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Posts tagged ‘God’s grace’

God’s Love Won’t Let Me Go — Regardless

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Ruth Myers

The Love That Won’t Let Go

God’s passion for His children is unlike any other love we’ll ever experience.

When I was a teenager, God began to deepen my appreciation for His love through “The Love of God,” a song made famous by George Beverly Shea. This song describes God’s love as “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” If the skies were a scroll and the oceans filled with ink, the song goes on to say, and if every stalk on earth were a writing quill, we still could never write in full this love God has for us. The skies could not contain it. The oceans would run dry.

Through the years since then, the Lord has been weaving into my life a richer awareness of how lavishly He loves me (and all of us) and how deeply He longs for each of us to experience His love. My heart has been opened again and again to delightful discoveries that have made me feel more satisfied and at rest in Him, more alive in His love, more liberated, more secure.

In God we find the kind of love we most deeply need. If we want real love, ideal love, perfect love, God’s heart is where to find it. It’s the only love big enough to meet the God-sized needs of your life and mine.

Just Because

Because you are a special treasure to God, He is working to draw you into a deeper love for Him—away from any idols in your life, away from rival interests, away from giving first place to His good gifts instead of to Him.

In Jer. 31:3, the Lord tells His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (NKJV). Every hour since you first met Him, He has been pursuing you, seeking to draw you closer as a mother draws her child, as a bridegroom his bride. He wants you near.

God loves us “just because.”

His love defies human logic. It doesn’t make sense. And yet there are reasons. I think of at least two:

First, God loves us because He is love. It’s His nature to love.

Second, He loves us because He made us.

Sin has destroyed some of the beauty of His design that He must now work to restore; but He made each of us with great skill, and we have unique value to Him. Because He made us for Himself, in His image, we have the potential of intimate relationship with Him. He prizes us and wants us for Himself. He loves us for what a love relationship with Him can mean to us—and to Him—now, in this life. He also loves us for what He knows we’ll become for all eternity. He eagerly awaits the delights in store for Him and us when we will dwell with Him forever in joyful, unbroken fellowship.

We read in Dt. 7:7 and 10:15 that God set His love upon His people—He “fastened” it upon them, as The Berkeley Version says. I like that. There’s a gentle but unyielding persistence about the love of God, a tenacious tenderness toward each person who has responded to Him. He loves us and holds on and won’t let us go.

From Everlasting to Everlasting

What is God’s love like? The tenacious love of God is both eternal and changeless. These two concepts are wonderfully linked.

“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17,RSV). From everlasting to everlasting. Let’s look at this phrase more closely.

From everlasting, before I ever existed, God loved me. Long before I was born, He looked ahead and fastened His affection upon me. His love for me began in His foreknowledge of me. When He decided to love me, I did not yet even exist. His love is not mine because I merit it, for He fastened His love upon me before I ever did one thing, good or bad.

Before we were born, He already knew the worst about us, and nothing that happens now can surprise or disillusion Him. He has never had any illusions about anyone or anything. He doesn’t suddenly discover some truth about one of us and think, Oh, why did I ever choose to love him or her? I like what J. I. Packer says in Knowing God: “God’s love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.”

Therefore, in the midst of my failures and struggles when I feel so undeserving, I never have to think, Oh dear, does He still love me? His love for each of us is never rooted in our worthiness, but rather in His own nature.

God says to us, “It’s not because you earned it or worked so hard for it that I have loved you. And I don’t continue loving you because you manage to maintain a high enough standard in My eyes. No, I simply made a permanent choice to love you.”

That choice will never change. He loved me from everlasting and will love me to everlasting. His love for me—and for you—will never end. It’s a lifelong, eternity-long relationship, now and forever available to meet our every need as we seek to know Him better.

Even When We Rebel

We see God’s unchanging love in an especially beautiful way in the book of Hosea. There God declared that He still loved His people “though they turn to other gods” (Hos. 3:1). Hosea’s message shows God’s constant love for His people, even when they spurned Him and persisted in rebelling against Him.

God speaks these words to His people in Hos. 11:8: “How can I give you up, Israel? . . . My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong” (Good News Bible). And the New Living Translation puts it this way, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? . . . My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.”

This was His attitude toward them even though they had persistently rebelled against Him. God had patiently sent them warnings over the centuries, but so often they refused to listen. Finally, He had to send severe chastening. They needed it, and He gave it. But even that chastening was evidence of His love, just as it is in our lives. Throughout it all His attitude was still, “How can I let you go?” He cannot give us up. He cannot abandon us. His love for us is too strong.

How that relieves my heart!

Even when I’m letting something else be more important to me than God, God is still loving me. Even when He must discipline me, He says, “I won’t go one bit further than I have to for your good, and I would never cut you off from My love. My heart would never allow it.” He recoils at the very thought of ever withdrawing His love for us.

Psalm 73:26 begins, “My flesh and my heart may fail”—yes, this will happen to us in different ways all through life. Our bodies and souls may grow weak and waste away. And worse than that, we may inwardly and outwardly fail to trust and obey the Lord. But we can come right back to Him, confess how we have failed, and let the Lord love us. Then we can go on to personalize the last part of this verse, saying with the psalmist, “Lord, You are the strength of my heart, the source of my stability; and You are my chosen portion forever.”

Love without Limits

God’s love is incalculably great. His love is abounding, vast, infinite. His love has no limitations, no boundaries. In both duration and extent it is limitless. We’ll never be able to get out of it or away from it or beyond it.

Notice the description of God’s love in Eph. 3:16–19. Paul speaks of how the Spirit within us strengthens us so that we can, in fuller measure, have Christ dwelling within us. He says, “I pray . . . that your life will be strong in love and be built on love” (Eph 3:17, NCV). He goes on to pray that we will know in actual experience the greatness of Christ’s love—that we will understand more fully its boundless dimensions, how long and wide and high and deep it is, though it is far greater than anyone can ever know.

God’s love is limitless. This means there are no bounds to the encouragement and hope and strength it can give us. Once I found myself under unusual pressure while my husband, Warren, was gone for almost a month. Situations arose that were difficult for me to cope with. In those stressful weeks the Lord deeply ministered to me through 2 Thess. 2:16–17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (paraphrase based on NASB and Phillips).

Here is His personal, loving touch: encouragement and hope that never fail because they are by grace, not based on my deserving. My heart—and yours—may often fail and our resources prove to be inadequate. But the Lord Himself, who loves us, is always ready to inspire us with courage and confidence, as J. B. Phillips puts it.

The Lord does not parcel out little dabs of love—”Well, you’ve been good children today, so I’ll love you a little bit.” No, His love flows freely. It overflows, coming to us in an abounding way. We read in Ro. 5:5 that God’s love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “It floods our hearts,” as James Moffatt translates it. It’s a tremendous outpouring of love—not in skimpy measure, but rather in a flood, an inundation.

And He has put right within us the source of this abounding love—the Holy Spirit—so His love can be poured out abundantly throughout our whole being. We don’t have to settle for trivial little insights into His love. We can experience vastly more of it than we do at present, if we truly want to—if we open ourselves to Him and His Word, seeking and yielding and trusting.

The Grace behind His Love

God’s love is linked inseparably with His grace, His attitude of unmerited favor toward us. Grace is the basis on which He first chose us in His love, and His overflowing grace is the basis on which He continues to lavish His love upon us.

We read in Ro. 5:20 in the Wuest translation that where sin abounded, “grace superabounded with more added to that.” There are no words to adequately convey the abundance of God’s grace. So we can just say that it “superabounds—with more added to that”!

God’s love is so great that no sin is too great for Him to forgive. We can always approach His throne of grace and receive forgiveness, whether for a large, even scandalous sin, or for any of the mass of little failures that get us down so that we think, Oh, do I have to confess that again?

The flow of God’s love never stops; it always shines forth undimmed. But our response determines whether it gets through to us. We can pull the blinds—or we can open them. We choose what we’ll let ourselves be filled with, and God respects our choice. He does not force His love on us. But at all times His love flows and shines—perfect, unwavering, available to meet our needs.

We see this unchanging flow of God’s love portrayed in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The father was waiting for the son to turn his back on his rebellion and return home. And when he saw him coming, he didn’t have to think twice about responding with fervent love. The flow of his love had never lessened, though the son had strayed to a far country and into terrible sin.

All of us need this grace. To the person with desperate needs who is willing to admit them, God shows His love. Do you qualify? I know I do. I qualify because I have needs—desperate needs. And He has made me willing to admit them and let Him meet them. When I fail to recognize how needy I am, He graciously works to remind me (at times in painful ways). And He renews my willingness to say, “Lord, I’m so messed up, so needy, so unable to obey You and to handle life in my own strength. So I bring my deep needs to You.”

As we mature through the years, we see shortcomings and areas of neglect in our lives that we didn’t know were there. So often, when we feel we’re doing well (if we’ve been victorious and had our quiet time every day and learned Bible verses and been nice to our family and our neighbors), then we think, God surely loves me today. Then we drop into those low times—we’re sure there’s no way He could love us now. So at the very point where we need His love most, we don’t even dare come before Him to seek and experience it. We forget that He has always loved us, even when we had absolutely no use for Him at all. And He will always love us—just because.

Sacrificial Love

When it comes to human love, we like to see action as well as words, don’t we?

Words, of course, are important. A wife never tires of hearing her husband tell her again, “I love you.” God gives us plenty of words to tell us He loves us, but He also acts upon that love. His greatest action was sending His Son to suffer humiliation and anguish for us when we still had no use for Him. He was willing to pay the highest price possible so that we could belong to Him, so that He could have a loving relationship with us.

His love for you and me is a costly love. In the Wuest translation of 1 Jn. 4:7 we read that God’s love is “divine and self-sacrificial.” This, again, points us to the cross—the ultimate sacrifice. Such love is foreign to our nature. Humans love like this only when their love comes from God.

In Ro. 5:6–8 we read:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And because of this sacrifice, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Ro. 5:11).

Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). A human love will conceivably die for a friend—though only the greatest of human loves would ever dare to do it. Jesus, however, died for His enemies, so that He could make us His friends, bringing us into intimate relationship with Himself. That’s how much He desires to have us near Him.

Only God is the source of such love. His is truly the greatest love of all.

The Favor of the King

In this, as in all that God gives us, He is immeasurably generous. His love gives and gives and is never depleted, because His power and resources are unlimited. He never has need to give in a grudging way. As Eph. 3:20 says, He’s able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think—beyond our fondest dreams. He’s a total giver who loves to give, who delights to do good for us, so that we can live truly abundant lives.

Romans 5:17 speaks of what Christ has done for believers and how “by their acceptance of his more than sufficient grace and righteousness” people can now “live their lives victoriously” (Phillips). We have this possibility of living royally because of the abundance of God’s grace. As we have seen, grace means “unmerited favor,” favor that we don’t have to earn, favor that we don’t deserve. In fact, we deserve just the opposite!

And whose favor is it? The favor of the King of kings. Favor that flows out from Him toward us. And as we receive it, realizing we are highly favored by the only truly important person who exists, it does something in our hearts. If we belong to the King of kings, we can be sure of His favor whenever we approach Him.

God loves to honor our requests and bestow His favors upon us. God delights to do the things that delight us, and so He gives to us lavishly. He is not a stingy God. When Jesus came to this earth, His purpose was to share with us His true and eternal treasures. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

These riches include everything we need here on earth for a full spiritual life and a satisfying emotional life. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

This is all ours to enjoy as we seek to know Him better.

Forgiveness: Doing what Christ does

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article in  Discipleship Journal/Jack & Carole Mayhall

She looked at me defiantly.  Hope, hurt, pain, and anger were mingled in her eyes and in her tone as she said, “I can’t do it, Carole. Could you?”

She had just told me her problem—and it was a giant one. Her in-laws had physically and verbally attacked her in front of her husband and children. And her husband had not only failed to come to her defense, but had sided with his parents. How could she forgive such a thing?

“No,” I replied, “I couldn’t forgive him. But God can—and will through and in you, if you’ll let him. There is no hope for your marriage if you don’t forgive.”

I could have added that there would be no hope for her, either. The lack of forgiveness produces a poison that will eat away one’s very existence, especially the existence of any joy or peace in our lives.

What heartache!

There is no easy answer. But this I know: God does have a solution. It is somehow tied in with the solemn warning in Hebrews 12:15—”See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” I would paraphrase that first part, “Make sure no one fails to receive enough of God’s grace.”

