Forgiveness

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January 17

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

I could be wrong but I think one of the hardest things followers of Christ have trouble with is knowing AND REMEMBERING that God’s grace is good for all time. I mean, we will relish God’s forgiving grace when we initially come to Jesus for salvation and be grateful for that grace. We will appreciate His forgiving grace when we mess up big time and see how important it is.

But…

But often we forget that forgiving grace in the harsh reality of life. For example, consequences. We want to accept God’s forgiving grace, but we kinda sorta expect the consequences to be erased too.

Or the other end happens. We can’t totally forgive ourselves. Yes, I accept God’s forgiveness. Yes, I have (if necessary) gone to that other person seeking forgiveness. But applying grace to ourselves and to our own ongoing battle within…now that’s another story.

What we must realize is that God’s past grace to us is also God’s present grace. And it will be a future grace. Past grace allows us to see God’s work in our life. And we cherish that work. But it is also important to see God’s present grace at work in us. Yes, we were made new, forgiven of everything (or that “big one”). But God’s grace doesn’t stop with that initial work in us.

God’s grace is at work within us, daily remaking us into the likeness of Christ. Don’t just leave grace as an act of the past. See grace as an act of the present-forgiving and setting us free.

Do yourself a favor: Take a moment and read Romans 8:31-34. You will be glad you did.

January 3

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

I read this morning in Our Daily Bread about how some volunteers from a rescue organization in Australia found a wandering sheep weighed down by more than 75 pounds of filthy, matted wool.  They figured it had been forgotten and lost in the bush for at least 5 years. They were able to sheer it and soon the sheep (named Baarack) began to eat and his legs grew stronger. It thrived in the environment of his rescuers and the other animals.

It started me thinking about people, about how so many are weighed down by excess weight (not physical) and baggage. Some of it is simply the cares of life. Some of it is baggage of their own making from their past.

I’m reminded of a song (click here). It says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear/I am a child of God.”  There are way too many people who are slaves to fear, shame, unconfessed sin, regret, and a whole host of other baggage.

Just like Baarack needed his rescuers to slowly sheer away his excessive weight of tangled, matted wool, so do many of us. God, through His Spirit, sets us free. He desires to make us new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). His Word tells us that “he whom the Son has set free is free indeed.”

Are you carrying excess baggage these days? Are you weighed down by sin and shame and regret? Be sheered and let God’s Spirit set you free.

November 30

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

Isaiah 59:19 says, “So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west and His glory from the rising of the sun, for He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives.” (NASB2020)

I rather like the simplicity of the NLT in this verse: “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

As followers of Jesus, we are-or should be-keenly aware of our enemy’s tactics. His desire is to control us, or at least to compromise us so much that the effectiveness of our testimony is gone.

I was reading just this morning from I Cor. 10. After writing about the Israelites and their sin, Paul says some very poignant words to his readers (us). Please take a moment and read verses 11-13 right now.

We can choose to be a pawn in Satan’s grip or to be a vessel under control of the Master Commander. We can choose to give in to the temptation or we can choose to trust and rely on the One who changes lives.

In Mark 5 we read the story of a man who was under the control of the master deceiver. Uncontrollable. Unchained by people but chained to a cruel slave master. Then he met Jesus who righted the wrong and broke the chains that enslaved that man’s heart and life. I like what it says about him when the townspeople came out to see what happened: “He was sitting down, clothed and in his right mind.” (5:15)

I heard someone once say, “It is true God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. It is also true that Satan hates you and has a horrible plan for your life.”

Jesus can transform any life. I know. I’m one.

October 4

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

As I have grown in my faith, and matured as an adult, I’ve come to believe that one of the toughest stumbling blocks Christ-followers have to deal with is their past. Of course, there are the few who have done nothing really horrendous of which they should feel shame or guilt. Yes, we are all sinners and should feel guilt over that, but this is different.

I’m talking bigger than normal, everyday sin. The whopper. The life choice that rattles the bones. The choice that makes the insides turn over. The choice which hangs on and keeps coming back again and again. The choice of which nightmares are made of.

Simply put: shame-inducing, joy-robbing, strength-sapping shame.

Like Peter’s. Pledge your love and devotion but then deny at the first opportunity of the temperature rising. You know the story. “I’ll follow You. I’ll never turn my back.” “Before the cock crows,” He said. It happened as He said.

What now? What will Peter do? Wallow in his shame? Get sidelined? Cast out? None of the above. He will be invited to a breakfast by the sea where Jesus will call him Simon-which means “listen”-and find restoration and release from shame.

I’ll be honest: if not for God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration, I’d be on the sidelines. My failures, unbelief and meager attempts at righteousness would have me wrapped in a cloak of shame or pacing the sidelines or sitting on the bench with my head between my legs, if not for God’s patience and “Bill. Get up. Get back in the game.”

It’s called second chances and I serve a God of second chances. Shame? Sure it’s there. But I also know that it has been defeated by the grace of a God who specializes in taking broken people and making them new.

I can attest to that.

