wants me to die from COVID, it doesn’t matter if I wear a mask or not.” I’ve actually had several conversations, over the past few weeks, where individuals are relinquishing accountability for their choices to God’s foreknowledge, (and in some cases believed fore-planning) of them. I want to share something with you today, that as I write, I pray it will be received in the spirit which it is intended.

God’s Omniscience does not affect our choices – our relationship with Him does.

Just because God knows us completely and knows all things, knows how we’ll react and respond, this does not excuse us from our accountability for the choices we make. God’s knowledge does not equate to His approval. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility on the basis that God knew we’d do it, and He let us do it anyway.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6:1-2

God created us in His image, we chose another road. God sent Jesus to die, and redeem that decision, not so we could relinquish responsibility for our choices, bu so we could make better ones. Jesus showed us the way. He showed us how to live.  As we read in Romans 6, God’s grace is not a license to drive off a cliff, it’s a get out of jail free card; for the mishaps of life – kind of like your auto insurance company’s accident forgiveness program. It’s there if you need it, but unnecessary if we practice good driving skills.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24

We all need accident forgiveness for the things that we’ve done. Here’s the rub, knowing that God knows we’ll do it, and knowing that God will forgive it, does not give us God’s permission for it.

Our choices can’t be ‘blamed’ on Gods foreknowledge and acceptance. That’s like saying it’s a parent’s fault that a child sneaks out of their bedroom at night to steal ice cream. The parent may expect it to happen, they’ve established rules and guidelines so the child knows they should not do it, but in the end the parent also knows that the stomach ache the child may feel in the morning may be the best way for them to learn. As a parent there are choices, I could prevent my child from making, but then how would they learn? Allowing them to make, and learn from their mistakes, does not mean I approve of them, it means I’m giving them the space to learn and grow.

The flip side of this coin however, is that my child’s relationship with me, and my relationship with God, can (and will) affect their choices. Demonstrating the way, reading the Bible and praying with them, teaching them how to make Godly choices, will help them make better choices.

How can we claim to know God, to know Christ and have a relationship with Him, if we don’t know His word? How can we claim to know God’s direction for our lives when we don’t go before Him in prayer? How can we claim to follow Christ when our words and actions degrade, demean and devalue ourselves and others?

Our relationship with God, and His son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can influence, affect and change our behaviors. Just like the single greatest influence on our children’s lives is their relationship with us. The single greatest influence on our Christian walk is our relationship with Christ.

We face down decisions every day, now more than ever our choices are so polarized that it seems almost impossible to chose wisely. The world is full of advice on what to do, what to think, how to act, who to believe, which side to chose and which side to hate. We keep looking to the world for answers, mostly because they are easy, plenty and familiar. When the stakes are highest and the decisions hardest we throw our hands in the air and claim, not my responsibility; God planned all this out, He knew what would happen, it’s His will, it’s His decision, doesn’t matter what I do.

Friends, it does matter what you do, you were given a will of your own, a chance to choose God or the World. God’s knowledge of you (like a parent who knows his child) does not absolve you from the responsibility to use the mind soul and strength that He gave you. Yes His grace is sufficient, but it is not an excuse.

Your relationship with Christ is the single largest influence on your choices; it can save, redeem, restore and complete you. Your choices, and the outcome of your life is a product of your relationship with Him. A relationship which is always present, unchanging and available when you decide to turn to Him.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change our world!

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Where did the weeds come from?

wheat_weedsWhile preparing for a children’s message this week, I noticed something in a familiar scripture I had not noticed before. I love how scripture does that, reveals something new to you amidst the familiar. I was reading Matthew 13 to talk to our kiddos about the Parable of the Weeds. Tucked into the middle of this story is a subplot having to do with the servants of the Sower.

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30

Right in the middle of this story we see the Sower’s servants get snarky with Him, “didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” I can actually hear the voice of my youngest son here. Sarcastically stating, “mom what did you do, cause this is not what’s supposed to happen.”

Like a spoiled child, when something happens that was not expected…weeds growing in the midst of the crop, we blame the Sower. We doubt Him who promises us everything, who is always faithful and who always keeps His word. When something unexpected or unpleasant happens, we assume it must be God that caused it through His action or inaction.

The Sowers response is simply, “An enemy did this.”

How often do we attribute the bad things in our lives to Him who saves and provides for us in all things? When situations arise in our lives, why is our immediate response to blame God? Why to do exclaim, “why did You do this to me?” or “Why did you allow this to happen?”

An enemy did this. Why is it easier for us to believe that our loving God would respond or act in an unloving way as opposed to believe that the evil one who comes to steal and destroy would be responsible for our troubles (that is who he is), or that indeed we are responsible for them ourselves?

