We’re All Guilty – December 19, 2017

I wish I could think of a better or more positive-sounding title, but this one about sums up the lesson I took from 2 Kings, Chapter 10.

Honestly, this was a hard chapter to read and an even harder chapter to write about because I think of God as a loving, merciful God, who sent Jesus to save us, but sometimes I forget just how holy He is, and the magnitude of what He saved me from.

The beginning of the chapter tells us that wicked Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria.  King Jehu wrote letters to the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to those who had reared Ahab’s sons, challenging them to a fight.  His letter reads:

“Now as soon as this letter comes to you, since your master’s sons are with you, and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city also, and weapons, choose the best qualified of your master’s sons, set him on his father’s throne, and fight for your master’s house. (vv 2-3).”

But the text goes on to say that the rulers and elders were afraid of a battle with the king, so they acquiesced, saying, “We are your servants, we will do all you tell us; but we will not make anyone king.  Do what is good in your sight (v 5).”

So King Jehu writes them another letter, saying, “If you are for me and will obey my voice, take the heads of the men, your master’s sons, and come to me at Jezreel by this time tomorrow (v 6).”

Was Jehu expecting the elders and rulers to actually do what he asked?  I’m not sure, but the sarcastic tone of the first letter suggests that he may have been upping the challenge to battle, perhaps thinking that they would appoint themselves a king from Ahab’s sons and go to war with him.  Then again, maybe he knew they wouldn’t.

Regardless of Jehu’s intent, the rulers and elders were more than willing to kill Ahab’s sons in order to save their own skin.  This, even though some of them had helped raise Ahab’s sons!

They slaughtered Ahab’s seventy sons, put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jezreel  (v 7).

Jehu made a speech the following morning.  He said, “You are righteous.  Indeed I conspired against my master and killed him; but who killed all these?  Know now that nothing shall fall to the earth of the word of the Lord which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab; for the Lord has done what He spoke by His servant Elijah.”  The story goes on to tell us that Jehu killed the rest of Ahab’s family,  acquainances and priests.  Then later, he killed the remaining members of Ahab’s family in Samaria (vv 11-17).

This part gave me pause for a minute.  If God is loving and merciful and good, how could He possibly sanction such a massacre?

Well, to understand,  we have to get to the bottom of the reason God was angry at Ahab and his family.  They were not nice people.   They were Baal-worshipers who practiced and condoned the practice of rituals such as sacrificing of children in the fire, ritual prostitution,  and other terribly heinous, lewd and violent acts.  Not only had they turned their backs on God, but they were responsible for the slaughter and destruction of innocent lives, whether they participated in it directly,  or whether they condoned, encouraged and allowed it.

Not only this, but God had sent Elijah to warn Ahab that he was only bringing destruction to himself by participating in Baal worship (1 Kings 17-18).  Think about it, even after all that he had done, Ahab could’ve changed the course of his fate by turning from the idolatry and heinousness of Baal worship, and choosing to follow the Lord.  God had a multitude of patience with him and gave him a chance to put a stop to the awful things that were happening, but Ahab wouldn’t listen.

This story gets even sadder, as we shall see.  Jehu ultimately destroyed the temple of Baal and all of its worshipers, thus putting an end to the atrocities as the Lord had warned Ahab to do earlier.

God said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”  It goes on to say that “Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin (vv 30-31).”

What was the sin?  It was allowing the golden calves that were still at Bethel and Dan.  Basically,  he got rid of one system of idolatry and allowed and condoned another.  He knew God’s truth and exchanged it for a lie.

I started thinking how this applies to us in the present day.  Our actions have consequences.  We can choose to squander our health with addiction,  unhealthy habits, reckless behavior, etc and the end result is years of life lost and pain to those we love.  We can choose to commit a crime and be put to death or serve time in prison.  We can choose to turn away from the Lord and miss out on the untold joy and blessings that come with choosing to follow Him.

The bad news is that we’re all guilty of disobeying God in some form or another.  How many times have I, have we, hurt others out of selfishness, anger, pride?  But the good news is we have Someone who loves us so much that He saw humanity, even in our worst moments, as lost sheep that need a Shepherd.

After the reign of Jehu, Israel continued to get worse.  The world continued to get worse.  Sound familiar today?  There is no way politics was ever going to change people’s hearts.  Humans would still, and do still, operate from selfishness and sin a lot of the time.

God knew we needed more than an earthly king.  He knew we needed divine redemption.  He knew we needed forgiveness. He knew we needed One who could break the chains of destruction and sin in our lives.  He knew we needed hope.  He knew we needed Jesus.

