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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Freedom Isn’t Free

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sins and restore their land.”                                                          2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Today is my nation’s 242nd birthday.  People all over this country will be coming together to celebrate and pay tribute to the good ole’ U.S. of A.  Star-spangled clothing will be worn; red, white and blue decorations adorned.  People will host cookouts and barbeques.  Lakes will be flooded with boats, floats and beach goers.  Parades will march.  Attendees will applaud Veterans.  ‘God Bless the USA’ and other patriotic melodies will be performed.  When the sun goes down, fireworks will explode as the grand finale of the nation’s greatest display of American pride.  For most, today will be a day filled with fun, family, friends and many, many festivities.

A true Independence Day celebration reminds us of the sacrifices that were made for this country to have the freedoms we stand on today.  The Revolutionary War was the start to gaining our freedoms.  In googling statistics, according to World Book Encyclopedia, found at www.answers.com, 25,700 Americans were killed during this war.  Traditional US History classes teach that this war came about to separate us from the tyranny of Britain’s then monarchy. Our US constitution was written to give and protect freedoms to its citizens. Since we became a nation we have engaged in numerous wars and military conflicts to ensure this country and its residences are protected and that freedom will forever reign.

One entity that is honored on Independence Day is our US military.  We remember the fallen and we honor the living, those who have served and are serving.  In fact, most Americans, when encountering a member of the US Military, will thank him or her for their service to our country because we recognize that military personnel sacrifice a lot during their time of active duty.  They’re training alone teaches them how to be sacrificial and how to survive in the most dangerous and cruelest of situations.  They are moved periodically to different states and most serve overseas on at least one if not multiple deployments.  They sacrifice time with their families, their jobs, their health and even their lives to protect this nation and to especially protect this nation’s freedoms.  One thing we Americans value is our freedom.

God also values freedom.  Galatians 5:13a tells us “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters…”  We read David’s confident statement in Psalm 119:45 when he declares that he will walk in freedom for he had devoted himself to God’s commandments.  Again in 2 Corinthians 3:17, we are reminded that wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  As a Christian, we are called to walk in freedom.  But what does that mean and how do we do that?

First we need to look at what freedom looks like to God.  Freedom in Christ means freedom from guilt, shame, despair, bitterness, etc.  It most assuredly means, freedom from fear and from death.  If you’re an unbeliever reading this, you may question that last statement or possibly even mock it because people die every day.  The death mentioned above is not a physical death, its freedom from spiritual death.  This means after we experience physical death we are promised eternal life with Christ.  (1 John 5:11) Just like a US military member pays a price to protect our nation’s freedoms, as a Christian, our freedom was paid when Christ died at Calvary and then resurrected three days later.  Freedom is not free.

So if freedom isn’t free, then walking in freedom will also cost us.  If my country’s freedom and Christian freedom were both paid by the sacrificing of lives, it only makes sense that in order to walk in spiritual freedom, we are called to sacrifice our lives as well.  PLEASE NOTE!  This is metaphorically speaking.  This post is not leading to a call to drink some magic red poisoned Kool-Aid that would actually kill us.  The life sacrificing I’m referring to is the sacrificing of lifestyles, life habits and negative thoughts that do not honor Christ and inevitably separate us from the freedom He has promised us.

Anything that is dishonoring to Christ separates us from His freedom.  That can come in the form of deliberate sin such as a battle with lust, purposefully holding grudges, becoming best friends with pride, refusing to obey when God gives us a direct order.  That can also come in a subtler form like battling with an addiction or holding on to wounds that Christ wants to heal and release us from.  Whatever stronghold we allow in our lives becomes our way of life and keeps us captured in a spiritual roller coaster that simples goes round and round in circles but never seems to end.  No matter what human effort you make, if you’re not willing to sacrifice the stronghold or repent of the sin, you will not know or be able to walk in Christ’s freedom.  You will also grow weary and face conditions like depression, anxiety or physical health conditions that develop when we are wait down by burdens we are not meant to carry.

