Month: December 2015
“We are not as Christ-centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ.”
― John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ
Have you heard them yet? Scores of people talking about “New Year’s resolutions?” Have you tried making those kinds of promises to yourself, only to find that they usually never last beyond January 31st?
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I began making resolutions “before God” and declaring everything from losing weight and eating better, to reading more good books and turning off the television.
Dare I say it? They didn’t last long. What happens? How do our good intentions derail so easily? Should Christians even engage in the practice of making resolutions? We would probably all be surprised how many do not.
Obviously, resolutions are helpful and productive when they are accompanied by heartfelt “resolve.” This is perhaps the problem that confronts too many of us — we are simply not serious enough to change. We get caught up in the moment, making some declarations we don’t really mean, and are not willing to follow through to fulfillment. But we desire to change. We sense a need to change. Every January 1st brings another opportunity to effect change. So, what happens to the change?
For centuries, January 1st has marked more than the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. This date holds an almost spiritual sense of completion (of the previous year) and expectation (of the coming year). There is a natural awareness of change at this time of year. Even those tradtional symbols of year end — the old man with the long beard, and the baby in diapers — spell newness and impending change. But how does this relate to the believer? Can we anticipate change just because of the new calendar year? Is God motivated by our calendar observances?
“For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6, NKJV). We take great comfort in knowing that the Ancient of Days never changes. The Alpha and the Omega has no beginning and no end. We rejoice in the revelation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 12:8). Changelessness is part of the very nature of God. But change IS part of the nature of man. God has created us to change, and His revealed will for mankind changes, not because of a character flaw on His part, but because our nature requires and thrives on change.
Consider God’s revelation to Jeremiah (29:11):
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Imagine God thinking about our future! He desires us to have hope — a confident expectation of blessing and provision in the days ahead. Hope causes us to walk forward into our future with faith and anticipation, even though we don’t know every detail concerning our future.
Someone once said that if God showed us every detail of our lives, all at one time, we would sit down at that point and refuse to face another day! We were not created to contain omniscience (the quality of knowing everything) like God. So, He reveals our future to us in portions we can digest — like a loving parent feeding their child only the texture and amount of food that their child can sustain. God wisely only reveals what we can understand, perceive, and apply at that time.
Knowing this, I am intrigued by the scriptures that speak of God declaring and doing “new” things:
“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
“Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ … indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Careful and thoughtful study of these scriptures show us that God is not intending to do something capricious or whimsical. He is deliberately leading each of us to specific moments of destiny with which He is already completely familiar!
Several years ago, I listened intently to a Christian teacher ministering from Habakkuk 2:1-4 concerning living by vision, and learning to establish God-centered goals for our lives. This teacher very passionately taught that we must first discern the vision of God for our lives by taking time to hear God’s voice in prayer. From that point, as Habakkuk records, we should “write the vision and make it plain…” so that “…he may run who reads it.” The teacher taught that God’s vision is His will for our lives, and that we should write on paper what we perceive His will and destiny for us to be. We must also be careful to note that:
“the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (forever).”
From this place of perceiving God’s will, the Christian teacher suggested that we should all begin to establish God-centered goals from His perceived will as a means of ensuring accountability and productivity. I began then to see that setting goals wasn’t about what I wanted to do, but what I believed God could do through me!
We must understand that God is sovereignly in control of our today and our tomorrow! So then, He enables us by grace to point ourselves toward the target of His perceived will for our life. With His will in mind, we can make a measurable impact in His Kingdom and significantly change our world by making goals that agree with God. What about Providence, you ask? All the time that we pursue our goals, we remain mindful that He has ultimate say in our destiny. His destiny for us doesn’t change each day. But our destiny is a journey, and our perception may become clouded by sin, doubt or ungodly assumptions. These areas must be corrected — minor course changes along the journey.
The Apostle James taught us to make plans with the qualifier “if the Lord wills” (James 4:13-17). Surely we’ve heard that response from someone asked about their plans: “Well, Lord willing, and if the creek don’t rise!” We must understandably make sufficient room in our goals and objectives for God’s course changes and adjustments. But the sovereignty of God is no excuse for human inactivity, procrastination, or irresponsibility. God is much bigger and mightier than our missteps. Wouldn’t we all rather be pursuing a spiritual goal that might need adjustment, than to be doing nothing for the Kingdom out of fear that we might miss His will?