Do you know that He loves You so much that He is willing and able to help you, right now, to have a clean slate, a fresh start?  No matter where you are in life or geographically, no matter how far down you have gone, no matter what you’ve done?  Like Ahab, He loves us so much, He is calling us – calling us to follow Him.

If you’ve never heard the good news, let me tell you.  See, God knows we’re guilty. He knows that no matter how hard we try we’ll never be perfect.  But because He’s holy, atonement is required for our sin.  See, that’s why Jesus stepped down from Heaven and came and endured ridicule, scorn, being cold, hungry, and ultimately nailed to the cross.  He did it willingly.  No one forced Him to.  He could’ve said, “Nope, never mind.  Those people just aren’t worth it.”  Oh, but friend, He loved us so much He didn’t want to leave us like this.  He thought you and I, even with all our mess, were worth suffering and dying for.  Then, after He gave His life for us, He rose from the dead after three days and promised to prepare a place for us in Heaven, a wonderful place where there won’t be any more sorrow or tears.  And He doesn’t leave us here on earth like He found us either.  He came to break those chains of sin that hold us back, whether they are addiction, anger,  fear, whatever they are, He promises to change us and never leave us, to walk us through this life and on into the next.  He said, “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill and destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

But like Ahab, like Jehu, we have a choice.  We can say yes or we can say no and turn away.  But He promises that if we accept His gift of forgiveness, salvation and hope, He won’t let us down.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

Father, I thank You for Your wonderful Gift of grace.  I pray that I would honor You with my actions.  I know I sin on a daily basis, Lord, but I thank You that You never leave me, and I’m sorry for the ways in which I fail.  I know I could never repay the debt of love I owe You.  I just come to You with a humble, grateful heart and I thank You, Father, for Jesus and for my salvation.  I ask that You show me anything in my heart that is not honoring to you and help me to change it.  I want to be faithful, I want to follow You.  I pray for anyone reading this who has never known You or Your great love and mercy, that they would make the decision to put their faith in You, Lord, and therein find hope and forgiveness.  Help us all to know You more.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

 

November 12, 2017 – Praise God, He Loves Us Anyway

Are there times you feel unworthy or undeserving of the Father’s love?  I know I do.  I was saved as a teenager and my pastor’s wife, a lady who encouraged and invested in me so much, used to tell me, “God can use you.”  I remember thinking, God can use me?  Why in the world would He want to do that?  I still find myself feeling woefully inadequate for His work, even over 20 years later.

I believe that is precisely the point.  None of us are worthy of or deserve His grace, but that’s what makes it Grace, and that’s what makes His love even more profound.  He loves me anyway.  He sees everything I have ever been, all the things I have ever done or ever will do, and He says, “I love you.”

In Acts chapter 8, there is a story about a sorcerer named Simon.  Simon has been deceiving the people through his sorcery and claiming that he has the power of God.  But as the apostle Philip preached the real gospel message,  and Simon saw the real power of God at work through the name of Jesus, he believed and was baptized.

The text says that “…and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  For as yet He had fallen upon none of them.  They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:13-18 NKJV).

As I was reading this, I thought, What a scoundrel.  But as I pondered the story, I started to wonder why Simon would’ve offered money for a Gift that was freely given to the believers at Samaria.  After all, the text says that “Simon himself also believed (v.13).”

My first thought was ok, maybe the guy thought he could make money and a name for himself by becoming a disciple, especially with the power of God to heal and perform miracles.  After all, he had made money and a name for himself by performing sorcery.  And that very well could’ve been a reason.  But I wonder too if maybe he felt he had to buy this gift from God because he felt unworthy to receive it like the other believers had?  This is pure speculation on my part, but part of me empathizes with Simon if that’s the case.

How often have you or I tried to earn God’s love?  Or felt that we have missed the mark so much in our life that He couldn’t possibly use us?  I have felt that way many times.  And when God has His arms outstretched just waiting for me to receive the gift of His forgiveness and grace when I fall short, how often have I said to myself, “I’ll try harder.  I’ll work more.  I’ll give more.  I must be able to make it up to Him somehow.”? Or gotten discouraged and thought, “What’s the point anyway?  Why should I even try?  I’ll never be good enough to do this Christian thing anyway.”  Yep, been there too.

But what I’ve learned is that He loves me more than I could even fathom.  Not because I’m great, but because He’s great, and because He’s a loving Father.  I can’t “earn” His love and I can’t buy or work for it, and praise God, I don’t have to.  Jesus did the work for us, we can just climb into our Father’s arms and rest.

