Forgiveness

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There are attributes in many believers that seem unnatural to the people around them. Some people have a joy that shines out of them, some the patience that lasts forever. While all seem unnatural in this dark world, they are beautiful when they show their light to the darkness. One of the blessings given to me is my ability to forgive. I took an introspective moment to consider how to explain something so unnatural to those around me. I would like to credit the Holy Spirit. The part of me that thought of vengeance or vindication has become so quiet, its whisper has disappeared.

         Like many of the gifts the Spirit gives to believers, the beauty of them can’t be fully described to people who don’t walk in them. We all know that the Word of God calls us to forgive. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15) This passage means so much more to a forgiving heart. I see Jesus giving an instruction for us to do unto others as our Father has done for us in providing His Son. Even more, I see an amazing Father teaching His children to do something that is good for them even though it isn’t pleasant by nature. Like a parent telling a child to bathe regularly; the child can’t appreciate the lessons in hygiene given to them until they are older and matured. Similarly we begin to appreciate the Word of God as our faith grows and our spirit matures.

               When we refuse to forgive those who offend or harm us we change who we are. We affect the way we see others in terms of trust and kindness. The hurt we hold onto in being unforgiving causes damage and inevitably reveals itself in a way we don’t recognize, in a completely unrelated situation. I think of people who hurt others as fallen and sinful, which applies to us all. In that way we are all consistently falling short of the Glory of God. The nature of people is like gravity. We are always sinful just as gravity always pulls. When we fall do we lash out against gravity or accept what it is?

         Lacking forgiveness is like refusing to accept the nature of sin and man. Refusing to work within God’s design just makes us uncomfortable as the world continues to dwell in darkness. Forgiveness is a light to a world content with its fallenness. Show this world forgiveness with a humility that humbles a hardened heart.

         Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, (Luke 17:3) We are told here to pay attention to ourselves. That makes sense seeing that forgiveness is for our well-being over the well-being of the offender. I feel that forgiveness given, even when there has been no repentance, calms the heart of the offended and warms the heart of our Father. Christ was crucified so that we would have the choice to be forgiven. He died for those who have shown no repentance so that the option of salvation is theirs. Forgive unconditionally, break the cycle of pride so that the love of Christ can be felt through you.

But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:4)

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Psalm 32:1)

Walk on Water or Struggle to Swim

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We all know people whose fire for The Lord doesn’t burn as hot as it once did. The bright light that was such an inspiration, such a beacon for Christ, struggles to even be visible. Maybe you are that person. You remember the joy of walking so closely to your Savior and now find the world smothering your passion.

                As I sat in a bible study the Lord laid an image on my heart that was so clear it filled my mind and sparked my imagination. Living a worldly life is comparable to drowning. When we try to find our peace, joy, or purpose in earthly things we end up empty and alone. The lack of fulfillment causes us to struggle harder and to seek greater extremes to find the joy we remember. We can recall what we found in Christ but struggle to find the foothold we want to stop struggling against drowning in our sinfulness, pride, self-focus, and earthly desire. I imagine the panic and hopelessness of drowning and the inability to overcome the desperation, unable to remember what solid ground felt like. It’s kicking and fighting to stay afloat as hope sinks below the surface. We look up from under the water trying to remember what fresh air in our lungs felt like. It was this kind of feeling that caused the image the Spirit gave me to flourish in my struggling heart.

                We struggle but our Savior walks on water and commands the seas to be calm. When Peter focused on Jesus he was able to walk on water too. It’s in a Christ focused existence that we can walk on top of the turbulent seas of worldliness, and that Christ can command those waves to be calm or show us how to let the water roll off our back as He leads us by example. When we take the right hand of God and allow Him to lead again, the water we once allowed to cover us becomes a mist, noticeable but harmless.

                We are called to seek first the kingdom of God, focused on Christ, walking on the water with Him. We can be sure that even when we fall away and lose our focus on Him, His focus never leaves us. His hand is always outstretched and waiting for us to take it again. The world and all of the temporary things in it will quit on us and leave us alone and empty. We have a promise that our eternal God will never leave nor forsake us. Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5 quoting Deuteronomy 31:6)

I found the picture above, it’s the closest one to the personal picture the Spirit gave me. I hope it helps make these words more real and reignites the hope in your heart that will fuel your fire.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Walk the Lord’s Path

