We will possess

Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right do you have to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.

Judges 11:23-24 (NIV)

What God has given, no man can rightly take away. God gave Israel an inheritance. A good land where they could live and prosper so long as they remained obedient to God. While I’m not Jewish, nor do I live in Israel, God has given me (and you) a great many things that no man can ever take away.

The trouble comes when believers live in shame, pain, poverty, foolishness, sin, and more because they don’t know what they have. So many believers haven’t taken the time to learn the promises of God and, in the words of my brother-in-law, live their lives broke, busted, and disgusted because they believe that is where God would have them remain. Not so!

Here are just a few of the things that we don’t need to ask God for—He’s already given them to us.

Eternal life.

And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

1 John 2:25 (NIV)

Forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The Holy Spirit.

…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13b (NIV)

Guidance and truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 16:13 (NIV)

Physical sustenance and clothing.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31, 33 (NIV)

These are just a few of the many promises we have been given as children of God. But we often forget about them. Our focus turns to things other than God. We begin to worry and allow the day-to-day cares of this world to bring us down. We become like Israel—forgetting who we really are and what we have already been given.

Once God has given us something, the only one who can prevent us from obtaining it and maintaining it is ourselves. Whether it be by losing focus, getting distracted, a lack of faith, or all-out rejecting God, only you stand in the way of your promise.

So keep this in mind: if God has promised it, He will perform it.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (NIV)

Read: Judges 10-11. Luke 9:1-36

Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.

 

Wonderful results

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have wonderful results in all of our endeavors? It would be fantastic if we could expect great success in everything that we do. Now, there’s nothing wrong with optimism, but let’s face it, in this life, wonderful results are hardly going to be the outcome of every situation. But James speaks of having wonderful results in one particular area—prayer.

If you’ve had every prayer answered in the way you wanted it answered when you wanted it answered, congratulations. You are a far better person than I. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t had to deal with the disappointment of unanswered prayer. I’d love to be able to give you the key to having all of your desires fulfilled, but I can’t. What I can do, though, is try to shed some light and help us all be a little more effective when it comes to prayer.

The ladies Bible study in my church has spent the better part of a year going through the book The Master is Calling by Lynne Hammond. Her main scripture in the book is a part of our reading today.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.

James 5:16b (NLT)

Earnest is often translated as fervent, but even that doesn’t give us the full grasp of the idea that James presents. According to Hort and Mayor, earnest can best be translated to inwrought prayer. In other words, prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Longer, louder prayers aren’t what get us answers. Praying through the guidance of the Holy Spirit does.

But let’s not forget the first part of that verse.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

James 5:16a (NLT)

We all like the idea of earnest prayer being full of great power and having wonderful results, but I can pretty much guarantee that we’re not as keen to be confessing our sins to each other. This isn’t even the first time answered prayer and forgiveness have been mentioned together.

Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.

Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)

Sin is the barrier between our prayer and the answer to it—whether it’s our own sin or the sin of another that needs to be forgiven. We might see a lot more of those wonderful results if we’d first take the time to humble ourselves, ask forgiveness, and offer forgiveness rather than praying longer and louder in the hope that God will hear us over the cacophony of our disobedience.

There is great powerful available to us and wonderful results waiting on the other sie. But we need to get over ourselves first. Admit when we’ve been wrong. Accept others when they’ve been wrong. When we open ourselves up to each other we can then open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit. And only then will we see those wonderful results.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 29-31, James 5

Pardon me once

When my eldest niece was young and she wanted to be excused, she’d asked to be pardoned. Twice. “Pardon me. Pardon me.” Someone told her that she only needed to say pardon me once. Then next time she needed to be excused, she put into practice what she’d been told. “Pardon me once. Pardon me once.”

If you’re the one in the wrong who needs to be pardoned, you only need to ask God’s forgiveness once. We almost always look at forgiveness as something that God does strictly for our benefit. We know that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice in our place. But as much as forgiveness is for our sake, it’s for God’s sake as well.

