These were originally shared on Facebook - and there were requests to re-publish them on the church website.
Post #1 - Thought a lot since yesterday and the drama surrounding marriage. There is a storm coming (actually, already is here). There is going to be a battle between who will have "civil rights" when this is done. That is because the Bible has always held homosexual activity to be sin - and will not change regardless of how people voted on Prop 8 in California vote or what the Supreme Court decides. Therefore if homosexuality is considered a civil right, then the Biblical view of homosexuality will be deemed illegal - in free speech rights - in the hiring of church personnel - and eventually in what is taught legally in churches. Those who think this is extreme need to remember that when abortion was first argued in the early 1970's wise people said it would one day be available up to the moment of birth and for things like sex selection - and they were considered extreme.
After a comment from a friend in my hometown about how my children would react if they were homosexuals - and that they probably would not come to me - but suffer shame and misery silently - this post was made.
Post #2 - Just to let you know, although it was not homosexuality, I've had times with my children where they were walking in some pretty serious sin (from a biblical standpoint). Rather than wait for them to come to me - my sweet wife and I lovingly, yet firmly and boldly approached them. We did so making sure or several things . . . First, that they knew we had sinned in the past (my past involved actually hating Christians and Christianity - and a great deal of sexual immorality). Second, we assured them that although we were crushed and disappointed with their current choices - we would NEVER stop loving them. We assured them that there was nothing they would ever do that would make us reject them as persons - or as our children. Our problem was with choices they were making outside of God's will. Third - we took the time to sit down with them and share the Scriptures - specifically what they were doing that was outside of God's will. We did so unapologetically and with boldness (our confidence arising from God's Word - not from any pseudo-religious standing we thought we might have as parents or me as a pastor). Afterward, we assured them of two things - we would continue to side with God's Word on the moral issue - and second that we loved them very much.
Post #3 - My original post was about the political ramifications of the current debate. I have known several people who chose a homosexual lifestyle - have loved them - shared with them - and continue to affirm my love for them personally. God does not approve of their homosexuality - even as He did not approve of my fornication before I came to Christ (and He wouldn't approve of it now either!)
There are consequences for a nation when they choose to codify a sinful choice as legal. BUT - as a pastor and disciple of Jesus Christ - my responsibility is to love the person who is sinning, tell them the truth, and let them know that as a fellow sinner - I found grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God gave it to me when I responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (Who used Scripture to show me my sin) in repentance from my heterosexual immorality (as well as breaking His Law multitudes of times in ways that blew my mind). They can receive the same grace from God as well. The one thing they will have to do, though, is see their choice (homosexuality is a choice - not a DNA driven lifestyle) as sin and be willing to respond in repentance as they turn from it, and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to pay for their sin and be right with God.
Post #4 - Still thinking about the homosexual marriage debate . . . As Biblical Christians we have an interesting number of roles to live out in regard to these days.
First and foremost we have our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That we walk out loving and knowing Him - and do so with humility - always grasping that He first loved us and drew us to Himself due to His immeasurable mercy and grace.
Second, we have a dual responsibility to our world which means we will walk a fine line in regard to how the world works. The first of these dual responsibilities is to proclaim the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ! That means that we cannot allow the political or social discourse to become so toxic that we are rejected because of our political beliefs alone. The first offense in our lives needs to be the offense of the cross and the gospel. If people are offended with us - it is because we love them enough to tell them of their condition - their true condition of falling short of the glory of God. Here is where we have to be careful that our political discourse does not make it seem like certain sins are "more sinful" that others. Sin is sin - and it all separates us from God - and requires of us repentance and faith in Jesus Christ to be forgiven and to receive Christ's righteousness as a gift so we can stand before God. In regard to sin - I am no different than the homosexual - for we both have sinned against God and we both need pure, unadulterated grace that only comes in the gospel. This ALWAYS has to be our first message to the world.
BUT, we also have a second role that comes into focus in times like these - and that is a prophetic one. Especially in a democratic republic like ours - we play a part in our governing process. Therefore when our nation begins to turn from its godly heritage (which is has been going on for probably 60-70 years now - I am not one to say that this is the big issue - we've made choices for many years now - racism and inequality for blacks from the end of the Civil War until the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960's, the free love movement of the 1960's which popularized heterosexual immorality i.e. sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, abortion in the 1970's, the love of money in the 80's and 90's, and now homosexuality from the 80's to the present) - again, when our nation turns from its godly heritage and wants to codify as law what God calls sin, it is our responsibility to prophetically speak God's Word to our society - not that we predict the future or write new Scripture (which is unscriptural) - but we speak the morality that is in the Bible - boldly and unapologetically to our society. We lovingly, yet strongly state where we are going - and where it will lead. We do so hopefully knowing that it is most likely the case that we will be rejected - mocked - and called any number of names. Yet we do this for God's glory - and for love of the people in the world - and never for any kind of vindictiveness. We remember where WE came from - and that we needed grace and truth to come to Christ too.
