Sometimes Forgiveness is Hard

forgiveness

This morning, as I enjoyed my cup of coffee on the deck, I read an article about the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky issue. The title was Penn State Doesn’t Get to Decide JoePa’s Legacy: I Know. It was written by 52 year old columnist Mike Wise. Mike is not only a writer; he’s also a survivor of child abuse who has decided to no longer be silent. You can read his entire article here. It’s powerful.

For most of us from PA, Penn State football is big. Even if you’re not a football fan in PA you know the name Joe Paterno. And now we all know the infamous name Jerry Sandusky.

Jerry Sandusky got what he deserved – 30-60 years in prison. He will die there. But what about JoePa? What does (did – he died in 2012) he deserve? We’re still struggling to determine exactly what Joe Paterno’s legacy should look like. This month during a game against Temple Penn State honored him on the 50th anniversary of his first game as head coach at Penn State. It only served to further divide the community.

And we’re growing weary. We’ve lived with the scandal for too long. We’re tired of hearing about it. We want to move on. But it’s still there staring us in the face. And we know that the victims will never be able to move on from it.

It was obvious to me as I read the article that Mike has struggled – and is still struggling to move on from something that happened 40 years ago. My heart goes out to him. But I can’t walk in his shoes or understand his pain – thank God I’ve never been there.

And that brings me to forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness is hard.

Forgiving is one of the most difficult things that Christians have been asked to do. Especially when someone has hurt you as deeply as Jerry Sandusky hurt his victims – as deeply as Mike Wise was hurt.

But not forgiving can never be an option.

Choosing not to forgive will destroy the fabric of your soul. It will eat at your heart as surely as cancer eats at your body.

When it comes to forgiveness, God asks us to walk the difficult road. He asks us to do what goes against every inclination and desire of our being. He asks us to do what is often humanly impossible; to do what is possible only by the grace of God. Forgive the Offender.

The Bible is clear that there are consequences for not forgiving.

When you choose not to forgive you are choosing to exclude yourself from God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:15, Mark 11:25 – this has nothing to do with salvation but everything to do with cleansing, fellowship and growing in Christ).

When you choose not to forgive you are choosing to bring contamination into your own soul (Hebrews 12:15).

When you choose not to forgive you are choosing to defile those you love the most (Hebrews 12:15).

When you choose not to forgive you are choosing to reject the example of Christ (Luke 23:34).

When you choose not to forgive you are choosing to place yourself under the judgment of God (Matthew 18:35)

Mike Wise doesn’t know it, but his struggles in life weren’t just the result of someone abusing him. Those results would have been bad enough, but they were compounded by his lack of forgiveness of the offender.

I’m not saying it is easy – it isn’t. It’s hard. Perhaps the hardest thing that you will ever have to do. But the alternative is even worse.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Spiritual Apathy Will Kill You as Surely as Sin

vineyard

I’m teaching one of the small groups in our church on John 15 – the passage of the vine and branches. The key lesson is the need to abide in Christ. But what does it mean to abide?

The primary meaning of the word abide is to remain or to maintain a continual presence. The concept of abiding therefore is to maintain an intimate, vital connection or relationship.

When it comes to grapevines (the illustration Christ used to represent the Christian’s relationship with Him) the only way that a branch can bear fruit is to maintain a vital relationship with the vine. Once that connection is damaged or broken the branch is no longer useful to the vine. The only way that Christians can bear spiritual fruit is to maintain a vital relationship with Christ. Once that connection to Christ is damaged or broken our usefulness to God is adversely affected.

A damaged relationship can be the result of a number of different issues. The one that immediately comes to mind is sin. Left unchecked in our lives sin saps our spiritual vitality and damages our connection to Christ. Most Christians understand the danger of not dealing with sin, but there are other issues that can harm our relationship with Christ that we often overlook.

Spiritual apathy is perhaps one of the most ignored diseases (keeping with the metaphor of the grapevines) in the Christian life. It’s a condition of the heart. It rarely, if ever, manifests itself in open rebellion. Instead it’s a secret thing, sometimes not even evident to those around us (although often evident to others before we even admit its presence in our lives). Spiritual apathy doesn’t care; it’s an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward spiritual things: Bible reading and study, prayer, worship, church, witnessing, our world view, our service etc.

The thing about spiritual apathy is that it rarely strikes like a bolt of lightning. Instead it sneaks up on you; it’s a process that you don’t see coming. Few Christians become apathetic overnight – but they do over years. We all know people who once were faithful but who over time stopped attending church, reading their bibles, praying, witnessing – in short, stopped living the Christian life in any meaningful way.

