Counsel: Check your heart (2)

Counsel: Check your heart (2)
On the last “Counsel” article, I addressed how it is easy to “assume” a person might wrongly assess a situation or person’s actions.  Hence, that person might fall into the trap of wrongly judging and wrongly correcting.  We looked at Jeremiah 17:9-10, which addressed the deceitfulness of our wicked hearts and Matthew 7:1-5, which warns us to deal with our own sin before we judge another and finally Galatians 6:1, which gives the spiritual, mechanical issues to be considered as you approach someone.  I concluded with the question, “Why is carefrontation (confronting in a godly way) a fearful step?”  Let me address that.

            First, we are in a spiritual battle.  Paul describes how we are really not fighting against the person we might be having trouble with, but we are fighting with spiritual forces,

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)

Why does Paul tell the saints in Ephesus to “be strong”?  Paul says, “be strong” because the spiritual battle is strong and raging.  The conflicts are going on.  It’s not a matter of if they will happen, but when they will happen.  Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood, but against principalities…”  That is, the real battles are not against human flesh and blood, even though there are conflicts with flesh and blood (people).  The real battles are in the spiritual realm.  Satan’s demonic forces are doing everything they can to divide Christians, harm relationships and distort the world’s perspective of God’s goodness and God’s word.  Because we are in a spiritual battle, it is a fearful thing to carefront others.  How do you know if you are a part of assisting the conflict or bringing godly resolve to the conflict?

            Secondly, we focus on our own hurts more than the other’s.  We know we may hurt someone else, but we cannot understand the heart of another or the damage we may cause, especially when we don’t even understand our own heart (Jer. 17:9-10).  We too easily become self-righteous in our thinking and assume too much.  Paul says it well in Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. We think we have others figured out, as well as ourselves, but it’s often just pride.

            The other problem is if we have pain from a relationship, it distorts our view of others.  We have filters and we don’t know how those filters affect our perspective and judgment in thinking.  Paul makes it clear that we tend to think too highly of ourselves.

            Thirdly, we become bitter, because we’re trying to do the right thing.  Paul writes,

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do… 18 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. (Col. 3:12-13,18-19)

Why does Paul exhort those attitudes and actions in Colossians 3:12-13?  He exhorts because they are often missing in relationships, even in the body of Christ.  He exhorts because those are the attitudes and actions needed to maintain unity and harmony in the body of Christ, so the world will see love for one another.  He exhorts because we who want to be tender, kind, humble and patient often aren’t, so we must forgive and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit rather than our own power.

            Then Paul gets down to the attitudes and actions of wives and husbands.  I find it very interesting that Paul summarizes into one verse what he says in three verses in Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as if fitting in the Lord.”  He doesn’t say what is “fitting,” but he does all through the epistle.  Every encouragement and exhortation directed toward relationships in the body are to be manifested in marriage.  Marriage is often the hardest place to see it fulfilled, so he assumes the wives will 1) be submissive and 2) do what is fitting in the Lord, that is, “just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:24)  Fitting”means what is “set aside” or what is holy to the Lord.  In other words, everything, except what would be sin.  Wives, die to your own desires and be holy set aside in submission to your husband.  That is why wives need the Holy Spirit. That is why it is a fearful step to carefront another.

            Then Paul addresses the husbands and mentions “do not be bitter toward them.”Most people would say that men aren’t as bitter as women.  After all, women have to submit to the authority of or the final decisions of their husbands.  There are plenty of reasons for a wife to be bitter.  Yet Paul tells the husband not to be bitter.  Why?  Paul exhorts the husband to not be bitter, because when he is trying to love his wife, when he is dying to himself and trying to lead her spiritually, when he is working to provide, seeking to lead in devotions and on the look out to protect his wife and she doesn’t respond, then the husband is prone to become bitter.  Husbands, die to yourself and do not be bitter.  Instead, be patient.  Husbands put off your bitterness and consider how often you rejected the Lord’s provision, spiritual leading in your life and protection of your soul.  Confess your sins of bitterness and depend on the mercy and power of the Holy Spirit.  Put on kindness, tender mercies and forgiveness and you’ll not be bitter.  That is why it is a fearful step to carefront another.

            Fourthly, we don’t approach love God’s way.  Most people have heard the “love” chapter (1 Corinthians 13) so many times at weddings and other occasions that they become numb to what it’s really saying.  Paul writes,

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;  5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;  6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;  7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

What does it mean to you that “love suffers long”?  First ask yourself, what is the Great Commandment? “

37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it:`You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt. 22:37-39)

Who is your closest neighbor?  Your spouse!  So God commands us to love our spouse and if I don’t, what is that called?  If I know what I’m supposed to do and I don’t do it, what is that called?  James writes, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (Jam. 4:17)  So, if I don’t love my spouse (or my neighbor) it’s sin.  If I don’t do what love does, it is sin for me.  In other words, if as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, I am not patient, I have sinned.  If I am not kind in my actions, it is sin.  If I am envious of others, it is sin.  If I parade myself or act arrogant, it is sin.  If I am rude to my neighbor (or my spouse) it is sin. 