Will this year be full of spiritual milestones and accomplishments, or another year of “shoulda-coulda-woulda?” Someone once said that “Goals are the rudder of our lives, and God’s wisdom is the wind filling the sails.” I suggest that our year will be more fulfilling if we are able to recognize significant Kingdom exploits (Daniel 11:32) made by setting godly goals! If we will challenge our hearts to trust in what we perceive God’s will to be for our lives, and write down several motivating thoughts concerning His will, in January 2016 we will sense His peace and pleasure.
We are not just spiritual or just physical beings. Our goals should encompass many areas of our life: spiritual, physical, mental, social relationships, and stewardship. Now, formulate one or two goal statements for each area and write them in the your prayer journal.
Remember to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. — Specific (not just lose weight, but instead “lose 35 pounds”); Measurable (can you tangibly show you met the goal?); Attainable (“bring about world peace” is WAY too lofty!); Realistic (“never eat chocolate again” — gallant thought, but better to say limit it to one day a week!); and Timely (set a date — not too soon, and not too late — but time constraints are helpful to bring about change).
Ready to set a goal focus for this year? Make this faith declaration with me:
“In agreement with God’s Word that says God intends to give me ‘a future and a hope,’ I offer these goals and plans to Him as a gift from my heart. I challenge myself to see exploits done for His Kingdom through my life. I will ‘redeem the time’ during this next year. I fully understand that all goals are subject to change and to the perfect will of God. By His help these dreams of my heart shall become reality!”
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
― Ezra Taft Benson
SMALL BEGINNINGS! Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (The seven lamps represent the eyes of the LORD that search all around the world (Zechariah 4:10)).
“You cannot expect victory and plan for defeat.”
― Joel Osteen
Occasionally we all wonder if our efforts are making a difference. It is easy to grow discouraged thinking that our acts of kindness are insignificant. Many Americans suffer from depression because they do not get a sense of the significance from their lives. People need to know that what they are doing counts.
The Israelites faced a similar problem when they returned from Babylonian captivity and began to rebuild Jerusalem as they fell victim to despondency. The people were discouraged because their numbers were small and their efforts seemed feeble when compared with the accomplishments of their ancestors. When they started to rebuild the temple they only saw how meager their contributions would be and stopped working. Paul once wrote to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal. 6:9,10)
Quote: God can do a lot with a little. A little is a lot with God.
Jesus fed five thousand people with five small barley loaves and two small fish. (John 6:10,11) Little becomes much when we place it in the Master’s hand.
1. FAITH GIVES MEANING TO SMALL ACTS OF SERVICE. Trust in God means that we believe God can accomplish everything He wants through our lives no matter how insignificant it might appear in the eyes of people. Many people will not see the greater works that God has been working through their small acts of love until they get to heaven. The Lord is able to take the seeds of small acts of love, faith and truth telling and multiply them significantly. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20) Faith helps us see how God can use small faith to accomplish much for His purposes. Do not underestimate the power of a little act of faith to move away huge obstacles to progress.
2. FAITHFULNESS IN SMALL THINGS LEADS TO PROMOTIONS. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) People who fail to be trustworthy in showing love, kindness and service in little opportunities will not be give greater responsibilities in the future. Whoever serves God and does good with the little time, talents and resources they have, will be entrusted with more blessings. The person who hides their talents, resources or service abilities will never improve and grow stagnant. How can we expect God to enrich us with more if we do not serve him with what He has already given? One man put it best, “Use it or lose it.”
3. GREAT THINGS COME FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” (Mark 4:30-32) Plant seeds of kindness, truth and love where you ever you go. Give people hope that their lives are getting better in the Lord and it will buoys their outlook on a whole range of issues. Allow the Lord to use your seeds to expand His kingdom and righteousness in qualitative and quantitative ways. The work of grace is always small in the beginning but it becomes great in the end. The seeds of the gospel may appear to be insignificant but will bring a harvest of righteousness. The Psalmist wrote, “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psa. 126:6)
4. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ANY INDIVIDUAL. It is just like Jesus to take the small, seemingly insignificant and weak people of the world and use them in a mighty way. Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Cor. 1:26-29) The Lord does not see as men see. He is a better judge than we are of what instruments will best serve His purpose. Hudson Taylor was once asked, “Why do you think God chose you to start China Inland Mission. He replied, “God picked out somebody who was so weak that apart from Him I knew I could do nothing.” God despises the proud but gives grace to the humble of heart. He uses the people who realize they are small so that apart from His all-sufficient grace we are inadequate. Never overlook any person who might be used of God in a great way for His greater purposes. Jesus picked out little Zacchaeus and said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9,10) Jesus uses anyone who realizes they are need Him every moment of every day.
