I have become a terrible forgiver

Daily Readings: Judges 9-10, Mark 11, Psalm 70

“Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. 

Mark 11:23-25

Every morning when I am about to do my readings for the day I always pray a simple prayer of, “God, what do you have for me today?”

Today the answer was not hard to discern. I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

This used to be an extreme weakness of mine, holding things against people. I have spent the majority of my life believing that there were almost no people in my life that I could count on in the clutch, that most people would take advantage of me eventually, and that few people truly cared.

I imagine I am not alone in this.

The challenging part of being surrounded by other human beings is that they are human beings. If we are waiting on the edge of our seat for them to disappoint us, we will never have to wait long. We all fall short.

If our first response is, “See, I knew it…” we live a life of keeping others at an arms length away to “avoid getting hurt”, we have our guard up at all times, and we search out the worst motives in others instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.

God wants our reaction to be one of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard.

Throughout the last 7-10 years, I feel like I had grown a lot in this area. I feel like giving grace and forgiveness had become strengths of mine over time. God had really worked on me in this area and I had so much more peace of mind in my relationships with others.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Life is so much more peaceful when you forgive quickly. Life is so much more enjoyable when you don’t hold on tightly to every wrong someone does against you. Life is so much more rich and full when there isn’t a constant movie playing in your mind, replaying of every slight you have felt in the last year or imagining terrible conversations unfolding in the future with the person you are harboring unforgiveness towards.

Lack of forgiveness is exhausting.

Over the last 18 months or so, somehow, I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

When we turn to Jesus and ask him into our lives, we are called to forgive. This isn’t just a small asterisk or minor footnote when it comes to our faith. At the end of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray he concludes with this in Matthew 6:14-15:

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

As a church we rarely think of “unforgiveness” as a sin that needs to be rooted out of our lives the same way we think about things like lying, violence, lust, drug abuse, etc. And yet at the end of teaching his disciples how to pray, this was the singular thing that Jesus decided to highlight that has the power of keeping us from receiving the full forgiveness of God.

Whenever I feel stressed, underappreciated, overlooked, taken advantage of, overwhelmed, angry, and generally just distant from God; there is a 100% chance that there is someone in my life I have not fully forgiven.

Always.

I am stewing in it. I am allowing that anger to fester. I am harboring ill will. I am not giving forgiveness freely the way Jesus commands us to and in return I don’t feel that closeness with the Father that we have access to.

Forgiveness.

It is hard, but it is worth it. It is worth the constant pursuit.

True forgiveness takes more than just 30 seconds of quick prayer. We frequently need to really come before the Father and absolutely plea for his help in forgiving others. Forgiveness is unnatural. It runs counter to every natural wiring we have as human beings. That is why we need God.

I am going to go back to living a life of forgiveness. I am going to go back to seeing the best in people and not waiting for the other shoe to fall. I am going to go back to loving people even when they may not “deserve it” because God first loved me when I certainly didn’t deserve his love! I am going to go back to living a life that has forgiveness at the center of it.

Thank you God for revealing this to me today. I needed the reminder.

Thought to ponder

Who am I currently withholding forgiveness from?

Get behind me Satan

Daily Readings Judges 3-4, Mark 8, Psalm 67

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 

Mark 8:31-33

I have heard it said many times that friends tell you what you want to hear, but true friends tell you what you need to hear.

While I agree with this sentiment and find it absolutely true that we should always seek to surround ourselves with people in our lives that will challenge us, push us, and call out the best in us; it strikes me that this statement oversimplifies it a bit.

The reality is that friends, family members, and colleagues frequently love us so much that they just don’t want to see us struggle. They don’t want to see us in pain. They believe that their advice truly is in our best interest.

Sometimes it is.

However, sometimes, they are simply telling us to take the easy road when that is not God’s will in our lives.

As a friend it can be extremely challenging to know where the line is. It is difficult knowing whether a particular challenge in someone’s life is one that they need to remove themselves from or one that they are meant to push through and grow from. Unless you are incredibly close to the situation and have the full context, it is easy to offer bad advice. Sometimes, we even believe that we have 100% of the context, and yet there may be more to it than we realize.

