Moving On Through Forgiveness

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” – Colossians 3:13. 

Most people are comfortable with the idea of forgiveness. That is until someone offends or hurts them and then the concept of forgiveness is not all that appealing. Suddenly the idea of forgiving someone seems to compound the unfairness of being wronged. We want to focus on everyone else’s wrongs and rally those who agree with me to join in the fight for justice. Is that too much to ask?

The Bible says we can’t let that happen. Because we are not perfect, even people who love us are going to hurt us. The question is, “How will we respond when we get hurt?”The first part of Colossians 3:13 says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” We need to remember that even the most mature Christians we know are not perfect. Neither are our family and friends. They do things we might not think are right. If and when that happens, we’re to be gracious and loving and forgive anyone who offends us. Colossians 3:13 is pretty straightforward; it’s not just good advice; it’s a command. God expects us to forgive each other.

Most people are thinking to themselves about now “hold on a second…I can forgive a lot of things, but I can’t forgive that. Not that.” The second half of Colossians 3:13 gives you something to think about when you find yourself in these situations: “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Jesus died on the cross to forgive every offense you and I have ever committed against God or our fellow humans. If we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior, God has forgiven us, without hesitation or exceptions. Whatever we’ve done and whatever our motivation was, He forgives us. And He expects us to do the same.

In Matthew 18,  Jesus then told a parable about a servant who borrowed millions of dollars from the king and couldn’t pay it back. The king forgave him and cancelled his debt, but then the servant wouldn’t forgive one of his coworkers who owed him a few thousand dollars. When the king heard what happened, he was incensed and had the servant brought in and punished for not having the same mercy in his heart that the king had demonstrated. No matter how large the offense is or how often someone hurts us, God expects us to forgive.

It is not human nature to do that. We need the Holy Spirit to take over our lives to help us to forgive like Jesus. But when we do, we see the benefits: Not only do we experience God’s forgiveness more fully, but also we enjoy relationships without being hindered by the hard feelings that come from holding a grudge.

That’s why God wants us to forgive others — not just for their benefit, but for ours as well.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is forgiveness to you?
  2. Is there power in forgiveness? Why or why not?
  3. What happens if I don’t forgive?

Taking Offense

So watch yourselves! “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4. 

It is hard to finish a sentence these days without offending someone. And it often has nothing to do with what is being said. People today are looking for a reason to be offended. Being offended is an all skate because just about everybody will discover a provocation somewhere and be offended. 

Consider this scenario: You sit down with a friend or relative and ask them one simple question. But, before you ask the question you make one stipulation. You ask them to be completely honest with you. With that said, you ask the question: ”do I offend you in any way?” Then you sit back with a hopeful smile and await the response. The friend/relative pauses, reflecting on the question for a few seconds. And then the answer: “Hhhmmmm…let me think…well, since you asked, I would have to say your appearance, politics, bad habits, your choice of music, putting pineapple on pizza,  and your idea of what constitutes good music have all offended me at one time or another.”

You are surprised the list is not even longer. We have all offended people at one time or another and been offended in return. But here is the problem: if we get offended by every little thing, how will we ever interact with others, much less reach the world? If anyone had reason to be offended, it’s Jesus. We serve a Savior who chose to come in the lowliest form and share meals with the very people society rejected. Rather than being offended by their lives, He chose to love people as they were—broken, imperfect and in need of the Father’s unconditional love. 

As Christians, it is not about the person offending us, it is about how we choose to respond. When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, we might wonder what that really means in practice. Surely, we’re not going to get all warm and fuzzy when we think about those who have hurt or offended us. But that is exactly the kind of robust, challenging love envisioned by Jesus, a love that is more about action than about feelings.  Making this choice to love and not be offended, however, is difficult.  

Ask yourself these questions: What would happen if you didn’t allow yourself to go there? What if you stopped and said – “Why am I getting mad about this…does this really warrant getting offended?”  What would have happened if I didn’t allow myself to be offended?

