Forgiving Others

“So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” – Jonah 4:2. 

God convicted Nineveh of their sin. And the people of the city repented. They had a genuine change of heart. But how did Jonah respond? Jonah 4:1 says, “His change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry” Jonah didn’t want the people of Nineveh to repent. He didn’t want God to forgive them. From his perspective, they deserved God’s wrath and judgment—not His mercy and grace.

C.S. Lewis reminds us with a brief yet calm confidence that forgiveness is a lovely idea until we have something to forgive. So before we judge Jonah too harshly, we must remember that we’ve all felt as if a person or group of people deserved something bad to happen to them. That careless driver who cut us off. That difficult employer or fellow employee. The group that has opinions completely different than our own. While we are grateful that God forgives us we may not think that others deserve that same forgiveness and mercy.

Forgiveness. If we’re honest, we aren’t very openhanded with it and tend to withhold it until we feel ready, or the offender shows some indication of their remorse. Some of us have been known to say; “I’m praying and asking God to help me to forgive.” That’s fine, but forgiving someone is an act of obedience, not a feeling. Jesus wasn’t suggesting we forgive one another, He was commanding us to.

Matthew 18:21 says, “ Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”  Before moving too quickly to Jesus’ answer, we should spend a moment thinking about Peter’s question. For after asking his question, he suggests an answer, offering “seven” as a genuinely generous suggestion. After all, it’s nearly inconceivable that were someone to sin against us four or five or six times we would just keep forgiving that person. We’d begin to think it was deliberate, or at least dangerously compulsive. Yet Peter offers seven times as an above-and-beyond kind of answer.

To which Jesus replies, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” Now, before you break out your calculator to do a quick multiplication problem, let’s not miss the point. This is not about coming up with an exact number or a quota, instead, it’s about grasping a mindset. Jesus’ answer encourages us to recognize that forgiveness isn’t something we do but a way of being, a way of being in a relationship.  

Christianity is difficult. Forgiving is very difficult and unnatural. Forgiveness is not tied to manageable, natural numbers. Instead, it is tied to supernatural grace and mercy. That seems outlandish at best and preposterous at worst. Except that’s what Jesus says. And more importantly, that’s what Jesus does, forgiving us over and over and over again and inviting us to do the same.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to forgive others?
  2. What can we do this week to practice forgiveness? 

Focusing On What Will Last

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” –  2 Corinthians 4:18. 

One of the greatest challenges for Christians is maintaining an eternal perspective. Life goes by so quickly and yet we often get caught up in the day to day tasks and forget that we are not promised tomorrow.

James 4:14 says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” Perhaps if we remembered this truth we would have an easier time also remembering our purpose on earth.

Life isn’t about accumulating money, power, or fame. Life’s about fulfilling God’s purpose for us. We must focus, therefore, on His eternal perspective. Colossians 3:2 tell us, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” God created us for eternity. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 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.” We may live in time, but eternity must be the backdrop of our life. We must learn to live for eternal purposes.

There are many people in the world who do not think about the end and are only concerned about the present, but no matter what a man is today, no matter what he has, everything here on earth ceases immediately at his last breath. When you are born, you commence on a journey from this world to the next. Maybe it helps to see life as a journey into eternity. But the thing about any journey is that while the journey is important, and sometimes can be comfortable and easy and other times can be uncomfortable and hard, the focus is never the journey but the destination. 

We need to remember that even difficult circumstances are temporary. No problem comes to stay in your life. It will pass. Even if it is a lifelong chronic problem, you won’t take it into eternity. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 4:18. Your problems won’t last forever. The coronavirus pandemic won’t last forever. Uncertainty with the economy won’t last forever.

But there are things in God’s universe that you can’t see that will last forever. Faith, hope, and love will last forever. And if you trust in Jesus, you will be with God forever in eternity.

“Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.  But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

Discussion Questions:

  1. In view of eternity, how do we live differently in this life?  
  2. In view of eternity, what do we do differently this week?  

The Best Laid Plans

“The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32:8. 

