Forgiving Ourselves

Rarely do I use the phrase, “God has been laying ________ (fill in the blank) on my heart.” I usually do not feel like God has given me a message that is more important or life-giving than any other message. But this past Sunday’s sermon is the exception. In fact, I am still thinking about it days after I preached it. I can honestly say that God has been lying this message on my heart and mind and I think it could be a life altering message if we did it. So I want to repeat the basic concept again today.

First, saying we need to forgive ourselves is not a Biblical concept. So the title is a bit of a misnomer. Instead the Bible says that God forgives us through Jesus substitution death on the cross. The major question for many of us is, “We will let God forgive us?”

Second, the follow-up question is, “Will we let him forgive us completely?” Will we allow God to wipe away all of our sins AND the guilt that goes with them? To many Christians hold onto their guilt and cannot seem to let it go. It destroys their joy and can even destroy their faith.

That leads me to some simple ideas to let go of our guilt and somewhat forgive ourselves.

* Acknowledge My Sin

When sin is hidden, it gets bigger and bigger. I think that is why the Bible tells us …

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

-Confess your sin to God. Say it out loud.
-Confess your sin to another Christian you trust, who is willing to listen.

* Stop Punishing Yourself

Some of us hold onto our guilt because it makes us miserable. We somehow feel that if I withhold complete forgiveness then in some small way I am paying for my sin. As a Christian we believe that Jesus paid our debt of sin and there is NOTHING we can do to pay for it ourselves. I think that is why the Bible says …

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The flip side of this, is that we think God is punishing us for that sin in the past. We feel guilty and whenever something bad happens we feel like it must be God making us pay for our sin. Once again, the verse says, “There is no condemnation.”

* Forget The Past

God forgets your sins –

Hebrews 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

You can too –

Philippians 3:13 (b) But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.

This is the process of saying I will no longer listen to the negative voice in my head but rather the word of God. I will purposely choose to leave the past behind me every time it comes up.

I know those are simple thoughts, but I really believe that if we were to put them into practice it would increase our joy and invigorate our faith. God wants to forgive and to purify you. Will you let Him?

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On the Web

Some really great stuff on the web in the past week. Lots of it has focused on family probably because we are heading into the stretch from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day. Lots of good stuff to enjoy.

9 Things Parents Should Never Say to Their Children

7 Things You May Not Know but You Need to Know about Your Husband

8 Signs of a Dying Marriage

7 Ways To Honor Your Pastor’s Wife

And a great article on Evangelism –

5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting In Our Post-Christian World

The Two Dogs

There is a story about two dog that serves as an illustration of the inner conflict of mankind. This story is often contributed to native American folklore, but there seems to be no real proof of that being true. So here are two versions of the same story.

The story seems to have begun in 1978 with Billy Graham in his book, “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life.” This version of the story can be found in Chapter 7: The Christian’s Inner Struggle on and it is as follows:

“An Eskimo fisherman came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him. One was white and the other was black. He had taught them to fight on command. Every Saturday afternoon in the town square the people would gather and these two dogs would fight and the fisherman would take bets. On one Saturday the black dog would win; another Saturday, the white dog would win – but the fisherman always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.” (Page 92)

A second version of the story was published in a 1997 book written by Eliot Rosen and Ellen Burstyn titled, “Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death.” This version of the story is on page 15.

“A Native American Elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.” (Page 15)

Billy Graham writes, “This story about the two dogs is apt because it tells us something about the inner warfare that comes into the life of a person who is born again. We have two natures within us, both struggling for mastery. Which one will dominate us? It depends on which one we feed.”

The question for today and this weekend, “Which dog inside of you are you feeding?”

Guaranteed Failure

Spending the past year with a large group of teens has refocused my thinking on discipleship. Our youth group averages 35 Jr. High and High school youth every Wednesday night. Last night we went to the park and I watched the group from a distance doing all sorts of activities and I really noticed the diversity among the kids. Some of them have really grown over the last year and others of them have no real interest in what we are doing. Some of them hang on every word of the lessons and others play on their phones. That leaves me constantly asking a question, “What does it take to get someone to grow in Christ?”