The scripture states, “But while he was sleeping, his enemy came and also sowed weeds among the wheat, and went on his way.” Matt 13:25 Unlike God, Satan can’t be all places at once, he sneaks around when we aren’t paying attention and sows weeds in the middle of our fields, then runs away to do more elsewhere.  He sows discord, hatred, malice, envy, and jealousy. These sprout up with the good fruits of our labor, but often we don’t seem them right away, we don’t see them until it’s too late.

After the Sower responds that an enemy has sown the bad seed, the servants immediate response is, ‘how can we fix it?’ They jump to the conclusion that these shoots should be torn out.  I like the way the Amplified Bible states the Sower’s response, “But he said, No, lest in gathering the wild wheat (weeds resembling wheat), you root up the [true] wheat along with it.” Matt 13:29

Wow! God’s grace here is so humbling. God hates sin, can’t bear to be near it, sent His son to bear it, but in this instance He allows it to sprout up, making sure that in the process of weeding, He doesn’t loose any of His harvest. He didn’t sow the weeds. He didn’t create the problems. However, he will always give us what we need to endure till the harvest.

“No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy].” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Weeds will be sown in life. Our loving and gracious Father will never let them destroy us. He will always provide a way for us to endure and grow and flourish among the weeds and thorns of life. Satan may sow discord, Christ will not allow it to destroy us. In the end He will send His angels to reap the harvest, first taking the weeds and burning them, then bringing us into His barn.

God will not give up His people. He may allow weeds to shoot up and try us, but He will not prematurely weed us out along with our troubles. He will provide us all we need to endure until the proper time, then our troubles will cease and we will be with our Savior.

God is not the cause of our troubles, He is the solution to them.

I’d love to hear from you. If you like what you’ve read, please share and comment.

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Church Closed for Cleaning

closed_church_shutterstock“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Recently we did a lesson with our youth on spiritual gifts. We wrote them all out on pieces of paper. One side had the name of the gift and the other side had the definition of that gift. We taped them to the walls of our youth room, with only the name of the gift showing, and asked the youth to go and stand beside the one they feel best represents their gift.

I was not surprised that gifts like serving, helps, giving, mercy and hospitality remained vacant where those more well known and coveted gifts, wisdom, teaching, leading, evangelism, and apostleship each had one or two youth standing next to them.

In turn the youth would state why the felt they belonged with their identified gift, and then I asked them to turn the paper over, read the definition and then state if they still felt their choice to be true. In several cases we had a reshuffling of youth, however those seeming ‘less important’ gifts remained empty.

Paul is very clear when he shares with the Corinthian church that all gifts are from the same Spirit and all are from God. He goes on to say that all gifts are given for the common good (the church) and that we, together are one body. Each gift serving as a functioning piece of that body. Why then do we see some gifts as ‘better’ or ‘more important’ than other gifts?

Our church, like most if not all of yours, shuttered it’s doors for a time this spring due to COVID-19 and the subsequent public safety rules that were enacted. As churches around the world took a huge leap forward to provide virtual worship services, small groups, youth meetings and do whatever was possible to keep people connected, behind the scenes, church leaders were making plans for how to reopen.

Strangely enough, those plans did not rely heavily on the worship team performance, sermon topics or Sunday school teachings. Everything hinged on who would keep the church clean. Looking at the type and frequency of cleaning, what chemicals are best to use and what days it should take place; these discussions permeated church board meetings week after week. Who would step up to serve, to help and to give to support this ‘ministry’? The church reopening was hinged on those gifts that we consider ‘less important’.

We put out a call for help, and every Friday a small army of masked heroes arrived at the church to prepare it for Sunday services. They mopped, dusted, disinfected every surface. Their gifts made it so we could reopen.

Sunday morning another team of masked heroes arrived, those who would hold doors open, greet and seat the people of God. With smiling eyes and a joyful voice the welcomed people back to God’s house.

Early risers, sincere smiles, joyful hearts, strong backs, masked faces and gloved hands; their service, help, gifts and sacrifice made it possible for our church to not only gather, but to not invest large amounts of church funds into hiring a professional cleaning service.

Living through this pandemic has taught me many things, one of the more important lessons is that we are all one body. We all have God given gifts. Each gift is as important and valuable as another. The pandemic of 2020 has demonstrated, in no small way, that the gifts of service, helps, hospitality, giving and mercy are more needed now than ever. \

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”

I want to thank God for those people out there serving in their roles,  in the medical field, education, transportation, law enforcement and fire prevention. Thank you to store clerks and mechanics and all those people who day after day get up, show up, give thanks and keep the Body moving forward. Without you, where would we be.

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

I’d love to hear from you. If you like what you’ve read, please share and comment.

Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.