5. GOD MULTIPLIES OUR LITTLE DONATIONS. Jesus said of the widow’s two small copper coin offering. “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she has out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Never underestimate how the Lord will multiply every gift you give for the advancement of His kingdom and righteousness around the world. God is far better able to multiply your giving than any mutual fund, certificate of deposit or hedge fund.
6. DO NOT OVERLOOK CHILDREN OR THE NEGLECTED. Luke wrote, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:13,14) 85% of the people who come to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. 72% of the people whose parents bring them to church tend to become believers. We should not despise the little hearts, which look to us for knowledge and guidance. God knows what each child is capable of accomplishing if someone will simply invest a little love, truth and faith in them. What part will you play in setting that Child’s feet upon the path of Christ likeness?
7. DO NOT OVERLOOK ANY PEOPLE GROUP. Jesus went to one Samaritan woman in the village of Sychar and shared the gospel. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10) Later the woman was used of God to tell everyone in her village about Jesus Christ. God continues to use that little encounter to impact the world in showing others how to share the gospel across cultures. There are still 6000 people groups in the world to be reached with the gospel. Adopt a people group and begin to pray and ask the Lord how He can use you and your church to reach one person, one village or one people group with the gospel.
8. CONSIDER HOW GOD MULTIPLIES A LITTLE CUP OF COLD WATER. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40) What can you accomplish with one visit, one cup of water, or one meal? You can save your soul.
9. FOLLOW THE FAITH OF PEOPLE LIKE ABRAHAM. Paul wrote, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Rom. 4:20,21) Abraham did not know how much the Lord would use his faith to multiply His blessings to the nations. There are still about 5.4 billion people on the planet who still need to experience the blessings of God through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Will you allow God to use your faith to help reach them through your serving, giving and loving acts?
10. GOD USES THE FAITHFUL FEW TO ACCOMPLISH MUCH. Do you remember the Old Testament story of Gideon? Gideon led the army of Israel to defeat the Midianites who had invaded Israel with an army of 135,000. When God called Gideon to do this He didn’t pat Gideon on the back and say…. Now Gideon you can do this…YOU must believe in yourself…YOU CAN DO THIS! No.in fact God commanded Gideon to reduce his army from 32,000 to a mere 300. In so doing, Gideon was forced to trust in God…he was led from self-confidence to develop God-confidence. You see…You cannot be too small for God to use…but you can be too big. God always works in a powerful way in the lives of weak people. Allow the Lord to use your faithful few friends, disciples and companions to do great things through you. Jesus said, “He who believes in me the works that I do will. Will he do also and greater works than these will He do because I go to the Father. And you can ask anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
Conclusion: Do not wait until you think an act of kindness is significant before serving someone. Nobody is able to determine if his or her actions will make a great or small impact on another. Prov. 21:31 says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is in the hands of the Lord.” Let God use you in great ways, but realize He is the one who gives ultimate success, fruit and blessings. If you wait until you are asked to do something great, you might never be given these lofty opportunities. Be faithful in little things and God will make you faithful over much. (Luke 16:10) You may not think you are accomplishing a whole lot today but be like a farmer and realize that seeds planted today will yield a thirty, sixty and hundredfold harvest as God blesses.
“Winning isn’t everything–but wanting to win is.”
― Vince Lombardi
As my teen daughter was learning to drive, I winced in the passenger seat beside her when she ran over a curb and the car lurched toward a mailbox. I could easily have panicked in that moment, especially since I had struggled with anxiety for years. But something wonderful happened instead: I stayed calm! No yelling, no hyperventilating, no grabbing the steering wheel or frantically trying to reach the brake with my foot – I simply said a silent prayer and watched my daughter stop the car, then safely back up onto the road.
“Dad, are you okay?” she asked, staring at me with a shocked expression on her face.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “That was just a bump. You’re not injured either, are you?”
