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Posts tagged ‘mercy’

Where Is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?

SOURCE:  an article by J. Budziszewski

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself?

If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can’t sleep, by day I can’t rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?

Some people think that you don’t. You’re sick, you’re dying, you’ve been deserted, you’ve lost a child, you’re innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. “Don’t question God’s ways; He might hear you.” In my cry of anguish, don’t I want Him to hear me? “It’s probably for your own good.” If I’m to be tormented for my own good, don’t I get a say in the matter? “I’m sure there’s a good reason.” No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is “Where is God?”

Some Comforters

Even worse are the people who say, “You’re being unfair to God. It isn’t His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn’t. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow.” No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I’m suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn’t. I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I’m not interested in a God who is “not responsible.”

Some Comforters, Some Religion

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!

There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.

Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job”s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him. Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all. Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to “curse God and die!”(Job 2:9) Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.

A Torrent of Grief

Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.

This is too much for Job’s friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up. He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.

To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen. One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.

Answer in a Whirlwind

In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn’t pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.

There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn’t because God answers Job’s questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”(Job 42:3).

The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job’s friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn’t Job God’s accuser? Weren”t his friends God’s defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends, God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, “as my servant Job has”! (Job 42:7-8)

What truth could Job have spoken? Didn’t he just admit that he hadn’t known what he was talking about?

Not All Suffering Is Our Fault

Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn’t deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too. Dreadful things happen, things we don’t deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely “explain away” the pain.

In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us “answers” that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God? He is a better answer than the “answers” would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.

You may object, “What good is it for God to visit me? He’s not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer,” but these words are meaningless. God can’t suffer with me. He only watches.”

But there is more. The story of Job is not God’s last word. Nor is it His last deed.

Human Wrecks

Let’s face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.

One writer describes the problem as a “deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.” What we want to do, we don’t. What we don’t want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us. We may long to be “blameless” like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can’t stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.

Can’t Repair Ourselves

Not only are we broken, but we can’t repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy. What they can’t do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick. Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.

Did someone say God doesn’t suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us.

Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness — our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.

There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it was for us (Matthew 27:46). All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28).

This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.

Did you read the catch? “If we trust Him.” Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?

Though He had 77 questions for Job, for you He has only one. Will you come?

A Prayer for Letting Go of the Desire to Get Even

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19). Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice (Prov. 24:17). Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9)

Dear heavenly Father, I love the taste of deep dish, double-crusted apple cobbler, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and homemade vanilla ice cream. But, with less nutritional value, I also savor stories of creative revenge, seasoned with spiteful retaliation, and topped off with the gravy of humiliating retribution—when the bad guys “get it”1000 times worse than they gave it. Alas, the very attitude confronted by these Scriptures.

You commend, even command, that we work for justice, and long for the Day of ultimate righteousness. But we must heed your many warnings to avoid a vengeful spirit, as surely as we’d run from coiled rattlesnakes, toxic fumes, threatened momma bears, or E. coli poisoned waters.

No matter what the provocation—from a personal “dissing,” to evil parading its hatred of beauty—you tell us that we have no right to revenge, no right to gloat when an enemy falls, no right to get even with anybody. The gospel calls us to a different way of stewarding our hurts and anger.

Father, I’m so glad you didn’t “get even” with me, for all the ways I’ve rebelled (and do rebel) against you; for all the ways I’ve chosen my gain over your glory; for all the ways I’ve misrepresented you to the world, even to my own heart.

You didn’t get even; you got generous—lavishing mercy and grace upon this ill-deserving man. May the gospel keep me humble and patient, prayerful and expectant of the Day of consummate justice. I don’t want to waste one more self-absorbed moment rehearsing things that hurt me and relishing personal revenge.  So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Receiving Help That I Might Be Of Help

 SOURCE:  Dr. Tim Clinton/AACC

Real Soul Care

Somewhere outside Atlanta. All alone. Discouraged, and perhaps even a bit depressed. Questioning myself. Confused about the direction my life was taking. Wondering about God’s plan. Even questioning whether or not God cared, or was even listening.

Years ago, that is where I found myself. It seemed as if the wheels were coming off of my life, and I was simply driving aimlessly around. When my phone rang, the caller I.D. displayed “Michael Lyles”. I answered, albeit hesitantly. “Where are you Tim?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Stay right there… I’m on my way.”

The next few hours felt like fresh water to a man dying of thirst. Mike listened. He prayed. He poured spiritual comfort and grace into my very soul. He affirmed and encouraged me. He believed in God’s work alive in my life. It was as if he came along side of me as a brother, friend and fellow warrior. Still, not everything in life made sense, but now I knew for sure that I wasn’t facing it alone.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) have been “life” verses for me for a very long time:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Recently, I came across those verses in The Message

“All praise to the God…of all healing counsel! He comes alongside uswhen we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

Often in the New Testament, the writers refer to the “God of all grace”… or the“Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Amazing Grace.

What’s important to understand is that I received the Grace of God that day in North Atlanta. And it was poured into my life through the life of another. Strong’s Concordance describes grace (charis) with these words… divine influence upon the heart, and it’s reflection in the life. And don’t miss this — God comforts us in ALL our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction…

Let me paraphrase all of this if I might:

When we are going through hard times, God comforts us with grace, and that grace has a divine influence upon our hearts. Often he uses someone else to help bring that grace to us. And He comforts us in ALL of our trials. Then, further down the road, when we meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time, the grace that God poured into our lives is now reflected into their life – so that further down the road, when they meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time… And on and on it goes.

Life is tough. Struggles, trials and hard times will come. When they do, look around you. God is probably bringing someone along side of you to pour grace into your life. Grace to turn your life around — so that one day you can help turn someone else’s life around.

We Must Take SORROWS and SINS To God

SOURCE:  C. H. Spurgeon

    “Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.”

         — Psalm 25:18

 It is well for us when prayers about our sorrows are linked with pleas concerning our sins—when, being under God’s hand, we are not wholly taken up with our pain, but remember our offences against God. It is well, also, to take both sorrow and sin to the same place.

It was to God that David carried his sorrow: it was to God that David confessed his sin.

Observe, then, we must take our sorrows to God. Even your little sorrows you may roll upon God, for he counteth the hairs of your head; and your great sorrows you may commit to him, for he holdeth the ocean in the hollow of his hand. Go to him, whatever your present trouble may be, and you shall find him able and willing to relieve you.

But we must take our sins to God too. We must carry them to the cross, that the blood may fall upon them, to purge away their guilt, and to destroy their defiling power.

The special lesson of the text is this:—that we are to go to the Lord with sorrows and with sins in the right spirit.

Note that all David asks concerning his sorrow is, “Look upon mine affliction and my pain;” but the next petition is vastly more express, definite, decided, plain—“Forgive all my sins.” Many sufferers would have put it, “Remove my affliction and my pain, and look at my sins.” But David does not say so; he cries, “Lord, as for my affliction and my pain, I will not dictate to thy wisdom. Lord, look at them, I will leave them to thee, I should be glad to have my pain removed, but do as thou wilt; but as for my sins, Lord, I know what I want with them; I must have them forgiven; I cannot endure to lie under their curse for a moment.”

A Christian counts sorrow lighter in the scale than sin; he can bear that his troubles should continue, but he cannot support the burden of his transgressions.

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

Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Lord, Show Me The Way Out

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

Thoughts for Today
Enabling is anything that stands in the way of or softens the natural consequences of a person’s behavior.

God does not want us to enable others in their wrongdoing. Neither does he enable us when we choose to walk in disobedience to him. He loves us too much to enable us in our wrongdoing. He knows that we will not come to our senses and change our ways unless he allows us to suffer the natural consequences of what we do.

