Archive for November 2010




Assess The Company You Keep

I Corinthians 15: 33 says that Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals. It is the Bible’s way of giving us a stern warning about the folks who we allow to be in our lives. If you keep bad company, the Bible says that your good morals will be corrupted. In other words, you will then become like the people around you…like the company you keep.

Throughout Proverbs, we are given wisdom about what happens when we keep companionship with ungodly people. The result is always unfortunate. Recently, there have been a number of high profile incidents that demonstrate the importance of keeping people who are bad company at a distance in our lives. The more they are in our lives, the more of an opportunity they have to know us, to know our weaknesses, to know where we are vulnerable—the closer they get to us, the more damage they are able to do.

Evaluate the people in your life. Are they good company or are they bad company? If they are not of benefit to you and your walk with the Lord, you probably need to take a serious look at whether or not to allow them to maintain the close proximity they have to you and your life.  Living in the moment, doing what feels good, tolerating bad behavior of others and pleasing the flesh are great ideas spawned by Satan, until you realize God’s ideas are better.  MUCH better.

Add a comment November 30, 2010

Be Generous Everyday Not Just for the Holidays

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:6-8)

Each of us has something to offer. We can give our money and our time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick or lonely, be a volunteer, or be a peacemaker, teacher or minister. We may give unselfishly of our time to our spouse, children or parents. We may choose a service-oriented occupation, or we may just carry on in our everyday professions with integrity and respect for others.

It would seem that the more we give to others, the poorer we become, but just the opposite is true! Service to others brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives in a way that wealth, power, possessions and self-centered pursuits can never match. As Jesus said,

For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing amount, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measurement you use to give — large or small — will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (TLB, Luke 6:38)

Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus’ ministry. As far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrews’ law institutionalized assistance to the poor:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edge of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. (NRSV, Leviticus 19:9-10)

Through service, we give others the things they lack, and we find meaning and fulfillment to our own lives. Both the Old and New Testament writings give many examples of the importance of service and charity:

He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (NAS, Proverbs 14:21)

“Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (TLB, Isaiah 58:10-11)

And the crowds asked [John the Baptist], “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (NRSV, Luke 3:10-11)

But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (NAS, 1 John 3:17)

The Bible tells us to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. We are not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered lives. This is never made clearer than in Matthew 25:31-46. A greedy, miserly life leaves us devoid of anything but an empty craving for more possessions, more power or more status.

He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (NAS, Proverbs 28:27)

It is not necessary to be a wealthy philanthropist or a full-time volunteer to make a meaningful contribution. Rather, we should give generously of whatever wealth and abilities we have, no matter how small the amount.

And [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (NAS, Luke 21:1-4)

Finally, our good deeds should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others. Public recognition should not be the goal.

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (NIV, Matthew 6:1-2)

Each of us has something to give. Some have wealth, some have talents, some have time. Whatever gifts we have been given — large or small — we should share generously. When we do, we make the world better for someone else and find true meaning and satisfaction in our own lives.

Add a comment November 26, 2010

Are You Wondering What Your Purpose in Life Is?

The Bible is very clear as to what our purpose in life should be. Men in both the Old and New Testaments sought for and discovered life’s purpose. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, discovered the futility of life when it is lived only for this world. He gives these concluding remarks in Ecclesiastes: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Solomon says that life is all about honoring God with our thoughts and lives and thus keeping His commandments, for one day we will stand before Him in judgment. Part of our purpose in life is to fear God and obey Him.

Another part of our purpose is to see life on this earth in perspective. Unlike those whose focus is on this life, King David looked for His satisfaction in the time to come. He said, “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:15). To David, full satisfaction would come on the day when he awoke (in the next life) both beholding God’s face (fellowship with Him) and being like Him (1 John 3:2).

In Psalm 73, Asaph talks about how he was tempted to envy the wicked who seemed to have no cares and built their fortunes upon the backs of those they took advantage of, but then he considered their ultimate end. In contrast to what they sought after, he states in verse 25 what mattered to him: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (verse 25). To Asaph, a good rapport with God mattered above all else in life. Without that connection, life has no real purpose.

