“I Forgive You” — Forgiven and Free

Forgiven And Free

No other words eliminate guilt and shame as well as these, “I forgive you.” Undeserved and unmerited, they come. Forgiven and free, we leave. The cost of forgiveness always runs heavy. The one wounded carries both the wound and weight. Yet, by God’s immeasurable grace, the one who forgives gains the most and receives the best.

Whether “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you,” I’ve hesitated too long to utter these necessary words on both sides of offense. I’ve stuttered and stammered, delayed and doubted, justified and judged.

I’m not alone!

The rich reward of freedom flows only through forgiveness. Isaiah watched his people perform unlimited religious duties and ceremonies with excellence while ignoring compassionate care for others. God rebuked them sharply for it.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?”
Isaiah 58:6

None of us need to look far to witness injustice, yokes, and oppression. How do we — in this generation — respond better than they and previous generations to similar issues? How do we move compassionately with love toward those around us? May I suggest that forgiveness plays a strategic role.

Dog Tied

Injustice

My dictionary defines injustice as “an absence of justice, violation of right or of the rights of another, and unfairness.” It also defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, impartial, or fair; to treat fairly and adequately; to show due appreciation for; the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.”

Truthfully, everyone faces injustice — some minor, some extreme.

God doesn’t mince words,

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

What does God mean by “loose the chains of injustice” or as another version puts it, “to break the chains of wickedness?” The Hebrew word for chains means “bond, pain, or torment, referring to unjust, wicked bonds usually indicating social, economic, or political oppression.” How do abusive cycles break — cycles where the rich dominate the poor, the strong intimidate the weak, and people emphasize differences and ignore similarities?

Tiger in Zoo

Jesus showed us. He came low and stayed low.

Humility

” . . . he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7,8

Forgiveness follows the low road that leads to the high way. Jesus never needed to be forgiven, but forgave us all. Jesus, worthy of honor, dignity, and praise, came only to serve. He thought of us, putting us first before His own needs or desires.

Forgiveness is the highest form of servanthood. Forgiveness bridges the widest gaps, breaks through the strongest chains, and levels the field of injustice. But it requires humility.

Undoubtedly, the unbearable chains of your past exceed mine. However, even some of mine have been difficult to overcome, including molestation and rape. Perpetrators rarely seek forgiveness, but when the abused offer it (even if only before God) chains break — for real, for good, for always.

The greatest injustice in history occurred at the cross where the holy Son of God died for wicked humanity. Yet from that cross, He prayed,

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ . . . “
Luke 23:34

Ever since, chains break and people experience freedom.

Untie the Cords

The Hebrew word for untie contains two separate meanings. The first is “to jump, leap, or startle, describing a rapid rush forward that startles or shocks.” The second meaning encompasses “setting free, loosing, releasing, and letting something go.” To “untie the cords of the yoke” requires decisive action, both a moving forward and a letting go of the past.

Yoke

Owners place yokes on horses, mules, or oxen to pull heavy loads. It is the owner, not the animal of burden, who also removes the yoke. Isaiah states clearly our responsibility to remove yokes worn by others, placed there by whoever, and kept there for whatever reason. Action is needed!

Perhaps nothing startles the kingdom of darkness as much as the words, “Please, forgive me.” Nothing rattles the enemy so deeply as, “I forgive you.” That one radical choice to forgive looses offense, keeps accounts short, and removes unbearable, even generational, yokes.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32

If all my offenses lay exposed and visible before others, how ugly and disturbing they would prove to be — thoughts I’ve thought, attitudes I’ve carried, and sins I’ve committed. But God!!! But God forgives even me, releasing me from them all.

In the same way, He calls me to forgive — to forgive the grotesque, forgive the unjust, forgive the vindictive, and forgive the defiling. He both asks and gives the ability to do what He commands. Through forgiving others, I instantly become forgiven and free. In one shocking, startling undoing, I’m set free! Yokes break! Cords sever.

Set the Oppressed Free

The word oppressed means more than I thought. It means “to crack in pieces.” Are you willing to see the cracked remnants of humanity? Am I? They live close to us. They walk beside us. The broken bundle themselves behind busy facades, glossy exteriors and fake smiles. They are here. And there. Everywhere.

Often our own brokenness overwhelms us, incapacitating us from releasing others. As we begin to live as those forgiven and free, we gain the tools to free others. Until we forgive, we remain slavesvictims of the crimes of our assailants. Only through forgiveness does healing flow and gates fling open.

Bird in Cage

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Colossians 3:13-14

What grievance do you carry? What bitterness clouds your wounded heart? May I encourage you today, set yourself free by freeing others through forgiveness. Open the cage of oppression, so that healing may enter and every broken place be restored.

Forgiven and Free

God has graciously led me into many areas of ministry. None brings me greater joy than to walk people through the steps of forgiveness. Yes, there are steps! The most effective steps I’ve found come from Neil Anderson’s The Steps to Freedom in Christ.

  • Forgiveness is a decision of the will. As long as we refuse to forgive, we remain “hooked” to that person, bound to the past, and held by bitterness. Until we willingly forgive, that person maintains the power to continue hurting us.
  • Forgiveness agrees to live with the consequences of another’s sin. The sins of others affect us all. Will it be through the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness?
  • To forgive must be genuine — from the heart. We must truthfully acknowledge the pain we feel, without diminishing or excusing it. God heals from the inside out as we honestly face the pain others have caused us.
  • Forgiveness chooses to not hold someone else’s sin against him, her, or them. God does not tolerate sin. Neither should we. In forgiveness, we release others to God. He will deal with them. Through forgiveness, we take a stand against sin by exercising God’s grace.
  • Forgive before you feel like forgiving. Emotion will follow action.
“We don’t heal in order to forgive; we forgive in order to heal.”
– Neil T. Anderson
Halter Cow

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”
Matthew 18:21-22

We live forgiven and free by forgiving quickly and continuously, without keeping score or counting the times.

A Prayer

Here is a sample prayer to assist you as you continue your process of forgiveness. Don’t rush! Take your time to feel the pain, acknowledge the disappointment, and face the consequences you have endured because of another person’s hurtful and destructive decisions. Then surrender it to God. He is the only one strong enough to bear the burden.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I choose to forgive __________ for __________, because it made me feel __________. Lord Jesus, I choose not to hold on to my resentment. I relinquish my right to seek revenge and ask you to heal my damaged emotions. Thank You for setting me free from the bondage of my bitterness. I now ask You to bless those who have hurt me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

If this is a struggle for you, please contact Freedom in Christ Ministries in your area. Someone will walk with you as you process these steps. My desire is for everyone to walk forgiven and free, with chains of injustice loosed, yokes untied and broken, and the oppressed free forever.

Bless you on your forgiveness journey.

Forgiven and Free

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The Lightning and Thunder of God

Lightning & Thunder of God

God reveals Himself in innumerable ways. Have you sensed the lightning and thunder of His Presence recently? If so, was it fierce or awe-inspiring?

