Think on These Things…

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Ever find yourself stuck in a negative thinking pattern?  I know that I have … and I have sometimes struggled to get out of its ditch.  But what is the source of negative thinking?  Why does it overtake us at times?  I believe one of the reasons is unfulfilled expectations.  We expect something to happen, and when it does not come about, we feel disappointed.  We might feel rejected when a relationship becomes severed.  We might feel hurt when that new position was not granted and given to someone else.  Such situations can cause our emotions … our flesh … to take hold of disappointment and allow it to fester into bitterness, and perhaps, even anger….

Sometimes negative thinking is the function of low expectations and feelings of worthlessness.  A person could believe that life is too hard, unfair, or unkind, and might not expect that any degree of happiness is attainable.  There are very real situations such as extreme poverty, oppression, the effects of violence and abuse, which can easily discourage or obscure reasons for hope. Yet, some of the most emotionally and spiritually healthy people that I have met in life have suffered these types of situations and circumstances.  People I have met in third-world countries, who endure personal hardships beyond my imagination, have inspired me with their faith, joy, and contentment.  What causes their countenance to shine under such conditions?  What changes low expectations or unfulfilled expectations into attitudes of joy and hope?  Is it not how we view and think about the contexts in which we live or the relationships that permeate our lives?

In our verse, Paul gives us some exhortations to elevate our thinking patterns, and it encourages us to not be unduly swayed by the temporal circumstances of life.  Things did not always go the way Paul wanted them to go.  He bore a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded to the Lord to heal … but He did not remove it.  Paul did not allow even this unanswered prayer request to sever his relationship with the Lord.  He eventually learned there was a greater reason to keep it in place … to humble him … so that he might better understand the power of Christ to overcome our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10) Paul suffered many things at the hands of those outside the church … as well as inside the church.  Yet, Paul stayed focused on the hope of the resurrection.  Paul declared, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Cf. Philippians 3:10-11) In spite of the sufferings and disappointments he experienced, Paul would write:

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What we think about is critical to a positive, emotionally healthy outlook on life.  The thoughts of our hearts are manifested in the exercise and expression of our faith.  And though some of us might have been victims of actual violence, abuse, hatred, cruelty, oppression, or injustice; our thinking does not have to take up permanent residence under the darkness of those experiences. Though there may be deep wounds and visible scars … profound emotional or spiritual brokenness … we know that in Christ Jesus we can find healing! In Jesus, we have access to a sanctuary of peace for our souls. He is the Prince of Peace! He is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.  Oh, indeed, Jesus is a refuge of light and hope!

I think the greatest precipitator of negative thoughts within our hearts are the emotions and memories that can form during human interactions which fail to meet our expectations for love, acceptance, respect, trust, devotion, and so forth.  Beyond physical interactions with others are the words we use to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  There are words which can speak love and affirmation into the heart of another. But to often, we tend to dwell on the wounds of words spoken.  Harsh words spoken in haste … demeaning words spoken in hate … words spoken that inflict emotional harm. Such words reveal the inner thoughts of our true character and human pride.  And so I think we need to examine some Scriptures that address our attitudes and mindsets which impact our relationships:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, 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!

Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt, persevered in faith.  Though he was severely mistreated by his own family, Joseph later said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Cf. Genesis 50:19-21) Jesus knew first-hand the sorrow of humiliation; the dejection of being misunderstood; the painfulness of rejection; and ultimately the trauma of psychological and physical abuse.  But on the cross of impending death, we find Jesus interceding, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Cf. Luke 23:34) And despite of the suffering and hardship that Paul endured to spread the Gospel, he did not let disappointment in the words or actions of others keep him from the zealous pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Paul allowed the transforming power and example of Christ to change the attitudes of his heart … and it is evident that his new way of thinking changed how he related to others.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in loveMake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:22-27 (NIV)

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

There will always be disappointments in our lives.  There will always be the failure of others to meet our expectations.  There will always be situations and circumstances which God will allow to test our faith.  So when discouragement comes … when frustration arises … when bitterness or anger attempt to take root, Paul advises us to think on better things … to take the higher road … to follow the examples of Christ who suffered all these things and more:

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

The Struggle … With People

Ephesians 6:12-13

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We have studied this passage before….  But I think it is a good time for us to review it again.  Conflicts within human relationships are inevitable.  Our innate human nature is to be focused on our own physical needs and emotional desires.  And while it is not inherently wrong in to seek our own well-being; to exert a self-centered will on others can be a source of contention and disagreement between people.  And conflict will have to be navigated or negotiated in order to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Cf. Ephesians 4:3)

