Saturday, October 29, 2011

Forgiveness Is Impossible

All I can say is this is yet another power-packed chapter. If you are reading Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh Demoss, you are probably wondering, “When is she ever going to give us a break? Is she ever going to lighten up?” Like unforgiveness keeps pounding away at our hearts and minds, DeMoss keeps chipping away at lies the world has fed us.

These are just a few of the quotes from this chapter alone that jolted my attention:

• “Forgiveness isn’t meant to be free and easy. It is hard. It is costly. It is painful”(106).

• “…whatever has happened in your life to cause unforgiveness to well up in your heart, God could have stopped it. But He didn’t”(107).

• “If you’re a child of God, the ordeal you’re undergoing, however wrong or unfair or heartless it may be or may have been in His providence and skillful hands will be used to take you somewhere good – deeper into His heart, to a place of greater dependence and trust, more perfectly refined into the likeness of Christ”(107).

• Forgiveness is impossible. But NOTHING is impossible for God. Forgiveness is an act of God’s grace performed in your heart and through you. You can’t do it on your own.

• Forgiving yourself means accepting God’s forgiveness first. “If God’s forgiveness is not good enough for us, then what’s so special about ours?”(114) “God is your forgiver – your one and only forgiver”(114). “No sin can create a stain too great for God to erase”(115).

There are many walking wounded, many broken people existing in life because they are clinching onto unforgiveness. They have white-knuckled pain so long it has turned into bitterness. God is steadily chipping away you allowing things to come into your life to break you down. He’s allowing things to put chinks in your walls. How bull-headed are you? What is it going to take before God gets your attention to the point that you are ready to meet Him, get real, and get healed? WHAT WILL IT TAKE? Trust me, I’ve been broken. It’s not a fun place to be, but when He finally gets through our thick heads and even harder hearts, He can perform CPR (Christ Performed Restoration). OMGoodness! It is healing. It is cathartic. It is liberating! Don’t you want to be free? Don’t you want to be unburdened? Then you must forgive and receive His forgiveness. You can’t forgive on your own. It is a work that God performs in you. For some of us we have to choose to forgive daily…sometimes moment to moment, but eventually over time, we get there. He gets you there.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Are You Harsh? Are You Hurt? Have you let kudzu take over your life?

Kudzoo. Is that how you spell it? Maybe it’s “kudzu.” It’s the stuff that is growing in Mississippi that they can’t seem to kill. You know what I’m talking about? That green viny plant that is growing everywhere. It started out as a pretty, little, green vine, and it actually had a purpose. They used it to prevent soil erosion. The corp used to plant it everywhere until they realized what we now know today. Supposedly kudzu can grow about a foot a day during the season, and possibly up to 60 feet in a year. It can climb on anything, over anything, and overtake anything that isn’t moving. The problem…they can’t kill it. It takes root and spreads and spreads and spreads. One suggested apply herbicide for four years in order to kill it. I’ve heard there is a recommendation to buy goats and let them eat it till it’s gone. Some so pretty, lush and green started with a simple idea of preventing soil erosion and now the state is so overrun with it they are looking for ways to get rid of it.

Isn’t that just like sin? It may not start off looking like sin because it has some part of truth mixed in it, but it is sin. If it isn’t 100% truth, then it’s not the truth. We let sin take root in one area of our life. It doesn’t just stay in that area. NOOOOOO! It has to start covering other areas climbing onto anything and everything. It is one of the hardest things to get rid of in your life too.

I can’t tell you how many women in the Bible study have said, “I really don’t have a problem forgiving people.” That may be true, but are they walking around hurt by what someone is doing to them or has done to them? There are some women who have said, “How am I supposed to forgive someone who keeps doing wrongdoing?” I’ve also heard, “How am I supposed to forgive someone who is dead?” Then there are those who are struggling with truly forgiving someone because they think that by forgiving them she is saying, “It’s okay that you hurt me.” Forgiveness isn’t about saying, “It’s okay,” because it isn’t. Failure to forgive is a sin of rebellion. The act of forgiving is not about the offender. It is about the offended releasing the control the offender has over her.