Have you ever asked God for something and He gave you the opposite?  How did you handle that? What do you do when you are trying your very best to live according to God’s word, trust Him with your life and trust Him with the outcome? Do you get angry with God?  Have you ever quit trusting that God has a plan?  Is it easy to become confused?

There are several people in the Bible who experienced this. Most Christians have read these stories many times yet after 2020, they seem to come alive in a new and vibrant way. The story that always comes to mind when a Christian thinks of adverse circumstances is Job. It is hard to imagine how he could see much good in God’s plan for his life.  He is going along living his life, taking care of his family, just minding his own business, and then boom, his life completely falls apart.  He loses everything all at once.  Every single area of his life was touched by this. His family, his work, his friends, his faith.  Literally, every single area of his life was touched.

We know that God only wants what is best for us. The Bible said that before He formed me in the womb He knew me. How could He not want what is best for me? He promises to work everything out for my good. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

If we spend all of our time on the negative in our life, we will lose sight of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. Psalm 136:1 says, “ Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”

God has a plan for our lives. We may never understand why things have turned out the way they have. But we do know that God is in control and He has a reason for allowing it. We may never know why God has either caused or allowed certain things in my life, but it’s ok not to have all the answers as long as He does. 

The key is to trust and rest in Him. How can I rest when I need answers?  We need to be doing something.  We need to fix things right? But that really isn’t our job.  Our job is to not be afraid.  Our job is to trust His heart and His plan and to rest in Him.  Sometimes it is hard to jump off the merry go round of trying to fix things, letting God be in control, getting anxious and impatient, then trying to fix things again.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so hard to trust in God’s plan for our life? 
  2. What can we do this week to trust that God is in control and wants the best for us?  

What Happens When I Don’t Agree With God’s Plan?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” – Proverbs 3:5-6.    

Life doesn’t always go the way we planned, does it? Something unexpected happens. We hear bad news. There is trouble at work. Cars break down. Family members say things or do things that hurt us. Someone promises something and then disappoints us. There are times when life seems like it is going in the wrong direction. You’re going one way but God seems to be pulling you another way.   

As Christians we regularly hear that “God has a plan for my life.” And it’s true. Your Heavenly Father has a wonderful plan in mind for you. This plan does not only include your overall contentment and peace but also includes things He wants us to do. When we surrender our life to God, we are allowing God to have full control of our lives. But we still have the power to make choices. You can choose not to follow God’s will for your life. God is still guiding but it’s totally up to you to accept and apply the guidance to your life.

The story of Jonah is a case in point. We all know the story of how Jonah got swallowed by a great big fish because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. It is also a story of God going to great lengths to get Jonah to do what He asked him to. But don’t all of us have a little Jonah in us?  You can feel God’s spirit pointing you in a particular direction, but we (just like Jonah) are determined to run in the opposite direction because we don’t agree with God’s plan. 

Like Jonah, we may be going through some hard times. God is working in our lives and like Jonah, we need to let go. We need to let God be God and trust all that He says He is and will do in our lives.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be like Paul, sitting in our prison (of doubt, worry, anxiety) praising God? But if we are honest we don’t do that. Sometimes we struggle with God’s plan for our lives. When we don’t see any practical way this can work out for our good is when we struggle with trust.  

But if we pause and look back at the mistakes we have made, we conclude that we often create the mess we are in and that we don’t deserve His goodness and grace. Then God reminds us of His great love. We have His assurance that He’s got this. It’s under control. I don’t have to have all the answers.  That’s not my job, that is God’s job to have the answers. My job is just to trust in the One who holds me in His hand and hides me under the shadow of His wings. God has a plan so I have assurance.

If you don’t have all the answers, ask God to take over and help you to stop questioning every single thing and just trust Him.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Jonah resented God’s Plan because it didn’t fit his plan.  Have you ever done that? 
  2. What can we do this week to align ourselves with God’s plan?

Cause And Effect

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.” – Colossians 3:23-25.

If someone walked up to you on the street and asked you “what is your cause,” how would you respond? You probably would want some sort of clarification. You would probably want to know if the individual was referring to the purpose of your life, what you are pursuing or what you are passionate about. 

