Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

Mercy and Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Psalm 145:8

It is easy to get caught up in defending my rights, my causes, my property, my beliefs, my theology, my world. Perhaps this is because we each face struggles, temptations, and injustices every day. These injustices can be as minor as someone cutting you off in traffic making you late for work, or cutting your pay even though you deserve a pay raise. But life is not about the injustices or the lows of life. Neither is it about the accolades and the highs of life. Rather, life is about how we respond to such circumstances. 

Yesterday I had a man return our chair he had taken to remove, as best he could, the paint he had spilled on it. We felt the need to repaint the interior of our home we recently moved into as the color scheme was actually depressing to me. We chose a paint company who had a good reputation, although quite expensive. But I felt they were worth it because I believed this company would make things right and do a superior job. The work crew consisted of two very polite and industrious hispanic men who spoke very little English. I grew to appreciate these men as they were conscientious, always on time, and took pride in their work.

After completing the job, there were some touch ups I requested to have done next to the stairs where new carpet had just been installed. In the process of touching up some missed spots on the wall, my painter friend spilled a gallon of paint on the new carpet and an upholstered chair in the living room. He frantically and diligently cleaned up the mess. He took the chair home to clean it more thoroughly. When he returned the chair, I was impressed that he had done a remarkable job, but I could still see the paint stain. I was ready to call the owner of the company and submit a claim, which he had previously told me that he would cover without a problem. However, the man who had painted my house and then spilled the paint requested that I not call the owner because he would lose his job. He explained, through an interpreter (his son), that he is simply a contract worker and would be required to pay for any damages out of his own pocket. He told me that he would make it right and pay for a replacement chair and new upholstery. I told him the estimated cost of such a replacement and I realized he would have to work a month to replace the damaged chair.

As I thought about this situation, I was saddened at the injustice my painter friend was experiencing in the work place. He is a hard worker and very talented. But more than that, he is honest and just. I was troubled throughout the night, and then this morning I read Psalm 145:8. God convicted me that my friend was worth far more than a perfect chair. I then texted by friend a thank you note telling him I would not mention this incident to the owner of his company and that the chair and the carpet look great. For now, I will keep the chair with it’s paint stain as a reminder of the injustices that people all around me endure.

I am thankful for the mercy and compassion God extends to me and how He has extended a measure of that to my friend through me, however reluctant I was to do so. I know a burden, however temporary, has been lifted this day from his shoulders. And I have a gift in the form of a slightly damaged chair sitting in my living room as a testament to God’s mercy and compassion in my life.

The Promise and Potential of New Beginnings

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  John 1:1

As an obstetrician, I witnessed the beginning of literally thousands of lives. At least the beginning of when the parents could touch and feel and hold that precious life. And so the beginning of life is an exciting time filled with promise and potential. No matter how many times I had the privilege of attending the delivery of a newborn infant, I was always awed by the beginnings of life, by the first breath, the first cry, the first arch of the back and stretching of the arms. I could be dead tired and wishing I didn’t have to get up when the call would come that Mrs. Smith was ready to have her baby. But once I held Mrs. Smith’s baby, I had new life as I held the beginning of her baby’s new life.

Yes, there is something almost magical about beginnings. The beginning of a new school year for a student has the promise of new insights and understandings of her world. The beginning of a new project at work has the anticipation of a better approach to a problem or new set of clients or even a new salary when it is completed. The beginning of a new season is especially sweet for Chicago Cubs fans as there is a new start and a new chance to finally make it to the World Series! And so we find ourselves almost obsessed with beginnings. We desperately want to know our own beginnings as we constantly seek for new beginnings because we endlessly mess up our last beginnings.

Perhaps this is why John begins his Gospel by telling us that in THE beginning, that is the beginning of this world, the Word already existed and that Word was actually God. God, a Being who has no beginning, is beyond our comprehension precisely for that reason – He has no beginning. Whether you believe everything we know today had its beginning with a big bang or by the Word of God, something existed prior to our beginning. I find it comforting to understand that just as I know my parents existed before me, the very first parents in the world knew God existed before them. Such a knowledge gives context, meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging to our beginning. 

