Trouble and Distress…

Psalm 119:143 (NIV)

Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.

I sense in my spirit that someone reading our Verse of the Day needs this encouragement for their journey of faith. We all experience trouble and distress in our lives. It is just part of living in a fallen world. Some hardships we bring upon ourselves. Some are beyond our control. But note what the Psalmist said about facing these challenges of life: “Your commands give me delight.” That’s right! Knowing the will of God … knowing His laws and the wisdom they impart … will help us to navigate the troubles and distress that we will experience in this life. And that is the key to perseverance and endurance in faith.

O my friend, if you are experiencing trouble or distress in your life, I encourage you to consider the message of this verse. In times of trial, our best resource for discernment; for revelation of truth; for guidance and instruction; for navigation of the situation; is found in the Word of God. The commands of Lord, His ordinances, His statutes, His decrees, and His precepts, are all available to us. Indeed, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures in order to give us the wisdom and understanding we need. So, let’s read the entire section of this chapter for more perspective:

Psalm 19:132-154 (NIV)

132 Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression, that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

137 You are righteous, Lord, and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
144
Your statutes are always righteous; give me understanding that I may live.

145 I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.

153 Look on my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.
154 Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.

Indeed, the Psalmist affirms that we can find comfort, assurance, wisdom, and guidance through the counsel of the Holy Scriptures. They will lead us in the right direction and they are fully trustworthy! Yes, I believe if you will search them, you will find the answers that you are seeking … you will find the hope you are needing … and you will find the rest you are desiring in your inner being. So, I am praying for you … praying for His abiding grace and peace to fill your heart. Yes, I pray you will come to know that your life is preserved according to His promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Cf. Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. ~ Zephaniah 3:17

Suffering For Doing Good

1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

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.

In our Verse of the Day, Peter articulates some essential aspects of the Gospel – the message of Jesus Christ. But I think it is important for us to put this verse in its larger context in order to understand and appreciate why Peter mentions the suffering of Christ in this verse. Beginning at 1 Peter 3:8, Peter reviews the expected conduct of believers and how we should interact with one another … even to the point of “suffering” for doing what is good. Remember in 1 Peter 2:15, we studied that “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” These may be the same people who consider us “foolish” when we “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.” On the contrary, Peter tells us that we are expected to “repay evil with blessing”.  Let’s check it out:

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.” (Citing 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 what they fear (or their threats); do not be frightened.” (Citing Isaiah 8:12) 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.

I think what Peter is driving at here is that suffering for righteousness … suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ … is to be expected. As Jesus had already told His disciples: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (Cf. John 15:20) Therefore, it is important that we revere Christ as Lord and follow His commands. We need to do what is right … even if it hurts or brings hardship or suffering to ourselves. 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. And perhaps that is the point. Our “reserved” response to others who are “ignorant of the truth” might actually convict them of their own evil … it might actually “bring them to God” just as the “kindness of God in Christ led us to repentance.” (Cf. Romans 2:4)

Jesus taught these same principles in His “Sermon on the Mount”:

Matthew 5:9-12 (NIV)

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:22-23; 27-30 (NIV)

22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

And Paul affirms the same principles that we should follow in this regard:

Romans 12:14; 17-21

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. (Citing Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Citing Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In light of these additional passages, it is clear that Peter is leading us into what it means to exhibit Christ-like conduct. And in doing so, he entertains the probability that we also, in doing what is right, will be treated by the world as Christ was treated. I hope these insights will resonate and give us more thoughtful strategies on how to deal with those who do not know God … who have not been reconciled with Him through Christ Jesus … and who might be hostile toward you and me for our “good conduct.” As Jesus encouraged, we should rejoice and be glad. We will be blessed because our reward in heaven will be great! Let that be our hope when suffering comes our way for putting those things Jesus taught into practice … as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

From Suffering To Hope…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I find it interesting that our Verse of the Day is an excerpt from the passage that I posted yesterday for our study.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives. Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to see this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of GodNot only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hopeAnd hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodlyVery rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”! And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us! It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us! And I believe this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is a correlation, an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So, Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ. For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith. In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God. 9 He 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. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

