HOW TO GET PAST YOUR PAST

So many people struggle with their past and for many it isn’t pleasant. Tracey and I have talked with men and women who have been abused, been the abusers, had abortions, divorces, addictions, murder, death, betrayal, broken families, etc. Even though all of these things are horrible and painful, the truth is they are in the past. Living in the past is a dangerous place to be and there is nothing you can do about it because it’s as good as it is going to get, whether it’s what you have done or what’s been done to you.

Thinking through life’s problems is a bit like whittling. As you look closer and closer at the problem you will discover what lies at the root is sin. Just who are you anyway? I mean what makes you think you should have it any better than someone else? Are you special? Unique? Or are you just as good a candidate for trouble as the next guy?

When talking about sin, I have discovered there are no favorites and no one is excluded. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The big question then isn’t so much what particular flavor our sin is rather what do we do now that we have identified it? The Bible tells us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Well, that sounds fine and good but I can’t stop thinking about it.

There are two sides to this subject. One side is the need for us to find forgiveness for our sins and the other is the need for us to forgive those who have sinned against us. This sounds like the prayer Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I think these two go together because it is only when we truly receive forgiveness that we can give it. As long as we struggle with whether or not we ourselves are forgiven, we simply cannot forgive others. I think this is where many live their lives.

Let’s walk through this for a minute. Okay, let’s say you commit a sin such as stealing, lying or even murder and you come with a broken heart and accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness provided by His death, burial and resurrection. You’re heart is made light, your burden is gone and the life of God’s Spirit floods into your spirit. You’re born again! Then someone does something to you, or you remember something from long ago that hurt you deeply, now what?

Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who had his debt cancelled but he refused to cancel the debt of someone who owed him. Since he refused to forgive, Jesus said, “his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” You see when we refuse to forgive others it’s really us who pay the price. The torment of unforgiveness will eat you up inside. Let me walk you through this briefly. Here’s the way this generally works: someone offends you, you don’t forgive them, you become bitter over time and eventually a hardness of heart sets in. The further along this path you go the more difficult it will be to turn around. My suggestion is to simply forgive others. If you don’t do it on any other basis, simply do it because of the great debt you have been forgiven.

Sometimes we can ask for forgiveness and not receive it because forgiveness doesn’t always come with a feeling. We simply have to believe God’s word even if we don’t “feel” forgiven. In fact, sometimes condemnation sets in and we go under it and find ourselves hating ourselves. Norman Grubb said in “The Deep Things of God”, “we must not stay, even temporarily, under condemnation, when Satan has caught us out. It is the easiest thing to do, and our distressed feelings are really self-pity and pride. It is not so much that we have grieved the Lord that disturbs us, as that we have failed. The acceptance of condemnation is a form of self-righteousness. God has told us, when we sin, to get quickly to the light, recognize and confess the sin, and then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse our consciences from all sense of unrighteousness…To remain in condemnation, therefore, is really disobedience and hurt self.”

In the end, forgiveness is a choice. Either we decide to receive forgiveness for ourselves and forgive others, or we don’t, it’s as simple as that. The good news is through the work of the cross we can have our sins forgiven and not only that we can turn around and forgive others too. After all, this is what the cross is all about. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Louie

 

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CAN’T I LOVE HIM FROM A DISTANCE?

“…Forgive one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32b KJV

   There is a whole section of our society that refuses to grow up. Granted there are some who come from environments that didn’t spur them on to maturity. They probably had parents that also never grew up and maybe even grandparents. What we have then is a whole section of society that has lived their whole lives receiving aid in one form or the other. Not only that they have been brought up to believe someone else is suppose to take care of them. I’m not against helping others, but what if they never grow up? What’s the solution?

   Yesterday I spoke with a young man I first met in jail. He came over to me and started telling me about his stepfather and how he isn’t what he seems to be. He said, “He’s got the church deceived, but I know what he does.” He continued and finally came to his real problem. He tells me his stepfather always wants money from him and says to me “I know I have to love him but can’t I love him from a distance?” There is hurt and unforgiveness between them, and he seems stuck.

