Speaking the Truth in Love

September 15, 2017

“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: 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” when he wrote that the letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life.

When I first discovered this in my study of the Gospels I had a counseling appointment that same day with a woman who respected 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 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 that we should follow the example of Jesus and not 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.

Dick Woodward, 14 September 2013


Forgiveness: A Second Look

March 24, 2017

“And He said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

…Jesus taught this same truth in a similar parable recorded in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 7:36-50)

As Jesus was dining with a Pharisee, a woman who was a sinner and had experienced salvation through Jesus began washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The Pharisee had not washed the feet of Jesus. In that culture, not washing the feet of an invited guest was like refusing to shake hands. To this woman, this mean that the Pharisee had not even extended common hospitality to her Lord and Savior, whom she loved so very much.

While the Pharisee was thinking lurid thoughts about this gesture on the part of the woman, Jesus told him a parable about two men who owed debts to the same wealthy lord. To paraphrase, one owed him $500, and the other $5,000. The wealthy man forgave both debts. After telling this story, Jesus asked the Pharisee which man would have loved their benefactor most? The Pharisee answered, “the one who owed him the greater debt.”

Jesus then asked the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?” The question was actually, How do you see this woman?” Jesus challenged the Pharisee to think about how he saw the sin of that woman relative to how he saw his own sin. He obviously saw her sin as the great debt and his own as the small debt. Jesus then applied His parable for the Pharisee by announcing, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, the same loves little.”

Jesus then said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you.” These words of Jesus clearly affirmed the Gospel reality that she was not saved because she loved much. She loved much because she had saving faith. The real sinner at the luncheon in that Pharisee’s house was not the forgiven sinner who loved much, but the self-righteous Pharisee named Simon.

This parable focuses the reality that we cannot isolate our own forgiveness of sin from our attitude toward the sins of others. That is why Jesus wrapped His petition for the forgiveness of our sins in the same package with our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us.

Dick Woodward, from A Prescription for Prayer


Forgiveness: Debts and Debtors

March 21, 2017

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”  Matthew 6:12

This second personal petition is for forgiveness. The next two petitions are for guidance and deliverance. Forgiveness, guidance and deliverance are spiritual needs we have every day. The principle of that first personal petition for daily bread, one day at a time, should be applied to these spiritual needs. “Give us this day our daily bread, including our need for forgiveness, guidance and deliverance, one day at a time.”

…In Matthew 18, Jesus told the story of a man who owed a great debt. In those days, if you owed a large debt you couldn’t pay, you were sent to prison and your wife and children were sold into slavery until your debt was paid in full. Since you couldn’t generate any income from prison, you likely would die in prison and your family would be slaves the rest of their lives.

Relative to our currency, the debt in this story of Jesus was a multi-million-dollar debt. Summoned to court, the man who owed this great debt begged for mercy. Miraculously, the one to whom he was indebted, out of compassion completely forgave the debt.

On the way home from this extraordinary day in court, this man met a man who owed him twenty dollars and could not pay. He grabbed this poor man by the throat and shouted, “You pay me every cent you owe or I will slam you in prison and sell your family into slavery.”

People who observed both these happenings reported what they witnessed to the man who had forgiven the multi-million-dollar debt. When he heard, he summoned the ungrateful, forgiven man to another court hearing and reversed his compassionate decision.

Having told that story, Jesus pronounced, “Even so my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35)

The essential truth Jesus teaches here it that if we see our salvation and forgiveness as the cancellation of a multi-million-dollar debt, we will be forgiving because we have been forgiven so very much. If we are not forgiving, we do not really believe that we have been forgiven.

Dick Woodward, from A Prescription for Prayer


Communicating Heart to Heart

November 15, 2016

“We have spoken freely to you Corinthians and opened wide our hearts to you… As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.” (2 Corinthians 6:11, 13)

Life so often comes down to relationships, and relationships are all about communication. The Apostle Paul profiled that reality when he wrote these words. He also prescribed a solution. As a summary paraphrase of this passage, Paul is suggesting that each of us has a communication “flap” on our hearts. As married couples we should be face to face and heart to heart with our communication flaps open. But, the hard reality is that we are often back to back with our communication flaps closed tight. The solution Paul models here is that someone must take the initiative and say, “I am heart to heart with you and my flap is open. Be heart to heart with me and open your communication flap.”

Communication in relationships is a challenge we can face all day long every day in our families, work lives, and our interactions with people. It’s so very important to realize that someone has to initiate a solution by saying, in spirit and in principle, to the person with whom they are having a communication conflict: “I am heart to heart with you and my communication flap is open.  Be heart to heart with me and open your communication flap.”