If we don’t have enough of his grace, it isn’t God’s fault. His grace is sufficient for our every need (2 Corinthians 12:9). The fault is ours, because we haven’t really asked for his grace with an accepting heart.

What is forgiveness? One dictionary defines the verb forgive as “to cease to feel resentment” against someone, “to pardon,” “to give up resentment,” or “to grant relief from payment.”

I was struck with two things about this definition. First was the feeling involved—”to cease to feel resentment.” This statement rules out attitudes such as “I forgive him, but I can’t forget it,” or, “I forgive him in my head, but not in my heart.” Our hearts are free only when we cease to feel resentment.

Many times we don’t really want to forgive, for if we do we become vulnerable to be hurt all over again. So we build our walls of resentment and unforgiveness in order not to feel pain again.

Logically this makes some sense. But emotionally it is deadly poison. And it poisons the person with the unforgiving heart first of all. When a person hardens his or her feelings against pain, all feeling can be deadened.

The second thing that struck me about the dictionary definition was the verbs that are used: “cease,” “give up,” and “grant.” An act of our will is involved in ceasing to feel resentful, in giving up a claim, in granting the offender relief from paying for his offense. But to do this is not easy.

David Augsburger, radio speaker for “The Mennonite Hour,” put it this way in Cherishable: Love and Marriage

Forgiveness is hard.  Especially in a marriage tense with past troubles, tormented by fears of rejection and humiliation, and torn by suspicion and distrust.

Forgiveness hurts.  Especially when it must be extended to a husband or wife who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, who may misuse it. It hurts to forgive.

Forgiveness costs.  Especially in marriage when it means accepting instead of demanding repayment for the wrong done; where it means releasing the other instead of exacting revenge; where it means reaching out in love instead of relinquishing resentments. It costs to forgive.

Forgiveness, Augsburger says, is when the injured person chooses “to accept his angry feelings, bear the burden of them personally, find release through confession and prayer, and set the other person free.”

This is what Jesus Christ did for us.

He forgave us unconditionally, bearing the burden, setting us free. “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7–8).

Many times it is the little, picky matters that stick in our throats and cause us to choke when the need arises to forgive. When we do not deal with the seemingly inconsequential things, we fail to “walk in the light.”

If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:7)

Are you walking in the light with your mate?

In Christ, there is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), no hidden, secret resentment, no anger or self-pity, or criticism. If we are walking in the light as he is in the light, then we will have true fellowship with one another. We will be best friends in open, honest sharing.

We must forgive, and forgive immediately.

Listen again to David Augsburger:

Forgiveness is smiling silent love to your partner when the justifications for keeping an insult or injury alive are on the tip of your tongue, yet you swallow them. Not because you have to, to keep peace, but because you want to, to make peace.

Forgiveness is not acceptance given “on condition” that the other becomes acceptable. Forgiveness is given freely. . . .

Forgiveness is a relationship between equals who recognize their deep need of each other, share and share-alike. Each needs the other’s forgiveness. Each needs the other’s acceptance. Each needs the other.

Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

“What forgiveness of sin is” by Thomas Watson

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege

“The nature of forgiveness will more clearly appear by opening some Scripture-phrases.

1. To forgive sin, is to take away iniquity. ‘Why dost thou not take away my iniquity?’ (Job 7:21). It is a metaphor taken from a man that carries an heavy burden ready to sink him, and another comes, and lifts off this burden. So when the heavy burden of sin is on us, God in pardoning, lifts off this burden from the conscience, and lays it upon Christ: ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6).

2. To forgive sin, is to cover sin. ‘Thou hast covered all their sin,’ (Ps. 32:1). This was typified by the mercy-seat covering the ark, to show God’s covering of sin through Christ. God doth not cover sin in the Antinomian sense, so as He sees it not, but He doth so cover it, as He will not impute it.

3. To forgive sin, is to blot it out. ‘I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions,’ (Isa. 43:25). The Hebrew word, to lot out, alludes to a creditor, who, when his debtor hath paid him, blots out the debt, and gives him an acquittance. So God, when He forgives sin, blots out the debt, He draws the red lines of Christ’s blood over our sins, and so crosseth the debt-book.

4. To forgive sin, is for God to scatter our sins as a cloud. ‘I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions,’ (Isa. 44:22). Sin is the cloud interposed, God dispels the cloud, and breaks forth with the light of His countenance.

5. To forgive sin, is for God to cast our sins into the depths of the sea. ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” (Micah 7:19). This implies God’s burying them out of sight, that they shall not rise up in judgment against us. God will throw them in, not as cork that riseth again, but as lead that sinks to the bottom.”

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–Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer  (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1662/1999), 214-215.

Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686) was an EnglishNonconformistPuritan preacher and author.

What Do I Do With My Regrets?

SOURCE:  Jon Gauger/Family Life Today

Rather than letting go of our regrets, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging them.

I should be dead by now. Really.

Thankfully, as a boy of 15, I underwent surgery for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Had my parents not opted for such a treatment, statistics say I wouldn’t be alive today because of the crushing my internal organs would have received from the twisting of my own spine. If not dead, my torso would resemble something like the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The surgery was no minor deal. First, an incision was made from my waist to the top of my shoulders (about two feet long). After straightening the spine and fastening two metal rods (each rod about a foot long) into the vertebrae, the surgeon chipped tiny fragments off my hip and then carefully placed them along the vertebrae to create a bone fusion.

Recovery was slow. Every four hours I was rotated from my back to my stomach on a circular bed frame resembling equipment from a circus acrobatic act. After nearly two weeks of rotating bed confinement, I was informed that the next day would be “casting day,” when I would get a plaster cast covering most of my upper body, allowing for near normal mobility. I distinctly recall the nurse warning me the night before. “Your incision is healing, and you’ll likely feel an itching sensation tonight. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your scar.”

But what I felt that night was more than an itching sensation. It was an itching assault. An itching warfare. I scratched (bad decision). And the scars itched more. I scratched more. And the scars itched still more. At the height of this agony (I do not overstate the moment), it was all I could do to force myself to clench the tubular steel of the circular frame bed and quote every Bible verse I’d ever learned over and over. It remains the most awful night of my life.

Who knew a scar could cause so much pain?

Regrets are scars of the soul.

We carry them around with us, and every now and then they itch. So we scratch them. We replay that thoughtless deed, that hurtful conversation. But instead of relief, we sense only a greater discomfort. Rather than let these memories go, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging our regrets.

What should we do with our scars when they assault us at night or in moments of tired reflection?

Scars, medical experts tell us, require regular and proper care (mine still itch or get occasional scabs). But what kind of care is there for scars of the soul? It’s a question we put to our contributors. Just what should we do with our regrets?

Walter Wangerin

This is simple: Pray for forgiveness. Ask the Christ who fought the devil to come and speak to our regret. Invariably, the word the Lord brings us is, “Go and sin no more. I have forgiven you. Now go on. Get up. Go back to your life and be better than you were.”

George Verwer

I read a long time ago that regret is the most subtle form of self-love. The temptation to regret comes the same way as any other temptation. What we need to do is readily embrace the gift of God’s grace. A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure, yet they do really well at the end. We need to encourage one another with that. Regarding our specific regrets, God has forgiven us. He knows how to work things out for good, so we can’t dwell on regret. We have to somehow move forward because it’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets, paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.

Kay Arthur

What do we do with our regrets? Now that’s a question I can answer readily for two reasons. One, I messed up so much before I came to know genuine salvation at the age of 29, and it had great ramifications. Second, I am a perfectionist. I battle with, “I could have done it better, I should have, I wish I had, why didn’t I?” This is where I must run to the open arms of my Sovereign God and all His promises and bring them to bear on my regrets. Also, I would add that we need to remember Satan is the accuser of the children of God (Revelation 12:10-11), so I have to stay dressed in His armor, rejoicing that He will make me “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

The first thing we have to do is thank God for grace. Go back to the cross. Preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I am not the Christ. I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God I have a Savior.” I thank God He has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve. The sum total of my life will not be about how well I performed, how well I lived up to my goals, or how successfully I overcame my bad habits or sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ my righteousness. He took my sin—He who had no sin—on Himself. He clothed me in His righteousness, and that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God and not be ashamed. Every day I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness. He is my only hope in life and in death.

James MacDonald

Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I believe all of our sins—past, present, and future—are under the blood of Christ, that we’re forgiven. I think we need to live as forgiven people. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Genuine repentance is not thinking about what I should have done or what I could have done. It’s thinking about what Christ has done, and living in that. When your kids were little and they would act up, what you wanted was for them to forsake the bad behavior and go forward. That’s what I believe the Lord wants for us. Not to wallow in our failures, but to revel in His grace and to give it to others.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I love to read passages in Scripture that remind me that God has a poor memory when it comes to my sin. He remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). He separates me from my sin as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11-12). That is what makes the Good News so great! God will not remember our sins. You know what? We shouldn’t either.

Michael W. Smith

You use regrets for good. That’s one reason I started Rocketown, a club for kids in Nashville. I love speaking to youth. I’m able to say, “Hey, guys, let me tell you my story.” Based on my own experiences, I have a little bit of credibility talking to some kid who is smoking dope every day and getting high, struggling with drugs. I say, “I’ve been there.” He might respond, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I tell him my story, and all of a sudden he’s listening because I have been there. I get to say, “Guys, it’s a dead-end street. It’ll take you down. This is not what your destiny is.” Regret gives me an opportunity to speak into kids’ lives because of the fact that I’ve been there.

I’ll Never Live Up To What God Expects Of Me

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

The Danger of Dread

A twenty-five-year-old man is filled with dread. He believes he can never truly walk in the Spirit with his thoughts thoroughly controlled by Christ. He can never fully avoid the contamination of the world around him. Even more, the evidence, he thinks, is clear—he is not one of the elect. He is persuaded that God has abandoned him, and being out of favor with the angry God is a dreadful thing. As you might guess, he has objections to any Scripture you might offer.

How might you respond?

I tried to assemble his version of God.

He is saying, I think, that God is supra-sovereign—a despot, displeased with his people, and expecting something from them that is impossible to give. We are prisoners to his unyielding demands.

This understanding of God doesn’t form overnight. It probably started with his good intentions to obey, it moved to a focus on his inability, it morphed into perfectionism or works-righteousness. From there it seemed to languish in fear and dread. That would seem to be the end of the line—after all, where else is there to go?—but the dread of God can have a partner. In his case, that partner is loathing. He loathes God and is angry with him because God demands obedience that the young man cannot give. “It shouldn’t be this way!” he says hatefully.

This young man, of course, is beholden to a myth of his own making rather than to the “compassionate and gracious God” (Ex. 34:6).

Though the path of righteousness-by-obedience was closed long ago, he lives as though righteousness can still be achieved rather than ascribed. The Apostle Paul suggests that the problem is not so much with God but with his own desire in that he wants to live under the law (Gal. 4:21). The cover story is that God is irrationally demanding and implacable. But the real story is that he does not like God, and prefers a religion that is more under his control.

As he teeters on psychosis, I am reminded of the complexities of the human heart and my own inability to help. All entries into his life seem closed. So I remember the truth: the self-sacrificial God has taken the initiative of love toward his enemies and has revealed a righteousness that comes from trusting in him rather than in ourselves. And he delights in opening blind eyes. So I aim for joy and thankfulness in my own life and consider succinct ways to approach him, when he is willing to engage.

God says to us “in repentance and rest is your salvation” (Is. 30:15), but like so many things in the Christian life, it seems so unnatural, so counterintuitive, and we are unwilling. So we gloss over it and rest in a system that makes sense to us—like works-righteousness —but it is a mere human invention.

Lord, Forgive all, All, A-L-L My Sins

SOURCE:   tollelege

The Valley of Vision — “Pardon all my sins”

Merciful Lord,

Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
of omission and commission,
of morose, peevish and angry tempers,
of lip, life and walk,
of hard-heartedness, unbelief, presumption, pride,
of unfaithfulness to the souls of men,
of want of bold decision in the cause of Christ,
of deficiency in outspoken zeal for His glory,
of bringing dishonour upon Thy great name,
of deception, injustice, untruthfulness in my dealings with others,
of impurity in thought, word and deed,
of covetousness, which is idolatry,
of substance unduly hoarded, improvidently squandered,
not consecrated to the glory of Thee, the great Giver;
sins in private and in the family,
in study and recreation,
in the busy haunts of men,
in the study of thy Word and in the neglect of it,
in prayer irreverently offered and coldly withheld,
in time misspent,
in yielding to Satan’s wiles,
in opening my heart to his temptations,
in being unwatchful when I know him nigh,
in quenching the Holy Spirit;
sins against light and knowledge,
sins against conscience and the restraints of thy Spirit,
sins against the law of eternal love.