Failure to forgive turns into bitterness, resentment, harshness. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable about the king pardoning the man who owed more money to the king than he could ever repay in his lifetime. After receiving the pardon, the man goes out and finds another man who owes him money, grabs him and tells him to pay up. The king hears about this, and the grace he had extended is revoked. The man is thrown into prison to be tormented. “When we refuse to forgive, we set ourselves up to be turned over to ‘tormentors’.” (65) Refusing to forgive, gives Satan a foothold into your life. Torment can come to a Christian in the form of “chronic mental, emotional, and physical disorders” (65). This is not to say that all of those disorders are rooted in unforgiveness. It just means that for a Christian these are possible ways Satan can torment us.

Think about these things:

1. Matthew 18:35, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

2. “What if God only forgave me to the extent that I’ve been willing to forgive those who’ve sinned against me?”(68)

3. “When we refuse to forgive, something is blocked in our relationship with the Father.” (69)

4. “Bitterness grows in us when we fail to see the trouble and pain in our lives from God’s point of view, and when our expectations of what life should be diverge from the reality of what life really is.” (73)

Those are some statements that can walk all over a person.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes, “When we get hurt, no matter how serious the offense or how deep the wound, God has grace available to help us deal with the offense and forgive the offender. At that point, we have one of two choices: We can acknowledge our need and humbly reach out to Him for His grace to forgive and release the offender. Or we can resist Him, fail to receive His grace, and hold on to the hurt” (76). I know people who have chosen the latter. They are bitter, negative, harsh, and offensive repelling people who love them the most. All because they held onto hurt and failed to forgive – allowing sin to take root and spread like kudzu.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Walking Wounded -- How Long Have You Been Drinking Poison

A parent, a spouse, a sibling, a co-worker, a family member, a minister, a superior…someone you trusted violated your trust, broke your heart, tore you down till you felt little worth, took advantage of you, used you or even worse, they’ve done it to someone you love like your child. You now sit there angry, bitter, hurt, resentful…madder than a wet hornet. Justifiable? Absolutely. We’ve all been there at some point in time in our lives…”Walking Wounded.” “And wounded people tend to wound people” (35). Who are you wounding by holding onto your anger, hurt, bitterness and unforgiveness? Are you ready to begin the work necessary to forgive?

Some of you may still be under the effects of the hurtful event or person, and some of you may just be walking numbly around wondering what in the world happened. Some are coping the best way you can. Some have built walls and protection around your hearts and lives. Does any of this sound like you at any point in your life? I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Living in that pain and hurt, holding onto anger and clinching onto unforgiveness keeps you from freely worshipping God Almighty. “The question is: Do those wounds – past or present – have to define who you are, where you’re headed, and how you get there?” (37)

“These are God-sized wounds that need God-sized answers” (39). Forgiveness is no easy thing to accomplish, and often times we have to repeatedly forgive someone who will never even ask for forgiveness.

I love this quote, “The outcome of our lives is not determined by what happens to us but by how we respond to what happens to us” (41). You are not defined by what happens to you. Your future does not have to be determined by what someone else has said about you, what someone did to you, or what has happened to you. Living like that is living like a victim, and John 10:10, the Bible says that Christ came to give us an abundant life. A victim’s life is not abundant. It is not a free life. A victim’s life is a life chained to the one who abused, neglected or hurt you. You want to move past? You want to be liberated from your captor? Forgive. Yes, I know it is much easier to say than do…trust me, I know this to be true. The offenses and events will shape your life, but it does not have to be what defines you or your future. I don’t know about you, but I find that empowering. This means the ball is in my court. I have control as to whether or not I allow this wrongdoing to eat away at me, or I can choose to forgive. It’s my choice. There isn’t anything that the harmful situation or other person can do to keep me bound to them if I so choose it. How strong is your will?

As Christians, we have hope. We know that there is a way out. We know that God has hemmed us in from the front and the back. We know that God has ordained our footsteps. We also know that God is our Great Physician healing down to the very marrow of the bone. You want freedom? You want to be liberated from those who hold your chains? Forgive them, and with God’s grace, you can.

