Cruel Savior

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15

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Looking for my daily infusion of hope this morning, I opened my Bible to Hebrews 4 and read vs 15, then did a double take.

I’d read the verse wrong. The message I received in my brain was, “We have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” I shook my head. What?! I went back and read it again, and again it said, “We have a high priest who is unable…”  That’s not right, I said to myself, and of course it’s wasn’t. Funny, what the brain can do to you before an infusion of caffeine.

The jarring reality of what this world would look like if we didn’t have a Savior able to empathize with our weakness, though, was a thought that lingered with me long after my mistake.

What if Jesus was a harsh Savior?
What if He cracked a whip over our backs every day?
What if He couldn’t or wouldn’t understand how susceptible we are to sin?
What if He didn’t come looking for us when we’re lost and alone?
What if He couldn’t care less about our pain?

What if He only cared about how low we’d go when He passed by, and wonder if it was never low enough?

What if Jesus looked the other way when we were tempted, or tearful, or tested beyond our ability to resist? What would life look like for us then? And wonder if we had no choice but to serve Him. Wonder if we hated Him, and He us, what would that do to us? What kind of life would we live then?

Today, I’m eternally thankful for a baby born in a manger, and that His birth was a divine act of mercy; that He grew up understanding a sacrifice would be necessary, and that He was willing to make it for me. I’m thankful that when I cry out, Jesus listens and not only listens, but understands and responds.

In the courtroom of heaven one day, I will have Jesus standing and defending me. How grateful I am for that promise that He will never leave me, never forsake me.

Today, I’m grateful for a high priest who is able to empathize with my weaknesses–for admittedly, they are legion. This reality is my only hope for my future.

How about you?  Are you glad for a Savior who understands?

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5 Reasons We Should Forgive Our Offenders

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes be not burned? Proverbs 6:27

I’ve been thinking a lot about healing lately. How it happens. When we’re ready. What we’ll bring to Jesus when the time is right.

The time has to be right, right?

Healing can’t come on a whim. Troubles must proceed it. The hard of life has to take the wind out of our sails before we are ready to close our lips and open our minds to the opinions of the One who matters most.

People don’t like to admit that they are powerless over much of life, but they are. What they’re not powerless over, and this is significant, is their decision-making.

It seems to me the most powerful decision we can ever make, aside from trusting Jesus as Savior, is the decision to forgive our offenders.

Not forgive and forget. I didn’t say that.

To forget the grief visited upon us by others spells trouble and recidivism to me, so let’s not forget the wounds they’ve inflicted or how they held the knife as the blade went in. But let’s take some serious steps to reclaim the emotional balance we had before they acted to hurt us.  We need to forgive our offenders, and here’s why.

FIVE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD FORGIVE OUR OFFENDERS

1. THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO. Our offenders often don’t understand the damage they are doing to themselves when they come against us. If they did, they would never dare to do it. And here’s the thing: we don’t have to worry about their discipline or punishment. We will benefit most from keeping in mind that they don’t understand, and we can’t make them understand. Only God can make a person understand their own sinful condition. (Luke 23:34)

2. WE DON’T DESERVE TO BE MISERABLE FOREVER. Holding onto hurts of the past will only make us miserable, especially when those who have harmed us are no longer a threat to our lives. If we or they have relocated, or they’ve left this earth, we do ourselves a favor by releasing them to God. He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on him, because they trust in Him. (Isaiah 26:3)

3. IF WE DON’T FORGIVE, NEITHER WILL WE BE FORGIVEN. It’s God ruling in this world, and one of His fondest wishes for his children: that we be agents of grace. Mercy afforded to our offenders displays faith in God. Do we trust Him to give us what we need, including the ability to forgive big and small hurts, or do we want our offenders to rot in hell forever? If the latter is true, we might need to examine our motives and desires. God doesn’t want that, not even for the worst of our offenders, so we need to not want it either. (Matthew 6:15)

4. TIME IS SHORT AND FORGIVENESS IS SWEET. The truth is that holding onto bitterness hardens our hearts, and that is the opposite of what God wants for us. Conversely, forgiveness is sweet. It releases us from bitterness and rewards us with a clear conscience toward God. The clock is ticking on our forgiveness from the moment an offense is committed against us. We shouldn’t waste another minute carrying the sorrow of our hurts. The sooner we surrender the offense to Jesus, the greater our time to walk free of the killing power of hatred, for which the Lord Jesus died. (James 4:14)