What Paul shares with us here is some insight that the source of our interpersonal conflicts may not always be natural or physical (against flesh and blood).  Rather, Paul asserts that when we have struggles against with one another, the issue is most likely a spiritual one … a spiritual battle, if you will.  And so, the fight is not necessarily with the person in front of you; rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil that can exert themselves in our minds and through our bodies (actions). And this knowledge should cause us to pause and think before we react to what the person is saying or doing.  For example:

Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

While Peter may have been well-intentioned in his feelings and how he addressed Jesus in that moment of emotion; he was wrong.  And Jesus told Peter that his concerns were distorted by spiritual forces of evil … Satan himself. Thus, a conflict ensued and Jesus used the occasion to teach the disciples a lesson in spiritual warfare:

Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Paul went on to speak about the “armor of God” and its protection against the spiritual forces of evil. (Cf. Ephesians 6:14-16) He taught that our only offensive weapon against evil is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) And Paul affirmed that prayer in the Spirit … on all occasion with all kinds of prayer and requests … was essential to inflict offensive maneuvers against the spiritual forces of evil. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18) Yes, when someone gets adversarial with you … pray for them!  Seek counsel from the Word of God!  And remember that disciples of Christ Jesus must deny themselves … take up their crosses … and follow Him.  I believe this means you give up your right to be “right” … because Jesus taught us give and expect nothing in return; when offended to turn the other cheek; and to love and pray for our enemies.

Matthew 5:38-45 (NIV)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Note Verse 45 – “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  A child of God … born of the Spirit through the Word … will follow Jesus and put His teaching into practice.  And this is what Peter instructed in his epistle as well – encouraging believers to understand that we, too, will suffer like Jesus as we follow in His footsteps:

1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Cf. Psalm 34:12-16) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

It is clear that offenses will come. There will be differences and disagreements between people … even people of faith.  But if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Cf. Romans 12:18) For Jesus taught us to pick up a cross of suffering for ourselves and to follow Him … “that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conform to His death,” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10.  For even if you should suffer for what is right … you are blessed. So, stand your ground, and pray! Pray in the Spirit! Yes, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people! Love, bless, and pray for those who oppose you! For the battle is a spiritual one … and in the end, the battle belongs to the Lord. Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Love and Forgive

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

This is a very familiar verse … but do we really pay attention to what it says?  Do we practice what is commands? Notice the text says “anyone among your people.”  Do that mean within our church?  Or community? Or country?  In the context of the Old Testament, I believe this would have referred to the nation of Israel or the community of fellow Hebrews.  They were called to love another as fellow citizens and heirs of the covenant.  By implication, Christians, have a similar command to love another within the community of believers (brothers and sisters). (Cf. 1 John 3:16; 3:23) And so it follows, love does not seek revenge or hold a grudge against a fellow believer.  Love goes beyond what our human nature … our sinful human nature … would seek to do when we feel wronged, harmed, or otherwise disrespected….

Paul shares with us “the more excellent way” to relate with one another:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

What I sense is this really all gets down to the issue of forgiveness.  And we need to examine how that manifests itself in our relationships with one another. Knowing our own imperfection and capacity for disobedience … our propensity to sin and miss the mark … our insensitivity to grieve the Holy Spirit … and yet we ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses.  Are we so self-righteous and better than others that we are unwilling to forgive someone who wrongs us … who wounds us … who is insensitive to our feelings?  Jesus has some strong words for us in this regard:

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

And consider the parable that Jesus shared in Matthew 18:21-35 – especially His commentary on the parable found in Verse 35.  I firmly believe this is an area in our walk … in our journey of faith … that can become a major stumbling block for wholeness and healing in our own lives.  The bitter roots of anger we often harbor against others at work or at church, or yes, even within our own families are destructive to no one but ourselves.  And worse … we separate ourselves from the compassion of God we all need and pray to receive.  And comparing the sin(s) of another to your own is a futile exercise.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)  Consider these strong words of caution from the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:14-17 (NKJV)

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or godless person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

Well, I just sense that there is a need for us to examine forgiveness.  We need to forgive others and we need to forgive ourselves as well.  The Apostle Paul had much to share in this regard, so I will end with his exhortations:

Colossians 3:12-14 (NKJV)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV)