I have read numerous books on evangelism and discipleship. I have 20 years of ministry experience with both adults and teenagers. I have been to conferences and pastors meetings along with listening to podcasts, sermons and lectures on the topic of spiritual growth. Honestly it seems like there are numerous ways that a person can grow as a follower of Christ. The opposite is somewhat true – there are numerous ways to avoid growing as a believer. But I have grown extremely interested in a parable Jesus told that is recorded in Matthew 13:3-8. We often call it the “parable of the sower.” Maybe it is better called the “parable of the seeds.” Maybe it is even better described as the “parable of the soils.” It really doesn’t matter what you call it, the truth of the parable speaks to spiritual growth.

Interestingly enough, within the parable Jesus speaks about four types of soil and only one of them proves productive. The other three never reach their full potential. I think that within this story we see some lessons on guaranteed ways to fail at spiritual growth.

1. Avoid Understanding – The first soil is hard and never allows the seed to penetrate. Of it Jesus says, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). One of the quickest ways to avoid growth is to simply not pay attention. These are the people who come to Church or a lesson time and never really listen. They are checking their phones, talking to their friends or family, go to the bathroom, play with their child, make faces at the baby in front of them or find one of a thousand ways to not really listen. These people like the appearance of being a follower of Jesus but don’t desire to have any depth. They look good at Church but really do not live the gospel because it never penetrates their heart.

2. Don’t Develop Roots – The second soil allows the seed to start growing but develops no real roots. Jesus says of it, “But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time” (Matthew 13:21). I believe that roots are those steps to spiritual growth that are done out of the public eye. Roots grow beneath the surface where no one sees them develop. This group of people will listen to the sermon or lesson, but go home and leave those concepts only in the back of their mind. There is no daily prayer or Bible study. They are not stretching themselves to give or serve. These people listen to the sermon each week and are truly touched by what they hear but they do nothing with it. Faith is a once a week activity and eventually that is not even true.

3. Be Distracted – The third soil is distracted by all the activities of this life. Jesus says, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). These people truly connect with the Bible and might even be trying to develop roots but their time to do anything with it is limited. Their calendars are full. They have forty plus hours of work and then they give themselves to ever activity under the sun. They are involved in school activities, sports activities, civic activities along with a list of fun activities they enjoy themselves. They worry that they are not a good parent, teacher, worker, or community member. They worry about what other people might think of them if they say to “no” to a particular activity. The schedule hits its maximum limit every week. This often leaves them tired and sick and struggling to do much with their faith. My professor once told our class, “Show me your calendar and I will show you your priorities.” These people are often admired in America because they seem to be doing everything, but unfortunately they are neglecting the most important things.

Jesus parable is designed to push us to ruthlessly evaluate our lives. Are you focused on learning what God’s word says? Do you have any private spiritual disciplines? Where does your time go? Through the years I have learned that there is no magic recipe to get people to grow spiritually. I have learned that there are markers in people’s lives that show me they will never grow spiritually. I believe, if you are serious about growing in your faith you will focus on the opposite actions that Jesus described. If not, I can guarantee you failure.

Destination Unknown

Tonight our youth group will load up in a bunch of vehicles and head out from the Church to a place the leaders call “destination unknown.” Tonight we forgo the lesson and head out for an evening of fun and adventure. Generally speaking, the teens enjoy it. It gets them out of the Church building, it breaks up the normal routine and they usually have fun.

Then I think about my children. There is one huge question that my older kids keep getting asked, “What are you going to do after high school?” One of them is finishing his junior year and another his sophomore year. There future is coming at them quickly and right now it is completely unknown.

Then I replay my life. I often wonder, “How did I get here?” If you had asked me as a junior in high school, “What are your long-term plans?,” I would have told you that I was thinking of being a taxidermist or working in the fur industry or how I hoped to do something outdoor related. Now I sit here in my office as a pastor of 20 years and currently living in Adrian Missouri. How in the world did I get here? My destination was completely unknown.

