Overcoming the Hurdles of Forgiveness

“We should never minimize our own trauma or that of others, and what we’ve experienced may take many years and conversations and much prayer to overcome, but we are not created to live as slaves to our past hurts.”

In the dramatic story of Joseph and his brothers, Joseph finally reveals himself to them and then says:

“‘And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…’ And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.”

Genesis 45:5,15

How many of us would find the hurdle of forgiveness easier to overcome if we took Joseph’s perspective as our own? This may not have been his outlook immediately after being sold into slavery by his brothers, and it may have taken some time for him to forgive them, but his trust in the ultimate goodness of God’s plan is something we should seek to emulate.

Too often people spend many painful years in bitterness and unforgiveness. Some even believe they need to “forgive God” for what he allowed to happen to them. But we find no such perspective affirmed in the pages of scripture. We find faithful servants (who are no doubt touched by the trauma of their experiences) proclaiming by faith that God is good and that he is sovereign over all things.

We should never minimize our own trauma or that of others, and what we’ve experienced may take many years and conversations and much prayer to overcome, but we are not created to live as slaves to our past hurts. Joseph was able to live a fulfilling and productive life because he was not bound to the hurts of his past. We can do the same.

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Counting Present Sorrow as Future Joy

“But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.”

Psalm 71:14-15

I remember as a child in the church being led in song and the leader telling us not to sing if we couldn’t honestly affirm the words. On the surface that seems fairly harmless instruction, and in some cases this might be wise, but I have come to see many songs, and some of what is written in scripture, as what I would call “aspirational statements.” 

When we aren’t feeling what we wish we did, we can still aspire to feel rightly according to God’s word. We can proclaim what we know to be true even when our feelings lead us in the opposite direction. Psalm 71:14 strikes me as that kind of statement: “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.” 

King David often felt hopeless, but he aspired to hope continually, and this increased his ability to hope. 

And we can do the same. We can proclaim the truth that this darkness will not last, even as we despair that it seems to have no end. We can rejoice in our trials and sufferings not by coming to somehow “enjoy” them, but by being obedient to this command, with the truths of scripture as the fuel of our obedience.

When I meet trials of various kinds I often find it difficult to rejoice in the clear light of truth and so easy to get lost in the labyrinth of despair. But in those times I remind myself of this: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

By faith, we can count present sorrow as future joy, and this can bring that future joy into the present for us to enjoy.

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If the World Hates You…

“Except in rare cases and for relatively short periods, the Christian is always out of step with the spirit of the age. If we find that we are in close step with the spirit of the age we should ask ourselves how close we are in step with the Spirit of Christ.”

“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.“

1 John 3:1

The world does not know Christ, but it often knows us because we are more like the world than we are like Christ. 

Consider all the clamouring we do, so desperate to attract the eyes of the world to the uniqueness of our gifts, our talents, our “brand.” The demand imposed upon us by this type of attention-seeking is often the minimization of the less palatable parts of the gospel. And this leads not only to a failure to know God and be known by him but to the additional catastrophe of preventing others from doing the same.

In John 15:18-19, Jesus says that “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Strangers or Citizens – or Strange Citizens?

We should not seek to be hated or to create animosity where there is none, but we will inevitably encounter some level of disdain if we speak about and demonstrate the truth of God’s revelation in Scripture. If we find this is not the case, if we never feel like strangers in the world, it is because it has become a comfortable home, a place where we live in false peace because we have made peace with “the elementary principles of the world.” (Gal. 4:3) 

Except in rare cases and for relatively short periods, the Christian is always out of step with the spirit of the age. If we find that we are in close step with the spirit of the age we should ask ourselves how close we are in step with the Spirit of Christ.

To Celebrity or Not To Celebrity

What does this mean, then, for our desperate attempts to attract the world’s attention and thereby receive the acceptance and affirmation we so crave? It means these efforts are a foolish pursuit, a chasing after the wind. If we are faithful to God, and if we allow him to determine the level of our exposure and any resulting “celebrity”, as it were, we can be free of the craving for attention and the many burdens of obtaining it.

