Forgetting what lies behind.

future

What is your background?  Do you think fondly of your life story to this point?  Or have you had a difficult past that has shaped you through struggles and pain?  Are you generally proud of your accomplishments and confident in your experiences?  Or are you ashamed of your past, your decisions and your life’s path?  Maybe you are somewhere in between, confident in your identity but embarrassed of that one story or those few years tucked in back there.

The root of both dispositions, when it impacts our personality and worldview, is pride.  Either was have the normal expression of pride which considers our thoughts, values and experiences as superior or we exemplify the victim and shame mentality which draws on pride saying “I deserved better” or “I should have known better”.  God gives us experiences and plans our lives very intentionally.  It is not wrong to remember fondly or to feel sorrow over the past, as long as we intentionally turn the glory and honor back to God.  We should praise God for the successes and we should cling to God for the strength and truth needed to repent from failures and sin.  Both responses rightly bring glory to God.  Anything else robs God of His glory and brings praise or attention to ourselves.

The Apostle Paul, arguably the most influential man in Christianity after Jesus, wrote poignantly on the subject.  Before his conversion, Paul was the shining example of Jewish religiousity and legalism.  Not only did he keep the rules and preform above and beyond his peers, he also had the pedigree which set him apart from birth.  He had everything going for him.  He knew it, and everyone else knew it.  Then Jesus radically transformed his life.  He literally knocked him off his horse, called him to repentance and salvation verbally, and blinded him for a few days to consider Jesus’ power and calling.  After his sight was restored and he was baptized, Paul went away to the wilderness for three years where Jesus and the Holy Spirit personally taught Paul and prepared him to be the first missionary to the non-Jewish world.

After years of successful ministry and disciple-making throughout the known world, Paul wrote this in a letter to one of the churches he founded, in regards to his personal past:

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 3.8-14

Paul consistently shared his testimony of conversion and church planting.  This is, in fact, how we know so much about him:  he wrote it in his letters which are much of the New Testament!  He had achieved unmatched success and position in the Jewish world before Christ, and after his conversion he almost single-handedly planted churches throughout the entire known world.  At the point of his conversion, Jesus revealed to him that his efforts were in deed persecuting and hurting the Church and Jesus personally, and his life was radically transformed – such that he became just like those whom he sought to kill.  Thus, he had reason to boast in himself, he also had reason to be ashamed of himself, and he had reason to boast in his accomplishments for the Church.

His response, however, was to give glory to God for that path down which he had walked, but to always look forward to eternity with Jesus.  His focus was so eternal, in fact, that he essentially “forgot” what was behind him.  He did not literally forget, obviously, but he considered it to be of no consequence to where he was going.  It did not define him, hinder him, or give him grounds for boasting.  He was focused only on Jesus, on becoming more like Him and striving after the goal of eternity with Him.

This is perhaps the greatest example of true humility.  Often times we consider humility to be when a person thinks less of himself than his value, thus the truest opposite of pride would be some form of self doubt or self hatred.  But in reality, Biblical humility is spending one’s efforts to focus on God and not one’s self.  It is not thinking less of one’s value but spending less time thinking about one’s self and thinking more about God and others.

We can also learn from Paul’s example that no matter where we are in life we should always be looking forward and pressing on to maturity and growth.  It is easy to become complacent.  It is easy to allow ourselves to think that we deserve a break from work, ministry or discipline once we reach certain mile markers in life.  But God never gives us a pass.  God does not allow our Spiritual growth to reach its fullest potential until we are freed from our physical bodies and in His presence, thus even if we are retired or confined to a bed, we can still grow in our prayer life, in our witness, in our knowledge of God and in our devotion to Him.

Let us leave it to those who write our eulogy to determine our greatest moments and achievements.  Let us never consider our past to be our glory days, nor our moments of shame.  Let us continually look forward to the prize, to the goal of eternity with Christ and let us forget what lies behind.  We should always remember what God has done and the victories He has won, but let us always be expectant of His miraculous movement yet to come.  Let us remember the sin from which He has freed us and because of it press on to greater maturity and more intimate fellowship with Him.  Let us remember the trials through which He has brought us, but let us continue to seek to die to ourselves and let Him live through us more.