Spiritually apathetic Christians rarely admit it, either because they are spiritually blind to their own condition or because of the hardness of their hearts. But make no mistake about it, spiritual apathy will damage your connection to your spiritual vine just as surely as sin. That’s why it’s imperative to abide in Christ, to maintain that vital connection . Because the alternative is to slowly dry up and become useless to the Kingdom of God.

The question that we need to ask ourselves is: What will I do today to abide in Christ? What will I do today to build that vital connection with Him? If we are not actively doing whatever is necessary to abide we will, by default, become one of the damaged branches.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:4).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Time

Composite of Calendar Pages and Clock

Time is an interesting concept. Consider this:

Our lives are controlled by time. Our lives are dictated by the rising and setting of the sun; the hands on the clock; the movement of the earth that gives us days, nights, years and seasons.

We are slaves to time. Whether you wear a watch (old school) or carry a telephone, you are constantly checking it to make sure that you are where you are suppose to be at the time you are suppose to be there. Time dictates our every movement.

We each have exactly the same amount of time. At least in terms of days. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. No one gets 25 and no one gets cheated out of even one minute.

So what can we do with time?

The Bible give us some insights into time. For example it says:

Time is a gift from God.

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Romans 11:36
What do you have that you did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4:7.

The time you have on earth is short.

What is your life? It is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. James 4:14.

Time as we know it will end someday.

Then will come the end. Matthew 24:14.

You will give a report of how you used your time on earth.

Each of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:12.

You need to use your time wisely.

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16.

Each moment of time is something that you will never get back. How you use it cannot be changed.

While none of us uses all of our time wisely, it is possible to use more of your time wisely today than you did yesterday. You can’t get back time once past but you can move forward in life with a determination not to waste such a precious commodity.

Redeem whatever time you have left – use it for God’s glory and as a blessing to other people.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Need to Run Well

Race

Another Olympics has ended and the athletes and spectators are returning home. For some who stood on the podium holding their medals as their countries’ anthem played over the loudspeaker it was the dream of a lifetime.

For many more who never reached the podium – who never had a realistic chance of reaching the podium – it was an experience they will never forget.

The Olympics reminded me of the similarities that the Christian life has to an athletic endeavor. Several times the Bible describes the Christian life in athletic terms because the original readers of the New Testament letters were familiar with the Olympic idea.

Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews employ the imagery of the runner.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1

There are numerous applications to the Christian life that we can glean from these images.

-Living the Christian life in order to receive a reward is our motivation (knowing that we will give it all to Jesus in the end.)

-Self-control is essential to the success of the Christian life.

-The reward at the end of the Christian Life will be worth every sacrifice you make.

-If you’re going to live the Christian life successfully, you can’t give up when it gets difficult.

-You can’t win the race of the Christian life if you’re carrying excess baggage (sin).

-Without a long-term perspective the Christian life will be almost impossible to live.

-It’s essential to keep your eyes on the goal to finish the Christian Life well.

-The Christian life won’t be easy!

Maybe you can add some additional applications to this list.

The point is that Christians, like Olympians must train rigorously, deny themselves many enjoyable things, and be laser focused on one thing to be successful.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

god-strenght

One of the more difficult assignments that we have as Christians is to offer comfort to people who are going through deep trials. Comfort that is both Biblical and helpful. It’s easy to offer a quick cliché but it’s hard to give genuine comfort that ministers to a hurting soul.

One cliché that we’re all guilty of – even pastors, is to tell someone going through deep trials that God will never give you more than you can handle. That statement has bothered me for a long time. Somehow it never rang true.

Think for a minute – what do we mean by that? Don’t we mean that the person will be healed and not die? Don’t we mean that it will all work out for their good in the end when sometimes it doesn’t?

If that’s NOT what we mean than why don’t we say, God will never give you more than you can handle but you might suffer for the next ten years and then die an agonizing death? Because that’s what happens to some people. Where was God and what happened to His promise?

Too many people go through too deep waters and don’t get through (in a very human sense).

I’m sure that we mean well when we say it. And I’m sure that we believe it to be true. After all Paul says that no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). That seems to make the case.

But does it?

Pastor Mitch Chase of Kosmosdale Baptist Church has written a great article with the title God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle (I stole my title from him – I just couldn’t think of anything more original!) in which he points out the problem with our common understanding of this verse.

You can find his article here. I’m not going to rehash everything he said because he said it so much better than I could. I would encourage you to read it.

There’s one line in his article, however, that I love: God will give us more than we can handle – but not more than he can.

That’s the truth that we need to share with people who are hurting. GOD CAN HANDLE THIS!

You might not be able to handle it, but HE can. So we turn to Him in faith in our times of deepest need and trust Him to bring us through the dark times.