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Father Rejoices

Proverbs 23:24

The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in Him.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

I love the truth of this verse and it resonates so deeply.  Indeed, the father of a righteous child has great joy! Indeed, a man who fathers a wise son (or daughter) rejoices in him (or her)!  Righteous. Wise. Faithful. These are the qualities I believe every father desires to instill in his children. What could possibly matter more to a man than to see his children living in the light of the Truth? This verse reminds me of another favorite. Written by the Apostle John: “It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling me how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (Cf. 3 John 3-4)

When I contemplate my own life, and the legacy I hope to leave my children, I pray the most important “take away” they will receive from me will be a legacy of faith in Jesus Christ.  I have found that nothing else truly matters in this life except our fellowship with God and our love for Him … and accordingly … our sincere love for one another.  Leading our children to faith in Jesus Christ and discipling them in the faith is the greatest demonstration of real love that I could ever imagine to impart.  Why?  Because I know they will not have or experience abundant life or fulfilling love apart from Him.  If we love and cherish children as God ordained for men to do, then it follows that we must bestow upon them the best gift possible … the love of God through His Son … the only hope of eternal life!

I am sure that most of us have failed to be consistent in our own journeys of faith at times over the years … and our examples have not always been the best in difficult situations or personal challenges.  But in whatever way we have fallen short of being God’s best for the building of our children’s faith, know it is never too late to redeem the time or to express a sincere desire to continue the walk together going forward.  And so, do not hesitate to humble yourself and ask your children to look beyond the sins … the missteps and mistakes made along the way … and assure them that you have endeavored and will always strive to love each of them as you have been loved by God through His Son.  Yes, remind them that God is their true Father … and that His love is perfect, full of grace, and abides forever.

Well, I apologize if I sound too emotional this morning. It is hard for me not to feel emotional on Father’s Day because the love and joy I feel from having children and grandchildren in my life is overwhelming! The delight of fatherhood has been a precious and treasured gift from God; and I want to savor this occasion with thanksgiving for the honor and privilege of being an earthly father.  This morning, I told my children how extremely proud I am of each of them … their awesome accomplishments … and the incredible impact each of them already have had upon this world.  Likewise, each one of your children and grandchildren will make this world a far better place and bless others with their unique gifts, talents, and expressions of love.  So I pray this morning that every father will be grateful for the blessings of their children; and I pray our Heavenly Father will fill each of you with His unending grace and His unfailing love!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Forgive As God Forgave You

Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

The message of forgiveness is at the forefront of building strong relationships.  I suppose we always need a reminder to be patient and to bear with one another in the midst of differences, grievances, and disagreements.  Christ Jesus bore our sins upon Himself and took the chastisement and punishment for them … yes, even dying in our place to pay the sin debt we owed.  This is the context and the example of “Forgive as the Lord forgave you!”  It was complete and full forgiveness; far beyond what the human mind can grasp at times.

Romans 5:6-8 (NKJV)

For when we were still without strength, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There is a “right time” for us to forgive each other.  There is a “right time” for us to forgive those who wronged us in the past.  There is a “right time” for us to extricate a root of bitterness towards another person and release them from the debt they might owe us.  The “right time” is now … today! I assure you, there is no debt owed to us that is greater than the debt we owed to God for our own rebellion and sin.  If God chose to release (forgive) us, then we ought to choose forgiveness and release those who have sinned against us.  It is the most spiritually healthy thing you will ever do for yourself – forgiving others as God through Christ forgave you.

While I am thinking about it, I would like to comment on the nature of forgiveness because many of us have been “victims” of mental, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at the hands of others.  We need to always understand that forgiveness does not excuse or condone what happened to us … the pain, the suffering, the distress, or the despair that it might have caused.  It does not meet that we “tolerate” the abuses or excuse or exonerate the person(s) who wronged us.  What is does mean is that we make a conscious, deliberate decision to “release” feelings of resentment or vengeance toward the person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.  We would do well to remember Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; 1 Samuel 24:12; Proverbs 20:22; Hebrews 10:30)

When you forgive another, you do not necessarily overlook or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the brokenness you have experienced. And though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it does not obligate you to make amends with the person who harmed you, or to release them from legal accountability if implicated. What forgiveness can do is bring you peace of mind and free you from corrosive anger. It does not require you to have positive feelings toward the offender, but it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you.  Forgiveness will enable you to heal and move on with your life.  In that context, forgiveness will afford you “reconciliation” for the well-being of your own life….