5. WE NEED FREEDOM VS BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW. Unforgiveness builds walls that close in those who have already gone through tremendous loss…loss of trust, loss of safety, and loss of innocence. We view the act of remembering our offenses as our right and the only way to protect ourselves. God sees it differently. He sees unforgiveness as bricks built without straw. They’re formed through hard labor, with the result being that we’re robbed of the freedom Jesus came to proclaim and secure as our birth right in Him. What would you give to walk free of your offender and the resentments you’ve carried so long? You can do it. Jesus can help! If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Luke 4:18)

Have you ever carried fire close to your chest?  When have you prayed that God would do whatever is necessary to get someone you love to the point of hardship (and thereby, healing)?

5 IMPORTANT ACTIONS TO TAKE WHEN YOU’RE IN DEEP TROUBLE

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42_7

I had a friend share with me his afflictions this week.  A pipe broke overhead, above his newly remodeled kitchen, causing him to spend two of his banked vacation days making repairs.  Deep called to deep as he fixed one problem only to discover another quickly taking its place.  In his troubles, Psalm 42 seemed to apply.

I’ve been there–in that place where deep calls to deep and troubles multiple like blow flies around a nasty pool of stagnant water.  Blow follows blow, until misfortunes “come not in single file, but in battalions.” Do you know what I mean?

All your waves and breakers have swept over me, the Psalmist wrote.

Those waves and breakers can do more damage than the strongest tornado, destroy more property that the most powerful tsunami, and send us thrashing into the murky flow of a Mississippi delta at flood stage, were it not for God holding us back.  The only wise response to such an occurrence is prayer, because the truth is…

Discipline does come to us from the Lord sometimes.
Difficult things do happen.
We sometimes invite the rod of correction to snap across our back.
Pipes break, but more disconcerting than broken pipes are broken lives!

What should our response be when deep calls to deep and the flood is threatening to pull us under?

David’s response to trouble, observed by the Psalmist, was to remember the Lord and the good times of the past. This is an important part of God’s remedy for deep pain, especially when it comes at his command. If He sends the troubles, he can sweep them away. Make sense?

During his difficult time, David remembered—brought together in his memory—that relationship he had always shared with the Lord. He acted out of his memories concerning God in five important ways.

FIVE IMPORTANT ACTIONS TO TAKE WHEN YOU’RE IN DEEP TROUBLE

When in deep trouble, David did this:

1. He remembered God’s goodness.
2. He recalled the joy of better times.
3. He recounted the depth of God’s unfailing love.
4. He honestly expressed his grief and sorrow.
5. He prayed, believing that God would hear and help in his distress.

David may not have always done the right thing before God, but he was always honest with God about the wrong he had done. David had integrity. Maybe not in the moment. Maybe not even in the short run. But when it mattered, David acted rightly before God, confessing his wrong doings and seeking forgiveness from the One he knew loved him and wanted more than he to have a king sit on the throne that acted justly before and with the people.

How do you “get by” when deep calls to deep in your life?  Can you tell us how prayer and faithfulness, believing God is the Master of Grace, got you through a crisis of trouble in your life? Do tell.

 

Listening to Crowder’s song, Forgiven, we gain a great appreciation for our piece in Christ’s ultimate suffering and the need for forgiveness.  The “deed” may have been done 2,000 years ago, but if it were to be re-enacted today we have assurance from God that the outcome would be the same.

We, humanity, are culpable!

The good news about a bad decision made centuries before we were born is that forgiveness stretches so far.  All the way back to that moment. All the way forward to today.  We have forgiveness from the only One who has the power and authority, even the right to give it–Jesus Christ!

Jesus has never wanted anything more than he wants you

Likewise, our Lord has never longed for anything more than he longs for them.

He set all of creation aside in favor of winning the greater prize. YOU are loved, cherished, redeemed, and forgiven. Remember that today!

When have you been forgiven?  Who do you need to forgive?

 

 

It’s true. I’ve been UN-friended!

What will my response be?

Moping?

Fretting?

Falling into despair?

Truth:  Hurt people, hurt people.

I’ll forgive.

Mend what can be mended, but not by pushing.

Not be shoving or insisting,

That’s manipulation, and I’m not going there.