            Too often we think “everyone does those things” and we find them acceptable.  God does not! They reveal that we are not dependent on the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit does not do those things. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot do those things.  They are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  If we sin, then we must follow God’s guideline, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  When we confess our sins and humbly depend on the Holy Spirit, then God the Holy Spirit will bear his fruit through us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…  That is why it is a fearful step to carefront another; we might not do it from God’s love.

            Friends, check your heart.  Scripture says 1) our hearts are deceitful; 2) we are easily prone to judging others; and 3) we often correct in an ungodly way.  When we correct another, or point out their wrongs in an ungodly way, we often don’t realize how fearful a step we are taking. Consequently, we need 1) to recognize we are in a spiritual battle; 2) to focus on the hurt of others more than our own and 3) to not become bitter when we are doing the right thing and 4) to approach love God’s way.  If you do these things, you’ll be blessed. (John 13:17)  If you do these things, you’ll have good relationships.  Go in His peace.
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Counsel: Check your heart (1)

Counsel: Check your heart (1)

            Scripture always has the answers.  However, we are quick to ignore what it says and assume we know best what we should think, say and do.  It’s easy to assume we have a clear picture on what we hear and see and can make the right analysis, assessment and judgment. It’s easy especially, when we think we know the other person well as in a family or friend. However, what does Scripture say?
            Our hearts are deceitful.  That may sound pretty harsh, but what does Scripture say?  Jeremiah 17:9-10 says,
9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?  10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10)

Scripture says “the heart,” which refers to each heart in mankind.  It is not referring only to the wicked people, the people on death row, or even the enemies of our country.  It refers to the heart of all people, even good people.  The heart is “deceitful above all things.”  That means it will deceive others, but more importantly, our own hearts will deceive us.  Paul alludes to that from Romans 7.  He says,

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Rom 7:15-17)

Paul is telling us he doesn’t do what he wants to do and does what he doesn’t want to do.  Why?  There is a sin nature inside of every person and it is deceitful.   The writer to the Hebrews warns about the deceitfulness of sin, “…exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:13)  The deceitfulness comes from the inner being and Jeremiah refers to that inner being as the heart.  If my heart is deceitful, then I need to be aware of what comes out of my heart.  Scripture also says we often judge.

            We are easily prone to judging others.  If we think we are right in our analysis, assessment and judgment, but don’t realize we have a deceitful heart, then we are prone to judge others.  Jesus warned about this,

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  2 “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  3“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  4“Or how can you say to your brother,`Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  5Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5)

When we are not a part of the solution (not in a discipleship or counseling team or parent or person in authority) we are not to judge others.  However, there are times when God will direct that we help another person, but we must first deal with our own sin issue (plank from your own eye), and then be able to help another person.  If you do not deal with your own sin issues, you will only compound the problem trying to help another person.  You will likely be very self-righteous, judgmental, critical, impatient, unkind and hence ungodly.  No Christian ever intends to do that.  Fortunately there is hope.  God gives us hope and a solution of how to address the problem. 

            Scripture says we often correct in an ungodly way. When you are ready to carefront (confront in a godly caring way) follow Paul’s exhortation.  He writes, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)  Paul is talking to believers, because he calls them “brethren.”   The reality is, we will find ourselves in situations where people “cross the line of obvious sin (trespass).”  We are to judge ourselves to ensure there is no sin (Matt. 7:1,5) and then carefront them in a specific way.

            Paul exhorts that we carefront in a “spirit of gentleness.”  The word means “power under control.”  It is used of a war horse well-trained to understand the very light and sensitive movements of the rider with the bridle and pressures from his knees and heels to direct the horse on the battlefield.  For the Christian, it is the Holy Spirit who directs the Christian in His power, rather than the Christian’s power.  It is God’s power under the control of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the carefrontation is for the purpose of godly restoration, not just pointing out sin.

            Then Paul exhorts to “consider yourself lest you also be tempted.”  It is so easy to carefront someone and do it in a prideful way.  Pointing out another’s sin is a fearful thing.  Only God knows all the details.  Only God knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Only God knows best how to convict of sin.  So for a person to put himself in that position is a fearful step, although it must be done.  Therefore, Paul says to carefront under the power of the Holy Spirit and keep examining self, lest you be tempted to act independently of the Lord and be in sin.

            Why is carefrontation a fearful step?  I’ll explain in tomorrow’s post.

Forgiveness: Restoring Relationships God’s Way

Restoring Relationships God’s Way

Beginning in the beginning, there have been problems and conflicts in relationships.  If Adam and Eve had conflicts, and we see it all through Scripture, then it’s pretty likely that even the best relationships will have conflicts.  It all results because of sin in the world. The creature is born centered on self and it takes divine enablement to truly focus and serve others. So the question is not what do I do IF it happens, but what do I do WHEN it happens.

This first slide shows the reality of some problem between two people.  It can be two or a mob.  Whatever the relationship, there is going to be some kind of conflict.  (I know these are in a cartoon form, but let’s try to get the principle)

The human response is often to lash back or internalize and “carry” the pain OR a multitude of options in between those two actions.  Often, our response to someone is sin.  For example if I lash back at someone for sinning against me, I have just sinned.  Yes, even though I didn’t start it, I chose to respond in sin and think that I could solve the problem my way.  Sometimes it’s the sin of reaction and sometimes it’s the sin of internalization.  Both are wrong responses.

