The Impossible Task of Loving One Another

For those who read this not from our small group, we are currently working through the book, Forgotten God by Francis Chan. The series looks the often neglected or abused subject of the Holy Spirit in the church today.

Last night we discussed one particular Scripture from chapter 4 related to the main chapter heading, “Why Do You Want Him?”

One particular area stood out for me in this chapter… that one of the main reasons God gives us His Spirit is to enable us to love one another, specifically other believers. Now, we also know that we are called and enabled to love those still in need of the Gospel. Nonetheless brotherly or sisterly love in the church is to be a hallmark of the Spirit-filled Christian. Furthermore, as selfish prone people this task is impossible to do apart from the Spirit's enablement.

Paul covers this subject well in 1 Corinthians 13, and really that is a post all in itself. In fact, our group covered some of Paul’s instruction regarding spiritual gifts a previous week, and Lord-willing we will be coming back to chapter 13 regarding loving one another with our spiritual gifts. This is a critically important and beautiful passage for every follower of Christ.

Last night, we narrowed our focus on Galatians 5:13-26 and God showed us something fresh. I’ve read this passage many times previously, but never fully caught the beautiful over-arching context for walking in the Spirit! In verses 13-15 Paul talks about using the freedom the Gospel brings to lovingly serve one another in the church. We know from the flow of the letter that Paul’s main note of correction revolves around legalism creeping into the church. Paul reminds us in verse 14 that we are to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. It seems from verse 15, however, that the Galatian church allowed their legalism to affect their attitude and actions toward one another in the church. The biting and devouring likely consisted of some believers looking down and casting judgment on other believers for their varying degrees of legalistic stances/lifestyles.

Now, notice with me the very next verse! Verse 16 is usually taught on it’s own and it’s own section, but it is inexplicably connected to momentum of the previous verses. Even down in verse 26 at the chapter close Paul returns to the theme from verses 13-15 when he charges believers to “…not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” 

Do you see the challenging beauty of this context? The verses (16-25) on walking by the Spirit and not the flesh are couched in context of loving one another in the church! Oh fellow brothers and sisters reading this, we are so prone to interpersonal friction in the church and it ought not to be. Often we can internally and even sometimes externally level judgment on other believers for whatever the reason. Often we can slip into gossip about each other. Often we subtly choose to not associate with some people in the church because of any number of pathetic excuses. Often we can allow clashing personalities to deter intentional love with others. Often we can allow past offenses to fester, affecting our attitudes and actions toward others.

We are no different than the struggle of the Galatian church, and the corrective admonition is the same… to walk by the Spirit, thereby making this impossible task possible. Thus, one of the main reasons we are given the indwelling presence of God Himself is to enable our selfish tendencies to walk in step with His love toward others.

For those in our specific small group reading this, those in other small groups, those a part of a our church or another local church, and all of us who claim to follow Christ toward all believers in general; I intently want us to ask ourselves some hard questions. How is your pocket of discipleship community doing loving one another? How are you personally contributing to loving one another in your small group, local church, and all believers in general? When the answers to these questions are hard, return to the encouraging discipline of walking in the enabling power of the Spirit as He grows you in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control toward fellow brothers and sisters.

 

Walking by the Spirit to Love Each Other,

Derek

Our Posture for 2015

Wow, another year is in the books! As 2014 closes and we enter 2015, what should be our posture?
If we step back and ponder this last year in our families and across our world, our minds recall many joyous occasions as well as some hard times.
As we enter 2015, I’d like to share three Scriptures.
  1. In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus prays what has become known as “the Lord’s prayer”… which actually served as a model prayer for His disciples. Although much history has passed since Jesus’ words in Matthew 6, His words still ring with profound application for us today. We as Jesus followers today are to be longing for Jesus’ coming full redemption in His coming Kingdom. In this regard, we Gentiles pray along with those original Jewish disciples for God’s Kingdom to come and His will be done in our lives and in this sin-wrecked world.
  2. In Matthew 24 Jesus answers His disciples' inquiries about the timing of the end of earthly time and the culmination of God’s coming Kingdom. In verse 14 Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The word Jesus used for nations literally is “ethnos,” referring to all ethnic/people groups. We know from Jesus that His Gospel message will resound throughout the people groups of the world leading to the end of this age and the coming of God’s Kingdom.
  3. Lastly, I think of Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (ESV) The author just exalted the wisdom of the one who listens and accepts instruction in verse 20. Now in the next verse he directs the reader’s attention to the time-tested surety of God’s will. Indeed the plans of mankind are numerous, but they don’t have the final rule. Often, as many of us will surely see in some form in 2015, God’s purposes for us don’t always align with our expectations. In 2015 may we acquiesce our will for God’s guidance, even when unexpected or uncomfortable.
Boiling it all down…
As we enter 2015, it’s no secret that our world is increasingly writhing in the birth pains like those depicted in Matthew 24 as all of creation groans for God’s coming redemption as in Romans 8. As we continue to see the wake of sin across our world, may we resonate with Matthew 6:9-10, crying for His coming Kingdom to come and His will be done. Yet, as we long for His full redemption, may we balance this in our minds with Matthew 24:14. We the church have been purchased with the price of Divinity’s blood for the purpose of heralding the central message of all time. So as we long for the coming culmination of all things, may our hearts ache for the scores of souls who still don’t know and embrace God’s redemption. So while we should long for God’s coming Kingdom, we should simultaneously be driven to lay our lives down for the sake of the mission set before us as seen in Matthew 28:18-10. In 2015 may we freshly narrow our focus to the clarion call of God’s blood-bought saints to spend our lives making disciples who make disciples who will join us when God does establish His future Kingdom!
Finally, as we persevere forward in 2015 for God’s purposes, may we recall the wisdom of Proverbs 19:21 and be flexible to the things God allows in our lives along the journey ahead.
As I write this, the following song plays in my headphones and I find it fitting...
“Someday” by Disciple:
"We will rise above...
Someday we will rise above the pain of this world.
Someday the grave and death will lose their sting.
They’ll be no more tears and no more stain and our all our scars will fade away.
Only love will remain, someday… until then we will hold on.”
May Jesus’ Fame truly Spread in 2015!
Derek

What is Truth?

On December 19th President Obama addressed the Nation concerning gun control in the wake of the horrible events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered.  In his prepared speech he stated that any actions should begin “inside the home and inside our hearts.”  He is correct.  Which makes one wonder, what has changed inside our homes and inside our hearts?  It appears that many no longer obtain the common sense to know that it’s wrong to murder.  Have we lost the ability to raise our children to know good from evil?  For dads to be actively involved in their children's lives, to correct them in child rearing regardless if they are sane or mentally ill?  For us to come alongside parents who have mentally ill children and seek to help them and pray for them?  Our Nation is forgetting what is good and what is evil.  Some of us are old enough to remember a Nation that understood absolute truth.  Tragically, many people have swallowed the "truth is relative" pill and today's culture is the product of that result.  These shooters are making up their own "truth," and why not?  Truth is relative to each person right?  I really don't think most of these people realize that absolute Biblical values within this country have restrained much evil over the years. 

In regards to access to guns, people who are intent on evil do not care how they access a gun, stolen, bought, borrowed, it doesn't matter.  They will obtain them however they want, even if laws make it a little harder, or our Second Amendment right is totally stripped away.  Nor do they even need a gun to do evil.  A man shot and killed 2 people in a Wyoming college two weeks ago with a high-powered bow and arrow.  If people start using those as their choice of weapon will we take those away too? Others have used bombs and various other methods.  I am not saying that some laws or practical limitations on weapons are fruitless, but I also do not believe they are the total solution.  It starts in the heart and the home.  We live in a godless society, and as Christians we need to be doing it better.  Our job is to reclaim the importance of Biblical truth and teach it and practice it in this troubled Nation.  To share the love of Jesus Christ with unrepentant sinners.   We need to be an influence, not passive.  Parents, our homes need to be the place where children are taught what the 10 commandments mean, “you shall not murder.”  On a grander scale, we all need to repent of our sins, humble ourselves, and turn back to God.  He is the only fix to this mess we call our temporary home… the United States of America.