Can you relate to struggling with deliberate sin, battling with some sort of addiction or just feeling bogged down by all life has thrown at you?  Do you long to feel free from past wounds?  Do you want to guard your heart, as the Lord directs, without putting up walls that inevitably push others away?  Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to know Christ’s freedom?

If you want to know and walk in Christ’s freedom, you (and I) must be willing to place all that weighs us down, at the foot of the cross.  We have to humble ourselves before our King and confess the sins we commit, confess the hurts we hold on to and confess the addictions we wrestle with.  We have to seek Christ’s forgiveness, choose to forgive our offenders and also, choose to forgive ourselves.  This also means sacrificing ungodly habits such as gossiping, complaining, procrastinating, cussing, overeating or whatever else we may turn to in the place of Christ to “cope” with what burdens us.

This sacrifice is not a one-time event consisting of one prayer or even one fast.  This is a daily sacrifice that involves refocusing our thoughts, asking Christ to renew our minds, softening our hearts to obey His word and practicing the art of discipline to refrain from turning to back to dishonorable behaviors.  This sacrifice also entails understanding that making these kind of sacrifices, changing our coping skills, letting go of the past and forgiving those who have trespassed against us is a process.  It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally and takes much discipline to master.  It’s a process that has to be practiced every day and it’s a process that will include backsliding and failing.  But it’s also a process that through commitment, God’s strength, His grace and your perseverance, brings victory and true freedom.

Zach Williams is a Christian artist who performs a popular song called, “Chain Breaker.”  The lyrics to the first verse and chorus are this:

“If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles

If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies

If you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside

There’s a better life

There’s a better life

“If you’ve got pain,

He’s a pain taker

If you feel lost

He’s a way maker

If you need freedom or saving

He’s a prison-shaking Savior

If you’ve got chains

He’s a chain breaker..”

As I am personally walking through this process of letting go of my strongholds in order to gain Christ’s freedoms, I recorded myself performing this song praising God even before the chains I have bound myself to are broken.  Jesus is the chain breaker of all that holds us back from the life He promised us.  When you’re willing to sacrifice what He’s calling you to let go of, when you’re willing to endure the painstaking process of confession, forgiveness and healing, then you are ready to chase after Christian freedom and walk in it, freely.  Freedom isn’t free.  But our Jesus paid the debt when He gave His life on a tree.

Turn the Other Cheek

“But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:39‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I once got into a debate with someone regarding the above scripture. I was dealing with a cruel individual and a Christian Friend of mine, in an effort to help me, quoted this scripture. I was encouraged to not defend myself against my enemy but allow the cruelty to happen.

I have a firm belief that we are to love our enemies but that does not mean we are to be doormats. So I refuted this advice. This friend of mine and I are both strong minded individuals. He thought he was right and I thought I was right. Thus, our debate ended up in an argument that led to ending our friendship. There were other circumstances in the mix also that led to cutting off communication but nonetheless this argument was definitely a key factor.

Recently I downloaded an app that is full of sermons and other great biblical tools. I opened it for the first time today and the first sermon that popped up was “Dealing with Mean and Demanding People.” It’s a three part sermon series by Pastor Mike Fabaraz. I spent the morning listening to the first two parts. The common denominator in both messages is this: turning the other cheek is meant specifically to those who persecute us for being a follower of Christ. It is not meant for those who bully us, assault us, steal from us, demean us, etc. for the purpose of fueling their own toxic thinking and solely to hurt us. We are allowed to defend ourselves. God does not call us to be doormats.

The picture for this post is of the app to encourage readers to download the app and check out these sermons specifically. If you listen to them, share your thoughts in the comment section. This post is NOT to say that I’m right and my friend was wrong. This post to raise an awareness to many, including myself, who struggle with the correct interpretation of this verse as well as who are seeking instruction with how to deal with the toxic people in your life.

