Forgiveness


Numbers 21-24 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He has provided salvation through His Son

After seeing hundreds of young lives receive salvation and a touch by His Spirit at camp one summer, we drove the 45 minutes home over the weekend to get refreshed, wash clothes and buy supplies for the next week of camp. This particular weekend my husband Tom was out ministering, but I stayed home with our children.  I got up one night to visit the bathroom, and when just about finished, I looked down on the floor and saw movement.  It was a snake.

The snake in my bathroom had to be reckoned with because this worn out body would not get needed rest for the week ahead with a snake in the house.  I prayed for His strength, woke up my 9 year-old son and loaded us up with shovels and hoes. We went after that 14 inch snake as though our lives depended on it, and got it!  Unfortunately, the Israelites’ snake encounter did not go as well as ours did. 

@ Numbers 21
The Israelites had just won a huge battle and defeated the Canaanites.  The Promised Land was within a few days reach after 40 years in the desert, but they became impatient.  They knew the journey ahead through Moab would be long, they were tired of manna and they wanted to possess the land now.  They complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’ So the Lord sent poisonous [fiery] snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (5-6)  Oh…

“Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’   So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (7-9)  In a weakened moment after a great victory, the Israelites sinned, but a replica of the very thing that had caused them pain became their salvation.  In just a short time they went on to possess their land.

I don’t remember complaining about anything that summer weekend invoking a snake encounter to bring about correction from the Lord as it did with Israel.  I do know that I was worn out, somewhat depleted and a perfect target for the enemy who sends His fiery darts in weak moments.  It’s often after a great victory for the Lord, like the powerful camps we had experienced or the Israelites’ mighty victory, that the enemy brings his attack.  However, Jesus has already provided the remedy for us.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)  Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), became the very thing that was killing us so that we may be saved and have eternal life with Him.

And we may also look to Him for salvation from the enemy’s fiery attacks against the body, soul and spirit.  The enemy did not win in my life that weekend, and we went on for yet another great week at youth camp, lives changed by the power of God.  When we turn our focus to Jesus, high and lifted up, whatever our fiery trial may be, He will bring victory. 

Moving Forward:  Jesus lifted up! I look to Him today for salvation and deliverance because He paid the price for me on the cross. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 1-5

Philemon (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we generously forgive others

As a rule, we’ll do just about anything for our good friends.  We celebrate with them on their joyous occasions, and we run to them to give comfort and aid in their difficult moments.  It is disheartening to have a friendship dissolve over a dispute or offense.  In our reading today, Paul was treading on dangerous ground in his friendship with Philemon.

Philemon was a prosperous businessman in Colossae who hosted the church in his home.  Paul had nothing but good to say about him, “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (4-7)  A careful reader may catch that this is not just a casual letter, but one with an agenda of sorts, “praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.”  A request was coming.

Philemon’s slave from the past, Onesimus, had either stolen from him or damaged his property and had run away.  This betrayal by someone he trusted had obviously caused heartache to Paul’s dear friend. Sometime later, the slave happened to encounter Paul in Rome and accepted the Lord as his Savior. Paul had some choices to make – keep Onesimus as his assistant and remain silent, turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities where he could possibly face death or return him to Philemon for punishment.

And now the request, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus.  I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” (8-10) Circumstances had changed over the course of time. Yes, Onesimus was a slave, sadly a role that was acceptable at that time, but now he was a fellow believer.  Salvation is the great equalizer in life. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).

Paul may have been referring to the meaning of the name “Onesimus” which means profitable or useful as he continued in his request, “Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.”(11) Paul was definitely placing their friendship on the line when he added a promise to personally pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon. He added, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!”  (19)

Although this comment sounds remarkably like a major guilt trip, Paul was counting on Philemon to remember that at one time he, too, was forgiven and set free from sin.  Jesus paid a debt for him that he did not owe just as Paul was willing to do for Onesimus.  This personal letter of Paul’s serves to remind us all of the forgiveness and grace that has been extended to us.  How could we not extend it to others?

