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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gift Giving

‘Tis the season of gifts once again, and I want to discuss the greatest gift we’ve ever received: God.  I can expand that if I need to:  God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, eternal life…ultimately, it all comes back to God.

Let’s be clear—we don’t deserve this gift.  We are flawed.  Full of sin.  We have no business putting this on our Christmas lists, yet He gives it to us anyway.  It’s the best gift, and we gladly accept it.  We crave it.  We soak it all in and keep it…for ourselves.

We hoard it.

Why are we so quick to accept this gift, yet so hesitant to give it?  Isn’t it better to give than receive?

Think of someone who has wronged you.  There’s a very high chance that you just thought of someone who is not a friend or family member, even though, statistically, a friend or family member is more likely to hurt you.  Why is that?  Why, when we think of someone who has wronged us in some way, do we not think of a loved one?

Because we love them.  Because it’s easy to forgive them.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, do good to them…Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” – Luke 6:27-28, 32, 35 (Jesus talking)

This is an old message/lesson that we all know very well, yet do we really live it?  Be honest with yourself: Are you quick to forgive someone when they’ve wronged you or do you hold a grudge?  Maybe talk about them behind their back (only you call it “venting”)?  Do you sit at home, silently brooding over their injustice towards you?  I’ll bet you do…because I know I do.

This message is expressed countless times in the Bible, so it’s safe to say that it’s pretty important.  God wants it drilled into our brains:  Forgive others.  Forgive others.  Forgive others.  How important is it?  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15—Jesus talking).

Get it?  If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.  If you do not give this gift, you will not receive this gift.  It cannot be said any clearer than that.

Is this difficult to do?  As I quoted Perry Noble last week, “When was it in the Bible that anyone was asked to do something easy?”  Of course it’s difficult to do!!  That’s why the reward for doing it is so great.

Here’s the thing:  Should it be difficult?  I’m going to throw something out there that some of you might disagree with because it won’t be easy to hear—it certainly wasn’t easy for me five seconds ago when God hit me with it...If you are full with God’s love—truly full—then forgiving others isn’t difficult at all.  If you are full with God’s love, then you are pouring that love onto others.

Love your enemies.


What is the greatest commandment?  Love the Lord your God…Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-39).  The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

We Christians always talk about wanting to be like Jesus.  “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus forgave those who were murdering Him WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING.  And you can’t forgive someone when they insult you?  Talk about you?  Lie to you?

Still…it’s not easy.  Pain is pain and it’s hard to let it go.  So how do we make it easier?  How do we learn to truly forgive?

We pray.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…” – Luke 6:27-28 (Jesus talking)

When you’ve been wronged, when you’ve been hurt—pray.  When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, He provided The Lord’s Prayer.  Do you pay attention to these words, or do you just recite them from memory?  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4).  Pray for the strength to forgive.  You want to grow in this area of life?  You want to give this incredible gift, but struggle with it?  This is Step 1.  Simply ask God to give you the strength to forgive that person.  Step 2:  Pray for that person.  And not like a, “Dear God…get ‘em!!” prayer.  Pray for their heart.  Pray that God forgives them.  If you’re strong enough to ask God to forgive them, then you are strong enough to forgive them yourself.  Step 3:  Let it go.  Don’t let your prayer just be words.  Mean what you say.  Don’t ask God to forgive them, and then go “vent” to a friend about what that person did or said.  You have to let it go.  I don’t believe in “forgive and forget.”  We’re human.  We have memories.  The deeper the wound, the harder it is to forget.  Remembering that it happened isn’t wrong.  Dwelling on it is.  Let it go.  Forgive.

The Lord says, “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” – Romans 12:20

Here’s how my Bible explains that last part:  “This may refer to an Egyptian tradition of carrying a pan of burning charcoal on one’s head as a public act of repentance.  By referring to this proverb, Paul was saying that we should treat our enemies with kindness so that they will become ashamed and turn from their sins.”

