Archive for July, 2011

 

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet
In August, we’ll spend most of our time at the River’s Edge with Jeremiah. I’ll be honest with you…there are some books of the Bible that don’t make me excited when I think about reading them. Known as the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah is one of those books. Let me be more honest…I’m so wrong! The book of Jeremiah is full of great material and reveals the heart of God tremendously. Here’s a quote that I love. God is speaking to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah.

This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
Jeremiah 2:5 (NIV)

Do you hear the Lord’s broken heart? “What fault did your fathers find in me…” Now obviously there is no fault with God, just as there is often no fault with parents when their children choose rebellion. And the parents’ hearts break. God’s heart breaks when we stray far from Him. He watches as we follow worthless idols, knowing that doing so we will be come worthless ourselves.

I bet there are other verses in this book that you know but perhaps don’t know the reference. Check these out:

[The Lord is speaking] “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5a)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a)

Someday my emotions will catch on that the weeping prophet knows the heart of God and I’ll rejoice at the thought of reading the book of Jeremiah.

Mark, James & Peter
Our New Testament reading will have us in these books:

  • Gospel of Mark – We’ll finish the Gospel of Mark, reading chapters 8 through 16.
  • James – The book of James is a favorite of many. It was written by James, the brother of Jesus, and many people believe it was the first New Testament book written.
  • 1 Peter – This book of encouragement was written to Christians facing persecution. We’ll be exhorted to live a holy lifestyle and submit to authority (and who doesn’t need those lessons?).

The month holds some great opportunities for learning and reflecting as we rest by the river’s edge with God’s Word. I pray that you will come to know God’s heart in a greater way as you read during the month of August.
Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for August is below.

To download a PDF of the August 2011 recommended reading plan, click here.

Watching the Church Grow & Develop and Reading some Poetry

As we Rest at the River’s Edge in May, we’ll spend most of our time doing two things:

Watching the church grow and develop as we read through the book of Acts

Enjoying poetry as we read some Psalms and the Song of Songs (often called Song of Solomon)

As spring develops, don’t lose focus on what’s important, but feel free to take your Bible and notebook outside and enjoy some spring weather!

Blessings,
Sandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few weeks ago our church sang Robin Mark’s song “Fortress” during worship. Referring to heaven, verse 2 includes these lines:

Where with men and angels
Where with slaves and kings
I will sing my praise to You alone

As I sang, I was arrested by the image these lines brought to my mind. As sinful people, we are prone to focus on class differences. We are often awed by the “kings” of this world and put off by the “slaves.” In the United States, we might think of the “kings” as leaders in industry and culture. Michael Jackson is the “King of Pop,” Elvis Presley the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Benny Goodman the “King of Swing.” Were I to be introduced to any o f them, I’d undoubtedly feel intimidated. Heck, I’d even be a bit intimidated just to meet Clifton Chenier, the “King of Zydeco.”

Yet the song brings home the point that in the presence of God, those prejudices will fall away. We wouldn’t have praise for the kings; all our praise would be for God. Position and status in this world will be so meaningless.

As I thought about this, it further occurred to me that all earthly prejudices would fall away – including those of created by touchy relationships. If you’ve lived very many years on this earth, there are some people who have hurt you deeply. Perhaps you’ve done your best to forgive them but there is still hesitancy in your heart that causes some level of discomfort when you are around them. As we sang those lines in the song, I began to realize that in heaven, even these prejudices will fall away. I will stand next to those who have hurt me singing praises to God with full and complete joy in my heart and not a trace of discomfort!

How foolish we are to hold on to these things in our heart! God is so much bigger! In heaven, He will hold our full attention and we will sing our praises to Him alone…and the things we thought important in this world will fall away. Yet Scripture teaches us that we are to take hold of our eternal life while on this earth (1 Timothy 6:12). Perhaps one of the ways we do that is by allowing God to hold our full attention so that the petty class differences and relationship difficulties can fall away. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1) and being released from these things is tremendous freedom.