In our area, we often experience thunderstorms — some severe. People respond to the storms in various ways. Some people run for cover and hunker down until it’s over. Others carry on with life like nothing unusual is occurring around them. Still others, who border on insanity, pursue storms, enjoying the near-death experience of pushing the boundaries of reasonable safety.

Sometimes a soft rumble of thunder offers the only evidence of atmospheric disturbance. More often a sudden flash followed by an intense clap awakens onlookers to take heed. The more experienced may “feel” the storm coming a long way off, sensing it in the air, and feeling it in their bones.

God often speaks through nature, pointing our attention to deeper spiritual concepts. Paul said,

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Romans 1:20

Storm Clouds

God reveals His “invisible qualities” through His creation. In nature, the flash of lightning produces the sound of thunder. What about in the spiritual? Do we need a similar combination of visible and audible, power and voice, to comprehend God more personally and fully? Perhaps.

Word and Light

The Gospel of John opens with Word and Light, the audible and visible, thunder and lightning.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

In the beginning — before created things — the Word, Jesus Christ, was with God and was God. From the beginning, preceding time as we know and understand it, the thunder of God’s Word existed and resonated.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:4-5

Here it is! Lightning and thunder! The Word, above all words, speaking all things into existence! The Light overcoming every darkness!

Lightning flashes and is gone; Jesus came and remains eternal. Thunder roars for a moment; Jesus’ words endure forever.

Storm Coming

Fearful

My mother experienced disabling fear of electric storms. At the slightest hint of danger, she gathered everyone and everything into protection. Quickly she closed and latched windows and doors, pulled curtains shut, and busied herself attempting to occupy her fear-filled mind. Many others react similarly.

When God descended upon Mount Sinai with “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled (Exodus 19:16). Such an awesome revelation of God certainly would have made my knees shake and heart beat intensely.

” . . . Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20:19

Many people easily relate to the Israelite’s response to God’s Presence, seeing God as fierce, cruel, and judgmental. Moses knew God personally and more fully.

“As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”
Exodus 19:19

Storm Over the Ocean

Years later, David wrote these words:

“He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
Psalm 103:7-8

The fear of God will either draw us near, like Moses, or cause our hearts to tremble and our feet to run away, like the people of Israel. Knowing God’s attributes and nature dispels negative fears and nurtures positive affection and attraction.

Storm Chasers

For a rare breed of others, the mention of an impending thunderstorm incites excitement, their hearts pound with enthusiasm and anticipation. Just the mention of lightning and thunder to these folks causes a flurry of motion as they leap from lethargy, jumping into their jalopies to go wherever necessary to experience the storm close up. With cameras in hand, they ready themselves to catch the ultimate image. Then they tell their adventurous stories with enthusiasm.

The church contains a few similar enthusiasts, ready on a moment’s notice to fly to the far reaches of the globe to hear their favorite speaker, teacher, revivalist, healer, or evangelist. Their enthusiasm for the things of God is exemplary. Their senses sustain high alert for revival. They, too, zealously tell their stories of close encounters with God’s Presence.

Into the Storm

Though not all fit this category, some people chase God only for the thrill of the experience or for what they hope to receive, rather than to know Him more fully. There have always been a few followers, only seeking fringe benefits.

“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
John 6:26

God will eventually confront all selfish seekers who attempt to imitate true God followers. Seeking God for the rush of spiritual lightning and thunder falls far short of leaning close to God, waiting to discover His heart and learn His ways.

Resting

My father labored through many storms while keeping alert to the shifting skies. Wisdom taught him to respect the power of lightning and heed the warning thunder, but he walked confidently through them both. He knew when to stand in awe with appreciation and when to shut the door for protection. We often sat together in a dark room, scanning the horizon for the next lightning flash, giggling, gasping, and glorying in God’s majestic display. Even secure in our home, we felt the fear as the house shook with intensity. It was a fear that drew us close in wonder and amazement.

I think this best illustrates how I approach God’s lightning and thunder — the awareness of His Presence and the sound of His voice. I don’t want to miss the miraculous, but desire to see clearly His movements in my generation. God still speaks. I want to be tuned to listen.

Lightning and Thunder

While multitudes came and went, a few stayed true to Jesus. Peter captured the reason well.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:68-69

To be a Christ-follower isn’t only about rushes and thrills, miracles and encounters, although these are available and important. Being a worshipper of Jesus means knowing there is no other One we want to be with — to see and hear, to believe and to know.

Lightning And Thunder

The Holy Spirit enlightens our minds to understand, so the thunder of God’s voice creates the greatest impact. The disciples who knew Jesus the best missed most of the essence of what He did and said, until He opened their minds so they could understand” (Luke 24:45).

Everywhere Jesus went, He performed miracles and taught truth. He became incomparable lightning and thunder wrapped in humanity! The Book of Acts records how the apostles followed His example of teaching and doing miracles. Paul speaks to the church in Corinth, saying,

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Lightning And Thunder

Lightning and thunder, miraculous power united with God’s Word, best demonstrate God’s attributes and character. They steer our eyes from Earth to Heaven — our allegiance from human to divine. Today, this combination still evokes various responses.

Like the seasoned, experienced weather trackers of old, may we possess a strong sense of God’s movements and His ways. May we acknowledge His transcending Presence, His unstoppable power, and His overflowing goodness and grace. May we stand in this window of opportunity, delighting in His display, seeing His lightning power, and hearing His thunderous voice. Fear not!

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Focus on the Greatest: Faith, Hope, and Love

Faith, Hope, Love

Can you imagine the impact upon us as individuals and upon our society if everyone would turn their focus toward faith, hope, and love? These are undoubtably the greatest and best assets anyone could possess and share with others, not just now but for eternity.

Many people live frivolously, even selfishly, expecting unending tomorrows in which to “eat, drink and be merry.” But what if we knew our time was short, our opportunities limited? Would the flow and direction of our lives change? Would an eternal perspective help us refocus our priorities and energies?

“And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.’ ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you . . . ” ‘ ”
Luke 12:19-20

It is all too easy to become distracted by the trivial and consumed with the mundane. Too often the responsibilities of life dictate our agendas and demand our time. The urgent pushes ahead of the necessary. Re-evaluating our focus helps to center us, pulling us toward far-reaching eternal goals and targets.

Whether I speak, write, teach, mentor or encourage, I’m continually brought back to the motivation behind it all — faith, hope, and love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

“These three remain,” existing for eternity!

Faith

Paul commends the church in Corinth for their effective use of spiritual gifts. He asks them to remember and honor each individual, valuing their uniqueness. Like us, the Corinthian church struggled to maintain unity within diversity. Like us, they elevated the minor and diminished the major. They found it easy to focus on the external functioning of gifts and ignore the deeper issues of the heart. They faced these challenges — sometimes well, sometimes not.

Faith, Hope, Love

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2

That’s an impressive list, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a faith to move mountains or the gift of prophecy? What about an ability to understand the deep secrets and mysteries of God? Many people pursue these gifts and receive them. God, speaking through Paul, clearly states that these things don’t impress or please Him. Unless, of course, they spill from a heart overflowing with love.