Simon was rebuked by Peter for thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money.  Peter told him he couldn’t be a part of their work because his heart was not right with God.  Peter urged him to repent and receive forgiveness (vv 20-23).

But listen to this, “Then Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things {consequences of sin} that you have spoken may come upon me.’  So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (vv 24-25).”

Simon repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  The story doesn’t specify whether he continued on with the disciples to preach or not, or if he stayed where he was, but I believe that he was forgiven the moment he repented and asked for forgiveness.  There are varying opinions as to Simon’s relationship with God, whether he truly did believe or not, and only God knows his heart, but the message is the same.  While we cannot buy God’s love, it is a gift freely given and so is forgiveness when we reach out to Him with a broken, repentant heart.

Praise God, even when we fall, even though we make stupid mistakes, He loves us anyway.  His arms are open wide for anyone (even the messiest of us).

“Father, I thank You for Your gift of grace over and over again in my life.  I feel so undeserving, and indeed I am undeserving, but I thank You that You love me in spite of my mess.  I thank You that You’re not done with me yet, and I’m humbled that You would want to use me, out of all people, clumsy,  awkward, often prideful me, to work for You.  Not to earn Your love, but to be a part of the greatest work there is, and that is to tell others about Jesus and how much He loves them too.  And that if You can use me in spite of my mess, You can use them too.  I can never thank You enough, and I love You Father.  Thank You for loving me and never giving up on me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Our Story, His Glory – December 1, 2015

Are there things you look back on that make you hang your head in shame or regret?  Do you wish you could blot some of your most embarrassing moments from your memory?  I know there are times I look back and I cringe at things I have said or done and think, “Wow, really??”

The good news for all of us is that in God’s hands, our past can actually become a tool for His ministry.  He can bring good out of even the most improbably sad or embarrassing moments of our lives, our biggest faux pas.

For a long time, I struggled with an addiction to alcohol, and this was even as a Christian.  I tried my best to hide the effects of my drinking from co-workers and from church friends and other friends that I thought might judge me.  As my drinking progressed, there was no longer much hiding it from anyone.  My children and husband lived with me, so although in the early stages I hid the cans and bottles from them, I didn’t do it for long.  I was really just one walking hypocrite, and felt totally ashamed, guilty and depressed.

Then, on one particularly bad drinking spree, I thought that it would be a good idea to post about my struggle on social media.  There was all of my business out there for friends, family, business associates and co-workers to see, some of whom didn’t even know me that well.  I know now that it was a cry for help – I was reaching out to anyone and everyone who might understand.  I was tired of hiding and trying to pretend that I was doing okay on my own.  The weight of trying to keep it all in caused me to collapse.  I also posted numerous statuses on Facebook crying out to God for help.  However, in the days that followed, I would wake up hungover and unable to remember what I’d said (or typed), but I just felt utterly humiliated, ashamed and depressed.

Several friends and acquaintances (even from work!) responded and told me that they were praying for me.  Some even related their own struggles.  It took a long time to get over the shame that I felt, and I had a ways to go before I would finally be able to find sobriety, but the mask was off.   Once the initial shock and humiliation of what I’d done sank in, I began to feel relief.

I hope and pray that by sharing my past and my struggles, someone else may find the courage to share also, and come out of the dark into the light.

Today I am sober, not because of anything I’ve done, but it’s solely by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in my life.  Many times I thought I was ready to quit drinking, and I sincerely meant it, only to reach back for the bottle when things got stressful.  Other times, I had prayed for deliverance from the alcohol addiction, only to find that I wanted another drink more than I wanted to get sober.  I can’t really explain why or how I am sober today other than by His power.  And perhaps that is how He had to deal with me so that I am unable to boast about anything I’ve done or how I got myself out of that situation, as I am so prone to do.  I think He knows that my pride and my self-sufficiency will kill me if left to my own devices.

In Romans 6:4, the word says “that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life.”  I love that we get the chance to walk in newness of life!  Newness!  Meaning that the old, the past, the scars, no longer have dominion over me anymore.  “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Romans 6:6 NKJV)”

Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t sin.  After all, we don’t become perfect when we accept Christ, just forgiven.  But this does say that I no longer should be a slave to sin.  Therefore, I need to be vigilant about participating or partaking in anything that may lead to bondage.  This is why I don’t even take one drink of any kind of alcohol now, as I know that there is a high probability that it would lead me back to being alcohol’s slave.

