Following the Master – The Need for Forgiveness

How are you at following the Master? Do you always succeed? Have you reached a level of perfection? I know… that is funny. It’s funny because only the very proud would claim such a thing. However, it is sometimes hard to admit that we stumble even when we are trying to follow Jesus with our whole heart. So when you do mess up, what do you do then?
 
Let me admit it, sometimes I stumble horribly.  God has protected me in so many ways, but I stumble still.  I am reminded of the verse, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2)  This is a great encouragement and a great disappointment to me.  I am encouraged that everyone stumbles.  This puts me into good company.  However, the verse also says that we stumble in many ways.  I don’t like stumbling many times.  It makes me vulnerable to criticism.  It makes me vulnerable to valid criticism.  I can rail against invalid criticism.  Howeverm I am helpless when that criticism is valid.  I feel like a failure.  I feel judged (even a bit unfairly).  I feel helpless to make it right.
 
Do you ever wonder how you should respond when you fail the Master?  I will tell you what I do, and what I think the Bible tells us to do.  First of all, I pout a bit.  No, I am not recommending it.  I’m just being honest.  I get so disappointed in myself that I pout and beat myself up over the incident.  Second, I heap blame and self-loathing on top of my wounded spirit.  Do you ever do this? 
 
After I have wallowed awhile, then I begin to do what the Bible tells me to do.  It says to confess an awareness of the sin to the one you sinned against (confession).  Then it says to turn away (repent) from that activity just like turning around on the walking trail by my house.  Then it says to seek to make restitution if necessary and possible.  Finally, it says to receive forgiveness and begin anew.  God doesn’t hold grudges.  Sometimes people do.  Sometimes people forget that we are all strugglers and even the best intentioned among us is going to make mistakes sometimes.  God, however, never does forget what we are.  He knows.  He loves.  He forgives.  He renews.
 
What about you?  Do you struggle with your failures? Do you struggle with receiving that forgiveness when you stumble?  Do you wallow, as I do, in a pile of self-condemnation for a while before you turn to the powerful promise of forgiveness?  Are you one of those who judges quickly and then holds a grudge?  Aren’t we glad that God works completely differently from us?  He is not some demanding or demeaning boss who is looking for faults to find.  He is our Master Craftsman whose only desire is to teach us how to make great works of beauty and wonder out of our lives.  He is interested in perfecting us, not because He delights in correction but because He delights in us being the best we can be with Him.  May we all find sweet forgiveness and restoration in Him today.

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Everyday Grace

We talk about grace in the Christian life. We need it! Through grace we discover the amazing love of God. Through grace we have access to God in Jesus. Have we thought about how much we need it from one another? Here are some thoughts about giving grace everyday.

Let me introduce you to two passages that guide my thoughts regarding giving grace to others…

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them aound your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

and

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

These two verses serve as the backdrop of what I believe every Christian relationship should be made. In today’s world there is a great temptation to act based upon exceptions rather than the rule. In other words, instead of living by these two principles we treat each sin or each wrong as if it requires judgment or retribution. I just have one question for that approach: if each wrong requires that type of response, when do we respond with mercy, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness? I believe that our Scriptures ask us to do something else. This is why God warns us through the apostle James,

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19 — 20

For me, the example of Jesus in the temple where He overturns the money tables is the exception not the norm. The norm is Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek. The norm is how Jesus went to the cross for me. This is why Proverbs 3:3 and Ephesians 4:32 are my backdrop to every relationship.

What does that look like? Here are the thoughts I consistently aim to show others. These are my “everyday grace” to those I spend my time with:

1. How can I show tender mercy to the person I am interacting with today?

2. Is anyone receiving my mercy or faithfulness today?

3. Will this person who seems out of sorts be blessed if I am tender toward them?

4. When I am wrong, would I want to be forgiven or judged?

This is grace lived everyday. It is the questions that lead me to bless whoever I am with today. Grace is all the times I have stopped and chosen to bless rather than to grumble. Grace lived everyday is all those choices that seek to make another person a friend rather than an enemy. It is what I wish from those around me. So, it is what I give.

Something to think about,

Pastor John


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Musings from Camp

This week our students are going to camp. This will be the second camp of the summer for our church. The first camp, Children’s Camp, was absolutely wonderful. Children playing, worshipping Jesus, and growing in Him is amazing. There is something about seeing children singing and playing their hearts out that is inspiring. They go until they drop. No half measures here. Oh, how I wish I was more like that.

Our students will be the same. They will get up at 7. They will go hard all day. Then they will drop. They will play with abandon. They will sing to God with passion. They will hear from Him, and they will desire to follow Him with all their being.

When I see the zeal of children and students at camp, I am reminded of these words from the apostle Paul –

“For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

Colossians 1:29

Paul, in this context, is referring to his passion to see people become healthy, mature believers. This was his calling. How did he approach this calling? He didn’t give it half-hearted attention. He didn’t give it a decent try. He poured himself into it. He uses Greek words which have clear parallels in English. Let me translate this verse using those parallels, and you will see what I am talking about:

“For this I work to exhaustion, agonizing according to His energy which like dynamite energizes me.”

