Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Do We Forgive?

Forgiveness is something we often struggle with. It doesn't come easily in many situations. The whole idea of it can sound so wrong to our ears.

We usually feel that it's easier to just refuse to forgive the other person. To either hold onto the hurt, or try to pretend it didn't happen and it didn't hurt. The problem is that refusing to forgive is actually more harmful to us than we realize.

I've sometimes wondered if part of my struggle with forgiveness is because of a misunderstanding of what it is based on words commonly associated with it as a kid. I have no idea where I learned it from, but somewhere along the line, the standard response when someone said they were sorry and I needed to forgive them became "that's okay."

Those words never felt right. But, I knew I had to say something and they were the only words I knew to say. The words "that's okay" always seemed to downplay the incident - make it seem less significant.

Somewhere along the way, this changed my thinking about what it meant to forgive someone. I came to associate it with making the situation and how I felt about it less important. I began to see it as saying the hurt I felt didn't matter. And that made it more difficult to forgive.

Except that was a wrong understanding of forgiveness.

Scripture teaches the importance of forgiveness. We're told over and over that we need to forgive. Jesus says it is so important that we should make things right with someone before we worship. Matthew 5:23-24 says:
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to theml then come and offer your gift."
Unforgiveness prevents us from being able to worship God. When we become aware of a someone we need to forgive, Jesus' words in Matthew 5 teach us that we should deal with that right away.

So, if forgiveness is so important, even when it's so difficult, there must be something more about it than thinking it downplays the significance of a hurt. In fact, that is a misunderstanding of what it's about.

Forgiveness is about releasing the other person from having a hold in our lives any longer. It's not saying that what happened is okay. That's not what we're asked to do. It's about allowing God to bring His healing to our hurt rather than waiting for the person who hurt us to enough of the right things to make it right - something they will likely never do.

Forgiveness isn't saying that what happened wasn't important and didn't hurt. It is acknowledging that it happened and it hurt and then allowing God to heal the hurt. That is why we forgive.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Our Need for Others

We live in a culture that teaches us to be proud of doing things without a need for others. We praise individual accomplishments. Even on a team, we look for what we can consider the most important individual contribution.

We're taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. That we can't need other people. That the way to do it is to figure it out on our own.

And this works, at least to a degree, when life is going as we planned. When things are going smoothly and predictably we can manage on our own.

But, what happens when life throws something unexpected our way? What about the times when something happens and you're not sure you can keep going?

Those are the times when we can more clearly realize the ways our culture ahs it wrong. Those are the times when we can see our need our need for other people in our lives.

Yes, in those times we need God and we need to depend on Him completely. Yes, in those times we can't get through them without God.

But, God has designed us to need people. Often the way God helps us get through those times is by using the people around us to be His hands and feet in our lives - to show us His love.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
" And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deed, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
We need to have people around us who can encourage us, love us, buid us up walk with us through life. We were made to need this. It is God's plan.

I've been reminded of the importance of this in the last couple months. Life threw some unexpected things my way and quickly became clear I wasn't going to get through it all on my own - or even just me and God. I needed to allow the community God had placed around me to walk through it with me - to encourage me and love me and help me keep on going when I couldn't on my own. God was choosing to use them to get me through this time.

As I've reflected on this, I've been able to see a beautiful picture of how God intends for His people to live, of how God created us to care for one another. A picture that is so different than the one our culture tells us we should live by.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Allow God to Form Your Thoughts

"We demolish arguements and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5).

For most of my life I've thought that taking every thought captive was actually impossible. It just seemed like something I couldn't do.

I mean . . . who doesn't have thoughts that wander sometimes?

And how am I really supposed to think about God and His ways all the time?

How do I actually stop thinking about things I know I shouldn't? It seems like the harder I try to stop thinking about it, the more I end up thinking about it.

I've been challenged lately that maybe I've had it wrong when it comes to taking every thought captive. Not that doing so is wrong; Scripture is pretty clear that we should. But, what if I've been wrong in my understanding of what taking every thought captive means - what it looks like?

We all have things happen in life that stay with us. We think about them as drive, as we shop, as we work, as we watch TV, as we go to sleep. They can be good or bad. They don't have to consume all our thoughts, but they are things we give some time to.

When it comes to sinful thoughts, worry, anxiety, and so many things we know aren't from God, the most common advice I've heard is to just stop thinking about them - to work harder at not thinking about them. And then I would feel even worse because when I tried harder to not think about them, I ended up thinking about them more. This led me to conclude that what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 10:5 is impossible.

But, in one of the Bible studies I've been working through recently, the author challenged me to see things differently. She was talking about Isaiah 26:3, which says:
          "You will keep in perfect peace
                    those whose minds are steadfast,
                    because they trust in You."
                                             (NIV, emphasis mine)

She started talking about what is meant by steadfast minds based on the original language. The picture of it made me think it might actually be possible to take our thoughts captive.

The idea in Isaiah 26:3 is one of leaning all of our thoughts onto God, so He can form them. It's not about what we do to change our thoughts, but about allowing God to form how we think about what we're thinking.