Instead I need to choose the biblical approach and forgive.  One of the Hebrew words for forgive is nasah, which means “to lift up.”  A second Hebrew word is salah, which means “ready to pardon.”  Both give a good picture of what we are supposed to do. Lift the sin (the penalty and pain of the sin) to the throne of God for Him to deal with it.  A third forgive word is a Greek word aphia-mi, which literally means “to send away.”  God wants us to send away to Him the sin pain and let Him deal with it.  We are not very judicial with offenses against ourselves.  Our flesh reacts and does all sorts of strange things, like think we are as smart as God.

“Lifting up” and “ready to pardon” demonstrate the ready attitude to lift it up to God.  The phrase “send away” means that I’m not going to deal with it against the offender, because I will trust the Lord to deal with it. 

In the next slide the offended person chooses to forgive, that is lifts up or sends away the penalty to the throne of God.  The black symbol with the yellow burst is supposed to be a  chair or throne as an illustration of the Shekinah Glory described in the Old Testament or the Presence of God in heaven.

Lifting up the conflict to the Lord fits well with 1 Peter 5:7, which says “casting all your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you.”  I first deal vertically with the problem and is the principle taught in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. (Mar 11:25)  Once you choose to deal with the problem vertically, then you can begin to deal with the horizontal relationship.

You may still feel the pain of the offense.  The relationship may still be struggling.  But you, because you’ve given it to God, you can choose to have a heart of love toward the offender.  That’s the third slide below.  Notice that God will deal with the other person in His way.  Unfortunately, it may not be in your timing.  It may not be in your lifetime.  Yet, God is infinite in wisdom, justice, power and mercy to know how best to deal with the relationship.  His way is far better than anything we can consider (Is. 55:8-9). The key is you now are able to have a heart of love toward the other person.  This is also the principle from 1 Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”  It’s covered, because you trust in the covering of the blood of Christ on the cross.

 


When a person lifts up the offense to God, he can have a heart of love toward the offender.  The person no longer has to have any kind of revenge desire, because he’s given it to God. It is a choice, to love at this point, but it is what God desires according to Luke 17:3-10; Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 12:14-21; and 1 Peter 3:8-12.

The last slide shows that God may want you to make the decision to reach out to the offender, or even confront the offender.  IF God is working through you to the offender it will be God’s love.  It may be firm and deliberate, because sin may need to be confronted (Luke 17:3-4), but it is done from God’s love, not personal vengeance (Romans 12:15-21)
 

These slides are a simplistic way of looking at forgiveness.  They do not answer all the questions in a relationship.  They begin the process of dealing with forgiveness. 

Do they help you?

Restoring Relationships for Him

Relationships: Restoring Relationships for Him
Matthew 18

This message is on restoring relationships, but the basis for restoring relationships  from man’s perspective begins with forgiveness.  Here’s a skit that explains man’s way of forgiveness. [ the skit actually shows how we often fall short of God’s way of forgiveness and we botch it.]

 Forgiveness is often tried, but often it falls short of what God intends. Relationships will push you beyond you.  They will take you beyond the range of your natural abilities and beyond the borders of your natural and acquired wisdom. That is part of God’s plan.  But also part of God’s plan is to see what can happen from God’s abilities. What would it take on your part for others to see Christ at work in your life? How can others see that you are a disciple of Jesus?  One of the greatest miracles is restoration of relationships, because it doesn’t often happen in everyday life. Why do you need to restore relationships?

            Normally, we think of forgiveness and restoration of relationships as a good thing to do from Scripture, because it helps us get along with people.  It helps in families, at work and at church for us to get along.  Is that why God wants us to forgive and restore relationships?  There is a much higher reason.  The first basis is because that is the pattern God established.  If we want to imitate God, and every believer is commanded to imitate God (Eph. 5:1), then we must mirror His pattern.

1)      God reconciled the world to Himself as our pattern 2 Cor. 5:18-19

 

I’m going to give you a quote that is utterly fantastic.  It’s a little long, but bear with me and you will greatly advance in spiritual understanding. It’s helpful to understand the antimony of God’s sovereignty and Man’s freewill.  An antimony is an apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction, especially between two true statements.  For example, Scripture declares that God is Sovereign.  Scripture also declares that man has free will.  If one is true, the other cannot be some will say.  It’s like God is one and God is three.  Both are true statements, but man’s finite mind cannot fully understand, except by accepting them both by faith and making our best understanding of both true statements.

This is a quote that helped me greatly understand the antinomy of God’s sovereign work in salvation and man’s non-meritorious choice. It’s a quote from Merrill Unger who wrote Unger’s Bible Dictionary.  He defines what the word “reconcile.” He explains what God did to restore man to Himself.  Read this and I’ll break it down.