In situations where others have cheated us or been unkind, it is so very helpful to remember that God loves them as much as He loves us.  He may not like their deeds, but He sent His Son to die for that very reason.  When we forgive and offer mercy to others, we are behaving like Jesus, and that could only be good. 

Moving Forward: Should the occasion arise today, I choose to forgive others for any unkindness, remembering that God loves them.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 21-24

Psalms 102-104 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He fills our lives with love, mercy and good things

Can we really believe anything we read in the newspaper and on our computer news feeds or see on television news?  So often today the news is filled with bias and opinion, and we rarely get the straight scoop on a story.  I think of the old television police detective who would say when interviewing at a crime scene, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  When we want to know about someone through the media, we have a hard time deciphering fact from fiction.

After all, these reporters don’t really know the individuals they are reporting about, they simply reveal facts, using the term loosely here, that they have been able to uncover.  When we read the Bible, it’s a different story.  Inspired by God’s own Spirit, the Bible is an accurate portrayal of who God is and His relationship to us and no one portrays Him any better than David.

@ Psalm 103
Psalm 103 is one of so many chapters in the Bible that helps us understand the heart of God and confirms what we already know to be true about Him through our experience.  David is not writing from hearsay or supposition.  No, David had an intimate relationship with the One he was writing about.  Some of my favorite verses about our awesome God, awesome in the truest sense of the word, are found here.  When I read them, my heart and all that I know about Him confirm their truth.

“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.  He fills my life with good things.  My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! (3-5)  As if forgiveness of sins was not enough, He heals us and is responsible for all good things in our lives.  “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (8)

How One so perfect can be so unbelievably merciful to one so far from perfect is difficult to understand, but I know it to be true.  In fact, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (12)  When our thoughts turn to our failures and sins from the past, we can know that it wasn’t God who introduced them back into our lives.  He’s very forgetful that way…

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” (13-14)  Many have tried to label God as uncaring and fierce, but those who really know Him have experienced His tenderness, His gentleness.  When earthly fathers have portrayed a poor example of our Heavenly Father, it’s difficult to understand how loving and tender He really is.  It’s true that a father who dearly loves his children will discipline them when necessary; and our Heavenly Father sometimes disciplines us, but He does so in love, remembering how frail we are.  This I know to be true.

After reading David’s accurate account of some of God’s attributes, we can rest assured that his information came to him first-hand and can be trusted.  But greater still is when we take this inspiration from David and experience it for ourselves.  We can know our tender, loving Father who forgives and forgets our sins because of His great mercy, who heals our bodies and who fills our lives with good things.  And that’s the straight scoop! 

Moving Forward: More in love with Him today than yesterday, I can move forward in His love and mercy, expecting good things.

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 20-21

John 7-9 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He “came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)

There are some really great questions out there that will never make it into a Trivia game mainly because we don’t know the answers.  Why does the Mona Lisa smile?  What does she see or know that we don’t?  Why is there a crack in the Liberty Bell? Or like the question from our reading today, what did Jesus write in the dust in front of the adulterous woman and the Pharisees?  The answers to these and so many other questions remained locked in time, but we certainly have a good time speculating their answers.

@ John 8
“Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’ They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.” (4-6)  I’ve heard a lot of theories on what Jesus wrote that day.  Some believe that Jesus was writing down all the sins of the religious leaders standing there.  Others believe He was writing the Ten Commandments, and still others believe He was stalling to answer because that was the custom for men of wisdom, pondering the best answer.  After considering all the options, I’ve come to the definite conclusion that I don’t know for certain what Jesus was writing.

More important for us than what He wrote is what He said, “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one.” (7-8)  Of course, the only one qualified to throw any stones that day was Jesus, but He was not there to accuse or condemn the woman.  He was there to save her.