The great thing is that, just like the father of the prodigal son, our heavenly Father is loving us and watching for us. He wants us to come home and will run out to meet us, showering his love, mercy and forgiveness on us when we return.

Consider this … 
Do you need to return? Perhaps you have recently fallen into something you know you shouldn’t do … Your Father is waiting for you.

Perhaps you have been locked into a downward spiral and feel as though there is no way out. God always provides a way. He is just waiting for you to come to him with a repentant heart. His arms are open wide … no matter what you have done. Jesus has already paid the price for your sin. Receive his forgiveness. He loves you unconditionally and is waiting to help you.

Prayer
Father, I am so sorry for what I have been doing. Please forgive me and show me the way out. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee. 

God is our first, last, and only option

How to Pray in the Storm

Reaching out to God in turbulent times

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Jim Carpenter

What do you do when you’re suddenly in the path of a tornado?

I found out on June 29, 1998, as I huddled in the darkness of the basement, our house shuddering from the force of the wind as it cut a swath through the northern Des Moines metro area. In only minutes, the sky went from a serene blue to an angry charcoal. Rain, whipped by nearly 100-mile-an-hour winds, plastered shredded leaves to the sides of our house and poured through an open window. Broken glass sliced through my office as the window casement was wrenched away. Trees snapped off 15 feet above the ground or were torn out by their roots. My neighbor’s camper landed upside down in someone else’s backyard. Shingles sailed by like flocks of Frisbees.

As the thunder and lightning escalated, the power went out, and the entire house began to tremble. Sirens started to blare. I headed for the basement, and a scene from the movie Twister flashed through my mind—the scene where a man is ripped out of a storm shelter and sucked into the mouth of the monster wind.

What do you do when your house may be leveled by a storm, when you might die? You pray. And not a neat, textbook prayer. You pray in desperation and beg God to spare you and your family. You plead with Him to preserve your house and stay the force of the storm. You cry, “Have mercy! Have mercy!”

When Storms Threaten

Storms swirl into our lives in many forms: a doctor’s grim diagnosis, a financial disaster, a slick road on a dark street, a teenager’s tragic choice. Storms bring us to our knees, cowering in the dark basement of our fears. And so we pray.

When the tornado struck, I had been studying 2 Chronicles 20. Now my Bible falls open to that chapter, the pages permanently wrinkled from the ferocious rain that streamed into my office that day. I realized I had a lot in common with King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. They, too, were standing in the path of a storm.

An angry alliance of Judah’s enemies was marching inexorably toward Jerusalem, determined to destroy the nation. The word came to Jehoshaphat: “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea” (v. 2). The enemy horde was already on the west side of the Jordan, only 40 miles from Jerusalem!

Significantly, Jehoshaphat didn’t spend any time consulting with his generals. He knew that Judah had no military defense against such a foe. No, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast” (v. 3).

God’s response to Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer was gracious and powerful. Looking at desperate times through the lens of the king’s example, I began to discover some principles of prayer for the storms that lie ahead.

Measure the storm by the character and promises of God.

Jehoshaphat brought his people together in grave recognition of the nation’s peril. But then he led them to focus on Almighty God, claiming His power and promises.

First, he focused on God’s attributes.

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.

—v. 6

When we gauge the fury of the storm by the power of Almighty God, the storm is absolutely dwarfed!

Next, Jehoshaphat reminded God of His promises to His people.

O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.

—vv. 7–9

Jehoshaphat echoed the words of King Solomon, who prayed to dedicate the temple a century before. The night after that ceremony, the Lord appeared to Solomon and made a promise that His people have been claiming ever since. It must have been on Jehoshaphat’s heart in the middle of the storm:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

—2 Chron. 7:14

Centering our thoughts and emotions in the Scriptures will help us pray through the storm. For years, I have printed four-by-six-inch cards with passages about God’s wisdom, sovereignty, mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. His Word, hid in my heart, helps me ride out storms in confidence.

Our son Zach joined the army (right before the tornado) to finance his college education. At the time, the world seemed to be at peace. But in the months since, the U.S. military has been embroiled in one regional crisis after another.

At times I am overwhelmed with fear for my son. Often, the Lord brings Psalm 91 to my mind, a song of God’s protection. The familiar words quiet my heart: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. . . . For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (vv. 1, 11).

Then I am able to pray through the psalm, personalizing it for Zach, and once again entrusting my son to my faithful heavenly Father.

Demonstrate helpless dependence on God.

Judah’s assembly was an eloquent testimony to their dependence upon the Lord. Whole families stood together, babies in arms, praying and fasting (v. 13). They knew God was their only hope. If He didn’t intervene, they would be destroyed.

Jehoshaphat ended his prayer with this humble statement: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12).

The storm forces us to this place of dependence, confessing that nothing else has the slightest chance of saving us—not our possessions or our connections, not our personalities or our education. Not our religion or our luck. Letting God know we know that He is our first, last, and only option is a good thing.

While it is true that we can pray from any position, our posture can mirror the attitude of our hearts. Sometimes I feel the need to pray flat on my face. Other times I stand with hands raised to heaven. Similarly, when we say no to food or to sleep for a time, we remind ourselves—and God—that we are counting on Him and Him alone.

Corporate prayer, fasting, and confession allow us to say, while the storm rages around us, that our hope is in You, Lord. Only You.

Wait for God to communicate.

When Jehoshaphat finished his prayer, there was nothing more to say. While the enemy army drew nearer, “all the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord” (v.13). They simply waited.

And God spoke through a man named Jahaziel (v. 14).

The Lord’s communiqué matched their situation perfectly. They were fearful, so He comforted them.

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s… Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.

—vv. 15, 17

They didn’t know what to do, so He gave them explicit instructions.

Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.

—vv. 16–17

Prayer was never intended to be a monologue. Learning to practice “listening prayer” has transformed the lives of many of God’s children and prepared them for gathering storms ahead.

So how does God speak? Well, certainly through His Word. He might communicate through the counsel of a friend or through circumstances. Sometimes He even speaks to us through dreams. He might also bring impressions to a yielded mind. For years I have depended upon semi-annual prayer retreats, where I withdraw for a day or two to pray and to listen.

The night after the tornado, the Lord communicated with my wife, Dionne. While we were thankful that God had preserved our lives and home, we were still very discouraged. We had been trying to sell our home for months, and one disaster after another had prevented it.

In the aftermath of the storm, our property looked as if it had been shelled. A dozen of our huge trees were shattered, the remains littering every part of our acre lot and crushing our neighbor’s fence. Our roof was damaged, and the back wall of our garage hung by a few nails. Who would want to buy our house now? We went to bed very depressed.

That night Dionne could not sleep. She got up, grabbed a Bible, and headed for the living room. Desperate for a word from God, she prayed for God to speak.

The Lord led her to Is. 43:1–3:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The next night, 24 hours after the tornado, we sold our house!

Respond with courageous obedience.

Obedience may not always require courage, but in this case it did.

“Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa” (v. 20).

Only hours before, the Israelites had been paralyzed with fear. Now, in obedience to the Lord, they rose early to meet an army bent on their destruction. But rather than lead with their best soldiers, “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness” (v.21). They marched forward, praising God with triumphant words from Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord… His love endures forever.”

Did you ever think of worship as an act of courage? In my first year of seminary, a student was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. One of our professors broke the news to us, and before he led in prayer, he said, “In times like this, I don’t know what to do but worship.”

Worship takes courage because it is the ultimate expression of trust. When you stand in the path of the storm, when circumstances are close to destroying you, when you look around and see nothing but chaos, to worship is to say, “My God is bigger than this. I trust Him and His promises more than my eyesight, more than my perception of reality.”

So we worshiped and prayed. Weeks later, we rejoiced that God had chosen to heal our friend.

