Tag Archives: forgiveness

Teach Us To Pray

These are my speaking notes from this morning’s worship services. And during the  prayer time I DELIBERATELY left out the Lord’s Prayer. After a hymn, I started my sermon…

Anyone notice anything different about our service today?

We didn’t use the Lord’s Prayer to end our prayer time!

It’s not that I forgot it…

I wanted to see if anyone would notice.

You see, too often we end up doing religious things and say religious words during our worship services that just don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

And the Lord’s Prayer is far too important for that.

Let’s turn to one of the two places in Scripture where we find the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus’ teaching about it, recorded for us…

[READ: LUKE 11:1-13]

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name,
your  kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

How did you first learn to pray?

Maybe you’re like me and the kids in children’s time… “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

We talked with the kids and said it was like talking to your Dad…

And that’s exactly how Jesus started to teach his disciples…

1st part… FATHER…

Jesus isn’t just starting this prayer with a religious term. In fact, the very first word of this prayer was enough to catch the Jewish people of his day off guard.

To talk to God, one used a title like “Almighty and most holy, awesome Creator…” or “Eternal and Magnificent Lord…” And Jesus doesn’t do that. He teaches his disciples to look at God as their father.

God is someone with whom they can be in close, intimate, approachable relationship.

NOT ONLY THAT, but when you spoke of someone, you then also spoke of their reputation…

We do that nowadays, don’t we?

‘O, that’s Alice, you know, she’s the one who left her husband…’

‘Hi Patrick, pretty good game you pitched there the other day!’

 ‘Dear Brittany, you are such an AWESOME singer… I just love you!’

And that’s how we start praying to our Father, God… We speak of our love and admiration, our respect and HIS reputation… how we really see him.

It’s NEVER: “Dear God, gimme…”

Rather, “Father, You’re awesome… I love you… You are the One…”

2nd part…Your kingdom come…

As we step into the next part, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves and remind God of exactly who has the authority of ruling our lives… In the Lord’s Prayer we learn to proclaim that GOD’S the king of our lives… and we pray for Him as king to have HIS way in HIS kingdom… And that always begins with the one who’s praying the prayer…

If you’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer… you’d better make sure you’re allowing him to be your king… your ruler… and you are doing things HIS way… REGARDLESS of what everyone else is doing… REGARDLESS of how popular or unpopular it makes you!

“God, You are the holy one and I hope and pray that things will happen down here just exactly the way you want them to be… because you are our king and lord.”

3rd part…Give us our daily bread…

In the first 2 parts Jesus has us talking to God and about God… The pronouns are all second person, singular… “your name… Your kingdom… your will…”

Now we move to a different focus… NOW we get to us… All the pronouns are first person now…

But notice that they’re first person PLURAL… not singular…

Now preacher, I haven’t had English class in a long time… what are you talking about with pronouns and singular and plural and persons?

OK… I mean this…

In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, GOD is the focus and we talk ABOUT Him.

In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer WE are the focus and we talk about OUR needs… NOT Me, not You… US.

There’s no “I” or “ME” or “MINE” in this prayer.

I’m reminded of the poem:

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I’;

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘My’;

Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another,

For when you pray for daily bread, you must include your sister and your brother;

For others are included in each and every plea;

From the beginning to the end of it,

It does not once say ‘Me!’

(From an email from “Peter Wales” Sat, 24 Jul 2004 22:07:01 +0930)

ANYWAY… Jesus teaches us to look at God as our provider… of all our NEEDS… He doesn’t include our wants… he doesn’t include the needs for thirty years away… but rather that we look to God for what we need today.

Throughout Scripture, we hear that same message…

  • “be content with what God provides.”
  • “Contentment with godliness is great gain.”
  • “Having food and clothing, let us be content.”

Sometimes our unhappiness is because we’re so focused on what we DON’T have, that We can’t possibly be happy with what God provides…. Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need today… and to trust God as our provider.