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When someone doesn’t like you.

hatred

I am a pretty adventurous person.  I like to get out, try new things, meet new people, stretch the boundaries.  But even with an independent personality, I still want people to like me…just like everyone else.  Sometimes we build up facades or walls because of past hurt, claiming that we do not care what other people think, and we each have some non-negotiables on which we will take a social, political or relational stand, but by-in-large we try to put our best foot forward so that people will respect and like us.  Deep within this desire is an underlying pride.  We do not want people to like us simply because we want to be friends with everyone, we want affirmation.  We want praise.  We want people to admire, think well of and build us up.

As believers, is it right and good to build one another up.  Scripture regularly admonishes us to put the needs of the body before our own (James 1.27ff), to push one another on to holiness (Heb 10.24), and husbands should love their wives and wives should respect their husbands (Eph 5.22-25).  Leaders within the church should be people of good reputation and Jesus says that the world will know that we are Christians because of our love – which means we honor and respect one another (2 Tim 3, John 13.35).

However, as believers, we must remember and be convicted of the fact that there is no righteousness in and of ourselves and that we desperately need a savior (Rom 3.10ff).  When we are saved, Christ switches places with us – taking our condemnation and giving us a covering of His righteousness.  Because of this fact, we can and should glory in the victory that God grants us over sin in our lives, but we should also be the most humble of people.  When we recognize our guilt, and when we comprehend the cost of the sacrifice required to save us, we will become exceedingly humble.  We see our worthlessness and the weight of our salvation, and are left as the beneficiary of a completely undeserved gift and inheritance.

True Christians are thankful.  True Christians are humble.  True Christians know from where they came, and praise God for their priceless gift and all progress made in dying to sin.  True Christians offer abundant grace to one another, recognizing the fact that we are all in the battle against our flesh and push one another on to die to the flesh and sin.  True Christians recognize the deceit and horror of sin and do not make peace with it in their lives or in other’s lives and purposefully walk together to remove sin from our lives so that we can honor God, all with a humble attitude knowing our own weakness.

However, there are non Christians who infiltrate the Church.  There are also non Christians in our daily lives:  coworkers, family members, neighbors, people on the street, etc.  There are also Christians who have fallen into sin and harbor bitterness and resentment in their hearts.  It will happen in each of our lives that there comes a day when someone does not like us.

How should we respond?

First of all, we must examine the situation to see if we have sinned against this person and make every effort to apologize and rectify the situation.  If we are left without resolution and the other person still has a hard heart against us, then we have an intricate and beautiful situation.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matt 5.44).  He also teaches us that when someone will not receive us and the Gospel we proclaim, we should walk away and not waste our energy (Matt 10.14).  Lastly, He teaches us that if someone proclaims to be a believer and yet continues in sin (in this situation, harbors bitterness in his heart), to completely disassociate with him and remove him from the church (Matt 18.15-17).

But in all of this, our heart must remain humble.  How do we do that?  By remembering our own guilt and the weight of the unmerited gift of salvation we have received.  Charles Spurgeon said simply,

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”

– Charles Spurgeon

If any one person thinks ill of us, it is not because he knows the depths of our depravity.  It is because he knows a small amount of it.  This nonbeliever has never come to understand forgiveness for himself, and thus still judges those around him with a human judgment and even if the offense was a misunderstanding, we remain humble by remembering God’s gift of salvation while we were His enemies (Rom 5.10).  Instead of responding in pride, we should always respond in humility.  If someone makes a character assessment, we should examine ourselves to see if it is true, ask Jesus to change us, and remember our guilt before Him – relying on Him to change us!  Once we have made every effort to rectify the situation, however, we move on and remember that God looks down and sees the blood of Jesus covering our sin and we are righteous in His eyes.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

He who has been forgiven much loves much.

Is unity possible with someone you don’t like?

body-of-christ

We are now three more sleeps until Christmas – one of the few days where we find ourselves surrounded by family, fulfilling traditions, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some of us have wonderful, picturesque and happy families while others of us have dysfunctional ones, and some of us simply live too far away and/or do not have the money to make the trek home for the holidays.

