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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Learning to Forgive

Jacob De Shazer

Learning to Forgive

 To live above with those we love

O yes that will be glory…

 To live below with those we know

O that’s a different story!

 It’s true it will be glory to live in heaven.  That’s what the Bible says.  In heaven there will be no fighting, fussing, gossiping, or hating!  Everyone will love everyone and live in loving community!  Scripture says that when we die “We will be changed” (1Corinthians 15:52)    changed by God so that we will fit into that loving community. 

Even though we will be changed when we die, the Lord asks us to allow Him to start changing us now.  Often we don’t want to be changed and hold on to our fighting and fussing and gossip and hate.  But God is calling us to do our part.  He’s calling us to “live below with those we know” and love them.  That’s the hard part!

Our pastor preached a sermon last Sunday about learning to forgive. I wanted to hear it since there is a person I am having trouble forgiving.  He began by saying that forgiveness is the process of letting go of an old reality and opening up the possibility of a new reality.  Here we go again – off with the old and on with the new.

In Ephesians 4:25-32 we are told to “put off” lying, stealing, saying corrupt words, bitterness, anger, clamor, and malice. And in Romans 13:14 we are told to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ.  I think this verse is saying that we are to accept His moral standards, and depend on His strength to love and forgive others.

Our pastor continued by saying that he had a formula for forgiving and we could remember it by the word R-E-A-C-H. 

R- Stands for recall.  We are to recall the hurt.  Remember what happened that caused us to
      be angry – to need to forgive.

E- Means to empathize.  Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  See things      
     from their viewpoint. Feel their pain and understand their fears.  Perhaps they
     had a difficult childhood. Could they be under the influence of drugs? We don’t
     have to agree with them to respect them as persons..

A- Stands for altruistic.  The act of forgiveness is a gift.  Give the altruistic gift of
     forgiving. Give this gift to God, to the other person and give this gift to yourself
      as well. Your heart will be lighter and your health better if you aren’t carrying
      around the heavy burdens of resentment.

C- Commit before God your vow to forgive.  Tell others that you    
      have made a decision to forgive.  Act kindly to the one you have forgiven.

H-  Hold on to your act of forgiveness.  You may want to forgive but then you begin
       slipping back into your old patterns of resentment. Forgiveness is hard work. It   
       may take time. Ask God to give you the strength to forgive. And keep relying on


When I think of a Christian who learned to forgive others I think of a man named Jacob De Shazer.  Jacob was a young American airman in 1941 when the United States first got involved in World War 2. When he first heard the news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor he was so angry that he volunteered to join a special secret unit, the “Doolittle Raiders” and be one of the first to bomb the cities of Japan. 

In early 1942 Jacob, along with the other pilots in the raid, flew low over Nagoya, Japan carrying out a surprise bombing attack which shocked and terrified the Japanese people. But later that night he was forced to parachute into enemy territory when his plane ran out of fuel. He was injured in his fall and along with the rest of his crew, he was captured the next day by the Japanese.

 For 40 long months Jacob De Shazer was held as a prisoner in a Japanese P.O.W. camp where he was forced to live in filth and stench and was tortured day and night. For 34 of those 40 months he was locked away in solitary confinement. Nearly every day he received a severe beating and he became so malnourished that he looked like a skeleton. Several men in his crew were executed by a firing squad while he was forced to watch. He barely hung onto life while many of the prisoners around him died slowly of starvation.

During his captivity Jacob persuaded one of his Japanese guards to loan him a copy of the Bible.  Although he was only allowed to keep the Bible for three weeks, its message changed his life and he became a devout Christian. Most of the men in prison with Jacob hated their Japanese captors because they were being treated so badly.  But Jacob felt that the Lord was telling him to love the Japanese people and to pray for them.


The war came to an end on August 20, 1945 and the victorious American soldiers parachuted into the prison camp to free the prisoners. Overjoyed, Jacob and the other prisoners were finally released. Upon his return to the United States, he was awarded the Purple Heart and several other medals for his part in the “Doolittle Raid.” 

But Jacob De Shazer believed that God wanted him to go back to Japan. He entered a Christian college and began studying to become a missionary.  In 1948 he returned to the same city he had bombed, but this time he went there to serve the city as a missionary.  He and his wife Florence spent the next thirty years of their lives building a Christian church and serving the people of Nagoya, Japan. They had five children while they were there.