One last thought-learn from my experience. Never let a debate about scripture come between you and someone you care about. The enemy comes to seek and destroy and he will use every angle possible to do that-even debates over scriptural context in God’s word. If you feel your pride swelling up, take a step back, pause and pray. Ask God to help you both share the same understanding (like in Philippians 2:2) of the scripture in order to keep solidarity in your friendship or relationship. Think about this; if the devil’s raising up his own army, what better tactic for him to attempt to be victorious then if he can get God’s army to turn against one another, right? May the Lord and my friend forgive me for allowing my pride and my need to be right to sever what was an intense and spiritually intimate friendship. May the Lord bless those who read today’s post and especially to those who are able to experience the sermons mentioned first hand.

Do Not Go Down the Rabbit Hole

“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

2 Timothy 2:23 NLT

I cannot count the number times I have failed obeying 2 Timothy 2:23. In fact, I once had a superior describe me as this; “She tends to argue but when she argues it’s because she’s usually right.”  Of course hearing such statement brings an increase in pride and an inflation in ego, at least for me it did.  It also made it justifiable for me to continue to argue.  After all, it’s pointless to argue if you’re wrong but if you know you’re right then you should argue, right? WRONG!!!

Arguing one’s point is ungodly and counterproductive.  Arguments rarely end in a positive manner with friendships or relationships still intact nor do they draw people closer together.  In fact, the book of Proverbs gives us two examples of how arguments and angry words do the complete opposite. In Chapter 18, verse 19, we read that “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”  Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 4 warns “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.”  I personally have lost a handful of relationships after engaging in hurtful arguments.  One in particular ended over very different opposing political views.  Another took a long hiatus because of multiple mini arguments over subject matter that I don’t even recall the details of now.

In the category of politics, I have argued about abortion, women’s marches, equality, presidential candidates, racism, etc.  I have argued about religious beliefs both with believers and non-believers.  Unfortunately, I have argued about far too many less trivial things also.  If I listed all those this post would never end.  I have a fierce personality and my mouth tends to start running before my brain has time to keep me quiet.  I’m slowly learning to practice pausing and thinking before speaking.  But there are days I am making very slow progress if any at all.  HAHA!

Ironically, I recently found myself tiptoeing into two separate arguments on social media.  One was an anti-education post that completely goes against my beliefs and values in education.  The other one was actually an effort to help someone avoid arguing and turned into a debate about arguing.  I could feel my insides just getting fired up about both posts and especially regarding comments made to me by the posters.  I could mentally see my platform in front of me and a fully prepared speech on the tip of my tongue that would open with, “First of all…” I’ve been told I should be a good lawyer because I definitely can argue well.  Not that that’s something to brag about.  But, I also felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Don’t go down that rabbit hole” and I knew that meant something like, “this is not my circus and they are not my monkeys.  Do not exhaust your energy engaging in an argument with either of them.  Surprisingly, I actually listened this time (usually I’m too fired up to listen to God’s gentle promptings and fight the battles in my own flesh.) and opted to take a weekend hiatus from that social media site to reset my priorities.   I also deleted the comments I had already posted.

I spent a good part of my evening thinking about the concept of going down the rabbit hole.  This ideology is related to story of Alice in Wonderland.  Alice was enticed to go down that rabbit hole and entered a world full of all kinds of crazy abnormalities.  I started relating some of the characters Alice encountered to those we engage with on social media and how that all ties in with arguing.  Social Media is the universal source of arguing these days isn’t it?

Just like in Wonderland, in any social media argument you will encounter the Queen of Hearts whose view is inevitably “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”. Everything is black and white in their minds and they’re solutions are typically punitive.  Then there’s the Mad Hatter who’s certifiably crazy and makes comments that leaves most readers scratching their heads or feeling slightly disturbed.  Of course there’s the White Rabbit person who either has bad timing with their remarks, or is ever fretful in their commentaries.  And what media argument would be complete without the Cheshire Cat tapping into their multiple personalities and fueling the fire by secretly taking dual sides or talking about others behind their backs.  The Cheshire Cat characters are definitely the most toxic as they are the pot stirrers who keep the discord going all while looking like they are the best friend to all parties involved.

