April 28, 2012

Forgive Them


by Charles R. Swindoll

Read Acts 15:35–41

"Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing." Jesus managed to utter those penetrating words through bleeding, cracked lips, swollen from the noonday sun. Impaled on that cruel, Roman cross, He interceded on behalf of His enemies. What a magnificent model of forgiveness!

He paid the penalty in full for the sins of the world, the just for the unjust. As a result of His sacrificial death, reconciliation was made between man and God. He's our model for correctly resolving disputes. Ultimately, it's a matter of forgiveness.

"Father, forgive them . . ." What a way to live!

Before going on, you may have some honest reflecting to do. I invite you to revisit your own unhealed wounded past. It may date back many years, it may bring to mind the face of a parent, child, friend, former mate, fellow employee, boss, coach, pastor, or sibling. They've wounded you. The pain has lingered all these years. You can't even hear their name or see a photograph without all the anger and mistrust flooding your soul like a river overtaking its banks.

My friend, it's time to move on. Seek a solution. Get help from someone else, if you must. But get on with it. Whatever it takes to be free, do that.

Right now, I invite you to stand all alone at the foot of the cross, look up to Him, and deliberately release it all. See Him hanging there, bleeding and dying, and embrace His forgiveness, for you and for your enemy. By forgiving, you're not condoning their sin. You're simply leaving that to God. That's His turf, not yours. That's grace. And you can offer it to others because you don't deserve it either.

Got a little homework to do? Get started on it before it gets too late and you lose your way home.

April 22, 2012

Seasons

This devotional by Oswald Chambers was so fitting for me this morning. Sometimes I get so stuck on the whys of relationships.  God is really teaching me that there are times when people are in our lives for only a season. I'm learning to be thankful for those time and choosing to let go when God makes it clear to move on and follow Him instead.
We all, with unveiled face, beholding . . . the glory of the Lord . . . —2 Corinthians 3:18
A servant of God must stand so very much alone that he never realizes he is alone. In the early stages of the Christian life, disappointments will come—people who used to be lights will flicker out, and those who used to stand with us will turn away. We have to get so used to it that we will not even realize we are standing alone. Paul said, “. . . no one stood with me, but all forsook me . . . . But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me . . .” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). We must build our faith not on fading lights but on the Light that never fails. When “important” individuals go away we are sad, until we see that they are meant to go, so that only one thing is left for us to do— to look into the face of God for ourselves.
Allow nothing to keep you from looking with strong determination into the face of God regarding yourself and your doctrine. And every time you preach make sure you look God in the face about the message first, then the glory will remain through all of it. A Christian servant is one who perpetually looks into the face of God and then goes forth to talk to others. The ministry of Christ is characterized by an abiding glory of which the servant is totally unaware— “. . . Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him” (Exodus 34:29).
We are never called on to display our doubts openly or to express the hidden joys and delights of our life with God. The secret of the servant’s life is that he stays in tune with God all the time.
Oswald Chambers

April 18, 2012

The sin of indifference


You who love the Lord, hate evil!
    He protects the lives of his godly people
    and rescues them from the power of the wicked.
Light shines on the godly,
    and joy on those whose hearts are right.
May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord
    and praise his holy name!
Psalms 97:10-12

The poison of indifference.  It will kill our witness and weaken are relationship with Christ. It gnaws away at the soul.  It causes us to ignore sin and injustice.  We become more attune to the lies of the enemy and numb to the evil taking place in the world around us. We choose to keep our “noses clean” by choosing not to “take a side” which really means choosing to keep ourselves out of a “sticky situation.” We claim “love” and "grace" but our actions speaks differently.  We take the side of neutrality, throwing out statements that makes us appear noble before man. We are all guilty of this atrocity.

Scripture speaks to our indifference.  It speaks to our lack of interest (other than catching up on the latest gossip in regards to a situation) or concern when evil is taking place around us or in the lives of those around us. Scripture speaks to our sin of silently standing on the sidelines as we watch evil devour the good in our world.  No matter our race, sex or age, our actions or lack there of, will be judged by a just God  for the indifference in our life.

