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

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

2 Samuel 15-19 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  His mercy and forgiveness – the paradigm to follow

Charisma does not always a good politician make.  This is a lesson we’ve learned in recent years, and it certainly was true about the captivating Absalom.  One of the great sorrows of David’s life was the rebellion against him by his son, Absalom.  As if that wasn’t painful enough, others came along to kick him when he was down. 

@ 2 Samuel 16
Sadly, there are those who take advantage of us when we are fatigued, discouraged and weakened by our situation, and this is where David was in 2 Samuel.  Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, reported to David that Mephibosheth was attempting to steal back his grandfather Saul’s throne. This news from Ziba made David all the more susceptible to discouragement as Saul’s relative, Shimei, assaulted him with accusations, calling David the murderer of Saul’s family. Though Shimei’s words were untrue, David did not fight back because he believed that God would vindicate him if he was in the right.

Trouble upon trouble!  How could things go so wrong for David? Absalom was seeking to kill him, those he had helped in the past had betrayed him, others called him a murderer and his own son slept with his concubines, in plain sight on the roof no less, as prophesied by Nathan after David’s sin in Chapter 11.  One time a teenager asked me why the story of David and Bathsheba was in the Bible.  To her, the moral of the story was:  Do what you want, ask forgiveness and then everything will be alright.  As we read together more of David’s story, she saw things in a different light.  David had lost much. 

@ 2 Samuel 19
While the news of Absalom’s death threw the nation into a victory celebration, David was filled with remorse and grief, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you!  O Absalom, my son, my son.” (18:33)  No doubt David was filled with regret and shared the blame for Absalom’s rebellion because of the prophet Nathan’s words after his own sin with Bathsheba, “Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” (2 Samuel 12:11)

Although this was a dark time in the life of David and one filled with consequences, he went on to enjoy many victories because he had a heart of repentance.  He returned to Jerusalem to reign once again as king.  God did vindicate him in the very words of the one who had cursed him when Shimei cried out, “My lord the king, please forgive me.  Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem.” (19)  And David did forgive him, for the moment.  He showed kindness to Mephibosheth and rewarded those who had served him well.

David had received mercy from God in the past, and he was eager to show this same mercy to those who had hurt him – Absalom, Ziba, Mephibosheth and Shimei. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and mercy like this in Matthew 18:23-35 with the parable of the servant whose master forgave him a debt yet he was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant of a debt.  The outcome was not good. When we’re going through a difficult time, it seems there are always those who will come along to pour salt on ours wound like David had experienced.  Just like David, we would do well to remember the many great mercies God has extended to us and to also forgive those who hurt us in this way. 

Moving Forward:  Remembering your mercy to me, I will forgive those who hurt me or hurt those I love.   I pray that I will never be the one who pours salt on someone’s wounds!

Tomorrow @ Psalm 57-59

Psalms 51-53 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will never reject a broken spirit and a contrite heart

The ocean is dramatic, the mountains are majestic, but for me nothing beats the white and purity of new fallen snow, pure and simple.  Of course, science tells us that this moisture falling through the atmosphere collects dirt particles and debris, etc., but as its glistening blanket covers the earth, we only see spotless white.  In light of this, it’s humbling to imagine ourselves as whiter than snow because of His purification, but this was the cry of David’s heart as he cried out to God in repentance. 

@ Psalm 51
“Purify me from my sins, and I will be whiter than snow… Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (7,9-10)  God forgave David for his dreadful sins in the Bathsheba moment of his life because of true repentance.  Forgiveness didn’t come because of David’s sorrow for having been caught in his sin or because he feared losing God’s favor, but because of true repentance. Contrition was shown through repentance when David asked of God:

  • Wash me from my guilt (2)
  • Purify me (7)
  • Return my joy (8)
  • Create a clean heart in me (10)
  • Renew a right spirit (10)
  • Restore your presence and Holy Spirit in my life (11)
  • Make me willing to obey, (12) a fearsome request
  • Forgive me (14)

He didn’t ask God to roll back the clock or ignore his sin, and he didn’t offer immediate sacrifices to ease the pain of it all or stop the hand of God.  In return for God’s forgiveness, David said:

  • I will teach your ways to other rebels (13)
  • I will sing of your forgiveness (14) which he did in many, many Psalms
  • I will praise you with unsealed lips (15)

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one…the sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (16-17) It’s human nature to blame others for our sins or even to blame original sin (5-6), but then this would not be true repentance.  A broken spirit says, “I did it.”  A broken and repentant heart says, “I did it. I will do right.”  This He will not reject.

Every day I ask God to purify my heart of all wrong doings – deliberate sins to be sure, but also those more secreted sins, like unforgiveness, judging others, pride, envy, resentment, etc., sins that often lead to deliberate sins when left unchecked.  Secreted sin led David to adultery and murder when first he lusted.  In response to my prayer, God so faithfully reveals to me where I have failed, and when I repent, He forgives and purifies my heart.  And for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Moving Forward:  Purify my heart today, dear Lord.  Make me whiter than snow! 

Tomorrow @ Job 35-36