Here are a few additional Scripture passages addressing the matter of forgiveness:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV) – God is more concern about your relationships than your religious acts

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 6:12 (NKJV) – The Lord’s Prayer

 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) – The measure you give is the measure you receive

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) – Read the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant which follows (Matthew 18:23-35)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

I think you get the picture here just from what Matthew recorded in his Gospel concerning the teachings that Jesus gave His followers on this issue.  And I would like to say, that I believe Jesus urges us to forgive for our own well-being … “for our own sakes”.  And that rationale would be consistent with the “motive” for which God forgives.  As declared by the Prophet Isaiah:  “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Cf. Isaiah 43:25) So there is a dynamic to forgiveness and not holding trespasses or sins against one another that appears to afford an underlying personal good associated with the “release” you will experience.

Romans 4:5-8 (NKJV) – The Blessing of Forgiveness

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Cf. Psalm 32:1-2)

So if you need to forgive someone, I pray that you will do so today – for your own sake and well-being. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) You have been blessed in this regard, and we are called to be a blessing to each other.  God set the standard and modeled it for us.  “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Just Between Us….

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Our passage today is one that most of us would probably rather just leave on the printed page.  No one relishes confrontation … even if it is well-meaning or intended to be constructive.  It is simply uncomfortable to most of us … and we are vulnerable to being misunderstood or accusations of being “holier than thou”.  We know that we too are sinners saved by grace.  So what gives us the right to point out the fault of another … the sin of another … when we struggle with our own issues and strongholds?

Well, let’s review this passage in a larger context to perhaps bring some clarity.  Jesus is teaching here, and He shares a parable about sheep who leave the flock and go astray. Of course, we can relate that the shepherd in this story is Jesus (that great Shepherd of the Sheep – Hebrews 13:20), and it expresses His deep concern for those who stray and need to be returned to the safety of the flock and the Shepherd.  The metaphor of sheep here indicate that He is speaking about His followers … believers.  Recall His words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Cf. John 10:27).  So I think this parable should be interpreted within the framework of a believer who has strayed from the faith and the need to seek them out:

Matthew 18:12-17 (NKJV)

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  15 “Moreover if your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

I think the context of the preceding parable sheds some light on why Jesus taught us to confront a person who is strays into sin and disrupts fellowship with another believer. Jesus cares deeply for the one who loses sight and wants them to return … to be reconciled … to be restored to fellowship.  His heart is that no one should perish.  So it follows that chasing the one who sins … pursuing the one who goes astray … is an act of kindness and grace.  The purpose is not to act superior to the offender; rather, the purpose is to gain their heart for the glory of the Father!  Further, note that in the parable, the shepherd leaves the flock (gathered believers) to look for the wayward individual. Again, to me, this is a clear picture that Jesus is teaching His followers.  The concept of taking action to seek out and to return those who become lost in sin is the objective.  And so the lesson of the parable is for the Church … which I believe makes Verses 15-17 that follow connected to it.

If a brother or sister has committed an offense (sinned against you), you and I are to seek out the offender. That generally would mean that we are to confront them regarding the offense.  We are to do so privately.  If necessary, another believer or two might join you to address the matter so that truth is established over feelings and emotions. Ultimately, the sinful offense should be taken to the Church if it cannot otherwise be handled in a private manner.  Paul addresses the necessity of this process at length in 1 Corinthians 6. So, I encourage you to read the full chapter to evaluate his instruction regarding the role of the church in discipline.  Further, the context for Chapter 6 follows an exhortation from Paul in Chapter 5 – dealing with the sin of a member in the church at Corinth.  I have reprinted an excerpt for your reference below:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside13 God will judge those outside. Therefore, “put away the wicked person from among you.”

Therefore, it is clear that we as a body of believers must deal with the sin that occurs in and among ourselves.  It is required of us the church just as it was required of the Israelites to correct sin among ourselves for the glory of God and His Name. We need to seek the one among us who strays and restore them in love.  We need to confront the one among us who sins against the commandments of God.  I think the point that Paul is making here is that those who claim to be Christians yet live like unbelievers in the world must be confronted because of the disrespect and reproach they bring upon the name of Jesus Christ.  If believers continue to conduct themselves like unbelievers, they have not separated themselves from the world … and therefore are not truly part of the church (called out ones) they profess to be.  The “hypocrisy” provokes contempt for the Body of Christ among unbelievers … and incites those outside the church to blaspheme the name of Jesus and the holiness of God to which we have been called….