The summer of our Iowa tornado, Paul and Jule Becker were in the middle of their own storm. Jule was fighting a battle with cancer that had lasted, to that point, seven long years.

As I prayed for Jule with a friend, we sensed God was leading us to organize an intense time of prayer and fasting for her. Her team of intercessors already numbered in the hundreds. In obedience to God’s leading, people all over the world determined to fast and pray, worship and wait. God preserved Jule’s life for another year. But in the end, with great grace and dignity, Jule went to be with Him.

The howl of the wind and the crash of the thunder may threaten to dislodge us from the habits of obedience we normally practice: worship, witness, stewardship. To keep our footing will take courage—the courage to obey even in the darkest hour of the storm.

Expect God’s best.

The Lord exploited the diverse factions of this conglomerate army. Some believe He also intervened with angelic warriors.

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

—vv. 22–23

The invaders were routed. The voluminous provisions they brought became an abundant overflow of God’s blessing. “There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it” (v. 25).

And it all happened without a single weapon being raised in Judah! God’s people prayed a desperate prayer, and He delivered them through the storm.

Sometimes God’s best is victory over the enemy. For Jule, God’s best was not physical healing but homegoing. Either way, God carries us through the storm, connected to His love and buoyed by His faithfulness.

When my wife was a little girl, her parents were missionaries to Jordan. Violence permeated that part of the world then, just as it does today.

One frightening day the political climate turned stormier than usual, and a mob of angry men swirled together. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many men deep, locked arms, and began to march with murderous resolution toward the mission compound where Dionne’s family lived.

The compound was walled on all four sides, but that day the gate was open, and Dionne and her younger brother were playing in the courtyard.

As the mob came nearer, the children were hustled back onto the porch. The family watched in horror as the men marched in rank through the open gate, across the courtyard, and directly toward the front door.

Just as the first group of men reached the front step of the porch, Dionne remembers a dazed look coming over their faces. Suddenly the lead men veered left, marched to the side wall, and clambered to the street. All the men behind followed suit, scrambling over the wall like a stream of fire ants.

Weeks later they received a letter from my wife’s grandmother in Chicago. The Lord had awakened her in the middle of the night and told her to pray for her family in Jordan. Gripped by a sense of imminent danger, she dropped to her knees in earnest intercession. Finally the burden lifted. She was writing to discover what crisis the family might have faced.

The date and time of her prayer matched precisely the date and time of the threatening mob and their sudden detour away from the family.

There are storms coming—that much is certain. Christians have no special immunity from the fury of the tornado. But whether the storm passes us by or visits us with crushing force, prayer is our refuge under the darkening sky. In desperate times, prayer connects us to the God of the storm. The same Jesus who brought peace to a boatload of terrified disciples still reigns today. And the wind and the waves still do His bidding.

A Purpose in the Pain

Source:  Ligonier Ministries

A Purpose in the Pain: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada

by Joni Eareckson Tada

Tabletalk: For our readers who are unfamiliar with your story, would you share how you became quadriplegic?

Joni Eareckson Tada: For years, I was one of those who insisted, “Handicaps happen to other people, not me.” But all that changed on a hot July afternoon in 1967 when my sister Kathy and I went to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay for a swim. The water was murky, and I didn’t bother to check the depth when I hoisted myself onto a raft anchored offshore. I dove in and instantly felt my head hit something hard — my neck snapped and I felt a strange electric shock. Underwater and dazed, I felt myself floating and unable to surface for air. Thankfully, Kathy noticed my plight and quickly came to the rescue. When she pulled me out of the water, I saw my arm slung over her shoulder, and yet, I couldn’t feel it. I knew then that something awful had happened. Later, at the hospital, I learned I had severed my spinal cord and would be left a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. I was devastated.

TT: When you first discovered that you would never use your arms and legs again, what went through your mind and how did you cope with this reality?

JT: Lying in the hospital, I recalled that just months earlier I had asked God to draw me closer to His side. Now, stuck in bed, I wondered if my paralysis was His idea of an answer to that prayer. If this was the way He treated new Christians, how could He ever be trusted with another prayer again? Obviously, God’s ways were far different than mine, and, for a long time, that idea both frightened and depressed me. But where else could I turn? To whom could I go? I remember praying, “God, if I can’t die, then show me how to live.” Many days afterward, I would sit in front of a Bible, holding a mouth-stick between my teeth and f lipping the pages, praying that God would help me put together the puzzle pieces of my suffering.

TT: Which passages of Scripture have given you encouragement during your struggles with disability and cancer?

JT: Psalm 79:8 says, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (NIV). Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I can do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.” This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, NIV).

Another anchor is Deuteronomy 31:6, where God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [of quadriplegia, chronic pain, or cancer], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV). I’m convinced a believer can endure any amount of suffering as long as he’s convinced that God is with him in it. And we have the Man of Sorrows, the most God-forsaken man who ever lived, so that, in turn, He might say to us, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” God wrote the book on suffering and He called it Jesus. This means God understands. He knows. He’s with me. My diving accident really was an answer to that prayer to be drawn closer to Him.

TT: How important is it for a person with a disability to have the support of his or her family and church during such times?

JT: God never intended that we should suffer alone, that we should suffer for nothing. This is why spiritual community is so important to a person who has undergone a catastrophic injury or illness — his family and the church keep him connected to reality, help ascribe positive meaning to his pain, bring him out of social isolation, and point him to the One who holds all the answers in His hand. Without family and the church, a person with a disability is adrift in a sea of hopelessness. We must not let that happen.

TT: How would you encourage someone who has recently been diagnosed with a permanent illness or disability?

JT: First, it’s okay to cry; it’s important to grieve. Romans 12:15 shows us that God doesn’t expect us to stifle our tears, so we shouldn’t expect it of each other. It’s a hard thing to first swallow a bad medical report or the birth of your child with a disabling condition, and it takes time to digest the reality. But sooner or later, we have to put aside the Kleenex and start thinking, start searching out God’s heart in the matter — because it’s not enough to merely cope or adjust; God wants us to embrace His purpose for the pain a s good and acceptable (Rom. 12:2b).

TT: What is the best way to help nondisabled people view disabled people as more than just the sum of their disabilities?

JT: Inside every person using a wheelchair, a white cane, or a walker is a person who is just like you, someone with hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, opinions and views, and memories of childhood and vacations. Try to look past the strokeravaged body or the blind eyes or the wheelchair to see that this individual is an image-bearer of God — a person with human dignity and life potential. And look for ways to help that person discover his innate worth and purpose for living — realizing that he can help you discover the same.

TT: Your most recent book is A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’ s Sovereignty. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?

JT: For more than ten years I have dealt with chronic pain (very unusual for a quadriplegic like me). Piled on top of my quadriplegia, at times it seemed too much to bear. So I went back and reexamined my original views on divine healing to see what more I could learn. What I discovered was that God still reserves the right to heal or not to heal as He sees fit.

And rather than try to frantically escape the pain, I relearned the timeless lesson of allowing my suffering to push me deeper into the arms of Jesus. I like to think of my pain as a sheepdog that keeps snapping at my heels to drive me down the road to Calvary, where, otherwise, I would not be naturally inclined to go.

TT: How doe s Joni and Friends International Disability Center impact the world today?

JT: I’m honored to lead a gifted team of like-hearted believers who are passionate about making Jesus real among people around the globe who are suffering from all sorts of disabilities and diseases. Through our Wheels for the World outreach, gifted physical therapists travel with us to hand-fit needy disabled people in developing nations to wheelchairs. Plus, we give them Bibles and do disability ministry training in local churches. Joni and Friends also holds scores of Family Retreats each summer across the United States and around the world, serving more than thirty-five hundred disabled children, adults, family members, and volunteers.