The entire scenario was a set up to trap Jesus into either saying she should be set free which was against the laws of Moses or saying she should be stoned which was against Roman law.  For most of us, this could be a sticky situation, but Jesus had it covered.  If we share our testimony at all, we will encounter those who want to argue about the Bible or excuse their disdain for Christianity because of all the hypocrites in church.  I’ve always said that I’d rather spend a few short years with a hypocrite or two in church than all of eternity with them in hell.  Just as Jesus had the perfect response for the Pharisees, the Holy Spirit will direct us in our response to the questions we face.

This story makes me want to be more like Jesus.  Besides the thrill of having the right answer at the right moment, I want to be the one who desires that a life is saved rather than condemned.  I’ve found it impossible to lead others to Jesus for forgiveness of sin when I’m too busy judging them for their sins.  “Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said.  And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’” (10-11)  What a great story!  What a great message for us!

Moving Forward: No stone throwing, no judging, just the message of a Savior who is willing to forgive our sins. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Timothy 1-2

Hosea 1-7 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will go to great lengths to prove His love for us

I’ve met some individuals in my life who have a capacity to love difficult people, so much so that it’s not easy for me to comprehend it.  A spouse or a child repeatedly betrays and offends, yet these loving souls keep hoping and believing for a change.  The book of Hosea is about God’s unfathomable love for His people in the face of their betrayal and offense.

Hosea is a love story between God and His people illustrated through the life of Hosea.  Some believe Hosea’s story is symbolic and others believe it to be history, but regardless, the story is compelling.  Imagine being asked by God to marry someone that He promised would be unfaithful to you to the point of having children with other lovers.  It would be difficult to say the least, but then imagine this request, “Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” (3:1) Hosea bought back his wife out of slavery to love her again.

Hosea’s story foretold Israel’s bondage to a foreign land because of their continual idolatry and sin, yet because of God’s great love for them, He one day would bring redemption to them.  Hosea and many prophets to come were sent by God to warn of impending doom if Israel did not repent – God calling, reaching, loving.

We all have those in our lives who are on this same fast track to doom because of their disregard for God.  Hosea’s story offers this important lesson for us – God loves their souls regardless of their disregard, their betrayal and their sin.  He will bring judgment one day if they don’t repent; but in the meantime, He will send any number of prophets or challenges to their lives to get their attention and bring them to repentance – God calling, reaching, loving.

God may not ask us to continue fellowship with them, but our role is certainly to love their souls, pray for them and never give up on them as long as they are breathing.  If Hosea could do the hard things that God asked of him, we can do this! 

Moving Forward: Today I will continue to pray for those in my life who seem so very far from God, remembering that He knows exactly where they are and He loves them. 

Tomorrow @ John 7-9

2 Kings 21-25 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He listens to our words of repentance no matter how evil our deeds

I’m going to go ahead and say it right here and right now – and living in the south this is pretty risky business – but I really don’t care for country music.  There!  It’s said.  No offense to the multitude of talented country music entertainers, but it’s difficult for me to listen to someone whining verse after verse about how “somebody done somebody wrong” as do many of the songs in this genre.  I’ve been there and know that it never really helps to cry in my…coffee.  I will agree, however, some of the things people do to each other are just plain wrong, and sometimes they are evil.  Today we read about a king in Judah who could have had “Evil” tattooed on his forehead; and it’s sad to say, a murderer of many.  I’m thinking this could be a theme for a country song…or not. 

@ 2 Kings 21
Hezekiah had been a good king, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord which was something unusual in the history of Judah’s kings; but his son, Manasseh, was a mess. Crowned king at age 12, Manasseh’s was greatly influenced by his grandfather, evil King Ahaz. He rebuilt the pagan shrines, even building pagan altars in the Temple, and sacrificed his own sons to idols.  It’s difficult to get one’s mind around the vileness of such behavior when we would do anything in our power to keep our children from harm.

“He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics.  He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing His anger.” (2 Kings 21:6)  His willingness to trade the Divine prophetic word from God’s prophets for the uninspired lies of the devil who can only guess at the future is rather mind boggling, but people do it every day when they consort with palm readers and horoscopes.  I just don’t get it.

