The Big “Why” for Practicing Forgiveness

It is tough to live with people whose nature is to bully, abuse, oppress and torment. To live at peace with such people is nearly impossible. Because if this is their nature, they don’t — and they won’t — be sorry for their ill behavior, or try to change.

How do you forgive such people? How do you move past it?

Intriguingly, the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written were under persecution. And likely, this was not just occurring from one group of people, but from two groups of people — both the Jews and the Romans. Socially, the Hebrew Christians were becoming outcasts. And physically, they stood to lose their income, possessions, property and even their lives.

Sadly, many of their brothers and sisters in Christ were leaving the church because that seemed the only way to avoid persecution. So imagine facing stiff opposition while simultaneously feeling like your closest friends and allies were deserting you. It would feel like an act of betrayal.

Yet, the author still tells the believers, “Don’t allow all the bullying and the abuse get to you. They may oppress and, at times, even torment you. And don’t allow your brothers’ and sisters’ betrayal suck the life out of you either.

Whatever steps are necessary to avoid holding a grudge, you should take those steps. Don’t allow your anger to become bitterness. Because bitterness inevitably leads to jealousy, dissension, and even immorality.”

Wow. Talk about a tall order! But the author wasn’t done yet. He pushes the bar still higher: “Be at peace with everyone — including your tormenters. And even when they don’t act right, you still must. You are set apart, and you must show that you are set apart, even when all around you are being unholy.”

But the most important thing is not the “wow!” It’s the “why?”

The author is here to remind us of the why. We are here, he says, to insure that everyone — even our enemy — knows about the grace of God. We are here to help others understand how generous, how forgiving, how merciful our Savior Jesus is. Bitterness and unholiness will only hinder and prevent us from sharing God’s love in Christ — and that just can’t happen!

Peace, forgiveness, holiness and sharing the beautiful message of the gospel is the way to make sure no one falls short of the grace of God.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV).

Lord, help me to have a forgiving heart, as you have a forgiving heart toward me. By your Spirit’s power, rid my heart of bitterness and fill my heart with holiness. Have mercy on me when I fall short. I want to help others know of your grace.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 15, is Ezekiel 28:1 – 29:21, Hebrews 12:14-29 and Psalm 126:1-6.

Header image based on "Why?" by BuzzFarmers, CC By 2.0

Popular But Obsolete and Outdated

Have you noticed how quickly things become obsolete of late? Consider some of the items that became obsolete just in the past decade, for instance.

Remember Palm Pilots? How about dial-up connections to the internet? Or Kodachrome film and getting your photos developed at the local drugstore?

Then there’s Blockbuster and Hollywood video stores, maps that were actually printed on paper and landlines physically connected to the wall. Oh, and don’t forget fax machines, VCR’s and public pay phones.

Yeah. Those are all pretty much a thing of the past. And frankly most of them didn’t have that long of a life span. Interestingly, the book of Hebrews reminds us of another thing that has gone the way of Kodachrome, Blockbuster and Bell Telephone.

What’s been made obsolete is the covenant that says that our relationship with God is based on the law, on our obedience, and on our faithfulness in keeping the traditions and customs of the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews says that this way of approaching God is now a dead letter. It’s archaic and outdated. And really, the author points out, it never worked in the first place.

Yet, any honest assessment would say that this is still the most popular way of building a relationship with God. Be a religious person and you will win God’s confidence and love, or so goes the prevailing opinion.

But, there’s a new and better way, the author of Hebrews tells us, a “next-generation” way through which God builds a relationship with us. It’s through the gospel, not through the law. It’s through Christ’s obedience, not ours. It’s seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament traditions and customs.

This new way is to simply look in faith and trust to Jesus Christ as our perfect Savior and Substitute. Then God will be our God, and we will be his people. Jesus will send us the Holy Spirit through word and sacraments, and he will personally teach us to know the Lord. He will write God’s law on our hearts, so that we obey not because we have too, but because we get to, knowing deep down that obedience is simply aligning ourselves with God’s heart and God’s design for our world.