Finally - we do this for God's glory - knowing that Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom is not of this world. There is a strong possiblity that we will be misrepresented, cursed, spoken evil of - and maybe even arrested and put to death eventually for our stand with God's Word - and with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I remember rightly - our Founder and Savior was cursed, mocked, arrested and eventually crucified for speaking the truth (wonder what week that happened in history? - oh, yeah, this week!)
Just one last admonition for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Hold fast to the Word of God - to the testimony of Jesus Christ - to the gospel of God's salvation - and when you do have to speak prophetically to the culture - SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE! Tough to do - I know - but when we do have to speak prophetically to our culture and our government - we do not want to do so in such a way that will disqualify us from sharing the more important message of the gospel later! (Yeah - just looked at the length of this - and I am a preacher - HA! - and a long-winded one at that!) Love all of you - and especially those I have the honor of ministering to weekly at Calvary Chapel of Jonesboro!
This article the first in a series of studies I am doing in the book of Hebrews. They focus on the exhortations in Hebrews that come throughout the book. It was originally written to the men of Calvary Chapel in one of my email blasts for encouragement.
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? -Hebrews 2:1-3
Men . . . God has just said in chapter 1 of Hebrews that Jesus is greater than all the angels. He has said to us that Jesus is God - the exact representation of God's very essence and being! We are not following some mere spiritual being - or a leader of a movement. We have the opportunity to know, love, and follow God Himself! Now, having said this, there is an exhortation. That is how Hebrews works as a book - there is teaching about the supremacy of Jesus to everything - and after each teaching there is a call - an exhortation to walk with God. These exhortations are so helpful to me - and that I why I feel the need to walk through them to exhort you as the men of my congregation - as well as men that I work with in discipleship. Let's take a look at our first exhortation!
Because we are not dealing with just a religious view - or a religious figure - or a spiritual being of some interest - we need to pay closer attention to what we've heard of God's Word and God's plan and purposes! We are dealing with God - One Who is immeasurable in power, might, glory, majesty, wisdom, goodness, grace, love, and (and this is part of the point of Hebrews) wrath for the lost and discipline for the saved! That is why we need to pay MUCH COSER ATTENTION!
We are all guys here - so let's be honest! We are easily distracted - especially when someone is talking to us. There are times when my wife and daughters have to do something to get my attention because I am too focused on the television, computer, a book, a spot on the wall - you know what I'm referring to here. It is so easy for us to "DRIFT AWAY" in our thinking. Isn't it awesome to know that our God understands this weakness in us! He knows that we tend toward distraction. He also knows that the devil and the world system are experts as drawing us away in our thinking and our focus. The whole advertising world is geared to pulling your focus away from whatever you were thinking - to what they are telling you to think about - and eventually think you can't live without!
Drifting can be very dangerous men. My family visited Niagra Falls when I was young. We went to the falls and read and heard of the stories of those who went over the Falls in barrels and various kinds of contraptions. The most frightening story of all though was of a young boy who went over the falls in nothing more than a life jacket - and survived. The story is frightening because it began with a father and son fishing trip on the Niagra River. The two of them got distracted fishing and did not realize that their boat had crossed a very dangerous barrier on the river. The father struggled to get the engine started - and could not because of the rough waters. Soon they were careening down the river without any control over the boat. The father furiously paddled at an angle to get to a shoreline, hoping to make it before the falls. His valiant efforts were to no avail as the boat capsized in the midst of the angry current. He grabbed his son and with every ounce of strength in him tried to reach the short swimming. He did not reach the shore - and was killed as he and his son were cast over the edge of the Candaian side of the falls. Miraculously the boy was relatively unharmed - with a lot of bruises and a few cuts. That story is a constant reminder to me to be very careful about drifting in my life. It is an easy thing to do - and it usually leads to danger when we do.
MEN OF GOD - are you drifting spiritually? If you are - here are a few of the symptoms.
#1 - You are probably not in the Word - and if you are - you are not exactly listening to God when you read it. Here is what I mean by this - and unfortunately I speak from experience. When I am drifting - I'm distracted from the Word. Either I am not reading it at all - or - I am reading it to mark it off some kind of list of things I'm supposed to do. There is little "hearing God" at all going on as I read. This will eventually lead to me reading less - or just stop reading at all.
