Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Benefits to Forgiveness

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander 
be put away from you, along with all malice.  
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, 
just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  

Ephesians 4:31,32

Bitternes. Wrath. Anger. Clamor. Slander. Malice.

All words that describe a heart that holds onto hurt.  Don't get me wrong, it's never our intention to become bitter, angry, wrathful, gossipy, or sour.  But when we marinate in the hurt of another's sin, these things spring up like weeds in a field.  No one planted the weeds, but for some reason the seeds are lying in wait, just begging for a little rain to get the ball rolling.  

Our old nature, while redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is still present within us and will be with us until we shed this flesh and stand before our Great Redeemer.  While it doesn't take much to stir that nature, a little fertilizer goes a long way, and unfortunately, the hurt that comes from being sinned against is just the right mix to grow bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.

The cure for this bad harvest is kindness, compassion and forgiveness.  It's not three options to choose from but a partnership that is only works if all three parts are offered.  Any two without the third are simply an exercise in hypocrisy.  And it all starts with the choice to honor the Lord because of His great kindness, compassion and forgiveness in your own life and to forgive.

Once forgiveness, or should I say the hard work of forgiveness, is applied to the hurt, it's only a matter of time before the blessings that come from obedience start to show up, as well.  So today I want to look at five benefits of forgiveness.

Number 1 - Restored Capacity

When you choose to forgive, you are choosing to give up retribution.  Not just physical retribution but mental retribution.  You are choosing to release the offender from guilt and you are agreeing not to marinate in the hurt any longer, which is an exercise of the mind.  When you hang on to the hurt, it limits you - it limits your compassion for others, it makes you suspicious and self-protective.  To state it plainly: you are limited because you are not walking in obedience to the Lord.  

But when you forgive, it enables you to extend yourself and be vulnerable again.  Yes, I chose the word vulnerable because forgiveness is not a guarantee that you won't be hurt again.  But it does allow you to feel, to trust, to laugh, to love and to act freely in accordance with God's Word.  Your ability to walk in harmony with the Lord is suddenly unhindered, un-muddied with the consequences of unforgiveness (bitterness, wrath, etc.), thereby making your capacity to live for Him much greater.

Number 2 - Restored Identity

Forgiveness is what initially made us whole.  Forgiveness of our own sin.  When we confessed our sin and cried out to the Lord, He granted forgiveness.  Truth be known, while we were still enemies, He laid the foundation for forgiveness through the cross.  His forgiveness changed our status from hell-bound slave to Satan, to justified, adopted, redeemed, and loved child of the King.  

When we hang on to hurt, we start to find our identity in our past.  We consider ourselves rejected, abused, unloved, lied about, betrayed and sometimes even unworthy.  When we choose to forgive, the only way we can actually do that is by remembering the truth of who we are!  When we think truthfully about who we are in Christ, not only will forgiveness flow more freely but our identity will be restored, the lies will fade away and we can continue to walk in harmony with the Lord.

Number 3 - Restored Testimony

How can we boast of His great love and forgiveness and not want to imitate it?  We are ambassadors for Christ and as His representatives, as the light of the world, we must be great at forgiving.  Remember the story of the unforgiving slave?  He was forgiven a great debt but refused to forgive a minor infraction.  It didn't go well for him in the end.  Because we are forgiven such a great debt through the death of our Savior, God wants us to be great forgivers.  When people say to you, "How can you go on after such hurt?", the answer is simple:  Jesus.  He is why I can forgive and move on.

Number 4 - Restored Fellowship

This one is really important. When you forgive you are telling the Lord three things:
  1. Thank you for forgiving me
  2. I want to be close to you more than I want to make my offender pay
  3. I trust that you will deal with sin so I don't have to
God is not mocked. We will reap what we sow.  When we choose to sow forgiveness, the harvest is abundant.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are the marks of a person in unhindered fellowship with the Lord.  The safest place for you to be is in the dead center of His will and without a doubt, forgiveness is His will.  Here's what He says in Romans 12:17-21:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our call is to overcome evil with good - in other words, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.

Number 5: PAUSE

Okay, I am going to hit the pause button here and save the final benefit of forgiveness for next week's blog.  It needs more than a paragraph to discuss and this post has been long enough. I'll also give some specifics on how to forgive so that it's not a fuzzy concept that feels impossible to do.

Sound like a plan?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

5 Benefits to Holding on to Hurt

A joyful heart is good medicine, 
but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

Are you hurting today?  Is there someone in your life that has caused or is causing you pain?  Are you worn out from the brokenness and ready to give up?  Or maybe your pain has become a power source in your life.  It is pushing you to action that you never knew was in you.  

