Forgiveness Always Wins

Sara Horn

Today we have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from Author of the Month, Sara Horn on the topic of forgiveness. Sara has written more than seven books including the popular My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife and her latest release How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and RegretGet it free here!  

He walked into their church on a Wednesday evening and they welcomed him. As they did every week, the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church settled into a time of Bible study, with no idea that before they were through, Dylann Roof would pull out a gun and murder nine of them solely for the color of their skin.

We have no words when something like that happens. How could something so ugly, so vile, and so heartbreaking happen in a place that should never know those things?

But then we hear the words of the victims’ families, words they spoke to Roof after he was arrested and he stood in court to hear the charges against him.

“Hate will not win.”

“I forgive you.”

“May God have mercy on your soul.”

No one might expect any of these families to utter those words in the aftermath of what happened, but they did. Through muffled sobs and obvious pain, they released what our world would say was their right—to hate, to seek revenge—and relied instead on God’s grace to sustain them. They made the choice to put their trust for justice not in man, but in their Heavenly Father. Though Roof had showed no mercy where their loved ones were concerned, those families instead looked to God for his mercy in their time of need, and for his strength in their time of sorrow.

They forgave someone who didn’t deserve forgiving.

As believers in Christ, we know that forgiveness should be our auto response but generally it’s not. Maybe that’s why the Bible talks about it so much.

Here are just a few of the verses we find in Scripture about forgiveness:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

“For if you forgive others their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

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Shortly after I’d turned in the manuscript to my last book, How Can I Possibly Forgive?, I was confronted with a situation that required forgiveness—and brought its own share of deep pain, hurt and a realization that my trust in this person had been sharply betrayed. Though they were sorry for their actions, there were lingering consequences—consequences which directly impacted me, though I’d done nothing to deserve what I suddenly faced.

In that moment of my friend’s confession, I realized I had a choice: forgive this person, or withhold forgiveness. I could willingly keep a suddenly broken, far from perfect relationship and take steps to repair it, or I could cut it off completely. Though it was difficult, choosing to forgive my friend reinforced what God had taught me in the previous months before.

Not every situation we encounter will result in a renewed relationship or friendship and in certain cases, it shouldn’t. Some relationships can be toxic, or distracting. Sometimes we’ll encounter someone who refuses to be sorry or admit any responsibility for what’s happened between you. Sometimes filtering a relationship out of your life is necessary.

But is forgiveness still possible in every situation? I believe it is [Click to Tweet!], especially when we think less about that person’s unforgivable actions and more about the forgiveness God extends towards each of us.

Forgiveness is intentional.

It is a daily choice to “forgive freely,” as we find in the meaning of the Greek word charis or charizomenoi. Do a word study as I did—it was interesting to me how often the word “forgive” is used as a verb. Something to act on.

If we believe that “love is a verb,” as the popular phrase goes—then doesn’t it make sense that forgiveness is a verb as well?

Here are three truths about forgiveness we can remember and act on, starting today:

1. Forgiveness is possible with God’s help. God loves to help us come back to him, and when we are dealing with a hurt that brings up pain and resentment and other negative emotions, we are inching or sometimes leaping away from him. But forgiving someone will never keep us at arm’s length from God; our forgiving actions will only bring us closer to him.

2. God expects us to forgive. This has no room for negotiation, friends. God wants us to forgive. He wants us to forgive our enemies who do us wrong, forgive our friends who say careless things, forgive our family members who make us want to cry or tear our hair out. He wants us to let it go, and he expects us to do it. Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

3. True forgiveness releases hard feelings. The person you need to forgive may never offer an apology or admit any wrongdoing. But your forgiveness for their wrong releases those feelings that keep you from walking forward, maybe even from starting a new friendship or pouring into your current relationships because you’re afraid or because you now have great doubt and mistrust of other people.

Other emotions could be holding you back from the plan God has for you. When we keep kindness and compassion in our hearts (Ephesians 4:32), it’s difficult to hold anger and cynicism at the same time. Get rid of the junky feelings —get rid of those negative emotions that come when we refuse to forgive someone. Offer up forgiveness, breathe in God’s grace, and let that grace shine out to others.

That day my friend came to me with news that hurt our relationship could have been the last day we spoke. But instead, it was the day God led me to lead my friend back to a renewed and right relationship with God. It’s now been over a year, and I have had the blessing of watching my friend grow stronger in their relationship with the Lord, something that might not have happened had forgiveness not occurred. You never know how God will use you for his purpose if you make yourself available to be used. [Click to Tweet!]

