Are We Losing?

I would like to think that I’m a winner because of the things I do.  I enjoy when I do well at participating in a sport, video game, board game, etc.  We are all born with an innate sense of winning at everything we try.  My wife and I are competitive people, just usually in different areas of life.  She possesses the motivation and ambition to be successful in business, and at the same time to be successful as a wife and mother.  There’s nothing wrong with desiring success, I am not saying that by any means.  However, when we associate winning with being right all the time, by making other people succumb to our “amazing” wealth of “knowledge” and forget that they are the same as we are, we begin to lose…gratuitously.   Let me explain what I mean.

As a believer in and follower of Christ, I prescribe to a certain set of beliefs outlined in scripture.  The most important of these beliefs is that I love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, and mind.  The second, which is similar, is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:37-40).  Most of the time, we have no problem claiming allegiance to God, and maintaining the first of these two commandments.  The second is where the wheels begin to fall off for most of us.  We love people and generally our actions reflect that.  But what happens when people fail us?  What happens when they don’t quite live up to the standard that we expect them to?  What happens when that failure involves us directly, and even more so when it is detrimental to our comfort or satisfaction?  Do we immediately overlook their “shortcomings?”  Is forgiveness given as quickly and freely to them, by us, as we would give ourselves?  Ponder that thought for a moment…no really, how often do we not forgive ourselves for falling short of expectations?  When it comes to holding ourselves accountable, we are the kings and queens of justification.  Suddenly, our sins become minor offenses, and we can quickly say a prayer and “repent,” and move along to the next duty in our day.  But, for shame, if someone doesn’t quite live up to the standard we expect them to.  Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying these things, my ears are burning and my stomach is in knots thinking about how often I’ve failed to live out this command of forgiving.  I have forgone distributing forgiveness to those who honestly didn’t know they had offended me.  Even if they did know they had offended me, how long have I clung to that frustration and bitterness toward that person?  At the same time that I’ve clung to that mess, I’ve expected people to overlook my stupidity, inconsideration, and just outright disrespect.  As my friend Jack Robertson would say, “Uh, hello!”

Until the past couple of years, there was bitterness and anger that I held onto, toward people that I went to junior high and high school with.  That’s been 12 stinking years, for crying out loud!  When I looked back at why I was so angry and bitter, I began to realize the offenses were really petty and, well, junior highish.  My lack of being able to forgive these individuals clouded my ability to realize that they were, in fact, human.  How was I any different?  The exact same things that I had carried with me for so long, were things that I was guilty of doing to people myself!  I have seen some of these former classmates on Facebook, and through other avenues, and God has drastically changed their hearts and moved them to follow Him!  Praise God that He has changed their hearts!  Was I able to recognize this?  Um, no.  Why not?  Because I hadn’t let go of my anger and bitterness yet.  I wasn’t able to comprehend and rejoice with them in their salvation because I was still losing.  I was losing when my heart was embittered toward them because they had been a teenager, acting as some teenagers do.

Psalm 103:8-10 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love.  He will not always accuse us or be angry with us forever.  He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (HCSB)

Well dang, I feel like a jerk.  I am supposed to be setting the example of God’s standard for one of His followers, and I can’t even get over someone picking on me in junior high.  Pretty sure the persecution the disciples went through made my aggravation seem pretty minor.  Let’s take a look a little bit farther in this chapter, Psalm 103:11-14 says:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.” (HCSB)

Basically, what I take from this passage, is that when I don’t forgive as my Father in heaven has forgiven me, I am losing.  Not only am I losing, but I am failing.  The absolute beauty in this though, is that He has taken our transgressions completely away when we give our lives to Him.  Now, we have the opportunity to do the same to those who have sinned against us.  Am I saying that we need to search every single person out who has offended us and inform them of the “great grace” we’ve performed for them?  No.  We are never taught to go make a point of telling someone we have forgiven them, it is completely an issue of our heart being obedient to our Father.  We are commanded to forgive them.  We are also called to forget.  You’ve heard  the phrase before, “I’ll forgive them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me.”  This is an attitude that the world has birthed that has none of the characteristics of Christ.  He took all of our sins, forgave them, and took them away forever.  When we give our lives to Him, that sin is g-o-n-e.

They say that elephants are very smart creatures that never forget.  I don’t want God to be an elephant when it comes to my sin.  Fortunately, because I have that eternal salvation through His son’s death on the cross, He’s not an elephant.  He has forgotten my sins and taken them away as far as the east is from the west.  Spend a minute thinking about that analogy for a second.  The east never catches up to the west, just as our sin will never be brought up again when we have repented from that sin.  Because of the example of God’s forgiveness, we can choose to win when we forgive others.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says,

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (HCSB)

We don’t get to tell someone to apologize for their actions (unless it’s your child), but we get to choose to act as Christ and forgive them for it.  As Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North explains in the video below, we can choose whether or not we want to be winning or losing.  I have to make a daily and conscious decision to grant forgiveness to those who I feel have wronged me, even more so when they may not have realized they did so.  Don’t be an elephant.

New Blog Home

Welcome to the new home of the behindthecross blog, in the next weeks I’ll be continuing to update and upgrade and customize the rest of the page.  I’d love your input and feedback on how you think it compares to the old site, so don’t hesitate to give input.  Be patient as well, if you just happen to come across the page when it’s in one of its in-between stages as I am very unfamiliar with everything surrounding website creation.  Thanks, and have a great weekend!!

