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.

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Trapped, or Taken Hold Of

The worst kind of trap is the one you never saw coming. The pain of being caught in the trap is compounded by the huge element of surprise and the question, “How did I get here?”

When I was 13, I was riding my bike over to a friend’s house and came out into a road from behind a fence. I had pulled this maneuver a thousand times. But on this particular day, there was a car coming on the road. At first, I thought I could beat it by passing in front of it. But the bumper caught the rear tire of my bike, spinning me off and mangling the back wheel pretty good. I had some pretty good scrapes and bruises that I got out of it as well.

I got caught. And I got caught by surprise. It was not fun telling my Mom what had happened.

That’s what Paul is instructing Timothy to warn his people about. Only the subject is not bicycle riding. It’s the love of money.

Paul points out that so many people pursue financial gain, thinking that it will give them peace of mind and fill up the hole in their heart. Others pursue wealth because it’s the “measuring stick” they use for determining their identity and self-worth.

There’s another way. Faith in Jesus can give us true peace and contentment. Faith in Jesus establishes our identity and self-worth as a blood-bought child of God, redeemed and adopted through the power of the cross and the empty tomb.

Pursue wealth as the source of our peace, the missing piece in our lives, the foundation of our identity and self-worth and we will find ourselves in the trap. We’ll discover we’re in the path of oncoming ruin and destruction. We’ll realize that our love of money just spun our heads around. We didn’t see what was around the fence, so only too late did we realize we were being foolish and our desires were harmful.

Love and seek money as our ultimate thing, and in place of peace, we’ll find ourselves pierced.

Instead, Paul says, pursue what God holds out to us. Seek the thing that Jesus is already placing into our hands. His righteousness, won via a lifetime of perfect obedience — and now his gift to us. Jesus sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who grants us faith, inspires us to love, spurs us on to endurance, and helps us to deal with situations in life with gentle restraint.

In other words, instead of seeking what you don’t have, pursue and battle for what Jesus has already given you. Take hold of that which has taken hold of you.

Ironic, isn’t it? The very best, most valuable things that you could ever fight to get are really already yours in Christ — and by faith they will be yours for eternity!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:6-12‬, ‭NIV‬‬).

Lord Jesus, take hold of me, of my entire heart and mind. And lead me by the power of your Spirit to take hold of you, and all the blessings of godliness you have in store for me. Help me to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Strengthen me to fight the good fight of faith and to find peace, joy and contentment in all that you have given me.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 21, is Jeremiah 46:1 – 47:7, 1 Timothy 6:3-21 and Psalm 119:73-80.

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Ambitious for a Quiet Life

Albert Einstein hit on one of the most important benefits of living a quiet life. It creates the right kind of environment for stimulating creativity: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Einstein would seem to be the best advertisement for his own dictum. One would struggle mightily to find many people who would qualify for being more creative than he was.

But Einstein, brilliant as he was, was not alone in recognizing the beauty and the benefit of the quiet life.

The apostle Paul also knew the value — before God — of the quiet life. In fact, he says, a quiet life is something to make our ambition, our life’s goal. That may come as a bit of a surprise to some who view Christianity as a “loud faith,” and Christians as a group who are bent on “shouting their way” into people’s hearts and minds.

But in today’s world, even apart from our Christian faith, it’s tough to live the quiet life. We live in a 24/7 world. So what are some of the obstacles that get in the way of you living the quiet life? Paul brings them out nicely, even as he encourages us to overcome them for the sake of reaching our goal of a quiet life.

  1. Selfishness gets in the way of the quiet life. When life becomes all about getting what we need and want, it usually heads in the opposite direction of “quiet.” Paul’s antidote to this obstacle is to put the focus on others (and for believers, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ), and to improve that focus every day. That’s what Jesus did. He focused on you in love.
  2. Being up in every one else’s business gets in the way of the quiet life. Instead of focusing on picking the tiny splinter out of our neighbor’s eye, we can focus on the “logs in our own eye”. We can recognize the repentance and forgiveness we need. Daily receiving God’s grace and forgiveness by taking time to confess our own sins will help a lot with this. Frequently looking to the cross of Christ is a great way to stop looking judgmentally into the affairs of others.
  3. Ironically, boredom gets in the way of a quiet life. Keep your hands busy. A quiet life is not a lazy life filled with boredom. Don’t equate these. You can live quietly while living actively. Paul says that working with our hands is one of the most effective ways to achieve the quiet life. You can be motivated to do this by remembering the immense love that Jesus showed you by “working with his hands” — stretching them out to be nailed to the cross.

Einstein had it right. So did Paul. One of the best ways to live creatively for the glory of God is to be ambitious to accomplish a quiet life. Such a life wins the respect of others. And such a life is the result of being fully sufficient in Christ.

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, NIV).

Jesus, send me your Spirit, and inspire me by your love and forgiveness to make it my ambition to lead a quiet life. Help me to mind my own business, work with my hands, and most of all, keep on loving others more and more.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 11, is Jeremiah 23:9 – 25:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and Proverbs 24:23-34.

Header image based on "Quiet" by Paul Mison, CC By-SA 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

The Lord is Near

What’s your perception of God’s proximity to you? Does he seem far away? Does it appear to you that he’s distant and unengaged, uninterested in the heartaches or challenges you’re facing?

Paul says that no matter what our perception might be, there is only one truth. God is actually quite near. He’s much nearer than most of us ever realize. He’s immediately at hand.

God’s being near at hand is important, Paul writes. And there are vitally important blessings and benefits that come along with God being near to us.

