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


Strategic salt & light: Zacchaeus

June 10, 2014

…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

In Luke 19, verses 1 – 10, we encounter Jesus interacting with the tax collector, Zacchaeus. The beautiful part of the Zacchaeus story is when Jesus goes to spend His only day in Jericho with this little crook, and all the people are griping about it. It would make a great painting if an artist would paint Jesus who was a big man, according to Josephus, walking home with His arm around small Zacchaeus.

Here we see the strategy of Jesus.  He is passing through Jericho. He obviously wants to reach the man who can impact and reach Jericho for Him after he has passed through and beyond the city limits.  It must have made a big impact upon the city when Zacchaeus started calling in the people he had ‘ripped off.’  Imagine their surprise, joy, and awe when they, thinking he was going to get into their purses even deeper, discovered that he wanted to pay them back 400% because he had met Jesus!  This is an illustration and an application of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to the effect that the solution, the answer, the salt, the light – is something we are, and that we simply must hear His word and do it.

Dick Woodward, MBC New Testament Handbook (p.142-143)


Hope Challenged People

December 24, 2013

“There are three things that will last — faith, hope, and love…”  (1Corinthians 13:13)

When Paul tells us there are three things that will endure, have you ever wondered why one of them is hope?  The other two are love and faith: love will last because God is love, and faith is the way we know God.  But why is hope one of the three?

Hope is the conviction that something good exists in this world and we are going to experience it.  God plants hope in the hearts of people and it keeps them going.  While studying psychology in college we analyzed the 25,000 suicides in 1952.  Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and sociologists determined that those people committed suicide because they lost hope.  That same year a man committed suicide by jumping off the top of my dormitory which was located where Hope Street ended in front of the Los Angeles Public Library.  The newspaper reported that he jumped to his death at the end of Hope Street.  That accentuated what we learned in the classroom, big time!

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  Millions of people will gather in families and extended families to celebrate, but many millions more will be alone.  Pastors and those who work with people know that life is unspeakably sad and millions are hope-challenged because they have experienced nothing good.

In his famous carol Philips Brooks wrote that the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem when Christ was born.  God intersected human history that night but what the Bible calls the blessed hope of the church and the only hope for the world is that God is going to do that again when Christ returns.

Are you guilty of criminal negligence because you are not sharing that hope with hope-challenged people?


The Three Missing Links

November 19, 2013

“In the beginning God created…”  (Genesis 1:1)

Most people have heard about the missing link that turns up when we compare the theory of evolution with the Genesis creation account, but there are actually three missing links.  The first missing link is the issue: How did it all begin?  The Bible’s answer is recorded above in just two words: “God created.”  It all began with a first act of creation that accounted for the universe, the earth, and all plant life.

The author uses an interesting Hebrew word for “created.”  It is the word “barah” which means “to create something out of nothing.” Since there are no samples that are half plant and half animal there is a second missing link.  The Genesis account again reads “barah” as animal life is created in the water.

There is also no sample that is half animal and half human.  So, for a third time the author of Genesis uses “barah” when God creates man.  What is usually considered the missing link is actually this third missing link.  In all three of these places where the secular scholar struggles for answers the author of Genesis writes: “barah,” God created.

God began the Bible with the creation account because He knew that one day we would realize we need an act of creation in our hearts.  We would then also know where to go with that need to join David in the prayer: “Create (barah) in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NLT)

We can also go to Jesus Who taught the new birth and the apostles, who agreeing with David, referred to the new birth as a new creation!  (John 3:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17)


The Truth in Love

September 14, 2013

“but, speaking the truth in love …”   (Ephesians 4:15)

It is possible to devastate people with the truth.  One difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was that before Jesus applied the law of God to the people of God He passed the law of God through the prism of the love of God.  The Pharisees just threw the book at people.  Paul called that “the letter of the law” and he wrote that the letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life.

When I first discovered this in my private study of the Gospels a counseling appointment that same day was with a woman who had great respect for me as a pastor.  After she shared her complicated life problems I passed the law of God through the prism of the love of God before I applied the law of God to her life.  Just before she left she told me, “Pastor, if you had thrown the book at me today I was going to go home and kill myself!”

I have been told by those who mentor pastors that we should counsel with our head and not with our heart.  As a veteran pastor I totally and emphatically disagree!  Taking Jesus as our supreme Example and Mentor I believe we should preach, teach and counsel in the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.

The bottom line is often that we should follow the example of Jesus and not of the Pharisees.  All the law of God was born in the heart of God’s love.  God gave us His law because He loved us so very much He did not want us to suffer the consequences of lawless living.  Never forget what Jesus always remembered.


A Fellowship in the Gospel

September 3, 2013

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to his favorite church we hear him express his definition of a church.  According to Paul, the church is “a fellowship of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:5; 27)  He agrees with Luke who describes the church the same way in his history of the church as quoted above.

According to Luke the fingerprints of the church are as follows: the thumbprint is evangelism.  The people he is describing would not be there if they had not been reached by the evangelistic sermon of Peter on the Day of Pentecost.  The index fingerprint is teaching.  The middle fingerprint is fellowship.  The ring fingerprint is worship and the little fingerprint is prayer.

Just as your thumb naturally touches your four fingers, the teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer of the church are meant to lead to evangelism.  These four functions of the church equip, edify, inspire and empower the church to reach out and bring lost people to salvation in Christ.