2 Kings tells a sad tale of the life and times of King Manasseh but only reveals a part of it, and we have to travel over to 2 Chronicles 33 to get the rest of the story. “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings. So the Lord sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner…But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-13)

How does God do that?!  How does He forgive such a vile man of his many sins?  And how can we refuse to forgive a repentant someone who has done so much less to offend us than Manasseh did to God?  No country song has ever told of anyone’s deeds equal to the evilness of Manasseh’s deeds.  Sacrificing his own children on the pagan altars, yet God listened to his prayer.

Forgiveness brought restoration, not only to Manasseh’s heart, but also to Judah. Manasseh rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, removed the pagan altars and, “Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings on it. He also encouraged the people of Judah to worship the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:16)  When we follow God’s heart and forgive others for their unkind actions, we will bring about restoration not only in our relationship with them, but possibly restore their relationship with God, not to mention securing our own forgiveness.

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:14-15)  No Who done me wrong song for me, but rather the song of the redeemed – easy listening music! 

Moving Forward:  Today my heart is so filled with a song of praise about the goodness of God that it has no opportunity to sing any song of woe. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 90-92

Jeremiah 47-52 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He patiently waits for His long-lost children to return home, not wanting any to be lost

There’s little that concerns me more than waiting for my husband and children when they’re late returning home.  I’ve never considered myself highly imaginative, but in moments like this, I surprise myself.  I imagine accidents and breakdowns, degenerates and aliens, all converging on my loved ones. Help!  Even when I know everything is fine, I just want them home, safe and sound. Regardless of the anticipation I feel on these occasions, I really can’t begin to imagine the longing that our Father has for His long-lost children to come home, but one thing I am certain of is that He’s waiting for them.

Jeremiah opened his book with this declaration from God, “I will certainly carry out all my plans,” (1:12), and by the last chapter of Jeremiah, He did just that.  Jeremiah 46 was the beginning of pronouncements from God against the countries surrounding Israel.  Powerful Egypt met its doom and was ultimately consumed by the Babylonians.  The following chapters continue with many other indictments on nations, including Israel itself.  The futures of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon were not rosy.

It’s interesting that the Moabites and Ammonites, who had long been contentious with Israel, were actually descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and the Edomites descended from Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. All were considered enemies of Israel and had done their best to wipe them out, but their day was coming. God judged them for their pride and their vicious treatment of His wayward sheep, Israel.

At first glance, these chapters in Jeremiah are negative and certainly not uplifting, but with a second look, we can find a tiny bud of hope amongst all the destruction.  Although Israel’s sins were many as they copied the idolatry of the surrounding nations, God had made a covenant with Abraham and His eye was on a remnant, a remnant that would turn to Him in their hour of need.  He was waiting for them. 

@ Jeremiah 50
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains.  They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” (6)  But He would help them.  In coming days Israel would return to their land, weeping and searching for God, “They will bind themselves to the Lord with an eternal covenant that will never be forgotten.” (5)  “In those days…no sin will be found in Israel or in Judah for I will forgive the remnant I preserve.” (20)

Israel did return home, they restored their culture and temple and their sins were forgiven.  However, many centuries later they rejected the Messiah because they were so full of their religious ways that they did not recognize Him.  Through His Word, we have the promise that one day the Messiah will reign in Israel, and it will be fully restored and forgiven.  He is waiting for them.

Jeremiah 50 is a source of hope for me.  When things looked so devastating for Israel, God had not given up on them. He found the remnant, the lost sheep of Israel, and brought them home. There are those we love who are lost, and they can’t seem to remember how to get back to the sheepfold.  But the Great Shepherd has not given up on them, and He will find them! (Luke 15:4)  While we anxiously wait for the day that the Messiah  returns to reign, it is for our loved ones He is waiting.  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)  He is waiting for them. 

Moving Forward: I pray today, once again, for those I love who can’t seem to find their way to God.  I’m so thankful that He is longsuffering and patient and that He loves them even more than I do.

Tomorrow @ Luke 7-8

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