It is my prayer that we as believers will come to a place in our walk with God that we will embrace the trials of suffering that come with the journey of faith. As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith. Indeed, those are the worthy goals that accompany suffering and affliction. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Silence the Foolish

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NIV)

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

As I read our Verse of the Day, I began to think about the significance of its message for believers – both for 1st Century Christians and for us in this current generation as well. I believe Peter affords a challenging insight into how we should conduct ourselves in a world that we have been called out of by the Lord Jesus.  So I have reprinted a larger section of the passage to give us the context:

1 Peter 2:11-23 (NIV)

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” (Cf. Isaiah 53:9) 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

I have emphasized the “applications” I want us to see and consider.  First, Peter states it is the will of God for us to “do good”.  Righteous conduct is not optional for Christians.  We are to do what is right in all situations. This includes both our actions and our words! And the reason is that by doing good we should silence those who in essence oppose God.  It is good conduct that God seeks in us.  We are to show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, and honor the highest offices of government which God has established.  And if we should suffer for doing good, and endure it, this is commendable before God.  Peter goes on to provide the example of our Lord Jesus in how to conduct ourselves in the face of opposition.  We should not return insult for insult.  We do not retaliate; rather, we wait upon the Lord who said: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30)

Deuteronomy 32:34-41 (NIV)

34 “Have I not kept this in reserve and sealed it in my vaults? 35 It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” 36 The Lord will vindicate His people and relent concerning His servants when He sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free. 37 He will say: “Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in, 38 the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them rise up to help you! Let them give you shelter! 39 “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. 40 I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear: As surely as I live forever, 41 when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.

Romans 12:9-19 (NIV)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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.

Hebrews 10:26-35 (NIV)

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

So, I pray that we will embrace the will of God for those who believe in Him. His will is for us to “do good” as a testimony to those who oppose Him. God has given salvation and eternal life to those who believe; and He will judge those who are disobedient … those who disdain the blood of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ … those who resist and insult the grace of the Holy Spirit. Yes, God will judge His people.  We just need to do what is right and let God take care of the rest! So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Suffering For Doing Good

1 Peter 3:18

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.

Our Verse of the Day comes from a passage that focuses on suffering for doing good.  The Apostle Peter provides his insight as one who suffered for his faith in Christ Jesus; and he explains that even Jesus was made to suffered for righteousness. So believers of all generations share this common experience with the Lord Jesus Himself.  Jesus said, “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.” (Cf. John 16:33) So, let’s look at our verse in its context:

1 Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)

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.” (Cf. Isaiah 8:1215 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.

I think we can all agree that suffering for the name of Christ is and will be a given for believers … especially as we move closer to the Day of the Lord.  And Peter gives us our application: “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….” Though unbelievers will speak maliciously against our good behavior in Christ, the Lord will be our vindication.  So wait patiently for the Lord.  Take heart because He has overcome the world.  And I pray we will remember and trust that Jesus has already prayed for us.  As He prayed to the Father, Jesus petitioned, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Cf. John 17:15) As the Apostle John affirmed: “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

So I pray this morning that we will be steadfast in our faith! “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.” (Cf. Ephesians 6:13)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Suffering For The Gospel…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I wanted to share this verse from the other day, but I have held up because of time constraints and I wanted to add some context and comment.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives.  Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to better understand this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And let us boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”!  And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us.  It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us!  And this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ.  For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith.  In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God … and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

So I pray that we as believers will come to place in our walk with God to embrace the trials of suffering that will come along in our lives.  As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith.  And so, those are the worthy goals that accompany the suffering and affliction. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of GodHe 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. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Take Revenge

Psalm 94:18-19 (NIV)

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

If you become dismayed or disillusioned about the events going on in our nation … in our world … this Psalm provides some comfort to us.  God will execute judgment with righteousness.  God will avenge His righteous ones. “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.” (Romans 12:19)

Psalm 94

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?

They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?
Does He who fashioned the ear not hear? Does He who formed the eye not see?
10 Does He who disciplines nations not punish? Does He who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
11 The Lord knows all human plans; He knows that they are futile.

