Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seven Essential Questions: Who is Jesus

Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

As we begin these forty days of Lent, the preparation for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, I am arranging my sermons around the topic “Seven Essential Questions.” These are questions that are most important in the life of Christians. The first question we will look at is “who is Jesus?”

I get confused for different people all the time. Last year, when I was in the USA, I got an American SIM card for my phone. Instantly, I started getting SMSs. “Happy Birthday!” “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Just wanted to make sure you’re ok. And Happy Birthday!” “Hey man, wanna party?” Then it was “You owe this amount of money…” “This is the last warning to pay this bill…” When I answered the phone, half the time I ended up having to explain to the person on the other end, “No, I’m not Jameric. No, he doesn’t have this phone anymore. If I hear from him, I’ll let him know, Officer.”

There are times when people mistake us for someone else. Have you ever had that happen? Or, maybe, just maybe, you’ve mistaken someone’s identity. I have done this — I see someone I know, I shout out, “Hi, Chris!” and they turn around and it’s not who you thought it was at all.

There’s another kind of mistaken identity. When you know someone, or you think you know them, but then you find out that they have certain expectations of you. For example, there are many people in Zambia who think that because we are white missionaries, we are going to build a huge center like the New Life Center or Kafakumba. Mistaken identity!

Jesus had to deal with all kinds of expectations and mistaken identity. Now, in the scripture we read, Jesus comes to his disciples with a question. Who do people say I am? They’re talking. You hear the talk. What are they saying about me?

The disciples answered, “They think you’re a prophet. Maybe you’re one of the famous prophets of old, come back.” It is similar to now, when there are many people who think Jesus was just a great teacher. He taught with wisdom that transcends time. He taught nice things like “love one another.”

While Jesus was a great teacher, some people say he was only a great teacher, but not the Messiah, not the Lord. That can’t be the case, because Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30. Now, if Jesus was NOT the Messiah, if Jesus was NOT the Son of God, if Jesus and God were NOT one, that would mean that Jesus was a liar. And a liar is by definition NOT a great teacher.

So some people could say, “Well, he just thought he was the Son of God. He must have been mentally ill or at least extremely deluded.” That would be valid, except that Jesus did things that nobody else could do. He fulfilled countless prophecies. He did countless miracles. AND he rose from the dead. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jesus told his disciples, “I know everyone else is saying a lot of things about me. But who do you say I am?” Peter answered with the great confession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” While the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” It is God alone who gives the blessing of life — and this abundant life comes only from Jesus. 

Jesus alone is the Son of God. Jesus’ very name means God saves. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us. But Jesus was also 100% human. He was tempted in every way we are, and he can sympathize with us fully. Yet he lived without sin, and died a physical death, a horrible death on a cross. But on the third day, he rose again!

A key fact about Jesus is what he said in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only way to God. And Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:32-33: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

This is all important because beliefs are important. What we believe shapes what we value. What we believe and value thus shapes what we do, and what we do shapes who we become. If we believe these things about Jesus, if we really believe them, then we will live them out. We will be fearless, because if He is for us, who can be against us?

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Benefits of Discipleship

The Benefits of Discipleship

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is hard. Two weeks ago, we looked at how hard it is. Following Jesus doesn’t mean everything will now be easy. He said we have to prioritize him over everything else.

Today we will look at the benefits of discipleship. Before we get to today’s topic, I have a question for you. Would you invite a false prophet to speak at church? Would you invite a false prophet to come and teach you individual lessons at home? Would you willingly look to a false prophet for guidance in your daily life, to disciple you?

This is exactly what we are doing when we leave the television on. When we’re watching Bollywood, African Magic, Telemundo. They are discipling this nation, and they are offering a false gospel. They offer guidance that says:
  • Money is the answer to your problems.
  • Your spouse isn’t good enough; you need to have an affair.
  • There is adventure in lying and cheating.
  • You need this product or that product to fulfill you.

The television is a false prophet. And not only do we invite it into our homes, we actually pay for its false religion. Let’s look at what television gives us. It gives us unrealistic expectations for the people who love us. It sells our souls to Mammon, the false god who attaches itself to money. It trades our true relationships for counterfeits. It sucks away our time and our energy. We sit and watch these shows instead of looking for work, and then we go to bed hungry at night and wait for the government to give us handouts that will never materialize.

