Forgive Others

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Genesis 18:25  Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

To fully grasp the wonder of forgiveness we must fully comprehend the wonder of the One who forgives. When God decided it was time to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin, He came to visit Abraham. Abraham’s nephew Lot was living in Sodom. Lot had become a worldly follower of God but was still viewed by God as a man who was sensitive to righteousness. Lot had been taught about obedience to God. Lot had lived with Abraham and been mentored by him. But Lot loved the world and what it had to offer. He made his decisions based on the attractiveness of what the world offered rather than on faith in God’s provision.

Lot’s life had little or no spiritual impact upon the people with whom he lived. Most of us today would consider him to be a lost cause. We would probably not spend much time trying to rescue him from the grips of sin. We would conclude that since he made his own bed he has the right to lie in it. We might even go so far as to think that he deserves whatever punishment is coming his way.

Not Abraham. He pleads with God to allow the whole city to survive for the sake of Lot. He asks God to spare them all. The word spare is our key word nasa, the Hebrew word for forgive.

What is the rationale for Abraham’s argument? The nature and character of God. Abraham appeals to what he knows to be true about God – God forgives the righteous and does not punish them for their sin. He does not treat the righteous and the wicked alike. Even when the righteous are acting like the wicked, God, by His very nature, will do right.

Forgiveness is not dependent upon the perfection of the violator, but rather on the character of the one who was violated. Forgiveness is not earned but rather it is granted by a Righteous Judge who honors the humble confession of a repentant heart. He can do nothing less than forgive because His nature demands it.

Forgiveness cannot be rescinded because efforts of behavior modification have failed, but it is granted once and for all for all eternity. At the moment of salvation, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is applied to the life of a sinner. We are declared justified by a righteous God. (God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21) The old nature of sin will never again be considered by God when determining our eternal destiny. Only the righteousness of Christ can be seen by God, and that will be honored for all eternity. We who are in Christ will be spared from the entire wrath of God against sin.

Jesus teaches us to forgive others the same way. We must model the nature and character of God when we forgive, and not make forgiveness contingent upon the offender’s perfection. The words of Jesus in response to Peter’s question in Matthew 18:21 – 22 take on a whole new significance in light of this truth.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

When a fellow Christian – a brother as Peter defines him – sins against us, we are to forgive as Christ forgave and continues to forgive us. You know how many sins there are in your life that you hate and wish you would never do again. But you still do them. So do I. But each time we repent with a humble heart before God, he forgives us. We must do the same for each other. If our forgiveness from God depended upon our character rather than His, none of us would yet be forgiven.

We have been forgiven and will be spared from all punishment for sin. With that glorious truth resounding in our lives, forgive others the same way.

Pastor John

Jesus Saves

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Genesis 7:13, 17 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark…Then the LORD shut him in. For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of water. I love to swim. I met my wife while we were both working as lifeguards at a city pool. If there’s water around, I want to be in it or on it.

When I was a boy I was the first one out in the spring getting in trouble with my mom for playing in the water. I play in the water as an adult when I clear the ice from the driveway. I chop away the ice on the street and along the ditch and make channels for the water to flow through, and I get wet.

I love water. I’ve swum in both oceans and 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, including Lake Superior in early June. Only once have I come close to drowning, and although it really scared me, it did not stop me from getting right back into the water. The water was not to blame for what happened – I was. The water was only doing what water does. I was doing what I shouldn’t have been doing. I trust water.

Like water, God can be trusted also, so long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. In the days of Noah, mankind was not doing what they were supposed to be doing. All but eight of the people on the earth at the time were living in total rejection of God. They are described this way in Genesis 6 – The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

They had become so self-centered and self-sufficient that they had no thoughts of God and only thoughts of evil all the time. They would not and could not hear the voice of God any longer and refused to believe that God would do anything about it. Their hearts were so hard against God and so focused on sin that God himself concluded that they were beyond hope. How horribly sad that is!

God decided to enforce the consequence of their rebellion. He would destroy them all except for Noah and his family. God chose water as the means of destruction. But that same water that would bury all the sinners in eternal judgment would also lift Noah and his family to safety from the judgment. (The reason I highlighted the word lift is because that is the Hebrew word for forgiveness as we learned in yesterday’s devotional.)

