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***If you haven’t already, you might want to read my previous post on my colonoscopy before the “side-affects” began.  My wonderful sister, Jeannine, calls this a sequel. You can find the first blog here: 

I was told that it is a very routine procedure but there was a little hiccup with my first colonoscopy. My doctor said it well: “It’s one in ten thousand but when it happens to you it’s 100%.” It started out as profuse bleeding (remember that 2nd orifice I mentioned in my earlier post?). Then it was a trip back to the hospital for “overnight observation” – which, by the way, I consider a grossly exaggerated euphemism. Why? Because what they call observing includes a lot of needles; needles to pull blood out of your body (a whole bunch of these) and bigger needles (these are called IVs) to put fluids, like blood, back into you body. All of this “observing” caused me to be very holy (corny, duh)! 

And so much of this has to do with blood. As they used the small needles to pull blood out of my veins to determine my “blood count” they used IVs to put blood back into me (another euphemism called a transfusion). They wanted to know how much I was bleeding (a lot, duh!), how often I’d bled (often, duh!), how much blood they had taken out of me, and how much blood they needed to put back in me to get me “back to full.” It was a bloody mess, I tell you! Now I’ve always been a fan of having and keeping my blood but from all of this I surmised (brilliantly, I must add) that blood is a very important thing to doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, technicians, housekeeping, and, really, people in general. And, I finally figured out, it is vitally important to our health and, sometimes, to our very life. In other words, blood is the key to our physical life and the quality of our physical life. After a 2 pint transfusion I was more convinced than ever. 

Why then is it so hard for us to understand and accept that God chose blood, not only as the means of preserving our physical life, as the means to offer and give us spiritual life? Yes, most of us know about the “primitive and cruel” animal sacrifices of the Old Testament but some often dismiss God’s use of blood for redemption in our more “sophisticated” culture. Skeptics and cynics call Christianity “a bloody religion.” Some have even gone so far to heretically describe Jesus’ death as “cosmic child abuse.” But God’s plan from eternity past has not changed: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). But, lest we be led astray, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Instead it is only “by means of [Jesus’] blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). This is why Peter calls it the “precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). 

At what is commonly called the Last Supper, Jesus, just before His bloody death, described the wine this way: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He goes on to tell His followers to continue to celebrate this memorial in remembrance of Him and the shedding of His blood. Today we call this the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. And it is to be a celebration of Jesus dying that we might have spiritual life (fellowship with God through Christ). His blood was shed to appease the wrath of God and grant life abundant and life everlasting to those who believe. His powerful blood works a supernatural miracle in making us born again and new creations. His blood gives us hope and purpose. His blood defines our life in Him – a life of unrivaled joy and peace.  And, most importantly, His blood guarantees our eventual eternal glory!

This is why John proclaims our victory, the essence of our faith and even the essence of who we are (our testimony), is directly linked to His precious blood:  “And [we] have conquered [Satan/death] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony, for [we] loved not [our] lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). And this is why we can sing so joyfully the words of Lewis E. Jones’ timeless hymn: 

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Now I’ve had several endoscopes done (camera down the orifice we call our mouth and into our stomach) but now I’ve had a colonoscopy (camera up the orifice we call our rectum into the colon) – which is the medical community’s reward for living to be 50! Now, actually, I’ve had both done in the same procedure. Which, pre-anesthesia, prompted me to ask my doctor, “If you are going to use the same camera, do you mind working from the top down?” I don’t think she thought that very funny so I quickly blamed those “happy drugs” they were feeding me through the IV. I was then, without a word, quickly whisked away to a deep sleep and this violating invasion of two of my most treasured orifices. 

And treasured they are. First, do you know how addicted to food we are? I had to go over 40 hours without ingesting anything solid. I was ready to eat immediately after this “fast” began. I know, we need food to live but most Westerners don’t eat with survival in mind. We ravenously consume food more for pleasure than preservation. We grumble (me, too) and throw a pity party (me, three) when we don’t get our 3000 daily calories just like we want them and just when we want them. And that’s the point: it’s more about want than need. We have become so very spoiled. Yet people the world over would give there left arm away for a morsel of what we throw out. I know because, once I stopped eating, I was hungry after 27 minutes, starving after 31 minutes, famished after an hour and near the point of death the next morning. And I still had 30 hours to go! Can we imagine those who are truly dying of starvation? And when was the last time we gave sacrificially to alleviate someone’s physical hunger?