The apostle Paul talked about all he had achieved religiously before being confronted by the risen Christ, and he concluded that all of it was like a pile of manure compared to the excellence of knowing Christ Jesus. In Philippians 3:9-10, Paul says that he wants nothing more than to know Christ and “be found in Him,” to have His righteousness and to live by faith in Him, even if it meant suffering and dying. Paul’s purpose was knowing Christ, having a righteousness obtained through faith in Him, and living in fellowship with Him, even when that brought on suffering (2 Timothy 3:12). Ultimately, he looked for the time when he would be a part of the “resurrection from the dead.”

Our purpose in life, as God originally created man, is 1) glorify God and enjoy fellowship with Him, 2) have good relations with others, 3) work, and 4) have dominion over the earth. But with man’s fall into sin, fellowship with God is broken, bonds and relationships with others are strained, work seems to always be frustrating, and man struggles to maintain any semblance of dominion over nature. Only by restoring fellowship with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can purpose in life be rediscovered.

The purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We glorify God by fearing and obeying Him, keeping our eyes on our future home in heaven, and knowing Him intimately. We enjoy God by following His purpose for our lives, which enables us to experience true and lasting joy—the abundant life that He desires for us.

Add a comment November 25, 2010

Denounce Gossip

In the Bible, Proverbs has much to say on the subject of gossip and how destructive careless talk can be. A gossip betrays a confidence (Proverbs 11:13), so avoid a man who talks too much (Proverbs 20:19). A gossip separates close friends (Proverbs 16:28). Without gossip a quarrel dies down (Proverbs 26:20). He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity (Proverbs 21:23).

Paul was afraid that when he returned to the Christians in Corinth he would find “quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20). Paul had to deal with similar problems amongst the Christians in Rome. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers… they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them” (Romans 1:29-32). James 1:26 says that anyone who does not keep a tight reign on his tongue deceives himself and his religion is worthless. It’s worth reading James 3:1-12 on the subject of ‘Taming the Tongue’ which shows how destructive the tongue can be. Verse 9 concludes that “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness… My brothers this should not be.” Jesus said: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

Gods word is therefore very clear in denouncing gossip as un-Christian. We know that whatever is not of faith is sin, and anything that causes division amongst Christians is of the Devil. Christians not only have a duty to refrain from gossip, but also to denounce it. Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind, and it may be that you need to disassociate yourself from these people, but first speak to them about their conduct, and try to help them see the error of their ways. Stand by your Christian principles and pray they might come to their senses.

Here is an interesting insight I found in a book written by Naomi Alderman who grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hendon, London: “Our sages warn us often against the perils of gossip: ‘lashon hara’ which means, literally, an evil tongue. Certainly, it is forbidden to spread false tales. Is this not bearing false witness – an action forbidden in the ten utterances from Mount Sinai? And as it is forbidden to speak false tales, so it is forbidden to listen to them, for he who speaks and he who listens both sin against the name of the Lord. One of our sages rebuked a woman who had spread gossip. He gave her a pillow and instructed her to take it to the top of the highest building in town and shake out its feathers to the four winds. The woman did so. Then the sage said to her, “Now go and gather up all of those feathers which you have scattered.” The woman cried out that the task was impossible. “Ah,” said the sage, “how much easier, though, than gathering up the tales you have spread.” Easier to cause a mountain to skip like a lamb than to retrieve an evil story once it has passed the guard of our lips.”

Fantastic advice!

Add a comment November 21, 2010

Allow Jesus to Transform Your Heart Instead of Satan

Reasons to love your enemies:


God commands us to love.


Here are some key Scriptures (Bible verses) on loving your enemies:


A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).


But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).


Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14).


We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it (1 Corinthians 4:12).


Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).


Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble (1 John 2:9-10).

 

Our highest calling is to spread the Gospel and help others grow in Christ.

We should be passionately concerned about introducing people to Jesus. Along the same lines, we should be passionately concerned about other believers’ spiritual welfare.


Study “dissensions” in Galatians 5:19-21 and Romans 13:13.


By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).


But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

Jesus loved His enemies. Make Him your example.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34).


Hints to help you love your enemies


Realize that you may have misinterpreted the other person’s words.
He or she may be distracted.
He or she may be busy.
He or she may be going through a personal crisis.
He or she may be sick or exhausted.
Realize that you may be right: The other person may be your enemy.
However, if someone insults you or dislikes you, respond in a Christ-like manner. Don’t take things personally or give in to hurt feelings and let your emotions control you. Instead, see the other person as someone with a problem who needs God’s help and your prayers.