“Reconcile comes from a word that means to change thoroughly from one position to another (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-21). It means that someone is completely altered and adjusted to a required standard. (Rom. 5:6-11).  By the death of Christ, the world is changed in its relationship to God. Man is reconciled to God, but God is not said to be reconciled to man.  By this change lost humanity is rendered savable.  As a result of the changed position of the world through the death of Christ, the divine attitude toward the human family can no longer be the same.  God is enabled to deal with lost souls in the light of what Christ has accomplished.  Although this seems to be a change in God, it is not a reconciliation; it is rather a ‘propitiation.’ God places full efficacy in the finished work of Christ and accepts it. Through His acceptance of it He remains righteous and the justifier of any sinner who believes in Jesus as his reconciliation.  When an individual heart sees and trusts in the value of Christ’s atoning death, he becomes reconciled to God, hostility is removed, friendship and fellowship eventuate.” 

            Let me break that down for you. 

“Reconcile comes from a word that means to change thoroughly from one position to another (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-21). It means that someone is completely altered and adjusted to a required standard. (Rom. 5:6-11). 

He is saying that the word “reconcile” means that by the death of Christ on the cross, God changes a person to a completely altered state related to God and adjusts that person to the required standard of God.  What is God’s standard?  His own righteousness.  Because Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man, paying the penalty of sin, man is altered and adjusted to the righteousness of God.  Listen to what Paul writes in Romans,

10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)

We were considered as enemies by God, but because of the cross, we were altered and adjusted to the required standard. The sin barrier was removed by Jesus’ death, so that God could now look at man in a different way. Note that last phrase, “we received the reconciliation.” We’ll see that below. It is the part man must do for the fullness of reconciliation. Then Unger says,

By the death of Christ, the world is changed in its relationship to God. Man is reconciled to God, but God is not said to be reconciled to man.  By this change lost humanity is rendered savable.

Here the change is caused by the death of Jesus on the cross, Who died for our sins.  Notice he says that man is reconciled to God, but nowhere does it say in Scripture that God is reconciled to man.  THAT is very significant.  Furthermore, man is then placed in a “savable” condition, whereby man can be saved.  Man has been placed in an altered condition and adjusted to the righteousness of God and rendered savable.  But man is not saved at that point, because there is a second part of the reconciliation that is necessary.

            Unger continues addressing the relationship,

As a result of the changed position of the world through the death of Christ, the divine attitude toward the human family can no longer be the same. 

Because of the death of Jesus, God’s attitude had to change toward mankind.  It couldn’t be the same. Why couldn’t it remain the same, that is, considering man as an enemy (Rom. 5:10)?

God is enabled to deal with lost souls in the light of what Christ has accomplished.  Although this seems to be a change in God, it is not a reconciliation; it is rather a ‘propitiation.’

Because of the death of Jesus, God is enabled to deal with fallen man. How does that work?  Because God’s righteousness was propitiated – satisfied.  Legally, the penalty for sins was paid by Jesus and God was satisfied with His death payment.  However, there hasn’t been a full reconciliation, because a second part is necessary.  God was satisfied with the death of Jesus for the sins of the world, so God could no longer look at man as an enemy, but a soul waiting to accept what God had done for him.   Catch this next section,

God places full efficacy in the finished work of Christ and accepts it. Through His acceptance of it He remains righteous and the justifier of any sinner who believes in Jesus as his reconciliation. 

Jesus did the work.  God makes effective, or considers of great value, the work of Christ. Why?  Because God the Father accepted the work of Jesus on the cross and therefore can place man in a position of being justified, if man makes a non-meritorious decision of faith to accept what Jesus has done, that is believe in Jesus as his reconciliation.  Finally, Unger says,

When an individual heart sees and trusts in the value of Christ’s atoning death, he becomes reconciled to God, hostility is removed, friendship and fellowship eventuate.” 

So God calls you to salvation and waits on you to put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior.  When you do, then the fullness of the hostility is removed and you can grow in fellowship with God.  That is deep, I know, but is utterly important to understand as you grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

       

            Now, you may have been offended, harmed, hurt, or attacked by another Christian, even one in authority, like a husband, elder or pastor.  I don’t know the circumstances of your event, but I know they happen and they can cause great harm and pain.  But let me tell you about the One who has never offended or attacked.  Let me tell you about the One who reconciles, because at the base of reconciliation is forgiveness. Listen to the greatness of my Lord.

            It’s my Lord’s character to forgive,

16 “But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. 17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them. (Neh. 9:16-17)

We get a clear picture of Israel’s hardness and rebellion.  They even wanted to go back to the slave market of Egypt, even though God promised a land full  of milk and honey.  Even though they were stiff-necked, God was ready to pardon and merciful.  It makes a Christian want to sing of the mercy of the Lord forever! 

            When God forgives, it’s complete,

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.  11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-12)

My God hasn’t treated me, or you, the way I deserve.  In fact, He removes my sins an infinite distant, as far as the east is from the west, because of Christ’s sufficient death on the cross. Additionally, there is a great illustration in Isaiah 38 about how God deals with my sin.  God speaks through Isaiah to Hezekiah to get his house in order because Hezekiah is going to die.  Well, Hezekiah is not ready to go and becomes very bitter about it.  He goes into his bedroom and faces the wall and weeps.  But he comes to his senses and he is filled with peace, because he realizes what God has done with his sins.

