Not a Sermon only a Thought

Wounded Parents, Wounded Children

So often when we deal with difficult people, it’s easy to form judgments about them based on their behavior or attitudes. But have you ever stopped to wonder what has made that person so disagreeable or foolish? When the Bible says God “repays the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children” (Jer. 32:18), it is speaking about generational cycles of sin. Unless someone in the family line makes a deliberate choice to change, sinful and dysfunctional behavior can be passed from parent to child for many generations.

This is really just a confirmation of the principle of sowing and reaping. We pass down standards for conduct and character traits that we received from our parents. If we are unwilling to change our sinful habits and attitudes, they will very likely find their way into our children’s lives.

What is true for sin is also true for wounds. When a child is emotionally bruised in the home, his behavior and character may be negatively affected. With this in mind, think about a difficult person you know. What hurts do you think shaped his or her life? A heart of compassion originates from a willingness to empathize with those who have been wounded. This doesn’t excuse someone’s sin, but it does aid in opening our heart toward the individual.

What about you? Have childhood wounds contributed to who you are today? How have they affected your life? If you haven’t dealt with them, you’ll probably pass similar hurts down to your children. But with God’s help, you can break this cycle and begin one that will benefit future generations.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

A Father’s Influence

Have you ever wondered why a priority of Elijah’s ministry in the last days involves restoring the relationship between fathers and children (Mal. 4:6)? Perhaps it’s because the father has a powerful role, both in the development of emotional health in his offspring and in the shaping of their perceptions about God. By his example, a dad can either draw his children to God or push them away. Sometimes the easiest way to understand this is to look at negative paternal examples:

The angry, unpredictable father instills fear in his children and conveys to them that God is a tyrant who lashes out unexpectedly.
A critical, demanding dad makes his kids feel inadequate. They see God as a taskmaster who’s never pleased.
The uninvolved or absent father sends the message that his children are unimportant, and both he and God are too busy for them.
An arrogant dad’s tough, uncaring nature leads his children to feel unloved and conclude that the Lord doesn’t love them either.
A fault-finding or abusive father communicates that his child is worthless and God is full of condemnation.

But a man with Christlike character provides children with a healthy connection, not only to their earthly dad but also to their heavenly Father.

Think about how your earthly father helped to shape your perception of God. The Bible will reveal whether your understanding of the Lord is rooted in truth or error. If your own father distorted your view of God, know that God is the perfect Father—and ask Him to help you see that truth.

Biblical Meditation

If you’re facing a challenging situation, it may be tempting to immediately consult friends, professionals, or the latest book or article relating to the subject. Although none of these choices are bad in themselves, there is a greater source for guidance and assurance than any of these, and that’s God’s Word.

When Joshua took over the leadership of Israel after Moses’ death, he didn’t form a committee or read up on current leadership strategies. Instead, he relied on the instructions and assurances God gave him: “Be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left” (Josh. 1:7).

Implicit in this command is the obvious truth that we must read the Bible if we want to know what God would have us do. Then we must be careful to obey whatever it says without trying to alter it, soften it, or make excuses for partial obedience.

The Lord also told Joshua not to let God’s Word depart from his mouth but to “meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8). Since our minds are easily distracted and often forgetful, we need more than a quick and perfunctory reading of Scripture. The best approach is to ask God to help us understand what He’s saying in His Word and then take time to think about it.

Biblical meditation isn’t an emptying of our mind but rather a filling of it with God’s Word. As we reflect upon scriptural truths, we gain a greater understanding of our Father’s ways and desires so we’ll know how to proceed according to His will.

The Fruitfulness of Meditation

Do you delight in the Bible? That’s a challenging question because the answer is revealed by our actions. To delight is to take great pleasure in something or someone and to spend time in that activity or relationship. Christians want to delight in God and His Word, but our schedules often indicate a different reality.

Time spent alone with the Lord in His Word and prayer is crucial to the Christian life. If we neglect it, the delights of the world will quickly fill our mind and capture our heart, drowning out the desire for God. Then instead of time with Him being a priority, it will become an afterthought. At first this may not seem like a big deal, but eventually we’ll wither spiritually and bear no fruit.

Meditation is a means by which we make ourselves available to be instructed by the Lord through the Scriptures. It requires time, submission, and commitment, all of which are difficult for people who are busy running from one activity to the next. Yet if we want to grow in Christ, we must become like a tree firmly rooted by the river of God’s Word. That’s where we are nurtured and refreshed, and it is what’s required in order to have a spiritually fruitful life.

Over time we’ll learn to find peace in God’s presence even in stormy situations. And as we get to know the Lord, our love for Him will increase. Many people wish they loved God more, and time alone with Him in His Word is the key. Furthermore, as our love for God increases, both He and His Word will become our delight.

The Protection of Meditation

If there was a seminar on overcoming sin, many Christians would sign up, hoping to discover the secret to victory over their temptations. But the answer isn’t elusive; it’s right under our nose. All we need to do is open our Bible. Every answer the psalmist gives to his initial question of how to keep our ways pure involves Scripture.

Live according to God’s Word (Psalm 119:9-10). This means we must spend time reading and meditating on Scripture in order to know what it says and means. But that alone isn’t enough to guard us from sin; we must obey it.

Treasure God’s Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Since temptation usually comes unexpectedly, we must be prepared for it even when we can’t grab a Bible. That’s why having Scripture stored in our mind and heart is so important.

Rejoice in God’s Word (Psalm 119:14). There is great joy and peace that comes with knowing Scripture. In fact, it should be worth more to us than all the wealth and possessions this world offers.

Meditate on God’s Word (Psalm 119:15). We must take time to attune our heart and mind to the Lord, ponder His words, and receive the Spirit’s help translating His instructions for our particular situation. This isn’t a rushed process; it’s a slow yielding of ourselves to the truths we read as we discover how to apply them. And consistency may require a deliberate commitment.

When we faithfully practice biblical meditation, we will discover that the Holy Spirit has been busy transforming our thoughts, emotions, and actions so we’ll be more pleasing to God and less attracted to sinful pleasures. That is good news!

