Christian Discipleship Blog Archives

The Art of Forgiveness

As We Forgive

As We Forgive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I am not the perfect example for forgiving others, I am learning and have learned a lot.  When Jesus prayed The Lord’s Prayer he asked God to forgive us as we forgive others, then turns around and says that if we won’t forgive how can we expect to be forgiven.  It is hard to forgive, and harder to forget.  While the mantra for to day is forgive but don’t let them do it again.  We will know whether we have forgiven or not when we see the person who wronged us and the feeling of anger wells up inside us.  That is where the art of forgiveness comes in.

We as humans are not programmed to forgive easily, but we also have to realize that our unforgiveness is sin and our sin put Jesus on the cross.  The good news is that Jesus and the cross is where the art of forgiveness begins to takes shape.  Our inability to forgive is transcended by God’s ability to forgive us.  As Jesus hung on the cross he looked at the crowd and asked God to forgive them because they did not realize what they were doing.  Because of our inability to truly forgive Jesus’ power is made full because through him we can do anything.  As we rely on him more and more to help us forgive we will see his power magnified in our lives cleansing us of the sin of unforgiveness.

The art of forgiveness is not a trick, but reliance on Christ.  Placing our burdens on him is what we are supposed to do, but they make us who we are sometimes and we wear our burdens for the world to see. Also, we shouldn’t wait on the people who wronged us to  ask for forgiveness.  They may not even know they have done anything to us. They may not even care that they have done anything to us.  Our willingness to forgive will free us in our relationships with others and with God.  As we forgive, so we will be forgiven.

 

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How Ascetic Should Christians Be?

Asceticism has been debated for at least a century in the non-catholic side of the Church body.  Whether it’s Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, or non-denominational. It has been debated.  This is generally a question about what rules should we follow and which ones were meant for specific situations.  We want rules to follow and sometimes the more rules we think we can check off be the better we think we will become.  Which is why us on the “by grace alone” side of the spectrum often lose out by putting God in our theological boxes.

We are saved by grace alone.  We grow through trust in Christ and relying on him for all of our needs to be met. (See Matthew 6:25ff, 11:25ff,  Romans 12:1-2) As we grow in our relationship with the Father we will trust him more and be able to discern his voice better.  So, how ascetic should Christians be is as simple as, how ascetic is God calling you to be.  Many people have spent many hours debating this very simple concept.  There is no set thing for you to do to draw closer to God except to trust him for your salvation and to meet your needs.  There are however, many ascetic practices God has called people to use over the years since Jesus’ death.  Yes these practices have been abused by many, but that does not mean they are wrong or bad it just means people are fallible and do the wrong thing much of the time.  Look at the Quakers and the Amish.  Some groups are more ascetic than others even within the same area.  They may not even seem ascetic to some Christians in third world countries.

At this point I hope you understand I am not talking about ascetics like many picture of the monk beating himself with a whip, or tying something around your leg or arm to pierce you when you move a certain way.  I am talking about fasting from anything from food to computers, taking time to leave society to just spend time with God, not using worldly conveniences, avoiding any addictive behavior or products, or abstaining from sex for a period of time.  Whatever means denying yourself for Christ.  So where do we start? let’s start with Paul.

Our word ascetic comes form the Greek word askesis which means to exercise or train usually for a sporting event.  The most widely referenced passage in the bible referring to askesis  is 1st Corinthians 9:24-27.  Paul tells the Corinthians they need to train to be good Christians as hard as the athletes train to be good athletes because in the end our prize is far greater.  We also know there is a level of growth that goes on in each Christian life just like each athletes life.  You can’t start out with a 40 day fast nor should you go out and give away all your electronics.  This training is only a means, and should be initiated by a growing relationship with Christ.  The first step is always trust.  When we start to trust God he will call us into an ever deepening, ever growing relationship with him.  Just like learning to walk once that training is over, you can learn to run. Jesus put it like this;

23Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.

The level and depth of your walk with Christ is directly proportional to your trust.  St. Augustine said, “Love God and do what you want.”  What he was saying that if you really love God, what you want will be what he wants.