God. Is. Always. There.

The following is the testimony of a childhood friend of mine, I pray that no matter what perspective you are reading it from, your heart will be touched.  God loves us, enough to send His son for us.  When we come to Him in recognition of that fact, He will always beckon us back to Him.  This is an anonymous story, mainly because some of the details are very personal and are better left nameless.

God has been so good to me in my life and has brought me out of so much and delivered me from more than I could ever tell you. I began my walk with God when I was 15.  I was headed down the wrong road, and the youth pastor of a local church stepped in and showed me Gods love. I got very involved and threw all my energy into my youth group, and all that I could do for God.

Throughout high school, I dated a guy off and on for three years but things began to get out of hand and I called the relationship off. My senior year a met a guy that loved God and liked me for me, not for what most teenage boys wanted.  We had only been dating for a few months when we had a horrible wreck.  God saved our lives but my faith was shaken. I finished my senior year at an alternative school, and was home bound for some time and that amounted to too much idle time. My parents had been having problems for some time and the stress began to get to me, and I broke up with my boyfriend.  I did this even though we both had known that God had called us to be together. I began to hang out with the wrong people, and stopped going to church.  One day my first boyfriend came back into town, so I decided to spend the weekend with him and his family. That was the decision that caused me years of pain. Just a crack in the door of sin, and the whole world began to drown me.  In a matter of two weeks, I started drinking and smoking, and began sleeping with my boyfriend. Things started out on the wrong foot.  Soon after he proposed, I found out he had cheated on me, and the young woman was pregnant. But I was so desperate for a way to hide my pain and lonesomeness, I “forgave” him and we were married just five short months of dating, I was only 19.

Our first baby came with in the first year of our marriage as did a move that took me 1,500 miles away from everything I had ever known. We had the typical arguments that all newlyweds experience, but soon they turned to him pushing then slapping me.  The first time it happened, I was so shocked but he told me it was my fault for pushing his buttons. The abuse got worse over the next year, as did his addiction to pornography and video games. I learned that he was having an affair over the internet and over the phone with the same girl he had cheated on me with before we were married. Despite all of this, we had our second child just a year after our first child was born. My life revolved around my children, and at times, I felt so helpless.  He would get angry and hurt me over stupid things, and demand I performed as his pornography girls did.  I was trapped. Over the next two years, there were good times. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good by far. It got to the point I didn’t care anymore about making him happy, only my girls. I truly hated that they lived in a house where their parents fought. But there was one light in my dark world…a friend…the guy I had dated when I had my wreck.

He had moved on and gotten married, but we had remained friends. No one but him knew of the abuse, and one day I had had all I could take.  So I wrote a note to my sister telling her what had been going on, and I had a bottle of pills.  I sat down and prayed for the first time in a long time asking, “God where are you?” At that moment my computer went off telling me I had a message. When I looked up it was a message from my friend telling me how much God loved me and how special I was to him. My heart cracked just a little that night, and as I knelt beside my children’ s bed and began to pray, my oldest who was about 3 years old at the time, asked me what I was doing.  When I told her I was praying to Jesus, she asked, “Who is Jesus?” All I could do was hold her, and ask God to forgive me. From that night on, I decided I was going to try to “find” God again. I began to pray for my husband, and ask God to change me or change him or give me a way out.  Those 6 months seemed to be the hardest, but one day my husband received orders to be gone for 6 months, and I thought that might gives us the time apart to heal. I was wrong.  The night before he left, he got angry with me and punched me. He then went to punch again, and I ducked as he put his arm through a door up to his shoulder.  Had he hit me, I can only imagine what would have happened.  That hit cut the last thread of love my heart had for him. I had been used, threatened, and made to do things even when I said no.

When he left, I left for my home town with my girls. My heart longed for someone to love me.  I felt ugly and stupid for what I had allowed my kids to go through, and I thought no one would ever want me because I thought I was used goods. I had two children and no clue what I was going to do. I had talked to my friend through all of this, and he had been through a very rough time as well.  His wife had left him while he was deployed to war, and we had been praying for each other. Though my heart still loved him, I felt ashamed because of the situation being as it was. I got a lawyer and told no one what was going on till the last minute, and I was legally separated from my husband in January. My friend had also moved back to our hometown and in April we had begun to spend time together.  He was divorced, and I was in the middle of mine. Everyone, including my family, was under the impression I was leaving my husband for another man.  I spoke with my soon to be ex-husband, and told him I could not live the life I lived anymore. I was tired of being scared, and wanted a better life for the kids.

When he got back from his deployment, he went to my parents and begged them to help him, and he ended up telling them an abbreviated version about what had happened, about the abuse, but only that he had hit me. My family turned on me and told me I was wrong and needed to work things out.  But I had been so hurt, and there was no going back.  My friendship turned into a relationship, and I was afraid to love again.  But he loved me, and loved my children and he gave us a place to call home. We knew that the way were where living was wrong, but we could not get married until my divorce was final, and my ex was making that as hard as possible. We had gone to a few churches trying to find our way back to God, as we had both walked away from God in our own way. We both desperately wanted God in our lives, and in our soon to be marriage. He had grown up in a church that was different from what I was brought up in.

