A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Matthew 6:14-15 "Why Forgive?"

-->       My role as one of the pastors at Bow Down, an inner-city ministry, is doing one-on-one pastoral counseling, inner-healing, and deliverance in a community where most of the households survive on less than $10,000 a year, 90% of the homes have no fathers, One out of two girls is sexually molested and one out five boys is sexually molested, most families have someone (father, brother, sibling, etc.) in prison, drug and alcohol abuse is rampant, and violence is normal.  Clearly, addressing the internal hurts and damage of sin is an important part of our ministry.  As I minister to hurting people, I have come to realize that the seeds of true inner healing are often found in learning to forgive.  So, I spend a good deal of my time teaching people how to forgive.
-->     Why should we forgive?  After all, revenge is natural.  Bitterness is normal.  Hatred is expected when someone wounds us.  But forgiveness is neither normal nor natural.  So, why do it?
      Forgiveness is neither normal nor natural; it is, however, the foundation of our relationship with the Father, and it also sustains right relationships with other people.  This is why when Jesus gave us a model for prayer, He said we should pray, “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we forgive our debtors (those who sin against us).”

      This concept of forgiveness is so fundamental to the Kingdom of God that Jesus went on to say, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive your sins.  But if you do no forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:14-15)

      Jesus reaffirmed this assertion in Matthew 18 when He told the parable of the unforgiving servant –you might remember that the king had forgiven the entire debt of a servant who owed more than he could ever repay.  When that servant then refused to forgive a minor debt to a neighbor, however, the king reinstated the servant’s entire debt –and then Jesus said these chilling word, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

      I have had people tell me that since Jesus said this before His death and resurrection, this teaching on forgiveness is part of the Old Covenant –that the New Covenant of grace supersedes this command to forgive others if we want God to forgive us.  But I don’t think we can blow it off that lightly.  The Old Covenant taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth rather than to forgive those who have wronged us.  I believe that this teaching is not at all a part of the Old Covenant –and in fact, not part of the New Covenant.  This has nothing to do with covenantal laws; this is simply a reflection of the Father’s heart.  Since His desire is that we have deep, abiding, intimate relationship with Him –and He knows that bitterness and anger and hatred prohibit intimacy –He commands that we forgive.

       While I don’t want to get into a theological debate over either salvation by works or eternal security, we still have to understand that Jesus used very strong language here and we must take Him seriously.  We can’t afford to let our theology get in the way of God’s desires for us.  Clearly, this is important and there is an awful lot riding on our ability and our willingness to put aside what is natural and do what is right.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

1 John 4:8, 16 "God Is Love"

         Everything we know about God is revealed by God.  Whatever God desires us to know about Himself, He reveals.   Any opinion of God not based in His own revelation is conjecture and speculation.

         Of course, God has revealed a great deal about Himself through Scriptures –both in what He speaks and in how he relates to people and circumstances.  So, there is a good deal we can know about God.  We know that He is patient, and kind, and gentle, and merciful.  We also know that He is just, and holy, and altogether righteous.  We even know that He is sometimes jealous, and sometimes wrathful, and sometimes vengeful.  We know these things because He tells us directly in Scripture that these are His character qualities.  We can also conclude from Scripture –particularly from the real-life stories found all throughout the Bible -that God is sovereign, and omniscient, and omnipresent and all-powerful.  We see these qualities on display as He interacts with people.  There is a lot we know because there is a lot He has revealed.

I have heard sincere Christians argue over which of these various qualities best defines God.  In general, this is a pointless argument.  We know what God has revealed -nothing more, nothing less.  If we want to pinpoint one characteristic, however, that best defines God, we don’t actually have to argue or speculate because Scripture tells us.  In the book of 1 John, chapter 4, it tells us twice that, “God is love.”

This is an important description because it is different than any other description of God in Scripture.  Other places describe God as being merciful, for instance, but they don’t say that God is mercy.  God is in several places described as being patient, but never does it is say that God is patience.  Many times God is described as being kind and gentle and good, but never as kindness, gentleness or goodness.  Here in 1 John 4:8&16, God is not simply described as loving; rather, He is defined as love.  This is not a minor distinction.

God is merciful and patient, but one day His patience will come to an end, and one day His mercy will also end –there will be a day of judgment.  God is kind and gentle and good –but he is also just, and sometimes His gentleness rightly gives way to judgment and justice. 

Think about this:  if God is loving, as opposed to being love, He might love sometimes and sometimes not.  But if God is love -if this is His essence and not just a description of a particular quality He possesses, His love is unencumbered, unconditional, and unending.  God loves us, not just when we are deserving or when we meet the criteria or even on specific occasions when He chooses.  His love endures forever because He is not only loving, He is love.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mark 5:1-20 "Compassion For The Demonized"

They arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes.  When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from a cemetery to meet him. This man lived among the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones....
 Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.”  Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby.  “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”
 So Jesus gave them permission....

 As Jesus was getting back into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him.  But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.”  So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
          Jesus and his disciples arrived in this community and they found an apparently insane man living in a cemetery.  The local townspeople tried to keep him chained up in the cemetery because whenever he broke loose, he terrorized the local community.  They didn’t know what to do with him. 

In the ministry that I do, I sometimes deal with the demonic.  It’s just not that unusual as we deal with people’s deepest hurts and darkest secrets that strongholds get exposed and whatever demonic attachments are present begin to manifest.  I only bring this up to say that there is something I know for certain -something that Jesus also knew when He encountered this demonized man.  That is, no matter how demonized a person is, he is still a person.  He is still a person created in the image of God, deeply loved by God. 

Although people become demonized by their own life choices and activities –in a sense, demonized people are not exactly victims, they are participants. Nevertheless, they are deceived and manipulated by a lying, destroying murderer.  That is how Jesus described the devil.  He is a liar that comes to kill and destroy.  And even though people’s choices to participate in sin and in addiction and in lifestyles that are blatantly opposed to God have opened doorways to being demonized, I don’t think anyone makes those choices fully informed of the bondage and pain they are entering into.  As normal people, created in the image of God, loved by God, choose to sin –choose to participate with and enter into agreement with the enemy, they become degraded and demeaned and debased and put into all sorts of spiritual and emotional and even physical bondage.  This is true.  Sin always takes us places we never intended to go and always takes us farther than we ever intended to go, and leaves in bondage we never intended to be in.

Jesus recognized that this man was demonized.  You might remember that as Jesus addressed the demons they said, “We are legion.”  A legion is a thousand strong.  That’s a lot of demons.  But Jesus saw something more than just a demonized, crazy man chained up in a cemetery.  Jesus saw the suffering human afflicted by demons.  The short story is that Jesus delivered him of the demons –set him free.  And the man was incredibly grateful, and, in fact, wanted to join Jesus’ band of disciples.  He begged Jesus, “Let me go with you.”  But Jesus told him “no.”  Instead, Jesus told the man to go back to his family and friends and explain how The Lord had had mercy on him.  The word for mercy that Jesus used is a Greek word that often denoted compassion.  In other words, In this real life story, compassion looked like setting someone in bondage free.  There is a very real sense in which this is what the Kingdom of God is all about.  We (Christians) are called to bring spiritual deliverance to those in bondage.

As we enter into the satanic strongholds of hurting and deceived people's real lives, let’s clothe ourselves with compassion.  Let’s choose to see the people, not just the sins they have committed. Let’s choose to love them in Jesus’ name.  Let’s choose to set the captives free.  Let’s choose compassion.