Asceticism has always intrigued me, and when I first read The Spirit of the Disciplines by Richard Foster I thought if I could just do enough of those I would be a great Christian.  I found out I was really wrong.  I hope this posts helps you walk through what God is calling you to and what you may want just to prove you are a Christian.  Don’t try to force the process.  Nothing you do can make God love you more than he already does.  Let Jesus love you and change you because you can’t change you.

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God Always Had A Plan

I love the way the New Living Translation phrases Ephesians 1:5, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him pleasure.” (Emphasis mine)

God was not pleased that his son had to die, but he was pleased that the rift between us humans and he had been covered by Christ’s blood.  Since he created the world he knew that the day would come, as the Three person God looked at creation he knew it would come, but he created us anyway.  He knew we were always weak, but he created Adam and Eve anyway.  He knew we couldn’t keep promises so he made a promise to himself on Abraham’s behalf because he knew Abraham couldn’t keep it.  He knew the Israelites couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain so he gave them judges and a king to lead them.  He gave them every sign to look for in a Messiah knowing they would miss him, but he sent him anyway.  God knows we are weak and fragile humans.  He knows we can’t save ourselves, and he knows we will try our best to save our selves, but he calls us to trust in Christ anyway.

God is pleased that we have a way to him now.  He is pleased that our sin is covered by the blood Jesus shed on the cross.  He is pleased that Jesus’ death and resurrection gave us new life. He is not pleased that people still turn from him and curse him and live terrible sinful lives.  But he also knows that we would be robots unable to make our own choices if he had created us any other way.

God always had a plan.  Even if it doesn’t always look like a good one to you it is perfect in his eyes because he knows there was no other way.

 

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Serving Others

Serving others is on of the three tenants our church focuses on as part of our mission.  Until recently I haven’t thought about what it really means or could mean or even should mean to our church.  One of the examples we have used fairly consistently is of Jesus washing the disciples feet.  We used this one because we are of a tradition that still practices foot washing as part of the Easter Season services.  While this is a good example of Jesus exemplifying a new way for the disciples to serve each other, he also acknowledged that they were serving each other. (I’m not trying to make a case against foot washing just a different look at what it really means)

The story of service that sticks out the most in my mind is, the sheep and the goats.  The people he called goats may have spent a lot of time washing each others feet, but the people they missed were the ones Jesus called, “The Least of These.”  The least of these are the stranger needing shelter, hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned.  Today I would add; the out of work, kids who can’t read, immigrants who need language skills, single parents, and the list can go on.  When we see a need and feel the move of the Holy Spirit to meet that need, and follow through, that is serving others.

It is so easy to serve others who are like us or at least not to far off.  It is God’s work through us that will enable us reach out a truly serve those who need to see Christ in us.

 

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Trusting Christ Daily

12Don’t let sin rule your body. After all, your body is bound to die, so don’t obey its desires 13or let any part of it become a slave of evil. Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your body a slave that pleases God. 14Don’t let sin keep ruling your lives. You are ruled by God’s undeserved grace and not by the Law. (Romans 6:12-14)

It’s hard to think of ourselves as sinners, but we are.  Not just because we have sinned, but because deep down in side we have  a sinful nature.  The good news is that Christ was crucified and raised again to save us from that nature.  As we trust him a little in the beginning our sin nature is starts to be driven away.  As we give ourselves to God and trust him a little more each day we will see our sin nature falling away slowly, but steadily.

We will never be perfect this side of heaven, nor will we be instantaneously changed when we pray the prayer of salvation.  We will be saved, but transformation comes through trusting Christ daily.  When we slip and fall back into our sin nature we can be assured Jesus will be there for us to come back to and return to the process.  The last part, “you are ruled by undeserved grace and not by the law,”  should be a comfort in our times of need.  We don’t have to give in to the sin and bad habits because when we trust Christ we will see we are ruled by grace.

Sharing Your Faith

I remember the good old days when telling the cashier at the grocery store she was going to hell if she didn’t know Jesus as savior was all sharing our faith in Jesus consisted of.  While my sarcasm may not ring a bell with some of you, I know men who have used that technique.  I also know people who swear they will never go to church again because of people who use that technique.  Sharing your faith should be a natural progression in a relationship you have built over time.  Not a free wheeling shotgun approach to everyone you meet.

