The Cross of Love that Keeps Forgiving

 

With a cold, bitter heart she saw the man approach her, the cruel guard at Ravensbruck. Corrie ten Boom, who survived extreme hunger, abuse, freezing temperatures, witnessed the slow death of her sister and the mental horrors at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp during WW II, came to a decisive moment. Now, after the war she had returned to Germany to speak about God’s love and forgiveness to those who were still hurting and struggling.

The man put out his hand and said, “‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,”—again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?’ It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me [Corrie] it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do…” Yet with a quick prayer for Jesus to help her, Corrie slowly stuck out her hand and the love of God gradually filled her heart. With tears in her eyes she said, “’I forgive you, brother!…With all my heart.'”

“I forgive you”. Why are these words difficult to get out of our mouths sometimes? It’s hard to forgive when we are hurt unjustly or hated directly. Like Corrie, we think, “I just can’t forgive that person, you know what they did to me?” Unforgiveness breeds a desire to get even and that leads to a heart filled with bitterness and resentment.

But thankfully, the story of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is the story of love, the story of forgiveness. Only perfect love can forgive. And that perfect love comes from a perfect and Holy God who decided to forgive us.

On that day of darkness, when Jesus was unfairly nailed to a cross as a criminal, although he was innocent, God expressed his perfect love for all people. With a broken heart, in physical pain, verbally abused, with little breath left in Him, Jesus whispers to God:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:43)

There was no reason to forgive except a love that was so deep that God seems to say, “I will let Jesus pay the price for your rebellion, your sin, so you can know how much I love you.” God’s own word says:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

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

Without the cross, we would be hopeless like that guard with his outstretched hand. Waiting, hoping, desiring forgiveness, a touch of love, after all the cruel things we have done and thought in our hearts against God.  And God says, “I forgive you.”

If you have experienced that forgiveness from God’s love, like Corrie, then in love forgive those around you. Those who have hurt you. Those who are your enemies, Yes, those who have “ruined” your life. Slowly reach out your hand to that person. Ask Jesus to help you. And experience God’s love like Corrie towards that guard:

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.”

[Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor, Citation: Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp 53-55]

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

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Fruitful Response to Tragedies

 

Prayer

As a seamstress since age 13, I have collected a variety of colored spools of thread through the years. Stored in boxes and cabinets, at times the threads get intertwined and end up in a complete mess of knots. My response is to patiently untwine the threads or cut off the knots and reorganize the spools.

Finding solutions to knotted and tangled threads is easy. Finding answers to knotted and tangled tragedies in our world seem insurmountable. The intertwining messes of deadly shootings, catastrophic storms, loss, and destruction need solutions. But the solutions are more than human sized. We watch from a distance or sit with those who are hurting and wonder “what can I do”?

In these tragic times, we as believers in Jesus know that only God Almighty has the solutions to the messes around us. He knows that we live in a broken world full of sin and evil. And His heart is broken over this evil.

 “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil….It broke his heart.” Genesis 6:5-6 

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

God most often chooses to show his compassion for the hurting through the actions of His people. So what is our most fruitful response to those people who live far away or close by? The most fruitful response is to PRAY.

How is it that we often say? — “Well, all I can do is pray.”  Yet that is the best thing we can do. Our prayers have a deep effect on God working in this world and in people’s lives. Here is what God says about prayer:

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

 “…the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. “ Proverbs 15:8

 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer…”         1 Peter 3:12

Paul, who preached the good news of Jesus, urged believers to pray and intercede for others:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”       Ephesians 6:18

What do we pray for those who are hurting and suffering through tragedies?

1. Pray that they will know God’s comfort and peace.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction,” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

2. Pray that those who don’t know God personally will come to trust His great love for them through Jesus.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

3. Pray for God to give them wisdom and guidance in making daily decisions in their trials and sufferings.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

4. Pray for other Christians around them to show compassion and mercy, serving them with kindness as they give to their physical needs.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Will you respond to the recent tragedies in our nation and communities by committing to pray 10 to 15 minutes daily for these individuals and their lives? Ask another friend to pray together with you in your home, on the phone, through a text. We need the hand of God to move in a mighty way in our nation and He hears our prayers as we ask Him to work. The fruitful response of our prayers can change our world because Almighty God, who is loving and compassionate, is all powerful. He can do anything as we trust in Him to answer our prayers.

“The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray. You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”  S.D. Gordon

“God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”  E.M.Bounds

Is Your Spiritual Life Dormant?

 

Daffodils, gladiolas, and tulips are blooming in full colors, a sign of spring and new life. Their blooms burst out from bulbs that lie dormant during the cold winter months, hiding in the dark ground until the days become warmer and the power of the sun shines in the sky.

Much like the flowering bulbs, many Christians are hiding in the cold ground, lying dormant even though they have the potential to bloom and produce abundant fruit. Instead, there is no sign of new life. They seem frozen in their walks with God, at a standstill. Because of a cold heart towards God and His Word, the Holy Spirit’s power is dormant. Apathy ensues and soon there is little or no sign of life. They wonder why they can’t love others, can’t be patient, have no desire to forgive, don’t have self-control to stop certain actions, or don’t experience peace but instead fear and strife. They just don’t desire the things of God.

Believers in Jesus have been given an inner power, the Holy Spirit, who gives new life which produces spiritual fruit in those who desire to live godly lives. Jesus promised his disciples the Holy Spirit would come to guide and instruct them, giving them the power to obey his commands.

“[God] will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you…He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” John 14:16-17

The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us new life in our thinking and actions when we come to receive Jesus as Savior:

“the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God…you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his children.”  Romans 8:10, 15

“He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth, and new life through the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

So why are some Christians not experiencing this new life?  Many do not rely on the power given to them by the Holy Spirit, and some walk away from God and his commands to be different from the world. They have gone back to their sinful ways and look no different than the world. Evidently, the Christians in Galatia also had this problem:

You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves… the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. “Galatians 3: 2-3, 5:16, 22-23, 25

There is hope from God’s Word. He says to take action. Don’t make the Holy Spirit sad, but choose to put away the sinful actions that keep us dormant in the cold:

throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception…Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.” Ephesians 4:22-24, 30

When we as Christians admit that our lives are not fruitful and the Holy Spirit is dormant, we can go to God in prayer. He desires us to ask him to change us.

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” James 5:15

Maybe you need to pray right now, asking God to make you alive and fruitful through the Holy Spirit. Ask him to produce the spiritual fruits in your daily life. Then watch for the beautiful blooms as God works and renews your life through the Spirit.

 “When it is a question of God’s almighty Spirit, never say, I can’t.”            Oswald Chambers

Peace instead of Fear

What burdens are you carrying today? What fears?  What needs do you have?  What do we do with them? This past year, I have joined with others locally and across our nation, to pray earnestly, unceasingly, not like before, as we have been burdened and fearful for our nation- the loss of religious freedoms, the ever encroaching evil in our culture and the fight for godly values in our homes and schools. God is working mightily through our prayers on a large scale.

Now that those times of prayer for the elections have past, will we continue to pray earnestly, unceasingly? The burdens and battles are never over in this world – whether for a nation or in our lives. We continue to fight the darkness around us in our  lives and homes, our communities and churches. Paul reminded the Ephesians living in an ungodly culture:

“Hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil…take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” (Ephesians 6: 16, 17) 

Daily we feel the pressures and burdens living in this world. Satan tempts us to believe that God doesn’t care. He has left us. So, we decide to worry and fret, overwhelmed by carrying these burdens ourselves. But when I choose to go to God in prayer and give these cares to him, I do not go away empty handed – God gives me himself in return, his joy and his peace.

