Monday, November 20, 2017

FORGIVING OURSELVES

We have all made mistakes and wrong choices throughout our lives. Some of those choices were good and some brought heartache and much regret. Some were foolish, youthful mistakes. Some choices were thoughtless and selfish. And then there were those choices, whether good or bad, that changed the course of our lives. Unfortunately, there have been choices that have caused many to live in a debilitating valley of regret, where they continually revisit the choice and question what might have been, if they had only done things differently. 

I struggled with self-recrimination and self-doubt for many years, until I realized that mistakes are part of the human journey to spiritual growth. It is through our mistakes that we learn. The Word tells us that only a fool does the same foolish things again and again (Proverbs 26:11-12). 

When my son was two, he was very curious about many things, including the stove's burners. I cautioned him that if he touched them, he would get burned. One day, while I was cooking, he touched the front burner and screamed in pain. Fortunately, his minor owie taught him a valuable lesson, and he never again touched the stove.

 

Mistakes are only mistakes when we don't learn from them. However, the enemy relentlessly reminds us of past failings, imperfections, and weaknesses in order to prevent us from fully engaging in the present. But God tells us to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 48:18-19). God never intended that we wander in a wasteland of regret and despair. He made a new way through Christ, Who brings refreshing to our souls and healing to our wounds.

The moment we surrendered our life and will to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we became a new creation; old things passed away and all things became new (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). However, to embrace the new, the apostle Paul cautioned us, "Pay careful attention to how you walk —not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don't be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17 HCSB). Yesterday is irretrievable; therefore, we are to use the time that we have today wisely and prayerfully as we seek God's will.

Paul admitted that he was not yet all he should be, but that he was using all of his energies to forget the past and look to what was ahead (Philippians 3:13). Before his conversion on the Road to Damascus, he had been a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Now as a follower of Christ, he said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life" (I Timothy 1:15-16).

Like Paul, God uses our failures for His glory and for our growth as Christians. Past successes, achievements, and failures have all been stepping-stones to where we are today.  Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). We can't move forward with God, if we are always looking backwards, wishing things were different.

We all have had regrets, and Peter was no exception. Jesus told the disciples, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me..." (Matthew 26:31). Peter responded that he would never fall away. Jesus answered, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter vehemently declared that even if threatened with death, he would never deny Jesus (vs. 33-35).

Jesus knew Peter's heart, just as He knows the content and intentions of every heart and how we will exercise our free will to make choices.  He is never surprised by our choices or what we say or do.

Peter had the best intentions. He thought he knew his heart. But often we make statements and decisions from a heart that deceives us. That is why Jesus cautioned the disciples on that very night of His betrayal, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

After Peter denied Christ the third time, the rooster crowed. Grief stricken, Peter locked eyes with the Lord as He was taken away and Peter remembered the Lord's words: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown Me three times" (Luke 22:61-62).

Fortunately, the Lord's mercy is so great that He doesn't want us to live in our past mistakes and sin. So after Jesus' resurrection, He gave Peter an opportunity to be forgiven by asking him three questions, followed by three commands: 
1. “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” You know that I love You.” “Feed my lambs.” 
2. Again Jesus asked, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?" “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. “Take care of My sheep.” 
3. Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked a third time if he loved Him. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-19).

Peter had denied the Lord three times, yet Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to be forgiven and reinstated as a powerful advocate and pillar for Christianity. His reinstatement tells us that we have been given that same opportunity to be forgiven, to forgive ourselves, and to move forward with the Lord.  For He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (Psalm 103:8).  He treads our sins underfoot and hurls all of our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Let our past mistakes stay in the depths of the sea and let us not go fishing for them.

Prayer:
Father, Your Word says that You tread our sins underfoot and hurl them into the depths of the sea, never to be recovered. Just as You have forgiven me, help me to forgive myself, so that I can move forward with You, for I am Your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). In Jesus name, amen.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MERCY

I am so very grateful for God's mercy! Without His mercy, you and I would be lost and without hope. So what is mercy? Mercy is defined as showing compassion and forgiveness toward someone. Compassion is sympathetic concern for another's suffering and a desire to relieve that suffering. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).

Mercy forgives, cares, and is persistent and determined in meeting the needs of another. However, that mercy must be unconditional and without expectation of recompense, for God opposes those who would do things outwardly to impress others, while their heart is far from Him (Matthew 15:7-8).

According to Dr. Ritchie Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, "Compassion can be learned. It's like weight training. We found that people can build up their compassion 'muscle' and respond to others' suffering with care and a desire to help. Doing acts of kindness increases oxytocin in the brain and improves heart health, blood pressure, and self-esteem as well as lowers stress levels, depression, anxiety and blood pressure." If parents would teach their children to have compassion for others, there would be far less bullying in schools and on social media.

Jesus often used parables to make a point. Such was the case when an  expert of the Mosaic Law tried to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" [The expert] answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus responded, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." The expert, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 

Jesus then told the story of a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and left him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite came to the place and saw the man and he also passed by on the other side. A Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was, and when he saw him, took pity on him and bandaged his wounds and poured on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. "Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have." 

Jesus then asked, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert of law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise"  (Luke 10:25-37 NKJV). We have all been given that same commission (Matthew 25:34-46).

Another example of mercy and forgiveness can be found in the following parable. We see that the first man was the recipient of extravagant mercy but refused to extend that same mercy to another:

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. One was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents ($7,000,000 today's value). And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave his debt.

That same servant then went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii ($2,000 today's value). Seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, "Pay what you owe."  So his fellow servant pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you." He refused and put him in prison until he paid the debt. His fellow servants were greatly distressed and told their master all that had happened. Then his master summoned him and said, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy  on you?"  His master delivered him to the jailers, until he paid all his debt. Jesus then said, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:21-35). 