 

Pastor Todd

Agendas

As a sport’s official, I get to see many people react in stressful situations.  Many lessons are learned under such conditions – this is why (originally) that our society supports youth sports.  Character is revealed, too – sometimes to the good and sometimes not.

As happens every year, the character of some was put on display on the baseball diamond.  This involved different people in different leagues in different Alaskan locals, yet I noticed a common theme in all these situations.  (It wasn’t me! – this time…)  Each time, the aggravated party accused the other of having an agenda that is wrong.

As an umpire, this thought of different agenda stuck me as a ‘Duh’ moment.  Of course there are different agendas in an athletic contest.  Each team wants to win – there are two different agendas.  Each player wants to play and be the star.  Many parents want their child to play and be the star – some want it with a passion that more intense that if the parent was playing the game.  A good coach wants to see the growth and development of the players – sometimes more than the win. When I am working at a game, I have a different agenda – no injuries, good competition, rules followed, minimal murmuring and a speedy conclusion.  All these agendas come together in one spot – no wonder conflict ensues.

I was pondering this as I was accused of being against the agenda of a team (victory for them).  My agenda is so totally foreign to that team.  Sometimes, my actions will align with the team’s agenda – other times, my actions will be in conflict with their agenda.  Great eruptions of anger can and do ensue when people are convinced that I am out to 'get them' or I am thwarting theri agenda.  The reality of it all was I had no interest – zero – in their agenda.  My thoughts and actions are towards an entirely different end.  Most of the players have no concept of what I am trying to accomplish.  Yet, through it all, I do have the best interests of the players at heart.  I want the best for all of them - just not the 'best' as they define it.

I see much similarity in this with Joshua 5.  The scene is just before the Israelites attack Jericho.  Joshua is night scouting the city when an unknown figure draws close.  Joshua asks him  “are you for us or for our enemies?” – are you for our agenda or for there agenda?  The response is unexpected – ‘Neither’.   God was not out to establish he agenda of either side.  Rather, God was fulfilling His agenda – the long, slow march to Calvary.  That was the ultimate good – fulfilling our ultimate need.   How short-sighted and foolish are our fleshly agendas!

Romans 8 reads “Since God is for us…”. Remember that God wants the best for us and many times our wants and desires are not the best for us.  Place His ‘No’ to your prayer not as God being against you but as being for you and for an agenda that is more glorious than we can ask or even think.

The Resounding Beat of Our Hearts - Be Strong and Courageous!

I was recently reading the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. As God prepared the people for Moses' departure and Joshua's installation, we read, "'Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.' Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him the sight of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.'" (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)

What an incredible day this must have been, to hear these words shouted out to the doves of Israelites on the cusp of entering God's rest. They had endured years of wandering and suffering in response to the previous generation's failure to trust in God's deliverance from Canaan's residents (Numbers 13). As this current generation now stood ready to enter the promised land, they could recall all of Jehovah's provision and deliverance in the history of their ancestors. Their thoughts of trust and worship in response to God's previous deliverance prepared them for the great step of faith, battle, and victory that lied ahead. Now, they hear God's words delivered through their human leader, as Moses transitioned from being God's earthly shepherd for them, to be strong and courageous in the very presence and enabling help of God Almighty. Truly the beat of their hearts resounded this command and promise as they advanced forward!

Moses further commanded them, "'At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD you God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and their their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.'" (Deuteronomy 31:10-13)

This truth and the history that was about ready to be made was so important, God mandated that they regularly set aside a time to pass down God's command to be strong and courageous in the context of their promised land entry. Successive generations of Israelites were reminded of their history and their God's deliverance through the faithful adherence to pass this teaching along through this regular 7-year worship cycle. 

What parallels could we draw from this account in Deuteronomy 31? I don't know about you, but when I read of this account, I am encouraged, convicted, challenged, and drawn to worship!

Our innate ability to remember is a gift from God, given to us to recall the past in a way that will help guide our future. I fear in my own life, I miss the blessing of remembering God's past deliverances due to my forgetfulness and failure to regularly recall these periods in my life. May we, God's redeemed people today, do a better job of regularly and specifically recalling God's past work of deliverance and provision in our own lives! May we then be driven to regular worship and bolstered trust in our awesome God!

Furthermore, I fear I don't always do my job of passing down stories of God's past deliverance, protection, and provision to my kids. I know this is an area where I continually need improvement. How about you? May we as the body of Christ catch a God-given passion to pass down those worship-infused memorial periods of God's past deliverance. May it be our prayer that our younger generations would grow up fully seeing and realizing God's active work in the lives of their families!

Lastly, I am also encouraged, convicted, challenged, and drawn to worship at the reality of walking in step with our awesome God! Although most of us today are not Israelites, we are post-New Testament people of God. We are God's redeemed people who today make up the church. We are God's blood-bought possession commissioned to spread His fame and His message of redemption. We are therefore similarly commanded to herald the awesome work of our God's past deliverance and provision to a world in desperate need of redemption! When the people heard Moses beckon God's sure command to be strong and be courageous in His active work of bringing them into the promised land, think of the confidence this promise gave them. 

Likewise today, we've been given a similar promise. God assured us that He is continuing the work of Jesus through His redeemed followers. (John 14:12-14) Jesus assured us that He will build His church against any and all advances of hell itself! (Matthew 16:13-19) God displayed His sure plan of advancing His church amidst persecution through the early church's intense opposition! (Acts 7:54-8:4) God assured the apostle Paul that the Gospel would prevail even in dark places like Corinth! (Acts 18:6-11) God showed us what His Word can do over the magic occult of Ephesus through ordinary people! (Acts 19) God showed us similarly how He delights in using the missional living of ordinary followers like in Epaphras in Colossae! (Colossians 1:7) While we're never promised an easy life, God reminds His followers that He (like in Deuteronomy 31) will never leave or forsake us! (Hebrews 13:5)

Oh, what confidence we should have in light of our Lord's commands and promises! Let us ponder our God's wondrous work in our own testimonies with His deliverance and grace! Let us allow the words of Deuteronomy 31:6-8 be the resounding beat of our hearts as we advance forward for Jesus! Let us be strong and courageous, for we have God Almighty on our side! He is building His church through ordinary people like us. Let us bolster our confidence, trust, and worship as such! May God raise up our younger generations in this same bold, faith-held, and worship-infused passion to advance forward with our God!

 

May Jesus Fame Truly Spread,

Derek

 

 

Sovereignty's Beauty Amidst Suffering

I recently watched a video message by Steve Saint from a past Desiring God conference on suffering in missions amidst God's sovereign plan. I've heard his testimony before, but to hear it again in more detail, this time in specific context of God's intentional plan for suffering--in His sovereignty and missional plan for the world--was freshly moving. The story of how Steve's dad, Nate, and four others lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel's advance among a unreached people group has always gripped me. In this more recent message by Steve (2006), I listened as he shared deeper details about the savage-like methods of the killings that fateful day. It is truly a testament to the Gospel's work to hear grown-up Steve Saint now talk about his close relationship with these (now Jesus followers) who killed his dad! 

