By the Mercies of God…

Today, we’re going to begin walking through Romans 12. The plan (and we all know how plans can change) is to do this daily in the hopes that it might encourage the body of Christ and challenge those who do not believe so that they might embrace Jesus as Savior! So, let’s get started…

In all that he has written before this, Paul has already presented the church in Rome (and us) with a truckload of profound and life-changing truth about God and His eternal plans. Here, Paul appeals to the Roman believers. “Appeal” is a word meaning to urge or exhort. It is composed to two parts. The first part means “from close beside” and the other “to call.” Even though Paul was a great distance away, it is as if he were standing beside them making his plea to the Romans.

In his urging, is “by the mercies of God.” If you took the time to read through Romans 1-11, it richly expounds on the great mercy of God toward sinful humanity. It was a mercy that took Jesus to the cross.

The word “mercy” means to have deep compassion on someone in great difficulty. It is translated elsewhere as “pity,” but we see pity as looking down on a person or just feeling sorry for them. Mercy is far more active! It not only feels badly about a person’s situation, it acts on behalf of that person. So, for us, mercy reveals not only the heart of God toward us but His power in acting to bring us out of our dire state.

Lamentations 3:22 reminds us that the mercies of God never end. Ephesians 2:4 informs us that God is rich in mercy. God pocket’s are bulging with mercy. His bank vault cannot close because of the magnitude of His mercy. His mercy overflows the halls of heaven and spills out on each of us as God holds back His wrath and is lovingly patient with us.

God’s mercy and grace are bound up together. As Ray Pritchard writes, “Mercy is what gets us out of trouble. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve” (citation). They are both expressions of His love.

Today, let us marvel in the mercy of God. Let His mercy toward us motivate us to reflect that mercy to a hurting world. Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Who You Are…

Who YOU are…

– It’s important to know that the “you” in this verse is plural, not singular. We too often think of our Christian faith as only a journey we travel with Jesus, but it is more, far more. It is also a journey we travel with Jesus’ people. The New Testament knows nothing of a Lone Ranger kind of Christian. We were born again into a born again community!

A CHOSEN RACE – “Chosen” is a term often used for Israel. They were a people God chose and a people He chose to bless (Deuteronomy 7:6). And in Ephesians 1:4, Paul says of believers that “He chose us in Him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world.” This was not due to our worthiness but was by God’s grace alone. No matter how we feel, no matter what others think of us, no matter how maligned or even despised the church of Jesus may become, the truth is that we are chosen by God Himself.

A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD – In the Old Testament, the monarchy and the priesthood were divided. Kings were to be descended from the line of David, the tribe of Benjamin. Priests were to be descended from the line of Aaron, the tribe of Levi. Each one had its unique roles in the life of God’s people. (See 1 Samuel 13:8-14 and 2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

In Jesus, all this was surpassed. Jesus is the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17) and the promised King to sit on David’s throne (Luke 1:32, Revelation 19:11-16). We are a royal priesthood in the sense that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). 

A HOLY NATION – This, too, is terminology used in reference to Israel. They were not holy in the sense that they never erred and always responded perfectly to God’s desires for them. That notion would be dispelled with even a cursory reading of the Old Testament! In what sense, then, were they holy? 

The term ‘holy’ means ‘set apart,’ and this is precisely who there were. God chose them and set them apart from the other nations. Many of the laws He gave to them were to distinguish them from the nations around them. And God has set us apart. As believers in His Son, we were chosen, called, and set apart by God Himself. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and in doing so our attitudes and lifestyles will be markedly different from the world around us – or at least they should be.

A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION – In Deuteronomy 7:6, it refers to the people of God as God’s “treasured possession.” What a beautiful expression! We are God’s, and God delights in that. We bring joy to the heart of God, not because we are always good or perfect, but because we are His. Do we disappoint Him? Yes. But the fact remains that He loves us. He delights in us. 

What YOU are called to do – 

– We could have stopped with has just been said and go on feeling good about ourselves for the rest of the day. But God never intended us to be the fine china on display behind glass doors in the cabinet collecting dust – to be taken out and used only once a year. Instead, He chose us and calls us for a purpose – a glorious purpose.

