Friday, 25 February 2011
The Hardest Word
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“I know you are sorry . . . now apologize.” The first time that a friend said this to me, it really tickled my funny bone and instantly put us both at ease. I have used this line also just to be funny if the offense was mild. For example, I am sorry I stepped on your foot, or I am sorry I ate your last piece of cake. You have to be careful using humor, because not everyone gets it. (Even now, someone who is reading this is saying to themselves, I don’t get it.)

Apologies are important, but they seem to be rare thing these days. Celebrities, politicians and other public figures have learned that the public apology is essential to rebuilding their image. Of course, it only comes after they’ve been caught in the act and the public has demanded it. The most recent example that comes to mind is Tiger Woods, following his messy marital scandal. His apology was crucial to reconciling with the public, if not his wife. He will be forgiven (especially if he continues to perform well in golf). However, people will never forget.

Psalm 103:12
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

People may forgive you, but they will never forget what happened. Unfortunately, we can’t forget, unless we develop amnesia or dementia. Our brains are wired with memory that record every experience we have. I think it’s probably a good thing we remember – not to hold a transgression against someone forever, but to learn from it and use wisdom. For example, if a person lies to me and apologizes, then I must forgive them. But I am not going to forget it. I am going to proceed carefully with that person and consider their truthfulness before acting on anything that person has told me. If they lie to me again, then I know that I cannot trust their word. I can forgive them, but I’ve learned that I cannot trust them, and that’s a good thing to know. That’s just using wisdom.

Fortunately for us, God can forgive and forget in a way that man cannot. Many people quote Psalm 103:12 when they talk about God’s mercy and forgiveness. However, the verses just before that also reveal God’s perfect mercy. “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him . . . .” When we repent (or apologize), God forgives us of our sin. It is now covered by the blood of Jesus and He can no longer see it. It’s as though it never existed. Micah 7:19 says: He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.

I am grateful that God is so merciful and that if I confess my sins, He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Forgiving comes easy for God because He loves us so much. He is our heavenly Father and we are His children. I know that when my child tells me that she is sorry and I see her tear-filled eyes, I cannot refuse her. I forgive her and I take her in my arms and tell her that I love her. That is how I imagine it is with God. We are the children that He loves and He is moved by our sincere repentance. He forgives us and takes us into His arms and reminds us of His love.

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It can be hard to say that you are sorry. Some people have an equally hard time forgiving. They hold onto their forgiveness like it some kind of prize. They may feel that the person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, whether they have apologized or not. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the person who wronged you. It might hurt their feelings, but if they have repented and apologized, God has already forgiven them. If you withhold your forgiveness, it will only hurt you, because God will not be able to forgive you of your sins if you have unforgiveness in your heart.

Some may find these verses from Matthew to be contradictory to 1 John 1:9. God says He will forgive us our sins if we confess them, but there is an exception? If I don’t forgive others then I can’t be forgiven? This is not contradictory. What God is telling us is that to be unforgiving is a sin. Jesus gives us the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 to illustrate this principle. A servant owed the king a large sum of money and couldn’t repay, so the king ordered that the man and his family be sold into slavery to repay the debt. The servant begs the king to give him more time to repay the debt. The king, moved by the man’s plea, forgives the debt completely and sends the man home. The forgiven servant then goes out and finds a friend that owes him a small sum of money. He demands that his friend repay him immediately. The friend begs for more time to repay the loan, but the servant refuses and has him thrown in prison until the debt is paid. Word of this incident gets back to the king, who is furious with the servant. Verses 32-35: Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Elton John had a song out years ago that said, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Sometimes it is hard for us to apologize. Our pride and our ego get in our way. But to say “I am sorry” (or I repent) is the only way to reconcile ourselves with someone we have wronged, whether it be a person or God. And if we do truly repent, then we must be forgiven. We know that God will forgive us, because His word tells us that He will, and God doesn’t lie. If we sin against another person and we truly repent, that person must also forgive us. Luke 17:3-4 says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

We know that this is easier said than done. If someone keeps doing the same thing over and over again and keeps apologizing for it, it wears a little thin with us. We may doubt their sincerity. However, Jesus said that if they say they repent, then we must forgive them. We may need God’s help to do it, because it is not our nature but His that we have to take on. So what about the people who sin against us and don’t repent? What do we do about them?

I believe that we still must forgive them. Some people will never apologize for the things that they have done, and they will have to stand in judgment for that one day. If someone hurts you and you know that you are never going to get an apology for it, you have two choices. You can hang onto that hurt and let it become a bitter, angry root in your heart. Or, you can accept the facts and forgive the person, letting go of the pain and heartache and turning it all over to God. That doesn’t mean you have to allow that person to be in you life or that you have to be buddies with them if they are in your life, but it means that you have to let go and let God deal with them.