Sharing your faith should not be scary to you.  If you have a relationship with someone they will know you love them as you share your life and experiences.  People were drawn to Jesus because he loved them and didn’t try to make them into something they weren’t.  He knew the heart of every person he spoke to was blackened with sin, but he loved them anyway.  While Jesus spent time with people he knew needed his love and forgiveness many of us Christians have sheltered ourselves so far away from the outside world we don’t even know who, “The least of these” are.

As you think about relationships you have and how best to share your faith, ask God to open your eyes to the rest of the world you may have been missing.  Prostitutes, homeless, orphans, single parents, refugees around the world.  The list can go on for a while.  Sharing your faith with “the least of these” could mean just holding a hand and letting someone know you care.  I don’t know where you’re at in your faith walk, but if you have been struggling with sharing your faith I hope this helps.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that God has given us the privilege of helping reconcile people to him.  What an awesome privilege that is.

Are You Hungry For God?

One of the differences we can’t readily see in people is what they really want in life.  If we could look at someone walking across the parking lot and they had a cartoon bubble above their head showing what they wanted in their life.  Wouldn’t that be a lot easier on all of us.  Of course for many or most of us it would be embarrassing.  We would see things like money, porn, alcohol, and attention.  For others it would be tragic because we would see things like love, hope, a child, or freedom.  While it would be easier on many of us to see what others real wants were, I don’t think it would be very good for society as a whole.  So lets look at what our wants should be.

As a Christian I talk to many people who are struggling with different wants in their lives.  For some their wants are simple and can be met with resources they have available, but for others their wants are deep and need time to be brought to fruition.  I always ask the question, whether to them directly or to myself, how will this bring you closer to God.  You see, for each of us our deepest desire, our hunger should be for a relationship with God.  While that is an easy truth to say, for many it is a hard truth to realize. Many people can hear the words in Luke 10:27 as he echoes Deuteronomy 6, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’  If we love God with everything we have, how can we want anything else?  That’s just it.  We have been told for so long that we are to follow certain rules if we love God. Which is exactly backwards of the bibles teaching.  Jesus and Paul both, the whole bible for that matter, are clear that loving God is first and through loving him we will not want to live in sin.  It is when we try to prove our love so others can see it we screw everything up.

Psalm 42 starts out, As a deer gets thirsty for streams of water, I am truly thirsty for you, my God. (CEV) This psalm goes on to exemplify what I am talking about.  When all we want is Christ, we will still want more of Christ.  The person writing this psalm talks about having our every day struggles but still trusting God. Continuously coming back to him.  Our lives are not set on our failures, our lives are set in Christ.  We will struggle and fall, the key is to come back to Christ and rely on him to restore you and not your effort.

Let God Change Your Attitude

My oldest son complained a couple of days ago about his brother making him mad.  I explained that he could not make him mad, being mad is a choice we make because we are hurting on the inside.  Maybe you have heard the saying, “Hurting people, hurt people.”  I don’t know who said it and neither does Google, but I know it is true.  Happy people don’t go around looking for others to make sad.  The person may laugh when they hurt you, but he or she hurt you because they hurt on the inside.  So how do we let God change our attitude?

Realize and confess our attitude.  Do you actually think you have a wrong attitude?  Maybe you don’t but if you complain (Most of the book of Exodus), talk about others (Luke 18:11), or dislike a certain group of people (Luke 10:25-37); you may have a bad attitude.  When we confess and turn from our sins toward God, he will forgive us.

Realize you see the world through your own eyes and not as it really is.  For me this was a turning point.  When I began to notice that the qualities I saw in others were the same qualities I wanted to change in myself God began to show me how to love more.  In the story of the prodigal son Jesus tells of the brother who was mad that the father let the lost son into his house.  The older brother only saw himself from his perspective as a son, and not as a brother.  He wanted his way and could not understand why the father still loved the son who had come home, so both relationships hurt.  Ask God to help you see the world from other people’s perspectives.  He can open your eyes and help you understand how they feel.

