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.

Little faith. Big things.

Read: Exodus 7-8, Matthew 17

Have you ever tried to teach a child something that seems so simple, but they just can’t seem to grasp the concept? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I think Jesus felt that way sometimes with his disciples. They listened to him teach. Walked with him. Talked with him. Watched him perform miracle after miracle. Yet when it came to simple things, they just couldn’t seem to get it.

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

Matthew 17:17 (NIV)

In my mind, Jesus sounds like an exasperated parent. Will I never be able to leave you alone to take care of yourself? Left on their own, the disciples couldn’t even cast out a lowly demon. Jesus calls them out on their little faith. And this isn’t even the first time Jesus has accused the disciples of having little faith. It must have been really small.

Matthew 17:20

I don’t think that Jesus was necessarily speaking to the size of their faith—we have all been given a measure of faith, but rather the potential of it that they failed to realise. If faith the size of a mustard seed has the potential to move a mountain, just how small was their faith?

While Jesus walked with them, the disciples had their issues, but once Jesus had ascended into heaven, suddenly things changed.

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Acts 2:43 (NIV)

They couldn’t perform a miracle when Jesus was right there, but once he was gone, no problem! So what changed?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

I believe that the Holy Spirit within us reveals the potential of our faith. It is the partnership of knowing who we are in Christ and what he has made us capable of along with the help of the Holy Spirit that allows us to use our little faith to do big things.

 

Mark your moments

Read: Genesis 12-14, Matthew 5:1-26

Genesis 13:4

At significant moments in his live, Abram would build an altar. In the first few chapters of his story, he builds two and even returns to one. Abram built altars to mark the places where God spoke to or appeared to him. And where God spoke to him, Abram offered sacrifices and thanksgiving.

There are some things in life we should just forget about all together—faults and failures. But there are other things in life we should remember. When God speaks to us or when we have a moment of clarity or revelation, we should mark it. Like Abram, we may need to return to that place so that we can recall God’s faithfulness to us.

But aren’t we running a race? 

Yes, we are.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)

We need to forget the things that would hold us back and remember the things that push us forward. A runner cannot forget all that he has learned in his training if he is going to win the race. And we cannot forget all that God has done for us if we want to continue running toward His calling. If we forget why we’re running, we will stop altogether.

We shouldn’t always be in a rush from one mountaintop experience to the next. There are valleys in between that we may need to walk through as well. And in those valleys, we should be able to look back and remember the heights from which we came. Those moments on the mountain, and sometimes in the valley, should be marked so that we can give thanks in the moment and look back to remember and gain the momentum we need to finish the race.

Surrounded

I live in a valley. Well, I guess I live halfway up a valley. My house overlooks the valley, but I can still look up at the mountains above me. Today’s reading made me think of my valley.

Just as the mountains surround and protect Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds and protects
his people, both now and forever.

Psalm 125:2 (NLT)

There aren’t many ways in and out of my valley. Really only one main highway. The city below is surrounded on all sides by mountains. Rock. Immovable. Firm. Unrelenting. Since the founding of the city, the mountains have not moved. They have not changed. They will not move. They will not change.

So it is with God. Like a city in the mountain valley is surrounded and protected, so we are surrounded and protected by God who is even more immovable and firm than the rock.

Should you ever feel as though you are surrounded by something other than God and His protection, like Elisha prayed for his servant, pray that your eyes would be opened.

Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened his servant’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

2 Kings 6:17 (NLT)

We may be surrounded by those who would wish us harm, but they are surrounded by an unshakable, immovable, relentless God who surrounds His own and protects us forever.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 124-127, 1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Not in it

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” The Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was a such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12 (NLT)

How often do we look for God in the storm, the quake, and the fire? He can and has appeared in those things, but He also comes in a gentle whisper. Too often, we get so caught up in watching for the big and loud that we completely miss out on the soft and quiet. On a daily basis, we’re so surrounded by sound we would never hear a whisper unless we were intent on doing so. Yet Elijah heard it—even after the noise of the storm, the quake, and the fire died down. With all that noise ringing in his ears, he would have had to be listening closely to hear the gentle whisper.

It wasn’t just that Elijah was listening for the whisper, he’d put himself in a place to do so. I’ve seen people stumble into church fifteen minutes late, frazzled by the effort it took just to get there, and then walk out in a huff because they didn’t get what they wanted from God.

Prior to the mountain, Elijah was on the run. Jezebel had made a solid threat to end his life, so he, like any other sane man, ran from the crazy lady. He planned to die in the wilderness, but God had other plans and sent an angel to feed him.

Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.”

So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.

1 Kings 19:7-8 (NLT)

Elijah’s mountaintop experience didn’t just happen. He wasn’t taking a scenic hike when God just decided to interrupt him. He was there on purpose. It took him forty days and forty nights to get there. We act like God should shower great blessings on us just because we managed to make it to church before the service ended and here, Elijah travelled for forty days and nights on two meals.