I think the other thing that struck me was Steve's testimony about his daughter's more recent death. After an apparent time of complacency in ministry to those in suffering, Steve told how he prayed to better identify with our suffering world. Upon their daughter's graduation, Steve and his wife had to give up their daughter to missions. As she returned home visiting from her mission travels, Steve and his wife were elated to have their whole family back together. In a moment of family bliss, Steve recounted how sweet it was to have her home with the family again. Later that night after complaining of a headache, Steve and his wife held their daughter and prayed for her relief and thanked Him for her visit. As they prayed, a massive brain hemorrhage occurred and their daughter entered eternity. Steve recounts the reaction of Mincaye (the Equadorian Waodani man who once was a killer but now a Jesus follower). Mincaye became part of the Saint family, an incredible testament to God's forgiving grace. As the Saint's daughter was rushed to the emergency room and medical staff hurried about, Mincaye tried desperately to figure out who was hurting his precious adopted granddaughter. Steve recounted how Mincaye's face formed the image of one who was once again willing to kill, this time to protect his family. As the tragedy culminated in the emergency room, Steve tells how Mincaye realized who was behind this. Mincaye rushed to Steve and said, "God is behind this Steve, God is taking our precious one to be with Him!" Immediately, Mincaye started shouting that the Saint's precious daughter went home to be with Jesus, and he urgently beckoned the medical staff to surrender to walking God's trail so they could likewise one day be with Jesus!

Now, what in the world can give some sort of semblance of logic to such tragedies in life? How do we process Mincaye's reasoning for the Saint's daughter's death? Ultimately Mincaye nailed it! In his own way he realized that sovereign God orchestrated His perfect plan for her life, just as He had enacted His perfect plan in Nate Saint's life. Somehow in that moment, the truths of Scripture on suffering (we often think of Romans 8:28, but the Scriptures are full of examples) became vividly clear to Mincaye.

There is much much more that we could comment on the theme of suffering from Scripture. But, for this post I simply want to share this testimony of Steve Saint regarding his own suffering experience. How do we view suffering? Those moments in our lives that are difficult exist for a greater purpose. How are we responding? How are we growing closer to God through them?

Steve closed his message with the following poem:

The Thorn
"I stood a mendicant of God before his royal throne
And begged Him for one priceless gift that I could call my own.
He placed it in my outstretched hand, but as I would depart I cried, "But, Lord, it is a thorn! And it has pierced my heart!
"This is a strange, a hurtful gift, that Thou hast given me."
He said, "My child, I give good gifts and gave my best to thee."
I took it home, and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore
As long years passed, I learned at last To love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace.
He takes the thorn to lay aside the veil that hides his face."
-Martha Snell Nicholson

Oh may we more clearly see God's heart as we "walk His trail" through all circumstances!

 

For the Spread of His Fame,

Derek

 

 

 

Where Worldliness Lives - part 3

The Apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, defines worldliness as something that exists within us.  Often times we try to focus on what is going on around us instead of within us, in our inner being.  Worldliness is not just behavior, its belief.

We understand this from 1 John 2:16.  “For everything in the world, the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father but from the world.”  The essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does. The root of the problem is within us.  So we must learn to discern worldliness where it lives, in our inner being.        

David Powlison, paraphrasing John Calvin, wrote, “The evil in our desires often lies not in what we want, but in the fact that we want it too much.”  Whatever drives you owns you.  When you must have what you crave, you have lost the battle of idolatry and worldliness.

            Our hearts may generate sinful cravings, but they can also be aroused by what we see.  The eyes are the window of our soul, giving opportunity to observe but also to covet. The world understands this and Madison Avenue pitches its products to the eye gate.  

            So what are you captivated by?  What do you think about the most?  What images stir your interest? Ask yourself, what real value does it have?  If you’re more excited about the latest movie or the next big game than serving in your church, if you’re impressed with athletes and movie stars, despite their lack of morality, then you have been seduced by this fallen world.

            What about “the boasting of what he has and does.”?   How much of your time and effort is spent on trying to convince yourself and others of how good you are?  How do you go about boasting in your accomplishments and assets?  What’s the real motive behind those posts and pictures on Facebook?  The boastful pride of life does not come from God and there is no future in it.

            “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).  Please don’t waste your life pursuing things that won’t last.  John Owens described them as “living affections to dying things.” 

            There is no future in worldliness.  It doesn’t last and it doesn’t satisfy. But doing the will of God brings eternal satisfaction.  Which type of life will you choose?  Resisting the temptations of the world that is opposed to the things of Christ requires strenuous effort and being diligent. It’s a life long battle to keep the world out of your heart.

            The good news is, “God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him” (2 Peter 1:3).  Resist the world by looking to the cross of Christ.  For it is “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). 

     “When someone sets his affections upon the cross and the love of Christ, he crucifies the world as a dead and undesirable thing. The baits of sin lose their attraction and disappear. Fill your affections with the cross of Christ and you will find no room for sin.”  John Owen

Are You Different?

   "Do not love the world or anything in the world." 1 John 2:15 

   "Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from worldly conduct have been challenged if not altogether undermined.  Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning." (James Hunter) The distinctions that were once very clear to previous generations have been blurred and altered to the point that Christians are in crisis. 

    "Today, the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world."  (C.J. Mahaney)  The church and individual Christians are decaying from within because we've dropped our guard against worldliness.

    Are the lines between Christian conduct and worldly conduct blurry in your mind?  Let me put it another way.  Is your lifestyle different from that of the non-Christian?  Question - If someone were given two reports detailing your conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, music on your iPod, TV and movie habits, hobbies, leisure time, finances, thoughts, language, attitudes, plans for the future and a non-Christians, would they be able to tell them apart.  If the difference is hard to detect, you might be in danger of drifting down the deserter's path with Demas (See previous post - 2 Timothy 4:10)

    God has given you a warning sign in 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world or anything in the world."  Warnings are not legalistic restrictions from a God who doesn't want what is best for us.  Warnings are His expressions of His love for us.  He gives them for our good, to protect us from sin and its consequences.

    What is this world that we are not to love?  It's not the world that God created and called 'very good' in Genesis 1:31.  It's the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.  The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world that is diametrically opposed to Him and His Son Jesus Christ.  Every day we make choices whether we realize it or not, between love for a world that opposes God and love for Jesus Christ.

    Worldliness is choosing the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God.  Worldliness is choosing to gratify and exalt yourself over finding your pleasure in Him.  It rejects His good and right rule and replaces it with our own. It exalts our opinions above God's truth.  "Worldliness is human nature without God." (Joel Beeke)

   Questions for you to ponder: What dominates your mind and stirs your heart?  Is it discontentment with you life? Wanting something you don't have?  Do you long for more power, pleasure or prosperity?  Do you covet the esteem and crave the approval of others? Are you afraid of being rejected for your Christian faith?  Or, do you deeply want to grow in godliness, becoming more like Jesus Christ and bring honor and glory the Lord through your life?

    These are tough questions, but necessary if you're going to discover whether you have been infected with the spiritual disease of worldliness.  More to come...

Cut and Paste Living

Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible?  Thomas Jefferson, or second president literally cut and pasted his own personal Bible, taking only those verses that he liked.  It was a book he was comfortable with. 

            Hell didn’t make it.  Anything supernatural, no.  God’s wrath against sin, absolutely not.  As a Christian I am appalled by the thought of someone creating their own Bible by omitting whatever they don’t like.

            And then I thought about how often I have ignored portions of God’s Word.  Guilty!  Here’s a verse that was brought to my attention recently that I think many of us try to ignore in one way or another.  Simple yet piercing if you really try to apply it.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world”  (1 John 2:15). 

            This verse is pointed, “Do not love the world”.  It’s also broad, “or anything in the world.”  It’s aimed at many of my desires, yet I’ve never memorized it or felt like I needed it in my battle against sin.  I’ve read it many times yet many more times I’ve lived like it wasn’t in my Bible.

            How does a Christian know if they are worldly?  Are you immune to worldliness?  If we ignore this command, we are not just guilty of making our own Bible; we’re in peril of being seduced by a fallen world that is diametrically opposed to God.  We are all at risk!