When God Says No

We’ve all made foolish requests of God, which we’re now glad He didn’t answer. But this is easily forgotten when He’s presently withholding something we think is good. With so many scriptural promises to answer prayer, why is God saying no? According to His Word, there are several possible reasons.

God has forbidden it. God won’t contradict His Word or will, so praying for something prohibited in Scripture is futile. Because of Moses’ disobedience, God had decreed the leader wouldn’t enter the Promised Land. Moses asked Him to reconsider but was told not to speak of it again (Deut. 1:37; Deut. 3:23-28).

It’s for our protection. Because of the divine revelations Paul received, God allowed a “thorn in the flesh” to remain in order to keep him from exalting himself. The Lord prioritizes our spiritual protection over physical comfort.

God has a higher goal for us. Christ’s power was displayed in the weakness caused by Paul’s thorn. Knowing the higher goal for his suffering allowed Paul to be content and even appreciative of his weakness for Christ’s sake.

The Lord has something better for us. Jesus didn’t immediately heal Lazarus. Mary and Martha couldn’t yet understand that He was going to do something even greater—raising Lazarus, which would glorify God (John 11:1-44).

Our motives are wrong. James says one of the reasons we don’t receive our request is because we’re asking for selfish reasons and not according to God’s will (John 4:3).

Many times we won’t understand the good that God is doing by withholding what we desire. But these examples let us know we can trust Him.

The Holy Spirit: Giver of Gifts

Do you feel ill-equipped to serve the Lord? A sense of inadequacy is one of many excuses people use to avoid ministry and service, but it’s not a valid one. Evading the Father’s call can affect His work on earth, prevent the blessings that come from obedience, and keep us from eternal rewards in heaven.

Jesus Christ knew all about the human tendency to feel inadequate. That is why He assured His followers they would receive a Helper—the Holy Spirit—who would come to abide in them forever (John 14:16). The Spirit enables, energizes, and equips believers to serve the Lord. One of the ways He aids us is by providing spiritual gifts, which are capabilities given to believers.

Our heavenly Father has a ministry in mind for each of His followers. Therefore, necessary spiritual “equipment” has been selected to help us carry out His work, and these gifts were planned by our Creator before we were born. It is His purpose that we embrace our gift and combine it with other believers’ gifts in order to serve Him wholeheartedly as the body of Christ. Even the smallest job contributes to the Great Commission and the strengthening of Jesus Christ’s body, the church.

The Lord has a plan for every believer. To ensure that we can meet His expectations, He first builds natural talents into us. At salvation, He adds a spiritual gift. Then the heavenly Father opens doors of opportunity and the Holy Spirit manifests His power so that we can carry out the work set before us.

A Gift for Every Believer

1 Peter 4:10-11

Even though the Bible clearly states that every believer receives a spiritual gift, some people nevertheless think they were overlooked. So these men and women meander through life refusing opportunities to serve. Other folks are so busy wishing they had a different ability that they do not use the one bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Both of these attitudes hinder the body of Christ.

God has a specific purpose and ministry for every Christian. Our spiritual gifts help us to fulfill His plan. We learn which one (or ones) we possess by getting involved in the life of the church. In other words, a believer will know his divinely appointed abilities when he begins to exercise them.

Moreover, the Lord has a purpose in mind when He bestows spiritual gifts on His children. Christians are to exercise their special skills for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7), and everyone profits when believers do God’s work though the power of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are used in a variety of ways, including to equip, edify, and encourage one another (Eph. 4:11-13).

To appreciate how various gifts work to build up the body of Christ, we may have to broaden our understanding of words like evangelist, prophet, and teacher. Biblically, these terms describe co-laborers who share Christ, spiritual mentors who explain biblical truths to new believers, friends who uplift the discouraged, and others doing similar work.

Every member of the Christian fellowship is important, and each one has a task to do. Where God has gifted us and opened doors of opportunity for ministry, He also provides the strength and courage to exercise our abilities.

Created to Love God

Jealousy is an undesirable, negative emotion, which is fueled by anger or selfishness. According to James 3:16, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” From today’s passage, however, we see that there is a different perspective on the word when it’s applied to God: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Deut. 5:9).

This seems like a contradiction, but jealousy has a second, more positive meaning, which has almost been lost in our modern culture. It describes God’s vigilance in guarding our love for Him. Since we were created to love and worship Him, anything that competes for our devotion is a just cause for His jealousy.

The most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27). Without this complete devotion to Him, we will pursue our own interests and neglect godly principles and goals. No idol—whether a person, dream, pursuit, or possession—is worthy of worship. But a holy and just God, whose deep love for mankind moved Him to send His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place, deserves and demands our total love and loyalty.

God hates idols of every kind because He knows anything that draws our attention away from Him is dangerous. In fact, focusing only partially on the Lord is a sure way to stumble, get wrapped up in sin, and miss His blessings. For both our protection and His glory, the heavenly Father calls us to be true to Him by living in an obedient, loving, and worshipful manner.

When Fear Comes Calling

Fear is an emotion that can be helpful or harmful. For instance, it’s helpful to have the fear—or reverence—of the Lord, which keeps us from sin. And it’s also beneficial to have a healthy fear that warns of dangers. But oftentimes we are plagued by a different kind of fear, which keeps us from obeying God; this kind is usually rooted in self-focus rather than faith. As Paul wrote to Timothy, we may have “a spirit of timidity,” which originates in faulty thinking (2 Timothy 1:7).

Adequate vs. Inadequate. When adverse circumstances arise, we may become anxious because we are convinced we’re inadequate for the situation. However, it’s not the situation but an error in our thinking that is causing the fear. Our adequacy is never in ourselves but in God, who makes us adequate for whatever He brings into our life (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

God’s Standards vs. Our Standards. Many of us set goals for ourselves that are unrealistic. Such standards impose undue pressure and generate anxiety when we fail. Although we may believe these goals are what God expects, they could be our own expectations. We must let the Lord direct our steps so His plans are accomplished, not ours (Prov. 16:9).