The very process God chose to bring judgment upon the people who were living proudly in their sin is the same process by which God saved those who were living in obedience to Him. While millions were drowning, eight were being lifted high above the destruction. Noah and his family heard the call of God to “come into the ark.” (Gen. 7:1) They made the choice to accept that invitation, and “entered the ark.” (Gen. 7:13)  When they did, the power of God took over and “shut them in,” securing their safety from the storm. (Gen. 7:16)

God always judges sin with death. But God has also provided a way for that judgment to become our salvation. God came to the earth in person when Jesus Christ His Son came to live among us. Then, after living a perfect life, God judged the sin of the world with the death of Jesus. Jesus became the water of judgment that will destroy all who do not believe in Him.

Jesus said, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

The same standard by which the sinner will be condemned has become the standard by which we escape condemnation. Once again Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

When Jesus rose from the dead He became the water of salvation for those who trust Him. Here’s how the Apostle Peter describes it – For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Please note carefully that the water of baptism does not save you, but your trust and faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ saves you. The water of baptism is a symbol of what has happened in your heart when you chose to repent of your sin and be forgiven. You heard the call of Jesus to “Come unto me.”  You accepted His invitation by rejecting your sin and accepting Him as your Savior. Then God’s power took over and shut you in permanently, making you His child forever and guaranteeing you eternal life. Hallelujah!

The choice is yours. Water will do what water does. God will do what His Nature requires Him to do. He is pure and holy and just, and He will punish sin with death. The good news is that He has already punished sin with the death of Christ. If we are in Christ then we are free from death and sin forever.

Where do you stand? Are you in Christ seeking to serve Christ, or are you still in the world, seeking to serve self? If you are in Christ, your sins are forgiven, and you are free from judgment. If you are still in the world and have not trusted Christ, your judgment is still coming.

What will you do? Jesus invites you into the ark to be saved.

Pastor John

Forgiveness

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Genesis 4:13  Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.”

God has placed a word on my heart and mind, and I am convinced that I am supposed to spend some time investigating it. Every day this word runs across the flashing billboard of my brain. Songs that have the word in the lyrics come to my mind and I find myself singing them. It is obviously the place that God wants me to be for right now. I know God wants me to spend some time digging for nuggets of gold in the mine of forgiveness. I invite you to come along on this daily expedition as we seek to discover the wealth of this truth – we are forgiven, and we can forgive others!

We begin where the Bible begins – in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word translated forgive is used some 650 times in its root form in the Old Testament. The word is nasa, and means to lift, to carry, and to take away. (Isn’t it interesting that the space exploration agency of the United States is called NASA? Three minutes to lift-off.) The first time the word is used in the Bible is in Genesis 4:13, where following the murder of his brother Abel, Cain is punished by God and responds to Him by saying, “My punishment is more than I can bear.” 

The weight of sin on any of our lives is more than we can lift or carry. Our attempts to be free from the burden are varied. We may deny that the sin really exists, as Cain did when God rejected his offering and he became angry at God. God gave Cain a chance to do the right thing, but Cain rejected God’s offer of acceptance.

We sometimes do the same. We choose to believe that our way is right even when God calls it wrong. We try to convince ourselves and others that what we are doing is not sin. We try to earn our acceptance by making ourselves right, even if it means eliminating from our lives those that make us feel guilty for what we are doing.

Sometimes we lie to cover our guilt and personal responsibility for our choices. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain responded, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He lied about what he had done.

Denial is of the Devil. Satan is the father of lies. Lying begins in the heart of a self-centered person who requires approval and acceptance from people. Lying is the product of pride. Lies are designed by a deceived person seeking to avoid rejection and protect their image. We fail to understand that the lie is yet another sin which adds to the weight of the burden we cannot lift. We quickly fall into the humanly inescapable quicksand of sin. The more we try to struggle against it, the deeper we sink.

Sometimes we seek the comfort of the world to relieve the pain of our sin. When Cain was expelled from the presence of the Lord, he began to build a city. He put all his energy into finding satisfaction from what the world had to offer. He even named the city after his son. He did not include God in any of his plans. The world became his opiate.

The world offers many empty promises of relief from sin: promises we quickly and easily accept as truth. Financial success, social status, sex, alcohol, drugs, and on goes the list. Each promise proves itself addictive. The temporary relief we may experience ultimately compounds the burden of our sin because we have failed to realize that each worldly promise is itself another sin.

But in the middle of all of this was a promise from God. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” There is the solution to our sin problem. God will carry the total weight of our sin if we will release it to Him and do what is right. It is in that moment of repentance that we find forgiveness.

In the days ahead, we will dig out many nuggets of treasured truth from the mine of forgiveness, but the first lesson is this – the weight of our sin is more than we can carry. We cannot take it away by ourselves. We must give it to the One who can carry it, and once we do, we NEVER have to carry it again.

