Premeditated Forgiveness

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬

Forgive as God has forgiven you. This concept is definitely easier said than done, am I right? It’s especially difficult when we dwell on the wrongs or when the offender is unrepentant and continues to wrong us. We may even find ourselves asking the age old question, “How do I forgive someone who isn’t even sorry?” The answer, as I discovered today, is this: We forgive the same way Jesus forgave Judas, Simon Peter and us-we choose forgiveness before the offense even happens. Say what now?

Forgiveness and not judging others has been a repeated lesson for me in my daily devotionals over the last few weeks. Both are something I greatly struggle with. Especially with those who make zero effort to change their ways or blame all the conflict on me. I also have to admit that I am a dweller. Too often, I get stuck on the offenses done to the point that I only expect negativity from my offenders. Instead of tunnel vision that only sees the good, I can only see the bad in these people. That’s NOT a very christian perspective is it? It’s one I do confess and seek God’s help in forgiving but honestly-I’ve allowed hatred to grow in my heart. The scripture in Ezekiel 36:26 hits the nail on the head about having a stubborn stony heart. I do ask God to remove and give me a heart of flesh yet my spirit keeps holding on to this hatred. The only willingness I have to forgive is the confession that I am not willing and need supernatural help to pluck out this root of hatred so my heart can soften to God’s command regarding forgiveness.

Stone is an incredibly hard substance. It takes a brute force to crack it and a repeated brute force to break through it. I need Jesus to use a jackhammer on my stubbornness in order to surrender to His will. When it comes to stubbornness, there’s “strong-willed” and then there’s me. I’m as feisty as Jacob was when he wrestled God and achieved a broken hip. 😂Thankfully, God skips the construction worker method and uses a softer approach like an invitation from a friend to do a You Version reading plan specifically on the topic of forgiveness. Today’s reading definitely chipped through the stone.

If you’re familiar with Jesus’ ministry, you know He hand picked twelve men to be His disciples. These men were taught and led by Jesus. They ate with Him and camped with Him. Everywhere He went, these men went with Him. They served with Him and they were served by Him. They prayed with Him daily. These men shared a spiritual and emotional intimacy with Jesus. Yet they failed Him and two that we know of, even betrayed Him. The kicker to all of this-Jesus KNEW how they would misunderstand and doubt Him, He knew how they would betray Him before He ever picked them. Yet-He. still. chose. them. to be His disciples. He used His betrayers to be His messengers for His ministry. If that’s not a “Say WHAT?” moment for y’all I don’t know what would be. Ha! Ha!

In all seriousness, this is where forgiveness resonates with me. If someone hurts me badly enough I cut them out of my life as a form of protection and boundary setting. I feel empowered to say “I deserve better and because you have mistreated me you no longer get to share in my life.” I wish them no ill will but simply do not care to have a relationship with them anymore. This practice has included family members, friends, acquaintances, and ex-boyfriends. There are some I have reconciled with but others I doubt reconciliation will ever be a possibility . Why? For one-because I don’t have the desire to reconcile. For two-I haven’t fully forgiven them. For three-I don’t think it’s beneficial for me or for them to reconcile.

Although Jesus reconciled with Peter, He told Judas to go do what he was planning to do and I haven’t found a scripture that shows He reconciled with Judas. That’s the balance of understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. God calls us to forgive everyone of everything. Although reconciliation is scripturally recommended, I do not believe it’s a command for every person and every situation. Let me give you some examples:

If a family member commits incest, God calls to forgive but it would be dangerous to reconcile with a predator. The same holds true for a spouse or former spouse who’s abusive or a person who holds a leadership role and uses that power to create a hostile environment. Judas’ betrayal was the catalyst for Jesus’ murder. That’s not a person to reconcile with! To reconcile, there has to be an opportunity to regain trust. You cannot trust an abusive, controlling or predatory person.

If a friend betrays you (like Peter denying he knew Jesus) or a family member hurts your feelings, if a fellow believer especially offends you, God calls us to forgive and to reconcile. The enemy brings division. God brings unity. Reconciliation is a must to keep God’s army united and to avoid giving the enemy a foothold in our lives. Jesus’ reconciliation with Peter is a prime example for us to follow (read John 21.) Reconciliation doesn’t mean we overlook the offense-it means we acknowledge the offense and we and the offender (or if we are the offender) talk it out in an effort to ensure the offense doesn’t happen again. Will the offense happen again? Possibly. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t tell us to forgive 70 times 7.