And now for that other orifice, the one located in the “fanny” region. A colonoscopy requires a preparation euphemistically called a “colon cleansing.” You drink some putrid tasting liquid mixture and then “thar she blows.” And she doesn’t stop. The toilet trips seem interminable. After buying truck loads of “Cottonelle with Aloe and E” toilet paper, my recommendation is to take up semi-permanent residence on the throne. Then stack up the toilet paper rolls fortress-like around the potty. You must get a good book – I would recommend to book of Acts or Colossians – they worked for me (I hope you get the humor in these two book choices. If not, keep saying them aloud, over and over again, until it hits you). Be prepared; something truly incredible happens. More “junk” comes out of your body than is comprehensible. My entire life I have been rightly told that I am “full of it” but this was ridiculous! The amount of this “stuff” is better measured in tons than gallons.

And all of this caused me to pray, to pray with great fervor, to pray without ceasing. Praying for my growling belly and my gushing colon. So there you have it – I fasted and prayed. OK, I know I can’t get all puffed up here since it was a forced fast. But it did remind me how spiritually obese and lazy I had become, how I needed to be spiritually cleansed. And a voluntary, biblical fast, combined with prayer, is one of the models given for this purpose. Such a discipline causes us to refrain from our natural appetites and seek God’s spiritual nourishment. All of the examples of fasting (and its purposes) and praying throughout scripture (see Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21, 31; 2 Samuel 12:15-18; Acts 13:1-3) is beyond the scope of this discussion, but we must recognize fasting combined with prayer is very biblical. But when was the last time we did it, seeking God’s presence, wisdom and guidance?

Jesus both taught and modeled fasting. After being anointed by the Holy Spirit, He was led into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days (Matthew 4:2). During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave specific instructions on how to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus knew the followers He addressed would fast. But fasting is not limited to believers the Bible mentions. Most of the church’s reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox, fasted. Knox fasted and prayed so much that Queen Mary said she feared his prayers more than all the armies of Scotland.

So here is a short list of random spiritual lessons learned from my colonoscopy:

  • We as American Christians tend to avoid pain at all cost – even when it is good for us (see 1 Peter 1:6-9). 
  • We tend to be thankless gluttons and don’t do enough to alleviate hunger in our world (Philippians 3:18-21; James 4:2–3). 
  • We tend to pray when we want something and not as a practice of communing with God for the pure pleasure of fellowship, thanksgiving, and praise (see Matthew 6:5-15). 
  • We have become spiritually lazy and undisciplined in the midst of our worldly comforts (see Hebrews 12:1-2; I Corinthians 9:27). 
  • We are in desperate need of spiritual cleansing (see Psalm 51:2). 
  • Fasting is a Scriptural way for us to deal with all of the above issues and we should, where physically possible, engage in this beautiful and powerful practice (see Matthew 6:16-18). 

And the shame of if all is that it took a Gastroenterologist’s medical advice to remind me that in all things God is pointing us back to Himself. Even through a colonoscopy! Isn’t He so good?!

 “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. “But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV). 

“…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14, ESV).

Last time we saw that Abraham’s life had been radically transformed by the understanding that God Himself, not His promises or provisions, was his greatest reward. He so treasured God above all other things that he was willing to sacrifice God’s gift of Isaac, the very thing that would allow God’s promise of Abraham being the father of a great nation to become a reality. As we mentioned, God intervened, spared Isaac’s life, and set into motion the beginning of that great nation and the eventual habitation of the land by Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:15-18). God did so by providing another sacrifice (in God’s economy there must always be a sacrifice to restore relationship with God and the inheritance of covenant blessing). This provision was a ram (Genesis 22:13). 

But this was no ordinary ram; for it prefigured Jesus. Notice in Genesis 22:13 that the ram was caught by its horns in a thicket (the thicket always reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus brow as he was being mocked just before His crucifixion). Because of the way he was trapped, this ram was unmarred or unblemished, which made him an appropriate sacrifice. If his body had been cut or injured he would not have been the “spotless” sacrifice that God required. Here we see the picture of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see John 1:29). Just as Abraham believed “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8) we see this sacrifice taking the place of Isaac – the ram was offered so that Isaac would live. Likewise, Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life. 

