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Posts tagged ‘God’s grace’

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).

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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. 

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.

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.

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