Reading John chapter 13 today showed me two things about forgiveness: One-I need to choose to forgive every offense even before it’s done to me. Why? Because Jesus died for me before I ever committed any offense. Two-I need to choose to walk alongside my enemies, even work and serve with them because Jesus served in ministry with men He knew would betray Him. This is all possible when I (and you) do the one thing Jesus did-keep our focus on God the Father, to know Whose authority we have and to Whom we belong. “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.” John‬ ‭13:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

You and I are children of God. No harmful act or hateful word can ever change that. If Jesus, the greatest man to ever walk this earth, was hated and betrayed by His so-called friends-it’s naive to think that we would not experience the same. When Jesus was beaten, spat upon and mocked, not one time did He say, “Do you know who I am? How dare you treat me this way!” In fact what He did say was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Who am I to act so high and mighty when people offend me? This is a very humbling question and to be honest-I’m eating crow as I write this post (metaphorically speaking!) 🙂

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I’ll See You Soon…

“I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.”

‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There’s a movie titled Dear John. It’s a love story about a couple who spent most of the beginning of their relationship in separate countries. Their occasional face to face encounters were short lived because other commitments kept them going in different directions. The bulk of their relationship consisted of letter correspondence.

Throughout their relationship, the couple never said goodbye. They parted ways and ended their letters with “I’ll see you soon.” To them, “goodbye” was something final and permanent. Because they wanted to be in each others’ lives, they chose to part ways with a sentiment that would remind them that they would be together again no matter how long they were apart.

Even when their relationship seemed to be permanently over, it’s really not the end. The final scene leads the viewer to believe their relationship rekindles. There’s also a voice over of the woman reading a letter to the man. The letter closes with this:

“…no matter how many years go by, I know one thing to be as true as it ever was, I’ll see you soon.” Those words are a depiction of an incredibly powerful connection and a love that was never ending.

In the scene where the relationship ends, the man burns all the letters he ever received from the woman who was rejecting him. Oh how I’ve “cleaned house” to rid myself of past relationships in an effort to heal a broken heart and move on. In fact I recently unfollowed certain social media pages just to forget about a close friend whom I’ve parted ways with. A close friend that I used to say “I’ll see you soon” to. A close friend that if I’m being honest, I loved as more than a friend but a real relationship never came to pass.

The very day I decided to remove all that reminded me of him, Dear John aired on TV. My hardened heart tempted me to change the channel but the Holy Spirit prompted me to keep watching it. Truth be told, I didn’t get why until I tried writing this post. I’ve deleted two drafts and quit writing briefly before realizing what the Holy Spirit was showing me.

God used this movie to remind me He keeps people in our lives in His way and for His reasons. Some people come into our lives to help us develop our character, to test our patience and to stretch our ability to forgive. These are people we sometimes beg God to remove from our lives but He keeps them near us-sometimes too close. But there are others who’s purpose in life is to grow our hearts to a love that supersedes anything we could ever imagine (like what God promises in Ephesians 3:20.) These are the people we want to keep that God may take away. He does this, not because He doesn’t love us but because He knows that heart break grows a compassion that produces more love. I am a walking testimony to that.

If you’re reading this-I believe God has a message for you through this post. God wants you to know how much He loves you and just how deep He wants to grow His love within you. If you’ve written off the idea of loving someone or ever being loved, don’t say goodbye just yet. Instead, place your wounded heart in Jesus’ scarred hands and let Him fill it with a love that will make you feel as though you’re going to burst. The process is painful and overwhelming. It will bring you to your knees and even make you sob. But oh the joy that is felt when you are filled with a heart that is hand crafted by Jesus. Don’t say goodbye to love my friend, simply tell love, “I’ll see you soon.” It’s then and only then that our joy will be complete.

Hypocrites and Holy People (or Sinners Saved By Grace)

“…He [Christ] gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:25b-26 NLT

How’s your sin life? Yes you read that correctly and no, there is no auto correct typo in that question. How is your sin life? Many devotionals focus on a person’s prayer life or their walk with Jesus but how often do we focus on the path we take in our daily sins or with ongoing strongholds that continue to set us back spiritually? God doesn’t want us to dwell on our past or worship our sin but I believe He definitely wants us to examine our hearts and allow Him to cleanse us from all that keeps us stagnant in our relationship with Him.

I’ve been called many hurtful things in my lifetime and a “hypocrite” is one of them. Truth be told, I’ve even referred to myself as a hypocrite thinking this description made me more real than sanctimonious. In fact, I had planned on titling this post “I am a Hypocrite” and writing more of a confessional than a devotional. Looking up the definition of a hypocrite and seeing what God’s word says about this word changed my mind.