Now my daughter was laughing. “Injured? That’s not what I mean. I’m asking what’s up, since you’re not freaking out about what just happened. You didn’t even get emotional when we hit the curb. What’s wrong with you, Dad?”
Reflecting on her questions, I realized that something was actually right with me: I had successfully overcome my long struggle with anxiety enough to respond to stress with peace – peace that Jesus had given me. I had achieved a spiritual victory! The victory reflected just one small decision to trust God in an ordinary moment, but it represented the larger accomplishment of overall spiritual growth in my life. Now I had enough self-control to choose faith over anxiety – and that was enough to pique my daughter’s curiosity.
Every small victory in your journey of faith is significant to God because it helps you become the person God intends you to become. When you recognize those victories in your life, you’ll be encouraged to keep growing closer to God, reaching your full potential in the process. Here are five ways to recognize small victories in your faith journey:
1. You focus your mind away from what’s negative and toward what’s positive.The more you follow the advice in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… excellent or praiseworthy”, the more you’ll grow spiritually because the way you think determines the direction of your life. Thoughts turn into attitudes, which lead to actions, which over time shape the kind person you become. The Holy Spirit will renew your mind as you make an effort to change your thinking through spiritual disciplines like prayer, and reading and meditating on the Bible’s words. You’ll know that your mind is being transformed when you notice yourself moving away from negative thoughts (such as those that are disrespectful or unloving to people, or those that fuel an addiction to something that’s unhealthy) while moving toward positive thoughts that help you understand and appreciate more about God’s perspective. So, for example, if you notice that you’re tempted to think about men or women in a sinful way (reducing them to sex objects) when an ad for pornography pops up on your computer, you can celebrate a victory when you intentionally redirect your thinking toward God’s perspective (that men and women should be loved, not used) and that change of mind helps you overcome the temptation to sin.
2. You’re able to be peaceful in stressful situations. Whenever you choose to trust God rather than panic in stressful circumstances, that’s evidence that your faith in God has deepened. You can always count on Jesus to give you peace when you need it. He promises in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” An argument with your spouse, a broken down car, an unexpected bill, or a crisis with your child will still concern you but not overwhelm you. When you notice that you’re at peace in the midst of stress, it’s thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.
3. You treat difficult people with kindness. When you interact with people who are annoying or mean and catch yourself being kind to them, that’s a sign of spiritual progress. You speak calmly to a person who is used to hearing you yell at him or her. You refrain from sending an angry email you’re tempted to send. You invite a relative you don’t like to a family gathering rather than excluding him or her. You eat lunch with a coworker who makes you uncomfortable and learn more about his or her life story. You devote time and energy to helping people in need who you’ve ignored in the past – from playing with one of your children who is acting out for attention to doing some yard work for an elderly neighbor who isn’t particularly friendly but needs help. Whenever someone hurts or offends you, you choose to forgive that person, with God’s help, rather than hold a grudge or seek revenge.
4. You pray because you want to pray, not because you feel like you have to pray. Check your motives. Are you praying out of routine or obligation, such as saying grace at meals by force of habit or praying for people you know simply because you would feel guilty if you didn’t? Or, are you motivated to pray because you enjoy communicating with God? Whenever you notice that you’re eager to express your thoughts and feelings to God, whenever you look forward to listening to God’s messages to you during prayer – that’s when you know that you’re growing spiritually. God accepts any prayer from you gratefully, but he is especially pleased when you truly want to pray because you love him. Love is what motivates God to spend time in prayer with you. Love is what God hopes will motivate you to spend time in prayer with him.
5. You embrace grace. Grace empowers you to keep moving forward in your journey with God even when you go through setbacks along the way. The Bible promises in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Keeping that truth in mind will help you realize that experiencing failure doesn’t mean that you yourself are a failure. Rather than feeling ashamed when you fail and moving away from God in your shame, you reach out to God for grace. You’re confident that God loves you unconditionally, so instead of giving up after making mistakes, you ask him to show you what you can learn from your mistakes – and as you learn, you will grow closer to God.
Every small victory you notice in your journey of faith is worth celebrating, because it moves your life forward in the right direction. The more you recognize those victories, the more your faith can grow in the God who notices and rejoices along with you!