Peter was trying to help. Peter didn’t want to see Jesus suffer. Unfortunately, Peter wanted to see Jesus live out PETER’S plan for Jesus’ life, not the plan that God had designed. And here is the thing, how many of us would have been much different than Peter at this moment?

The Jewish people spent hundreds of years picturing a Messiah coming in as a conquering war hero like the judges we read about today. They pictured the Messiah overthrowing the Roman Empire and establishing a new Jewish Kingdom that reigned forever.

God had a different Kingdom in mind, an eternal one.

Peter was quite literally Jesus’ right hand man. Jesus would later say that Peter was the rock on which he would build his church. I would dare to say that Peter would qualify as a true friend.

However Peter is also human, just like us.

So, when you get advice from a friend to remove yourself from a challenge in your life, when you are tempted to take the road that seems easier at the moment, when you have friends and family members asking, “Why are you still trying so hard to…” I think it is important to bring that question to God. It is important to spend time in God’s word, take SERIOUS time prayerfully considering whether this is a challenge in your life God wants you to push through and grow from, or whether your friends and family are right in their assessment.

It is so easy to accept advice from people telling us to the do the thing that would be emotionally easier in the moment. That is what we have desperately wanted to do as well! At those moments it is easy to think, “This is a trusted, wise, and Godly friend! I should heed their advice!” Sometime this is true and their advice is spot on.

However, sometimes they may be playing the role of Peter.

They may genuinely think they know what is best for you, not wanting to see you in pain, thinking they are giving Godly advice from a place of love, but ultimately missing God’s bigger plan.

In these times, we need to have the confidence to say, “Get behind me Satan.”

(Not literally, since that is a pretty easy way to lose friendships!)

For me, I have found the easiest way to discern God’s will is to really prayerfully consider big plans in my life before ever embarking on them. I know that there will come a point in any difficult endeavor where I want to quit. I know I am going to want to be like every major character in the Bible that wanted to turn back at some point in the mist of the challenge. So, I want to make sure I have thoroughly thought through my decision before I commit.

A mentor of mine said that it is important to pray over decisions and commitments while rational and then stick to what God has told you when you turn emotional. When we are emotional the easiest thing in the world to do is say, “I feel like God is leading me to…” and spiritualize our emotions in order to justify avoiding hard moments in life. I know I have been guilty of that!

At these moments, we probably have many Peters in our life ready to come with seemingly good advice that we are desperate to hear. We want an out. We want someone else to justify turning back from the path God has set us on. At these moments we need to really try to settle our hearts, turn back to God and ask with an open mind, “Have you changed the path you want me on, or is this a challenge I am meant to overcome?”

Sometimes the answers don’t come immediately. We live in such a western culture that demands the instantaneous. We do not serve a God that works on our timeline. He works on his.

My encouragement to you is this, if God has previously put something in your path that you really felt called to, continue to push through challenges until a door has been CLEARLY shut. Otherwise, we may be falling prey to our normal human emotions and miss out on the incredible work God has planned for us if we just trust fully in him and embrace the ups and downs that come with a life of service.

God never promised that serving him faithfully would be easy, but he did promise that he would be in the yoke with us. He did promise to share the load if we would allow him to walk alongside us.

Peter was eventually Jesus’ rock on which he built his church, but he was also human.

Appreciate the Peters in your life. Even if their advice is not always helpful at the moment and you instantly know is incorrect; remember that they love you. They are just trying to help.

God has bigger plans. Don’t be afraid to turn to the father and seek those bigger plans out.

Thought to ponder

When was the last time you were tempted to turn back from a path that God set you on when it was getting hard? How did you respond? How would you like to respond in the future?

“Why bother the teacher?”

Daily Readings: Joshua 21-22, Mark 5, Psalm 65

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

Seeing these two separate stories juxtaposed next to each other really spoke to me today. In one case there is the woman who truly believes in her heart that “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed!” She believed so thoroughly in the healing power of God to work miracles in her life!