So we visited another church in our town but some of the people made it very clear they didn’t want us there (not many churches welcomed a couple like us), so we visited another church. This one we liked, but one day the pastor asked to talk with us.  When we came to his office, he sat on the edge of his desk and looked at my boyfriend and said “How dare you raise your hands to God and call yourself a man of God, and walk in to the church with an adulterous woman?” He looked at me and told me I was going to condemn my children (then 2 and 3) to hell if I got a divorce. He then began to explain how divorce had damaged his life, and his children’s. This pastor never picked up his bible, nor asked for an explanation. The little faith I did have began to shake, and I didn’t know what to do.  After that “meeting” my boyfriend told me we could not see each other for two weeks, until we both had time to pray. Again, I was alone and scared. I went home and prayed, and ask God to show me what to do. The next day, the same pastor asked if he could meet with my ex-husband and me. We went to his house and he took my ex to talk to him, and I spoke with his wife. We came back together and I began to tell my side of the story, during which he stopped me and told me to stop lying!  I was shocked!  The pastor told me he knew my (ex) husband and he would never do that, and that I was just looking for a way out to be with the “other” man.  Again, he told me I was going to condemn my children to hell. My heart was shattered I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back into the prison of my marriage, but I didn’t want to condemn my children.

I began to pray. I felt led to call the pastor of the church I had visited with my friend. I was afraid of what their view might be, but still I felt that is who God was leading me to talk with.  I went and told the pastor what had been happening, and I told him my story. He had already known how we were living, and that I was in the middle of a divorce. He looked at me and told me the other pastor was mistaken, but that he too did not agree with how we were living.  He let us know that it was not his place to condemn. He reminded me that although God did not like divorce, my husband’s infidelity and abuse had released me from being bound to him any longer. He told me God loved me, and that He hated the sin but LOVED me.  I was precious to God and that I would not condemn my children to hell, that nowhere in the bible did it say that.  My last hope, my last grasp at God had been answered through this pastor.

The road to divorce was hard, but in November of that year, I was finally divorced, and in December I married my best friend. No, we didn’t start things right, but since that day we have done our best to live for God and raise the children to know and serve the loving God that turned a horrible decision of my youth into a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with more children and a church that loved us even when it was hard to.

All during those hard years I would ask God “Where did you go?” But I have realized since it was me that left God, and when I was ready, He was waiting with open arms to take me back, love me, and heal my heart that had been shattered. I went from a young woman who felt hopeless, used, ugly and unlovable to a woman of God who knows she is the child of The King, and is loved beyond words by a loving God and Godly husband.  God has done so much for me in my life, He has delivered me, brought me back from the dead (literally), and shows me every day through simple things -HE loves me!

If you take anything from this please let it be this, don’t judge someone walking through your church doors by what is on the outside, instead, take the time to get to know them and see how you can show Gods love to them. I can only imagine were I would be had my pastor not shown me God’s True love…. God bless, and remember:

 

“You may be the only bible someone reads”

 

It is amazing to me that our churches sometimes can push those who need to hear the love of Christ most away and out the doors.  Not all churches are like this, and those that show love and embrace people no matter who they are, are doing as the church in Acts did, loving and caring for everyone that came in the doors.  Be careful if you are part of the church, love everyone the same, and share the love of Christ endlessly.  Be encouraged that you can come running back to the Father if you’ve strayed away from Him.  You have to intentionally make that choice to come back, He won’t force you.  Praise God, for He alone is worthy!

 

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to 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 5:17-21

Guest Post from Chad Nelson!!!!!

Hey there!  I know it seems like I’m not posting much lately and that since I’ve quit my full-time job that I should have more time to post.  Turns out that having 3 kids and work being at home doesn’t really alleviate the lack of time, and in fact, it almost enhances the lack of time!  I hope that the guest posts from my good friend Chad Nelson are a huge encouragement to you, because I know that I truly enjoy reading and having the honor of posting his thoughts and biblical impressions on here.  Soon enough I will again start posting more frequently, but until then, here is Chad’s latest blog entry!

Memories – Like the Corners of My Mind

Memories are interesting. My memory is notoriously bad and I can still remember crashing my bike into a ravine at age 4. I do not remember much of anything about school but I remember the name of the first guy who beat me in a fight – Donald Anderson (I was in third grade and he was in fifth grade…I need to get over it). When asking students to remember something bad that happened to them, their hands shoot up. When asking them to remember something good, it takes a bit to recall and some cannot at all. Why? I think it is because our field of vision is very narrow and self-serving. Is it permanent? I don’t think so.

God is the opposite of sin so forgiveness requires remarkable grace from Him. Since He is omniscient and all-powerful, one would expect that not only does He know when we will sin but will remember it forever. But then we read in Psalm 103:12 that our forgiven sins are removed “as far as the east is from the west” and in Isaiah 38:17, we are told “… you have put all my sins behind your back.” As we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and His son (as man) forgave even those who crucified Him from the cross, should we too be capable of forgiving those who wrong us and put the actions “behind our back”? Yes. Are we doing it? Possibly, but not likely.