   As he talked and I listened the time finally came for me to respond. I shared with him how forgiveness wasn’t just for the stepfather it was for him too. Sometimes we withhold forgiveness from someone thinking they don’t deserve it. It’s as if we think if we forgive them we’re letting them off the hook and they’re getting away with something.

   At the root of unforgiveness really is a debt owed isn’t it? We don’t want to forgive others until we feel the debt has been paid. The problem with that is most of the time the debt will never be paid and it turns into a never ending cycle of them attempting to make things right and we just keep raising the stakes on them. What we’re really doing is holding them hostage.

   I’ll never forget hearing someone describe unforgiveness as “Drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Forgiveness takes maturity. An immature person can’t do it. In fact only Christ himself can forgive and if we don’t learn to let him do it through us we will remain in conflict with one another. We have to choose to love others and forgive them, but when it comes right down to it we, in ourselves, have no ability to do it. This is where we have to look to God and say, “Lord, by myself I can’t do this but through you I can do all things.”

   When parents and step parents refuse to grow up we can’t expect their children to be any different. As always the answer is Jesus Christ. He is the only way to maturity or wholeness. If the truth is told, once the Spirit of God lives in you maturity has come. Our problem has to be either we haven’t learned how to walk in the Spirit or we are simply choosing to remain in the fleshly mind. Either way forgiveness will only come by way of letting God have his way in and through our lives.

   Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve heard many say what he means is we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love others, but I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. I think he’s saying, “We are to love others, as if they are ourselves…because they are.” We are one in Christ; we are the body; so in this sense my neighbor and I are one and the same.  

   My conversation with this man ended with him shaking my hand and saying thank you. When I find myself talking to someone about forgiveness there usually isn’t much to say. Either they are going to choose to forgive or not. Most know forgiveness is necessary yet they want so badly not to, and I think it is about control. If I forgive you then I’m giving up control of the situation and I don’t think I can trust God to take care of it. Oh no, I would never say that! I know you would never say it, but isn’t that really what’s going on here? We have to let God handle these things, and the only way is for us to release that person through forgiveness. Wasn’t it God who said, “I will repay, saith the Lord?”   

Written by Louie

 

     

CHANGE, FORGIVENESS, PRAISE AND SUBMISSION

Doing a small group Bible study at the jail has its moments. The last few weeks we have been working our way through the letter to the Colossians. We were in the 3rd chapter, and we had four guys to come, so Brian gave them a few minutes to talk among themselves and come up with four points Paul was making in the chapter as we scooted over to the other side of the room.

After a little time had passed we came back together to discuss what they discovered. One of the guys had a piece of paper with four things written down and he stated the first was “Change” and read the first 11 verses where it talks of how Christ is our life and putting off the old man and putting on the new. Each of them discussed how they had changed since being in jail and getting into the Word of God.  They talked about being content and learning to trust God. It seems to me there really has been a change in these men since we first met them.

The next part of the chapter vs. 12-14 they said was forgiveness. One of the guys told us how God has revealed things to him about his past that he hasn’t liked. He said, “I have been reading the Bible and things have come to mind that I have done, and I asked God to forgive me right then and there.” The way he said this made it clear he was talking about the Spirit of God showing him rather than attempting to dig through these things from his own initiative.  We talked a little about how we are to let God do the inventory because when we set out to do it we only end in a knot. If we are in charge of finding things we need forgiveness for, rather than the Spirit, it will stop us in our tracks. I was glad to hear him tell us God showed him.

Praise was the third topic found in vs. 15-17 where we are told in each verse to be thankful. The one who talked about praise told us of how he had plenty to be thankful for. He said he had a son die and felt like God had abandoned him. He was in Isolation in another jail at the time, so he cried out to God asking for a sign that he was still there. He teared up as he spoke saying, “I felt God physically touch me three times.” He went on to tell us he had been shot three times and was on life support for four days. They had to give him over twenty pints of blood to keep him alive and he was overflowing with thankfulness as he recounted these things.