I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

When someone commits a wrong against you, you have two options: you can forgive or you can hold a grudge. The only benefit to the latter is that you can feel self-righteous by holding this fault over the person who committed it against you. But by refusing forgiveness, you are effectually cutting off that relationship from the root and preventing it from ever being able to grow.

Harbouring unforgiveness keeps that offense in front of you and, when allowed to fester, it will make you bitter. Like a weed in a garden left unchecked, it will propagate to other areas and choke out anything good. Unforgiveness forces us to look at a person and see their faults first. Everything they say or do—good or bad—goes through the filter of their sin. No relationship can ever grow or even move forward unless there is forgiveness and acceptance of it.

More than it affects the person at fault, unforgiveness, if left unchecked, can ruin the one holding on to it.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

So when God forgives us, for His own sake as much as ours, He forgets what ever happened. He has to. If He were to remember and keep record of all our wrongdoings, forgiveness in the future would be impossible to offer. In order to remain the God who forgives, God has to blot out our sins, destroy every record that it ever happened.

When we forgive others, three things happen: we release ourselves from being bound by unforgiveness, we release the offender from their punishment, and we take away the ability from anyone else to convict that person of their sin.

This is the example God has put before us. We only have to ask to be pardoned once. For His sake, God cannot withhold forgiveness, nor can He keep any record of our wrongdoing. That is to our benefit. And, if God has done all of this for us, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone who asks it of us?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 43-44, Colossians 2

Come Ye Sinners

The Church is great. The Church is growing. We’ve got mega churches! We’ve got satellite churches. We’ve got multi-site churches. The Church is great. Fantastic. Never been better.

So then why did I hear just this week about someone who was afraid to come into a church building for a function because of the things that person had done? What has the Church done to make sinners believe that they are unwelcome in a church?

Because the church has made sinners unwelcome.

I’ve also heard of a local church that insists that any homeless person who wishes to attend a service has to sit in a different room where the message is streamed on a screen. We wouldn’t want to offend the regular members, would we?

Have we lost the focus of what church is all about? Church is all about sinners. People who were sinners and have found salvation and people who are still sinners who are looking for salvation. The Church, in many cases, has effectively cut off the supply that that Lord has given us.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is unfailing love
and an overflowing supply of salvation.

Psalm 130:7 (NLT)

Where is this supply of salvation for the lost? Where is this supply of salvation for the lonely? Why has the Church hoarded it for themselves?

If we have been so greatly pardoned, why would we not want to lead others to receive that very same pardon?

Lord, if you keep a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you.

Psalm 130:3-4 (NLT)

As often as we can, we should be flinging wide the doors of the church calling to the hurt, the lost, the lonely, and the sinners.

Come ye sinners the poor and needy
Weak and wounded sick and sore
And Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity love and power

Come ye weary heavy laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
And if you tarry until you’re better
You will never come at all

Come Ye Sinners, Dan Hamilton | Joseph Hart | Robbie Seay | Ryan Owens | Taylor Johnson

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 128-131, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Consequences with Grace

Often we are under the impression that church leaders—especially those of large congregations—are exempt from consequences. We’ve heard stories of preachers who’ve managed to get away with sin for a long time and wonder who else is hiding something.

The truth is, no one truly gets away with sin. Even Moses, as leader of Israel, and Aaron, as high priest, didn’t escape unscathed.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”

Numbers 20:12 (NLT)

Aaron died before Israel made it to the Promised Land and it was Joshua, not Moses who was leading at that time.

But there is hope. There is grace.

Last summer one of the pastors I listened to on a regular basis was removed from his position by his own church. The church he started. The church he watched grow from nothing to thousands. He’d succumbed to alcohol addiction and it was affecting his ability to minister effectively. Rumours flew that he might be cheating on his wife or that old issues with pornography addiction had flared up. The world turned on him. I stopped listening to him.