  • God’s nearness helps us maintain a joyful attitude at all times — no matter what the outward circumstances might be.
  • God’s nearness allows us to be gentle in the toughest, most provocative situations.
  • God’s nearness enables us to banish anxiety whenever it threatens to destabilize our mind.
  • God’s nearness encourages us to talk to him in prayer, make requests, and say our “thank-you’s” when he helps us.
  • God’s nearness gives us a peace that transcends reason, a peace that safeguards our heart and mind.

Paul concludes with the three most important words of all, “in Christ Jesus.” For us to understand and enjoy God’s nearness, we must have faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus communicates all these blessings — joy, gentleness, prayer and peace — through faith.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is our Lord and Savior. Nothing pleases him more than to grant us peace and joy. Nothing is more wonderful to him than to hear our voices in prayer. Nothing makes him happier than to see us imitate his gentle meekness.

And what makes all this possible is to know, by faith, that Jesus is near at hand.

And he is. Never forget it. Never lose sight of him. Because he’s right here at our side.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV).

Lord, help me to remember at all times how near at hand you are. And may your nearness be the source of my joy, peace, gentleness and vibrant prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 3, is Jeremiah 6:1 – 7:29, Philippians 4:2-23 and Proverbs 24:5-14.

Header image based on "Philippians 4:5-7" by Tyler Neyens, CC By 2.0

Tangible vs. Intangible

As human beings we are so attached to the tangible. Because of that we tend to want to turn the practice of our faith toward physical things — things we can see, taste, hear, touch.

For the Christians in first-century Rome this became a thing about what food believers should eat, and what food they shouldn’t eat.

Over the years, there have been various manifestations of this same debate, all of them involving things that God gives us complete freedom to choose. I’m talking about things like…

  • What Christians should wear
  • How Christians should have fun
  • What music Christians should listen to
  • What are the only “correct” worship practices for Christians
  • What habits should Christians have
  • What jewelry Christians should wear

Paul instructs the Romans that God has left certain things in the area of Christian freedom. He’s left it up to us to make choices, and we are completely free to make our choices. Choose to eat, or not to eat. Choose to wear it, or don’t choose to wear it. There’s no commandment from God on this particular aspect of life, so it’s up to you.

The only check on our choices is that we would make loving choices, taking into account the consciences of others, and not going out of our way to trip others up in their faith.

Where Paul wants our focus to be is on the intangibles. He mentions the important ones specifically.

  • Righteousness
  • Peace
  • Joy

Pursuing these is what pleases God. Pursuing these is what builds faith. Pursuing these will often, Paul notes, even lead to the admiration and respect of those around us.

Interestingly, pursuing righteousness, peace and joy — in God’s way of working things — really means not running away from them. Because in reality, we’re not the ones pursuing God. God is the one pursuing us, and he is the one who wants to give us righteousness, peace and joy.

How does he pursue us with these gifts? He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Jesus pursued us through living a perfect life in our place, by going to the cross for us, and most of all, by rising from the tomb. He did this all so he could give us his divine, perfect righteousness, peace and joy.

And he still pursues us with these gifts. Today he pursues us by sending the Holy Spirit, which he promises to do when we read and listen to the Bible, or when we have the waters of baptism poured on us, or when we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood in communion.

And where do we get these things? Most of us find them at church.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself down there!

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (Romans 14:17-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 31, 1 Chronicles 9:1 – 10:14, Romans 14:1-18 and Proverbs 18:17 – 19:2.

Lord, help me to enjoy my Christian freedom in the areas where you have left things open to my judgment. Most of all, help me keep my eyes and my heart focused on the pursuit of your righteousness, peace and joy, which I find in my Savior Jesus.

Header image based on "Roadside Church" by Nicholas A. Tonelli, CC By 2.0

Being Justified By Faith Has Major Benefits!

In yesterday’s reading from the book of Romans, Paul made the point that Abraham — the “spiritual father” of all believers — never had to earn his way into heaven. It was God’s gift to him. Paul even quotes a passage from Genesis to show that this was nothing new or shocking: “What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3, NIV).

As Paul continues to teach the Romans in the next chapter of his letter, he returns to the theme of being declared righteous by faith. In this section he wants to teach the Romans (and us!) about the tremendous benefits of being justified by faith.

First, he tells us, those who have been justified by faith already have the kind of supernatural, inner peace that everyone else is still seeking. We no longer have to keep stressing and striving to find peace. Peace with God is the root and the trunk from which every other kind of peace is merely a branch — be it emotional peace, financial peace, marital peace, or any other kind of peace we might be looking to find.

Second, those who have been justified by faith have been given protective “grace boots” to wear. When we stand in these “grace boots” the mud and muck of sin can no longer touch us. The guilt and shame of the wrong things we still do — even as Christ-followers who sincerely and deeply want to quit sinning — are unable to cause us to slip or fall. Jesus has taken that guilt and shame on his own shoulders. That is the very reason he was crucified for us!

And finally, those who have been justified by faith have an unassailable hope that carries us through all our pain and suffering. We know that the glory of God — the glory of heaven! — awaits us one day. So when we go through tough times here on earth, we become tougher. For the believer, sufferings only serve to produce a more positive person filled with perseverance and character.

Peace. Grace. Hope.

This is what most people are constantly seeking — and often fail to find.

But Jesus has them for us. And they all come together with his gift of justification by faith. And that makes justification by faith the gift that keeps on giving!

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, July 18, is Amos 6:1 – 7:17, Romans 4:16 – 5:11 and Psalm 86:11-17.

Lord, thank you for giving me such beautiful gifts. You have declared me innocent of all sin. You have given me the Holy Spirit and his power to cling to you in faith. And by faith in Jesus, you also give me peace, grace and hope. What more could I ever ask for? What more could I ever need?

Header image based on "Muddy Shoes" by Andy Wright, CC By 2.0