I pray that God will give me many more years of strength and stamina so that I can continue to do the work He’s called me to. It’s why “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” That’s my paraphrase of Acts 20:24 and, for me, it’s what makes me get up in the morning with a smile.


Joni Eareckson Tada has lived in a wheelchair for more than forty years due to a diving accident at age seventeen. She is the founder of Joni and Friends, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 to accelerate Christian ministry in the disability community through various outreach and church training programs. Joni and Friends has distributed more than thirty-eight thousand wheelchairs worldwide through Wheels for the World. Visit http://www.joniandfriends.org to learn more. Joni is also an author of more than forty-five books, including When God Weeps and A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You.

SUFFERING: Not God’s Wrath, But A Loving and Holy Tool

SOURCE:  Jeremy Lelek

How the Mercy of God Flourishes in Suffering

Reality, to a large degree, is constructed subjectively through the processes of the mind.  ”Facts” are perceived, variables of that perception shape an interpretation, and these interpretations ultimately serve to shape a person’s experiential reality.  By no means does this diminish the fact that objective, absolute truth exists, but it is important to recognize that this process of perception, interpretation, and conclusion has a significant impact on the way people experience life.  Understanding this can have a profound impact on helping people walk through difficult seasons of suffering.

A fascinating example of this is seen in the book of Mark:

“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace be still!’  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?’  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:37-41).

The disciples and Jesus were engulfed in an objectively shared experience, but subjectively, they each experienced this moment very differently.  The disciples were fearful and panicky while Jesus was relaxed to the point of sleep.  For the disciples, their perception seems pretty accurate:  “We’re in a raging storm, and in danger of going under.”  But their interpretation of the situation completely enslaved them to fear and dread.  From reading the account, their interpretation must have been something along these lines, “We’re in a horrible storm, and we’re going to die!”  Their seeming admonishment of Jesus reflects this, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (v.38).  On the other hand, Jesus responded to the situation with complete power and authority.

What was the missing variable in the disciples’ interpretation of the situation?  It was faith.  Jesus rebuked them for this asking, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?” (v. 40).   The Creator of the cosmos sat in physical form with them on the boat, in the storm, but their lack of faith in him caused them to miss the amazing providential moment of mercy that was unfolding right before their eyes.  Jesus was there, and safety was imminent.

How does this translate into helping others who are going through difficulty and suffering?  Let’s consider two implications:

The Variable of the Gospel Forces a Reinterpretation of EVERYTHING

Typical responses to suffering tend to foster contempt for and doubt in God.  It is not unusual for me to hear statements (from Christians who are suffering) like:  “Why is God punishing me?”  “What did I do to deserve this from God?” Why is God abandoning me?”  “If God is such a good God, why is he allowing such evil in my life?”   “I am very angry with God.”  These responses expose a profound distortion in the flow of one’s perceptions, interpretations, and conclusions.  While the perception that life is difficult, even grueling demands enormous compassion from the counselor, the leap from this to the “God-is-against-me” type thinking demands extensive consideration.  For example, like the disciples, these responses assume God is either asleep or apathetic to the situation.

The interpretation is not simply that life is difficult, but that since it is difficult, God doesn’t care, or even worse, is working against them.  This myopic translation of reality completely expunges the “Gospel-at-work” dynamic from the person’s experience of suffering.  If we help them bring the Gospel variable into the scene, the nature of God, from careless and cruel, is transformed into the realization that He is actually amazing and merciful.  The person with the “God-is-against-me” mentality is going to have a very difficult time responding to suffering with humility and trust unless the light of truth is shed upon their experience in such a way that His mercy is meaningfully revealed.

The truth of the matter is that during moments or seasons of suffering, and particularly in the context of sinful responses to suffering, the Gospel is perpetually at work.  When accusations against God are being catapulted from the heart, waging war against Him, and when anger and doubt are the predominant themes as it concerns one’s attitude towards God, the finished work of the Cross is stunningly active.  Rather than being condemned for such responses, God ascribes to the one sinning the very righteousness of Jesus.  God actually treats the suffering saint (with a sinful attitude) as though he or she is responding with perfect obedience to and faith in God.  God examines all the doubt, anger, fear, and hostility directed at Him through the prism of the Gospel, and treats the individual as though he or she were responding with the very perfection of Jesus.  In essence, in our weakness and sinful responses, we act like the disciples in the boat, but are viewed by God as though we were responding with the perfection of Jesus. Even further, Jesus took upon himself our guilt as though He were the one responding without faith in a loving Father.

This realization of the Gospel in the midst of suffering forces a reinterpretation of the God of the Bible.  Suffering is no longer viewed as His divine lightening bolt intended to punish or curse the afflicted, but is understood as a divine context that is intended to radiate the glory of His love and mercy.  As this reality crystallizes in the heart, people’s view of God changes.  Where their Gospel-void interpretation once influenced their conclusion of God as the arbiter of pain as a means to justice, they now understand their pain as a means to understand His infinite grace resulting in the freedom to genuinely conclude He is truly a God that is good.  They realize His mercy flourishing through suffering in that they were desperate in their weakness for the imputed righteousness of Christ, and that God was eager to offer it as a means to magnify His infinite love for them as they endure life in a fallen world.  As such, the variable of the Gospel completely reinterprets the entire scene of the narrative elevating God as a compassionate Father of His own.  Furthermore, he is realized as a Person who demands absolute honor and obedience compelling the believer to repentance where sin has abounded in his or her response to suffering.

The Gospel is Committed to Actualizing Christ-Like Responses in Real-Time

Not only is the Gospel at work by imparting the righteousness of Jesus to the believer, the message of the Gospel is also about actually changing human hearts.  If we were to put this in modern, western terminology, the Gospel is about conforming believers to the image of Christ, therefore empowering them towards true psychological health; this psychological health not being conceptualized through a Western view of psychological health and research, but understood and determined by the very nature of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually perfect.  Therefore, he responded to suffering perfectly.  As believers are conformed to His image, these aspects of human nature are being radically healed and transformed.  Consider the words of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:24).  Here, James is touching the same theme as Jesus did with His disciples in the boat:  faith.  Suffering has a purpose, and that purpose is to create people of faith who are complete and lacking in nothing.  It is a means of healing by conforming people to the image of Jesus.  Basically, it is the trial that He uses as His instrument to equip believers in responding with a faith reflective of Jesus.

Can you imagine what life would be like if you or those you serve faced marital struggles, depression, anxiety, or illness with the faith of Christ?  It feels nearly inconceivable as to how this would change the experience we call life.  But this is God’s commitment to His own, and it is through suffering that He is mercifully accomplishing His work of healing and transformation in the hearts of believers.  Therefore, suffering should not be viewed as the wrath of God upon His children, but as the tool He uses to create beings who relate perfectly to Him in glory and honor.  It is a means to help Christians learn to live with their minds set on the things of the Spirit; something Paul taught would bring life and peace (Romans 8:6).

Suffering:  A Delicate Reality

As I write this blog, I recognize it barely touches the complexities of human suffering.  Therefore, as you consider what is written, avoid making these things into formulaic, emotionally insensitive methods for counseling.  The Gospel is rich, and effective for change.  However, we as counselors must always be eager to weep with those who weep, and resist any tendencies of scripting the process of redemption for those we serve.  Human change operates on the divine timetable of a sovereign God, and we must submit to His will as we walk with others.  Biblical truth brings freedom, but we must speak this truth in love with a keen sensitivity to the exterior and interior struggles that influence confusion about God and the human experience.  Even more, we understand that it is God who will bring ultimate understanding, freedom, and peace in the time He has allotted.  May we always humbly walk in light of this reality.

Bruised and Mutilated by Sin

The Bruised Reed

SOURCE:  John Macduff (by Deejay O’Flaherty)

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  Isaiah 42:3

When a human soul is bruised and mutilated by sin, He (God) casts it not away. He repairs it for its place in the heavenly instrument, and makes it once more to show forth His praise.