Here’s lyrics to the whole song:

Fortress, by Robin Mark
By Robin Mark & Paul Baloche
copyright 2007 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music

Verse 1
I have found a Fortress in the Living God
I have made the Sov’reign Lord my refuge
And my voice will tell of all His saving grace
Though the depths of which
No man could measure
In the days of plenty in the days of want
I will put my trust in You alone
For there’s no heart greater than the Father’s heart
And there’s no love sweeter than the Son’s

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah to my King
Hallelujah hallelujah Jesus Christ my ev’rything
(repeat)

Verse 2
That this love pursued us is a mystery
For the heart is base and You are holy
Yet the streams of mercy that flow over me
Will afford me grace to stand in glory
Where with men and angels
Where with slaves and kings
I will sing my praise to You alone
For there’s no heart greater than the Father’s heart
And there’s no love sweeter than the Son’s

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17Unless the LORD had helped me,
I would soon have died.
18
I cried out, “I’m slipping!”

and your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me.
19When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
Psalm 94:17-19 (NLT)

Note to Readers: Hi friends! I had promised the release of my new Bible study on the book of Jonah today. I’m afraid it’s not quite ready. I still have several permissions to obtain for quotes included in the study. I do apologize and hope to release it soon. Watch this space for More than Fish Story, God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man.

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Unless the Lord had Helped Me…

17Unless the LORD had helped me,
I would soon have died.
18
I cried out, “I’m slipping!”

and your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me.
19When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
Psalm 94:17-19 (NLT)

I love this passage from today’s Resting at the River’s Edge reading. Three short verses but so much to be gleaned from them.

The psalmist surely did not die (as evidenced by the writing of the Psalm), but he recognizes that it was only by God’s grace that he is alive today. Sometimes Psalms like this seem a bit melodramatic. Was the psalmist really at death’s door? At least that’s what my sometimes skeptical mind asks. Then it occurs to me that there are many kinds of death. Yes, the psalmist may well have been at death’s door and God intervened to save him. Or perhaps the psalmist is talking about the death of sin. Scripture tells us that the penalty for sin is death and that each sin causes a death in our relationship with God and in most cases with others as well. God has made a way for that relationship with Him to be repaired, and that’s in the substitutionary death of His Son, Jesus. When we turn to Jesus asking Him to take our life, He turns to the Father and says “The punishment for his (or her) sin has already been paid. I died for that sin so that he (or she) can live through me.” “Soon” is a relative term, and most likely within the next fifty years I will be at death’s door. Having given my life to Jesus while here on earth, when that time comes, He will step in and say “I died for you – your life in eternity with the Lord begins now.” Unless the Lord had helped me…

God’s unfailing love supports us when we are slipping. Hallelujah! All that’s required is that we call out and ask for His help. But it’s oh, so hard to call out for help sometimes. Why, oh why, oh why, do we resist calling out? Why do we wait until we are on the very precipice of slipping instead of calling out when we still have a little space between us and the precipice? Or better yet, why don’t we cry out for help before we even see the precipice, knowing that God will help us avoid it? (Sigh. Lord, help me to remember this lesson because I so frequently forget it.)

God’s unfailing love supports us when we are slipping (part 2). It props us up. It keeps us from falling. It enables us to stand. Perhaps you’ve experienced this in the natural. Perhaps there is someone in your life in whose love you are so secure that it gives you confidence to step into new areas and adventures. When you’ve committed your life to the Lord, you can be even more secure in His unfailing love. You may fail, but His love does not fail. When we cry out, his unfailing love supports us.

When we’re hanging over that precipice about to slip, sometimes doubts fill our minds. “Will He really help me if I cry out?” “If I had cried out sooner, the Lord would have helped me, but will He help me now?” “I have failed so many times, why should He help me now?” “Can God really…?” “Will God really…” The answers are yes, yes, because He loves you, yes and yes! When doubts assail us, God steps in with His assurance. His Word comes to our mind and a pin prick of hope turns into a beam of light that enables us to cry out for help.

The knowledge that God can and will save us is beyond comforting and changes our perspective to hope and cheer. After He has saved us the first time, we live in the experiential knowledge and reality of His salvation (eternal and temporal). His history with us brings renewed hope and cheer.