Determine what part you played in the problem.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

See problems as opportunities to grow in Christ.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).


Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).


That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Forgive . . . even if your enemy does not apologize.

Follow Jesus’ example: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
Follow Stephen’s example: Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60).

Pray for your enemies.

When you feel irritated about someone:
Pray for the other person’s needs.
Pray that God will help you forgive.
Pray that God will help you love him or her.
Evaluate your love for your enemies


How well do you practice the following verses?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).


Score yourself from 0-10 on each of the following.
“0” means, “I need a lot of improvement.”
“10” means, “I’m great at this.”


____ I am patient.
____ I am kind.
____ I do not envy.
____ I do not boast.
____ I am not proud.
____ I am not rude.
____ I am not self-seeking.
____ I am not easily angered.
____ I keep no record of wrongs.
____ I do not delight in evil.
____ I rejoice with the truth.
____ I always protect.
____ I always trust.
____ I always hope.
____ I always persevere.
____ My love never fails.

Did you get a passing score?  If not, ask God in the name of His son Jesus Christ to help you make some well needed changes in your actions toward others

Add a comment November 19, 2010

Get Rid of That Unforgiving Spirit!

In the book, An Invitation to Healing (Chosen Books, 2001), author Lynda Elliott writes, When I was in my twenties I was badly hurt by a neighbor. For months, I replayed the hurtful scene in my mind, talking about it often with a friend. As I expressed my feelings over and over, my pain became deeper and more invasive. It was becoming a part of me.

One day as Lynda relived the scene again, her friend asked, do you know we become like the people we think about most? Lynda says the Lord used that question as a wake up call. She says, I had a choice to make. If I choose to behold Jesus, to focus on Him, I could be transformed into His image. Likewise, if I continued to behold the image of my neighbor, I could be transformed into her image. In fact, that was already happening. Lynda’s choice involved forgiving her neighbor. She reminds us that forgiving those who hurt us does not mean they go unpunished. It means that we step aside and allow the Lord to deal with punishment. If we are going to leave the matter in Gods hands, we must decide to trust Him. God does not take the hurts of his children lightly. If He says He will repay, He will repay.

 The recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. offer Americans this same choice. We can choose to focus on the men who planned and executed the awful attacks, or we can offer forgiveness, and allow our Lord to handle the punishment. While we seek justice, let us be careful to maintain a proper focus, least we become like the evil men who inflicted this hurt on our nation.

What was your response the last time someone hurt you? Perhaps you felt the urge to retaliate. Maybe you took no action, but instead harbored bitterness in your heart. If so, you failed to realize that you do great damage to yourself when you have an unforgiving spirit. Failure to forgive is a devastating form of self-punishment—a destructive landmine in the path of the believer. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” It sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?

Yet, you and I know the truth that, though it’s simple, it’s not necessarily easy. When someone commits a terrible offense against you—no matter whether the hurt came by way of words or deeds—forgiveness can be terribly difficult. The enemy will entice you to be so angry that you take revenge. As a mature believer, however, you must avoid the enemy’s landmine and choose the peace of forgiveness as Christ has shown you.

Ephesians 4:26–32 Scriptural Principles:

1. The definition of Unforgiveness. If you want to understand Unforgiveness, you must first know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the willingness to give up your resentment toward someone who has wronged you, regardless of how serious or painful that wrong might have been. In other words, you renounce any desire to get even. We can identify three elements to forgiveness: to give up resentment about the wrong; to give up resentment toward the wrongdoer; and to give up plans for retaliation. Forgiveness is more than just saying some words; it must come from the heart. Unforgiveness, on the other hand, is a deliberate mindset to do the opposite—to resent the wrong and the wrongdoer, and to seek revenge. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul associates Unforgiveness with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. It is hard to understand why anyone would choose those painful attitudes over tenderness, gentleness, and a forgiving spirit. However, many people today are physically ill because they do just that. They live day by day, year by year, with the cancer of an unforgiving heart.

2. The description of Unforgiveness. The unforgiving heart clings to the past, refusing to extend to others what our heavenly Father has extended to us. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle insists upon our “forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” As a result of a resentful attitude, there will be certain negative consequences in the life of an unforgiving person. One of the most significant repercussions is that bitterness takes root in the heart, and then it spreads its poison to choke out every godly trait there. The truth is that people choose to be unforgiving—it is a deliberate decision and a self-inflicted pain. We carry the illusion that other people have caused our misery, but in reality, we have elected to take on a form of self-imposed bondage. It is a spiritual “acid” that eats through the spirit within us. Few people realize the terrible effects of Unforgiveness.