Admittedly I have played the role of the Queen, the Hatter and the white rabbit on far too many occasions.  Worse yet, I know I’ve been a Cheshire Cat a time or two also.  Not necessarily with malice intent or as an effort to destroy a relationship but I’ve kept the embers of anger, hurt and conflict burning by dwelling on the argument and discussing it with others who weren’t a part of it. I’ve ignored verses like Psalm 37:8 that tells us to stop being angry and turn from our rage and Ephesians 4:31 where we’re told to put away all malice, harsh words, brawling, etc.  Malice, harsh words, and brawling are all descriptors of arguing.

Fortunately for Alice, going down the rabbit hole didn’t bring total disaster.  After all, a Disney movie usually has a happy ending.  In the real world however, when we choose to go down the rabbit hole of arguing, the only ending we get is one that results in an ending of a relationship, perhaps even an ending of mutual respect you once shared.  Even if you feel you’ve “won” the argument, is it worth celebrating if it cost you the relationship?  That raises the very question of where we place our value.  Is it more valuable to be right or is it more valuable to have relationship?

Personally I believe that relationship holds far more value than being right.  I’ve learned this the hard way.  For example, I have a best friend whom I rarely agree with.  The only thing we probably truly have in common is a love for Jesus, family and our friendship.  Everything else we tend to be opposites on.  In the early stages of our friendship we had a few arguments.  Only one that I can recall ended up in no communication for two weeks.  For a friendship that talked daily, two weeks was a very long time.  During that time frame I reflected a lot on what was said and actually considered ending the friendship.  But I loved this person too much to never have them in my life again.  So I bent my pride and reached out to her.  It wasn’t easy.  Neither of us believed we were wrong.  But we both could agree that we shared words that hurt one another and we could apologize for that.  We also both chose to forgive and move past it because our friendship was far too valuable to throw away.

I wish I could say that was the case for other relationships in my life but sadly, there are some that the argument outweighed the relationship and that person is no longer a part of my life.  Those were times when the offender refused to apologize for attacking my character or wanted continue to argue.  I felt it necessary to emotionally protect myself by no longer having them in my life.  I still love them, but I simply choose to love them from a distance.  There are times you have to set boundaries in your life to protect your emotional well-being.  These situations aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong.  They are simply about choosing what kinds of behaviors we will allow in our lives and being able to cut off anything that is toxic or will undermine the character God defines for us.

Please know I am not saying we shouldn’t have opinions or strong convictions.  The Bible is full of beliefs we as Christ followers are to cling to.  We should never compromise our belief systems.  But when talking to someone who opposes us, we should do what Jesus did.  He didn’t argue.  He had the spiritual wisdom to recognize a trap and he never went down the rabbit hole.  Time and again the Pharisees would ask Him questions to entice him into a debate.  Each time Jesus disappointed them.  There were times Jesus wouldn’t even answer them (think of the woman caught in adultery when Jesus ignored the Pharisees and drew in the sand.)  When He chose to answer them, He would use one liners like “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’s.) Other times He spoke in parables to make His point.  Often times His own disciples didn’t understand what He was saying but Jesus didn’t debate them either.

There were also times he avoided his naysayers altogether.  But here’s a list of what He didn’t do:

  • Jesus never said, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
  • He never became defensive nor did He defend Who He was. By this I mean He never engaged in a debate or argument about Him being the Son of Man.  He stated it time and again but He didn’t argue with anyone who disagreed.
  • Jesus also never defend His character. Jesus’ enemies were right in their own eyes and there were many who slandered Him for Who He presented Himself to be and the ministry He led.
  • He didn’t have a publicist write a formal speech to address His naysayers. He just kept on doing His thing and ignored the Queens of Hearts, Mad Hatters, White Rabbits and Cheshire Cats of His day.