When we claim to be a follower of Christ, there is no room for indifference.  Jesus loves us with a passion that is deeper than can be described by mere words.  He sacrificed His life so that we might know grace, such unmerited favor. When we accept Christ into our lives and say we are going to live as He lives, it means loving as He loves, what He loves, and it means showing grace as He shows grace.  Christ called us to love everyone including our enemies.  We are called to love those who hurt us. We are called to love those who despise His name because that is what Jesus does however; we are to hate what goes against His Truth.  Does it mean we hate those who go against His Truth?  NO.  It does mean though that we are to stand against what is evil.  We are not to support the evil deeds of man.
 
When we accept Christ into our life, the Holy Spirit moves in and we become a new person.  Our way of thinking should change. The way we act should change.  The words we speak should change.  The way we live should change. There should be craving within to fight for what is right and to stand up for what Christ gave His life to save. This does not happen when we take the side of indifference. As Christians we struggle with wearing the "high and mighty mask." We profess one thing with our words but portray something totally different with our actions. Our thinking becomes that we are better than others are.  We read our Bibles and quote scripture but are truly nothing more than Pharisees. We are like white washed tombs. We are full of a lot of knowledge yet seriously lacking spiritual fruit. When we accept Christ into our lives, there should be change. The Holy Spirit places within us special gifts that we are to use to share His love and grace with others. A the body of Christ, we are to work together with those gifts but when one of us is missing, or not fully committed to the cause, the body is not complete and cannot function properly.  If you are someone dealing with indifference, you are causing the body of Christ to be lacking in some way.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.  Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
Romans 12:2-8

This next passage is my favorite part of Romans 12.  Don’t pretend to love.  Such a profound statement.  We throw the word love around which such carelessness.  If we are to love as Christ loves, then it means a love that is genuine and honoring.  It means loving someone who is suffering and standing by them as they march through the gates of hell to battle evil. It means helping those that are part of the family of God when they are in any kind of need. It is saying you are beside them no matter the cost. It is truly hating evil and standing up for what is right and true. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
Romans 12:9-13

This next passage is a hard one but a true test of the Holy Spirit within us. “Bless those who persecute you.”  Wow!  It is remembering that no one is good. (Romans 3:10) NO ONE.  We ALL sin!  In the end, those who deliberately cause me harm are truly no different than I am.  Even those without Christ in their lives are still loved by God and so instead of cursing those that harm I am to bless.  I am NEVER to repay evil for evil, which is THE hardest thing I have ever had to do. The great lesson learned, is the great peace that transcends when you know that God is in control and He alone will take revenge on evil.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.
Instead,
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Romans 12:14-21
Our indifference comes at a high price. We each will be held accountable for the role we have played in our part of indifference in someone else’s situation or our own. Jesus clearly stated, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” Matthew 25:40 When we stand by and watch as children are harmed or the innocent being persecuted and do nothing, we will be held accountable.  Just as those who sin suffer the consequences of their sin, we will suffer the consequence of our indifference.

April 16, 2012

Whys of life

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:1-5

I do not fully understand the whys of my life right now.  I am still trying to comprehend all that is taking place.  Total transparency leads me to share that there are days that I just cannot deal with the unknown and I completely fall apart at His feet.  Understand though that I trust my God fully.  I know that He has a purpose and plan for every moment of my existence and nothing is happening that He is not fully aware of or that His hand is not touching. 

Eighteen months ago, I began attending a church that changed my life and my faith forever.  God brought me to this church and though I was certain of it then, I am even more confident of it now.  Journey was a church that I had wanted to visit when it began almost seven years ago.  Had I gone when the Lord placed it upon my heart then, my story could quite possibly be different today but I did not heed God’s calling and instead stayed where it was comfortable and familiar.  My life then became stagnant.  I became complacent.  My world fell apart. 

Sometimes we need to be broken in order to find God and truly understand His grace.  I know that I have spent a lifetime of hearing God but oftentimes asking others if the direction He was leading me was correct.  Instead of trusting Him, I trusted others. When the storm passed over my life, my foundation was weak and I crumbled.  I did not know how to stand on Christ as my solid rock.  I had spent too many years questioning Him and being fearful of where He would ask me to go or fearful of not understanding His plan and failing.  My heart longed to follow Him but fear of screwing up kept me from following Him whole-heartedly.  I surrounded myself with people who paid a lot of “lip-service” to expressing the love and grace that comes from God but did not live it out.  I was walking around with rose-colored glasses on and believing the lies that Satan placed in my head that the life I was living was that of truly following Christ.  Instead, I was following a religion. In the end, this religion broke me and though at the time I did not realize it, I was broken in a good way. 
In September of 2009, my faith had been shattered and my view of God, I thought, had changed forever.  I had decided that I was done with God.  I was walking away.  Those who had been in my life had not shown the love and grace of Christ they spent years professing in front of me.  Whomever they were professing, I wanted nothing more to do with it.  I was done.  God was no longer real in my life and my faith was gone. I did not just give up on God but I gave up on myself as well.  I failed miserably and in many ways.  I found myself dealing with deep depression and fighting daily to keep my head above water.  I made many bad choices but found that I also just did not care anymore.  The people who had once been important in my life had completely let me down and to me; all I had once believed became a joke.

Back to Journey.  The Sunday I finally made it to this church is a story in and of itself, which you can read here. After almost a year of wandering, questioning and searching, God brought me back to Him. I heard a pastor teach on a God that I did not recognize.  This God was different from the one I had experienced over the past few years.  The pastor shared of a God who loved me more than I could imagine.  A God that no matter what my struggle or hurt, He wanted me in His arms. I sat bewildered because I could not grasp the words He was speaking because they just did not align with anything I had seen or experienced over the past previous years.  I wanted to doubt his words but the Holy Spirit was drawing me into His arms and no matter how hard I fought, He would not let go.  I kept hearing Him say to my heart, “you are MINE.” There was so much pain in my heart and the hurt felt so much stronger than His embrace.  I just did not want to hurt anymore and what if this pastor was just another person in my life giving a bunch of “lip-service”? I sat in my seat and wrestled with God.  I felt His presence in a way that I had never felt Him before and knew something was different.  I left church that day changed.

I spent the next eighteen months visiting this church and growing in my faith.  God was mending my broken heart and teaching me to trust Him in every aspect of my life.  Up to this point in my life, whenever I felt the Lord leading, I asked everyone else around me for direction.  I did not trust God enough to pass Him the reigns.  I allowed others to steer me in the direction I should go.  BIG mistake.  During my time at Journey, God used the teaching to show me that I could trust Him.  He placed obstacles in my path in which my only choice was to listen to His voice and obey.  There was no one else around anymore to ask and so I had to follow Him wholeheartedly.  Throughout this time, many forks appeared in the road in which I had to choose the direction to go. One way would appear to be safe while the other road seemed unfamiliar and scary. God would direct me toward that unfamiliar path.  He wanted me to trust Him and to allow Him to guide me down the path in which He had already prepared for me.  What I discovered was that from a distance, the path appeared scary but once on it, I was not scared.  I recognized His fingerprints and footsteps along the way and knew that He had been there before me.  My trust, my faith in Him, began to grow even deeper.  I wanted more.  I wanted more of Jesus! I JUST wanted Jesus.  My life changed.  It did not magically become perfect.  My troubles did not pass away but in fact intensified.  Spiritual warfare became strong in my life.  Satan was determined to bring me back down. I refused to succumb to his attacks and instead, clung to the hand of my Jesus for protection and strength.  I no longer spoke out but instead allowed the Holy Spirit to speak for me.  My faith grew stronger. 

Several months ago, God asked me to take a step of obedience that I did not understand.  One Sunday morning a young man and his wife took the stage at the end of a service.  As he began speaking into the microphone, God zoned every ounce of my attention on his words.  The man began speaking about a church he was planting and his vision.  God spoke to my heart as clear as day, “follow him.”  I sat in my seat as questions flooded my mind.  I loved my church, my pastor and my kids were finally happy at a church.  Why now God?  I do not know anyone.  I surely do not know this man. Think of the accountability and the amount of time a church plant will consume from my life. I do NOT want to have to share with a whole new group the story of the past few years of my life.  WHY?   My heart stirred and I felt conviction flood my soul.  I knew His direction was clear.  I knew what He wanted me to do and immediately my response became a yes.  I knew I had to obey.  I did not fully know why but I knew I had to obey. 

Over the past several months, God has blessed my life beyond measure and so much more than I deserve.  I have a church family.  A real church family.  From the moment I entered their group, they embraced my family. They are a family who loves me, encourages me and has a great desire to love others as Christ loves.  This family has ministered to my family.   God has confirmed repeatedly that this church family is where I am supposed to be through many different ways but on Easter Sunday, His greatest confirmation was displayed when my eight year old prayed to ask Jesus into his heart.  As a mom, there is no greater joy than being the one to walk with your child into a relationship with Jesus.  For me, after all I have experienced, it was the greatest joy I could have experienced on Easter Sunday. To see my faith having an influence in the decision of my eight year old was incredible.  God is good and so incredibly faithful when we are obedient. Brokenness leads to great things when we seek the only One who truly heals.

Brokenness can take on many forms.  For each individual the circumstance is different.  God uses many ways in which to grab a hold of our hearts in order to draw us to Him.  The pain can be unbearable but it brings us to a place where we can only rely on Him for complete healing.  Obedience means dying to our own desires.  It means total surrender to Christ and following Him in every aspect of our life.  It means that there is no area of our life unavailable to Him.  It is hard when we cannot see the road ahead or the outcome of our situation but sometimes the whys just do not matter.  It is about trust.  It is about knowing that He is in control and faithful to His promises.  It is about knowing that we are in fact children of God and that is reason enough to trust Him all the way. 

April 12, 2012

Hindsight is 20/20


One day he and his disciples got in a boat. "Let's cross the lake," he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
   Getting to his feet, he told the wind, "Silence!" and the waves, "Quiet down!" They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.
 Then he said to his disciples, "Why can't you trust me?"
   They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, "Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!"
Luke 8:22-25 The Message                          

If we only knew today, what events were going to occur because of bad decisions made, would we have made different choices in our lives?  I often ponder over the many decisions I chose throughout the past twenty years.  Some were good but many were bad.  Those bad I must now take and learn from those mistakes. 

Life is full of choices.  We are not given a clear road map as to which direction to go or even which turn to take.  We see a path before us, it may look clearer than another may, and we choose to follow it.  Then hindsight steps in to confirm our deepest fear, which is that not one of the paths was correct. At the time, we were to sit and rest for a while waiting for the right path to be presented. How confusing.  No wonder we end up lost. Right?

God has such clear direction for each of us.  He wants to make that map readily available.  He may not allow us to see the entire journey or our destination but I believe He does allow insight.  He does give direction but only when we ask and seek after His will and not our own. Without seeking after Him, we are destined to become lost.  We are surely to find ourselves off course from His clear plan. 

It is not as easy as it sounds I know.  We pray and ask for divine intervention or a clear answer and are often times given neither.  That in fact is the answer though.  Throughout the course of my journey, I have often jumped the gun only to choose a path without clearly receiving the go ahead from God.  There was a fog ahead making the road unclear and so I assume He is not answering or directing and I make a rash choice out of fear.  I’ve learned the hard way that these kinds of movement causes complete confusion and chaos. 

I am learning that God often tells us to pause or to sit down and take a breather.  I am learning that He knows where the road leads and it is His job to prepare the path.  This allows me to navigate in such a way that my choices bring Him honor and glory.  This cannot happen if I am moving at my own pace.  It can also not happen if I am stuck in my past. 

Back to hindsight.  When coming from a broken past because of choices made, the tendency is to become lost in the identity of who we once were and the things once done.  The truth of the matter is that choices made cannot be undone.  Once made, they are set into motion.  However, those bad choices of the past do not define who you are now.  Instead, the ability is given to evaluate past experiences and choices in the light of who we are today. I have learned that I am a product of Christ’s work upon the cross. I have come to recognize that I am no longer a product of my past and no longer in bondage to the torment from mistakes once made. Certainly, there are those to remind me of my bad choices. I have learned though that people who have not experienced the freedom of walking with Christ or who may not have found their way out of a dark past fail to understand God's gift to us all. They too are in bondage to the lies that they believe about themselves and God.  This is where I have learned that I must acknowledge truth and allow truth to set me free.  It is recognizing that Truth is a person.  It is seeing Jesus as my Truth and provision.