Would you like to be well-known? Love God. 

“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)

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What If Jesus Asks You To Go For Broke?

“This story is not a call for all Christians to sell what they have and give it to the poor. It is a call for all whose hearts are enslaved by the idol of materialism to smash that idol so they can follow Jesus.” Continue reading…

Jesus tells the story in Luke 14:16-24 of a man who is throwing a great party. He is disappointed to find that the people at the top of his guest list seem uninterested in attending. They make one excuse after another and ask to be excused. The party is not their priority. He then sends invitations to those who are poor, crippled, blind, and lame. With space still remaining, he casts the net even wider and keeps inviting people until his house is full.

The story serves as an illustration for people who are apathetic towards the kingdom of God because they have carved out a comfortable place for themselves in the kingdom of the world. These people are generally wealthy and warm and can’t imagine a better life than the one they possess at present. (You might say they are living their best life now.)

Where is Your Trust?

Now, I do not believe that Christians must be poor in order to be holy. I do, however, believe that we are sometimes in danger of turning from God by placing our trust in our efforts, our income, and our possessions. It happens slowly and with great subtlety, but it does happen. And we are in danger, living as we do in a time of unparalleled prosperity.

Jesus came to his own and was rejected. The Messiah, the one for whom they claimed to be waiting had come to them, but they were too wrapped up in the things of this world to take notice. Not only did they not take notice, they rejected him and had him crucified because he threatened the comfortable status quo.

The Rich Ruler

In Luke 18:18-25 Jesus provides a case study for the earlier party story. A wealthy ruler asks him how he can be saved. After some preliminary conversation, Jesus offers him a way to obtain what he seeks. “One thing you still lack,” Jesus says, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man becomes suddenly sad because he is extremely rich. 

Jesus gives many warnings about riches, in one place calling money deceitful. It can be a lure that looks enticing but hides the enslaving hook. And yet he never says that it is a sin to be wealthy, only that being wealthy comes with its own set of hazards. 

Two Kinds of Wealthy People

Some wealthy people work hard in a chosen field. They are determined to honour God, encourage people, and practice generosity. These people are often blessed by God with even more wealth, which they use not to feed their egos but to honour God and help those in need. God has blessed them with wealth and they, in turn, use that wealth to bless others.

Others make grand financial goals – they desire to be rich for the sake of being rich – and then pursue whatever means will lead to that end. These also often become quite wealthy, but in the end, they are destroyed by what they accumulate. These people rarely bless others, unless appearing to do so will somehow further benefit them financially. In the process, they do not honour God and are not blessed themselves. They can appear to be very moral people, but they are condemned by their love of money, which has become more important to them than God himself. 

The Idol of Money

This was a problem for the rich ruler in the story. Money had become his idol and it was necessary for him to destroy that idol if he wanted to follow Jesus. This story is not a call for all Christians to sell what they have and give it to the poor. It is a call for all whose hearts are enslaved by the idol of materialism to smash that idol so they can follow Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him, laying down our lives and possessions at his feet for him to use for his glory. 

What if he asks us to go for broke? 

Are we willing to place our trust fully in him to provide? 

I must ask myself these questions on a regular basis to test the resolve of my heart. I have so much to be thankful for. Am I thankful? And am I holding my life and possessions loosely so that Jesus can use what he needs at the time of his choosing?

“How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” May we never assume those words were spoken only for other people and not for us. 

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Dark Hearts and Glowing Faces

“I’ve heard people say that churches are full of fakers, and that is occasionally true. Each one of us has gathered with others for worship at one time or another with a sad heart but an outward smile, with a dark heart and a glowing face. In some assemblies, there is a known but unspoken requirement to make a good show of things when the corporate body is gathered.”