Being a disciple of Jesus, however, comes with benefits. First of all, God protects his disciples. Listen to Matthew 7:24-27: 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

A disciple is one who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice. Jesus says that if you do, your foundation will be firm and you will stand firm. Indeed, in Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

God protects his disciples, and nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

God gives his disciples peace. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” He knows there will be difficulties, but only in Him may we have peace in spite of tribulation. Indeed, Isaiah 26:3 tells us that: [God] will keep in perfect peace all who trust in [him], all whose thoughts are fixed on [him]! 

So God protects his disciples and gives them peace. But that’s not all. God also makes his disciples a part of his family. Ephesians 2:19 tells us: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Do you realize what this means? As disciples we are given a new identity, the members of God’s household. His family. But that’s not the only benefit of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are now getting to the best benefits. Because other people can offer protection. You can pay some cadre to protect you. Some tough guy from the neighborhood can watch over you. A guard can watch your house. We can sometimes pretend we have peace by ignoring the world around us or by working really hard to appease everyone else. But there are some things that the world can not give. Jesus’ peace is not like the world’s peace, but the biggest benefit to being Jesus’ disciple is the blessing.

Proverbs 8:32-35 “Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord.”

Blessed are those who keep my ways. Blessed is the one who listens to me. We want to be “blessed” don’t we? What does it mean to be blessed? Unfortunately, we who have been in church for a long time have heard the word “blessing” so many times that it has no meaning whatsoever. 

The key to what it means is held in that same Proverb. Listen to the last line again: “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” When we read about God’s blessing, what we are reading about is life itself. There is no one else who can bestow blessing. Indeed, Jesus says, in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

 We can only receive abundant life from God, and we receive it by being Jesus’ disciples. We receive abundant life in this earth, but we also receive eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us; “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” 

We who sow to the Spirit will receive eternal life. If we do what the Spirit leads us to do, we receive eternal life. In other words, if we are Jesus’ disciples, he grants us eternal life. So… as Jesus’ disciples, we receive life, abundant life. We receive protection and peace and eternal life.

Nobody else can make that offer. It will cost everything, but it’s worth even more than everything.

Can You Be a Disciple?

Last week’s sermon was all about discipleship.We focused on Jesus’ last command before ascending into Heaven: Go 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 obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, even to the end of the earth. (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Since this was the last thing Jesus said to his disciples, we also looked at how Jesus called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were all fishermen. He told them to “come, follow me” and he promised that he would make them fishers of men. They immediately followed.

It can be easy to say “be Jesus’ disciples” — especially as a pastor — but listen to what Jesus said in Luke 14:25-33. 

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Throughout the Bible, we see God making this clear: he gives his followers the option to follow him or not. In the Old Testament, following the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were following Moses. After Moses’ death, as the people were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua gave them an ultimatum. You can find it in Joshua 24:15. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

You see what Joshua did? He tells them that if they don’t want to serve God, they don’t have to. God isn’t forcing anyone to serve him. The Bible (and life in general) is clear in this: whoever we are, we will serve something or somebody. In Luke 16:13, Jesus famously says: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” You will serve something or someone. 

So, if your choice is to serve God, Jesus invites you to “come, follow me.” But he also gives you a choice to not follow. There are Christians out there who will tell you that if you follow Jesus, all of a sudden everything in your life will be great. This is not what Jesus says! I want to say that again! Jesus does not say that if you follow him, you will instantly get rich. He does not say that you’ll be popular. He says you have to prioritize Him above family. When Jesus tells his followers to count the cost of discipleship, he is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Salvation is free, but discipleship costs. Jesus wants anyone who follows him to be clear on what those costs are, and he gives examples of why. If you want to build a tower (or a church building) won’t you first see if you have the resources to finish? Otherwise, you’ll be the object of ridicule. People will make fun of you. Or if you’re a king taking your people to war, you’ll try to identify if you will win or not. If you know you won’t win a battle, why get your people slaughtered? Instead, you’ll send a delegation to come to peace terms, saving the lives of all your people.

So, what is the cost of discipleship?

First Jesus says one must hate his own family. Does this mean what it looks like? Why would Jesus, who even tells his followers to love their enemies, tell us we have to hate our families? The answer is that Jesus is really saying that we must set aside our family, clan, and tribal allegiances. We are no longer Bemba or Shona or Losi or Mzungu. In fact, Jesus is saying that our primary identity is now Christian. To be Jesus’ disciples, we have to put aside our personal feelings and preferences as well. Because, as Paul put it in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now we find our belonging and even our identity is shaped by Christ. 