The families of the victims of the Emanuel AME church shooting chose to show God’s love to Dylann Roof despite their own human pain and emotion. Roof reportedly wanted to start a race war, but he failed. Because of the actions of those families—not of hatred but of hope, not of spite but sincerity—Roof lost. But there is hope even for this killer.

Even through the process he will undergo for conviction and sentencing, he may still have time to confess, repent and receive salvation as one victim’s son implored him to do, the same opportunity Jesus offered to the thief who hung next to him on a cross. We never know how God may use what those family members willingly offered—grace and forgiveness—to change a killer’s life.

Hate will not win.

Forgiveness always will.

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Get Sara’s ebook, How Can I Possibly Forgive? for free when you sign up for Vyrso’s daily deals email list!

 To learn more about Sara, visit her website at sarahorn.com, sign up to receive updates and receive a free printable of Forgiveness Scripture Memory Cards to help you in your own study and pursuit of forgiveness. It IS possible!

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Jared C. Wilson’s Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo

The Prodigal Church

Today’s post features an excerpt from Jared C. Wilson’s newest release, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo.

In The Prodigal Church, Wilson challenges church leaders to reconsider their priorities when it comes to how they “do church” and reach people in their communities, arguing that we too often rely on loud music, flashy lights, and skinny jeans to get people in the door.

Add The Prodigal Church to your Vyrso library!

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 The wider evangelical church is suffering terribly from theological bankruptcy. Brothers and sisters, we ought to recover the roots of real Christianity before those who care are too few to do anything useful about it. Part of that recovery will involve identifying some of the factors that contribute to the problem. Some of these will be difficult to consider, but we ought to consider them anyway. Some of the problems we might explore are these:

1. Pastors are increasingly hired for their management skills or rhetorical ability over and above their biblical wisdom or their meeting of the biblical qualifications for eldership.

Our shepherds are increasingly hired for their dynamic speaking or catalytic leadership rather than their commitment to and exposition of the Scriptures, and for their laboring in the increase in attendance rather than the increase of gospel proclamation.

Now, of course, none of those contrasted qualities are mutually exclusive. Pastors can be both skillful managers and biblically wise; they can be both great speakers and great students of Scripture; and they can both attract crowds and proclaim the gospel. The problem is that, while they are not mutually exclusive, the latter qualities in each contrast have lost priority and consequently have lost favor. We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.

2. The equating of “worship” with just one creative portion of the weekly worship service.

The dilution of the understanding of worship is a direct result of the dilution of theology in the church. The applicational, topical approach to Bible understanding has the consequence of making us think (and live) in segmented ways. The music leader takes the stage to say, “We’re gonna start with a time of worship.” Is the whole service not a time of worship? Isn’t the sermon an act of worship?

Isn’t all of life meant to be an act of worship? [Click to tweet!]
 One reason we have struggled to develop fully devoted followersof Jesus is that we incorrectly assign our terminology (equating worship with music only) and thereby train our people to think in truncated, reductionistic ways.

3. The prevalent eisegesis in Bible study classes and small groups.

“Eisegesis” basically means “reading into the Bible.” It is the opposite of “exegesis,” the process of examining the text and “drawing out” its true meaning. Many leaders today either don’t have the spiritual gift of teaching or haven’t received adequate training, and the unfortunate result is that most of our Bible studies are rife with phrases like, “What does this text mean to you?” as opposed to, “What does this text mean?” Application supplants interpretation in the work of Bible study, so it has become less important to see what the Bible means and more important to make sure the Bible is meaningful to us.

4. The vast gulf between the work of theology and the life of the church.

We have this notion that theology is something that takes place somewhere “out there” in the seminaries or libraries while we here at home are doing the real work of the Christian faith with our church programs. In many churches, theology is seen as purely academic, the lifeless intellectual work for the nerds in the church or, worse, the Pharisees.

5. Biblical illiteracy.

Our people don’t know their Bible very well, and this is in large part the fault of a generation of wispy preaching and teaching (in the church and in the home). Connected to this factor is the church’s accommodation and assimilation of the culture’s rapid shifting from text-based knowledge to image-based knowledge. I’ll say more about that in the next chapter, but when it comes to the text itself, I suspect that a lot of the superficial faith out there results from teaching that treats the Bible like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow,syrupy Christians.

6. A theologically lazy and methodologically consumeristic/sensationalistic approach to the sacraments.

The rise of the “scoreboard” approach to attendance reporting, some of the extreme examples of spontaneous baptism services, the neglect of the Lord’s Supper or the abuse of it through fancifulness with the elements or lack of clear directives in presenting it—these are all the result of evangelicalism’s theological bankruptcy. We don’t think biblically about these matters, because we’re thinking largely along the lines of “what works?” and consequently we might make a big splash with our productions but not produce much faith.