17 Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. (Is. 38:17)

 The picture Isaiah gives is of God taking my sins and putting them in the small of His back.  That is a place that you know is there, but you can’t see it.  God doesn’t look at my sins after they have been dealt with.  That’s the mercy of my God!  In Hebrews we have another aspect of how God deals with us.

14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.  15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Heb. 10:14-17)

God doesn’t forget our sins, He chooses not to remember them.  God is all knowing, or omniscient, so He cannot forget our sins.  Fortunately, He chooses not to remember them.  Finally, God’s infinite forgiveness costs me nothing, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)  It was free to me, but cost the death of the Lord Jesus.  That’s what God is like!  He is ready to pardon, therefore we ought to be ready to pardon people also.  IT IS not easy.  It takes God the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts, and the decision of the will to forgive and begin the restoration process.  There is a second reason why Jesus wants you to restore relationships. 

2)      Restoring relationships is more important than worship  Matt. 5:23-24

             Does that make sense?  What could be more important that worship?  Isn’t that what God calls us to do?  Worship Him?  There is something more important according to the Lord Jesus.

23 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)

That is what Jesus said.  He said, if you are coming to worship God, and you remember that a brother has something against you, then first go seek to restore the relationship, and then come back and worship.  That means we need to forgive, even when/if the other person hasn’t done what he needs to do.  Paul says it well,

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:31-32)

I need to put off any bitterness and anger and put on forgiveness if I’m going to restore a relationship.  I’m going to have to forgive.  What does that mean? 

            Forgiveness is used many ways and this message only begins to address forgiveness.  There are three main words for the word, “forgiveness.”  The first is a Hebrew word, “nasah,” which means to “lift up.” You can remember the word because it sounds like NASA, which lifts rockets to space.  The second Hebrew word is “salah” which means “ready to forgive.”  God is ready and waiting on us and wants us ready and waiting on others to restore the relationship. The third word is a Greek word “aphia-mi,” which means “to send away.”  God wants us to send away the penalty of the offense from someone else away to God. That way we let God deal with the offense of the person toward us and we can trust God to do the right thing.  God is much better at helping people see their wrong, than we are!

            There are four slides at the end of the message that explain this process.  When we send the penalty and pain to God, then we are free to be in a position to love the person.  We are satisfied that God can deal with the person.  In fact, God may lead us to be a part of the restoration process.  We may need to act for the person by expressing love toward him.  That love takes the direction of Jesus and empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

            What does that look like?  Let me use Matthew 18 as the illustration that Jesus wants us to restore relationships more than even approaching Him in worship.

            In Matthew 18, the disciples are discussing with themselves who is the greatest and they approach Jesus and say, “Jesus, who is going to be the greatest in the Kingdom?”  Jesus takes a little child and putting the child in front of them, He says, “Unless you are converted and become like this child, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  He added, “And so whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom. And whoever receives this child in My name, receives Me.”  In other words, this is available to all people. All people can be restored, but it takes the humility of a child who trusts in the one in authority.

            Jesus wanted the disciples to understand how serious sin is, so He continues to say that whoever causes one of the little ones to sin, well it would be better to have a millstone put around his neck and be cast into the sea, so you can’t cause anyone else to sin.  It’s a horrible thing to cause another to sin. 

            Then Jesus describes the seriousness of sin with an hyperbole. He says, that if your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.  It would be better to enter the Kingdom with one hand or foot, than to have two and be cast into the everlasting fire.  Or if your eye causes you to stumble (maybe through pornography or window shopping and lusting after wanting more clothes), to pluck it out, for it would be better to enter into the Kingdom with one eye than to have two eyes and be cast into hell fire.  But Jesus doesn’t just stand there like a stern judge.  No He reveals the compassion we all need to have toward others.

            He continues saying, if a shepherd has 100 sheep and one sheep strays away.  He will leave the 99 to seek the one.  And when he finds the one, he will rejoice more than having the 99.  That’s a big deal!  So we should have that kind of compassion that the Father has toward all people.

            Forgiveness also includes the process of dealing with sin in a gracious and orderly way.  Jesus describes a case where a brother sins against you.  Well, you go to him and tell him his fault in private, alone.  If he listens and repents, then you’ve won your brother and the relationship is restored.  But if he doesn’t listen, then go get one or two witnesses, because Scripture says that the word is established based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 

            If the brother listens and repents, then you’ve won your brother and restored the relationship.  But if he doesn’t repent, then take it to the church leadership and establish the truth with them.  Let the church know so they will fear God and want to do what is right.  If the brother doesn’t listen or repent, then treat him like a heathen or a tax collector.  He is likely not a believer. You’ll need to lead him to Christ.

            So Peter hears all this and asks Jesus, “Jesus, if my brother sins against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Do I have to forgive him up to seven times?”  Jesus said, “Not up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”  And Jesus continued the explanation by describing a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  So he brought the servants in and one servant owed him ten thousand talents (that’s about 12 million ounces of gold).  The servant didn’t have the resources to pay, so the king commanded that he be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had. The servant fell down before the king and begged, “Master, be patient with me and I will pay you all.” The king was moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt completely.

