God’s Mercy vs. our Failures

July 29, 2014

…& mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...”  (Psalm 23:6)

Mercy is the unconditional love of God. This word is found 366 times in the Bible. (Perhaps God wants us to know we need His mercy & unconditional love every day of the year – & He covers Leap Year!)  Many people think we don’t hear about God’s mercy until the Sermon on the Mount; however, we find 280 mercy references in the Old Testament.

King David concludes Psalm 100 with the observation that God’s mercy is everlasting.  But my favorite Old Testament reference to God’s mercy is found at the end of Psalm 23.  David’s greatest Psalm ends with the declaration that he is positively certain the mercy of God will follow him always.

The Hebrew word he uses for ‘follow’ can also be translated as ‘pursue.’  David brings the most profound description of the relationship between God & man to a conclusion by declaring the unconditional love of God will pursue him all the days of his life. By application this is true for all who confess, “the Lord is my Shepherd.”

There are many ways to fail. However, when we understand the meaning of God’s mercy we should realize that we cannot possibly out-fail His mercy.  No matter what your failures have been God has sent you a message wrapped in this five letter word “mercy.”  The amazing message is that you did not win His love by a positive performance and you do not lose His love by a negative performance.  God’s love and acceptance of you is unconditional.  According to David, the mercy of God is not only there like a rock for you, but like a hound of Heaven God is pursuing you with His unconditional love and forgiveness.

Dick Woodward, Happiness that Doesn’t Make Good Sense

 


Multi-facted Forgiveness

July 25, 2014

“…If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins…” Matthew 6:14-15

We need forgiveness in three dimensions: when we look up, when we look around, and when we look in.

If we believe the Gospel, the first dimension is a given. The great Bible word for that is “justified.” It literally means to ‘un-sin’ our sin. You can break up the word this way: just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned. Plus, the word means that He declares us righteous. In the 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus pronounced that anyone who prays, “God be merciful to me – a sinner,” is justified. Can you see why I say the first dimension of forgiveness is a given if you believe the Good News?

The second dimension is more complicated. You need a special measure of grace to forgive those who have greatly harmed you. And you can’t control whether or not those you have hurt will forgive you. But Jesus mandated that we have forgiveness in this second dimension. When He taught his disciples how to pray, He literally told them to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we have already forgiven those who have sinned against us.”

At the end of His teaching His disciples how to pray He added a solemn commentary: “If you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, then My Father in heaven will not forgive you your sins. In other words, if you don’t have forgiveness in this second dimension you lose your forgiveness in the first dimension. What a solemn truth!

Those who have sinned grievously will tell you that the third dimension of forgiveness is the toughest one. When devout people fall into sin, they especially have a very difficult time forgiving themselves.

Pray for forgiveness in these three dimensions because the greatest obstacle to inner healing is un-forgiveness.

Dick Woodward, 17 January 2009


Beside Still Waters

July 22, 2014

The Lord is my Shepherd … He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters.”  (Psalm 23:1-2)

David tells us when we have thrown our hands up and offered an unconditional surrender, the Good Shepherd will then lead us “beside still waters.”  Most people think of peace when they read of still waters; however, the realities of sheep management tell us this relates to the fact that sheep can only drink from waters that are still as glass…

When we confess that the Lord is our Shepherd and we are His sheep, He leads us to a cluster of blessings that are tailor made just for us.

In 1979, after serving as the pastor of a large congregation in a big city for over two decades, I accepted a call of a church with 22 members in a small college town.  I have never been more certain of divine guidance than when I made that decision. At the time I was experiencing weird physical symptoms that my doctors thought were caused by the stress of a large church.

After my first year in the small church in the small town, I went to Mayo clinic for a complete work-up.  The doctors there diagnosed multiple sclerosis.  Because the doctor misread my record, he thought I was still the pastor of a big church in a big city.  He counseled me to move to a small church in a small town and learn to find my fulfillment in writing.  I was able to say to him, “Doctor, I’ve already been there for a year!”

I refer to my experience as ‘still waters’ because the small church gave me the time, and my disability gave me the discipline, to write… which led to an international ministry, now in 31 languages all over the world…

There is a stained glass window at the entrance to my home with a dove hovering over blue water and green pastures. Underneath there is a brass plate with two engraved words: Still Waters.  Those two words are not just the name of my home, but the label I write across more than 30 years in this location…

Can you look back over your life and see divine interventions that led to green pastures and still waters?

Dick Woodward,  Psalm 23 Sheep Talk

 Editor’s Note:  When Papa struggled through his last bout of suffering in the hospital on March 8th, his breathing became very agitated. We began reciting Psalm 23.  As we got to, “He leads me beside still waters,”  his face suddenly lit up with peace & his breathing immediately slowed as he passed on to the Still Waters of Heaven.  When we arrived home, I noticed the stain glass – “Still Waters”- and thought, wow.  God made Daddy lie down (literally) in green pastures, providing still waters in his life & even in his death. 


Caution: Divine Providence at Work

July 18, 2014

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do£?” (Psalm 11: 3)

Greek is a very precise language.  Hebrew is not.  That’s why we frequently find footnotes that suggest alternate readings in the margins of our Bible when we are reading Old Testament Scripture passages.  The NIV translation of Psalm 11:3 has such a footnote.   The alternate reading suggested for this verse is: When the foundations of your life are breaking up, “What is the righteous One doing?”