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  Many of us as believers find ourselves at odds with the secular world as we grow deeper in the Lord and walk in submission to the Spirit. The things that use to bring us happiness now grow cold when compared to the joy found in our Savior. I came across a few passages in 2 Corinthians that made some amazing points. Let’s look at the background and then make God’s word through Paul applicable to us today.
         Paul was originally a persecutor of the faith. So not only was his message looked down upon as he spread the gospel, but the people also used his previous position to question his character and authenticity. Imagine the difficulty Paul faced being rejected personally and then having his message rejected as he traveled to share the good news. We all face the same issue after we find our value in the Lord. Not only are our beliefs questioned but the life Jesus turned us from stays with us as a stigma. People think we are hypocrites because they don’t yet understand the power in the blood of Christ. Let’s look at three passages that pulled at my heart and see how Paul walked in this. Let’s learn for him.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (2 Corinthians 1:12)
          This is beautiful. People can question what you believe, but when you are walking in and led by the Spirit you are without fault in what you present. You bring the simplicity and godly sincerity of God’s Word and the good news of Jesus. The goal is not to rely on earthly wisdom (watered down Christ) to draw people but to let God be God while you plant His seeds. The harvest belongs to the Lord. It is because of this that Paul can have a clear ‘testimony of conscience’ when people question what he professes to the lost.
Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? (2 Corinthians 1:17)
          Here we find Paul explaining his presentation of the gospel and innocence in seeking acceptance from his actions. He makes the people aware that his explanation of the Gospel isn’t intended to gratify his flesh through praise for him. It is from the Spirit and focuses the glory to God. The reactions of the listeners is not a priority to a believer. We are called to be an example in a dark world. Our light should not dim when the environment we walk in stays dark. We reflect the light of God without apology and should accept the same rejection that our Savior received if that’s the result of our walk.
Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9)
         This passage came before the others in the Word, but was kept until last as a summation which says it all. As children of the living God we can present His word and represent Him in our actions without worry. His Word is true, everlasting and unchanging. The reaction of the lost belongs to them and the transformation of their hearts belongs to the Lord. We should reflect God’s light through the guidance of His Word and Spirit never using our own wisdom which waters down His perfect power. His power is manifest in our weakness and submission. Your walk is with your Lord and the opinions that walk incites are the fuel that glorifies God and makes Him shine brighter. You be the vessel and let God be God! In that there is no fault.

Blessed in the Walk

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As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)

          During a quiet time this verse opened up to me and I’d like to share what I feel this verse is saying. Let’s put ourselves in the position of this woman. She sees Jesus in the flesh professing the truths of God and healing people. She has no doubt He is a great man and great teacher. I hear people that are like minded today believing that a great teacher with a great life philosophy walked around teaching 2000 years ago. They see the truth in His wisdom but can’t move into what He truly brought to earth.

          Then there are those who believe in who Jesus was but neglect the relationship with the Father that His death provided. The Bible says that even the demons believe in who Jesus is. In the gospels they refer to Him as the Son of God before He casts them out. Believing that He existed as a great teacher or even believing He was the Son of God doesn’t provide the salvation His blood offers. The woman in the passage above admired and believed in His. She blessed the woman that gave Him life and was grateful for Him. She professed in front of a crowd her admiration for Him.

          But let’s look at Jesus’ response. He explains that the true blessing is in the Word He brought to earth. The blessing is in Him as the Word and not a man. Jesus wants us to experience all that is available through Him, not just admire the miracles. Not just who He is, but the fullness of God’s Word manifest through Him. The true blessing comes in walking with the Lord and not just seeing Him walk by. The greatness of God is seen when we follow His lead, submitted to Him, instead of walking ahead and asking Him to catch up when we need Him. While His existence as God in the flesh is important to believe, it’s in the grace and love showed to us through His death that must be experienced to see God’s blessing. Hear God’s word spoken through the lips of the Savior. Follow His example of love and compassion for the lost. Submit to the Father just as the Son did and be filled with the same Spirit that brought Christ out of the grave.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

No longer Rejected

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And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (as Elijah did) But he turned and rebuked them. (And he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them”) And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:52-56)

          As I was reading this above passage this morning my spirit was stirred. I see the Samaritans as a representation of the unfortunate people who struggle because they haven’t received the fullness of the Lord through Jesus Christ. This could be unbelievers who know nothing of His love and it could also be believers who have never surrendered in order to know the depth of His love through receiving Him. In both cases we see people who are refusing to receive the presence of Jesus. I see no reason to pass judgement on this. I believe that even the most devout follower has moments of self-sufficiency where they try and move in a way contrary to the expressed will of God. We are all “Samaritans” until we receive our Savior and then we have moments of relapse as trials and temptations shape and mold our faith. With this in mind the rest of the passage spoke to me in a more meaningful way.
         I see two responses to people who are struggling with receiving Jesus or walking in His fullness. I see James and John who remind me of the legalism found in many churches today and I see what Jesus has to say. How many of you have made mistakes in your life that cause shame to dwell in you? How many of you have felt rejected when you try and become vulnerable with those in the church in expressing that shame? How many of you have felt reconciled to God in repentance only to feel condemned by a church that is supposed to represent Him? I see two disciples who were closer to Christ and His teaching than anyone the church today can offer make this same mistake. They fail to see the flaws in this world as the reason God became flesh and dwelled among us. He allowed His blood to be spilled as the sacrifice that erased rejection from sin. Yet the church and its believers can still manage to drive away those who thirst for the living water. I know this doesn’t apply to all churches. I am speaking to those who carry the weight of shame and get hurt through a spiritless congregation. Please see what the true reaction of a Spirit lead church should look like through the words of Jesus Himself.