September 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

The long weekend is over (Labor Day) and I’m back! I know that just has you jumping for joy!! 🙂  I had a nice weekend. Relaxing. A great meal with friends on Saturday (since we “rained out” for a bike ride. In quotes because it never rained like they said it was supposed to). So, I rode 21+ miles yesterday with Ryan S. instead of Saturday.  (It is the longest I have ridden since my surgery on June 14th). Then, he went home and rode 30+ more. He da man! I remember when I used to do those kinds of things. These 70 year old legs would protest that kind of feat these days and wouldn’t think of doing something like that…unless I don’t want to move the next day…and the next…and the next. 🙂

Okay, now for the devotion based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. Before I give you Principle #5, which will include a recap of the first 4 principles, I want to take a side road based on #4. #5 will come tomorrow.

When we talk about intimacy, I think one of the hardest things to do is to be honest. My mate must feel safe (enfolded if I may use that word) in a cloak of warmth and protection and security that comes from me.  After being a pastor for about 50 years, I have seen precious few marriages where safety and security were evident. If you have one, you are blessed.

With that intimacy comes the ability to forgive. No marriage is perfect because no person is perfect. Intimacy is a rare commodity anyway, but when the inability to forgive crops up…forget it!! I have seen marriages blow up over the littlest thing which became a great thing all because of the inability to forgive. Big or small offense, forgiveness is not an option. Someone has said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” It seems like I have heard something on the order of “We are most like beasts when we sin; we are most like God when we forgive.” (If not, I lay claim to that! 🙂 ) Whether I heard it or made it up, it is true.

So before  I move on to Principle #5, let’s make a stand right here right now to forgive others-from the smallest to the largest offense. It starts with us, whether there is an apology or not.

I don’t remember there being an apology when Someone I want to model said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

July 20

Wednesday, July 20th, 2022

As I sat down this morning to enter my devotion that I had written at home during my Encounter Time, I suddenly realized that I wanted to take a different course. I will save that devotion for tomorrow.  Since you were praying for me yesterday (last night) concerning the funeral, I thought I would let you know how it went.

I told the family when I saw them at the visitation that whenever I hear of someone or am asked to do a funeral of someone I do not know, I always wonder if possibly I have met them before. I go to the Y on a regular basis and have since I moved here in ’05. I have also been active in the community for that many years so it is totally possible I have met someone but not known who they were. I did not know (let’s call him John).  I know exactly where he lives since I have been by there numerous times.  But I had never met him.

All in all I thought the service went well. It is my practice to neither send someone to Hell or to Heaven, unless I know they were a Christ-follower to the core. John was a man of faith. His family was telling me of the churches he attended in the area.  (Funny aside: OVCF bought this building in 2010 from the Mormons. When the 3 siblings met with me this past Sunday, they knew exactly where the building was because they used to attend here. This was one of their dad’s stopovers during his search for meaning).  Neither of them are now or ever plan to become Mormons…ever.

Anyway… the service went well.  I was able to use their eulogy and their suggested Scripture and implement them into my words from Psalm 23 (the requested Scripture from them).  I do believe an open door is there for future interaction.

I learned something which I already knew but needed to have reinforced in this day and age of militancy. Just like no one likes to be put into a cookie-cutter and classified at “being just like all the rest,” John broke the mold. I can honestly say I do love gay people. I have no animosity with or toward them. I try to be kind and respectful toward them as individuals. I do not agree with their lifestyle choice (and he began questioning it big time the last year of his life).  As I said, John broke the mold. He was not flashy. He was not the “typical” gay man. He was not flamboyant. He kept to himself and he kept his lifestyle to himself. That doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes, but it flies in the face of the militant ones who want to garner so much attention.  He lived with questions and the last year of his life the question of “Have I sinned too much? Could God love me?” surfaced in conversations with his children. I wish I had known him to tell him that no one sins too much and yes God loves Him. Does He approve of the lifestyle? No. But he had already decided a friend is all he wanted, not a relationship.  I met his friend and he was a true friend with none of the “fringe benefits.” John was done.

Jesus once told a parable about the man who had laborers in his field. He needed more so he went and got more. He needed still more and got them. At the end of the day he paid them all the same. It doesn’t matter when a person comes to Jesus. Early in life; middle of life; or on their death bed. The reward of heaven is the same. I cannot say whether John bowed his knee to the Father in Heaven.  He knew. He had been taught (outside the Mormon faith) of his need for Jesus. I can only hope and pray he made his choice. But it is still not my place to say yeah or nay.

As for the 3 siblings: I am hoping and praying for fruit. One lives out of town so I don’t see much interaction from her family.  The other daughter I had a chance to talk with and she expressed an interest in coming to OVCF. In fact, she said, “Don’t be surprised if some Sunday you see us walking in.” I told her I would look forward to that.  The son? He pretty much kept to himself but since I know where he lives, I can keep in contact.

So as I close this rather long (and I suspect sometimes rambling) post, would you mind praying for the Lawson family? Pray for them to find the wisdom and peace they crave. They are definitely going to need God’s direction as they sort through things. And pray for fruit to come from my ministry to them. I am thankful to God that He brought them my way. And I am thankful that He made it possible for me to be His representative. 

And I thank you for praying for me.

March 15

Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

“My dad can beat up your dad.”  “My dad is smarter than your dad.” “My mom is prettier than your mom.”

Remember those days? (I have a hard time because they were so long ago. 🙂 ) That game is still played by kids…and adults. The comparison game.

It never stops. Sports. Academics. Opposite sex attraction. Jobs. Friends. Physical stature (“I’m taller/stronger/faster than you are now.”) Church size (“We had x number of people this past Sunday.”) Sin.

Sin? Back the truck up!! Yes sin. When was the last time you heard someone say, “My sin is so much greater than yours so I deserve a much greater punishment”? On rare occasions…maybe…you might hear someone who is truly humble and will admit their sin. Most often it is more common to hear someone say their sin is not as bad as that person over there. “I don’t do this or that.” “I haven’t committed adultery.” “I haven’t left my spouse.” On and on the “I haven’t” goes.

Only when we see our sin in light of God’s unrelenting grace and the sinless Son of God will we see a more truthful picture of who we really are. When I think I am more righteous than I am I become a Pharisee like the one in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18: 9-17.

God sees me for who I am. He is infinitely smarter than me. It would be much better for me to approach Him as a tax collector than a Pharisee. Comparisons pushed aside.

“Father, may I see myself as You see me…as I really am.”

March 7

Monday, March 7th, 2022

Try as I may there is one thing I simply cannot stop doing: sinning. I can wake up with all the resolve in the world, but it isn’t very long before I can rack up      sin #1. Than sin #2. Then sin #3. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. Romans 3: 23 haunts me more than i want to think about. I fall short of God’s holy standard.

When I used to talk to young people about coming to Christ, I used to describe sin like a person pole-vaulting. His goal is to get over the bar. The pole vaulter gets set, runs down the track, plants the pole and doesn’t go over it. He might come up way short. He might knock the bar down. But unless he clears it, he is disqualified.

Sin is like that. Disqualifying us. Now, there are three approaches we can take:

  1. We can deny the evidence. You know…never admit sin. I believe that is called blindness and arrogance.
  2. We can wallow in our guilt and shame. Been there, done that. The reality of sin  overwhelms us. This is especially true of repetitive sin.
  3. In our grief and brokenness, we can come to the only One who can forgive us. The choice: flee or come. Run to God or run away. Why would anyone want to run away from the only One who could bring peace and relief?

“Father, I know I sin every day. Instead of denying or hiding, help me to always run to You.”

 

March 3

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

“May I never boast except in the cross of Christ.” So the Apostle Paul says in Gal. 6:14. What does that mean?

The title of this blog is “Living in the Shadow.”  Shadow of what? We all know what a shadow is. “A dark area of shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface.”  It’s also used in reference to proximity.  Think “me and my shadow.” My idea for the title was “what is it like to live in the shadow of the cross?”

Well, for one, we learn who we are. At the foot of the cross there is no rich or poor, black or white, male or female, slave or free (to borrow Paul’s words). Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” The cross reminds us who we are-sinners in need of God’s grace. There is no need-no, there is no warrant for us to think we don’t need to be there or that we are not as bad off as someone else. At the foot of the cross there is no way we can or should think more highly of ourselves.

As we learn who we are, we also learn who God is. As we become more and more aware of our sinful state, we should also become more and more aware of God’s unrelenting grace. No need for me to clean up first; God does that for me.

“May I never boast except in the cross of Christ” is good advice for all of us.  Come to think of it; I have no reason to boast except in the cross. I certainly can’t boast about anything I have done. That is a losing game.

March 1

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

Have you ever noticed that sometimes simple is best? You go into a restaurant and you are hungry for a cheeseburger. But many restaurants don’t have just a cheeseburger. They have a double cheese with bacon, avocado, onion, BBQ sauce…okay the whole kitchen sink. Its so sloppy you spend more time wiping your hands and mouth and beard (if applicable), or your shirt that you can’t even taste the cheeseburger.

I like wings-boneless- thank you very much. I don’t like them hot. I know one restaurant with so many sauces one can’t make up their mind. And to top it off they have a 3 or 5 alarm sauce. No thank you. I want to enjoy my wings. Carolina Gold with some Ranch on the side sounds really good about now.  Oops its only 5:15 a.m. 🙂

The book of Philemon-which I read this morning- is like that. Simple. To the point. People love Romans and the prison epistles that Paul wrote. I do too. But sometimes a simple message is enough. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who ran away.  Somewhere along the line he was converted under Paul’s ministry and Paul wanted to honor Philemon by doing what was right-he offered Onesimus back to him. He could have ordered Philemon to take him (v.8), but instead he appealed to him as a friend and a lover of Jesus (v.9). If Philemon didn’t want Onesimus, Paul did!  But he wanted Philemon’s consent (v.14).

Simple. Direct. Loving. Respectful. Paul shows us how it is done. Friendship is worth preserving no matter your lot in life. No matter your likes or dislikes.

“Father, friendship is so important. Thank you for this postcard by Paul to show us how it is done. May I be a friend who is loving and respectful in all things.”