These words, “exhaustion, agony, energy, dynamite, and energizes,” are giving all words. Paul was not interested in half-hearted attempts at following Jesus. Like our children and students, Paul had the idea that he should pour himself out. Why would he do that? He does this because Jesus is worth it. The call and person of Jesus is worth being poured out like a drink offering. Not only that, but it is right to do so. Paul says,

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

2 Timothy 4:6-8

So, giving Jesus our best effort is worth it. Giving Jesus our best effort is right. Giving Jesus our best looks like being poured out until there is nothing left. That is both worth it and right. This means that the way our young people play and worship has much to teach us. Are we listening?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Unexpected Power of Thankfulness

There are things which are deceptively powerful. Those tiny air fresheners for cars are not for everyone. For most of my family, they are just too powerful for us to enjoy the scent. Yet, you can’t deny their affect! In the Christian life we have such a deceptively powerful ally to our walk of faith. It is thankfulness.

Thankfulness is deceptive. We hardly consider it. Sure, we have a holiday dedicated to being thankful, but we don’t often think about what regular thankfulness does in us. We don’t realize how it empowers us or how weak we are if we neglect it.

Paul understood this truth. When concluding his letter to the church in Philippi he says,

11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be  content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Philippians 4:11-12

Paul says here that he knows a secret. It is the secret of knowing how to thrive in both humble prosperous circumstances. It is the secret of not being limited by your circumstances. What is that secret? It is the contentment that comes from thankfulness. He tells Timothy this in his first letter to the young pastor. He says,

6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

When we practice thankfulness we are intentionally remembering the good that God has done in our lives. This opens our eyes to the reality of God’s work in us. It also helps us see what we have instead of what we don’t have. This is the warning of verse 9. It isn’t a blanket condemnation of having wealth. It is a warning about the perpetual wish that we had what we think others have = money.  Without thankfulness and the contentment that comes with it, envy grows in us until we feel the temptation to compromise our values to get that thing we think will make us happy. Time, relationships, and even our families become casualties to envy. Without thankfulness we want and want. With thankfulness we discover what we have.

What did thankfulness help Paul discover? He discovered that no matter how much or little he had that,

13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

AND

19 My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

This is the ultimate power of thankfulness. It helps us see how much God can, has, and will do in us. It stops us from constantly second guessing that God loves us. It stops us from constantly doubting that God will work in us as He has promised. It empowers us to walk in faith because we see God’s hand in our lives. Those who see what God has done know that God is working.

Do you see? Perhaps you have wondered if God really works in the lives of people. As a Christian, perhaps you have wondered if God is working in your life. Begin practicing intentional thankfulness. Thank Him for 5 different things every day. Sure, you are going to repeat some things, but try not to repeat them daily. Look for the other things to thank Him for. As you do, you will see how God is working. You will discover a power that you didn’t expect. Let what God has done in the past inform what you believe God will do in your present!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Practice Makes Perfect

Have you ever met someone who is really good at their job? My wife and I went on a pizza tour of Chicago a few years ago. I was very impressed with the pizza (of course!), but I was also impressed with our guide. He did not just talk to us about pizza. He also talked to us about the history of the neighborhoods that we were passing through as we moved from pizza to pizza. He made the tour more than just riding in a bus and eating pizza. The tour became a discovery of Chicago in a way that I was not expecting.

How did he do that so well? He does it every day, twice a day, six days a week. He is constantly practicing his spiel. Every day he has the opportunity to tweak it and make it better and better. His job depends on it. The better it is, the more referrals he gets. The more referrals he gets, the more business he pulls in. It is a circle that reinforces itself.

When I think about becoming a person of prayer, I realize that the same thing is true. Very few of us start out as prayer giants. I read about people who are known for their praying, and I am amazed by their persistence and power. Yet, none of them started that way. They started as children and young people who had to develop their passion and skill in prayer. How did they do it? At the heart of their prayer lives, these giants of prayer believed in the power and necessity of prayer. Many of us share that belief, but we struggle with consistent prayer lives. This leaves us with a question – how do I move from belief to action? On Sunday, we talked about the practice of prayer we see in the Bible. From that study, we see 4 practices that are consistent in the Bible with people who pray. We see the same practices in the history of the church. If we are people who believe in the power of prayer, then following these examples will move us to becoming the people of prayer we long to be.

1. The first practice of prayer is to be intentional. Consider Daniel. The envious governors of the Medes and Persians knew that the only way Daniel could be accused of any crime was to attack his obvious commitment to God. What was the easiest way to do that? It was by attacking his commitment to intentional prayer.

10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.11 Then these men came  by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God.

Daniel 6:10-11

Notice the bold words… “as he had been doing previously.” Daniel had an intentional time and place for regular prayer. It was so intentional that it was predictable. Do we have that?