            The Apostle Paul described someone who was in love with the world and what happened to him.  He was a companion of Paul’s and helped him spread the gospel.  He stood by Paul during his first imprisonment.  Yet, listen to what said about him in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”

            What happened? I’m sure he didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to bail out. Before he deserted, he drifted away from his first love, Christ. You know someone like Demas, don’t you, someone who burned brightly for a time and then slowly turned away from the faith.

            So often we’re ignorant of the signs and symptoms of worldliness because a person can carry on looking on the outside like everything is great while slowly eroding away on the inside. Maybe he or she is still in church but on the inside not really excited to be there.  Maybe they sing worship song but without any real affection.  Listen to the sermon but without any conviction.  Spiritual growth wanes as they hear the truth but don’t apply it to themselves. 

            A love for the things of the world crowds out the love for Christ. A love for the world begins in your soul and it causes a subtle shift from the things of Christ to the things of the world.  In this way, the person who was once captivated by Christ, over time is taken captive by sin.  A slippery slope.

            So, are you on the downward slide? Sadly, many Christians are unaware of the peril they are in because they have ignored verses like 1 John 2:15, and become desensitized to the clear and present danger of worldliness.

            More reflections on this to come from my reading: Worldliness – Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World,  Edited by C.J. Mahaney

Scripture-Shaped Praying

Picking up on another Let the Nations Be Glad post, I wanted to include some of Piper's writings regarding prayer.

Interestingly I read as Piper explained how prayer can often be too elevated above its intended role. Now, if you're like me and thinking, you may say, huh? Let me further explain. He continued to explain that prayer is often elevated in our emphasis on it over the Word of God. His basic point was that the Scriptures clearly elevate the Word as the supreme active agent in missions, with prayer as a necessary supportive tool. His point was simply that we can often emphasize prayer in a misinforming way that misdirects our prayers. The end result is a prayer focus that centers on peripheral things, and misses what is really to be at the core of our passion for God.

Let me give you a few examples in Piper's own words:

Speaking of the Ephesians 6 life is war context, John Piper writes, "Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission ('Go and bear fruit'), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general's headquarters, and said, 'Comrades, the general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send in air cover when you or your comrades need it.' But what have millions of Christians done? They have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance, no strategic planning. Just easy peacetime and prosperity. And what did they do with the walkie-talkie? They tried to rig it up as an intercom in their cushy houses and cabins and boats and cars--not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den." (John Piper, "Prayer," an online sermon at www.DesiringGod.org.)

Much of Piper's point centers on our misguided use of prayer. Do we approach prayer in a way that elevates our own selfish desires? Or, do we recognize the greater heart and mission of God (and therefore our mission), and then allow that to shape the way we pray?

Furthermore, the Scriptures are packed with references upholding Scripture as the active agent, the sword of the Spirit in the offensive effort to live for God's purposes on this sin-racked earth (Acts 19:20; Romans 1:16, 10:17; Ephesians 6:17-18; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).
The Word of God and prayer go together; one exalted as the means to do God's work and the other upheld as a way of supporting the work of the Word. In John 17 and Acts 4:29 we read of the precedence of calling on God for boldness to speak His Word boldly. In 2 Thessalonians 3:1 we read of the prayer for God to amplify the working of the Word. In Colossians 4:3 Paul's prayer is for a door of open opportunity for the Word to work. In 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7 we see life depicted as a fight or a war. Finally, in Ephesians 6 Paul speaks of this life-wartime context. He writes that we wrestle not against mere flesh and blood, but against cosmic powers of darkness. The offensive weapon Paul then lists in verse 17 for this war is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Then in the very next verse (18) we read the participle translated "so," directly connecting verse 18 on prayer to verse 17 regarding the Word's offensive work. Thus, prayers are seen as a supportive catalyst to the offensive weapon of the Word.

Do we pray in this way? Do we even view life in this New Testament depicted way? We do truly have so much to be thankful for, and a life lived with Jesus is indeed joyful. However, while we are promised God's faithful presence and joy lived in Him, we also see the Scriptures depict a life lived in Him as a struggle against the cosmic powers of darkness. No, I'm not getting all Star Wars on us. Seriously, the powers of Satan, sin, and our own flesh are a very real thing. It is these struggles that we wage war against while walking through life. Do we view Scripture as paramount in this life-battle? Do we view prayer as necessary to commune with our Commander for strength and victory from His Word in the battle?

Here's my last thought… Are our prayers then shaped by this mentality? Think about it. How many times do I catch myself praying in a misguided way? How many times do I pray for someone to get better from some sickness or bad thing in their lives rather than pray for Jesus to do His work of refining in their lives. Regarding missions, how often do we pray just for safety and vague concerns for well-being? Oh, we can and should pray for healing and safety, but do we pray for spiritual growth as well? How often do we pray for God's Word to do it's intended offensive work in people's lives?

These truths are surely convicting. It is my prayer to simply offer them here for you to likewise consider.

For the Spread of His Fame,
Derek

Worship, Missions, and Life

Greetings! I just wanted to check in and share some stuff that I am really enjoying going through with the Koinonia group from our Let the Nations Be Glad study.

 

The study itself finds it's roots in a principle inseparably connected to the Scriptures as a whole. However, Psalm 67 rings clear on the study's central premise. 

 

"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him!"

- Psalm 67, ESV

 

The totality of the Scriptures are resoundingly clear that our fundamental existence on planet earth is for the spread of our God's fame/glory. From the Old Testament way of dwelling amidst God's presence through the promised land and the sacrificial system to the New Testament's focus on Jesus' redemption, the centerpiece is the exaltation of God's great fame. The centerpiece of the Scriptures, really then, is worship. We are created for worship. Sin corrupts this. The Old Testament shows our gracious God's dealing with His people to point them back to His holiness through their faith in His redemptive provision through His law and sacrificial system. The New Testament (that which the entire Old Testament pointed toward) shows our gracious God's sovereignty and mind-boggling work of redeeming His own to Himself through faith in His provision in the form of Jesus.

Missions therefore exists because worship does not. Missions must exist therefore, to beckon fallen humanity back to worship. This, of course, is a provision and work that only God can accomplish. We post-New-Testament humanity have the incredible privilege (along with people like the Ephesians in Eph. 1:10) of heralding the truly, infinitely good news of Jesus and the redemption His work offers.

From texts like Ephesians 1:5-6, Romans 3:25, and 1 Peter 3:18, we see that Jesus' purpose was consumed with His zeal for the spread of the Father's glory. In John 11:1-6 we see a clear example of God's love and the exaltation of His glory. After hearing of Lazarus' imminent death, the text says that because of Jesus' love for His friends, He remained for the purpose of glorifying God. Do you see the connection to God's loving plan and the exalting of His glory?

Oh, this all carries such profound implications for us today! Do we recognize that our God is truly worthy of worship? Do we truly realize that our God is on mission to spread His worship throughout the nations? Do we truly realize that our fundamental existence on planet earth is inseparably connected to this purpose? Are we truly enamored in worship of our great God? It is then precisely that enamored worship that should be the flame in our missiological outlook, passion, involvement, and prayer!