          Jesus responds to His disciple’s desire to punish these people with a rebuke followed by His beautiful truth. “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.” He rebukes the crookedness of their spirit and then simply states His earthly purpose. There is salvation in Christ, acceptance of your repentance, and unconditional love from the Father. Do not accept unloving condemnation as the heart of God. The heart of God is found through the sacrifice of Jesus. I hope that you will draw close to God when those on earth can’t reflect a love they may not understand. I hope that the hearts of the church will soften and see the opportunity found in repentance of the lost, and the opportunity to show the love of God through Jesus to even the most rejecting heart. Let Christ be the Leader and you can make a difference.

Take Care Then How You Hear

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For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:17-18)

         The passage above is referring to God making Himself known through His children on earth. He will fill our submitted hearts and allow us to be a reflection of the light found in Jesus Christ. We are to reflect the light of Christ to this dark world. As we walk out our salvation, the ways of God will be revealed to us through His work in our hearts and in our lives. God’s purpose for us and His work in redeeming us from our sin will give us a testimony that reveals more of God’s character and sovereignty to the world. All of the testimonies combined still can’t reveal the infinite God in His entirety, but it builds up a kingdom of believers known as the church to represent Him to the lost.
        

         We should therefor take care how we hear God and how we walk with Him. We must make sure that our sinful flesh doesn’t cause us to misrepresent God to a world consumed with the darkness of sin. When we seek God with all our heart we find Him. When we ask God to lead, we receive Him. As we walk in the righteousness of the Holy Spirit our light becomes brighter because: “for the one who has, more will be given.” In turn, the people who make crooked the paths of the lost by leading with faulty revelation (the one who has not), what they think they have will be taken away. God puts to shame the wise. The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have? (Jeremiah 8:9)

          Let God be the leader of your walk. Let the Holy Spirit guide your heart as it fills you in your submission. Let God make straight your path and be the light at your feet. Let the light given to us in our Lord Jesus Christ shine through us just as the moon lights the night using the light reflected from the sun. Take care how you hear and how you walk. Walk in His righteousness so that more will be given to you in your obedience. Be careful not to let your flesh deceive you. It is then that what you think you have will be taken away. That may sound like a punishment but that is not the case. God’s infinite love takes away the lesser version of what you think you have in order to make His fullness available to you. His mercy leads you back to the fullness of His light and the blessing of being His representation to the darkness of this world.

Loved and Redeemed

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I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:21b-22)

         As we grow in love and obedience to God and develop the wisdom to understand His love for us poured out on the cross, it’s common to feel distant from or unworthy of God. I believe this is because all of us are used to the temporal, shallow love available to us through earthly vessels. Even when people love us with all they have, it still will never compare to the love of the Father. His love is eternal and unconditional. Although God hates sin, His love sweeps away our sin when we return to Him in repentance. We can never be too far gone for the love of the Father to wash us white as snow with the blood of Jesus.
         We can praise God that His mercies are new every day and that He will never give up on us as we are tempted to do when we feel discouraged. Believers must be careful not to see the love of God through the broken lenses of earthly affection. In the same way we cannot see the joy found in God through the broken lenses of happiness. The beautiful thing about God’s love, and also the thing that makes it hardest to comprehend is the fact that it is not based on emotion. There is no condition to His love. Similarly, there is no condition to the joy His love provides, unlike happiness which is conditional and fleeting.
         God created you to be loved for eternity. The deceiver looks to mask that and replace it with lesser versions like lust. The devil knows that one of his biggest problems is when we come into the full realization of what God’s love looks like, and what it looks like for that perfect love to drive out the fear used by the deceiver as fuel to draw us into darkness. Know that God’s love is forever yours. He sweeps away sin and offense for His name sake and not because of you. You can’t do anything to remove God’s love for you which existed before the beginning of time. Let the blood of the Lamb wash you clean and receive the love God came to earth to give you. Let His Spirit dwell in you and lead you to the purpose found in His perfect will and perfect love. He will never forget and of His creation. He knows the number of hairs on your head and knew your sin before your birth. Dwell in His love and let His love dwell in you, for He has redeemed His chosen, He has redeemed you.