Now for those who like to keep score…Nancy Leigh Demoss calls you a “Debt Collector.” These are the ones who want revenge. They want to retaliate and build up resentment in their hearts. You are holding so tightly onto every wrong that has ever been done to you that you don’t have a hand free to receive what God has for you. Did you get that? You are choosing to keep score and get even. We have a rule at our house. If one of the kids retaliates against the other for a wrongdoing, then I, as the parent, will not exact punishment. By retaliating, my child is choosing to take matters into his/her own hands. This usually means things escalates to nowhere good, real quick. If your focus is so set on getting even with someone, then your focus IS NOT ON GOD.

What if you are waiting on the other person to ask for forgiveness? What if it never comes? Are you going to live your life grasping onto the hope of that person asking for forgiveness?

What are you holding in your hands? Are you willing to release it to God, and let Him handle it? When we release our grip on what we think we deserve or want, then God is free to give us His best knowing we can receive it with our hands open. This means we have to LET GO.

Do you enjoy being forgiven by a Holy God? Do you appreciate the grace He gives you and the mercy He extends every time He forgives you? Then you must do the same.

One last quote for you to think about this week: Unforgiveness is “like drinking poison and hoping someone else die.” How long have you been drinking poison?

In the months of October and November, there is a Bible study going on for women using Nancy Leigh Demoss’s book Choosing Forgiveness. We invite you to join us on Sunday mornings at 9:40 AM for a frank and honest lesson on forgiveness.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sticks and Stones --- A Bible Study on Forgiveness is Starting

My son loves rocks…and sticks. The more unique they are, the smoother they are, the more my son is intrigued by them. I cannot tell you how many rocks and sticks I have washed in the seven years of his life. Rocks of different colors and shapes. Sticks from different types of wood weathered or smooth. He rubs his hands over them. He uses them as little tools, and he shows them off to his sister who has no great interest in them. He accumulates them in his pockets throughout the day which means I accumulate them in my laundry room. A rock here. A stick there. You’d think I’d have enough rocks and sticks to build a wall or something, but the rocks and sticks really aren’t good for anything but his sheer amusement.

I know a person who has accumulated and collected his prizes. He goes over them and over them, bearing his focus on them to the exclusion of other things. His prizes or badges he carries with him day in and day out accumulating them as he goes. And just like my son he tries to show them off. He talks about them. He gets loud when no one will listen to him any longer. In many ways the man and my son are similar. They both are holding onto what they collect. The more they collect, the heavier it gets. For Pearce, his britches can start sagging with the weight of rocks and sticks, but for the man, the badges he accumulates are hung around his heart. The only difference between my seven-year-old son and this grown man (other than their physical age) is that Pearce collects rocks and sticks, and the grown man collects grievances or things that have been done wrong to him over the course of his life. The man’s heart is hard, and he’s bitter and angry. The people who have done him wrong are long gone, but he yet he still holds on.

In Nancy Leigh Demoss’s book Choosing Forgivness she writes, “When we choose to hold on to our grudges, we relinquish control of our future” (10). Are you a collector of wrong-doings? Are you carrying around hurt that has not been dealt with? Forgiveness requires total surrender and relinquishment (22). Are you tires of being heavy-burdened? Are you tired of being angry? Are you tired of giving power and control of your life to someone who doesn’t even know they have it? Then this study is for you.

You know when you are carrying that kind of weight around it can’t help but affect you. It affects your posture. (Pearce is always looking down to find rocks and sticks. My friend expects for people to try to take the best from him, so he’s always on the defensive.) The more one accumulates the heavier it becomes. “The wounds that have been inflicted upon you will not be made one ounce lighter by being stored up and left to fester. In fact, they will only become heavier and more burdensomen.” (25)

Joy is replaced with sadness and defeat. Pleasure is replaced with resentment and bitterness. Love and kindness are fended off by the walls that are built around your heart. “We cannot expect to live at peace with God or to experience His blessing in our lives if we refuse to forgive our debtors. To do so is to choke out His grace and to allow Satan to ‘get an advantage of us’ “(2 Cor 2:11)(25).

“Forgiveness at its best requires that you face how badly you’ve been hurt” (29). This study is going to make you face your hurt. You are going to learn how to deal with you hurt, and you are going to be given the opportunity to learn how to forgive. After you learn, it is up to you to CHOOSE FORGIVENESS.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do You Treat Prayer Like God Is Your Genie in a Bottle?