Suppose that a bully has demeaned your child or brother or sister to the point of tears; day after day, week after week. The anger and frustration builds to a point where the very thought sends your mind into a hateful frenzy. Now, imagine that the bully falls from his bike in front of your house and gets hurt. Do you rush out to make sure he/she is OK like you would your own child? Worse, what if the bully is a predator who attempts to violate your child? Do you answer the call if he/she needs a “Godly” person to talk to? It does not seem reasonable to expect that reaction and while they may not ask for it, forgiveness can happen without the offending party asking. And, it appears that our objective as we grow spiritually should be absolute forgiveness with no strings but unconditional love. Wisdom and discernment should also prevent us from entering into potentially harmful interactions in the future.

In recent days, God has challenged me to try harder at forgiving and giving others a fresh start. I like to think that I forgive well but I also know that if left to my own devices, I am capable of great harm in revenge. So I ask God to take bitterness from me and also to think, act and speak through me at all times. The result is incredible liberation with the removal of bitterness. It is amazing how much emotional baggage we carry in things that we cannot undo. Replaced by a peace that surpasses all understanding, we are capable of great things. And even if my memory fails, His love remains in me forever.

Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

Guest Blogger! “Hey Men – Want to Fight?”

Hey there!  It is another installment of Guest Blogger time with Chad!  One of the things I truly enjoy and appreciate about Chad, is his honest and blunt point of view about things.  If you’re wanting a candid point of view or just want what the man thinks, he’ll let you know.  This blog is directed mostly toward men, but women take heed as well, all of these are things that we need to hear and live by.  So, here it is!

Hey Men – Want to Fight?

This is an open letter to guys who profess to be Christians.  For those who are actively serving their families, communities and churches in a way that honors God, feel free to read along but you are not the intended audience.

Dear Fellas,

There are days when I’d like to punch you until my arms are tired.  I know that God expects more of me and that I should expect more of myself but if I am being honest, you make me “fight angry” at times.  Wondering why?

I look around at church and see three women for every man.  The numbers are even more skewed if you exclude men over 65.  I look around at our kids’ open houses at school and parent days and see four women for every man.  I see two women for every man working out and taking care of their bodies.  Only four percent of us tithe regularly.  So what are our excuses?

“I work a lot and don’t have time.”  My buddy Shannon is a state trooper and has a landscaping business on the side.  He works a minimum of 80 (mostly stressful) hours per week, yet he almost never misses an event in which his family or church participates.  He even comes to church on Sundays in full uniform after working a night shift and is a sure thing when someone is in need.  HE works all the time and still makes time for the important stuff.   Studies show that the average age of a video game player is 35 (they also tend to be overweight and depressed – what a shock).  More than 22% of American men between 18-49 play fantasy sports.  We spend around three hours per day watching TV.  You don’t have time for God, your family or to take care of your body?  It is not that you don’t have time…your priorities stink.

“I can’t afford to tithe.”  Evidently.  According to research from Barna Group, only 4% of Americans give the recommended 10% from scripture.  While the amount speaks of our commitment and trust in God, He also desires a cheerful giver.  More than half give nothing at all.  So cheer up!  Your money is a gift from God.  If you have a problem being grateful for the opportunity to care for others and advance the Kingdom, take it up with the Gift Giver.

“Church is full of hypocrites and people who are going to judge me.”  Duh.  One of the first things we admit as believers is that we are hypocrites and sinners who cannot do this alone.  And while I cannot promise that people won’t judge you on your past, you work with, go to school with and hang out with far more people who judge you than you’ll find in a church.  The beauty of our God is that He cares far more about our present and future.  Work out your past with Him and those who may have been affected and move on.

Jesus loved you enough to die for you.  I love you enough to fight you.  I’ve been you and cannot promise that I won’t screw up from time to time.  Love me enough to fight me too.  And take the gift of Jesus’ death seriously.

Your brother from the same Father – Chad

Big Changes, New Direction, and a Huge Step of Faith

Over the past 6 1/2 years, I have been employed by Wal-Mart Distribution Center #6064.  It has been a very steady and consistent job, and has provided my wife and I with many benefits that we are very grateful for having.  About 5 years ago, my wife, Stephania, decided she wanted to start exploring the field of professional photography.  My first thought was, “Is this going to be like the tutu’s and the other little entrepreneurial ideas that haven’t fared so well?”  She had tried a couple of different avenues of self-employment that ended up not being so sustainable, but her persistence was unending.  One of the things I admire most about my wife, is her ambition and relentless pursuit to succeed.  I told her that I would support her in this new direction if it looked like it was going to be something that was going to be sustainable.  So, she did some research and found her first DSLR, and so began the adventure.

The first camera body we started out with was an Olympus E-410, which was actually a pretty decent little camera.  We started there, mainly because it was what we could purchase that had the most for the money.  It ended up being a very good, entry level DSLR, and Steph used it for the first year or two she was starting out.  The unfortunate thing about the Olympus, was that the peripherals were limited or more expensive than their Nikon and Canon counterparts.  So we made the decision to take a risk, and sell the Olympus and purchase a used Nikon D70 from our good friends at Jonathan Ivy Photography.  From that point on, Steph was able to start expanding her capabilities as a photographer, and honing her skills and own personal style.  At that point, I started realizing that this could really end up being a big deal.  She started booking weddings, and needed an assistant.  Obviously, I was the clear choice to be that person, mainly because I was cheap/free labor.  So, I decided I needed to learn some of the craft.  Shooting with the setting on the camera on “A” wasn’t an option, so I was quickly educated on how to shoot on the setting “M.”  I still lack some of the skills in this to even be considered an expert or a professional, but I did grasp enough to be a functional part of what had become Stephania Whitfield Photography.  