Pardon all my sins, known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear; and hearing, forgive.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

–Arthur Bennett, ed., “Sins,” in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1975), 87

 

Lord, Thank Heavens, “You’re Not”

SOURCE:  Paul Tripp Ministries

 

You’re Not

When I’m
Weary and exhausted
You’re not.

When I’m
Confused and discouraged
You’re not.

When I’m
Fickle and unfaithful
You’re not.

When I’m
Doubtful and disheartened
You’re not.

When I’m
Fearful and anxious
You’re not.

When I’m
Short-sighted and fearful
You’re not.

When I’m
Tired and about to quit
You’re not.

When I’m
Lacking in hope and love
You’re not.

When I’m
Shocked and surprised
You’re not.

When I’m
Angrily withholding grace
You’re not.

When I’m
Unfaithful to what I’ve promised
You’re not.

When I’m
Selfish and disloyal
You’re not.

Oh, Lord of
Faithfulness and grace
I am so thankful
That
In those moments
When I’m
Losing my way
You’re not.

The Myth of Happy Parenting

SOURCE:  Rachel Marie Stone

How did we come to expect pain-free child rearing?

The way of the parent is often the way of the Cross: the glory and grace and joy in it come at significant cost.

With my first pregnancy, it seemed everyone was more excited than me.

My mother squealed when I told her the news. People at church kept hugging me and grinning in my general direction. Even my OB-GYN’s secretary shrieked, “Congratulations!” when I asked for a prenatal appointment.

None of them were spending hours curled in bed, barely moving due to nausea. They did not endure 12 hours of labor, during which I cried, “Why, God? Why do you want me to suffer so much?” To which my nurse replied, “This is what it takes to have a baby, sweetheart.”

Then I’m not sure I want to have a baby, I thought.

As a friend recently put it, raising children requires holding joy and sorrow in the same hand at once.

When my son finally arrived, I was in love. But soon it became clear that he was not one of those coveted “easy” babies. He cried incessantly and slept little. Frankly, there was a lot I didn’t like about him. I carried a crushing burden of guilt. Weren’t children a blessing from God, as the Bible and church people told me? Shouldn’t I like him more? Shouldn’t I be happier?

As he grew, he became a delightful child. Still, my guilt continued. I felt bad that endless peekaboo, reading the same board book for the 100th time, and changing dozens of diapers left me bored and restless. It left me wishing for a small injury to land me in the hospital, where someone would take care of me for a change.

Of course, my secret resentment of the difficulties of raising children has deep roots. In her satiric novel of 1927, Twilight Sleep, novelist Edith Wharton uses the title concept (“twilight sleep” being an anesthetic regimen that let wealthy women sleep through labor and delivery) to sum up the privileged 20th-century attitude toward pain, including the pain of childbearing:

“Of course there ought to be no Pain . . . nothing but Beauty. . . . It ought to be one of the loveliest, most poetic things in the world to have a baby,” Mrs. Manford declared, in that bright efficient voice which made loveliness and poetry sound like the attributes of an advanced industrialism, and babies something to be turned out in series like Fords.

The idea that there ought to be “nothing but Beauty” is, I think, part of the modern myth of parenting. Our expectations for our kids and for ourselves get higher and higher. (Writer Micha Boyett recently said that if she hears about another toddler taking Mandarin lessons, she’ll heave.)

We want our children to be perfect, and we want to be perfect parents. Yet we don’t even know what that means. In her recent book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, Jennifer Senior notes that “happiness” is a vague concept, and perhaps the wrong goal for parenting.

The truth is that parenthood is not always fun. In the church, where we rightly acknowledge that children are gifts from God, perhaps we are especially afraid to say this. There’s so much pain and heartache. The way of the parent is often the way of the Cross: the glory and grace and joy in it come at significant cost. We relinquish our time, energy, money, and personal desires for our children.

English novelist John Lancaster recently called for “a revival of the concept of duty.” It’s the moral obligation to fulfill a responsibility to another, regardless of whether it makes us happy. By God’s grace, duty often yields not to happiness but to something better: joy. As the early church in Acts teaches us, joy can coincide with suffering and struggle.

“Gift love longs to serve or even to suffer” for the beloved, wrote C. S. Lewis. Perhaps it is advanced industrialism and the advertising age that have beguiled us into thinking that parenthood should always be fun, satisfying, and merrymaking. It’s the same cultural trap that convinces us marriage should last “as long as we both shall remain happy with each other.”

Lightening the burden of raising our children begins with recognizing that as imperfect beings, neither we nor they will always be our best or happiest. Instead, gift love—the kind of love God bestows on us, his children—calls us to fulfill our obligations to one another, personal happiness aside.

The way of gift love necessarily entails cost, sacrifice, and pain. But God’s grace is such that even a semi-sleepless night curled next to a small, feverish boy has a certain beauty in it. It’s the small hands reaching for me, seeking and finding a measure of comfort, even joy.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat With Joy, a regular contributor to Her.meneutics, and a blogger forReligion News Service.

Forgiveness For Even The Most Painful Offenses

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 217-218.

 A Faith That Forgiveness Requires

Above all else, remember that true forgiveness depends on God’s grace.

If you try to forgive others on your own, you are in for a long and frustrating battle.

But if you ask God to change your heart and you continually rely on his grace, you can forgive even the most painful offenses.

God’s grace was powerfully displayed in the life of Corrie ten Boom, who had been imprisoned with her family by the Nazis for giving aid to Jews early in World War II. Her elderly father and beloved sister, Betsie, died as a result of the brutal treatment they received in prison. God sustained Corrie through her time in a concentration camp, and after the war she traveled throughout the world, testifying to God’s love. Here is what she wrote about a remarkable encounter in Germany:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendall about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? “Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “forgive me and help me to forgive him.”

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on him. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Why do we agonize over whether we ourselves will be able to forgive those who have sinned against us? Our forgiveness is a pale substitute of what is needed. Instead, what is necessary is just this: that we allow Christ’s forgiveness of us–the forgiveness that flows through us and brings life to us–to flow outward from us to reach the others in our lives who, like us, are equally undeserving of his mercy. For “[i]t does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Rom. 9:16).

A Prayer for Raising Our Kids by Grace

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Ps. 127:1-3

Dear heavenly Father… how healing and FREEING this Scripture is! Indeed, it’s a liberating joy to address you today as the architect and builder of your own house—including the household of faith and our children’s place in your family.

As I look back over the years of my pragmatic parenting, I’m saddened, but I am also gladdened, for you’ve always been faithful to your covenant love, even when I was overbearing and under-believing. The move from parenting by grit to parenting by grace was a slow, contested but freeing journey. Take me further us and farther in, even now as a grandparent.

You’ve rescued me from parental “laboring in vain”—assuming a burden you never intended parents to bear. Father, only you can reveal the glory and grace of Jesus to our children. Only you can give anyone a new heart—including me. You’ve called us to parent as an act of worship—to parent “as unto you,” not as a way of saving face or fixing our kids; making a name for ourselves or proving our worthiness of your love.

Oh, the arrogant pride of thinking that by our “good parenting” we can take credit for what you alone have graciously done in the lives of our children. Oh, the arrogant unbelief of assuming that by our “bad parenting” we’ve forever limited what you will be able to accomplish in the future. Oh, the undue pressure our children must feel when we parent more out of our fear and pride, than by your love and grace; more from a Christian sub-culture agenda, than from the gospel of your kingdom.

Since our children and grandchildren are your inheritance, Father, teach us—teach me, how to care for them as humble stewards, not as anxious owners; as loving servants, not rigid overlords; as co-broken-sinners, not as co-dependent parents. More than anything else, show us how to parent and grandparent in a way that best reveals the unsearchable riches of Jesus in the gospel.

Give us quick repentances and observable kindnesses—before our children. Convict me, quickly and surely, when we don’t relate to our kids—or anyone else, “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name. 

How to Pray When You’re Depressed: A Look at Psalm 13

SOURCE:  Mark Kelly/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Identifying with the Psalmist

Psalm 13 is a special chapter in my Bible. There is a date, March 12, 2012, written next to the chapter heading. That day I identified with the psalmist, and poured out my heart to God like never before. It had been five long years of dealing with chronic pain, two major surgeries, limited physical ability, limited ministry, and horrible side effects of multiple medications that had brought me to this point. I was tired, depressed, worn down and God was silent. That day I “got real” with God.

Since then, I have pointed others in the middle of their own dark days to this psalm. How can the depressed pray? Depression often robs us of our hope. The temptation in thinking that we cannot be honest with God about our situation deepens this hopelessness. Proceeding in prayer using the psalmist’s example in Psalm 13 breathes new hope into our lives.

Be Honest with Your God: Psalm 13:1-2

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Baptist minister, Andrew Fuller, once said of this psalm, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.” Often when one finds themselves in depression, it is a result of a long duration of trying circumstances with no foreseeable end in sight. During these dark days there is an intense desire to know the duration of the suffering.

Can you identify with the hopelessness of the psalmist? Honestly he cries out to God. He sees no end in sight and so he howls against the perceived neglectfulness of the Lord.

John Calvin said of these verses, “When we are for a long time weighed down by calamities, and when we do not perceive any sign of divine aid, this thought unavoidably forces itself upon us, that God has forgotten us.” Why has he come to this assumption? Because he was assaulted with the reality of his depression which battled against his understanding of who his God was.

So, in an act of faith, he continues to lament. Laying his heart wide open before God the psalmist communicates this battle for his soul. The circumstances dictated that God must have forgotten but his faith drove him to seek the Lord.

The battle continues into verse two. While searching for relief unsuccessfully, the psalmist also has to contend with his fellow man. He has exhausted every avenue of relief. This intrusion from the “enemy” only adds to his hopelessness in a crushing way. Peace escapes him. People are mistreating him.

When prolonged suffering occurs with no relief or answers, even our closest friends become frustrated with our plight. What some have termed “compassion fatigue” seems to take its toll and there is abundant exhortation to just “snap out of it” or to “repent” due to some unseen, forgotten or hidden sin.

My most discouraging moments came upon the insistence of friends that I “must” have sin in my life. Little did they know the hours spent begging God to illuminate the dark recesses of my heart! These comments tempted me to the brink of destruction in my depression. This is the desperate cry of the psalmist in Psalm 13.

Speak honestly with your God. Realize that your cries are statements of faith and belief in who God says He is. Understand that even though those around you may not minister to you well, that they too are finite creatures in need of the grace that has been lavished upon you. Be honest with your God.

Be Moving Toward Your God: Psalm 13:3-4

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

In the middle of darkness, chained to time, the psalmist begins to move toward God in his cries. He does this be focusing on the character of God. When we are without relief or release we often come to think that God must not see us or hear us. We do not believe that God is blind, but in faith we are crying out to him because we believe He does see.

Often the eyes disclose our depression. How many the days when I would say that I was “fine” when my eyes betrayed my speech! During these times there were dear friends that would move through the verbal resistance to enter into my pained state that they saw evident in my eyes. The psalmist is acknowledging that the light of life is reflected in the eye. He continues to speak to the fact that if God does not move on his behalf soon he fears death itself will be victorious.

Repeated is the theme of his enemy. Oh how the world can threaten our very existence! Remember this: the world may threaten, but God can restore.

And so the psalmist cries out to God to move in such a way that his enemies would not have reason to triumph. He understands the character of God to be such that God does not abandon His own. So, in a sense, he reminds God of God’s character.

As we speak honestly with God about our feelings in the circumstances of life, we also need to constantly be moving toward Him. Speaking in faith we can “remind” God of His promises and expect Him to move in accordance with His character. It is also important to see that the psalmist has move beyond trying to solve things in his own strength and is now totally reliant and dependent on God. This is a key stage in our prayer during our depression.

Be Trusting in Your God: Psalm 13:5-6

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist does not know if his prayer is of any profit at all. Yet, he continues. Now hope is beginning to well up within himself. He continues to focus on the character of God and this proves to be beneficial in the temptations of his depression. Deep in his own distress the psalmist declares his resolution to continue firm in his dependence of the grace of his God.

Because God is God, I don’t have to be. I can, in the middle of my distress, trust Him to bring about the good He has lovingly purposed for me.