The fourth and final point was about submission found in vs.18-25. Paul tells us the role of each person and their relation to one another. Husbands, wives, children and slaves, of course slave would probably be thought of in our time as employee, even so all have someone to which they are to submit. The last guy spoke about how the jail has taught him how to be submissive. He said, “On the outside I would have never been submissive to anyone.” In the jail you can’t make any moves without someone else observing you or escorting you. In fact you have to push a button in order to get a guard to speak to you or open a door. That means you have to look to others for everything in life. Thankfully this seems to have taught him to look to God for everything in his life rather than acting impulsively.

A few of the men in this group are looking at a significant amount of time behind bars. They know that the real test comes when they walk outside, but as for now I think they are in a good place spiritually. The jail is a place of great tension and stress; so I think these men see our little group meetings as an oasis. It is a place where they can come and talk openly about their faults and encourage one another on in Christ. Being a part of this kind of thing never ceases to amaze me. I know this is what God wants for me because I never would have picked it for myself. I truly am living the life of another as the Apostle Paul told us “You are not your own” and “It’s no longer I who live but Christ.”

Louie

HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?

Photo by Tracey Lewis
Photo by Tracey Lewis

How much would it cost to pay the unforgiveness dept? For most people, the line keeps moving away from being paid in full. There are things we all need forgiveness for and one of them is the forgiveness of sin which can only be paid by the death of Jesus on the cross. God covers every angle of unforgiveness to where there is no excuse not to forgive others. Matter of fact, we are held in bondage when we withhold forgiveness and are bound in its chains.

Some people think that if they forgive the one who hurts them, it is saying to that person what they did was okay. That is not true. Some people have no problem forgiving others, but they can’t forgive themselves. As I was speaking these words in jail the ladies were quick to agree with this point.

I believe what happens in this area is that we think too highly of ourselves as if we would not have done such a thing. We put ourselves in the place of God when we don’t forgive ourselves. How arrogant is that? How is it that we can’t see our own selves as a person who commits sin? We are all capable of horrendous acts there’s no doubt about that. Our good friend, Brian Coatney says it best. “I would commit that sin and all sin, if God wasn’t keeping me, and I thank Him that He is keeping me.” Jude 24 says, “now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.” That’s how I know I can forgive myself for stupid things I have done.

The other conflict we have with forgiveness is the verse we read right after the Lord’s Prayer, “but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” found in Matt 6:15. Doesn’t this sound like it is based on your own merit? We are not in charge of our own salvation or our works of salvation. This is before the cross while Jesus was born under the law. Jesus is making it harder on us so that we will try harder. Why does He want us to try harder, it’s because we will fail at it and eventually reach out to Him who is the ONLY one who can save us. It’s His salvation because it was Him that died on the cross, was buried and raised from the dead. That’s why we can’t lose our salvation, because it’s not our salvation, it belongs to Him.

That is the same way with forgiveness. While Jesus was on the cross, He said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Later, Paul said, for us to forgive AS we have been forgiven. The way I see it, it’s not our forgiveness to keep, but to give away. We need forgiveness from God, He gave it to us, now, when others offend us, we give them the forgiveness that was given to us.

Once Tammy Strader sat down from giving the plan of salvation, a young woman motioned for me to come over to her. She had tears streaming down her face, as I handed her some tissue, she told me she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart and life. After she trusted Jesus for salvation, she stood up and told 36 other ladies what just happened inside her. The place went wild!!

I had so much fun hearing the word of their testimonies and didn’t leave the jail until 11:30. The three ladies I talked to in the law box each had an awesome story to tell about what is going on in their lives. One lady talked about praying for her husband who had been abusive to her but she still loves him. The second lady is getting out and going to Trilogy rehab for women. She is excited about her new life. The third woman is asking questions about the Bible and where to find answers to live the life of freedom in Christ.

Remember, the price has already been paid for our forgiveness of sin; the root of it was taking care of on the cross. Thank you, Jesus!!

Written by Tracey

HIS BLOOD IS ENOUGH

His blood is enough
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What is it about forgiveness that makes it so difficult? Being hurt or offended is something that is part of life isn’t it? Jesus said, “It is impossible but that offences will come…” (Luke 17:1 KJV). In other translations they’re called “stumbling blocks” (NASB) or “temptations to sin” (NLT). Either way the point is there will always be opportunity to be offended by something or someone, so it really depends on us and how we deal with it.