The hurt that comes from the sin of others is hard to get past.  It can frame our past and shape our future.  It produces loneliness and sorrow, frustration and bitterness.  It can become your identity and it can fuel your choices.  Either way, it's a hard way to live with this hurt.  As Solomon said, it can dry up your bones.

The question today is, what are you doing about it?  Are you a victim or is there hope of freedom from hurt?   To deal with hurt will take a lot of work and perhaps it's better to let the pain run it's course.  I want to share with you five benefits to holding on to your hurt.

Number 1 - Broken Relationships

Hurt breaks relationships.  When someone sins against you, and maybe they do this over and over and over, how can there be a relationship?  I once heard, "sin separates friends."  Yes, this is probably true.  To forgive someone repeatedly is a lot of work and truth be known, it's really not your fault.  It's much more time efficient to write relationships off and the fuel to do this is bitterness.  Even if they want to restore the friendship, what's done is done.  Too many years of hurt and pain will sever any opportunity for restoration, but there are plenty of other people to be friends with, plenty other people that you could marry, plenty of other people to pour your life into, so what's done is done.   Broken relationships are the consequence of the other person's sin, not the consequence of your bitterness, right?

Number 2 - Broken Identity

Hurt can change your identity.  Instead of seeing yourself as a child of the King, you might see yourself as the cheated on wife, or the rejected parent, or the mistreated co-worker.  When you are the victim of someone else's sin, the identity of "victim" can quickly replace who you are in Christ.  But being a victim is a good place to be.  It opens many doors.  It can fill many conversations and produce all kinds of sympathy.  It can even cause people to take sides and defend you.  It can be a comfort in times when you feel lonely, because it tells you that it's okay to be hurt - you deserve to feel this way.  

Number 3 - Broken Capacity

When you are broken and hurt by someone else's sin, that hurt limits you.  It ties your hands from doing what is right.  Sometimes it can lead to depression.  Sometimes it can lead you to avoidance.  Being a victim can limit your capacity - your capacity to trust, to love, to live.  When you've been hurt, you learn to guard your heart and not share yourself as readily as before.  You've learned a hard lesson and don't want to put yourself in a vulnerable position again.  And when you lose capacity, you limit your exposure to suffering - this is a good thing.  You have to think of yourself first because if you've learned anything, it's that you have to take care of yourself because you can't count on anyone else.

Number 4 - Broken Testimony

This is a hard one, but again, it's really not your fault.  When I hold on to my hurt, it is hard to promote the spiritual discipline of forgiveness.  I understand that God wants us to be forgiving people but that is a general instruction.  When you get into the specifics of each circumstance, God cannot possibly expect you to be able to forgive in EVERY situation.  So, since the specifics of your life are unique, holding on to the hurt is really your only option, but it's hard then for people to understand your love for Christ and lack of forgiveness.  What this does then is open the door for you to share even more with them how badly you have been hurt.  So in the end, I guess it really is helpful because again, you are focussing on your own healing process.

Number 5 - Broken Fellowship

This is the hardest of all.  This is why sin has a ripple effect.  Because you were hurt, mistreated or lied about, that makes it hard for you to forgive.  Because it's hard for you to forgive, God says that He'll forgive us in the same manner that we are forgiving others.  Now, that doesn't seem fair because as we've already established, our circumstance is unique, but there is implication that our fellowship with the Lord is broken if we choose to harbor bitterness and not forgive.  So maybe this one is not a benefit but instead it's a reality that as a victim I am once again stuck with...which seems to increase my hurt all the more.  

Okay, friends, I hope by now you are EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE with this blog!  Let me remove my tongue from my cheek and say this clearly:  The broken relationships, capacity, identity, testimony and fellowship is a consequence of our unwillingness to forgive - not because we've been hurt.  

Therein lies the good news.  And therein lies my next post:  5 Benefits to Forgiveness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Following Blues - Part 2

...yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you...
Genesis 3:16

As hard as it is to submit, knowing that it is God's will for wives to follow their husband's lead should be enough for us to choose to do it.  But God wants more than forced obedience.  He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  So spending some more time on the submission command may give us more insight and understanding to our calling.