But if you are a Christian, you have a different kind of family as well:  the family and body of Christ, your local church.  If you have been involved in your local church with any dedication and for any amount of time, you have probably noticed that there are as varied personalities there as there are within your natural family.  There are people you cannot wait to see, with whom you love to spend time, and there are those whom you would prefer to simply pass in the hallway.  There are kind, generous and thoughtful people as well as selfish, rude and abrasive people.  We have a little bit of everything.

But as the body of Christ, we have been called to be unified.  We have been called to love.  We have been called to sacrifice for one another.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

– Phil 2.2

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

– 1 Peter 3.8

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

– Col 3.14

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Have you ever heard someone say, “I love him, but I do not like him”?  It is true that love is deeper than a mere emotional affection.  Love is the intentional choice to care for someone, to put his needs above our own, to serve another and look out for their best interests.  It is also true that it is possible to make that choice to honor, respect and love another person even if the other person’s personality is abrasive and you do not particularly care to be in his presence.

But is it possible to maintain that tension in our spirits for a long period of time?  Can we truly make the choice to love someone while our hearts cringe at the thought of being around him?  No.  I would argue we cannot.

Emotions and affections are reactionary.  We learn as children that when we make up our minds and choose a course of action, everything else follows.  Jesus said simply,

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

Jesus is speaking directly about earthy treasure versus eternal treasures.  If we set our minds and goals on money, toys, fame or anything on Earth, our hearts will follow in desiring and longing for those things.  If we set our minds and goals on eternal things like honoring God and salvation of the lost, our hearts and affections will be pleased with those things.

Not only are emotions reactionary, but Scripture teaches us that our hearts are wicked and deceptive above all else.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

– Jer 17.9

Our flesh is marked by our sinful nature, and the natural desires that flow from it are wicked.  If we depend on our hearts to guide us, we will make evil decisions continually.  The emotion of hatred or not liking someone is a result of a wicked heart and unchecked emotions.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to unity.  Unity of mind, unity of purpose, without any division, exemplifying sympathy and brotherly love.  And we simply cannot pursue someone else’s best interest if we do not like him and choose to avoid him.

Ok, so that’s great and all, but what do I do if I do not like someone?

First of all, we need to examine the situation.  Step back and ask yourself, “Why do I not like this person?”  Did this person wrong you at some point in the past?  Was there reconciliation?  Are you jealous of this person for some reason?  Does his personality just rub you the wrong way?

If there is an unaddressed sin, then for the sake of both of your souls, it needs to be addressed.  We are warned strongly throughout Scripture to not make peace with sin or let it continue (Heb 10.26-27, Rom 8.13).  In fact, Scripture teaches us that when a brother is in sin it is our responsibility to humbly draw him to repentance, and if he will not repent to remove him from the church so as to not lead others into sin and hopefully draw him to repentance through that discipline (Gal 6.1, Matt 18.15-17, 1 Cor 5).  This is an act of love, because continuing in sin has the gravest of consequences.  We confront sin in humility, remembering our own sin and being acutely aware that we could be tempted and fall as well.

Was a sin or offense addressed, but you still are bitter?  This is a lack of forgiveness against which we must intentionally fight.  Jesus says that we will forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven, and if we are unwilling to forgive then we prove ourselves to have not been forgiven by God (Luke 7.47, Matt 6.15).  The root of bitterness is a terrible and sly temptation that will ruin us if we do not keep it in check (Heb 12.15).  Recognize in your heart that even if you feel justified in your bitterness, anger or hatred, it will destroy you.  And if Jesus, who is perfect and God can forgive you, then we are compelled to forgive others any offense.