12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law;
13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance.
15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

And in light of these days, I am reminded of what the Apostle John recorded in Revelation as the seals were opened:

Revelation 6:9-11 (NIV)

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The message here is that God is fully aware of what is taking place within His creation. God is wholly sovereign over His works, and His will is immutable in heaven and on earth.  We are not to fear the wicked or what is happening in the world; rather, we are to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth! We have been saved to serve, and we should be about the Father’s business. “When the harvest time approached, He sent His servants to the tenants to collect His fruit.” (Cf. Matthew 21:34) And, “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Cf. Luke 10:2) This is how the Body of Christ should be engaged in these latter days regardless of the resistance, persecution, and vilification that will come upon the workers. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Cf. Matthew 28:19-20)

It has already been written in Scripture that God will allow martyrdom to happen … and permit the testing of our faith to refine us as with fire.  So, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-13) Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (Cf. John 15:18) And, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Cf. Matthew 24:9) And, “See I have told you ahead of time.” (Cf. Matthew 24:25) “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Cf. Mark 13:23) But I remind you that victory will be accomplished. Jesus encouraged His disciples, “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.” (Cf. John 16:33) And the Apostle John affirms that “everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world … even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:21

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Remain in My Love…

John 15:10 (NIV)

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

A simple message of obedience … wrapped in a greater context if we want to consider HOW we can keep His commands:

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youRemain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

I want to outline some of the salient points that Jesus made in this passage using the vine and branches metaphor to guide our understanding of His Word:

1.       God the Father is the gardener!  He is the One who planted the True Vine! Jesus is the True Vine!

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10 (NIV)

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Revelation 5:5-6 (NIV)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, that is, the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. 

Revelation 22:16 (NIV)

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

2.       We (those who believe in Christ Jesus) are the Branches of the Vine!

This means that believers emerge from the vine.  We are an integral part of the Vine.  We have no existence or life except that the Vine has produced us and we are an inherent part of its growth.  It is from the branches that flowering buds will emerge, fruit will be set (borne), and a harvest will come forth … from ALL the branches that have formed from the Vine.  I believe this is the image of the metaphor Jesus has used to illustrate not only our relationship to Him and the Father, but also to manifest the depth of His life-giving love for us. Always remember that God the Father “tends” to the Vine.  He observes the branches and their well-being.  The Father notes those branches which are producing fruit and He prunes in order for them to produce even more fruit. Branches in Jesus that do not produce fruit, He cuts off. And what is the key to fruit production? Abiding in the Vine! ALL the resources we will ever need and utilize to produce fruit will come from the roots and through the Vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) So each individual branch must understand that nothing less than an intimate relationship with Jesus will be able to produce the harvest that the Father is looking to receive from His Vine….

3.       If we keep (obey) His commands, we will REMAIN in Jesus … we will abide in Him and remain in His love.

Jesus states that He is the example of obedience for us.  As we visualize the obedience of Jesus to the Father, we see that His intimate relationship with the Father stems from HOW Jesus lived in obedience.  His relationship was that of Son. What did Jesus say? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (Verse 9) As Jesus bore the image of the Father, so we are conformed to the image of Him. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews gives us some additional insight into how we too can become empowered for obedience:

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

First we observe the prayer life of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and supplications with fervent cries and tears to God! Note the intensity described here….  Second, the prayers of Jesus were heard by the Father because of His “reverent submission.”  I truly believe from this verse that “reverent submission” is the most important element of prayer.  As the Prophet Isaiah noted: “Our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Cf. Isaiah 59:2) But Jesus was filled with the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He delighted in the fear of the Lord.  And I think we are to have the same mindset if we desire to obey His commands and for His love to remain in us.

As Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, I surmise that we must enter the same “winepress” in the pursuit of obedience. Sometimes God refines us in the furnace of affliction. (Cf. Isaiah 48:10) So as I ponder the idea of suffering in order to learn obedience, I am reminded by the thought that suffering will be manifested in the natural realm … in our bodies as we die to sin. (Cf. Romans 6:2) It is inevitable! Sin itself will not die; rather, we have to die to it!  And the process of sanctification will often feel like suffering as addictions are withdrawn … as strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness are uprooted … as the iniquity of the tongue is tamed …  and as a myriad of temptations are resisted and escaped. Yet, “In our struggle against sin, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:4) But that is the course we must pursue if we are truly serious about holiness in our lives. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:1)

4.       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we will all the more need to prepare for the suffering that accompanied His love for us! As Jesus shared His heart with the disciples, He told them that He was willing to lay it down for them.  Jesus called them friends!  And this is important to see: “You are my friends IF you do what I command”. This is my command: Love one another! “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  (Cf. 2 John 1:6) Since by the example of Christ Jesus we know that the love of God is sacrificial, our love for one another will manifest as sacrificial as well. And we need to understand that sacrificial love will bring some degree of suffering into our lives … suffering that we will be challenged to endure unless we abide in the Vine through reverent submission to Him. Still, through suffering we learn obedience; the obedience that comes from faith (Cf. Romans 16:26) … the obedience that leads to righteousness (Cf. Romans 6:16) … and the obedience that accompanies our confession of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:13)

Love requires an emptying of ourselves.  It challenges us to be servants to others.  As Paul admonished, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  (Cf. Romans 12:1) Paul goes on to instruct us to be devoted to one another in love; honor one another above yourselves; share with the Lord’s people who are in need; live in harmony with one another; live at peace with everyone; and do not take revenge. (Cf. Romans 12:9-21) And Paul wrote similar instructions to other churches: “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.” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Well, I have tarried here a while, but I hope that something has been said that will inspire you to look at the condition of your branch within the Vine.  Is your branch healthy?  Is it growing?  Is it producing fruit?  Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Is the Father being glorified through your life and mine?  These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to cultivate and nourish our intimacy with Christ. It is imperative that His Word abide in us … that we are fervent in prayer … and that we pursue reverent submission to Him in all aspects of our lives.  This is HOW we will be equipped to “keep His command” to love one another as He has loved us.  This is how we will bear fruit … fruit that will last.  Indeed, I pray that we will hear these words of Jesus and put them into practice…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Lord Is Faithful

2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NIV)

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

I found our verse this morning to be a timely word for those who believe … a confirmation of the trust we must place in the Lord our God.  Either we believe the Lord is faithful, as He has wholly demonstrated through His great mercy and love, or we in essence do not believe He has spoken with truth.  The Apostle John cautioned about the theological implication of unbelief: “We make God to be a liar.”

1 John 5:9-11 (NIV)

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

God has not been ambiguous in the revelation of His will or His love. “But God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE FOR US in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (Cf. 1 John 4:10)

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

If we accept the testimony of God … if we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ … then we can trust Him at His Word! The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.  And now, let’s read the verse in the context:

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (NIV)

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with youAnd pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Again, our mission … the task of the Church … is to share the testimony of God and to spread the message of Jesus Christ – His Son.  This is why we pray … pray for strength and pray for protection from the evil one. And this is His faithful promise to those who are at work and not idle in these times.  It is necessary for each of us to “release” whatever hinders us or binds us in unbelief.  Yes, right now, I pray in name of Jesus, for “RELEASE” of whatever stronghold, whatever attachment, whatever sin, whatever doubt or fear, that abide in our hearts and keep us from TOTAL TRUST in our Lord and Savior.  I declare, “RELEASE!”

Why?  “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Quoting Proverbs 11:31) 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Dealing With Sin

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

“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.

It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships.  As the Apostle John admonishes us:

1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:1517 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual.  It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven.  In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….

Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us.  What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness.  Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….

Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people.  Is our love sincere or just lip service?  Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth.  In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt.  Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss.  Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful.  It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you….  Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….

Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God.  And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well.  The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great!  We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us.  To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness.  We can release them to God for His judgment.  Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.

Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness.  A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized.  We are expected to “confront” our offenders.  We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them.  How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed.  When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God.  There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense.  There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God.  And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!