Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't Drink the Poison!

Mike Hosey, An Elder
A very popular saying about forgiveness is that withholding it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to suffer or die.  Of course there’s a lot of easily recognized truth in that statement. The first truth is that the only person being negatively affected by the unforgiveness is the unforgiver.  A second truth is that the person withholding the forgiveness is actively trying to harm the person who should be receiving forgiveness. Think about that for second.  Withholding forgiveness makes one an avenger, which is something for which God strongly disapproves (Romans 12:19).  And if you maintain that position of unforgiveness you are actively opposing God. Further, you are not following the example set by his son (John 3:16). 

A very non-Christian thinker recognized some of this truth once when he said that “without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” If you haven't forgiven someone, then you are very likely mired in either resentment, or even hatred of that person, or you are either openly, secretly, or unconsciously scheming to execute retribution, or to exact revenge. And if that is your state of mind, then you are not going to be able to fully love the people around you to whom you are actually committed, and for whom you have nothing to forgive, because a piece of you will always be devoted to harming the person who harmed you. And if that is the case regarding your relationship with the people who you love and can see, what does it do to your ability to fully love God, who you can’t see (Matthew 22:36-39)? 

 No doubt, forgiveness can be a very difficult task. However, one thing that helps to make it less difficult is to realize that you also are forgiven by God when you ask for it. Each time that we sin against God, we damage the creation that he has made.  Sin harms the spirit that he put inside of you.  It harms the body in which your spirit is kept.  It harms the people around you who he made.  It can even harm the very planet on which you walk.  And even though all of that is true, God has chosen to forgive you in ways that you cannot fathom (Psalm 103:10-14). He does not deal with us according to our sin.

Unforgiveness is a kind of rivalry, or dissension, or division.  As such it is wholly an act of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).  But forgiveness is an act of the Spirit, and if we live in that Spirit, we will produce different fruit (Galatians 5:22-26). So if you need to forgive someone, if you want to get out of that cycle of resentment and retaliation, and if you want to love your family and God to the fullest, leave your anger at the cross, walk in the spirit of God, and ask him to help you to forgive those who have harmed you.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

One Amazing Expectation for All Christians

Mike Hosey, An Elder

The New Testament only mentions the man Epaphras three times, but his role in its creation is significant. Not only was he a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23), but he also founded the church at Colossae (Colossians 1:7), which is where we get Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul makes a curious statement about Epaphras in that letter.  He says that Epaphras “struggles” in his prayers on behalf of the Colossian Christians, so that they will reach maturity and stand confidently in the will of God (Colossians 4:12). Epaphras prayed for their maturity.  That is, he prayed for their spiritual growth. His desire for the Christians at the church he founded was such that he “struggled” in prayer. And it was his own maturity that advanced the Kingdom of God in ways that we cannot fathom, and that has spanned generations because he stood confidently in God’s will by founding that church. His prayers show that he sought that same potential in the church that sprang from his own mature obedience.

This is not an uncommon theme in the New Testament.  Just look at Paul’s expectation in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to grow or mature in every way to become more like Christ.  It’s likely that Paul means this both as an individual statement, as well as a collective one.  For instance, he expected that each individual Ephesian would grow to become more like Christ. He also expected that the family of Christians at Ephesus would grow to become more functional as Christ’s body in that area (Ephesians 4:16).

All throughout the New Testament you will find an expectation of growth. Consider how the writer of Hebrews admonishes his fellow Christians for a lack of growth.  He expected to see them as teachers, but found them more like children who needed to be taught again (Hebrews 5:12-14). The writer of Hebrews was disappointed in the progress he found among his brethren. But contrast that with Paul’s statement on progress to Timothy.  Paul is instructing Timothy on how to shepherd his fellow Christians, and he tells him to immerse himself in the reading of scripture, teaching, and of not neglecting the gift he had been given.  He tells him to do this so that everyone may see his progress

Every Christian has been given some kind of gift, and there is an expectation on the part of God that every Christian grow toward maturity, and to be more like Christ in the use of that gift. How hae you progressed in the use of yours?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Is Reconciliation More Important than Worship?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

You are likely going to sin against your brothers and sisters at some point in your Christian walk – either intentionally or not. You will say something, do something, or be a part of something that will damage others in a way that will harm your relationship with them.  These sins against others can range from major events, such as sexual infidelity in a marriage, to relatively minor events, such as revealing information that a friend wanted kept secret.  There’s no way to categorize these kinds of things with precision because everyone is different in their sensitivity to slights, wrongs, or offenses, and there are far more wrongs that can be done than we can even imagine. 

But one thing is rather precise, and that is that God expects us to live in a loving relationship with other Christians. 1 John 4:19-21 puts it in stark perspective.  It’s there that we’re told that anyone who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar. How can we love God who we’ve not seen, and not love our brother who we have seen? Anyone who loves God, must also love his brother.  The bible is packed with verses that teach the same general thing. Another verse, Romans 12:18, tells us that we are to live peaceably with others as far as it depends on us.  Paul’s teaching here is that we are to take great care to promote peace to the best of our own ability. 

In fact, God is so serious about this particular idea that Jesus gives us another stark perspective.  In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus describes some actual serious sins in which one person might physically or verbally assault another person in anger. Flowing from that discussion, In Matthew 21:23-24, Jesus commands that if we are at the altar and we remember that we have sinned against a brother (or sister), then we are to stop our act of worship and go quickly to our brother (or sister) and be reconciled.  Jesus is saying that in that moment, reconciliation with our brother or sister is more important than the worship! There’s an immediacy to the words of Jesus here.  When you realize that your brother, sister, neighbor, or friend has something against you – that is when you have sinned against them – you are to immediately go to them and do your best to make things right. This means that you are not to wait on them to come to you, but rather you are to go to them.  This is a spiritual act, and it will take supernatural resources to accomplish. But thank God, he’s given us those resources (2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4:13).