You may be totally amazed at how taking this stance can melt down the obstacles between you and a difficult person. Throughout any given day we face relational challenges that can be turned around through good and loving communication. God has to begin with the person who is mature enough to initiate the solution Paul is modeling for us.

Dick Woodward, 14 October 2011


Ambassadors of Reconciliation

July 8, 2016

“So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  2 Corinthians 5:20

One of the most profound Scripture passages addressing the redemptive quality that can accompany suffering is found in the sixth chapter of Second Corinthians.  Paul tells us suffering is like a God-ordained ‘seminary’ in which God trains qualified ministers of the Gospel.  There is a sense in which this seminary never ends.

By passing through this seminary of suffering, we can be proven ministers of God.  When Paul uses “minister,” he does not mean a clergy-person; he means the minister every believer is designed, created, and recreated by God to be.  Everyone who has experienced the miracle of reconciliation to God through Christ has been commissioned to carry out the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ.

How do we prove ourselves to be ministers?  Paul writes, “In afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

I call these adversities “wringers.” (Old washing machines had a wringer through which wet, soapy clothes passed to squeeze water out of them. It was very painful to get your hand caught in the wringer!)  These challenging adversities describe the daily life experience of the Apostle Paul. (More of Paul’s wringers are summarized in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.)

When we find ourselves in a wringer, the important thing is our response to that wringer. In 2 Corinthians 6:6, Paul shows us how to respond: “By pureness, knowledge, patience, kindness.”

In verses 6 and 7 of this passage, he tells us where to find the spiritual resources to respond as we should: “By the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the Word of Truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”

In verses 8-10, Paul describes the results when we respond to our wringers by drawing on spiritual resources:  “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute.  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”   These nine paradoxes profile the witness of the minister who has been trained in the ministry of suffering.

Loving Heavenly Father, use our suffering to make us faithful ministers of reconciliation, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dick Woodward, from 30 Biblical Reasons Why God’s People Suffer


Two People in a Pew…

May 1, 2015

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:9-10)

As Jesus profiles what makes a disciple salty light and His solution to the problems and the problem people of this world, He declares that they will be peacemakers who get persecuted in His fourth pair of Beatitudes.

A synonym for “peacemakers” is “reconcilers.”  Paul writes (in Second Corinthians 5:13-6:2), that every believer who has been reconciled to God through Christ is now committed to the message and the ministry of reconciliation.  Today many people are alienated from God, from themselves, and from other people.  The acute need today, therefore, is for reconciliation.  To quote a theologian, who was interpreting the passage referenced above, “It is the will of the Reconciler that the reconciled are to be the vehicles of reconciliation in the lives of the un-reconciled.”

Since reconcilers go where the conflict is happening they are often in great danger.  Such is the case with disciples who are living the fourth pair of Beatitudes.  You would think that if a person had the eight blessed attitudes in their lives others would gather around him or her and sing, “For he’s (or she’s) a jolly good fellow!” But the opposite is often true.  They attack and persecute such a person.

The reason being when they meet such a person they have two choices: They can realize that this is what I should be like, or they can attack that person and try to prove that they’re really not what they appear to be.  Those who are the salt of the earth irritate and burn the moral sores of those who are lost.

So let me ask you, two men (people) in a pew, which one are you?

Dick Woodward, 16 April 2010


Three Levels of Commitment to Christ

October 1, 2013

“And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”   (2 Corinthians 5:18 KJV)

In the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians we find one of the most profound passages of Scripture in the New Testament.  In this chapter we have a window into the heart of the Apostle Paul as he writes about what motivates him.  It is a passage that clearly defines the Gospel.  Paul gives us here the vision absolutes that defend why he lived like a madman.  He then clearly writes that every believer who has been reconciled to God by Christ has been commissioned with the message and the ministry of being a peacemaker and a minister of reconciliation.  The passage concludes with a very clear description of the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

This profound passage also describes three levels of commitment to Jesus Christ that are identified by prepositions.  In the verse quoted above the first ‘entry’ level of commitment to Christ is described as Paul uses the preposition “by Jesus Christ.”  We are saved “by Christ.”  When He saves us He often fills our life with good things the way He filled Peter’s boat with fish (Luke 5: 1-11). It doesn’t take us long to realize that the changes taking place in our lives are by Jesus Christ.  We also discover there are many things we can only do by Jesus Christ.

Study this passage (verse 13 through 21), and see if you can identify two more levels of commitment to Christ.  What are they and what would they look like if you applied them to your walk with Christ?