So this is why we are to love God as the greatest thing, our ultimate reward. We are to admire, cherish, value, and adore Him above all else. Why? Because He is infinitely worthy: He has provided the sacrifice that extends to us eternal life (John 3:16) and life more abundant (John 10:10). And for this reason Jesus, our sacrificed Savior, calls us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). But, again, what does seeing God as our great reward (to love Him with all that we are) have to do with Jesus? Well, we can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus. And we can’t love God without loving Jesus. We can’t experience God as our greatest reward and treasure without knowing Jesus in that same way. So, in a very real sense, we love God by adoring Jesus as our greatest reward and treasure. 

Why is this? Because the person of Jesus is the promise and provision of God that makes even knowing God a reality. Actually, in a most amazing passage, we see Paul write to the Galatians that really Jesus, the Seed, is Himself the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-25)! This is because Christ is the fullest revelation of God (John 14:9). He is the one who interprets, or “exegetes,” God to and for us (John 1:17). Jesus is the only way to come to God (John 14:6). This is why He says, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (John 5:42-43) and “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Therefore, if Jesus is not worshipped and adored as our ultimate treasure then God is not our great reward. And when Jesus is cherished, valued, and admired above all else then God is our great reward. 

I can think of no better way to tie all of this together than to ponder and model the priority of Paul, a man who discovered the rich reward of knowing Jesus (and therefore God) as His greatest treasure: 

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.“But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV). 

Although one of the heroes of the Christian faith, Abraham was by no means perfect. But God came to him (not the other way around), chose him (not the other way around), and, in a unique demonstration of His sovereign grace, promised to make him the father of a great nation. Since Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless the pivotal blessing would be the giving of a son. Without a son there would be no one to carry on Abraham’s lineage and, therefore, no “nation.” But Abraham had to wait on God’s timing and, much like us, he failed “God’s waiting room” test abysmally. 

Abraham showed flashes of faith by moving to Canaan. But, in just one example of his impatience and doubt, he fled to Egypt to seek provision in the midst of a famine (Genesis 12:10-20). I’m confident he didn’t fully believe God would provide because he took matters into his own hands (sound familiar?) and moved to a land that God had not led him to (Egypt – which, providentially, God would lead Abraham’s descendants out of many years later). There he lied – and had Sarah lie as well – about the nature of their relationship in order to protect his own skin (as if God was not willing or capable of protecting him). Once Abraham did return to the place God had told him to go and remain, Canaan, he was wondering when all of these promises were going to happen. Especially the promise of Isaac, the son.

That’s where we pick up in Genesis 15. God now explains to Him the greatest blessing and gift that He had for Abraham. That blessing and gift was Himself. God was the ultimate provision, promise, and reward He had for Abraham. Even though Abraham’s reponse to the Lord (Genesis 15:2-3) indicates the significance of God’s statement hadn’t sunk in, I believe we see evidence later in his life that he finally understood what God was really saying. It is 7 chapters later that we see the person of God being more important to Abraham than God as provider and promise-keeper (even though God truly is both of those things). My point is that Abraham learned to treasure God more than His blessings and provision. 

It is in Hebrews 11:17-18 that we get the best snapshot of the faith and priority of a more mature Abraham: 

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 

Wow, what an amazing transformation! Earlier Abraham had doubted God and pestered Him with “where is my land and where is my promised son?” Now, when God commands him to take His provision and promise (Isaac) and put him to death, Abraham goes without any hint of denial, doubt, or disobedience (Genesis 22:1-10). Why the radical shift? I believe it is because Abraham finally and fully realized God’s greatest promise and provision is Himself (Genesis 1:2). And when he had come that point, God’s other promises and provisions (like Isaac and land) had become secondary. Abraham eventually began to love, worship, and follow the Giver instead of the gift! He was seeking God’s face and not just His hand. So he was willing, because He had God, life’s greatest treasure, to sacrifice all the rest. 

Oh yes, there was a happy ending. God thwarted Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. Isaac lived, the nation began, and the land was eventually inhabited by his descendants. But these promises did not begin to see their original fulfillment until Abraham knew and lived as if God was his all, his highest treasure, and his greatest reward. And that, as Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7), is where God expects us to be as well – His people seeing, knowing, and living with God as our ultimate pursuit and great reward. 