In the next year or two, the bookings went from being wedding based (bridal, engagement, etc.), to being family and newborn photography.  After another year, high school seniors started becoming another market that we were entering into as a business.  During this time of the growth of the business, I was still working for Wal-Mart, and Steph was having to schedule according to my work schedule.  This meant that her shooting days were limited to Saturday and Monday mornings and evenings, and occasional weeknights.  As her workload increased, I really felt like the Lord may have been preparing us for something bigger than we had even imagined.  As we grew more involved in the ministry of our church here in Walnut Springs, my job with Wal-Mart made things more and more difficult to plan and organize shoots as well as ministry activities.  The problem we were running into, was my schedule time of clocking in at 4:30am Tuesdays through Fridays, and not getting off at a consistent time. That schedule let to some serious exhaustion and organizational issues for our ministry involvement.

About 4 or 5 months ago, we really felt the Lord leading us to pray about what direction He wanted us to go with regards to my job and the business.  We have always felt that we were called to be ministry first as a couple and individually.  As we were seeking the Lord’s will, I really felt that He placed on my heart that I needed to leave my stable, consistent, and beneficial job and become employed by my wife…scary huh?  As the head of the household, I’ve been the breadwinner for the last several years, and my natural need as a husband is to feel as though I am providing for my family.  One of the big questions that my dear friend and former youth pastor asked us during our premarital counseling was if I would be okay with not being the breadwinner in our family.  I literally didn’t know how to answer his question, as I had never thought about that being a possibility.  I now know the answer  to that question, and it is a resounding YES!  It still goes against my natural instinct to be that provider, but I’m called to provide for my wife and family in more than just a financial way.  I am still learning and growing in that area as well, but who isn’t?  As the business has grown, it has grown to the point that we can almost count on a certain amount of income from it each month, and that much is sustainable for us as a family to function, and more importantly survive.  Now, most people ask me “Why don’t you just keep working at Wal-Mart and schedule more time off?” or “Why don’t you just keep on working and make a ton of money and buy some cooler stuff?” My answer to them is this, “I am called to full-time ministry, and I miss my wife and kids.”  In the town we serve in, even a volunteer ministry position is a full-time position.  The youth in this town are fighting an uphill battle everyday searching for fulfillment and satisfaction that the world is just not giving them.  They need Christ, and the youth pastor job at our church is a heavenly-reward-paid-full-time position.  I consider it to be more important than my hourly and benefit paying job, and the Lord had put on my heart that something drastic needed to happen.  This call, on top of us homeschooling the kids, was where the Lord opened my eyes to what needed to happen.

So, as of September 7th, 2012 I will be ending my employment with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and beginning my employment with Stephania Whitfield Photography.  I am extremely excited, for many reasons.  The main is that I will be getting to work from home, and that means tons of time with my amazing wife and crazy, beautiful kids.  I’ll be getting to be a part of our financial income more directly, as well as being home during the education of my kids.  The opportunities to minister more freely and fully will be an amazing change from the past 3 years I’ve worked with our youth at the church.  Attending sporting events and other functions, as well as hosting functions will become less hectically thrown together.  The ability to do more discipleship and community outreach is something that I’ve needed to be able to do.  Getting up at 2:45am during the week for work leaves one very tired and feeble at the end of the day, and I will not miss that. At all.  Please be in prayer for our family as these changes are becoming reality, and for our faith in Him to provide as He has already done for so many years.

Christ Forgave

It seems as though my blog posts have become about as commonplace as the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy lately, apparently, I don’t manage my time very well (or as David Crowder’s Twitter account put it, manage myself around time effectively).  God has been working on my heart in so many different ways lately, it’s never a comfortable feeling when He does that, especially when He’s working on breaking down the areas of my life that I know I struggle with daily and don’t want to put a lot of effort into dealing with.  Our pastor asked me a while ago to preach on a Sunday night, and that was right in the middle of when God was wrecking shop on my heart on the subject of forgiveness.  So here we go!

When I read this one verse in the book of Luke, I see so much that I need to learn, so far I need to go, how much I need to grow in my relationship with Christ.  That one verse is Luke 23:34.  “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Now, we all know that Christ was a very humble and compassionate man.  We also know that he taught forgiveness during his years of ministry, so what makes this verse so profound to me?  Let us consider what all was going on during this time.  At this point in time, Christ was on the cross between the two criminals who were being crucified for crimes committed at an earlier date.  Prior to this, Christ had been through 4 separate trials and was flogged and beaten with a flagellum, had a crown of thorns smashed into his brow, was mocked and forced to carry his cross through the streets. Following that, his hands and feet were staked to the aforementioned cross.  With all of that in mind, also remember that Christ was sentenced to this predicament by Pilate at the requests of the Pharisees and the chosen nation of Israel.  For Christ to ask his Father to forgive them, to us, is crazy talk.  Not only did he forgive them at that moment, but his death upon that cross was for their sins, as well as for everyone’s sins.