Are you jealous of him?  Perhaps he has a beautiful wife, perfectly behaved children, a wonderful job or that charismatic personality you wish you had.  Or perhaps he speaks too bluntly, makes awkward observations, or has an annoying laugh.  These are heart and sin issues that we need to address without confronting or involving the other person.  Jealousy is a wicked deception of the devil, convincing us that God has not been as good to us as He has to another person.  This is conquered by intentional thankfulness and pursuit of God’s direction in your life.  He may not be giving you money because you would become unfaithful with it.  He may have given you difficult children to grow your faith.  He may have you in your specific job to make a kingdom impact, even if the job is terrible.  God has a perfect and sovereign plan for your life, do not dishonor Him by wishing you had someone else’s, but trust and follow Him.

It is true that we will not be accountability partners, best friends or bosom buddies with everyone.  We simply do not have the time or emotional capability to do so.  Jesus chose twelve disciples, and of those twelve had three closest friends, and He was able to maintain this many relationships in part because He did not go in to an office from 9:00-5:00 every day.

It is also true that in the process of discipleship, people will fail and need to gain victory over specific personality flaws.  Thus, if a man has committed adultery and proven Himself unfaithful, then there is a season of growth, accountability and restoration required before he should be trusted fully again.  If someone has stolen money from the church, he needs to prove his repentance and be restored before serving on the financial team again.  If someone has been caught in a lie, then a system of checks and balances is established for a season while he is restored.

But all of these situations must be confronted and handled in love.  If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive one another.  If someone is seeking to confess and restore himself in the wake of a sin, then it is the body’s responsibility to pray for him and walk with him in that process.  If we never allow him to regain honor or trust, then we are sinning against him.  We, as the body, should be in the business of forgiving and restoring people – just as Jesus forgives and restores us.  We are all going to fall, and we all need grace from God and grace from one another.

As a unified and united body, we will have close friends, we will have acquaintances, and in a large enough body, we will have people whom we have never met.  What is important is that we have a unified heart to love and honor God, that we have a unified mission in reaching our communities and world, and that we are intentionally seeking one another’s well being through brotherly love.  If a need arises in the church, do we jump to meet it?  Do we encourage one another by helping people get connected and involved?

In short, we need to check our hearts.  Our hearts will deceive us and validate our sinful tendencies if we do not keep them aligned with Scripture.  We are commanded to love one another the very same way we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  So those quirks and tendencies that we overlook in ourselves, we are commanded to overlook in other people.  Those allowances we make for ourselves, we are commanded to make for other people.  And if we care for one another in brotherly love, then we humbly and intentionally address sin that we see in one another.

Remember also, that we are united as a body – working towards a goal.  The Church should not be static relationships, but strategic team work towards impacting the kingdom.  We must therefore intentionally value what everyone brings to the table (1 Cor 12), and when we see a bigger picture we can value others more easily.

Thus we must be unified with someone that we do not like, but we should not be content to “not like” a brother or sister in Christ.  That is an emotional reaction to a bigger issue, which we need to address in our hearts.  Pray for him.  If you pray for someone long enough, you will begin to care about him on a selfless and real level.

So let’s get real with ourselves, with God, and with one another.  Are you harboring anything against someone else?  Confront it – either in your own heart, with God, or with the other person.  Do not let division begin in your Church, that is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to neutralize our effect in our communities and world.  Put one another above yourself.  Love boldly.  Remember that we are working together.  And trust God for the outcome.

Jesus is Lord.

sheldon cooper

Last week my husband and I were watching the Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon, one of the main characters, is the son of a “good baptist woman” from Texas, but as a scientist rejects the existence of God.  When he and his friends almost miss the opportunity to buy tickets to see the new Star Wars movie, however, Sheldon dropped to his knees and began praying.  He said,

“Lord! This is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my life denying that you exist [then the guys announce they got through and got the tickets]…and I will continue to do so!”

This near prayer is poignantly accurate on many levels, spiritually.  He verbalizes what many of us unknowingly and/or unintentionally do.  We know that Jesus is Lord, but we do not submit to Him in our daily lives and we consider Him our cosmic genie who helps us out in our moments of distress and need.  Sheldon needed tickets to see Star Wars, so he turned to Jesus to make it happen, but as soon as he got what he wanted he walked away.