The truly amazing thing about experiencing the beginning is the potential of new promises and the promise of new potentials. Just as God created to give us our beginning with the promise of His unconditional love, He recreates us with the potential to love unconditionally. And so our very existence speaks to the facts of not only our beginning, but the reality of new beginnings. We sleep each night because we cannot physically continue without resting to have a fresh beginning each day. Likewise, we must give our trials, burdens, and failings to Jesus because we cannot spiritually continue without resting in Him to have a fresh beginning each day.

And so today I rejoice in the fact that in the beginning was the Word. Because Jesus IS the beginning, I can have a new beginning each day. No matter what happened yesterday or the day before, I can choose to have a new beginning today – in Him. The Gospel is all about beginnings. There is joy in the beginnings. There is peace in the beginnings. There is love in the beginnings. What beginning will you choose today? May you experience the full potential of God’s promise to forgive and transform you today. 

Mediation Solves Every Problem

If only there were a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together. Then I could speak to him without fear, but I cannot do that in my own strength.   Job 9:33, 35

As a physician I had the opportunity to experience our legal system in this country. There were times when I had been accused of medical malpractice requiring me to testify in a deposition. And there were times when I was asked to testify either for or against another physician who was being accused of malpractice. No matter who was being accused, it was always a harrowing experience as I realized someone with more authority and power than me would be making a decision that would affect me, but also my colleagues, friends, and family. Because I trusted my attorney, I trusted that the judge (whom I had never meant & would never see unless my case made it to court) would seek justice and truth in my case. My attorney gave a human face to what otherwise seemed like an impersonal process. We would meet before and after each deposition to give me comfort and understanding. And he would sit beside me during every deposition to not only keep me on track in my testimony, but to intercede every time the other attorney would ask unfair questions. My attorney always made me feel more comfortable and assured in the most uncomfortable and unsettling of circumstances. 

Job was feeling lost and alone. He was uncomfortable and unsettled to say the least. He had lost his family, his possessions, and his health. But what made his circumstances even worse was that his friends accused him of sin that caused all of it. And so we see Job crying out to God, his judge. He knows he is a sinner. But he also knows he hasn’t done anything to bring such judgment and disaster upon himself or his family. This is when we read Job crying out for a mediator, the messiah in whom he believed would bridge the gap created by our sin. Even Job, who was blameless (Job 1:1), knew he could not stand before the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and all holy God. Job knew he needed a mediator. He knew he was sinful, even though he was blameless. He knew his heart was deceitful even though he was filled with integrity. 

Our despair can only be turned into hope when we sit down with our heavenly Attorney, Jesus. That is because Jesus is our only hope. And so Paul writes, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”  (1 Timothy 2:5)

In our darkest moments when we feel crushed by horrific circumstances, wrong choices, or justifiable accusations, Jesus is there to give comfort, wisdom, understanding, insight, and strength to get through it. He gives you a human face to an otherwise faceless Law and distant God. He is knocking at the door of your heart asking to share a meal with you. He wants to hear all about your fears, your joys, your trials, and your triumphs. And the amazing thing is that Jesus is more than our mediator, He is our judge.In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge…” (John 5:22)  May you have peace today knowing that Jesus will do more than listen, He will mediate. This means He has a solution for you. This means you can trust the heavenly justice system. And so meditate on Jesus, and let Him mediate for you. 

What Are the Stressors in Your Life?

Yes, this anguish was good for me, for you have rescued me from death and forgiven all my sins.  Isaiah 38:17

King Hezekiah was deathly ill and only had a few days to live. Hezekiah turned to God for healing. He did not go to the healers of the day. He did not ask to be taken to the Mayo Clinic of the ancient world. He turned directly to God who gave him 15 more years. As a result, we see Hezekiah’s response recorded in Isaiah. He recognized a direct correlation between his physical and spiritual health.