#2 - You are making "little compromises" in your life. If you are drifting - there are "little compromises" that are being made from time to time. These don't seem like huge things, but when you first do them there is just a twinge of conviction as you realize, "Probably shouldn't do that - but - ah, what's the problem - no harm, no foul." Here is the problem though - these little compromises - will lead up to bigger ones in the future. They also dull your spiritual senses over time to the conviction of the Spirit.
#3 - You are not really aware of the tremendous danger of sin. God warns us in Hebrews that the word given by angels received a just discipline and punishment - and that those commands were unalterable. Do we realize that the "little compromises" - if they involve being disobedient - aren't so little? Each one comes with a cost - and each one is neglecting the fact that we will be held accountable for our actions. The drifting of our hearts involves just thinking that sin is not that big of an issue - when it really is! David's first sin with Bathsheba was not adultery. The first step was just wanting to relax and take it easy - when he should have been going to war. That little compromise led to him compromising by not turning away when he saw Bathsheba bathing. That compromise then led to him asking about her - then calling her - then having sex with her - then her getting pregnant - the cover-up - killing Uriah and a bunch of other guys who got killed being dumb in war on purpose. Could David have ever imagined that the "little compromise" of being lazy and not diligent as king - would have led to all this!? NEVER! But that is what "drifting" does to us spiritually! We drift - and we think it is not that big of a deal - and then - we find ourselves in the rapids of the river - then, over the falls! Sin is always, always, always dangerous - deadly dangerous! Anything that deadens our thoughts on this matter - is DEADLY ITSELF!
#4 - You are not as excited or moved by your salvation. Hebrews says here that we should realize what a great salvation we have. The phrase is this, ". . . how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" What God is saying to us is that our salvation is GREAT! The God we serve . . . is GREAT! The judgment and wrath we escaped . . . GREAT! The amount of sin forgiven . . . GREAT! How deep the change should be in our hearts . . . GREAT! And the list can go on and on! But when we are drifting - all that "greatness" just seems to become - ho-hum to us. It is not that we are not grateful for salvation . . . it is just that we are not all that convinced any longer that it was that big a deal - or that our danger was all that . . . dangerous - or that the joy and ultimate satisfaction in knowing and walking with God is . . . all that ultimate any longer. David prayed in Psalm 51 - restore to me the joy of my salvation. That is what we are missing - any real joy or sense of greatness in our salvation.
So . . . are you drifting? If you are - consider Jesus - Who He is - how much greater He is than even angels. Consider Who is talking to you when you come to Scripture - and fellowship with Him! Consider how not concentrating and focusing on what He says may be leading to "little compromises" that are getting bigger over time. Consider if you consider all sin very dangerous or not. Consider if you are not so moved by your salvation as you used to be. If these things are happening to you - SNAP OUT OF IT BRO! There is a very real danger that you face! Your guilty of "spiritual drifting" - and that can cost way more than you ever imagined. Maybe now your just a litle off course. The problem is that the river gets rougher as it gets closer to the Falls. There is still time to wake up - snap out of the drifting - and get back on course. Don't wait until the river's current grabs you and takes you over the Falls. And if you're further down the river than you think - cry to God for help! Call out to brothers to throw you a line from the shoreline - and reel you in! All these things you can do - just don't sit there and continue to drift!
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
Do I see this life as a building or as a tent? Paul begins by comparing our life here on earth to living in a tent. Our earthly bodies are mere tents - temporary dwellings. They will be torn down - i.e. we are going to die. But there is another dwelling - a building from God, a house made without hands. This is our eternal dwelling place with God for Paul lets us know that it is "eternal in the heavens."
Too often I see this world as substance and the things of the Spirit as shadow - when the fact is that it is just the opposite. We live in a shadow-world and the reality is the spiritual. Paul's assertions here - and God's truth is that we should KNOW that this world is the tent - and heaven is our house, our building, our home.
The problem we have is that all that is around us seems so real. It is real - but it is so amazingly temporary. All this around us will be torn down - and it will vanish. So why live for it? Why focus upon it?