Grace vs. Guilt. Some of us are afraid of making a mistake, because we live with guilt over something we’ve done in the past and assume God is still displeased about it. However, Scripture assures us that in Christ, all our sins are forgiven and our guilt has been removed (Rom. 8:1).

The next time fear comes calling, take your eyes off yourself, answer it with the truth of God’s Word, and let faith take its place.

Prayer-Based Planning

In Luke 14, Jesus’ example of building a tower shows the importance of planning and using resources wisely. Otherwise, money may run out before the work is done. As with any plans we make, those involving finances should be covered with prayer. First, ask God for the wisdom to understand His teachings about money and how they apply to your situation. Next, pray for clarity about how much is spent versus how much is earned, as well as all the other details.

One final step is to seek the Lord’s guidance in assessing whether your spending habits are in line with His priorities. In evaluating this, it is helpful to divide expenses into categories, including:

• Giving to the local church, missionaries, and other organizations.
Basic needs—food, clothing, and housing.
Insurance, retirement plan, savings.
• Debt, such as mortgages, loans, and credit cards.
Spending on extras—phones, internet, TV, eating out, vacations, etc.

Some of us will discover that our finances are not in line with scriptural principles, which may be discouraging. If this is true of you, turn to the Lord, confess what has happened, and pray for the strength to handle your God-given resources His way.

Financial discipline is a learned skill. It requires a commitment to live according to Scripture, persistent effort to change bad habits, concentration to develop new ones, and faith that we can learn to live according to God’s priorities. We’re blessed when we practice prayer-based planning.

Who Owns It All?

A serious error has made its way into the church. Some Christians think that their beliefs and their wallet belong in separate spheres. The truth is, obedience to God includes how we handle our finances. He owns everything (Hag. 2:8; Psalm 24:1). Cash, possessions, and ways to earn more are gifts from the Lord; we are simply stewards.

A steward oversees the use and care of someone else’s riches. A wise steward bases financial decisions upon the owner’s rules for using and multiplying material goods. In our case, God has woven financial principles into the fabric of Scripture. Since money touches nearly every aspect of life, it is mentioned hundreds of times in different contexts. For example, God urged the Israelites to stay faithful to His teachings and to avoid the trap of self-reliance. He reminded them that the power to make wealth resides with Him rather than in their own hands (Deut. 8:17-18).

The minute a steward presumes that he owns the money he manages, trouble is at hand. He stops consulting the Owner and spends as he sees fit. Even in trying to do good, the wayward steward is ruled by his shortsighted perspective rather than by God’s omniscient view and gentle guidance. He will suffer the consequences of choosing his own way over the Lord’s.

Faith and finances are intertwined. The bottom line is that we cannot keep our money out of God’s hand, because He holds it all—we simply manage it. And we are to do so in the way He directs us. A maturing believer trusts the Lord’s principles for using and growing wealth.

Our Testimony

Think about the last argument you had with someone. Generally, disagreements arise when two people see things differently. Part of the problem is that most issues can be seen from diverse perspectives. Therefore, it’s easy for people to take opposing sides on a subject since they make different assumptions based on the same facts.

This can present a problem when we witness to people. Our goal isn’t to start a debate but to share the gospel. If someone objects to what we say, we could become sidetracked with arguments. However, we each have one thing that no one else can refute: our personal testimony. This isn’t an issue for debate but an opportunity to explain our own experience and the results of our decision to follow Christ.

Realize that every believer has a powerful weapon in his spiritual arsenal. When you share what Christ has done in your life, no one else can say, “That’s not right,” or “That didn’t really happen.” Our testimony of faith is our own credible, first-hand, eyewitness narrative of the power of God.

That’s why it’s important that we be prepared to share our story. Opportunities often come unexpectedly, and we don’t want to let the moment pass simply because we’re not sure what to say.

This week set aside a few moments to think about your history with Christ and sketch an outline of your faith story. Then ask Him to open a door for you to share the message of Jesus Christ. Then when an opportunity comes, you’ll be ready to share what Christ has done in your own life.

Our Circle of Influence

We hear much today about being a person of influence. Although some of us may be connected to many people, there are others whose lives may seem small in comparison. However, the important issue is not numbers but faithfulness. The Lord has determined the personality and abilities of every believer, as well as our individual spheres of influence.

No matter how vast or limited our connections are, we can each be used effectively by God to influence others as we follow His instructions.

Stand firm in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:15). We must make sure that our life is grounded in biblical truth. Otherwise, we could lead others astray.

Continue in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). People watch us, and what we say and do affects them more than we may imagine. That’s why it is so important to make sure our attitude, speech, and conduct reflect Jesus Christ.

Develop a lifestyle of prayer (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Praying for others and for opportunities to share the gospel is essential for effective ministry. It prepares their hearts to hear and our minds to know what to say. The simplest words can have amazing results when the Lord is directing our efforts.

Keep obeying the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:4). Godly influence will only be achieved if we ourselves are godly. When we are living obediently before the Lord, He will be faithful to open doors of influence according to His will (Revelation 3:8).

If you will make it your ambition to become faithful in all these ways, you can be confident that the Lord will use your life to influence others for good and for His glory.

The Sufficiency of God’s Grace

The Lord pledges to give us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It’s a promise He always keeps. Yet when life hits us hard, we may be tempted to doubt and give up. If our faith starts to waver, we need to think about what we have already received from Him and then look for evidence that He’s at work.

We should remember that we’ve been freed from sin’s penalty. Because Jesus paid the full price by dying on the cross in our place, we owe nothing for our wrongdoing. God now regards us as blameless—at salvation, we each became a new creation and were given Christ’s righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Originally, we were headed toward permanent separation from the Lord, but our eternal destiny has been changed to a heavenly home in His presence. And God’s Holy Spirit lives within us as our constant companion and source of strength.

