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Tag Archives: Forgiveness

When Facing an Enemy, Remember This…

When I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car almost 25 years ago, one day someone in the office took lunch orders for sub sandwiches and made a run for the whole gang. When I saw the bag full of subs, I grabbed mine and took a bite.

Except it wasn’t mine. It was the sub marked for our assistant manager, Mike. Mike was a cocky, good-looking guy who thought he was all that, busy climbing the Enterprise ladder. He was not much into grace.

So…when he found out I had taken a bite out of his sandwich, he was hot, and he looked at me like I was dumber than a toothpick. And ever after that, he treated me just that way. You know how when someone treats you like an idiot, you end up acting like one? Yeah, that was me. Mike made me nervous, and therefore fouling up got easier and easier around him.

Once I asked him a question about a particular procedure. He replied: “That’s a dumb question. Don’t ask dumb questions.”

Any questions?

Eventually I was transferred to another office, and we lost contact. Some time later I heard through the grapevine that he was demoted…or passed over for promotion, or something along those lines. Whatever it was, he and Enterprise parted ways.

Time passed, and one day at the office, I got a call for a rental…from Mike. I remember the sense that things weren’t going so well for him (surprise, surprise), and I think he needed some sort of a favor in the rental deal. It was within my purview to grant it, and I did. Then, realizing that he hadn’t been so kind to me in the past, he expressed surprise at my helpfulness. I don’t remember how I responded, but Mike knew I was a Christian.

Hopefully he connected the dots.

Maybe you have had an enemy like Mike at the office…or in the neighborhood…or in your own family. If so, you know they can definitely make life horrible. And if you’re going through life facing an enemy lately, I have a thought from Scripture that might just help you to respond like Christ.

It’s a line from the song Moses sang before he departed from the Children of Israel…

For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves. Deuteronomy 32:31 (ESV)

By themselves. Isn’t that stark? Your enemy may be after you, but he or she is…all alone. I think of that classic lyric by Eric Carmen, in his song, All by Myself:

Livin’ alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t wanna be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t wanna live, all by myself anymore

If you are a Christian facing an enemy, you do not face him alone; you have the Rock! And conversely, no matter how powerful he seems, he is still all by himself. And if it is a group of folks plotting your demise, they receive no supernatural help. All alone…in a cold, dark world. How sad and broken. How hopeless. How much they need Christ.

How much we all do.

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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How a God of Vengeance Discourages Violence

Imagine this horrific scenario: it is the first century A.D. and you are out laboring in the fields while your family is safely at home…so you think. But upon returning home, you find them murdered by Emperor Nero’s minions for the simple crime of following Christ. Now, understandably, filled with a storm of anger and wrath, you determine to assassinate as many Roman soldiers as you can. What will hold you back? What will keep your anger in check? Isn’t it true that the only thing that will keep you from violence in the face of such a horrific event would be knowing that someone else would take vengeance?

So, there are many today who call for non-violence, at the same time foolishly saying that the idea of a judging God is primitive and that the “true” God is himself “non-violent”. They don’t like chapter 16 of Revelation. For instance…

And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” Revelation 16:5-6 (ESV)

Indeed, one of the main reasons God gave Revelation to the early church was to encourage persecuted Christians that He would take righteous vengeance on their enemies. Miroslav Volf comments, in his work Exclusion and Embrace

“My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”

 

For Thursday, Christmas Eve, Revelation 17

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Did Jesus Say About Sexual Sin?

There seems to be a line of thought in the church that says sex outside of marriage is a small thing, just a peccadillo. It’s almost as if people think, “Yeah, it’s wrong, but God’s not that concerned about it – He’s got bigger fish to fry.” I’m not sure where this idea comes from. Perhaps people think that this was the stance that Jesus took in the gospels with prostitutes and other struggling sinners, in other words, that He didn’t really care about their sin. Actually, however, He cared a lot about their sin, and it was His love for the people themselves that drove this care and concern. Jesus was gentle and caring toward those involved in sexual sin, and yet we can’t forget the message He gave the woman caught in adultery: “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11 ESV)

In reality, we need to think differently about the issue depending on who is engaging in it. There is a stance we take toward people inside the church who are caught up in this sin, and there is a stance we take with those outside the church. The Apostle Paul clarifies this…

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality… 1 Corinthians 5:9 -11 (ESV)

Paul is expressing a version of an important truth: Never expect Christian behavior from non-Christians. But…what should we expect from those who claim the name of Christ? In short, we should expect from Christians a striving toward holiness – to be sure, a faltering striving toward holiness but a striving in that direction nonetheless. Where there is no striving toward purity and holiness, we must firmly and lovingly call the sinner to repentance. If they will not repent, we are to help them see that they are likely not Christians at all.