But, for us, how does Jesus fit into all of this? Abraham’s story does not end with the cessation of Isaac’s sacrifice. There was another offering, another sacrifice, which God provided to make His promises real – literally for Abraham and spiritually for us.  Tune in next time and see how Abraham’s story foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus and shows us that treasuring Christ above all things allows us to have God as our great reward.

“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7). 

American capitalism has bred a culture of prideful, self-reliant, self-determined, and self-exalting achievers who are lauded for their power and position. The media promotes and lionizes those who boast in their money, prowess, and power and even encourages their blatant and shameless self-promotion. Their braggadocious drivel elevates them to prominence and even role model status. Our society deifies the human trinity of “me, myself and, I” and overtly proclaims this as the path to happiness, fulfillment, success, peace of mind, and power. Tragically we see this same dynamic in “American Christianity.” And it reminds me of the world of the Pharisees that Jesus encountered. 

But is this biblical? Absolutely not! On the contrary, God’s counter-cultural Word is crystal clear that genuine humility is the impetus behind our access to God’s supernatural saving, sustaining, and strengthening power. 

Peter unmistakably connects the grace of our Lord with our humility. God stands against the arrogant, self-reliant, and proud but reveals His unmerited favor to those who recognize His supremacy. This is what Peter is saying – humility puts us under the mighty hand of God that will lift us up in His timing. And this is why we can, with the attitude of a servant, access the rest and care of our God of infinite provision.

Humility was a characteristic of Jesus. He classified Himself as humble and meek (which means harnessed strength) and then demonstrated that in our weakness He provides supernatural rest and sustenance: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). 

So we see that weakness and humility is the posture necessary to experience both the saving grace and sustaining grace (care and rest) of God. But, just as incredible, our weakness is also the conduit to His incomparable strengthening grace. Listen to Paul describe to the church at Corinth where true power resides: 

  • “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). 
  • “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). 
  • “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  

Now this is all quite counter-intuitive, isn’t it? To the flesh, that is. We have been programmed to exert ourselves, promote ourselves, and bask in our accomplishment. But this strategy doesn’t tap into God’s power nor truly accomplish His work. Only He can accomplish His work. So God’s Word says to let Him exert Himself for our good and His glory. With God’s economy in view, it is critical to understand the paradox that our weakness unleashes His strength. It’s the reason, I believe, we see so little of the power of God at work today. We are too busy trying to do His work in our own prideful strength, which is a poor facsimile of His infinite power and might. We, through our humility, must get our carnal, self-sufficient flesh out of His way and let His power, not ours, work through us. 

After all, that’s the way Jesus did it. He became weak to magnify the power of His Father. To the Corinthians Paul again proclaims: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4). This is where Jesus’ power came from and this is how we will experience  and observe the saving, sustaining, and strengthening power of God. In our weakness, yielded before the mighty hand of our infinitely powerful Father, we will know His all-encompassing grace.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).    

Our words have consequences and power. Whether it is your spouse’s words of encouragement or criticism, your bosses praise or rebuke, or the despair or ecstasy of your reaction to your doctor’s diagnosis, we understand the affect what we say, and how it is said, can have. Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every…word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-38, NIV). Surely the gravity of our words must be of serious consideration. Including how we pray. 

So Paul now returns to one of this letter’s predominant themes; prayer (see 1:3, 9, 29; 2:1). These references are clear in depicting the perseverance and earnestness of Paul’s prayer life. Now he instructs the saints at Colossae concerning what their praying is to look like and it hardly resembles the devotional life of most of us. Why? Because we often go to God’s throne and do not get the desired response. Often times, because we ask for the wrong things (see Matthew 7:7-11), with the wrong motives (see James 4:3), or without faith (see James 1:5-8), we find God seems silent. Thus, our prayers weaken, become less frequent, or even cease. But Paul declares we should communicate with our Lord persistently, watchfully, and thankfully.   