Now, I would venture to guess that none of us are so aware of our pettiness and if we call ourselves Christians we would never verbalize (or even realize) that we live most of our lives as though Jesus does not exist.  If we honestly look at our day-to-day lives, however, how true would we find it to be?  There are a few key points that we need to recognize here:

First of all, Jesus is Lord.  When we turn to prayer, or when we start to explain Jesus to someone else, often times the term we use is “Lord”.  Unfortunately, lord is an old-english word that we rarely use today, mostly because there is no one who functions in the office of lord in our daily lives.  Lord, generically defined, is someone who has power or authority, but the office of lord in the feudal system was one to whom a vassal owed complete sworn allegiance.  The lord had authority, as a ruler and influencer, but there was a greater bond than boss/employee, it was overarching all of life.  The vassal was dependent upon and loyal to the lord.

This is the implication of Jesus as Lord we must understand.  As a Christian, we depend upon Christ for life and sustenance, and we are loyal to Him in our daily activities and lifestyles.  He has written the moral law, the expectations and outlines of life, and we submit to and obey them, while depending on Him for the ability to do so.  Jesus is both authority and life giver.

Thus, the second point is clear:  we do not make Him Lord.  My father has a pet peeve in Christian-isms, and that is the exhortation to “Make Jesus your Lord”.  The sentiment is right, but the wording is wrong.  Jesus is Lord.  When He arose from the dead and ascended back to Heaven, He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Mark 16.19).  He has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth (Matt 22.18).  He holds the keys to Hell (Rev 1.18).  He is the judge who will welcome some to eternal life and send others to Hell (Rev 20.11-15).  He is Lord.  He is in charge.  We do not have any authority or power to make Him Lord, we only choose to submit or rebel against Him.

Our salvation depends on our submission, however.  Sheldon was right.  Jesus is Lord, however he is sadly living as though He does not exist.  Paul teaches us clearly about salvation:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

Salvation is our recognition of our sin guilt, belief that Jesus paid that debt, and submission to Him as our Lord.  We cannot ask Him to forgive us and continue on in life doing our own thing.  When we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit begins the work of changing us and enabling us to kill our sinful passions and live a life to the glory and honor of God.  He actually changes our passions so that we desire to live holy and righteous lives, and we hate those things that God hates.  If you do not hate your sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit is not indwelling you, Jesus is not your Lord, and you are not saved.

In summary, Jesus is the Lord.  He has been exalted above all of creation and given all authority and power.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

We do not make Him Lord, rather we choose to submit to Him or choose to rebel against Him.  And our eternity depends on that critical daily decision.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

The authority and power is not in our hands.  We cannot make Jesus our Lord.  He already is.  So let’s humble ourselves today, confess Him as Lord anew, and walk by the power of the Holy Spirit in submission to Him.  Recognize sin as how He defines sin.  Hate the things that He hates.  Love the things that He loves.  Obey the commandments He has given, to love God, love our neighbors, bless our enemies and make disciples of all nations.

It is morally impossible to come before the cross with pride.

nativity

The Holiday Season brings about a variety of unique situations.  We unite with family and friends to spend a day being intentionally thankful for everything that we have, for everything that has happened the past year, and to enjoy a meal together.  The very next day we exert our energies (and finances) to shop at absurd hours in order to get the best deal on stuff.  We may be thankful, but we are selfish.

Then we take a break for a few weeks, preparing for our second round of family celebrations.  We decorate our houses, we drive ourselves crazy and broke looking for the perfect gift for aunt so-and-so.  We get in arguments with people who would greet us saying “Happy Holidays” because they have removed Jesus from Christmas, but yet we never slow down to consider Him in our festivities.

We are almost always disappointed with how the holiday season unfolds.  We each have different love languages, and those who need gifts to feel loved are rarely satisfied because the gift giver was not thoughtful enough with the purchase he made, those who need quality time feel overwhelmed by the masses and chaos, those who need words of affirmation get lost in the hubub and it is all but impossible for everyone’s expectations to be met.

Why?
Because of the root of almost all of our sin:
Pride.