Until another pastor that I have a great amount of respect for offered this “fallen man” his stage. Not just for a weekday service. Not just one weekend service. But for their anniversary service. My first reaction was shock. How could anyone let this man ever take the stage again?

I realised I had become judge and jury for this man. If another pastor whom I respect would give him room, why couldn’t I? So I listened to that sermon he preached from the stage that was not his own. And on  February 5, 2017, Perry Noble stood on the stage at Elevation Church and preached a message on grace and forgiveness from a place only a man who truly knew what it felt like could.

Even though Moses and Aaron failed to obey God, God never failed them. Though they had to suffer the consequences of their sin, God never let go of them.

We all fall. And we all have the opportunity to get back up again. I realised that, if I want a hand to reach out when I’m down, I can’t be the person to deny my hand to the one who is down.

There are consequences. But there is still grace.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 18-20, Mark 7:1-13

One Way

Did you know that God has only one set of standards? He’s not like us where we allow different people to approach in different ways simply because of who they are or where they’re from.

Way back in Numbers when God was giving instructions regarding offerings and sacrifice, He made sure to specify that these rules applied for Israelite and foreigner alike. There was no second set of rules for the foreigner. So long as they were in the camp and chose to abide by the law laid out by the Lord, the same rules applied to them.

There was only one way to forgiveness.

Jesus reiterated the very same idea when he stated:

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NLT)

There is only one way. When Israel tried to get to God on their own, they failed miserably and were punished for it and were refused entry into the Promised Land. Our Promised Land is Heaven. The only way in is through Jesus. There is no other way. We cannot get to God on or own or by any other way man may try.

God is a one-way God.

But remember, just because there is only one way doesn’t mean it’s a hard way. Jesus paved a one way highway to the Promised Land. All we have to do is get on it.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

Hack a hole

Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.

Mark 2:2-4 (NLT)

Have you ever thought about what this would have been like to experience? Not only being in the presence of Jesus and being able to see and hear him teach while among the crowd, but to have been in the room while a part of the roof was being removed.

I don’t know about you, but as a basement-dweller, I am very much aware of the noise above me. I know the room was crowded and probably on the noisy side, but you can’t tell me that no one noticed as chunks of clay began to fall from the ceiling. Soon, a hole appeared. Someone definitely would have noticed that. And, once the original hole appeared, hands and faces would have been seen as they hole continued to grow.

Now, if you’re sitting in church and suddenly a hole appears in the roof, I have a difficult time believing that the service would go on as usual. Surely, even if the pastor didn’t stop teaching, someone would send an usher or security team member out to see what was going on and try to put a stop to it. But no one did.

Jesus allowed these men to continue to hack a hole in the roof of Peter’s house. He allowed bits of clay to rain down onto the heads of the people below. He didn’t command that they stop and a path be made clear so that the men could walk into the house. Jesus allowed the entire situation to play out before first forgiving the sick man and then healing him.

One commentary calls these men the eager group of interrupters. When the crowds were too dense to pass through, they didn’t turn around and go home. When they received glares from the men in the room (who, by that time wore a dusting of clay), they didn’t stop digging. These eager interrupters didn’t stop what they were doing until their friend was able to walk from the home on his own steam.

At what point would you have stopped? When the crowds were too much? When the climb to the roof with an invalid was too difficult? When the clay on the roof was too thick? When the men below gave you the look of death for disrupting their meeting? When Peter gasped at the sight of the giant hole in his roof?

These men had more opportunities than most to give up, yet they did not. But I believe the most important part of this encounter is Jesus allowing it all to happen. He could have made the job easier, yet he did not. These four crazy friends worked for their buddy’s healing. Their faith took action and nothing was going to stop them, not even Jesus.

Like the strength a butterfly gains from escaping its cocoon, I believe that there are also times where the easy way is not the best way. Would the man’s healing and forgiveness held as much value if they’d been able to walk right in?

Just because Jesus allows difficulties, doesn’t mean he is no longer willing to come to our aid. Perhaps he is rooting for us to build our own strength and faith first.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 26-27, Mark 2