I want to be clear that it is only by His grace and what Jesus did on the cross that we are saved, through faith alone and not of our own works.  I was saved as a teenager, and the Lord promises that there is nothing we do or could have done that can cause us to be “unsaved.”

What Paul is saying in this chapter is that because of Jesus’ gift of us, and the price he paid for our freedom, we should not be like pigs returning to the mire, but should live for Him.  I didn’t do that for a long time.  I was still living for me.

Paul goes on to write in this chapter to the Romans:

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:15-16)”

And then further on he writes, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:21-23).”

Addiction was leading me straight toward an early death.  But thank God through His Son Jesus, I no longer have to walk that way.  And I no longer have to hide or hang my head in shame, but can bow my head in humble gratitude and adoration and say, “Thank You, Lord.  Let my story become Your glory.”

“Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity to walk in newness of life.  I thank You that I no longer have to live in shame, guilt and fear.  Be with those reading this, and whatever our struggles, help us to remember that in Your hands, the victory is won and those struggles can be transformed from instruments of shame in our lives to instruments of healing and ministry.  I want to give You the praise and the glory, for You alone are worthy.  Help us to find freedom in any area in which we still struggle, and to look back on the past with peace rather than regret.  Bring to rememberance the ways in which You’ve been faithful, even when we haven’t been, and how You’ve carried us when we didn’t have the strength to walk one more step.  Let my life bear fruit toward holiness and give You praise.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Loved by Our Maker – November 23, 2015

Do you know how much God loves you?  I mean, I know you’ve probably heard a preacher or someone tell you that, or have heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” but do you really know, deep down in your heart how loved you are?

I’m still amazed whenever I read or think about or realize how much God loves me.  Even after all of the times I’ve messed up, or gotten angry and turned my back on Him, or the years when I lived in addiction – He never stopped loving me, or thought of me as less than anyone else.

I grew up being taught the notion that I was “lucky” if I could find a man who would help me out with the kids or the house, and that it was my job to take care of my husband.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hardcore feminazi or anything like that, and my husband and I love each other dearly.  I am, by the way, blessed with a husband who is a good father, and we make a great team helping one another out.

But, why was I expected to take care of my husband, when and if I got married, but I was supposed to consider myself “lucky” if he helped take care of me and the kids?  I guess the notion I walked away with was that as a woman I was lower on the priority list.  My family didn’t attend church, or speak much about Biblical principles, so when I came to know Christ, and began studying His Word, I was amazed and continue to be amazed at how much He loves us.  All of us.

The more I read the Word, the more I realize I’m not alone in the way I felt back then.  Women in the Jewish culture were regarded much the same way.  This wasn’t the way God intended, but was how the culture viewed women in society at that time.  I think of many other cultures today around the world where women or minorities in that society are treated as second-class citizens based solely on their gender or ethnicity.

Yet, when we come to the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

The story continues in verse 9:  “Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink”, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

He is telling her that He is not looking at gender or race, but that He is able to refresh and revive her soul.  He breaks down those racial and gender barriers to look at who she is as a person.  He knows that she is missing something in her life, as later in the exchange, as they get to talking more, He acknowledges that she has had five husbands, and that the man she is currently living with is not her husband.

He doesn’t say this to condemn her, but to point out her need for salvation.  He also comes right out and tells her at the end of the chapter that He is the Messiah she has been looking for.  How many of us indeed have tried to fill a void in our lives, with food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, work, things, etc.?  Do you know that Jesus can fill the God-shaped void in your heart?

Even after I became a Christian, it was easy for me to fall back on tangible things and people rather than putting my full trust in God.  For a long time, I didn’t.  I trusted alcohol to take away the pain, or the boredom, or for confidence to mask my insecurities.  But I found that after awhile, it turned on me and became my worst enemy, threatening to destroy all that I held dear.  I realized that only God could give me the joy, the sense of purpose, the security and the comfort that I was always looking for.

We see again God’s great love and mercy in John 21.  Peter had not too long ago denied Jesus three times, and was probably still feeling guilty, even though by this time Jesus has risen from the dead and is again spending time with His disciples.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to Him, ‘Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15).”

Jesus goes on to ask Peter this question two more times, responding each time with “Tend my sheep,” or “Feed my sheep.”  At one point in the passage (v 17), it states that Peter is “grieved” because the Lord keeps asking him this question.  It’s hard for us to know what he was thinking here, but I’d guess that Peter was probably feeling ashamed, thinking that the Lord had a good reason to believe Peter didn’t love Him.