 

For the Spread of His Fame,

Derek

 

 

 

Our Deliverer, Our Solace

I was reading in Exodus today about Israel's deliverance from Egypt. Although the parting of the Red Sea and the host of other miraculous deliverances of Israel are familiar to us, I think we often take them for granted. Can you relate? Consider the Red Sea deliverance in Exodus 14 for a moment. Can you imagine what it must have been like! Imagine as we all are just delivered from an oppressive people, only after years of slavery and miraculous acts of judgment from our captors. Imagine we are all finally allowed to leave into the wilderness. Imagine the relatively swift departure from this land, an oppressive land but the one you've come to know your entire life. Imagine as we all depart not for a day-long interstate trip with air-conditioning and a hotel with a pool later that night. Instead, we all depart on a dusty road and set off for hundreds of miles of sheer wilderness. Of course, we are all steadied and at ease because God Himself is leading and delivering us… at least we want to believe this. Imagine then after all this we approach the mighty Red Sea with the Egyptians deciding to now chase us, attempting to bring us back into slavery. Now, given that context, what would our response be? Consider Israel's response to their predicament: "When the Israelites saw the king and his army coming after them, they were very frightened and cried to the Lord for help. They said to Moses, 'What have you done to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? There were plenty of graves for us in Egypt. We told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone; we will stay and serve the Egyptians.' Now we will die in the desert.'" (Exodus 14:10-12)

What would our response be? I think I am often so quick to criticize Israel for their lack of belief and grumbling before God. However, I often find myself succumbing to the same attitude. Even after countless testaments to God's work of deliverance in my own life, it's so easy to immediately doubt and question God amidst a trial. I think it's often easier to even succumb to our own desires for the "satisfaction" that sin and our own way offers, than to trust in God's plan. Can you relate?

Of course, we read Moses' response (which ultimately is God's response to the people) in verse 13, "But Moses answered, 'Don't be afraid! Stand still and you will see the LORD save you today. You will never see these Egyptians again after today. You only need to remain calm; the LORD will fight for you.'" 

The rest of the story is quite familiar to us. Imagine then as we all watch in the dark that night as God commands Moses to spread his staff out over this massive body of water. Imagine then as the east wind blows in and the waters part. There lying right in front of us is dry ground! Now, with the massive amount of people maybe you're camped with your family near the back of the group. Imagine as the massive encampment of Israelites begin to erupt in wonder at God's parting of the waters. Well, all night long we all cross the seabed on dry ground, and watch as God thwarts Egypt's attempt to overtake us.

What would be our response to such deliverance? Exodus 15 is testament to their response… namely, worship. Moses leads the people in resounding praise at God's clear act of deliverance. Yet, as the Biblical story unfolds, Israel continually wrestled with trusting in God's leading.

Question, why do we so often doubt God's leading in our lives? I ask myself even as I write this, why I so often doubt God's leading and ability to deliver and give me strength to persevere? So, can you relate to Israel's struggle? Can you relate to my struggle? I'm sure we all can at various points in our lives.

May we, the redeemed in Jesus, recall (along with Israel) God's wondrous acts of deliverance and leading in our own lives. May we bolster our confidence in Him! And, may we along with Israel in Exodus 15, respond to our God's leading and persevering strength with resounding worship!

 

For the Spread of His Fame,

Derek

 

 

 

Movie ratings

I hope all of you that came out to the Bible Chapel’s showing of the movie Courageous had a great night.  My family did – we thought it was an awesome movie!  While I enjoyed the cinemaphotography, the ending where men were challenged to serve their families was absolutely the best part of the movie.

The very beginning threw me for a surprise, though – a PG-13 rating.  Now I am not going to say that the movie did not have moments of violence and talked about drugs – after all, when you discuss sin, some unpleasant details usually follow, even in Scripture.  No, what threw me was the realization that my 12- and 10-year old children would not be allowed to see this movie in a theater without an adult, yet other movies that are far less redeeming lack that filter.

We need to have filters on out entertainment.  The question, Christian, is what filter do you use?  Do you use the world’s filter of G, PG, etc.?  Or do you do the hard work of digging into the media, analyzing the content against the Bible, and use that – along with your knowledge of your family – to make entertainment decisions?  The latter requires much more work, but brings about much bigger blessings – kinda the theme of Courageous, no?

KS

P.S. – A resource my family uses to help with these decisions is http://www.pluggedin.com/ by Focus on the Family – give it a try!

Strategic Living

Well, Christmas is over and 2012 has begun.  Many people are sad that their decorations have been boxed up until next December.  I am not – my feelings toward Christmas are much more ambivalent.  I enjoy the songs, the Story and the giving spirit that seems to flourish at the end of the year, not to mention the food!  The focus of stuff – material possessions – does not me feeling jolly on December 25th.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect that your house is like mine – you have too much stuff.  I have more clothes than I can use in a month, yet I keep getting more.  Same with movies, books, etc.  There is a part of me that just wants to pitch it all and not have to deal with it – especially on a day when I have to tend to dirty and/or broken stuff that clogs my ‘to-do’ list like leaves in a rain gutter.

Just getting rid of things, though, is not the answer.  My stuff can distract me from the battle that is raging all around – the battle for souls.  A better question that Randy Alcorn asks is this – Does my stuff work towards Christ’s Kingdom or not?  As a soldier of Christ, is this item a strategic necessity or a liability?  Sometimes that book I want will help me grow in Christ; other times that movie ticket will leave me further from His purposes.  This dinner out or vacation might be just the R&R a soldier needs; that 4th dinner out this week might be draining away money better spent (or given away!) somewhere else.

I hope and pray that your checkbook in 2012 will reflect strategic living choices.  Please pray for me that my checkbook will reflect the same.

KS

(For a great resource on this topic, click here.)

Halloween?

Halloween: What’s a Christian to Do?

by John Rysdyk

            The contemporary Christian often finds Halloween an uncomfortable topic.  Some want to blackball it all together because of the evil often associated with it, while others are reluctant to give up what is still a cherished childhood memory.  How should a Christian respond to this holiday known as Halloween?

            If we are to come to a conviction on the issue, some history of this particular day is needful.  It may surprise you that the celebration we know today as Halloween is actually a combination of pagan, Christian, and civil traditions.  Yet, the truth is, I could say that of almost every holiday.

            The beginnings of Halloween go back more than two thousand years.  A people called the Celts lived in what are now Ireland, Great Britain, and France.  Among the Celtic people was an elite intellectual class known as the Druids, who served as religious priests, judges, lawmakers, and scientists.  They celebrated a number of elaborate pagan religious festivals.  Chief among these was the Fire Festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-een) observed at harvest time to mark the Celtic New Year.

            The Celts believed that on this night the barrier between the natural world and the supernatural was removed, and the spirits of the dead were able to move freely among human beings.  On this night it was believed that Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans who could only escape by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.

            In response to this pagan ritual and tradition, the church decided to offer and alternative and they invited people to celebrate Halloween.  Chrysostom tells us that as early as the fourth century, the Eastern Church celebrated a May festival that honored believers who had died.  This festival became known as “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Day.” The night before the celebration was commonly referred to as “All Hallows Eve” or “Halloween.” On that night, the church gathered for a sacred time of worship, prayer, and testimony.  In 835 AD the church moved this day of celebration to November 1st, in order to replace the observance of Samhain.  They believed that this was a unique opportunity to declare how the Lord God can truly change one’s life.  So while the neighbors were fearfully dodging the evil spirits sent by Samhain, Christians were rejoicing in their rich heritage, a heritage that proclaimed that Christ had conquered both evil and death.  Let’s remember that our celebrations of victory in Christ are always set against the dark background of the overwhelming evil that made the cross necessary.

            Now, although pagan and church history adds light to our understanding, there are still some traditions in the U.S. that seem unique to this holiday, especially that of “trick-or-treating.”  This custom is thoroughly American in origin.  In the traditions of North America, Halloween had become an occasion for pranks and mischief.  Vandals would wander through the night, soaping windows, overturning outhouses, and pulling gates from their hinges.  These pranks were playfully said to be the work of witches and ghosts, but by the 1920’s the joke wasn’t funny anymore.  To counteract Halloween vandalism, community clubs like the Boy Scouts began to organize alternatives that were safe and fun.  Children were encouraged to go door-to-door and receive treats from homeowners and merchants, in hopes that the mere presence of so many people out in the streets would keep the troublemakers away. By the 1930s, the practice was popular nationwide and young voices crying, “Trick or treat!” were echoing through neighborhood streets.  In this way, a combination of pagan, Christian, and civic elements formed the Halloween celebration we know today.