To more fully understand Jesus’ view of sexual sin, we need to look in another place besides the gospels: the Apostle John recorded the Lord Jesus’ words on the wickedness of sexual immorality in Revelation chapter 2…

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20 – 23 (ESV)

I think we can safely say that sexual sin is not a small matter at all to Jesus. In fact, there really are no “small sins”. Like other sin, sexual immorality separates people from God, and even more than that, Paul tells us that it carries a penalty that other sin apparently doesn’t…

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)

In the end, we do well to remember that though Jesus speaks harshly about sexual immorality and those who partake in it, committing sexual sin of any type is not a bridge too far in terms of His forgiveness. For He is also the One Who died so that sexual sinners might know His love.

And as James Montgomery Boice once said, “When sin hit the high water mark, grace flooded the world.”

 

For Friday, December 5th: Revelation 3

 
 

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Grumbling vs. Grace

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - DECEMBER 17, 2014: The comeback of Prodigal son scene by Josef Kastner the older from 20. cent. in Erloserkirche church.

There is a kind of person who hates grace. It’s not hard to imagine why.

Imagine you graduated from college with a mountain of debt (this won’t be hard for many of us). You work for 10 years to get it all paid off, and the day after you send in the last check, some trillionaire makes an announcement that he wants to pay off all student loans in the U.S.  How do you think you would feel?

I like to think I would be thankful for those who would have their loans written off, but it’s hard to know for sure. The reason we might feel miffed is easy: we worked hard to pay off our loans; someone else got it for free. And in the words of any third grader across the country: “That’s not fair!”

Luke 15 starts with Jesus showing grace to tax-collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes…grumbling. It was their general practice when they saw grace being exercised. They never liked it one bit. After all, they had worked hard for their standing with God, and if the love of God was simply going to be poured out freely on wicked people, maybe all their lawful labor had been for nothing.

The elder brother could relate. He too had worked hard for the Father’s affection, and suddenly his ne’er-do-well prodigal brother was having love lavished on him at no-charge.

One Heart or Another?

In every situation in life, we show ourselves to have one of two kinds of hearts: We can have the heart of the elder brother, or we can have the heart of the Father. The elder brother grumbles demanding retribution and payback, but the heart of the Father grants grace and celebrates sinners who return to Him.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him….And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20 – 24 (ESV)

We look at this situation quite convinced that we would have done better than the elder brother, and maybe so. But the question about what kind of heart we have can never be settled thinking about some amorphous sinner out there that we don’t know, or a collection of former college students who have had their debts paid off by an extremely generous benefactor.

The Final Test

The question about what kind of heart we have must finally be settled by considering how we will relate to someone…who owes us. After all, our Heavenly Father calls us to forgive…as we have been forgiven.

Here is where our hearts will be revealed. Will we be the elder brother demanding payment be made, or will we be the Father who runs with arms outstretched.

Will we grumble…or will we grant grace?

 

For Wednesday, July 22nd: Luke 16

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Poem for a Prostitute

One of the most beautiful stories in the gospels is found in Luke 7, when Jesus attends a dinner party at Simon the Pharisee’s house and a woman of the night shows up. I’m looking forward to preaching this passage in a few days, but in the meantime, my son has introduced me to a poetic style called the diamante. Here is my attempt for this wonderful story…

Invitation

Reclined, Crasher

Weeping, Touching, Kissing

Offense, Prophet?, Woman, Sinner

Teaching, Comparing, Understanding

Forgiven, Loved

Peace

For tomorrow, Friday, July 10th: Luke 8

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How We Are Outwitted By Satan

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We are often confused about the main way the enemy of our souls attacks us.

Now I’m sure that he comes against us in many different ways, all of which I myself do not know; but I think we too often imagine Exorcist-like warfare with crosses held high and twisting heads as in the movie. And while I’ve never seen “The Exorcist” and thus don’t know the music, I think we imagine our warfare with Satan to be set to music like the “Psycho” soundtrack, the now well-known shrieking sound of mainstream slasher movies.