“I am sorry” and “I forgive you” can be hard to say when we let our pride get in the way. As long as we are human, we are going to step on each other’s toes and offend each other in big and little ways. We have to have a repentant heart, and we have to have a forgiving heart. We have to accept that we are not perfect. We all make mistakes, and hopefully we learn from them. Certainly we have to take responsibility for them, and that means apologizing when we are wrong. It also means that since you recognize your own imperfections, you should be willing to accept them in others and forgive them as you wish to be forgiven. We do need to be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving each other the way God through Christ has forgiven us.
 

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Posted on 02/25/2011 6:41 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 18 February 2011
A Friend of Jesus
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Proverbs 18:24
A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother

Is Jesus your BFF? (That’s “best friends forever” for you non-texters.) We sing several songs in church about Jesus being our friend. “Oh what a friend we have in Jesus” and “Ain’t nobody do me like Jesus, He’s my friend” come to mind right away. Jesus is the Lord of my life and He is my Savior, but I found myself asking, “Are we friends?”

Friends can be a very general term. There are probably a lot of people that you know that you really aren’t friends with. If you are on Facebook, take a look at your friends list. How many of these people do you really, really know? When I see someone on Facebook who has 400 or 500+ friends, it astounds me. There is no way you could have any kind of quality friendships with that many people.

When I think of a friend, I think of someone who knows me well, and I know them, too. We are always there for each other, whether we just need someone to talk to or someone to help us out in a situation. A friend knows my secrets, my hopes, and my fears. A friend understands when I have a bad day and I just want to be left alone – but I know that he or she is there when I am ready to be comforted. With a friend, I can be myself and we enjoy each other’s company. A friend will kick my butt and tell me when I am going in the wrong direction. A friend forgives me when I mess up. A friend will stand up for me and stand by me. A friend always wants the best for me and always has my back. We can read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. A friend will laugh and cry with me. No matter how many miles or how many years might separate us, we will always be close in heart. As it says in Proverbs 17:17, a friend loves at all times.

When you think about these and other qualities of a true friend, we can see that we really do have a friend in Jesus. He is always there for us and He knows us better than we probably know ourselves. He will listen when we need someone to talk to and we know that we can pray and ask for help in His name. If we stay in fellowship with Him, He will give us guidance in our life. When we mess up (sin), we know that if we repent, He will forgive us.

When I think about Jesus and all He has done to change my life, I know that I have a true friend in Him. But friendships are supposed to be a two-way street. Did you ever have a friend that made you feel like you were doing all the work in the friendship? It seemed like everything always went one way – theirs. You always did the things they liked or always talked about their problems. This kind of a one-way relationship can drain you. As I thought about having Jesus as a friend, I wondered if it was a real friendship, or was I being a drain? I remembered a recent Sunday school lesson where we talked about how Abraham was called a friend of God, but I wondered if there was anything in the Word about being friends with Jesus.

John 15:12-17
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

I really can’t be what we think of as an earthly friend to Jesus. He doesn’t need my shoulder to cry on or anything else from me. But I can be a friend to Him if I am obedient to the Word of God. It was Abraham’s faith and obedience that made Him a friend of God. When we are completely obedient and do what He was commanded us, then we will be in perfect fellowship. He said that he would share with us what He has heard from the Father. With more knowledge will come spiritual growth that will take us to a new level in our relationship with Him.

James 4:4
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Another way I can be a friend of Jesus is to live a holy life. James cautions us about getting friendly with worldly things, because they will put us at odds with God. Some people try to walk with one foot in the things of God and one in the world. There are many practices in today’s world that have become common place and generally accepted that clearly go against the Word of God. The world would like to shut Christians up, but we need to stand strong for the things of God.

Luke 9:26
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

You or someone you know may have had a fair-weather friend at some time in your life. Perhaps it was someone in your neighborhood that you played with after school who acted like they were your best friend – until other people came around. At school, in front of his cool friends, you were just someone who lived on his street. That’s not a real friend. Do you ever treat Jesus that way? It’s easy to talk about Him in front of our church friends. But when you are out in the world, do you let others know that He is your friend? When they take His name in vain, do you speak up for Him? Do you introduce Him to your friends so they can have the chance to get know Him, too?

I’ve heard the saying that to have a friend you have to be a friend. I know what a friend I have in Jesus. He is always there for me and always will be. But I can see that I could definitely be a better friend to Him. It starts with my faith and obedience and is reflected in how I live and conduct my life. If people aren’t seeing Him in me, then I need to re-examine this friendship and see if I am really living up to my end of it. I do want Jesus as my “BFF”, and that means doing my part and being a true friend to Him.
 

