Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Sacrifice of Forgiveness

"Then the master called the servant in. "You wicked servant," he said, "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? " In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Matthew 18:32-35.

     These verses contain a part of a parable the Lord used to teach about forgiveness. I had come to think of forgiveness as only as exercise of the mind, but these verses strongly refute that. While forgiveness begins with a decision to choose to forgive, healing comes from emotional forgiveness that follows the head decision. In looking through the Psalms we see that David presented not only his godly thoughts and praises to God, but he also presented his ungodly thoughts. He shared his feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and anxiousness with Him. He expressed his frustrations and anger concerning other people with God. He told God not only what happened, but what he thought and felt about it.
     In our culture we often say we're not angry, but we say it through clinched teeth. As believers, we are especially guilty of this because we are taught that "good Christians" don't get angry, don’t feel or express hurt, and never admit to being afraid. We stuff, deny, and often bury feelings deep in side where they smolder, fester, and intensify. Sometimes our denial is so deep that we can easily say with our mouth that we have forgiven someone, but when we pass that person we find ourselves looking the other way, to avoid surfacing anger or hurt. Sometimes we experience anger coming out in unrelated situations and we don't understand it. At those times we need to sit down before God and ask God to create in us a clean heart. We also need to ask Him to reveal any buried bitterness and emotions that we have stuffed. Ask Him to let the emotions surface and talk to Him and a trusted mentor about them. One way to work through stuck feelings toward people is to choose to forgive them by writing out the following exercise:
"Lord, I choose to forgive____________________________, for___________________________, but__________________________________________________.
     Repeat the above exercise over and over until no more "buts" come to mind and you feel the peace of God instead of anger. It may take only a couple of times, but if the offense was very serious and caused a lot of pain it may take many times to reach the point of rest. As you express negative emotions to God, ask Him to replace them with His joy and peace and to help you see the person and the situation the way He does. If you have been hurt don't be surprised if you cry as you release the "buts" to Him. Don't be surprised if as you cry experience Him as your comforter. He delights in you even when you are crying – Psalm 56:8 says that He collects tears in a bottle! He knows that forgiveness is not easy, that it is sacrificial, and that it is painful, but keep in mind that no person will ever sin against us as much as we have sinned against God. Forgiveness is for our benefit – without it we cannot be in fellowship with God and become more like Him. Forgiveness doesn't mean we will forget, but it does mean we won’t use the offense against that person again.
     Forgiveness is also costly – it costs us our pride, our sense of fairness, our sense of justice, and our desire for revenge and it cost Jesus His life. He still loves us, even after all we have done and all that we will do in the future. He still desires an intimate relationship, still calls us sisters, and still calls us friends! Doesn’t His love compel us to be more like Him? If we become like him, we will learn to look at situations in which we are hurt as an opportunity to be more like Him, forgiving like He does. I do a similar exercise when I feel angry at God--I express the anger or disappointment to Him and ask Him to help me see things from His perspective and or to help me accept His sovereignty in the situation. Sometimes He does help me see it from His perspective. At other times, I feel like He simply asks me to trust Him and to cling to His goodness and His promises! And slowly I am realizing, I have always had irrational beliefs that if I can just understand something I can make it through. The truth is, I can make it through, because I can rest in the truth of God’s unfailing love. Some things in this life will never make sense. They just are…understanding them won’t lessen the pain they cause. But my God is big enough to heal my hurting heart.

Prayer: Father, sometimes forgiveness is so hard and so painful. It makes us vulnerable to emotional pain that we would rather not feel. It also makes us vulnerable to people and to getting hurt again. Please place in each of us the desire to be like You; even when that includes forgiving. Help us remember the cruelty of the beating that You received, the humiliation of being stripped and mocked, and the horrible cruel death You suffered for us so that our offenses could be forgiven. Help us to extend that same mercy and love to others no matter who they might be. To be like You, we have to learn to forgive like You do. Please give us the courage, the humility, the compassion, and the gracious hearts we need to be a true reflection of YOU! Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One Very Thirsty Woman

"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 without sin."
Hebrews 4:15--Story from John 4:4-30, 39-42

In this account Jesus and His disciples were traveling by foot through the country of Samaria when they stopped by a well to rest. Usually the Jews avoided this region, because they believed contact with Samaritans would defile them. While the disciples went shopping for food, a Samaritan woman approached the well where Jesus was resting. It was customary for people to get water early in the morning or evening when it the temperature was cool, but she came to the well around noon--the hottest part of the day. She was carrying her water pot and even from a distance Jesus noticed the slump of her shoulders, her eyes cast down, the lack of a spring in her step, and her face void of expression. He knew she came to the well at this time to avoid the disapproving looks and the rude comments of other women in her community. As she approached, she was surprised by Christ's presence and avoided His gaze.