In a long life I have experienced several periods when it seemed that the foundations of my life were breaking up.  I have found the suggested alternate reading of this verse to be a reliable response that turned many of those crises into very significant spiritual datelines in my journey of faith.

My faith walk began in 1949, and along the way I dropped two words out of my vocabulary: “fortunately” and “coincidentally.”  Because I believe in Divine Providence, I no longer believe in luck.  And I agree with the spiritual “heavyweight” who stated that when a devout believer thinks they have experienced a coincidence that just means God prefers to remain anonymous.

The Chinese characters for “crisis” are the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”  I believe we should factor into all our crises this knee jerk response: “What is the righteous One doing in my life now?” I find that He is always up to something and ultimately it is always something very good.  It is not primarily for our good but it is what accomplishes His good for His glory.

Dick Woodward, 02 July 2010


As Eagles

July 15, 2014

…they shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

The exceptional longevity of an eagle means an eagle is seldom ill.  When it does get sick, however, it goes to the highest elevation it can find.  It lies on its back and looks directly into the sun.  For this purpose, the eagle has an extra pair of thick eyelids.  When the eagle closes these eyelids, it can look directly into the sun and not suffer any damage.  This sun treatment proves to be therapeutic and often restores the health of the eagle… So that we might look directly into the Son, God has given us the Holy Spirit.

When the ultimate illness comes to an eagle, it climbs to the highest possible elevation and looks into the sun for an entire day.  When the sun goes down that evening, the eagle dies.

Have you ever seen an eagle disciple of Jesus Christ die? The first time I intellectually believed the Gospel was when I watched my mother die.  She died as an eagle follower of Jesus, looking right into the Son. The godly pastor who was with us had seen scores of saints go home, but said he had never seen anything like what he saw that night.

At the age of 49, she left behind six daughters, five sons and a husband.  The last two hours of her life were spent with her family, but she was already in Heaven, talking to Jesus.  She often said she never had any peace.  We had a little house of about 1,300 square feet with 13 people living in it, so you can understand why she had precious little peace or quiet. In those last hours she kept saying, “Oh, this peace, this peace!”

I believed intellectually at her death, but I did not become a disciple of Jesus Christ for several years because I knew believing involved a commitment.  I knew this because my mother had said to me, “If Jesus Christ is anything to you, Dick, He is everything to you. Because, until Jesus Christ is everything to you, He isn’t really anything to you.” My life was changed forever because she lived and died as an eagle disciple of Jesus Christ.

Dick Woodward, As Eagles: How to Be an Eagle Disciple


One Day at a Time

July 12, 2014

“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He gave them a principle that has many applications.  At the end of this chapter in the Gospel of Matthew, which records the central part of His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated that we should not worry about tomorrow.  Many have made that obvious application to this prayer petition.  People with tragic challenges like addictions or overwhelming suffering are only able to get their heads and hearts around the concept of coping one day at a time.

Another application of this principle applies to divine guidance.  In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that one way to discern the will of God for our lives is to live up to the light we now have.  He promises that as we do, God will give us more light.  Someone once said, “If you want to see further ahead into the will of God for your life, then move ahead into the will of God just as far as you can see.”

As a college student I drove across the United States several times, mainly at night because there was less traffic.  My headlights only illuminated about 100 yards at a time.  I discovered that if I kept driving into the light the headlights gave me, I eventually traveled from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles.

It is easier for God to steer a moving vehicle than one that is stationary.  As we respond to the light God is giving us He adds more light to our path.  The application of that principle leads us into His will one day at a time.

Dick Woodward, 17 August 2010


Eternal Values: Inner vs. Outer

July 8, 2014

…This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in common earthenware – to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us.”  2Corinthians 4:7 (J.B. Phillips)

Many years ago the famous American statesman, John Quincy Adams, was crossing a street.  Due to his poor health it took him five minutes to reach the other side. A friend passing that way asked, “How is John Quincy Adams this morning?”  He replied, “John Quincy Adams is doing just fine.  The house he lives in is in sad disrepair. In fact, it is so dilapidated, John Quincy Adams may have to move soon, but John Quincy Adams is doing just fine, thank you!”

John Quincy Adams had good theology.  To make a clear distinction between the inward man, (our spiritual man who is eternal), and the outward man, (our body which is temporal), and clearly value the inward man above the outward man, is a vital dimension the Apostle Paul shares with us in II Corinthians chapters 4 and 5.

According to Paul, the outward man does not always know why things happen the way they do. Therefore, the outward, physical man is often perplexed. However, Paul tells us that in our inward man, there is a continuous persuasion because Christ lives in us. Paul writes that the outward man is persecuted and suffers, but in the inward man there is a Person Who is continuously assuring us, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Speaking from his own experiences of suffering, illness and persecution, Paul acknowledges that sometimes our outward man gets knocked flat. Sometimes our little clay pot gets knocked down, but never knocked out. Because there is a Great Treasure living in our clay plot, we always get up and keep going.

Dick Woodward, In Step with Eternal Values


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