There is also a sense of expectation at the end of this prayer. His heart will rejoice in the deliverance brought about by God and he will sing praise to God because of his gracious interaction. Even without the circumstances relenting he will continue to hope in the salvation of his God. He has not yet obtained release from the depression, but he promises to praise God for His grace towards him.

As you speak honestly with your God, moving toward Him as you focus on His character, you should prepare to celebrate in praise of the grace of God in your life. Time is a gift of God. We believe that one day we will stand in the presence of our God, removed from all pain, tears, and death.

Time is a gift in this life because we understand it in terms of beginning and ending. We experience our depression in terms of time. We also understand the hope of a time yet to come. If this life is “but a vapor,” how long then is our suffering? Even in the middle of your distress, be preparing to sing praises for the goodness of God in your life.

The final question I have written in my Bible is, “Am I persuaded that my prayers are effective?” God moves through answered prayer. When the depressed pray honestly, focused on the character of God, preparing to celebrate in praise of the grace of God, they can be assured that God hears them and moves toward them, inclining His ear to His children.

Guilt Trip To…Nowhere

SOURCE: Adapted from  Stepping Stones/Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network

Because I teach people to make decisions based on information, not emotions, I cringe when I hear parents, ministries, or pastors using guilt to “motivate” others. “If you loved me, you would do your chores.” “I worked long and hard on this meal, so you better eat it.” “We’ll have to cancel the event … unless you help us.” “Look at these starving kids in Africa and all the food you throw away. Please send money.” “See the pain Jesus went through for you? You should feel terrible; now accept Him as your savior.”

Guilt is an incredible motivator, but that’s not the correct role for or use of guilt. I am all for pointing out injustices and needs so people can step into their roles to help these situations or make good decisions.

The issue I am trying to separate through these examples is this: we shouldn’t use guilt to motivate people.

Several subliminal, distorted, and false messages can unwontedly occur when people act out of guilt.   Here are some examples:

1. I am responsible for and can control someone else’s feelings through what I do.

2. The other person won’t feel better unless I act the way he wants.

3. When you want a friend to do something for you, it is OK to lay a guilt trip on her.

4. Decisions should be based on self-needs and emotions, not God’s truth, facts, and reasoning. This is probably the worst message of all.

Unfortunately, these distorted messages subtly seep into our everyday functioning, and dramatically interfere with Godly decision-making.

Many pastors and priests try to whip their congregations into Christian action by delivering guilt-inducing sermons. Whether it’s guilting someone to say the sinner’s prayer, to give money, to volunteer, or to stop a certain behavior, the end does not justify the means. I have personally experienced these guilt-evoking messages. And unfortunately, they undermine the very foundation of grace and love that God wants to instill in a believer’s heart.

Today, take notice if you are feeling guilty about something, or if you are inducing guilt in someone else. Stop and examine why guilt is present. Guilt is important if you have done something wrong. So let the guilt warn you that a problem exists. But don’t let it be your decision-maker. Let reason and the Bible direct your heart and actions. Confess, repent, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. You are responsible for your feelings and happiness; the other person is responsible for his own. Above all else, be mindful that God does not measure and judge you by the amount of good works you do. Rather He looks into your heart. It’s your decision to allow God or guilt to motivate you, so choose well.

Prayer
Dear Father God, I do not want to be stressed out about not “doing enough” as good Christian. I know that You want me to relax in the assurance of Your perfect love. Today help me remember that You delight in me more than I can ever imagine, that You see me cloaked in Your light and presence … and that there is no condemnation for those cloaked in You. Help me daily, Lord, to come closer to having the Mind of Christ. Help me make decisions based on Your word, not my feelings. Help me feel convicted and guilty about my wrongs, and then look to You for forgiveness, and to Your word for guidance in doing right. I pray in the name of the One who knew no guilt ‘til He bore all mine, Jesus Christ;   AMEN!

The Truth
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest.  Isaiah 61:10

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  Romans 8:1-2

Failure: I Blew It . . . Now What?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stephen W. Sorenson

Four steps to help you move forward after you fail

I clearly remember the joy I felt as a gangly 11-year-old when the school coach put me in my first basketball game. It was the moment I’d hoped for—the opportunity to show what I could do. I received a pass, dribbled toward the opponent’s basket, and prepared to shoot. Suddenly, my knee knocked the ball out of bounds. People groaned. The coach pulled me out of the game. My hopes dashed like shards of glass. I’m a failure, I thought, eyes brimming with tears. I let my team down. I’ll never be good at basketball, so why try? Why be laughed at?

I wish I could say that I became a better basketball player after I finished growing several inches a year and my six-foot-four-inch frame gained coordination. But after that incident, my passion for basketball waned. I was unwilling to risk failing again.

Dictionaries reveal that failure is “falling short of success of achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved.” So chances are you’ve also experienced failure (or at least feelings of failure).

Maybe you failed at teaching Sunday school or running a business.

Maybe you failed by breaking a commitment to God or by not sharing Jesus with someone when God gave you the ideal opportunity.

Maybe you yelled at your children, lingered over lustful thoughts, or gossiped even after you were convicted to stop.

Or maybe your failure was caused by other people or by circumstances beyond your control: The invention of the desktop computer sent countless typewriter and typesetting businesses down the tubes, through no fault of their own. Whatever your “brand” of failure, you are not alone.

The moment we are born, we are guaranteed to fail. The Bible says that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23). We are born sinful into a sinful world.

Failure is common to all humankind.

Because we can’t insulate ourselves from failure, what matters most is not how we fail but how werespond to failure. Some of us, when we fail, become angry at God. Others blame coworkers, parents, the neighbor, or the pastor. We may give up, like I did with basketball. We may give in to self-pity.

Or we may learn from our failures. My own encounters with failure have taught me four keys to recovering from failure and moving forward. Let’s look at the importance of each.

Seeking God

When we’ve failed—especially when we’ve failed because of our foolishness or rebellion—the last thing we may want to do is turn to God. Yet He loves each of us deeply with a love that is not dependent on our success. He invites us to cast all our anxiety—including the anxiety of failure—on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He can handle our failures. He is our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer (Ps. 18:2).

Our failures do not take God by surprise. He knows us through and through. He has made provision for us when we fail. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again so that we—people who fail—can have a personal, intimate, eternal relationship with God and receive complete forgiveness for our sins. Rather than wallowing in the fact that we fail, we can receive the grace God provided through the cross, confess our sins to Him (1 Jn. 1:9), and be renewed. He delights in strengthening us when we admit our weaknesses, request His help, and give Him the glory He deserves.

Besides loving us in spite of our failures—and making full provision for our renewal and restoration—God also promises us the gift of wisdom (Jas. 1:5–8), if we ask in faith, so we can gain His perspective when we fail. Because He is in sovereign control of all things, including our failure, He may even use it to work out His divine plans. Rahab, the prostitute who helped the Hebrew spies in Jericho, turned from her moral failure to the Living God and ended up in the lineage of Jesus.

At a time when I felt like a complete failure, I resisted seeking God. I was angry at Him. But eventually I felt compelled to verbalize that anger in prayer. Why, I raged, did You create me like this, with gifts I don’t seem able to use? God responded by leading me to Ro. 9:20–21:

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

I knew that God was speaking to me at that moment, and I repented of my anger toward Him. I began praying honestly about how I felt. Over time, I watched Him guide me to new opportunities to use my gifts. He has faithfully provided for me and my family, taught me more about His character, and turned my failure into a valuable learning experience. He has also enabled me to share my failures more easily with other people, which has led to deeper friendships. There’s no need to run from God when you’ve failed. Seek Him—and watch Him respond with love, renewal, and the gift of His wisdom.

Pursuing Right Relationships

Failure rarely occurs in a vacuum. Often our failure adversely affects other people.

When David arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed, for example, other godly Israelite soldiers were also killed (2 Sam. 11:16–21). After Aaron agreed to make the golden calf, God sent a plague that killed many people (Ex. 32:35). On a more daily, intimate level, my failure to buy construction materials may mean that my wife, Amanda, can’t complete the wiring of our house. My failure to go on a promised outing with my 13-year-old daughter, Caitlin, may cause her to feel that my work is more important to me than she is. When we fail and other people feel the impact, we may need to take specific steps to heal those relationships.

Seek forgiveness when appropriate. The Bible clearly admonishes us to seek forgiveness. Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23–24). Even a simple, trivial misunderstanding that could be easily swept aside needs to be resolved right away.

Last week my daughter, joy dancing in her eyes, asked me if I could locate a tent because she wanted to camp on our land with a girlfriend. Pressured by an onslaught of tasks and just plain tired, I responded with irritation. I made Caitlin feel guilty for bothering me. Even though I did get the tent for her, I destroyed much of her joy, erected a barrier between us, and ended up feeling even worse. Later, I asked for her forgiveness—an act that drew us close again.

Make restitution when appropriate. In some instances, more is required than asking forgiveness and repenting. “If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field,” we read in Ex. 22:5, “he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.” It wasn’t enough just to say, “Sorry.”

Remember Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who had made a fortune, some of it unscrupulously? Convicted of his sin in the presence of Jesus’ holiness, Zacchaeus stood up and declared, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Lk. 19:8). Clearly he recognized the importance of making restitution.

Most of us probably learn our first lessons about restitution, as I did, when we are children. I shot out a neighbor’s window with a slingshot—and soon learned it was up to me to replace that window!

A godly friend of mine learned about restitution in a different way. He received an unannounced visit from a son he did not know he had. Before becoming a Christian, my friend had led a wild life. A girlfriend had become pregnant but never told him. To his credit—and certainly that of his wife—he and his wife received the surprise son into their home, influenced him for Christ, paid for schooling, and sent us a birth announcement—more than 20 years after the fact.

Larry (name changed) had to learn about restitution through no fault of his own. Based on a business agreement, he developed a new product and used the services of various suppliers. But before the product was introduced, the organization broke its agreement with him, which left him owing several hundred thousand dollars to suppliers. Could he have declared bankruptcy? Yes. Instead, he and his wife are sacrificially repaying all the borrowed money.

If your failure has impacted other people, prayerfully ask God what you should do to make things right. Discover what the Bible says about your situation—and the attitude you should have toward people you have wronged. Ask a godly friend for advice. Then, in God’s strength and wisdom, pursue that direction.

Seeking Wise Counsel

Whether you have failed in a public way or in your thought life, in a way that has led to great consequences or had virtually no consequences, you can benefit from the wisdom of godly people as you process and recover from your failure.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, underscored repeatedly the importance of seeking wise counsel. “The way of a fool seems right to him,” he taught, “but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). “Wisdom is found in those who take advice. . . . The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. . . . He who walks with the wise grows wise” (Prov. 13:10, 14,20). Solomon also understood the healing value of wise words: “The tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

We rob ourselves of healing and wisdom when we fail to seek counsel from godly men and women.

When career setbacks left me feeling like a failure, I learned the value of seeking counsel. My first reaction to failure was to blame others. Then I became irritable with my wife and daughter. Soon I found it harder and harder to get motivated to try new business approaches.

I became trapped in a negative, depressive spiral in which additional failure was virtually guaranteed.

In the midst of my mental fog, I called a friend for help. During a three-hour walk, he listened to me, challenged me, and encouraged me. He helped me face my anger and acknowledge my need for God. He gave me simple steps to take to break out of my failure mentality—and held me accountable for taking them. His help was pivotal in getting me jump-started again.

Who can you turn to for perspective and encouragement after a failure?

The Pause That Reflects

The fourth key to moving on after failure is taking the time to pause and reflect. Having sought God, restored injured relationships, and received wise counsel, we now need to process what we’ve learned. We need to assess ourselves and perhaps make personal changes.

A few years ago, my wife, Amanda, pointed out a longstanding root of anger that was damaging our relationship. Me? I thought, brushing her comments aside. Gradually, however, I began to recognize that I was falling short of being the husband God had called me to be.

When I realized my failure, did I immediately confess it and repent? No. I became angry because I couldn’t seem to deal constructively with my anger! I put up more emotional walls and became even more critical of Amanda. It seemed easier to shore up sinful, habitual patterns than to try to change them.