Unbelief, scepticism, cynicism, and doubt permeate our culture. But there’s good news. they are all temporary ailments of a society in which God is absent. Every negative will come to an end. Faith leads the list of eternal qualities, replacing all negative undercurrents.

Hope

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Proverbs 13:12

Never before have people become so connected yet disconnected at the same time. The bombardment of information and influence serves only to amplify our loneliness. People feel incredibly isolated and ignored while their social media “friend” lists explode and expand.

Hopelessness in various forms pervades. Hope defers. Heartsickness abounds.

The Greatest Things

The longing within us refuses to be quenched and screams for more faith, hope, and love. For a while people hope; often, they give up. Like the faint scent of rain swept away by the harsh winds of reality, hearts lie barren and dry — hopeless in a world without significant hope.

Jesus restores hope!

“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.”
1 Peter 1:3-4

No matter how hopeless your situation appears, it lasts for a season. Jesus Christ grants each one of us an eternal and living hope. Receive your inheritance of hope, securely kept for you. Hope floods your eternal future! Nothing and no one can stop it!

Love

We have all experienced frail, fickle, and faltering love. Genuine love, never fails or falters. We all crave a love that endures. It is a basic need of all humanity.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:8

Even in Christian circles, we easily major on the minors and overlook the major or greatest qualities within God’s Kingdom. No attribute outweighs the significance of love.

I don’t need to look outside myself to find a discrepancy between belief and action. Oh, how frail, fickle, and faltering my own love often becomes!

Jesus Love

Many people feel rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Maybe, you know the feeling all too well. Listen to the following verse and allow God to speak directly to your heart,

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
Isaiah 54:10

It’s possible for mountains to shake and crumble, but impossible for God’s love to be shaken, let alone cease. I find it comforting to know that hatred will end, but God’s love remains eternally secure.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Since God’s Word is true, enduring forever, how should we respond? Since everything else will eventually pass away, how can we nurture faith, hope and love, first in our lives and then in others?

God has given to each of us a measure of these qualities in seed form. When we plant and nurture them (activating them), they will grow and increase. The principle of sowing and reaping runs throughout God’s Word.

  • “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” Psalm 126:5.
  • “A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward” Proverbs 11:18.
  • “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
Sharing Faith

Together, let’s aim to live our lives in the best way possible. Let’s pursue the eternal qualities of faith, hope, and love, both in ourselves and in others. May we commit ourselves to inspire faith, instill hope, and ignite love. How we each accomplish the task will look different, but every one of us possesses the ability to make a difference.

May we focus on these greatest and enduring qualities of faith, hope, and love, receiving them fully, and then just as freely, giving them away. Let’s stop for a moment to ask God how we might spread these attributes further.

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A Samaritan Woman — A Lifetime of Rejection

A lLifetime of Rejection

What makes Jesus’ visit with a Samaritan woman so significant? What personal lessons may we glean from her encounter with Jesus? Why is she given so much space in John’s writings?

As you can see, many questions fill my mind. This nameless woman intrigues me. Why Jesus intentionally met her alone intrigues me even more. Let’s begin at the beginning of the story.

“So (Jesus) left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.”
John 4:3-6

John sets the stage for us. Ancient, well-trodden paths made broad circles around Samaria. The road though Samaria was perhaps the least travelled route between Judea and Galilee. Yet Jesus deliberately went through Samaria. Tired from the journey, Jesus found momentary relief and solace, waiting alone beside Jacob’s well.

Well

History tells us that Jacob’s well was situated on a plot of ground he purchased and “pitched his tent” on. He made an altar there, calling it El Elohe Israel, The Mighty God of Israel (Genesis 33:20). The names Israel and Jacob were synonymous with each other. Jacob experienced a deeply personal encounter with God on this patch of ground generations earlier.

Rejected People

When Jacob came full circle, tired of running, deceiving, tricking, and stealing, he also came to the end of himself. After years of fighting God and those around him, at the end of all self-effort, He encountered the beginning of God. Here he dug a well. Here he found refreshing. And it was here near a place called Sychar, meaning “end,” that two weary souls met. One weary from His day’s travel; another weary from a lifetime of rejection.

Jews hated Samaritans; Samaritans reciprocated the feeling. Samaritans, a mixed breed of people, worshiped a blend of gods and God. Though they considered themselves genetically connected with Jews, generational rejection ran deep currents of pain and angst through the people. Samaritans, like other mixed races assigned equally derogatory names, lived isolated among themselves. Accepted by none. Rejected by all.

Samaritans believed in the God of the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible. It gave them a correct but limited view of God. Considered “unclean,” the Jews denied Samaritans access to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Consequently, they worshiped on Mount Gerizim.

Water Well

“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”
John 4:9

Rejected Woman

Usually, women congregated at the well during the cool evening. Together they walked, and worked, and enjoyed each other’s company.

The Samaritan woman came alone — a rejected woman within a rejected people. She, like Jacob, knew pain, struggle, and defeat. Married five times and now living in an adulterous relationship, she carried the deep marks of a lifetime of rejection — past failure, present shame, and a hopeless future. For this woman, Jesus “had to go through Samaria!” For this woman, Jesus came “tired as he was from the journey.”

Here at Sychar, the end, she met El Elohe, The Mighty God, in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the privacy of their one-on-one meeting, He refused to skirt around her pain or ignore her reality.

Stone well

” . . . Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
John 4:17-18

Rather than the familiar stabbing of accusation, she sees and feels and knows there is something different about this Man. But what is it? She probes further, responding with pointed, hard-hitting, and even confrontational questions.

Hope Again

Jesus ignores her sharp-edged response. He offers her the living water of fresh truth — truth that frees, truth that heals, and truth that sustains.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
John 4:23-24

John tells us in the very next chapter,

” . . . ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
John 5:19

Because the Father seeks true worshipers, the Son “had to go through Samaria.” Even in her limited understanding, the Samaritan woman believed. She believed the Messiah, called Christ, would come. He would answer the questions of her heart and her people. And here He stood saying, “Worship happens within us not in a building or on a mountain.”

Fountain

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you — I am he.’ “
John 4:26

Jews considered any man talking with any woman (not in his family) in a public setting highly unconventional. Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to question His reasoning for talking with someone they despised. I, too, wonder why Jesus revealed His identity to this rejected woman before anyone else. Astounding!

“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’ “
John 4:27

One Encounter

That one encounter caused the woman to run back to town, shouting

” ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ ”
John 4:29

The town’s people listened to the least and lowest among them. They listened and responded, coming in droves to see Jesus for themselves. That one encounter with Jesus changed the Samaritan woman’s life forever. Her outlook changed. Her countenance changed. How she viewed the critics and criticism changed. And then change came to her whole community.

We have all faced rejection and criticism. Rejection leaves its jagged effects deep within us, waiting for the next time, the next slight, the next jab, the next dismissal, the next exclusion . . .

Studies reveal people relive social pain more vividly than physical pain. Our brains register a broken spirit as intensely as a broken limb.

Water Fountain

I’ve given birth to five sons. As much as I try, it is impossible for me to remember the pain of childbirth. How I responded to physical pain remains in my memory bank, but the actual pain does not. Yet, if I allow myself to think of deep moments of rejection, emotional pain immediately breaks to the surface, forcing fresh tears to spill forth. The need for inclusion, to be welcomed and valued, ranks high in our God-given priorities.