            Then the servant went out and found another servant who owed him 100 days wages.  He went to the servant and choking him said, “Repay me what you owe!”  But the servant said, “Be patient with me and I’ll repay you all.”  But the first servant would not listen and threw the servant in prison.  There were fellow servants who saw what happened and reported to the king who called for the first servant.  The king said, “You wicked servant, I forgave you all the debt because you begged me.  Shouldn’t you have compassion on your fellow servant as I had pity on you?”  Then the king said, “Deliver this one to the torturer, until he has repaid every last cent. 

            And Jesus succinctly said, “So My heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not from your heart forgive your brother his sins.”

Consider that forgiveness is an event and a process.  How many times do you forgive? It’s a process because you’ll be tempted to think about the sin when you see the person.

Forgiveness is canceling a debt.  You promise to leave it behind and not keep track of wrongs suffered. (1 Cor. 13:5) You are not to bring up the offense to others or slander the person who sinned against you.  You also promise not to dwell on the offense yourself or replay the offense over and over.

Forgiveness is costly, but lack of forgiveness is more costly.  You may not choke anyone, but you may shut them out of your life.  When you don’t forgive, you do at least three things.  First, you don’t imitate God. (Eph. 5:1)   Second, you show ingratitude to God. (1 Thes. 5:18)  And thirdly, you sin (Jam. 4:17).  Like Jesus said regarding the people while He hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Why do you need to restore relationships?  First, because God is our pattern of restoring relationships.  Secondly, because it is more important than worship to Him.  And thirdly, because restoring relationships is your responsibility to Him.

3)      Restoring relationships is my responsibility to Him  Luke 17:1-10

The first part of the passage is a parallel to Matthew 18.  Let’s start in Luke 17:3,

3 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

 4 “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, `I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

 6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, `Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

 7 “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down to eat ‘?

 8 “But will he not rather say to him, `Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink ‘?

 9 “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.

 10 “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, `We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:3-10)

So if your brother sins, then you go graciously rebuke him.  Yes, he sinned against you, but he’s not responding or interested in restoring the relationship.  God gives you the opportunity to practice grace. Will you be like Jesus and initiate restoration?  If he repents, then forgive and if you have to do that seven times in a day (quite a few times), then forgive and restore the relationship.   Well the disciples are overwhelmed by the thought and ask Jesus for more faith.  Jesus doesn’t give them more faith, because the issue is not greater faith, but rather humility and trusting God to work through the relationship.  Just a little faith can uproot the mulberry tree and cast it into the sea, IF that is God’s will.  Restoration is God’s will is most circumstances.

            Then Jesus describes the kind of humility that is necessary in verses 7-10.  This is difficult to understand and very few pastors ever do a message on this paragraph. 

            Jesus describes a servant who has worked hard all day plowing or tending sheep and then comes in to eat.  But the servant doesn’t come in to receive a meal, but is expected to serve the master after which he is then allowed to eat.  The master isn’t even expected to say thanks to the servant for making the meal.  Why?  The master has the right to tell the servant what to do and the purpose of the servant is to serve the master.

When it comes to people who sin against you, God gives you no right to withhold forgiveness or harbor bitterness. When I withhold God’s love toward another, I set myself up as a judge and arbiter to others, rather than be a servant of the Lord.  I decide whether someone else is worthy of my love and relationship.  I deny God’s glory from flowing through me.  I become a spigot of God’s love, rather than a hose. Restoring relationships is my duty, because it is what He did for me.

Restore relationships for Jesus’ sake,
 because He has restored you!

·         Forgiveness is a vertical choice Mark 11:25 release it to God, so that you can unconditionally love as He does. In any situation.

·         Forgiveness starts vertically, the horizontal depends upon the offender admitting guilt and asking for forgiveness Luke 17:1-4.

·         Forgiveness is not forgetting. Jer. 31:34.  I will not treat you as your sins deserve.  I will instead forgive you.  When you don’t forget, you’ll think you haven’t forgiven and filled with doubts. Or you’ll give in to bitterness without realizing it, because you think that forgiving equals forgetting.

·         How do I know when I’ve forgiven?  I love God, I just can’t deal with a few of His people.  I’m better off without them. What about 1 John 4:20-21?

·         When you forgive, do not demand restitution (sometimes it cannot be retrieved or repaid), but instead demonstrate mercy and love toward him with a goal of reconciliation.   Restitution is part of the process of restoration and should lovingly be pointed out to the offender. God’s world has many other things to say about that.

At this point a second skit was done in the message to show God’s way of restoring a relationship.  God’s way takes the process of forgiveness and restoration seriously and seeks to make sure the people are actually walking in unity of the Spirit again and working together.  We restore relationships, not because it helps us, but because it’s what God’s pattern is, it is more important that worship and it is simply put – your duty. 

There are some times when you cannot restore relationships. A girl who has been violated, ought not seek restoration with her abuser.  There are cases where the person continues in sinful behavior and restoration is not possible.  You are required to forgive, but restoration of relational fellowship may not be possible and could be harmful. 