4th part…Forgive us like we forgive others…

The version we use in our worship services here is actually out of one of the very first English Bibles…

Our Methodist background is British… and when James, the new king of England (that is, new in 1603) had a government authorized translation of the Bible made which he approved of, a lot of the British Christians loved it and a lot of them did not… King James wasn’t known for his holiness or purity, and our spiritual ancestors REFUSED to pray the Lord’s Prayer out of the government’s Bible…

It would be like having the president you dislike the most (but don’t say that name out loud right now). If that president had folks create a new version of the Bible and then made a law that said that you HAD TO USE THAT version of the Bible and no other. Would you want to?

A lot of the folks in the early 17th Century felt the same way about the government’s authorized version of the Bible… the one we call the King James Bible, and so when they came to the Lord’s prayer, they used the wording from the older English Bible, rather than use the King James Version wording about debts and debtors.

That’s why we spit out words like ‘trespasses’ and that crazy phrase ‘those who trespass against us’… and we lose the meaning sometimes.

You know, the truth is, this has got to be the SCARIEST part of this prayer. You had better be aware of what you are asking God to do here…

We are essentially asking: ‘Dear God, I know that you want to forgive me… but please Lord, only give me as much forgiveness as I’ve given to the people around me who’ve messed up my life.’

No wonder Jesus makes such a big deal in Matthew 18  (verses 15-17) and other places about being reconciled with the people around us. You and I have to make a choice between hanging on to a grudge and unforgiveness or being forgiven by God… we can only hang on to one at a time… We ask God to only forgive us in the same way we forgive others…

Even in the prayer He taught us, Jesus reminds us that we need to be known as forgiving and gracious people…

5th part…Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…

You know, in the book of James, we read how God will allow tests to prove us and see if we’re ready for the next chapter of our lives… Some of the translations call them tests, some translations call them temptations. Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s using that Greek word we translate as “tests” but in the older Bibles it said “temptation” as a way of speaking about God allowing us to be tested… And that’s a good thing!

Sort of like a 16 year old WANTS to be tested in order to be able to move into the driving portion of their lives… No test means no license, which of course means no driving…

James goes on to say that the tempting part of the various tests is when we still have some evil desire in our hearts… that turns a test into a temptation for evil…

For instance, You could walk up to me and offer me a cigarette… and I have no desire in my heart or mind (or lungs) to smoke that cigarette, so I’m not going to even fall into that trap… I won’t take it. It’s not appealing for me… I don’t have that desire in my heart, so you can’t tempt me.

Now, when I was younger, and thought it was COOL to smoke, I was tempted big time and actually stole cigarettes from my mom… It was a temptation for me because I had an evil desire in my heart.

(Of course, it only took about two puffs for me to get sick and realize how addicted I am to oxygen… and cigarettes have never been a temptation since then.)

That’s what we’re asking here…

‘Oh God, don’t let me be tested in the areas I haven’t already surrendered to You… Help me to surrender those areas to You so I’m not even tempted at all by those things.’

And thus, even in the prayer he teaches, Jesus reminds us of our need to let God keep cleansing us and teaching us His ways so that we have pure hearts that are free from all of that evil that comes so naturally.

So those are the basics…

Luke records the essence of what Jesus taught… In Matthew’s gospel, we have the version of Jesus’ prayer that started being used in worship services… and over the centuries we even have tacked on a liturgical phrase that ends back where we began… giving the honor and glory back to God…

Some church traditions have taken Matthew’s intro where Jesus says, “Pray like this…” and have decided that the Lord’s Prayer is just an example… not something you ought to actually quote while you’re praying.

In part, they’re right… we don’t always have to use these exact words… we can use the example of this prayer to guide us in how we ought to pray in our own lives… outside of church… any time we want to talk to God…

But there’s also this passage in Luke where Jesus says specifically “When you pray, say this…” so I believe the Lord’s Prayer DOES have a part in our regular worship… as long as it never becomes just a memorized, meaningless bunch of words…

With that qualification… If you can pray this prayer honestly… from the heart… if you even dare…

Then I invite you to join me this morning, in praying the Lord’s Prayer together…

OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN,

        HALLOWED BE THY NAME.

THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE,

        ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

GIVE US THIS DAY, OUR DAILY BREAD,

        AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES,

                 AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,

       BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL,

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER

       AND THE GLORY, FOREVER.