However…in reality, his efforts against us need no such melodramatic tones. Instead, apparently, he just quietly whispers unforgiving thoughts in our ears, and therefore keeps us from reconciling with one another. How subtle and simple and…incredibly destructive.

Paul knew his plans, and so he wrote to the church at Corinth, apparently about the man who had led a revolt against the Apostle himself:

So you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2:7-11 (ESV)

Do you understand what God is saying through the Apostle? It’s this: Be sure to forgive, so you will not be outwitted by Satan.

You see, our enemy needs no loud pulsing music, no twisting heads or bloody knives, no Ouija boards or tarot cards. All he needs is a thought…or two: “She’s acting so nice to you now, but think about how she hurt you.” “Don’t forget what he said.” “I know it happened 10 years ago, but you should never forget the wrongs committed against you.”

And if you buy it, if you listen to him, the enemy will have a foothold in your life to plant a root of bitterness by which you yourself and many others will be defiled (Hebrews 12:15).

I know that some reading this will have encountered horrible injustices in their lives, wrongs committed against them that I can really not imagine. So I do not say forgiveness will be easy. In fact, it is one of the hardest things we ever do, because the only way we can truly grant mercy to someone who has hurt us is to in a sense, pay for their wrongs on our own. If you borrow my car and wreck it, either I make you pay for repairs or I pay myself, but true forgiveness always comes at a cost. Anyone looking at the cross knows that.

Thus, Calvary becomes the source of our forgiveness and the source of our strength to fight against the enemy’s designs. For the One Who said of His crucifiers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), also forgave the likes of us sinners who have trusted in Him.

He only asks of us that we extend the same costly forgiveness to others, and when we do…we crush the plans of the enemy.

For Friday, May 29th: 2 Corinthians 3

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A House of Prayer?

When we think of the temple in ancient Israel, prayer isn’t the first thing that comes to our minds. The Lord Jesus, however, was different: “My House,” he said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “shall be called a house of prayer.” (Matthew 21:13) But the question is why – why did Jesus (and Isaiah) identify prayer as the central focus of this place?

If you’ve been a Christian for some time and have read the Bible through at least once or twice, then you know what this meticulously constructed building was used for in ancient Israel:

It was for sacrifice…not prayer.

  • It was the place that Jesus’ parents brought a pair of turtle doves as a sacrifice for their firstborn.
  • It was the place where the drama of the Day of Atonement happened once a year.
  • And it was the place where throughout the year lambs and goats and bulls were brought to be offered for the sin of God’s people.

The temple was a place of blood, a place of substitution, where one would die so another would not need to.

And all for what?  For forgiveness of sins, of course – the punishment for sins placed on the innocent so the guilty would go free.  And yet, why did sin need to be forgiven?  Answer: because without forgiveness of sins, man could not approach God. Without forgiveness of sins, man could have no fellowship with Yahweh.  Without forgiveness of sins, man was guilty before God and there could be no…prayer.

Musing on this truth leads us to consider the great purpose of life: We are not forgiven simply so we can go to heaven and live in paradise.  We are not forgiven simply so we can spend eternity with loved ones.  No. We are forgiven so that we might come into His presence.  We are forgiven…so that we might experience the joy of prayer. “The chief end of man,” wrote the Westminster divines, “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And according to Jesus in John 17:3, Eternal life is not a great fiesta in the sky, but is to know the Father, and His Son whom He had sent.

And so it is no surprise that when our Lord looked at the temple, he called it the “House of Prayer.”  Prayer is what the temple was meant to bring about.

One last thought: There is no temple today, because the temple and the activities therein were never really able to do what many hoped they might finally do.  The writer of Hebrews explains why:

…In these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:3, 4 (ESV)

Repeatedly coming again and again to offer the various sacrifices, Israelites had a picture of the cleansing of a Substitute, without any final and complete cleansing.  What they really had was a constant reminder of their sinful lives.  And then Jesus went to the cross…

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:12, 14 (ESV)

And now, praise God, perfected once and for all by His single sacrifice at Calvary…we truly can enjoy God.

And we truly can pray.

 

Tomorrow, Friday, January 30th: Matthew 22

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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