“The Paradoxical Commandments
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”
― Kent M. Keith,
Forgiving Yourself – A Belief System
Forgiving yourself is essential. There is a tendency in all of us to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others. Perhaps you have been one who can justify forgiving others, even for a heinous offense, yet you find no justification for forgiving yourself for an equal or lesser offense. Perhaps you believe that forgiving yourself is not even a consideration because you think you must hold yourself in a state of constant remembrance, lest you forget. Perhaps you believe there is a price, some form of life-long penance that you must pay.
Forgiving Yourself – The Divine Example
Forgiving yourself is not specifically addressed in the Bible, but there are principles regarding forgiveness that should be applied. For example, when God forgives us, it states that He remembers our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34). This does not mean that our all-knowing Father God forgets, but rather, because He forgives us, He chooses not to bring up our sin in a negative way. Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Applying “no partiality” to the issues of forgiveness, God does not choose to forgive one person and not another. He forgives everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Applying His “no partiality” standards to ourselves, it is just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive others.
Forgiving yourself is not about forgetting. It is about not bringing the offense up to yourself in negative ways. Forgiving yourself is simply letting go of what you are holding against yourself so that you can move on with God. If God has moved on, shouldn’t we do the same? Philippians 4:9 states that we are to put into practice those things that we have learned from God and from His Word. To continue to rehearse in our thoughts the events of our transgression, opposes Philippians 4:8 which tells us to dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
Forgiving Yourself – Personal Action
Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The energy it takes to harbor anger, hatred, and resentment towards yourself is exhaustive. Every bit of energy we give to negative activities and dwelling on regrets, robs us of the energy we need to become the person God wants us to be.
Life is full of choices and every choice we make will either take us in a positive, life-giving direction or rob us of the opportunity to be a life-giving individual. Forgiving ourselves does not let us off the hook, it does not justify what we have done, and it is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a choice that takes courage and strength, and it gives us the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of our own scorn.
If you do not forgive yourself of past sins, it is a form of pride. Whenever we enact a different set of rules, a higher set of standards for ourself over others, that is pride. When we can find it within ourself to forgive others, but not ourselves, we are saying that we are less capable of making a poor decision than others. We are somehow more intuitive, wiser, more insightful, more careful than others, and therefore, we are without excuse and should not forgive ourselves. When we reject the forgiveness extended to us by God and others, when we refuse to forgive ourselves, what we are doing is setting ourselves above others and that is pride! Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Unforgiveness of oneself will bring self-destruction, a haughty spirit, and a fall. Christian forgiveness will bring peace.
Forgiving Yourself – Helping Others and Yourself
Forgiving yourself is also important for those in your sphere of influence. It is a well-known fact that hurting people hurt others. The longer you avoid forgiving yourself, the longer you allow yourself to harbor the feelings that you deserve to suffer for what you did, the more explosive you will become and, therefore, the more apt you are to hurt others.
The reality is that you cannot change what has happened. You cannot restore lives to where they were before the event. However, you can make a difference in the lives of others. You can give back some of what you have taken away by finding a different place to invest your time and compassion. Forgive yourself and let the healing begin!
Forgiving yourself will change the direction of your life. Consider the following prayer. Read quietly through the following declaration and then read it aloud. Or perhaps you would like to use your own words. Whichever you do, give voice to it. You need to hear yourself forgive yourself! There is great power in the spoken word!
Dear Heavenly Father, In the matchless name of Jesus, I understand that there is nothing to gain by holding myself in unforgiveness and there is everything to gain by releasing myself from unforgiveness and beginning the process of healing. I want to move forward and make a positive difference in the future. I confess the ungodly accountability, self-abasement, and the vows I have made to never forgive myself. Because Jesus died for my sins, I choose to forgive myself–to no longer punish myself and be angry with myself. I forgive myself for letting this hurt control me and for hurting others out of my hurt. I repent of this behavior and my attitude. I ask for Your forgiveness and healing. God, thank you for helping me to NEVER again retain unforgiveness of myself or others. Thank you for loving me and for Your grace to move forward with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” | Lou Holtz
“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” | Langston Hughes
“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.” | William W. Purkey
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” | Mahatma Gandhi
A Sunday school teacher once asked her class of children: “What is Christmas a time for?” Many of the kids gave the usual answers—Jesus’ birthday, a time of joy… but one child responded it was “a time for sportsmanship, because you don’t always get everything you want.”