As this is still happening we read of other people coming from the house of Jairus saying, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

As I was reading this morning it occurred to me that I have frequently been able to relate to each of these stories at different points throughout my own life. There have been times where I completely believe in the Father’s ability to heal me mentally, emotionally, and physically from whatever is holding me captive at the moment. In these moments I absolutely run after the Father know that if I can simply be in his presence all will be well. “If I just touch his clothes…”

Then there have been moments where I feel like I have failed over and over and over again at whatever battle I have been facing and it feels a lot more like the second story. I have felt completely defeated to the point where I don’t even want to bring my concerns to the Father. It feels hopeless. It feels like the last chance for God to work a miracle, in whatever that challenge was in my life, has died.

“Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Why bring this problem to God when I have let him down so many times in the past? Maybe it is just time to throw in the towel on this one and simply be thankful that Christ went to the cross for my sins and I have salvation as a result that cannot be taken away, because clearly I cannot overcome this struggle!

Jesus says, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”

I wonder if Jesus has ever spoken this to you in an area of your life? I wonder if there has ever been an issue you have dealt with for so long when Jesus says, “This battle is not over yet…” the immediate response in your heart has become the same as in the story, disbelieving laughter.

God wants us to be the woman in the crowd.

“If I can just touch his clothes!”

The woman in the crowd had suffered her bleeding for 12 years before she received healing. The child in the house only recently became sick. Sometimes healing, whether emotional or physical, comes after years and years. Sometimes it is nearly instantaneous.

Healing doesn’t always come the way we picture it. Sometimes God’s plan is different than our own. I imagine Jairus didn’t picture his daughter dying as part of this story as he reached out to Jesus to come to his house and heal her. Sometimes the healing we are after is one type and yet Jesus uses our challenge to give us healing in a different area we never even realize we needed.

Press in. Draw near. Chase after his presence. Reach out and touch his clothes. Jesus is there and the Father is willing.

Thought to ponder

In what area of my life have I recently given up on the hope of healing? Where have I recently felt like “I should no longer bother the teacher”?

The Sabbath is for us

Daily Readings: Joshua 15-16, Mark 2, Psalm 62

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28

Throughout the entire gospel we see a running theme of religious leaders struggling to grapple with the faith they have grown up embracing that was based on black and white rules that needed to be followed at all cost and the type of faith that Jesus spoke of. Religious leaders were most comfortable with a concrete checklist of things to do and things to avoid. Jesus went after the heart. Jesus came with a message of relationship with God. Jesus came to help people understand that God did not simply desire legalism and a group of followers that followed the religious laws to perfection, but followers that understood God’s desires for their lives and what they were called to do with their time here on earth.

Almost the entirety of Mark 2 follows this theme. Jesus heals a paralyzed man, but the religious leaders feel he blasphemed by saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes to eat with the sinners so that they may come to faith and the religious leaders grumble their disapproval. And finally they see Jesus and his followers simply picking a couple heads of grain as they walk and blow everything out of proportion.

I love the response Jesus gives.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 

I chuckled when I read this passage this morning.

The Sabbath is for us.

The almighty God of the Universe, creator of everything that was, that is, and that is to come is not having his day ruined by us knocking out some work on a Sunday afternoon. The Sabbath is not for him. The Sabbath is for us.

I desperately need the Sabbath. I need a day every week where I unplug, spend time with family, friends, and the body of Christ. I need to reenergize, fill my cup back up, and re-center myself on God.

The Sabbath is for us.

I imagine this applies to a lot of God’s laws throughout the Bible. So often we think of God’s laws and view them as a list of things that are inconvenient to follow and resent that we are “unable, as a follower of God, to just do what we want!” like an immature teenager that thinks their parents are so stupid for all of the rules they put in place until they reach their mid-20’s and realize, “Maybe mom and dad knew a thing of two back then…”

God wants us to live a rich, full, and meaningful life throughout the time we are blessed with here on earth. God want the best for his children. When my wife and I set rules for our kids it is not to try to restrain their fun or make life less enjoyable, they are always made with their best interest at heart. We are imperfect human parents and may occasionally make decisions with our children that we look back on and wish we could have over. Our father in Heaven is perfect.