Our ego and selfish desires are what naturally drive us until we begin the discipline of the Christian walk.  Until we recognize our sinfulness and our deserved damnation, our worldview revolves squarely around what we think, what we want, and what makes us happy.  We may learn the art of compromise or mutual respect:  giving to others what they want in order to get what we want, but it is always to the end of our personal gratification.

When we meet Jesus, however, we are transformed from the core.  In order to enter into a relationship with Jesus, in order to assure our eternity with Him, in order to “be saved”, we must recognize our sinfulness and His provision of forgiveness by paying our debt of death and damnation.  You cannot be saved if you do not recognize your sin, understand the wrath of God against that sin, and ask for forgiveness while repenting from it.

The very nature of salvation is humbling.  There is nothing that you or I can do to earn merit with God.  We simply cannot be good enough.  We are not worthy.  But He loves us anyway, and offers us salvation in spite of our wickedness.

Thus our pride is consequentially slain.

Salvation means recognizing your guilt and inability, and submitting to Jesus.

The death of our pride will be slow and often painful.  Jesus commands us to love our enemies – the same way He loved us while we were His enemies (Matt 5.44, Rom 5.10).  It is not easy to love our enemies, to pray for them, to bless them, or to give ourselves to them.  It is even more difficult to truly desire in our hearts for them to be saved.  We may be able to discipline our actions, but it takes much transformation by the power of God to care for our enemies on a heart level.

Jesus teaches us that the way to learn the discipline is to remember that which you have been forgiven:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been  forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

The more deeply you understand your own pardon, the more freely you can give it to others and love them.  And this is a necessity, not an option.  Jesus said,

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

This sounds like a threat, but it is a teaching method of cause and effect much like we use with children.  The result of having been forgiven is that we forgive and love others.  If we do not forgive and love others, we prove ourselves not to be in Christ, and therefore we have not been forgiven.  The result of our salvation is humility and offering love and forgiveness in the manner we have received it.  If you do not offer it, you have not received it.

The cross is the most humbling aspect of Christianity.  Jesus took the punishment that you and I deserve and paid for it.

The glory of the cross is that it puts us in right standing with God, and we can approach the throne of grace with confidence:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

– Heb 4.16

Our confidence is not within ourselves, however.  It is in Christ and what He did.  We cannot draw near to the throne of grace in pride.  If anyone thinks He deserves to draw near to the throne of God, He will be greatly disappointed.  If anyone would attempt to draw near to the throne and consider another unwelcome, he will receive a terrifying judgment.  Because God alone is the judge and if we understand our own guilt, we would never pass condemning judgment on another who would seek to repent and be saved.

In the same manner you have been forgiven and loved by God, you will forgive and love others.  The cross is the very symbol of our guilt, and we cannot approach it in pride.  It is morally impossible.

Therefore, as we continue to wade our way through the holiday season, let’s take a moment and die to ourselves and turn to Jesus.  Are you thankful for His provision for your life which He paid on the cross?  Did you stop and thank Him over our weekend of Thankfulness?  If not, do so today.  As we approach the day which has been set aside to remember His birth, be mindful first of all of the sacrifice He made in simply coming to Earth, and most importantly for paying our debt.  And let the measure of your own forgiveness and the love which He has lavished on you be the measure of love you pour out on others.

Put your family and friends before yourself these next few weeks.  Does someone else desire and expect gifts?  Then love them in that manner.  Does someone else long for quality time and good conversation?  Then make the time.  Is there anyone whom you have not forgiven or against whom you are holding a grudge?  Then get over it, for by the same manner you judge you will be judged (Matt 7.2).

Remember Jesus first.  Love others second.  And let us lay down our pride.

When they don’t apologize

community

God has created us to live in community.  He gave us spouses in marriage, He gave us children in family units, He gave us neighbors to serve, He gave us the Church to love, and He gave us Himself from whom we draw all strength.  We all function in a variety of relationships, and when two sinners are in community there will be conflict, misunderstanding and hurt at some point.  Sometimes the offense is gross and must be dealt with through the normal means of confrontation, confession and forgiveness.  But what about those little things?  What about a miscommunication?  Must everything be addresses formally?