Everybody gets gifts they really don’t want during this season and several years ago “USA Today” conducted a survey among adults to find out what they do with that not-quite-right holiday gift:
– 31%: Keep it
– 30%: Hide it
– 13%: Toss it
– 12%: Give it away
– 6%: Return it
Every once in awhile, everyone receives gifts that they’re really not sure that they want.
In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey had a gift that he wasn’t sure he wanted. His gift was the gift of life. And his life had seemingly fallen apart all around him. He just knew he was going to lose his business, his livelihood. He faced prison for something he hadn’t done. And as a result of all this… his family faced shame and poverty.
In desperation, he pleads with his arch-enemy (Mr. Potter) for a loan on his life insurance. Potter gleefully observes “George, you’re worth more dead than alive!”
And thus, George Bailey decides that his only solution is to throw himself off the bridge into the frigid waters below and at least supply his family with the money from his life insurance.
But God steps in and an angel is sent to earth to stop George Bailey before he can take his life.
But how do you convince a man that the gift he wants to throw away is in reality far too valuable to be destroyed?
The angel’s solution: to grant George Bailey’s wish and show him what life would’ve been like if he’d never been born. So, as George tries to get back to his home, he finds that…
• the town he’d worked so hard to build up and protect had become a den of iniquity and evil
• the pharmacist – who George saved from a tragic mistake – has become the town drunk
• his brother Harry whom he’d saved from falling thru the ice, dies because George wasn’t there to save him and the hundreds of men died that Harry would have saved during the war, because Harry wasn’t there to save them.
• and the beautiful woman he’d married and had had such wonderful children with ended up becoming a wretched, dejected and lonely spinster.
George Bailey finally understood how wonderful his life had been because he was allowed to see how much would have been lost if he had never been born. That – which he’d been tempted to throw away – he came to realize was too valuable to lose.
I. Here in Ephesians 2, Paul is writing to Christians who had been tempted to throw away their gift as well.
But, all that had changed, because “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4b-5)
But, now, False Teachers had come to town telling the Ephesians that what God had done through Jesus Christ wasn’t enough. They were teaching that it didn’t really matter that Jesus had been born.
The Ephesians were being told they needed to be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
To be acceptable to God (said the false teachers) they needed something Jesus couldn’t supply.
In essence these false teachers were saying it would be just as well as if Jesus had been born. Jesus hadn’t supplied anything that the Law couldn’t give.
In order to counter this vicious teaching, Paul decided to remind the Ephesians what they’d been like before Jesus had come into their lives. His objective was to teach them what would have happened if Jesus had not been born.
II. What would it have been like if Jesus had never been born?
Paul answers that question from the very outset. He tells the Ephesians they had once been objects of wrath and dead in their sins. AND if Jesus had never been born… they’d still be objects of wrath and dead in their sins.
BUT… what if they’d become Jews?
What if they had become circumcised and become part of the nation of Israel?
What if they went to the Temple every week and offered blood sacrifices to God for their sins?
What if… by faith… they lived as best they could according to the Law of Moses?
Wouldn’t they be acceptable to God then?
Couldn’t they have been saved from their sins?
I mean – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…
David and Solomon and Hezekiah…
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel…
… All these men all had lived BEFORE Jesus was born. Weren’t they all saved? Well… no… they weren’t!’
Scripture DOES tell us that “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:9) but curiously, it doesn’t tell us that he was saved.
And there’s a good reason for that… because he wasn’t. Jesus hadn’t died for his sins yet.
Hebrews 11 tells us all about the great heroes of the faith.
It mentions Abraham, … and Enoch, and Noah, and Moses and David and Samuel and whole cast of others. People of faith whom God held up for us to examine and to admire and to try to model our lives after.
Hebrews 11 then ends with these words:
“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them….” Hebrews 11:36-38
Wow!?! The World wasn’t worthy of these people. These were great and admirable people that we can look up to … and we wonder if we could ever be like them.
But then Hebrews 11:39 tells us: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”
Whoa! They hadn’t received what was promised? What could that mean?
Well, the next verse tells us…
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:40
You see, as much faith as Abraham, and Enoch and Noah and Moses and the others had – as admirable as their lives were for us – they didn’t get what we have now received. They hadn’t received what was promised… salvation.