3. The disobedience of Unforgiveness. This root of bitterness will keep you from being the person God wants you to be, and prevent you from carrying out His will for your life. The refusal to forgive is an act of pride and rebellion—deliberate disobedience to the Word of God. When He taught His disciples to pray, Jesus added, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:9-15). This does not mean the believer loses his salvation, but it does indicate God will hold him accountable—there will be discipline. We are never given the right to harbor an unforgiving spirit. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus teaches us that we must forgive “seventy times seven,” which means we must always forgive. Paul, too, writes that we should bear with one another and forgive one another because, in the same way, God has forgiven us. All of these passages from God’s Word make it very clear that Unforgiveness is never an option for the committed believer.

4. The destruction of Unforgiveness. Mark 11:25-26 What are the consequences of an unforgiving spirit? Jesus teaches us that God wants to answer our prayers, but that we must first forgive others. If we don’t, it will make us bitter and will affect our prayer life. Likewise, our worship will be affected. Jesus teaches us that when we are in conflict, we are to stop—even in the middle of our worship—and go to set matters right. Our witnessing, our giving, and our overall spiritual growth are terribly weakened by a heart that carries bitterness. Every other aspect of life is affected as well. When we are loaded down with stress, anxiety, and resentment, physical illness may result. Finally, because others don’t enjoy being around bitter people, our relationships are poisoned.

5. Dealing with Unforgiveness. To confront an unforgiving spirit, the first requirement is to take it seriously and assume full responsibility for our own decisions and actions. We acknowledge Unforgiveness as a sin and confess it honestly to God. The next step is to lay our anger down—strip it away—because then we can ask God’s forgiveness. After that, we should begin praying for the other person. If that person has been aware of our bitterness, we should go to them and ask their forgiveness. We can live out God’s grace by asking Him to show us something we can do on that person’s behalf—serving them instead of resenting them. Finally, we prevent the devil from trapping us again by refusing to rehash the same old issue or allowing the bitterness to seep back in. This debt must be forgiven and canceled in the same way our sins are.

6. Demonstrating forgiveness. Some Christians believe they have forgiven the person that’s wronged them, but the roots of bitterness are still deep in their hearts. So how can you know you have truly forgiven someone? There are two indications that you have been obedient to Christ in this area. First, you know you have forgiven when your feelings toward the other person have changed. When you see him or her, you will be aware that the resentment is gone. Second, you know your forgiveness is genuine when you feel concern for the other person—you care about his or her spiritual welfare and you want what is best for him or her.

Forgiveness, after all, is the real issue isn’t it? Actions of yesterday, last week, or even decades ago that are a cause for retaliation today, and, likely, tomorrow and who knows how much longer. Maybe forever. The hurt, the anger, the resentment, the hatred run so deep. Will they ever get past it?

Ah, but then how many of us have also been hurt and have found it hard to forgive? Divorce, abuse, humiliation, being robbed, getting fired, being taken advantage of or stabbed in the back. People have hurt us. It seems so hard to forgive. People tell us, “This is going to consume you. Come on, get past it. Forgive. Forget.”And we reply, “I would like to, but I can’t.” Why is that?

Why do we find it so hard to forgive?

When people wrong us it is like a debt that they now owe us. You could say they have robbed us. Love, joy, dignity, respect, and self-worth are things that people “steal” from us. They do this through abuse, gossip, taking advantage of, backstabbing, ridiculing, neglecting, cheating, leading us on, rejecting us and so on.

One theologian, Timothy Keller, suggests that our ability to forgive depends on the amount of emotional wealth we have. In other words, if I have a vast reservoir of self-worth or dignity or joy, someone might gossip about me, verbally assault me or walk out on me and I can say, “That’s okay. I forgive him. There is plenty more where that came from.”

Thus our lack of forgiveness is not a matter of stubbornness but of emotional poverty. This then forces the question: Why am I so emotionally impoverished that I cannot forgive? What would it take for me to become a forgiving person?

As far as I can see it is simple: Experiencing forgiveness.