Scripture is exceedingly clear:  We, as spouses, as families, as community and as the Church must strive to live together in peace.  Our primary goal within the body is unity and peace.

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

– Phil 2.1-2

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

– 1 Peter 3.8-9

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

And if someone has sinned, we are commanded to call him to repentance for the sake of His soul.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

– Gal 6.1

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.15-17

But what about that person who has not sinned, but has hurt our feelings?  What about when two people with good motives have a miscommunication?  What about those things that are merely preference or relational?

If our goal is peace and unity, then there will certainly be times that we must confront one another, even over relational issues.  But there will also be times that we simply let it go.  Scripture teaches us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  Some of us have hyper-sensitive consciences and beat ourselves up over every little word that we say.  But for the most part we are experts of excuses.  We can overlook our idiosyncrasies masterfully and often are blind to them.  Do you love your spouse that much?  To overlook his quirks that annoy you or step on your toes?  Scripture also teaches us that we should strive to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12.10).  If your brother, friend or fellow church member unknowingly offended you or said something in an abrasive manner, is it your heart’s response to seek to honor him all the more?  Are you in competition with him to see who can love and respect the other better?

Paul sums it up beautifully:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

– Eph 4.1-3

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

– Col 3.12-13

In these two letters, Paul encourages the believers to show tolerance for one another in love, and to bear with one another.  These commands are separate and unique from forgiving one another, as he defines in his letter to the Colossians – that forgiveness requires a complaint against one another – assuming an offense associated with sin.  We ought not, for the sake of our souls, sweep sin under the rug.  If someone has sinned and we bore it witness, then we must call one another to repentance.  The Holy Spirit has been given to us for the purpose of recognizing sin:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

The Holy Spirit within us will convict us of our own sin, but also the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I might have a blind spot in my life that I need my spouse or small group to point out, and if it is our goal as believers to be more Christlike, then this is a glorious and beautiful part of our community:  pushing one another on to holiness.

But there will also be times that I will rub someone the wrong way.  We have cultural microcosms within the greater culture of the United States, and northerners are known to be more direct and blunt while southerners are known to be more soft and relational.  These two cultures will undoubtedly misunderstand one another relationally and professionally when forced to interact.  Thus we are commanded to “bear with one another” and “show tolerance for one another in love”.  Most of these offenses will be completely one sided.  Since there is not sin factor at play, one party in relationship might find another annoying, or misunderstand the meaning or intention of another, but these are the types of quirks that can be overlooked or tolerated.

So what do we do?  How do we ford these relational waters?  In the spirit of unity and peace, we must consider one another better than ourselves and humbly examine the situation:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

When we die to ourselves and consider the other person, we ask these kinds of questions:  What happened?  Why am I hurt or upset?  Did he intend to offend me?  What is going on in his life that caused him to do or say what he did?  Did I offend him?

If we conclude that there is no sin that needs to be addressed in the situation, then we must ask ourselves, “Can I get over this?  Or do I need to talk it out?”  Some people need to talk things out to have resolution and closure.  Some people can bear with one another by extending a measure of grace and letting it go.  This is where we must know ourselves.  If you will become embittered against someone’s personality, then approach your brother in Christ and discuss what happened.  Do not let the spirit of bitterness take root in your life:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”

– Heb 12.15

Let us seek, therefore, to put one another first; to consider their needs, their personalities, their life circumstances.  Let us seek to grow in maturity and understand our own personalities:  do I need to talk through day-to-day miscommunications?  Or am I able to let things go without growing bitter?  Let us remember the command of Christ to die to ourselves, to be humble, to love our neighbor in the same manner that we love ourselves, and to outdo one another in showing honor.  Make it a friendly competition – in sincerity and love!  Challenge yourself!  How can I honor so-and-so today?  How can I push my spouse on to holiness?  How can I love my community in such a way that is selfless?  What quirks do I need to bear and tolerate?  And what quirks do we need to address for the sake of unity?

We do not always have to formally address every situation.  Sometimes we just love someone for who they are, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

The one whom God opposes.

opposition

Did you know that God opposes some people?  Did you know that all it takes to warrant God’s opposition in your life is pride?