Look at David, the Psalmist of Israel.

Who more a “bruised reed” than he?

God had inspired his soul—made it a many-stringed instrument in discoursing His praise; but now it lay a broken mutilated thing, with the stain of crimson guilt upon it, tuneless and mute. “I kept silence,” says he; “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

Does Jehovah desert him?—does He cast the reed away and seek to replace the void by another, worthier and better? Does He mock the cry of penitential sorrow as through anguished tears that stricken one thus implored forgiveness—”Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions”?

No.

Hear him detail his own experience—”I acknowledged my sin to You, and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” And then he takes up the re-tuned instrument, and sings for the encouragement of others—”Let everyone who is godly pray to You while You may be found.”

In the case of some aromatic plants, it is when bruised they give forth the sweetest fragrance; so it is often the soul crushed with a sense of guilt which sends forth the sweetest aroma of humility, gratitude, and love.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

——————————————————————————————-

Macduff, John Ross, a Presbyterian minister, was born at Bonhard, near Perth, Scotland, May 23, 1818, and educated at the high school of Edinburgh and in the university of the same city. He became a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1842. Among his pastorates was one of fifteen years in the city of Glasgow. In 1871 Dr. Macduff gave up the pastoral relation. He is the author of a number of volumes in prose and poetry, some of which have great practical and devotional value and have a wide circulation. Most of his hymns appeared in his Altar Stones, 1853, and in The Gates of Praise, 1876. He died April 30, 1895. The Universities of Glasgow and of New York each conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

The Field Guide to Forgiveness

SOURCE:  James Cain/In Touch Ministries

Betrayal. Rejection. Condemnation. No one requests such treatment, yet few escape life without a wound or two. The circumstances that call for forgiveness aren’t usually in our plans. But to follow Jesus faithfully, we must learn to say, “I forgive you.”

The following “field guide” isn’t exhaustive. But the tips, quotes, and stories collected here will provide guidance about fulfilling the Lord’s challenging command to forgive, regardless of the offense.

More Than Words

The Work of Forgiveness 

While I watched my boys play in a community park one morning, a curious drama unfolded nearby. Two women sat facing each other, their sons standing between them.

One woman held her son’s hand. The other woman, more agitated, grasped her son’s elbow. Both boys were frowning, chins out and hands deep in pockets.

“He said he was sorry,” the second mother said. “Now you say, ‘I forgive you,’ and you guys shake hands.” Neither boy would meet the other’s eye. During the silence, the frustrated mom began alternately cajoling and threatening until her son grunted a word or two. Relieved, she sent them back onto the playground and then commiserated with her friend about the difficulty of getting at their sons’ hearts. “I know he needs to do it,” she sighed, “but if his heart’s not in it, what’s the point?”

It was a fair question. After all, her boy’s grumbled “Forgive you” was about as heartfelt as the grunted “Sorry” it answered. The incident reminded me that knowing we should forgive isn’t the hard part; the actual forgiving is. The point, after all, is reconciliation—restored communion and healed brokenness—that results from practicing this discipline. In the end, forgiveness changes the one forgiving more than the one being pardoned.

This is true because forgiveness forces us to admit our powerlessness and trust God for justice. The boy who was reluctant to forgive knew instinctively that weakness is not generally considered a virtue. Pursuing vengeance makes us feel strong, empowered. Forgiving, on the other hand, acknowledges that we may not receive the “justice” we thought we deserved.

Change also happens because forgiveness creates space for restored fellowship. Giving up our claim against the offender moves us from weakness to strength, as we invite the peace of the Holy Spirit to restore our relationship with God and neighbor. Denying forgiveness, on the other hand, breaks fellowship not only with our adversary, but also with our Father (Mark 11:25).

A while later, as I walked with my own children to our car, I turned to see the boys back at play. They smiled and laughed as if nothing had happened. Though the process doesn’t always go that easily or well, forgiving—and receiving forgiveness—had made room for their friendship.

Most people will experience wounds far deeper than the playground mishap I witnessed. The obstacles to forgiving will be far greater, the cost of forgiving, far higher. But the point remains the same: When we forgive, we make renewed relationship possible, if not with the person we forgive, then with the Person who has forgiven us.


Word Power

Forgive
Merriam-Webster—1 a : to give up resentment of or claim to requital for  b : to grant relief from payment of    2 : to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)
Synonyms: pardon, excuse 
Phrases: bury the hatchet, wipe the slate clean, let go


Tip #1: Forgive and Remember

We usually put the words “forgive” and “forget” together, but to forgive authentically, we have to remember. The apostle Paul suggests that our duty to forgive others depends on recalling the pardon we received from God. “As the Lord forgave you,” he writes, “you do also” (Col. 3:13). Not only should we remember that God forgives us; we should also imitate how He does it: graciously, freely, and completely.

We might be tempted to keep a “record of wrongs,” but love precludes that (1 Cor. 13:5). The unbelieving world tends to nurse grudges against whoever has wronged them, but as followers of Jesus, we forgive freely, without expecting anything in return.

Application

Forgive completely, wiping the slate clean for a fresh start. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting the offense. You are human, after all, and cannot truly forget. More importantly, pretending the wrong never happened prevents the work of healing from being done. When you remember the sin against you, see it as opportunity to remember God’s grace, toward yourself and through you to the offender.

Tip # 2: Don’t just say the words

From a Christian perspective, forgiveness requires far more from us than a few brief words. The Puritan writer Thomas Watson gave a surprising answer to the question,What is forgiveness? He wrote, “[We forgive] when we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.” In other words, forgiveness requires gracious inward action before we can pursue gracious outward action (see Tip #4). Much of this internal work can be done without the offender’s knowledge.

Watson’s phrase “strive against” acknowledges how strenuous forgiveness can be, requiring us to actively and energetically oppose the natural inclination toward assaulting the other person, physically or verbally, or withdrawing from relationship with him. Either approach is a way of withholding forgiveness and will impede the healing process for both people.

Application

Avoid assaulting or withdrawing from others by looking for opportunities to celebrate your offender’s successes. Do not rejoice when he suffers, but grieve along with him. Prayerfully seek to “relieve” the person, and seek the right moment for reconciliation. All this heart work will enable you, when the time comes, to offer authentic forgiveness.


The Lost Discipline

In the Lord’s Prayer, as Matthew 6:9-13 is popularly known, Jesus presents forgiveness as a “hinge” for Christian life: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12) reveals that God’s pardon of us is contingent on our own forgiving behavior (see also Mark 11:25).

That verse makes us uncomfortable, as it should. After all, our pardon depends on the finished work of Christ, not our own works. Author Richard Foster explains the paradox as a condition of the created order: to receive, I must give, and I cannot receive what I am unable to give.


Tip #3: Start small

Application

Practice secretly forgiving others for small offenses, such as being cut off in traffic or receiving an unintended insult, throughout each day. Doing so will slowly transform your heart over time, making it possible to forgive others when bigger, more serious conflicts occur.

Tip #4: Head off resentment

We might be tempted to dismiss sin against us it by taking full or partial responsibility. Phrases like “I probably deserved it,” or “It takes two to tango,” can mask real feelings.  This false path seems like wisdom, but burying pain plants seeds that grow into bitterness.

Application

When you are wronged, look for opportunities to work for the wrongdoer’s good. Prayer for the perpetrator is a good place to start. Doing the work of love and mercy before it comes easily can uproot resentment.

“I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.”
—William Blake

Tip #5: See (and seek) mercy more than justice

In our culture, which celebrates vengeance rather than mercy, the idea of biblical justice escapes many, including Christians. Some use phrases like “the punishment should fit the crime” and falsely conclude that justice and mercy cannot coexist. Such people ignore the intended close connection between the two, as Scripture illustrates through expressions of profound forgiveness when “justice” could have been meted out with violence.