Time and again the Bible tells us, we are to be just like Jesus.  Which means, instead of arguing, we can choose to ignore.  Instead of debating, we can choose to pray.  When someone entices us into an argument, we can choose to be like Jesus which may mean not responding to them at all.

Before you post something that you know will open up a rabbit hole into Argueland, pause and ask yourself is it worth the energy you’re going to waste defending your opinion?  Better yet, don’t post it.  Post a verse, a fun picture or a joke instead.  Social media platforms don’t change the world anyway.  They simply create a greater division that already exists because people are too focused on being right and less focused on being in relationship and fellowship with one another.

We are all entitled to our opinions and belief systems.  We are not entitled to share or impose them on someone else.  If Jesus didn’t force His beliefs on anyone during His ministry, why do we feel so entitled to do it now-especially on social media?  I can’t promise I won’t fall prey to another argument but for now, I am choosing to listen to the Holy Spirit and not go down the rabbit hole.  People change the world by praying and being Christ like not by arguing or posting controversial things on Social Media.

God’s Undeserving Gift Of Grace

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I have felt an insurmountable measure of grace lately. I don’t think I’m doing anything differently to deserve it. In fact today started with a very scary moment that I did not respond to in a godly manner at all. Yet God extended His grace to me and even used a co-worker to gift me a treat I throughly enjoy. Did I mention she had no idea, when she brought that gift to work, that I was going to have the morning I had. That’s God. That’s His Grace.

Yesterday I worked a 13 hour shift and I was exhausted. When I get run down I do not bring my A game emotionally or spiritually. Listening to christian radio on my drive home I heard a song that just strengthened me and revived a spiritually energy within me. It’s called “Broken Things” by Matthew West. Here are the specific lyrics that stand out to me:

“If grace was a kingdom, I stopped at the gate thinking I don’t deserve to pass through after all the mistakes that I’ve made…The pages of history they tell me it’s true

That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use It’s the rebels and the prodigals; it’s the humble and the weak All the misfit heroes You chose Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me…”

And the chorus bravado is like this:

“Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King I wish I could bring so much more But if it’s true You use broken thingsThen here I am Lord, I’m all Yours”

The words in the song speak to me because I am a broken thing. So are you. We all are. It’s empowering to think that God does not seek out perfect people. He seeks out the lost and the weary, the sinner, not the saint and uses all of our mistakes for His glory.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s grace being extended through some serious sinful acts. Google “grace” and see for yourself. If you have a Bible app called You Version (which is what I use and love) search the word grace and find every scripture in His word about grace in multiple editions.

For me personally-Grace means I am forgiven and loved every time I fail Jesus. It means He keeps His promise to never leave me nor forsake me no matter what I do. It means that because I’m forgiven I should practice patience with others and choose forgiveness over bitterness because the Lord forgave me. Unforgiveness is a stronghold for me and extending forgiveness to my enemies is a work in progress.

What does grace mean to you? Do you know that you’re loved in spite of your mistakes? Do you know that your sins do not define you but that grace does? Do you know that the guilt and shame you’re carrying around does not come from Jesus?

Open your Bible and study what He says about grace. Listen to Matthew West’s “Broken Things” and other songs that remind you that grace wins every time. Let go of your shame and open your heart up to receive His grace. It’s then you will experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. God bless and may you feel His grace shine upon you every day.

When It’s Hardest to Forgive

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:21-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If you were raised Christian, ever visited a Sunday School class or have been witnessed to, I am confident you’ve heard a message about forgiveness. The plan of salvation alone consists of confessing our sins and Jesus forgiving us. Christ’s death is the epitome of forgiveness both to those who crucified Him and for those He died for. As He was hanging on the cross already beaten and tortured, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Throughout the Old and New Testament there are many passages on God and Christ forgiving sinners. We aren’t just forgiven. God calls us to forgive those who “trespass against us.” If you’re anything like me, being forgiven is easy. Forgiving others can be a very tough pill to swallow especially those who aren’t even sorry.

