Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, religion, Uncategorized

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Lessons from Cherith

21 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?” Matthew 18:21

He’d been a drug addict and alcoholic for at least the 35 years I knew him.  In fact, this lost uncle was my husband’s main reason for why he never touched drugs in his college days.  My husband saw the path of destruction his uncle created throughout their family.  This uncle, my mother-in-law’s youngest sibling, took the road so many addicts follow.  They demand help, make others feel guilty for not rescuing them, promise to do better then start the cycle over and over again.

In my visits to my husband’s hometown, we’d have infrequent contact with his uncle.  But we would hear of his begging his own mother for money and complaining of how “lucky” and “privileged” everyone else in the family were because they weren’t always so down on their luck.  To be fair, this man bore the brunt of being the youngest child of an alcoholic philanderer.  As for my in-laws, they gave money, moral support, food, and more for much of his life.  But after a number of run-ins with the law and intolerable behavior toward my husband’s grandmother, the uncle found himself eventually with backs turned.  Enough was enough.

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22

Let’s face it, we are only human.  We get our feelings hurt.  We often seek to protect ourselves from harmful relationships.  We don’t want to be taken advantage of and have our kindness thrown back at us with vitriol.  Like many of Jesus’ expectations of us the concept of forgiveness is not so easy for us sinful humans.  We get to the end of our rope.  We have no more tears to shed.  

I remember when my loving, caring mother-in-law said to me one day a few years ago, “I’m done.  I’m tired of being blamed for his problems.  I’m tired of being taken for granted that we will always help.  I’m angry how he treats our mother.”  And really, could anyone fault her?  But the thing is, I knew deep down she didn’t mean any of it.  I knew if her brother came again with hat in hand she would help.  Because she knew that Jesus would do the same for her.

25 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 11:28

We can be thankful we haven’t been assigned the task of God’s prophets to administer final judgements like Elijah had to (although one day two of us will be called to do just that). In the Old Testament, we see time after time the people turning their backs on God after so many warnings. And he sent his prophets to speak truth and judgement. His final truth-speaker was His Son, Jesus. But this prophet came to tell us when we seek forgiveness and to forgive we receive eternal forgiveness from God, even when we mess up over and over. You see, Jesus doesn’t just want the one who needs forgiveness healed, he wants us, the forgiver to be healed.  Because when we place our own lives under God’s microscope, we each have a heck of a lot that needs forgiving.  We each are blessed with the incredible gift of coming with our own hat in hand to the Lord and asking, “One more time, please Lord.  Forgive me.” And He does.  

I’ve been fortunate to witness the healing power of forgiveness in a few people’s lives.  My friend Andrea will forever be changed simply by forgiving a family member for past hurts and asking for forgiveness for how she has hurt others.  My own relationship with my parents has required me to forgive them.  And although the situation can still be painful, I now have the healing strength which forgiveness affords to help me pray for them each day.

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

I started this message about a man so broken from addiction.  A man who most would say was without hope, without the peace from God.  But God is a miracle worker as we all know.  So, after another stint in prison about a year ago, my husband’s uncle finally said, “Enough is enough.”  He turned to God for forgiveness and healing.  When he got the news that his oldest sister was now riddled with cancer he came immediately to be by her side.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the same opportunity to watch such a beautiful miracle unfold before my eyes.  To see God’s hands work like no other.  To experience the full promise of God’s grace and love descend upon a room.  We met in the lobby of the hospital, just the uncle and I.  His mind and eyes were clear. He looked so healthy!  His demeanor was clearly different.  I took him up to his sister’s room and we sat and chatted.  I felt like I should leave the room and give them some alone time when suddenly he took her by the hand and with tears streaming down his face he asked for forgiveness.  He asked to be forgiven for the destruction he caused, the pain, and for all the lost years that could’ve been different.

My mother-in-law thanked him immediately.  She said, “I needed to hear this.  It hurt so much when you blamed me for your troubles.”  And they wept.  For the next two weeks I witnessed this man stand guard outside her room, praying and participating in her last days.  I listened as he asked the rest of the family for forgiveness.  And saw them weep from the healing love of God.  I watched as he helped lift his sister’s lifeless body onto the gurney for her final road toward home.  He was in pain but was healed.  He was washed in sorrow but cleansed from forgiveness.  And he knew he was loved.

Who do you need to forgive right now?

Who do you need to ask for forgiveness?  

It’s time for healing.

PS: Happy Birthday to my amazing, handsome, loving, forgiving husband 🙂

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, podcast, Uncategorized

Two Witnesses

Last year my BSGs did a study on Revelation.  It was a challenging deep dive into one of the most mysterious books of the Bible.  Any Hollywood script writer or New York Times bestselling author would probably consider the story told in Revelation to be a pinnacle piece.  It weaves its way through the story of the complacency of the times and the coming storm of evil.  It has heroes and martyrs.  It has all the special effects of world-wide destruction to win an Oscar.  And it has a savior.  And a beautiful new beginning for the world.  

There’s been plenty of apocalyptic movies and stories told in the last 100 years or so that draw upon the themes found in Revelation.  Man and satan lead the world in its own inevitable destruction and a savior rises from the ashes.  But what is unique about the Bible’s Revelation is it’s all true.  

From Genesis to Jude, new beginnings abound.  But in this one final book of God’s Word, we see 1,000s, millions even.  Martyrs rising from the ashes to take their place near the throne. The 1444,000 appointed Jews who are to be God’s instruments in spreading the word of the final judgement.  And of course, the rapture of believers, taken up before the final judgements are passed on this world.  

