Still On Vacation

It has been many years since my wife and I went on a vacation and this one has been wonderful.  We have been through 11 states thus far and will add a number of others before we are through.  We spent most of our time in the southwest portion of the US.  The scenery has been absolutely spectacular.  Not that it is more beautiful than many other parts of the country including where we live.  I guess it is just so different from what are used to that it is that much more impressive.  We have not really “done” much except drive and marvel at the hand of God. 

That is, of course the real point here.  We went to Las Vegas Nevada.  No we did not go to participate just to observe.  (You can get really cheap very nice rooms there.  Since I neither drink nor gamble it is a good deal for us.)  We just wanted to see some of these incredible buildings in this sinful city.  They are just that.  Incredible works of the hand of man. 

We drove from there to Sedona Arizona.  I do not know how many of you have seen pictures of this place or been here, but it is glorious.  It struck my wife and I what a poor imitation man makes of what God can do. 

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As you go through your day today, think on the majesty and wonder of our God.  is there anything too hard for him?  I don’t think so.

 

We are on Vacation!

It has been many years since my wife and I have had a real vacation.  We travel quite a bit, but it usually involves preaching.  This time we were blessed with finances to take two to three weeks and drive across country.  We are headed for the southwest.  (I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon!)

I will try to do some posting, but…..I am on vacation.  Have a great couple of weeks.

God bless,

Pastor Bill Kiefer

The Characteristics That Produce Favor 3

Ruth 2:8(NKJV) 8Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women.

This week we have been looking at the role God given favor played in the life of Ruth. Although she was a foreigner and a woman, God blessed her and she became an iconic figure in Israel. Her whole life was built upon favor that came to her from a wealthy relative by the name of Boaz. Although favor comes by God working in and around our lives, we can cultivate characteristics that will enable God to release this favor for our benefit.

In our last two posts, we saw four of the characteristics that put Ruth in a position to receive favor. First, she considered the wellbeing of Naomi above her own. There was no reason for her to accompany her Mother-in-law to Israel. However, she did so because she loved Naomi and knew that as an elderly single woman she would have a very difficult time surviving. Ruth was younger and able to help Naomi.

Second, she chose the God of Israel and the people of Israel over her own. She chose the will and ways of the Lord instead of what seemed good to her flesh. Third, Ruth did not sit around waiting for something to happen or complaining about what she could not do but she went to work doing what she could do. She not only worked but she worked hard. Finally, her lifestyle and reputation went before her. Boaz heard of what she had done for Naomi and it caused him to view Ruth in a very favorable light.

I want to conclude this week by pointing out three more things in Ruth’s life that enabled her to receive favor. In the verse above, we see that Boaz told Ruth to stay in his field. I believe there is something in this that we need to see and cultivate. Ruth could have looked to other fields. She could have decided that Boaz had a hidden agenda and was trying to keep her from richer pastures. However, she recognized that God was at work and chose to stay where God had placed her.

It is very difficult sometimes to stay obedient to God when things take time to develop. Often we do not understand what God is doing so we look for another answer or a better situation. I am sure Ruth had no idea what Boaz had in mind. She did not know he was her relative. However, she chose to stay with him anyway. Sometimes we may think a change of churches, jobs or locations will solve our problems. If God has placed you in any one of these, then that is where the answers lie.

Sometimes we must stand by faith until we see the answer. Sometimes God is doing things in our lives to make us able to receive what he wants to do for us. Sometimes he needs us to do something for someone else. Until we finish that assignment, we must stay where we are placed. God has a destiny for each of us and that destiny can only be accomplished in the right place. Too often Christians leave the place of destiny because the “grass seems greener on the other side of the fence.”

In chapter 2, Naomi gives Ruth some instructions. These instructions could be considered embarrassing or even risky. I can see Ruth having a hard time understanding what Naomi was asking her to do, but she obeyed anyway.

Ruth 3:2-4(NKJV) 2Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”

I believe it is important for each one of us to be submitted to Godly authority and accountable. This is necessary to walk in God given favor. We see that Ruth did not argue with Naomi. She trusted her as a spiritual woman. She had submitted herself to Naomi when she chose to come to Israel. She recognized that Naomi was older, wiser and knew the customs of the land. She obeyed Naomi and went to Boaz.

I want to point out something that Naomi told Ruth to do. She told her to make herself attractive. This should not be seen on just a physical level. It was not as though Ruth was supposed to seduce Boaz. Naomi told her not to be seen by him until he went to sleep. She was not to flout her looks as it were. I believe Naomi knew the kind of impression Ruth needed to make that would encourage Boaz to favor her.

We need to make ourselves attractive before God, the church and the world. By that, I mean we need to adorn ourselves with good character and integrity as we have already discussed. I believe we should also take pride in our appearance, our language and our behavior. If we want God to be able to bring favor into our lives, we should look and act as if we deserve it.

Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We know that light reveals sin, but it also dispels darkness. It not only reveals ugliness, but it also reveals beauty. Salt is a preservative that keeps away corruption. However, it is also a seasoning that makes things taste better. I believe that a Christian should help people see the beauty in God’s world as well as revealing sin. I believe we should provide a savory flavor to the world around us as well as the preservative power of holiness and righteousness. This will put us in a position to receive favor.

When Ruth had done all that Naomi had directed, she received a promise from Boaz that he would marry her and take care of both her and Naomi. Then he sent her home. It would have been easy for Ruth to think, “I probably won’t hear from him again. He said what he said to get rid of me.” Naomi encouraged her otherwise.

Ruth 3:18(NKJV) 18Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”

Naomi assured Ruth that Boaz was a man of his word and Ruth chose to believe both of them and wait patiently for favor to work. This is often the hardest part of walking in God given favor. As with anything God does in our lives, favor works by faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

I wonder what would have happened if Ruth had decided to go to the gate where Boaz was meeting the other close relative to work out how he could marry her. If she had interfered or stood to the side with a worried expression on her face would Boaz have reconsidered? We do not know but I have to believe he might have. Instead Ruth waited patiently, trusting that Boaz would do for her what he promised.

If we want God’s favor to work on our behalf we must be willing to wait for the process to play out. However, we must not wait and worry. We must wait in faith believing that God is more faithful than Boaz could ever be. If he said he would meet our need, he will. If we have a promise, he will do what is necessary to fulfill that promise and do it in a way that will be nothing but a blessing to us.

Favor revolutionized Ruth’s life. God brought that favor into her life but she made herself available to God and able to receive what God wanted to do. I believe God wants to do the same for us in 2013. Let us make ourselves attractive to God and to those on whom he is working on our behalf. Let us stay where God has planted us, because surely that is where we will find favor. Let us submit to the authorities God has placed over us and most important, let us continue to believe God for favor until we see the results.

The Characteristics That Produce Favor 2

(This week was Mothers Day weekend and my wife shared a wonderful message on the life of Ruth and Naomi as well a number of other women in the bible.  It reminded me of some things I shared about Ruth last year.  Ruth was what she was because of Naomi’s influence in her life.  She then became a mother who found a place in the Lineage of both David and Jesus.  I thought I would revisit some things the Lord showed me about her this week.)

Ruth 2:1-3(NKJV) 1There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. 2So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

This week we are looking at the characteristics in Ruth’s life that caused God to release the favor that opened up such great blessing in her life. Favor comes from God, but we can cultivate a lifestyle that will put us in position to receive favor. Yesterday we saw that Ruth put Naomi’s wellbeing above her own and that she chose the Lord over her own gods and the People of God over her own. If we will cultivate caring for others and place the will of God central in our lives, we will see the blessing of God. Favor will also help us fulfill our destiny in God.

Today I want to look at some other things that Ruth had in her life that contributed to favor coming to her. In the above verse, we see that Ruth did not simply sit and wait for something to happen. She did not expect someone to take care of her or give to her. She got up and went to work. There were many things she could not do, but she found something she could do and got busy.

I believe God brings favor to those who work. We live in what many are calling an entitlement society. I certainly believe that we should help the poor. The bible actually makes the care of the poor the responsibility of the church not the government. I do not believe that anyone should simply expect others to be responsible for them.

The process Ruth takes advantage of is very interesting. In the law, it stated that landowners could go through their fields once and get all the grain they could. However, whatever was left after that could not be harvested. It was left for the poor. It was not harvested and delivered to the poor. If those who did not have anything wanted grain to sell or eat, it was left for them but they had to get it themselves. I believe this system is much healthier for the poor person. They have the self respect born of providing for themselves.

Ruth took advantage of this practice when she went to Boaz’s field to harvest. It was because she got up and went to work that God was able to bring her to Boaz’s attention. If she had simply said, “We are just poor women. I hope someone comes to help us.” they would have stayed poor and maybe died. They did not sit there and lament about how unfair it was that they were in this condition. They did not blame anyone else for their circumstances. Ruth found something she could do and did it.

If you want to see God’s favor at work in your life, find something you can do and apply yourself there. In the area of ministry for instance, do not wait for someone to ask you to be a preacher or teacher. Find something that needs to be done and then do it. If you need a promotion at work, go in early or stay late. Instead of doing the minimum, you can to get by with, do something extra. If you have no job, find one. If it does not pay enough expect God to give you favor so that you will find something better. God gives favor to those who do what they can.

We see later in this chapter that Ruth did not just go to the field, work a little and then try to get someone’s attention with how weak and helpless she was. She not only worked, she worked hard. When Boaz returned to the field from a trip, he saw Ruth and asked his workers who she was. Look at their response.

Ruth 2:6-7(NKJV) 6So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”

Would Boaz have given her such favor if he had found her sitting in the house drinking their water and complaining about her situation? We do not know but I highly doubt he would have.

This leads me to another thing that caused Boaz to give favor to Ruth.

Ruth 2:10-12(NKJV) 10So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. 12The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

Boaz could see for himself that Ruth was applying herself in what she could do but this confirmed something else. Her character had gone before her. He had heard what she had done for Naomi. He knew that she had acted with love and integrity towards her. He knew that she was willing to sacrifice to take care of her mother-in-law and he knew that she had chosen to follow the Lord and his people instead of her gods and her people.

Does your lifestyle put you in a place to receive favor or would God have to cause your reputation to be overlooked in order to bring favor to you. The bible says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” There are times when our Christian character can cause the world to reject and even persecute us. The bible never says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for being obnoxious.” It never says we will be blessed if we are persecuted for having bad integrity or laziness.

Just because you are a Christian, it does not mean that everything negative that comes your way is persecution. I often tell people if every boss you have ever worked for has been a jerk, you might want to look at the one constant in that equation. That constant is you!

As a Christian, if you will live a life of character and integrity even in the midst of persecution, you will find that favor will come to you. The boss may not like your Christianity but if you are his best, most honest worker, when it comes time to promote he will have to consider you. I believe that there is a natural component to this, but I also believe there is a supernatural component.

God will use your character and integrity to work on your bosses bringing pressure on them to give you good things. This principle extends to any area of life. You may need favor in business or school. You may need favor in relationships. Whatever area you need favor in, if your lifestyle is one of integrity and diligence, God can use that to give you favor with someone, somehow.

Good character and a life of integrity will also help create favor in our ministry life. Those to whom you present the gospel of Jesus will be much more disposed to listen if your lifestyle reflects your words. They will also be inclined to want what you have if they see it reflected in your daily living.

Take some time and ask yourself today, “Does my lifestyle draw favor to me? Can God point to my life as one that deserves favor? Am I applying myself where I can or have I allowed the ‘entitlement’ mentality cripple me into thinking someone owes me?” The choice is yours. You can have God given favor or not.

Who Will Cast the First Stone

John 8:4-8 (NKJV) 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

In our study of forgiveness, we have learned a number of important things. Jesus links forgiving our brothers and sisters to success in our walk of faith. He also ties it to receiving answer to prayer. If we forgive, it releases the power of God’s forgiveness in our lives. Indeed, if we do not forgive we bind God’s ability to forgive our own sins. We also find that we must forgive everyone for anything they have done to wrong us.

We have also found that forgiveness is not a feeling it is a decision. The feelings eventually come but forgiveness does not start with the feelings. This decision is not based on the offenders asking for forgiveness or on his or her repentance. The responsibility to forgive is on us not the one we need to forgive. This is not true in the natural. However, we see in Jesus forgiveness from the cross that supernatural forgiveness is what we need to have.

Finally, we find that the thing we must decide is to let go of any right for payment or retribution for the offence. This is the key element of forgiveness. We feel we deserve some kind of payment if we forgive. That payment may simply be the punishment of the offender. Once again, in the natural this is a logical idea. However, we are to be supernatural people so we must forgive supernaturally as well. There is a legal term for this. It is called a pardon. We must be willing to pardon those who offend us as well.

A logical question related to this kind of forgiveness is, “Doesn’t the offender just get away with the bad behavior if we forgive this way.” Very often, this kind of thinking is what will allow us to rationalize unforgiveness. This is not the case at all.

When we choose to let go of our need for payment or punishment we leave that responsibility in the hands of God. God is not mocked. What a person sows they will reap. If we forgive, we place the consequences for the person’s offense in God’s hands. God knows that person’s heart. He will judge perfectly. He can see repentance that we cannot. He also sees the lack of repentance that we would miss. If we leave them to God, they “get away with” nothing.

The other question I have heard asked is “What about trust?” Under certain circumstances, we may need to rebuild trust. That is a separate issue from forgiveness. If I forgive a person that means I am no going to relate to them personally in light of the offense. I still may require some kind of enhanced accountability to be sure the offense is not repeated.

I raised six children. There were many times when I forgave them for bad behavior. I still may have grounded them or required certain things of them so that good behavior would be enforced and bad habits broken. In relationships that are more equal in nature than parent and child, there may be some requirements set in areas to make sure that the offense does not happen again. We do not hold the offense against the offender on a personal level, but we take steps to protect that relationship from future damage.

This brings me to another question. If we are to give up our right for the person to ask for forgiveness or to repent, why does God require us to ask for forgiveness and for us to repent? The short answer might be that he is God and we are not. He is without sin of any kind and we are not.

In today’s scripture, a crowd of people with a woman in tow confronts Jesus. They tell him that this woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Adultery is a sin. Under the Old Testament law, it was punishable by stoning to death. Jesus says to them, “The one among you who has never committed sin can cast the first stone.” He then writes in the sand. One by one, the accusers put down their stones and walk away.

We do not know what Jesus wrote in the sand. Most think he was probably writing the names of sins that the accusers themselves had committed. Whatever he wrote the affect of Jesus’ words was that none of them was sinless enough to cast the stone that would lead to this woman’s punishment. I think each of us would do the same as those accusing the woman did. We would walk away because we are not without sin.

The woman was guilty, yet Jesus forgave here. His requirement was that she go and sin no more. That is the essence of repentance. God required repentance. He requires repentance from us as well. Why must we release people from this requirement when God requires it from us? Because God knows us and what we need.

1 John 1:8-10 (NKJV) 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

In this verse, we see that God requires we confess our sins to him in order to receive forgiveness. It must be noted that he requires no payment for the sins we confess. Jesus already made the payment. He does require we acknowledge them. If we do not acknowledge them, he cannot deal with us to get the sin out of our lives. God’s requirement of repentance is for our good. It is so that he can make us better in the end.

When we require repentance from our brother before we forgive him it is not for his good. It is because we feel we need that to alleviate the hurt. God has the power to cleanse the repentant sinner of unrighteousness. We do not have any such power. God is perfect in his judgment. We are not. God only has our good at heart. We also have our good at heart not the good of the offender.

Forgiveness is a powerful force in our lives. It is a force that will free us from all kinds of physical and emotional bondage. The more freely we give it the more freely we will be able to live. When we give it to others, it will be easier for us to receive it from God.

Take some time to think of those you may hold unforgiveness towards. Release forgiveness to them today. You may not feel it right away but the decision starts the process. I assure you that you will not regret the decision.

How do We Forgive?

Luke 23:33-34 (NKJV) 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.

This week we are looking at the importance of forgiveness in our Christian walk. Many emotional and relational problems can be traced back to an inability to forgive. Physical problems can result when we hold on to offenses. Certainly, our faith and love will never fully develop if we do not forgive.

In Mark Chapter 11, Jesus taught his disciples that they must forgive for their faith to function and their prayers to be answered. He also told them that when they did not forgive the Father could not forgive them. I believe this can also work in the positive. If I choose to forgive, I release the power of forgiveness in my life. This does not just mean I can be forgiven. It also means that I will experience the supernatural ability of God to forgive others. Just as love starts with God, so does forgiveness.

Today I want to talk about the nature of biblical forgiveness and how we forgive. It is important that we understand we are not talking about natural forgiveness only. If we are going to release the power of forgiveness, we must forgive as the bible tells us to forgive. In Mark 11:25-26 we found that there are no limits on our forgiving. We must forgive everyone for anything they may do against us. That is supernatural forgiveness.

As a pastor for 36 years, I have dealt with many people who had problems forgiving. Most of them had good reasons to resist forgiving. Often, there is physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Our society is filled with divorce and that presents severe challenges to forgiving. Maybe someone caused injury of some kind and the injured party has every right to be angry.

As a sympathetic person, I may understand why the person would not want to forgive. Nevertheless, that does not change the truth of the bible. God does not ask us to forgive for the other person alone. He asks us to forgive because it will free us from bondage. It will also free him to deal with the other person. Let us consider our greatest example of forgiveness.

In today’s scripture, we see Jesus in the midst of the crucifixion. He has been wrongly accused. People have born false witness against him, which is a direct violation of the Ten Commandments. He has been beaten at a level of cruelty that goes beyond what is appropriate even in such a barbaric system. He has been crowned with thorns, mocked and insulted. None of this treatment is in any way justified. Who would have greater justification for withholding forgiveness?

Yet in this verse, we hear Jesus make a statement that has been recognized ever since as the standard for forgiving. “Father forgive them for the do not know what they are doing.” Although the soldiers, the officials and the crowds probably did not know they were killing the Son of God, on a human level they did know they were cruelly killing an innocent man. Pontius Pilot said so in his trial. That in itself would have been enough for any of us to feel justified in withholding forgiveness. Jesus did not.

As I have spent time with people who needed to forgive, there are a number of things that they seem to need if they are even going to approach the idea. If the offender were to ask for forgiveness, most Christians will at least try to forgive. If there is some repentance on the part of the offender, it may be possible to forgive them. I want to ask you a question. Who came to Jesus with a repentant heart? Who asked Jesus to forgive them for the cruelty they showed to him. The answer is no one did.

Biblical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender. It is solely the responsibility of the forgiver. This is not true in society. In natural forgiveness, repentance is necessary. In natural forgiveness, we need the person to ask for forgiveness. Jesus did not function in natural forgiveness. He functioned in supernatural forgiveness and if we are going to walk in the supernatural, so must we.

There are two major reasons we cannot forgive. First, we tend to think it is a feeling. We have all tried to forgive someone who has hurt us and still felt the same way towards them. We assume we must not have forgiven them. This is not necessarily true. While I believe biblical forgiveness will lead to a change in our feelings, it does not start there. Biblical forgiveness is a decision. We forgive the moment we make a quality decision to forgive.

Second, we do not understand the nature of forgiveness. Let us look at some definitions. Strong’s Greek English dictionary defines the Greek word for forgiveness this way: To send forth; forsake, lay aside, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away.

This gives a clearer understanding of what bible forgiveness is. It is to send something forth. What do we send forth? Our forgiveness of course but I think there is more. We send forth the hurt associated with it. We send forth the need for justice or payment. We forsake that need and lay it aside. We let the emotions of the betrayal or wounding alone. We do not dwell on them. We omit them and put or send them away. This is the nature of what Jesus did on the cross.

The English definition is also revealing.

1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon

2. To renounce (To give up our right to something such as anger or resentment against someone)

3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example)

Notice that all of these definitions point to giving up something. In my experience, unforgiveness is almost always rooted in our need for some kind of payment or retribution. This may not be payment to us personally. It may be the payment of punishment for the other person. Forgiveness is the decision to give up our right to payment. If we give up our need for payment, it is a simple matter to forgive the offender.

There is a word in the English definition that perfectly illustrates Christian forgiveness. It is the word pardon.

In our legal system, we have provision for the issue of legal pardons. If a person is convicted of a crime and serves the appropriate sentence, they go free. They are not free from the stigma of the conviction. They are ex-convicts for life. They lose certain rights that they can never get back. They are free but not forgiven.

A pardon is different. A pardon does not presume innocence or guilt. A pardon comes from some higher power. The person may well have done the crime, but the governor or president or some authority says, “We are going to forgive this offense. He may be guilty, but we pardon him.” A pardoned person is treated as if they never committed the crime. They regain their rights if they lost them. They are not viewed as a criminal. The matter is never again applied to them. They are both free and forgiven.

I want you to think of a person you are having trouble forgiving. Whatever they may have done to you, you have the power to pardon them. In this case, you are the higher power. You can take the high ground. Choose to pardon the offender. Say in your heart, “I pardon you. I choose to let go of any need or payment. You are forgiven.” You may or may not need to say it to the person. You will be setting yourself free.

When You Stand Praying…..Forgive

Mark 11:22-26 (NKJV) 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

This is a very famous story from the bible. Jesus was walking from his place of lodging to Jerusalem. The day before, he had been in the Jerusalem observing the business taking place in the temple. What he saw angered him. He left the city and went to pray about what the Father wanted him to do. When he saw a fig tree that was in full bloom but had no fruit he cursed the tree saying no one would ever eat of it again. He was really responding to the fruitless religion of the Pharisees.

He proceeded to the city and began to drive the empty religion out and dishonest business out of the temple saying, “My Father’s house is supposed to be a house of prayer. You have made it a den of thieves!” At the end of the day, they were returning to the place they were staying and the disciples saw the tree shriveled up by the roots. The disciples comment on how fast the words of Jesus had come to pass. This is where we pick up the narrative in today’s scripture.

Jesus tells them that the source of such power is faith in God. If they believe, they can speak words of faith and change the natural world. Circumstances and situations will conform to the Words of God spoken in faith. He also adds words spoken in prayer to the equation. If they believe when they pray, they will eventually have that for which they ask.

We then come to verse 25. Jesus is not beginning another topic here. He is continuing in his teaching on faith. If the disciples want to have the same effective faith Jesus showed in speaking to the fig tree, they are going to have to do something to prepare their hearts. They must forgive.

Walking in forgiveness is vital to success in every area of our Christianity including faith. If we want to walk in righteousness, we must walk in forgiveness. If we want to win the lost, we must walk in forgiveness. If want to walk in love, forgiveness is at the very heart of it.

Unforgiveness leads to emotional failure. It can lead to moral failures. Unforgiveness cripples our personal s and can destroy our families. Every divorce can point to unforgiveness as a major cause. If we want to be successful as Christians and in life, we must walk in forgiveness.

The idea of personal forgiveness really takes shape with the ministry of Jesus. With the exception of David’s forgiving Nabal’s wife, Abigail and Joseph’s forgiving his brother’s I can find no stories of personal forgiveness in the Old Testament. At least not in the sense that Jesus taught the subject. Forgiveness is a decidedly Christian idea.

In verse 25, Jesus tells us that if we do not forgive our prayers will go unanswered. What does he tell us to forgive? What are the limits of our walk of forgiveness? Jesus tells us we must forgive anything we may have against anyone. In other words, there can be no limit on our forgiving. It does not matter who has wronged us and it does not matter what they did to us. If we want faith and prayer to work in our lives, we must forgive them.

Last week we studied a related idea. Jesus told us in Matthew 5 that we must love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us. The conclusion of our study was that this is impossible without the supernatural love of God at work in us. His teaching on forgiveness is the same. We need his power working in us to forgive this way.

The second half of verse 25 and verse 26 seem to make the situation even more difficult. Not only do I have to forgive everyone for everything, if I do not, God cannot forgive me. I do not know about you, but I need God to be able to forgive me. There is another implication to this that might help us.

If we forgive others, God can forgive us. We might also say that when I choose to forgive, I release the power of God’s forgiveness in my life. In 1 John 4:10 and 19 we learn that love does not start with us but with God. We can love as Jesus taught because he first loved us. We can forgive as Jesus taught because he first forgave us.

When we choose to forgive others, we release the power that is already at work in us because he has forgiven us. When we withhold forgiveness, we block the power of forgiveness released in salvation. We can love because he first loved us. We can forgive because he first forgave us.

I am reminded of the story of Corrie ten Boom, a girl living in Holland during the Nazis occupation. Like many Christian families, the ten Booms hid Jews in their home to save them from the concentration camps. The story of her life is recounted in the book called The Hiding Place and the movie of the same name.

The ten Booms are eventually caught hiding Jewish families. Corrie and her sister were sent to a concentration camp. Corrie’s sister, Betsy was a very gentle soul. Corrie loved her very much. Betsy could not stand up under the torturous life in the camp. She eventually died.

A particular guard was very cruel to the sisters. Corrie blamed this guard for Betsy’s death. Although they were raised to be devout Christians, Corrie could not find it in her heart to forgive this man. She began down a path of hardness that would have surely destroyed her.

One day the Lord began to deal with her. She knew that she must forgive this man, but she just could not. Finally, the dealing of God was stronger than her hatred for this man. She made the choice to forgive. It was a very hard choice. When she made it, everything changed.

Corrie ten Boom is known around the world as an example of love and kindness to everyone she meets. Her story has influenced millions to break the bonds of unforgiveness. If she had not made the choice to forgive, she would have ended her life a bitter old woman who could help no one.

We are going to look at forgiveness in some depth this week. For now, think about Corrie ten Boom and then think of those who you need to forgive. I encourage you to get the book or see the movie. Both are readily available on Amazon.com. As you consider the extreme abuse that Corrie had to forgive understand that God could empower her to do it know that he can empower you as well.

Forgiveness never harms the person who needs to be forgiven. It always harms the one who does not forgive. As we look at the Word of God this week, let us determine to release the awesome power of forgiveness both in our lives and through our lives to others.

Know and Believe the Love of God for You

1 John 4:16-19 (NKJV) 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

In our time this week, we have been looking at the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 concerning loving our enemies. Natural wisdom says we should love our friends and hate our enemies. Jesus tells us that we should do just the opposite. We should love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute us. There is a problem with this whole scenario. We cannot possibly do this. It is just too difficult

I asked the question as we closed yesterday, “What will it take for us to be able to live this kind of love.” Today we will answer that question.

In this scripture from 1 John, we see some statements that are key to loving as Jesus taught us to love. Let us start with verse 17 and we will go back to verse 16. First, we see that there is a connection between fear and love. We cannot love because we are afraid. We are afraid for the future. We are afraid that we will be mistreated. We are afraid that we will lose something important to us if we choose to do things like loving our enemies. Fear keeps us from being free to love.

Conversely, if we are perfected in love we will not fear. This seems like a catch 22. I must be made perfect in love to overcome fear but I cannot love because of fear. How can I find a way around this problem? We see a key in the next phrase. Fear has torment but there is no torment in love. As I read that, I realize John is not talking about our love. There is no torment if I am loved. If I question that I am loved I will experience torment over what will happen to me if I give love.

Verse 18 is one of the most important verses in the bible to me. We love him because he loved us first. Couple that with verse 10.

1 John 4:10 (NKJV) 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

When we read the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48 and we think of the potential ramifications it is very difficult for us to accept that we can love that way. Fear rises and we assume Jesus is calling us to a life of being downtrodden and overwhelmed. That is not true. Paul says we should be more that conquerors. John says in 1 John 5 that we can overcome the world. Why would the words of Jesus telling us to love cause such a response?

The reason is simple. We focus on the wrong end of the love equation. We focus on our love. Our love has never been sufficient. The key is not our love at all. It is not even our love for God. It is God’s love for us!

I do not have to fear because God loves me. 1 John 17 says we can have boldness in the day of judgment because we are as he is in this world. This is true because love is perfected in us. We must understand that it is not our love for God that must be perfected. Verse 18 clearly shows it is our understanding of God’s love for us that must be perfected in us if we are going to walk free of fear.

Verse 10 tells us that the kind of love we are talking about can never originate with us. Someone I respect once said, “The issue is not how much God loves us but how much we love God.” In the context of the message I understood what this person meant. We do have a responsibility in this. However, I must disagree. The issue is not how much we love God. The issue is how much we accept the love of God for us.

Verse 16 is another key statement. We must know and believe the love God has for us. If we spend time getting to know the love God has for us, it will open our heart to love others. Let us look at the word translated know here. It has some interesting meanings.

Know means to allow, be aware of, feel, have knowledge of, perceive, be resolved, be sure and to understand. That is quite a mouth full. Let me break it down. We must have knowledge that God loves us. We must be sure of it. We must resolve to accept God’s love for us. How can we know God loves us? He tells he does.

I try to be a man of my word. I try to follow through with what I say. If I say I love someone then I will do my best to act accordingly. I am human. Therefore, I make mistakes. I fail in my love walk at times. So do you. God does not. If he says he loves us, than he does. There are far too many scriptures to list here that tell us God loves us. We could start with the ones quoted in this post. We could add the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

We should periodically study what the bible says about God’s love for us. That is the way we gain knowledge. The more we study the truth of God’s love for us the more we will come to an experiential knowledge of the love of God. God does not love us because we feel his love. He loves us because he says he loves us. When we meditate on the truth of his love, we will eventually feel his love. Remember, when you feel loved is not when he started loving you.

We must also allow God to love us. We have all tried to deal with people who would not let us love them. We do the same to God. I have spent time with people who seemed to want to convince me why it was impossible for God to love them. They struggle because they will not allow the love of God in. Fear is keeping them from understanding the very thing that will free them from fear.

This brings us to the other thing we must do where the love of God is concerned. We must believe it. To know it is step one. If we do not believe it we will never get beyond step one. How can I believe the love of God? Romans 10:17 says faith comes from the word. I will grow in believing the love of God the more I listen to God tell me he loves me in his word. I will grow in the love of God as I read about his love at work in the ministry of Jesus. I will grow in the love of God for me as I see it played out in the story of whole bible.

Believing has another element that often causes us trouble. Believing is not a feeling. It is a decision. We must choose to believe. Once we make that choice, we reinforce the decision to believe with the word of God. The more we reinforce our decision, the more we will feel faith rise in our hearts. It must start with the decision to believe what God says. This decision has another name. We call it trust.

I know that trust is very difficult for many people. I have tried to find some way around what I am going to say next but I just cannot. How can a person learn to trust? There is only one way. We must decide to trust someone. Fear tells us we cannot do that because that person will fail us. When we decide to trust God, we are not trusting a person alone. We are trusting God.

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) 5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Remember this. Start with God’s love for you. Study his love for you. Meditate on his love for you. That is what will drive out fear. Then respond to that love by knowing it and believing it. You will find the knowledge of and belief in his love for you spilling over into your daily responses for others. Even your enemies.