In this house (our current tent) we groan. That is because since salvation we have been changed - born again - made alive in the realm of the Spirit. Since that time - the reality of this world is fading - even as the Holy Spirit teaches us more and more about what is real. Therefore we begin to groan. This world is filled with death, destruction, deception, and devilish ways. We want - even long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. We want reality and truth - therefore we want God. We know, just as Adam and Eve were filled with the horrific knowledge of their own nakedness after sinning agaisnt God, that we are naked and need to be clothed. (They tried to sew fig leaves to cover their nakedness - and hide it from God. Mankind has been either sewing their own religious covering or hiding from Him ever since.) We know that as we put on Christ, His righteousness and His works, that we will not be found naked. But as long as we live in this world - shadowland - we will continue to groan over our humanity, over our flesh, over our inability to completely shake off all the effects of the Fall. We are burdened with this as long as we inhabit our unglorified bodies.
We groan in a way because we don't want to be unclotherd, but clothed. Here Paul shifts gears and speaks of how our flesh and our human existance fights death. We also are well known throughout all history for fighting God as He unclothes us from our religious outfits. We don our works-mentality and our religious observances thinking that in these we are clothed. We put on the world and its garish outfits of selfishness, self-centeredness, self-achievement, and self-glorifying. We embrace the fashion trends of the here and now - embracing the flesh-lusts, eye-lusts, and the pride of this life and our tent-ways. God wants to unclothe us from all these things - even allowing us, giving us over to them - so that in their self-destrutive ways we would groan. Suffering and pain make us groan - resisting His hand and His sanctifying purpose makes us groan - rebelling against His purposes and plans makes us groan. He will win these battles, even allowing periods of devastation in our lives - because we MUST be unclothed from such things so that what is mortal can be swallowed up by life itself. That life is His Life - abundant and eternal.
To these things God has been committed since the day of our salvation. At that moment He did something miraculous. He gave us His Spirit, putting Him deep within us - at the very core of our being. We were changed and altered (althought not so much to the seeng eye). The Spirit was His earnest money - His downpayment that guaranteed that He Who had done this work of salvation in us, would complete it until the day of our ultimate redemption. This is not earnest money that will be left on the table - after the transaction is abandoned. This is God's way of saying that He is committed to this process - and He will have us - all of us. It is also His way of saying that we will be unclothed from the rags and tatters of this world and its ways - and clothed with . . . well, with Him. This is more of a certainty than the next tick of the clock, your next breath, or the rising of the sun in the morning. These actually will all stop one day - but His pursuit of us clothed in Him alone will never end - nor will it ever be abandoned.
So today continues - tick after tick of the clock will go on - just like it did yesterday. You will continue to groan in this world - groan in your interesting ensemble of this world and the world to come. You will groan as more of your life and ways are unclothed with truth - conviction - repentance. Some times it will be painful - so painful and so difficult you wonder if you can take your next step. Other times will be delightful as you watch your humanity swallowed up by life - astounded as you see Christ, His character and ways more clearly in your attitudes and actions.
Groan, dear ones, groan under the burden of this world. Groan as you learn of a wardrobe so simple yet majestic. Groan as you embrace life itself. Such groans are a symphony of sanctificatioin in His ears. It is music both painful and pleasant to hear. It has played ever since the first couple were unclothed from such silliness as fig leaves - and were given physical garments paid for by a blood sacrifice. But in another realm preparations had been made since all eternity for a like re-clothing of all the redeemed. Preparations for man to be unclothed from all his sin - and dressed in the glorious, blood-bought righteousness of Christ. So groan my dear brothers and sisters - groan as you are changed out of your fallen humanity and redressed in Life that swallows you so that your nakendness is covered by His glory. And may even our groans rise in a cresendo of praise and glory and honor to our kind and gracious Clothier.
May the Lord bless you and help you to set godly goals for this coming year. This past Sunday night our community group met and took some time to talk about goals for this coming year. This is something I write about almost yearly - and yet when I speak to believers, I find that very few of them set any kind of spiritual goals each year. Some might balk at the thought of setting spiritual goals for their lives - relegating such things to the realm of legalism. They might not be so quick to do this were they to consider what Paul's said to Timothy in his first letter to the young Christian. Let's take a look at this statement this week and seek to learn from it.
Paul said the following to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6-8. "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
Paul wanted Timothy to beware of the damage that bad teaching can have in a Christian's life. What he desired for Timothy is that he would be "constantly nourished on the words of the faith" as well as "sound doctrine." The words of the faith are easy enough to discern. We know that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ." The words of the faith are Scripture - the Word of God. The sound doctrine that Paul speaks of here is simply good, biblically sound teaching that comes forth from the Word of God. Thus, what Paul was telling young Timothy was that he needed to be CONSTANTLY NOURISHED on the Word of God - and good teaching which springs from the Word of God.