Just consider Joseph (see Gen. 37, 39–47). Imagine his story retold in today’s cultural standards. Instead of forgiving his brothers, Joseph would exact his long-awaited revenge through vicious reprisal or a long legal battle. This might sound laughable to our ears, but movies and books (the “bibles” of today’s world) tell similar tales all the time. How much greater and more poignant is the story of the real Joseph. He chose to offer mercy when no one would have denied him revenge.

Application

Doesn’t your life offer similar chances to forgive? A coworker pads his accomplishments, gaining a promotion that should have been yours. An acquaintance betrays your trust, costing you a friend. A spouse lies, jeopardizing marriage and family. However impossible any case may seem, choose to let God reveal the manner in which mercy and justice should meet.

Tip #6: Forgive your enemies

On the morning of October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Just over a half-hour later, five girls were dead, five more were injured, and the community’s peace was shattered forever.

Except it wasn’t. The same day, while bodies remained unburied, an Amish grandfather was heard telling his young relatives, “We must not think evil of this man.” Roberts had taken his own life during the crisis, and in the days that followed, the community reached out in mercy and forgiveness to his family, astonishing the world with their graciousness.

The Amish response of mercy and forgiveness was remarkable because of its uniqueness in a world fascinated by justice. One of the authors of Amish Grace, Donald Kraybill, found the response not surprising but natural. He says forgiveness is woven into Amish culture. Their communal life requires a forgiving spirit, so they practice it as a way of life, working at it, as Scripture seems to require.

Not everyone has an enemy—that is, someone who has wronged you repeatedly, maliciously, without regard for your well-being. If you have one, the work of forgiveness begins with a prayer to remember God’s grace toward you. One of the Holy Spirit’s tasks is to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). He alone can bring about the change of heart necessary to see your own sin, to recognize Christ’s righteousness, and to see that judgment belongs to God alone.

Application

Most of us have no enemies, but we should prepare our hearts for the hard work of forgiving as the Amish do, working forgiveness into the corners of our life. Take the initiative when someone wrongs you. Ask God to show you your sin and remind you of His grace. Sooner rather than later, seek the person out, and, mindful of your own faults, ask for and extend forgiveness. Pray for the well-being of the wrongdoer—not just that he’d see the error of his ways, but that God would protect and prosper him.

Offer mercy quickly, leave justice to God, and make sure you don’t allow resentment to find fertile soil.

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?

Forgiveness: Coming Home to God’s Embrace

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Paul Thigpen

When Wycliffe Bible translator Bob Russell sought a word for “forgiveness” in the language of the Amahuacas of eastern Peru, he discovered their unique way of asking one another for pardon. In that culture, if an offender wants to be reconciled with someone he’s offended, he says to him, “Speak to me.”

Russell learned that Amahuacas who are unreconciled typically refuse to speak to each other. So when the offender asks the offended to speak, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Show me we’re friends again by being on speaking terms once more.”

The many biblical terms translated in English as “forgive” reflect a beautiful array of meanings: to cancel debts; to lay aside or to cast away sins; to spare, to cleanse, to rescue, or to free the sinner. Yet the Amahuaca expression strikingly translates what is the most important biblical meaning of God’s forgiveness—above all, it is a reconciliation, the restoration of a friendship with Him that has been marred by sin.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:  “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Is. 59:2).

Our wickedness is an offense to God’s holiness, and we aren’t on “speaking terms” until the offense is forgiven. But Christ’s sacrifice has made a way for us to be reconciled.

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins . . . Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

—Col. 1:13–14, 21–22

The sins that came between God and us can be cast aside so that we can be friends again.

All other meanings of the word forgiveness must be seen in the light of this one. As the various biblical terms imply, our debts have indeed been remitted, our punishment has been averted, our hearts have been cleansed and set free, our lives have been spared—and all with a single purpose in mind: that we might receive the greatest gift of all, to be once again “on speaking terms” with our Father in heaven.

Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, we’re relieved to be swapping our smelly rags for a silken robe and our pigs’ pods for a fat-calf feast (see Lk. 15:11–32). But what could possibly match the thrill of seeing our Father—the one whose heart we broke with our sin—running toward us with open arms? He has welcomed us home again!

It takes two.

If God has gone to such great lengths to reconcile us, why do we sometimes fail to experience His marvelous forgiveness? Instead of returning to our Father as the prodigal son did, why do we so often wallow with the pigs, far away from home?

It’s not that God’s grace isn’t great enough or that some sins provoke Him so mightily that He refuses to forgive. It’s simply that God’s offer of forgiveness is essentially an offer of friendship. Since friendship takes two, our response is critical.

Those who have accepted God’s great offer of reconciliation through Christ may sometimes fail to experience His forgiveness in concrete situations because of certain attitudes or behaviors that are somehow marring their relationship with Him.

I had a close friend in college who always seemed to be short of cash. One day he asked me for a small loan. As he well knew, I didn’t have much money to spare, but I made the loan on the condition that he pay it back by a certain date when I would need it to pay a bill.

That date came and went, and the loan remained unpaid. At first I was upset, because I had to scramble to pay my bill. But I was well aware of his situation, so I let go of my anger and determined to cancel the debt for the sake of our friendship.

Yet there was a problem:  Because my friend knew he was guilty of breaking his promise and causing me hardship, he started avoiding me. He no longer dropped by my dorm room and never returned my phone calls. He began eating in a different dining hall so he wouldn’t run into me.

In short, he lived every day under a cloud of shame that ruined our friendship. And his failure to come to me and talk about his offense denied me the chance to say, “I forgive your debt.”

Opening Ourselves to Forgiveness

In a similar way, experiencing divine forgiveness and its proper fruit depends in part on our right response to God. Scripture reveals several responses that help us open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness in its fullness. Consider these.

Confess your sin. The scriptural promise of forgiveness for our daily failures includes an important condition: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9, emphasis mine).

King David tells us how his own failure to admit his sin blocked his reception of God’s forgiveness.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. . . .
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions
to the Lord”—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

—Ps. 32:3, 5

In a sense, our refusal to confess our sins to God is a refusal to be “on speaking terms” with Him. If we would be reconciled, then we must admit to the sins that are damaging our friendship with Him.

Practice humility.   We can’t ask God to forgive our sin—and we can’t accept His forgiveness for it—when our pride keeps us from even recognizing that we’ve sinned. Our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector vividly demonstrates this obstacle to forgiveness (Lk. 18:9–14).

The tax collector was painfully aware of his failings, beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (v. 13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, was self-righteous (v. 11), patting himself on the back for all his good deeds. Yet despite all the Pharisee’s religious accomplishments, his relationship with God was flawed by pride, and pride is blind to its own evil. Not surprisingly, then, Jesus tells us that the humble tax collector went home forgiven, but the proud Pharisee did not.

Fight against habits of sin.   Like the conscience blinded by pride, the conscience blinded by habitual sin is unable to recognize its need for grace. Perhaps the most startling scriptural example of a hardened conscience is the mocking thief crucified next to Jesus, whose cruel and blasphemous attitude suggests that his heart had been calloused by his crimes (Lk. 23:39). His scorn of Jesus’ sacrifice and his lack of any remorse stand in stark contrast to the humble plea of the other thief, who rebuked the impenitent criminal for failing to see that they both deserved their punishment (vv. 40–43).

The same gift of grace appeared to both men; the same possibility of forgiveness was offered to both. One, because of a seared conscience, refused grace and was lost forever. The other, though equally a sinner, accepted grace—and gained paradise with the Lord.