I think this passage is a good example of the Lord’s mercy.  I believe that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, He is giving Peter the chance three times to tell Him that He loves Him.  And He is letting Peter know that He still wants Peter to preach His Word, that He still wants to use him in ministry.

I just love this story, because it shows that God wants to use us too, no matter how badly we may have blown it in the past.  In His hands, even our most embarrassing mistakes can be a great testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives.

Jesus loved all of us enough to die for us – men, women, old, young, every race and nationality.  He simply says to all of us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”

“Father, I thank You today that You loved me enough to die for me, and that You’ve promised You’ll never leave me or give up on me.  I thank You that You still want to use me and my life for Your glory.  Please be with each person reading this, and help him or her to know just how much You love them too.  Help me to be a good steward of the time and blessings that You have given me.  Help me to be a good wife and mom, too, Lord, that I won’t be selfish with my time or love toward my family, but that I will be the woman You created me to be, and that I will serve those I love out of a pure heart.  I thank You that Your love for me doesn’t depend on how well I perform, and that I’m not graded on a curve.  You know me inside and out, and because of Your faithfulness, I can always depend on You.  Show me the way in which I should walk today, and may I give You the glory.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

To Be Understood – November 21, 2015

Have you ever felt misunderstood?  I have many times.  Perhaps you struggle to get your parents, or your child, or your spouse to understand where you’re coming from.  Or maybe you and a co-worker have different ideas of how to accomplish the same task, and just can’t make those ideas mesh.  Or you have a stained past and you feel that people can’t look past that to see what God is doing in your life right now.  Maybe someone in your life has caused you pain or anguish, and they wish to avoid discussion on the matter or minimize your feelings rather than take responsibility for their actions.

Sometimes you just throw your hands up and say, “No one gets it!  No one understands!”  Ah, but there’s good news.  God’s Word is full of stories of hope and redemption, and yes, stories of complicated relationships, probably the most complicated of which is the one between God and His people, us.

Beginning in John 6:60, right after Jesus has finished explaining that He is the Bread of Life, the disciples are confused. In verse 57-58, Jesus says, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven, not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever.”

I can’t say I blame the disciples for being confused at this point.  After all, I bet they were thinking, “Surely He can’t really be talking about eating His flesh?  What?!”  Yet, let’s not forget that they’d already seen Him feed the crowd of five-thousand people by multiplying just five loaves of bread and two-fishes, and walk on water while commanding the wind and the waves to die down (and the wind and the waves listened!).  They’d been around Jesus enough to know that He often spoke using parables and using phrases which alluded to the spiritual rather than just the material.

The passage continues, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.’

For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.  And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’

But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:60-71 NKJV).”

Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to feel misunderstood.  All that time that His disciples had been with Him, listening to His teachings, witnessing all of the miracles that had been performed, and still they didn’t understand that He was the Bread and Blood of Life – the One who would pour out His flesh and blood on the cross to offer humanity the gift of salvation and atonement one and for all for their sins.  Some understood and believed that He was the Messiah, but verse 66 says that many of them walked away.  In verse 67, He is speaking just to the twelve – and even one of them was destined to betray Him!

As you read on in John 7:5, the Word says, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Because He knows what it’s like to feel abandoned, misunderstood, hurt, betrayed by family, friends, enemies, acquaintances, and all of the above, we can be confident that we’re not alone or unique when we feel that way. Because of who He is and because He’s walked in our shoes, He is able to provide immeasurable comfort to us during those times.

As I stated earlier, I think the most complicated relationship that the Bible speaks of (and it talks about some real doozies!) is between God and His people as a whole.  It’s because even today we often fail to understand that God is good.  The enemy would have us believe that God has abandoned us when we feel misunderstood, that we’re all alone, that nothing good can possibly come out of our current situation, or he would have us curse God, or walk away, just as those multitudes of disciples did.

Sometimes we even start thinking that God doesn’t understand us, but passages like this one prove that He does.

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt let down, or like I couldn’t depend on people to do what they said they would do, even those close to me.  (And I know at various times in my life I’ve also been the unreliable one!).  Later in Jesus’ story, while He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He is about to be arrested and then crucified, Jesus asked His faithful disciples to watch and pray with Him.  I know those guys had the best of intentions (don’t we usually, too??), but all of them, all of them!, fell asleep.  Jesus came back and said in essence, “You guys couldn’t watch with me for just one hour?”