Having established a need to be CONSTANTLY NOURISHED on God's Word - Paul then makes the statement one verse later that he is to have nothing to do with worldly fables - but to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness. This godliness is of far greater profit than bodily discipline - because it blesses both now and for all eternity. Therefore, one of the most important things we should have is some way that we are disciplining ourselves to become godly - with a major emphasis on being constantly nourished on Scripture and sound doctrine that is founded in it. Let me boil that down to a simple statement. We are to be disicplinging ourselves to be in the Scriptures so that we can be constantly nourished by them and what they teach to us.
The spiritual goals of which I speak of simply goals that we set so that we can practice "nourishing ourselves" on the Word and on good, sound, godly doctrine. What kind of goals and practices of discipline do you have to do this? What kind of practices are you wanting to adopt and grow in this coming year so that you are being constantly nourished on the Word of God?
Let me use an example from your everyday life to illustrate what I mean. Pretty much everyone who reads this has a habit of eating breakfast, lunch, and supper. These are ingrained habits we have to make sure we are constantly nourished physically. If we were to lose those habits - or if we are practicing terrible nutritional habits in them - we are going to be in physical trouble before long. I am not hearing anyone complain about the habit of breakfast, lunch, and supper as some sort of legalism that we are in bondage to in our lives. They are helpful habits that can truly bless us if we eat proper nutrition during them. The reason I say this is simple - just as breakfast, lunch, and supper are physical habits to help nourish us physically, the habit of a quiet time during which we invest in reading, studying, and meditating on Scripture is vital to us being nourished (might I even say, CONSTANTLY NOURISHED) on a spiritual level. Without proper spiritual nourishment, we will languish spiritually, be weak when confronting temptation and trial, and will be susceptible to every spiritual malady and sickness that comes our way (read here false doctrine and sinful lifestyles that do not glorfiy God - among other things).
By spiritual goals - I refer to things you want to do each day - like maintain a quiet time. I refer to things you specifically do to be nourished on God's Word - like read through the Bible this year or read a chapter or more each day. Other things that help here are to say that you will take time to study through Romans to learn about salvation better - or memorize one verse each week with an emphasis on important passages of the Bible. Then you plan to meditate on one of those passages every day in free moments. Another spiritual goal may have to do with "obeying" the Scripture you read. Outreach to a couple of people you want to see come to Christ may be in order. Getting trained to share the gospel effectively by the end of the year might be another. You may want to read a book on basic Bible doctrine to be better grounded in your faith. The possibilities are endless - involving your own growth - the growth of your family together - the growth of others you know in basic discipleship - or even stepping up to a ministry in the church and committing to do it for a year. All these might be ways of growing by "discipling yourself for the purpose of godliness."
So . . . what are you going to do this year to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness - to make arrangements to be constantly nourished on the faith and sound doctrine? Your willingness to sit down and write out some serious goals as you ask God what to do may mean the difference between an awesome year of spiritual growth and effectiveness - or just another year wasted thinking that one day you'll get serious about following Christ. Oh dear saints of God - let this year be the former! My love to all of you as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ for God's glory in this coming year!
It is a new year - and with that comes the feeling that you are making a new start - or at least you can make one. This time of year results in massive sales of exercise equipment as well as a large increase in the enrollement at health clubs. We charge into each new year with a sense that maybe this year we can make the changes that will bring us greater joy. The sad reality is that these good intentions or new year's resolutions are often short lived. Very few actually change in the way that they desire or initially intend. How do we take the excitement and freshness of a new year and turn it into the kind of change that will last beyond the end of the month - or for some - even the end of that first week?
If we are going to experience true change we need to begin with our motive for change. For most of us that involves wanting to look or feel better. If we were to be brutally honest - most of our new year's resolutions center around us. I'd like to be slimmer and be in better shape . . . why? Because I'd like to look good - and the compliments from others are not too bad either. Very few of our resolutions have at their core the glory of God. Most of mine - if I were to be brutally honest - are for the glory of pastor John. Real change will have at its core God's purposes - God's will - and God's glory.
This examination of our motives brings us to the second important point about real change. By what power are we expecting to accomplish these changes? If our motives reveal that we want change for our glory, comfort, or convenience - guess whose power is going to be foremost in achieving it? If you guessed your own - you are right! This is where most change short-circuits. Our ability alone is not able to make changes - if it was - we would have been able during the year. Just because it is a new year - does not change the lack of power with which we struggle. What we need to a power surge - or a power change. That is where God comes into the picture. He is the One with the power to change our hearts and live. When we put His will at the center of our desires - as well as His glory at the center of our purpose - real power will be released in our lives.