I love the Lord. He heard my cry. He’ll hear yours, too. Whether it’s that first cry for salvation, or the cry for help in any situation. He will hear and He will help. His comfort will renew your hope and change your attitude from despair to joy. Have a blessed week friends!

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7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Not many people carry treasures in old, dirty clay pots. Treasures are meant to be kept in special places and displayed with care for others to see. Yet Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they carried their treasure around in old, dusty, jars of clay. Wait a minute! Let’s back up – what is “this treasure?”

Chapter 3 and the first part of Chapter 4 make it clear that “this treasure” is our incredibly awesome relationship with God and the equally awesome ministry of sharing that relationship with others. The most prominent word in the passage is glorious! And yet we carry that treasure around in clay pots. Why? So that no one mistakes the glory for our own, but so it is clear that “this all-surpassing power is from God.” Halelujah!

Reading 2 Corinthians 3 through 4:7, one would think Paul lived on Cloud 9 all the time! The verses that follow make it clear he doesn’t:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9

As I was preparing to preach this passage recently it occurred to me that how we read it makes all the difference. It can be easy to fall into the trap of reading it like this:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (emphasis mine)

That’s not how Paul wrote it, though. Sometimes it requires an act of our will to read it as Paul wrote it:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (emphasis mine)

How are you responding to the difficult issues in your life today? Are you focusing on the fact that they are not crushing you? Are you resisting being in despair? Do you know that you know that you know that you are not abandoned? And are you confident that you will not be destroyed? That’s where God wants us to live – in full confidence that He has overcome the world and, living inside us, He will enable us overcome it. It’s what Paul says just a few verses later:

13It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Verse 13 threw me a bit until I learned that the first half of it is taken from Psalm 116. The Psalmist begins in confidence:

1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2
Because he turned his ear to me,

I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2

Continuing to read the Psalm, we learn that the psalmist was near death when he called to the Lord and God rescued him. He spends several verses telling of God’s great love, compassion and power. Then he writes “I believed; therefore I said…” (v10). The Psalmist continues with his dismay in this world and finishes with complete confidence in God. Why does he have confidence in God in light of the condition of his world? Because God has already responded to his cries for mercy, because God has already rescued him, he is full of faith that no matter what he faces God will save him.

Paul was identifying with the Psalmist when he wrote the 2 Corinthians passage –

13…With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15

In other words, it is with the same confidence that the Psalmist wrote about that we speak, because we know that God, who has already demonstrated His power when He raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise us with Jesus and to present us in His presence. Wow! Already it’s easier to put the emphasis on the correct phrases in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. I am not destroyed! I am not crushed or abandoned!

All this is reason for us to overflow with thanksgiving to the glory of God. It is the Summer of Praise and God has given us more than enough reasons to praise Him. When we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted or struck down, we can know that there is a greater purpose in it – for God to be glorified as others see Christ being developed in us. We can also know that He will one day raise us up to be with Him. Two wonderful reasons to celebrate and persevere!

Finally, Paul puts the finishing touches on the passage:

16Therefore [because of all of this] we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I die a little each day – outwardly, that is. My physical body crested the hill of life and is on the downhill slope toward death. I’m still somewhat near the top of the hill, but the slope seems to grow steeper with each passing year. Yet Paul writes that despite what is happening outwardly, we do not lose heart – we are not discouraged – because inwardly we can be renewed each day. That renewal comes when we have everything in focus – looking not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; not on what is temporary, but on what is eternal. Because what is eternal has a glory that far outweighs them all. Hallelujah! Bring to mind the most magnificent thing you have seen here on earth. It is like muddy water compared to the glory of heaven. Don’t focus on the muddy water! Focus on the glorious truth that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will one day raise up with Him. Hold on to the confidence that He will rescue you, just as He has promised and as He has done so many times before.

We carry around the treasure of our awesome relationship with Christ and all that He is to us and for us, and we carry it in our bodies of clay so that there is no question that it is Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Lagniappe: If you like worship dance and/or Whitney Houston’s singing, check out this video of Whitney singing the song “I Love the Lord” based on Psalm 116. Watch the video below or here.

 

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God, the Creator of the Universe is Our Dwelling Place

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.

What a reassurance to the psalmist! “Lord, throughout all the generations, you have been our dwelling place.”

  • God has been faithful to His people for thousands of years. He has sheltered for them.
  • We have a heritage of generations who have been sheltered by the Lord. The older I get the more important my heritage is to me. That heritage connects me to something much bigger than me. When I allow the Lord to be my shelter, I continue an established heritage.
  • We are part of a community – He is “our dwelling place” – we are not alone.
  • Our dwelling place is the Lord – As we’ll see in the following verses, the Lord almighty!

2Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

~~
4For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

  • He is an eternal God.
  • He is the God with power to create the earth and the world.
  • Eternity is an unimaginably long time. Perhaps a thousand years is like one evening.


We are Sinful and Deserve God’s Wrath

3You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
~~
5You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning—
6though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.

  • He rules over the lives of men and women.
  • In light of eternity, our lives are as short-lived as a blade of grass that comes to life one morning but dies in the heat of the sun.

7We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
1 The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

  • We are a sinful people and deserve nothing short of the wrath of God.
  • We could easily be consumed by our sin.
  • Our sins are not a secret from God. They are offensive in His presence.


Seek the Lord and His Favor; Find a Heart of Joy

In light of God’s faithfulness and power, and man’s sinfulness and impotence, the Psalmist does the only thing that makes sense: He Asks for wisdom.

12Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
17May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

  • Wisdom comes from the Lord. Lord, teach me how to order my days, giving priority to the most important things and forsaking the foolish.
  • It is the Lord’s unfailing love that satisfies our deepest needs, our deepest hunger. Lord, reveal Your unfailing love to me in the morning until I am satisfied in it.
  • Being satisfied in the Lord enables me to face the world with songs of joy and gladness. Lord, put that song in my heart to carry me through the troubles of this life.
  • Show me Your deeds and splendor, Lord.
  • Let Your favor rest upon me. When God’s favor rests upon us, we are blessed.
  • Establish the works of my hands. Keep my life from being meaningless.

I can’t help but see that these ending prayer requests are an outcome of verse 1 – that when the Lord is our dwelling place, we are positioned for Him to show us His deeds and splendor and to be satisfied with His unfailing love. We are positioned to have the song of joy in our heart.

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The four short chapters of Jonah are chock-full of sovereign acts of God – times when He steps in and changes the course of events – every act a miracle of His sovereign grace. There are more miracles in the 48 verses of this book than in any other passage of the Bible of similar length! Additionally, I find eight major life lessons in those four short chapters! This is truly a story that is about more than a man being swallowed by a giant fish.

Product Announcement: I’ve written a six-lesson Bible study on the book of Jonah that is in its final stages of production. Watch for it to be released on Monday, July 25. In the meantime, if you’re reading along with us following the Resting at the River’s Edge schedule, you’ll get a head start by reading through the entire book of Jonah today (that should take you less than fifteen minutes). Blessings on your reading, friends!

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Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

There is an excellent blog called “Signs of a Struggle” written by Thom Hunter. Subtitled “compassionate truth for men and women who struggle with sexual brokenness,” it is extremely well written and gives very candid glimpses into the struggle and recovery while providing sound biblical perspectives on such topics as sin, guilt, shame, forgiveness and God’s tremendous grace. I’ve been reading the blog for a little while and wondered about sharing it with others. I’ve come to the point of believing that I am doing those who need Mr. Hunter’s blog a huge disservice by not sharing it.

I’d like to share a portion of a blog titled It Came from Within! I believe this portion of the author’s blog can challenge and minister to everyone. If you struggle with sexual sin or know someone who does (and you probably do whether you know it or not), I encourage you to read his entire blog. Everything following is excerpted from the blog.

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Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

He [God] is not busy with someone else. He hears your prayer.