If we want to be more like Jesus we need to stop being so easily offended, a believer who wants grace for him or herself and wants to extend that grace to others. That means we are always focused on forgiveness. Now that does not mean that nothing should bother us, convict us to action, or require confrontation. Of course not. But our goal in any situation is seeking to find avenues of reconciliation. To bring peace, healing, and compassion to the world around us. Our job is simple: Love God and love others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think it is possible to work so hard at relationships that you can prevent offending others? 
  2. Should we forgive those who hurt or offend us?
  3. What can we do this week to be less easily offended?

What Is Agape Love?

May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.”  2 Thessalonians 3:5

Agape love. Every Christian has heard the term, but with so many different meanings of the word “love,” do we understand agape love? Agape love is unconditional, selfless, sacrificial love. It is love that has no boundaries; it has no end. It is love that never fails, a love that gives us hope.  

The type of love that characterizes God is not a sappy, sentimental feeling some people think it is. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve to be loved or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love and He must be true to His nature.

This is probably why 1 Corinthians 13 describes love (and by extension God) with a laundry list of concepts: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” This is also why, within each of us, the presence of God naturally expresses itself in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Agape love is unconditional, willful love. It’s a choice we make to love another person whether they love us back or not. It means that you choose to love someone even if he or she is our enemy.  We are told, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32) This is agape love, that you willfully show kindness, even when you don’t “like” someone; that you willfully forgive, even when you don’t feel like it. Agape love makes it possible to “love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27) 

Now, this kind of love presents a real challenge for us Christians. It’s tough to live out because it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t respond to you in the way we’d like. And no matter how much we try to avoid difficult people, there will always be certain individuals—even within the body of Christ—who are just hard to love. And yet, God’s Word is very clear: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) Now, you couldn’t find a clearer command about what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus Christ.

We love because God loved us first. Let us love others with an agape kind of love. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does agape love mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to demonstrate an agape kind of love?  

Running In The Rat Race

“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1

We live in a time-crunch, rat race world. Everything we do seems to be urgent. Stress levels are rising with each passing day if we are not careful. We live under such intense pressure, running from one appointment to the next, that we often overlook some of the most important things in life. 

Tyler and Brittany are a pretty typical couple. Not unlike many couples on the Emerald Coast. They dated and after a year or so fell in love and made the decision to marry. Like most couples, they wanted the good life so they poured themselves into a career, to raising a family. They didn’t worry about the bills piling up. They moved into a new house within walking distance of the gulf. They had a nice SUV and a cool European import. In many ways, they were living the good life, but their debts and responsibilities just kept mounting up. They became discouraged. There were bills to pay, kids to pick up from daycare, quotas to meet, and not much time to enjoy all of the possessions they had been accumulating. Arguments took the place of peaceful evenings; disunity replaced unity. Tension mounted. The marriage was on thin ice.  It was at this time that Tyler remembered the lyrics from a song: “Like a rat in a maze; The path before me lies, And the pattern never alters; Until the rat dies.” ( Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel) 

 The idea of a rat race is a fairly modern tale of materialism, but materialism existed in Jesus’ day. People were caught up in accumulating possessions and wealth above all else, just like today. Is it God’s will for His people to be trapped in this rat race? We often get trapped in the rat race out of fear. We fear that our children won’t get into the right college, or that we will have enough money for today and for the future. We are afraid we won’t have a dependable car or the latest technology to make life a little easier. Francis Chan said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but at succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter at all.”  But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: at the end of the day will all the things we do to win the rat race matter when we stand before God’s throne? 

 The book of Ecclesiastes talks about this subject. In chapter 3 Solomon says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end…And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, 14) Introduce God into the rat race and the rat race suddenly changes.

No matter how hard we try, we can never beat the “rat race” of life through our own efforts. It is only when we stop running; when we learn to be quiet before God and trust Him, that He can show compassion on us and walk intimately with us. All of us who are in the rat race are chasing the same stuff, and most of it rots, rusts, or corrodes. Chase God. Chase eternity. Chase a relationship with Jesus Christ, with God’s family, and you’re chasing something that just gets greater after the grave.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are we so easily drawn into the rat race?
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we are running the right race and not the rat race? 