That means surrendering our rights, telling the truth, and living according to God’s purpose and not the world’s pursuits. Isn’t it time to have the weight of sin lifted off your life? God wants to do it, and He can. Turn to Him today!

Pastor John

Celebrate Reproduction

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, January 28, 2019

John 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

The final characteristic of Grace – God’s Divine influence on our lives – is this: to fulfill God’s purpose.

It is almost impossible for me to imagine holding a baby and not being filled with joy. I remember every grandchild’s birth. Every conversation with family in the hospital was focused on the tiny relative that was just born. Every whimper and cry was met with immediate attention from all who heard it. No one minded the interruptions. The parents allowed their precious baby to be passed around to any family member who wanted to hold the child, so that everyone could share in the gladness of the event. It didn’t matter who went first: everyone present shared in the joy and excitement of a new life born into the family.

What a beautiful illustration of the church. The Divine Influence of grace upon our hearts is to be reflected in the way we celebrate when the harvest of an eternal soul takes place in Jesus’ Name. It does not matter who first planted the seed of the Gospel in their life, or who nurtured and cared for the seed along the way, or who cultivated and watered the field so the seed could grow, or who ultimately harvested the crop when the person received Jesus Christ as their Savior. All that matters is that the family comes together and rejoices that a new life has been born into the family of God.

When grace has captured us, it is expressed in joy when grace captures anyone else.

One morning several years ago I received an email from one of our middle school youth leaders. A large percentage of the students who attended at that time were from unchurched families. The email was about an idea to recognize and celebrate new believers in Christ. At one point the writer said, “We could start with one student that made a statement of faith that he learned he could have a personal relationship with Jesus, another student that I had the privilege of praying with last night to receive Jesus, and two or three others that other leaders talked to last night.”

I must admit that I was so intent on his idea of how to celebrate, that at first reading I skimmed right over the most important part of the email – the birth of two middle school students into the family of God and the planting of Gospel seeds in three others.

Are you overwhelmed with joy? Do you feel like celebrating? The Divine Influence of grace makes us glad together when the grace of God captures another soul for the kingdom.

God’s purpose for His church and for His disciples is to reproduce. And when we do, and a new life is birthed into the family, we are to celebrate. I wonder why we don’t celebrate more? Maybe, just maybe, I need to grow in the Divine Influence of grace so that I have a greater desire to share His grace with others.

Pastor John

Keep Tickin’

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, January 25, 2019

Matthew 5:10-12  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

As a review, we are studying the five characteristics of grace that are the indication of God’s Diving influence on our lives. So far we have been encouraged to grow in grace by being merciful to others, and to not require recognition for serving others with the love of Jesus.

Today, characteristics number three and four are: the Divine Influence of Grace enables us to withstand persecution and endure suffering and loss.

In 1932, sports cartoonist George Lichtenstein created a comic strip named Grin and Bear It. In one comic we see an older, overweight boxer sitting on his stool in his corner of the ring. He is obviously losing the fight. His trainer is holding an ice bag on top of his head, his eyes are blackened, his face is bruised, and stars orbit his head. In his dazed and confused state, He is heard to say, “I used to take a beating better than this!”

Some days I feel like that. There are days when I can withstand a lot, and there are others when just a little knocks me down. The difference between those days is this – Divine Influence, or grace!

When my view of life is seen through eyes with a divine perspective, I can rejoice and be glad. When my view of life is seen through the eyes of human reason, I get beat up easily. The ability to take a beating has nothing to do with the intensity of the beating, but rather with the influence of the Divine on my life. It is by the grace of God that I am able to grin and bear it.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with God – discouragement and despair over the circumstances of life are a product of a self-centered perspective. It is when things don’t go as we planned or as we hoped that we fall into the pit of pity. When the outcome of our personal objectives is allowed to dictate our personal worth, we have set ourselves up for depression. But when our value is based on God’s heavenly truth, then no earthly circumstance can remove our joy.

God has qualified us through Jesus Christ to be a partaker of the inheritance with all the saints in glory (Col. 1:12). He has lavished His love upon us (1 John 3:1) and sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) as a guarantee of a great reward in heaven (Matt. 5:12).

Can anything in this life separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Can trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35-39)

Grace is the Divine Influence upon the heart that is reflected in the life. Life has the ability to beat up and knock down those who are not filled with grace. Grace will bring rejoicing to our hearts, even while the beating is taking place.

Persecution, suffering, and loss will not be eliminated until we are in the presence of God, but God’s Presence in us now provides us with the power, peace, and perspective to stand strong.