            So in light of all this information, it is time to come back to our initial question: How should a Christian respond to this holiday known as Halloween? It is my personal opinion that the ancient Christians thought out their strategy quite well.  “All Hallow’s Eve” can be a ripe time of communicating Christ’s power over death and evil.  In fact, I think it’s quite interesting that the Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  It was his proclamation to the Catholic Church that salvation was by faith in Christ alone and that the Scriptures, not popes and councils, are the standard for Christian faith and behavior.

            In my opinion, October 31, is a day Christians can and should celebrate.  Maybe as one church in Fairfax Virginia does, we should also have an “All Saints Party” for children with costumes of Bible Characters and heroes of the faith.  I’ve heard of other churches having Reformation parties.  Children need to learn their Christian heritage and Halloween may be great day to do that!

            Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration for the powers of darkness? Why not instead fill the church with light and celebrate the victory of Jesus over darkness? Let’s make it a day that we celebrate our salvation through faith in Christ alone and honor the godly saints who lived before us and gave us faithful examples to follow.

 

 

Forgiveness

FORGIVENESS

by John Rysdyk

 

         The scene is a classic.  Dirty Harry, the cop, has finally come face to face with the vile criminal whose crimes are unspeakably evil.  With a gun aimed point blank at the pervert, he dares the man to make one false move by saying, “Go ahead.  Make my day.”  Vengeance is glorified as a macho virtue.

         Who has not enjoyed thoughts of vengeance?  We so often tilt the scales in favor of what we deem to be justice, feeling somehow that it is our privilege, even our duty, to see that the guilty party suffers for the wrong they’ve done.  To some degree, that is correct.  God is a God of justice.  In Exodus 23:7 He said, “I will not acquit the guilty.”  In Nahum 1:3 we are promised that “the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  And the New Testament reinforces the concept that “whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) because “God’s wrath is revealed…against all ungodliness.”  So if the proverb is true that it is an abomination to “justify a sinner” (Proverbs 17:15), how does forgiveness fit in?

         Romans 4:5, 7- 8 clearly states that God does justify sinners.  His forgiveness is not contrary to His justice for one simple reason: Christ atoned for our sins.  God’s holy demand for justice was satisfied through the shedding of Christ’s blood, his death on the cross (Romans 3:24-26) on our behalf.  Because of Christ’s “payment,” God forgives our sin debt.  This is the supreme example of forgiveness.  In fact, we are commanded to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us (Ephesians 4:32).

         Why is it necessary for us to understand forgiveness?  As anyone with counseling experience will confirm, most people who come for counseling fall into one of two categories.  Either they are suffering from guilt and need to learn about God’s forgiveness, or they are blaming others for something not right in their own lives and they need to learn how to forgive.

 

The Importance of Forgiveness

         Forgiveness is important for a number of reasons.  First, it is at the very heart of the gospel message.  God forgave us!  --Such a simple statement, yet so profound.  Were we deserving of His forgiveness?  No.  Did we earn our way into His favor?  No.  Yet He chose to forgive, having provided us with the redemption of Christ.  Without God’s forgiveness we are all hopelessly lost.  As foreign as forgiveness is to sinful human nature, it is characteristic of divine grace.

         The second reason forgiveness is important is that it is taught in Scripture.  Ephesians 4:32 strongly commands that believers be forgiving because they are to reflect the character of God.  To refuse forgiveness, therefore, is an act of direct disobedience, a vile sin.  Christ himself emphasized the importance of forgiveness when He referred to it in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:12), then reinforced it immediately after the “amen” (verses 14-15).  His closing argument here is powerful and pointed, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  This is a severe discipline for being unforgiving.

         Christ later described both a supreme act of forgiveness and an appalling example of unforgiveness in His parable recorded in Matthew 18:23-34.  A servant was brought before a king who was found to owe the king “10,000 talents,” a number commonly used to refer to an infinite number.  Given the immensity of the debt, the servant’s situation was obviously hopeless.  Yet the king showed mercy and completely forgave the debt, even though a debt that large had most likely been accumulated through embezzlement, theft, or some other criminal means.  The mercy shown to this servant should have made him more merciful, but instead he displayed a grotesque lack of gratitude when he refused to show mercy on one who owed him a much smaller amount of money.  What arrogance to assume he had the right to extract vengeance in the same situation where the very king had shown him mercy!

         Likewise, the contrast between our debt to God and the relatively miniscule debts others may owe us is immeasurable, yet we often strut around like the wicked servant, demanding payment.  We are, in effect, saying, “It was fine for God to forgive me, but I reserve the right to refuse forgiving someone if I so choose.”  We are then in the dangerous position of placing ourselves above the King.  There is a sad and sobering conclusion to this parable.  When the master is made aware of the servant’s hypocrisy and callous lack of forgiveness, he angrily orders him to be severely punished--tortured for his evil deeds.  Then comes Christ’s application: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (verse 35).  Christians ought to be the most forgiving people on earth because they have been forgiven as no one else has.  Therefore, those who refuse to forgive are worthy of the most severe kind of discipline from the hand of a loving Father.[i]       

The third reason forgiveness is important is that it is necessary for our own personal healing and well being.  Refusal to forgive ruins relationships with God and with others.  It embitters a person and can even result in physical and emotional health problems.  David Augsburger described the prison of bitterness in this manner:

         “Bitterness slowly sets, like a permanent plaster cast, perhaps protecting the wearer from further pain, but ultimately holding him rigid in frozen animation.  His feelings and responses have turned to concrete, and, like concrete, they’re all mixed up and firmly set.  Bitterness is paralysis…bitterness cuts the nerve to our emotion.” [ii]

 

Being bitter can make people feel justified in blaming others, even God, for offenses.  Early in history Adam blamed both Eve and God for his own transgression (Genesis 3:12).  That surely seemed easier than accepting blame for the way things were.  Bitterness springs from self-centeredness.  A true understanding of biblical forgiveness can free someone from bitterness and restore broken relationships.

 

The Meaning of Forgiveness

For many years I’ve encouraged Christians to forgive others without really explaining to them what that actually means.  In my estimation, a simple reference to Colossians 3:13, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” was all that was necessary.  Yet, as I’ve continued to counsel, it has become quite apparent that people have attributed various nuances of meaning to this Christian grace.  So what is forgiveness, anyway?

Maybe to begin with, it would be helpful to explain what forgiveness is not.  First of all, it is not a feeling.  There is nothing in the Bible about “feelings of forgiveness” or “having forgiving feelings” toward one another. [iii]  Regardless of how I feel, God expects me to forgive.  For many in our feeling-oriented society, it is difficult to reconcile how forgiveness can be sincere if a person doesn’t feel like granting it.  To them, such a prospect seems hypocritical.  However, the truth is that many of us do things each day that are contrary to our feelings in order to be responsible.  For instance, I get up every morning--against my best instincts to stay in bed--so that I can go to work, but I don’t view that as hypocritical.  It is simply what God expects of me since I am to be the provider of the home.  In much the same way, there may be times, humanly speaking, that I would rather withhold forgiveness, for instance, should someone commit an injustice against my wife or children, but if that person should repent, God requires me to forgive, no matter how I feel.  It is my responsibility.  The only way it becomes hypocritical is if I say, “I forgive,” but in reality I do not.

Secondly, forgiveness is not forgetting, no matter what the old adage may allege.  Like it or not, it is very difficult to purge your memory of a transgression committed against you, either directly or indirectly.  In fact, the more grievous the offense, the harder it is to let it go.  Yet, because there are Scriptures that declare that when God forgives, He also promises not to remember our sins any longer (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17), there have been many who have wrongly asserted that God has a perfect “forgetter.”  “But to forget something, though, is to have no memory of it. Obviously, God, who is omniscient, has not lost His memory of our transgressions.  Rather, He refuses to call them to mind.  He promises not to bring them up.”  [iv]  Warren Wiersbe tells the story of the late Dr. William Sangster, one of England’s most effective Methodist preachers.