Continue reading…

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! “

Matthew 15:6-7

Jesus says here not that traditions are evil, but that they can become too precious. They can become so precious, in fact, that they make void the word of God. What begins as a good, faithful, and repeated practice can harden into a mandatory legalistic habit that hinders our worship.

However, we can find innumerable examples of good traditions as well, traditions that enhance our experience of God’s goodness and are therefore faithful aids to us in the journey of life.

We must never discard traditions lightly. Instead, we need to evaluate all our traditions with this in mind: Does the tradition serve the purpose of glorifying the work of God, or has it become merely a mechanism by which people are glorified in their strict adherence and enforcement of it?

Honouring God

Jesus goes on to say:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me,  teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:7–9)

Who is he talking about when he mentions people who honour God with their lips while concealing a heart that is far from him? Who are those who worship in vain, making man-made commandments into doctrines? In the immediate context, of course, he’s talking to the Pharisees.

But just as with other warnings and sayings of Jesus that were issued to religious leaders of the day, we tend not to apply these sayings to ourselves. But we fool ourselves if we think these sayings cannot apply to us.

Full of Fakers

I’ve heard people say that churches are full of fakers, and that is occasionally true. Each one of us has gathered with others for worship at one time or another with a sad heart but an outward smile, with a dark heart and a glowing face. In some assemblies, there is a known but unspoken requirement to make a good show of things when the corporate body is gathered.

And so on some Sundays, we honour God with our lips while our hearts are far from him. He would be more honoured if we confessed and lamented the condition of our hearts and cried out for grace and mercy – even, at times, in front of everyone. 

We also don’t think of ourselves as those who “teach as doctrine the commandments of men,” but a quick look at some of the sacred cows (figurative ones, I hope!) in our churches reveals that we sometimes take as absolute what was merely assembled out of certain preferences and points of pride about our history, culture or heritage. 

These are not always bad in themselves, but when we raise them to a level of importance equal to doctrine, we are on a dangerous path.  

Do you have any favourite traditions that enhance your experience of God’s goodness?

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How is Your Bible Reading Plan Going?

It’s getting near the end of January and just like fitness club memberships, many people’s Bible reading plans are abandoned within the first two months of the year. Those resolutions felt so good to make at the time, but the grinding daily discipline required to fulfill your commitment was a bit harder than you expected.

Continue reading…

Don’t be discouraged, and please don’t give up! Just because you stopped doesn’t mean you have to keep stopping – and that goes for Bible reading plans as well as fitness club memberships. 🙂 

If you’ve given up or if you’re falling behind, I want you to print one of these sheets today. On this paper is one square for every chapter of the Bible. I want you to keep this in your Bible until you’ve checked off every square! When will that happen? Who knows, but eventually you will have checked off every square and you will have read the entire Bible. That will be exciting!

So if you started a plan on Jan. 1 and you only made it to Genesis 15 in the OT reading plan, check off the first 15 squares of Genesis, and then rejoin (or join) the group plan where it’s at. If you only made it to Matthew 10 in the NT reading plan – no worries! Check off the first 10 squares in Matthew and rejoin (or join).

I’m happy to have you join the reading journey at any point, and just because you didn’t start on January 1, 2022, doesn’t mean you have to wait until January 1, 2023, to start again. In this way, you’ll finish reading your Bible the way you finish a puzzle, piece by piece whenever you can.  

Click here to join (or rejoin) the NT Reading plan. 

Click here to join (or rejoin) the OT Reading plan. 

Click here to join the new 1 Peter reading plan (Starts Feb. 1).

To download and print off the checklist —> https://visualunit.me/2010/12/14/bible-reading-chart/

*By the way, as I read through scripture I also record my thoughts and observations about what I’m reading. If you’d like to read and interact with what I’m writing, just bookmark my site or use the form below to receive updates by email.