Few people are able to answer this question with unshakable confidence. Most of us, if we’re honest, would admit that the daily grind on this planet can be rather unsatisfying. The labor never pays off as we imagined. The respites never deliver as we hoped. There is more, right? We’ve all felt this deep down. There’s got to be more. We look for satisfaction but we find that nothing in this world really satisfies. We look for something that will give meaning to life but then go to bed every night wondering why we are here on this earth. Is there nothing more to life than just the daily grind of waking up, going to work, coming home, watching TV, and then sleeping? What we have to realize is that life has no real meaning until we are committed to a cause, and that cause must be worth the price of our commitment.

Jesus knew His cause for coming to the world. “Pilate said, “So you are a king?”Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (John 18:37) Jesus did not come to earth to maybe do something big. He did not come to earth to hopefully change the world. Jesus was born for a cause, that cause was to restore this world back to God. In 1Timothy 1:15 we read, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.” 

The greatest cause you can commit your life to is the cause of Christ. Jesus is looking for those who will surrender their will to His. God is looking for someone who will say, “Here am I, send me.” He is looking for a man or woman who will say, “Mold me, make me, use me, fill me with your presence, and make me what you want me to be.” Serving pays off in dividends of an eternal reward. It’s more than worth the price. It’s a cause larger than life itself, and when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to look back and say, “I’ve lived for a purpose, and I’ve made a difference.” 

That is a cause worth fighting for. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you hear the word cause, what comes to mind?
  2. Is a cause a true cause, if you are not interested in fighting for it?
  3. What can we do this week to further the cause of Jesus Christ? 

The Mission Of Jesus

“I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – John 17:4. 

Jesus knew His mission. He knew why the Father sent Him into the world. He aligned Himself with this mission. Everything that He did, everything that He taught, everything that is recorded of His life in the Gospels was focused on accomplishing the mission for which He was sent. At the end of His life and ministry, He prayed to the Father, “I have glorified you on the earth by faithfully doing everything you’ve told me to do.” (John 17:4). Mission accomplished.

Jesus had a lot to say about His mission. Before we focus on our mission we should learn what the mission of Jesus was since our mission and the mission of the church derives from Jesus’ mission.

A case in point is found in Matthew 14:22-33 which is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. At that point in his ministry, thousands of people were following Jesus. However, the conveniences of the modern, first world were simply not available back then. For many of the thousands in attendance, witnessing Jesus speak meant they had not taken the necessary steps to secure food for the day. Thousands were hungry, with no plan to eat, and Jesus responded by feeding them from the smallest of provisions. Jesus performs one of his most famous miracles. It would seem a perfect opportunity to preach to His now well-fed captive audience? But He doesn’t.

He sent the disciples in a boat to cross the lake, and Jesus dismissed the crowds and went to the top of the mountain. In today’s world that seems like a lost opportunity to preach to thousands of people with full bellies. But Jesus opts to go to the top of the mountain and spend time with His Father. Jesus stopped everything He was doing because He needed to be with God in the intimate way that He lived in relationship with God. He needed to recharge and refuel. Jesus knew He needed to be connected to the Father.

Jesus is showing us what it looks like to be in the most important relationship one could ever be in, the relationship between God and each one of us. When one lives in that reality, we step towards becoming like Jesus, spending time with our Savior. Living in this reality enables us to become just who God created us to be and fulfill our mission in life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Jesus in terms of mission?
  2. What can we do this week to be more like Jesus in fulfilling our mission? 

The Love Of God

“Jonah concluded that because he could not see any good reasons for God’s command, there couldn’t be any.” – Tim Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. 

In chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, God says “go” but Jonah says “no.” In chapter 2, God applies the pressure as only He can until Jonah cries “uncle.” In Chapter 3, God calls on Jonah a second time to compel him to go. As soon as Jonah’s feet hit dry land he set off for Nineveh to warn the people.  

