Growing in Forgiveness

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Then Peter approached Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” “I tell you, not as many as seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

How many times will we let ourselves be hurt? How many times will we let ourselves be wronged? What is the limit to our kindness?

These seem to be the questions Peter had in mind. Jesus had taught his followers what to do if someone sinned against them. Not thinking of exceptions when an offense is so great that law enforcement authorities need to be involved, the answer for normal offenses is to go to the one who hurt you and seek reconciliation.

But what happens if the same person hurts you again? And again? And again?

According to Jesus, you keep on forgiving.

This is, after all, the grace that God extends to us. When we trust in Jesus, he forgives all our sin, past, present, and future. He gives us a new heart so that we desire, and grow in our desire, to not sin against God. Yet, we are not yet perfect. Our sanctification is not yet finished. We still have moments of rebellion against God, moments where we spurn his grace.

And he keeps providing grace.

Jesus’ point to Peter was not to keep a list. Don’t bear in mind a former offense when considering a current one. People will fail you. Some people will fail you over and over and over. Keep providing grace.

This is not an easy thing, though. Again, because we’re not perfect. So, how do we grow in forgiveness?

First, we should remember the grace that God has shown to us. After answering Peter, Jesus tells a story about a man who was forgiven much who then goes out and refuses to forgive someone else. The unforgiving man is rebuked by his forgiver: “You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (18:32-33)

This is a reminder that the sum of a person’s offenses against us pale in comparison to our rebellion against God. Think about how much God forgave you and it will spur you to forgive others.

Second, we should pray for hearts of greater grace. When we struggle to forgive another, the answer is to turn to the Author of Forgiveness. Where we are weak, he is strong. Pray and pray more until you are able to find yourself forgiving.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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A Fruitful Tree

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

How happy is the one… [whose] delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither… ~ Psalm 1:1-3

Bearing fruit is an important metaphor in Scripture. In John 15, Jesus talks about how we only bear fruit if we remain in him and if we don’t bear fruit then we will find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to God’s Kingdom.

Fruit bearing is about productivity. But what kind of productivity? If we take Paul’s teachings from Galatians 5 as instructive, then the fruit the Christian life is to be primarily concerned about, the fruit of the Spirit, is growth in Christ-like character.

This is what we know, theologically, as sanctification. God saves us and God changes us. His Spirit is at work within us, transforming us to be more like Jesus, to be more like the men and women God intended for us to be before the fall into sin.

Where does this fruit of character come from?

Psalm 1 tells us that God’s word shapes this fruit in our lives. This should not surprise us, as Jesus also linked abiding in him to his word abiding in us (John 15:7).

What we need to grow in spiritual fruit is a regular, fruitful (if you will) intake of Scripture. Psalm 1 does not simply speak of reading the Bible or hearing God’s word read, both of which are important to our spiritual formation. The psalm speaks of delighting in the word, meditating on it day and night.

Through the Bible plans have value and I think every Christian, as soon as they are able, should read though the whole Bible in a year at least once; but delighting and meditating are more than reading through a plan. It is thinking deeply on God’s word, taking joy in the word, and treasuring God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:10).

Some practical ways we can do this include: Praying through God’s word by reading a verse or two and speaking to God what comes to mind; journaling our thoughts on God’s word; memorizing Scripture; taking a moment to think about what we’ve read and how it applies; or talking to another person about what we’ve read.

Such a list is not exhaustive and there are more ways to dwell deeply on God’s word. However we choose, we need to reach deep into the streams so that we might grow to be like a firmly rooted tree, fruitful in every season of life.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Sunday 1.5.20 (Missions Sunday)

This Sunday, we’ll welcome the Routons, a missionary couple in Haiti who will share about their ministry. We hope to see you there!

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@6pm Onward video study in youth room

Songs for Worship
He Has Made Me Glad / The Sacrifice of Praise
I Stand Amazed
There Is a Redeemer
Ancient Words
We Have Heard the Joyful Sound

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The Holy Spirit and Fire

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself with baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – John the Baptist, Matthew 3:11

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He had a particular ministry–he would cry out before Jesus publicly stepped onto the scene, and call people to return to God in preparation for the Messiah (Savior-King) to arrive. One feature of his ministry was baptism, the immersing of a person in water.

Baptism continues to be a rite which declares one’s faith in Jesus for salvation, both in obedience to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28) and as a symbol of dying to one’s sinful ways and being reborn to new life in Jesus (Romans 6).

Yet, while John baptized for repentance, the commitment to turn from a life of sin, he spoke of a greater baptism, a spiritual baptism that Jesus would bring. This was a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

To be immersed into the fire has one of two results: To be cleansed or to be destroyed. In Matthew 3:12, John warned that the “chaff” or those who refuse Jesus will face the fire of destruction, a judgment of God against their rebellion. Those who belong to Jesus, however, experience a fire that cleanses.

In his first letter, Peter talked about our faith being refined as through fire (1 Peter 1:7). The refining process of gold and silver is intense. Fire is introduced, hot enough to melt the metal, and with time as impurities float to the top they are scraped away until what is left has been purified.