TO PROCLAIM THE EXCELLENCIES OF GOD – The one who “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” is worthy of our praise – now and forever. We are to declare His praises in our worship, but we are also to proclaim His glory to the world in our witness.

Everyone is a creation of God, but not all are children of God. The Bible is clear that there is but one way into the holy presence of God, and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the only Way to the Father (John 14:6). Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). 

But God’s Word also tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13). Have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be your day of salvation. Email me, and we’ll talk. pastor@gracefellowship.ws

More Than Conquerors…

Romans 8:37-39 —

No – This “no” is an answer in response to questions asked before it. Can tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus? Paul’s answer is a resounding “NO!” Then he begins to expand on it…

MORE THAN CONQUERORS – This is who we are. Or more exactly, it is who we are IN JESUS. It is because of God’s great love shown supremely in His sending His Son to pay the full price for our sins, that we share in an eternal inheritance. Jesus won the victory, and extends that victory to us. It is only in Him that we are more than conquerors.

FROM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS IN OUR LORD – If you are a follower of Jesus, no matter what challenges and even heartaches may come, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing! No way! No how!

God loves you. Nothing can change that. He will not love you more on your best days or less on your bad days. Count on it.

No Condemnation…

In a time when many are anxious and some scared, Christians have a confident assurance that sustains us and gives us hope. Let’s look more closely at this verse – Romans 8:1

NOW – Believers in Jesus are forgiven now!!! It’s who we are. It’s our identity and should affect how we live, how we feel, and how we respond to crises.

NO CONDEMNATION – The price has been paid for ALL our sin by the blood of Jesus! He has secured our pardon. He has set us free. Let’s love and love as forgiven people.

IN CHRIST JESUS – This is key! Who are those who are now forgiven and free? Who are those who are no longer condemned? The answer is right here – those who are in Christ Jesus! Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

Would you like to know how you can be forgiven? Go to this website to get more information – https://www.godlife.com/en/gospel/something-better-bench-2… – then send me an email. I’d love to share with you about a new life in Jesus. [Email]

Praying in Light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)…

I am not one given to panic, and now is not the time to go down that path. In fact, God calls us to faith and not fear, to trust and not panic. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It is in this faith and confidence that we come to God in prayer. We are called not to be anxious about anything but to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). So… I am asking you to pray. In fact, I am calling you to prayer.

Below are two prayers – one longer and one shorter. How (or if) you choose to use them is entirely up to you. I might suggest you use the longer prayer as part of your daily devotion time and the shorter one at moments throughout the day. It may be that the shorter prayer is one that you can use with your children or grandchildren. Remember, most of them aren’t totally clueless about the coronavirus, and some may be fearful of it. To acknowledge the problem with them while professing your confidence in God can be a comfort – and a teachable moment.

While I offer these prayers to you, there is not magical or mystical about them. Feel free to prayer as you are led by the Holy Spirit. I only ask that you join me in the throne room of our King to lay our petitions before Him.

A Daily Prayer — 
Loving Father,

We come today acknowledging that you are God and we are not. Our understanding and power and limited. You are all-knowing and have power without limits. We confess that too often we rely only upon what we can do or what others can do for us. Too often we draw from a well that is too shallow and insufficient for our needs, but you are an ever flowing spring, a river of living water, a source inexhaustible and renewing.

Our nation and world are awash in confusion and riddled by fear. This coronavirus fills our news casts and often fills our minds. While you give us the sense to plan for the worst, you never call us to live in fear. You call us, instead, to walk by faith, to be strong and courageous, to trust in You with all our hearts, and to be loving and compassionate to those who are hurting.

Today, we renounce our fear and choose to walk by faith. We join our hearts to pray for the stop of the spread of this virus. We join our hearts to pray for wisdom for our local, national, and world leaders who are making decisions that affect the lives of so many. We join our hearts to pray for the recovery of those who are infected by this virus and for those who grieve the loss of those who have died because of it. We pray for the church, the people of God, here in the United States and around the world, that we will respond to this in a way that expresses our absolute faith in You, shows our unswerving commitment to serve those in need, and displays our ultimate hope in the resurrection through Jesus Christ.