We also should keep in mind that even in the worst of situations, our Father works to accomplish His will. Joseph experienced betrayal when his brothers sold him into slavery, and later he suffered injustice when imprisoned for doing the right thing. In the end, he realized that the Lord had graciously used those circumstances to rescue his family from a life-threatening famine (Gen. 45:5). In a similar way, God uses adversity to develop our character and dependence on Him. He works through trials to bless us and others.

Because of the Lord’s sustaining grace, we have access to His power, wisdom, and guidance. When we ask, God’s Spirit will provide the strength to persevere and help us fight doubt.

What Takes Place After Salvation

To truly grasp what Jesus did for us on the cross—and to be able to share the gospel effectively—it’s essential to have an accurate understanding of the terms we use to describe salvation.

Saved (Eph. 2:8). This is a synonym for rescued. Mankind needs rescuing because without Jesus, we are all destined for divine wrath, hell, and eternal separation from God.

Redeemed (Eph. 1:7). Redemption implies a transaction. Our salvation was purchased through the shedding of Jesus Christ’s blood.

Justified (Rom. 5:1). When someone trusts in Christ, God pardons that person and removes his or her guilt. A saved individual is in right standing with the Lord.

Reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Salvation results in a relationship with God. We were once separated from Him, but now we are His sons and daughters, and He calls us His friends (John 15:15).

Using words like redemption, justification, and reconciliation might not be effective when presenting the gospel to someone unfamiliar with the language often used in church. However, it’s important for us to understand what the Bible teaches about salvation, and these terms give us a framework for explaining the good news to others.

We must recognize that we are not saved by our personal works or performance. Salvation is ours by God’s grace—His unmerited, undeserved, loving favor toward us—and at the cost of Jesus’ own blood. Let us not take for granted how God has rescued us: by sending His Son to die in our place.

Living in Freedom

When Eve accepted Satan’s offer of greater independence from God, do you think she experienced more freedom? The answer is obvious. She, Adam, and the entire human race became enslaved to sin from that point onward. What looked like a great deal ended in deadly bondage.

Although Christ has set believers free from slavery to sin, we, like Eve, oftentimes long for the “freedom” to do what we want. But whenever we give in to sinful desires, we’re behaving like slaves instead of living as free children of God. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to say no to sin if we’ll just yield to His leadership.

The consequences of reverting to our old ways are devastating. We’ll sink deeper into bondage to sin, lose the peace and joy of fellowship with Christ, grieve the Holy Spirit, and find ourselves under the disciplining hand of the Father. We can also miss out on the blessing of helping to advance His kingdom—by falling into the hypocrisy of living like the world, we ruin our testimony because there’s no discernible benefit to having a relationship with God. Our unsaved friends, relatives, and coworkers are watching. Unless they see a difference between us and themselves, why would they want our Savior?

If Satan whispers in your ear that the Lord’s limitations are depriving you of something good, remember what happened to Eve in the book of Genesis. Liberty to do whatever we want is slavery to self and sin. Only when we live within the Father’s protective boundaries can we experience the freedom Christ purchased for us.

The Lure of Momentary Pleasure

After reading today’s story about Jacob and Esau, you probably thought, I can’t believe Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. How foolish! But let’s think beyond birthrights and soup. Is there anything of true value that you are trading for something of lesser worth? In other words, what is your “bowl of soup”?

Have you pursued wealth and a career at the expense of family? Maybe your busy schedule has kept you from spending time with God in His Word each day. Some people become involved in extramarital affairs, trading the well-being of their family for the satisfaction of lustful desires. Others sacrifice their health by consuming harmful or addictive substances, or even by overindulging in food. The list of ways we make foolish, shortsighted choices is endless.

Some of the decisions we make today could rob us of the blessings God wants to give us. When you yield to temptation, you’re actually sacrificing your future for momentary pleasure. We can’t afford to live thoughtlessly, basing our decisions on immediate desires or feelings. Since the principle of sowing and reaping cannot be reversed (Gal. 6:7), we need to carefully consider what we are planting. The harvest will come, at which point we’ll reap what we have sown—and more than we’ve sown.

Are you contemplating anything that could have serious long-term ramifications if you yield to the yearning? A wise person evaluates choices by looking ahead to see what negative consequences could follow a course of action. Don’t let “a bowl of soup” hinder God’s wonderful plans for you.

Listening to our Appetites

What words would you say describe our society? Materialistic, sensual, impatient, indulgent, undisciplined—these are just a few. We’re also a “have it now” culture. Satan specializes in presenting us with opportunities for instant gratification while promising that indulging our appetites will bring us satisfaction.

Human appetites in themselves are not sinful. In fact, they’re God-given. However, because we are human, we can’t always trust them. When our appetites have complete authority, we’re in trouble. The apostle Paul likened the Christian life to that of athletes who are so focused on winning the race that they devote every aspect of their lives to that goal.

That’s how we’re called to live, yet we lack the power to do so in our own strength—and sometimes the motivation as well. For this reason, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit within us. If we yield our lives to Him and obey, He will be our strength, and we can say no when fleshly desires feel overpowering (Gal. 5:16).

Another key to success is keeping our focus on the eternal instead of the temporal. Many decisions that seem mundane are, in fact, spiritually significant. Are you indulging an appetite that could result in the sacrifice of an imperishable reward in heaven?

When the enemy tempts us, he tries to keep our attention on our desire and the pleasure of indulgence rather than on the eternal rewards and blessings we’re forfeiting. Just remind yourself how quickly immediate gratification wanes and how long eternity lasts.

The Dangers of Unforgiveness

 
 

Genesis 50:15-21

One of the most beautiful examples of a forgiving spirit is found in the book of Genesis. Despite being the victim of jealousy, evil intentions, malicious plotting, and selfish disregard, Joseph had an attitude of forgiveness that is uncommon and hard for many of us to imagine. By responding in this way to new hurts, he demonstrated that he was a godly man who understood how to let go of resentment and grab hold of forgiveness.

If we refuse to forgive, we can expect to go through painful consequences:

We will have difficulty dealing with the wrong done to us. Instead of releasing it to the Lord, we’ll rehearse the offense and relive the pain.