Thomas Watson, an English Puritan Preacher who lived almost 400 years ago wrote in his book, The Ten Commandments:

“Let us cast all of our burdens upon him-our fears, our needs and our sins. Christian what troubles you? You have a God to pardon your sins and to supply your needs, therefore roll your burden on him, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. Those who have a covenant union with God may be filled with contentment of spirit, for God is a rich blessing to the soul. He is a sufficient good. He who has God has enough…If God is our God let it cheer and revive us in all conditions…Let us live as those who have God as their own, and walk in holy lives, that others may see there is something of God in us.”

As I abide with God in a close relationship with him, praying daily and hourly for mine and others’ burdens, I can trust he will work things out in his good timing. Then God produces the peace and joy I need in my circumstances. My spirit is refreshed and I become refreshment to those living in darkness around me. Hopeless, they are burdened with sins and sorrows wandering around looking for someone who cares. I can lead them to our God and to His son, Jesus, who takes the burdens of those who call out to him and desire to live godly lives.

“Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not allow the godly to slip and fall.” Psalm 55:22

So there are two choices for me and you today as God’s children: 1) worry and fret until I am overwhelmed and totally stressed in my circumstances or 2) give my burdens to God through prayer and experience His peace and joy, trusting in a good and powerful God who loves me.

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:15

Finding Beauty in Your Season of Life

My eyes can’t get enough of their beauty; if I could only capture it in my mind before winter comes. Yellow, red, and gold autumn leaves have come to the mountains, but they stay only a short time. Seasons come and go; things never stay the same. But there is always beauty in the changes. We may have to look for it though and always remember it.

In the past few months our family has gone through seasons of change. The ending of the season of college years with a graduation and the beginning of a new season with a wonderful new family member through our son’s wedding. Now I move on after the celebrations and joyous memories are tucked away into photo albums.

Our lives are all full of changing seasons – new jobs, new friends, and new locations. Yet, other seasons may bring loss of a job, people, or even our home. Some seasons seem to last forever feeling stuck applying for jobs, taking care of children or a sick family member, or longing to be married instead of single. As a nation, we are going through a season of leadership changes that may affect our very lives and families. During these times, we feel like we are riding an emotional roller coaster. Joy, fear, grief, sadness, happiness, anger, peace and excitement grip our hearts.

Thankfully, each season has its own beauty, even in the darkest suffering. That beauty lies in God, the Designer and Master of all seasons – “He changes times and seasons…” Daniel 2:21. Yet, HE is NEVER changing. He does not change with the seasons but orchestrates them remaining in control and at peace.

“God who is enthroned from of old, who does not change…” Psalm 55:19

“I the LORD do not change…” Malachi 3:6

King Solomon, one of the wisest kings in history understood seasons of life:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,…a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace… He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

God has made everything beautiful. Everything! How? Because He is God and He is good. He is in control of time, circumstances, kings and kingdoms.

God is All-Knowing, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God.” Hebrews 4:13

God is All-Powerful, “All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases…among the people of the earth. No one can stop him…” Daniel 4:35

God is Love and is Faithful, “Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens, your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.” Psalm 36:5

God is Good, “The LORD is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.” Psalm 145:9

God is Sovereign, “He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; He alone is God.” 1 Timothy 1:17

God is Holy, “No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2

Every season comes from God for a purpose – to accept His salvation personally through His Son Jesus, to trust His word, to make Him a refuge, to rejoice in Him, to grow in faith, or to be quiet and enjoy His presence.

Do you see the beauty in your season? Look. God is there with you and will make “everything beautiful in its time”. You can trust in His loving plans and abide in His love. Through the seasons He produces beautiful fruit through our lives as believers for His glory. What fruit do you see?

 

 

One Man, One Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the debates continue. Not the current political debates or the debates over social reform or world order. But the debates focused on one man in history. This man caused uproar over 2 thousand years ago. And that battle continues today– in the market place, the center of governments, among religious leaders of various faiths and among worldly scholars and educators.