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How to be the Wise One in a Room Full of Fools

As Christians in 21st-century North America, we are generally materially rich but if we are spiritually poor we will end up in a poverty far worse than owning nothing. We must become desperate for the wisdom of God if we are to avoid this fate. Those who voluntarily live in spiritual poverty are unlikely to receive much in the way of eternal riches.

Continue reading…

“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

1 Corinthians 2:6-7

Over the last two years, one ideological movement after another has blown like a sandstorm across the landscape of society. The response of Christians to these movements often reveals a general shallowness in the knowledge of Scripture and the principles and commands found therein. As a result, we see that while many are eager to speak, few are equipped to hold an opinion worth its weight in breath.

The Bible sometimes seems like the last guest at a party that we seek to get to know. Of course, for Christians, the flow of our seeking should lead us to Scripture as the first source we look to, not the last place we eventually visit. Many seem to have reversed the flow and are using theories spawned by flawed human reasoning to evaluate the wisdom of God’s word. But to modify the ancient wisdom of Scripture in order to conform it to the whims of the present age is to welcome apostasy.

Wise Living or Constant Folly? 

God has given each person the capacity to know him. What we do with that opportunity will determine whether we progress in wise living or devolve into constant folly. We have God’s word, but we know that relatively few of those claiming to be God’s people take the time to read, and fewer still who wrestle to understand. Despite their outward appearances, such people will eventually experience the consequences of their folly.

As Christians in 21st-century North America, we are generally materially rich but if we are spiritually poor we will end up in a poverty far worse than owning nothing. We must become desperate for the wisdom of God if we are to avoid this fate. Those who voluntarily live in spiritual poverty are unlikely to receive much in the way of eternal riches.

Reversing the Flow

In prayer, we plead for wisdom and in God’s word we find his wisdom, but we will not become wise unless we believe and apply what we find. Even as we believe and apply, we will not do so perfectly, but our imperfect applications themselves lead us on the road to greater wisdom. 

Daily pleading and reading and application are the keys to gaining wisdom. God’s wisdom is found in his word but it will not manifest in our lives until it soaks into our hearts. The question is whether or not there is any space available in our over-busy hearts. 

Which Side Are You On?

In this age of so much foolishness posing as wisdom, we must be diligent in evaluating what is presented to us against the standard of real wisdom found in God’s word. Are we among the mature to whom real wisdom can be imparted or are we still so weak in faith and knowledge that we are “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind”? That person, James tells us, “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord…”

Jesus’s take on the matter is found in Matthew 13:12: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Barnes comments: “A man who improves what light, grace, and opportunities he has, shall have them increased. From him that improves them not, it is proper that they should be taken away.”

On which side of that equation do you find yourself? Is your wisdom in a state of multiplication due to application, or is it currently wasting away for lack of use?

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4 Ways to Avoid Destroying Yourself by Way of Your Sin

A church family should be a place where both afflictions and joys are openly shared. The cultivation of such an environment should be the normal impulse of any church leader, but too often it seems we are more interested in shaping a culture of positive motivational quotes while ignoring the more challenging aspects of life. 

“The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.”

1 Tim. 5:24-25

Paul writes in 1 Tim. 5:24-25 of two types of unrepentant sinners. Of all the varieties of sin, some stand out as obvious and judgement for them follows close behind, while others remain hidden until a later date. We could call these two types “short-game” and “long-game” sin. 

Short-Game and Long-Game Sin

Short-game sin and its outcomes happen in a sequence on a relatively short timeline. Considering all the damage that sin can do, we should thank God when sin is quickly revealed and dealt with. Some damage is always done by sin, but short-game sin has less opportunity to ensnare others. Some flame out quickly and take only a few down with them.

Long-game sin is quite different. It is deeply-hidden sin, usually in the life of someone who appears quite holy, who is often well-respected and even admired. We lament to think of the tragedy of all that was revealed after the death of someone like Ravi Zacharias. In the aftermath of these revelations, the faith of many was shaken – and in some cases destroyed – and the reputation of the gospel was stained.