Is There An Energy Shortage?

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  – Colossians 1:29 (ESV)

We are living in an energy crisis. I’m not talking about a shortage of gas but trying to find enough energy to deal with the ever-increasing demands of this life. When we take on too much and hit the wall, it is because our energy levels grew too low. Need proof: a lack of energy has spawned energy drinks which are now a multi-billion-dollar industry.

The Apostle Paul, of course, didn’t have the luxury of going to a local market and buying a Powerade or a Red Bull to replenish his energy supply. He depended on a different energy supply. His energy was supernatural. Paul operated under the power of the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to fuel his every action. Paul was not exempt from exerting tremendous effort. He “toiled” and “struggled.” But Paul was never striving in his strength alone. There was a mixture of human labor and divine energy. John Piper said it this way: “God does not work instead of our working but through our working. God does not energize instead of our having energy; He energizes our energy.” 

Picture a wind-up toy. If you wind it up, it will go for a little while – but then you must wind it up again to keep it going. It cannot continually wind itself up; nor can it run forever on an initial wind up. The toy requires constant intervention to continue. The same is true, in a much deeper way, of us. The energy to “go” comes from a source other than us. We cannot continue without God’s power, which works in us through the Holy Spirit. If we are not continually connecting with our power source, we will eventually become ineffective, tired, and frustrated.

Paul must have understood this truth because look at how he prayed for his brothers and sisters: “We pray that you would walk in the ways of true righteousness, pleasing God in every good thing you do. Then you’ll become fruit-bearing branches, yielding to his life, and maturing in the rich experience of knowing God in his fullness! And we pray that you would be energized with all his explosive power from the realm of his magnificent glory, filling you with great hope.” (Colossians 1:10-11)

And so Paul prays that the body of Christ will be strengthened with all might according to God’s glorious power, reminding us that the strength we received is not of ourselves but from God. However, Scripture also teaches that God provides the energy, positivity, and focus that we need, in more than one way.  There is the vertical way: prayer, the Bible, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and surrender to Him.  These are the means by which God sources us directly.  But the second way is horizontal. God provides for us indirectly through people: their love, support, wisdom, and direction. People can be a “delivery system” for the grace of God.  We should be an “energy source” for each other, keeping ourselves and others energized and growing.

Unity is the fuel for optimizing and utilizing the “fuel” that comes from the church.  So look for practical and useful ways to tap into the energy source of God and the church.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the level of your energy? 
  2. What can we do this week to tap into the power of God and the power of the church?  

Unity In The Church

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10.

We live in a culture where passions run high and people have differing viewpoints. That fact is mirrored in our news on a daily basis. Whether we are discussing politics, racism, cultures, parenting, church practices, or sports teams, there is often division and disunity.

While this is normal in society it should not be normal in the body of Christ. Unity is crucial for the sake of the Gospel. In Romans 15:5, Paul writes, “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” The church body will have differences, so how is unity possible?

Jesus answered this question in His prayer for all believers shortly before His crucifixion.  In John 17:20-22, He prayed, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “ 

Our unity is not based on shared cultures, personal interests, or personal tastes, but on something much deeper and more profound.  It is not what we have in common that matters, but Who we have in common.  There are a thousand ways to splinter church unity and one way to bring it together again.  We need to be walking the same path and headed in the same direction. Sometimes Jesus will be all that connects us, but that connection is critical and will last for eternity.

A united church is a powerful tool.  Paul says we exist as a church so, “…all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6) If we’re going to be successful doing that, it’s going to take everyone making that our goal. As a church, winning is each of us making every effort to live in harmony as Jesus taught us to live, working for unity in the church, in our families, workplaces, etc.

When the world sees this kind of love and unity it is a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel. Let us work even harder to both improve our unity by the love we show in the communities we serve. A unified church brings glory to Jesus, and when Jesus is glorified, the world will sit up and take notice.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is living in harmony?
  2. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?