Resentment will take root in our heart and mind, allowing bitterness to grow.

Negativity will begin to affect other areas of our life, such as relationships, emotions, attitudes, and even physical health.

Then feelings of discouragement will rob us of joy and contentment. We may look successful to the world, but deep inside, Christ’s peace is absent.

A buildup of ill feelings will start damaging our emotional health, which in turn hampers our ability to love others and accept love in return.

Eventually despair will set in. The inner turmoil may become so great that we might frantically resort to drugs, alcohol, affairs, pleasure, or excessive devotion to a career in an effort to find relief. 

The good news is that this downward spiral can be stopped at any point along the way by choosing to forgive. If opening your heart proves difficult, accepting help from a Christian counselor or pastor could be valuable.

Forgiving Ourselves

Have you ever come to the Lord in repentance, confessing your wrongdoing, and yet still felt guilty? Sometimes the problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves. Therefore, we go into a self-punishing mode, repeatedly replaying the sin until we feel unworthy not only of pardon but also of blessings, answers to prayer, and the Father’s love. Eventually we build a prison of guilt because our offense seems unforgivable.

But what does such behavior tell us about our faith in God and our estimation of ourselves? According to the Bible, our Father freely bestows forgiveness on the basis of His Son’s payment of our sin debt—and has removed our transgression “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). Is our refusal to forgive ourselves a way of saying we consider Christ’s sacrifice insufficient? In other words, is our standard of righteousness higher than the Lord’s?

Two men in Scripture teach us about the importance of accepting God’s full forgiveness. One is Peter, who denied knowing Christ, and the other is Paul, who persecuted Christians. The Bible gives no evidence that either one of them refused to forgive himself. Although their offenses were great and both men probably regretted their actions, they received God’s forgiveness and lived in the freedom of His grace.

To be free of an unforgiving spirit toward ourselves, we must realize it’s the result of self-focus. Instead of believing the truth of God’s forgiveness, we’ve been relying on our own feelings and making them superior to His Word. It’s time to humble ourselves and place trust in God—not in our feelings.

Wandering Away From God

It would be wonderful if after salvation, our lives progressed in a straight line of uninterrupted obedience to our heavenly Father. But that is never the case, because we all stray now and then. Jesus told a story about a shepherd who went in search of a lost sheep. While this parable is about the salvation of a wayward soul, the lessons in the story can also be applied to those of us who belong to Christ.

Even though we are held securely in the Father’s hand and will never lose our salvation, we can drift in our obedience to Him (John 10:28-29). But why would believers wander away from the God who loves them?

If a sheep takes its eyes off the shepherd, it can easily meander toward a more appealing patch of grass and end up far afield. In the same way, we might see a path that seems to lead to better opportunities. But as we follow it, we grow further from the Lord. We may not notice the distance between us and our Savior until we find ourselves in trouble.

Other Christians willfully choose to pursue their own objectives. They know their choice is wrong, but they rationalize the decision or blame someone else for misleading them.

Regardless of how we end up outside God’s will, we are responsible for the action that put us there. Though another opportunity may look good, the only place believers will find true contentment is in a trusting, obedient relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must keep our eyes on Jesus and guard against pursuing anything except His will.

Living Obediently

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you know the story of Joshua and Jericho. But we must be careful not to file this story away in our minds as something amazing the Lord did a long time ago. The same God still guides us today, and by studying this account, we gain insight into living obediently.

Joshua heard God’s directive, “You shall march around the city” (Josh. 6:3). In order for us to obey, we likewise need to hear what the Lord is telling us to do. This means we must be reading and meditating on His Word, confessing sin, praying, and spending time with Him.

Joshua obeyed, telling the people, “Go forward, and march around the city” (Josh. 6:7). Joshua did as instructed, despite three potential stumbling blocks:

1. He could have questioned God’s directive. After all, marching around the city didn’t seem like a practical battle strategy for overpowering a fortified city.
2. He could have felt pressured to explain himself to his men in order to gain their approval and agreement.
3. He could have let fear of failure keep him from obeying.

But Joshua did none of these. Upon hearing God’s voice, he followed instructions to the letter—and without hesitation. The result was that God honored his obedience: “The wall fell down ... and they took the city” (Josh. 6:20).

Are you willing to do what God says, regardless of your feelings or misgivings? Joshua was confident because the Lord had promised to give Jericho into his hand. And God’s promises to us are also the reason we can trust and obey Him.

Pursuing Wisdom

We live in the information age, where news pops up on our cellphones and college can be attended online. But I’ve noticed that while there is an abundance of knowledge floating around, there isn’t much wisdom. Godly wisdom is the capacity to see things from the Lord’s viewpoint and respond according to scriptural principles. This wisdom isn’t a natural characteristic, but you can develop it gradually over time through practice and prayer.

In God’s opinion, wisdom is a valuable treasure (Prov. 8:11). Believers need His perspective and His principles to live abundantly and obediently—that’s why acquiring wisdom is not a suggestion but a command (Prov. 4:5).

Think back to stories about “gold fever” during the 19th-century gold rush. People risked their lives in a single-minded quest for riches. Wisdom is worth so much more than a vein of precious metal. In comparing the two, the Lord calls us to passionately pursue godly knowledge and discernment.

Proverbs 8:17 personifies wisdom, who says, “I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me.” God will see to it that believers who pursue wisdom acquire it. Moreover, when the desire of our heart is something with lasting value, we receive a bonus—knowledge, prudence, and discretion (Prov. 8:12).

King Solomon, the wisest man of his time, wrote about the importance of acquiring wisdom (Prov. 4:7). Determine in your heart to pursue this great treasure. As you study the Word, seek the Lord’s will, and observe His principles in action, God will pour wisdom into your mind and spirit.

Acquiring Wisdom

The most obvious source of godly wisdom is the Bible. There we find the Lord’s principles for right character, conduct, and conversation, which apply to the situations and decisions that confront every human being.