Following all of God’s word does not guarantee an easy life for us. That is not what we are promised as followers of Christ. However, if we truly seek after the father’s will through studying his word and seeking to live it out, it does draw us closer to him. It does give us peace and perspective. It does keep us away from self-created adversity!

We all have some commands from God that we find incredibly difficult to follow. We all have a portion of his law that we push back against over and over again despite knowing that we shouldn’t. We are flawed and fallen human beings, which is why Jesus came in the first place. However, when we acknowledge that God has so much more for us when we embrace that his laws are perfect and lead us to a better life in the present, not just for eternity, they do become easier to follow.

Start with the Sabbath. It is almost impossible to follow any of other of God’s decrees when burned out and not centered on God. Give yourself that recharge. Have a day that is actually devoted to God and not knocking out an endless to-do list and catching up on things you fell behind on this week.

The Sabbath was made for you.

Thought to ponder

How could I do a better job of guarding the Sabbath?

Are we the angry mob?

Daily Readings: Joshua 9-10, 2 Corinthians 13

Frequently when I get to the portion of Paul’s letters that serve as his final greeting, I find myself reading it quickly and not really taking it in. This morning I actually read it.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Whenever I write, I want to end with a bang! I want to end with the main takeaway that I hope the reader will hold onto from what they just read. And yet, with Paul’s letters, I have always treated these final few verses in the final chapter of his lengthy letters as simply a form of “good bye”.

There was so much internal turmoil going on in the church at Corinth at this time. In fighting was rampant, debates robust, and they were anything but “of one mind living in peace”. What was Paul’s final charge to them?

Rejoice!

Encourage!

We live in a society that currently does very little rejoicing and even less encouraging.

With Easter rapidly approaching, it struck me this morning how far the American church has gotten away from the vision that God had for us as a collection of believers. We have so much to rejoice about!

And yet, when we look around, it becomes increasingly evident that we spend far more time complaining, arguing on Facebook, etc. than we do rejoicing or encouraging. We have become like Corinth.

If God’s people made the decision that we would collectively be a group that never ceases to rejoice in the amazing gifts of the father and never stops encouraging one another, what an amazing change our world would see!

However, there will always be those who claim to be followers of Christ that seek to divide. There will always be those who seek to manipulate, control, and advance their own agenda to maintain power. The story of Easter is incomplete without remembering that most of God’s people blindly followed the religious leaders of the day to the point of becoming an angry mob crying out for the death of the very Messiah they had been waiting for.

All throughout the Bible there are stories of those who would seek to deceive and divide God’s people. We continuously see the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, and more often than not, we fall for it. Today in Joshua we read another of these stories.

However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgaland said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

Joshua 9:3-6 

We frequently walk right into these traps because it is often more convenient to believe the deceiver. We want to believe that this person, or group of people, is on our side. When it seems like there are so many enemies seeking to destroy, it is an attractive thought to have an ally!

In Joshua we continue on and read that, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” 

When we decide to “sample their provisions” without inquiring of the Lord, bad things tend to happen. When we simply listen to talking heads, political figures, or outspoken religious leaders of the day without consulting God’s word; it is a dangerous game we play.

So, as Easter approaches, are we comfortable being the angry mob? Are we comfortable being riled up through those that would use fear and anger to divide and conquer? Or are we going to get back focused on Jesus and worship the only person in human history who has been truly worthy of worship?

Will we take to heart Paul’s final words to us in Corinthians when he said:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Read that one last time slowly and really let it sink in.

Let’s go live that out this week. This Easter season Christians have the ability to have a massive impact on the world that lasts for an eternity.

Let’s make it count!

Thought to ponder

How can I spend more time rejoicing, encouraging, and acting in such a way that helps expose people to the grace and love of God?

 

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