Our churches can often be described as a group of people sitting in a circle with their chairs facing in.  According to Paul and Luke we should turn our chairs back to back and face out in a fellowship of the gospel.  I have visited the Dead Sea which without an outlet is stagnant and dead and earns it its name.  Also the Sea of Galilee which is filled with life because it has an outlet.

So it is with our churches.  When we face out and reach out we have an outlet that fills our church with the young life of new believers.  Is your church a fellowship in the gospel?


The Furtherance of the Gospel

August 21, 2013

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel…  ”   (Philippians 1:12)

Paul is in prison as he writes to his favorite church.  While he was free he preached the gospel with passion and great zeal, but when he was put in prison and could not preach other men in the Church at Philippi began preaching.  That rejoiced the heart of the apostle.

In the New Testament when you study the letters of Paul and others you find that the early churches had pastors.  Anytime the word pastor is found it is in the plural unless it is referring to Jesus Christ.  He is the great Shepherd of the sheep; otherwise, churches have pastors.  Strictly speaking you will not find a precedent for “Dr. Pete Bunny the pastor of the First Community Church of Chicago” in the New Testament.

I am convinced that the first churches also had a plurality of preachers.  That’s why the fact that many men in the Church at Philippi were preaching rejoiced the heart of the apostle.   Church is a team sport.  Based on their cluster of spiritual gifts some are called and equipped to preach.  They should preach.  Some should heal, some should teach and some should evangelize.  All of this should result in the furtherance of the gospel.

Our churches would be more effective in furthering the gospel and we would solve so very many problems if we took our blueprints from the New Testament.  We would not need as many retreat centers for burned out pastors if we did.

When will we ever learn that when all else fails we should follow the directions?


No Burning, No Shining

August 9, 2013

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)

The applications of our Lord’s metaphors are almost endless.  One application to the metaphor above is that for our candle to give light it must be consumed.  Unlighted candles are not consumed, but the candles that shine are the candles that burn.  There is no shining without burning.

In another great metaphor Jesus told us there is no such thing as a fruitless disciple of His.  We are like branches and He is the Vine.  As branches, if we are properly intersected with Him, we can draw from Him the life force to be fruitful.  He promised if we are plugged into Him and are fruitful we will be cut back and pruned to be made more fruitful.  Cutbacks and pruning can really hurt.  They can come in the form of suffering but they improve the quality and the quantity of our fruit.

In light of these very clear teachings we should not be surprised when we find ourselves burning through suffering that our brightest light for Christ yields the best fruit.

Like many others I thought my most fruitful years were when I was able bodied and active.  But I have been joyfully surprised to discover that my most fruitful service for Christ has been as a bed fast quadriplegic.  Using voice activated computer software from my bed, 782 Bible studies have been produced and are being heard in 31 languages in 60 countries.  Worldwide more than 45,000 small groups are listening to our studies on solar powered digital audio players I call “God pods.”

Have you discovered there is no shining without burning?

 


The Priority of Prayer

May 23, 2013

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

When the disciple’s asked Jesus this request they were not just asking Him the ‘how to’ of prayer.  They were amazed at the large amounts of time Jesus prioritized for prayer.  They were asking something like ‘teach us what you know about prayer that we obviously do not know that causes You to spend so very much time in prayer.’

STEP NUMBER THREE:     Spend much time in prayer.

When you must know the will of another human being, what is the first step you take?  Our first thought is usually that we must meet with that person and have a conversation with them.  When a man is in love and decides he wants to marry a woman, his first thought is that he must meet with her and have a conversation with her.

When we seek to know the will of God, our first thought should be that we must meet with God and have a conversation with Him.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  If you do not know how to pray, think of prayer as simply meeting with and having a personal conversation with God.

Jesus responded to the apostles with a prayer that was not as much a prayer as it was an instruction about how to pray.  When you are alone, use that prayer as an outline for your conversation with God.  You will find yourself applying the second and third steps I have shared with you for knowing the will of God when Jesus instructs you to pray:

“Your kingdom come; Your will be done.”


Some Truth about Truth

May 14, 2013

“Am I therefore become your enemy,  because I tell you the truth?”  (Galatians 4:16)

We can be a philosopher and love truth.  We can be a sincere seeker after truth and never find the truth we seek.  According to Jesus when we come to know the truth by relationship, He himself will make us free (John 8: 30-36).

Jesus said in a prayer to His Father: “Thy Word is truth.” (John 17: 17)  This means we should read the Bible as a lover and seeker of truth.  Jesus made the claim that His teaching is the truth of God (John 7: 17).  He even told us how we can prove that claim.  The doing leads to the knowing. If we will personally do what He teaches we will know that His teaching cannot be the teaching of a man.  It has to be the teaching of God.

There are times when we can devastate people with the truth.  There are also times when the truth can cut through the denial of people and set them free from problems that are isolating them from reality and destroying them.  It is then that we must speak the truth in love and ask if we have become their enemy for doing so.

When we are facing those kinds of challenges we must pray that: “God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves” (2 Timothy 2: 25).  To repent means to think again and have a change of mind will and direction.

May your search for truth not only end but begin with the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father except through me.”    (John 14:6).

 

 


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