AMEN.

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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I was struck by Genesis 45 at a pastor’s retreat earlier this month, when I read how his brothers reacted when Joseph revealed who he really was.

“But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”

They have been living with their guilt and remorse for years and years. And they’ve changed their ways because of it. I know that because of their differing behaviors towards Benjamin and their father… even in the face of a seemingly all-powerful Egyptian lord. They are no longer looking for the easiest way out of a problem, rather they are willing to plead and Judah even offers up himself as a slave to try to protect the one who cannot protect himself.

But now, their past sin, hidden so long, has come back to them. And they are afraid. Not only might Joseph still be angry, he’s in a position to have each of them sold as a slave or even killed. And they know they’ve earned those penalties if he decides to carry them out.

And, like Jesus so many centuries later, Joseph doesn’t make them wallow in their guilt and sin. He has already seen and heard their hearts as he tested them in chapters 42, 43, and 44. He steps in and releases them from their past, their sin, their guilt, their shame, and their fear… before they can even figure out how to respond. And Joseph welcomes them into his presence and delivers them from their daily fight for survival in a famine while he’s at it.

Jesus, once he’s seen our repentant hearts, releases us from our past, our sin, our guilt, our shame, and our fear, and welcomes us into his presence as one of his. We are under his protection and have access to all he has.

Where do we see ourselves in this account from Genesis? One of the brothers who hurt someone? Have we really had enough of the guilt, shame, and its consequences that we have “changed our ways” with a repentant heart?

Perhaps we see ourselves like Joseph where we have been the one on the receiving end of the hurt? As Christians we often pray the Lord’s prayer and point blank ask God to only forgive us in the same way we have forgiven those who have hurt us. (“…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”) How have we forgiven the ones who did us wrong?

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Forgiveness follows Repentence

Earlier this month, at a pastor’s retreat at Olmsted Manor, our district superintendent walked through chapters 39 – 45 of Genesis. We followed Joseph, as a slave, as he was promoted and then betrayed in Potiphar’s house, then was taken to prison where he was again promoted, but then forgotten, and eventually remembered and promoted again to “chief of staff” over Pharaoh’s kingdom.

By chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers, who had originally betrayed him and sold him into slavery, show up in Egypt trying to find grain to buy in the midst of the great famine. Because of Joseph’s new position, they have to come to him to try and buy food. He of course recognizes them, but they have no idea that he is the one they now once so badly mistreated.

Now, I don’t know if he was just trying to jerk their chains a bit or if it was again God helping to orchestrate a few lessons for the brothers on empathy and perhaps conviction, but chapters 42, 43, and 44, are an account of Joseph’s brothers experiencing what it is to be unfairly accused, unjustly detained, and contemplating the pain of grief their father had to experience at Joseph’s loss so many years ago. And now, they find that this unknown Egyptian leader may actually force them to grieve their father again at the loss of another son, Benjamin, as he is accused of villainy and now must stay in Egypt as a slave.

In verses 33-34 of chapter 44, Judah, who had been the one to hatch the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:26-27), unknowingly pleads with Joseph that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place.

“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Officially at least, everything in chapter 44 is aimed at punishment of Benjamin, and by extension, the other ten brothers. But in that moment of confession and penitence, Judah offers himself up for a younger brother, and for his father’s sake, and breaks the power of intended punishment. Punishment, at its best, is to teach a lesson. Judah and the other culpable brothers have shown that they have remorse for their past and have indeed learned their lesson. Our sin(s) do have an impact on our lives, even when others seemingly don’t know about our sin. (Scripture never tells us if they ever fessed up to their father about how Joseph happened to end up in Egypt.)

A couple things jumped out at me this time. First, my choices, sinful or not, WILL have consequences. There are no victimless sins. Ever. Judah and his brothers faced the consequences of their sin in Egypt, even if only for a short time. But Joseph spent years in the midst of the consequences of their sinful choice. Jacob, their father, spent some 13 or more years needlessly grieving the loss of his son, because of their sin. And they faced over a decade of living with his grief and daily being reminded that they were the cause of all that grief. And I’m sure, based on their later penitent conversation, that they spent that time racked with guilt that they had no way of easing.