1. Showing kindness to an aged person.

2. Destroying a letter written in anger.

3. Offering an apology that will save a friendship.

4. Stopping a scandal that was ruining a reputation.

5. Helping a boy or girl find themselves.

6. Taking time to show consideration to parents, friends, brothers and sisters.

7. Refraining from gossip when others around you like it.

8. Refusing to do a thing which is wrong, although others do it.

9. Living according to your convictions.

10. Accepting the judgment of God on any question.

I have discovered how God blesses us when we choose to forgive others. He removes all the baggage of resentment, malice, and wrath that weighs us down. Then, all the goodness of His righteousness can come flooding into our spirits and our lives can be as joyful and fulfilling as He created them to be. What about the person who wronged you? Let God sort that out. He is righteous, sovereign, and just. In time, even the one who wronged you will stand before God in judgment. Your responsibility is simply to let go of all resentment—owing no one anything except the ongoing debt of love. Unforgiveness may explode slowly, but it destroys us just the same. Through the power and grace of the Lord Jesus, however, we can be free from its terrible devastation—free from old grudges to walk in peace, joy, and victory.

Add a comment November 17, 2010

Silent Treatment is Plain Ignorant! Forgive!

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-18:35

This week I heard about a man who really loved dogs. He devoted his life to them ¬ he read about them, studied them, and even gave talks about them to other dog lovers. One day he decided to pour a new sidewalk in front of his house. His neighbor watched from his window as he smoothed out the last square foot of cement.

Just then, a large dog appeared and walked through the fresh cement, leaving paw prints behind. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the damage.

He then went inside to get some twine so he could put up a fence around the sidewalk. But, when he got back outside, he discovered some more dog tracks in his fresh cement. He smoothed out the cement and put up the fence.

He then went into the house. Five minutes later he looked outside and saw some more paw prints. He was really mad now. He got out his trowel and smoothed the cement one more time. As he got back to his porch, the dog reappeared and sat right in the middle of the sidewalk.

He went inside, grabbed his gun and shot the dog dead. The neighbor rushed over and said, “Why did you do that? I thought you loved dogs.” The man thought for a minute and said, “I do, I do like dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete.”

That’s how many of us feel about our theme for this morning. We love to hear about forgiveness in the abstract, but when it hits close to home, we hate it in the concrete.

Relational viruses attack every relationship.

Tensions arise.
Wrongs are done.
Lies are told.
Trust is broken.

Relationships are built not on a standard of perfection, but on our ability to ask for forgiveness, and on our willingness to extend forgiveness.

If you and I want to have relationships that last for the long haul, then we must be willing to extend forgiveness to others. Here’s another way to say it: “In every relationship you have, you will constantly be called on to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is costly — it’s not easy to ask for forgiveness and it’s certainly not easy to extend forgiveness to those who’ve wronged us.

Forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy and least employ. There are at least two reasons why we struggle with forgiveness:

Forgiveness is not natural. That’s why it’s so hard to do.

Forgiveness is not fair. Our sense of justice wants to be vindicated.

Of all the people in the Bible, Peter stands out as the most mathematical of the disciples. He was a stickler for detail, always trying to pin down the precise meaning of everything Jesus said. Do you remember when Jesus engineered a miraculous catch of fish? It was Peter who sat down and counted each squirming one to find out that they caught 153. If you were to take your Bible and count the number of times that Peter messed up, you’d discover that he needed forgiveness on at least 7 different occasions.

Being a numbers-guy, one day Peter came up to Jesus and asked him a question in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?

Here is Peter trying to figure out a mathematical formula for forgiveness.

We all sometimes allow barriers to keep us from practicing forgiveness. There are at least three things I can think of that can prevent us from forgiving others:

Revenge – “I’m going to get even!”
Resentment – “I’m going to stay angry!”
Remembering – “I’ll never forget!”

Before Jesus could answer, Peter responded to his own question by suggesting that seven times would be a good limit. That’s not a bad answer. The rabbis back then taught that you had to forgive someone three times and then you could retaliate. The fourth time you could do whatever you liked. In fact, they mistakenly taught that God only forgives three times. Peter doubled that and added one for good measure. I think he thought his answer would impress Jesus.

As Jesus often does, his answer to Peter was unexpected and disarming. Take a look at verse 22: “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The crash you hear is Peter hitting the ground in a dead faint. He couldn’t believe his ears! Seventy seven times? (The KJV says that Jesus said seventy times seven that would equal 490 times!)