“He was addressing Christmas cards, and a house guest was shocked to see an envelope addressed to a man who had brutally attacked Sangster eighteen months before.

‘Surely you are not sending a greeting to him,’ the man said.

‘Why not?’ asked Sangster.

‘But you remember,’ the guest began.  ‘Eighteen months ago…’

Sangster recalled the thing the man had done to him, but he also recalled that at the time, he had resolved to put it out of his mind.  ‘It was a thing I would remember to forget,’ he said; and he did.”  [v]

 

In essence, Dr. Sangster was expressing that he was not going to allow this offense to affect his relationship with this man by holding it against him.  He willfully made a choice to bury the past and not to go back and dig it up at any point.  In so doing, he forgave as God forgave him.

         This is a perfect place to turn our thoughts to what forgiveness is.  There are primarily two words used in the New Testament to describe this virtue.  The first is the Greek word, aphiemi.  It means, “to let go, release or remit.”  It often refers to debts or sins that have been paid for in full and as a result, cancelled.  The other word frequently used to describe the act of forgiveness is charizomai.  It means, “to bestow a favor unconditionally,” which implies that forgiveness cannot be earned.  Therefore, forgiveness is an undeserved action that releases an individual of his or her debt for sin.  It is cancelled, never to be mentioned by God again.   From a divine perspective, it is a promise from God that our sin has been dispensed of, once for all, and He will no longer hold it against us.  W. E. Vine wrote, “Human forgiveness is to be strictly analogous to divine forgiveness.”[vi]  Paul put it this way in Ephesians 4:32: We are to forgive one another just as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us.  Therefore, following in God’s footsteps, when we forgive, we are to let go of the offense and promise to remember it no longer.  Ken Sande, in his book, The Peacemaker, characterizes this as a fourfold promise:

 

By making each of these promises, we open the door to reconciliation, peace, and unity. 

 

The Parameters of Forgiveness

Once a clear understanding of forgiveness is discerned, one might ask, “Is it ever appropriate to withhold forgiveness from someone?”  In other words, is forgiveness conditional?  There is some debate over this matter.  Jay Adams wrote,

         “It should go without saying that since our forgiveness is modeled after God’s, it must be conditional.  Forgiveness by God rests on clear, unmistakable conditions.  The apostles did not merely announce that God had forgiven men, …they were sent forth to preach ‘repentance and the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30).” [viii]

 

W. E. Vine adds, “If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limitation to Christ’s law of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21,22).  The conditions are repentance and confession (Matthew 18:15-17; Luke 17:3).”  [ix]  By contrast, David Augsburger wrote, “Christ’s way was the way of giving forgiveness even before asked, and even when it was not or never would be asked for by another.” [x]  As evidence for this astounding statement, he cites Christ’s prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Augsburger continues, “To think that we needn’t forgive until we are asked is a myth to be punctured!”  [xi]  Em Griffin wrote, “My conclusion is that it’s possible to forgive an unrepentant offender.  Not easy, but possible.  If it weren’t, we’d be condemned to tote around a gunnysack of bitterness.”  [xii]  He offers no biblical grounds for his statement; only life experience. 

Ken Sande, taking a more neutral position, maintains that “ideally, repentance should precede forgiveness” and he cited Luke 17:3. [xiii]  John MacArthur wrote, “It is obvious from Scripture that sometimes forgiveness must be conditional (Luke 17:3; Matthew 18:15-17).”  [xiv]   Yet he goes on to say that there are also times when “forgiveness is to be granted unconditionally.”  [xv]  To defend this statement he uses Mark 11:25-26, asserting that this passage describes “an immediate forgiveness granted to the offender with no formal meeting or transaction required.” [xvi]

In an attempt to sort out this dilemma, let’s begin by considering Augsburger’s use of Luke 23:34 since it is the verse commonly cited by those who propose an unconditional forgiveness position.  If Jesus did unconditionally forgive those who crucified Him, then why did Peter, on the day of Pentecost, implicate those Jews for this very sin and encourage them to repent so that they could receive forgiveness?  It seems quite evident that Jesus’ saying from the cross was not a declaration of forgiveness, but a prayer; a prayer that the Father would answer through the bold preaching of Peter and the apostles.  The same is true of Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”  On this basis alone, Augsburger’s proposition loses validity.  However, even though Augsburger’s use of Luke 23:24 is faulty, I am not convinced his position is totally wrong. 

In fact, in contemplating the arguments on both sides, it appears the two groups come to comparable points of view in the end.  Although each author seeks to specify in detail the uniqueness of his conviction, I believe that when everything is boiled down, the difference is largely just a matter of semantics.  Each author would probably agree with Ken Sande’s statement that the ideal scenario would be for repentance to precede forgiveness.  Yet it is also quite clear that each would agree that there are minor offenses that can and should be overlooked in an attitude of love, for “love covers over a multitude of sins

(1 Peter 4:8).”  This is where the semantic game is played.  Although Jay Adams plainly acknowledges this principle of love, he quickly adds that it is not forgiveness.  He therefore makes a distinction between covering another’s transgression and forgiveness.  Unfortunately, as John MacArthur points out, “The Bible itself makes no such distinction.”  [xvii]  In fact, Psalm 32:1 and Psalm 85:2 clearly equate these two concepts through the use of Hebrew parallelism:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,

Whose sins are covered.”

 

“You forgave the iniquity of your people

And covered all their sins.”

 

Since this is true, one must conclude that unconditional and unilateral (one-sided) forgiveness is acceptable and even preferable when it comes to minor offenses.  Obviously, from a practical perspective, if married couples or friends saw it as their responsibility to confront and seek repentance for every offense, the relationships would soon be too much to endure.

         The question, then, is, “When should confrontation and repentance be required?  As a general rule, you should not overlook an offense if:

  1. You observe a serious offense that is hurting someone else.  Scripture permits, even encourages us to overlook sins committed against us personally, but we are forbidden to ignore wrongs done to others (Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:20; Isaiah 59:15-16; Jeremiah 22:3).
  2. You observe that the offense is harmful to the offender.  To confront someone who is hurting himself or herself is an expression of true Christian love when done in the proper spirit (Galatians 6:1-2).
  3. You observe that the offense dishonors God and may potentially damage the body of Christ.  Some sins have a very far-reaching effect, harming the reputations of both God and His church (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-6).
  4. You observe that the offense has damaged the relationship with another person.  Reconciliation is the goal in such cases (Luke 17:3; Matthew 5:224; 2 Thessalonians 3:15).

It seems that the only time an offense can be overlooked is when you are the only one offended and you are willing to make the promises of forgiveness without a confrontation and without repentance from the other party.  But in such a case, the decision to forgive must be as complete as if the other party had formally repented.