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

– James 4.6

Pride is one of the most difficult sins to fight, let alone conquer.  Scripture lists sins exhaustively, and to study those things that dishonor God is a good task.  It is our sin that separates us from God, that merits our physical death and eternal damnation apart from His saving grace.  We must understand not only that we are sinners, but we must examine ourselves and fight the battle against sin in our lives.  And while there are various lists throughout Scripture that define sin, even a list of seven sins that God abhors, there is only one sin against which God declares open opposition, and that is pride.  (Yes, pride is in the list of seven sins that God detests as well:  Prov 6.16-19)

We see a few examples of how God dramatically dealt with pride in Scripture.  King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon that took Israel – along with Daniel – into captivity.  Daniel was serving him when Nebuchadnezzar had a prophetic dream of his rise and fall.  Daniel interpreted the dream for him, warning him to repent of his sin of pride and to act righteously or else he would be destroyed, but Nebuchadnezzar could not (or would not) turn the glory to God.  He one day, in pride, looked over the kingdom and said to Himself,

“Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”

– Dan 4.30

And immediately God cursed him – he began living like an animal, eating grass, sleeping outside, not caring for himself and his hair and nails grew long.  He lived this way for seven years until he was finally humbled and gave the glory and honor to God.

Now, lest we consider this an Old Covenant phenomenon, let us consider Herod.  He was the king after Jesus had returned to Heaven and the apostles were taking the Gospel to the world.  He killed James, and he would have killed Peter had God not sent the angel to release him from jail.  He was very proud, and when he was addressing the people, their outcry was,

“The voice of a god and not of a man!”

– Acts 12.22

Herod did not turn the praise to God, but received it himself.  God’s response?

“And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

– Acts 12.23

God sent his angel to infest Herod’s body with worms, and he died.

Do you ever sit and look at all of your possessions, your salary, your achievements, and pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished?  Do you set goals for yourself by which you consider yourself successful?

“For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Psychologists tell us that depression and self-pity is also a form of pride.  It is, at the core, an unhealthy focus on self and often defines the self as a victim and not receiving what one deserves.  Humility is not thinking lowly of one’s self, it is thinking highly of God, giving Him the praise, and putting one another before one’s self.  It is giving the seat of honor to another.  It is considering one another more highly than one’s self.

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

– 1 Peter 5.5

Peter quotes the same proverb in his exhortation to elders to serve humbly and to the young men to submit to the elders.  Everyone is commanded to submit to a variety of people.  We all must submit first and foremost to God.  We all must also submit to the government and political authority which is in place over us – provided it does not command us to sin or disobey God.  We all must also submit to the Spiritual leaders God has put in place over us, and we also must all submit to one another.  We must put one another before ourselves, consider one another more highly than ourselves, and “outdo” one another in showing honor and service (Phil 2.3, Rom 12.10).  This is a humble person, and the one to whom God shows grace.

Now, lest we fall into the temptation of legalism and earning our salvation, we must clarify that humility is not the deed one performs in order to obtain God’s grace.  Rather, humility is the mindset, the understanding and the confession that I cannot cleanse myself of my sin, I cannot ever be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness and salvation, and I cannot do anything on my own.  This is the confession that God honors, and upon which God gives grace.  We cannot be saved, we cannot find God’s salvation until we realize our sinful state and our utter helplessness apart from God.  And when we realize our depravity we understand that we do not have anything except that which has been given us by God, and we turn all of the praise and glory and honor back to Him.  Pride prevents us from doing that.  We cannot be a saved people and a proud people, the two are diametrically opposed.

So let us examine ourselves today.  There is nothing more terrible in the universe than having God opposed to you, and all it takes to be found in that position is pride.  Are you proud today?  Are you boasting in anything other than Jesus?  Are you self-confident and self-sufficient?  Or are you depressed and anxious, the negative representations of pride?  Turn to Jesus.  Humble yourself.  Put Him first, and your brothers and sisters second.  Let us be a humble people, for Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matt 5.3