While he was in Japan as a missionary, Jacob De Shazer met Captain MitsuoFuchida, the Japanese pilot who had led the main attack on Pearl Harbor and the two men became close friends. The Japanese captain could not understand how Jacob could forgive the Japanese since he had been treated so harshly in prison.  And Captain Fuchida had also heard that the Japanese soldiers who had spent time in American prison camps had been treated very well. 

None of this made any sense to Fuchida since he believed that it was “the responsibility” of an offended party to carry out revenge in order to restore honor.  Captain Fushida found himself being drawn to this strange message of Christianity!  This message of forgiveness! How could anyone treat an enemy with love and forgiveness? Why would anyone not stand up for their “honor” against an offending party? He must find out!

 But Joseph De Shazer loved his former Japanese “enemy” and this greatly influenced the captain. Finally Captain Fuchida became a Christian in 1950.  And when he became a Christian he discovered that Jesus Christ was his “honor” and his reputation and his strength.  Fuchida didn’t have to protect himself by acts of revenge any more since God was his protection.  His world was turned upside down. 

Our worlds can be turned upside down too when we learn to forgive.  When we give our reputations to God and love the enemies who smudged our honor. When we stop living into the old story where we stay angry because they aren’t treating us right, and we write a whole new story where we give our resentments to God and forgive. It’s our choice whether we stand up for our “honor” or whether we let go and let God.  It’s our choice whether we keep our enemies (and ourselves) bound up with our hate or whether we loosen and free up our enemy (and ourselves) with forgiveness.

Colossians 3:17 reads: “And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  The Bible is telling us that everything we do – our words and our actions- should be done in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So when we hold a grudge against a friend, can we hold that grudge in the name of our Lord Jesus?  When we are resentful against that person who didn’t treat us well, can we be resentful in the name of our Lord Jesus?  And when we criticize our enemies, can we criticize them in the name of our Lord Jesus?  I don’t think we can.  Then we know what we have to do!   


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Submit to God, Resist the Devil and He Will Run Away