In our culture of fast food, multiple job changes, short attention spans, rampant divorce and remarriage, and instant gratification, steadfastness in anything is seldom seen. Prayer is no exception. But we are called to pray with perseverance. I’m reminded of a preacher who once said, “For Christians, it is always too soon to quit.” Jesus had this in mind when he shared the story of the persistent widow: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Does this suggest we will always get what we desire? We mustn’t be that presumptuous. Yes, sometimes the Lord honors our requests when they are in accordance with His will, purpose, and plan. Yet sometimes God gives us new and better desires than what we had before: He gives us His desires. This is the real meaning of Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And this is why consistent pleading before God for His will, His wisdom, His provision, His kingdom, His righteousness, and His glory (see Matthew 6:8-13) is ever-critical. And we are to do this with obsessive consistency. 

Paul also instructs to pray watchfully. Now what does that mean? The original language suggests alertness to the working of God in response to our prayers, that our spiritual antennas be raised to recognize how He is moving. Although our petitions do not always guarantee a “yes” from God, Paul is indicating that we should pray with confidence that God is acting, “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Ephesians 1:11). This fearlessness is echoed by the writer of Hebrews who said, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). This begs the question: do we pray in anticipation of God’s working? Are we on “high-alert” for His answer, knowing that no matter His response we are serving a God who continues His sovereign rule from the throne of Heaven? Often, I believe, the power of our prayers and prayer life is diminished when we don’t have a sense of expectation, attentiveness, and confidence in God. 

Lastly, we are to pray thankfully. Grateful hearts belong to those who know that God loves, listens, and leads us. His answer, whether yes, no, or wait, is to be met with a heart-appreciative that His answer is always right and for His own glory and our eternal good. We also swell with thanksgiving when we truly believe and bow “to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20). This is a heart-felt acknowledgment of who He is, what he has already done, and what He is going to do. When we are bathed in gratitude it’s difficult to be fearful and faithless. When we are saturated in thanksgiving for whatever He chooses to do we will be moved to steadfastly and expectantly wait on the response of our Father. 

Praying with these three attitudes – perseverance, attentiveness, and gratitude – may seem simple but they are not easy. Prayer is a discipline and a practice. The essence of this kind of heart-longing, desperate, pleading petition to God is often lost – lost in the business of life, the faithlessness of our requests, and the presumptuousness of our spiritual posture. I am of the definite opinion, however, that this one verse reeks with dynamic power and truth. Praying this way unleashes our confidence in Him and positions us to recognize His moving in response to us, His adored children. And in this process we will be drawn ever-closer to and more like Jesus.

Granted that I write this sadly aware of those who act as if they need to be forgiven for nothing, those who have deceptively rationalized that they are justified in all the wrongs they have perpetrated. But those, who I doubt know the saving grace of Jesus, (1 John 1:8) are not the subject of this discussion. Most of us, I trust, are acutely and painfully aware of the grievous nature of our sins and wrongdoings. And most of us mourn our failures and the pain they have inflicted upon God, ourselves, and others. Mourning over our sins is characteristic of those who truly know Jesus (see Matthew 5:3-4, Psalm 51). But when overcome and overwhelmed by a sense of raging personal guilt our remedy is often tragically and terribly flawed. Let me give you an example. 

I recently heard a sermon (generally quite solid, I might add) where the teacher was describing the heartbreak and trauma surrounding a man (and family) where the father had committed adultery with an old friend. He repentantly sought reconciliation with his wife while covertly believing it was her wrongs and unhealthy attitudes that had driven him to such a heinous crime. In his return she was unwilling to forgive him and, hence, he built up resentment and an unforgiving attitude toward her (this is a common, vicious, and deadly cycle often seen in broken relationships). 

Then came the pastor’s advice to the couple: “You will not begin forgiving each other until you forgive yourselves.” WHAT? Now I know you have heard this before. It’s a common presupposition in secular psychology and even “biblical counseling” circles today. But really, what is the Scriptural basis for this methodology for experiencing forgiveness? None!  Let me repeat for emphasis; NONE! This is misguided on so many levels and, in the end, does not rectify the problem. Where there is sin, there must be a Savior. And, my friends, we are not our Savior! The Savior for our sins is Christ alone! God retains the power and has made the provision for the forgiveness of sin. Understand me; we can not forgive ourselves because we are not God! 