But there are two people that have a special place in this book.  Two ordinary people to whom God will speak and send out to the world as prophets or truth tellers.  Smack in the middle of the 22 chapters of Revelation you’ll find two people whose new beginnings will send shockwaves around the world.

And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3

The two witnesses’ identities have long been up for debate.  Suffice it to say if they were extraordinary people I believe the text would say so.  But they aren’t even given names, just like Naaman’s little slave girl.  And unlike Jonah, they appear to walk boldly into a hostile world without pause.  Maybe God has a pre-game “pow wow” with them where He explains the plan.  More likely, God tells the witnesses, after having been prepared through their own study and trials, to go to Jeruselem at an appointed time and start spreading the Word that judgement time had come.  But also unlike Jonah, they will tell how to avoid a terrible death.

“Now when they have finished their testimony,…” Revelation 11:7

Notice the two witnesses won’t go about town crying out, “The end is near!”  They instead speak of God’s rescue from sin — their testimony.  God will protect them for 1,260 days while they tell the world of the Good News of the Gospel and yes, about the impending judgement.  And when God’s time for them is up, they will be killed by evil forces.  It appears their new beginning would end there.  But their death is just the middle of their story.  For all the world to see after three and a half days lying dead in the street of Jeruselem, God will cause them to rise to their feet, sparking terror in the hearts of those who celebrated their deaths.  Their new beginning, a reunification with the Lord, sets the world on fire.

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Revelation 11:13

Thousands, most likely, will give glory to God.  Because of two unnamed people speaking the truth about God’s love, promises, rescue and judgement.  Two people that are like you and me – flesh and blood.  Two people, who like Noah, heard God’s voice and obeyed courageously.  Who like Moses sought out an intimate relationship with God.  Who like Queen Esther will stare into uncertainty and know God will not fail her.  Two regular humans like Onesimus who studied at the feet of a teacher and then asked for forgiveness from both his spiritual and earthly masters.  Like Joseph who stood alone against judgement by his community knowing God was with him.  And like the 3,000 who put discipleship at the forefront of their faith.

In my study of Revelation, Warren Wiersbe points out the Gospel of John shows us how and why to believe.  The epistles give us confirmation of who God is and what He expects of us.  And Revelation is all about being ready.  Ready for what?  Ready for your new beginning.  To be a witness for all of God’s glorious ways.  

Friend, we don’t know when the events outlined in Revelation 11 will happen.  But we need to be ready, they are nearer today than they were yesterday.  You might be one of the witnesses called to be part of this amazing New Beginning for the world.  Your name may never be known by man but God has a plan for you.  A plan for your new beginning.

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, podcast, politics, Uncategorized

The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, christian parenting, christian podcast, Christian women, Faith, Jesus, Jesus Follower, podcast, Transformation Prayer, Uncategorized

How Dare You?

This is a short story about a little girl.  A girl without a name.  A Jewish slave girl, taken captive by the Syrians 1000’s of years ago.  But first, let me tell you about another little girl, one who few have heard of yet recently saved so many.

In 2004, 10-year-old Tilly Smith was vacationing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand. At some point during the beautiful, sunny day the sea began bubbling “like on the top of beer.” As others watched out of curiosity, Tilly remembered her recent lesson on tsunamis in her geography class.  An early warning sign? That the water would froth and suddenly recede.  

Tilly pleaded with her family to escape the beach. Her father took her warning seriously and went back to the hotel to bring it to the attention of the staff.  Her mom, however didn’t believe her.  Out of fright and frustration she announced,  

“Right, mum, I’m going. I’m definitely going. There is definitely going to be a tsunami.”

Tilly’s father, impressed by his daughter’s conviction, alerted an on-duty security guard, and the authorities quickly evacuated the beach. The Smith family and all the beach goers sought refuge at their hotel, just minutes before the tsunami hit.

Throughout that day, tsunamis in Southeast Asia killed nearly 230,000 people.  But Tilly’s persistence saved the lives of every person on that beach.

She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:3

This was the pleading voice of the little Jewish girl.  Her new beginning began in a strange land as a slave.  Taken captive by King Aram, living in the house of Naaman, commander of the army.    Naaman, although an impressive warrior and highly regarded by the king, was stricken with leprosy.  And this little girl, far from home, was urged to tell her mistress about the healing powers of the prophet Elisha, the man of God.

Without fear, without thought of not being believed because of her youthfulness or gender or race or faith, this no named child saved a man both physically and spiritually.  She doesn’t appear to harbor malice toward her captor.  She shows the love and mercy of God.

As for Naaman, he was urged to take this little child’s advice and travel to a far off land in search for a cure.  With the prophet Elisha’s help, Naaman became a follower of the one true God.  He too took this gift and quietly weaved it into his surroundings, eventually converting the royal household.  

“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:27

When Jesus spoke these words in the Nazareth synagogue he was thrown out.  How dare he speak of saving gentiles!  How dare he encourage the saving of their enemies – ones who had taken them as slaves?  Yes, how dare He?  How dare Tilly think she knew something that could save so many?  How dare this Jewish slave girl share her God’s love for everyone?

I can only imagine how grateful Naaman must have been toward this little slave girl.  I can only imagine because she’s never mentioned again.  Her new beginning, as her master’s first guide in his steps toward salvation, had to have brought that household so much joy.  Just like Tilly will always know how much of a difference one person can make.  

How dare we all direct just one person toward the loving grace of our Savior?  Who are we to give others the gift of a new beginning?  To have our own beginning as a servant of Christ? How dare I, a person of lowly origins, share in the hope and salvation of someone?  How dare you?