Search me. –Sometimes when I stand calmly before a mirror and focus on my own eyes, I think: “Do I know you?” This evokes moments of honesty, easily diverted with a toothbrush or by plugging in the shaver. God has no such distractions. Ask Him to really search you and He will not look away or busy Himself with the day’s preparations. He created the day and He placed you in it. He sees in and out and every way around.

Know me. – We want people to know what we want them to know, not really know us. God knows us. He knows not only that inner itch, but He knows what happened to us in the world to raise it to a level of irritation that demands we do whatever is in our power to seek relief. He knows that what might have been a bearable curiosity in me, for instance, was fully inflamed to major “I want” status by the double-whammy of father abandonment and childhood sexual abuse. But he also knows the pain some of you may feel because you find yourselves embroiled in a temptation and the only person you can point a finger at is yourself. It may be dissatisfying when there is no one else to blame, but the truth remains the same. Sin is sin. God wants to hear you say “know me.” He already does, of course, but He wants to know you want Him to know.

Test me. – God doesn’t test us the way the world tests us. He’s not the dangle-type, holding something just out of reach to see if we will wear ourselves out lunging along the edge of self-destruction. Remember…He does not tempt. So…can you trust Him to test you? If you asked Him to search you and to know you, then why not let Him test you to see if you know yourself as He does? God tests us to prepare us for victory, not defeat. So…search and know, just like you asked Him to do. Search His word; know His ways. Ask Him to test you. And don’t forget the answers to the bonus question:  “trust and obey.”

Know my anxious thoughts. – No wait…don’t. Not those thoughts. Isn’t that the way many of us approach life? Yet, here is the acknowledgement that we will have those anxious thoughts. You can’t hide them, not from God.

I get anxious sometimes. I listen to the reasoned arguments of people on both sides of the strugglers’ “personal problems.” Most of the time I just don’t like what I hear and I want to straighten it all out, make it clear, stop the pain, bring perfect understanding and healing rain for all. And then I realize that if I had it all figured out…then I would have it all figured out. Truth is, even if I did, why would people listen to me any more than they listen to God?

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9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10

What a wonderful passage! It’s rhythm builds to a crescendo in verse 9, then quietly slips in the wonderful message that we are the people of God.

Today I want to focus on one little 4-letter word in the verse: “that.” Used here as a conjunction, Mirriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary describes it as a “function word to introduce a subordinate clause expressing purpose or desired result.” We might substitute “so that” if we wanted to be a bit more wordy than Scripture. The first part of the sentence happened “so that” the second part could or would happen. Let’s look at it again.

First part: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” – this happened for a purpose –
Connection: “so that”
Second part:
here’s the purpose – “you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

 

Wow! The purpose for which I was chosen is to declare God’s praises. Put another way, I am fulfilling my purpose – my destiny even – when I am praising God. When we declare God’s praises, we are fulfilling our holy destiny and high priestly calling. That just blows me away!

Are you having one of those days and need a reason to rejoice? Try any of these:

  • God has chosen you! (Meditate on that awhile!)
  • God has made you a royal priest! (What an honor!)
  • You are a part of a holy nation! (No, we’re not talking about the USA, but the Kingdom of God!)
  • You belong to God!
  • He called you out of darkness into His wonderful (some translations say marvelous) light!
  • You have received mercy!

Is it any wonder that the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism is this: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

He is deserving of endless and boundless praise, and I am so looking forward to enjoying Him throughout all eternity.

During this Summer of Praise, let’s fulfill our destinies by praising the One who has done so much for us!

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The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1 Cor 6:7

In my blog last week, I jumped off this verse, concluding that the Apostle Paul was able to overlook offenses because he kept his eyes on the prize – Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He was so focused on Christ – what He had done, what He was doing and what He would do in the future – that he didn’t have the time or expend the energy to deal with slights, real or imagined. That’s a great message and one I need to remember.

