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Promise Keeper

“Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

Faithful Father, you have never lied and you never will.  I believe you.  Amen

I had a Christian woman tell me this once: “I know God has forgiven me.  But it’s hard for me to believe it.  It’s too hard for me to forgive myself.”  That’s why I nodded along when I heard a Christian teacher once say that there’s too many of us out there that have accepted our Lord as Savior but we just aren’t living our lives like we believe His promises.  It’s even hard for me sometimes when I look in the mirror to see what God sees.  To believe He loves me, blemishes and all.  It’s hard to believe He will take care of me without my striving and worrying.  But He will.

“You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

He has never, ever lied my friend.  He never, ever will.  What might happen, however, is that He will fulfill a promise in ways you didn’t expect.  Or in ways you may not agree or understand.  In fact, when I was doing a bit of research about God’s promises I found a blog that refuted God fulfilling promises.  In truth, the person sounded very wounded.  He also sounded poorly educated about God’s character and His ways.  His first example was of Genesis 2:17 when God admonishes Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, “…for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  The blogger explained that not only had they eaten the fruit but they went on to live for more than 900 years.

What he missed is 1) their immediate death was a loss of the close spiritual relationship with God and their sinlessness and 2) they did, in fact die.  You see, when we look at God’s promises without a knowledge of Him and through our own broken lenses we can miss God at work.  If we, instead, believe that God is the only perfect being to exist and His ways are always right then we ask better questions and submit to Him in trust.  

I recently had a conversation with a godly woman about women as pastors.  Having become more educated about scripture I felt confident in holding my own – as she said the Bible has conflicting lessons about this topic.  My first comment was this: “God’s Word is never in conflict.  If you see conflict you are either misunderstanding context, historical meaning, or having translation issues.  Understanding that parts of God’s will and God’s promises may be difficult to accept also helps us to realize our sinful desires rarely line up with God.

Friend, if you are struggling to accept that God will not back out of a promise to you, turn back to His Word.  He is faithful.  More faithful than anyone will ever be in your life.   And for that we can celebrate with glory to Him!

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Unburdened Your Heart

Lesson #7: Forgiveness of others brings us the blessings of Christ

It is as none other than Paul—an old 
man and now also a prisoner of Christ 
Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son 
Onesimus, who became my son while I was 
in chains. 
Philemon 1:9-10

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness.  It keeps popping up in various Bible studies and readings.  And when that happens, I realize God is trying to tell me something.  So, the other day while in my “She Shed” – where I do my Bible reading and mediation – I just sat and did an inventory of the people in my life and those no longer in it.  My question for each face that popped in my head was “Is there something I haven’t forgiven in this relationship?”

There are people whom I actively must work at forgiving.  There’s one person in my neighborhood that, each time I see him I need to remind myself I no longer harbor ill feelings toward him.  It’s fascinating however, to pay attention to my whole body and mind when he enters my sphere.  I remind myself I have forgiven him yet my body wants to remember the hurt feelings.  It’s a brief little battle that, thankfully Jesus and the Holy Spirit help me to win.   In fact, the last time I saw him I thought it was a different neighbor and I waved.  When I realized who it was, I did a mental flip – “Ugh, why did you wave to him of all people?  You’re just not supposed to think anything and move along!”  But waving gave the impression I was happy to see him.  I suddenly realized in my mini battle that it was again the Holy Spirit forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and not just be “neutral” but be kind.

That individual aside, I came to an even greater realization about my need to forgive.  These days I can’t think of a greater forgiveness need in me than to forgive my church.  Actually, just about all churches who have shuttered their doors during such desperate times.  

But let me back up a bit.  Today, we jump into the little book of Philemon.  Paul, currently imprisoned in Rome, writes to a wealthy Christian friend in Colosse concerning the slave Onesimus.  Onesimus took off from Philemon’s household having stolen from him.  Onesimus found himself in the company of Paul and was converted.  And now Paul humbly asks Philemon to forgive his slave and allow him to return.

I remember as a child my mom talking about converted prisoners.  She scoffed at the idea that murderers and thieves could “find Jesus” and change their lives.  She thought it was all just a ploy to get out of jail earlier or to garner forgiveness without truly repenting.  And she may be right in some cases.  Who is to know the heart of a sinner but God?   

I wonder if Philemon thought the same?  To Onesimus’ benefit he had the great apostle Paul standing up for him.   How often have we held out forgiving someone because they didn’t meet our list of requirements for forgiveness?  The person in my neighborhood that I must remind myself to forgive frequently?  He hasn’t ever asked me for forgiveness.  He’s never acted in a way that showed he even knows he needs my forgiveness.