Don’t treat the Bible as an instruction manual. Treat it as a life preserver.[Click to Tweet!]

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Get Jared C. Wilson’s The Prodigal Church for just $8.50!

Content adapted from The Prodigal Church by Jared Wilson, ©2015. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

 

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The Next Great Move of God

The Next Great Move of God

Today’s guest post is by Jennifer LeClaire, director of the Awakening House of Prayer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, co-founder and president of Christian Harvest International and Strategic Prayer Action Network, author of several books, and an internationally-known speaker.

Today, LeClaire focuses on themes from her newest release The Next Great Move of God: An Appeal to Heaven for Spiritual Awakening.  

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A Divine Crisis. . .

Natural disasters are claiming lives in America. Economic disasters are driving poverty in America. Agronomists are predicting famine in America. Politicians and schoolchildren are being shot in America. Pastors are falling into sexual immorality in America. Violent protesters are taking to the streets in America. All the while some Americans are arming themselves for another Civil War.

Christians are meeting with persecution in the marketplace.

“Without divine intervention, what we call America will be gone within the next couple of years. It’s that critical,” says Evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne, pastor at The River at Tampa Bay. “The handwriting is on the wall. Only God can save us now. This is not a game. If we don’t see a turn in the next two or three years, America as we know it will sink into the abyss and will be gone forever.”

No politician can fix the problems our nation is facing. We need another Great Awakening.

The good news is God wants to bring another spiritual awakening to America [Click to Tweet!].

Making an Appeal to Heaven. . .

The revelation of making an appeal to heaven as it relates to taking back our nation for God unfolded to Dutch Sheets, an internationally recognized author, teacher and conference speaker, through several prophetic encounters over the course of about 12 years—and it’s igniting fires of revival and awakening in the United States and beyond.

Many, including myself, believe that it relates directly to a Third Great Awakening in America.

One of those prophetic encounters was a dream a young man named Thomas shared with Sheets.

In the dream, Sheets was a boxer facing five giants in five rounds. One by one, he knocked out those giants with a single punch, alternating fists. One of the boxing gloves said “Everlast,” which is a common brand name for boxing gloves but nevertheless prophetic. The other glove said “Evergreen.” Sheets knew God was talking to him about taking out the giants in America.

“When I look at the giants in America, I get overwhelmed,” Sheets says. “I have to get my focus off the giants and get my focus on the Lord. He can do this. This is not too hard for God.”

Transforming Revival Is Possible. . .

Transformation is possible in America and indeed transforming revival has broken out in communities around the world.

A transformed community is a neighborhood, city or nation whose values and institutions have been overrun by the grace and presence of God; a place where divine fire has not merely been summoned, it has fallen; a society disrupted by supernatural power; a culture that has been impacted comprehensively and undeniably by the kingdom of God; and a location where kingdom values are celebrated publicly and passed on to future generations.

Transforming revival starts with an appeal to heaven [Click to Tweet!].

It’s time to make an appeal to heaven and many are responding to the call in what some are calling the next great move of God.

In my book, The Next Great Move of God: An Appeal to Heaven for Spiritual Awakening, I was struck by how so many voices from so many camps in the body of Christ—Sheets, Greg Laurie, Reinhard Bonnke, Mike Huckabee, Kenneth Copeland, Howard-Browne, Cindy Jacobs, and the list goes on and on—are essentially saying the same thing. America is a nation in crisis—and God wants to wake us up, bring us in line with his heart and heal our land.

For all the doom and gloom prophecies over America, there is yet a rising cry from respected voices from various streams of the body of Christ that sense God’s heart—and God’s hope—for America even in the midst of discipline.

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Want to know more about this topic? Get The Next Great Move of God today,  featuring Dutch Sheets, Reinhard Bonnke, Jonathan Cahn, Billy Graham, and others.

You can learn more about author Jennifer LeClaire at JenniferLeClaire.org.

 

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Rock and a Heart Place: Sharing Stories on Finding God

Rock and a Heart Place

Today’s guest post is from Ken Mansfield author of Rock a Heart Place—get it today.

Ken Mansfield’s legendary career in the music industry began as a member of the Town Criers, a successful southern California folk group in the early 1960s. From there he moved to executive tenures as US manager of The Beatles’ Apple Records, director at Capitol Records, vice president at MGM Records, and president at Barnaby/CBS Records. Ken also produced the Gaither Vocal Band’s 1991 GRAMMY and Dove Award–winning Homecoming album. Ken is now an ordained minister, a sought-after speaker, and the author of five books including Rock and a Heart Place. He and his wife Connie currently reside in Florida.