I have discovered that stress is a major contributor to my heart condition. I often develop symptoms at times of stress that are not present with even vigorous exercise. But what causes stress? And does it have to be deleterious to our health? Stress is the word we most often use to describe our internal response to stressors, which are external to us. So when someone cuts me off in traffic, that can be a stressor that can cause an angry response in me that I call stress. But what if that incident didn’t cause me to be angry? What if I were in a conversation with God at the moment someone cut me off in traffic? My response would likely be much different and the incident would not be stressful!

Perhaps an active prayer life, one in which I “never stop praying” (1 Thes 5:17) is the key to reducing stress and adding up to 15 years of life! That was Hezekiah’s experience. He was a man of prayer. He immediately turned to God in any situation. And even when Isaiah later told him that his kingdom would be conquered by the Babylonians and that even some of his own sons would be taken as exiles to Babylon, he still had peace. 

I am comforted by Hezekiah’s experience for two reasons: 1) Staying in touch with God throughout the day, living in an attitude of prayer, is the key to overcoming the stressors of life and living in peace.  2) I don’t have to be perfect. Forgiveness is part of the stress management package God offers me. When I accept God’s forgiveness and live in His grace, I can forgive others. When I refuse to forgive others, I compound the stress in my life. When I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic, I am not forgiving him. This produces stress! But when I am connected to Jesus, forgiveness is my first response and the incident isn’t even a stressor!

I have discovered that the expectations I internalize in my life are often the root cause of the stress in my life. Anything I see as preventing me from meeting the expectations I have adopted for my life become threats to my success and thus major stressors. But when I accept God’s expectations for my life and live in His will, then what I otherwise would see as a stressor becomes an opportunity for growth or even an outright blessing. Yes, God can turn a stressor into a blessing when I live with His expectations and in His calling.

What are the stressors in your life? Identify them this week. Give them to God, and never stop praying. You might just add 15 years to your life.

Draw Near to God

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4: 8

James reminds us to draw near to God. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God is always waiting for us and wooing us through the Holy Spirit to come home to Him.  God is always ready to run towards us, to surround us with His grace. But He will never force His love upon us. So He patiently waits for us to respond to His loving call home.

What does it look like to “draw near to God” in your life today, to respond to His call home? For me in recent weeks it has been to accept my own heart condition. I had to accept the condition as real without accepting it as defining who I am. For months I had denied that it existed, which meant that I could live and eat as though I did not have this problem. Such living bled into every aspect of my life as none of us ever compartmentalize as well as we think we can. Pride set in because I could do as I pleased. I didn’t see at as pride, but once I accepted my condition, I was humbled before God realizing that my strength is in Him alone. And so as I have drawn near to God, He has simply put His arm around me because He was next to me all along. 

With His embrace, I have been able to cleanse my hands as the sinner I am. In the OT sanctuary system, cleansing symbolized the removal of guilt. When I go to Jesus, accept my condition, He removes my guilt. What a relief! I can now focus on my heart condition without feeling weighed down by guilt that I have contributed to it by unhealthy lifestyle choices. I know that I have not always made healthy choices, but as I come to God each day to cleanse my thoughts and actions, He takes away my guilt! My guilt will ultimately lead me back to the self-destructive choices that brought the guilt on in the first place. It is hard to live with guilt, so we either ignore that we have a problem or focus all of our attention on the problem rather than the solution.

What would it look like in your life to “cleanse your hands” today and have your guilt removed completely? For me it has been to look beyond my poor choices of the past and see the path forward. I can move forward in God’s grace when I am not encumbered with guilt. I am no longer worried about what I can’t do. I am now rejoicing in what I can do in His will.

And finally, James instructs us to “purify your hearts” which is curious because we cannot do this! Only God can purify my heart. The issue, however, is one of commitment. Am I committed to the purification process that we have just described? James tells us the problem we all have: we are “double-minded.” We say we want God’s will to be done in our life, but we continue to seek our own will. I have found that when I pray for His will, read His Word, submit to His instructions, that He purifies my heart. As my heart is purified, so are my motives, my thoughts, and my beliefs. As my motives, thoughts, and beliefs are purified, so are my behaviors. My hands will never stay clean if my heart is not purified.