Action step: Pick a time and place for regular prayer.

2. The second practice of prayer is to be purposeful. Consider Paul. When we read about his prayers, they are not generic or general. They are specific. They have an agenda. In other words, Paul didn’t pray for general blessings or a “good life.” He prayed specifically because he believed that God answers prayer. If He answers, why wouldn’t we be specific?

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10  so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…

Colossians 1:9-10

Paul knew what he was praying for.  He was specific and passionate : Knowing why we are praying is one of the two most important principles of prayer. First, is don’t worry about others. Second, is know your purpose.

Action step: Pray for specific needs with specific prayer.

3. The third practice of prayer is to be consistent .

Notice the always language of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18…

16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and a mistreated woman. The woman demands justice. The judge doesn’t care. Her response? She demanded justice daily until he gave in and heard her case. Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find such faith on the earth?” Consistency is encouraged by God.

Action step: PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens.

4. The fourth practice of prayer is be genuine.

Jesus is clear in Matthew 6, don’t try to impress when you pray. Prayer isn’t about being cool. It isn’t about impressing God either. When we approach prayer that way, it becomes fake. It’s hard to get excited about fake stuff. However, real things excite us. Real things matter. So, be real when you pray.

Action step: If you believe that God is real, then speak to Him like a real person.

Practice makes perfect. Let’s practice praying with this in mind.

Something to think about, Pastor John

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Tell Me Your Story

Making simple things difficult is alarmingly easy to do. Now, if we all loved hard things it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, too often hard things intimidate us. What is sad is when we make something difficult that isn’t really difficult. Talking to people about Jesus is one of those things. When it comes to witnessing, we must stop making it complicated and come back to the simple.

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:19-20

How can we make witnessing more simple? In order to make sharing our faith simple, we must start by thinking about our faith in a way that is straight forward. This is where the first followers of Jesus inspire me. They inspire me to have a faith based upon what I am discovering about Jesus and not a faith based upon intellectual arguments or parroting another person’s thoughts. What do I see them do? I see the early disciples discovering the truths of Jesus and then sharing them. What did Peter and John say to the leaders of their day? They said that they must speak about what they have seen and heard. That is what they were sharing. They were sharing what Jesus taught them and did for them when they encountered Him. That’s it.

When it comes to the Scriptures, we tend to see it as a completed body of work. However when Peter, Paul, Luke, James, Matthew, John, and others were writing, they were writing as God revealed truth to them. For them, these weren’t complicated doctrines. They were revealed truths. So, they shared what was revealed to them. It was personal, not abstract.

I want to do that. I want to live by what Jesus reveals to me. When I take it a little at a time, I find that I can live it. When I live it, I can share it with others. I am not trying to live by someone else’s truth. I am living by the truth that I know. I am living by the truth I have discovered.

Now, this doesn’t mean I am going to stop thinking big thoughts or reading big thinkers. It does, however, mean that I not just going to repeat the smart sounding thoughts of others. No, I am going to be thinking my own thoughts for when they are my thoughts I can share them because I am living them.

What am I sharing? I am simply sharing my story. I’m not sharing a famous preacher’s story. I’m not sharing a 200 year old theologian’s story. I am sharing my story with Jesus. I am sharing what He has done to save me. I am sharing what He is teaching me today. That’s not complicated.  That’s simple. I can do that. You can too.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Follow up – What is your story? Share it in the comment section. I would love to hear it!

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Live the Word

Confidence. It can come naturally. It can also come from training. What about those of us who are naturally charismatic or haven’t gone through extensive training? Can we have real confidence to face either struggles or the naysayers of life? What can give everyday Christians the confidence of the apostles?

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13

There was something unusual about Peter and John. It wasn’t their charm or their specialized training. It was that they had been with Jesus. That is what the priests noticed. They appeared to be rough fishermen. They spoke with the authority of a priest or a prophet. Walking with Jesus made the difference!

How do we do this today? We walk with Jesus by beginning with trust. We use words like faith and believe in so many contexts that we can forget what they mean in Scripture. Faith and belief are foundational to walking with Jesus. Trust is foundational to faith and belief. We trust in Jesus’ character. We trust in Jesus’ promises. We trust that what Jesus did on the cross is completely effective to save us. We trust.

Once we trust Jesus, walking with Him is all about learning and leaning on what He has promised. This is the second part of trust.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The “Scripture” consists of the history of God with His people and His promises to us through Jesus. What power we discover when we learn and lean on it. This is where Christian confidence comes from. When we learn what promises we can count on, we marvel. Then, when we lean on those promises, we live in confidence. It is the confidence of knowing God’s character. It is the confidence of knowing God’s love. It is the confidence of knowing God’s promises.

May you live in this type of confidence – the confidence of walking with Jesus. Learn of Him and lean on Him. Then you can face the future and challenges of life with real confidence.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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