For a long time, Nineveh held the title of the largest city in the world. The city required a three-day journey — not to get to it, but to get through it.  And so the world’s most disinclined prophet walks through the gates of the largest city on earth and begins fulfilling the mission God sent him on. His message was brief and to the point: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Most people think about being swallowed by a giant fish as the miracle in the book of Jonah, but I am not so sure. The bigger miracle may be found in verse 5:” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” 

The verse does not say they believed Jonah. They believed God. Something swept through the mighty city of Nineveh causing a repentance wave. Something gripped their hearts with such force that they took off their big-city robes and put on the rough and scratchy sackcloth that signified great distress. Even the king repented: When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” (Vs. 6-9)

I doubt there has ever been another revival like this. Every single person stopped eating and started fasting, traded their dignified clothes for burlap, and began to cry out urgently to God, repenting from the evil and violent things they had been doing. When the rebellious prophet in the Bible obeyed God after three days in a fish, the power of God brought Nineveh to repentance.

This is a miracle and a clear demonstration of the love and mercy of God. What God was teaching Jonah – and all of us today – is that the love, hope, and redemption found in Jesus Christ is available for everyone, regardless of their past. It’s available for a rebellious prophet whose prejudices got in the way of obeying God and for an entire city that committed countless atrocities. That same love is available for you and for me. Why? Because “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the story of Nineveh change your view of God’s love?
  2. Does the story of Nineveh change your view of warning people?   

Avoiding Mission Drift

“So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” – Hebrews 2:1

Jonah was a prophet who fled God’s call to warn Nineveh of the coming judgment. He foolishly hopped a boat to Tarshish instead of obeying, and in response, God hurls a great storm upon the ship. Jonah is in a mess. And we think, “Well, he got himself into this.” He did. But we shouldn’t be too smug especially if we put our lives under a microscope. We’ve run from God, if not physically, certainly in our hearts. We all tend to be fugitives on the run from God.

My guess is Jonah’s plan for his life didn’t include running from God. But when God called, Jonah limited what God could ask of him. He drifted from God. He didn’t see the drift, because we never see the drift. He still felt he operated within his calling. He wasn’t cheating on his wife, he wasn’t stealing, he was being a good Israelite. He drifted when God asked him to go warn people who he viewed as enemies. Not only that, he was appalled that God would even ask it of him. 

Drifting happens when two problems coincide: we neglect God’s word and we accept an alternative message. That’s what happened to Jonah. He ignored God’s word to go to Nineveh and accepted an alternative word that God should judge, not forgive Nineveh. Jonah wanted to turn God into an unforgiving judge. And he thought he was justified in doing so.

When we refuse to listen to all of God’s word and substitute other, more acceptable messages instead, we set ourselves on the same path as Jonah.  And we might not even see the size of the minefield until something extraordinary comes along and wakes us up: something like a storm at sea and a group of pagan sailors pleading with us to pray for salvation. But his drift found him out. God knows, no matter where you are if you’re faithful or not. Others may not know your drift, but God does.

God’s purposes will be accomplished. Jonah’s mission was delayed by his flight from God. God would stop him, and turn him around by a storm and a fish. Why? Most certainly it had to do with the matter of urgency.  The judgment upon Nineveh was pending so the preaching of God’s word had to be done promptly. Time was of the essence.

What about God’s mission for us?  Are we “drifting?” Or, are we committed to “study to show ourselves approved unto God,” in the business of our Father. We might be like Jonah, for one reason or another, running away from the calling of God so the mission is not fully engaged. There is a neglect of the purpose, the direction, the reason for which God has put us on this earth.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easy to recognize when we drift? Why or why not?   
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we stay focused on our spiritual mission? 

Make My Mission My Top Priority

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  – Matthew 6:33. 

Does your smartphone affect your to-do list? Could this marvel of technology redirect my day, causing me to miss God’s best for me? I think so, and here’s why. If you are old enough you remember the house phone, and I do mean singular as in one. There was no call-waiting beep or answering machine. And of course, no email or texting. So if you wanted to reach someone, you had to keep calling until you got through. Or maybe head to their house and knock on their door. So much has changed today.