Paul, in First Corinthians 5, says that those of us who are Christians, are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” As you read more of the New Testament you come to understand that while Paul is immediately talking about reconciling people with God, there’s also a ministry of helping to reconcile people with people as a way of drawing ourselves closer together and closer to God.

It hit me that if I, as a Christian, really want to become closer to God, then I have a responsibility to do the best I can in being reconciled with the rest of God’s people around me.

That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. He starts by talking about anger with someone else and then talks about the moment we leave them and head towards God. In his day, it was making a sacrifice or presenting a gift in the Temple, but in our day it might be that we go to church, or Bible study, or try to pray. If we truly want to draw closer to God, then that reconciliation thing has to happen… as much as we can. Jesus actually said:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

And of course, “brother” and “sister” aren’t referring to genealogically related individuals alone.

Is there anything in your past keeping you from drawing even closer to God? Is there anyone who has suffered because of you or your sin? Have you tried to make things right with them? If not, that’s your next right thing to do!

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End of Year Review

As I write this, the calendar still reads “2015.” My usual end of the year pattern is to review what I have (or haven’t) been able to do during the year, so I can look ahead at the new year and make plans. As a Christian, that also means some serious time praying as I do my end of year tasks.

I’ve also been looking at my mistakes and mess-ups in 2015. I know it’s a shocker to most, but I’m not perfect. (It shocked me too!) As I’ve looked back at some of my choices, I’ve been reminded that I, like everyone, needs to ask forgiveness at times. If it wouldn’t cause more harm, we need to ask forgiveness of individuals we have hurt by our behaviors, choices, and mess-ups. But we also need to be asking God for forgiveness.

The other day I sat down at the piano (I can only play one note at a time… and very slowly at that!) and just started looking for a hymn that would be about repentance… you know, saying “I’m sorry for my sins, Lord, would you please forgive me?”

I stumbled into # 351 “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” and was captured by the second verse:

Let me at Thy throne of mercy

Find a sweet relief,

Kneeling there in deep contrition;

Help my unbelief.

 

And its refrain goes like this:

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling

Do not pass me by.

 

The Christian idea of forgiveness, requires that we first repent of anything God calls sin. And that idea of repentance requires that we are actually sorry and intend to not repeat that sin. That’s the idea of “contrition.” You are so sorry that you did that sin (whatever it was), that it hurts you to even remember that you did it, AND you desperately want forgiveness from God.

I just sat there at the piano and continued to pluck out tunes as I “walked through” the next couple of dozen hymns and then I realized that even the titles alone help to remind us of the process of repentance and forgiveness:

    “It’s Me, It’s Me O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer” (# 352) Too often we’re busy looking at the others around us who REALLY need to repent… But we are responsible for ourselves and how we stand before God.

     “I Surrender All” (# 354) If we really want complete forgiveness, we need to repent and surrender completely. We can’t hold anything back from God.

     “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” (# 357) I can’t wait until I get my act together before getting right with God, I need to come just the way I am and then (through the surrendering) he will change me into what he wants me to be. We see that in the physical when we don’t expect people to get all cleaned up   before they take a bath or a shower. Jesus is the one who makes us clean spiritually, AFTER we come ‘just as we are.’

     “My Hope Is Built” (# 368) I can do all this because my hope for forgiveness isn’t based on the number of prayers or good deeds I do in order to earn forgiveness. Rather, my hope is built on the idea that Jesus took care of the requirements for me to be forgiven… assuming I really want to be forgiven (there’s that repentance again).

     “Blessed Assurance” (# 369) If I confess my sins and repent, I AM forgiven! I don’t have to wonder IF I’m really a Christian or IF I will go to Heaven, I can have assurance of it!

     “Victory in Jesus” (# 370) As I continue this process of repenting when I sin, and surrendering my ways to His ways, then I can face temptations and possible sins and find that I don’t have to “fall” every time I’m  tempted. I can have victory over sin!

With the spiritual “new start” and clean slate” that comes from repentance, starting a new year can truly be a new start as well!