But it wasn’t the message I had in mind when the Holy Spirit highlighted the verse to me. As I was typing out the phrases that might answer the question “Why not rather be wronged?” I could feel indignation (righteous indignation I would like to think) welling upwithin me. But God was showing me that the indignation, even if it was righteous, would lead to actions that didn’t reveal His heart to the offender. He brought this verse to mind:

12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
James 2:12-13

Mercy triumphs over judgment. That’s grace! God is being merciful toward me instead of giving me the punishment I deserve. But grace carries two meanings – it is both that which is extended to me by God, and it is the reflection of that grace working in my life. (See a short blog about it here.) What that means is that in my life, I should be striving to allow mercy to triumph over judgment…not nursing my indignation whether it is righteous or not.

Considering the tremendous grace God has shown to us, it is not our place to measure out punishment. Paul put it this way when writing to the Romans:

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21

Paul begins the passage with a warning not to repay evil for evil and ends with the injunction to overcome evil with good. He leaves little wiggle room for bringing lawsuits or claiming “our rights.” Between the two verses, Paul gives what might be even harder instructions – we’re to actually bless our enemies – not just with words, but in deed.

And then there is verse 18. God often brings this to my mind: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That wording implies that I ought to be proactive in bringing about peace. I’m not to just make peace in my heart, but to take whatever action is possible to make peace when there is friction between me and someone else. Yes, boundaries may be appropriate, but “if it is possible” I’m to make peace.

These are challenging instructions. God has given us His Spirit to guide and enable us. Sometimes the hardest part is being willing. I find that often, what is required is the simple prayer “Lord, make me willing.”

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The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1 Corinthians 6:7

“Why not rather be wronged?” the Scripture asks. Well, I could come up with a boatload of reasons. Any of the following phrases or questions immediately come to mind:

  • Doesn’t God want justice?
  • Does God want His children to be taken advantage of?
  • It’s disrespectful and I won’t be disrespected.
  • Unrighteousness goes against everything I believe in – am I to walk away from injustice?
  • They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that!
  • Well, it’s just plain wrong!

And yet, Paul writes that it is better to be wronged and cheated. I guess we should note for the record that if anyone has earned the right to make such a statement it was Paul. He experienced more than his fair share of persecution, false accusations, betrayals and character assassinations. Yet he continued to pursue God without bitterness and without holding back. There’s also no indication that he carried unforgiveness in his heart.

I admire that. I’ve been betrayed, falsely accused and had my character greatly maligned. I haven’t been stoned or beaten. Yet it took awhile for me to return to ministry without holding back part of my heart and my passion. There’s no indication that the Apostle Paul had a hint of hesitation to continue whole-heartedly.

I’ve been thinking about this abit – wondering where Paul got his undiluted commitment and passion. One word that comes to mind – it’s a word that God’s been highlighting a lot recently – perspective. Paul constantly kept his focus on bigger things – Christ and Him risen, Christ and His return.

I read a verse during a Bible study today that struck me more than it has in the past:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Luke 9:51

With His eyes on the prize – being taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely walked toward His crucifixion.

The author of Hebrews summarized it this way:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven…for the joy set before Him…Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem…He endured the cross.

The Hebrews passage takes the next step – the one that moves Scripture from being a story about someone else to being a holy standard and motivation for our lives:

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:3

Consider – think about – all Christ endured from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. So that your focus isn’t on what’s been taken from you or what someone did to you or said about you…so that you don’t file lawsuits to fight for what is yours. It’s not worth it. Such an approach means we’ve already lost!

But, you might say, I may win and gain back the money (or whatever) that is owed me. Yes, but it wasn’t worth the price:

  • The love that was killed in the process.
  • The time that was spent pursuing things other than the Kingdom of God.
  • The opportunities to practice so many disciplines – like humility and patience and kindness and silence.
  • The opportunities to show forth the love and character of God by being forgiving and compassionate and joyful.

What I see is that when our eyes are on the prize, bickering, slandering, cheating one another and taking one another to court fall by the wayside. They become excess baggage that when dropped leave us with a load that is so light we run and jump with joy more easily.

Life isn’t always fun and it often isn’t fair. Christ promised that –

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

But when our focus isn’t on this world, it doesn’t bother us nearly as much! Honest!

During this Summer of Praise, I’m working on fixing my eyes on Jesus…in all circumstances and at all times. How about you?

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