How many of us could say that we could forgive in that situation?  How about in

  • Forgiving a disobedient child?
  • A spiteful neighbor?
  • A schoolyard bully?
  • A betraying friend?
  • An entire nation, of people you love, trying to kill you?
  • A friend denying they knew you, even after they swore up and down they wouldn’t and couldn’t?

Christ could, and did.

The closest we come to seeing Christ not go through with his crucifixion and death is in Luke 22:42.  He is praying in the garden and asks God to take the cup if it is His will.  What we see is Christ asking God to let him have a pass on this one if it was in His Divine Will, but if not, then let His will be done.  Christ wasn’t questioning God here, he was simply asking if the possibility existed for another way to grant us forgiveness for our sins, and if there wasn’t, then he was willing to proceed with what the Father was asking.  He put his personal comfort and preferences aside, and was obedient all the way to his death on the cross.  If he can do this, and not question the reason, who are we not to forgive without questioning?

As Christians, we sometimes like to have a bit of a double standard when it comes to forgiveness.  I’ve seen the saying “I’m not perfect, I’m forgiven” on bumper stickers, T-Shirts and banners everywhere, as well as heard and said it myself many times.  How is this saying in any way glorifying or honoring God?  It makes us feel okay about ourselves when we get caught in our own sin, but shows the world that we feel like it’s okay for us to sin because we’ve got our “fire insurance.”  I cringe every time I hear or see that phrase now, because of how much leverage it gives those who despise Christ and are looking for a reason to not believe in him.  We are called to accept that accountability when we sin, and repent and apologize to those we have led astray, or cast doubt into their hearts.  We have to flee from that pride that doesn’t allow us to grow.

Another area I struggle with, and I see other fellow believers struggling in, is feeling like a person is “too far gone” to be redeemed.  The recent shootings in Colorado brought about two ugly sides of humanity.  The shooting, and murder of so many people is one side of the ugliness.  The other is the fact that so many people, even believers, were so quick to condemn this man to Hell (something we have no business doing).  I was convicted by the enormous amount of people that were so publicly calling for his demise, once again, many of these people were believers.  In our carnal minds, we can’t get past the fact that this man killed people, so he deserves to die right now.  My heart was, uncharacteristically for me, sympathetic for this man to know Christ.  Upon vocalizing my feeling on this subject, I received mixed replies from believers and atheists both.  I do enjoy the occasional debate, and this turned into just that.  I feel as though, even for a murderer such as Holmes, until a person has died, we should desire to share the love of Christ with that person, so that they may have the chance to have salvation through Christ’s sacrifice.  Some responded with the same feeling, some were undecided, and some were adamantly against this thought.  If we look at the teachings of Christ, his example shows us that no one is exempt from the forgiveness through his death.  How are we honoring and glorifying God through our condemnation of a person who has sinned?

Are we showing the characteristics of forgiveness and love by defending a right to free speech?  I’m reminded of the situation that arose with Chick-fil-a after founder and CEO of the company was asked about his views on marriage.  His response was not derogatory or inflammatory in any manner or fashion, but he was attacked, however unfairly, by the media along with other special interest groups.  As a result of his response to the question, his company lost toy endorsements for kid’s meals, and endured countless character attacks because of his stance that marriage should remain defined as between a man and a woman.  Upon this reaction, Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is known for his conservative and Christian beliefs, organized “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” for August 1st. He encouraged all of those who supported traditional marriage to eat at Chick-fil-a as a response to the attacks on freedom for Dan T. Cathy to express his beliefs and convictions about this subject.  This idea, in theory, was a good one.  However, it quickly became a Christians vs. Sinners fast food theme day.  Not all people who were eating at the fast food restaurant were going with the mindset to be pointing a finger at those who were homosexual or supported same-sex marriage, but those who were going with that intention turned the event into another reason for people to call Christians, as a whole, bigots and hatemongers among other things.  My question through all of this situation is, are we showing the love and compassion of Christ through taking this type of stand?

Are we loving them for their public sin as Christ loves us for our private sins?  Homosexuality is such a hot topic lately, not only because of the media attention from Chick-fil-a, but also because it has been such a battle for Christians to express their beliefs on the matter.  As a Christian, I believe marriage is to be between a man and a woman, no other way, this was the example defined in Genesis.  The bible also refers to homosexuality as an abomination, and defines it as a sin several times throughout the Old and New Testaments.  One of the most prominent references is Romans 1:18-32, and this has been a verse that has caused many debates between myself and others who don’t see things the way scripture teaches.  Simply because homosexuality is a sin, should we hold that sin to a higher level of punishment or seriousness?  Some would argue yes, that it is a lifestyle and that is why it is worse than having a bad temper or using profanity.  I argue that sin such as a bad temper or pride is a lifestyle as well.  We, in our carnal minds, can’t look at sin the same way God does.  We want to categorize it as our justice system does, and put it on a scale.  Romans 3:23 tells us that we all sin, and Romans 6:23 tells us that the consequence for that sin is eternal death.  How can we honor and glorify God if we categorize sin?  How can we honor and glorify Him if we can’t forgive people for their sins and understand their need for salvation, as we needed it too?  The short answer is, we can’t.  We have to be able to put ourselves, as close as we can, into Christ’s mindset and love beyond human fallibility.