We may not refuse God’s grace altogether as the one thief did. But if we persevere in a particular kind of sin until it no longer disturbs us, we may become like those whom Paul described as having “consciences . . . seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). Our friendship with God will be damaged by the sin we no longer regret.

Recognize the seriousness of sin.   Even when we must admit to ourselves that some aspect of our attitude or behavior is sinful, we may nevertheless convince ourselves that the sin is of little consequence. Yet only when we recognize the true seriousness of even “small” sins are we able to experience fully God’s forgiveness of them.

Remember the “woman who had lived a sinful life” and who came to Jesus while He was the guest of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36–50)? She wet the Lord’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured costly perfume on them. When this scandalized Simon, Jesus observed that her extravagant behavior reflected her own keen awareness of the seriousness of her sin: She was able to love Him deeply, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with Him, because she knew how great was the debt she had been forgiven.

In contrast, Jesus pointed out, Simon had received Him rather coldly. The Lord compared the Pharisee to a man who “loves little” because he “has been forgiven little.” Self-righteous Simon probably took that to mean that he didn’t have any serious sin to be forgiven. But knowing Jesus’ explicit and repeated condemnations of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy, we might more reasonably conclude that Simon’s problem wasn’t that his sin was insignificant. He had simply failed to recognize just how serious it was, and thus he had failed to accept forgiveness for it.

Recognize grace as a costly treasure.   God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap: It cost Him the most precious life of His Son. If we fail to recognize the steep price that was paid to reconcile us to God—if we view forgiveness as cheap—then we’ll place little value on our restored friendship with God, and we’ll be more likely to persevere in sin.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized the seriousness of this problem. He warned that those who “deliberately keep on sinning” (10:26) have actually devalued and despised God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. Such a person “has trampled the Son of God under foot . . . has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him . . . has insulted the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

When we persist in sin with the idea, “No problem—God will forgive me,” we lose all sense of the treasure that is God’s grace, and we reject the freedom from sin that it’s intended to bring. Is it any wonder in such a case that our experience of forgiveness will be empty?

Cultivate faith in God’s goodness and mercy.   Sometimes the obstacles to experiencing God’s forgiveness have less to do with an inadequate grasp of the seriousness of our sin and more to do with a wrong understanding of God and His great gifts to us. Our Lord’s parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14–30) reveals the sad irony of those who mistrust God because they doubt the goodness of His character. Though they receive the same gifts of grace others receive, they’re unable to profit from such gifts—they bury them—because they’re paralyzed by fear.

To experience fully the grace of our reconciliation with God—to know the power of His forgiveness—we “must believe . . . that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If we doubt that God is willing to forgive us, we won’t be motivated to seek His forgiveness. So we must plant firmly in our hearts the scriptural promises of divine mercy, meditating on them and using them in prayer as the psalmist did: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5).

Realize that no sin is greater than Christ’s sacrifice.   Sometimes we fail to experience God’s forgiveness because we’re tempted to conclude that our sin is so great, or so tenacious, or so shameful that God can’t possibly forgive it. But this conclusion is simply a failure to appreciate the magnitude of what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. Think of the infinite value of Christ’s atoning death. Could our sin possibly be greater than His sacrifice?

Forgive others quickly and completely.   Finally, we must note that Jesus was quite explicit about the consequences of holding a grudge. After teaching His disciples what has come to be called the Lord’s prayer, He added a sobering comment: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:15). Then, as if to underline the point, He later told the frightening parable of the servant who was denied mercy because he himself was unmerciful (Mt. 18:21–35).

The lesson is clear:  Bitterness damages our relationship with God and blocks our experience of His forgiveness. What we refuse to grant others, we reject for ourselves. For that reason, we must obey the scriptural command: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

On Speaking Terms

Is God’s forgiveness available to all? Is it a free gift? Is it greater than the greatest of our sins? Is He always willing to forgive? Yes, on every count. But our experience of His forgiveness depends in part on our right response to His grace.

Once again, I think of my cash-short college friend. Though he hid from me for months, the story had a happy ending. One night we ended up at the same party. When my friend walked into the room, his eyes met mine, and he knew what he had to do. He took me aside to ask my forgiveness. I told him the debt had been canceled long ago and asked him, with a hug, what had taken him so long to find out.

We were on speaking terms again.

The parallel should be clear. To know the breadth and depth of God’s mercy, we must strive, in all the ways we’ve noted, to let no sins or doubts remain between us, causing a separation. Only then can we enjoy the fullness of a restored friendship with the Father who never tires of running to meet us with arms open wide.

The Sound of Silence

SOURCE:  Practical Theology for Women/Wendy Horger Alsup

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; (Ecc. 3: 1, 7 ESV)

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I, however, often mix the times up. From my youth, I have known of my tendency to speak before thinking. I memorized James 1:19 during my teenage years and quoted it often to myself.

James 1: 19 ESV … let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

By God’s grace, my speech has slowed down, and I listen better than I did as a youth. Yet, I’ve noticed that my tendency to choose silence at inappropriate times has increased of late. It took the wounding silence of a friend with me to awaken me to the inappropriate silence I had shown another.

A committed friend with whom I had shared many intimate conversations stopped replying to my emails, leaving me hanging as we were scheduling our next time together. Her silence was deeply wounding. But it opened my eyes to my inappropriate silence with my other friend who had called and left a voice mail for me months ago. I just left her hanging. I don’t know why I didn’t return the call. I just didn’t. I could analyze it here and give some reasons, but I won’t. Though I had reasons, they weren’t REASON ENOUGH. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I had chosen silence when I should have chosen speech. Oh, Lord, please open my eyes to know which is which!

Silence has often wounded me more deeply than any other sound. It’s the sound of someone’s heart who is just not interested enough in me to even make an attempt. Many of us choose silence because we don’t know what to say, but it gets translated instead as “I don’t care about you” whether you mean it that way or not.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember that sometimes the loudest message you can communicate is said through nothing at all. Silence can be deafening. If you’ve been silent with someone, even appropriately silent, remember that Ecclesiastes speaks of it as a time, a season, that eventually gets replaced by the time to speak. Don’t choose it forever, because whatever you likely mean by your season of silence, the one on the other end of it hears it as a very loud voice of rejection.

Eph. 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

**If you struggle with speaking to a person of high emotion that turns every conversation into a conflict, here’s an interesting secular resource.

What can Christians expect from God in regard to healing?

SOURCE:  R. C. Sproul

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen on the walls of pastors’ studies or in Christian homes the little sign, Expect a Miracle. If a miracle is something we can expect, like we expect the postman every morning, it ceases to be miraculous—it’s no longer extraordinary, and it no longer does the job that miracles were designed to do, namely, to call attention in an astonishing way to the intervention of God. On the other hand, the New Testament tells us to bring our prayers before God, particularly for those who are sick. So I expect God to be merciful because he promises to be merciful, and I expect God to be present in times of trouble because he promises to be present in every time of trouble. I expect that God will take our prayers seriously when we pray on behalf of the sick. I do not expect that God is going to heal everybody we pray for because I don’t know that God has ever promised to do that. And I have no right to expect something from God that he has not categorically promised in every situation.

In the New Testament we see that Jesus, as far as we know, had a perfect healing record. When Jesus asked the Father to heal somebody, they were healed. But even the apostles were not that consistent. There were times when they prayed for the healing of people and those people were healed, and there were times when they prayed for people and they were not healed. I think that in those situations, practically speaking, what we should do is bring our requests before God in fear and trembling, in passionate intercession, and then let God be God. We do expect the presence of his Holy Spirit.

The Bible tells us that in the world we have tribulation, the world is full of suffering, we are going to suffer, and God promises to go with us: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” I have never ceased to be amazed at how some Christians I know have testified to the overwhelming sense of the presence of Christ that comes to them in those situations. That’s when we can most expect God to be with us.

