Monday, October 17, 2011

As We Also Forgive

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, He used one phrase that makes me squirm uncomfortably.

and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
--Matthew 6:12

Am I really supposed to ask God to forgive me the same way I forgive others?  Considering my skills as a forgiver, that is a request I would never want to make.

Just last week, I found myself re-battling a wound someone had inflicted over a year ago.  I felt bitterness, as though the offense had happened earlier that day.  Yet a year ago, when it actually happened, I had decided to forgive.

Why does my "forgiveness" allow my resentment to lie dormant for extended periods of time, only to burst out of the ground like some hideous weed?  I sprayed the weed-killer last year.  My sidewalk cracks have been bare and now, for no apparent reason, this monster has burst out once again.

If God forgives me like I forgive others, I'm done for.  That would mean a week or a year or a decade after my conversion, He would take it all back on a whim and leave me out in the cold.

Thank God, His forgiveness is forever.  No one can snatch me out of His hand.  I can't lose my salvation.

But still.  He chose to use this phraseology.  He chose to make my forgiveness of others a condition for His forgiveness of me.  Why?

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."
--Ephesians 4:32

No matter what, God's forgiveness comes first.  God's forgiveness is best.  He will always "one-up" me in whatever forgiveness I offer to others.

But when I forgive, I represent the gospel.  I forgive because He did!  So I want to forgive like He did.

Please, Lord, make me a faithful forgiver, so that I show the nature of Your love.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thought Armor

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
--1 Peter 1:13

Since therefore Christ suffered in the the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
1 Peter 4:1-2

A lot is at stake in the way we think.

Yet our thought life can be so uncontrollable.  Even if you believe that it has drastic effects on the rest of life, it can be hard to see a way to get it into some semblance of order.  Inevitably, our minds travel down  roads we never gave them permission to.  Often, these uncontrolled thoughts result in words and actions we never dreamed we'd engage in.

A lot is at stake in the way you think.  For this reason, a battle is going on for your mind every day.

How do we overcome the forces of evil that prevail on our minds?  God's word tells us that there is armor we can use.  Just like you can put on a helmet to protect your physical skull and brain, you can use a "way of thinking" as armor to protect your mind.

The way of thinking we need to follow is the "same" way of thinking that Jesus had when he was suffering on the cross.  Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame"--"for the joy set before Him." 

Just as the end result of Jesus' suffering on the cross was a seat at the right hand of God, we too will receive a reward when we endure the suffering of standing up to the temptations that confront our minds daily.  "Whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin."

When sinful thought patterns threaten to invade your mind, arm yourself as Jesus did when He was on the cross.

But while Jesus looked to His coming exaltation above every name on earth, we look to a different promise.

"Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Look to Jesus.  Fill your mind with the coming of the One who was not defeated by temptation.  Jesus was a warrior on the cross.   He stood fast so that we can stand fast.  Set your hope fully on His grace.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Day of the LORD: Religious Hypocrisy

"I will utterly sweep away everything
from the face of the earth, declares the LORD.
I will sweep away man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
I will cut off mankind
from the face of the earth," declares the LORD.
--Zephaniah 1:2-3

The first words to come out of God's mouth to Zephaniah could hardly have been more shocking and frightening.  This isn't a statement of "I can" destroy everything.  This is a promise--"I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth."

God got my attention here.  I started reading Zephaniah just because it is one of the few books of the Bible that I can never remember reading.  But once I got through the first couple of verses, I realized that I couldn't just read this one through.  God was very intentional about making this an attention-getting and alarming introduction.  Besides that, He always means what He says.

So I wanted to look into what God was refering to when he mentioned "the wicked."  We get two contrasting answers here in the first chapter.

Religious Hypocrisy
"I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens
those who bow down and swear to the LORD
and yet swear by Milcom,
those who have turned back from following the LORD,
who do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him."
--Zephaniah 1:4-5

The first kind of wickedness that is mentioned is religious wickedness.

Have you ever been guilty of "worshiping" God and something else at the same time?  Sometimes I feel like my heart is in an almost constant state of dividedness.  God hates this.  Some people may be fooled when you are friendly to their face and malicious behind their back.  But God doesn't have a back to go behind.  He is incapable of being shocked when His people cheat on Him with idols.  He sees, and His anger burns.

What else does God hate about religious people?  When they stop seeking Him.  Well that sure doesn't sound like us!  Oh often do we make decisions without any reference to God's will?  How often do we willfully choose to do something that we know He doesn't approve of?  More than daily, at very least.  God is angry when we do not seek Him or inquire of Him.

God wants us to take religious sins seriously.  But there are other kinds of wickedness mentioned in this chapter...and the joy of forgiveness later on.