It doesn’t take any effort at all on God’s part to reach us no matter where we are, but I firmly believe that He is looking for great effort on our part to reach Him where He is. Our response to Him is often akin to Elijah had he politely declined the food and water the angel brought to him. No thanks, I’d rather die in the wilderness than eat this miraculous food because I know God will ask me to do something I’m probably not willing to put in the effort to do.

After forty days and nights of travelling, Elijah could have given up when God wasn’t in the the storm. He could have started back down the mountain when He wasn’t in the quake (be honest, would you stay on a mountaintop after an earthquake?). He could have seen the glow of the fire from a distance. And he would have missed the whisper entirely.

When we put in the effort we think is required of us to hear from God, our patience can often run thin. We get to where God wants us and then expect Him in the storm and check out because God was not in it. In reality, it is our hearts that are not in it.

In his weariness from the long journey, having almost been swept away by the storm, tossed down the mountain by the quake, and consumed by the fire, I’m sure the only thing Elijah could hear was his heart. Pounding in his ears. But he stayed where he was. Maybe he was frozen in fear and couldn’t move, but when God finally spoke, he was listening.

The next time you’re ready to walk away because you don’t see God in it, check your self. Make sure you are in it. Then wait. Listen closely for the sound of a gentle whisper.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 19-20, John 2

Evidence

Can you see God? You haven’t seen Him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind.

Billy Graham

Today, in my part of the world, it’s windy. I’m looking out my big windows and I see snow blowing across the yard. In the moments when the wind takes a break, big white flakes swirl down and add themselves to the drifts already covering the yard. Then the wind picks up again and snow both from the sky and the ground and every other surface blasts my view.

I can see that it’s windy. I see evidence of the wind in the snow coming down as well as the drifts on the ground. But I can’t actually see the wind. If I dare to go outside for a few minutes and come back in, the evidence of the wind will be on me. I’d likely have snow stuck to one side of me and not the other. My hair would be standing on end and I’m quite certain I’d be shivering. You’d see the effects of the wind in my appearance, but neither you or I could say we’d actually seen the wind.

The quote above from Billy Graham is well known. If you listened to Christian music in the 90’s, you’d have heard a clip of it on dcTalk’s Jesus Freak album. You may have heard it used many times over the years, but have you really thought about it? Have you gone to the Word for scripture to back it up?

In Exodus, Moses is sent up Mount Sinai once more (he’d come down with tablets from God once already, but ended up smashing them upon realising Israel, in the forty days he’d been gone had reverted to worshipping a golden calf). God needed a word with Moses. And so, for another forty days and nights, Moses fasted and spoke with God face to face. When he finally came back down the mountain, the people of Israel couldn’t bear to look at him, so strong was the glory of God that shone from his face.

Oh, it was just that once, you may say. It wasn’t. Read on in Exodus 34, Moses had to come up with a veil in order to hide his face when he came out from being in the presence of God. Israel didn’t see God, but they saw the effects of His presence.

What do you look like after you’ve been in the presence of God? It’s a personal, spiritual experience, I don’t like to let people know. Why would you want to hide that kind of experience from others?  It’s just for me, no one else. If it was just for Moses, he could have kept to himself and not had to bother with covering his face. When I meet with God, it’s not like that. If you’re not at all changed, are you really meeting with God?

There are many excuses we can give, but in the end, it all comes down to the evidence. If you’ve experienced the presence of God in any way, it should show. You don’t have to literally light up the room with your face, but shouldn’t your countenance show that you’ve experienced something good? Should your attitude not reflect time spent in the presence of the Great I Am?

We might not be able to see the presence of God, but we should surely be able to see the effects of it.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 34-36, Matthew 23:1-22

Chosen One

“This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him!”

Luke 9:35 (ESV)

The voice of God coming in a cloud, while not a common occurrence, happened multiple times throughout the scriptures. It usually meant something big.

In this text, Peter, James, and John have been with Jesus up on a mountain praying. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus and he shone brightly. Not only did Jesus dazzle in appearance, but Moses and Elijah showed up to the party. Now, I’m not sure if Peter, James, and John actually recognised Moses and Elijah (after all, there were no photos or video podcasts kicking around), but the recognised that these were men of great importance and wanted to honour them.

Then a cloud came.

God’s voice spoke through the cloud and commanded that the men present follow Jesus. When the cloud lifted, Moses and Elijah had gone along their way leaving Jesus to stand alone on the mountain.

Even I am unsure of the completely significance of this text, but what I see is God showing men deserving of great respect and honour and then commanding us to listen to Jesus.

All around us are mighty men and women of God. Should we listen to them? Certainly. God, after all, was the one who set up the authority of the local church. We need to honour and respect those in the five-fold ministry (pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, apostles), but not at the expense of listening to Jesus.

Look to Jesus, God’s Chosen One. Listen to him!

Daily Bible reading: Judges 10-11, Luke 9:1-36