We’re all able to recall times when we didn’t respond wisely. Those incidents can be traced back to one of two possibilities—either we didn’t know a certain biblical principle or we knew the principle that applied but chose to ignore it. To ensure that we’re familiar with God’s standards and the importance of following them, we have to spend time reading and understanding His Word.

For example, suppose that you walk into the office and a coworker verbally assaults you with undeserved blame for a costly mistake. Your flesh and the world would have you respond in kind with anger and malice. But Luke 6:27-29 offers a different approach, that might go something like this, spoken gently: “Is there anything else? Thank you for telling me how you feel about this.”

Knowledge comes from learning biblical principles; wisdom has to do with applying them. The Lord cautions us to keep His Word in our heart and in our head so we will heed His instructions (Josh. 1:8; Prov. 8:33).

In pursuing the Christian life, we acquire wisdom by absorbing Scripture, doing what it says, and observing the result, which is for our good even when consequences appear less than favorable. Special classes aren’t required; God simply wants an obedient heart and willing spirit.

Our Source of Hope in Trials

Are you presently going through any difficulties?  Maybe you’re experiencing a trial so intense that you wonder whether it’s possible to survive. Or perhaps you’re troubled by a particular hardship that drags on with no end in sight. And sometimes it’s the small, daily problems and stresses that wear us down and cause us to become discouraged.

Whatever the source of our adversity may be, Peter offers insight to help us recover hope and joy. He reminds us:

God has reserved an inheritance for us in heaven, which is imperishable, pure, and eternal (1 Peter 1:3-5). We must lift our eyes upward instead of focusing on our troubles. If we’ve placed all our hopes in this life, trials will continue to lead us to despair. But as children of God, we have an inheritance that will far outweigh any temporal suffering.

God is in control of our trials. Nothing comes our way randomly. Our loving Father ensures that our tribulations accomplish His unique purpose for each one of His children. He is sovereign over every adversity, including its duration, which is “for a little while” when compared to eternity (1 Peter 1:6).

God uses trials to strengthen our faith. Jesus said those who don’t truly believe fall away when afflictions arise (Matt. 13:20-21). To go through suffering and remain true to Christ testifies to others about our salvation. And each test makes our faith stronger.

So, how should we respond in trials? Peter says we are to rejoice in our eternal hope, endure hardships, love Jesus, and keep trusting Him.

The Betrayal of a Friend

Betrayal is one of the most painful experiences in life. Although strangers may reject, mock, or ridicule us, only those we love or trust can betray us, and that’s what makes it so painful. This is exactly what David felt when he wrote Psalm 41. His enemies spoke evil and falsehood against him, but worse still, a friend turned on him (Psalm 41:9).

When friends gossip about us, make insinuations of wrongdoing, or tell outright lies, what can we do? A good reputation is very hard to recover after it has been ruined. And it’s devastating if one friend after another believes the gossip and turns away.

Something we must keep in the forefront of our mind is that our friends and family are imperfect and sinful and are therefore prone to making mistakes, believing lies, and hurting one another. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit the same is true of us. However, this doesn’t negate the pain we feel or the wrong done to us.

So how can we handle rejection and betrayal in a godly fashion? First of all, we should not deny the pain, nor should we let it dominate and ruin our life with anxiety, bitterness, anger, or a desire for revenge. Second, we can take it to God and ask Him to protect, sustain, and heal us (Psalm 41:2-4). 

Although we may not know exactly why the Lord allowed betrayal, going through it teaches us to seek God’s approval rather than man’s. Vindication may not come in this life, but it will be revealed in eternity, when each one’s praise will come from God.

Keep Praying

The most powerful thing a Christian can do is pray. Yet how often are we guilty of making prayer our last resort or giving up on it if the answer isn’t immediately forthcoming? Perhaps it’s this human tendency that prompted Jesus to remind us to persevere in speaking with our Father.

The verb tenses of today’s passage in the original Greek could be translated as “keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.” To persevere means to continue firmly on a particular course despite the obstacles or difficulties. It’s not a passive approach of asking once and sitting back to wait for the Lord’s intervention. The words seek and knock imply action and effort in discerning God’s will and moving in that direction. 

In fact, discovering God’s will is the very purpose of perseverance—not to override it or get Him to change His mind and do things our way. Through steadfastness in prayer, we learn to focus on the Lord’s faithfulness instead of our circumstances, which may show no signs of changing. Praying tenaciously builds our trust and at the same time teaches us to depend on God instead of rushing ahead to get what we want. 

God promises that in time we will be given an answer, find what we seek, and walk through an open door. That’s when we discover our heavenly Father always gives us what is good, even if it doesn’t look exactly the way we expect or fit our timetable. Through His answers, we gain greater faith in Him and insight into what He deems good. Then we’ll know how to pray more wisely according to His will the next time we have a need.

The God Who Comforts

Look up comfort in a dictionary and you’ll find a definition like “something that promotes a state of ease or provides freedom from pain and anxiety.” But according to God’s Word, when consolation is needed, the only true solution is the indwelling Holy Spirit. In Greek, He is called paraklētos, which means “he who stands at one’s side; he who comes to one’s aid.” Believers don’t have to rely on outward remedies or distractions to ease their mind, because help is available from the ultimate Comforter.

Even before the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell believers (John 14:26; Eph. 3:16), Scripture identified God as the one who comforts His people (Isa. 40:1; Isa. 49:13). The Lord personally provides consolation and reassurance because no one knows our hurts the way He does.

I like this anonymous quotation: “When we have gone into the furnace of affliction, His hand is on the thermostat and His eye is on the clock.” God allows hardship, and as a result, we become stronger believers, wiser servants, and more humble people. But He stays by our side through the entire experience, sustaining us and limiting the intensity and duration of our distress. The Spirit’s reassuring whisper to our heart gives more comfort than the solace of family or the encouragement of friends.

People who fail to understand the true source of comfort try to escape their pain. They seek out pleasures, material wealth, or drugs and alcohol to soothe them. Only God can offer lasting relief from the crushing pressure of heartache. He even brings joy into periods of mourning.