A typical day starts with checking some sort of communication device to see who might have emailed, posted, or texted. Then, before we begin to handle what’s most important to us, our day begins by responding to what’s most important to others. So rather than being proactive, our days are spent in reactive mode. The question is how attentive are we to the spiritual things of life. We expect that somehow spiritual things will take care of themselves—but do we make a conscious effort to make spiritual matters a top priority in our life?

If so, what is it? In a fast-moving world, what grabs our attention is what is faster, better and brighter. We are accustomed to instant answers and results. We are masters at multi-tasking, trying to get everything done in our own time.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 (CEV) in the Bible, “More than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants, then the other things will be yours as well.” God expects us to work and live, while centering our life on Him and His kingdom as we work and live. Now, I’m saying it’s not wrong to go after other things. We do not need to spend all our time or energy in spiritual pursuits. There is a difference between priorities and responsibilities.

What Jesus is teaching us here is to clearly establish priorities in your life. Let your first priority be following Christ. Jesus says, focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord. If you are going to be consumed with anything, be consumed with His kingdom. If God’s priorities become our priorities, He will take care of our needs. C.S. Lewis wrote, “ put first things first, and we get second things thrown in. Put second things first, and we lose both first and second things.”

That intuitively makes sense. There are many distractions and demands today, and it can be confusing. But the message of the Bible is clear. Let God into every area of your life, and you will be amazed at how He will guide and help you. Enjoying the best life possible is about who directs your life. That’s because whatever force has first place in your life will drive your decisions and shape your future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to have a life on mission? Why or why not?  
  2. What can we do this week to eliminate the distractions that may be keeping us from fulfilling our mission?  

The Four Lepers

“Now there were four men with leprosy[c] sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other. We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.” – 2 Kings 7:3-4.   

There is an amazing story found in 2 Kings 7 about 4 lepers who decided to risk it all. Four people had no status, no resources, and only a faint ray of hope that something good could happen to them, but they found the courage to take a step into the dark, into the desert, and into a destiny, they never dreamed possible. 

The four men were starving outside the gate of a besieged, starving city.  These four dying men reached a moment of desperation:  “If we go into the city we will die of starvation due to the lack of the garbage, that day-by-day was let down to them over the wall;  If we surrender to the enemy they may kill us also.  What do we have to lose?” They decided to risk it all and visit the enemy camp.  When they arrived, it was vacated.  The enemy had fled in the night, frightened by a loud sound from God. They were suddenly rich as kings.  

Suddenly, one of them had a thought. “It’s not right.  We must go tell them.  In the city, they are killing each other over crumbs and we have a mega Sam’s club.”  When they returned to the city, they shouted over the wall that there were untold riches just over the hill.  No one believed them!  The king said it was a trap. They finally sent two horses out who confirmed the amazing story was true. 

When you open the Bible to 1st and 2nd Kings, you think you would be reading about the great and the mighty, the magnificent and the illustrious.  So it is surprising that many of the stories talk about the poor and the distressed and the despairing.  Why would the Lord use lepers as part of the story? 

Did you know if you were to take out of this Bible all of the stories of the poverty-stricken and the brokenhearted, you’d have hardly anything left? The stories of God’s humble and poor on the earth, comprise the whole Bible; the story of Joseph, as he is sold into slavery (Genesis 37:26-31); the story of the little baby Moses, set afloat on the Nile (Exodus 2:1-4); the story of Job, sitting in ashes, crying in agony for the afflictions God hath sent upon him (Job 2:8, 3:1-26); the story of the two widows who came back homeless and helpless, gathering sheaves, handfuls left for the poor in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:1-17); the story of the widow, whose son was sold for the debts of her deceased husband (2 Kings 4:2).

Think about how you have a choice every day—either to fulfill your mission and follow God’s calling or sit there waiting. Substitute a God view for your world view, then you will see how God will lead and direct you into a lifelong ministry that will be a blessing to a needy world around you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the story of the four lepers? 
  2. There, their future was uncertain. This would have to be a step of faith. One slim thread: Have you ever been in that situation? 
  3.  What can we do this week to not “sit there” but move forward in fulfilling our God-given mission?