Jesus saw in the Samaritan woman a true worshiper — a woman worth reclaiming, redeeming, and restoring. One encounter with Jesus changed everything!

“Come, See a Man”

How are you doing today? I’m serious. Can you relate to the Samaritan woman more deeply than perhaps you thought? Has the pain of rejection cut deep swathes in your soul? Are you sitting in a personal “Sychar” — the end of hope, the end of trying to fit into someone else’s mold, the end of struggling to be valued for who you are?

Maybe, like this woman, you believe in the Messiah called the Christ, but you long for a similar life-changing encounter. Perhaps, you grew up in the church and know more Bible stories than most scholars, but you’ve never met Jesus in a personal life-transforming way. I welcome you to come to the well today. Allow Him give you a drink of “living water.”

Water Fountain

Many times, I’ve come to “Jacob’s well” — bringing unhealed wounds, unreconcilable disappointments, unanswered questions, and unresolved issues. Often, I “pitch my tent” staying in His Presence, until my soul is renewed and peace restored.

“Come, see a man!” Come, see Jesus. He will prove Himself to be for you what He showed Himself to be for the Samaritan woman, for Jacob, for me, and innumerable others, El Elohe, The Mighty God. Though others reject, He never will.

Come! Come, see a man!

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Give Thanks to the Lord, For He is Good

Give Thanks to the Lord

The Bible exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord, because God is good. He demonstrates His unwavering goodness throughout all generations. The truth of God’s goodness resonates through the pages of the Bible. Do you know beyond doubt the goodness of God? Is that knowledge a fixed reality of your faith?

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good his love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1

When we become discouraged by circumstances, doubt because of unanswered prayer, or become disappointed by outcomes, we may question and even deny God’s goodness. The wounds of life become festering sores into which the deceiver plants his lies regarding God’s enduring goodness. “If God really is good, He wouldn’t allow war, famine, plague, divorce, abuse, bankruptcy, hell, and numerous other maladies ” he rants.

Truthfully though, God’s goodness reaches humanity through both His mercy and His grace.

Father and child

Doubt

Satan’s ploy to lure Adam and Eve away from God’s perfect design sprung from establishing doubt in their minds toward God’s goodness.Every aspect of earth’s degeneration resulted. At the very core of our own questions lie the same seeds of the enemy’s power to deceive us into believing God is not good.

God created humanity to live in eternal, unbroken fellowship and communion with Him. He desires limitless time to express His limitless love to each of us. Despite people’s rebellion, He sent His perfect and holy Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem and restore that relationship.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the LORD say:
‘His love endures forever.’ “
Psalm 118:1-4

God created Hell for satan’s eternal confinement, and where rebellious angels will join him. But He created Heaven for unending communion with people, made in His likeness and image, who love and honor Him.

Father and daughter

God leaves the choice of our eternal direction to each of us. Though the option and resulting consequences appear staggering to our human reasoning, God, in His goodness, could do nothing less. Perfect love never forces itself on another; perfect love invites willing participation. With God’s love flows His grace.

“The truth of God’s grace humbles a man without degrading him and exalts a man without inflating him.”
– Kris Vallotton

Grace

God’s goodness and grace interweave like golden strands throughout humanity. Grace is love extended towards the undeserving — including us. By grace, God gives us nothing less than Himself!

We find one of the most encouraging Scriptures about grace in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” The Christian life involves process, the process of being daily changed from what we used to be into what we will one day become — perfect re-presentations of Jesus Christ. Every step in that process involves God’s goodness expressed through grace. Spiritual growth occurs as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Titus 2:11-12

Father and child walking

“(God) has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
2 Timothy 1:9

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His grace proves sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

Partnered with grace, we find mercy.

Mercy

Mercy involves both the withholding of judgment and the provision of compassion, gentleness, and forbearance. According to the Old Testament mercy meant to “stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon, and to show compassion.” The Bible interchanges the words mercy and lovingkindness for the same word chesed in Hebrew and charis in Greek. Mercy represents “a sure love that will not let go.”

I read recently that the word mercy in English comes from the Greek word, eleos. Eleos originates from the word for olive oil, often used as a soothing agent for bruises and wounds. One poured the oil onto the wound and massaged it in, soothing and comforting the injured part (Fr. Anthony M Coniaris). Mercy demonstrates God’s goodness and compassion toward those who are suffering.

Father and child

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16

Too often, we only associate God’s mercy with withheld judgment. Here are but a few Scriptures connecting God’s goodness and mercy:

  • “Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.” Psalm 69:16
  • “The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Psalm 145:9
  • “For the LORD is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100:5
  • “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6
  • ” . . . The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . . “Exodus 34:6

Goodness

The knowledge of God’s unfailing goodness establishes a rock-solid foundation withstanding times of trouble. No one speaks so succinctly as Tozer on how important this understanding is.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . The most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”
– A.W. Tozer
Father fishing with daughter

Does our mental image of God align with His Word? Do we see Him as One who is altogether loving, gracious, merciful and good? If not, we will tremble with the times. David, who experienced more than his fair share of difficulties, said,

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.”
Psalm 27:13

Oh, how I know what quivering faith feels and looks like! Nothing short of God’s grace and mercy, entwined in His eternal goodness kept me on track. The sure foundation of the Word holds fast.

“”Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor or your majesty . . . I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works . . . I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
Psalm 145:3-7

God’s abundant goodness merits acclaim as much as His mighty acts, glorious splendor, wonderful works, and great deeds.

Give Thanks to the Lord

May we pull aside from our daily struggles and exhausting activities long enough to give thanks to the Lord. May we, even if only for a few moments, ponder God’s goodness, grace, and mercy. As we do, hope will rise, faith will take root, and a calm assurance will wash away doubt. God is eternally good! May we echo the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!”

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
Psalm 107:8-9

We become recipients of whatever we thank God for. As we thank Him for His goodness, He promises to satisfy our longing and fill our hungry souls with His goodness. May you be filled and renewed today, as you think about God’s abundant goodness.

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Chris Tomlin - Good Good Father (Audio)
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Where a River Flows — An Increase of Faith

Increase of Faith

The river of God’s divine mercy flows from the high mountains of struggle to the ocean of grace, producing an increase of faith. We find ourselves in such a time and place.

Many people today are experiencing the intense pressure and weariness of rock-hard impasses — immovable, constricting, and looming large. Take courage! God turns such gargantuan opposition to serve divine purposes. Because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), I’m switching up my normal pattern of writing this week to focus entirely on praying the truths of Scripture.

As you read these words, may you experience an increase of faith for whatever trial you are facing. Take heart! “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us(Romans 8:31)? “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Fast flowing water

The following prayer originates and finds root in direct Bible verses. As you pray, release God’s power and authority over yourself and your situation.

God of The Impossible

“God, we approach Your throne of grace with confidence (with outspoken frankness, bluntness and assurance), yet also in humility, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) . . . We are facing what appears impossible for us, but God, with You all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) . . . Jesus, You declared that ‘Everything is possible for (those) who believe’ ” (Mark 9:23).

