By the Grace of God

Have you ever felt repulsed by your old life? One of my favorite TV shows was Friends, a popular sitcom in the mid-1990s – 2000s. I was very engaged in the Ross and Rachel saga. Ah…the good ol’ days, or, maybe not. A couple of years after I met Jesus, I sat down to watch an episode. My anticipation turned to discomfort when the sexual innuendo spoke louder than the comedy. My eyes were open wide. The ways of the world stood out like gaping wounds. Watching Friends was like going back to an old life that didn’t fit anymore.

After I received Christ into my life, I saw my sin. I felt like God put it out in front of me like a feast that had turned sour. It made me feel great shame, therefore, I felt unworthy. Instead of experiencing promised freedom, I was in condemnation. I couldn’t see the free gift of grace that God had offered. Ephesians 2:8 (NLT) says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Living condemned was returning God’s free gift of grace.

The truth is that God doesn’t show us our sin to shame us. We see our sin because we come alive. There is supposed to be a difference between the old and the new. The good thing is that the old has passed away and the new has come. Believing we are unworthy is saying that our past is not worthy to be forgiven. In that place, we live in dead skin. God never calls us unworthy. He says something completely different, “This is how much I love you, I gave my Son, my one and only Son. So that you would not be destroyed, by believing in Him you can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16 MSG, personalized) God’s interest in salvation is not that we are worthy, it is that He loves us.

Unworthiness hinders our promised restoration. We all come to Jesus broken, it is his promise that we will be restored. That starts with the act of dying and being reborn. It continues over our lifetime. Believing the totality of God’s forgiveness can be challenging. Many of us have never experienced total and complete forgiveness from anyone. Sometimes we need help processing the past to receive the future. In my situation, I had to go into counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In the meantime, let the Word of God permeate your heart. 2 Corinthinans 5:14-15 says, “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. It goes on saying, God gave us a “fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.” (v19) Salvation is your fresh start. “The old life is gone; a new life burgeons.” (v.17)

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Radical Love

Do you know how far the east 🌏 is from the west 🌎? I’ll give you ⏰ to think about it… 🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶 Infinite. They never meet. Don’t over think it! We aren’t doing science. We are doing faith! All of your mistakes are removed from you. 

God’s forgiveness is radical! It is complete 💝 and total. Most importantly-it is for everyone👨‍👩‍👧‍👧, no matter what you have done. 

God’s interest in salvation 🙌🏼 is not that we are worthy, it is in His ❤️ for us. His ❤️ and forgiveness is radical. Radical😎 love says that even while you are hating God through your actions, He loves you. He loves you so much that He sacrificed the only P.E.R.F.E.C.T. 👌 man on earth… Jesus… so that you could know God and He could know you. 

To God, through the cross and resurrection, you are free and clear. When you make Jesus your Lord, your old👴 life is gone, your new👶 life has come. You are worthy. 🙏

Working it out

When I think back to my first couple of years as a Christian, I felt a lot like a baby learning to walk again. I was changed in the midst of some pretty frightening circumstances. My new self on the inside was trying to emerge while the outside still looked toxic. Paul says that we work out our salvation. It’s worked out over our lifetime and in all of the circumstances we find ourselves. As I was working the other day I kept getting an image in my head. Remember the body snatcher in Men in Black? The “bug” who killed a farmer and stole his body to use it as a disguise? I was recalling how he looked while he walked and talked and functioned in a body that wasn’t his, it made me laugh. I see the comparison though. When you are baptized and made new, your new self is foreign. You come in under the wing of God with all that protection and affection but walking in your new self can be awkward.

When you are working out your salvation, God reveals to us the things in our lives that hold us back. As I walked and talked, I had competing voices in my head. One said, “you are messed up, you have nothing to contribute, and no one likes you.” The other said, “I love you, you have confidence because of that, and I forgave you once and for all.” The voice of the Holy Spirit was competing with the voice of shame. I had to choose which one I would believe. There are a lot of ways to define shame. The one I identify with most is: shame says, “my circumstances define who I am.” It is a lie declared by the enemy over your life. Shame makes us want to hide. It silences our testimony. It stifles worship. It keeps us from sharing life with believers and unbelievers. It denies the work of the cross, claiming humility but cowering in pride. Why? Because shame says, “no one can know that and no one can see that.” Shame is the stop sign we sit at, wanting traffic to break long enough so we can resume travel on freedom road. The truth is, you are forgiven of whatever you are hiding and nothing can change the fact that you are forgiven. Because you are forgiven, you are free. You are free to participate in the Christian life, you are free to enjoy your life (thank Beth Moore for that anecdote) and you are free to stand before the Lord.