The dictionary defines a hypocrite as; ” a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion…” (Merriam-Webster) God’s word describes a hypocrite as someone who puts on a show in their faith for attention and public praise (Matthew 6:2, 5 and 12.) The Bible also tells us hypocrites honor the Lord with their mouths but their hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6.) One common word to define hypocrite found in both the dictionary and the Bible is “LIAR.” There are times I am an attention seeker but one thing I am not is a liar.

Lying is the top character trait I have zero tolerance or grace for. The lack of grace is obviously a flaw in my own character and one I continue to have to surrender to the Lord allowing Him to soften my heart toward. After all, if Christ died for my lifetime of sins, I definitely need to be able to forgive someone who has lied to me or lied about me, right? I guess this post is a bit of a confessional after all and my lack of grace for liars is confession number one.

So here’s confession number two-I fail in my Christian walk every. single. day. Some ongoing strongholds I have are unforgiveness and holding on to past hurts, keeping my heart closed off to protect myself from getting hurt again, cussing, worrying, grumbling and gossiping. In one confession I have managed to admit that I do not always practice what I preach. But my posts aren’t written in a self-righteous or “holier than thou” manner where I’m esteeming my walk and pointing out the flaws in yours. In my childhood, I attended a church where the pastor preached from a pulpit of self-righteousness and his flock were the ones who were “wretches”. I prayed the prayer of salvation every Sunday in that church and never felt good enough t be redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. I loved my childhood in a state of constant shame and fear of a wrathful God.

My posts are written from the depths of the muddied waters I travel through daily in hopes that my fellow mud puddle dwellers can be inspired to draw closer to Jesus and to seek His cleansing. I use my own personal experiences to show that I also strive to pursue His cleansing for my own journey. I am far from perfect. In fact, here’s a few more strongholds I struggle with:

  • I get angry and in my anger, I sin. One thing my momma used to say was “Her mouth is going to get her in trouble.” She’s been right about that far too many times.
  • I over spend and am a slave to debt. It’s why I work two jobs and don’t regularly tithe. I struggle with many sleepless nights worrying about how a bill is going to get paid or how I’m going to meet all the financial obligations I have.
  • I haven’t attended church regularly in two years. I’ve been church shopping and in a season of busyness where I choose to skip church just because I’m tired and want one full day to be home and be still. I also use the excuse that I haven’t found a church I’m drawn to as much as I was drawn to my old church.
  • I’m not always faithful in my devotionals and prayer time. Most days my prayers are more like “oh yeah hey God-I made you last again today but yeah you know I still love ya.” At night, lying in bed my prayers can become obsessive over my own needs and wants, lifetime longings and dwelling on my mistakes that I forget to pray for anyone else.
  • I struggle with lust. I’m single, never married and have two biological children. I’ve lived with more than one man in my lifetime. I’m definitely a modern day version of the woman at the well. …The list could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

For 2018, I am working on allowing God to define me and my character. I have spent far too many years defining my character based on how my critics describe me. One thing God is showing me that I am and am not is this-I am holy and I am not a hypocrite. You see when we give our hearts to Jesus, He covers us in His blood and makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18.) We are no longer a slave to sin but we become slaves to righteous living (Romans 6:18.) We are adopted as sons and daughters of the One True King (Romans 8:15.) God makes us holy (Hebrews 2:11).

Guess what the definition of Holy is: “specially recognized as or declared sacred…consecrated…dedicated or devoted to the service of God.” (Dictionary.com) The word consecrated means “set apart” which God shows us is exactly who we are in Psalm 4:3 when David acknowledges that the Lord set apart the godly for Himself. He shows us again in many examples in the New Testament where references are made about being a new creation, made holy and set apart for His glory. Believers whose hearts belong to Jesus cannot be hypocrites. Yes we sin. Yes we have strongholds that interfere with our relationship with Jesus. Yes we don’t always practice what we preach. Paul wrote it best when in Romans he confesses this: “…The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans‬ ‭7:14-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

But we are also redeemed by Jesus and saved by Grace.

I urge you to examine your sin life and confess every stronghold you’re still a slave to. Look up and meditate on scripture that may help you overcome those strongholds that make you feel like a failure. Strive for holiness in your daily walk but give yourself grace when you stumble and fall. Don’t lie and especially don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Lastly, no matter how many times you sin today, lay it down before the Lord and see yourself as holy, but never. ever. call yourself a hypocrite.

What if Jesus had Said “No?”

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:42‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Yesterday was Good Friday. All over the world, church services were held to commemorate and reflect on the arrest, torture and brutal murder of Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us crowds gathered crying out “CRUCIFY HIM!”, darkness fell for about three hours, the veil between Heaven and earth was torn, an earthquake occurred and Jesus cried out “It is finished!” giving up His spirit/dying before His side was even pierced. Lots were cast for His clothing and belongings. His body was removed from the cross and buried in someone else’s tomb.