My church, who locked their doors and turned me away from praying at the outdoor steps of the sanctuary, doesn’t see any need for me to forgive them.  The elders and pastor who either ignored my pleas for help or worse, said hurtful things, have not asked for forgiveness.  So why should I forgive them?  Why should Philemon forgive a man to whom he gave so much and then stole from him?

I once was in a discussion about forgiveness during a Bible study.  The leader, who also was an elder in the church, said to the group, “You can’t forgive someone unless they have paid a price or asked for forgiveness.” (There’s that Biblical truth issue popping up!) Now, I’m working on my path from being a “baby Christian” to a mature one but even I know that’s just not sound Jesus teaching.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive 
my brother or sister who sins against 
me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, 
“I tell you, not seven times, but 
seventy-seven times."
Matthew 18:21-22

The thing I like about this conversation in Matthew is he deals with a real world situation.  So many of us keep doing things that need forgiveness from others.  And Jesus says to keep on forgiving – each and every time.

I was reading about forgiveness and came across this list of spiritual characteristics of someone who forgives:

  1. Concern for his place with God
  2. Concern for people
  3. Concern for fellowship
  4. Concern for knowledge
  5. Concern for glory
  6. Concern for blessing

My response to the Bible study leader was that if her “rules” about forgiveness were true then how can we forgive people who have already died but negatively impacted our lives?  Or how can we forgive people that either don’t have anything to do with us anymore or have no idea they did something wrong?  Under her idea so many of us would live with a horrible burden of pain and hurt and anger.  And Jesus doesn’t want that for us.  He wants to shower us with that glory and those blessings listed in the “forgiver characteristics.”

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Mark 11:25

Against anyone – for any reason.  But the most important part of the forgiveness lesson?  “So that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  I want to be forgiven because I know I have a lot for which I need to be forgiven.  Therefore, I need to search my heart and truly forgive our churches.

I’ve learned a lot this last year about compassion and our human tendency to live in fear.  And although our pastors preach to have faith rather than fear, we fall back into the flesh so easily.  I do it, you do it and our church leaders (who are just humans too) do it.  It doesn’t make me feel good to see our churches closed but I also don’t want to have the burden of unforgiveness on my heart and soul.  I realized I can be sad and still forgive.

I like that in this letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t demand that the slave Onesimus be taken back into the household.  Paul wields a lot of authority.  He could’ve just said, “Take him back and don’t be mean to him.”  But God wants our hearts.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit work on our transformation.  That’s why each time I see what was previously my “nemesis” in the neighborhood I know the Holy Spirit is working in me.  My hand was purposely lifted up to wave at him – not the mistaken neighbor.  To help my heart be free of any last morsels of unforgiveness.

Friends, I have seen the miracle healing of forgiveness in others.  I have felt it in myself.  It’s there for the taking for you.  Let’s be like the father of the prodigal son – from a long way off he saw his son returning.  He didn’t know why his son was coming back.  It could’ve been to ask for more money.  Instead of looking out the window and thinking every bad thought, he ran to him. (Luke 15:20) He tucked his tunic between his legs and ran to hug him in front of the townspeople.  He might’ve needed to forgive him a few more times in the course of their lives, we don’t know.  But the joy he had with that one action has given us the lesson for the ages.

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A Bold Forgiveness

A Bold Story by Andrea Cisneros

How did I know asking God to help me forgive my sister in law would lead to a deeply spiritual experience? I didn’t of course.

 It all started a few weeks ago when my dear friend Kris invited me to be a part of her boldness challenge group. She instructed us to write down 3-5 bold actions you have always wanted to do.  After praying I created this list: 

  1. Play classical piano again. 
  2. Become more than a surface level Christian.
  3. Break free from the need to control everything so that I can cope with my anxiety: therefore being filled with life again
  4. Finally deal with my unforgiveness toward my sister-in-law and my step daughter

As I read other boldness challenger lists I thought to myself that my list seemed very unimpressive. But I moved forward with my list. I had no idea how to completely forgive my sister-in-law and step daughter as their past hurt had happened many years ago. So again, I reached out for God’s hand.