“Without faith it is impossible to please You, Lord, because anyone who comes to You must believe that You exist and that You reward those who earnestly seek You” (Hebrews 11:6) . . . We believe! We know and proclaim You to be loving and infinitely good. You reward all who choose to seek Your face.

Rushing Water

“Just as Paul spoke of the believers in Rome, may it be said of us. May our faith remain unwavering during this season of pressure, believing Your promises, being strengthened in our faith, and giving constant glory and praise to You, O God. May we be persuaded that You have the power to fulfill everything You promised” (Romans 4:20-21) . . . For no word from You will ever fail! . . .

“God, grant us an increase of faith . . .

Walking by Faith

“We do not belong to those who shrink back, but we move forward courageously in faith. You deliver us from every assault of the enemy (Hebrews 10:39) . . . By your grace, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) . . .

“We choose today to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11) . . . May our lives produce lasting work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3) . . .

The testing of our faith produces perseverance. When perseverance finishes its work, we become mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:3-4) . . . Lord, may we consider ourselves crucified with Christ, no longer living for ourselves, but recognizing that Christ lives in us. The life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20) . . .

Rapids

“Lord, in every action, word and deed, may we not be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes . . . For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:16-17; Habakkuk 2:4) . . .

“You have already given to each one of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). Lord, we ask for an increase of faith in each one of our hearts . . .

Warrior Faith

We take up the shield of faith, extinguishing all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16) . . . Everyone born of God overcomes the world. We are Yours! You have named and declared us to be overcomers! . . . This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1John 5:4) . . .

“Thank you, Lord, for the great confidence we have before You. This confidence rests completely in who You are and all You have accomplished . . . ‘Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ ” (Romans 5:1) . . .

“The time is now! Warriors of faith, strap on the weapons of our warfare and take a stand against sickness and disease . . . Heal us, LORD, and we will healed; save us and we will be saved, for You are the one we praise (Jeremiah 17:14). You are the Lord who heals us (Exodus 15:26) . . . Breathe new life into us . . . Pour your soothing oil into the broken-hearted . . .

Prayer of Faith

“Lord, You invite us to ask big, to believe large, and to come expecting the impossible, so increase our faith . . . You said, ‘if we say to the mountainous obstacle, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and do not doubt in our hearts but believe that what we say will happen, it will be done for us. Therefore . . . whatever we ask for in prayer, we believe that we will receive it, and it will be ours!’ ” (Mark 11:22-24) . . .

Mountain, Rock, River

“So, we come today laying our petitions before You. We speak to our impossibles in Your precious Name, ‘Be moved!‘ . . . “Give us grace and courage to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous and strong (1 Corinthians 16:13) . . .

“Do it again, Lord! The things we read about in the Book of Acts, we ask You to do again. We ask for an advancement of Your Kingdom in our day and in our time. We ask for multitudes to be drawn into Your family. Lord, raise up a generation of men and women, young and old, with an ever-increasing faith. May they pray confidently and humbly, desiring nothing more than to see Your Name glorified and You exalted in our time . . . May they live fearlessly for Your honor . . .

“Encourage the weary ones. Restore the wounded. Revive the frail. Oh God, come to our aid, we pray. You are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

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Frame Each Day by the Cross and the Resurrection

What frames your life? What parameters establish your direction and influence your choices? As we choose to frame our lives by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and life direct our steps, giving us context and foundation. Rather than an annual weekend celebration, the reality of Easter should color our entire lives with hope and assurance.

Who is the first person you desire to talk with every morning? The first One on your mind? Is it God? Or do we, like many others, scroll through social media and check emails before we give Him thought or place. That first conversation, no matter how simple, acknowledges God’s place and active participation in all we are and do.

The daily spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading and meditation, connection with other believers, and even communion, ground us in Christ’s finished work of the cross. For good reason, the first Christians established these basic tenants of faith early in church’s history.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
Acts 2:42-46

The breaking of bread became a tangible reminder of the New Covenant they now enjoyed. Many of these men and women became amazing giants of faith. If they framed “every day” by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, should it be any less important for us?

Boast in Him

On the cross, Jesus declared each one of us precious enough to die for. Yet without Him, we have nothing to boast about. ALL honor, glory, power, and praise belong to Him. Only in humility are we rightly positioned before Him. And well it should be! All our boasting points completely toward Jesus.

The Cross

Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; (and) not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ ”
1 Corinthians 1:26-30

Paul closes his letter to the Galatian church in a similar manner.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

We find an inexplicable paradox in the cross. Jesus Christ is everything; we are nothing. Yet, He became nothing, to give us everything. Such realization grounds and secures us. The cross and resurrection deems humanity of unspeakable value, despite personal frailty and failure.

The Cross and Resurrection

By daily celebrating Easter’s reality, we remember the cross and resurrection, allowing God to remind us both where we came from and where we are going — from the dead root to living hope. May we never forget how Christ’s death and resurrection rescued us from hopelessness and brought us into a confident future. Jesus removed our sins from us, cancelling our great debt and bridging the gap between God and humanity. His resurrection thunder-clapped through Heaven and Earth His indisputable victory over sin, satan, and death.

By framing each day by the cross and resurrection, we remind ourselves that our lives are not our own. Jesus purchased us at a costly price. God uses these defining events to remind us that to follow Jesus means choosing the way of sacrifice.

Good Friday

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:27

We are forgetful and need a constant reminder of all God has done. The Israelites suffered from the same condition. The early Christians did too. Just because Christ suffered for us doesn’t mean all suffering has ended. Jesus and the other writers of the epistles spoke otherwise.

“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

So whether our days turn out supremely joyous or far from it, when we frame each day by the cross and resurrection, everything assumes proper perspective. Christ’s victory over-shadows everything! Today is but a millisecond in the vast time-line of eternity.

Victory

When a sports team wins a championship, a grand celebration often follows. The triumphant team hits the major news feeds. Families celebrate! Communities celebrate! Strangers even celebrate! Why? Everyone loves to see a decisive victory.

Resurrection

By framing each day by the cross and resurrection, we join once again in the celebration of the greatest victory ever.

” When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Colossians 2:15

Jesus hung naked, publicly degraded, and humiliated. But then . . . through His sinless sacrifice, He disarmed every evil power and authority, exposing them before Heaven and Earth to humiliation and shame. The enemy’s signature move became his greatest defeat.

“The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of the victory Jesus won on the cross for you and me.”
Nicky Gumbel

The cross and resurrection declare God’s glory, power, and dominion. Jesus transferred His victory to become our victory. And every victory we experience is His — through Him, for Him, and by Him.

It is Finished!

Perhaps Jesus’ greatest statement from the cross lay in these few words,

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit.”
John 19:30

It is Finished

Our limited understanding hinders us from comprehending how completely Jesus accomplished every assignment the Father had given Him. Everything that sin and rebellion stole, Jesus bought back. All Jesus needed to do was die — the Sinless for the guilty, the Prince of Peace for the turbulent, and the Obedient for the disobedient. He went far beyond!