There are people in this world who may hate you, hurt you, and lie about you because of their own toxicity. Perhaps they’re jealous and insecure, sociopathic or narcissistic even. The stories of Jezebel, Joseph’s brothers and even Saul’s murderous behavior toward David are prime examples. The Pharisees even blasphemed against Jesus. Yet there are multiple scriptures that tell us to forgive. In fact a few verses even say love your enemies and pray for them/do good to them.

Here are a few more scriptures on God telling us to forgive:

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

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ””

‭‭Mark‬ ‭11:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:32‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Over and over God tells us to love our enemies, be kind to each other and to forgive each other. When someone we love hurts our feelings or disappoints us-it tends to be easy to forgive them because our love supersedes the offense. It’s hardest to forgive those who’s offenses supersede the ability to love that person. That’s where surrender to God and an obedient heart comes in to play. That’s where seventy times seven needs to be applied.

You may come across someone who will never be sorry for the wrong they did to you. You may want to just avoid them or ignore their existence. However, there may be circumstances where you cannot ignore or avoid them. You may have such a justifiable aversion to them that being kind to them makes your skin crawl. Our wounded hearts don’t want to forgive. Our defenses don’t want to be around them let alone offer them grace or kindness. But God says “Forgive them.” God says “Be kind to them.” God says “Love and pray for them.”

Seventy times seven means we forgive every offense, every time. I think it also means we may have to forgive the same offense over and over as a means to truly let go and fully forgive our offenders. Think about it. How many times a day do you dwell on the offense? Ever have arguments in your head between yourself and the offender? Ever think unkind thoughts or call them vicious names in your mind? Gossip about them maybe? Can you feel roots of bitterness growing and consuming you? Do you think any of that hurts your offender? Trust me-it does not. Your offender is most likely not even thinking about you. If their not sorry for their actions then they’re certainly not dwelling on them either. Our dwelling only keeps us wounded and keeps us from forgiving.

We combat this by choosing forgiveness. When a negative thought pops in your head-confess in your mind or aloud that you forgive the offender. Dwelling on specific actions they did against you? Name them aloud as you declare that you forgive these offenses. Confess each and every hateful thought you entertain and give it all to Jesus. When circumstances arise that you have to engage with that person, force yourself to be kind. You may have to fake it until you make it but if you do this, you will cut off all roots of bitterness and walk in the freedom of having a forgiving heart. You will make it to forgiving your offender(s).

Your enemy may never change. Our greatest enemy will never change so why do we expect our human enemies to change? We cannot control the behaviors and actions of others. We can only control how we respond, what we hold on to and what we let go of. We have a choice to forgive or to hold a grudge. Holding a grudge steals our joy and makes us more like our haters. Always choose to forgive. Even if you have to say it 490 times (which is 70 X 7 by the way) choosing forgiveness makes you more Christlike. That forgiveness may be the exact stepping stone Jesus uses to bring your enemy to salvation. After all-Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) You never know how God will use your forgiveness to save the lives of others also.

Show Me Love

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I seem to write a lot about love. More so, God seems to put this word on my heart a lot and so I write about it. I’ve written about different types of love, the cost of love and what real love is. This weekend, God has really been pressing on me to write about breaking down walls in order to give and receive love. The walls I’m referring to aren’t that of someone else-they’re the walls we build around our own hearts to keep us from getting hurt.

There are a variety of reasons those walls are there-perhaps your parent deeply wounded or abandoned you. Maybe a lover or spouse was abusive or cheated on you. Maybe you grew up around members of the opposite sex who were abusive and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Maybe you’ve gone through a string of relationships feeling used and disposable because that’s how past lovers treated you. Maybe you’re like me and select “all of the above” as your reason for hiding your heart behind those walls. Whatever the reason, each disappointment or heart breaking experience added another brick or layer and your wall is probably at a point where no human in their own strength could ever break through it.