Now we don’t have to carefully create an image for others to see; instead when they look at us, they will see Christ! That’s what discipleship is supposed to be all about! This hints at the next cost of discipleship: Jesus says in verse 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. When he says this, he doesn’t mean we have to physically carry a cross. He doesn’t mean that we have to be crucified literally. He is saying that the old self must be crucified. The old self is full of sin. The old self believes Satan’s lies about you: that you can never accomplish anything, that you are no good, that you will never succeed, that you don’t deserve Christ’s love. The new self is remade in God’s image. Carrying the cross is a reminder that we have to daily surrender to Christ, daily walk in his steps. 

Jesus finally says that a disciple must follow him. It is almost silly to have to say this, but there are people who call themselves Christian who have no intention to actually follow his commands. They say that they like this idea of a Jesus who is a good teacher, but they’re unwilling to actually do what he says. That is not a disciple. In fact, if you’re in a job and you refuse to do what your boss tells you to do, you will get fired. Immediately. If you’re on a team and refuse to do what your manager tells you to do, you won’t play. Listen to what Jesus says about that, from Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

So, the cost is clear. Next week we will look at the benefits of being Jesus’ disciple. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Are You the One?

Luke 7:17-23
This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

What do you come expecting when you come to celebrate Christmas? What are your expectations? What are you celebrating? One of the themes as we prepare for Christmas is a theme of waiting. While we wait for Christmas day, that is waiting for a celebration of a day that has already happened. Jesus was already born. But we do wait for something else; we wait for Jesus’ return. So the theme for this year’s Christmas Revival is “wait.” Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. 

In today’s scripture, John the Baptist has been waiting. You may remember John the Baptist from the earlier accounts from his ministry, how he preached a baptism of repentance, how Jesus came to him to be baptized in the Jordan. But now, John is in prison. He had the audacity to speak out against King Herod, who threw him in prison. John is struggling, so he has his disciples go to Jesus and asks “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 

Why would he even ask this? Because he had come to expect the wrong Messiah. He was waiting, but not waiting for the right thing. One of the problems in life is that we have twisted the gospel so we expect the wrong things from God. We wait for the wrong things. I see stickers on cars proclaiming 2016 the year of bountiful increase or the year of prosperity. They think God is a genie waiting to give out money. Then 2016 passes by and they have to get a new sticker. Maybe 2017 will be that year.  We have endless problems when we make Jesus into something he isn’t. Here in Zambia we wait for all kinds of things with no problems. We have a meeting and it starts an hour late and people don’t mind waiting. We wait for buses and everything else. Zambians are far more patient than Americans with all these things. But when it comes to waiting on God, we’re impatient. We want God to respond now. If He doesn’t, we go to the witch doctor.

So how did Jesus respond to John the Baptist’s question? He told him to report what they’d seen: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. This would sound familiar if you’re reading straight through Luke’s Gospel, because to get to Luke 7, you have to have read Luke 4:16-21 

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus let John the Baptist know that he was indeed the one for whom he had been waiting. He is the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the answer. Here in Zambia, we often expect God to move in ways contrary to his nature. How will God move? What will God do? God’s actions will always follow God’s character. God will move according to his Word.

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

This is the theme verse for Christmas Revival. Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. To do these things, you have to know the Lord. You have to know what he is doing. This is illuminated in God’s Word. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Talking to God - Kingdom, Power, and Glory

The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory

We have spent months studying the Lord’s Prayer. We begin by recognizing and acknowledging who God is. God is the Almighty in Heaven, but he has chosen us as his children, so we can address him as “our Father.” We worship him and lift up his name as holy. This must always be our context for prayer. We do not lift up our prayers to someone who is just one of us. God is love; he cares for us. But he is also all powerful; he can answer our prayers. 

We begin our petitions of God by asking for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done; in asking this, we also humble ourselves and bend our will to his. We call upon Jehovah Jireh - God our Provider - to give us this day our daily bread. We entrust ourselves fully to his provision. 

We continue our prayer by asking for forgiveness and for the power and grace to forgive others, and we ask for the power to resist temptation and deliverance from Satan and his tricks.

As we complete this series on the Lord’s Prayer, we will look at how we close the prayer. For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen. When we look in the Bible, this closing isn’t included in our text, but in some of your Bibles, there is a footnote which tells you that it is included in some manuscripts.