Mercy is the ability to give compassion and forgiveness to others, because of God's deep, abiding love for us in our ignoble condition. If God were not merciful, we would receive the full measure of His wrath. Therefore, we are to be merciful, just as our Father is merciful to us; we are not to judge or we will be judged; we are not to condemn, so that we will not be condemned; we are to forgive, so we can be forgiven; and when we give, it is given to us with good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For the measure that we use, is measured back to us (Luke 6:36-38).

There are times when showing mercy is not easy, especially if we feel personally wronged. That requires an act of our will as we revisit the cross where Jesus hung in agony.  He looked upon those who had brutalized Him and then raising His eyes toward heaven, said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Though it may be challenging and even difficult, we are to be imitators of Christ by following His example of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

God's great mercy and forgiveness was extended to us through His only Son, Jesus Christ, "Who, being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8) Jesus bore our sins in His body that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24).


We are called to extend the same mercy and forgiveness that has been provided to us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Last week's blog, Judge Not, dealt with judgment. In revisiting that topic, we can now see that it is impossible to be merciful and forgiving, if, at the same time, we are judging that person.

PRAYER:

Lord, forgive me for having withheld mercy from (Name the person) whom I had deemed undeserving of mercy and forgiveness. I realize that I entered into that very dangerous place of judging others. Again, I ask for Your help to see people as You see them, so that I may become a conduit for Your mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, November 6, 2017

JUDGE NOT

I have woefully discovered that despite our best efforts, we all, including myself, judge others, because it is just too easy to do. Human nature causes us to fall into the enticing trap of preconceived ideas and unfounded assumptions about people. When our fellow man fails to rise to our personal standards, beliefs, and expectations, it is tempting to judge, mock, ridicule, gossip, criticize, and even slander. Today's social media is a prolific platform for bashing, judging, and destroying the character of others, without personally knowing the individual.

What does the word judge actually mean? To judge is to draw a conclusion, to deduce, surmise, speculate, or assume. Judging requires the judger to have indisputable facts and evidence. Without substantiated facts or proof to support an opinion, that opinion is generally faulty, without merit, and is merely an assumption.

In thinking about how people make judgments, I was reminded of the many false and unmerited accusations and judgments that were made against the Lord by the Pharisees, Sadducees, His generation, and even the townspeople who knew Jesus His entire life. The first 30 years, He had led a very unpretentious and normal life in Nazareth. He was known by everyone as a carpenter and the son of Joseph. So when He returned to teach in the same synagogue that He had attended as a boy and then as an adult, the townspeople asked, "Is this not Joseph's son?" In other words, "Who does he think he is? He's just a simple carpenter who is Joseph's son." Their prejudices and judgments soon turned to anger when He made a declaration after reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him as He stated, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:18-19). 

The people's hard hearts had blinded them to the truth, so they couldn't accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of scripture. They couldn't see beyond the boy who had grown up in their village. Their preconceived judgments not only prevented them from embracing Jesus, they attempted to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30).
It is not possible to really know a person's capabilities, purpose, and destiny that God has written on the pages of their life. For that reason, we should never make misguided assumptions and judgments from outward appearances, gossip, speculation, and rumors. Only God can see the deepest part of a person's heart and their intentions. Conversely, our perceptions are skewed when looking through a cloudy lens of judgment, as exampled in the following story.

A piano sat on the sidewalk of an outdoor cafe, when a homeless man—dressed in dirty clothing that hung loosely on his emaciated frame, sat down to play. Judging smirks quickly turned to jaw-dropping awe as they watched the man's fingers dance effortlessly across the keys.

We later learned that this homeless man was a former Marine, whose precious gift of music had been derailed due to the death of his wife and the loss of his son. Depressed and without hope, he tried to escape his unbearable pain and loss through drugs. Before he sat at that piano, all we saw was a dirty beggar, but when those melodic notes filled the air, we suddenly saw him as an accomplished musician with great talent and worth.

Why are we so quick to judge from outward appearances? We view the world through our own values. If others don't live up to those values, we judge, criticize, and make false assumptions. Surprisingly, we often judge others in areas where we are the weakest. However, no matter a person's appearance, education or lack thereof, their social standing, politics, financial worth, attire, or religious beliefs, God made every person uniquely special with great value and worth.

God's Word warns us not to judge others, because by the measure we judge, we will be judged. (In other words, we reap what we sow.) "So why do we look at the speck in our brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in our own eye? How can we say to our brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and not see the plank in our own eye?" Jesus called us hypocrites and said we must first remove the board from our own eye before we think about removing the speck from our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

Before we were born, God placed within every person individual gifts, talents, and a destiny filled with great purpose. Unfortunately, the enemy constantly attempts to abort our destiny, for he is the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). That is why it is vitally important that we not only have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but that we daily abide in Him. (See the October 30, 2017 posting, ABIDE IN ME at http://say-it-with-joy2014.blogspot.com)

God said, "...I know the plans I have for you...they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). Some will follow the Lord to their destiny, while others will choose a different path. And some destinies are derailed due to unavoidable circumstances. Those who have either lost their way or have never had a relationship with God, can find their way to Him, when God's people do their part. For it is the responsibility of every Christian to pray for others, to show mercy, love, and if possible, to offer the hope of Christ as we extend a helping hand to the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the hurting, and the lost.

PRAYER:

Lord, forgive me for judging others, because all people are loved by You. Give me a heart of compassion, so that I may see people through Your eyes. I ask that You develop mercy, grace, and love within my heart for those whom I would be tempted to judge. In Jesus name, amen.