During this same time, my husband and I were in discussion about our annual Mammoth five-day tent camping trip with my husband’s side of the family. This was not the year to go! Not with Covid19.  I did everything in my power to make this trip not happen. Covid19 was my main excuse. After all, we would have to share the public bathrooms and showers with everyone at the camp site. Who wants to do that these days? But my real reason was spending all this time with my husband’s sister. Four years ago, she was very frustrated with her brother, my husband, and she said some very hurtful things.  Things that I’ve held onto. I felt I had a right to after all, she was out of line and never should have said the things she said. Now you must know that she did apologize to me three years ago with an excuse that I deemed lame and so I didn’t accept her apology or forgive her. I didn’t know how to get beyond myself and my inability to forgive so I gave it to God as we headed to Mammoth last week.

There is a back story here that I didn’t plan for: healing from my anxiety and a need to control everything. It has been pretty crippling. My husband created a “man cave” and he chose pictures to hang on the wall from our first trip to Mammoth trip 10 years ago. As I looked at those pictures I remember how deeply moved I was to experience the beauty of the mountains and streams around the Mammoth area. I wanted to be that woman again — one who feels and sees and experiences the beauty of God’s creation. I didn’t want to be defined by my anxiety anymore. Again, how do I get over this anxiety that rose out of nowhere following my mother’s unexpected death two years ago? One week after that, my husband had brain surgery to completely rebuild his middle cerebral artery that had an aneurism which left him greatly compromised. His hospital stay was eight days instead of three. His doctor wanted to send him to a rehabilitation facility but I said I would care for him — 24 hours a day for months.  I was terrified and grief stricken from my mother’s death but my focus was to help him get back on his feet. He returned to work March of that year but I was shocked to realize how much recovery was still needed. I cared for him as he slowly returned to normal…a new normal. Then August of that year, my oldest sister died.  That all being said I’m dealing with a form of PTSD according to my doctor.

The day before we left for Mammoth I watched the news. It was all about the spike in numbers of virus cases. I texted my friend that I was struggling with giving this camp trip to God when it seemed so risky. As she has always done, she challenged me that I once again was making an excuse to not be with my sister-in-law for five days. She said, “This may sound morbid but you could die tomorrow in a car accident on the way there. Do you want to stand in front of God and say proudly, ‘I trusted you fully!’?”. Thanking her once again for being so honest I told her I had been looking at the pictures my husband put on the wall in his man cave.  I want to be that woman again. I want to live free from fears. I want to see the beauty that surrounds me. I want to feel God’s glory in His creation. My friend said I should change all the “wants” to “will” and read this out loud in front of the mirror.  And then tighten my belt of truth and sharpen my sword. The battle was on!

The morning we left, my devotional was about forgiving 100%! Not 90% or even 99% but 100%. Unforgiveness doesn’t look good on Christians!  Our first night at camp was disastrous as our air mattress kept leaking and three times that night we woke up to inflate the darn thing. As I lay awake most of the night, I kept surrendering everything to God. Asking Him to give me the energy to enjoy the next day even though I hadn’t slept. I was surprised when I was urged by the Holy Spirit to forgive my husband. Why? Because he has lingering memory issues from his brain surgery he forgets a lot of things. Like the fact that the air mattress had issues when he used it last time. He forgets a lot of things like people’s names. Small things really but this wasn’t the person I married. I was greatly annoyed.  So now I’m being asked to forgive him because, ”he didn’t do this on purpose.” OK. 

We started the next day focused on repairing the air mattress. Then off we went to kayak Twin Lakes. What a magnificent experience! The sky was so blue and the air so fresh. We paddled around and saw a beautiful waterfall. There were duck families on the water. I was up close and personal with God’s creation and I was brought to tears. Later the same day we did a short hike to McCloud Lake. I was the woman from 10 years ago! I was filled with awe and wonder.

 We had many experiences that were wonderful and brought tears to my eyes as I experienced fully the glorious creation of God but sleep was not one of them. The second night, sleep was the same and as I surrendered everything to God, I was urged to forgive myself. What? I have been through a traumatic year and a half with everything that has occurred. So I need to forgive myself for not being the person I used to be — that person in those pictures my husband has on his man cave wall. 

Each day we spent our evenings around the campfire and to my surprise one night my sister-in-law said to me, “I love you Andrea.” With tears in my eyes I said, “I love you too” and I meant it. Finally I had forgiven her after all those years. This is what God’s forgiveness looks like. Love! I realized that it is up to me to replace my bad memories of what was said to me years ago with the new memories I made this trip to Mammoth. I will play the new memories we made — memories of love and forgiveness not 90% or even 99% but 100%. Thank you, God, for using me in an amazing way and allowing me to be made new again.

Hank and Andrea enjoying the beauty of Mammoth Mountain California July 2020