How can we avoid destroying ourselves and the faith of others by way of our personal sin? 

  1. By regularly confessing our sins to God

God’s word assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NASB) 

It seems like a no-brainer but ask yourself: When was the last time you regularly and thoroughly examined yourself and confessed your sins to God?

  1. By regularly confessing our sins to one another

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT) 

This instruction probably suffers even greater neglect. So many people believe they will face judgment and condemnation if they reveal their sins to other believers. That is, of course, a risk, but we may not ignore this command simply because it is risky.

  1. By inviting accountability

This goes right along with confessing your sins to someone. We should follow up our confessions with an invitation to an external examination by other trustworthy believers. In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

We would be foolish to wait until the day of judgement to receive an assessment of the wisdom of the words we use. It is much better to ask for caring critique and loving rebuke from those who desire to see us live in a way that is pleasing to God.

  1. By dwelling in a community of faith where we can be fully known

Many churches come by their reputations as bastions of shallowness honestly. But that will not do if 1 Cor. 2:26 is to hold true: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.”

A church family should be a place where both afflictions and joys are openly shared. The cultivation of such an environment should be the normal impulse of any church leader, but too often it seems we are more interested in shaping a culture of positive motivational quotes while ignoring the more challenging aspects of life. 

If you are part of a Christian community where confessing sins to each other is not the norm, you might want to ask yourself if you are actually part of a real Christian community at all.

A Call to Repentance

Finally, if you have not been practicing the above and know you are engaging in unrepentant sin, whether it be short-game or long, be assured that what is presently in the dark will someday be brought into the light. It is far better to bring sin into the light yourself than to have it brought into the light by someone else. 

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The Itching Ears That Lead to Death

We all want to believe certain lies because these lies temporarily soothe the seemingly insatiable desires of our flesh. But if we give our itching ears what they want our souls will be damaged and quite possibly destroyed.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

2 Timothy 4:1-4

As a pastor, why should I reprove, rebuke, and exhort by way of preaching? Because we are in a time when people regularly ignore sound teaching in favour of false wisdom.

We’ve all had bug bites that demanded to be scratched. It feels so good to scratch, doesn’t it? Oh, the satisfaction! But afterward, the urge to scratch is not gone; in fact, the desire may even be more intense.

Scratching is satisfying and pleasurable while it’s happening, but the good feelings cease and the urge to itch returns the moment you stop. Continued scratching will mark up your skin and could leave you with permanent scars.

So what does it mean to have itching ears?

It means listening to that which we have some sense we shouldn’t.

It means giving our attention to what creates momentary enjoyment but does not satisfy true need.

It means chasing what feels good to our flesh at the expense of our spiritual health.

We all want to believe certain lies because these lies temporarily soothe the seemingly insatiable desires of our flesh. But if we give our itching ears what they want our souls will be damaged and quite possibly destroyed.

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Affliction is the Seed of Joy

That affliction and joy can co-exist, that one can result in the other, is one of the beautiful paradoxical realities of the Christian life.

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

For people living in a culture of rampant ungodliness, following Jesus is more likely to bring affliction than applause. That much is as true in our own day as it was in Paul’s, as it has been for much of recorded history. But for the follower of Jesus, affliction is the seed of joy.

That affliction and joy can co-exist, that one can result in the other, is one of the beautiful paradoxical realities of the Christian life. So much effort is spent avoiding affliction, and yet the writers of scripture remind us repeatedly that affliction cannot be avoided. What’s more, we are told that affliction is an instrument of sanctification.

Suffering well is a sign of steadfast faith and serves as a vibrant witness to those looking on. If we believe that affliction is an instrument of sanctification, we will cease our efforts to always avoid it and begin instead to rejoice in it, believing the promise that God really does work all things for good.

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