A few random thoughts: 

  • Find one, just one, Bible passage that clearly directs us to forgive ourselves (and you can’t use “love you neighbor as yourself” because that’s NOT what that verse is saying).
  • Find as many passages as possible that tell us that God is the forgiver of sins (this could take a long, long time).
  • Do we dare think that we have any real power to forgive ourselves? If so, who needs Jesus and why then did He need to die? Sinners don’t justify sins; Saviors do.
  • How can we understand true forgiveness in any form or application apart from knowing the only source of complete forgiveness?
  • We are to show forgiveness to others but that can only be a genuine reality on the basis of understanding God’s forgiveness of us. 

For my sake, let me make this as simple as possible. Forgiveness of any kind does not come from some sort of psychological gymnastics or machinations whereby we pardon ourselves. The only real forgiveness is received in faith from the only One capable of forgiving – God alone. And this is the foundation for experiencing the forgiveness of our own sins and thus the ability to have a forgiving spirit towards others. Here are God’s words for being forgiven as well as knowing and showing real forgiveness: 

  • Confess that we have sin that needs forgiving – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 
  • Receive by faith the forgiveness that God has provided – “…so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). 
  • Repent (turn from) of a lifestyle of known, willful sin – “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
  • Believe that Christ’s sacrifice for our sins is sufficient – “God…having forgiven us all our trespasses…by nailing [them] to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). 
  • Demonstrate what God has done for us through a forgiving attitude toward others – “…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). 

And if we are still tempted to pronounce ourselves forgiven in order to quell our toxic, corrosive guilt maybe we should sing the classic hymn written by Robert Lowery:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

So what’s my answer to “How do we forgive ourselves?” We can’t! But do we see what good news this is? Any attempt on our part to “talk ourselves into” feeling forgiven is futile but we do have a Savior fully capable of justifying us before a holy God! He is willing and has made provision for all those who come to Him. In Christ He has done the work that we could not do so that we could receive what we don’t deserve – forgiveness of sin. Even more wonderful and powerful, “[Jesus] is able to save [completely] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). All we must do is cast ourselves at the feet of Jesus and sincerely cry out the prayer of the “horrible” tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And that is the kind of plea that God hears and the kind of heart God meets with full and free forgiveness (see Luke 18:9-14).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-7). 

Have you ever seen the movie The Money Pit? I would encourage you to do so even though I couldn’t stand it. Why? Because it’s a bad movie? No. It’s because I’m afraid what happened to that couple and their house might happen to me. You know, where everything goes wrong. They see moments of promise only to watch them evaporate into an ongoing series of crises. One mess after another. Absolutely drove me nuts! And yet today was one of those days for me. 

Now I think we all need to keep some perspective. No, no one I know was tragically killed in an auto accident today. No friend was diagnosed as terminally ill. No appendages were lost. Nobody that I know went to their eternal destiny without Jesus. And I didn’t lose my eternal salvation. It was just a matter of a seemingly interminable series of things that went wrong. All relatively out of my control yet, one after the other, the dominoes of chaos fell. I don’t want to embellish here but we all have those days, don’t we? But this series of minor calamities sure tested my faith. I was close to falling into the proverbial “faith pit.” 

Are these types of things really a test? On a large scale, probably not. But on a small scale, yes. Peter understood this when he said “various trials.” They aren’t all “big.” Sometimes it’s the cumulative effect of a series of small challenges that causes our carnal mind to ask, “OK, sovereign God, where are you now?” Or the infamous and often myopic, “Why Me, Lord?” The answer, according to Peter, is “He is there, He is working, and there is a purpose in these tests” (I call them “Christ-centered quizzes” or “Cross-exams”). And Peter knew of what he spoke. His was a life of various, some very serious, trials. 

Sometimes this all seems rather cruel and selfish on God’s part, doesn’t it? You know, Him allowing us to endure such trials. But God’s seeking His glory in our trust is one of the most compassionate and empowering things he could ever do for us! For in orchestrating events to undermine our self-reliance He makes it possible for us to find our trust in Him alone; the one who will never fail, falter, or forsake us. There is incomparable confidence for our souls in learning to trust in God, not ourselves, in experiencing divine strength, not human weakness. 

Paul is saying the same thing to the church at Corinth. We should park ourselves in this passage on those days when it seems as if we are being swallowed by “the faith pit”: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). 