Submit to God, Resist the Devil and He Will Run Away
The devil will never flee (run away) from you if you resist him by yourself. 
And you will never be strong enough to turn from evil on your own.  The Scripture that tells us to resist the devil first tells us to submit ourselves to God.  It reads: “Submit yourself to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7)  With Gods’ power and authority are we able to resist the devil.
Jesus sent out the disciples with these words: “I have given you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,   (Luke 10:19)  Serpents and scorpions are symbols of spiritual enemies and demonic power, over which Jesus has given His followers (that’s us) authority to put down.   
 We have the spiritual power to resist evil because of our position in Christ.  Scripture reads:  “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)  The Spirit of Christ is in us believers. And we are in Him.  The Bible says: “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (evil spirits) because He (Jesus) who is in you is greater than he (the devil) that is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4)   That means we never have to be kicked around by the devil since Jesus has us covered.
 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”  (Matthew 28:18-19)   The Bible tells us that Jesus has ALL authority and He sends His servants (that means you and me) out carrying His badge of authority.  And we are reminded: “Finally be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”  (Ephesians 6:10)
  Paul prayed that the new believers in his church in Ephesus would not be blind to the power and authority that they had in Jesus Christ.  He writes: “I pray that the eyes of your hearts may be opened so that you may know the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of His (Jesus) inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His (Jesus) power toward us who believe.”  (Ephesians 1:18)  
Like the early Christians in Ephesus, we too need to have our eyes opened to the “surpassing greatness of the power” and authority we have in Christ Jesus.
The Bible also says: “Be sober, be vigilant: because your enemy the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may eat up.”  (1 Peter 5:8)  Jesus has set us free from death and has given us freedom in Himself.  But the devil tries to drag us back into the prison house of sin. (Isa.42:7) And without Christ we are not strong enough to resist becoming enslaved.  There are so many ways that the devil can steal our freedom if we don’t “submit to God and resist the devil.”  We must stay close to God and keep our guard up. 
The devil will try to make us a prisoner of perhaps an addiction- heroin, marijuana, or too many pain pills.  Or maybe he will try to enslave us to a bad habit, huge debt, over eating, anxiety, gossip or hate. There are so many traps and deceptions that the enemy of our soul will try to use against us.  But Christ has given us the power to stand up to all of these snares. We who are in Christ never have to be afraid of being taken over by one of these sins. Let’s not forget that James 4:7 tells us that if we submit to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.
 I had a friend who for years was afraid that she was losing her mind.  Even though she loved God and confessed her belief in Christ and was a member of a Christian church, terrible doubts and fears were constantly flooding her mind.  Had Christ really saved her?  When she died would she really go to hell?  Questions and confusion tormented her day and night and there was little joy or peace in her life.
 My friend had always tried to be broad minded so she visited other religious groups –cults that openly rejected Christ. And she read books by psychics and astrologers and made friends with folks who ridiculed Jesus as being the Savior.  To be accepted by this crowd, she stopped mentioning her faith in Christ.  And she continued doubting her Christian faith more and more. 
Gradually my friend became more fearful and more depressed.  Anxiety and dread were becoming her constant companions and she felt herself slipping into the darkness. Her doctors prescribed medications for her depression and her psychiatrists scheduled endless therapy sessions.  But all to no avail.  The years passed by and she only seemed to be losing more control and sinking deeper into the darkness and the depression.  Often she could not function on her own, hold a job or go about her life.
But finally – several of her Christian friends intervened.  They put their arms around her and surrounded her with their prayers and their love.  They challenged her to submit herself to God.  She needed to put away all the other “gods” in order to submit to the one true God, they told her.  The cult religious groups, the psychic books, the astrology, and anything and everything that got in the way of Jesus Christ, Son of God, only Savior.   (Exodus 20:3-6)  
My friend was desperate to be free from her depressions and so with her praying friends circling around she rejected all of those things in her life that she had allowed to slip in between herself and her Lord.  She repented of all of her wanderings away from God and asked His forgiveness for all of her unfaithfulness.  She rejected all other “gods” and rededicated herself to the one true God.  Scripture says that our faith is built up when we read the Bible: “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of God…” so she decided to make Bible study and prayer an important part of each day, hoping that her shaky faith would become stronger.   
And after submitting herself to God, my friend threw herself into helping others.  She worked at the local food bank and took care of several foster children.  She taught Sunday school and volunteered at the humane society.  God became her strength and she counseled others who were suffering with depression like she had. And this time she stayed close to God – never getting out there where she could be picked off by temptations. 
When she would feel the depression closing in again she would call her Christian friends together and they would come and stand with her and pray and read Scripture. And when fearful thoughts would try to return and control her mind she would “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor.10:5)  She would stand up to her fears quoting Scripture or singing praises to God to keep the darkness away.  
Today my friend has taken back her life.  She holds down a responsible job and is active in her church and her community.  She is friendly and outgoing with a smile for everyone.  Her face radiates with the love she has for God and the joy she finds in her Christian faith.  She has changed so dramatically that it is hard to remember that this is the same woman whose life was once so negative and so out of control.  And I wonder what her secret was.
But if you ask her she will tell you that her secret is very simple.  The secret is staying close to God.  Everyday she tells us that she “Submits herself to God, resists the devil and he flees from her.”  (James 4:7)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

We Shall Never be Moved Psalm 15

Psalm 15
(We shall never be moved)
This short Psalm has only five verses.  The first verse begins with David asking God a question.  David’s question is:  What does a person need to do to enter into God’s tabernacle and to stand before God’s presence?  And who can live (abide) on God’s holy hill? (Verse 1)
 In other words, what does a person need to do to come close to God? The “tabernacle” and the “holy hill” that David is asking about refer to the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.  During that time period the visible presence of God rested on the Ark of the Covenant.  So to enter the tabernacle and walk onto the “holy hill” would be the same as to stand in God’s presence.
And God answers David’s question in the last four verses of Psalm 15.  God tells David that in order to draw near to Him a person should love others and conduct their life in caring relationships.  The person who wants to come close to God should 1) be kind to his neighbor 2) not gossip or destroy another’s reputation – protect relationships: 3) never hurt a neighbor or take advantage of them financially 4) and never “reproach” a neighbor.   The word “reproach” was the Hebrew word “cherpah” and it means “to blame, discredit, disgrace, or shame.”  And God ends by telling David that the person who does these things shall never be moved.    
Let’s read Psalm 15.
1) (David’s question) “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?  And who may dwell in Your holy hill? 
2) (God’s answer) He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart.
3) He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor.  Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend.
4) A person in whose eyes a vile person is despised.  But he honors those who fear the Lord. 
He who keeps his oath, even when it hurts:
5) He who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.”
God’s message to David is clear.  The way we treat others means everything to God.  It matters to God whether we are loyal to our families and communities or not. The Bible says we can’t love God and hate our brother.  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar…Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21)
But you may be questioning: “But what if my brother has done something that is very wrong?”  Scripture tells us that if our brother offends us (sins against us or another person) we are not to cover it up.  But we are to prayerfully go to the offending brother and confront him in love. If he refuses to hear us Scripture tells us to  bring several others along to confront and also listen to the offending brother’s side, so that the matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  And finally, if the brother still persists in his sin we are to bring the problem to the whole church. If the offending brother is sorry and repents we are to restore him to our fellowship and forgive him.  But if he continues in his sin we are to refuse him fellowship. (Matthew 18:15) (Scripture gives us guidance as to how to settle a disagreement and judge an offender and restore fellowship). Scripture also instructs Christians not to take a fellow Christian to a court of law.   
When Psalm 15:3b continues speaking about the person who draws near to God it describes him this way: “Nor does he take up a reproach against a friend.” Perhaps this means that we are to be faithful and considerate to our friends even when we don’t agree with them. Instead of slandering the friend or brother (the reproach) we can pray for him and encourage him in right living.  Build him up instead of tearing him down!  Scripture says that “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born to help out during trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17)  Is God calling us to be faithful friends and steadfast family members even when big problems arise?  It seems to me that God is calling us to value and protect the ties that bind us. God doesn’t want broken families and hurting people.
The person who draws near to God is described as one who:  “walks uprightly” (verse.2) and “keeps his oath, even when it hurts” (verse 4b.)  So what does this mean?  I will give my thoughts.
 Since our country has been in a recession, many employers have broken their written agreements with their long time employees. Business owners have excused themselves for breaking their contracts with their workers by saying that they must cut expenses in order to remain competitive.  We hear of loyal employees being let go from work just before their retirements,- let go after having worked their whole lives for a business: of course to save the employer from paying benefits!  
 The boss must make those “tough” decisions to stay “lean and mean” we are told. Money is everything!  A corporation conveniently goes into a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy to shed its’ obligations to its’ former employees and then call those obligations “entitlements”.  And thousands of desperate older persons find themselves too old or sick to work any longer, unwanted with no retirement, no dignity and no way to pay the bills -  after saving a lifetime for their retirements.  And some of the business leaders who steal their workers’ retirements, brag openly about their Christian values! 
God is not mocked!  Those who would draw near to God should “walk uprightly” and “keep their oath, even when it hurts”- even if the business has to pay it’s executives less in order to keep its promises to its workers.  Isn’t God saying here in Psalm 15 that people are more important than money?    “---You cannot serve both God and money.”  (Matthew 6:24)
As we read on in Psalm 15, the person who draws near to God is the person who: “does not put his money out at usury, or does he take a bribe against the innocent.”  (Psalm 15:5)  What does this mean?  Again, I will give my thoughts.
When the person who draws near to God “does not put his money out at usury,” I interpret this to mean that a person who loves God does not exploit other people, or take advantage of them for a financial gain.  Examples of this may be “Pay-Day Loans” or “Title Loans” where the interest rate is over 100%.  However Scripture calls it a sin to charge “any” interest on a loan.  And the Catholic Church considered the charging of interest to be a “sin” up through the middle ages.  
And then a person who “does not take a bribe against the innocent” could be a person who refuses to take money or favors from someone who wants to do something that may harm innocent people.  If a person stands firm and refuses to take money or favors in exchange for allowing possible harm to come to their fellow citizens who may be trusting them, that would be the person who is described in Psalm 15.
Years ago many children and some adults in a small town in California began getting sick with cancers.  Over the years more and more children sickened and died from these cancers with no one in the town asking why this was happening.  After many years passed it finally became known that some of the public officials of the town had been taking campaign money and favors from a large agri-business nearby. The mega agricultural corporations had paid the officials of the town to look the other way as they dumped arsenic and other poisons into the ground, polluting the wells and water table of the area, thus sickening so many of the town’s people.  Could this be an example of what “he does not take a bribe against the innocent” means? 
This little Psalm tells us that God expects something from us.  He expects us to do the right thing even if it hurts. (Psalm 15:4b)  Those who want to abide in His tabernacle – those who would draw near to God – are those who “do not take up a reproach against a friend.”(Psalm 15:3b)  God wants us to live out our lives caring and loving our neighbors and our families.  God’s expects us to “do these things” but He gives us His Holy Spirit to give us the power to do these things.  And if we “do these things, we shall never be moved.”  (Psalm 15:5)   

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lying for Jesus

Lying for Jesus
 The chorus of a 1930’s song – revived by John Denver, and others - goes:
Be sure it's true when you say I love you
It’s a sin to tell a lie
Millions of hearts have been broken
Just because these words were spoken
Lying isn’t just for lovers: it has become commonplace in contemporary culture. We have gotten used to expecting that advertisers and salespeople will “stretch” the truth in order to make sales. We know that it is now commonplace for job applicants to pad their resumes. Likewise, we kind of expect political candidates to make sometimes “stetchy”claims about their backgrounds and job performance. Generally, as a culture we have become complacent about lying. The Christian writer, Dallas Willard, once posed the interesting question, “What would happen to us as a nation if, for one day, people stopped lying and only told the truth?” It is a stimulating exercise to ponder this question.

How do Christian people respond to our cultural acceptance of lying?  Are some lies acceptable to us?  What determines what a lie is anyway?  Is it acceptable to use lies to defame a person’s character or heritage in order to bring about a greater good?  The 9th Commandment says that “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  Does this really matter to today’s Christian people?

Let’s look at some present-day examples of lying. Just recently a candidate for high office claimed that he had run a marathon race, finishing in the “high two’s.” A reporter from Runner’s World thought his time was unusually impressive and checked the long forgotten records. It turned out that his actual time to completion was over an hour more than he claimed. While some have made a big deal about this, most folks dismiss it as simple braggadocio.  Many people have gotten so used to exaggerations they don’t think of them as lies.

On the other hand some people have claimed that another candidate for high office was not born in the United States and that this particular person is a Muslim and not a Christian.  These claims have been consistently refuted by factual data and by the candidates own testimony regarding his faith: nevertheless they persist and are widely accepted by so-called Christian people. Although we may dismiss bragging regarding ones athletic prowess as a benign exaggeration, it does appear that this defamation of character is truly a case of “giving false testimony.”

Why do people continue “bearing false witness?” In certain cases it may be because they don’t know any better, since they never bother to investigate such claims.  Many of these folks are too lazy or fearful to check, since repudiating these false ideas may take them out of their comfort zone.  Believers in Christ have an obligation to investigate and reject lies. To not do so is slothful.  Sloth implies laziness and apathy. In Christian tradition, sloth is listed as one of the seven deadly sins.

Other people know such claims are lies, but continue to repeat them because in doing so, they can bring about a good outcome.  This might be for their political party or for Jesus.  The philosophical term for this is “consequentialism.” Basically it means that “the end justifies the means.” In essence it is OK to lie and bear false witness (or whatever else) if you are seeking a “good” end. This was the rationale that Hitler’s Nazis used in murdering the European Jews.  To the Nazi’s, eliminating the Jews was their contribution toward bringing about a better world. Many horrible crimes are committed for “altruistic” reasons.

Apparently this strategy of defaming others for the greater good may make sense to a lot of Christian folks, but is this what God wants in terms of the way we treat other people?  Is it OK to ignore the 9th Commandment in the interest of achieving political and economic victories? It is exquisitely ironic that many of the same “Christian” people who ignore the 9th Commandment comprise the same sub-set that wants to post the 10 Commandments on courthouse walls. Why is the 9th Commandment important?

First of all God gave us the 10 Commandments to teach us how we should behave toward Him (Commandments 1 to 4) and how we should behave toward each other (Commandments 5 to 10). These are important and specific orders from the almighty Yahweh. As the former Nightline commentator Ted Koppel once said, these are the Ten Commandments, not the “ten suggestions.”  Secondly, Jesus said “if you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). To be sure, the 10 Commandments were only part of the commands that Jesus is referring to; but they are a very important part.

Scripture is full of the idea of “truth telling.”  For instance, in Proverbs 6:16-19, we are told:  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,  a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”  Likewise, we are warned in Proverbs 19:9 that “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish.”

Finally, God makes a scary statement regarding specific sinners in the Book of Revelation; “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (21:8).  From the above, it sounds like the Almighty does not approve of bearing false witness.  Goodness, gracious if only Christians could be Christ-like!