Forgive, Really?

October 16, 2017
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

“How can I forgive him if I can’t forget what he’s done?”

This was the question of a woman who was talking about her husband’s unfaithfulness to his marriage vows. The way she asked the question, however, indicated that it wasn’t so much of a question as it was a statement: ‘I will not forgive him until I no longer remember what he did.’

In her mind, in order for her to move forward in life, to not allow what happened in the past to impact how she treated him in the future, a specific condition needed to be met. She first needed to forget how she was hurt.

That’s not the only condition people might have before they forgive:

“I won’t forgive until they prove they deserve it.”
“I won’t forgive until I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson.”
“I won’t forgive until I’m sure that they’re really sorry for what they did.”
“I won’t forgive until I’m sure that they won’t hurt me again.”

Those sound reasonable. But Scripture has only one condition for our forgiving: Forgive … as God forgives.

Jesus didn’t decide to offer his life only if we proved to him that we deserve it.
Jesus didn’t climb Calvary only after he was sure that we all learned our lesson.
Jesus didn’t hang on the cross only after each person in the world said “sorry” for their sins.
Jesus didn’t wait to die until after he was sure we would never again sin against him.
Knowing our sins, Jesus carried each one to the cross, where he forgave every one of them.

Jesus knows that forgiving someone is hard. He knows that it often hurts. But by forgiving us, even when we didn’t deserve it, he gave us a precious gift that could come in no other way. He gave us grace. He gave us a safe place to which we could come whenever we have sinned. He gave us a way to start healing again.

And that is exactly what you give someone else, and your relationship with them, when you forgive just as God forgives.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the precious gift of forgiveness you won for us on the cross. Help us to forgive others just as you have forgiven us. Amen.


The Principle of Love

October 2, 2017
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” – Romans 13:8-10

There would be no crime. No war. No hatred. No ethnic cleansing. No family squabbles or feuds. No identity theft. No gossip. No pornography. No anger. No jealousy. If only everyone followed one simple rule: love your neighbor as yourself.

But we don’t live in a world like that. We don’t live in homes like that. We don’t follow that one simple rule: love your neighbor as yourself. How can we? To love others perfectly in thought, word, and deed, and do them no harm, but protect, defend, and help them, we would first have to love God. Love God, the loving Father who made us and provides for us. If we fail at loving our neighbor, we fail even more at loving God.

That is one way to define sin: the failure to love God and to love our neighbor. And sin carries a penalty—an eternal penalty.

God alone shows perfect love. His love for us is full and complete and flawless. His love for us does not show favoritism. His love for us does not come and go, wax and wane, go hot and cold. His love for us does not depend on how much we love him—God simply loves us unconditionally.

In love, God sent his Son to heal the sin-torn relationship between us and him. In love, Jesus came to this world and lived the life of perfect love we couldn’t. In love, Jesus credits his perfect love for God and for neighbor to our eternal account. In love, Jesus offered himself for his fellowman—every single one of us in the entire world—on the cross. In love, God declares us forgiven of sin and free from penalty.

God’s perfect, saving love in Christ is free. But we can treat it like a debt in a sense: we can spend the rest of our lives trying to repay the debt of love to Christ by showing love to one another. Christ’s love alone saves us. Our love is our lifelong thank-you.

Prayer: Dear Savior, I struggle to love like you do. Forgive me by your death on the cross. Work in me by your Spirit to love you and love others, treasuring the love you show me. Amen.

Strength for the Struggling

September 25, 2017
15You understand, O LORD; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering—do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake. 16When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. 17I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. 18Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? 19Therefore this is what the LORD says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. 20I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the LORD. 21“I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” – Jeremiah 15:15-21

If you never grow weary of opposition you face because you are a Christian, if you never struggle to patiently bear the ridicule you suffer because you are a child of God, if you never feel that you have given up a lot (too much!) in order to remain faithful to God’s Word, if you never feel like you are enduring pain instead of the ungodly (who should be!), if you never feel that God is slow or negligent in keeping his promises, if you never feel sorry for yourself—then this message is not for you.

If, however, you know the Lord cares for you, yet you sometimes grow weary of the opposition you face because you are a Christian; if you know God is patient with you, yet you sometimes struggle to patiently bear the ridicule you suffer because you are a child of God; if God’s Word brings you great joy, yet you sometimes feel that you have given up a lot (too much!) in order to remain faithful to that Word; if you know that many in the world are ungodly, yet feel like you are the one enduring all the pain; if you sometimes feel that God isn’t keeping his promises, or at least isn’t keeping them very promptly or very well; if you sometimes feel sorry for yourself—then this message is for you.