What Jesus is saying is there is no limit. He just plays off of Peter’s words. I think if Peter would have said eight times, He would have said eighty-eight times as a response.

I. When We Need Forgiveness

Since the truth of forgiveness without limits is hard for us to grasp, Jesus told a story to help illustrate what He meant. In the first half of the story, Jesus deals with those of us who need forgiveness. Here he gives us some practical help for those times when we’ve wronged someone and stand in need of his or her forgiveness.

In the second half, He targets those of us who need to forgive others. We’ll find some practical help for those times when someone has wronged us — when they’re in need of our forgiveness.

Let’s start with verses 23-24: “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him.”

Here’s the picture. The king in the land decided to call in all his debts. He sent out his collection agents and they came back with a man who owed the king a considerable chunk of change. His CPA’s figure that he owed the equivalent of about $25 million ¬ that’s like the entire yearly income for the whole kingdom. We’re not sure exactly how he ran up this kind of debt but it’s clear that he would never be able to repay the king.

Since he couldn’t pay the debt, verse 25 says that, “the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.” The king knew he could never recoup all his losses — he just wanted to get back whatever he could.

At this point, the servant did what most of us would have done. He fell on his knees and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” Even though he could never pay it back, he’s now desperate. He can’t stand the thought of his family being sold because of the debt he ran up.

The king was moved. The Bible says that he was filled with compassion. And, he does something the man doesn’t even ask for. The king not only releases him, he also forgives the debt. This is at great personal cost to the king. By assuming the debt, he allowed it to go unpaid and thus impoverished his treasury. He wipes the slate clean, erases the books, and cancels the debt. Now the man owes him nothing.

This is exactly what forgiveness is all about. To forgive is to cancel the debt. When we’ve wronged someone, and they choose to forgive us, they are in essence saying, “I cancel the debt. The slate has been wiped clean. You don’t owe me anything — I release you from ever having to pay me back.”

I want you to notice that the servant did not deserve this forgiveness; it was purely an act of grace and mercy on the part of the king.

Let me give you three action steps if you’re in need of forgiveness.

1 – Face Your Friend. The first step you need to take if you’re the guilty party is to meet with your friend or foe face-to-face. In Matthew 5:24, Jesus put it this way, “If your brother has something against you…go and be reconciled to your brother.” Is there someone you need to “go” to this week? Anyone you need to call? Do you need to stop over to someone’s house or office?

2 – Own The Wrong. The second step, after you’ve faced your friend, is to own the wrong that has been done. There’s a phrase I hear on the basketball court that I think is applicable here. When someone loses the ball out of bounds or misses a shot, They will often say, “My bad.” It’s their way of saying that it’s no one else’s fault. I messed up. When we mess up in our relationships, Jesus wants us to own the wrong, to say, “My bad.” It’s not enough to just acknowledge a mistake — we need to own it.

Jim Gray, a reporter for NBC sports, took some hits a few years ago after his bombastic interview with Pete Rose. To say the least, he was not very gracious with Mr. Rose. After receiving a lot of phone calls and emails, Jim Gray attempted an apology that really fell far short. This is what he said, “If the fans felt the interview went on too long…then I’m sorry for that.” Did you catch the disclaimers? “If” the fans felt…then I’m sorry. Interestingly, he never apologized to Pete Rose himself. It would have been so refreshing to hear him say, “You know what, I blew it the other night. I was wrong and I ask forgiveness from Mr. Rose and from all the fans. It was my mistake it won’t happen again.”

3 – Ask For Release. After facing your friend and owning the wrong, the next step is to ask for release. I suggest that you actually say the words, “Please forgive me.” If your friend says something like, “It’s no big deal, don’t worry about it,” you might want to say, “I appreciate that, but I need to have your forgiveness. Do you forgive me?” It’s really important to be released from the debt.

Who do you need to face this week? What wrong do you need to own? Do you have the courage to ask for release from the debt?

2. When We Need To Forgive Others

Now, let’s talk about those times when we need to forgive others. Let’s go back to the story. As this humbled man walked away with this wonderful gift of forgiveness, he ran into a friend who owed him some money. It wasn’t a lot of money. In comparison to the $25 million that he had owed the king, it was about 10 bucks. Instead of canceling his friend’s debt, verse 28 says that he grabbed him and began to choke him saying, “Pay back what you owe me!”