Love still lives, but I will not force reciprocity.

Following God’s example, the heart offers options:

To love or not love.

Eat or not eat.

To drink the poison down, or trust Him!

Unfriended, and okay with it.

As for processing…

I will write, and pray, and meditate.  It’s my way.

I will also love on…

Facebook cannot kill agape love.

“Today, I choose by my will to wish you good.”

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  John 13:34 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:43 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22 

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.  1 John 4:20 

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 

Have you ever been unfriended or unfollowed on social media? Have you ever been unfriended in life?

 

stubborn donkey

Speaking of stubborn animals…

The story of Balaam’s donkey found in Numbers 22 in the Bible can be a pretty funny one on its face. For the uninitiated, it has some weird elements: a group of Rambo Moabites, a stubborn donkey, an invisible threat, and a Master who sees things others don’t and talks to his animals as if they were answering back.

If you weren’t seeing things from Balaam’s perspective in the story, you’d think him nuts, insane; a crazy kook of a man.

We’re not always good at pegging the origins of our opposition, and we’re not always good at seeing what God’s doing in and through us.

When you read the “rest of the story” concerning Balaam, you begin to see that indecision and greed were two confusing factors for the seer. They can be problems for us too. The bigger issue though, is a matter of spiritual acuity. Are we seeing God for who he really is, or is our image of Him muddled and confused by the trappings of this world?

When things get confusing and we’re struggling to understand, that’s when its time to create a little white space in our lives. We need to add some margin. We need to reevaluate our priorities, and we may need to get quiet before God for a minute or two.

We can do anything for a minute or two, right?

Stop. Breathe. Ponder. Meditate.

Ask!

God, “What’s going on here?”

Be still and know that He is God.

When your mind wanders gently move back to the task at hand-listening.
If a thought won’t leave, surrender it.
If a name has popped into your head, acknowledge it and say a quick prayer, then return.
Keep returning for that whole 60 seconds.
It’s just a minute, right?

In the beginning, as that new habit of meditation is forming, remember:  it’s just one minute.

Today, let’s listen.

Wait. Agree. Obey.

It may be that you have an angel standing in your way, charged with protecting you from you.

Don’t beat the donkey that’s always faithfully served your needs.
Don’t resist the God who’s always loved you well.
Don’t push away the help that has been provided for you, sometimes by hurdles and frustrations.

How many tragic accidents on the highway have been avoided by batteries that were dead, tires that went flat, and starters that wouldn’t ignite?  Maybe delays and frustrations are for our good.

When have you been frustrated in your plans, only to find it a blessing in the end? What do you hate most about waiting?

 

mistake graphic

Mistakes!

We all make ‘em.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe it’s simple human flailing–none of us are perfect, after all.
Maybe we’ve been tripped up by the evil one.
Maybe it’s just a matter of not thinking a situation through.
Maybe it’s the natural tendency of human flesh to screw up.

Oh, Lord, I pray it’s not that last one. As I get older, I’d like to think I’m also getting wiser.

For whatever reason, we all make mistakes.
What we do about them when we make them, is what determines if we land in the win or lose column of life.

What do you do when you make a mistake?

Do you circle back around?
Apologize?
Make restitution where it’s needed?
Quickly go to work cleaning your side of the street?

Do you actively surrender your stumbling and bumbling around to the One who can scrub you clean?

Or do you…

Persist in your error?
Justify what you’ve done?
Become so discouraged by yet another character defect showing up that you run and hide, pull the covers over your head, indulge in self-loathing and throw your hands in the air in defeat?

Last week I made a mistake.
I realized it, owned it, and addressed it.
It was hard, it was embarrassing, and the sting of it is still with me today, but I know that I did what I needed to do and that by and by, like the sting after a wasp attack, the pain will go away. Until then, I’m praying for clarity and depending on God’s grace to get me through.

How about you?

When have you made a mistake? Did you wait for an opportunity to make it right, or apologize right away?

Says Easy, Does Hard

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Matthew 19:19 

This whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business says easy, but does hard, and there’s a reason for that.  Jesus regularly taught principles that rankled people and caused a shift in their perspective.  Jesus’ own disciples, upon hearing him proclaim in the temple that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be one with him, said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Many didn’t, and the herd was thinned that day.

Truth:  There are times when living for Jesus says easy, but does hard!