Jeremiah’s ministry wasn’t easy. For the most part he was called to proclaim judgment against a wicked and rebellious people. And the people didn’t like that. Therefore, they didn’t like Jeremiah. They persecuted him. They ridiculed him. Jeremiah was often alone. And sometimes that got to him.

Have you ever felt like Jeremiah? Read again Jeremiah’s complaint (verses 16-18). Have you ever questioned God’s ways? Read again the Lord’s response (verses 19-21). Then look again at Jeremiah’s beautiful confession and expression of faith, a confession of faith based on God’s trustworthy words and promises. In the midst of it all, Jeremiah could say, “Lord, you understand; remember me and care for me.”

Dear friend, God who remained faithful to his servant Jeremiah will also, always, remain faithful to you! When you are struggling to understand the when and what and how, may you be blessed to confess: “Lord, you understand.” Then, may that confession give birth to this simple, humble, confident request: “Lord, remember me and care for me.”

Prayer: Lord, you understand; remember me and care for me. Amen.

Innumerable Blessings

September 18, 2017
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. – Ephesians 1:3

St. Paul tells the church in Ephesus that believers in Jesus Christ have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing.” Here are some of the blessings we have through Jesus:

• We have been forgiven of all disobedience against God through the sacrifice of his Son.
• The perfect obedience of Jesus Christ has been credited to us. God considers us to be holy and worthy to stand in his presence.
• In Holy Baptism, we have been given a new life and a new identity. Adopted as God’s children, we can approach the Creator of all things as our loving Father.
• We can be confident that God will patiently listen to all of our prayers and will respond in a way which shows his rich love for us.
• In Holy Communion, together with bread and wine Jesus Christ gives us his very body and blood to eat and drink along with the assurance that we are one with him.
• The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our hearts, daily giving us hope and peace.
• In the Holy Scriptures, we find strength to resist temptation and guidance for doing what is pleasing to God.
• United with Christ, the true and living Vine, we are branches which produce fruits of faith such as love for God and for others.
• Our hearts respond to God’s word with generosity and grace. In Christ, we can find joy in service and contentment in any situation.
• All believers are united with each other through their union with Christ. We are members of the biggest family, the Holy Christian Church, which includes all believers here on earth and those who have already died and gone to be with the Lord.
• Christ’s resurrection from the dead guarantees that we will not remain in our graves. He will raise our bodies on the Last Day.
• Our time here on earth is short and full of troubles, but God has promised that we will live with him in Paradise for all of eternity.

Truthfully, there is not a single spiritual blessing lacking for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, comfort and quiet my uneasy soul with your many gospel promises. Thank you for providing for my every spiritual need in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Human Race or Our Savior’s Race?

September 11, 2017
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

A very important matter for marathon runners is wearing the right gear. Wise runners make sure that no part of their gear will impede progress. Clothes are made to glide smoothly as they run, and shoes are double (probably triple) knotted to ensure that the runners won’t stumble along the way.

As we run through life there are plenty of things that entangle us – our sinful desire for independence, our insistence on having things done our way, our selfish pride, our incessant gathering of earthly possessions. Our sinful nature, the pressures of an increasingly godless world, the crafty evil one – they all lead us astray. They entangle us and trip us up on our race. And for not running our race the way that God demands, we deserve to be disqualified from the race and thrown off the course. We deserve to be thrown from the race of life and to suffer eternal punishment in hell.

But we have one who has run the race in our place. Jesus ran the race of life perfectly. The times that sin entangles and trips us up, Jesus picks us up and sets us back on our feet. For the foolish sins that have tied our own feet, we have one who resisted temptation and always ran a prefect race. From the manger to the cross to the tomb, he kept running until the victory was won. He rose from death and secured the prize, a heavenly prize that he shares with those who have faith in him.

As we run the race that our Savior maps out for us, we fix our eyes on him. He authored and perfected our faith; our race started in him and is also completed through him. He motivates us to run the race, and he runs alongside us as well. He enables us to throw off those entangling sins and to run the race marked out. We will run in his strength, and in his path, as long as he wants us to run, until our race is done, and we inherit eternal rest at our Savior’s side in glory.