This postscript in the Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the oldest piece of Christian writing outside the New Testament. We’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer this way for nearly 2000 years. But it is not a new prayer. Listen to how King David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13:10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

Everything in heaven and earth belongs to God. The Kingdom is his. Majesty has been defined as royal power, and if you think of the majesty of beautiful mountains, consider that God made them, and they are only echoes of his majesty. God’s kingdom is of infinite worth; I can’t list all of the scriptures about God’s Kingdom, but when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, he affirmed that its worth was greater than anything we could or would ever own. God is indeed exalted as the head over all, the ruler over all things.

Considering God’s power: If you think of the most powerful people in the world, consider that God made that person and has their lives in his hand. James 4:14 reminds us that all lives are only a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Even the most powerful. God makes the most powerful people in the world pale in comparison. We can speak of people as having power, but God is power.

God’s glory has been defined by Dr. Fred H. Klooster as the summary of all of God’s attributes. The majesty, splendor, beauty, and brilliance of God who dwells in unapproachable light are expressed by this indefinable term. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 879–880). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

John Piper defines God’s glory this way: “I believe the glory of God is the going public of his infinite worth. I define the holiness of God as the infinite value of God, the infinite intrinsic worth of God. And when that goes public in creation, the heavens are telling the glory of God, and human beings are manifesting his glory, because we're created in his image, and we're trusting his promises so that we make him look gloriously trustworthy.”

When we acknowledge that all glory is God’s, we demonstrate that God is of infinite worth. That his attributes contribute to his worth, and that he is not just worthy because of what he does, but because of who he is. 

Now, a few minutes ago I referenced James 4:14 — as humans we have a limited lifespan. We are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. But God is eternal. That’s why we acknowledge that the kingdom, power, and glory are God’s forever and ever. They are without end. While Zambia recently celebrated 52 years of Independence, and the USA celebrated 240 years, the kingdoms of this earth rise and fall. But God’s rule never ends. 

We conclude the Lord’s Prayer fittingly with “Amen.” So be it. We can pray this prayer with confidence, not even asking “if it is the Lord’s will” because we have absolute assurance that this entire prayer is within God’s will. After all, Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray it conditionally. We can pray it with all confidence. As Hebrews 4:16 tells us, Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Talking to God: Temptation

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Over the last two weeks, we looked at forgiveness. To get to forgiveness, we must recognize that we have sinned. We ask for forgiveness from our past sin. Now that we have done so, we ask for protection from future sin.

The reality is, temptation will always be with us. The closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the more the devil will tempt us. Our goal as Christians is Christ-likeness, and so we should expect the same things that Jesus experienced. Right as he was to begin his ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Hebrews 4:15, in describing Jesus as our high priest says this: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus has been tempted in every way, but he did not give in to temptation. Sometimes Christians believe that temptation itself is sinful, so if we have sinful thoughts or sinful urges, we can be overcome by guilt and shame. Temptation itself is not a sin. But when we give in to temptation, we sin. Temptation is a tricky subject. Does God cause it, or not?

Our language can confuse us in this manner. When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” some could think this would mean that without such a prayer, God might lead us into temptation. But James 1:13-15 tells us Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

So it isn’t that God is tempting us. A negative request does not mean that the positive is to otherwise be expected. If a husband says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me” — he doesn’t necessarily assume she will leave him.

So asking God not to lead us into temptation does not necessarily infer that God might otherwise lead us into temptation. That said, God sometimes does lead us into times of testing. In our Bible study this week, we started looking at the book of James, where we learned to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of all kinds, because it is through those trials that our faith is formed, developing into perseverance, which must finish its work to make us mature and complete, not lacking in anything (James 1:4). 

The reality is, God allows us to go through testing, which perfects our faith. But as 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

So when we ask God to deliver us from temptation, we are in fact asking God to deliver us through it. To help us bear up under it. To escape it and endure it without sin. We need God’s help and protection, for the devil seeks to lead us astray. So we ask God to deliver us from the evil one. 

Know that when God delivers us, He actually expects something from us. It’s a prayer that we ask of God but that God expects us to do something as well. We can’t just sit back and say “well, I asked God to deliver me from the evil one, so I don’t have to do anything.” There are some people who continually put themselves in places of temptation. If something tempts you, don’t stay around it. Ask God to help you avoid it. For example, shortly after our marriage, we had a neighbor who was into drugs. They tried to get clean, but they kept all the same friends, those who were into the drug scene. So if you can imagine, the temptation was too hard to overcome.