Finally, forced to admit to myself that I couldn’t get a handle on my anger, I began talking about my struggle with a wise friend. Over time, he has helped me discern the underlying reasons for my anger. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to face deep hurts and forgive more than I’d have ever imagined. But my friend still gives me the wonderful freedom to process my angry reactions through him and to gently grow even closer to God. My marriage is stronger now, I’ve learned much more about God’s character, and I’m finding it easier to sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”

Have you ever painted over a spot that was greasy or still had loose paint on it? The new paint doesn’t stick well. Likewise, simply glossing over failure makes us miss the lessons it can teach and virtually ensures that the failure will be repeated. My parents posted this saying when I was growing up: “Don’t make the same mistake twice; make a new one.” Another adage is also true: If we don’t pay attention to our history, we will be doomed to repeat it.

You may find, as I have, that the best way to process failure is with another person. Perhaps your style is to use books or teaching tapes to guide your reflection. In whatever way works best for you, take the time to pause and reflect. Ask yourself questions like these:

• Why, according to people who know me well, did this failure occur?

• What did I do in the past that may have led to this failure?

• Is sin creating negative consequences in my life? If so, what are they? Am I willing to confess my sins to God and turn away from them?

• Am I spending time with the wrong types of people?

• Am I loving other people well?

• If I failed because of the actions of another person, how will I respond to that person?

• Am I making wise decisions?

• Am I overlooking key details and in need of wise counsel?

• Am I using my God-given gifts and abilities well?

• Is my career making the most of my strengths, or does it tax me heavily in my areas of weakness?

• Am I regularly reading the Bible and praying—seeking to draw closer to God and receive His forgiveness, wisdom, love, and instruction?

• Do I really believe that God is who He says He is and that I can rely on Him to help me?

• Am I depending too much on other people and not enough on God?

• What can I learn from this failure that will help me in the future?

• What two things have I learned through this experience that I could use to help someone else in the future?

I still fail, of course, but I’ve come a long way in choosing more effectively how to respond to failure. I’m more willing to risk trying new things. I’m asking more questions after I fail and wrestling with issues that need to be resolved. I am discovering more about myself, others, and God. And I’m constantly reminded that it’s what I do after I fail that really matters.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll put up a basketball hoop this weekend.

Forgiving Your Spouse After Adultery

SOURCE:  Cindy Beall

Four lessons from my journey of regaining trust in my husband.

Editor’s Note: In 2002, Cindy Beall was a happily married wife to Chris, her husband of nine years. Chris had been on staff with a church in Oklahoma City for only six weeks when he made a confession that would change their lives forever: He had been unfaithful with multiple women over the course of two and a half years, and he was pretty sure one of those women was now pregnant with his child. He also admitted an addiction to pornography. 

His complete inability to control his addiction had left Chris utterly broken, humbled, and repentant. Over the course of several weeks and much prayer, Cindy sensed God calling her to stay in her marriage. The following is an excerpt from her book, Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, which tells the story of how God redeemed their marriage, making it “better than new.”

Every week I receive e-mails from women who ask many questions about getting through infidelity in their marriage.  Of all the questions I am asked, one of the most common is, “How did you learn to trust him again?”

And every time I give the same answer: “I am still learning.”

I would love to be able to come up with the perfect algebraic formula that shows exactly how to restore trust. But that isn’t going to happen—not because I barely squeezed out of algebra with a 71 percent, but because trust and forgiveness don’t exist in the land of numbers. They are born of God’s grace, mercy, and healing.

You don’t have to have endured infidelity in your marriage to lose trust. Trust can be broken in many different ways. I am still on my journey of having my trust restored in my husband, but I have learned a few things that I hope you will find helpful.

1. Trust means taking a risk.

My husband works hard to regain my trust, but I still struggle. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’d be lying.

Isn’t that the way it is with all of us? I’ve come to realize that we are all capable of doing things we never imagined we’d do. So trusting a person is a risk. We must learn to trust people, but we must also realize that people will fail us. It’s part of life. But if we place our utmost trust in our heavenly Father, we will never be let down.

There is a mental battle going on inside me as I strive to trust my husband more every day. I engage in this battle on a regular basis, and it can be exhausting. But the more I do it and believe what God has shown me, the easier it becomes.

I stand on the one thing that is trustworthy and never fails. I stand on the Word of God. Praise Him that His words are sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). There is power in them, and when we claim them, believe in them, stand on them, and trust in them, we will be lifted up. We will find peace.

2. Replace anger with forgiveness.

We’ve all been wounded. I am no stranger to the pain I see in the eyes of so many people. We can try to cover it up and “get over it,” but if we don’t truly forgive, we will be stunted individuals going about our lives and becoming more and more embittered. Forgiveness is essential. It’s also possible.

The Bible doesn’t mince words when it comes to forgiveness. We don’t have to wonder what our heavenly Father thinks about the idea. He’s the author of forgiveness, and we’d do well to follow His commands. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.”

Ouch. That stings a bit, doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been wounded by someone you’ve loved as unconditionally as possible. It sounds like a cruel joke to expect us to just let it go, doesn’t it?

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you know that you have a sinful nature. If we don’t recognize that nature, we won’t recognize our need for a Savior. We also need to understand and remember the true meaning of God’s love. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we truly understand God’s forgiveness, can we really withhold our forgiveness from those who have hurt us?

3. Stop nursing your wounds.

It can become second nature to tend to our wounds with such care that we begin to identify only with the wound and not with a life of healing or restoration. When something reminds us of our pain, we nurse the hurt and then just can’t get past it. It’s almost as if we forget that we, too, need a Savior. We’re so busy saying, “Look at my hurt!” that we forget to give it over to God.

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sure, I haven’t been unfaithful to my husband physically, but I have committed sins, too. And when we sin, we are not just sinning against one person; we are also sinning against our heavenly Father.

I know how hard this is. I am profoundly aware of how badly my flesh wants to throw my husband’s sin back in his face when he gets mad at me for something small. I know how easily I could remind him of his failures and make sure he knows just how picture-perfect my marital resume is. But reacting like that will never bring about forgiveness.

4. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving.

One of the harder parts of forgiveness is that we don’t always feel like forgiving. The problem is that feelings are often misleading and erratic. I learned a long time ago that you rarely feel your way into positive actions, but you can act your way into better feelings. You may not really want to wake up at five for that morning run, but you do it anyway. Afterward, you are so glad you made the extra effort because you feel good and have more energy. There is great satisfaction in making a choice to do something that your flesh was yelling at you not to do! You acted your way into a feeling.

How to know you’re healing

The results of forgiveness look different for everyone. Some relationships will be mended in spite of betrayal, and some will end because of it. The key, though, is to make sure you are healing from this wound. You don’t want to get a knot in your stomach every time you think about this person, especially if he or she is your spouse.

Here’s one way you can know you have healed from a wound caused by someone else: You cease to feel resentment against your offender. My mentor says, “You know you’ve healed from the hurt that someone else’s actions have caused when you can look back on the situation and it’s just a fact.”

We all make mistakes. We all have done things we regret. We all need forgiveness. And we all need to extend that same forgiveness to others—not just today, but every day.

It’s time to forgive.

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Taken from: Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken. Copyright © 2011 by Cindy Beall.  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.  Used by permission.

Cindy Beall is a writer, speaker, and mentor to women. She and her husband, Chris, share openly about their journey of redemption through Chris’s infidelity and pornography addiction.

Oppressed and Burdened — Ready to Give Up and Sink?

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty 

Come All Ye Burdened Ones

Come, oppressed and burdened believer, ready to give up all and sink!

Behold Jesus, the Almighty God, omnipotent to transfer your burden to Himself, and give you rest!

It is well that you are sensible of the pressure — that you feel your weakness and insufficiency — and that you are brought to the end of all your own power. Now turn to your Almighty Friend, who is the Creator of the ends of the earth — the everlasting God, who does not faint, neither is weary.

Oh, what strength there is in Jesus for the weak, and faint, and drooping of His flock!

You are ready to succumb to your foes, and you think the battle of faith is lost. Cheer up! Jesus, your Savior, friend, and brother — is the Almighty God, and will perfect His strength in your weakness.

The battle is not yours, but His!

Jesus . . .
sustains our infirmities,
bears our burdens,
supplies our needs, and
encircles us with the shield of His Almightiness!

What a Divine spring of consolation and strength to the tired and afflicted saint, is the Almightiness of Jesus.

Your sorrow is too deep — your affliction too heavy — your difficulty too great for any mere human to resolve.  It distances in its intensity and magnitude, the sympathy and the power of man.

Come, you who are tempest-tossed and not comforted. Come, you whose spirit is wounded, whose heart is broken, whose mind is bowed down to the dust. Hide for a little while within Christ’s sheltering Almightiness! Jesus is equal to your condition.

His strength is almighty!
His love is almighty!
His grace is almighty!
His sympathy is almighty!
His arm is almighty!
His resources are infinite, fathomless, measureless!

And all this Almightiness is on your side, and will bring you through the fire and through the water.

Almighty to rescue — He is also your Brother and Friend to sympathize. And while His Divine arm encircles, upholds, and keeps you — His human soul, touched with the feeling of your infirmities, yearns over you with all the deep intensity of its compassionate tenderness!

“Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!”

Song of Songs 5:16

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

Let Jesus Argue With Your Soul About Being Anxious

SOURCE:  John Piper/Desiring God

We should be slow to treat Jesus as if he doesn’t know what he is doing. He is not naïve in the way he deals with our anxiety. In Matthew 6:25-34 he tells us three times not to be anxious (vv. 25, 31, 34) and gives us eight reasons not to be anxious.

Evidently he thinks this will help. So don’t call it simplistic. Call it grace. Believe him. Take every reason and preach it to your soul as true.  Say,

Soul, this is true. Jesus Christ says so. Trust him. He died for you. He loves you. He created you. He knows you. No one — no counselor, no pastor, no friend — knows as much about you as he does. Listen to him. Let these reasons sink in. Bank on them. Now, let’s get up and do what we need to do. Be gone anxiety.

Here’s a summary of what he said:

  1. Life is more than food and the body more than clothing (Matthew 6:25).
  2. God feeds the birds and you are more valuable than they are (Matthew 6:26).
  3. It’s pointless. It adds not one hour to your life (Matthew 6:27).
  4. If God clothes ephemeral grass, he will clothe eternal you (Matthew 6:28-30).
  5. Unbelievers are anxious about stuff. And you are not an unbeliever (Matthew 6:32a).
  6. Your father (!) knows that you need all these things you’re anxious about (Matthew 6:32b).
  7. When you seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, what you need is added to you.
  8. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Tomorrow’s trouble stays there (Matthew 6:34).

The “GIFT” of Suffering

Suffering: how to steward God’s most feared blessing

SOURCE:  Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions

I think we can agree on this one:

Personal suffering is the thing we fear the most.

Think about it for a minute.

There are certain things that come to mind that cause or tempt you to fear.

Maybe you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those things and that is probably a good thing.

However, if you do think about your fear, even if only for this article, you do fear something.

What if the thing you feared came true? What if personal suffering did come to your life? How would you respond? Job put it this way, For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. – Job 3:25 (ESV)

Prayers answered through suffering

Janice prayed for 13 years that her marriage would change. She prayed more specifically that her husband would change. Amos was a half-hearted husband and a half-hearted Christian. The main emphasis in his life has been to work hard and long hours. If you asked him, he would say he was a good husband because heprovided for his family.

The “providing for the family” card is one of the most over-used, sinful justifications for a man who is a lousy husband, but loves to get his love cup filled by finding his identity in his work.

As the years rolled on, his hours became longer and their marital distance grew wider. Jancie knew there was more to the story, but she could not put two and two together.

Then finally her suspicions were validated when a text from Amos inadvertently went to Janice’s phone. He meant it for a female colleague three states away.

Janice’s initial confrontation with her husband was met with denials. Amos was feeling her out. He was trying to discern how much she knew. Once he knew that the evidence was irrefutable he came clean about his 19 month affair.

Though the counseling took several months and there were many ups and downs along the way, the place we finally came to with Janice was a Gospel-centered, sovereign view of suffering that released her to freely forgive her husband and to pursue genuine reconciliation.

For Mature Audiences Only

The remainder of this article will be speaking to a high-level, mature Christian response to personal suffering. It could be that you have not come to this place in your Theology of Suffering. Do not be discouraged, but be prayerful and ask God to give you the grace to understand what is being said here so you can properly steward this most feared gift to you.

Your suffering, no matter what it is, did not come to you without God’s allowance. The primary place for you to work through suffering is between you, the sufferer, and God. If you don’t do this, then you’ll never have a right perspective on what happened to you.