People respond to the unexpected.  When you have been wronged, people expect you to be angry.  They expect you to seek revenge.  When you react with kindness, it throws them off.  They’re not quite sure what to do.  Some will even ask how you’re able to handle it the way you are.  Just like that…you have a chance to give God’s love to them and the person that hurt you.  Treating your enemies with kindness does not show weakness.  On the contrary, it takes a much stronger person to forgive.  To let it go.  To be kind and loving.

Want the easiest way to forgive enemies?  Have fewer enemies.  Want fewer enemies?  Look at how you act towards others.  As Christians, we are to be in a building-relationships business.  Are you actively trying to build relationships, or are you content with the ones you already have?  Are you sharing the gift of God’s love with everyone or just the ones you already love?

Simple acts can display God’s grace.  Smiling and/or waving to a complete stranger instead of avoiding eye contact and pretending they aren’t there.  Striking up a real conversation with casual acquaintances instead of the typical, banal small-talk.

Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs and seemingly good guy, snapped on December 1.  During a fight with his 22-year-old girlfriend (and mother of their 3-month-old daughter), Belcher shot and killed her.  He then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility, thanked his coach for all that the coach had done, then shot himself in the head.

Following the game the next day, Chiefs’ quarterback Brady Quinn was questioning if anything could have been done.  During his interview, he said, “When you ask someone how they’re doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone about how you’re doing, are you really telling the truth?  We live in a society of social networks…and while that’s fine, half the time it seems we’re more preoccupied with our phones…instead of the actual relationships right in front of us.”

Is this you?  Do you blow these questions off as just being polite, or do you actually care how that person is doing?  Are you actively trying to build relationships or are you content to just maintain your current ones?  The stronger your relationships are, the less likely it is that someone will hurt you.  When someone does wounds you, however, do you let it go or hope for the chance for revenge?

Hopefully, you have already accepted God’s greatest gift.  Him.  This Christmas (and into 2013), give this gift.  Grow in the relationships you’re currently in.  Develop new relationships with mere acquaintances and strangers.  Show God’s love to everyone…even those that have hurt you.

Especially them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Great Lines of 2012

I have read a lot of books, articles, columns, and online sermons this year.  I have watched dozens to sermons online as well.  Some just for myself, some for specific posts I was working on, some for posts I plan on doing in the future.  When you dive into the words of so many intelligent, faith-driven Christians, you’re going to be hit with an abundance of great lines.  So…I’ve been collecting some of my favorite for just this post.  Most of these quotes are not from this year, it’s just that I’ve come across them this year.

I give to you, the Great Lines of 2012.

Mark Driscoll: When God created everything else, it was “good.”  When He created man, it was “very good.”  (Added onto by my brother Joe: And, in fact, the only thing that wasn’t good in creation was man alone.)

Francis Chan: Sometimes we need to suffer just so we can look at our lives and know we’re for real.

Francis Chan (After reading Psalm 131): Stress starts with pride.  You actually believe that you’re so powerful, you’re so great, that you can actually fix anything.

AW Tozer: Every man is as close to God as he wants to be.
Francis Chan (in response to Tozer’s line): It drives me crazy when people say, “I wish I were closer to God.”  No you don’t.  If you did, you would be.  It’s not like God is up there going, “I know you want to be closer to me, but I’m not going to let you.”  God gave His son to us so we could have intimacy with Him.  So if you’re not close to Him, guess whose fault it is?  It’s not a lack of desire on God’s part, it’s a lack of desire on your part.  We live in a culture and a church age where excuses are so popular.  Everyone has an excuse for why they sin, why they’re not close to God, why they’re not this, this, and this.  And the truth is?  It’s all you.

Galileo: The Bible is not preeminently concerned with telling us how the heavens go.  The Bible is, instead, most concerned with telling us how to go to Heaven.

Mark Driscoll: And what it says right here (Genesis 1:1) is that in the beginning there’s God.  The Bible assumes that God exists.  It just says, “God.”  What God is saying is this, “Prove me wrong.  The burden of proof is on you.  I’m God.”