Part 2 coming soon: The Day of the LORD: Worldly Complacency

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Day of the LORD

"I will utterly sweep away everything
from the face of the earth," declares the LORD."

"Be silent before the Lord GOD!
For the day of the LORD is near;
the LORD has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated His guests."

"The great day of the LORD is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there."

"Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the LORD.
In the fire of His jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
He will make of all the inhabitants of the earth."

--Zephaniah 1: 2, 7, 14, 18

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lamp in a Dark Room

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.  For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.  Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.
--Luke 8:16-18

Do you go to a good, Bible teaching church like I do?  These verses hit people like us kind of hard.  Week in and week out, I am blessed with the privilege of sitting under God's word taught rightly.  Not only do I hear from His truth in Sunday morning sermons, but I have Sunday school and on top of that one to three weekly Bible studies where I am challenged by more mature believers.

If anyone in the world has been given much from the store of God's treasures, it is me.

Take care then, Carly, how you hear!

Am I a light shining brightly, passing on the deep truths I take in to other people?  Or am I merely concerned with my own life?  Do I internalize everything to the point that every study group I go to is just a chance for me to be fed?  Am I a sponge that never squeezes out the wealth of God's blessing to other needy people?

Don't be this way!  Be careful how you hear!  As you weekly enjoy God's word being fed to you, don't stop there.  Take it in and be encouraged.  But realize that God doesn't teach you just for you.  God wants His truth to spread to more people, like the lamp held high in the middle of a previously dark room.

Some ways to avoid being the jar that hides the light:

-If you have something to share in Bible study that you know would encourage somebody else, don't let shyness or nervousness keep you silent!  God wants other people to see His light through you.
-When you are with people who don't know Jesus, don't keep the Light of the world all to yourself!  Speak up.  God could change a life through you.
-When God blesses you with rich fellowship with Him, don't be the only one to benefit.  Tell your friends awesome things about God that He has shown you--so that they can be encouraged and so that God will be lifted higher in their eyes.

And here is the best part.  Unlike money or mints that vanish away when people mooch off you, God's truth actually multiplies when it is shared.  Telling someone God's truth will solidify it in your own heart.  There is a great irony in that teaching can be the best way to learn something yourself.

The more that you tell, the more that you have!  And the more that you have, this verse says, all the more will be given to you.  So shine the light of God's truth to everyone you know.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Don't Deserve This.

According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.  Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9

Just really think about these verses for a minute.  I know it is kind of a big chunk of scripture, but if you take the time to think through it, I think you will see with the same thing I was hit with yesterday.

I don't deserve this.

Not the various trials that grieve me for a while.  Not the death, sickness, confusion, pain, and hurt that I cross paths with from time to time.

I don't deserve an eternal inheritance so wonderful that my first second of it will outweigh anything bad I've ever experienced.  I don't deserve the opportunity to bring glory to my Savior Jesus Christ, who has given me everything and to whom I can offer practically nothing.  I don't deserve inexpressible joy.  And I most definitely don't deserve salvation.

We don't deserve this.  But, praise God, it's all ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Problems?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

How comforting and challenging, convicting and consoling these verses are!

Do you think your problems are big?  I do.  They seem enormous.  Just last night I was thinking about something that worried me quite a bit.  Sometimes our worries can keep us awake deep into the night.

Thankfully, God's word doesn't leave much room for that.  Look how this passage is laid out:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice
        Be reasonable
                  Jesus is coming back
        Don't be anxious, but give your worries to God (with thanks)
God will bless you with a peace so great you can't understand it

Sandwiched by the idea of joy in God and the idea of incomprehensible peace are a two more commands: be reasonable, and don't worry.  And at the heart of it all is a promise:  "the Lord is at hand!"

I think that the bigness of how we see our problems is part of why God chose to frame this passage the way He did.  Our anxieties and our unreasonableness (lack of peace with ourselves or others) are not allowed room to be as huge as we think they are.  My problems are not the focal point of this picture.  They aren't even the frame around the picture.  The centerpiece, in all its glory, is the return of Christ.  And the frame, which is just as thick as the picture itself, is made up of joy and peace in our Heavenly Father.  Our unreasonableness and worry are relegated to a thin little mat between picture and frame--a little "do not" buttressed by some of the most amazing promises in Scripture.

I can't imagine if Christ's return took place during one of my times of worry.  My "huge" problems would be swallowed up in the vast weight of my Savior's glory.  The peace that passes understanding and the joy that conquers all sadness would become my eternal reality.  My "problems" would be revealed for what they are: embarrassingly small.  Lord, give me this perspective.  Surround my problems with the fortress of your joy and peace.  And let Your Son's return be at the center of my mind.