The last aspect of change is honestly the MOST IMPORTANT. Most changes we seek to make on our own involve the principle of "Law." We begin to make a promise - or a list of things or actions we are going to do to bring about change. The list seems helpful to us until we mess-up for the first time. Then the list seems to condemn us for not conforming to it. We failed - the change did not come - after a few failures add up we become discouraged and give up. That is what the principle of Law does in our lives. Change that is entered into by grace is much different. Grace urges change just like Law does. The difference comes when we have a failure or two. Law does nothing to encourage us - in fact it looms ever higher after each failure. Grace calls us to change - but meets us with - well, with grace when we fail. Think about how often God forgives us - dusts us off from our failures - and lets us know that God chose to love us. We are reminded that God's love is based upon grace and what Christ did - not on our performance. This frees us to get back up and continue seeking to love and honor and obey God - even though we don't always do it perfectly. Even when we become discouraged, grace urges us to get back up and trust God anew to change and transform us.
Each year we have an opportunity given to us - by nothing more than a change of calendar. The problem we've faced is thinking that the calendar alone can help us to make the major changes we desire - only to find that these changes rarely if ever come. My hope is that by looking at this in a more biblical way - there has been opened to you a fresh opportunity with God to see change in your heart and life. The best thing about this is that with God - this change is not limited to once a year in January. It can happen any time you choose to turn to the Lord and access the grace He offers to you.
As we continue our look at “feeling forgiven,” we are going to deal with how bitterness and unforgiveness lock us in this state.
Jesus made it abundantly clear that if we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts—we will not be forgiven. I believe that this statement deals with how we experience or feel forgiveness, rather than being held guilty of our sins in a way that would affect us at the judgment. If that were the case then we would be saved through Christ’s blood—and our willingness to forgive. Since the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace alone—we know that this has to refer to something other than actually having sins unforgiven because we refuse to forgive others.
How can we “feel” forgiven when we refuse to forgive others? There will be a block in your spirit to sensing the forgiveness of God if there are those you will not forgive. Jesus tells the story of two men who owed debts. One owed billions and could not pay. The king chose to write off every penny of their debt. That servant then went and choked a man who only owed him a couple hundred bucks. Having had this servant thrown in jail—the servants who watched were horrified—knowing how much the offending servant had been forgiven. When his master found out he was furious. He took the unforgiving servant and threw him into the dungeon and said that he would stay there until he had paid up every last cent of the billions he owed. Not only this, but this unforgiving servant was also to be turned over to the torturers in the meantime. The point of the parable was this. Jesus said God would do so to the one who would not forgive others from his heart.
What I want to point your attention to is that word, “torturers.” Who are they? What do they do? I’ve watched over the years and I think I may know. The torturers are the spirits who work to breed fear and a sense of condemnation in the one who won’t forgive others. This condition will remain in the heart of the one who will not forgive—until they forgive others. Having both dealt with this sin in my own heart—and having helped others—I can tell you with certainty that this condition is like being tortured. You go about your life protecting your own hurt—thinking that by holding to it and by not forgiving others—you will somehow help yourself in the midst of your unforgiveness. But the fact is that even as you do this you are hurting yourself more than you will ever affect the one you refuse to forgive. That unforgiveness will eventually turn you a growing shade of bitter. In time that bitterness will begin to affect EVERY area of your life. The torture is often this . . . you cannot get the hurt or the incident from replaying in your mind constantly. This only makes the bitterness worse. Your only hope is to go to God with the sin of your bitterness and unforgiving spirit. Then God works in you and you choose to forgive the person with whom you are bitter. That one choice releases the power of God for you to finally “feel” forgiven. Oh that we would see this—and let go of ALL our bitterness. For only then will be come to the place of once again “feeling” forgiven. The truth here is simple - want to feel forgiven again? Then forgive . . . for when you forgive, you will once again feel forgiven. Reject this - and the unforgiveness you hold will dominate your feelings - and you will continually struggle to know you are forgiven.
As we continue our look at “feeling forgiven,” let’s wrestle this week with the problem many have in forgiving themselves.
When talking about “feeling forgiven” one of the issues many struggle with is that of forgiving themselves for sinning. The classic response is for someone in this situation to say that they accept God’s forgiveness—but they just cannot forgive themselves for what they did. The result of this is anger at themselves, anger and excessive sorrow over their failure, and even a tendency to slip into depression over what they did. No matter how often they hear that God has forgiven them, they just will not forgive themselves for their actions, words, or attitudes. Let’s take a closer look at this to see if we can help some get over this hurdle in “feeling forgiven.”