I watch a lot of romantic comedies and Hallmark movies. I love Love. I love watching couples meet, flirt, date, share a first kiss, fall in love, face conflict that nearly tears them apart yet and in the end see love conquer with them living happily ever after. My favorite fairy tale has always been Cinderella. Realistically speaking I don’t wait for a prince on a white horse to show up with a glass slipper and whisk me off to his castle but I do long for a man who would cross the ocean and travel through Hell or high water just to be with me. I think some of that stems from watching so many romantic movies.

Movies are a great source of entertainment. I work two jobs and my second job is actually working at a video store so I obviously love movies. Romantic movies can give us a false sense of what real life romance and love are really all about, but they can also model what grace and forgiveness look like. Take for instance the Hallmark movie, All of my Heart, Inn Love, starring Lacey Chabert. In this movie, Lacey’s character is small town girl with dreams of being a successful baker and owning a country inn. Her fiancé is a big city financial guru who moved to the country and joined in on Lacey’s character’s aspirations. They’re character set-ups are really polar opposites. Every love story has to have a climax-the moment where viewers think the couple is breaking up or will never end up together. In All of my Heart, that moment comes when the big city fiancé takes a temporary job back in the city to help make ends meet and starts displaying old characteristics that Lacey’s character isn’t attracted to. Obviously they’re wants start to pull them away from each other.

At one point, Lacey’s character gives the engagement ring back telling her fiancé to give it back to her when he’s ready to come back to the life they were building. Then there’s a few minutes of scenes showing them living apart and both very unhappy. In the end the fiancé realizes a life with the woman he loves is more important than any successful business adventure or financial gain. He leaves the city life for good and returns to the small town, goat farming, inn keeper life devoting himself to celebrating his fiancée’s accomplishments. Of course the ending is written to lead the viewer to believe the couple lives happily ever after.

Here’s where grace and Forgiveness comes in to play. Never in this movie does Lacey’s character attack or speak hurtful things to her man (her fiancée also never speaks unkindly to his woman either.) When he returns to the home they were sharing, she greets him with open arms and embraces him. There is no punishment or even thought of punishment or spite displayed. She does nothing to make her fiancé prove his love for her or make up for nearly abandoning her and their relationship. She simply welcomes him home and shows him love.

Then there’s my heart. When I watch these movies I tend to think about how I would handle such scenarios. With each conflict I’ve watched in these types of movies I tend to have the same response-put up a wall, don’t forgive easily and make the other person prove his love. Unfortunately, this is how I’ve handled many relationship issues in my own life. Why? Because I unknowingly have punished new relationships for past lovers’ mistakes. I’ve also been far too prideful to ever admit that to anyone or myself, until now. I have a wall built around my heart. I’ve blamed men from my past for having this wall. I naively believed God was going to send me a man so out of this world that would have the super strength to demolish this wall and then I would know it was safe to love him. But let’s be real-God is telling me I need to open up my heart and let Him knock down this wall because my fortress is not only impenetrable, I think it’s covered with barbed wire to ensure nobody can even try to climb over it!

There’s a song from the 90’s by Robin S called Show Me Love. It’s the inspiration for the title of this post because it’s been playing through my mind today. The first few lines of this song describes my heart to a tee-

“Always been told that I’ve got too much pride,

Too independent to have you by side

Then my heart said, all of you will see

Just wont live for someone until he lives for me…”

Character was definitely God’s word for me in 2018 but I am thinking love is too. Maybe it’s a sub part to my character? I’m not certain but I do know this-God is showing me the walls that have to come down so that I can freely and unabashedly love those already in my life and everyone God will continue to bring into my life.

What about you? Do you live behind walls of false security? Are you governed by pride? Are you holding on to past wounds and guarding your heart in an unhealthy way? I pray Ezekiel 36:26 over you and stand on God’s promise to “give you a new heart and a new spirit. May He remove from you this heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” May you and I become fully surrendered and allow God to demolish the walls we’ve hidden behind for far too long. It is only with a surrendered will that God can really show me (and you) love.

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.