What About Those Expectations?

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” – 1 Peter:1:3-5. 

Society lives and breathes expectations. There is an expectation on children to act in certain ways, employers to treat staff in a particular manner, relationships to cater to people’s needs, and parents to love their children unconditionally. But expectations can be harmful to you, to others, and to the church.  

There is a story of a married man who went to great lengths to plan a birthday party for his wife. He’d planned everything he knew she’d love so that when she arrived home she’d be wonderfully surprised. But when she arrived home she said, “I’ve had a horrible day. I’m not even hungry. I’m going to go take a bath.” The husband was angry, at least at first. Then he realized she just needed to unwind. She failed to live up to his expectations, but that isn’t her fault. The expectations were his; she had no obligation to fulfill them.

All of us had unrealistic expectations when we got married. In the same vein, we bring unrealistic expectations to church. To expect any church to always do everything right, and to minister perfectly to everyone all the time is not realistic.  The church is filled with imperfect people so a group of imperfect people will never be able to create a perfect community.  We also have expectations of God. It is easy to allow our unmet expectations of God to influence our willingness to surrender our lives to Him. And we can also place unrealistic expectations on those around us—family, friends, significant others, co-workers, the church, and so on.

But the reality is, people let us down and things don’t always work out the way that we have planned. Wherever there are expectations there will also be disappointments and our relationships will suffer because of unmet expectations. Sometimes it’s because we don’t meet expectations that others have placed on us. Regardless of the situation, we are called to do everything within our human capabilities to live at peace with every single person. (Romans 12:18) 

Unmet expectations from those around us can be disheartening. But by letting them go, we leave room for God’s love and grace to be shown through us.  We allow others to grow into the people God has created them to be, rather than who we expect them to be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have others in your life disappointed you?  What way would these relationships be different if you reacted in a loving manner? How would your expectations for, demands of, and disappointments with others change?

Trying To Understand What We Can’t Understand

“When we speak of knowing God, it must be understood with reference to man’s limited powers of comprehension. God, as He really is, is far beyond man’s imagination, let alone understanding. God has revealed only so much of Himself as our minds can conceive and the weakness of our nature can bear.”John Milton. 

If you attended church as a child, you probably had Sunday school-type classes in a room that had maps of Paul’s missionary journeys on the wall and an illustration of Jesus looking meek and mild. There was no dust or dirt on His clothes.  His hair was perfect. He held a lamb on His shoulder with a shepherd’s crook in His hand. But this stylized portrait of Jesus is nothing like the real thing.  

Most Christians paint in their minds a highly selective picture of Christ, one that usually makes Him a placid, stoic, passive presence; little more than a silent and smiling spectator who was perpetually kind.  We like this tame, well-mannered, benign Jesus.  But trying to capture an image of God in our minds simply cannot be done. Job 36:26 tells us that: “Look, God is greater than we can understand….” It is essential to understand that we are not talking about abstract or speculative thought concerning God, but about coming alive to God through Jesus Christ and surrendering ourselves to Him. We must also understand that knowing God is not an optional part of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.

Trying to understand God means we are learning more about Him, which is the most satisfying, uplifting, edifying, expanding, and glorious task we can ever undertake. Psalm 100:3 says, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Nothing is more important than learning all we can about God. The more we learn, the more we’re awestruck with the majesty of His being. But this is not limited to intellectual or theological pursuit. It is deeply personal. Fearing God and growing in the knowledge of Him means we’re coming to know Him more deeply in a personal and intimate way.

The good news is we are made to know God, to know about Him and know Him personally, as a Father, as a Friend, and as our Creator and Savior. Our lives are incomplete without Him. The most important thing in life is not what we do, where we go, who we’re with, how high we rise, how long we live, or how influential we become. The most important thing in life is Him.