” ‘He himself bore our sins‘ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ “
1 Peter 2:24

The cross declares again and again, “It is finished! Stain of sin go! Incurable wound be healed! Broken in mind and spirit be restored! Sickness and disease bow! Captives, be free!” Though circumstances may try to convince us otherwise, the cross and resurrection declare the work is finished — for good, for ever.

So Much More

This is no legal requirement! Framing every day by the cross and resurrection celebrates how God empowers us to walk with strength not our own, with faith He freely gives, with courage amidst our battles, and with grace piled upon grace.

“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.”
1 Peter 1:3

The cross and resurrection stand as a framework to all generations and peoples. They bring every aspect of life and faith into focus. Jesus transferred to all who would believe “new birth into a living hope.”

Lily

Does living hope define us? When others look our way, do they see the vibrancy of Christ’s life in and through us — both the death to the old and alive to the new? As we consistently celebrate and frame our lives by the cross and resurrection, I believe they will.

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5 Steps to Navigate the Path of Forgiveness

5 Steps to Navigate Forgiveness

All of us have experienced rejection, betrayal and offense in some manner. Walking through the process of forgiveness occurs step by step. To navigate the path of forgiveness, we intentionally take several difficult but rewarding steps. From time to time, we must revisit these godly principles, ensuring freedom from the lingering residue which otherwise may hinder our Christian progress.

Success, on so many levels, depends on our ability and faithfulness to conquer the treacherous terrain of forgiveness. Forgive, in Hebrew, means to “absolve” or “release fully.” It first appears near the end of the first book in the Bible.

” . . . I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
Genesis 50:17

Joseph spent fifteen long years in prison and slavery, being harshly and unjustly treated, because of his brother’s jealousy and anger. Separated from family and alone in a foreign land, Joseph had plenty of time and reason to harbor bitter resentment against them. But he didn’t! Now, at the death of their father, they only vaguely confess, stating their father wanted Joseph to forgive them.

Steps to Forgivenss

The Hebrew word, שָׂ֣א (śā), also means “to lift, bear up, carry, and endure.” Rarely do people openly apologize. Usually, dealing with offenses occurs in seclusion — a yielding to God the wrongs done to us by others.

The Unforgiving Servant

Jesus’ disciple, Peter, asked Jesus,

” . . . Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Matthew 18:21

By the standards of any day, Peter might seem extravagantly generous to forgive someone so many times. We, like Peter, often feel there must be some kind of limit to forgiveness. Jesus clearly explains that grace goes much further.

” . . . I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:22

In reality, Jesus said, “Seventy times seven times!” In other words, “Don’t count! Just forgive!” He used the opportunity to explain forgiveness more fully through a now familiar story about two men — one willing to forgive and the other unwilling. A servant owed his master the equivalent of twenty years of wages. (Before deducting living expenses!) Of course, he had no way of repaying his debt. The Master mercifully forgave the entire amount.

We encounter five key steps on the road to forgiveness. These godly principles endure through all circumstances, generations, and cultures.

Step #1 Desire

The Master in Jesus’ parable was no ordinary master. This Master, the King of Heaven, the One we have all insulted, betrayed, and violated, approached the indebted servant, wanting to settle the outstanding debt.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Matthew 18:23

The first step in forgiveness requires a searching of our own hearts and intentions. Do we legitimately desire to forgive? Are we willing to “carry or endure” the pain of offense, even if the offender has no desire to resolve the issue.

Climbing

Neil Anderson often reinforces the truth, that forgiveness is a decision, or crisis, of the will. It begins with a decision within us. Forgiveness never implies that the offence doesn’t matter or gives room for continued disregard for another’s wellbeing. In forgiving, we acknowledge fully the depth of the offence and the pain we have endured.

Both the Master and the servant were clear about the extent of the harm, but forgiveness involves mercy.

Step #2 Mercy

In the parable, the deceived servant believed he could somehow reconcile the debt. The King knew the impossibility of his claims. Whether the offenses done against us are small or great, no human effort repairs the damage. In forgiving, we recognize that reconciliation is not always possible, or favorable.

The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
Matthew 18:27

Mercy requires NOT giving someone what they deserve.

Instinctively, when someone wrongs us, we choose either to retreat or retaliate. We desire to either withdraw, avoiding further injury, or fight back, giving them a bit of what they’ve handed out to others. Jesus calls us to a different approach; He calls us to compassion.

The Greek word used for “pity” means “compassion in an absolute sense — feeling deeply for another based on emotion rather than on intellect or reason.”

Climbing Mountain

Talk about a massive boulder plopped in the middle of the path to forgiveness. Not only does Jesus call us to forgive, He calls us to a deep level of compassion for our offender.

While serving on guard duty, I have to position my heart free from critical judgments over the incarcerated. I see them at their worst. I watch over them during extreme times of crisis and intervention. Only God fully knows the twisted paths that have brought each one to this place.

Forgiveness doesn’t ignore or deny someone’s cruel behavior. It acknowledges the painful consequences we endure from their actions.

Forgiveness reaches across the chasm of personal pain to empathize with another, facing the blunt force of that pain head on. It looks the offender in the eye and says, “Despite what you have done, I forgive you. I no longer consider you indebted to me.”

Step #3 Revoking

In the same verse, Jesus tells us that the king “canceled the debt.” Can you imagine forgiving someone for twenty years of continued indebtedness, twenty years of insult and injury, twenty years of negligence and abuse? Some who are reading this relate all too well. The offense against you may span much longer — years have flowed into decades.

In this step, the sheer rock face of personal pain impedes our movement. To press through requires nothing less than the grace of God.

We know our offender owes us —
        owes us apology
                owes us restitution
                        owes us recognition of what they’ve done.

I wish every offender, including me, would quickly see their error, apologize, and make restoration. Unfortunately, few seldom do.

Team Work

Only by writing “PAID IN FULL” across the bill of their indebtedness will we overcome and conquer, moving toward full forgiveness, restoration, and personal freedom.

God called Job to forgive his friends, who turned into harsh critics.

” . . . My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly . . . After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before . . . The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”
Job 42:8,10,12

Praying for our offenders provides the strength and wisdom to take the step of revoking the wrongs done against us. Through prayer, we release our assailants to God. Then, and only then, can God freely restore blessing to us.

Step #4 Let Him Go!

In practical terms, “letting him go” means refusing to dwell on the situation any longer. When I allow myself to regurgitate past offenses, I become stuck on the plateau of self-pity.

The plateau of pity appears quite pleasant — honestly, way too comfortable. No risky routes around boulders. No knuckle-whitening grips up granite cliffs. Parking in the pleasurable place of pity perhaps presents the greatest peril.

The Peril of Parking

The longer I park, the better it feels, the more self-righteous I believe I am, and the more critical I become of others. Pity deceives and lures.

Interesting how the right kind of pity, a compassion for others, sets our grand course. Yet, this misdirected pity and self-seeking gratification keeps us from reaching the destination of forgiveness.

“Letting him go” releases not just him, but us! It sets us free from being held back by the poor behavior of others, releasing us to reach the pinnacle of our destiny and purpose.

