It might have started off as an innocent question, trying to find out just how far you should go.Â Jesus had been talking about facing a person who has hurt you when Peter pops the question, â€œLord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?â€ (Mat 18:21). Itâ€™s at this point that Jesus tells the story about the man who owed a very large debt.Â After the master forgave the humongous sin, the servant turned around and demanded that his friend pay him back a smaller debt that he was owed.Â When the master heard about this lack of forgiveness, “his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.â€Â Itâ€™s at this point that Jesus gives a warning, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Mat 18:34-35)
Forgiveness is something we all want to receive, but the truth is that we are often pretty reluctant to give it.Â Itâ€™s one thing when I am faced with my own sin and realize my helplessness to pay back my debt to God.Â I cry desperately for my Masterâ€™s forgiveness, which He willingly gives.Â But Iâ€™m a bit slow to put myself in the shoes of that acquaintance that has wronged me.Â I feel justified with my bitterness.
Beloved, forgiveness is not an easy thing.Â Like Peter, I set a pretty low bar when it comes to how often I forgive.Â Forgiveness is something I have to constantly work at and refine in my life.Â Forgiveness is not something I can grow complacent in.Â Itâ€™s something that God is very serious about in my life.Â I need to forgive like Iâ€™ve been forgiven.
It was his greatest treasure. It was what he had looked forward to his entire life.Â It was even something that had been promised to him by God.Â It was something that was good, not evil.Â And yet now God had asked him to give it up.Â The â€œitâ€ was a son, a longed for, much beloved son.Â And God said â€œSacrifice your sonâ€.Â It probably didnâ€™t make sense.Â It probably didnâ€™t seem right.Â But Abraham heard God and did what God said. You and I know that God did not require Abraham to follow through and actually kill Isaac, but Abraham didnâ€™t know that at the time he set out to obey the Lord.Â And then we read about Godâ€™s response to Abrahamâ€™s obedience:Â “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemiesâ€ (Gen 22:15-17).Â
We could talk about the importance of Abraham painting a picture of God one day sacrificing His Only Son for us, but donâ€™t miss the basic issue â€“ God asked, and Abraham said â€œyesâ€.Â As a result of obedience, not only would Abraham be blessed, but his descendants would be blessed as well.
Itâ€™s not a lot of fun when we sense that God wants us to do something thatâ€™s hard.Â We may not understand what God is trying to do.Â We may not see how it could be a good thing.Â But God is looking for men and women who are available to Him, and oh what He wants to do through us when He finds a willing heart.Â Trust and obey.Â There is no other way.
Jesus is at the beginning of His ministry.Â He has been baptized by John, heard Godâ€™s approval, and was led into the wilderness to be tempted.Â All of life is about dealing with temptation, but when you are stepping out to be used by God, you better learn to face the reality of Satanâ€™s whispers.Â In the first temptation Jesus has been fasting for forty days â€¦ when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Mat 4:3)
Initially, we may think that the temptation was about bread, but it goes deeper than that.Â Itâ€™s about what you call â€œlivingâ€.Â What does it take to keep you â€œaliveâ€?Â Some of us may conclude we simply need food and water.Â But life tends to be a bit more complicated than that.Â Food and water may start out our list of necessities, but it rarely ends there.Â I prefer to add just a few other items like a place to live, a job, and now that Iâ€™m thinking about it, letâ€™s make that a comfortable place to live and a nice job.Â Of course the real list in my head is pretty long and complicated.Â The real issue is about all that other â€œstuffâ€ that I find so necessary to live, to be happy.Â
Jesusâ€™ response to Satan needs to be my goal in life.Â But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'” (Mat 4:4). A healthy â€œlifeâ€ is one that has learned to depend on God and His Word.Â Do I find â€œlifeâ€ in the things that come from Godâ€™s mouth concerning me?Â Am I content with the things God has decreed for me?Â May we find real â€œlifeâ€ today.
I have a confession to make.Â I really want people to like me.Â I know that for some people that sounds like I have a problem, and perhaps I do.Â But I also have a sneaking suspicion that Iâ€™m not the only person who wants people to like them.Â As you grow up, you learn about what kinds of things you need to do in order to get a person to like you.Â One easy way is to say something nice to the other person.Â If I tell you that you look nice today, you might like me better than if I told you looked ugly.Â Think of Eddie Haskell on â€œLeave it to Beaverâ€, â€œGee Mrs. Cleaver, you sure look nice todayâ€¦â€
But in reality, flattery just for the sake of getting someone to like you doesnâ€™t last very long.Â In fact, if you have an â€œEddie Haskellâ€ in your life, you probably donâ€™t enjoy all their compliments, do you?Â Solomon was pretty wise when he gave us this gem:Â â€œHe who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongueâ€ (Prov 28:23)Â
Now when Solomon says itâ€™s better to â€œrebukeâ€ than to â€œflatterâ€, there are some things to keep in mind.Â I have this suspicion that the â€œrebukeâ€ Solomon is talking about isnâ€™t a Marine Drill Sergeant yelling in your face.Â I have this idea that itâ€™s a little closer to what Paul wrote in Eph. 4:15, â€œspeaking the truth in loveâ€.Â I personally donâ€™t enjoy criticism for the sake of â€œhonestyâ€ if I have this suspicion that the person criticizing me doesnâ€™t care for me.Â But when a person is honest with me, and I know they are giving their difficult truth in love, it becomes something I can benefit from.Â Want someone to like you?Â Choose carefully how you proceed.
Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death (Prov 21:6).
Itâ€™s a pretty straight forward statement.Â Yet the more I stop and ponder this truth, itâ€™s deeper than first glance.
We might use this proverb to talk about people who try and con others by lying to them.Â In the movies we kind of like those â€œcon menâ€, whether itâ€™s Paul Newman and Robert Redford in â€œThe Stingâ€ or George Clooney and Brad Pitt in â€œOceans Elevenâ€.Â Even though those movies are based on deception, we feel that the victims â€œdeservedâ€ what they got because the victims were the bad guys.Â Right?Â But come to think about it, real life doesnâ€™t often work like the fantasy of movies.Â Lying rarely helps any situation.
In real life, Solomonâ€™s proverb goes beyond â€œcon jobsâ€.Â The truth affects our daily lives. Sometimes the â€œtreasuresâ€ we are trying to get by deception arenâ€™t counted in the millions of dollars, but are more subtle.Â Sometimes the treasure is gaining or keeping a friend.Â And so we tell a little lie about who we are in order to â€œhelpâ€ the relationship.Â But what happens when the truth comes out?Â Sometimes the treasure we are looking for is simply being able to live with ourselves.Â But the person we are lying to isnâ€™t one that lives outside of our skin, we are lying to ourselves.Â We may not always like the truth about ourselves, but change and growth canâ€™t come without truth.
Real treasures come from truth.Â God wants us to be truthful with one another (Eph. 4:25).Â God wants us to be truthful with ourselves (Ps. 51:6).
Maybe itâ€™s just been a hard week for me.Â Perhaps itâ€™s all the pressures of the holidays.Â It could be all the extra things that have made their way into my schedule.Â Iâ€™m still wondering when Iâ€™m going to find time to get those stupid Christmas lights up.Â I wish I had a really great excuse for why I get angry.Â The problem is, I keep finding these Bible verses that tell me that my anger and impatience arenâ€™t very smart. Listen to Solomonâ€™s advice: A wise man fears and departs from evil, But a fool rages and is self-confident (Prov 14:16). A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated (Prov 14:17). He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly (Prov 14:29).
Did you notice the kinds of words that Solomon associates with my anger?Â He uses words like â€œfoolâ€, â€œwickedâ€, and â€œfollyâ€.Â The nerve of him!
I may feel like I have no control over my anger, but thatâ€™s really just a lie Iâ€™ve sold myself.Â
Thereâ€™s a story about a man and his crying infant son in a store.Â The man was heard saying over and over into the stroller, â€œNow Andrew, calm down, it will be okay.â€Â A lady came up to the fellow and remarked about how patient he was being with little Andrew.Â The man responded, â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about, Iâ€™m the one named Andrew.â€
I guess I need to keep reminding myself that as a Christian, it is going to be okay.Â Being impatient and getting angry doesnâ€™t help anything.Â Take a deep breath.Â Slow down.Â Trust God. Be slow to anger.Â Itâ€™s a smart thing.
Itâ€™s a short story about temptation, seduction, stumbling, and tragedy.Â When we meet the main character of this morality play, Solomon describes him, â€œAnd saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understandingâ€ (Prov 7:7).Â And though these are the characteristics of the fellow in Solomonâ€™s story, they are not necessarily the characteristics of everyone who is tempted.Â Temptation does not require you to be young. Temptation does not require a lack of maturity (whatever that is).Â It is not a lack of intelligence that leads to temptation. Temptation happens to all of us.Â You may not feel that you identify with Solomonâ€™s young man, but that doesnâ€™t mean you wonâ€™t be tempted.Â Because you will.
You know the story that Solomon tells.Â If youâ€™re like me, you know it too well.Â This fellow just â€œhappensâ€ to wander down a street where he will encounter a seductive, adulterous woman.Â And as the fellow stumbles from one stage of temptation to the next, Solomon warns, â€œHe did not know it would cost his lifeâ€ (Prov 7:23).Â If you take the story apart, you see that the easiest way to avoid the problem in the first place is to not go down that street where the temptation lives.Â For some of us it might be an actual location on a map.Â For others it might be an address on the internet, a movie, or the TV. For others it is that group of friends that influence us the wrong way. No matter where that â€œstreetâ€ is, recognize it and learn to take another street.Â And donâ€™t think that youâ€™re too old, too mature, or too smart to be tempted.Â Iâ€™m speaking from experience.Â Take a different street.
Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Dan 9:3). Daniel had been reading and studying the Scriptures when he came to the conclusion that he needed to pray.Â Though we often think of the ninth chapter of Daniel in regards to the amazing prophecy in it, most of the chapter is a record of Danielâ€™s prayer of confession to God on behalf of his nation.
As I was reading Danielâ€™s prayer, I began to think about the appropriateness of Daniel praying on behalf of his nation.Â In my twisted mind I could imagine Daniel thinking, â€œWho am I to pray for Israel?Â Iâ€™m not the king of Israel.Â Iâ€™m not the high priest of Israel.Â Iâ€™m just a government official in Babylon.â€Â There are certain situations in life where we are aware of appropriateness.Â If you are sitting in the hospital emergency room, you hope that the person checking you out is a real doctor.Â It wouldnâ€™t be appropriate for the pizza delivery guy who just walked in the door to examine you.Â If I was facing a legal action, I would want my attorney to represent me before the judge, not some guy off the street.
I think that sometimes we take â€œappropriatenessâ€ too far.Â Is it right that I represent my friend in petitioning for heavenâ€™s help?Â Is it right that I kneel in Godâ€™s presence and confess the sins of my nation before God?Â Who am I to pray for this sick person? Beloved, donâ€™t wait for someone else to pray, speak, or reach out.Â Do what is in your hand to do.Â You may not feel like youâ€™re very important in the world, but you have the ear of a God who loves you.Â Donâ€™t stop praying.
Like it or not, we are in a war.Â If we refuse to fight we are already defeated.Â No, Iâ€™m not talking about the current deployment of our American troops.Â The war Iâ€™m most concerned about is one that is waged for our souls.Â Satan is the â€œaccuser of the brethrenâ€ who wants to steal, kill, and destroy.Â In the book of Revelation we find a threefold strategy that brings victory against this ancient enemy.Â John writes, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the deathâ€ (Rev 12:11).
One of the greatest weapons that Satan uses against the believer is condemnation.Â There are times when we have no way of defending ourselves against his accusations because frankly we are guilty as charged.Â But beloved, if you will confess your sin, you will find forgiveness.Â If you will walk in the light, the â€œblood of the Lambâ€ will cleanse you from all sin.
We overcome the devil through the â€œword of our testimonyâ€, Godâ€™s Word.Â Beloved, we donâ€™t even need Satan to deceive us into doing stupid stuff, our own hearts so often lead us astray. But if we keep ourselves immersed in Godâ€™s Word, we have a good light to keep us walking on the right path.
In America, we feel we have this â€œrightâ€ to pursue â€œhappinessâ€.Â And yet this leaves us as easy prey for the enemy.Â We flee from every hint of discomfort.Â But the one who doesnâ€™t â€œlove their life to the deathâ€ is the one who prefers obedience to God to their own comfort.
The blood.Â The Word.Â Dying to our self.Â Keys to victory.
As the book of Revelation begins to unfold, we see the long awaited judgment of God finally coming upon the rebellious world.Â Yet, as the period known as the Tribulation begins to develop, there is a pause.Â John then records, â€œthere was silence in heaven for about half an hourâ€ (Rev 8:1).Â The next thing that happens has to do with prayer in heaven:Â â€œThen another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s handâ€ (Rev 8:3-4).Â After that the Tribulation continues under the careful direction of God.
As I was pondering this, it dawned on me that this isnâ€™t such a bad pattern to follow when we ourselves are going through our own difficulties, our own miniature â€œtribulationsâ€ in life.Â Hereâ€™s what I see as an example to follow:Â Stop, be quiet, and pray.
I know that when I get into rough water, I tend to make more noise and work frantically to get out of my mess.Â I donâ€™t know about you, but this rarely seems to solve my difficulties.
The Bible tells us to â€œwait on the Lordâ€ (Is. 40:31).Â The Bible tells us that even in tumultuous times we need to â€œbe still and know that He is Godâ€ (Ps. 46:10).Â The Bible tells us to â€œprayâ€ during times of difficulty (Ps. 32:6).Â The Bible tells us, â€œBehold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraidâ€ (Isa 12:2).
Stop.Â Be quiet.Â Pray.