We trust Him to do what is right in our lives. To do what we need Him to do to make us more like Christ. To change us by our suffering.

We trust Him not to be capricious but to have a purpose for our suffering. To have a reason for our pain.

The next time you have an opportunity to offer words of comfort to a hurting soul point them to Jesus. Tell them that He knows. That He understands. That He can be their rock. That when they’re weak, He’s strong. That when they can’t take it anymore, He’ll be there for them (working through you and His Word).

Put their focus on Jesus.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Love Jesus?

jesus

Occasionally I read something that is unique, something that shares an insight that I’ve never heard before. It doesn’t happen often (not because I’m so well-read as because there is very little original material out there), but it happened recently. John Piper’s website posted an article by Marshall Segal with the title You Can Love Ministry and Miss Jesus. It’s primarily directed to those in full-time ministry but it can be beneficial for all Christians. If you’re interested you can read it here.

That article caused me to think about something that I’ve not thought of before and to ask another, similar question: Do We Really Love Jesus?

Or do we merely love the things about Jesus?

Do we serve God because we love Jesus or because we love what we’re doing?

Do we attend church because we love Jesus or because we love the idea of church?

Do we love other Christians because we love Jesus or because they’re good people?

Do we worship Jesus because we love Him, or because we love the music or the uplifting experience?

Do we pray because we love Jesus or because we love the idea of prayer?

Do we love the Christian life because we love Jesus or because we’re comfortable in that kind of life?

To paraphrase a statement made by Marshall Segal, What captivates your heart more: Jesus or the things about Jesus?

I find this an uncomfortable place to go. I love studying the Word of God. I love teaching the Word both in our local church and in the classroom setting. I love my annual missions trips to Haiti. I love being in full-time ministry. I love everything (well almost everything) about ministry. But do I love Jesus?

Do I do what I do because I love Jesus or because I love what I do? Very convicting.

If you could only do one or the other – love Jesus or preach a sermon; love Jesus or go on a missions trip; love Jesus or sing the latest Hillsong or Chris Tomlin song; love Jesus or hang out with your small group; love Jesus or go to church on Sunday – which one would you choose?

I understand that it’s not an either/or proposition – it’s both/and, but just for fun, choose one or the other.

It’s a good way to gauge your heart, your affections.

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all the Old Testament commandments, he didn’t say anything about serving, praying, worshipping, going on a missions trip, or singing the latest contemporary song or even your favorite hymn.

He talked about our affections. Love God to the max. That’s our highest duty. Our highest aim. Our highest goal.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).

Everything else is extra.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying. Serving, praying, worshipping, missions trips, singing, praising etc are all VERY important in the Christian life.

But not as important as loving Jesus.

It’s not an emotion, although your emotions certainly enter into it. It’s a mindset. Jesus first. Jesus last. Jesus always.

Loving Jesus means that your life is all about Jesus.

It is possible to do many things for Jesus but not love Jesus as your highest priority. When that happens we’ve missed our calling. When we love the things about Jesus more than we love Jesus we don’t really love Jesus.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying

Words

I could stop this blog right there. If all of us (including me) would simply adopt this as our motto we’d all be better off. Fewer people would be hurt; fewer conversations would escalate into arguments; fewer outrageous things would be said – and repeated; there would be fewer headlines in the media (maybe they would actually have to find something newsworthy to report!); fewer unsubstantiated things would be repeated over social media – you get the idea.

Think how quiet it would be!

Words matter. That’s why God has so much to say about the way we talk in both the Old and New Testaments. Check out the term word in a concordance – you’ll find that it appears over 1100 times in the Bible, often in the context of how words are to be used and the importance of words.

A few examples:

Proverbs 15:1
A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

James 3:2
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

It’s significant that Jesus is known as The Word (John 1:1, 14). It’s equally significant that God chose to communicate with us through the written word, the Bible. There are other forms of communication – we use them all of the time to communicate to other people: pictures, facial expressions, gestures, body language.

Even if these forms weren’t adequate to communicate the gospel message, God, being God could have come up with another form other than words (don’t ask me what, I’m not God).

But He chose words. Makes them really significant.

Every day you get to use a method of communication that God sanctified and used for the holiest of purposes.

The problem is that we have taken words/speech so for granted that we have devalued it to the lowest common denominator. We don’t value words the way God values words.

So we use words – the medium that He chose to describe His Son and to communicate the most important message you will ever receive – to lie, deceive, spread hate, devalue other people, cheat, exaggerate, misrepresent, argue and perhaps dozens of other things that are less than worthy.

As a young boy my parents taught us to pray Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. It’s God’s way of saying Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve