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Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

A Great Cloud of Witnesses (Heb. 12:1)

The Bible tells us that we are surrounded by a large group of onlookers as we live out our lives as Christians. Scripture also says that we are running a race, the race of faith, and that those who have gotten to the finish line ahead of us are watching our race, waiting for us to finish and perhaps even cheering us on. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that slows us down and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

A long list of saints – Noah, Abraham, Job, and others- who had already lived out their lives faithfully for God, had just been named in Scripture (Heb.11) before we read this passage about being surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses.(Heb12:1) Did this mean that Noah, Abraham and Job along with others were among the witnesses? This passage, I believe, was a reminder to those early Christians – and to us too- that many others have gone before us on this faith journey. That we are not alone in our joys and sorrows but we are part of a bigger story!

Can you think of a person, maybe several people, who have deeply influenced your life? People who have helped make you the person that you are today? Maybe your parents, a grandparent, or a teacher? People who are no longer with you – who have finished their race. You see, those people who cared about you, who passed their values on to you and loved you, they have a stake in how you live your life – how you run the race. You aren’t in this alone. You aren’t a self made person. You are part of much larger family.

The Christian life is often likened to a race. (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7) And in our race (our Christian life) we are instructed to “throw off everything that slows us down and the sin that so easily entangles us,” (Heb.12:1) so that we can run faster. Right now I can think of several sins that I allow myself to become entangled in: petty resentments, anxieties and fears. And those sins mess up my race and slow me down. I must throw them off so I won’t be sidelined. Can you think of things that impede your running too? Do you need to do housecleaning along with me? We are told to “throw off” these weights and concentrate on running. The saints who have already finished the race had the same kinds of problems we are having now and they ran their race and finished well. So we can do it too.

This verse, Hebrews 12:1, tells us many things. But it ends with, “let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.” Do you notice that this isn’t just any race we personally choose to make it? That this faith race of ours has been “marked out for us!” We aren’t in charge of the twists and turns in the path, just in how we maneuver those twists and turns. Scripture says, “The steps of a Godly person are ordered by the Lord.” (Psalms 37:23) Our path has been personally set up and “ordered” for us to run! So how can we lose?

Also we are told to run with perseverance. To not become discouraged and give up. To keep on keeping on. It’s easy to be a Christian in the short run. But what about the long run? Faith is all about endurance. What good is loyalty if it doesn’t last? God hates quitters. (Zechariah 7:11-12) We are to finish the race. And it matters how we finish it. Having done all to stand, we are to stand. (Ephesians 6:13) Remember these balcony people are watching.

While we are running we are commanded to keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s listen: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher 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. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) As we run, Jesus is the supreme or ultimate example of running a good race. Jesus endured more persecution and suffering than we ever will. He is with us now and praying for us during our race.

So if you are discouraged with the way other Christians act, or you’re suffering and feel out of control, or you wonder why God allows the world to be so messed up, just put your head down and keep on running. Just always keep your eyes on Jesus. He lived with all of your sorrows and many more. And all the witnesses who ran the race before you had similar problems as you have, but they kept on running anyway. They have all crossed the finish line now and have passed the baton on to you. So now it’s your turn.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Prayer Changes Things - How an Angel Sprung Peter from Prison

Prayer Changes Things

How an Angel Sprung Peter from Prison (Acts 12)

Herod was on a rampage. He hated the early church and attacked its’ members whenever he could. James, the brother of John had been the leader of the church in Jerusalem and Herod arrested him and had him killed with the sword. James, who wrote the Epistle of James in the Bible, was probably the first of Jesus’ disciples to be martyred. Jesus had warned his disciples of their coming persecutions, (Mt. 20:23) but it still came as a shock. The Jewish religious leaders were pleased with Herod for killing James, so Herod was encouraged to go ahead and kill more disciples. (Acts 12:2-3) He had his soldiers seize Peter with plans to have him killed as well.

But Peter just happened to be arrested during the Days of Unleavened Bread (the seven days after the Passover), which was an awkward time to perform an execution. It would not have been correct procedure for a prisoner to be tried and executed on a religious holy day. Herod figured he would make a better impression on his religious friends if he waited until after the holidays to bring Peter out. So Peter was thrown into prison under a heavy guard consisting of four squads, (sixteen soldiers) to await his execution. Herod didn’t want to take any chances that his valuable prisoner might get away.

The night before Peter was to die, he was sleeping on the dirty prison floor between two guards and chained to both. There were also several sentries guarding the locked gates inside the dark prison. (Acts 12:6) Things were looking pretty bleak for Peter. As Scripture records these details, just one little passage stands out as a glimmer of hope! It reads: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5) Could a house full of believers holding a prayer meeting all week really make any difference in this grim situation?

But back at the prison in the darkness of night while Peter was chained and asleep, everything changed! Let’s read what happened. “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. The angel struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,’ the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening: he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the Iron Gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left Peter.” (Acts 12:7-10)

All the while Peter had been chained in the dungeon waiting to die, the believers had been together on their knees before God begging for his release. And God had heard their prayers. He had sent an angel to Peter in prison who had anesthetized the guards and removed Peters’ chains. The Iron Gate had opened by itself and no one could stop them as Peter escaped. It was so miraculous that at first Peter couldn’t believe that the angel was real. And when the angel left, Peter finally came to himself and the true significance of what had happened came home to him. God had delivered him from death.

Peter quickly walked away from the jail and through the dark streets of Jerusalem to Mary’s house. Even though it was the middle of the night Peter knew that the believers would be there praying. Let’s listen to what happens next. “Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’ But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” (Acts 12:13-16) Peter told the excited believers all about how the angel had sprung him out of prison and how their prayers had been answered. And then he left and went into hiding so that Herod’s soldiers wouldn’t find him again.

This story of Peter’s dramatic deliverance from prison by a bright angel occurred about ten years after Jesus ascended back to heaven. The early believers at that time were extremely enthusiastic in their love for God. You might say that they were all “hot” or “on fire” for the Lord. They took care of one another, believed the Word of God, gave to the poor and spent much time together in prayer. Their hearts were right before God. I believe that this is why the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully among them. Why their prayers brought down angels to shake things up. I also believe this is why the early believers experienced so many miracles and healings in their gatherings. And why so many thousands were converted to Christ through their ministry.

Everywhere in Scripture we are told to pray often and to pray in groups. Prayer changes things. Here are just a couple of the many Bible passages instructing us to pray. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) And: “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Prayer is not a formula for getting things out of God. I think prayer is a heart thing-our hearts need to be humble and open to God when we pray. The passage in James says that the prayer of a RIGHTEOUS man is powerful and effective. To be righteous doesn’t mean to be perfect. It means that we are confessing our sins and trying to obey His will. We will be imperfect and sinful but we need to be willing to be willing. We need to open the door enough so God can move us. He won’t bash down the door of our heart. God sees our hearts – whether they are right or not. If we come to pray and haven’t forgiven someone, we need to first go and forgive that person. Our hearts are not right as long as we refuse to forgive another person. We have to be willing to be willing to let God help us forgive, even if we aren’t there yet.

This short Bible story of Peter and the angel leaves us with some important lessons, doesn’t it? For one, we should pray often and prayer should have a central place in our church life. If it doesn’t, could we start a prayer group or prayer meeting at our church? Perhaps we could pray that our fellow church members love God and one another the way those early believers loved God and each other. And we need to learn to pray the way that early church prayed. Maybe our prayers, like theirs, can bring down an angel to open up the prison doors in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Noah and the Flood

Noah and the Great Flood

God is brokenhearted. Grieved and discouraged, He continues on in pain. He had loved His children so much but now He is sorry that He ever created them. The Bible tells it this way: “The Lord was grieved that He had made humans on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said …I am grieved and sorry that I made human beings.” (Genesis 6:6,7b) As any good parent grieves over a son or daughter who rebels and chooses evil, so God also grieves when His children rebel and chose evil. And God is grieving over His rebellious children at the time our story takes place – the story about Noah and the great flood.

The date of our story is back near the dawn of history. The flood occurred approximately 1,675 years after God created Adam and Eve in the Garden. All of the people on earth back then were the descendents of Adam and Eve. And Adam and Eve’s descendents weren’t doing well at all.

Scripture tells us that in those prehistoric times there were giants on the earth. “There were giants on the earth in those days, …There were mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4) And the lifespan of Adam and his offspring seemed to be much longer back at the dawn of history than our lifespan is now. We can only guess what this means but perhaps the earth was different in some ways back then than it is now.

Let’s listen to how the Bible describes the people who lived on earth during Noah’s lifetime. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) And, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” (Genesis 6:11) This is one of the Bible’s most vivid descriptions of total depravity. It says that ALL of the people on the earth had corrupted their ways and that ALL the thoughts of their hearts were evil continually! No wonder God was brokenhearted.

Scripture first says that all the people on earth were corrupt. But then Scripture corrects that statement and says that all the people on earth were corrupt except one. There was just one person in the whole earth before the flood that wasn’t corrupt, and that person was Noah. The Bible says it this way: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8-9) Noah’s Godly life was a powerful contrast to the wicked lives of his contemporaries. This description of Noah doesn’t mean that he was sinless or perfect. I believe that Noah was called “righteous” in Scripture because he trusted God and tried to obey Him.

So God came to Noah and told him that He was thinking about ending the lives of everyone on earth by bringing a flood. “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” (Genesis 6:13)

God continued by instructing Noah to build an ark, - an ark made of cypress wood and coated inside and out with pitch. And God didn’t leave Noah on his own to figure out how to build this ark. But God, the Master Planner, gave Noah detailed plans for building the ark, from the exact measurements of the ark and a pattern of a three deck configuration with just one door, to instructions as to what supplies and food to pack, and even how many animals and birds should be gathered into the ark.

God promised Noah that He would establish His covenant with him- the first mention of a covenant between God and humans in the Bible. I believe that God was promising to protect Noah and his family through the impending flood.

And Scripture says: “Thus Noah did according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” (Genesis 6:22) Noah built the ark exactly the way he had been told, with every detail exactly as God had specified. God was looking for a person who would work with Him to establishing His purposes on earth. And God had found that person in Noah.

It might have been difficult sometimes for Noah to follow God. Remember that he was the ONLY person on earth who trusted God. All of Noah’s friends and relatives had rebelled against Gods’ ways. So Noah didn’t get any support from anyone when he tried to do the right thing. He must have warned his relatives and friends about the flood that was coming. But no one listened to him. It might have been lonely following God when the rest of the world was going in the opposite direction. And don’t you imagine that he was laughed at by his neighbors and relatives when he spent years building his enormous ship in a location that probably wasn’t even near any body of water? Can’t you just hear the jokes that were being passed around?

Finally the ark was finished and the time was drawing near. The Bible tells it like this: “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds an of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.” (Genesis 7:7-9) I had always pictured Noah and his family running through the woods catching animals. But it sounds like God caused the animals and birds and reptiles to come on their own to Noah and to the ark.

The Bible tells us that when Noah and his family and all the animals and birds and creatures that crawl on the ground had finally gone inside the ark, that God closed the door of the ark. Noah didn’t shut the door, God did. “Then the Lord shut them in.” (Genesis 7:16b) There was only one door to the ark and Bible scholars have suggested that this door could be a picture of Jesus Christ. One of the names for Jesus is the “door” (John 10:7) because He is the Door to Everlasting Life. And there is only one door to eternal life – Jesus. God’s judgment was coming on the earth in the form of the flood, but God was shutting Noah’s family in and keeping them safe from death. And when God’s final judgment comes, all those who have gone through the one Door (Jesus) will be safely shut in by God and protected from death.

When the flood finally came, the Bible describes it this way: “…on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7:11b) “as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth” (Genesis 7:18) “…all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the tops of the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished…” (Genesis 7:19-20a) “Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” (Genesis 7:23b-24) It was a terrible time.

“Finally the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens were closed and the rains stopped falling from the sky.” (Genesis 8:2) God sent a wind over the earth to dry things out and the waters slowly receded. The flood began during the second month of the year and it was during the tenth month of that same year that the waters from the flood had receded enough that the tops of the mountains became visible. (Genesis 8:5)

Forty days after the mountain tops became visible; Noah opened the window of the ark and sent a raven out. But the raven just flew back and forth. Then he let a dove out of the window of the ark. But the dove couldn’t find any place to land so it flew back to Noah. Then he waited seven days and let another dove out the window and this time the dove came back with an olive leaf in its’ beak.

Noah and his family and the animals and birds were inside the ark for a year before the earth dried enough for them to come out. God told them when it was time. The ark had landed on Mt. Ararat (in Armenia or Turkey) and the first thing that Noah did when he came out of the ark was to build an altar and make a sacrifice to God. Noah and his family worshiped God and thanked Him for saving their lives. And God blessed them.

Then God came to Noah and made a covenant or a promise to him and to us too that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood. Let’s listen: “Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood: never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Thus I establish My covenant with you: (Genesis 9:11) “And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I will set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-130 So when we see a rainbow in the sky we can remember that it is a sign of God’s promise to us that He will never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.

I have heard that anthropologists have discovered stories of the flood in the histories of almost every culture and tribe. Such a sad story – sad that except for Noah’s family, every man woman and child on earth perished. God was able to save Noah and use him because he trusted God, but no one else did. In a world that had broken His heart, God found joy in this one man who believed in Him. God still cares about His children and He is still looking for people today who will trust Him. Like Noah, let’s put our trust in God and bring joy to His heart.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Tower of Babel - Why It Was Never Finished

The Tower of Babel - Why It Was Never Finished!

The Bible tells us that Noah was a man of faith and a man of God. After the flood the first thing he did when he came out of the arc was to worship God there on Mt. Ararat. Noah and his wife had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Scripture says that Noah’s three sons were all married without children at the time of the flood. And so there were eight people who entered the arc when the flood occurred, Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives. After the flood, Noah’s family was the only family left alive on earth. Must have been lonely! So Noah’s three sons and their wives started having babies! “These three were the sons of Noah, and from these sons the whole earth was populated.” (Genesis 9:19) The whole tenth chapter of Genesis records long lists of Noah’s’ family tree: naming his sons, grandsons, and even on down to Abraham, nine generations and 300 + years later. (The women’s names aren’t recorded here in this genealogy!)

Noah and his descendents probably lived in the area that today is modern Iraq- the cradle of civilization. They were all one big extended family – brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins and they all spoke the same language. Scripture tells that these early primeval peoples were hunter-gatherers and farmers. And we are even told how many years passed between each generation.

By the time we get down to Noah’s great great grandchildren, we read the story about the tower of Babel. It had been about 175 years since the flood and Noah’s family had grown into a big group by now. Some of the group had traveled to the plain of Shinar and they wanted to settle there. We don’t know exactly where Shinar was, but Biblical scholars believe that it was probably in the vicinity of the Euphrates River.

This group talked among themselves about building a tower there in Shinar. “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens: let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the earth.’” (Genesis 11:4)

We don’t know what was in the hearts of Noah’s great great grandchildren, the builders of this tower, but their motives must not have pleased God. Let’s listen: “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do: now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come let Us go down there and confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’” (Genesis 11: 5-7)

This short story in Genesis ends quickly after telling us that the name of the tower was called “Babel” meaning “confusion”, because the Lord confused the peoples’ language. Just how this confusion occurred we don’t know. Perhaps over time if each small group began speaking a different language, the workers might not have been able to understand one another and coordinate their work, and thus complete the tower.

When Scripture says, ‘Come let Us go down there and confuse their language,…’ I believe that the “Us” here refers to the triune God,- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are other Biblical passages that also refer to the Godhead as plural.

The story of the tower of Babel ends this way: “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth: and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:9) Does this story from antiquity give us the answers as to why there are so many languages on the earth and why the human race spread so rapidly across the earth after the flood?

What can we take away from this Bible story? We can only guess at why God stopped Noah’s decedents from finishing their tower. Perhaps these tower builders wanted to impress future generations with a majestic tower that reached to the sky. They would achieve might and power by staying together around their tower. Perhaps the creative work of their hands would be more important in their lives than God would be! And the city and the tower would hopefully keep them all in one place. Together they could become famous and make a name for themselves. It might be that they forgot to include God in their tower building plans or to ask Him for His direction in their lives. The sins of self-sufficiency and pride might have been reasons that God was not pleased with their tower. They might have wanted to build a monument to their own strength and might and in their prideful rush just left God out of their plans.

God never likes to be left out of our plans or our lives. He doesn’t like us building our towers without Him. Scripture says that God is jealous when His children forget Him. (Exodus 34:14) The story of the Prodigal Son reminds us that the Father missed His oldest son so much and waited and watched anxiously for his return. (Luke 15:11-32) And God waits for us too. He so wants us to open our hearts and our lives to Him. Let’s make sure we do that.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Jesus Promises Peace, But Do We Have It?

Jesus Promises Peace, But Do We Have It?

God has promised many good things to His children. And one of those things is peace. Shortly before Jesus went back to heaven he gave His peace to His disciples and also promised it to all who believe in Him. This is His promise to His disciples and to us:

“My peace I leave with you, My peace I give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:2)

Everywhere in Scripture the believer is promised peace and is told not to worry. This special peace is part of our inheritance as Gods’ children. It’s a wonderful gift we have been given – a life free from anxiety and fighting and fear. But have we all received it? And if we have received it, do we know how to hold on to it? I love the peace and joy I have in Jesus, but I don’t always hang onto it. When trouble comes around, my heart often pounds with fear? Jesus has promised that He will overcome our troubles for us. But I so quickly forget. Jesus reminds us:

“…In Me you have peace. In the world you will have troubles, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b) Scripture tells us that Jesus will over come every evil and through Jesus we will be over comers too!

We don’t understand how, but God can take our biggest troubles and our nastiest problems and work them around for good. “All things work together for good to those who believe, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God promises to be with us and get us through our troubles. “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, and I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalms 91:15) and “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, be not afraid for I am thy God, I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, yes I will uphold you with the right hand of My Righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

With God promising to take care of us, we can relax and be at peace. We never need to be afraid when troubles come. We may not understand how this promised victory will be accomplished. Sometimes we may not see it until after we die. But we are promised victory through Jesus and we can be sure that He will deliver. Since God has us covered we can practice trusting Him through our hassles and continue resting in our peace.

Along with our gift of supernatural peace, Jesus has also given us a new commandment. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

It looks like we don’t just passively receive Jesus’ gift of peace, but we are commanded to actively live out our lives keeping that peace by loving others. In order to keep the peace gift, we have to live the life! Wouldn’t you know it? We can’t gossip and criticize and hate folks in our church and expect to hang onto our gift of peace! Forgiveness and love and peace all go together.

Along with this commandment, there are many Scripture passages showing us the part we can play in order to keep this peace from slipping away. We are commanded to forgive the people that hurt us and to love and live in peace as much as we can. Let’s listen to just a few of these commands from the Bible. “Pursue peace with all people, …looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God: lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14a-15) This passage tells us that we can’t allow bitterness into our lives and hang onto our peace. Peace and bitterness won’t stay in the same room together. So you will have to decide which one you want to keep around.

Another Bible passage tells us: “When angry, do not sin: do not let your anger last until the sun goes down.” (Ephesians 4:26) This passage is telling us not to hang onto our anger but to move on and forgive quickly. We can’t hold on to our anger and hang on to our peace at the same time. If we want to keep Gods’ peace we will have to obey Gods’ commands to love and forgive.

Another passage tells us to make up with any person that you are having an argument with before coming into church with your gift. “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you. Leave your gift on the altar, and go and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) It is more important to God that first we keep the peace with our brother before we give our gift to Him.

It sounds like we have to try to get along with everyone doesn’t it? And if the other person refuses to get along with us we are told to forgive them and pray for them and love them anyway! There is one person who presently hates me that I am trying not to hate back– but instead to pray for and love this one. I make it and love them sometimes and unfortunately sometimes I don’t. It’s a challenge. But if I return the bad feelings I will lose the peace God gave me!

Every time we pray the Lords’ prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12) Guess we better start learning to forgive others if we are going to pray the Lords’ prayer in church and mean it! Since God has forgiven us for all of our sins, He expects us to forgive other people when they sin against us. Refusing to forgive will cost us our peace. So even though Gods’ peace is a free gift, there is a price we have to pay to keep it.

Along this same line, Jesus tells the parable of the king who forgives one of his servants of an enormous debt he owes, only to find the same servant turning around and throwing another person in prison for owing him a small debt. The king hears about this and gets angry. He calls his servant back and makes him pay his huge debt after all. (Matthew 18:23-25) Jesus’ point in this story is that we are expected to forgive others since God has forgiven us. It isn’t an option. Christians are commanded to forgive and to try to live in peace. It’s all tied together.

Scripture tells believers not to go to court and sue one another. Let’s listen: “But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7) You see, sometimes we may have to be cheated in order to follow Jesus and keep the peace.

We read in Scripture about how powerfully the Holy Spirit worked through the early Christian church. The early Christian church was blessed constantly with healings and miracles and thousands of people came to Christ through their witness. Don’t we sometimes wonder why we don’t have the same dramatic conversions and healings today in our churches that they had? Scripture also records that they were all united and in agreement with one another and constantly cared for one another. They always kept the peace. (Acts 2:44-47) Could it be that Gods’ powerful anointing was with the early church because they were united and demonstrated love? They kept the peace and were all of one accord. Was that their secret?

The Lord not only commands peace to be our inheritance but He also commands us to keep that peace by forgiving those who hurt us and by loving and serving others. Many of us don’t hold onto our peace because we don’t obey His commands to forgive and love others. We are tempted to get angry and hold grudges. We become critical and unforgiving and tell ourselves that we have that right. But as Christians we don’t have that right. Love isn’t just a feeling, it is a decision. Forgiving and loving is a way of behaving.

As we travel through life we will have many opportunities to practice Jesus’ command to love and forgive. We can consider each offensive situation we encounter where we feel like responding with anger, as a challenge instead to respond with love and forgiveness. We are not really fighting against irritating people but we are fighting against the powers and principalities of the devil. The Bible says that we will be tested by God (1 Thessalonians 2:4), so we can use each test as a learning experience in this school of life. Life is sometimes described in Scripture as a battle and God has given us armor to put on to fight in the battle. (Ephesians 6:11) And the armor God has given us to put on our feet are the shoes of peace. (Ephesians 6:15)

So let’s walk through this life wearing our shoes of peace ---the ones God has given us. Let’s not ever take those walking peace shoes off - even for a minute. Not let hate the person who hates us. Surprise them with love and keep our peace. Might not be so bad after all –a life resting in Jesus’ peace - a life free from resentment and hate and anxiety! Jesus has left us this gift of peace, so let’s enjoy it – hang on to it. Do whatever it takes!