This is how the Holy Spirit functions in our lives. By faith in Jesus, we receive the Spirit as a gift. He gives us a new heart and he starts the life-long process of shaping us, using God’s word and our life experiences, to be more like Jesus. This process the Bible calls sanctification will one day result in our glorification in eternity–we will be like Jesus in our character with no flaw of sin or hint left of our rebellion against God.

When we trust in Jesus, he immerses us in the Holy Spirit, the very one Acts 2 described as coming on God’s people like tongues of fire.

If we reject Jesus, then John’s words in Matthew 3 stand to us as a warning. But if we receive Jesus, then we experience one of the greatest things we could: The gift of the Holy Spirit who, like fire, will refine our lives.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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What Child Is This? (a Christmas devotion)

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

Nails, spears shall pierce him through
The cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary

William Dix’s classic carol What Child Is This? beautifully captures the Gospel.

The first line asks the question about the identity of baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph, of course, knew because God has sent angels to tell them. After Jesus was born, shepherds in nearby fields knew, as God sent a whole choir of angels to tell them. The close of the first stanza captures this story from Luke’s Gospel, answering: “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

But it is, perhaps, the second stanza (quoted above) that gets to the heart of why Jesus came to earth.

Yes, at that moment, the eternal King was a humble child sleeping in a hay loft and surrounded by barn animals, but one day that child would grow. Then, about three decades later, the man that baby became would die for the sins of his people.

When Mary and Joseph presented the 8-day old Jesus at the temple, a man named Simeon approached and told Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed–and a sword will pierce your own soul–that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35, Christian Standard Bible).

At that time, Simeon’s words may have been mysterious to Mary or perhaps even difficult for her to hear, but they hinted at the great reality captured in Dix’s hymn: The day would come where Jesus would be pierced through to bear the cross. Yet, this would not be his defeat but his, and ours through faith, victory.

The baby, Jesus, was born to grow and die so that all others babies who would grow to trust in him could have the goodness of life eternal.

What Child is this? the song asks.

This is Christ, the King, the one who saves.

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Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (a Christmas devotion)

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s linage coming
As men of old have sung.

It came, a flower bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

Lo’ How a Rose is a Fifteenth Century German hymn based upon the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1 that a branch would grow up from the stump of Jesse and bear fruit. That verse was a reminder to God’s people that even if they seemed defeated and the spiritual night seemed long, there would be victory. God had not left his people and never would.

The song captures this promise well.

Think of the lines: “It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter when half-gone was the night.” The winter in mind was not so much the winter months as the winter brought on by our sin.

Spring and summer are the seasons of life and growth. Winter is when things appear dead and cold. Winter is when the days grow shorter and darkness longer. Winter is when many people struggle with seasonal depression. Winter, then, is an illustration of the darkness of our sin.

Our rebellion against God makes the world seem cold and the darkness long. Sometimes, we wonder if the light and warmth will return. We long for the hope of life. It is in this setting, spiritually speaking, that Jesus came as a rose. The stem burst up through the snow and into the darkness and a flower opened.

The winter cold would not win. Life would be victorious.

Though Jesus has already come and has promised to come again, the world still often seems locked in a spiritual winter. No wonder, Jesus warned in Matthew 24, that the love of many would grow cold. Yet, that rose is there. The solstice has passed and the light is growing brighter.

Jesus is in the world today through his Spirit and his church to bring his light against the darkness. Thus, the third stanza of the song: “The Flow’r whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.”

The darkness will soon forever pass and spring and summer will be eternal. We have this hope and assurance because 2000 years ago in the cold of night, a “rose” bloomed and blooms forever.

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The Prejudiced Prophet Meets the Gracious God

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…?” ~ Jonah 4:10-11

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord. Jonah was also prejudiced.

God told Jonah, a Jew, to travel to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn that judgment was soon to come upon their sins. It was a message that ultimately led to the repentance of the king and many of the people, sparing the city from judgment at that time. Hundreds of years later, Jesus even used their repentance to warn the religious leaders who were rejecting him, saying, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching and look–something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).

Yet, Jonah did all he could to avoid taking the message to Nineveh. He boarded a ship sailing the opposite way, seeking to run from God, and then asked to be thrown into the sea when God struck the ship with a storm.

And why was Jonah so desperate to get away?

After God withheld the disaster on the city, Jonah cried out in complaint and anger, “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you area¬† gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster” (4:2) Jonah even followed this prayer with a request that the Lord would take his life.

You see, Jonah was a man of deep prejudice–racism against the culture and people of Nineveh. He didn’t want them to repent but rather to face the furious hand of the wrath of God.

Yet, God would have none of it.

Perhaps, God could have said to Jonah, “Fine, if you don’t want to go, I’ll send someone else,” but that’s not how God works.

God is gracious. He delights in saving from sin. It was his good pleasure to rescue a city from their wicked ways and it was his good pleasure to rescue a prejudiced prophet from his sinful heart.

God was teaching Jonah a lesson: All people are his creation, made in his image, and valuable in his sight, no matter where they were from, their class, their ethnicity, or whatever other specifics of their background. His lesson is a reminder to us as well, because we all battle personal prejudices in some way: If we don’t like someone because of who they are or where they’re from, then it’s us who need to change and we need to serve them by bringing them the love and grace of the God who is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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