Don’t rush the process.  We want to fix everything, NOW!  God does not work on our time.  If you have had a bad attitude for a long time it’s not going to get fixed overnight.  This is a process and only relying on God will see the process finished.  If you fall off the process get back on, and learn to trust him more.

For Reading:

Philippians 2:3-11

Psalm 1

Luke 18:9-14

 

Forgiving Others

I have struggled for years with forgiveness.  I have forgiven people only to feel the feelings of hurt and anger inside me when the person appears to be headed down the road to hurting me again.  In the book of Matthew chapter 18 Jesus is asked how many time should we forgive others.  His reply is abstract for today, but I am sure fit for the scene of the moment.  Peter asks if he should forgive seven times and Jesus says, “No, 70 times 7.”  While it is easy to get caught up in the figure of 490, many people think he was just exaggerating what Peter said to make the point of us forgiving every time we are wronged.  This sounds like a simple task but if you are like me you may have dwelt on the wrong dealt to you so long they are ingrained in your memory very deeply.  Remember this though, the God who knows you very well is also the God who did, is, and will forgive you of your wrong against him.

Jesus finishes this teaching with a story about a man who was forgiven because he owed millions of dollars to a king (this is us to God).  He then goes out and does not forgive a man who owed him a little money (this is us to each other).  The king then finds out and has the first man brought back in and punished for his wrong.  God wants us to forgive, and we need to honestly rely on him to help us do that.  While this is a picture of a harsh human king, God our King will forgive us when we are really sorry and help us overcome ourselves.

God showed us mercy while we were still deep in sin so that we could show mercy to others.  Reconciliation is the message of the cross.  Us reconciled to God then us reconciled to each other.  Who do you need to reconcile with today, this week, this month.  If you are not ready, ask Jesus to guide you and help you love the person you need to forgive.  It took me 6 months for one person from the time I started the process, but I sat down and spoke to them in love with Christ’s help and you can too.

Further reading:

  • Ephesians 4:30-32
  • Matthew 18:21-35
  • Psalm 139 all specifically 23-24

Making God Your First Priority

I read a book several years ago, and one of the premises that stuck with me was, we need to spend 50% of our time developing ourselves. I have never forgot that idea, but I can say I have also never practiced it.  I don’t know what amount of that time he said to spend on your relationship with God, but I do know that was part of it.  What I want you to think about is putting God first in everything you do, and letting him change you from the inside, not you changing yourself from the outside (Romans 12)

God wants all of you.  He wants your bad habits, your childish temper, and your open heart.  He wants a real and meaningful relationship where you rely on him and everything else becomes second-hand stuff.  When Confronted by a questioning man about what it took to live forever Jesus turn the question back and asked him what the scriptures said (Luke 10:25-28).  The Man answered by quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 6, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”  This is the key to really having a full life.  Not one full of stuff or scheduled down to the last second, but a life of worth for God and his purposes.

How do I love?  Maybe you haven’t had the best life.  Maybe everyone who was supposed to love you took advantage of you and you feel like you can’t love, or God can’t love you.  Neither is true.  God does love you and wants His best life for you, but all the junk may take time to get out.  

  • Start by loving him.  Love is not a feeling.  Feelings come from the action of love, and hormones, so you can’t trust feelings.  Love is a verb, it is an expression from you to someone else, followed by feeling of love, which will take time depending on how deeply your hurt is.  
  • Second, tell him how you feel.  God is bigger than anything you can throw at him.  Tell him you feel abandoned, alone, or afraid.  Ask him where he was during the hard times and the sleepless nights.  He can handle it.  
  • Third, take responsibility.  You took part in messing your life up so take responsibility.  Tell him you’re sorry and stop doing what you are doing wrong.  When we turn away from our sins it is called repentance.  
  • Finally, get help if you need it.  Counseling and medication may be needed to overcome long term abuses, depression, or disorders.

Making Good your first priority may take some time.  While you are saved the second you ask Jesus into your heart, getting the junk out may take some time.  I know we have been told for years that all of our bad habits will go away as soon as we believe, but that is not true.  God does change us, but if we don’t participate, it would be like giving candy to a child every time he/she asks.  God loves you and wants to be the first priority in your life.

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