Suffering is inevitable for every human on the planet. It is unavoidable. We all are going to die. Because of the imminent and painful reality of suffering, it is all the more important that we see suffering through the lens of God’s sovereign plan for our lives.

[W]hen pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Progression through pain

John 12:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The Savior is teaching us that the only way we can live is by dying. Fruit bearing comes through the door of death. There is no other way if you hope and desire is to be fruitful. I am not trying to be mean or unsympathetic toward what you are going through. This is hard. This is true.

Part of the maturing process has to include a purifying process because the truth is we have many sinful ways, attitudes, and patterns in our lives. It is a mercy of the Lord to love us enough to purify us, to remove the things from our lives that hinder us from knowing Him in a more profound way.

Philippians 3:10 – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process. It will cost you your life. Do not be deceived about this. Do you really want to know Christ? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53). Do you really think that you can “know” Him in a detached and unaffected kind of way?

No, never, not in this life.

If you are a person who loves the Savior and your desire is to know Him more deeply, then there is no other choice for you but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. You cannot and will not enjoy the power of His resurrection until you participate in His sufferings.

Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

There are two gifts that you receive as a Christian. The first gift is the gift of salvation. When you first encounter God in a salvific kind of a way, He grants you the gift of salvation. It is a beautiful thing.

But salvation is not the only gift under the Christmas tree. Imagine gathering around the tree this Christmas and, to your delight, you discover that there are two gifts for you. You open the first and find out that you have been born from above. Joy!

Then you ask, “What is the second gift under the tree?”

That gift, my friend, is the gift of suffering. This is the point of Philippians 1:29. God gives all Christians at least two gifts: (1) Salvation; (2) Suffering. I’m well aware this is not a good Evangelism 101 approach: Hey, you wanna suffer? Become a Christian.

No…we typically leave the suffering part out. Sadly, we should not. We should be more forthright with what it means to become a Christian. The more serious you take your faith, the more you will suffer. The Bible could not be more clear.

1 Peter 2:21 – For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Part of the calling for every Christian is to suffer. Have you ever wondered what your calling in life is? I’m not totally sure all that God has called you to, but I do know this much: He has called you as a believer to suffer.

The word Christian means Christ follower. And what did you think following Christ was going to be like?

1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

My friend (doctor) put stitches in my face last week. Why did he do this? In part because he loves me. He cares about my health so he asked if he could cut a growth off the side of my face so he could have it checked out.

The process was a bit painful, though not nearly as painful as many other procedures that people have, but the point is that sometimes love means I need to hurt you before I can help you. You need to know this about our loving heavenly Father.

Sometimes the manner of love that He bestows upon us comes in a package that we might not initially understand as love and most definitely not embrace as love.

What did John tell us in another place? That God so loved us that He [executed] His one and only Son (John 3:16). Our Father is a radical lover.

Isaiah 53:10 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;

If the Father believed it was necessary to crush His one and only Son in order to save you and me, do you think that His love for us will always be plush carpet, stocked pantries, and soft beds?

“You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.” –Samuel Rutherford

Sometimes the love of God will crush us. The billows will come over us and we’ll be so disoriented, that the love of God will be the furtherest thing from our minds.

Job 38-42 – Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding – Job 38:4 (ESV)

Though Job understood, to a degree, what was happening to him, he did not fully get it until the very end of the book named after him. Prior to the turning (or restoring) of his captivity, God stepped in and gave him some counsel.

God was lovingly hard on Job as he put him in his place. Job had become way too whiney, entitled, and disgruntled about what had happened to him. This is my danger also. At times I forget my place. I think that I deserve better than what I have, regardless of what I have.

I forget that I was a rebel before God, bound for hell. Sometimes I actually think that I am somebody, as my arrogance is unleashed and I begin to prance around like I deserve better.

It is a mercy of the Lord to put me in my place. I cannot say that anything that has ever happened to me was not a mercy of the Lord. Though there have been many harsh, hard, and unkind things done to me, I see the helping and loving hand of God in all of it.

Job 42:5-6 – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Job got it. He finally understood. God stood on his neck for four chapters, hardly letting up at all and the scales finally fell from Job’s eyes. Formerly, he had heard of God, but now, in the context of personal suffering and stern counsel from the Lord, he finally found his place.

He was rightly and completely affected by God.

Like it or not, it was a divine beat down. He was put in his place by the power of God’s Words. Job was dead. The grain of wheat had fully fallen into the ground and Job had died. Though he did not know it, he was only a few moments away from incredible blessing. God was about to turn things around for His friend.

Job 42:10 – And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

The big word in the text is “when.” God turned Job’s captivity (restored) “when” he prayed for his friends. The word “when” means an element of time. God turned Job’s captivity “when” Job came to that time in his heart where he could freely intercede for those who had hurt him. Can you do this?

This kind of praying is not intellectual ascent. It is purified praying from a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

Maybe you need to ask God to do a work in your heart. Ask God to give you the grace that will enable you to freely pray and serve those who have hurt you. “When” you can do this, then you can expect God’s inestimable favor to flood your life and soul.

Proceed with caution

Janice will not be able to process, understand, and most definitely apply what I have written here. She will be too hurt, too angry, and too un-forgiving. She will be too offended if you try to bring this up. Remember, this view of suffering is for mature audiences only.

You will have to be patient with her.

She will not be able to see that what is happening to her is a carefully prepared blessing from her loving heavenly Father. And even if she did see it, she would initially be unable to accept it.

Think about how difficult it was for the Savior to fully embrace the crushing from His Father, the crushing that had been planned for all eternity. We sing about it and call it “amazing love,” but it was amazingly hard for Him to die.

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:38-39 (ESV)

She will not be able to initially steward God’s most feared blessing.

Janice had been praying for a biblical marriage for 13 years, but she could never have a biblical marriage because her husband did not have a heart for God. He had a heart for himself.

Though Janice would have been happier if Amos would have repented without an affair, she needs to be careful not to overlook how God brought her husband back to Himself and to her.

Amos was not only dissing Janice, but he was trashing God’s name. God is a jealous God and Amos professed to be His son. God would not allow Amos to continue in the way he was going. Not only did God answer Janice’s prayer by giving her the biblical marriage she longed for, but He made a significant correction in Amos’ heart.

Amos did repent of his sin and began the long process of restoring his relationship with God and with his wife.

My hope and prayer for the Janice’s of this world is that they will embrace and appropriate God’s grace in their lives. They must come to the place of understanding that what happened to them in their horizontal world was not the main issue.

It was what God was doing in their vertical world that they need to address first. The pain of others can be profound, but the love of God working through that pain is the victory.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:39-40 (ESV)

Suffering is no doubt God’s most feared blessing. How are you stewarding the gift?

How to See God’s Hand in Your Suffering

SOURCE:  John Flavel/Desiring God Ministry by Jonathan Parnell

John Flavel, in 1678, instructs readers to see God as the author of all circumstances in life, including suffering:

 Set before you the sovereignty of God.

Eye Him as the Being infinitely superior to you, at whose pleasure you and all your have subsist (Psalm 115:3), which is the most conclusive reason and argument for submission (Psalm 46:10). For if we, all we have proceeded from His will, how right is it that we be resigned up to it!

Set the grace and goodness of God before you in all afflictive providences.

O see Him passing by you in the cloudy and dark day, proclaiming His name, ‘The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious’ (Exodus 34:6).

Eye the wisdom of God in all your afflictions. 

Behold it in the choice of the kind of your affliction, this, and not another; the time, now and not at another season; the degree, in this measure only, and not in a greater; the supports offered you under it, not left altogether helpless; the issue to which it is overruled, it is to your good, not ruin.

Set the faithfulness of the Lord before you under the saddest providences. 

O what quietness will this breed! I see my God will not lose my heart, if a rod can prevent it. he would rather hear me groan here than howl hereafter. His love is judicious, not fond. He consults my good rather than my ease.

Eye the all-sufficiency of God in the day of affliction. 

See enough in Him still, whatever is gone. Here is the fountain still as full as ever, though this or that pipe is cut off, which was wont to convey somewhat of it to me.

Lastly, eye the immutablity of God. 

Look on Him as the Rock of ages, ‘The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). Eye Jesus Christ as ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’

The Mystery of Providence, 1678, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 130-132, bold and paragraphing mine.

________

Reparative Therapy, Homosexuality, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

SOURCE:  Article by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr

Each U.S. presidential election cycle brings its own set of unexpected issues, and the 2012 race already offers one topic of controversy that truly sets it apart — a debate over forms of therapy that attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation.

Known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation conversion therapy, these approaches seek to assist individuals in changing their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. The cultural and political debate over reparative therapy emerged when a clinic run by Marcus Bachmann, husband of Republican candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, was accused of offering treatment and counseling intended to change sexual orientation.

Virtually all of the secular professions that deal with sexual orientation are stalwartly opposed to reparative therapy, or to any attempt to change one’s pattern of sexual attraction. Indeed, these groups hold to an inflexible ideology that insists that there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality. These groups include, for example, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers, among many others.

In 2008, a number of these groups released a statement on sexual orientation and youth that began with the stated premise that “both heterosexuality and homosexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality.” Thus, the groups argue that any attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation is likely to be harmful. The “Just the Facts Coalition” also included groups such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. A statement adopted in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association declares that the APA “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”
 

This controversy will inevitably demonstrate the basic worldview divide that separates the secular therapeutic community and evangelical Christians. The politicians, the mental health industry, and the media will have their own debate on the matter, but Christians now face the urgent challenge of thinking about these issues in a way that is fully biblical and theological — and thus faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

First, we face the fact that the Bible clearly, repeatedly, consistently, and comprehensively reveals the sinfulness of all homosexual behaviors. This truth is set within the larger context of the Bible’s revelation concerning the Creator’s plan and purpose for human sexuality — a context that is centered in the marital union of a man and a woman as the exclusive arena for human sexual activity. This flies in the face of the contemporary demand for the full normalization of homosexuality. As the joint statement of the “Just the Facts Coalition” declares, “both heterosexuality and homosexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality.”

The normalization of homosexuality simply cannot be accepted by anyone committed to biblical Christianity. The new secular orthodoxy demands that Christians abandon the clear teachings of Scripture, and Christians must understand that the sinfulness of all homosexual behaviors is not only a matter of biblical authority, but also of the Gospel. To deny that sin is sin is to deny our need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians cannot accept any teaching that minimizes sin, for it is the knowledge of our sin that points us to our need for atonement, salvation, and the forgiveness of that sin through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Second, we must recognize that every human being is a sinner and that every sinner’s pattern of sexual attraction falls short of the glory of God. There is no sinner of physical maturity who will be able to say that he or she has never had a sinful thought related to sex or sexuality. Taking the Bible’s teachings about sin and sexuality with full force, we understand that every sinful human being is in need of redemption, and that includes the redemption of our sexual selves.

Actually, the Bible speaks rather directly to the sinfulness of the homosexual orientation — defined as a pattern of sexual attraction to a person of the same sex. In Romans 1:24-27, Paul writes of “the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” of “dishonorable passions,” of women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature,” and of men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” A close look at this passage reveals that Paul identifies the sinful sexual passion as a major concern — not just the behavior.

At this point, the chasm between the biblical and secular worldview looms ever larger. The modern secular consensus is that an individual’s pattern of sexual attraction, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is just a given and is to be considered normal. More than that, the secular view demands that this pattern of sexual orientation be accepted as integral to an individual’s identity. According to the secular consensus, any effort to change an individual’s sexual orientation is essentially wrong and harmful. The contemporary therapeutic worldview is virtually unanimous in this verdict, but nothing could be more directly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The New Testament reveals that a homosexual sexual orientation, whatever its shape or causation, is essentially wrong, contrary to the Creator’s purpose, and deeply sinful. Everyone, whatever his or her sexual orientation, is a sinner in need of redemption. Every sinner who comes by faith to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved knows the need for the redemption of our bodies — including our sexual selves. But those whose sexual orientation is homosexual face the fact that they also need a fundamental reordering of their sexual attractions. About this, the Bible is clear. At this point, once again, the essential contradiction between the Christian worldview and the modern secular worldview is clear.