And when our hands or feet, our words or our ideas, lead us into sin, we will be forgiven of our wickedness. Our sins will be forgotten and put into the past along with the old covenant.

Out with the obsolete, outdated and popular way of trying to worm our way into God’s heart by our righteousness. In with the new way — of God working his way into our hearts by his righteousness, his sacrifice, and his grace.

“But God found fault with the people and said: ‘The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:8-13, NIV).

Lord, help me to move away from trying to earn my place in your heart and move toward your grace, mercy and forgiveness, all of which assure me that my place in your heart has already been earned and won by Jesus. Help me by your Spirit’s power to turn my back on the righteousness that comes by works, and learn that I am accepted only through the righteousness that comes by faith.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 7, is Ezekiel 13:1 – 15:8, Hebrews 8:1-13 and Psalm 120:1-7.

Header image based on "Blockbuster store closing sale" by Consumerist Dot Com, CC By 2.0

Grab and Go!

Answer this one question: Who is Jesus, really?

According to the author of the book of Hebrews, he is…

  1. God’s Son
  2. Our great high priest, who represents us before the Father
  3. Our ascended Lord, who from his powerful seat at God’s right hand rules the entire universe for the church’s benefit
  4. Our empathetic Savior, who understands us perfectly because he subjected himself to every temptation we face in our daily lives
  5. Our sinless Substitute, who offers his perfection so that we might claim it as our own righteousness, and be made acceptable in the eyes of a holy God

Since this is who Jesus is, we should let no person and no event diminish our faith in him. Our faith is rightly placed when it is placed on Jesus Christ. By faith, we should fiercely cling to Jesus — like a person being lowered over the edge of a cliff by Bear Grylls clings hold of the climbing rope.

Grab hold tightly. Have no plan to loosen your grip.

And then?

We go freely to God. We approach him with confidence, as a child approaches their loving parent or grandparent. We go to him with boldness. We’re not held back by guilt or shame. We’re not worried that we’re not enough. We don’t turn and run because we’re frightened by his holiness. And we’re not angry and frustrated because we can never seem to measure up.

Jesus has that all covered for us.

So, we go to God in full freedom and with absolute confidence. And we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Simple. Grab Jesus and go.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 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. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me by your Spirit’s power to grab hold tightly of you. And then, confident of your grace and mercy, guide me to go to the Father’s throne in prayer and make my requests with boldness and confidence.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 3, is Ezekiel 1:1 – 3:27, Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10 and Psalm 119:153-160.

Header image based on "Hebrews 4 16" by New Life Church Collingwood, CC By 2.0

Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

Header image based on "Red Heart" by Brandon Zierer, CC By 2.0

Foolish and Stupid Arguments

Have you ever been in a foolish or stupid argument? I’m guessing you know what I mean — if you’re a human being, that is. I like how Dr. Emerson Eggerichs describes these kinds of disputes in his book Love and Respect. One person reacts to an event without love. This causes the second person to respond with disrespect. And thus “The Crazy Cycle” begins.

Dr. Eggerichs goes on to say, “The point is simple: Craziness happens when we keep doing the same things over and over with the same ill effect. Marriage seems to be fertile ground for this kind of craziness. Ironically, there are more books being published on marriage today than ever before… but with all our knowledge, the craziness continues” (Love and Respect, p. 29).

Intriguingly, when we look in the Bible we find that another fertile field for this kind of craziness also exists. It happens to exist in the church. Maybe that’s because the church is also “family.” We can so easily and inadvertently fall into the crazy cycle with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and keep on having the same foolish arguments over and over with ill effect.

As Paul writes this message, he realizes he is about to be martyred. So when he counsels a much younger pastor Timothy, he is giving him the benefit of his many years of leadership experience in the church. And he is doing this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have much time left, so it pains him greatly to see anyone investing precious resources in the pursuit of foolishness.

“Don’t waste time and energy on quarreling over dumb things,” he advises Timothy. Paul was always up for a good fight when it involved important matters. He was not one to shy away from conflict by any means. But inane arguments and discussions? Paul tells Timothy: “Have nothing to do with them!”