I had to be convinced that I should write Rock and a Heart Place.

I knew it would require me to go back and relive times spent wallowing in the pits and mire of my own past. I had to embrace the challenge of sitting down with some famous friends and associates and ask them to bear their souls, tell their stories and describe what happens out there in the world of fame and notoriety. I was amazed at how deeply they shared their journeys.

There was a uniqueness and a commonality in every story. They didn’t start in the same place, but they definitely ended up in the one place they needed to be—in the arms of our Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What transpired in putting this book together was a gathering of an unusual gang of ragged saints—people who already have the feeling of being overexposed and intruded upon to the point of wanting to crawl inside their amps and pull the plug.

One of the reasons it was hard for them to share their stories is because in order to tell the reader how blessed they are now, they had to deliver the contrast of their past in order to have it make any sense.

Most of us probably did our best work when we were young and didn’t know any better. I don’t think any of us realized during the early years, the foundations we were laying, the importance of the relationships we were developing, or just how meaningful our passions were at that time. We told our stories and made music because we loved it. [Click to tweet!] We would have done it anyway and would still be doing it regardless if we ever made a dime or not.

Some did get real good and as abilities and acceptance blossomed, many were thrust into adventures never imagined. Yes, there were some train wrecks and as philosophers have said, “It is the journey and not the destination,” that is our reward. I would like to deftly offer that the origins of the journey are equally delectable.

Over time we mellowed and locked into a little tighter and more secure groove, discovering that the memories and peoples of our beginnings are some of our greatest treasures. From whence we came granted us revelation and now in these “later years” we remember who we once were and the innocence of what we were all about when we set out on that journey. Fences have been mended and walls torn down, allowing us to see how special it all was.

We see those days, those people and those places for what they were and the purity of it all. We hadn’t become complicated yet and could pretty much take things and each other at face value. When the only thing we had when we were young was our love of music, we didn’t have to worry about people taking anything from us other than an occasional good idea.

The dear people in this book were unknowing embryonic spokes in a melodic wheel of spinning rhythmic fantasies that actually created whole new genres of music. I am amazed, not so much as to how much music these people have made, but how loud and long the echoes have reverberated through the hearts and souls of so many people in the succeeding decades.

Today these artists sometimes carry their Strats and Yamahas in their hearts instead of anvil cases. In Rock and a Heart Place they blessed us by picking these pages to step out on the stage of life, beautifully unplugged, each one giving of their time and their goodness, to share their souls and soul mates, to bare their years and tears, and tell of their travels and testimonies.

It all started with songs and stories that somewhere along the way turned into personal hymns and impassioned witness.

We found our true Father in places we thought he would never visit [Click to tweet!], and though it was tough for a while, he led us safely out and we feel good about that now. There will always be special things we will miss about those days. But we’ll see them again at the biggest music festival, the greatest worship service of all time, singing together in his eternal choir.

God is The Rock and through the heartfelt stories of the people in this unique book, I pray you will find a place for him in your heart.

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Learn more about Ken Mansfield, his collegues, and their life-changing stories in the ebook Rock and a Heartplace—add it to your Vyrso library today.

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A Salute to Dads Who Choose Not to Rage by Jay Payleitner

The Dad Book

Today’s guest post is from Jay Payleitner, an event speaker and the author of over a dozen books on family relationships, including the bestseller, 52 Things Kids Needs from a Dad. Don’t miss his latest title, The Dad Book, now on Vyrso. To connect with Jay, visit his website is jaypayleitner.com

About five years ago, I finally replaced our faded and flawed garage door.  It cost me $1,200 and made all the difference in the world when you pulled up to our home.  That new door was crisp, clean, and flawless.  I was confident it would stay that way because–even though my sons played driveway stickball—I had specifically selected a heavy-duty door so the wiffle balls wouldn’t leave a dent.

Eight days later, I pulled up to a driveway of four college boys playing stickball.  My eyes went straight to three gashes in my new $1,200 garage door.  As I had planned, there were no wiffle ball dents.  But it turns out that once in a while on the backswing a stickball bat—which is really just a broom handle wrapped with athletic tape—will strike the garage door with enough force to leave a noticeable crease in the surface.  Did I mention that door had cost me $1,200?

So, what did this dad do? Did I rage?