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV)

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed (profaned) among the Gentiles because of you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23)

Yet, as we judge sin within the church, we are to approach our “responsibility” with the heart of God.  Yes, we are to be firm and steadfast in the truth and His revealed will.  God is holy and we are to be holy as well! But we are admonished to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus – God forgave each of us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) Even those outside of the church … those in the world who live in sin and darkness … we are to engage with the same love, grace, and compassion as one seeking a sheep who has strayed. Our Lord Jesus died for us because of our sin. (Cf. Romans 5:8) He died to take away the sin of the whole world. (Cf. John 1:29) Our response to His sacrifice and atonement is to pursue the righteousness and holiness for which He died.  Let those who claim to be Christian … live worthy of that name!  And when we fail, let us gratefully receive the correction of one another in humility and in reverence for our Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

I’m not sure how well I have articulated my thoughts here, but I hope this meditation and reflection will encourage you to read further and to study these concepts presented in the Word for yourselves.  There were numerous cross-references that I did not begin to share here due to the scope of the subject, but perhaps this start will inspire you to pursue self-discipline and holiness in your walk with Christ Jesus … considering the impact it has not only upon the church, but also the influence it has upon the culture around us.  As the Apostle Peter instructed, “Live such good lives among the pagans that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:12) I believe Jesus desires that we build fellowship within the church and relationships outside the church in order to continue His salvific work in these last days. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Great Intercessor

Hebrews 7:25

Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews presents a great theological “pillar” for us to examine.  His view is that the Messiah (Christ Jesus) serves as a priest … that He ministers as an intercessor before God on a continual basis for those who believe in Him (come to God through Him).  The rationale, within the context of Hebrews Chapter 7, is that the eternal nature (endless life) of Jesus affords a “permanent priesthood” for the purposes of our atonement, salvation, and ongoing intercessory prayer needs. (Cf. Verse 24) And so the conclusion, based on this premise, is that Jesus is able to save completely (or forever) those who come to God through Him … because He always lives to intercede for them.  His intercession is undoubtedly prayer (Cf. Luke 22:32; John 17:9, 15, 20), but Jesus also serves as our Advocate (our lawyer) against the Adversary or Accuser (Satan) before the throne (court) of God. (Cf. Revelation 12:10)

The writer affirms this role was prophesied by King David in Psalm 110:4 where he declares, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever,   in the order of Melchizedek.” So, who was this Melchizedek … this forerunner or archetype of the priestly role the Messiah would assume for us?  Well, you can read about him in Genesis 14; but the connection or prophetic association with the Messiah is explained in further detail in Hebrews Chapter 7.  I encourage you to study these sections at your leisure to get a fuller picture of this application.

So why is this of any importance to our relationship and walk with our Lord Jesus?  Well, part of what intrigues me is the language used.  “He is able to save completely!”  The blood Jesus shed was more than sufficient to save us “completely”.  Nothing was partial. Nothing was missed.  There are no conditional requirements.  There is nothing for us to add to His work upon the cross or His resurrection or ascension to the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 8:1) His priestly intercession is eternally permanent. Your life and I are secure in Him.  And this truth should be a great comfort to believers … especially those who might think that our salvation is conditional upon themselves or their performance … that if we sin after it somehow causes us to lose their salvation … or that God requires us to be perfect once a profession of faith in Jesus has been made.  God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) If we had been or were now able to not sin … there would have been no need for a Savior.  There would not be a need for a permanent priesthood or continual intercession.  But we find both in Scripture!  And the Apostle John affirms, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Such mercy … such grace … such love in the midst of our weaknesses!  How can be not be humbled and always strive to live worthy of the Lord Jesus … and please Him in every way … bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God? (Cf. Colossians 1:10) And I feel we need to be reminded what the Apostle Paul preached in this regard:

Romans 6:1-7 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Oh, we need a Savior!  We need an Intercessor!  We need Jesus! 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.  (Hebrews 7:26-27) Yes, Jesus was ordained by God to be our High Priest forever!  There is no need for an earthly priesthood at all anymore.  Jesus came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Cf. Ephesians 2:17-18) So I pray we will trust Jesus at His Word.  I pray we will completely trust in His finished work to redeem us and bring us to God the Father.  He is all sufficient to give you and I eternal life….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!