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Posted on 02/18/2011 7:16 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 11 February 2011
True Worshippers
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Excitement filled the air as thousands of visitors began pouring into the city. Merchants, eagerly anticipating their arrival, made sure to have plenty of inventory in stock (and ready to sell at “tourist” inflated prices). Rooms at every lodging place in the city were booked and people were being turned away. Overnight, the population of the city could grow as much as ten-fold, boosting the local economy. The local authorities were sending in extra patrols to maintain the peace and to quickly disperse any brawls that might break out in the overcrowded streets.

This scene could take place in a number of locations. It could describe New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. It could have been North Texas during last Sunday’s Superbowl. It might be peak season at Myrtle Beach. It could have even been Charleston back in the grand old days of the Sternwheel Regatta Festival. But it is also an accurate description of Jerusalem in Biblical times during Passover and other feasts.

Several times a year, Jews came from different lands to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. They brought with them a sacrifice, or the money to purchase one from the local merchants. Rooms at local inns filled up quickly. Some visitors were able to stay with family, but many others had to stay in tents. The Roman governor would send soldiers out to keep the crowds under control and to quash any riots incited by zealots hoping to spur a rebellion against Rome. Feast time was a guaranteed economic boon for the city because of the dedication of the Jewish people to honor God by returning to Jerusalem for worship.

Today, that kind of dedication and turn out seems to be reserved for sports teams and rock stars. Last week’s Superbowl was the most watched television show in history. The stadium was sold out, with temporary seating areas being set up (and then closed by the fire marshal, resulting in an angry crowd). People traveled from all over the country and the world to attend. The tickets were $800 or $900 each, though many fans paid more, buying from “moneychangers” taking advantage of the fans’ desire to be at the game. People will part with their money, travel long distances, sleep in their cars, paint their faces and cheer until they lose their voices in support of their favorite team.

I am not being critical of football (or whatever kind of sport) fans. In fact, I admire their loyalty and tenacity. They are excited about something and they give it their full support. They aren’t afraid to display what team they support and will fight to defend their team’s honor. They aren’t afraid to don a colored wig or face paint or a giant foam finger to let people know who they support. I think that we, as Christians, could learn a lot from these dedicated fans. What if we displayed our love for Christ with the same passion?

2 Samuel 6:22
I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.

When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, it was cause for celebration. The Bible says the people brought the ark into the city with shouting and the sound of trumpets. King David was dancing and leaping before the Lord. His wife, Michal, who was Saul’s daughter, felt that his behavior was unbecoming a king. In other words, she was embarrassed by her husband. But he was not the least bit embarrassed. In fact, he told her he would become even more undignified if that’s what it took to worship and praise God. Michal’s attitude resulted in her womb being closed up. What in our lives has been shut up or closed off because we are not open in our worship of God?

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

These days it is certainly easier to fill up a stadium with rabid football fans than with worshippers of Christ. It does happen on occasion. Groups like the Promise Keepers and Women of Worship follow a concert-like schedule and draw in groups around the country . . . for a season. Billy Graham was guaranteed to sell out any venue where he took his ministry, but those days have passed. Others like Joyce Meyer and Joel Olsteen can fill stadiums and civic centers. There are mega-churches in many communities that draw big crowds. But this is still small in comparison to our Superbowl example. And despite the rise of the mega-church, statistics say that church attendance continues to decline. This scripture from Hebrews tell us that we shouldn’t be skipping church service because we need to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we may strengthen one another. And it says we should be doing it even more as we see the Day, as in the Day of Christ’s return, approaching.

1 Corinthians 2:14
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Worship styles can be a sore spot among Christians. Let’s just tell it like it is. The traditionalists that prefer a more solemn and quiet worship frown with distaste upon the more exuberant worshippers that prefer music, dance and shouts of praise. In fact they think the “Holy Rollers,” as they call them, are a little nuts. The Praise & Worship people think that the traditionalist are uptight, fuddy-duddies that need to loosen up a bit. The merits of each kind of worship could be debated until we are blue in the face and they won’t be resolved.

Jesus said that true worshippers will worship in Spirit and Truth. That is the first requirement for worship. How we express that is going to differ among people because people are just different. Together we make up one body. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is time for everything under heaven. That means that there is a time to worship quietly and solemnly, and there is also a time to worship with celebratory shouts and praises. Instead of churches judging one another, we should respect one another. Instead of examining the outward expression of worship, we should be looking at the heart of the worshippers. If the people are not worshipping in spirit and truth, then their worship, regardless of the style, is empty and dead.