I also think of Israel. In the wilderness they followed a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They never knew how long they were going to stay in one place. They never knew the direction God was going to lead them. In one place in the Old Testament it states clearly that God did not take them by the direct route. It was always packing, moving and following – never completely sure where they were going. Their destination was completely unknown.

There is a line in Proverbs 20:24 that says, “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” I think the writer looked back over his life and saw God’s hand working even when the writer didn’t know it. I picture him shaking his head and saying to himself, “I don’t understand my own life journey.” He had undoubtedly ended up at a destination that has been completely unknown.

For me (and you), like those teenagers tonight, I have to trust that God will lead me in a direction that will be the best for me and for His kingdom. I also have to trust that God will lead my children in a direction that will be the best for them and for His kingdom. The life of faith is not about destination but simply following. So today I remind myself, “I don’t have any idea what the future holds, but I am thankful because I know who holds the future.”

Caregivers

Most of us provide care in some way. We are parents, grandparents, siblings, children, friends and neighbors and we care about the people around us. We try to look out for their needs and offer care when they need it. Then something big happens like a stroke, a heart attack, cancer or an accident. Care giving is taken to a whole new level. It requires numerous hospital trips. The stress of making sure everything gets done. The worry and concern for a person we deeply care about. It is hard work to be a caregiver in those difficult moments in life. And yet, many people do it everyday. There are people you know who spend hours each day taking care of the needs of someone else. Honestly, it might be you who are doing this selfless act of service everyday. Your life is about helping another person take care of themselves. Today I am think about you. I am thinking about all of those people who offer care in life’s painful moments.

There are two reasons I am thinking about caregivers. One is because I am watching my mom fulfill this role for my dad. The other reason is because of a conversation I had with my elders last night. We were going to pray for an Alzheimer’s patient and one of my elders said, “We need to pray for the person taking care of them.” Then he explained that most Alzheimer’s patients have no idea what is going on and it is the people around that person who are really struggling.

So today I want to offer my advice about caregivers.

1. Pray for them too. We really do need to offer up prayers for people who are under the stress and strain of caring for a loved one. Ask God to give them strength, peace and shower them with love. Ask God to bless their life in this difficult time.

2. Ask them about themselves. All of us are curious about the person who is receiving the care, but forget the caregiver. Sometimes it is nice just to have someone ask about them.

3. Help (at least offer). This can take many forms – offer a ride, take care of the lawn, stand by the bedside for a day so the person can take a break, etc. Don’t make empty offers and promises that you will never follow-up on. Be honest and do anything you can to help.

4. Food is important. All of us have to eat. Bring a meal. Take a drink. Here is a huge key – ask what the people really like. Showing up with a big fruit basket looks nice, but not everyone likes fruit (like me:-). On the other hand, chocolate is God’s gift to us, but some ungodly people think it is unhealthy:-) I would also suggest trying your best to coordinate with other people. Receiving two pot roasts on the same night can be overwhelming and make the caregiver sad, because now they need to take the time to share all they have been given.

5. Hugs are precious. Depending on the situation, a caregiver may be limited in the physical contact they have with the person they are caring for. A hug from a friend is a precious gift. Sometimes it is more valuable than any words that you can offer.

I know that none of these are new and insightful to most of you. I write this to remind myself to care for the caregiver. Maybe you can share your advice in the comments sections. Maybe it will inspire you in some way. Whatever happens, I thank God for the caregivers of the world.

The Right Moment

Seth Godin posted this a year ago. It is good stuff and bears repeating –

You might be waiting for things to settle down. For the kids to be old enough, for work to calm down, for the economy to recover, for the weather to cooperate, for your bad back to let up just a little…

The thing is, people who make a difference never wait for just the right time. They know that it will never arrive.

Instead, they make their ruckus when they are short of sleep, out of money, hungry, in the middle of a domestic mess and during a blizzard. Whenever.

As long as whenever is now.