Taking my thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ is about allowing Him to form how I think about things. When I do that, my thoughts change. I being to see things God's way and to think about what is good and pleasing to Him. It becomes possible to take my thoughts captive because it's no longer about me. It's about allowing God to form how I think about what I think - whatever it is I'm thinking about.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Only One Whose Opinion Really Matters

Whose opinion are you most worried about?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we often have someone whose opinion of us matters more than others to us. We know that it shouldn't be that important to us, but it is nonetheless.

In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 Paul writes some challenging words:
"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the matters of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God."
Paul is pretty clear in these words that he's not concerned about what others think of him. He is concerned with what God thinks and what God sees.

Because of this, Paul kept a short account with God. He kept his conscience clear by dealing with things right away. He wasn't saying he didn't have sin and struggles in his life; but that he went to God with them right away.

Pail knew that ultimately it is only God Who can expose what is really going on in our hearts. God will always bring tit into the light so He can deal with it.

When I read these words in 1 Corinthians, my first thought is to wonder if I could say that I care very little if I'm judged by someone else, alongside Paul. The truth is, most days I couldn't. Most days I am concerned about what others think of me and their judgements of me.

I know that what God thinks of me is more important, but I don't always live like that. In a world, where judgements of other people are made all the time, it cna be difficult to not care what others think of us.

But, the reality of it is that God's judgement of us is all that will really matter. Serving Him, seeking His approval above all is what our lives should be about.

When we live our lives concerned the most with God and His approval we are freed to live the lives He intended for us to live. And God is given the room to do His work of transformation in us, as He exposes that which needs to be exposed in us and does His work on it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Build an Altar

"When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 'Choose twelve men from amount he people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put the down at the place where you stay tonight'." (Joshua 4:1-3)

God told Joshua to build an altar out of stones from the middle of the Jordan river. The same river they had been able to cross because God had stopped the river from flowing to give Israel safe passage.

"So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, 'Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, What do these stones mean? tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever'." (Joshua 4:4-7)

God wanted Joshua and the Israelites to build the altar as a reminder of what He had done for them. For them to see the altar in the future and remember. It served a purpose.

We need these reminders in our lives as well. We need those things we can look back on and be reminded of what God did in that situation.

We may not be building physical altars of stone, but we need to create these reminders in our own lives. These are the things that keep us going in the hard times. Our ability to look back on how God has moved and worked in the past in our lives. Those times gives us hope that God is at work in the current situation as well.

What are those times for you? What are those instances when you look back and see how God has worked on your behalf? How God has met you in the midst of what was going on?

We need to become intentional about these things - about remembering them. God had the Israelites build this altar on purpose after they crossed the Jordan on dry land to remember what God had done for them. We need to build altars at these same times in our own lives. Not to worship them - but so they can point us to the God Who stepped in at that moment.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Take the First Step

"As soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord - the Lord of all the earth - set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap." (Joshua 3:13)

God told Joshua how Israel would get across the Jordan safely. He would stop the water from flowing so they had dry ground to walk on.

Just one thing: The priests carrying the Ark would have to step into the water first, then the water would stop flowing. (Joshua 3:17 records that this is what happened.)

God said what He would do, but Israel had to take the first step of obedience to see what God said happen. If those priests didn't step into the Jordan, the water would have kept flowing. They had to take the first step of obedience and then God did the rest.

The same is true for us sometimes. God tells us His plan and then asks us to take the first step of obedience without seeing Him do His part. We have to trust Him and what He says. Once we take that first step of obedience, we see how God does exactly what He said He would.

For those us (me included) who like to know the outcome before getting started, this isn't always easy. We're being asked to do something without knowing the outcome. We have to choose to trust.

The thing about choosing to trust God is that we can be confident He will always keep His word. If He has said it, we can be sure that He will do it. But that doesn't always make it easier in the moment to take that first step without seeing the whole picture. Yet, that is exactly what we have to learn to do.

What is the first step God is asking you to take right now?

What is keeping you from taking it?

Will you choose to trust God and take that step now?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Do the Work

With spring comes the beginning of new life and new growth.

Flowers will begin to bloom again.

Fruit trees are covered in buds that will become fruit later.

Everything begins to turn brilliant, varied shades of green again.

Sometimes for those signs of new life to be visible, we have to take the time to remove the dead stuff that is covering it up. We need to clear away the leaves and pull out the weeds. If we don't, they will choke out the new life and it won't become all that it was intended to be.

Clearing away the dead requires work on our part. We have to take the time to gather the leave. We have give the energy to pull out the weeds. We have to do it carefully so we don't damage the delicate, new life underneath it. When we have removed the dead around it, the new life gets all the things it needs to grow and flourish.

The same principles apply in our spiritual lives. When God begin to work in area of our lives to produce new life it's not a passive work on our part. We have a part to play. We have to come alongside God and work with Him to carefully remove the dead things and the weeds that are trying to choke the life out of the new things. As we do, the new thing is given room to grow and flourish and become all that God intends for it to become.

Allowing God's work in us to grow and flourish is an ongoing process. Just as the new growth spring brings requires continuing work to become what it was intended to be, our spiritual lives are the same way. We have to be continually working with God on removing the dead and the weeds so that the things He is doing receive everything they need to become when He intends them to become.

What is that area in your life that God is beginning to do something?

What are the things you need to do to work with God in clearing out what is in the way of that new growth He is bringing?