Third, Christians understand that sinners are simultaneously completely responsible for their sin and completely unable to redeem themselves from their sin. Sinners may improve themselves morally, but they cannot mitigate to any degree their need for redemption. Indeed, moralism is a false gospel that suggests that we can please God by moral improvement. As Isaiah warns, the only righteousness of which we are capable amounts to “filthy rags.” [Isaiah 64:6] The law reveals what is good for us and what is sinful, but the law is powerless to save us. [Romans 8:3]

The law of God reveals our sin, and our sin reveals our need for a Savior. Paul’s own testimony about the law, his knowledge of his own sin, and the redemption that was his in Christ is clear when he writes to the Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:24-25] This is every Christian’s testimony.

Thus, we recognize that, without redemption, there is no eternal hope for the sinner. Even in terms of moral improvement in this earthly life, the non-Christian lacks union with Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the means of grace that alone can conform the believer to the image of Christ. Thus, for the non-Christian, the most that can be hoped for is a responsible determination to cease practicing an immoral behavior. The Bible holds no hope for the sinner’s ability to change his or her heart.

In other words, a biblical Christian will have no fundamental confidence in any secular therapy’s ability to change a sinner’s fundamental disposition and heart, and this includes every aspect of the sinner’s life, including sexuality.

This is where the Gospel-centeredness of the Christian worldview points us to the cross of Christ and to the sinner’s fundamental need for redemption, not mere moral improvement. The Bible offers no hope for any human ability to change our sinful desires. As the modern secular worldview generally acknowledges, the alcoholic who stops drinking remains an alcoholic. The secular world affirms that this is so. The Bible explains why it is so.

Fourth, the Christian cannot accept any argument that denies what the Bible reveals about the sanctification of believers — including the sanctification of our sexuality. The believer in the Lord Jesus Christ receives the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life, and the righteousness of Christ imputed by faith. But the redeemed Christian is also united with Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and given means of grace through, for example, the preaching of the Word of God. The Bible reveals that God conforms believers to the image of Christ, doing that work within the human heart that the sinful human himself or herself cannot perform. The Bible reveals that believers are to grow into Christlikeness, knowing that this is a progressive process that will be completed only with our eventual glorification at the end of the age. In this life, we know a process of growing more holy, more sanctified, and more obedient to Christ. In the life to come, we will know perfection as Christ glorifies his Church.

This means that Christians cannot accept any argument that suggests that a fundamental reorientation of the believer’s desires in a way that increasingly pleases God and is increasingly obedient to Christ is impossible. To the contrary, we must argue that this process is exactly what the Christian life is to demonstrate. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]

The Bible is also honest about the struggle to overcome sin and sinful desires. Paul writes about this in Romans 7, but the exhortations of the entire New Testament also make this clear. Christians with same-sex sexual desires must know that these desires are sinful. Thus, faithful Christians who struggle with these desires must know that God both desires and commands that they desire what He wills for them to desire. All Christians struggle with their own pattern of sinful desires, sexual and otherwise. Our responsibility as Christians is to be obedient to Christ, knowing that only He can save us from ourselves.

Christians cannot avoid the debate over reparative therapy, nor can we enter the debate on secular terms. We must bring to this conversation everything we know from God’s Word about our sin and God’s provision for sinners in Christ. We will hold no hope for any sinner’s ability to change his or her own heart, and we will hold little hope for any secular therapy to offer more than marginal improvement in a sinner’s life.

At the same time, we gladly point all sinners to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. [Romans 10:13] We hold full confidence in the power of the Gospel and of the reign of Christ within the life of the believer. We know that something as deeply entrenched as a pattern of sexual attraction is not easily changed, but we know that with Christ all things are possible.

And, even as Christians know that believers among us struggle to bring their sexual desires into obedience to Christ, this is not something true only of those whose desires have been homosexual. It is true of all Christians. We will know that those believers who are struggling to overcome homosexual desires have a special struggle — one that requires the full conviction and support of the body of Christ. We will see the glory of God in the growing obedience of Christ’s redeemed people. And, along with the Apostle Paul and all the redeemed, we will await the glory that is yet to be revealed to us.

——————————————————————————————————

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.,serves as president of  The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Is God Angry With Me?

Assuming the goodness of God

SOURCE:  Joel J. Miller

A friend recently told me about an acquaintance who’s convinced that God is angry with her. She’s in a rough patch right now and believes that he’s punishing her.

I’m not equipped to plumb the mind of God, but I wonder about that. Some people seem quick to assume the anger of God. Perhaps there are personal reasons they feel distance from him, and that distance feels like God’s displeasure toward them. If you read the Psalms, you’re familiar with the dynamic. But I don’t think that God is far away from David; I think it’s more like David has drawn away from God.

God is there, ready to forgive, ready to make peace. That’s the assumption of Psalm 51. “A broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” The psalmist assumes the goodness and graciousness of God. I wonder why we don’t do that more often, more readily.

In John 14, Jesus says that there are many mansions in the Father’s house, and that he’s preparing one for us. But notice what he also says: “If it were not so, I would have told you.” What I love in the statement is something not actually said because it’s too obvious to warrant saying: that we should assume the beneficence, provision, and love of God. “If it were not so,” after all, “I would have told you.”

But of course it is so. It’s a given. It’s assumed.

Do we assume it? Or do we assume that God is holding out on us, that he resists and resents us, that he’s less than beneficent and loving?

Both Psalms 103 and 145 say that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. They are picking up on a theme that appears elsewhere in the Scripture. Quoting, for instance, the second chapter of Joel: “[R]end your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”

I’m not debating whether God disciplines his children. Scripture says that he does. But the passages that say so assume his love as well. “[W]hom the Lord loves He chastens,” as Paul says in Hebrews, quoting from Proverbs, which adds the hopeful line, “Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Delights, not detests!

We all have sins that can cause us to feel separated at times, maybe much of the time. If that’s the case, there’s all the more reason to get this right. Assuming the worst of God is only bad for us. We should instead assume the best and be encouraged: If your heart is broken by your sins, God will not squash it. He will bind it up like the Samaritan meeting us on the roadside. If we return home, he will rush out to greet us like the father of the prodigal.

Handling My Mistakes

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article at  Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Since every [one of us] makes mistakes regularly, the categories [in which we can find ourselves] are:

1. Make a mistake, get down on yourself, follow it up with another mistake, don’t learn from either mistake, continue in a minimal growth process imposing a glass ceiling on your potential;

2. Make a mistake, follow it with corrective or atoning action, then learn from your mistake to improve and grow yourself and your skills, and achieve your maximal God-given potential.

Even the most mature Christian’s faith falters at times … we all make mistakes. But this must not be thought of as failure. None of us are perfect … we don’t have the total functioning mind of Christ now.  We will be fully sanctified when we are with Him in heaven. Until then, we will stumble at times … not always believing and acting on the truths we intellectually know are true.

Peter’s faith faltered when he was walking on water, even in the presence of the Lord. When your faith does falter, do as Peter did, reach for Your Lord’s hand. Peter was able to use that situation as an opportunity to draw closer to God … to use God’s lenses to examine his heart … to see where he mistakenly placed his trust instead of in God’s teachings, promises, and character.

So too, when you put your faith or confidence in something other than God … like others’ opinions or approval … your finances or possessions … skills or intellect … looks or status … you will falter. Confess your sin … that in that moment you are worshipping another false god.

Today, receive God’s forgiveness and instruction. Examine how life would be if you put your confidence and faith in God instead of yourself or the things of this world. Growth, peace, and awesome worship of God will be your reward when you seize this opportunity instead of wallowing in shame, self-pity, and wasting God’s power to transform your life. When your faith falters, don’t follow it up with another mistake. Instead, confess your mistake and learn why your faith was in yourself or this world.  Your choice, so why choose to struggle if you don’t have to?

Prayer

Father God, my Lord, when my faith falters, remind me that I have not totally failed. When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to You, Lord, the only One who could save him. When I am afraid, I look to You, my Savior. I take Your hand as You reach out to save me. Thank You, Jesus. Help me remember each second that You are the only one who can really help. I pray that You touch me with Your healing power. Help me, Lord, to maintain my faith when situations are difficult. Help me keep my eyes on Your healing power rather than on my inadequacies or Satan’s masquerading idols. I pray this in the name of my safety net when I stumble, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,”why did you doubt”

Matthew 14:30-31

 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Hebrews 12:2-3

Our Soul Enemy

SOURCE:  Tom Eisenman/Discipleship Journal

The first rule of war is to know your enemy.

When the satellite TV company offered us—their “preferred customers”—a three-months-free package of movie channels, my wife, Judie, and I said, “Sure, sign us up.” If nothing else, we’d save a bundle on movie rentals while the kids were visiting us over the holidays.

What were we thinking?

Judie and I had known we’d need to make discerning choices about what we watched. But we totally underestimated the tsunami of violence, nudity, bad language, and unabashed affronts to a godly lifestyle that would flood our home once we got hooked up. Two days later, we called and cancelled.

This experience brought to mind again the Apostle Peter’s warning: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). In this case our relationship with God was at risk of being devoured with each image and sound bite.

Devilish Tactics

The Bible clearly teaches that a powerful evil being called Satan rules over dark powers in this world and also over forces of evil that inhabit the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). He appears to be motivated largely by anger and envy; he was banished forever from the very paradise to which we, as God’s children, are now heirs. And so he aggressively opposes both the people of God and the work of God (1 Thess. 2:18,Mt. 13:37–39).

Satan’s aliases suggest the typical strategies he employs against us. He is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3), the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), and the accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). He is always looking for ways to wreak havoc in a believer’s life and will employ any or all of the above tactics—tempting, deceiving, accusing—to diminish or demoralize God’s people. Knowing his tactics will help us stand against him.

How tempting! First, let’s look at Satan’s role as tempter. How does Satan entice us? James describes the evil process this way: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (Jas. 1:14).

James leans heavily on fishing imagery in this verse. We are like hungry fish, lured by the bait. The evil fisherman knows us well: our appetites, our obsessions, the potentially dangerous power in our suppressed angers. His lure will be personal and powerful. Whatever our particular desire, he will dangle it in front of us to entice us and drag us away from God.

If you are captivated by sex, Satan will make certain that opportunities to satisfy your fantasies are readily available. If your battle is with envy or jealousy, you will meet people at every turn who have more than you do or who have succeeded in areas where you have failed. If you are susceptible to anger, you will struggle to forgive a person who has offended you, finding it nearly impossible to get the incident out of your mind.

Weapons of mass deception. One can visit the Garden of Eden for a revealing picture of Satan’s next role: deceiver. The entire entrapment of Adam and Eve is a network of lies, deception, and half-truths (Genesis 3).

Satan asks Eve what God said about the tree in the center of the garden. She says God warned them not to eat of it or they would die. Satan responds,

You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.

—vv. 4–5

In two brief lines he calls God a liar and implies that God has ulterior motives for withholding His best from the first couple. Further, Satan deceives Eve by suggesting that she can gain equality with God by taking things into her own hands.

Satan will similarly engage each of us. He will subtly invite us into dialogue about what God actually said or, more slippery yet, what God might have meant by what He said. We may find ourselves rationalizing why something we’ve always considered to be wrong might be acceptable in this particular case. Or an inner voice will convince us to indulge in something that will ultimately deliver only grief and pain. I deserve it, we reason, as hard as I’ve been working lately. Besides, everybody else is doing the same thing, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting them.

Remember, the devil has been around aeons longer than we have. He has been studying human nature and behavior from the beginning. He knows what lies we are most likely to believe. And he will not hesitate to use them against us.

I stand accused. Accusation is Satan’s third attack strategy. He uses this tactic to demoralize us and make us feel unworthy of a relationship with God.

Satan moves to the “accuser mode” after he has succeeded at tempting and deceiving us. In his roles as tempter and deceiver, the evil one whispers how sweet sin will be. “After all,” he reminds us, “God is a God of grace, mercy, and love. Nothing to worry about! You can always repent. Forgiveness will be easy.”

But once we take the bait, Satan changes his tactics. We’ve sinned, the glow has dimmed, and now reality hits. In that moment when the shame and emptiness of sin strikes, we’ll likely also hear a sneer within: “And you call yourself a Christian!” Now Satan is all over us about what losers we are, how unworthy we are to name the name of Christ, how undeserving we are of His costly love.

Have you noticed the common thread in these three strategies of the enemy? Whether he is acting as tempter, deceiver, or accuser, all these assaults are launched as attacks on our minds.

Messing with Our Minds

Let’s look at some specific ways Satan may try to invade the territory of our minds.

Commandeering our imaginations. Imagination is a wonderful gift from God. I believe it is given to us so that we can envision all we might do and become according to God’s power at work in and through us. But our imaginations are also vulnerable to Satan’s enticements, lies, and accusations.