As she began to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. Surprised, she asked Him why He, being a Jew, was speaking to her. Glancing at the well, He told her that if she knew who He was she would have been asking Him for a drink of living water. She was puzzled by his comment. To her living water meant fresh pure water that was used for drinking. She glanced at Him, but did not recognize Him. He spoke to her again, asking her to her to bring her husband to see Him. She squirmed under His gaze and responded saying that she did not have a husband. He smiled ever so slightly at her discomfort and knowing her statement was a half truth. He caught her eye and held her gaze as He told her He knew she was five times divorced, now living with a man not her husband. She instinctively understood Jesus knew five men and declared her unfit as a wife and was amazed He was still engaging in a conversation with her.

However, she didn't realize He also understood that with each divorce her feelings of rejection had grown deeper. With each rejection she bore a growing sense of failure at fulfilling the role she was born to fulfill. We aren’t told why she did not marry the sixth. It could have been that she was afraid to marry him thinking it would save her the public humiliation of another divorce or maybe he was just using her for his own pleasure and she needed his provision. 

Christ recognized an unquenchable thirst growing deep inside of her--a thirst to be known, loved, and accepted. She desperately needed some one to see the ugly parts of her heart and not walk away. She needed to have some one care enough to instill in her the hope that she could become the woman God designed her to be. As she listened, she recognized Him, not just as a Jew, but also as a prophet and asked Him where people should go to worship. Maybe she was dodging the personal issues Christ exposed or maybe she was actually seeking truth. He answered her question and it was then that she became aware that she had met God. He knew she had been rejected repeatedly and she had a long pattern of sexual sin and He still loved her! He was different from the men she knew. He gave her His pure love, His righteousness and met her needs instead of demanding she satisfy His. He satisfied her thirst to be known, her thirst to be loved, and her thirst to be accepted. As a result, she was forever changed from a vessel of dishonor to a vessel of honor.

Christ not only went out of His way to offer His grace to this one rejected lady; He used her to offer it to an entire rejected race. We can know she was changed, because she willingly told the people in her community who had shunned her about her encounter with Jesus. We each have similar stories. We were separated from God by sin, and He sought us out, bringing us face to face with Him so He could offer us a relationship with Him. All of us were born with the same needs that she had. Christ meets those needs if we let Him.

Interestingly, Jesus, like the lady, was well acquainted with grief and rejection. He was cast out of synagogues when He began to reveal who He was. While His neighbor's questioned His heritage His brothers questioned His sanity. Religious leaders accused Him of being demon possessed and His own disciples deserted Him. His countrymen traded His release for that of a murderer and His Heavenly Father poured His wrath on Him for sin He did not commit – it was for our sin that He died.

He offered the Samaritan salvation because He understood the pain of her unmet needs and her life of rejection. It’s comforting to know that Christ was touched with the feeling of her infirmities and that He understands ours as well. He also understands the struggles we have with our weaknesses. He hates our sin, but He definitely understands the needs driving it. The question we need to wrestle with is, “Will we let God expose our deepest needs that drive our behaviors?” Sometimes we admit we sin, but we avoid facing the needs beneath because we it is painful. 
We can share our longing to be known and loved with God and trust Him to meet us there. We can let Him see the darkest parts of our souls and know He won't leave. We can confess our sin and know He still loves us. We can trust Him to mold us into women He intended us to be.In truth, we are all very thirsty women and He is the "living water" who can fill us with His love and goodness not just to the brim, but to the point that it overflows!

Father, I know that each of us has been rejected in some form or fashion and it truly hurts. Some have been rejected to the level of this woman and I cannot even imagine that kind of pain. I pray that You will heal those that are hurting and that each person will be comforted by the fact that You have felt the feelings of their infirmities and understand their failures and unmet needs. Please meet their needs and satisfy the longings of their souls! You are good and You are faithful! We love You…Amen.


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!