A major issue in this battle is actually pride. I know that sounds strange because the pride here is masking itself in supposed humility. Ultimately though, this person is saying that they expected so much better of themselves. Is that biblical though? Psalm 16:2 tells us, “You are my Lord, I have no good besides You.” Then in Romans 7:18-19 we read this, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” These two Scripture passages let us know that in ourselves—we don’t have the capacity to live a godly life. Romans 7 is there to bring us to the same sense of utter helplessness that Paul knew. That led him to cry out, “Who will save me from this body of death!” His answer was simple—forgiveness and freedom were through Jesus Christ alone.
When we apply this to the whole idea of forgiving ourselves for failing, we come up with an interesting conclusion. It is only pride to think we will not fail if we are not walking dependent on Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are not renewing our mind with the truth of the Word—and putting sin to death by the Spirit—we are going to fail and we are going to sin. If we were to go back and examine how we were living prior to our choice to sin, these things would show up in our lives like emergency flashers warning us that a fall was imminent. It is only pride that does not look back and see choices that lead up to every sin we commit. It is only pride that says, “I can’t believe I sinned.”
The healthier alternative to not forgiving ourselves is to examine ourselves. There is a post-mortem analysis we ought to do after sinning that would reveal why we fell. We could call it CSI-Holy Spirit. Rather than pout because we blew it—we should take the Spirit’s hand and wade into what led up to the sin. When we do, we will not feel paralyzed in our failure. We will feel energized to a deeper repentance, a greater mistrust of ourselves and our flesh, and a greater dependence on God, His Word, and His Spirit to live a godly life in the future. Oh, there is one other thing too . . . we will embrace God’s grace that is the source of forgiveness—and the source of future change as well.
For a couple of weeks we’ve looked at what to do when we just don’t feel like we are forgiven. This week I want to probe deeper into where our eyes might be when this happens.
There are times when we just don’t feel forgiven that our problem is that we are working on the basis of our feelings rather than our faith. But there are other times when this happens that there is something deeper going on that blocks forgiveness. Until that blockage is removed, we will not experience the joy of forgiveness—or at least the joy of restored fellowship with God.
The Bible speaks of things that bring a barrier between us and God. One of those things, according to Psalm 66:18, has to do with where our eyes are—or better said at what we are aiming. The psalmist said the following, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” We see from this verse that there are things that will keep us from hearing God—even in regard to knowing and “feeling” forgiven. Let’s look deeper into this in this week’s article.
What does it mean to “regard wickedness in our heart?” The word for “regard” is the Hebrew word “raah” which means to see. Here the word speaks of our sight in reference to aiming at something. Another way of saying it is that whatever we are seeing is “in our sights.” Imagine either looking through a scope on a rifle—or down the barrel of our gun. We are “sighting” in our target. Other things may be in our peripheral vision, but there is only one thing in our sights. We are aiming at something—and it is the main thing in our vision pattern. That is where we are aiming.
Our Psalm speaks of having wickedness in our sights. Here is how this relates to “feeling forgiven.” We may confess our sin—and even feel bad about it—but the problem is we do not want to forsake it. The truth is that even in our confession of sin—what we did or what we want is still our aim. We continue to have that person, that action, the desire in our sights. When that happens—our prayers—our confession goes unheard by God. He is not looking at our words in this, He looks at our hearts. We may confess our sin—but there is no real intent on turning from it. If we do this there will be a very distinct sense that we are not forgiven. God is not hearing us until there is a true turning from our sin. John said in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Note, God wants to do 2 things—forgive sin, cleanse from un-right activity. If our “sights” were not altered—there was no real confession of sin. Confession involves not just being sorry for it—but genuinely wanting something different. So, if you’ve not changed your target—from sin to righteousness—from ungodly choices, words, actions, and attitudes—to godly ones—you won’t “feel” forgiven.
Last week we began our look at what to do when we just don’t feel like we are forgiven. This week we will start to examine why this may be the case—as well as—how to deal with these feelings in a biblical manner.
The Christian life is lived by faith rather than feelings. We get in trouble when we trust how we feel more than we do what we read in the Word of God. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but, I just don’t feel forgiven after I confess my sins. Our problem is that we are placing a higher validity on our feelings than we are placing on what God has said. For some reason, no matter how often we hear it or read it, we think that this verse does not apply to us. We are acting as if our feelings are more trustworthy than God’s promises. If we had hard-core facts, you know scientific stuff before us this might be different. We are being asked to accept something by faith—and that is hard to do. So, because we feel a certain way—that is fact.