The Lord Comforts Sinners

We expect a loving heavenly Father to care for His children when they are hurt, persecuted, or misunderstood. But you might be surprised to realize that God comforts believers even when they have sinned.

Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save anyone who believes in Him (John 3:17). Consider His response to the woman whom the Pharisees caught committing adultery. They brought her behavior to Jesus’ attention and wanted to stone her. But instead of taking up a rock, Jesus offered forgiveness. The Lord did not defend her actions or completely erase all consequences of her choices. However, He did offer compassion as well as an opportunity to turn her life around and live in the forgiveness He granted: “Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

The Lord understands our human frailty. And even before we do wrong, He knows the poisonous harvest that we will reap from sin. We certainly want a lot of comfort when we are suffering from our own foolishness. A loving heavenly Father does not abandon His children at their hour of great need—His Spirit wades into the mess we have made. He offers to guide us out of the pit, soothes our broken heart, and provides reassurance that He is always close by.

Sinning against the Lord makes us feel unworthy of His care and solace. Yet God’s forgiveness is based on His great mercy rather than our conduct. If Jesus Christ sacrificed His life to save you from your sins, then He will love and comfort you, no matter what.

Reasons to Believe the Bible

Have you ever wondered if you can trust what the Bible says? Although Scripture testifies to its own inspiration, there are also other evidences that affirm that the book we hold in our hands is the true and accurate Word of God.

Jesus believed Scripture. Our Savior affirmed the validity of the Old Testament by quoting passages as He taught. He used Isaiah’s prophecies and the Pentateuch to poke holes in the Pharisees’ false piety (Mark 7:6-13). And after His resurrection, He explained the things concerning Himself that had been written by Moses and the prophets (Luke 24:25-27). Finally, because Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples and remind them of His words, He insured the accuracy of the New Testament as well (John 14:26).

Scripture is inexhaustible. Like a well that never runs dry, the Bible offers a fresh taste of living water each time we open it. People who have dedicated their lives to studying this amazing book admit they have only skimmed its surface. Personally, I can’t count the times that a passage I knew by heart suddenly yielded new insights.

Scripture is indestructible. Over the years, various governments and leaders have tried in vain to destroy the Bible, or at least restrict access to it. And yet this polarizing—and well-loved—book keeps circulating and winning hearts for Christ.

The Bible truly is the most amazing book ever written because it comes directly from God. Not only does it accurately predict the future; it also has the power to save sinners and transform them into saints.

A Decision to Follow Jesus

Yesterday we saw how Scripture answers the question Who is Jesus? Once we have that information, we must decide what to do with it. Some may choose to ignore what they have learned, but the truth is that we have only two options. We can either accept or reject Jesus as Savior; avoidance is actually a form of rejection.

So how, exactly, do we accept Jesus in our life? The answer is that we must believe in Him. This means placing confidence in the person of Christ, knowing that His death on Calvary’s cross paid for all our sin. This is not merely an intellectual understanding; rather, it is a total surrender to Jesus as the only one who can forgive our sins, thereby bridging the gap between us and the Father. And when we receive Jesus as Savior, we immediately become children of the King.

Believers must also follow Christ’s ways. Allowing Jesus to live out His lordship through our life means yielding our will and desires to His. In addition, Christians are to worship Him. We should be so overwhelmed by His presence that our heart and lips overflow with adoration.

One last thing, of course, is that we’re to share the truth with others. Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus commanded His followers to spread the good news of salvation to the entire world (Matt. 28:19-20).

We are blessed to have ready access to God’s Word. Once we know who He is, we must decide whether we’ll wholeheartedly yield our life to Him. He longs to have an intimate, personal relationship with you. Will you say yes to His offer?

Be Careful How You Walk

We might think our sins affect no one but ourselves, yet that’s not true. What we do impacts others whether we know it or not. And Jesus used strong terms to warn us: He said causing another person to sin would leave us worse off than if we were “drowned in the depth of the sea” with a millstone around our neck (Matt. 18:6).  

People observe what we do, and who of us is without sin? We may try to excuse ourselves by claiming that most of our sin is trivial—hardly a blip on the screen—so such small indiscretions will not be noticed by others, let alone be damaging to them. But let’s consider how some of our common sins can lead others down the wrong path.  

Our lack of forgiveness towards someone could cause a close friend or family member to take up our cause and feel resentful too.

Anger that flares up in us at regular intervals may be copied by our children, who then think they, too, have the right to express their tempers whenever they want.

Lies we tell to get out of tight situations send a message—especially to children—that truth is optional, depending on the circumstances.

Conversations rife with gossip can severely damage the reputations of other people and cause listeners to sin by spreading the rumors.

The Lord’s warning should be taken seriously. We should consider the consequences of our actions and attitudes and then turn toward Jesus in confession and repentance. When we ask, He will give us the grace and strength to walk in His ways and influence others toward righteousness.

Hearing God Accurately

In reading the Word of God, we may think we come with no preconceptions, but that’s not really the case. Just as the expectations of the disciples affected how they heard and understood Jesus’ teaching, so too our perception of God’s voice is shaped by our experiences.

Let’s consider how some of the people and events in our life helped define how we hear God speak through His Word and His Spirit.

Our Parents. Our self-concept is shaped early by the way we were treated in childhood, and that in turn affects how we perceive our heavenly Father and His love for us.

Our Teachers. If we had a teacher who was a harsh taskmaster, we may have a similar image of the Lord. But if our instructor was kind and patient, then God may seem more approachable to us. 

Our Friends. Having one loyal friend can help us view the Lord in that same light. But if we’ve ever been betrayed, seeds of doubt about God’s faithfulness may be sown in our minds and affect how we hear Him speak in His Word.

Our Experiences. Whether our life has been pleasant and free of turmoil or painful and traumatic, everything we’ve experienced has shaped our understanding of the way God treats us.

This is why it’s critical to let the Word of God rather than our experiences become the filter through which we see life and understand the Lord. Before picking up the Bible or praying, let’s ask God to strip away any misconceptions so we can hear Him accurately.