Perry Noble: Before Christ does something great through you, He wants to do something great in you.

Perry Noble: If you’ve never had an “Oh, crap” moment, then you’ve never heard from God.

Perry Noble: If you and I are not willing to be uncomfortable, we will eventually become unfaithful.

Perry Noble: When was it in the Bible that anyone was ever asked to do something easy?

Mark Driscoll: Jesus did not suffer so that you would not suffer.  He suffered so that when you suffered, you would become more like Him.

Jud Wilhite: Jesus did not die so that we would go to church.  He died so that we would become the Church.

Judah Smith: Don’t turn God into a vending machine—punch in these six steps and I get what I want from God.  Well, then you don’t need God anymore because you cracked the code.

Francis Chan: The point of your life is to point to Him.

Steven Furtick: If God is telling you to do something new and people are telling you it can’t be done, maybe that’s because God left it for you to do.  Don’t be afraid to do things that can’t be done.

Steven Furtick: There is nothing more powerful than a promise from God.

Perry Noble: Most of us did not grow up with “Party Jesus,” we grew up with “Fart-Face Jesus”…You know, I looked through the Bible, and I have never found a time where Jesus showed up, and the place became more boring.

Perry Noble: What if more of us spent less time on Facebook, and more time on our face, praying for His vision?

Perry Noble: Why would God bless you with something else when you don’t acknowledge what you already have?

Perry Noble: I know church leaders who are willing to pray but not willing to perspire.

Perry Noble: Do you have someone on your worship team that can’t sing?  “Well, they have a good heart.”  That may be, but their voice sucks.  I don’t have to listen to their heart.

Steven Furtick: Most of us aren’t in danger of being too grateful.

Steven Furtick: (God is talking) “Don’t ask Me for anything until you thank Me for everything.”

Steven Furtick: If He doesn’t breathe out, you don’t breathe in.

Steven Furtick: If you let me live, I’m going to tell more people about Christ.  If you torture me, I’m going to get more reward from Christ.  If you kill me, I’m going to be with Christ.  It doesn’t matter to me—bring it on, it’s all Christ.

Steven Furtick (Talking about how negative people will take any situation and find the bad in it): Some people are crap factories.

Craig Groeschel: When you follow God, you’re going to have some oh, crap moments.  (As in—God has spoken to me…I have to obey…but I have no idea what’s about to happen.)

Jud Wilhite’s wife (speaking to her seven-year-old son who, upon seeing a billboard in Las Vegas showing seven girls in topless bikinis from behind, asked his sister which naked girl was her favorite): We do not have favorite naked girls!!  (Obviously it was a story that illustrated a much larger message, but I’m including it here because it made me laugh).

Mark Driscoll: The opposite of worship is idolatry…and lying under every sin-problem is an idol-problem.

Mark Driscoll: In marriage, it gets better or it gets bitter.

Les Brown: We don’t fail because we aim too high and miss, but because we aim too low and hit.  (This was not used in any faith-based way.  A student used it in an essay, and I loved it.)

Mark Driscoll (discussing self-inflicting suffering): If you punch yourself in the face, you’re not Job.  Sometimes when you suffer, you’re Job.  Sometimes when you suffer, you’re wrong.

Joshua Harris: God isn’t listening to you if you’re not listening to your wife.

Steven Furtick (discussing how we should talk to God): God is not your homeboy.

Steven Furtick: For every aspiration you have, there needs to be an action attached; otherwise, you’re just fantasizing…It’s called the book of Acts, not the book of prayers.

Tim Keller (Quoting archbishop William Temple): “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”  In other words, your real god is what you spend the most time effortlessly thinking about.

Tim Keller: Private prayer is crucial in understanding whether you truly love God and what He’s about or just using Him.

Tim Keller: God will always give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.

Mark Driscoll: At the end of the day, this isn’t home. For me, this is as close to hell as I’ll ever be. And heaven awaits.

Finally, the Bible verse of the year.  Obviously, this was brought up back in January, and I have found myself returning to it over and over:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28