This is a good area in which the church can be the church. Sometimes we just let someone struggle and fail, all on their own. We don’t even know when someone is struggling with temptation. Part of the brilliance of John Wesley’s system was that every Methodist met in a small group. We were never meant to be Christians all on our own. And one reason God put us into community is to encourage one another. Help keep one another accountable. We have to be real with one another for this to happen, admitting to one another where we need help. James 5:16 reminds us to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This also relates to temptation. When we admit to one another that we’re tempted in a certain area, we can help one another keep clear of that temptation. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Talking to God: Forgiving Others

Last week we looked at God’s forgiveness. How it is God’s character from which forgiveness flows. Because of who God is, and because of what Jesus did for us, God grants us forgiveness. God’s grace is not cheap. He has consistently blessed his people to be a blessing to others. And when God forgives us, he links his forgiveness to how we forgive others. 

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

So God requires us to forgive. In Matthew 18:21, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, He generously suggested seven times. The rabbis said three times was enough. If someone wronged you, you were expected to forgive them three times. But Peter was more generous. He suggested up to seven times, the perfect number of completion. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Then he told a parable about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed him thousands of dollars, years and years wages. He was not able to pay, so the master ordered that he and his family and everything they had be sold to repay the debt. The servant begged him to relent, and the master took pity on him and canceled the debt. But when the same servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him a few kwacha, he choked him and beat him and demanded his money. When the fellow servant couldn’t pay, he had him thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

In Matthew 18:32-35, Jesus finishes. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Many times we expect someone else to make the first move, to make things right first, and then we will forgive them, but Jesus demonstrates that our forgiveness of others stems from God’s forgiveness of us. Because God forgave us a debt that we could not pay, we are to forgive others.

There is no question about God’s will in forgiveness. God wills his followers to forgive others. If you do not forgive, you are disobeying God. Plain and simple. But I recognize that it is not simple to forgive.

I recognize that for most of us, forgiveness does not come naturally. I had an experience with a colleague where he had wronged me and I had no intention of forgiving him. After all, he was the one who had wronged me! But forgiving someone does not mean we excuse the person who wronged us. Instead, we admit that we were hurt. They were wrong. We do not have to tolerate the wrong they did in order to forgive. We don’t have to understand why they did it, and we don’t have to forget what they did. And most of all, we do not have to invite them to hurt us once again. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Sometimes reunion is impossible, and sometimes it is harmful. 

While the best possible outcome would be for restoration, sometimes that does not happen. You see, forgiveness is not always about the interaction with the other person. It is an internal change of heart, by which we take the evil that has been done to us and we relinquish our right to revenge. We give it up to God, but we do not surrender our right for justice. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

So, how do we forgive? Forgiveness starts with us wanting to forgive. In the case I told you about earlier, when my colleague wronged me, I didn’t want to forgive him. But in my prayers, I asked God to help me want to want to forgive him. It was shortly after that when I was able to do so, and after that, I found my feelings changing. I was in a place where I despised him. I got angry even just to hear his name. But as I prayed, I found that hatred diminishing. I stopped praying that bad things would happen to him, and I found those wishes diminishing. Soon I started praying that good things happen to him. But the desire for this change didn’t come from me. It came from the Holy Spirit.

We all must remember this about forgiveness: It is not optional. It is a command from God. And God tells us that he will dispense forgiveness in the same manner as we do. But  besides that, forgiveness is good all in itself. 

Forgiveness is a sign that you are truly a Christian. When we don’t, we set ourselves up as the judge and the jury. Essentially, we set ourselves up as above God. But forgiveness is an act of trust in God, that God will deliver justice, that we don’t have to. We imitate Jesus Christ’s example; even as he was being crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). 

Forgiveness further frees our conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness interferes with peace of mind happiness, satisfaction, and even proper functioning of the body. This gives Satan a foothold in our hearts.

Forgiveness benefits the entire church. The Holy Spirit does not work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment. Psalm 66:18 reminds us that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered, and meanwhile, we are harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. 

And when we forgive, we activate God’s forgiveness. God deals with us as we deal with others, so he instructs us to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God (pp. 106–108). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

God created us to be in right relationship with Him and thus in right relationship with others. When we withhold forgiveness, we break relationship, not only with other people, but also with God. But when we forgive, we restore relationship with God. Whether the relationship with the other person is restored is partially up to them, but we have done our part, our Christian duty. And God rewards it every time.