Some assert that this whole “faith” thing is hard to do. But is it? Is taking something on faith beyond us? The fact is that every day we take hundreds of things on faith. We look at our clocks and accept by faith that the whole concept of time exists. If we did not, we wouldn’t wake up and hurry to get places. We reach over and turn on a light switch accepting by faith that electricity exists—and that the whole field of electrical engineering is accurate in saying that those funny colored wires have little invisible electrons running through them. There is this “light bulb thing”—which can actually harness these invisible little electrons in such a way that light illumines the room. We turn on our TV’s without truly knowing how they work. (I mean, believing that there are invisible waves flowing all over the world through coaxial cables—or even worse flying through the air into a big metal dish-like thing on our rooftops—into our rectangular box on our wall—and that we see moving pictures as a result?) We get into cars and buy the line that tens of thousands of controlled explosions are happening in a block of hollowed out steel which moves our vehicles forward? Have you tested these things? So in reality, we do all these things by faith. It doesn’t matter how you “feel” about these things—they work these ways and do these things. You receive it by faith and go on with life. Can you imagine a life without faith—you would only do what YOU yourself could prove—and nothing more. If you felt like something might not be true—you’d have to abandon doing these things until you had absolute proof of it. That would cripple you physically. The truth is that you live by faith every day in hundreds of ways.
Our life of faith is based upon choices—made by faith. You trust the automobile dealer that a car will work when you turn that key in the ignition. You find him trustworthy—turn the key—and by faith (whether you know it or not) thousands of controlled explosions propel you forward. You turn on lights, live by time, and do myriads of things by trusting what others say about them. Forgiveness is trusting what Almighty God has said about what He did through Jesus Christ on the Cross—nothing more and nothing less. So the question is not how you feel—it now is this—Who do you believe? Answer this—and your feelings can change.
What to Do When You Don't Feel Forgiven . . .
Have you ever sinned against God, and afterward struggled to receive His forgiveness and restoration afterward? Let me explain this further for the purpose of this article today. This is a situation where you sin against God. Usually this involves a sin which unfortunately you’ve committed before. That is what makes this so hard. After you sin, you are convicted of it and confess it to God as sin. THEN THE BATTLE BEGINS! The battle is to “feel” forgiven. You struggle with this for several reasons. What I want to do for the next several weeks is to look at this battle from a biblical viewpoint. It is my hope to help us understand that the forgiveness that we long for is not something that is to be felt first. It is something that is “known” because of facts that have been told to us by our God. Based upon these facts we can first KNOW that we are forgiven. The process then works in such a way that our knowing forgiveness will eventually become “feeling forgiven” in the end. But regardless of whether we feel forgiven or not, we must rest on the fact of our forgiveness based on the justice, righteousness, and grace of God that is freely given to us in Jesus Christ.
Ours is a “feeling-driven” society. Far too much of what we embrace is based upon how we feel about it. I’ve watched people commit marital suicide based upon how they feel about their spouse. It begins with them not feeling the love any longer. A popular song by the Righteous Brothers puts it in this “not so righteous” way, “You've lost that lovin' feeling, Whoa, that lovin' feeling, “You've lost that lovin' feeling, Now it's gone...gone...gone...wooooooh.”
As a result of losing that “lovin’ feeling” distance is justified—a lack of communication is embraced—a lack of loving action begins—and further loss of lovin’ feeling is experienced. The more these emotions are welcomed and considered true—the more distance and foolish behavior becomes normal—the end result is either an affair or divorce. The wild thing is that the same is too often true in our walk with God. Consider this: “You’ve lost that forgiven feeling, Whoa, that forgiven feeling, “You’ve lost that forgiven feeling, Now your gone . . . gone . . . gone . . . wooooooh.”
Spiritually, too many have lost that “forgiven” feeling—and in the end they wind up going days, weeks, and some years before they truly return to the Lord. They believe that this “not quite forgiven” feeling justified distance from God—no communication with Him—choices for ungodly actions—and eventually a fully backslidden, out-of-fellowship condition. Ever been there? I know I have in the past. What changes this “feeling-oriented” forgiveness is basing things NOT on my feelings—but on the fact of what God has said. I cannot guarantee that this is an easy thing to do—oh, but how it delivers us from a yo-yo like faith and walk with God. Let’s join together for a few weeks an examine what is means to have a biblically based forgiveness—one that will overrule our emotions and provide stability for our walk with Jesus.