We often face a struggle of the will when trying to put self in a bottle.  Being creatures with egos, we find it difficult to live out the fullness of this hard teaching about love. This week, though, Jesus has opened my eyes to see the contrast between how we help one another and how the world does it.  In the world, help denotes payback.  Few people who live without Jesus in their heart freely give either love or possessions. Some, but not many. Whereas inside the church, we’re all striving to share selfless love on a daily basis, and not just with church members.  Be it generosity, kindness, toys, or tools—we regularly share with others in ways that meet or exceed the way we take care of ourselves.

Today, if you are finding it hard to love others on the same level as you love you, know, you’re not alone.  We’re all finding it hard, given the day. Here is what I know: The only thing that stretches our Jesus muscles, is lifting Jesus weights.

What part of the Christian journey do you find says easy, but does hard?

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Jonah…try, try again!

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.   Jonah 3:1-5 

There are several things about today’s Bible passage that pique my interest.

First, Nineveh was a large city. Large enough that it took THREE days to walk through it. That’s Big!

Also of interest is the fact that the Ninevites believed Jonah when he finally got around to speaking to them about God and the destruction that was coming. They believed him so thoroughly that they prepared their hearts for punishment, even as they hoped for mercy.

The Ninevites quick decision to take action is impressive, I think. Once they heard what God was planning for them, they immediately stopped their evils ways, confessed their wrongs, and fasted and prayed, going several days without food, nor water.  The king of Nineveh even ordered that the cattle go on a fast with the rest of the city.  Everyone in Nineveh stopped what they were doing and prayed, prayed earnestly, to the God of Jonah, Yahweh.

Can you imagine the noise the cattle made when they’d gone just one day without food or water? The wailing that must have produced–I bet the commotion put goose bumps on arms all over town–and I bet it only intensified after the sun went down!  No sleep for anyone in Nineveh until this sitch had been dealt with properly.  No sleep!

The most amazing thing about this passage for me, though, is the fact that…

God gave Jonah a second chance!

 A second change, people!!!!  How good is our God!

Like Jonah, we let the Lord down, don’t we?

Like Jonah, we run in the opposite direction from His will for us, sometimes.

Like Jonah, we care about our own skin before we care about other’s.

Like Jonah, we find serving God in ways that are relevant to him, troublesome for us.

Like Jonah, we’ve failed God when he’s called us the first time, and like Jonah, we need that second chance. 

Today, if you know anyone like Jonah, will you pray for him or her? Will you ask God to give them a second chance?  Will you ask Him to put them in a spot where they’re motivated to do what He wants them to do, even if that means rough times for them?

Will you pray for their inner fortitude, strength, and faith in the only true God?  If you will, you’ll need fortification to do that job, right?  A touch from God?!  Let’s pray…

Who do you know that is a Jonah, in need of a second chance?  When have you been in need of the same?

 

 

Healing Words Speaking Grace

The following is an excerpt from Cyndy Sherwood’s devotional, Healing Words.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9a

“I have hung my hope on this truth more times than I can count. When I was remembering the horrible abuse of my childhood, his grace was sufficient. Later, when my step-daughter took her life, his grace was sufficient. When my husband had no work, his grace was sufficient. 

It is in the hard times we can most easily see his unlimited resources and his tender heart toward us.  He delights in taking care of us during adversity.  It also gives God pleasure to do great things through unlikely people.  When he accomplishes his work through weak people it reveals his unlimited power.”

Cyndy goes on to talk about grace as “a dynamic expression of the divine personality, rather than as a static attribute of God’s nature,” which is The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible’s definition of grace.  Cyndy believes that when God transfers His power into our lives, then, we get a glimpse of His grace as it was meant to operate in our world.  “When God is working in and through us,” she says, “that is His grace.”

I love Cyndy’s description of grace in her devotional.  It speaks to partnership, and intimacy, and the give-and-take that accompanies demonstrations of God’s grace in my life.

We give our weakness to God and He fills us with His power!

Today, if you’re facing a lion, a bear, or a shadow of fear…so that you’re not sure whether you can finish what God’s given you to do or not, won’t you reach out to Him and ask for a little grace to get you through?

He’s a good, good father, and he love, love, love, loves his kids.  Today, let’s trust God a little bit more in our weakness.

What do you think about grace? How do you define grace in your life?