Whenever I take the kids to school, they know the first thing we do in the truck is to pray. It helps to focus our attention on the things that matter and not on the drama that has just previously unfolded in our home. One morning, Pearce had a little difficulty. I had prayed for each one in my family, and Erin had prayed. There was a long pause, and Erin said, "Pearce, it's your turn." Pearce snarled back at her, "I KNOW, ERIN." His prayer didn't go much better. Pearce is known for thanking God for his momma and daddy and every dog that has come into his life, but he either manages to leave Erin off his prayer list or she comes AFTER the dogs. Today not only was she after the dogs, but his comment was, "And God, be with my miserable sister, Erin!" Before drama could unfold I reminded Erin that Pearce was having a conversation with God, and I think God could take him.

Sometimes we wonder why if feels like our prayers don't get past the ceiling, but if we were to examine our hearts and attitudes toward God and prayer and the subject matter, we might understand better. James 5:16 tells us to, "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." It's not the prayer that changes things. It's the heart of the person praying to an Almighty God. God is the One who changes things based on the person doing the praying.Lately, I've found myself praying all kinds of prayers. God has this way of teaching me a lesson before I teach it, so when someone asks me where do I get my material, I tell them, "God taught it to me."
While I was preparing this week, several quotes came across my path that I would like to share. Hopefully, they will provoke you to think about your own prayer life like they did mine.
  1. "What if you woke this morning with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?" Christine Williams
  2. When I think of prayer I think of…
  3. When I think of my prayer life I feel…
In a book I'm reading for seminary, I read, "Purpose of prayer is to get to know God while we worship and make our requests. Primary focus is on the relationship with God."
How often to you treat prayer as the lamp that holds your personal genie? Dear God, I really need __________. Dear God, I really want _____________. No, "hello." No, "How have you been?" No, "Thank you, God!" No, "God, you are so _______."
Have you ever had a friend or family member that the only time they call you is to ask for something? You are being that kind of person to God if the only time you pray is when you need or want something. How is your relationship with that needy person? Do you try to avoid their calls? Do you deny their requests? Just something to think about.

I like the fact that the author of this book encourages us to worship God first. Why is that? Because when we worship God first, it put our focus on Him. We will be seeking His will and His desires for us. When we start with worship, it reminds us of just how unworthy and unholy we are which leads us to a time of confession.Have you ever wondered why we are to confess our sins to God if we are already Christians? I have. Think of it like this. Have you ever had a friend or loved one do or say something that was egregious to you? Did it offend you? Were you hurt by it? Before your relationships could be restored, someone needed to apologize. When we confess our sins as God's children, we are restoring our relationship with our Father.

This week, I encourage you to praise and worship God first and foremost in your prayer time. It doesn't have to be singing. It can be just simply praising God for who He is to you. He is the Alpha and Omega! He is the lover of my soul! Praise Him. Worship Him. Confess to Him your sins, so your heart will be right with Him. Then make your petitions known to Him.I will also encourage you to journal your prayers. They are wonderful to go back and read at a later time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When You Find Yourself Imprisoned or in a Pit…

When I asked my class to read Acts 5 and 12 and be ready to compare and contrast the prison breakouts, I wasn't really sure where God was going to take us. Acts is an exciting book in the Bible because it was an exciting time to be a Christian. The church was growing. God was doing amazing things, and Christians were being persecuted.

In Acts 5 the apostles were imprisoned because they were teaching God's Word, and laying the blame of Christ's death squarely on the shoulders of the Sanhedrin. The apostles were arrested and put into jail (something along the lines of our city jail – The court at this level could not sentence the apostles to death, but they could most certainly make life difficult). Then the angel of the Lord led them out of the prison past the soldiers and instructed them to teach in the courts the way of the Life. When the Sanhedrin met the next day and sent for the apostles, the door to the cell was locked from the outside. The guards were still in place, and yet no one was inside.

In Acts 12, Peter was imprisoned alone. Herod chained him between two soldiers and assigned four groups of four soldiers each to guard Peter. Apparently, Herod had heard about the prior escape. The night before Peter was to arrive in court and fight for his life, he was ASLEEP in prison. He was asleep chained between two soldiers in the pitch black of the cell. Herod's prison system could sentence people to death, and that is where Peter was headed the next day…to his death. In order for Peter to be able to sleep before a night like that at trial and being chained to two guards, he had to have had the peace that passes all understanding. As a matter of fact, he slept so well that the angel had to shake him to wake him. It was a sound, deep sleep. Lord, when I'm in my pit chained to the things that bind me and weigh me down, please give me that kind of peace.