With Paul’s words still resonating let’s highlight the language Peter uses in 1 Peter 1:3-7. The clear message in this text is that our trials are God’s tools to make us trust Him more (v. 6-7). And that is one of the most loving and gracious things He could do; to draw us closer to Himself as our greatest treasure. So the verbiage of Peter’s thoughts is a resounding declaration of God’s goodness over ALL things. Notice the phrases in these verses:

  • “Blessed be …God”
  • “his great mercy”
  • “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope”
  • “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”
  • “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation”
  • “In this you rejoice”
  • the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold”
  • “found to result in praise and glory and honor … of Jesus Christ” 

The point of Peter’s soaring language is that the sovereign purpose of God is overriding the affairs, tests, challenges, and tribulations (big and small) of His beloved children for His own glory. We may not see it. We may not sense it. We may not feel it. But Peter’s verbiage says it is ALL of God. And we should embrace these great truths because they justify our trust in Him. For in all things God is there!  In all of our trials He is refining our faith; a faith that is more precious than gold. A faith that is tried, tested, and found worthy. A faith that culminates in our eternal salvation and reward. And, most importantly, it is faith in the One that is always there for us and is using our trials to move us ever closer to and more reliant on Him.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17). 

As a new decade launches and 2011 begins, I ask the Lord for a new paradigm: to have God-honoring attitudes and actions that so often I have selfishly and pridefully forsaken. Depending totally on the power and wisdom that only God can supply and using James’ insightful words as my guide and inspiration, this year I will:

  • Seek God’s direction before planning on my own (v. 13). Clearly our lives require some sort of planning. Whether it be work, church, family, or leisure we must, to a certain degree, look forward in order to live in an organized fashion. The point here is whether we even consult our Lord as to what’s best for us to be doing. Our passion should be for God’s best and not to settle for just what is good or OK – which is typically what we settle for when we plan our lives around our own ideas and desires as opposed to His. May we live with the reliance of the Psalmist who said, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37:5).
  • Focus on pleasing Him today (v.14). Sobering as it is, our last breath is the only one we are assured. James tells us our life is as brief as a mist (the Greek word picture here is that of the steam that comes from our breath on a cold winter day). So, as easy as it is to get stuck in the past and obsess about our earthly future, today is our greatest opportunity to honor Jesus. Our focus is to take the blessed reality of today and make it centered on pleasing Him and “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”” (Hebrews 3:13). May we have the same mantra as the Puritans: “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). 
  • Seek, acknowledge, and practice His will (v. 15). Please understand, God’s will is not as esoteric as we tend to make it. 95% of what He wills for us has already been revealed in Scripture. Do we use this ultimate source of God’s heart and desires as our final rule for living? In those limited gray areas; do we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as opposed to leaning our own logic and understanding? May we all passionately pursue lives that image forth the sincere prayer of “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and a life of “[not mine but] your will be done” (Matthew 26:18). 
  • Forsake anything that draws focus away from God being glorified (v. 16). As much as we crave attention and are myopic in how we spend our time and energy, our role in the expanse of God’s kingdom is to point others to Him. We must deny all egocentric and arrogant attitudes that in any way deflect others from seeing God’s beauty, worth, and honor. We must live with a surrendered and missional lifestyle that resonates with “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). 
  • Be sensitive to and act upon the Holy Spirit’s promptings to be obedient in the opportunities God provides for service and ministry (v. 17). I believe often our chief sins are not those of commission but those of omission. How often do we ignore opportunities to be “Jesus in our skin” because we fail to heed to the Lord’s promptings? How often do we turn our heads or shrink back from that which we know needs to be done, and that which God will empower us to do? May we have the mindset of Paul who desired “to make the most of every opportunity” for the glory of the gospel of God (Colossians 4:5).

Five profound verses, five simple resolutions. Although primarily directed at me, I have written much of this in the 1st person plural. Why? Because you may want to join me in this journey. Knowing that this very passage warns against looking to far into the future, these commitments are probably better made day-to-day and afresh each morning. However He leads you to prepare for the day(s) ahead, I do believe that surrendering to these principles will enable us, as empowered by our infinitely powerful God, to be one more in-line with the image of Christ that He is creating in us. For as Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

May this year be a year where, day by day, He is magnified by the Christ-like image He is creating in us! A joyful , Christ-filled New Year to each and all!

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