Happy New Year!

 

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Following the Preparation

These are my speaking notes from Tuesday night’s Baccalaureate at the Commodore Perry High School. Prior to the message, we read the entire book of Jonah as a reader’s theater with myself as narrator, four of the seniors as the captain of the ship, as Jonah, as the King of Noinevah, and as God, while the audience had a follow along ‘script’ and read all the parts of the sailors.

Here, then, was my message…

BACCALAUREATE SERVICE
Commodore Perry High School

June 2, 2015

CONTEXT:

Jonah………………………… Prophet in northern part of the ancient kingdom of Israel, following decades of Assyrian cruelty and brutality. HATES the Assyrians!

Assyrians……………………The bully nation in the ancient Middle East when Jonah was alive. They would not only conquer nations and exile their people, but they enjoyed being cruel and brutal.

Ninevah……………………..Capital city of the Assyrian Empire. According to the Bible, there were about 120,000 people living in the city when Jonah arrived there.

MESSAGE:

In chapter 1 we met Jonah. He has spent the time and effort to prepare to be a prophet for God and he has become God’s right hand man in the area where he lives. He’s ready to do whatever God asks… to go give God’s messages to whomever, and wherever, God sends him.

But, even though Jonah works for God, he has some reservations about doing his job whole-heartedly. He HATES the Assyrians. He HATES their ways and customs and cruelty.

So when God tries to send Jonah to give a message to the king and the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Jonah LIKES the idea that God’s “gonna get them”!

But Jonah also knows that, despite all the talk of judgment by God, God always responds to repentance… God goes out of His way to look for a reason to NOT give sinners what they really deserve… In the church we call that “mercy”… Someone deserves to be punished, yet they aren’t given that punishment because the judge (in this case, God) decides to show them mercy. And with that mercy, they get another chance to do what’s right.

Jonah is certain that God will forgive them if they repent, so he decides that he will NOT warn them about the coming judgment God has threatened. If they aren’t warned, then they can’t repent. If they don’t repent, God will have no choice but to carry out the judgment. So Jonah runs away from God.

You, like Jonah, have been preparing for your life after graduation. But no teacher or administrator has ever been able to make you have the right attitude as you learned. If all you’ve done is do whatever was needed in order to graduate tomorrow night, instead of learning the deeper lessons and attitudes of being a responsible citizen, then life will be harder for you and you will need remedial education… And that comes from the school of hard knocks where you fail to learn from others and have to make ALL your own mistakes, and pay for your own mistakes.

You know, when you do get into your dream job, or the school you’ve selected, there will come a point when someone in authority will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. Running away or quitting is NOT the solution. Jonah learned that the hard way. Try not to have to learn that one the way he did.

Well, later in chapter one, there’s all these bad things happening to Jonah and everyone he happens to be around, because God is trying to get Jonah’s attention. Remember, you may be able to run away from a task or quit a particular job, but you never outrun God or outrun yourself. If you don’t deal with your own attitudes and emotions, you’ll find that you’ll keep having the same problems no matter what job you have or what school you’re in. And God will still be there trying to get you to let Him lead you in better ways than you could ever do on your own.

Chapter one ends with Jonah fessing up to the captain and others on the ship that he is the one that’s stirred up all the mess that they’re in. And he finds himself in the sea… and the ship is released from the storm and a big fish (yeah, it never says it was a whale) … a big fish comes and swallows Jonah whole.

It’s important to remember that sometimes, when we’ve messed up, we need to simply admit our mistakes and our sins and face the consequences.

Chapter two is a prayer that shows us what Jonah was thinking and feeling as he comes to regret his attempt to run away from what was right. He confesses it to God and God orders the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach.

When you do find yourself on the receiving end of consequences that you deserve, use it, like Jonah, to make things right… to the best of your ability. And that starts by admitting your mistake, or whatever it was… admit it to yourself and to God… for that’s when you will be able to see the hope.

In chapter three, Jonah DOES go to Ninevah and preaches the exact message God had sent him to proclaim: “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!”