We’re a lot like that, aren’t we? When someone does something wrong, we want to see them punished, we want them to pay for the damage they’ve done to us.

Jesus continues by telling us that the forgiven man’s friend fell to his knees and asked for some time. In fact, his plea was almost identical to the other man’s when he was before the king: “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But, there’s one big difference. Instead of forgiving the wrong out of gratitude for the forgiveness he had received, verse 30 says, “he went off and had the man thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.”

Let me pause here in the story to make an practical application. We’re a lot like this man when we don’t forgive others. We enjoy putting people in prison if they’ve wronged us. We want them to suffer, to hurt as bad as they hurt us.

We put people in prison in various ways:

We might use the silent treatment
We may simply avoid them
Or, we may launch a volley of verbal assaults.

Are you holding someone hostage right now? Are you trying to make them feel miserable? Are you determined to punish a friend or family member for something that he or she said to you? If that describes you, let’s pick up the story again to see what happens.

This man made a critical mistake. He threw his friend in prison in broad daylight. Someone saw it happen and reported it to the king. Word got around and soon everyone was talking about it. It wasn’t the fact that the man would not forgive his friend that shocked them. It was that he was so unforgiving after having found such mercy and grace himself.

The king is really ticked off now. He sends his soldiers to bring the man before him. Notice verses 32-34: “You wicked servant. I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master turned him over to the torturers until he paid back all he owed.” This guy had a $25 million debt forgiven. Shouldn’t he have done the same for someone who owed him 10 lousy bucks?

Let me say this strongly. What happened to that man will happen to each one of us unless we learn to forgive and forgive and forgive. The torturers will come and take us away if we don’t extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

What torturers, you ask? The hidden torturers of anger and bitterness that eat at your soul. The torturers of frustration and malice that give you ulcers, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and lower back pain. The hidden torturers that make you lie awake at night stewing over every wrong that someone has done to you. The torturers of an unforgiving heart who stalk you day and night, who never leave your side, who suck every bit of joy out of your life. Why? Because you will not forgive from your heart.

While we often try to punish and imprison those who hurt us, the reverse actually happens. When we don’t forgive we end up being tortured. Do you know where the worst prison is in the entire world? It’s the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we nurture feelings of bitterness we are little better than inmates of an internal concentration camp.

Many of us lock ourselves in a lonely isolation chamber, where we are tortured incessantly, walled in by bitterness and our own refusal to forgive. When we chose to not forgive, we are imprisoned in the past and locked out of all potential for change. Have you ever noticed that some of the most miserable people in the world are those who are unwilling to forgive others?

Did you hear about the two men who were in a nursing home and had been quarreling for years? One of the guys thought he was on his deathbed so he called his foe over to his bed and said, “John, I forgive you for what you have said and done against me over the years, and I want you to do the same for me.”

The other man, with tears in his eyes, agreed that he too would like to forgive and be forgiven. Then the man in the bed said, “But if I get better, this doesn’t count!”

Don’t put off forgiveness. Don’t allow the root of bitterness to grow into a tree of hatred and resentment. Hebrews 12:15 challenges us to not miss the grace of God so that “…no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

If we don’t forgive, we remain bound to the people we cannot forgive, held in their vise grip. And yet, many of us persist in demanding that others act in a way that we ourselves can never achieve. Lewis Smedes has said, “When I genuinely forgive, I set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner I set free was me.”

The Bible says that when we wrong someone, we are to go and meet face-to-face. Not surprisingly, the Bible is also clear on what to do when someone has wronged us. Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus put it this way in verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” If someone has wronged you, you have the responsibility to go to him or her and work it out.

When You Need to Forgive:

      A. Meet face-to-face
      B. Point out the wrong
      C. Release him or her

Jimmy Carter ran for president of the United States against Ronald Reagan in 1980. According to David Wallis in the New York Times Magazine, prior to a televised debate between the two candidates, columnist George Will came upon Carter’s debate notes and sneaked them to the Reagan camp. Many pundits felt that Reagan won that debate, and he went on to win the election. Carter did not forget what George Will had done to him. In a 1997 interview with Wallis, Carter said:

I was teaching on forgiveness one day at church, and I tried to go through my memory about people for whom I had resentment. Goerge Will was one of those people, so I wrote him a note. I asked myself, what do we have in common, and I had known that he had written a book about baseball, which I refused to read. I went to a bookstore and found a remaindered copy. Paid a dollar for it. So I wrote him a note and told him the facts’ that I had a feeling of resentment toward him, that I had found his book delightful and I hoped that we would be permanently reconciled.