Loving Father, You are our peace and our hope. You are the Rock upon which we stand, the Fortress where we find protection, and our Refuge in times of trouble. We offer this prayer in faith in the name of our Savior Jesus. Amen.

A Shorter Version that could be prayed throughout the day — 
Loving Father,

We walk by faith and not by sight. We will fear no evil, for You are with us. We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to humbly ask that You – 

– stop the spread of this Coronavirus
– heal those infected by this virus
– bring peace to those who have lost loved ones because of it
– give wisdom to our leaders to make good decisions in this time
– give boldness to Your people to show mercy and compassion in so great a time of need.

May our faith in You and our hope for our resurrection through faith in Jesus cause us to live in such a way that people give glory to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Forgiveness Is Hard…

Forgiveness is hard! For some, that may be the world record of understatements. The pain of betrayal, abuse, or unfaithfulness can leave wounds that never seem to fully heal. Because the hurtful memories cannot be forgotten, some don’t want to forgive. They finger their pain like worry beads as they rehash events over and over again, creating an ever-deepening pool of bitterness.

When we forgive, we are not excusing the behavior of another person. Some behaviors are both abhorrent and inexcusable. Some behaviors demand justice, and, sadly, some bad behaviors never receive that justice. Does this mean we are justified to withhold forgiveness? We may feel that way, but when we withhold forgiveness, there is a price pay.

Louis B. Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There is wisdom in those words. By refusing to forgive, we have the mistaken notion that we are hurting our abuser; in reality, we are hurting ourselves. Having been made a victim by the actions of others, we lock ourselves into that role adding chains of our own design.

There are no easy answers here. In fact, it’s hard, really hard. You can’t wish the pain away. You can’t wash away the memories. But there is a price to holding on to the bitterness that comes with unforgiveness – a heavy price. So how do you begin to lay aside the burden?

Admit to having unforgiveness in your heart
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Realize that you’re in a spiritual battle
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Meditate on how great a salvation you have received
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)

Ask God to enable you to do what may now seem impossible.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Jesus, Luke 18:27)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Are you holding on to unforgiveness? Perhaps today you could take the first step to freeing yourself from that heavy load.

Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash

How to Forgive… (part 1)

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This one may take a few posts. Apologizing for something we have done is something most of us can do. Forgiving someone for something they have done to us can be incredibly challenging, so let’s take this slowly. As we begin to address the issue of forgiveness, we might do well to start by considering what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice, and your feelings may not agree with your decision. There may still be anger and hurt, and these feelings may be fully justified. It may take a long time for your feelings to catch up.

Forgiveness is not pretending you are not hurt. In order to truly forgive, you must acknowledge that you are hurt. Sometimes you may feel as if the slight is minor or that the person may not have intended to hurt you, but if you won’t even acknowledge to yourself that you’re hurt, you will end up just stashing the pain and/or disappointment in the junk drawer of your heart. It is easy for bitterness to take root in that kind of environment. Bitterness tends to leak out in passive aggression or an abrasive attitude.

Forgiveness is not putting yourself in line for continuing pain and abuse. Trust is given at first, but when that trust has been betrayed it can take time to rebuild it. I tell couples in pre-marriage counseling that trust is earned by the inch but lost by the mile. If a pattern of inconsiderate or abusive behavior exist, you can forgive while not putting yourself in the position to be mistreated and misused by the other person. Even when an apology is offered and forgiveness is extended, trust must be earned back – if it ever can be.

Forgiveness is not impossible. This may be hard to accept for some of you who have been hurt deeply, but forgiveness is possible. We who have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus need to be awfully careful about withholding forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is an expression of God’s love in us, and Jesus calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). We do not earn forgiveness by forgiving, but we forgive others because we have truly experienced forgiveness from the Father.