In Luke 17 Jesus goes on to tell his disciples “If he sins (trespasses) against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent, forgive him.” Jesus is telling us we must forgive one another no matter how many times there is offense. The disciples’ response to this is amazing. It would be funny if it wasn’t so true. They said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

Let’s think about this for a minute. These same men had witnessed Jesus perform some of the most amazing miracles ever.  They had seen him feed thousands with a young mans lunch, cast out demons, heal diseases and even raise a boy back to life, but they never asked him for more faith. Yet, when it comes to forgiving one another, they cried out “increase our faith” as if forgiveness is more difficult than raising the dead.

The pain and division that is caused by unforgiveness may go on for years. I know a man in jail and a woman in prison right now that are struggling with forgiveness. The man is holding unforgiveness for someone and seems to want to talk about it but not let it go. The woman on the other hand is battling with forgiving herself. Both of them are in bondage because of simply not forgiving.

When it comes to forgiving others I always think of a saying I once heard. Although sometimes these things sound cliché I can’t think of a better way to put it. “Unforgiveness is like taking poison expecting the other person to die.” Most of the time harboring unforgiveness really does hurt you while the other person goes on living life as always.

As far as forgiving oneself I have come to realize if you can’t forgive yourself it means your standards are higher than God’s. While this lady in prison told Tracey and I about how she was having a difficult time forgiving herself Tracey prayed. As she prayed what came to me was “His blood is enough.” He tells us in the Bible Jesus’ blood is enough! There is nothing more he can or will do for us. Either we receive and believe the forgiveness available because of the price Jesus paid or we don’t.

While Jesus hung on the cross he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The work he came to do he had completed. Forgiveness of sin has taken place. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). “Christ has been offered once to bear the sins of many…” (Hebrews 9:28). Our job is to receive it by faith and count it so.

Written by Louie

The Heart Of The Matter

Photo by Tracey

The words to a Don Henley song that are so true say; “There are people in your life who’ve come and gone. They let you down and hurt your pride. Better to put it all behind you; life goes on, you keep carrin’ that anger, it’ll eat you inside. I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about forgiveness.” Forgiveness is the very thing that saves us from sin and death. We asked God to forgive us of our sin, and He did at the cross on Calvary. After that we confess our sin, and there is a difference between asking for forgiveness and confessing.

I was talking to the ladies in jail tonight about how much of our sin is forgiven. The answer is; all of them. They asked, “Do you mean even the ones I haven’t committed yet?” In 2 Cor. 1:4 it says to comfort others with the comfort God gave to us. So, the comfort is not ours to keep. The forgiveness is not ours either, we forgive others as we have been forgiven. I know what it says in Matthew about if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you, but I am reminded that Jesus was born under the law. He was putting more law on them so they would understand they can’t obey the law. We are now under grace. Jesus came to fulfill the law and He does that when we ask Him to live His life in ours. We were crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God  who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

At Sylvia's
Photo by Tracey

A last Will and Testament only goes into effect when someone dies. We got the New Testament or covenant in Christ Jesus, but it was only after He died. So, while He was alive, He was still under the law. We have now been forgiven freely, although it was not free. Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to. That is love. If we love God as we love ourselves, then we wouldn’t steal from others, lie to them or anything else. We would love them and forgive them as we have been forgiven.

Cubbie and I had some time to talk tonight after learning about forgiveness. She never thought about it until tonight. Her brother was shot by a guy and is now in a wheel chair. Would she have it in her to forgive that guy? No, it’s only by the grace of God that we can forgive. That is how we forgive others with the forgiveness that was given to us. I love how she is depending more and more on God for everything that comes up in her life. She told me of how she has gotten a few offers of people to stay with after she gets out. None are good places to stay if she wants to stay clean. She expressed her faith in God that He will supply the place when it’s time. I am so proud of her. She is learning that the heart of the matter is forgiveness, love and trust in God.

Written by Tracey