The night before He died, Christ went off into the forest with three of His disciples. He was overcome with such emotion that scripture tells us His sweat was like blood (Luke 22:39-46) Jesus was in great distress. He knew what tomorrow would bring. He knew He was going to endure false accusations, betrayal, chastisement, mockery, being spat upon, flogging, beatings, having a crown of thorns pressed into His head, having nails driven into the bones of His hands and feet and eventually die by asphyxiation. All for nothing He ever did. He knew all of this suffering was for someone else. But what if Jesus listened to His flesh, gave into the anxiety that consumed Him that night and told God “No!” to death by crucifixion. What would life today be like if Christ had never died, had never conquered death and had never brought salvation for all of creation?

Let’s explore this question through the fictitious life of a man named Jess. Jess was a 33-year-old single man. He lived in a simple one bedroom apartment in a largely overpopulated city. The name of the city isn’t important for this story. Jess believed himself to be a devout man of God. He started everyday kneeling in prayer, read his daily devotions and attended church regularly. He was a faithful tither and believed he had a servant’s heart because he volunteered one Saturday a month at the local homeless shelter. Jess believed he was a man after God’s own heart.

One Friday morning, Jess awoke to his usual 6am phone alarm. He quickly rose, wiped his blurry eyes, sniffed to relieve his stuffy nose and groggily knelt down beside his bed. He humbly bowed his head and prayed this simple prayer-“Lord today belongs to You. Whatever you lead me to do, let me do it with an obedient heart.” He said “Amen”, sat down on his bed and picked up his Bible. He read Deuteronomy 8:6 “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.” He said “Amen” once again, closed his Bible and proceeded to carry out his usual morning routine. He left his house promptly at 7am to catch the morning commuter train to his office.

As he walked to his train stop, Jess noticed the day seemed different. The sun was just rising and his heart felt full of all the fruits of the Spirit. He even arrived at his stop fifteen minutes early which never happened. He said a quick “thank you Jesus” under his breath for the extra moments in the start of his day to be still. Suddenly he felt a nudge and heard a whisper. “Jess do You love me?” He looked around and didn’t see anybody around. Silently he prayed “Lord is that You or am I hallucinating?” God responded; “Yes-it is I. Jess, do you love Me?” Jess quickly responded with “Yes Lord I love you.” “Then feed my lambs.” Jess looked to his right and noticed a woman with a weathered face, tattered clothing and barefoot standing in the shadows. She looked like she hadn’t showered in a decade let alone had a decent meal recently. The woman made eye contact with Jess and it was as if he could feel her hunger pangs surging through his own body. Jess moved his look away from her and silently prayed “Lord-I can’t give that woman money. You know she’ll just use it on drugs or alcohol. I’d give her my lunch but then I would have to eat out and that wouldn’t make me a good steward of my money. Can’t you lead her to the soup kitchen three blocks away? They have plenty of food to feed her…” His prayer was interrupted by the sounds of a train coming to a stop. Before boarding, he looked to his right again but the woman was nowhere in sight.

Jess’ morning at work was unusually quiet and calm. The time seemed to fly by and soon it was lunch time. Instead of eating, he remembered he had to run to the corner market to pick up a few things he needed for the weekend. It was only a ten minute walk. As he was stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for traffic to pause so he could cross, he heard the Lord speak to him again. “Jess, do you love me?” This time he immediately recognized God’s voice and prayerfully answered “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep.” As Jess was about to ask God what He meant by this statement, he was distracted by a man who was walking toward him with his arms full of books, boxes and shopping bags. Just as the man approached the curb Jess was standing on, he tripped and everything in his arms went flying to the left and ride sides of him. Jess felt a nudge to help the man but he looked at his watch and knew it would make him late returning from lunch. The “walk” sign changed and he crossed the street in haste rushing to complete his errand. He looked back only once to see the man scrambling to collect his belongings but not fast enough as traffic had picked back up and items that had landed in the street were being run over by cars and taxi cabs. Jess felt a slight tug of guilt but quickly told himself “that man was carrying too much stuff. He should’ve known better than to try to carry all of that in one trip.”

Jess made it back from his errand with five minutes to spare. He gobbled his packed lunch in record time not even thinking of the hungry woman or the overloaded man on the street. His afternoon distracted him with multiple phone calls and emails along with an expense report he had to complete by the end of the day. When he decided to take a break he noticed it was ten minutes past quitting time. He hurriedly cleaned up his desk and powered down his laptop. He had ten minutes to catch his train that was usually a fifteen minute walk. He arrived at the station just as the train was pulling away. It would be a thirty minute wait for the next available train. He slumped down on a bench, let out a frustrated huff and decided to scroll through his phone to pass the time.