Prayer: Dear Lord, be with me as I run through this life. Keep me on your path and forgive me for the times I run down the wrong paths. Continue to guide and sustain me and give me the endurance I need to run for you and serve you with my life. Amen.

Getting Through Hard Times

September 4, 2017
They were looking for a better country – a heavenly one. – Hebrews 11:16

The World War II film, Saving Private Ryan, is about a small unit of soldiers with a difficult assignment. They had orders to penetrate enemy country, find one, specific soldier, Private James Ryan, bring him out and send him home. The government issued those orders because it had just notified Ryan’s mother that her 3 other sons died in battle.

The leader of this small unit is Captain John Miller. Captain Miller is tough, fair, respected. He’s also a bit of a mystery to his men. Try as they might, they can never get Captain Miller to tell them what he did before the war. It’s become something of a friendly contest among the men to find out.

Which brings us to one of the most poignant scenes in the movie. In searching for Private Ryan in enemy territory, one of the men gets killed. The men in the unit begin to fall apart. They begin to wonder why they are there, why they are risking their lives to find one man. They are on the edge of mutiny. It’s at that moment that Captain Miller chooses to tell them what he did before the war. “You know what I did for a living?” he gently asks. “I’ll tell you. I was an English teacher at Thomas Alva Edison High School in Addley, PA.” Then he adds this. “My wife is there. I love her very much. And the way I see it, if carrying out this mission gets me closer to seeing her again, well, that’s what I’m going to do.” With that, Captain Miller picks up his gun and moves out. And without saying a word, the rest of his men follow.

By God’s grace, few of us have ever had to face the horror and stress of war. Nevertheless, in our lives there are those moments when all the comforts and joys of life seem to vanish with the arrival of something awful. Perhaps your finances have collapsed. Perhaps you feel trapped in the misery of cancer treatment. Perhaps a member of your family has shattered your heart.

At those moments when it seems as though there are only terrible things for you to endure, what sustains you? What gets you through? What sustained Captain Miller was the possibility of getting home to his wife. What sustains you and me is the reality of going home to heaven.

Even in a broken world there is almost always a wide variety of comforts and joys to sustain us. But at those moments when there isn’t, remember: Jesus died for your sins. He lives. Your home in heaven waits. And between now and then, your Savior will get you through.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in those moments when all seems dark, carry me. I rest myself in you. Amen.

Feast on Good Rich Food

August 28, 2017
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” – Isaiah 55:1-3

I found the Market place in Italy an interesting place, to say the least. So different from our produce stands in America. Sellers shout and try to catch more business. Customers barter for a lower a price. Deals go down all around you. This is a little different than your usual trip to the local grocery store.

God pictures you and me walking through a busy, noisy marketplace – our lives. In Isaiah chapter 55, God shouts out to us. The LORD has the goods we want and need. He has the perfect price. We’ll love the banquet he prepares for us.

The LORD needs to shout to get our attention. God knows there is so much competition. He knows we listen to the lies, the half-truths and the quick-fixes. They’re so appealing but their promises are deceptive. Sometimes those voices call us to sin. Sometimes they call us to busy our lives and occupy our hearts with material things instead of God. When those voices are calling with temptations, we all too often buy into their lies and sin. We listen to their voices instead of God’s Word.

The LORD God sees you weaving through the busy marketplace of your life. Through the clatter, chatter and chaos, the LORD shouts for your attention in these verses. What he’ll give you is worlds better than all the deceptive and fleeting goods this world or your sinful nature tries to peddle to you.

How is the LORD’s offer better? God’s Good News is for all, for you! The LORD provides it free of cost to you. The effect is fabulous – you will be satisfied and delight in what God gives you. You will live – now and eternally. God makes this promise and God fulfills this promise. Jesus did all the work.

What is the LORD shouting about? The LORD shouts: “Eat what is good!” What good is he offering to you? God’s Word. God’s grace. God’s Son. God’s forgiveness. God’s peace. God’s home – heaven.

Through the noisy marketplace of your life, the LORD shouts for your attention. Listen. Receive his gifts. Be satisfied and delight in them. Forgiveness and peace are yours.

Prayer: LORD, in your grace you give me forgiveness and peace through Jesus. Open my ears and heart to listen to your voice above all others. Use my voice to share your gift of grace with those in my life. Amen.