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!) 🙂

Advertisements

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.

A Modern Day Hester

If you’ve ever read the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, you are familiar with the main character, Hester Prynne, who was publicly punished for having an affair.  Her punishment included imprisonment and standing in the town square for hours wearing a red A on her clothing (the A stood for adulteress.)  Hester had a child by her lover but chose to never disclose who the lover was despite the threatening pressure she endured.  In fact, the only time she fought back was when select townspeople threatened to take her child away when the child started acting out.  The story is full of deception, secret lives and guilt stricken consciences.  In the end, Hester carries on, wearing her scarlet A with no healing from the mistake she made.

I am a modern day Hester.  Now before I go any further let me clarify-this is NOT a confession of having an affair nor am I pregnant with a love child.  But-I have made some pretty sinful mistakes in my life and if I had lived in the puritan era like Hester, I would’ve been her cell mate. My scarlet letter probably would have covered my entire body.  Like I said, this is not a confession. In fact, guilt rarely even has control over me anymore.  This is transparency for my readers in hopes to raise awareness of forgiveness, mercy, grace and healing.

I was called a “loser” recently.  Being call that not only shocked me but it greatly stung.  In fact, in nearly knocked me down.  I was called a loser because of a mistake I made.  It was a mistake made from a broken heart and out of mass confusion. I confessed it not only to God but to the person who called me this name trusting that person would be understanding and forgiving. They weren’t.  They were angry and instead of mercy and grace, they verbally pinned me with a big old scarlet L (for loser.)  This is not the first time I’ve been called names for making a mistake.  My “favorites” are being called “a head case” when I had post-partum depression, and “a financial disaster” because I struggle with money management.

We are all human.  We ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23.) David was an adulterer and a murderer.  Do you know what God did to him?  Made him king of Judah.  Moses was also a murderer and a coward.  God chose him to take on Pharaoh and lead God’s chosen people out of slavery.  Rahab was a prostitute and God used her to hide His spies who came later to conquer the city she lived in.  God did punish them-David and Bathsheba lost the child that was conceived by their affair.  Moses was exiled for 40 years after committing murder and I’m sure Rahab lived a fairly miserable life as a prostitute.  But God also redeemed them.  And once redeemed, He then promoted them!  That’s just how God works.

God doesn’t call us names.  If He is tearing us down it’s only to remove the bad.  Any tear down from God is guaranteed to have a major build up and fill up with His forgiveness, grace and mercy. God calls us to the do same with each other.  His word is full of scriptures like; “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith… (Jude 1:21), “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25) and “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8.)  The Bible does call us to admonish one another but He does not call us to shame or condemn one another.  In fact, He says the opposite in Romans 8:1; “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  That verse is pretty straight forward and if your Christian walk is anything like mine then we both need straight forward, aye?

Driving to work today, God reminded me of Hawthorne’s novel.  He played a Casting Crowns song for me on the radio with these lyrics,

“Not because of who I am

But because of what You’ve done.

Not because of what I’ve done

But because of who You are…

Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.

And You’ve told me who I am.

I am Yours, I am Yours…

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin

Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?” ~Who am I

He then spoke to me with these words, “You don’t wear a scarlet A or L, Beloved.  The blood I shed on the cross for you removed every transgression I knew you would commit in your lifetime.  Beloved, the cross took that A and L away.  I have emblazoned you with a new letter-a V, washed white as snow.  It stands for the victory you have in Me.”

Ironically, when googling those above song lyrics, I stumbled upon the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Jessica Andrews.  It’s called, Who I am.  The second verse in this song is my anthem;

“So when I make big mistake

When I fall flat on my face

I know I’ll be alright

Should my tender heart be broken

I will cry those teardrops knowin’

I will be just fine

‘Cause nothin’ changes who I am..”

I know who I am.  I am not a loser, a head case or a financial disaster.  Who am I?  A modern day Hester redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  I AM the DAUGHTER of the ONE TRUE KING, His Princess and His only.  No cruel word will ever change that.

For those living in a pit of guilt and shame-get out!  Shake it off and straighten your crown.  For you too are redeemed, washed white as snow and wear a V for victory on your heart.  Live victoriously as the son or daughter of Christ that you were made to be.  For those casting stones, stop it!  Stop forming a firing squad.  If your heart is hurting and your angry then pause and pray.  Ask God to fill you with the grace and mercy for those whose mistakes hurt you.  But remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees who wanted to condemn a woman caught in adultery in John 8:7, “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” God called us to be bridge builders-not stone throwers.