Something a lot of folks miss here in this book is that Jonah is like the most successful preacher, pastor, prophet, evangelist ever! He is sent to proclaim God’s message to 120,000 people and THEY RESPONDED TO HIS MESSAGE! They repented of their evil ways and God, in verse 10, sees the change of heart these people have had and decides to offer them mercy.

Jonah is truly successful! Sometimes we can be successful, and still not have things right in our own lives… Jonah was still hoping to see God bring fire and destruction down on those people.

That’s where chapter four comes in, with the rest of the story. Jonah starts complaining to God… accusing God of not being fair. After all, if God was fair, everyone would get the punishment we deserve, right?

Jonah still hopes God will zap the Ninevites and destroy them… so he goes and waits to see what will happen. He sets up his tent (ok, it says a “shelter”, but for us that would be like a tent) and waits. God decides to teach Jonah about mercy and causes a shade plant to grow up to make it easier for Jonah as he waited. Jonah had a heart of gratitude over that.

But the Bible goes on to say that “God also arranged for the worm.” The very next morning after the plant grew up miraculously, there is now a worm that GOD sends to destroy the thing that Jonah likes.

Sometimes, God, or an employer, or a professor, has to do something or challenge something in order to try to get us to see things from the right perspective. Our minds always start from the idea that “of course I’m right.” Sometimes we need help to see a new perspective or to get a clearer picture of the reality around us.

Jonah SO needs a new perspective!

God even sends a blazing hot scorching wind! And the Bible says that Jonah was so disheartened that he wished he was dead. All in God’s attempt to get Jonah to face up to his bad attitude regarding people that God loves.

You know, when we set ourselves up against others, whether it’s in little ways or big, we set ourselves up against God. When we find ourselves hating someone, or an entire population of someones, we’re on shaky ground. Because the Bible tells us that God loves those others that we can’t stand.

Jonah learned that it’s not enough to be prepared for a task, you need to obey and actually do it.

Jonah learned that when you’ve made a mistake and everything seems all messed up, you need to own up to the mistake, face the consequences, and turn to God for help in turning your life around.

Jonah learned that just doing the minimum requirements of the job might produce results, but you don’t really get to enjoy those results.

Jonah learned that, in the final tally, it’s the way we treat others, our attitudes and our choice between hatred or love, that really make the difference… and WE will be the ones experiencing that difference… and even God will notice, and honor, that way of treating others…

It is my prayer, and my hope, that you, the class of 2015, will learn from Jonah’s mistakes and not necessarily have to personally make all those mistakes yourselves.

Face the future you’ve prepared for without running, with courage to own up to your own actions, to do the job required of you, and to always look at the people around you and how you impact and influence them.

And you will have a blessed and successful life, no matter what comes your way.

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A Man After God’s Own Heart

“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.”  –God, in Acts 13:22b (NKJV)

When I sat down to read the Bible this morning, I stumbled onto a devotional in the Spirit Filled Life Bible titled “A Teachable Spirit.” It is the account of Paul, before the synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia, sharing how Jesus is a continuation, and fulfillment, of the Jewish people’s encounters with their God. After sharing about Egypt, the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, and the judges, he recounts the way Saul became, and then was removed as, king.

Which brings us to David.

Let me quote from the “Kingdom Dynamics” devotional note found at Acts 13:22…

Only one man in the Bible enjoys the designation of being a man after God’s own heart–David. To outward appearance, David is more readily remembered as a gross sinner. He committed adultery, murdered, lied, betrayed his nation, made severe mistakes in judgment, was a poor manager, and finally was unable to manage his home. Yet God said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (v.22). Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong, yet God commended the heart of his leadership. How do we explain it? The answer is in the fact that with every mistake, David repented; and of equal importance, he learned from his mistakes. Not only was he humble and teachable, but he listened to his critics and his enemies as well; and, foremost of all, he heeded the prophets of God. This teachable spirit is the trait that caused God to classify him as Israel’s finest leader. (Spirit Filled Life Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, page 1651)

Two parts of that JUMPED out at me. First, “Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am my own biggest critic. I end many (or perhaps even most) days mentally reviewing and replaying the mess-ups and mistakes I’ve made in that day… and the day before… and the week before…

There are many days when I feel like God’s never going to really be able to use me as much as He wanted to because I blow it so often. So this sentence about reading how David, “almost every time,” messed up is eye-opening. Because God still loved David, still used David, and still had a future filled with hope for David despite the mess-ups.