“Replace an argumentative bent with kindness,” Paul encourages Timothy. “And don’t let anger take root in your heart. Because that will only lead to bitterness and long-term resentment.”

“When someone stands up to oppose you, be a gentle listener — a teacher who keeps his cool. Be firm, but very, very patient with those who refuse to listen to you.”

“After all,” Paul reminds Timothy, “God is intimately involved in all the affairs of his church. He is present. So we should always remember that God might wake them up and turn them around to see that what they are doing and saying is really from the devil. And then, with their eyes opened, they can escape the trap Satan has set for them.”

Great advice for the church in Paul’s day! And it remains wise counsel for us in the church (or the Christian family) of today!

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the time I’ve wasted in foolish and stupid arguments. Please forgive me, Jesus. Thank you for shedding your blood to forgive me for wasting valuable time. Help me to rid my heart of all bitterness and resentment. You had every right to stay angry with me forever, but you did not. You forgave me, as the prophet Micah proclaimed long ago: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 23, is Jeremiah 49:7 – 50:10, 2 Timothy 2:1-26 and Proverbs 25:21 – 26:2.

Header image based on "Argument" by Kurt Bauschardt, CC By-SA 2.0

Refresh Your “Why”

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark,” said Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher. But that simply raises a question: “Whose perseverance was it? The snail’s? Or God’s?”

There are really two things that keep a Christian going. These two things form our “why” for being a Christian.

The first is God’s love for us. There is no love as steady, as firm, as lasting, as God’s love. His love in unconditional and unrelenting. His love is forgiving and merciful. His love is caring and compassionate.

And the second is Christ’s perseverance. Once Jesus commits to something, he will always see it through to the end. It doesn’t matter how much it costs him, Jesus’ promise means it’s already as good as done. Because he will always persist until he has finished what he started.

And there’s no better reminder of both God’s love and Christ’s perseverance than the cross and the empty tomb.

The cross and and the empty tomb are our guarantee. A God and Savior as loving and persevering as ours will help us in our weakness. He will strengthen us when we are down. He will protect us when we are undergoing the devil’s attacks. He will help us repent of our sins and do the things God has commanded in his law.

That’s why the apostle Paul prays that the hearts of the Thessalonians would be constantly directed toward God’s love and perseverance. Here the word “heart” indicates not simply their emotions, but also their intellect and the will.

He knew that as long as the Thessalonians’ hearts, minds and willpower moved in that direction — in that correct direction toward God’s love and Christ’s perseverance — then their faith in God would grow, and their connection to Jesus would remain steady, solid and unbreakable. Their energy for Christ and for the gospel would never wane, and their unified, hard work for the kingdom would continue.

The love of God and the perseverance of Christ is the very source — the “why” — of our own love and perseverance. But far more importantly, it is also the source of our forgiveness, our reconciliation to God, and eternal life.

Does your “why” for being a Christian need to be refreshed and renewed? Say a little prayer today. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct the eyes of your heart, mind and will into God’s love for you, and into Christ’s perseverance that took him all the way to the cross for you.

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:3-5, NIV).

Holy Spirit, direct my heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. Help me to remember God’s faithfulness and his protection. Give me a repentant heart for the times when I fail to keep God’s commands, and grant me forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Help me to continue to do the things God commands with the love and perseverance you first displayed for me, and now give to me.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 15, is Jeremiah 31:15 – 32:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 and Proverbs 25:1-10.

Header image based on "Snail's Pace" by Randy Robertson, CC By 2.0

It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

Header image based on "Spartan Race 092411 472" by Edwin Martinez, CC By 2.0

We Rise Again

Life in a fallen and failing world brings with it many falls and failures.

Our own sins frequently trip us up. The sins of others beat us down. The devil jumps us, knocks us down, and mauls us. The world does its best to chew us up and spit us out.

We get knocked down. Not once. Not twice. But over and over. We’re flooded with guilt, shame, hurt, anger or frustration. We feel like we’re barely hanging on. Our will is broken.

Praise God, Jesus lifts us up again. And again, and again. He does it by his grace. Through faith. By the power of his word.