Do You Know God’s Voice?

Our perceptions of the Lord have a huge impact on how we hear His voice speak to us in His Word and through His Spirit. There are many voices calling for our attention—we need to be able to distinguish Christ’s words from all the others because He alone always speaks truth. If we listen to other voices, we’ll be led astray, and this includes our own internal voice when it perceives God inaccurately.

This is why it’s so important to make sure our image of God fits the one given in Scripture. The Bible teaches us that ...

He is righteous. The Lord would never lead us to do anything sinful because doing so would contradict His nature and His Word.

He is gracious. We don’t have to worry that God is waiting to condemn or punish us. Having been saved by Christ, we live continually in His grace and kindness.

He is faithful. He always does what He says and will never abandon those who belong to Him.

He is our heavenly Father. He loves and cares for us, both by providing for our needs and by disciplining us so that we grow in godliness.

He is our Judge. All who are in Christ, however, have passed out of judgment into eternal life and need never fear condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

If our conception of the Lord is inaccurate, we may think He’s harsh, stingy, or angry with us. But there is an even greater danger if we think that God wants to satisfy all our selfish and worldly desires—that is the voice of a stranger; we should reject it and flee to our Good Shepherd.

The Source of Our Strength

How many churches sense God’s power at work in their midst? One danger every congregation faces is the temptation to rely on human effort and strategies. However, “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). Therefore, we must determine whether ministry and outreach are empowered by the Lord or by something else.

God is the only true source of power in the church, and He works through three specific means:

His Spirit (Acts 1:8). The church of Jesus Christ began the day the Holy Spirit came down and indwelled those who believed in Him. The Spirit’s work in and through the church is the only reason we can obey Christ’s command to make disciples. That’s why Acts 2:47 attributes all church growth to God: “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

His Word (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is the power of God for salvation—without it, no one would be saved. But the Lord also uses His Word to sanctify believers, just as Jesus prayed in John 17:17. Scripture is our source for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). God’s unmerited favor is not only the means of our salvation; it is also the power in our ministry. His grace even teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteously (Titus 2:11-12).

In your church, do you sense God’s power at work in these three areas? How about in your personal life—are God’s Spirit, Word, and grace the source of your strength and spiritual growth?

Praying God’s Desires

As Christians, we all long to make necessary changes in our life so we’ll become more like Jesus. And we’re also concerned about the spiritual growth of fellow believers—especially our loved ones. But transformation doesn’t come about by trying harder or putting Bible verses on sticky notes in hopes that family members will read them and shape up. The most powerful resource we have is prayer, and Paul has given us a pattern that is Christ-centered and specific.

Too often, believers pray without giving much thought to what God wants to do in a person’s life. Instead, we focus on our own ideas regarding what He should do. How much more effective our prayers would be if we prayed according to God’s will by using His Word as our source for requests.

The prayer from Colossians 1 focuses on the heavenly Father’s desires for His children. When we go before the Lord and substitute our own name or the name of a friend or family member for “you” in verses 9 and 10, we are praying His specific will for that person. The Lord delights in responding to requests that someone be filled with knowledge of His will and walk in a manner pleasing to Him.

However, we must be careful not to think of this prayer as a magic charm. It doesn’t work that way. These godly qualities take time to develop in a life. And if we are praying these things for ourselves, we must avail ourselves of the means God has provided for our sanctification or transformation—namely, His Word. If we want to know and understand God’s will, we should ask Him and search the Bible.

Knowing God as Our Father

God has many names—such as Creator, King, and Shepherd—and they reveal various facets of His character. But there’s a name for Him that meets one of our human needs in an intimate way: Father. Every person is born with a deep desire to be loved unconditionally, but when this yearning isn’t fully met, many hurts and scars can result. What security and wholeness there is in knowing that we can call God “my Father” and receive that unconditional love! Scripture tells us He is “a father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) and that He will never leave us, even if our earthly parents abandon us (Psalm 27:10).

Jesus sometimes addressed God as Abba, which is Aramaic for “father” (Mark 14:36). That was a brand-new concept at the time; we do find God spoken of as a father to Israel (Jer. 31:9), but the word was used sparingly in the Old Testament. Even God’s personal name, Yahweh, was considered too holy to be pronounced out loud, so few people thought of having a personal connection to almighty God.

From the very beginning, God has shown Himself to be a loving parent, but it is only through Christ that we’ve inherited the privilege to call the Him “our Father” (Gal. 4:4-7). The New Testament gives witness to Christ’s revelation of the wonderful relationship we can have with our heavenly Father: The name appears 245 times—over 100 times in John’s gospel alone. Paul opens each of his letters acknowledging God as our Father. The fact that man could know God as the perfect parent was a radical new idea in Jesus’ time, and it continues to be a life-impacting truth today.

Courage Behind Your Convictions

Today we live in a society that is convinced there are no absolute moral truths. It not only considers the Bible outdated and irrelevant to contemporary problems but also sees each person as free to decide what is right. As a result, our culture is ungodly, immoral, violent, and self-centered. How are we as Christians supposed to live in such an environment?

We need look no further than the example of a teenage boy named Daniel, who had the courage to stand for his convictions in the midst of the depraved atmosphere of Babylon. Despite his immersion in Babylonian culture, he committed to following the Lord faithfully, even if doing so would cost him his life. The issue of diet may seem trivial to us, but Jewish people of his day believed eating meat that had been offered to idols was an abomination to God.

In the modern Western world, we may find it hard to relate to Daniel’s example. Few of us are willing to take such a bold stand even though we have no fear of losing our life. It’s the threat of rejection, ridicule, or being seen as narrow-minded or judgmental that keeps us silent. Or worse, it may be that we don’t have any strong convictions because we haven’t let God’s Word develop them within us. Ignorance of Scripture may let us live comfortably in a sinful culture, but it will never please the Lord.

God is looking for people like Daniel—followers of Christ who will stand by their convictions, regardless of threats or the temptation to compromise for the sake of profit or acceptance. Are you such a person?

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