If I were the boxer sitting on the stool seeing stars, I want the caption under me to read, “I can still take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, because God’s grace grows in me!”

Pastor John

Incognito

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Luke 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Observing a person who is filled with grace is a difficult task because such a person lives their life in a purposefully unobservable way. The more of the Divine Influence that exists in a person’s heart the less attention they draw to themselves.

Jesus illustrated this to His disciples in Luke 17 when he spoke of the relationship between a servant and his master. The servant comes in from a hard day of work in the fields and is expected, as a part of his job description, to prepare supper for the master and serve him. When those tasks are all completed, Jesus asks the disciples this question: Would the master at this point expect that the Divine Influence upon the servant’s heart would require recognition for what he did? Then let that also be true of you. When you have done everything I have asked you to do, do not expect special attention or reward.

The word thank in verse 9 is the word for grace that we are studying. Jesus teaches clearly in this story that a true servant who is under the divine influence of grace requires no recognition. His activity for God is the loving response of a grateful heart to the indescribable gift of his salvation. Each deed has an impact on others, yet the source of the impact is obscured so that God receives the glory.

In 2006, because of the growth of our church, we moved all of our offices to a new location. As I unpacked books, I opened a box that had been in storage for years. They were given to me by my father. Some of those books belonged to my grandfather. Way down in one of the boxes were two handwritten journals from 1920 that are my grandfather’s observations of nature and the spiritual lessons he drew from those observations. One of them applies to today’s teaching. It is entitled The Silent Power of Influence.

As he stood near the shores of the harbor in New York City my grandfather wrote the following:

Waves are set in motion by some unknown vessel far out on the ocean. Even on a perfectly quiet day these waves will break in on the shore long after the ship has passed. So our lives. We are to do good without men knowing about it. Matthew 6:1-4 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Let’s carry that illustration a little farther. When a large ship passes near to the shore, the impact of the waves is no greater than when a large ship passes far from shore. The only difference is the focus of the person observing the waves. When the ship is nearby, the focus is on the ship. When the ship is unseen, the focus is on the splendor of the waves.

So should be our lives. Under the Divine Influence of grace, we can have the same impact on others while we are unseen as we can while we are seen. The difference is that when we minimize our visibility, the focus of the recipient will be on God and not us.

Being filled with grace means requiring no recognition. May Christ only be seen in us, and to Him be all the glory.

Pastor John

Be Merciful

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

On five different occasions Jesus used the word grace to describe a characteristic of his disciples. Yesterday we defined this term “grace” as “the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life.” If not for the grace of God visited upon us we would only express the desires and choices of a sinful nature. But by the grace of God we are capable of spiritual expressions of a Godly nature.

Luke 6:36 concludes a statement by Jesus that contrasts the life of a person influenced by human nature with the life of a person under the divine influence of grace. Here’s the literal translation of what Jesus said. 

If you love those who love you, what sort of divine influence on your heart is being reflected to the world? Even “sinners” love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what sort of divine influence upon your heart is being reflected to the world? Even those without Christ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what sort of divine influence upon your heart is being reflected to the world? Even “sinners” lend to “sinners” expecting to be repaid in full. The divine influence of Christ on your heart will result in mercy, the same way your Father is merciful.

When we read Scripture with the full understanding of what the words mean it brings a floodlight of truth onto our hearts. We cannot take any credit for being filled with the grace of God when we treat other people in the same way as those who are filled with sin. The divine influence upon our lives will fill us with acts of mercy and we will reflect the nature of God Himself.

What is the connection between grace and mercy? Simple definitions help us to understand. Grace is simply receiving what we do not deserve: mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.

As sinful humans, separated from God, we deserve eternal punishment. But in His great mercy He has removed our punishment from us because His justice was satisfied in the death of Jesus on the cross.  Then, still undeserving of eternal life as God’s child, by grace we are given the righteousness of Christ so that God accepts us as perfect.

The Divine Influence of God’s nature upon our heart will be reflected in our actions towards sinful people. God’s mercy in us allows us to not judge their sin and force upon them what we believe they deserve. Instead, we grant forgiveness to them, just as we have been forgiven by God through Jesus Christ.

When filled with God’s grace we will act mercifully to those around us. We will not hold them to the letter of the law and its condemnation, but rather we will hold them with the law of love and its confirmation.

Dr. James Dobson reports seeing a sign on a convent in Southern California reading: “Absolutely No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law!” Signed, “The Sisters of Mercy.”

 

Don’t let your life be a reflection of the law. Let your life be filled with God’s grace, so that His Divine Influence will be reflected in merciful actions towards all people.

Pastor John