What James describes is a moment by moment process. Paul says it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” I need His constant love, reassurance, and power to stay in His will. So today, I choose to draw near to God. What about you?

Healing for the Helpless

The people of Israel will no longer say, “We are sick and helpless,” for the Lord will forgive their sins.  Isaiah 33:24

It is easy, perhaps even natural, to feel helpless when you are sick. And sickness comes in many forms. You can be sick emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically. When one part of you is sick, it insidiously affects the other parts as well threatening to make your whole being sick. And this is when helplessness sets in. You feel helpless, which becomes a disorder all its own.

Of all the illnesses we can have, helplessness is perhaps the most deadly. When we feel helpless, we cannot move, breathe, or act. When we feel helpless, we become paralyzed and are in danger of dying no matter how hopeful our situation may be. If we cannot see the hope, we cannot grasp the help.

Perhaps this is why read this response of Jesus in Matthew 9:2, “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.'” Jesus knew what this man needed. He knew the utter despair that comes with the feeling of helplessness. He knew that the man had lost all hope in his life. And so Jesus restored the man’s hope by forgiving him. When we are forgiven, when we are loved and accepted, when we feel the warmth of a loving gaze into our eyes, nothing else matters. Hope is restored because we have been helped in ways that transcend any physical ailment. 

It is tempting to blame ourselves for anything we perceive as bad that happens to us. And so when we are sick, we feel helpless, alone, and a burden to others. When we don’t get a raise, we feel unworthy. When a brother ignores us, we feel rejected. When a colleague takes advantage of us, we feel cheated. When a friend gossips about us, we feel unloved and even unloveable. We then begin to feel helpless and unable to accept any healing touch. It prevents us from accepting love, forgiveness, and even friendship.

No wonder Isaiah writes that God forgives us when we are sick and helpless. No wonder Jesus first forgave the paralytic. He knows exactly what we need. We need to be accepted and loved no matter our physical or mental or emotional condition. The path to true healing goes through God’s love.

Do you feel helpless? Has something happened in your life that has stolen your hope? God understands. And He is with you today to forgive, accept, and love you. The only question to be answered by us today is, Will I accept His forgiveness? When you do, you will receive all the help you need!

 

Unworthy to be Called

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”  Isaiah 6:8

Isaiah witnessed the glory of God sitting on His lofty throne in a dream. He heard the angels calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. The whole earth is filled with His glory!” Isaiah immediately recognized himself to be a sinful man with “filthy lips.” To have filthy lips as a prophet would seem to disqualify him from being a prophet. There are many days I feel the same way. I am a sinful man, and just like Isaiah, my lips are filthy. I recognize how unworthy I am to be a pastor. But this is not the end of the story. God is love. God is the One who calls. God is the One who empowers. God is the One who forgives. 

Because God is love and He is the One who calls, it is my response to Him that matters, not my sin. The angel took a coal from the altar and touched the lips of Isaiah. He is then told, “Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.” This is when God asks, “Who will be My messenger?” Isaiah’s transformation from a broken man not feeling worthy to even receive God’s salvation to stepping up to be God’s messenger began with his recognition that he was a sinful man. The transformation took place when he fully accepted God’s forgiveness.

When I focus on Jesus to see His love, His holiness, and His glory, I see my own unworthiness. But He doesn’t leave me there. He picks me up and forgives me. And then He calls me into His service! When someone asks you to partner with them, you really feel accepted. And this is exactly what God did for Isaiah, what He has done for me, and what He does for each one of us. So why not take the first step in accepting God’s call? Focus on Jesus and recognize your unworthiness. You will be reminded of it everyday. But you will also receive His forgiveness, which when accepted, qualifies you to boldly step forward into His calling for your life. In my experience, you will always feel unworthy at some level because you will always make mistakes. But it is the recognition of your unworthiness that makes you fit to be called. May you experience the joy and peace of God’s call today.

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