Claiming a small victory for dads everywhere, I’m proud to say I did not rage.  (Yes, I can hear your applause.) Now, it helped that my son, Isaac, jogged out to the street to meet me with a sincere apology.  But just as important, my mind quickly calculated what was going on.  There were no beer cans scattered on the lawn.  No police squad cars were pulling up with bad news. No creepy video games were crashing and slashing in a dark basement. My son and three of his life-long friends had chosen to hang out in my front yard and compete in the time-honored game of stickball.  What kind of investment does that require? Broom handle: $3. Wiffle balls: $6. A garage door with stickball bruises: priceless. (Marked down from $1,200.)

Gentlemen, hear me.  Please don’t stress out every time a floor gets scuffed, a table gets scratched, or a door gets dented.  After all, it’s just stuff. And stuff doesn’t last. Relationships are the one thing that we can take with us into eternity. [Click to tweet!] That’s why you want your home to be a place where unconditional love and overflowing grace reside. You want kids from near and far to feel welcome and comfortable.  As a bonus, you’ll always know where your own kids are and who they’re with.

There’s a story told by Harmon Killebrew, the great power hitter for the Minnesota Twins, during his induction ceremony into the Hall of Fame. He recalled how one day he and his brother were roughhousing in the front yard. His mother stepped out of the screen door and called out, “You’re tearing up the grass.” Harmon’s dad happened to be within earshot and reminded his wife, “We’re not raising grass. We’re raising boys.”

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. Your kids will grow up so fast.  They’ll be gone before you know it.  After that, you’ll have plenty of time to re-sod, re-paint, re-screen, re-carpet, and relax.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”  Colossians 3:21 (NASB)

Check out Jay Payleitner’s, The Dad Book, now on Vyrso, for inspiration, ideas, and encouragement for dads to engage with their kids and connect them with God.

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Continuing in Relationship because of Christ

Everyday Grace

Today’s guest post is written by Jessica Thompson,  author of Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships with the Love of Jesus, and co-author of Give Them Grace. She has been married for 18 years and has three kids, ranging from nine to fourteen years old.

“If you want love, give love. If you want friends, be friendly. If you’d like to feel understood, try being more understanding. It’s a simple practice that works.”

Seemingly good advice for the one looking for relationship. I would venture to say everyone would agree with that statement. I know I have said something very similar to my children as they have bemoaned the fact that they don’t have many friends. I have preached that to my own heart. And yet, there is a man who wrecks that entire paradigm.

This man lived unselfishly every single day of his life. He always chose to love others, perfectly. He also chose to serve others, completely. He never thought about what was best for him. He lived to please his Father. He considered himself a servant to all. There was no task too dirty or too menial for him. He was known to wash the feet of those who were about to betray and deny him. He gave to those he knew would show no gratitude. He loved without ever thinking of what would be given in return. He truly understood all that others went through without ever being understood. He gave love unceasingly and was met with hate and mistrust. I am sure you have guessed at this point that I am talking about our Redeemer, our sweet Savior, our Christ.

We are all sinners and bound to hurt and to be hurt, and, because of this, we desire to protect ourselves. I don’t want to be hurt and I hate hurting others. It makes me think the easiest thing is just to hide myself away, lock my heart up, never get close enough to anybody to hurt them or to let them hurt me.

But then I look at what lengths God has gone to be in relationship with me. I look at Christ living every single day of his life in relationship without ever sinning and yet constantly being sinned against, and my heart is broken. My self-protective tendencies are shattered. For in Christ, I have all the relationship I need and all the relationship I have ever longed for. [Click to tweet!]

Even as I type this on a dreary Monday morning, I can look back at the three hours I have been awake and I can see that I have sinned against everyone with whom I have come in contact. They may not have known what was in my heart, but if they did they would have been devastated. If I stay with that thought I can become increasingly inward focused and fall back into self-preservation. But then the Holy Spirit lifts my eyes, and I see my Perfect Righteousness sitting at the right hand of the Father. I see the Father lovingly looking at his Son, and I know that look is for me as well because I am in Christ by faith. All the love and acceptance that Jesus earned is now mine. I am a relationship screw-up, and yet he has forgiven me.
Beloved, because of this forgiveness, because of this Messiah who knows the hurt of relationship, because of this God who would suffer when the relationship with his Son was broken, because of the Holy Spirit who reminds us of our Father’s steadfast love for us, we can continue in relationship.

We can love out of the overflow of love that has been bestowed on us. We can forgive out of the forgiveness that has washed our lives completely. We can give when it feels like there is nothing left to give. When there is no desire to give, we can remember that we have already been given all that we need.

Perhaps the quote at the beginning should read, “If you want love, remember you have it. If you want friends, remember your position in Christ. If you would like to feel understood, see Christ your High Priest sympathizing with you in every weakness. It’s a difficult practice, but you have help.”