That means there is hope for me too! (And every one of us, by the way…)

So how did David journey from mess-ups and mistakes to being recommended by God as an example? That’s the second quote that caught me: “with every mistake, David repented” and then “learned from his mistakes.”

Part of our national sin sickness in our day and age is the fact that we don’t believe there are sins. We have a message from God (the Bible) that explicitly identifies the behaviors God considers to be “sin.” That is to say, those behaviors are against what God wants and disappoint God and in many cases, actually are detrimental to us as human beings. But we now-a-days try to rationalize away the sins listed or discount those passages of Scripture.

Recently, in a Bible study group on the Gospel of Mark, we came to Mark 3:20-30, where the Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus start to claim that Jesus is casting out demons by tapping into the power of Satan. Jesus’ response (in verses 28-30) is to start talking about an unpardonable sin. For years that made no sense to me. Why didn’t he just tell them how they were wrong? Or at least call down lightning or something?

But the passage is clear that the reason he talks about an unforgiveable sin is “because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'”

Jesus was using the power of God’s Holy Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, and more. They were claiming Jesus was empowered by Satan or at least by a demonic (“unclean”) spirit. They were claiming that something good and godly (the Holy Spirit) was evil. The flipside then  would be to claim that something God says is evil (like sin) and then call it good and godly and blessed.

Even if the Bible calls a certain behavior sinful, there’s NO forgiveness available for us if you and I don’t really believe it’s a sin!

In my life, it’s usually the sin of gluttony that I’m struggling with. I LIKE food, and  I’ve had too much through the years. And while addicts can sometimes lick their addictions by going cold turkey, I can’t, I HAVE TO eat. (and the cold turkey is part of the problem!)

Does that mean there is no forgiveness for me? No. First John 1:9 explains that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The problem is if we claim we’re not sinning, then there is no way to confess and repent… so no forgiveness either.

That’s where we return to David and this devotional. Even though he messed up A LOT, “with every mistake, David repented.”

If we are willing to admit our sin, repent (you know… turn away from doing that sin), then there IS hope for us as well… even though we mess up again later. And, like David, as we repent, we get the chance to learn from our mistakes.

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Can Divorce Be Forgiven???

My cousin Gordon wrote a note on facebook about how difficult it is for some Christians to accept someone who has been divorced… in fact, SOME will deliberately SHUN even a family member who has divorced. He challenged his readers to rethink that practice and make a change.

Now, I DO agree that Scripture is clear that God HATES divorce… If the concern is over the SIN of divorce, OK… but Scripture also says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and WILL FORGIVE our sins and Scripture is also clear that Jesus said there was ONLY ONE unforgiveable sin… And he did NOT spell it D-I-V-O-R-C-E. So to justify the “shunning” some religious traditions prescribe and practice because of the ‘sin’ of divorce, requires that you believe that Jesus was wrong. Is that such a good idea?…

OR… Perhaps the shunning of a divorcee is simply a statement that we believe God is powerless to forgive and Christ’s sacrifice was not really enough. After all, who does He think He is… God?
Seems theologically dangerous to me. Wasn’t Lucifer condemned to Hell for trying to overrule God?? Who are we to call something ‘unpardonable’ when God gave His Son, and Christ shed His blood, to forgive ANYONE who repents?

AND if God HAS TO condemn a divorcee because divorce is sin, then God must HAVE TO condemn the gossip to Hell along with the glutton and the liar and those who judge others.
I choose to believe the Bible and the God it reveals to us… The God who despises and hates ALL sin, including divorce, and yet is ALWAYS faithful and just to forgive us when we confess our sins.

One more thought: Jesus taught us to pray: “forgive us our sins AS WE FORGIVE those who sin against us.” I wonder if He really meant it?

He also said: “Let him without sin, cast the first stone.”

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