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:15

Parking in pity is a luxury none can afford!

There is one more point Jesus makes in the parable.

Step #5 Release Judgment

God judges justly! When we master the narrow path of forgiveness, extending mercy and compassion, considering another’s debts “PAID IN FULL,” and releasing our offenders completely from their wrong, God still holds them accountable.

Forgiveness never belittles or denies the incredible pain of offense. Only through the act of forgiving comes the power to walk free from it. Earthly powers lack ability. Even monetary recompense fails to satisfy. Only through the cross of Jesus Christ does justice reign.

Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven

Jesus paid for every offense on the cross, We measure the weight of sin on faulty human scales. Sin is sin to God. Only He sees the full picture. Only He judges justly.

“The LORD arises to contend
And stands to judge the people.”
Isaiah 3:13

As we listen to the voice of Jesus, leaning into His heart, and choosing the path of forgiveness, we will find He is with us, guarding our steps. With Him, we will overcome every obstacle, reaching the high place of forgiveness, where someday we will view all things from the Kingdom of Heaven perspective.

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Love and Faith — What Little Boys Taught Me About Fear

Love and Faith

God often teaches us powerful life lessons of love and faith at the most inconvenient times and in the most uncomfortable ways. These lessons remain with us for a lifetime, influencing decisions and stabilizing us in uncertain situations.

Faith and fear are mutually incompatible. In reality, however, faith fails to find a firm foundation until love paves the way.

Our children are long grown, but memories of their frightened cries piercing the dark night run fresh through my mind. Lights turned on, to prove nothing hiding in a closet or under the bed, failed to dispel fear. The reassurance that dad and mom were in the next room impacted the angst little. Even prayer and affirmation that the Presence and protection of Jesus covered them only faintly eased their discomfort. Information alone holds little resistance against fear. Yet, when love draws close, confidence and calm prevail!

Fear flees without a fight when love enters.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

Whether during a global crisis or the not-so-simple daily pressures of life, love makes all the difference. No matter our age, social status, or race, we all need to know love and support. Do you have someone who loves you unconditionally? Someone constant through success and failure, health and illness, prosperity and lack, the strength of youth and the frailty of old age? Who is your someone — the person you could call anytime, day or night, who will listen, support and encourage?

If you can name anyone, you are in the privileged minority.

How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna
How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna

Mental Health

I’m not sure I have experienced times as full of angst as in this season. The breakdown of the family, the disintegration of faith communities, and often fluctuating political impetus seriously affect us all. Deceptive addictions, in various forms, clench cruel claws and breathe death into the unsuspecting in pandemic proportions. We suffer generationally from dis-ease both within and around us. No one guarantees immunity or promises cure.

Just as my little children needed love with flesh in their fear-filled darkness, our world needs it too. We, as God’s hands and feet, can rise to the occasion, push aside our own insecurities and fatigue, demonstrating love and faith within this present global famine.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

Barna conducted this study pre-pandemic on 18 to 35-year-olds. Only one in three young adults felt loved by those close to them. What I find shocking is that these young adults said they “feel the broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.” The reality that two-thirds of young adults do not feel unloved and unsupported should shock us all into high alert.

The effects of the last several months of isolation and uncertainty have only exacerbated the problem, not just among the young, but among us all. God created us to thrive in loving faith-filled community. People of all ages are struggling emotionally and relationally. They may not describe themselves as anxious or depressed, yet confess they struggle to maintain concentration and focus, feel elevated concern for themselves and others, and are uncertain about employment, housing and their ability to secure the basics of life.

As Christians, we have the antidote! God planted faith and love within us.

It’s Up to Us All

If this kind of love sounds messy, you’re right. If you think this kind of love is best left to professional pastors and clergy, you’re mistaken. Your family needs you. Your neighbors need you. Even your church needs you. Your workplace needs you.

Only Jesus held a doctorate in love. Only He got it right all the time. Please, don’t underestimate what simple demonstrations of love and faith might do when committed to Him.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Maybe we should start our efforts with those who stand in the centre of the fray — “professional” clergy. The pressure upon pastors to care for their congregations effectively, through a pandemic, has taken a toll. Five years ago, only two percent of pastors rated their emotional health as below average or poor. Today, over twenty percent say they suffer. May I encourage you to love those who lead. Assist and support them however God directs you.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work . . . “
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Let’s begin together by practicing love and faith with those who have dedicated themselves to serve God, us and others.

Know the Signs

If we willingly slow our pace, even a little, and look around, for even a moment, the evidence becomes obvious.

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

God’s Word never fails! Perfect love always casts out anxiety, fear, uncertainty and insecurity, rendering them powerless — like a lion without fangs or claws. I propose we engage in love and faith like never before. Though we may feel love for others, they may genuinely question that love. Here lies the great disconnect. Only when we learn to demonstrate love and faith in ways people comprehend will we shift the tide of mental anguish.

Peter says,

“Now, because of your obedience to the truth, you have purified your very souls, and this empowers you to be full of love for your fellow believers. So express this sincere love toward one another passionately and with a pure heart. For through the eternal and living Word of God, you have been born again. And this “seed” that he planted within you can never be destroyed but will live and grow inside of you forever.”
1 Peter 1:22-23

Christ planted the seed of His perfect love in each one of us. His seed of love empowers us to love fully. He not only preserves the seed but guarantees it will live and grow inside of us forever. Wow! What a promise! Love planted in each of us, living and growing into a vibrant reality, impacting those desperate for it. He takes the pressure off, providing us with everything we need to love others, especially those within the body of believers.

Love and faith work together.

There Is Proof

Barna also researched how the Christian community functions in crisis. Better than average, apparently! Bravo, people of God, you are doing it! Your love within the ranks is having an impact.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Sadly, those outside the faith are suffering the most. However, that reality presents great opportunity. Though fear has taken up temporary residence in the cultural love vacuum, God appoints us to serve eviction notice to the squatter of fear. I daily witness people stepping through the invisible barriers of uncertainty, reaching across cubicles, hallways, alleys, denominations, cities and nations. With hearts overflowing, they extend to the emotional hurting love and faith in action.

I hear voices of young and old resolutely declare,

” . . . Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8

How Love Looks

Only thirty percent of the global population feels supported, secure, and hopeful. Hold off on discouragement, though! As hints of spring crease the snow-clad landscape, I’m reminded of little bees, hidden in cloistered hives. Soon they will stretch sleeping wings, moving out to work silently their God-given task. As they fearlessly take flight, extending beyond their secure habitat, they benefit our world in powerful ways, producing incredible fruitfulness.

May I encourage you to reach beyond your secure cloister, “pollinating,” with love and faith, those you come in contact with by supporting them and letting them know you believe in who they are. Yes, validate the work they do and the gifts they possess, but, more importantly, endorse them as uniquely created by God with divine purpose, having irreplaceable worth.

Love and faith create, enrich, and sustain others, fostering hope for the future. Although most of us have learned to dream silently, we can encourage others to dream beyond human possibility. May we become dream keepers and dream builders, encouraging and fostering potential in others. We can faithfully pray they will achieve their full capability.