Shame also keeps us in condemnation. Condemnation at it’s best is walking with a crutch, at it’s worst it leaves us bed ridden. I think that we focus a lot on how we are sinners rather than saints. The longer we believe we are constantly missing the mark the longer it takes to walk in pure love and freedom. Our purpose lies somewhere out there, while we believe that what we desire will never come to pass. It’s all a lie constructed to keep us from living a full life in Christ. We are missing out because we don’t believe in the radical love of a triune God. One that sees your completed self, the fruition of your salvation worked out. You are forgiven past present and future. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus! It’s time for us to shed our shame and put on our confidence in God and who He says He is. The forgiveness of God through His Son Jesus is so radical that it is only supernatural. The truth is, your sins are forgiven. The ones in the past, the ones you think you may have committed today, and the ones you might possibly commit in the future. It is all covered. PERIOD! End of story. Look up because His light shines on you! Yes, you. All the time, everyday. Whether you believe it or not. That is the radical love of Jesus for you. You’re just working it all out, claiming your identity, standing firm on that cornerstone, while the wind tries to blow you over. The awesome thing about that wind…oh, yeah, it’s defeated.

Forgiveness

This topic is a hard one. Forgiveness is a command; it is a central principle of the Christian lifestyle. Jesus went to the Cross so that we are fully forgiven. When we know in our heart and heads that we are forgiven, God asks us to pass it on. We must forgive others. Forgiveness, just like Christianity, is a daily thing. So what if we don’t forgive?

Unforgiveness is the beginning of the root of bitterness. As the root of bitterness grows, it becomes anger. It is the trap that I lived in for 20 years of my life. Unforgiveness and bitterness caused me emotional turmoil and physical pain. I truly believe that it caused severe migraines that would last for days, it caused screaming fits of rage and it caused adult onset acne. I took offense into the deepest parts of my heart and I held onto it like a comfy blanket. The best quote on unforgiveness I have ever heard is this: “…harboring unforgiveness is actually like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die; it just doesn’t work.” (pg 65, Living in Freedom Everyday, Highlands Small Groups, Church of the Highlands Birmingham, Alabama)

Before I came to know and love Jesus, I struggled with forgiveness. Even now, I still struggle.  I confess that I hold grudges. It takes me a long time to work through an offense. Even after I have forgiven from my heart, reconciliation is difficult for me. Learning to forgive from my heart has been a process. Loving myself was step one.

Jesus says in Matthew 22: 37 – “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The part that is most interesting to me is “as yourself.” Do you love yourself? If you love yourself, you are able to love God and love others. If you don’t love yourself, it is hard to have love for God and others. My first breakthrough in love was to love me. Because God loved me, made me, and forgave me, I found a way to forgive me and love me.

Learning to forgive others from the heart has been a process for me. These are lessons I have learned over time:

  • Offenses will come (Luke 17: 1-3) –Offense is something that goes against my personal moral compass. It may not go against God. When Jesus ministered to people, he rarely pointed out their sin (except the religious leaders). We are not to stand in the way of people committing sin. We are supposed to love them.
  • I need to have compassion on those who hurt me (Ephesians 4:32) – each and every person has a past, has been conditioned by circumstances in life and is learning the things of God at a different pace and willingness to surrender. Jesus had compassion on those who killed him by saying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) A lot of the time people say or do things and just don’t know what they are doing.  I have looked back on some big fumbles in my life and I can truly say that at the time, I had no idea what I was doing.  I’ve had to forgive myself for those things.
  • Judging the words, behaviors, and motivations of others is simply not my job – it is God’s job. Matthew 7:1-2 says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Verses 3-5 goes on to say that we must take the plank out of our own eye before we can take the speck out of another’s eye.
  • I need to guard my heart – I have a choice about taking the offense into my heart. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything that you do flows from it.” Luke 7:45 says that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we have unforgiveness or bitterness in our heart, our mouth will speak it out. Allowing offense into our hearts creates this: “A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city; disputes are like barred gates of a citadel” Proverbs 18:19. Offense creates walls that can only be brought down by forgiveness from the heart.
  • If I am unforgiving, God will not forgive me. Matthew 5:15 “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Recently, a pastor at my church said that we get a day to be angry about something. Yup, one day. After that day, we plant a root of bitterness. A picture came to my mind, I saw myself planting my own roots of anger and bitterness. God does not cause our anger or our hurts, I would even argue that He doesn’t “allow” them either (Saying God “allows” is like saying God plays with our lives as if He is playing chess, this dismisses human free will altogether).  People use their own free will to inflict hurt and pain on each other.  It is up to the Christian to forgive or hold onto the offense.  It is our own choice to grow the bitter root. Yikes. The grudges have to go. End of story.

Forgiveness does not mean that what happened is good and right. Forgiveness does not mean you must reconcile. It does not mean that you must continue in unhealthy relationships. I am not writing from a stand point where I am being abused. If you are being abused verbally or physically, it is important to know that forgiveness does not mean you must stay in that situation. Seek help immediately. The forgiveness piece is for you and your heart, for your own personal and spiritual freedom. Not for the abuser.

Peace and Love to you friend. May God’s forgiveness fill your heart with joy so that you may forgive others and love purely and completely in the name of Jesus. Amen.