What I want to focus on today is why submission is so hard.  We think we know why it's so hard and here's what we tell ourselves:
  • I know more than him in this situation
  • He's not seeing the big picture
  • I don't trust his instincts
  • He's blown it before
  • He doesn't know what he's talking about
  • I'm smarter than he is
  • He's not trustworthy
  • This is not how my parents did it
  • We are equals in this home 
  • I make more than he does, he can follow my lead every once in a while
  • I don't know another woman who would put up with this
  • What? Submit?  Have you met my husband?
These are excuses but not the real reason why submission is so hard for women.  The real reason is given to us in the third chapter of the Bible, where God records the story of humanity's fall from grace.  There are a lot of things about this story that I'd love to know, but we aren't given every inflection and every detail.  For example, it says, "...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate...", so how was he with her?  Was he there for the whole conversation?  I think I want the answer to be yes, just so that there is complicity in the act, but that's just me trying to make women less guilty.  

Which leads me to the actual reason why submission is so difficult.  In Genesis 3:16-19, God is laying out the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin.  For Adam, to provide for his family will now be hard work and not the joy that God intended.  We see this in our society's attitude toward work - we hate it.  We long for three-day weekends.  Work less, play more is our mantra.  And the truth is, all over the world, to provide and care for a family is hard.  Not only does the ground not produce as it should, but people are dishonest and mean.  The competitive work environment is not meant for unity and growth, but for self-promotion.  To get ahead you have to be willing to fight for what's yours and sometimes take what is not.  

For women, the consequence of sin is different.  It's two-pronged.  First is the difficulty of bearing children.  This is not simply the pain of childbirth, but all the complications that come from being able to bear a child:  periods, cramping, infertility, high blood pressure, low iron levels, menopause, labor and delivery complications, stitches, hysterectomies, ectopic pregnancies, tilted uterus - and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are not God's perfect plan for the female body, but because of sin and the brokenness of even our genetics, there is much pain and sorrow.

But the second prong is why we struggle to submit.  God said, "Your desire will be for your husband and he shall rule over you."  Our desire, what we want more thank anything, deep down, at the core of who we are - our desire is to rule over our husband but God is keeping him in his created place, as the head of the family.  Man's headship is not a consequence of the fall - it was a pre-sin assignment.  God created woman in a helper role and in a perfect world, it would still be our calling to willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority.  But because of sin, we now have this inner, fleshly force, pushing against his rule.

Submission is hard because our sin nature is so strong.  I know many of us think that since we've been saved, all our sin has magically disappeared but all we have to do is take a look in the mirror when our husbands make a decision we don't like and we'll find it bubbling to the surface.  That inner turmoil, that voice that lists out why we shouldn't follow his lead is our sin nature talking.  

Sigh.  Take a breath, ladies.  And then, when your done arguing in your mind why this is not true, let the actual truth sink in.  Our wrestling with God's command is that inner struggle that Paul described in Romans 7, where he says, "...For the good that I want, I do not do, but practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me..."  

The struggle is real.  We want to obey the Lord and everything in us is fighting against it.  We talk ourselves out of obedience, justifying our defiance rather than humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord and before our husbands, knowing that it is our sin nature that we are truly wrestling with.  

I love how Paul reconciles his struggle:  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There's our answer, ladies.  We must take our eyes from the horizontal position and get them on Jesus.  We must close our ears to the droning of our sin nature and listen the Spirit. And we are able to do this because Jesus broke the chains of our bondage to sin.  We have another voice to hear because of His mercy and sacrifice.  

So for those of you who don't think you have this problem, when you come upon a disagreement with your husband, write down what you are saying in your head, word for word.  When you are done, compare your thoughts to God's call, Wives, be subject to your husbands as unto the Lord, and determine, are the thoughts in my head of God or of my flesh?  The answer to that might surprise you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saved to Serve

It is the Lord God whom you serve.
Colossians 3:24

I am sharing my teaching this year with my daughter, Katherine.  What a joy it is to watch her grow, not just in her teaching skills but in her study of the Word.  This year we are using material that I had put together years ago but for next year, we are working on a new study.  So here's what happens, as we study we call each other, all excited about what we're learning and it is at that moment that I experience the joy of my daughter's love for the Lord!

So today I have one nugget from my study that I just have to share.  I am not worried that I am jumping the gun for next year because I am pretty sure you will all forget it by next year, but it's a matter of perspective that I think, heading into the new year, would be valuable for all of us.

When Moses went before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites he famously said, "Thus says the Lord, Let My people go!"  He said it over and over and over.  Songs have been written about it and if you walked up to a stranger on the street, he could probably tell you what Moses said, as well.  