Too many people have been “won” by saying a prayer that was prayed out of guilt, overt pressure, peer pressure or a sense of security.  If that prayer was prayed out of insincerity, or there wasn’t a heart change, can we really expect that person’s life to have been changed?  No one knows if a person has truly made that change with the exception of them and the Lord.  One thing is for sure though, if we led that person in a prayer that they didn’t understand, or gave them a false sense of understanding of salvation, we are as accountable for that as we are for the person we pushed away because of their sin?  Their sin is their own, we are called to share the Gospel with them regardless of whether or not we think they deserve the grace we didn’t and still don’t deserve.

We are called to hold other believers accountable for sins, not overlooking our own sins first, in a loving and Christ-like way.  We also like to point out that Christ went into the temple and kicked out the merchants and livestock in righteous indignation, which he did.  Those people that got kicked out of the temple knew better than to be doing what they were doing.  They were knowingly doing things dishonestly inside the temple, and that is why Christ went in and wrecked shop. They had made the temple a place of disgrace and business, instead of a place of worship.  Can we expect a non-believer to automatically know the standards of the bible?  Can we expect them to jump right along and be perfect the first time they are informed of sin?

How soon after your salvation experience did you get everything lined up perfect and quit sinning?  Still working on it?  Yeah, me too.  I’ve been a believer for 20 years now, and I’m still one of the biggest busts when it comes to evaluating salvation expectations met.  If ESPN had one of their Top 10 lists of salvation busts, I’d have to be pretty high up, if not the top guy, and I’ve been at this for more than half my life.  How can we expect a non-believer to just know what sin is?  Our culture isn’t telling him or her what sin is, in fact, they are being informed just the opposite of what biblical standards are for right and wrong.  I liken this concept to parenting.  You parents will appreciate this, I just know it!  How many times did you have to, or have you told your child not to run in the house?  Did they listen the first time?  How about the 2nd?  Did the third, fourth, or fifth time do the trick?  My 5-year-old is still figuring out this one, and I’m pretty sure we’re on number 4,543 for the “DON’T RUN” warning system.  Sometimes it takes kids a long time to figure out they need to obey.  To do this, they have to first go against their selfish human nature they are born with, then, they have to have a clear understanding of why the issue is wrong.  The same applies to us and sin, especially when the surrounding culture condones and approves of sin and tells us it is perfectly normal and acceptable.  That being said, what sin(s) do you struggle with daily?  How easy is it for you to avoid that sin?  The only reason I ask, is because I deal with stuff EVERY SINGLE DAY!  We all do, Paul says that there is no sin that is uncommon to man, and it’s true- we all deal with sin every day, even if we won’t admit it.  What’s the most effective way for you to learn how to move past that sin and grow in the right direction?  Is it with someone continually reminding you of that sin and hammering into your psyche that you are a mess up?  Or is it with someone who encourages you and loves you, and corrects in a loving way?  If we’re talking about my kids, it’s going to be the latter.  If I stand in the doorway of their rooms, threatening to spank them for not cleaning their rooms, you can guarantee a meltdown is on the way.  Part of the meltdown is that we’ll be fighting all night to get 6 blocks picked up off the floor.  The nights that the spoon collects dust, and I get on the floor and help pick up some of those blocks and clothes, and encourage my kids, the room takes no time to get clean.  If we have the spirit of love and forgiveness with new believers, non-believers, and fellow believers, how much more can we help grow and strengthen each other in our walks?

None of what I’m teaching about, or talking about has to do with tolerance or acceptance of sin, by any means, because Christ did not teach that.  He taught tolerance and acceptance of the sinner, which is US! Think about that. He accepted us. You. Me. Everyone.  Can we have friendships with those that our convictions don’t match up to?  Certainly, but we have to let our convictions be known from the start, so we aren’t deceptive in our friendship with them about those things.  Is it our responsibility to share the Gospel with them?  Most definitely.  Is it our place to change their minds about Christ and salvation?  Nope.  Well, if not us, then whose place is it to change their minds?  It is the Holy Spirit’s place, yet we are called to plant the seed into the hearts of people.  When that seed germinates, we are called to nurture that seed to maturity.  The seed we plant has to emerge, or germinate from that hard shell, and the Holy Spirit causes that emergence.  The non-believer becomes a believer, the spiritually dead heart emerges and begins new life.  After that emergence, we begin the process of nurturing, which is discipleship.  We don’t just pray and leave it there with them on their own. As a gardener constantly waters and feeds his plants, we must also constantly water and feed the new believer.  We will fail this process if we cannot have a forgiving heart and accept that they will not be perfect from the word “Go!”.  Christ understands and knows that we all will continually mess up daily, but he also knows that his death on the cross covered that mess up.

So when we look at Luke 23:34, we know that Christ was showing yet another example for us to follow.  No matter what a person does, no matter what they think, no matter what they say, we are to forgive, because Christ did.  He forgave without discretion, and in order for us to glorify and honor our Father, we must forgive without discretion.  Nothing else matters, because when it’s all said and done, Christ Forgave.