Minutes went by and he heard from the Lord a third time. “Jess Simons, do you love Me?” At this point, Jess felt exasperated and confused. He wondered why God kept questioning his love for the One True King. He even gave his answer aloud this time. “Lord You know everything. You know I love you.” God replied with another one liner. “Then clothe my sheep.” Jess began again to ask the Lord what he meant by this when he noticed a young boy leaning against a post shivering because he had no coat and was only wearing a thin, short sleeved T-shirt with holey jeans. The temperature today had only reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and was expected to drop below 20 degrees throughout the night. Jess looked down at his name brand down filled winter jacket he was wearing, the thermal gloves keeping his hands warm and thought about the expensive stocking hat covering his head. “Lord, please provide warm clothing and warm shelter for that young man” he prayed. The thought never occurred to Jess to give up the items he was wearing on his own back. Jess and the boy made eye contact. Jess gave him a mild smile and boarded his train. He arrived home one hour later.

At home, Jess put away the items he had purchased earlier in the day, fixed himself a simple dinner and watched an hour of TV (more like flipped through multiple channels because nothing really grabbed his attention.) He checker his watch and headed to bed. Lying in bed in the dark, he thanked the Lord for blessing him with a good day and drifted off to sleep.

Jesus met Jess in his dreams. Actually, Jess found himself watching Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, praying the night before he was arrested. He saw Jesus’ anguish, he could smell the salty air of the sweat pouring from Jesus’ brow and he heard the most shocking words he never imagined Jesus would utter. “No God. I won’t do it. I won’t be flogged and crucified to save the world. Adam and Eve should’ve ignored that snake. I have so much more ministry left if You keep Me alive instead of crucifying Me. Abba-I just don’t want to do it.” Everything went dark and the earth began to shake uncontrollably. He felt himself and everything around him being swallowed up by a force so great it felt as though his entire being was overtaken by another life force. Then nothing. It was if there was absolutely no existence. He awoke with rapid breathing, a racing heartbeat and his pajamas soaked from sweat. He sat up abruptly and cried out “Lord? What was that?” But this time, the Lord didn’t answer. He eventually fell back to sleep and wasn’t awakened again until the dawn’s sunlight illuminated his bedroom.

He opened his eyes, blinked a few times from the brightness then jumped out of his bed and knelt before the Lord. “Holy God, forgive me for I have sinned. Please answer me when I ask You, Father, WHAT did that dream mean?”

Then God spoke, “My son, yesterday you told me the day belonged to Me and that you would do whatever I asked of you. Yet three times when I asked you to do something, you told me ‘no’.”

“When did I ever say no to you Lord?” “When you refused to feed the hungry, help the needy and clothe the naked.” Immediate a flashback of Friday’s events flashed through Jess’ mind. He saw the homeless woman and felt her hunger. He saw the overloaded man and heard the crunch of boxes being run over by heavy traffic. His own body shivered remember the abandoned boy with no warm clothing. He felt lowly in his demeanor and sunk his head down. “Abba God, forgive me for being selfish and not obeying you. I should’ve given that woman my lunch. I should’ve spared my time and helped that man collect his belongings. I should’ve hailed a taxi for him, paid for and allowed for him to transport those items in an easier way. I should’ve given my coat to that boy, found out if he had a home or worked to find shelter for him. But what happened when Jesus said ‘No’ to You in my dream?” God’s answer sent chills through every crevice of Jess’ body, mind and even more so, his spirit.

“Beloved, if My Son had refused to die for you, this world and everything in it would not exist. You, would not exist.” That answer kept Jess frozen in a realization of what Christ’s willingness to die for him really meant. It was the exact heart opener he needed to spend the rest of his days serving the Lord with a true obedient heart and never overlooking God’s nudges and commands ever again.

What about you and what about me? How often do we say “yes” to the flesh and “no” to God? How often do we sit through broadway production like Easter church services that re-enact the crucifixion, sing our hearts out with raised hands and shout out a few “amens”, only to later in the week take our salvation for granted and say “no” to God. Thank God for His grace, Mercy and redeeming love. Thank God for His continued forgiveness. For He knows our hearts and minds and He knows ever moment of disobedience we will carry out even before its a thought in our minds. Yet He still loves us. He still protects us. He still sent His Son for our salvation. Thank you Jesus for saying “YES” to God’s plan for His life. Jesus’ YES inevitably is the ultimate factor in what has given you and me this life and secured our enteral life. To that I emphatically say, “Amen!”