But did you know that is only the first half of the command from God? The whole quote is, "Thus says the Lord, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me."  Hmmm...a little different than what we originally thought.  When we think of God's saving of Israel, it was from slavery to freedom, right?  

Kind of, but not exactly.

God wanted Israel free to serve Him.  In captivity not only were they serving Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, but they were serving false gods.  Four hundred years had passed and though they cried out to the Lord, their hearts were turning form the God of their fathers to the gods of Egypt.  And the Lord said, Enough is enough!  He wanted them out of Egypt and He wanted their eyes back on SERVE Him.

We all serve someone.  We either serve God or we serve ourselves or Satan or others. Every choice we make is one of service.  When you choose to watch a certain movie or listen to certain music or friend certain people on FB or pick out an outfit or make a meal - it is in the service of someone.  The question to ask yourself is who, who am I serving with this decision.

The scriptures are clear.  If you are a child of the King, you serve the King.  If you are not a child of the King, you serve Satan.  I John 3:10 says, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."  Ephesians 5:22 tells wives to be"...subject to their own husbands, as unto the Lord."  When we willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority, it is an act of service to the Lord.  Even in Colossians above we see that our service in all things is service to our King.  

So when God wanted the children of Israel to leave Egypt, it was to serve Him.  They were saved so that they could change masters, serve another freely without the bondage of a godless king's constraints.  This is true in our lives today, as well.  When the Lord saves us, He saves us to be free to worship Him without the constraints of our previous, godless master, Satan.  Are we free to run into His throne room and approach the Father as a loved child? Absolutely yes, but the child still is serving the Father by the choices he makes.

As we start this new year, let's remember Who we serve.  Our obedience is service, not to the church or to our spouse or to our family or to our neighbors, but service to the Lord.  And if it truly is service to the Lord, then we should give our very best and be VERY careful to be thorough in what He commands us to do.  We have been freed from the bonds of darkness, from not being able to know or love or comprehend God at all.  Because of that freedom, we now can serve the Lord with gladness, we can come into His presence with great song, knowing that our Lord, our Master...He is God.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

A new year.  

A clean slate, right?  Well, maybe not a clean slate but a new opportunity to make some changes.  Well, maybe not a new opportunity, because actually every day is a new opportunity to make changes.  But a new year for some reason feels like a new start, so why not run with it?

I've heard people say they want to get in shape, lose weight, start exercising, read through the whole Bible this year, read some books on their list, travel, pay off debt, find the man of their dreams - there's a whole lot of adventures that lie ahead in 2017.  The one thing no one has said is this:  I want to be exactly the same on Jan. 1st, 2018 as I am today.  There is something depressing about that.  We want to be better, more experienced, not in the same place, richer and fuller, and perhaps a bit skinnier by next year.

This is just another example of how we are not like God at all.  He doesn't sit around and long for a better version of Himself, a richer life or deeper relationships.  He is God and He never changes..and it never gets old.  That might sound boring to you but I have to admit, it's the fundamental character trait of God that we build our faith upon - His immutability.

If God would change, then His Word would be outdated.  What the Bible reveals about the character of God from thousands of years ago would be null and void, because He'd be different.  What the Bible teaches about roles and duties would be null and void, as well, because God would have possibly changed His mind about those things.  And what the Bible instructed about relationships would be worthless, because God might have decided to handle things differently by now.  

But God is immutable.  He is unchangeable.  Therefore what He has revealed about His character and His will is never changing, as well.  We can have confidence as we see His holiness in scripture, that He is the same today as He was in the past.  What He has revealed to us is exactly who He is today and will be forever.  He is perfect, pure and holy and completely consistent today with those attributes as He has been in eternity past.  

So as we seek to make changes, let us remember the goodness of our God.  Let us review His activity in our lives this past year and long for His hand to shape and mold us in 2017 in even greater ways.  Let us seek His word and long for the consistency of character that we see in Him.  

One more note:  it's never boring with God.  Consistency of holy character is a wonderful existence and  immutable does not mean a lack of newness.  As far as excitement, how can it get better than this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; 
for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, 
and there is no longer any sea.  
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, 
coming down out of heaven from God, 
made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, 
saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, 
and He will dwell among them, 
and they shall be His people, 
and God Himself will be among them, 
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
and there will no longer be any death; 
there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; 
the first things have passed away."  
And He who sits on the throne said, 
"Behold, I am making ALL THINGS NEW."   

Revelation 21:1-5

Happy New Year, friends.