He wrote me back a nice, humorous note. He said his only regret was that I didn’t pay full price for his book. Anyone can hold a grudge. It takes character to initiate reconciliation.

You’re covered either way. If you’ve messed up and hurt someone, Jesus says to you, “Go, and face your friend, own the wrong, and ask for release.” If someone has wronged you, instead of making him or her pay, or throwing him or her in prison, Jesus says to you, “Go and face your friend, point out the wrong, and then release him or her from it.”

To forgive is a process of giving up. That’s exactly what the word forgiveness means — it means, “to give” to someone by releasing them from debt. It’s like saying, “You did something that really hurt me. But I care enough about you to meet face-to-face. And now, I release you from all obligation to ever pay me back. I forgive you completely.” When we cancel the debt, we give up demands for perfect behavior, perfect justice, and perfect retribution. When we extend forgiveness, we begin to experience the truth that all of us are fallible humans in need of being forgiven ¬ and in desperate need of grace.

I really like this one sentence definition that I heard recently: Forgiveness is like meeting someone for the first time. That means there’s no baggage. No history. No grudges. No hidden resentments. To forgive means to start over by giving people a fresh start. In short, to forgive is to give grace to another ¬ and freedom to ourselves.

When you and I forgive someone, we slice away the wrong from the person who did it. We disengage the person from his hurtful act. We can then think of him not as the person who hurt us, but a person who needs us. We recreate our past by recreating the person whose wrong made our past painful.

Colossians 3:13 says: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We can tolerate those who irritate us, and forgive our friends and family members when they wrong us, precisely because Jesus has forgiven us. Since those of us who have received Christ as our Savior have been forgiven for so much, then, out of gratitude, we should practice unlimited forgiveness in all our relationships.

3 Reasons to Forgive

Because we’ve received grace and forgiveness

An unforgiving spirit inflicts torment

Forgiveness frees people – including ourselves

Application: Where are you today? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness? Have you wronged a friend or family member? If so, determine to face your friend, own the wrong, and ask for release.

Do you need to give someone the gift of forgiveness? Are you tired of living with the venom of an unforgiving spirit? Are your grudges structuring your total outlook on life? If so, cancel that debt today. Restore that friendship by being a grace-giver.

Do you need God’s forgiveness? Have you ever come face to face with God, owned your sin, and then asked Him for release? You need to do it, if you haven’t already done so — forgiveness is our deepest need and God’s highest achievement. Once you experience God’s forgiveness, you’ll be better equipped to forgive others.

C.S. Lewis has said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Ernest Hemingway loved to write about the country of Spain. In his short story, The Capital of the World, Hemingway tells of a father and son who had stopped talking to one another. Things got so bad that the son left home. After several years, the father wanted to mend the relationship and so he looked everywhere for his son. When he came to the capital city of Madrid, he decided to go to the newspaper office and take out a big ad in the newspaper that said this: “Paco, please meet me at 12 noon tomorrow in front of the newspaper office — all is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.”

The next day at 12 noon, there were 800 men named Paco standing in front of the building! I suspect we have some Paco’s reading this in need of forgiveness. We also have some who need to give the gift of forgiveness to others.

Forgiveness Inventory

Let’s take some time to do a Forgiveness Inventory. Don’t finish reading this without making a decision that can radically change your life — and the quality of your friendships.

Do you need to ask forgiveness from someone? Can you think of a person right now? Is there someone you’ve wronged and you haven’t owned up for it? Are you ready to make the decision to go to that person and make things right? If so, would you please raise your hand?

Do you need to extend forgiveness to someone? Have you been nursing a grudge? Are you giving someone the silent treatment? Are you ready to forgive the debt? If so, would you please raise your hand?

Do you need to admit your sins to a holy God and receive His forgiveness? If you haven’t done so, now is the right time. The cost of our sins is more than we can pay. The gift of our God is more than we can imagine. If you are ready to receive the gift of divine forgiveness this morning, bow your head and tell God so he can begin blessing your life.

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