Though we fall many times, we will get back up. Not by our own power. And not by our own determination or perseverance.

We rise again by his power. The power of a Redeemer’s forgiveness. And the power of a Savior’s love.

The cross, and the empty tomb. Jesus experienced them first. But we experience them now, because their power is being reenacted every day in our own lives.

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… (Proverbs 24:16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 7, is Jeremiah 14:1 – 15:21, Colossians 3:1 – 4:1 and Proverbs 24:15-22.

Lord, when I fall, help me get back on my feet again. I need you because I fall often and fail frequently. But I know that the power of your death and resurrection are still operating in my life every day. I do fall. I will fail. But in your grace and forgiveness I will rise again. Thank you for the hope and strength, the determination and perseverance you give me.

Header image based on "regret - hanging on" by SuperFantastic, CC By 2.0

Grow Deep Roots

Never be satisfied. There’s always more to do. There’s constantly another another step to take… to understand and deepen the peace you are experiencing, and to take hold of and grasp ever more firmly the grace God extends to you.

Realize, to know Jesus as your Lord — you have been given a huge gift! Now, Paul says, don’t stop there. Keep on going. And keep on growing.

You believe. Now, actually live in him. Send deep roots down into Jesus — study his life, his heart and his words — as if you were a tree and he is the most fertile soil you could imagine. And as you do that, Jesus will flow through you, building you up spiritually and extending your influence like branches stretching out into the sky.

It’s the word of God that makes this life in Christ possible. As you are taught from the Bible, the word will strengthen you. The gospel will fill your heart with deep gratitude.

And with increasing intensity the peace of God will fill your heart and mind. God’s grace will more and more become your life’s driving force.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV).

Lord, keep me going, and keep me growing, so that my faith in you and your promises gets stronger each day. Help me to make time to read and study my Bible, because your word is the power for me to grow deeper roots into you, Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 6, is Jeremiah 11:18 – 13:27, Colossians 2:6-23 and Psalm 118:1-16.

Header image based on "Oak Tree - Bon Tempe Lake" by France Folini, CC By-SA 2.0

What God Works In, We Work Out

There’s an old saying that when you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, the first thing you should do is ask, “What’s it there for?”

In the case of Philippians 2:12, the “therefore” is pointing back to the previous section of Paul’s letter (Philippians 2:1-11), where he poetically describes the humility of Christ in going to the cross, and his subsequent exaltation to the right hand of God.

Paul coaches his Philippian friends: “Therefore,” since Jesus went to the wall for you to win your eternal salvation, now you go to the wall to take the gift of salvation you’ve been given and put it to work. Whatever you do, don’t let the gift just sit there and gather dust.

This gift of salvation is such a great and priceless gift that it should actually be put to use with fear and trembling. And how do we put it to use? It’s not complicated. It’s really quite strait-forward. Take Jesus’ words and actually practice them in your life.

In other words, really believe that what you believe is really real — and then obediently act on your faith:

  • Trust Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life — and find true peace in this
  • Trust that God’s commandments are the way to be attuned to God’s heart — and find joy in living according to them
  • Trust that putting the interests of God and others ahead of your own interests will bring you great blessing
  • Trust that this life is not all there is — God has an amazing inheritance in store for you in eternity
  • Trust that the Bible is God’s word, and therefore, your perfect guide to walking in step with the Holy Spirit

You won’t need to do any of this by your own willpower or energy. God will give you everything you need. He will provide you with the willpower, and he will give you the energy. To believe. And to obey.

Because whatever God demands, he also always graciously provides — just as God first graciously provided us with Jesus, the Savior we all need.

God first works in us by being gracious to us. And what God works in, we then work out by being obedient and faithful to him.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you humbled yourself and became obedient to death to win forgiveness of sins and salvation for me. Lord, I want to express my gratitude by being faithful and obedient to you. Work in me to will and to act according to your good pleasure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 1, is Jeremiah 2:31 – 4:9, Philippians 2:12-30 and Psalm 115:12-18.

Header image based on "Typography Gradient" by Tyler Neyens, CC By 2.0