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So then, everything depends, not on what we humans want or do, but only on God’s mercy. Romans 9:16 (GNT)

This time there was no avoiding it. I was cornered with no way out. He’d been my friend since, well, since I can remember. We grew up together, fished together, played ball together and occasionally, got into childhood fights together.

During a particularly tough time in my life I was in dire need of financial help. Jim was the guy who’d come to my rescue. It was a significantly large amount of money, a loan with no interest and no payback date. At the time I saw no other options. I accepted the offer and eventually dug myself out of a hole I’d prepared for myself.

Lately, I’d been avoiding Jim. I didn’t even realize it until later, but every time our paths crossed I felt a twinge of guilt and apprehension. I’d fallen behind on some of the payments and felt guilty for it. He’d trusted me. He’d known my situation and was willing to take a chance on me. Now, I’d failed him and I wasn’t sure how to dig myself out of this new hole. That’s why his words dug so deeply and so quickly.

“Is there something wrong between us man? You seem distant.”

I had to come clean. “I’ve fallen behind on my payments and I feel terrible. I feel like I’ve really let you down, like I’ve failed you, like…”

That’s when he stepped back and looked at me with a look of confusion and shock.

“Is this all about that stupid money? Good grief man! Don’t worry about it. Debt forgiven.”

I was taken back, moved to the point of tears. I didn’t know what to say. Then I mumbled something like, “That’s very gracious of you. Thank you. I’ll try to pay it back somehow.”

I wish I could have grabbed that word bubble back. As soon as I said it I realized how stupid it sounded.

Jim smiled, “No Pastor, you don’t understand. I forgave you. There’s nothing you did to earn it. There’s nothing you can do to repay it. It’s forgiven.”

As we parted, closer than ever, I realized what had just happened. I’d been reminded of two things. One is that God’s grace and forgiveness is nothing we can earn. The second thing I learned is how silly we humans sound when we try to repay a debt we can never repay.

Jim taught me what grace really means that day, and I realized how often to make promises to a God that he knows I can’t fulfill, but he loves me anyway. Why do we try to repay him when the debt has already been paid?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. There are some any times I fail you. So many times I make silly promises I know I can never fulfill. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace. I receive it willingly. Amen.


Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Ephesians 4:2 (CEV)

The facts of this story are made up. The reality of the story is repeated at different levels all over the world. Those who Jesus prayed would love each other as a sign of God’s love spend time fighting about things of finite importance while the things of eternity are overlooked.

First Church was a charming church in a mid-sized city in the Midwest. The church was over 100 years old and had remained a solid influence in the community. Many were baptized, married and buried as a result of First Church.

As the small town grew, so did First Church. As a result it soon began to feel growing pains and it was evident that something had to change. Since it was located on a lot that encompassed and entire city block, the church leaders proposed adding on to the current sanctuary in order to minister better to the younger generation.

That’s when the trouble began. The thought of changing the century old building didn’t sit well with the Smith family. Great-great-grandpa Smith was one of the charter members of First Church. The family was wealthy and influential at First Church as well as in the entire town.

Then again, so were the Jones’. Old Martin Jones owned the lumber company that provided all the lumber for the building…free. Jones’ Lumber Company still held a sizable investment in the community and promised a good price on material for the building program.

Soon the church was divided between those siding with the official ‘Smith’ delegation and those who agreed with the Jones’ and the leadership that something must be done and adding on was the best, least intrusive way to improve the ministry.

Eventually, the disagreement moved outside church walls and into the courts as the Smith’s and Jones’ decided to duke it out in front of a judge. The lawsuit included the church and put a sizable strain on the church budget, not to mention the spiritual atmosphere of the church family.

The fight became so intense that eventually many left First Church and started their own church across town in the school gymnasium. The legal fees and the loss of membership not only tainted the image of First Church, it forced them to close their doors.

How we respond to people we disagree with determines our view of God’s power and their view of God’s Grace. The Apostle Paul challenged the church in Ephesus (and us?) to live in harmony with each other. The word ‘gentle’ can also be translated ‘meek.’ Meekness means we set aside our own feelings for a greater good. Meekness means we see the Kingdom of God as being more important than the work of a man’s hands.

The one admonishing the church to live in gentleness was far from gentle in his earlier life. Look at the description of Saul (Paul) before his conversion: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)

What was the difference? Saul met Jesus. One need only to read the letters Paul wrote to the New Testament church to see that even in his gentleness, he never lost his tenacity. It was just redirected from his own personal convictions to the leading of the Savior.

We aren’t called to change people. We are called to be meek and allow God’s power to change people. The meek not only inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), they show the world the love of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you prayed in the garden for unity and love to show through us so others will see you. We haven’t done well with that. Help us to live in unity so others will see you. Amen.

 


See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. 1 Thessalonians 5:15

‘I don’t get mad, I get even!’. We hear it said, or even say it all the time. Most of the time it’s meant in jest, but if we are honest, there are many times we get even when we’ve been hurt or offended. There are a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways of retaliation, but all have the same goal, to make sure the other person ‘pays’ for hurting us or crossing us.

Getting even is usually counter-productive. We are hurt by others so we hurt others in hopes of making our pain less. I’m not trying to minimize the pain of being attacked. Whether the attack is physical or emotional, the pain can be unbearable. Sometimes I think the emotional pain is worse because it leaves no visible bruises and we suffer alone.

It may be hard to admit it to ourselves, but many times our desire to ‘get even’ is a result of our own self-image. When we’re attacked, the enemy likes to whisper in our ear and tell us we are unworthy, unlovely, ugly, fat, stupid, weak and a whole list of other lies. The enemy loves to get us to think badly of ourselves so that we forget who we really are. We are children of the King!

Retaliation almost always leads to a negative spiral. You hurt me so I hurt you so you hurt me so I hurt you…and on and on. Many marriages and other relationships are destroyed because no one steps out of the circle.

When Christ-followers are involved in a negative spiral it shows the world that we are no different than they are. We talk of love and forgiveness but show none! In fact, sometimes the ‘evil sinners’ of the world are far kinder and forgiving than those of us who call ourselves Christians.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and reminds them that retaliation (paying back evil for evil) should never be a part of the body of Christ. Rather, we are to do good to each other. This should be the defining mark of every church. People may not always agree with our stands on issues, but they should never question our love for each other and for them.

There’s an old Christian song that says “We are one in the Spirit….they will know we are Christians by our love’. If we are to impact our corner of the world for Jesus this should be our way of life. We will be hurt and offended. We will be attacked and misunderstood. We’ll be lied about. Our response should always be one of kindness even in situations where we have to separate us from our attacker because of the physical/emotional damage they have done to us.

Remember this. You are loved by God. He made you just as you are. If God had a chance to make you over again, He’d make you the same way that you are now! Let Him handle the crabby customer at work, the jerky driver on the interstate, the know-it-all gossip at your church. Rely on the Holy Spirit to empower you to show kindness and wisdom every time you are attacked. In this way, the world will know what it means to have the love of Jesus in our lives.

PRAYER: Father, I confess to you that it’s far easier for me to retaliate than to react with love, kindness and forgiveness. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m harder on my ‘Christian’ friends than I am on the ‘evil sinners’ I pray for each day. When someone hurts me, remind me that I’m yours. Empower me to remove myself from danger and rely on you for justice. Anoint my wounds with the healing oil of your love. If there is anyone to whom I should ask forgiveness please show them to me today. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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