Jesus’ words always hit me right between the eyes —

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14,15 (ESV)

Let those words simmer in your soul a while…

How to Apologize…

a·pol·o·gya regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.
(Lexico powered by Oxford)

For most of us, we learn to apologize early in life. It goes something like this – “Tell your sister that you’re sorry.” The response (if there is one) is often a reluctant, “I’m sorry.” Some of us haven’t advanced very far from our preadolescent apologies.

Duke Kwon, pastor of Grace Meridian Hill in the nation’s capital, shared some good thoughts on apologizing via his Twitter account (@dukekwondc). Read this slowly. It can be a great plumbline to evaluate your own efforts at apologizing.

HOW TO APOLOGIZE

  • express sorrow (“I’m sorry”)
  • own guilt (“I was wrong”)
  • name specific wrongs (“I did X”) 
  • name impact (“I hurt you”)
  • no IFs (sorry “if I…”)
  • don’t blameshift/defend (“but you…”)
  • no passive voice (“sorry you were offended”)
  • make amends (“what can I do…”)
    (I made slight changes in this list adding quotation marks, changing “u” to “you” where needed, and adding elipses for clarity)

Very often, “I’m sorry” is just the beginning of repairing the damage. I’ll admit that I have too often thought my apology was the end of the matter. Sometimes it is: Forgiveness and understanding are extended, and the issue is put in the past. More often than not, however, some follow up is essential.

Such follow up may include a genuine expression of remorse over the offense and/or a change of attitude or actions. If the offense was something repeated or was very hurtful, it may take a good bit of time for the offended person to process what happened, sort through all the emotions, and take the initial steps toward forgiveness and restoration. To expect someone to quickly “forgive and forget” can be unrealistic.

It is also important to add that forgiveness can be extended without the relationship simply picking up where it left off. Some actions irreparably damage relationships. A person may forgive another but chose to break off the relationship because of deep or repeated abuse by that person.

Application time — Is there someone to whom you need to apologize today?

Check back for my next post – “How to Forgive…”

Starting a Blog…

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I was asked earlier today by a friend how he could go about starting a blog. Although I’ve been doing this off and on for a while, I haven’t been great at the blogging thing. I don’t have a ton of people who follow the blog, but I do get a few positive comments that keep me coming back. In fact, I made a commitment to do 4-5 blogs each month (approximately one per week).

Having given the whole starting a blog question some thought, I figured it might be good to put my thoughts “out there” in case others were considering doing a blog of their own. So, here goes…

There are a few decisions you’ll want to make as you get started. The first is the kind of blog you want to post. If you look around the internet, you’ll find an abundance of variety. Some people even have multiple blogs because they want more than one platform to discuss or display various topics. I even know one person who has a private blog. It provides a journal-like outlet for her emotions, struggles, and ideas, but the privacy setting means that nobody else is insider her head. Honestly, I’m a little too paranoid for that approach figuring I’d somehow get hacked and end up being totally embarrassed.

Okay, so what kind of blog do you want to create. The possibilities are nearly endless. If you’re into creative writing, you could post your poems or maybe even a short story that you publish chapter by chapter. If you’re a photographer, a blog can be a good place to put your favorite photos. If you travel a lot, then a blog chronicling your adventures might be fun. An artist could use a blog to post pictures of his or her artwork. Have opinions? You find tons of blogs with the express purpose of expressing opinions. Do you love movies or read a lot of books? You can write reviews. So, what’s your idea? I’m now thinking of a blog that does doughnut reviews…

You’ll also need to determine where you’ll host your posts. Some people stick with putting their creative work on something like Facebook. That could work. If you already have “friends” there, then you already have an audience. Facebook is, however, a limited format. I chose WordPress as my platform, but you can do a quick Google search to find many other options. If you use the WordPress.com subdomain, it’s free. If you want your own domain name, you’ll need to secure that separately. It is not too hard – I was able to do it!

Oh… you’ll have a lot of options to format your page no matter which platform you choose. Look through the free options first. You can tell which are graphics-driven and which are text-driven. Pick the one that fits what you’re trying to create. Most of the time you can change fonts and colors to suit your taste.