Consider Eve. Satan shrewdly set her up to fantasize about grasping equality with God. The image was powerful, exciting, irresistible; any thought of following God in obedience and devotion paled in comparison. She ate, and then she became the devil’s advocate by inviting Adam to join her.

Fostering obsession. Another common strategy Satan employs to keep us off-balance is to feed our tendency to obsess. He will do anything to get our focus off of God and onto ourselves or our problems.

For instance, one person’s obsession might be guilt. As Satan keeps the image of her failures vividly alive, a healthy, active conscience is usurped by obsessive thoughts about how bad she has been. Remember, Satan is the accuser. His barrage of condemnation locks her inside herself and blinds her to the light of God’s forgiving grace.

One of my weaknesses is out-of-control worry. When my concerns are infected by the evil one, it’s like I have a video tape in my mind that won’t shut off. Over and over I replay an ugly list of what-if’s: What if this happens! What if that happens! Satan is playing on my fears, and fear always takes my focus off of God and places it on myself.

We are all vulnerable in some area. The evil one is prowling around, looking for host cells in which to plant one of his powerful obsession viruses.

Confusing our sense of what’s right. As we have seen, the deceiver loves to convince us that taking an action that is against God’s will can actually produce something good.

A person may conclude that it makes perfect sense to murder the doctor at the abortion clinic to save the lives of unborn children. Another might slip into a sexual encounter with a coworker, thinking that a temporary fling is just what’s needed to recharge the romance in a lackluster marriage.

Supersizing the initial pleasure. Satan also messes with our minds by ensuring that a first foray into sensual sin yields the greatest possible pleasure. By supersizing that initial experience, he hooks us into a pattern of committing the sin again and again in an attempt to recapture that first-time intensity. When indulging in the same experience doesn’t do it any longer, we up the ante.

A friend of mine started down this road when she tried marijuana. Over time she wound up addicted to heroin, which gave her the rush she could no longer get from other drugs. Finally clean after years of struggling with the addiction, she described her experience to me as “one big high, and the rest was killing pain.”

This is the nature of bondage to Satan: He works to produce in us a greater and greater appetite for a steadily decreasing pleasure. In the end, there is no pleasure at all. Only the raw hunger remains.

Encouraging isolation. In another mind-messing tactic, Satan tries to convince us that we can deal with our struggles on our own. Once we buy into this deception, we are less inclined to seek help and prayer support when we need it most. So we fail, and fail again, and fail again—and tell no one. Ashamed, we slip away altogether from fellowship with other Christians. Finally, isolated and alone, we pose no threat to the evil one’s deadly devices.

Distorting the truth about the reality of evil. The most effective mind trick of all is to downplay the truth about evil. If we don’t believe we have an enemy, we will spend no time preparing for spiritual battle. The truth is, as soon as we name Jesus as our personal savior we pick up enemies—all those evil beings pitted against the purposes of God. A spiritual battle is raging, and we are in the thick of it. If we refuse to believe it, we play into Satan’s hands.

Master Minds

Though these tactics may sound harrowing, we haven’t been left defenseless. Following are a few biblical strategies for defending ourselves against these attacks on the mind.

Guard your thought life. The Apostle Paul was apparently no stranger to assaults on the mind. He wrote,

We demolish arguments 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 Cor. 10:5, emphasis mine

In Phil. 4:8, Paul urges us to fill our minds with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. This is strong encouragement to make choices that strengthen and guard the territory of our minds.

This strategy helped me recently with a man I have struggled to forgive. He pretended to be my friend but behind my back was spreading rumors about me that helped advance his career. The evil one loves to use a situation like this to plant anger and bitterness. Yet I remembered Jesus’ admonition to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:44). Praying for an enemy is a powerful way to stake out the territory of our minds for the Lord.

Every time ugly thoughts about this man popped into my head and I felt anger rising again, I chose to pray for him. More than once, right after praying for the man and his family, I ran into him in a store or saw him drive by. Encountering him in person helped me sense immediately and thankfully how my thoughts had changed for the better.

Remember who you are. Often we don’t realize the full range of spiritual resources that has been passed on to us. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that Christians will

know the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

—vv. 18–19

If we know the truth about our victory in Christ, nothing the evil one does can steal our hope. A growing knowledge of our heavenly inheritance will sustain us when Satan loads on the doubt or tempts and accuses us. And if we know and really grasp the fact that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to each of us, we will not fear the enemy’s attacks.

I have found it helpful to fill my mind with the truths in Ephesians 1. I’ve not only read this chapter repeatedly, I’ve also committed it to memory so I can carry it with me at all times. When temptations, doubts, or accusations assail me, my immediate response is to choose to remember who I am in Christ and all the heavenly resources that are at my disposal through my relationship with Him. When compared to the reality of God’s truth, the counterfeit pleasures of Satan grow dim. Instead of a one-time supersized thrill at the front end, the pleasures of true intimacy with God keep growing through time.

Give and receive prayer. Nothing will keep our minds more focused and actively engaged against evil than intercessory prayer. Prayer for one another was the mainstay of the early church. For instance, Paul mentions Epaphras, saying, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col. 4:12). Intercession is the primary ministry through which the community of faith can stand shoulder to shoulder with each other while joining with Jesus in our mutual struggle against the powers of evil.

Never give up.

It is important to remember that, no matter how much we learn about Satan’s strategies, we will not be victorious in every struggle against temptation, deception, or accusation.

As I wrote this article, I was often aware that I had—again—fallen short in some area. As always the evil one was right there to accuse me: How can you write about guarding your mind? Look what you’ve done. Yet I did not stop writing.

Yes, I’ve sinned. Yes, I still sin. But I get up, dust myself off, and keep going because I know my security does not lie in a perfect record. I take comfort in God’s promise through Paul: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). The Spirit gave Paul this breakthrough insight as he was lamenting his own repeated failures (Ro. 7:14–25).

So yes, it is wise to know the tactics of our enemy. This knowledge will help us stay in the fight and make headway. But the enemy should never be our focus. Our focus needs to be on Christ, who saves us and in whom we have our victory. We finally and fully rest our minds and hearts in the truth that “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

Life-Controlling Problems: Let’s Make A Deal

SOURCE: Adapted from an article at Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

It’s common for people concerned about someone with a life-controlling problem (addiction), relational struggle, or health issue to try to strike bargains with themselves, with the person, with others, and with God. We might promise ourselves that we will be better. We will say the right thing next time. We will make things right. We will refrain from something enjoyable … or harmful. All these things in exchange for something we desire from others or ourselves.

We might set up deals with the loved one to reward them for refraining from their problem behavior. Or we might bargain with God and try to make a deal with Him … a promise to give to the church, to do some good deeds, to give up gossiping or a sexual sin, if only He will fix our or our loved ones’ problems.

If you are in this deal-making stage, you need to understand that help for a friend or loved one doesn’t depend on your performance. God has a specific plan for that person’s life and their change process is between them and God. God may want to use us in the person’s life and work through us. We all have some potential influence, but we have no power. We are in no position and have no leverage to bargain with God. When you think about it, what do we really have to offer in a trade with God?

Today, accept your powerlessness to change another person. Don’t try bargaining with God as if He is on another team. Learn to actually join God’s team and let Him be your captain, and then follow His instruction. Maybe He does want to utilize your influence on the person or situation. You need to view the experience as one of growth for you. If the other person is able to see God through you and engage with God more, again, that is between that person and God.

Prayer

Dear Father God, all my efforts have failed. No matter what I do, I realize now that I can’t fix my loved one’s problems. But I thank You that You can. Your grace is enough. Help me to let go and trust You. Saying that, let me know how you want me to engage with my loved one so I can grow in You and personally. Help me understand how You want to use me for my growth and help me leave the changing of my loved one up to You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who can fix all things, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Finding God in the Midst of Pain

SOURCE:  Alex McFarland

Devastation… danger… desperation. Such words are still being used in headlines referencing Japan (2011), as observers struggle to adequately describe the magnitude of this tragedy. Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation-related statistics are continually being updated as accounts of death, damage and turmoil among the survivors dominate the news.

Whether facing a human-initiated tragedy such as a terrorist attack, or in times of natural disaster like the earthquakes that hit Haiti, Chili, and now Japan? we invariably ask ourselves, “Why?” In the process of enduring such calamities, people may wonder, “Where is God? Could He have prevented this? Does what I am going through matter to God?”

As limited, finite human beings, no one can fully know why a given event might have happened, or why seemingly innocent individuals suffer. But we long for an answer to the elusive issue of why. People in Jesus’ time wanted to know why a certain man was born blind (John 9) and why lives were lost through a prominent disaster of that era (Luke 13). Should we automatically conclude that sinners were getting their “just deserts?” Or like John the Baptist’s moment of doubt while in prison, should we conclude that maybe God isn’t as authentic or faithful as we had first thought (Matthew 11)?

We may not know every reason behind the events of life, but meaning and hope can come from reflecting on what humans do know about God and this world. In a number of ways (through creation, conscience, Scripture, and through Christ Himself), God has shown His creatures that He exists. Further, God has revealed much about this world and His plans for it. God says that the original creation was perfect, but sin and fallenness was introduced through human rebellion.

With this in mind, it’s a wonder that more places aren’t severely damaged by weather, or that more lives aren’t lost. Rather than blame God, it’s probably more suitable to praise God, given the data, and ask, “How is it that the human race is so protected and shielded, given the self-inflicted dangers posed to humans by this world?” We cannot forget that humanity—not God—is to blame for natural evil. It was our sinfulness that caused God to curse the earth (Gen. 3:17). As Romans 8:21-22 points out, the world is in bondage and is suffering from man-induced “corruption.”

Hope or consolation would be scarce if the story ended there. However, there is valid reason to trust God’s promise that He will one day “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). John the Baptist was encouraged to evaluate his own doubts in light of the promises of Scripture and the Person of Christ. Divine love, forgiveness, healing and even victory over death are not just pious platitudes, but are realities promised by both the Bible and Jesus. Christ’s historically verified empty tomb is tangible proof that this death-conquering Jesus was indeed in a position to authoritatively speak about the here and the hereafter.

The question becomes, “Could there be a morally sufficient reason for God to allow pain and suffering to enter our lives?” The answer is yes. Suffering may be the only means by which a nonbeliever will see his need for Christ (though only God knows this). Meanwhile, believers who suffer can emerge from their valleys with purified character, deeper faith and a greater awareness of how truly faithful God is. C.S. Lewis asserted that, “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”(1) If this is indeed the case, then we may peacefully accept that God is still loving and merciful even when trials and sufferings have been permitted to come into our lives. For the one willing to process their suffering with an eye on God, there is purpose in pain. Here are some reasons why God may allow pain and suffering in the world? Even on the scale of what the nation of Japan is now going through:

  • Suffering uncovers what is really inside of our hearts.
  • Suffering breaks us of our pride.
  • Suffering can deepen our desire for God.
  • Suffering can mature us.
  • Suffering can breed humility.
  • Suffering may be a warning of something potentially worse
  • Suffering can jump-start our prayer life.
  • Suffering may prompt a lost person to receive Christ.
  • Suffering may lead a Christian to confess sin.
  • Suffering helps deepen our trust in God.
  • Suffering can deepen our appreciation for Scripture.
  • Suffering helps us appreciate other Christians who were victorious.
  • Suffering can take our eyes off ourselves and this world.
  • Suffering can teach us firsthand that God truly is sufficient.
  • Suffering can connect us with other people.
  • Suffering can create an opportunity for witness.
  • Suffering can lead a person into Christian ministry.
  • Suffering can make us grateful for what we had or still have.
  • Suffering can position our lives to bring more glory to God.
  • Suffering, properly handled, will result in rewards in heaven.

Christians do not deny the realities of evil and tragedy, but we do affirm that God can (and will) bring good from it. Like Jesus, we weep with those who weep (see John 11:35 and Romans 12:15) and long for the day that evil will be quarantined and this world restored. Believers everywhere extend their prayers, love, sympathy, and support for the people of Japan.

The reality of evil, pain, and suffering in the world does not negate the reality of God. Far from it? if there were no God, then not only would there be no answer to the question of suffering, life itself would have no meaning. The healthiest way to understand and endure life’s valleys is to find our solace and sanctuary in Christ. At this time, may God draw the Japanese closer to each other, and closer to Himself. At this time, may God enable people of goodwill everywhere to pull together with brave, humble, and grateful hearts.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1962, page 93.

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