This reminds me of times when I ask my kids to do a simple task, say, something like, “Before you leave for school, please turn on the dishwasher.”  Or when I ask my husband, “Can you please take out the trash before you go to bed?”  And then they forget, and I’m thinking, “Couldn’t you just do one simple thing that I asked?!”

Of course, I know they feel the same when they say things like, “Mom, can you sign this before I leave for school?” or, “Sweetie, don’t forget to _____ (pay the bill, get milk from the store, throw the laundry from the washer into the dryer, etc.) and then I turn around and forget too.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus understands.  And that He offers grace even when we do forget, or mess up, or behave childishly.  It’s quite an example for us to follow, and one that we can’t follow without His help.  Yet, with Him and through Him all things are possible.

You see, by offering us comfort in the times where we feel misunderstood, and giving us grace, He enables (and empowers) us to extend grace and forgiveness to others.  Then, when we are truly able to offer those things to others, we find peace.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your grace, understanding and forgiveness.  I’m so glad that there is nothing I could possibly go through that You can’t understand and identify with.  You not only created us, but You lived and walked this earth too, and had the same struggles we do.  Help us to find comfort in knowing this, and knowing that we are always understood by You.  Help us to understand Your purposes for our lives, and to rely upon Your strength and power to do Your will.  Help us also to extend grace and forgiveness to others when we feel that they have misunderstood or wronged us, Lord, and show us through Your word what that looks like.  I pray that we will seek to understand more about others, and that we will be emboldened to share the good news of Your salvation with them.  Thank You for Your precious love – may we give You the honor and glory in our lives in all that we do.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

On Forgiveness- November 15, 2015

Forgiveness is something many of us, including myself, struggle with.  On the one hand, God’s Word is clear about forgiving your enemies and blessing those who curse you.  Yet it also tells us to guard our hearts.

I confess, this is an ongoing issue in my life, particularly with people that I have been close to in the past where the relationship for many reasons turned toxic.  Part of my writing this is as much to process my thoughts and feelings on the subject as well as to give you encouragement in dealing with this particular subject if you happen to find yourself in a similar quandary.

I received a phone call from a relative with whom I have not spoken in close to a year.   This person left a message letting me know that she would like to re-establish a relationship with my family  (meaning my husband, kids and me).  I’m praying and trying to sort out the best response before I do anything.

One thing I have learned over the past year in dealing with messy family relations is that God wants me to love from a pure heart and yes, to forgive,  not seeking to get even.  I’ve really tried for the most part to leave it in His hands, though I find myself turning feelings of hurt and anger over to Him a lot still as they come up.

The other hard thing is setting boundaries,  which is something I have always struggled with.   What I did this past year was make the decision to separate myself and my immediate family from the toxic situation.  I’ve learned that I can love people and pray for them from afar, but that being in close relationship is not necessarily healthy or wise, depending on the situation.  I think a lot of us as Christians misunderstand or feel guilty about setting boundaries,  believing that the admonishment to forgive means allowing ourselves to be mistreated over and over again,  or placing ourselves in the same situation repeatedly.  I know I have misunderstood this in the past.

One thing that stood out to me this morning in reading the Bible during our church study was Luke 17:3-4 (NKJV) which says, “Take heed to yourselves.  If your brother sins against you,  rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent’, you shall forgive him.”

To repent means “to turn from”.  I believe true repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry.”  It is making an effort not to repeat the same behavior.

Another question is, “What does forgiveness look like?”  I believe,  in that when we are forgiven,  God no longer counts our sin against us, we should do the same for others.   I’m working on doing this for the relative I am speaking of, even though there has been no genuine repentance on her part.

Reconciliation is another matter.  I will be much in prayer about my situation,  asking God to help me to act in love if I am to act on the request for reconciliation.  I pray for wisdom to establish necessary boundaries with this person.

I think of how Christ has forgiven me,  and how nothing and no one is beyond the reach of His grace, and yes, this includes my relative.  Prayer is the best way to seek the right answer to this messy, complicated situation.

I will keep you posted on how it goes.

“Lord, please bless those who may be reading this.  Thank you for your grace and for giving us another day in this sometimes complicated life to give You the glory.  Thank you for loving us, whether or not we get things right.  Help us to learn more about what it means to forgive, and to have wisdom as we seek to honor You in our relationships.  Help us to know when to take action and when to wait.  And be with all of those in our families,  those we are close with,  and those that may be estranged from us, that all of our hearts may be open to the truth of Your saving grace, for this is where relationship really begins.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”