Alright… you’ve got an idea for a blog. You’ve settled on a platform and determined who will host the repository of your creative genius. What’s next? You need a name. I know you already have a name, but your blog needs one. Think about this. You want something that reflects who you are and what you want to produce. I chose “Transforming Grace” because I am the pastor of Grace Fellowship. I had a ready-made tie-in for that name. I also want my blogs always to be seasoned by grace. Finally, I believe in the transforming power of God’s grace, and I’d love for everyone to experience it, too.

One word of caution — Don’t get overly creative with the name. Seriously, you can really overthink this one. If your name is Bob, you could very easily name it “Bob’s Blog.” The name should match the content.

Your next step could be to accumulate material or ideas. I keep a list of ideas in Evernote. If my well runs dry, I can always go to my list and find something good. I also clip articles from the internet and save those in Evernote. You can use any “container” to save your stuff. The key is to be able to access it when you need it.

Let me mention a word about proofreading. Find someone who can look through your work – before posting preferably! If you wrote it, you’re more apt to overlook errors because you know what you intended to type. By the way, I’m TERRIBLE at this. Once I get something typed up, I want to hit the “publish” button immediately. My wife often corrects me after she’s read it. I think she enjoys that. My sister even got into the act with my last post. You can save your draft and have someone look it over… if you can wait that long!

I’m sure I forgot something important, but I’ll add what I assume is my final point – Get started. It’s the whole “journey of a thousand miles” thing. God is a creative God, and we are made in His image. The internet gives us an opportunity to express that creativity and for others to be blessed by it. I’ll look forward to seeing your creative work out there on the interwebs!

The Power of WITH…

I don’t typically geek out over prepositions. Prepositions are a part of speech we use every day. Of…In…Over…Through…After… the list goes on and on. But after a conversation I had yesterday, it struck me just how powerful the preposition “with” can be.

“With” carries with it connotations of togetherness. “I am not completing this task alone. I am doing it WITH someone else.” There is comfort in the idea of togetherness, brotherhood, camaraderie. Certainly, there are times when we like to be alone or wish to accomplish a task on our own, but “with” means we don’t always have to!

The Bible echoes our need for “with.” If we go back to Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we find God in His creating process. At the end of each creative day, we read, “…and it was good.” Everything God created was good. Then, in the Garden of Eden, God said of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Adam needed “with.”

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, we get another heavy dose of the importance of “with.” Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (ESV) Although the word “with” is not present, the idea of it fills those verses.

We also see Jesus investing Himself in the lives of His disciples. He did more than just show up and give lectures to them five days a week. He spent time with them, going through life, demonstrating His love and power, giving them responsibilities, correcting them, encouraging them, sharing meals with them, laughing and crying with them. In short, Jesus “did life” with them. Could we have a better example of “with”?

Let me encourage you to think about “with.” In your home, be with your spouse, your children, your parents. It’s easy to just zone out watching TV or get caught up in video games or the internet. Value “with.” Intentionally find ways to maximize with-ness in your family.

In your friendships, do the very same thing. Be “with” your friends. Treasure those friendships. Make time for togetherness. It’s may be easier to be a homebody, to spend endless hours streaming Netflix in your pajamas. Certainly, there are times we need to be alone – some more than others – but God created us for “with.”

The power of “with” in church is incredible. To invite someone to come “with” you to church is far more powerful than simply inviting them to church. To ask someone to come and serve “with” you in ministry is far more likely to engage them in service than to simply ask them to perform a ministry task alone. We see the practice of “with” in our small groups, in our fellowship time, in our mission trips, and in service projects in the community. “With” energizes and engages.

I’d be negligent if I did not also mention the power of “with” in our relationship with God. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples what we commonly call “the Great Commission.” Here it is – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“I will be WITH you.” That is the promise of Jesus to every one of His followers. That should not surprise us. Psalm 23 reminds us that God is “with” us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah who was to come (Jesus) would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which the gospel of Matthew tells us means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

We need the presence of God with us. We need the presence of others in our lives. And we need to be present for and with others. They need us! The writer of Hebrews makes this clear – … let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). There is great encouragement with “with,” and separation and discouragement without it.

This week, focus on the power and the blessing of WITH!