Our church is one that favors Praise & Worship. We don’t care if you call us Holy Rollers. We don’t care if you think we are crazy or foolish for dancing and raising our hands and shouting praises for God. We hope that you will be touched by the Spirit and the presence of God and one day join in the celebration. And we are certainly by no means in a position to judge how others worship. Even though we say we are “praise and worshippers”, our worship of late has not always reflected what we believe. People are still a little hesitant. They need to quit worrying what others might think and step out and worship God the way they really want to. Don’t let some Michal keep you from being a David.

We are to let the Spirit lead us in worship. As you grow in the Lord, you should also grow in your worship of Him. There is a time to worship solemnly and there is a time to rejoice with a shout of praise. Likewise, this is true for the body of Christ. We need to take a cue from the Superbowl fans and not be afraid to express our loyalty and support of our favorite team – The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Think how many more people we could win for Christ just by demonstrating our love and enthusiasm for Him. Are you excited about what Jesus has done for you? Have you told anyone? Have you invited them to join you at church? Psalm 22 says that God inhabits the praises of His people. True worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. They will praise the Lord and He will be there with Him. And where He is, there is salvation and hope for all people.

Psalm 150:1-6
Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.

 

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Posted on 02/11/2011 11:49 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 4 February 2011
New Wine
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If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies. ~Author Unknown

Change is good. Change is hard. Change is never easy. You need a change of scenery. Change your mind. Change a life. Time for change. Some things never change. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There are hundreds of sayings about change, and there is some truth in all of them.

Luke 5:37-39
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. By nature, we are change resistant. We don’t like to be moved from our comfort zone. We are happy with our “old wine” – it has served us well in the past, so why change? Does new necessarily mean better? We have become so comfortable where we are that we don’t even consider the possibility and therefore miss opportunities for growth.

We often take offense at the thought that we need to change, because we think it means we are doing something wrong or bad. That is not the case. The ways we have done things in the past were right for that time in our lives. But if we continue to do them, then we are going to remain in a holding pattern. Another familiar saying is: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you have always gotten.

Deuteronomy 1:6
“The LORD our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain.

It’s easy to change when times are tough. When we are struggling and fighting to survive, we are ready for things to change and change quickly. We will do whatever it takes to get our heads above water again. But what about when you are riding high on the mountain top? Things are going good – good home life, good work life, good church life, good financial life. If anything, we hold our breath and hope to ride up there for as long as possible. We have to keep in mind that before we were on that mountain, we had to walk through the valley of trials and challenges. These are the times that we changed and grew. God will allow us that time on the mountain – to feel the sun on our faces and to appreciate His goodness. But He knows that if we stay there too long we will forget how we got there. If we stay too long we will become stagnate and ineffective. When we have dwelt long enough on the mountain, He will move us back to the valley to learn and grow and change some more.

Revelation 21:5
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

We talk about and quote verses about the fact that God does not change. Hebrews 13:8 says: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. What this means is that God’s character does not change. We can always count on and believe in His promises. However, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t do new things. We become new creatures in Christ when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. God wants us to be always learning and growing and changing. If you are a parent, there were moments when your child was little that you would have loved to have frozen them in time . . . like those sweet moments when they are lying in your arms in the innocence of sleep. But we know that would be selfish on our part. We want them to grow up into happy, healthy adults. God wants the same for us.

Isaiah 43:18-19
“Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.

In order to change, we have to be willing to let go and let God, as the saying goes. We may cling too tightly to our past or to our position or to things, when all we really need to hold onto is God. The words “can’t” and “won’t” should be red flags that tell us we need to examine what we are doing and why we are doing it. Traditions or routines are nice because they make us comfortable and keep us on track. But they can also hold us back from receiving something new and wonderful that God wants to bless us with. We have to be open and watch for the new things that God is doing. Shall we know it? Or will we be sitting back, sipping our old wine and slowly drying up?

American novelist Ellen Glasgow wrote that “the only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.” We all get stuck in ruts in our lives, but it’s never too late to change. If we are to be effective Christians, we have to be willing to change. We have to yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We have to get out of our comfort zone and be open to doing a new thing in God.

Psalm 40:3
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the LORD.

Recently, I have begun to feel the winds of change. I can feel God wanting to do a new thing in my life and in our church. I have dwelt long enough on the mountain. I could continue doing what I am doing now, but I would get the same results. Or, I can let go and let God do a new thing in me. And I am going to have to change and become a new wineskin if I am going to hold the new wine God has for me. Change is never easy, but I know that it will be for my good.
 

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Posted on 02/04/2011 9:37 AM by Susan Nelson
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