It is all about perspective.  It is recognizing He is in my life.  It is recognizing who I am today because of Him.  It is knowing that God has been with me every step of the way, loving me enough to send His Son to redeem me and free me from my past.  Hindsight is 20/20 but finally understanding the work that God is doing in your life, discovering His clear path and direction and walking in His ways and not your own, will bring a freedom where hindsight no longer matters because you’re walking ahead with a new purpose and faith.


April 8, 2012

A great love story


When did my life become a fairy tale?  When did the darkness disappear?  When did good begin to fill my life? When did I find happiness again? Don’t get me wrong.  I still deal with darkness and there is still evil in my world.  The difference now…it no longer controls me.

Any kind of suffering in life is devastating.  It is the reality and reminder that things are not always as they appear on the outside.  It can be crippling and for me it was, but I have experienced the miracle of God making all things new. I am learning that God works miracles every day.   He has spent the past couple of years working countless miracles in my life.  He has made much of the darkness and pain disappear as well as moments of regret, fade away. 

Years are often spent searching and hurting over the loss of someone or something.  It can consume our souls, our existence and eat away at us until there is nothing left but bitterness and pain. I almost ended up in that dark corner of life.  I found myself lost and alone.   Completely alone in the darkness.  Thankfully, my loss left me to search for something great.  It forced me to focus on Truth and led me to find the real light in this world.  Jesus became more real to me. I discovered a more intimate and genuine relationship with Christ. He was all I had and He had to be what guided me home. He was my road map.   He became my light, my beacon in the midst of an evil storm.  He was my hope.  He filled my life and went to work on the inside.  He removed the cobwebs.  He tore down the walls.  He mended the broken seams.  He restored my joy and gave me great hope.  He granted me purpose.  HE made me complete and wiped away my past by giving His life for mine.  His broken body covered my own because of His perfectly selfless love.  It is amazing!  I cannot explain it fully but I am a living example that Christ heals all things and makes us complete again. 

It is Spring and just like the newness of the season, a new chapter in my life is beginning.  The old is being replaced with something new and so much more amazing.  It happens when living an intentional life of following and surrendering to Christ daily. It occurs when fully trusting in God as He heals a broken heart.  It is allowing Him to replace feelings of hurt or sadness from “old places” with feelings of excitement created by His new mercies and abundant blessings.  It is choosing no longer to mourn over the “old times” or to ponder the “what ifs” but instead rejoicing at the fresh beginnings.  It is learning to say goodbye to the old and welcoming in those things and people that God has now purposely placed before us to serve as His blessings, reminders of His faithfulness.

My life is a fairy tale.  It truly begins with a once upon time.  It begins with Jesus, my Savior taking on death for me, rescuing me from the ashes and making me beautiful again.  It is an amazing love story of Christ changing me from the inside out and filling my life completely with His love.  Because of Him, everything around me is beautiful and new.  Because of Him, I have all that I need and all that I ever wanted.  He is and has blessed me with my hearts greatest desires.  He has not filled my life with “stuff” (i.e., house, car, money) but instead His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  My life is full of riches and completeness because walking with Him is the only real thing that brings true contentment.  We can never truly understand His great love until we fully embrace the sacrifice He made upon the cross.  His love story is for us all and the unspeakable joy He offers when we fully accept Him is truly more than any great author could ever put into words.  With Christ, we can genuinely have our happily ever after.

All the way my Savior leads me 
Who have I to ask beside 
How could I doubt His tender mercy 
Who through life has been my guide 

All the way my Savior leads me 
Cheers each winding path I tread 
Gives me grace for every trial 
Feeds me with the living Bread 

You lead me and keep me from falling 
You carry me close to Your heart 
And surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me 

All the way my Savior leads me 
O, the fullness of His love 
O, the sureness of His promise 
In the triumph of His blood

And when my spirit clothed immortal 
Wings its flight to realms of day 
This my song through endless ages 
Jesus led me all the way 
All the way my Savior leads me
Chris Tomlin