By creating an atmosphere of love and faith, and building support and hope, we will make progress in dislodging fear and anxiety. One word of encouragement, one act of kindness, one phone call, one moment of your time, may be the turning point for someone.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34

It’s Personal

A young woman sat huddled in the center of her bed, cocooned in a fetal position by darkness within and without. Spiritually and emotionally tormented, no cries for help pierced the broken stillness. Hopelessness gripped her heart and suffocated all hope . . . until . . . love walked in.

Her father slowly ascended the staircase and slipped quietly beside her. He knew. He, too, lived the dark night of depression. Slowly, he reached out his large gentle hand, and with not much more than whisper offered, “Honey, I love you.”

Like a mighty wrecking ball, the walled fortress of desperation and despair crumbled. Love made a way! Love broke through! My father responded to his grown daughter’s unuttered cry, slip into my night, and embraced me with love — a love that changed everything.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2

What if our simple acts of love deposit seeds of flourishing love in others in the same way that Christ deposited love in us? What if we each possess powerful seeds of love and faith that will ultimately produce more of the same? Maybe, just maybe, we can become like little bees gently spreading the pollen of love and faith (one act at a time) that will bear more fruit than anyone realizes. Maybe together, we can turn the tide, tip the tables and trample the terror that has gripped people for far too long (one person at a time).

References

You might appreciate these Barna references:

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“Come, Follow Me” – How Ready and Willing Am I?

Come, Follow Me

“Come, follow me, Grandma!” My grandson yelled over his shoulder as he grabbed his sled and sped down the steep snow-laden hill. The sun brightened the day, but failed to soften the biting crispness of the winter air. With fingers numbing in the cold and heals dug in, I hesitated, evaluating the outcome and standing in reluctance. For generations, our family enjoyed sledding together down these familiar slopes. The pages of my photo album chronicle many such outings.

Today was different!

As I stood on the crest of the hill, I realized I wasn’t as young as I once was. Broken bones don’t heal quite as quickly as they once did. My aging body doesn’t flex like it did a few decades ago. But alas, fun called! I lassoed my courage in one giant breath, lifted my heals and pushed off. Wind and snow pelted my face, forcing icy crystals around my neck and blurring my vision. Holding frantically to the inner tube beneath me, I creased my eyes tight as I veered off course, slamming into a bluff of shrubs and trees. With limbs intact, I flung my arms wide in the air, signalling triumph to the onlookers (laughing wildly, I might add). Obviously, I lived to tell the tale and smile in the remembrance. 

Waiting and watching

This invitation was risky, but invitations come in many forms. Invitations to weddings, baby showers, dinners with friends, picnics or vacations. Someone thought of us. Someone values our presence. The response to the invitation rests with each one of us. Will we pass up the opportunity, or be counted in?

Sometimes, we consider the cost more carefully. Future outcomes lay hidden. Resulting consequences questionable. “Come, follow me!” should cause us to ask at least a few questions before we jump on board. 

“Come, Follow Me.”

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.” 
Mark 1:17,18

Simon and Andrew never requested a legal contract validating Jesus’ ability to lead or adequately compensate them for their efforts. “At once” they followed. A little further down the beach, Jesus summoned two more fishermen, the brothers James and John.

Birds on water

Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat
with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 1:20 

Don’t be confused! Their decision carried serious consequences. When they walked away from their father and the fishing business, they also left security, a predictable income, and peer credibility. They chose Jesus above their families and any earthly benefits. Jesus called these dedicated, mature business owners into futures they could not yet comprehend. 

Jesus recognized qualities in these hardworking men that would be essential for the demanding ministry ahead. Though rough around the edges, Jesus noticed in them the ingredients of greatness. His invitation to “Come, follow me!” held unprecedented risk — ultimately costing them their lives. 

Followers

Eventually, the numbers of people following Jesus aroused the suspicion of many, the jealousy of others, and the anger of still more. The multitudes which followed sought healing, deliverance, and food for their bellies. Others followed out of curiosity. A few followed with evil intent, waiting to catch Jesus in his words. 

Come Follow Me

The outward appearance of this rag-tag group of disciples concealed the mighty world-changers they would become. Jesus chose those who would be passionately committed and deeply involved in the work of ministry. He sought those who would courageously stand in the face of adversity and death. All-in, nothing held back, trusting, independent, and teachability! 

Many God honoring men and women turned and walked away. The cost of following Jesus was greater than they were willing to make. A wealthy young man in Matthew 19 is a prime example.

Since childhood, to the best of his ability, he lived for God. Yet, he knew he lacked something. He asked Jesus what more he could do.

” . . . sell your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21

Sadly, he walked away, hoping to find an easier path, a cheaper alternative, a less painful option.

Everyone Come

Our response to Jesus’ call to “come, follow me” reveals more about the motivations of our hearts than we realize. Just maybe, His invitation discloses how deeply we hold to the temporary pleasures and comforts of the world.

The open invitation to follow Jesus still stands. Unfortunately, we too often relate to the wealthy young man or those in the parable of a banquet. Jesus says that everything is prepared and waiting for anyone willing to come. Throughout the streets and byways, messengers announced the good news.

Come, for everything is now ready. But they all alike began to make excuses.”
Luke 14:17-18

Though their reasons appeared valid and their response polite, they all missed a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the core, they all made excuses! Funny, how much validity we give to our frail reasoning. The Master in the parable knew both the weakness of their arguments and inevitable consequences of their failure to respond.

Compel Them

The Master became outraged by the feeble responses. The parable foretells a wedding celebration unlike any other. The union of Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. It speaks with urgency.

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame . . . Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
Luke 14:21-23

Ducks Diving

Excuses won’t matter then! The Master will fill the seats — if not with us, with others.

Every invitation requires preparation, setting aside other commitments, our time, and perhaps gifts. “Come, follow me!” carries a price, too. Our dedication to Jesus means more than lounging at banquet tables or sitting idly under shady trees.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 10:38

The cross for some may seem insignificant, but for others weighty. In following we become servants, messengers, and ministers caring for the needs of others above our own. In following, we commit everything we are and have to Him. We are no long our own; “we have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20).

The Reward

The rewards of following Jesus Christ are greater than could be compiled within a blog or list!

  • He lifts our burdens (Matt 11:28)
  • “Come, follow me!” leads us from the familiar into the miracle-moving, water-walking impossible (Matt 14:19, 28-29)
  • It brings us into the place of blessing and inheritance (Matt 25:34)
  • It welcomes us and others into the kingdom of God (Mk 1:17)
  • He provides quietness and rest (Mk 6:31)
Geese Lead and Follow

” . . . Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
John 7:37-38

We’ve all heard those get-it-now, time-limited offers. Though it may not seem like it, Jesus’ invitation fits into a similar category. When He returns, it will be too late. The doors will be closed and further access denied, unless you have already accepted His invitation to “Come, follow me!” Let’s not allow anything to keep us from responding.

” . . . I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2

Today, acknowledge the invitation. Jesus welcomes all to RSVP, “Yes, Lord, today I come!”

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