 

The Process of Forgiveness

The next question that must be answered is, “How do I forgive?”  Forgiveness begins in the heart.  Before we can outwardly forgive someone, we must first settle matters with our heavenly Father.  Mark 11:25-26 addresses the attitude a believer must have when approaching God in prayer.  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  In commenting on these verses, Jay Adams observes that

“Jesus is concerned about the attitude of the believer as he stands before God in prayer.  If he is inwardly unwilling to forgive his brother or sister, he cannot expect forgiveness from the Father.  Thus, preceding the promise (or granting) of forgiveness to another, one must prepare to lift that guilt so that the promise he makes, even if against his feelings, will be sincerely meant and kept.”[xviii]

 

If we are finding it difficult to forgive, there are some important concepts to keep in mind.  First, the offender is a human soul, the highest unit of value in all of creation (Mark 8:36-37).  Secondly, he or she is a human soul for whom Christ died (1 John 4:20).  God valued that person enough to give the life of His own Son in exchange for that soul.  Furthermore, this soul was meant to be a child of God.  No man is too low to be an object of God’s love.  No man is to be excluded from God’s forgiveness, except by his own unrepentance.  No man can be considered worthless when Christ died for him.  No man is unlovable; if God loves him, then God can love him through me. [xix]  Ralf Luther put it this way, “To love one’s enemy does not mean to love the mire in which the pearl lies, but to love the pearl that lies in the mire.”  [xx]

It is not possible to muster up love and forgiveness for your enemy by sheer willpower.  It is a gift from God, which enables you to see the value of every man’s life and soul.  Therefore, you need to pray that God will enable you to see past the offense.  Ask God to clothe you with “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, [forbearance, and forgiveness]… in love”  (Colossians 3:12-14).

It is essential to remember that we must renounce personal sin so that our relationship with God is not hindered (Psalm 66:18).  This will include assessing any contribution we ourselves may have made to the problem as well as attitudes of bitterness or hatred.

Your prayer must also include praise.  First of all, you must praise God for forgiving you.  When we remember all God has done in forgiving us, it is easier to forgive others.  We can also praise God for the situation itself, knowing that God will ultimately work all things out for our temporal and eternal benefit (Romans 8:28).  After all, we are commanded to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

Once the heart is prepared to forgive, the validity of that forgiveness will become evident when we confront the offender. Having forgiven him or her in our heart and mind, it is necessary to offer forgiveness in word and deed as well, if at all possible.  When we approach an offender, we are cautioned to exercise gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1-4).  Confrontation is seldom pleasant, yet it can be the beginning of much needed healing.  Ideally, it should result in the repentance of the guilty party.  According to 1 John 1:9, God forgives us when we confess our sins.  Likewise, we must forgive a brother or sister who repents of his or her sin.  Now, it may not always be the case that the guilty party repents.  We have no control over the actions of others—only our response to them.  The focus of forgiveness in scripture is not so much the terms of forgiveness but rather the attitude of the forgiver (Matthew 6:12, 14-15; 18:35; James 2:13). 

Once forgiveness is offered verbally, it can be reinforced by action.  “Loving actions can do much more than change your feelings; they can also communicate in unmistakable terms the reality of your forgiveness and your commitment to reconciliation.” [xxi]  And there is an added benefit.  When you sincerely pray for someone, forgive them, and display acts of love toward them, inevitably you will find yourself experiencing a genuine Christ-like love for them.

One of the greatest contemporary examples of forgiving even when it was difficult is the story told by Corrie ten Boom.

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. 

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing.  “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said.  “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendall the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him.  Give me Your forgiveness. 

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on Him.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”  [xxii]

 

 

The Blessings of Forgiveness

The past is done.  It cannot be changed.  The meaning, however, can be altered. Forgiveness robs Satan of an opportunity to embitter saints, ruin the reputation of Christ, decay relationships and destroy lives.  When a person chooses to be forgiving, many burdens are lifted.  If the guilty party repents, he or she is relieved from the burden of guilt.  But those who choose to forgive even someone who is unrepentant will find a freedom that will bring them peace: peace in their own hearts and minds, peace with others, and peace with God.   As Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it, “God does forgive sin for the sake of glorifying Christ.  Christ took the shame so that He might magnify His Father, and now His Father delights to magnify Him by blotting out men’s sin.”  We are commanded to forgive as God forgives, and what was His motivation?  It can be summed up in three words: for Christ’s sake.  If there is no other reason strong enough to give you the will to forgive, this phrase alone should be effective.  “For Christ’s sake our love suffers long and never fails.  Do it for His sake.”  [xxiii]

 

 

NOTES

 


[i] John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 1998), 111.

[ii] David Augsburger, The Freedom of Forgiveness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 30-31.

 

[iii] Jay Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving  (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1994), 11.

[iv] MacArthur, Ibid., 189.

[v] Warren Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 136-137.

[vi] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words  (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1981), 122.

[vii] Ken Sande, The Peacemaker  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 164.

[viii] Adams, Ibid., 34.

[ix] Vine, Ibid.

[x] Augsburger, Ibid., 32.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Em Griffin,  Making Friends (& Making Them Count) (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1987), 198.

[xiii] Sande, Ibid.

[xiv] MacArthur, Ibid., 119.

[xv] Ibid., 121.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Adams, Ibid., 30.

[xix] Augsburger, Ibid., 25.

[xx] Ibid., 25-26.

[xxi] Sande, Ibid., 173.

[xxii] Corrie ten Boom, from her book, The Hiding Place (Bantam, 19974), p. 238, as quoted in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, Ibid., 170.

[xxiii] C. H. Spurgeon, from his classic sermon Forgiveness Made Easy, as quoted by John MacArthur, Ibid., 227-228.

Benefits of power...

Since 9/11, a new growth industry has sprung up in the US - security.  More specifically, many corporate and government leaders are hiring bodyguards and private planes for themselves.  The reasons stated are for security.  Cynics note that these people were never likely to be targeted for a terrorist attack or kidnapping threat.  Rather, it appears that they are making themselves look and feel important, all at the expense of another.

This, of course, is in stark contrast to Christ.  In our Elder’s meeting this week, our devotional time focused on the kenosis, or emptying – where Christ voluntarily laid aside the independent use of his divine prerogatives – all to benefit us, the church.

Phil. 2: 5-11Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing ,taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Some take on power to benefit themselves.  Christ relinquished the use of His power to benefit us.  Christian, you know which model is from the world and which is not… 

KS

A Tip

I was able to be at the SoHi vs. Grace Christian volleyball match on Saturday.  It was great – a thrilling 5 set match.  Both teams played well, but they both seemed to use an interesting strategy late in the match. 

In volleyball, each team is allowed three hits before the ball must cross over the net.  Most teams try and set the ball near the net for someone to spike the ball hard at the other team.  The defense often rises up to try and block the spike.  To counter, the offense sometimes tips the ball just over the blockers.  It can be an effective weapon – like a change-up pitch in baseball. 

In this match, though, the tips became more and more frequent as the match went along.  A friend of mine who was there agreed with my assessment – they seemed to be playing to not miss, to not lose.  Both teams were more afraid of making a mistake than making a play. 

I think that Christians sometimes feel the same way, especially when it comes to witnessing.  People don’t speak up for fear of making a mistake – a mistake that would turn the person away from Christ.  That is why I am comforted that God is the one who saves.  He can (and does) use our feeble efforts to bring eternal salvation to anyone.  We need to trust God more, be about His business and quit being afraid.  Remember what the Bible says about fear…

I John 4: 16-21  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Love God. Be fearless. 

KS

Flowers

This summer the entrance to the Chapel building was flanked by two huge hanging baskets of flowers.  They are quite pretty – Grace has put much time and effort into the care and feeding of these flowers.  As I look upon them out my window on the autumn(?) afternoon, I am still amazed at the differences between the 2 baskets.

As you enter the building, the flower basket on the left is growing and blooming, but the one on the right seems ready to burst open with all the flowers that are overflowing the planter.  That seemed odd to me at first.  Grace does not play favorites with their food or water.  She spins the baskets on the hooks as she is able to do so.  It seems like they are the same…

The difference, I have decided, is the amount of sun that each basket gets.  The basket to the east is in the shadow of the octagon, library and the overhang for most of the day.  The basket to the west has no such shadows from mid-afternoon until sunset.  Obviously, the one that is growing more gets more of the sun – the impetus behind the growth. 

I think the same is true of us – those that have more of the Son grow more, bloom prettier and bear more fruit than those with less of the Son.  How much has the Son shone on your life recently?   How is your basket?

KS 

I John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life