Jesus-Friend of Sinners

I trust all of you enjoyed Chad’s post yesterday Cookies are not Scary, it was a pleasure trading venues for a blog post with him yesterday.  It is such an encouragement to see a guy that seemingly had it all from the American Dream perspective give it away to work with teenagers at a church, and to be happy to do it!  He is doing some special things with the young men in the church, and is helping to shape them into men of leadership in both the church and in society.  Amazing things!  The purpose of this entry is to post my article that Chad shared with his community of friends yesterday, and just want some feedback as usual.  Let me know whatcha think, and I look forward to any comments and questions that may arise from this.  It is a “tad” wordy…ok, so it’s a lot wordy, but bear with me and take the 10-15 minutes to read, and enjoy!

“Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided”

from “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns

If any of you have ever heard this song, then you have likely been as affected by it as I have.  I have been a born-again believer since I was 8 years old and have been spending the past 21 years trying to figure out what all that actually meant and entailed.  I’ve been up and down as most all Christians tend to go throughout their walk, and I’ve experienced the amazing times of worship with 3000 other bodies gathered to worship the Heavenly Father as well as experiencing such intimate times with the same Father with just my breath in the room.  The life of a believer is usually a fairly complex one, so many times we go through the temptations to fall back into the sins that nailed Christ to the cross.  Along with those times of temptation and darkness, the light of forgiveness and redemption comes when we truly repent and recognize the grace that we can’t and didn’t earn on the cross.  Christ calls us to a life of perfection, plain and simple.  All the while we are called to perfection; we are still human and miss that mark and expectation of perfection on a daily basis.  The compassion of Christ is what grants that grace, not just to us, but to everyone who calls (Romans 10:13) on His name!  I want to spend a little time on His compassion during this post, and I do tend to get a little wordy sometimes, so I apologize for that ahead of time.

As a believer, we have a clear mission outlined for us from Christ in the Great Commission.

“Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”             Matthew 28:18-20

Upon that charge, we are called to not only share the Gospel of Christ with those we come in contact with, but to make disciples.  How do we do that?  How do we make disciples?  Isn’t sharing the Gospel making disciples?  The short answer to the last question is a resounding: NO!  Just sharing the Gospel with someone isn’t making a disciple, it is sharing the Gospel.  Sometimes when we share the Gospel, a person comes to know the saving grace and mercy of Christ and has salvation because of that faith.  The next step is where discipleship comes in.  Now, this blog was to be about compassion right?  Right. The short version of how to make a disciple is to not just pray a prayer with a person and throw them out on their own.  Discipleship is spending time and pouring knowledge and prayer into that person to help them grow in their faith and in their walk with the Lord.  Part of that process is having the compassion to help them when their faith is weak, and when their lives feel like they’re caving in during the process of giving everything to the Lord.

Our tendency as humans is to start looking after ourselves when things get tough, and to not look out for others.  How do we avoid these tendencies in life?  We look to the cross, and we look to Christ.  The ultimate example of compassion is Christ, all throughout scripture, there are examples of His love.  One passage I want to focus on is found in Mark 5:24-34.  Christ has just healed a demon-possessed man, and is en route to visit a family who fears their daughter is dead.  As He is moving through the crowd, a woman who has had bleeding for 12 years and had only digressed even after seen numerous doctors, grabs his robe, and is healed of this affliction.  Her faith that Christ could heal her, just because He was who He said He was, was what healed her.  Wow.  How often do we miss out on the blessings of Christ just because we don’t recognize who He is, and have the faith that He will do what He has said?  At this point, Christ could have really given this lady the what-for.  After all, she had taken a blessing without asking Him directly for it.  In our carnal minds, when someone takes something they didn’t ask for, our response is to condemn.  Christ’s response was love and compassion.  He didn’t ask her any questions, He didn’t ask her what she was thinking, He told her that it was her faith that had healed her.  He had compassion on her when many in her culture and society had likely had none.  How often do we come into situations like this and walk away, or turn a blind eye?  Maybe we’re not the ones inflicting the damage, but we definitely aren’t the ones trying to heal.  We are called to be compassionate in our ways, to love to each other, because the example of Christ was such.

Another tendency we have as Christians, is to approach a fellow believer who is straying in a way that isn’t loving or compassionate.  As the second part of that first verse of the song above says:

“The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided”

We get in the way of effective accountability because we are so bent on correcting someone that we forget to get our lives in order.  That’s not to say that we aren’t to correct someone because we sin too, but when we approach someone who is sliding, we have to do it in absolute humility and love.  If we fail to do this, we become a stumbling block and a hindrance to not only ourselves, but also the person we are speaking to.  As a believer, I expect accountability when I mess up, especially when it is in front of other people.  That accountability usually comes in the form of my amazing wife letting me know I blew it, or am about to.  She is compassionate toward me because she doesn’t want me to compromise my witness to others who may not know Christ, and that is a tough thing for her to do, because I’m pretty sure she just wants to smack me on the back of my head, and ask “What are you doing?!?!?!”  Christ didn’t do that, and we should follow that example as well.  Correct in humility and above all, in compassion like Christ.

My encouragement, to those of you who read this, is to consider each day how you can show compassion as Christ did, and encourage each other on toward love and good deeds, as it says in Hebrews 10.  I appreciate you guys taking time to read this, and for Chad for allowing me to post this on his blog, thanks and God Bless!

-Phillip Whitfield   <><