Drop The Full Weight Of It At HIS Feet

SOURCE:  Sandra Peoples

Love this from Nancy Leigh DeMoss in Choosing Gratitude,

“Tell Him you’re going to offer up to Him every situation and circumstance in your life, even the ones that are still sensitive to the touch, the ones that make no sense, the ones you just really don’t understand why you’re having to put up with right now. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what someone says to you, no matter how long it goes on or where it might lead, you will drop the full weight of it at His feet every night, be thankful for His strength that brought you through the day, and wait for His mercies that will be new in the morning (even though you may start needing them again at 12:01)!”

Overlooking An Offense (in a healthy way)

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 83.

Overlooking offenses is appropriate under two conditions. First, the offense should not have created a wall between you and the other person or caused you to feel different toward him or her for more than a short period of time. Second, the offense should not be causing serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender.

Overlooking is not a passive process in which you simply remain silent for the moment but file away the offense for later use against someone. That is actually a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger. Instead, overlooking is an active process that is inspired by God’s mercy through the gospel. To truly overlook an offense means to deliberately decide not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness. If you cannot let go of an offense in this way, if it is too serious to overlook, or if it continues as part of a pattern in the other person’s life, then you will need to go and talk to the other person about it in a loving and constructive manner.

Food for Thought

Overlooking an offense is deeper than we like to believe. It is so much more than giving lip service because it seems the right thing to do. It is truly a heart issue. In a society where letting people off the hook is seen as a weakness, we have great opportunity to show God’s love and forgiveness in the midst of our conflicts. Ken provides excellent criteria to help decide if it is appropriate to overlook an offense. In light of God’s mercy, is there an offense you can truly overlook today?

Proverbs 19:11 says “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” The first step to resolving a conflict is to think seriously about whether it is appropriate to overlook an offense. If it is, then put the matter to rest and commit, with God’s help, not to dwell on the issue. If not, then it is appropriate to go to your brother and discuss it between the two of you.

A Spiritual Mismatch In Marriage–and the God Who Sees

Adapted from an article by:  Janel Breitenstein/Familly Life Today

A Long, Slow Obedience —-

A few weeks ago I found myself with my forehead on my bedroom wall, portable phone to my ear. It was one of those brow-creasing, gut-wrenching, I need wisdom please, Lord! conversations with a friend whose voice was breaking from the yoke of stress.

For nearly a decade now, she had braved a marital rollercoaster. Her husband did acknowledge Jesus. But from the sound of it, his desire for Christ collided with significant dysfunctions from his past and present. He ultimately had a hard time transferring his faith into his marriage. She knew she wasn’t guiltless; we chatted at length about her own contributions to the tense, complicated situation. But it seemed that for her husband, the responsibility of cherishing and nourishing his wife like Christ does His bride–the church–wasn’t on his radar screen yet.

As I stood there, now hand to forehead, praying out loud for her into the receiver, my thoughts became consumed with the magnitude of her daily burden. Yet I was transfixed by her staggering opportunity. She wielded the chance to constantly showcase the gospel to her husband, to her kids, to a watching world, and to a Father who sees what is done in secret (Matthew 6:4,6). In her I was reminded of the God who ardently watches and cares for her, as He did for a discarded Hagar in the Canaanite wilderness.

I began to digest what the gospel in this particular pair of jeans looked like. I thought of the choices she would be making over and over in the nitty-gritty moments of life: when she was asking about his day, for example. Or disciplining their boys. Or folding his socks again. Or agreeing on a movie. Or assembling dinner. Or when one of them had a bad day.

In a thousand decisions, she’d be resolving to love her husband as God has loved her. While she (and I) were still His adversary, God loved us–chose our lives in place of His own. He set aside His rights, status, all the love and honor He deserved, and wrapped himself in every reality of serving us … to the point of death.

My friend remembered well the fractured home she’d come from. And for the sake of her young boys and their future marriages, for the love of her husband, and for sheer obedience to God, she’s going to rise every day to shed what was easy (if divorce can be truthfully so named) for what is eternally and presently better.

She may well not be able to thrive in the harmony of teamwork with her husband, and she may be infrequently respected and appreciated. Her needs and longings may not be met, and her dreams may not unfold to reality. She will be offering her body to a person with whom she doesn’t feel wholly connected or known.

Unless God chooses to change the heart of her spouse, she’s looking at a long, slow obedience.

But I trust it won’t stop there. I’m praying that she’ll love this man with her heart, not out of sheer compulsion. Because that’s how we were loved by God. I’m praying God will saturate her with devotion to the husband He’s given her. That she will look out for her husband’s needs, bear his sorrows, hail his triumphs. I’m asking God that just as Jesus served us because “God so loved“–her husband will be served; be so loved.

Any marriage offers occasions on an everyday basis to say, “I choose you. I set aside what I need–or want or deserve–for you.” But I think God must have a unique, filling love and strength for those who, day following day, immerse themselves and their wills in less-than-loving marriages.

He knows intimately their spiritual singleness in the middle of marriage. He witnesses–and intervenes–in the challenges of single parenting of the spiritual sort. He grasps the loss of well-kept hopes for true marital partnership: collaborating for a higher purpose, honing one another in a race toward the Cross.

I trust that in the cavities created by my friend’s marriage, God will be her more-than-sufficient husband, loving her. Buoying her. Empowering her. He’s been where she is, and He drew her with His relentless kindness.

God’s Mysterious Mercy

BY MARK LAROCCA-PITTS

From PlainViews: A Publication of The HealthCare Chaplaincy

In my work as a hospital chaplain, it is a rare day when I do not hear from someone the following: “one day we will understand,” or “when we get to heaven, then we will know.” There have even been times when I have said, “God will have a lot to answer for one day.” We are daily confronted with a level of suffering that confounds all our ability to rationalize: a loved one, too young to die, is killed tragically in an accident; in the prime of life, you are diagnosed with a terrible and terminal cancer; in the years that should be “golden,” an implacable gray depression descends; in a schoolroom deemed safe, a crazed gunman enters. Yes, we like to think, God will have MUCH to answer for!

And with that thought, I often envision a scene that will occur on that day when I first arrive in heaven: I march up to God with the confidence of the redeemed and I pull out my list of all the wrongs and all the suffering that I witnessed and experienced and I ask God to reveal to me that “bigger” picture in which all these horrible things will somehow make sense. And then God will show me that “bigger” picture—the grand scheme of God that sweeps across all time and space in which even the tiniest details of our lives are shown to be part of God’s grand overarching purpose and plan—and everything will make sense and I will be satisfied. This image used to bring me great comfort and often helped me to move forward in light of terrible suffering. But recently a new image has come to me that somehow helps, though I am not yet sure how or why.

The scene opens in the same way: I march up to God in heaven and present to God my list of terrible sufferings demanding an explanation. And God, instead of revealing to me that “bigger” picture in which all suffering and death will somehow make sense, instead opens wide his heart and like a moth drawn to light, into God’s heart I plunge experiencing as I fall the fathomless and incomprehensible pain and suffering that God also experiences whenever a single one of God’s children suffers, feels pain and dies. I see and feel every tear that God shed for you and me. And in those very tears of God shed for me and for all of God’s wonderful creation, all my pain, all my suffering, all my tears and especially all my questions are washed away. I understand: the answer to all our whys are the very tears of God. It is God’s mysterious and vast mercy and not God’s purposeful and rational plan that in the end brings home the quiet assurance that God is indeed with us whenever and wherever we hurt.

Rev. Dr. Mark LaRocca-Pitts is a Board Certified Chaplain working at Athens Regional Medical Center. Mark completed his seminary education at Harvard Divinity School and received his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. Mark is ordained as a United Methodist pastor and lives with his wife and two children in Athens, GA.

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