What do you do when you have to continue in a relationship that is not just hard, but very difficult?  What about a marriage that sets you off?  What about a relationship at work, or even church?  How do you continue walking in the Lord if that relationship is not restored? That message will follow in the message, “Overcoming Difficult Relationships for Him.”

 

Message Based Discussion Questions

1)      What bothers you most about religious fanatics?

Digging Deeper:

2)      How many steps does Jesus give in Matthew 18 for restoration? ___________ How would you describe the restoration process to a child?  What are danger points in the process? 

3)      What are at least five description of love in 1 Cor. 13.?  _______; __________; ___________; ____________; _______________. How does 1 Corinthians 13 influence the practical aspect of forgiveness?

4)      To Whom are you to offer your body a living sacrifice in Romans 12:1? ______________   What are other principles regarding forgiveness can we learn from Romans 12?

 

Implementing the message to your life:

5)      In what relationship situations is restoration difficult?  What do you do?  What counsel would you give another on what to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Questions: Bridge Building with the Gospel

 

Five Questions: Bridge Building with the Gospel

I have a growing concern for the lost in the world.  My concern has gone through ebbs and flows over the years, but as I realize the lack of many days left in life (maybe thirty years), I realize I may not have much time to reach out to others.

There are few things in life more moving than to watch a person put their faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection.  There are few things more fantastic than to watch a rebirth happen before my eyes.  There are few things that motivate me more than witnessing a person who becomes my spiritual brother or sister!

Do you get that opportunity very often? 

One of the tools I use to transition to talk through the good news of Jesus Christ is to ask five questions.  The questions are merely a tool to build a bridge to someone so I can share the greatest news in the world – that Jesus died on the cross for his/her sins and that he/she can grow in a relationship with the God of the universe.  The questions are a tool to share that God loves him/her so much that God sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world and that whoever believes in Jesus would have eternal life.  That’s fantastic news!

Here are the five questions I use to start a discussion and build a bridge to a person:

  • Do you ever talk about spiritual things?
  • In your opinion, who is Jesus Christ?
  • Do you believe in a heaven and a hell?
  • If something tragic were to happen, do you know where you would go?

           [If God asked, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you say?]

  • If what you believed were not true, would you want to know the truth?

The answers to the first four questions don’t really matter too much, but they do tell me a great deal about where the person is spiritually.  They tell me what the person is trusting in for salvation, if anything.  They get the person talking and allow me to gain credibility that I am interested in them as a person (and I am!). 

The main question is question number five, “If what you believed were not true, would you want to know the truth?”  If they say yes, then I have a free and open door to walk through and share my faith.  I’m not forcing myself onto the person.  I give the person an opportunity to say no, before I start talking about Jesus.  But once they say yes, then I can take them through a gospel presentation, whereby they can make the greatest decision of all time – accepting Jesus as Savior to become a child of God.

What do you use to build a bridge to talk to people about the Lord Jesus Christ?  Does it work well?  I’m interested in your feedback, because I want to be effective in building bridges and sharing Christ.  Let’s go reach the world for the sake of Jesus!

Excuses

Sunday, I did a little skit with Moses and the voice of God to introduce the final message on Strategy for Grace: Pursuing the Role in Jesus.  I found the conversation between Moses and God so revealing and convicting that it needs to be highlighted here.

Moses had been raised in the best environment of the world at that time – around B.C. 1500.  He grew up in the Egyptian Pharaoh’s court and was ready to be the Second in Command if he had “stuck with the program.”  Moses didn’t because he wanted God’s will.  After fleeing from Egypt, he spent forty years in the backside of the Midian desert. 

After forty years of divine training, God appears to Moses in the burning bush.  You know the overall story at this point.  God tells Moses that He is sending Moses to bring God’s people out of Egypt.  Moses balks and makes his firstexcuse, “I’m inadequate.”  Haven’t we all done that?  God tells us to be witnesses for Him and we come up with all sorts of excuses why we don’t think we can share our faith with others.  Don’t we?  Doesn’t God want us to be who we are and just tell others what we know (Acts 1:8)?

Then God firmly but patiently like a parent, tells Moses that He will be with Moses.  What could be more comforting than the God of the universe is going to be with you on a mission?  Moses makes his second excuse that Israel’s possible erroneous view is more important to him than God’s presence.  Looking back on that excuse seems like it is crazy!  But don’t I do that?  Don’t you do that?  We get more concerned about a person’s possible rejection of us in sharing the gospel, than knowing He will be with us as we go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20)?

God again patiently answers Moses’ question regarding His name with, “I am who I am.”  God assures Moses with a brief history lesson of God’s promises to great grand daddies Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then He tells Moses they will come out with an abundance, but Moses gives his thirdexcuse, “I can’t handle the conflict with them.”  But don’t we do that?  We have conflict with someone and we walk the other way, or turn our head so we don’t catch their eye, or avoid going somewhere if we might be near a person with whom we have a conflict?  Don’t we?  Doesn’t God want us to reconcile and restore relationships for His purpose (Rom. 12:18; 2 Cor. 5:19-20)?