God, you are greater than we imagine or illustrate. You are greater that we can fathom. We stand in awe of who You are. You are unsearchable, Your ways inscrutable, the depths of Your riches, wisdom, and knowledge unimaginable. We can’t even begin to comprehend Your greatness, Your glory, Your might, Your majesty, Your justice, Your wrath, Your mercy, Your love. None of those can be captured even with the wildest imagination. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important to lean on God and not on your own understanding?
  2. What can we do this week to grow in our knowledge of God? 

The Trinity

“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[a] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.””- Matthew 3:16-17. 

The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith. It is crucial for properly understanding what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should relate to Him. But it also raises many difficult questions. The key thing to remember about the Trinity is that we are always more wrong than right whenever we talk about it. It is so outside of our experience that we don’t really have the means to describe it. Any effort we make to describe it will ultimately fail, to some extent. Because of this, we simply do our best to explain the Trinity by using images and models that we humans can wrap our brains around.

How can God be both one and three? The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: First, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons; second, each Person is fully God,  and third there is only one God. We need to remember that this isn’t just God showing up in a different form at different times. Each person of the Trinity has always existed and has always been fully God.

The Trinity is a difficult concept because God is beyond us. God is knowable, but not fully comprehensible. We can know Him, but we can’t know everything about Him. Through the Bible, God has revealed something about Himself so that we can know Him and He can know us. And at the same time, as we want to know Him, we cannot fully wrap our minds around every aspect of who He is. St. Augustan said, “if you understand Him, He is not, God.” 

The Trinity is not something irrelevant as far as our daily lives are concerned. Indeed, it provides us practical examples of how we are to conduct our lives. The Trinity doctrine is not only essential to the truth of the Christian faith it is also tremendously helpful in a practical sense. For one thing, there is complete unity and harmony among the members of the Trinity. Since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate gods, we do not have to be concerned that they may have different purposes. They will never disagree with one another or have differing agendas. Therefore, we can rest assured in the promises of God and in the fact that God’s program is going forward as He has planned. This should give us a whole lot of confidence.

There are so many things to learn about God and His desires for us, that getting caught up on the Holy Trinity and explaining it as something scientific can take us away from the His glory. We need to just remember that He is our God. We need to read the teachings of Jesus. We need to listen to His Spirit talking to our hearts. That is the purpose of the Trinity, and that is the most important thing we need to understand about it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are the persons of the Trinity distinct?
  2. How much do we need to know about the Trinity? 

Unity Creates Belief

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20–21.

On the last night of His life, Jesus prayed a prayer in John 17 that stands as a model for all Christians.  Jesus, knowing the end is near, prays one final time for His followers. But something interesting stands out in that prayer. He didn’t pray for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other. As He prayed for them, He also prayed for “who will ever believe in me through their message.” That means each of us who are Christians. In His last prayer, Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Unity matters to God. Why? Because “…when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.” (John 13:35 TPT). Jesus’ message was I am leaving and you all need to serve, rely on and support each other.   

Unity isn’t just a nice bonus or a Christian buzzword. Unity is something to fight for. Why? Because there are some important benefits of unity in the church. Unity enriches our lives: Each of us stands to benefit from being part of a unified church. We’re weak on our own, but we’re much stronger together. When we’re unified with other believers, we can learn more, grow more and enjoy the type of community God designed us to be a part of.

In addition, unity fosters belief while disunity fosters disbelief. Who would want to go into battle with a group of soldiers who can’t agree on anything? Or race to put out a fire with a group of bickering firefighters. You wouldn’t. Nor would you be interested in hearing the gospel from a group of people that don’t seem to be united on the subject themselves. When Christians are fighting with each other, it can hurt our witness with unbelievers. When we commit to church unity, we create a beautiful picture for the world of what it looks like to love others as Christ does. Shouldn’t unity be the key to reaching the world for Christ? As Paul said, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

A unified church is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of the gospel. This is especially true in a world as fragmented and divisive as ours. When the world can’t seem to agree on anything or bear to be around people who are different, a church where natural enemies become siblings in Christ is a powerful alternative. When we’re unified, we bring glory to our Father who desires to see His people living in close fellowship with each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?
  2. What can you do to become more of a force for unity?