 

Don’t miss Jessica Thompson’s new ebook, Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships with the Love of Jesus, for more on navigating relationships with the love of Christ!

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The Two Cliffs of Sin and Legalism

The Two Cliffs of Sin and Legalism

Today’s excerpt is from Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus by Josh Kelley, on sale for $1.99 April 13 through April 17. The book is a call away from both obsessive and complacent Christianity and towards radical devotion lived out in surprisingly normal ways.  Josh has been a pastor for 15 years and holds a BA in biblical studies from Pacific Life College.

Years ago, my friend Jason went hiking in the mountains of   Tajikistan along the border of Afghanistan. Americans weren’t particularly popular in that part of the world, so he admits it wasn’t one of the brighter things he’s done. He said the trip up the mountain was hard enough, but coming down was a nightmare. His party was thousands of feet above the valley, making its way down what could be called a path only in the most generous sense of the word. It ran along a narrow ridge and was covered with jagged, loose gravel. Because the decline was so steep on each side, he didn’t actually walk down the path—he slid.

“The trickiest part was staying on the ridge with only a couple feet of leeway on either side,” Jason said. “If you focused too much on the dangers of one side, you naturally overcompensated and started to slide down the other side. The whole way down we had to constantly adjust our slide to avoid going too far off either side to a rather painful end.”

Jason survived and went on to get married, have kids, and take up safer activities, including raising poison dart frogs (he assures me they lose their poison in captivity) and being a missionary in Bolivia.

Picture yourself on that same path, but make it narrower and the drop-off steeper than whatever you imagined. Add fierce winds howling around you, nearly pushing you off one side and then the other. Now imagine a rope anchored every 20 feet and running the entire length of the path. Only when you’re grasping the rope do you dare to look up and enjoy the stunning view before you.

That path describes your Christian journey. The cliff to the left is destructive disobedience. This is complacent Christianity. The cliff to the right is legalism, trying to earn God’s favor by doing all the right things and being a good person. This is obsessive Christianity. Fall off either cliff, and you’ll end up in slavery.

The apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He wrote “burdened again” because the Galatians had been saved from slavery to idols and sin, and now they were on the verge of being enslaved to legalism. Jesus had saved them from one cliff, and they were getting ready to cannonball off the other.

What does this have to do with grace? Grace is the rope that keeps you on the path. God’s grace, secured by Christ’s death, got us on the path in the first place. Grasping onto his grace is the only way we can stay on the path and enjoy the journey. And only by his grace can we safely make it home. No matter how many times we fall off the path, Jesus is ready to pull us back up by his grace. [Click to tweet!]

Now I want you to imagine staying on that path without the rope. Does it sound difficult? Actually, it’s not difficult—it’s impossible. The winds of selfishness, lust, bitterness, and a host of other sinful desires threaten to blow us over the left cliff of destructive sin. As soon as we get control over those desires, we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves, and we’re hit by winds of pride and self-righteousness, pushing us toward the right cliff of legalism. Our only hope, every step of the way, is desperate dependence on God’s grace.

To be radically normal is to stay on the path and avoid both cliffs, completely dependent on grace.

The problem with the analogy is that it doesn’t convey how joy-filled the journey is. Try to imagine experiencing some of your happiest moments while walking along that narrow path—seeing your newborn child, going to Disneyland, enjoying your favorite meal. . . .

Now we’re getting closer.

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5 Ways to Help Support a Couple in Crisis: Advice from Kathi Lipp

Happy Habits for Every Couple

Today’s guest post is written by Kathi Lipp, a national speaker and author of Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplify Your SpaceThe Husband Project, and many others. Kathi and her husband, Roger, have co-authored the new ebook Happy Habits for Every Couple: 21 Days to a Better Relationship, a 21-day plan to help couples put love and laughter back into their marriages. 

Even before we wrote a marriage book, Roger and I had, what we felt was, more than an average number of people come to one or both of us and say, “My marriage is in trouble.”

From, “I think my husband is having an affair,” to “We just don’t like spending time together anymore,” the pleas were along different lines, but always heartbreaking. I can’t think of many things harder than when someone you love is in a hurting marriage.

But then comes the really practical questions of what can I do? How do I support my friend, but also support their marriage?

It would be easy to just agree, “Yep—he’s a dog!” or “I don’t know how you stay with her after the way she’s behaved.” But as someone who has gone through the pain of divorce, I know that there is very little relief to be found in breaking up a marriage. Our goal, always, should be reconciliation.

Here are a few guidelines that we’ve come up with as a couple to support our friends during the hardest parts of marriage:

1. Don’t Take Sides—yet. It is so easy to jump on someone’s bandwagon— especially when they are hurting. But after too many times of listening to the other side of the story and realizing that maybe I didn’t have all the facts, I now hold back judgement. It’s very hard to back pedal when you’ve already declared sides.

2. Meet and meet again. One of the main things your friend needs from you is the ministry of presence.  When marriage is hard, one of the overwhelming feelings most people have is loneliness. Just by being present, going to coffee, and talking about some normal things that are not so painful, you can love them and help restore their equilibrium.

3. Pray. Pray with them. Pray on your own. And let them know that you are praying for them. Even if your friend can’t find it within themselves to pray, you can be a powerful, strong stretcher-bearer in the gap.

4. Encourage healthy habits. She doesn’t feel like being nice. He doesn’t feel like bringing her flowers. She doesn’t want to be intimate. He doesn’t want to visit her mom. Challenge them to do it anyway. Your friend will never regret trying too hard.

5. Counseling is not a last resort. I used to recommend counseling when nothing else worked. Now, I’ve got a quick trigger finger when it comes to recommending professional counseling. The early intervention of a trained professional can save a couple from a lot of unnecessary, hurtful words, as well as wasted time.

And finally, let me say thank you. When marriage gets hard, lots of people don’t know what to do, so they stop showing up in their friend’s lives. Thank you, as someone who had been in that hard place and needed the support of people who knew how to share God’s love in tangible ways.

Don’t miss Kathi and Roger Lipp’s latest release, Happy Habits for Every Couple: 21 Days to a Better Relationship, on Vyrso now!

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Easter Sunday: He is Risen!

He is Risen

Today’s guest post is by Andreas J. Köstenberger, the senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

The disciples had not understood what Jesus meant when he said he would suffer, die, and be raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19).

The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t understand either, but they were concerned enough with Jesus’ predictions that they posted guards at his tomb (Matt. 27:62–66).

Indeed, how could Jesus be expected to be raised from the dead? He had died a criminal’s death. More than that, he had died like a traitor or blasphemer, as one cursed by God according to the Scriptures (Deut. 21:22–23). It would be natural to think that the Gospels should end after Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19. There were others before Jesus who had claimed to be the Messiah, and they, too, had died, and their corpses were rotting away in their graves. But Jesus’ story didn’t end in a tomb or conform to the stories of false Messiahs. The Gospels carry the narrative further to its glorious climax: an empty tomb and a risen Lord.

The evangelists include a number of different events that take place during the course of Easter Sunday. The day begins with a group of women discovering the empty tomb in the early morning. Having gone near dawn to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, they instead come to an empty tomb whose stone has been rolled away by an angel and are told by angels that the Jesus they seek is no longer in the tomb but has risen as he said. The women are then sent to the disciples and told they will see him in Galilee (Matt. 28:1–7; Mark 16:1–7; Luke 24:1–7; John 20:1–2).

At this the women depart, afraid at first (Mark 16:8), but they eventually make their way to the disciples in order to tell them what has happened (Luke 24:8–11; John 20:2). As they are traveling, they are met by the risen Lord himself who instructs them to go tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee where they will meet him (Matt. 28:8–10). After receiving the report from the women, the disciples’ initial response is to think that the women are telling an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11), but nonetheless Peter and John decide to investigate. Running to the tomb, they find that it is indeed empty (Luke 24:12; John 20:3–5). Not only this, but the cloths used to wrap Jesus’ body are folded up and separated from the cloth used to bind his face (John 20:5–7), indicating that the body hadn’t been stolen but raised from the dead. John sees the linen cloth and believes, even though he didn’t yet fully understand that Jesus must rise from the dead according to the Scriptures. Then Peter and John return home (John 20:8–10).

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene is making her way back to the tomb after reporting the news to the disciples. Weeping, she looks into the tomb where she sees angels. They question her about her weeping, but instead of receiving a comforting word from the angels, Mary encounters Jesus. She doesn’t recognize him at first, mistaking him for the gardener (further proof that Jesus’ followers didn’t expect him to rise from the dead, despite his repeated predictions). He then reveals himself to her and sends her back to the disciples to tell them that he will soon be ascending back to God, his and their Father. Mary returns, bringing a vastly different message than she had declared earlier that morning (John 20:11–18).

As the day goes on, two disciples are walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles to the northwest. Jesus comes and falls in step with them, though, like Mary, they don’t recognize him. Jesus asks what they’ve been talking about, and they proceed to tell him about the grievous events of the crucifixion and the perplexing occurrences that had taken place earlier that morning (Luke 24:13–24). While they journey on, Jesus rebukes them for their slowness to believe the Scriptures and then explains to them from the Scriptures all the things concerning himself. When they approach Emmaus, Jesus joins them at their request. As he gives thanks for the food, their eyes are opened to recognize Jesus, and he disappears. They immediately set out to return to Jerusalem and tell the disciples what has happened (Luke 24:25–35). That same evening, Jesus appears in the midst of a locked room to all the disciples who are gathered, though Thomas is absent for some unknown reason.

Jesus greets them and calms their fears that he is a spirit by inviting them to touch him and by eating a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–20). Jesus then commissions the disciples to proclaim the good news of forgiveness for those who receive their message and the accompanying message of judgment for those who reject him. He sends them as the Father sent him, and breathes on them, enacting the giving of the Holy Spirit that was about to be fulfilled at Pentecost (John 20:21–23; cf. Acts 2). Jesus teaches the disciples, opening their minds to understand what was written about him in the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45), though the remainder of Luke’s account is a condensed account of what takes place over the next forty days, as Acts 1:3–4 indicates.

That day had begun with fear, but it ended with joy. [Click to tweet!] God’s wrath has been poured out on his Son; the price has been paid, and the work of salvation is finished. Death has been defeated. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen! And the glorious news of the risen Christ means that sinners can be saved. And having been saved, we’re now sent on mission by the risen Lord to bring the good news of the gospel to a lost and dying world. He is risen indeed!

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Adapted from Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 173–93.

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A Holy Saturday

A Holy Saturday

Today’s guest post is by Andreas J. Köstenberger, the senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

For good reason, the Gospels devote a great deal of space to the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion on Thursday and Friday of Passover week, as well as Jesus’ glorious resurrection on Sunday, the “Lord’s Day.” Yet little space is given in the Gospels to the day between “Good Friday” and Easter Sunday, sometimes known as “Holy Saturday.”

None of the Gospels record any of the activities of the disciples on the Sabbath after his burial and prior to his resurrection, except for Luke, who simply writes, “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56, ESV). However, this passing reference to the disciples’ Sabbath rest may veil the considerable inner turmoil they were likely experiencing.

It is probable that Jesus’ followers were doing on Saturday what they were doing on Sunday when Jesus appeared in their midst—meeting together behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. Their hopes and expectations had been crushed. The one they hoped was the Messiah had been killed as a criminal. They hadn’t understood Jesus’ predictions about suffering and dying before the crucifixion took place (Matt. 16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19 and parallels), and it would not be until Jesus appeared among them the following day as the risen victor and conqueror of death that they would begin to understand.

Most likely, they were concerned, if not anxious or even terrified, that what had happened to their leader would now happen to them as well.

Only Matthew gives any concrete details as to what took place that day behind the scenes while activity was limited due to the Sabbath. According to his account, it was on Saturday that the Pharisees and chief priests came to Pilate and asked for a guard to be posted at Jesus’ tomb, saying, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first,” (Matthew 27:63–64).

It seems that the disciples were not the only ones who were afraid! Perhaps the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death—darkness covering the land, an earthquake, the tearing of the temple curtain—gave the Jewish leaders reason to be concerned. The Pharisees were obviously aware of the predictions Jesus had made about his resurrection, although they were not necessarily inclined to think that his words may actually come true. In fact, their words show nothing but disdain for Jesus whom they call “that impostor” and “fraud.” Nevertheless, it is ironic that not only were the Jewish leaders aware of Jesus’ prediction that he would rise on the third day, they acted on it, which exhibits more “faith” than Jesus’ own followers were able to muster at that time.

Pilate’s response, “You have a guard of soldiers” (Matthew 27:65), is somewhat ambiguous. It may be that the Roman governor grants the Jewish leaders’ request and provides them with a detachment of Roman soldiers. Alternatively, he may simply be telling them, with thinly veiled antagonism, to use their own temple police to do the job. In either case, he grants them permission to guard the tomb, and they proceed to do so.

The Jewish authorities  were adamant that the body placed in the tomb and that it must stay there and not be removed. In the context of Matthew’s account, these activities on Holy Saturday serve as proof that the Romans and the Jewish authorities secured Jesus’ tomb, which makes it unlikely that grave robbers could have stolen the body or that it could have disappeared through some sort of foul play in another way. In this way, Matthew sets up the narrative perfectly for what is to ensue on Easter Sunday at the crack of dawn.

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Adapted from Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 169–71.

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