Why? Because Jesus hadn’t been born yet! If these Old Testament greats could have been saved without the blood of Jesus… so could we. Jesus would never have needed to have been born because we could have been justified by keeping the Law.
III. Now… that might have seemed practical for individuals who aren’t “bad” people -You know what I mean. There are folks who live all around us that we look at and think – they’re pretty nice people. I mean – if ANYBODY should be acceptable to God… they should be.
But you’ve got to understand – the whole purpose of the Law was to drive home that even “nice” people sinned and needed a sacrifice to atone for their bad thoughts their bad words and their bad actions.
Thus, in the Old Testament, every day at the Temple you’d see people lined up with their sheep and goats and bulls – nice people and people who weren’t so nice – all offering up blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. Why would “nice people” bring their offerings to the Temple? Because they realized they might be able to fool their neighbors… but they couldn’t fool God. So, even they broughtt their sacrifices to God on a regular basis.
But, like I said, trying to be justified under the Law might seem practical for individuals who weren’t bad people (the nice folks). But now… you get yourself a one of those “real sinners”… now, you’ve got a problem.
But how do you deal with people who’ve “really sinned?”
The Apostle Paul was a bona fide Israelite with a pure blood line. A Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Hebrew of Hebrews, according to the righteousness of the law – faultless (Scripture tells us).
But then… he was responsible for the murder of Stephen, the first Christian to die for the faith
And he persecuted the church and imprisoned and tortured every Christian he could find. As a result Paul wrote the following words to Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
Paul was the worst of all sinners? Yes. And he knew it! And being a “nice guy” wasn’t going to change that. Being a nice guy wasn’t going to bring Stephen back from the dead. Or heal the damage he’d done to scores of Christian lives.
• The only thing that was going to change his life
• The only power that would salvage his soul
was the blood of Jesus Christ
TO PAUL – it mattered that Jesus had been born.
IV. And so Paul pleads with these Ephesian Christians to remember what their lives were like before Jesus was “born” into their lives.
“…remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:11-12
Before Jesus had been born into their lives
They didn’t have a relationship with God
They had no promises from God
AND they had no hope
But a few verses later, Paul wrote:
“(Jesus) came and preached peace to you…” Ephesians 2:17
You see – without Jesus, there is no real peace to be had in this world. How do I know that?
ILLUS: Christmas time is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill. And with Jesus it can be. But what if you have Christmas with all it’s gaiety and excitement… without Jesus?
• Did you know statistics tell us that December is the time of year when murder and robbery reach their highest peak in the US?
• Did you know that the Christmas season ranks just behind Memorial Day weekend in the number of car wrecks on the highway?
• Did you realize that the suicide rate will begin its annual climb until it peaks out at what some call the “big downer” of New Years Eve?
Why would this season be like that? Because we have been trained since our youth to believe that this special season of the year… it’s a time of family and hope and peace and contentment and security.
But what happens is that (without Jesus) all some people see is tinsel and lights on a dead tree. They see gaily wrapped packages containing nothing of any consequence.
If Jesus isn’t at the center of this holiday season, it’s kind of like this:
ILLUS: (Gaily wrapped box – cut into the shape of a “cross” and then lightly taped back into the shape of a box with a bow on top. Cut down the sides of the box making the bottom the center with the arms spreading out in 4 directions. You’ll need to cut one of the tabs off the top and tape it to the tab across from it creating a more cross-like shape.
Open up box to reveal there’s nothing inside, but be careful not to reveal the cross shape until you’re ready)
Without Jesus in our lives, this season of the year is like getting a present that has nothing inside.
Without Jesus, Christmas offers tinsel and decorations – promising joy that can’t be delivered. It offers gaily wrapped packages that yield empty promises and broken toys
But the beauty of God’s gift of Jesus is that even into an empty life, God can give forgiveness and hope (Shape of the cross revealed at this point)
Without Jesus – Christmas is an empty holiday
But with Jesus – you can really have “a wonderful life.”
Sermons in this series: Christmas At The Movies
* Miracle on 42nd Street – Matthew 1:1-17
* How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Matthew 2:1-20
* The Santa Clause – Ephesians 4:17-5:2
* It’s A Wonderful Life – Ephesians 2:1-20
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” | Marianne Williamson, Return to Love
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” | Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist