1 Timothy 6:1-21 One of the reasons we are critical and judgmental of others is because we are walking in pride instead of walking in love. There are two forms of pride—superiority and inferiority. We either think too highly of ourselves, or too lowly of ourselves. When we think too highly of ourselves, we delight in criticizing and putting down others. When we think too lowly of ourselves, we often try to elevate ourselves by putting others down. Whether we think too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves, we are not seeing ourselves as God sees us. Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us, and when He looks at us He says one thing, "You are worth the death of My own Son." This is the price that was paid for you, and therefore you are seen by God as a precious treasure—a treasure worth dying for, and He did just that.
Isaiah 48:12-50:11 This passage in Isaiah speaks of God's greatness and His infinite interest in mankind. This very morning I enjoyed a lesson on the "Fear of the Lord" that gave documented facts about the great expanse of our universe. The teacher shared how many light-years it would take for us to travel to a far galaxy, and it was mind boggling. We are just now coming to the understanding of the vastness of our universe. Yet, God says He spans the heavens with His right hand. The span of my own hand is about five inches or less. Think of how big God is who can span the whole universe with His right hand.
Should you be hauled off to an institution for the clinically busy?
My work periodically requires successive days of ludicrously long hours that far exceed the labor schedule authorized by the demented Pharaoh, who once enslaved the Israelites. After the most recent string of such days, I staggered home to be greeted by my wife, Dale, who was dressed in a toga and proclaimed, "Let my people go!" Fifteen years ago, it didn't really bother me to work three, 16-hour days in a row. I could bound out of bed the next morning and be ready to hit the new day with vim and vigor.
These days, I don't so much bound out of bed as ooze from the mattress and leach slowly into my pants, so I can claw at the new day with anti-vim and a massive dose of caffeine.
Although my boss has explicitly and repeatedly authorized me to take some time off after a brutal few days, I am cursed with a twisted Protestant work ethic DNA that renders me genetically incapable of taking a day off unless I have contracted some kind of incapacitating medical condition, such as scurvy, rickets or the loss of a couple limbs.
So as I reached for the alarm one morning, my wife said: "If you even think about going into work this morning, I will have you hauled off to an institution for the clinically busy. You have worked more than 48 hours in the last three days, your eyes are bloodshot and you are drooling."
"But I'm not technically dead yet," I protested.
"That can be remedied," she said. "Get back in bed. Just because you don't show up at the office it does not mean that islands will plunge into the sea and thousands of little lambs will be lost in the wilderness."
I rolled my eyes to convey my disagreement.
"Well, perhaps I can take just the morning off," I said, as my 250-pound solid granite head slammed back into the pillow and crushed all the feathers into tiny little puffs of goose-down dust.
It was not because of noise, but due to my coffee-bloated bladder that I finally awoke and tottered into the bathroom. The act of standing up forced me to quickly conclude that my wife was right. I was in no shape to go to work.
But I couldn't quite manage to cut myself completely off from the office, so I snuck a quick peek at my BlackBerry wireless e-mail device. My wife calls it a "CrackBerry" because she says I am addicted to it. But for the record I can often go two or even three minutes without looking at it.
The first e-mail sent chills down my groggy spine. My colleague had called in sick. The office was entirely unmanned. This was a crisis of global proportions, cosmic even. In a horrifying moment, dozens of unread memos and unstapled documents passed before my bloodshot eyes. I could hear the islands gurgling in dismay as they sank into the watery abyss, and the lost little lambs were filing a class-action lawsuit against me for negligence.
I threw on my clothes and drove to work. Moments after I sent my first urgent e-mail, my boss called me from our main office 75 miles away.
"I got your e-mail. Why are you at work? Go Home!"
Curiously, the earth didn't collide with the moon while I took a day off. Apparently, the only truly indispensable person is God, and He tells us to rest. Sometimes when we don't listen to Him, He tells us through our wives.
There are two reasons why God has difficulty in getting us to listen to Him.
Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.—1 Samuel 3:9
What can be more important than correct listening? We only worship God to the degree that we hear Him speak. This is why there are injunctions throughout Scripture about hearing and listening. Jesus would frequently end a parable with the words, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
What we are talking about is the ability to recognize and respond to the Spirit's impulse. I consider this to be the highest level of spirituality that exists.
There are two reasons why God has difficulty in getting us to listen to Him. The first is our inability to absorb or take in His counsel. We all overestimate our capacity to grasp and take in things, not realizing that if God were to tell us all there is to know, our minds would snap. God has to deal with us where we are.
The second reason why God has difficulty in getting us to listen to Him is that there is sin within us as a result of not walking in the light. We say, "Lord, speak to me."
God answers, "I did speak, but you wouldn't take it."
We say, "I didn't want that. Lord, speak to me."
"I am speaking."
"No, Lord, speak to me."
God is trying to reach us, and we hear Him to the degree that we are walking in the light. Is it possible that God is trying to speak to you along a certain line, but you are saying, "I know God wouldn't say that to me"?
When we get to the judgment, the Lord could look at us in much the same way and remind us of certain areas of our life, and we will be speechless. It's very important that we should be transparently honest with ourselves. The final tragic result of disobedience, of course, is that God stops speaking to us.
Excerpted from Worshipping God (Hodder & Stoughton, 2004).
Have you ever thought God was saying something to you, but you weren't sure it was really His voice you were hearing? Have you found yourself thinking, How do I know it was really God I heard and not my own imagination—or worse, the enemy?
God's solution is simple: "'If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him'" (James 1:5, NIV). When we need to know if we are hearing God's voice, all we have to do is ask Him!
We can go to God, tell Him what we think we heard Him say, and then ask Him to confirm it or correct our hearing on the matter. God wants to give us an understanding of what He says to us because He wants to communicate with us. He is eager to teach us to correctly hear His voice.
In 1982, Ruby Holland Hutchins was diagnosed with cervical cancer and was told she would never have children. In 1997, she learned she had a rare disease called pulmonary sarcoidosis. In 2000, doctors told her she had stage-four lung cancer and would die in three months.
Today Hutchins has two adult daughters, no longer has pulmonary sarcoidosis, and her doctor told her she has been "healed" and no longer has lung cancer. The Memphis, Tennessee, resident says it was her faith in God that made the difference in her recovery.
"Faith is not a feeling and it's not a fact," she told Charisma. "To have faith is to know God and believe His Word. When I responded to the ordeal in faith, the Word became flesh to my very body."
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. —Psalm 91:1
An elderly man stood up in a testimony service, waved his handkerchief, and said, "I've been serving the Lord for fifty years, and I want to testify that in that fifty years I have never been down-.-.-.-not one day-.-.-.-not one time."
There was also a young man in that service who had recently given his life to Jesus. He stopped the old man as he was leaving and said, "I don't understand. I gave my life to Jesus, and it seems like all hell broke loose. How can you say you have never been down?"
The old gentleman replied with words of wisdom, "Son, I've never been down, because I have always either been up or getting up."
If you are fighting a little adversity, dance longer, shout louder, and pray harder. Tell the devil you are not giving up; you are enduring to the end. Born-again, Spirit-filled believers may wobble, but they don't fall down. Claim His promise today: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand" (Psalm 37:23-24).
Lord, whenever I stumble, lift me up by Your hand. Uphold me in Your arms. Cover me with Your wings. Shelter me in the Rock. Amen.
When we spent three weeks in India in 1980, we agreed with our pastor and his wife that we would not visit any of the Hindu temples. We did not want to expose ourselves to the spirits that dwelled in these temples. We knew that even though man had made the idols in these temples, demonic spirits were all around them.
While we were in Madras, a man came up to us and asked us if we wanted to see a museum that had bronzes that dated back to the eleventh century. We agreed to follow him, and later wished we had not. As we entered the museum we felt the heaviness of demonic spirits and soon realized that all the bronzes were idols the Hindus worshipped. Some were so grotesque in appearance we wondered how anyone could worship such an image. Our pastor quickly made a beeline for the door and said, "We've seen your gods, but personally I prefer Jehovah God."
Psalm 115 tells us all about idols. Idols have mouths, but they cannot speak; eyes, but they cannot see; ears, but they cannot hear; noses, but they cannot smell; hands, but they cannot handle; feet, but they cannot walk. This psalm goes on to say, "Those that make them are like to them; so is everyone who trusts in them" (v. 8).
As her fingers eased over the piano keys, repeating gently the notes of the last chord of "Purify My Heart," Karen knew in her spirit that many had been touched by the worship this evening. A lingering smile sent her way from Wes, the worship team leader, confirmed it.
Karen slid quietly off the piano bench and headed for the music office. She glanced at her watch. If her husband, Marty, had been here, he would have been irritated that the music had taken so much time. He was always in a hurry to get home to his computer and The Wall Street Journal. She sighed.
"What was the sigh for?" asked Wes, who had been following her down the dimly lit hall of the Sunday school wing. "A pretty lady like you shouldn't have a care in the world! And your piano playing was ... was ... how can I describe the beauty and majesty you draw from those keys? Just being on the same team with you has been a thrill for me."
Karen slowed her steps to match his.
"So what was that sigh all about? You can tell me. We've been friends too long to have secrets."
The soft tones of his voice, his physical closeness, the shadow of his strong, lean frame cast down the hall by the single light behind them brought a great longing for his touch.
Marty never thought of comforting or understanding her, Karen thought to herself wryly. He was always living in another world, a world of business deals and big bucks. He figured she was strong enough to take care of herself.
But he was wrong; Karen was lonely. Surely God had sent Wes into her life to let her know that she was really of special value to someone.
So she poured out her heart to him. And for the first time, Wes reached out and drew her into his arms as she cried.
Together, Karen and Wes stepped closer to the rim of the ledge.
It begins innocently enough. There's no plan to entice or injure anyone, just a desire to express how one feels.
"You are special, really special! I've never met anyone before who understands me like you do."
Or simply, "What fun we have together!"
Something springs to life within us at these words, and the connection is made. There's just one problem: At least one of us is married—to someone else.
The temptation to allow someone into our hearts who has no right to be there lurks in every role of ministry. Worship leaders, musicians, youth ministers, pastors, secretaries and counselors are yielding to it in alarming numbers. The end result—what I call "spiritual adultery"—is rarely discerned until it turns sexual.
Yielding to Temptation I learned of spiritual adultery the hard way—by succumbing to it myself. It overtook me at a time when I was very confident of my love for God and my devotion to my family.
True, my husband and I had endured some rocky times, with both of us wishing we had married someone more sensitive to our needs. But at this particular time, problems in our marriage were "under control," and we seemed quite happy. I was trusting God that our relationship would, in time, become all that He wanted it to be.
Meanwhile, my teaching at a large, residential discipleship ministry was bearing good fruit. Although all my students were men, I was confident that I was too strong, too mature and too spiritual to be tempted to be unfaithful to God or my husband. I had learned to maintain physical and psychological distance from them by dressing modestly and behaving professionally. I wanted to be an effective teacher, not a distraction.
This had been relatively easy to accomplish in the classroom. But when I was given an intern to train one-on-one, I was in for a surprise.
The intern and I shared an office and worked well together. His deep hunger for God and his grasp of the Scriptures greatly touched me. In turn, he expressed to me how deeply my love for the Lord ministered to his spirit—something I had longed for years to hear from my husband, but hadn't.
We found it very easy to be open with one another about our personal lives. At times, it seemed as though we could read each other's minds! We took every possible opportunity to study together and encourage one another.
I was happier than I could remember ever having been before. The relationship seemed like a gift from God. I was loved for me, just as I was! Someone believed in me and cared what I thought and felt.
But my life became split. There was life at the ministry with the intern, where I was appreciated and understood; and there was life at home, where I felt I never measured up.
My authorities at the ministry warned me not to spend so much time with the intern. But I thought they were being narrow-minded. To abandon such joy was unthinkable! I was going to prove I could be best friends with someone who wasn't my husband and not commit sin.
Turning Point Then one day I began reading John Sanford's book Why Some Christians Commit Adultery. It opens with a description of spiritual adultery, the unintentional entering into one another's hearts that easily occurs between trusting people who spend time together, especially in ministry.
When I read this description, I knew something wasn't right. I asked for the afternoon off and headed for a public park in the next town.
All the way there, I begged God to show me my heart. As I spent hours walking the footpaths in the park, God brought back to me memory after memory of times I had denied Him, abused my leadership position in the ministry, betrayed trust and become a law unto myself.
Finally, face down on the ground, I cried out to God for mercy. My heart broke as I saw my darkness, and I repented of what He had shown me.
He met me there in that special moment, and I knew I was forgiven. But the long process of cleansing would take years and would prove to be full of pain—as well as great promise—for my life.
In the months to come, God taught me, step by step as I could bear it, deeper matters regarding love and the sanctity of my spirit. One night, when I found myself unable to sleep, I stumbled upon Malachi 2:14-16: "The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the [husband] of your youth, because you have broken faith with [him], though [he] is your partner, the [husband] of your marriage covenant.
"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the [husband] of your youth" (NIV).
I was pierced through! For the first time, I had a revelation of how serious God was about covenant. It didn't matter in the slightest how happy I was with my husband. At all costs, I was to "guard my spirit" and not break faith with him. I had sinned on both counts.
I also had broken faith with God. He had told me to trust Him in all things and not to have any other gods in my life. But I had made an idol out of "being loved."
I had broken God's heart by looking to someone else to meet my needs. I had forgotten that I was indeed His Bride, too, married to Him forever. He had been loving me dearly all the time, but I had not learned to draw from that love.
The intern suffered immeasurably as a new Christian because I had allowed him to look to me instead of to God for deep friendship and love. I had sinned in thinking I had the right to be anything special to him.
For more than a year after that, the Lord washed me over and over again as I wept at His feet. His great mercy, love and forgiveness comforted me as each lesson was burned into my heart.
In the midst of the healing process, the Lord reminded me of something. Nine months before I met the intern, I had prayed that God would send His refiner's fire into my life to expose and burn up anything in my heart that could come between Him and me. God had simply answered my prayer! I began to sense His holiness as never before and to learn how thoroughly I am to worship Him.
Because spiritual adultery is not sexual, we often are not on guard against it. But it is every bit as dangerous. It slowly eats away at our relationships with God and others, inevitably destroying intimacy and trust. Little by little, it poisons our spirits, setting the stage for sexual adultery.
Are You at Risk? Candidates for spiritual adultery are typically committed and spiritually sensitive people who would be appalled at the thought of ever being unfaithful to God or their spouses.
But they usually share a common misconception: that human love can rescue them from their weaknesses and failures, hurts and sorrows, and that it is their inalienable right. They haven't fully grasped the truth that God can not only meet their needs but also more than compensate for a lack of love from others. Without realizing it, they have judged His love insufficient.
The truth is that God's love is perfect all the time! It is always there, always capable of making us truly happy. And the best news is that it isn't based on our performance, and it never pulls back.
Renewed Marriage During the months that followed my repentance, my husband and I were greatly helped through Christian counseling. We slowly discovered and dealt with the root problems and judgments within each of our hearts that had set the stage for spiritual adultery.
It has taken a long time, but we have finally become good friends who can tell the truth and bear to hear it from each other. We have a brand-new respect for each other, out of which is growing a faithful love.
This can be your story, too—if you are willing to let go of improper relationships rather than clinging to them. Wishing things were different or that you had married someone else will throw you into the lap of deception—not help you grow.
Feelings of powerlessness, inferiority, loneliness, rejection, anger and jealousy, along with poor communication, an excessive desire for attention, fantasizing and ungratefulness must be acknowledged and resolved. You need to forgive, repent, and be cleansed and healed.
If you have connected deeply with someone else, ask God to dissolve all spiritual and emotional ties with that other person and to totally take away any vestiges of unseemly love or affection that might still be in you.
After separating yourself from the person spiritually, you must also separate physically. The person must be dead to you! It is often necessary to change churches, move into a different ministry or even leave the area.
For a time, thoughts and longings for that person usually return, even though you have repented. When they do, take them captive and give up ownership of them to God. Don't dwell on them! Use the temptation as an opportunity to thank God for saving you from a worse fate, and recommit yourself to faithfulness to God and your family.
If it is your mate who falls into spiritual adultery, ask yourself what insensitivity on your part might have contributed to it. You may need to do some soul-searching and repenting of your own.
Start talking with and truly listening to your spouse. Swallow your pride, and get help for your marriage before it is too late. You and your mate are more important than any ministry, and if leaving the ministry will facilitate healing, do it.
Those of us in ministry must have our lives in order. Whatever seeds of selfishness or imbalance we allow into our private lives will be sown alongside the good seed of the Word we minister. Every part of the kingdom of self must be torn down to produce an undefiled life message that is safe to give to others.
Illegal bonding, spirit to spirit, pollutes our lives, marriages and ministries. It destroys discernment and twists reality. We must guard our hearts at any cost. It is time to take responsibility and grow up! Spiritual adultery is a deadly deception; no one involved in it escapes unscathed.
Joyce Strong is a conference speaker and instructor at the Bible Teachers Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Her 20 years of teaching experience include 16 years with Teen Challenge. A graduate of Houghton College, she titled her first book Hearts Aflame. Adapted from Lambs on the Ledge by Joyce Strong, copyright 1995. Published by Christian Publications. Used by permission.
Jesus commands us to forgive, yet most of us treat His words as suggestions. We must learn to release all offense.
All of us have been wounded at some time in our lives, many of us deeply. And it's not something to take lightly. People experience real pain when they or those they love are hurt by another person. Yet we know that the Bible commands us to forgive--and that extending total forgiveness to our offenders is the only way we will ever find true freedom and release.
Certainly if our offenders would put on sackcloth and ashes as a show of repentance, it would be much easier to forgive them. But remember, at the foot of Jesus' cross no one seemed very sorry. There was no justice at His "trial"--if you could even call it that. A perverse glee filled the faces of the people who demanded His death: "'Crucify him!'" they shouted (Mark 15:13, NKJV). Furthermore, "those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!'" (vv. 29-30).
What was Jesus' response? "'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'" (Luke 23:34).
This must be our response as well.
Jesus could have said, "I forgive you." But such words might have been misinterpreted and wasted, like casting His pearls before swine (see Matt. 7:6). Instead Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, a far more grand gesture.
Asking the Father to forgive them showed not only that Jesus Himself had forgiven them and released them from their guilt but also that He wanted His Father to refrain from punishing them. It was not a perfunctory prayer; Jesus meant it. And it was gloriously answered! These offenders were among those who were converted after Peter's address on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-41).
God has given us a mandate in His Word regarding forgiveness: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13, NIV).
It's not a suggestion. We must totally forgive those who hurt us.
Totally forgiving someone doesn't necessarily mean you will want to spend your vacation with him or her, but it does mean that you release the bitterness in your heart about what the person has done. We can take our example from the way God treats us.
How does He forgive? Unequivocally and unconditionally. He never holds our sins, which are many, against us or tells others what we did. In practical terms, total forgiveness encompasses all of the following aspects:
1. Being aware of what someone has done, and still forgiving. Total forgiveness is not being oblivious to what an offender did; it is not covering up, excusing or refusing to acknowledge what happened. Total forgiveness is achieved only when we acknowledge what was done without any denial or covering up--and still refuse to make the offender pay for his crime.
Total forgiveness is painful. It hurts when we kiss revenge goodbye. It hurts to think that the person is getting away with what he did and nobody else will ever find out. But when we are able to fully acknowledge what he did and still desire in our hearts that God bless him in spite of his wrong, we cross over into a supernatural realm. We begin to be a little more like Jesus; we begin to change into the image of Christ.
2. Choosing to keep no records of wrong. The Bible says that love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is a choice. Total forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling--at least at first--but an act of the will. It is the choice to tear up the record of wrongs we have been keeping.
We clearly see and acknowledge the evil that was done to us, but we erase it--or destroy the record--before it becomes lodged in our hearts. This way resentment does not have a chance to grow.
We must learn to erase the wrong rather than file it away in our mental computer. When we do this all the time--as a lifestyle--we not only avoid bitterness, but we also eventually experience total forgiveness as a feeling--and it is a good feeling.
3. Refusing to punish. Refusing to punish those who deserve it--giving up the natural desire to see them "get what's coming to them"--is the essence of total forgiveness.
Our human nature cannot bear the thought that someone who hurt us would get away with what he has done. It seems so unfair! We want vengeance. But vindication is God's prerogative alone. In Deuteronomy 32:35 He tells us clearly, "Vengeance is Mine, and recompense" (NKJV).
4. Not telling what they did. There is often a need to talk with someone about how you have been hurt, and this can be therapeutic if it is done with the right heart attitude. But if sharing is necessary, choose the person you tell very carefully, making sure that person is trustworthy and will never repeat your situation to those it does not concern.
Anyone who truly forgives, however, does not gossip about his offender. Talking about how you have been wounded with the purpose of hurting your enemy's reputation or credibility is a form of punishing him. We divulge what that person did so others will think less of him.
When I recall that total forgiveness is forgiving others as I have been forgiven, I remember:
* I won't be punished for my sins. **Nobody will know about my sins, for no sins that are under the blood of Christ will be exposed or held against me.
5. Being merciful. When it comes to being merciful, this is our Lord's command: "Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). In the Greek language, mercy is the opposite of wrath or justice. One difference between grace and mercy is that grace is getting what we don't deserve (favor), and mercy is not getting what we do deserve (justice). So when we show mercy we are withholding justice from those who have injured us, and that is one aspect of godliness.
There is a fringe benefit for those of us who show mercy: We will also be shown mercy (see Matt. 5:7). This shows that total forgiveness is not devoid of self-interest. "The merciful man does good for his own soul" (Prov. 11:17).
6. Showing graciousness. True forgiveness shows grace and mercy at the same time. There is an interesting Greek word, epieikes, that means "forbearance" or "tolerance." In Philippians 4:5 this word is translated "gentleness."
It comes down to our English word "graciousness." It implies an exceedingly rare act of grace. It cuts right across a legalistic spirit, which is what comes naturally to most of us. This concept is quite threatening to those of us who think that being inflexible for the truth is the ultimate virtue.
Graciousness is withholding certain facts you know to be true in order to leave your enemy's reputation unscathed. Graciousness is shown by what you don't say, even if what you could say would be true.
Self-righteous people find it almost impossible to be gracious; they claim always to be after "the truth," no matter the cost. Total forgiveness sometimes means overlooking what you perceive to be the truth and not letting on about anything that could damage another person.
7. Letting it start in your heart. Total forgiveness must take place in the heart or it is worthless, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). If we have not truly forgiven those who hurt us, it will come out--sooner or later. But if it has indeed taken place in the heart, our words will show it. When there is bitterness, it will eventually manifest itself; when there is love, there is "no cause for stumbling" (1 John 2:10).
Because forgiveness takes place in the heart, reconciliation is not a necessary prerequisite. Those who believe they are not required to forgive until their offender has first repented and been reconciled to them are not following Jesus' example on the cross. If He had waited until His enemies felt some guilt or shame for their words and actions, He never would have forgiven them.
8. Relinquishing bitterness. Bitterness is an excessive desire for vengeance that comes from deep resentment. It heads the list of things that grieve the Spirit of God (see Eph. 4:30-32). And it is one of the most frequent causes of our missing the grace of God. "[Look] carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Heb. 12:15).
We must, therefore, begin to get rid of a bitter and unforgiving spirit; otherwise, the attempt to forgive will fail. Relinquishing bitterness is an open invitation for the Holy Spirit to give you His peace, His joy and the knowledge of His will.
This is extremely important when it comes to the matter of reconciliation. If I have totally forgiven a person who has hurt me, I will have no bitterness, and I should not feel the slightest bit of guilt or shame for not wanting a complete restoration of that relationship.
Even if there never had been a friendship in the first place, if someone has greatly wronged me, I can forgive him and yet see it as totally reasonable not to invite him to lunch every Sunday.
How can we be sure that there is no bitterness left in our hearts? Bitterness is gone when there is no desire to get even or punish the offender, when I do or say nothing that would hurt his reputation or future, and when I truly wish him well in all he seeks to do.
9. Forgiving God. Although we often do not see it at first, all of our bitterness is ultimately traceable to a resentment of God. Why? Because deep in our hearts we believe He is the one who allowed bad things to happen.
Only a fool would claim to know the full answer to the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue when He has the power to stop it?"
But there is a partial answer: He does so in order that we may believe. There would be no need for faith if we knew the answer about the origin of evil and the reason for suffering. I know only that it is what makes faith possible.
God can turn evil into blessing. He causes things to work together for good. God did not send His Son into the world to explain evil but rather to save us from it and to exemplify a life of suffering. Jesus suffered as no one else has or ever will.
One day God will clear His own name from the charge of being unjust, but in the meantime, we need to trust Him and take Him at His Word that He is just and merciful.
If we will patiently wait for God's purposes to be fulfilled, in the end--this is a guarantee--we will say that He has done all things well, even in what He permitted. He was never guilty in the first place, but because He sometimes appears to us to have been unfair, we must relinquish our bitterness and wholly forgive Him.
10. Forgiving ourselves. There is no lasting joy in forgiveness if it doesn't include forgiving ourselves. It is as wrong as not forgiving others because God loves us just as much as He loves His other children, and He is just as unhappy when we don't forgive ourselves as He is when we hold a grudge against others.
Put simply, we matter to God. He wants our lives to be filled with joy. That's why He commands us to forgive even ourselves.
Total forgiveness brings such joy and satisfaction that I am almost tempted to call it a selfish enterprise. In fact, studies show that the first person to experience delight when forgiveness takes place is the one who forgives.
So, for your own sake, obey God. Let go of your hurts by forgiving--totally--those who have wounded you.
R.T. Kendall pastored Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of more than 30 books, including The Word and the Spirit, The Sensitivity of the Spirit and Total Forgiveness, all from Charisma House.
Confessing your sins openly and honestly is a key to spiritual victory. Don't hide in the darkness!
Secret burdens can be very difficult to bear. I know. For nearly 35 years I carried a secret--a life hidden away in my inner world that no one knew anything about. Now all of that was changing as I sat in my family room with 15 other people. Gathered around me were my wife, her parents and sister, three of my four teenage children, and several college students who were closely connected to us because of my job at Asbury College in Kentucky.
I had called this family meeting with the express purpose of confessing my sins to those I had sinned against, and seeking their forgiveness. On the outside my life looked pretty good. A successful ministry, all-American family, beautiful wife and kids. But on the inside my life was in shambles.
At home I was a perfectionist husband and demanding father, and my family was pulling away from me because of my negativity and control. An undercurrent of anger flowed just beneath the surface of many of my interactions with Marilyn and our children. This turmoil was fueled by my own irritation at myself for the recurring failures in my life and my inability to rise above habitual sin.
Now all this was changing right before my eyes.
Five days before, I had lain on the floor in the grand ballroom of the Regal Riverfront Hotel in St. Louis, overwhelmed by the incredible power of the Holy Spirit. I had been attending a conference at which, in response to a word of knowledge by a member of the conference staff, I had experienced a "power encounter" with the God of the universe. He reached deep into the recesses of my inner world and broke the stranglehold that pornography and masturbation had on my life.
Not only was I delivered of this secret sin, but a few minutes later I also was given the grace to bring it into the light. I confessed it to my friend Jeff James, who was attending the conference, and then I called Marilyn, confessing and repenting to her for the duplicity in my life.
Now, back at home, I sat nervously amid my family and friends. I would be telling them the truth--the rough, unvarnished, unmitigated truth about my secret world of pornography use--and seeking their forgiveness for how I had sinned against them.
Shortly after I began my confession God filled the room with His presence, visiting us in power. The family meeting that began at 7 p.m. didn't end until almost 4 o'clock the next morning.
We experienced healing, deliverance and restoration of broken family relationships. Any doubts I had about God's work among us were dispelled when my mother-in-law fell under the power of the Holy Spirit after I prayed for her.
From the beginning, sin has always involved hiding. After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God. David tried to hide his sin with Bathsheba--going as far as to arrange the murder of her husband.
Adam and Eve used fig leaves to try to conceal their failure, but most of us hide behind lies. To cover our sin and its consequences, we stitch together flimsy excuses and decorate them with ornate stories in an effort to keep others from discovering who we really are or how badly we have failed them. The closer someone comes to discovering the truth about us, the more creative our lies must become to keep the secret hidden.
The logical result of hiding is that lying becomes a way of life. As believers, this means our everyday lives might be filled with religious activity, but we end up proclaiming one thing and living another. We live in an artificial world constructed of a combination of blatant lies, implied lies and half-truths.
But a lie is a lie, even when we're deceiving ourselves with lines such as: "That's not so bad," "I'm only hurting myself," "No one knows."
We also are likely to embrace the lie that we are stuck and there is no way out of our problems. When this happens we are siding with the accuser of the brethren, the "father of lies" (see John 8:44). Satan will enlist us to testify against the truth of God's grace, which says He can liberate us, and stand with self-accusation, which says He cannot.
When the devil lies, he speaks his native language. And as the father of all lies he has sired lying "twins" to help him hold people in bondage.
Shame and Pride are the twins the devil uses as spiritual extortionists. They continually extract hush money--making us regularly pay from our already bankrupt lives. Emotional and spiritual poverty, along with broken relationships, are the high costs of listening to Shame and Pride when they tell us to keep our sins hidden.
Like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of author Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, they sing the same song with the same results. They conspire to keep us hiding and bound.
Shame says: "You better not let anyone know. What will they think?"
Pride echoes: "You better not let anyone know. What will they think?"
So we continue trying, under a shroud of silence, to work out the problem by ourselves, with no allies, assistance or accountability.
One of the lies I believed for so long was that no one could truly understand my struggle. I was a spiritual leader in my circles, and if I couldn't fix the problem, who could?
Hounded day and night by my failures, I concluded my situation was so unique and my failures and sins so grievous that no one could even identify with me, let alone help. I knew what the Bible said--that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (see Rom. 3:23)--but I believed no one could understand what I was wrestling with.
The writer of Hebrews tells an entirely different story from what I believed: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:13-16, NIV).
Before God, there are no secrets and no places to hide. But does He understand our struggles with sin?
According to verse 15, He was tempted in every way I was (yet didn't sin). Therefore I can go before Him with confidence that I will find mercy in my time of need--and ample supplies of grace.
During the years I struggled, I held to the promise of forgiveness in 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (NKJV).
I describe these verses as the "vertical pathway to forgiveness." I had walked this path so frequently, though, that it had been worn almost to a rut. I longed for the day I could be truly free and not have to drag myself wearily back to the mercy seat because of the same old sins.
In my efforts to confess my sin to God, I had shed tears at altar rails on three continents. I had made bargains with Him I couldn't keep. I had poured out my heart to Him, pleading for deliverance. But I had always returned to the same old sins.
Before my experience in St.Louis, I had tried to deal with my sin issues privately with God. Fear, shame and pride kept me from bringing my struggles into the light and telling anyone else. I not only had lied to my family, but also had lived in self-deception (see 1 John 1:8).
But after I shared with Jeff what God had done for me and then called Marilyn, the miracle of James 5:16 began to work in me. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (NIV).
This dimension of forgiveness became a key component in my healing and deliverance. After I had brought my confession into the light, the enemy no longer could use the fear of someone finding out to keep me bound.
Confessing to others can be called the "horizontal pathway to forgiveness." Vertical confession (to God) and horizontal confession (to one another) form the shape of a cross--and when combined, the completed work of the cross becomes real in our own experience.
In my situation, the confession of sin unlocked the closed hearts of my family. They no longer saw me as the Mr. Perfect I pretended to be but as a fellow struggler in need of the grace of God. And I have watched as hundreds of times my story has opened the doors for others to say, "It's my story, too."
Hiding No More
The Christian landscape is littered with the ruined lives of leaders and followers who fell into sin and became victims of the fallout when their private sins were made public against their will. I wonder how many of these fallen might have finished well if they had chosen to tell others of their struggles.
One time during an interview I was asked, "Tell me, Harvey, are Christians hypocrites?" I replied that I believed the accusation was a fair one.
The word "hypocrite" was used in ancient Greek drama to describe an actor. Many Christians act as if their lives are healed, as if they have it perfectly together, when they actually are broken, wounded, sin-saturated pretenders afraid to risk being known for who they are.
I went on to answer the interviewer that the church should be a hospital, a place where broken and wounded people come to be healed and patched up by God. Then I told my own story.
God is never shocked by anything we do. All our days are already written in His book. In spite of all He knows about us, He still chooses to love us and invite us into a relationship with Himself.
If we too fostered an atmosphere of love, acceptance, healing grace and open confession, then the church would operate more like an emergency room for the fallen than a museum of the successful. We would never be surprised to find sick and suffering people in a hospital, would we? Neither should we be surprised to find sinners (that's us, friends) in God's house seeking a soul cure.
Charles Wesley's hymn "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" includes the verse: "He breaks the power of canceled sin / He sets the prisoner free." Our sins were dealt with for eternity on Calvary. There is nothing more we can do to add to the efficacy of Christ's blood.
A strong dynamic is set in motion when we confess our sins to one another. Sin's power breaks because shame, fear and pride no longer can hold us hostage.
When we humble ourselves before our brother or sister, we can receive prayer and comfort--and hear someone "with skin on" remind us: "You are forgiven in Jesus' name."
I have held numerous sufferers who have sobbed their way through confessions of sin and brokenness. And I have been able to look them in the eye and say with authority, "Your sins are forgiven, just as mine have been forgiven."
Harvey Brown Jr. is president of Impact Ministries in Wilmore, Ky. He is featured on the DVD, Living in the Freedom Christ Gives: Finding Healing and Wholeness in a Sexually Broken World. It is available at www.impactministries.org.
In the early days of my developing a relationship with the Lord in worship, I frequently saw His feet as I bowed before Him. That seemed to be the extent of my faith in worship; but, as my faith increased, He didn't leave me there at His feet. Little by little the relationship grew until I stood in His presence and saw Him face to face.
We begin by knowing Him as King. That in itself is glorious. But He wants to take us further. He wants us to know Him, not only as King, but also as heavenly Bridegroom. He wants us to know Him as the Beloved, the Lover of our souls and He whom our souls love.
The tongue is the red carpet we throw out to Satan to walk right into our lives with his special delivery of troubles.
Psalm 50:1-23 There is one promise of God that will be fulfilled in every life. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Because we live in a fallen world, there will always be trouble.
This psalm reveals two important responses we should have when trouble comes our way. Verse 15 exhorts us to call upon the Lord in our day of trouble. Verse 23 exhorts us to praise the Lord and to order our conversation aright.
If we will call upon the Lord in the day of trouble, the promise is He will deliver us. If we will praise the Lord and order our conversation aright in the day of trouble, He will show us His salvation.
The moment we enter troublesome times, we should first pray—and then we should be careful about what we say. God will be glorified when we do these two things. If we fail to call upon God in our troubled times, the hope of being delivered through or out of the trouble will be slim.
Preventative medicine is better than a cure. A lot of the trouble we find ourselves in is self-inflicted. We have submitted to fleshly lusts instead of following the Spirit. The preventative medicine to keep us out of trouble is God’s Word and prayer. We can prevent the majority of troubles in our lives if we are not anxious about anything, but instead pray about everything. If we stay in God’s Word daily, chances are we will be able to discern the origin of the thoughts we have throughout the day. Our thoughts usually come from three sources: God, our own flesh or the devil. We will only be able to recognize the counterfeit if we know the Truth, and we find that in God’s Word. We only can take those thoughts captive to Jesus if we recognize who gave us those thoughts.
Another preventative medicine is to be careful about what we speak. There is a proverb that says, “He that keepeth his lips is wise; he keeps his soul from troubles.” We get into trouble many times just because we have not been wise in our speech.
David, when he wrote this psalm, knew that the only way God could be glorified in our lives was if we learned to order our conversations aright. The tongue is the red carpet we throw out to Satan to walk right into our lives with his special delivery of troubles.
Even if we guard our tongues, pray about everything and stay in God’s Word, some troubles will come our way simply because we live in a corrupt world. Tribulation is in the world and always will be until the Lord sets up His kingdom on earth. The moment trouble comes knocking on your door, you need to begin to praise the Lord because you know He is in control. His plan is to work good out of what Satan means for evil.
The moment you begin to praise the Lord, a glory shield is placed around you because you have ordered your conversation aright. You will not be overwhelmed by whatever trial is facing you. You will be at peace and can even experience fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord.
Making a lifelong commitment to total forgiveness means that you keep on doing it—for as long as you live.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. —Psalm 51:4
When I consider the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ knows all about my sin but promises to keep what He has forgiven a carefully guarded secret, it increases my gratitude to Him. God does not blackmail us. And when a person is guilty of blackmailing someone else, it gets God's attention. He won't stand for it. To hold another person in perpetual fear by threatening, "I'll tell on you," will quickly bring down the wrath of God. When I ponder the sins for which I have been forgiven, it is enough to shut my mouth for the rest of my life.
Making a lifelong commitment to total forgiveness means that you keep on doing it—for as long as you live. It isn't enough to forgive today and then return to the offense tomorrow. I heard of a person whose wife said, "I thought you forgave me." He replied, "That was yesterday." Total forgiveness is a lifelong commitment, and you may need to practice it every single day of your life until you die. No one said it would be easy.
I have seen some people cave in and return to the offense after they extended their forgiveness to someone. But it is not total forgiveness unless it lasts—no matter how great the temptation is to turn back.
If you are prepared to make a covenant to forgive—and to forgive totally—you must realize you will have to renew that covenant tomorrow. And it may be even harder to do tomorrow than it is today. It could even be harder next week—or next year. But this is a lifetime commitment.
Excerpted from Higher Ground (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1995).
The worlds of dating and Christianity can be two difficult worlds to merge. Find out where the lines are drawn.
Even couples who take responsibility for their actions and trust God to help them stay pure want to know when they’re crossing the line. To offer them help with this vaguely marked boundary, Jason Illian, author of Undressed: The Naked Truth About Love, Sex, and Dating first reminds singles of a simple biblical principle stated in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial” (NIV).
Illian then illustrates that statement with a helpful set of guidelines while comparing physical actions with rungs of a ladder.
“Every rung represents a new physical act you share in a relationship. ... The higher you climb, the more physically satisfying and intimate the experience will become. However, with each step of the ladder, it becomes increasingly more dangerous.”
Rungs 1-4, Illian explains, represent activities that are permissible and can be beneficial—holding hands, hugging and cuddling, kissing, French kissing.
Rungs 5-6 are choices that are permissible but not necessarily beneficial—touching and caressing with clothes on.
Rungs 7-9, the top of the ladder, are neither permissible nor beneficial—petting and groping (under the clothes or without clothes), oral sex and intercourse.
Illian encourages couples to “draw a line and take a step back”—meaning, they ought to prayerfully consider the rung they feel comfortable climbing to “and then choose the rung right underneath it.”
For couples in the process of deciding on their physical boundaries, Mindy Meier, writing in Sex and Dating offers this cautionary observation: “A number of engaged people have shared with me that they wish they had done less sexually—sometimes with a high school girlfriend or boyfriend, sometimes with the one they are about to marry. But no one has ever said they wish they had done more.”
To set boundaries is one thing. However, to keep the standards that are set is a whole different challenge. But there are ways couples can help themselves stick to their rules.
Meier recommends having accountability partners: “Find someone of the same sex who you can be totally honest with, someone who will give you grace when you fail but not let you get by with disobedience to the Lord.”
She also suggests that couples meet in public places, where some privacy is afforded but where they can’t give in to temptation for intimacy.
Author Gary Chapman gives nonsexual examples of ways to show affection, such as words of affirmation, gifts and acts of service. To these, Meier adds “food.”
“Cooking a special meal for the person you’re dating or showing up with a well-loved snack,” she says, “are wonderful ways to say I love you.”
Most important is that a couple talk and pray about the sexual purity aspect of their relationship. God will honor the ones who pursue His standard of holiness and rely on Him for guidance and strength.
As a single person, you can “wait in the right way” by being content in God and pursuing His will while actively looking for a spouse. God created you for relationship and understands the desire you have to find a mate. Involve Him in your search, follow your passions, pursue maturity, be deliberate and don’t stop asking Him for the desires of your heart.
And keep dreaming.
In her book You Matter More Than You Think, Leslie Parrott, co-founder of the Center for Relationship Development, states, “The eventual pain that results from not dreaming—for the fear of being disappointed by an unrealized dream—will always eclipse the pain of a dream that never comes true.”
Leigh DeVore is the assistant editor of Charisma magazine.
Domestic violence is an ugly problem—and it happens both inside and outside the church. Learn how to recognize it.
Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship used by one person to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone.
Physical abuse involves hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting and so on. Physical abuse also includes denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
Sexual abuse is coercing or attempting to coerce a person into having any sexual contact without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
Emotional abuse is undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include constant criticism, name-calling or damaging a person's relationship with his or her children.
Economic abuse includes making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money or forbidding attendance at school or employment.
Psychological abuse involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to one's self, spouse, children, family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work.
Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime and WomensLaw.org.
To report domestic abuse or seek help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (ndvh.org) at 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); the Religion and Violence E-learning Project (the raveproject.org); Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (peaceandsafety.com); or the Task Force to Stop Abuse Against Women (abuseof women.org).
Domestic Violence: The Shocking Truth
The U.S. surgeon general described violence against women as the No. 1 public health problem of women in America. Statistics vary, largely because much abuse goes unreported, but more than 5 million incidents of "intimate partner violence" occur against U.S. women every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three million such incidents occur against men, but experts say women are at higher risk for abuse.
At least three women are murdered every day by men who say they love them, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and countless others are permanently injured or disfigured. The Journal of the American Medical Women's Association has reported that domestic violence is the leading cause of death in pregnant women.
According to the National Coalition on Homelessness, domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness for women and children in the U.S. The National Center for Children Exposed to Violence reports that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become abuse victims or victimizers as adults.
In their book No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., and Catherine Clark Kroeger, Ph.D., report that incidence rates of domestic violence among active churchgoers are about the same as of the general population, but the likelihood of an abused woman seeking help might be lower. Therefore, they say, the potential for more severe violence to go unchecked is higher.
According to the book, roughly 25 percent of women in Latin America are victims of physical abuse; in South Africa one-in-four women is assaulted by her boyfriend or husband each week, and every week in Hungary a woman is killed by her spouse. Internationally, the World Health Organization reports that 20 percent of women are physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes.
Marcia Davis-Seale is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Texas.
I think the quickest way to ruin Valentine's Day is with strife.
"Strife" means "vigorous or bitter conflict, discord and antagonism; to quarrel, struggle or clash; competition; rivalry."
James 3:14-16 tells us clearly, "If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work" (KJV).
Strife is devilish. It opens the door for the enemy to bring confusion and evil into our lives. Love, on the other hand, is the source of power for any successful relationship. Galatians 5:6 even tells us that our faith works through love.
Satan is continuously sending situations our way to tempt us to yield to the opposite of love, which is selfishness.
During this season of love we can study God's Word and learn what authentic love is and what it is not. First Corinthians 13 reveals its attributes: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (vv. 4-8, NKJV).
So make a decision to keep strife out of every relationship and keep love in. At home, work, school and church, commit to walk in love. If at any moment you slip up and get into strife, simply make it right.
Say to the other person: "Please forgive me. I love you. I don't want to be in strife with you."
Then say to the Lord: "Father, I repent of that attitude. I refuse to yield to strife or to any enemy of love. I choose to walk in love."
Keep acting on what you know about love from God's Word. Walk in love. When you do, you will keep your faith strong and the blessings of God will be continually evident to everyone ... for love never fails! Don't let strife ruin your Valentine's Day.
Gloria Copeland is co-founder and vice president of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas.
God never intended for us to minister in our own strength. We must allow the Holy Spirit to empower us so we can walk in a supernatural dimension.
Church life was boring when I was growing up. We sang the first, second and fourth verses of the songs from the hymnal. The pastor preached a three-point sermon and dismissed us by noon sharp. Although there were people who responded to altar calls and received Jesus as Savior, nothing else exciting seemed to happen.
When I was 30, our youngest son, Mark, was miraculously healed of a condition that the doctors said would become cancerous by the time he reached adulthood. For the first time in my life I realized that the Lord still heals.
Unleash faith's prevailing power and watch obstacles and hindrances fall away.
As I was walking to my car from the grocery store recently, I was swept along by several strong gusts of wind. They caused traffic lights to sway, flags to ripple and pop, and drivers to take extra caution. Leaves, paper and other loose items in the wind's path were helplessly tossed about.
Suddenly I realized how very much like faith that wind was. Driven by the potency of God's Word, the assurance of Christ's love and the power of the Holy Spirit, faith operates in much the same way. It sweeps past obstacles and hindrances, clearing debris such as fear, doubt and unbelief out of the way and taking authority over the circumstances and conditions that threaten to impede our promises.
Many Christians follow all the "right" rules and carefully live "the Christian life," but inside they are wondering: Is this it? Is this all there is? I experienced that same emptiness in 1976 when as a young Christian I realized that doing the right things brought temporary happiness but not deep, satisfying joy.
In those early days of my walk with God, I could only see Him from a distance. Even though I was doing what I thought He required of me, I still felt that I needed change in my life. I was searching, but I didn't know what I was searching for.