One defining day in history has changed the world and it’s thinking forever– “Good Friday”, the day that Jesus’ died on a cross. His followers understood the purpose of the cross. Paul, a follower of Jesus, wrote to the first Christians:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…the world through its wisdom did not know him…but we preach Christ crucified” 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22, 23

Why is the cross so important?  It was the moment in time when Almighty God in all of His love, grace, and justice allowed the death of His Son Jesus to be the payment for the world’s sins. Jesus said he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Colossians 1:21-22

But His death then led to the most miraculous event in history– His resurrection from the dead. Yet, without the power of His resurrection from death, those who believe in Him would not know this resurrected new life. Peter wrote to the believers about this death and resurrection:

“Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Peter 1:3

And Jesus defined himself to his followers:

 “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live even after dying.” John 11:25

That is why on this day, a sad day of death and evil crucifixion on a cross, we can say it is “good”. It was and still is “good” for every person who will trust in God’s love and forgiveness through his Son Jesus. Jesus suffered for our good.

Thankfully, someday the debates will end and every person will have to acknowledge the truth:

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11

But until that day we who know Jesus Christ as the risen Lord and Savior of the world, will continue to “preach Christ crucified”. We who follow the True Vine, Jesus, may continue to debate with others, be persecuted for our faith in the cross, and even die through beheadings. The message is still the same for each generation, and I for one, will continue to write about this message with joy.

Have a blessed Good Friday! It is a good day!

Returning to God

white church

 

Locked doors, empty darkness, silence, a for sale sign out front – these describe the buildings which once were vibrant places of worship to God for Christians in our country.  For decades, there have been reports that people in America are leaving the “church”.  Not just young people but people of all ages and backgrounds. Why have they left?  Where did they go? If church is not the answer then what are they looking for?

You see, they really haven’t left a church building. They have really left God.  They have no interest in God since they are “in control” of their own lives. They want a god that fits their lifestyle, their time or their morals. Those who once followed God and worshiped Him have walked away searching for purpose in other places but not finding it.

And perhaps those who still attend a church service weekly, monthly, or once a year only do so because they always have. They attend social gatherings and events but their heart for God has grown cold. Going through the motions, they take no thought of having a close relationship with God or having Him direct their lives. It’s not that people could care less about going to a church building but they could care less about God, about knowing His Word.

Walking away from God hasn’t brought happiness or a better life. Instead for many it has led to hopelessness, fear, pain, brokenness and absolute darkness. When we miss out on God we also miss out on His blessings, his goodness, His love and forgiveness. We forget who God is:

“But you O Lord, are a God of compassion, and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15

People don’t need to return to a church building. They need to return to God. And God in His love is calling those who once knew His closeness to come back to Him.  Then as they fall in love with God again, they will come flocking to meetings and gatherings to worship Him.

Five years ago, God asked me to pray for American’s who call themselves believers in Jesus to return to Him. God longs to forgive and show them His grace and love again. He is sad that their hearts are cold and they love this world and it’s evil. God once told His people:

“…thus says the LORD: if you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me…for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD.”  Jeremiah 15:19-20

Out of my prayers I recently wrote a book called, Wake Up! Return to God.  After much prayer and guidance from others the book is now available on Amazon.com . It will soon be available on ebook and audiobook as well. As I wrote in the book:

“God’s deep desire is for us to return to Him. However, too many Christians are missing out on His goodness and peace because of an apathetic heart that has strayed from Him. They have been put to sleep by the world and its desires…and have lost sight of their Savior and God. He is forever calling His followers who have strayed to return to Him. His love and grace motivate us to return so that He can revive us and bring us back to life…”

Perhaps many closed church buildings will be open again, packed with Christians praising God because they have returned to the God who loves them.  It is time to wake up! Have you left God? He wants you back with Him.  Do you need to know God personally? Turn to Him who offers forgiveness.