The angel of light told Peter to put on his clothes, coat and shoes. It's important to realize that the cell was pitch dark. Peter could not have seen the hand in front of his face had it not been for the light of God exposing the clothes and items he needed. Peter got up, did as he was told and followed the angel.

In whatever prison (dark place) that you are sitting, are you expecting God to show up? Often times when we are in a pit, we are struggling and fighting so hard for what we think is ours that we miss God completely, and we are STRIVING FOR NOTHING! If we would just be still and listen, God shows up. He shows up in the way He chooses and when He chooses. He is never late, and He provides everything we could possibly need for what happens next. If we would just shut our traps long enough and look expectantly to God to handle the problem and to lead us out, our time in the pit chained to what binds us would be much shorter.

If you believe that God is in the future, if you believe that God is all-knowing, if you believe that God wants what is best for you – then why do you struggle against things that God hasn't led you to struggle against? TRUST. FAITH. Actually it is the lack of trust and the lack of faith in God – this is why we worry. This is why we become anxious. God is bigger than any person. God is bigger than any roadblock. God is bigger than any plan that a human being can come up with. God is bigger than any disease. God is bigger.

What would your faith look like if when you first found yourself in a pit if you would stop and wait on the Lord? What would your walk look like if when you found yourself chained to something you had no control over if you looked to see how God was going to work it out instead of your trying to bust the chains? What would your life be like if you exercised the peace that passes all understanding? Trust Him. Faith Him. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't Overlook Anyone -- God Works Outside the Box

South paw. Left-handed. Only one in their right mind. Accident proned living in a right-handed world. I have heard all of these for I am a lefty. Growing up, I hated having notebooks with the rings on the left, and there were certain pens that I couldn’t use because they would smudge. This would not be the only thing that would make me different nor the only thing that would force me to do things differently than others. If you are right-handed, have you ever tried being a lefty for a day? Eat with your left. (After all the fork is on the left, shouldn’t you use your left hand?) Wear your watch or jewelry on the opposite side. Anything you would do with your right you would stop and do with your left. Awkward, isn’t it? Uncomfortable? Doesn’t really make sense to do it with your left because you are more efficient doing the task with your right.

Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Verse 9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God does not always choose to do what is comfortable for us. God does not always choose to use the person we think He should use. We’d like to put God in a box, but He is God and cannot be contained by anything man creates. Sometimes He does a thing just because He can.

What has driven me to this whole thinking and reasoning is reading Acts 9. Why would God choose to send the PERSECUTOR to the PERSECUTED? Because He can, but in order to do so, God has to shake Saul’s world upside down, inside out, and all around. It wasn’t comfortable to say the least. You see, to get Saul to where he needed to be, the POWERFUL had to become POWERLESS. The IMPRISONER had to become IMPRISONED by his own inabilities. The SIGHTED became BLIND. The INDEPENDENT became the DEPENDENT. The LEADER had to be LED. The STRONG had to become DEFENSELESS. God did not write Saul off the books because he was difficult. Instead, God chose to take Saul down to bare metal. Been there, done that. Are you there now? If you are, take hope. Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God is so good. He loves us too much to leave us in the state we are in. He can use anyone whether they are a willing vessel or not. He knows what it takes to get a person’s attention. He knows the calling He has put on each person’s life, and in verse 15 of Acts 9 God said, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”

God does not always choose to work within the confines set by man. Sometimes He chooses to shake things up. Keeps things interesting, don’t it! That is why it is so imperative that we have an intimate relationship with Him. No one is to be overlooked. God doesn’t write anyone off as being useless. Who would have thought God would use a Christian-slayer to be a Christian leader? Have you written anyone off? If so, you might want to seek God’s guidance about the best practice for that person. He may just have you devote yourself to praying for that person, or he may call you out like Ananias to go and minister to him/her. AWKWARD! What will you do when that happens? Will you go and trust God’s ways, or will you miss out on the blessing and stay put? This journey isn’t about your being comfortable. It’s about growing in your faith and in your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. He can use you, and He will, if you allow Him.