God once more is patient, but firm as a parent.  He gives Moses two object lessons of Moses’ rod turning into a serpent and his hand becoming leprous.  Moses is likely surprised by both incidents.  I would be; wouldn’t you? Consider the rod that Moses used to protect himself from harm, now it becomes a serpent that would harm him.  What’s more, God tells Moses to pick up the serpent by the tail.  Now everyone ought to know that you don’t do something foolish like that!  You would go for the neck right behind the head, so the serpent couldn’t swing around and strike a deadly poisonous bite!  But when God tells you to do something, you obey, even if it goes against man’s way of thinking!  Then when Moses’ hand becomes leprous like snow, God reveals that Moses is unclean for any task God would want from him.  But God shows how He moves in our life, whether an illness, handicap, or personal attack against us, how God can work it together for good and direct that we continue with the mission. But Moses makes his fourthexcuse that he is not eloquent and is slow of speech.  Don’t we do that?  Don’t we make excuses like Moses?  Don’t we look at ourselves, our weaknesses, our lack of eloquence or ability to be smooth in a gospel presentation and we remain in the background waiting for someone else to do the witnessing?  Doesn’t God want us to just use what He has given us and do the best we can (2 Cor. 11:6)?  Doesn’t He want us to leave the results to Him?

Yet one more time, God reminds Moses who made his mouth.  God directs Moses to consider Who made us the way we are and therefore God knows the means of His message and  how He will work out His results.  Finally, Moses makes his fifth excuseand in utter fear says, “I don’t want to.  I can’t.”  Whoa. 

Scripture says the “anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.  After five excuses, God’s anger is kindled.  Does that mean I can become angry when people refuse to listen?  Can I get frustrated when I’ve been patient for a while?  Think about that number five.  Five is the number of grace.  God is patient and merciful.  But there is a line by which we lose out on seeing how great our God is if we trust Him.

I realized this week, that my frustrations are always about me.  I rarely become angry when other people sin against God.  I do, but my anger is normally aroused when someone is snide against me, or lies to me, or is hypocritical to me.  It’s normally about me.  If I am filled with the Spirit, I’ll remain firm but calm like a spiritual parent, and disciple the person to the truth.  If I am filled with God’s Spirit I will become righteously angry, but it is only in the other person’s actions toward God.  He is the holy One.  He is the righteous One.  I don’t need to become upset at them.

As you reflect on this passage, consider two things.  First, consider how many times you make excuses to not do the right thing.  I’m not talking about not stealing, lying, or committing adultery.  How many times do you make excuses not to do what is right, and you do not?  Whether it is witnessing your faith to a lost soul or serving in a needed capacity or discipling a person who needs to grow up spiritually, what excuses to you make?  Secondly, in your relationships, do you become frustrated with people, maybe your children, because they don’t relate with you the way you want them to act.  Will you be firm and patient like a parent is with a child?

May the Lord bless you in His work.

Can You Trust What You Believe?

Life is about trust.  Trust in God’s character and word. Trust in relationships.  Trust in family. Trust in the food we eat.  We often take trust for granted, because what we hear seems plausible, the person who said it seems reliable, all things being equal, there seems to be no need to question it.

Who do you trust in politics?  The spin machines are in overtime mode spinning the most twisted lies.  There are a whole lot of people who believe them, so what’s the deal?  Yet, there are a whole lot of people who don’t believe the twisted lies.  Can you trust what you hear?

Sometimes people who have been trustworthy will say something.  And it’s possible to believe what they say, so we take it at face value and believe it.  We don’t hear a rebuttal or defense, so it must be true.  Can you trust what you believe?

I’m not talking about biblical theology.  I’m addressing what people say that causes problems in relationships. Can you trust what you believe?

Then we read Proverbs 18:17.  That says we should be careful about what we hear.  It says we might not be able to trust what we believe. It reads, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.”  Funny, how something can seem right, but when it’s examined, it’s not right.  Why then do we believe the first account?

There are a multitude of reasons why we don’t examine what we hear or believe.  We’re comfortable believing it.  We’re not diligent to examine what is said.  We have an agenda and want to believe what we hear.  We don’t realize the first person has an agenda, so we don’t examine it.  We think the person is normally trustworthy, so why examine him on this issue?  We don’t want to face conflict, so we don’t examine.  We don’t want to stir up conflict.  We think the problem will just go away.  We think people will forget and people will just get along.  Shall I continue?

If Satan moved David to sin, is it possible for godly people today to do sinful things (cf. 1 Chron. 21:1)?  If Jesus called Peter – “Satan” – is it possible for people to speak with a wrong motivation or to provide half truths to fit their agenda (cf. Matt. 16:21-23?  If Peter questioned Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” is it possible for Christians to also lie for their own purposes?  If believers fall away from the truth and believe deceiving spirits can believers today believe what is not true (cf.  1 Tim. 4:1-3)? Did you ever twist the truth before your parents to get out of a jam?  Have your children ever twisted the truth to a lie in order to escape punishment?

Let us flee from evil!  Let us examine words that are spoken.  Let us find out the reason why things happened for the sake of the holiness of God.  THAT will honor the Lord.  Can you trust what you believe?