Publisher’s Note on Forgiveness

 Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV

In the verse above, Peter thought he was being very kind, even generous, in forgiving someone seven times, which is more than Jewish tradition counted as enough- only three times.  I am certain Jesus’ response caught Peter by surprise, and he likely thought 490 times was a bit excessive!  However, while Peter may have desired to count the offenses of others, Jesus is indicating that forgiveness does not keep score.  Nor does forgiveness keep count of its mercies and grace.  Is not this the very heart of Jesus?

Ephesians 2:4-5 echoes this truth, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Forgiveness is the heart of Christianity, the nucleus of our faith.

I once thought of forgiveness as having to be earned.  I felt a sense of superiority over any personal offender and I was going to inflict as much emotional pain as I could to show them how much they hurt me.  In essence, I acted as the judge and jury, determining the sincerity of any apologetic words or deeds.

Now I see forgiveness as a gift.  I have accepted and treasure the free gift of God’s complete forgiveness for my sins and shortcomings; therefore, I must freely give the gift of forgiveness.  Of course, forgiveness is not indifferent, it is not lacking conviction, and it is surely not being a doormat for those wishing to take advantage.  On the contrary, it is allowing God’s abundant grace to saturate your mind and heart to the point that it spills over and out from you. It is giving the Rightful Judge the burden of injustice and permitting the Author of Mercy to work compassion in our stubborn hearts.

In our forgiving of others, our hearts become stronger in taking less offense, our confidence in Christ expands, and our burning resentment diminishes.  In this issue Troy and Dionne Ray share their insight on forgiveness in the context of marriage; Rich and Geri Campbell express the love of Christ in their ministry; and Candy Abbott offers ways to handle difficult people.

If you find the topic of forgiveness unsettling or you just cannot let go of the list of offenses against you, it is my prayer that this issue will provoke heartfelt contemplation on the Gospel of Grace.

 

The Reading Disciple

Every suffering heart eventually comes face to face with a pivotal question, for the pain of our circumstances hinders us as we remove layer after layer of uncertainty until we finally hear His whisper, “Do you trust Me?”

I have personally wrestled with this question, because the truth is it is the last thing you want to hear when you are in pain. My own disappointment with God seemed to scream that He is not faithful or good, but the fact is that we live in a fallen world where our enemy delights in using every negative situation to destroy our relationship with the Lord.book-recommend

What I once perceived as God’s wrath through my suffering was actually Him pursuing me. What would have happened if Jonah was not cast into the sea? He would have turned his back on God. No doubt you have heard that we learn obedience through suffering. This is true, but less commonly known is that there is an intimacy with God that is available through the catalyst of pain for the simple reason that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). We either use the white-hot noise of pain to springboard ourselves into the arms of God, or we run like Jonah.

But how can we experience that sweet tenderness with the Lord if we don’t trust Him? It is difficult to trust anyone when we don’t know if their heart is good. Authors Brent Curtis and John Eldredge call this intimacy The Sacred Romance. In their book of the same title, they beautifully express God’s passionate pursuit of us. The Sacred Romance unveils the loving heart of God and gently shows that the deepest longing of the human soul is for an adventurous love affair with our Maker.

book-recommendationJohn Piper eloquently states, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” In his book When I Don’t Desire God, How to Fight for Joy, Piper explains that contentment in suffering is achieved through an eternal perspective in that we need to cast off everything that hinders (Rom. 12:1) or, more simply put, to dissolve all attachment with the natural and to treasure nothing except that sacred relationship with the Savior. Of course, this is not an easy task and requires faith, but once our gaze is fixed on our eternal home, there is serenity. An eternal perspective helps us realize that He is sufficient. We have the freedom to love God without the fear of losing Him because we know that this is not our true home.

The wonderful pursuit of God will begin to change our lives as we love Him, not for possessions, success, direction, prosperity, or any other thing but His passion for us. In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer expounds on this concept by explaining that those who make God their treasure have lost nothing because they have all things in One. This inspired and Scripturally sound book will topple tradition-infested doctrine like a house of cards. The truth in the title resounds so loudly it will cause you to examine the falsehoods of “religion” and understand that the fatherly heart of God is good and trustworthy.

Yes, we will face suffering in this world. Our disappointment with God may burn away the chaff of our “religion” leaving nothing but pure, unadulterated faith. This world may fail us, our church may fail us, our friends and family may fail us, but God will never fail. He will relentlessly pursue our hearts. Whether to the depths of the sea or the heights of success, we will never walk alone. God is faithful to give grace for our most filthy sin, comfort in unimaginable pain, faith in our darkest doubt, victory in our fiercest battle. In fact, He is faithful to give Himself.

I hope that these three books would help you to trust that our beautiful Savior is more than enough.

book-recomendbio

 

Audrey lives in Delmar, MD with her husband and two young children. She blogs about surviving motherhood with her faith intact at www.sanitybreaks.weebly.com.

By: Audrey

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Defeating Depression

A Story of a Family That Prayed Through

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)

[Debbie’s account]

We don’t need to look very far to observe someone who is suffering. Just this morning while on Facebook, I read the blog of a young mother. She is living each day under the oppression of cancer as she waits for her little boy to die. Her life and home have been consumed by the disease. She mentioned that she glanced into a mirror and noticed how the horror of her sons cancer had overtaken her body as well. Her skin is now wrinkled and worn. Her smile is no longer visible. Suffering has a way of doing that.

            My family has also suffered, but the symptoms of my depression were harder to spot. It began as what felt like a tired, bad mood. Sleep began to escape me and anxiety moved in. My life was busy as a mom to four children, so I pushed through. I began to ask God to help me feel normal.  My asking turned to begging as time crept by.  Each day I felt myself slipping closer and closer to the edge of a black hole. The harder I tried to cling to the edge, it seemed, the deeper I slid. Until one evening, after struggling to fall asleep, I awoke abruptly. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, my arms and legs shook uncontrollably. I thought for certain that I was dying. I prodded my husband to wake him. “Pray for me!” is all I could get out. And so it began…

Fear that this would happen again kept me from sleep. When exhaustion won over the fear I would doze off, only to be wakened by shaking and shortness of breath. Impending doom consumed me. Night after night my “situation” went from bad to worse.  Days became almost as much of a nightmare. Lack of sleep and inability to hold down food made me sick and left me weak. This made the feeling of my impending death only more real. The enemy had been attacking from the beginning, but at this point I felt that he had pulled out all his resources against me. His lies filled all of my thoughts. And then the lies moved from my mind to my heart as I began to believe them. Then they moved on to my lips as I repeated them continuously.

            The depression that consumed me quickly began to consume my husband as well. My lack of sleep became his lack of sleep. The lies that filled my mind, however, made it no where with him. When the enemy tried to wreak havoc in me with a new lie, my husband quickly refuted it with the Truth and the Word. For each lie from the enemy, the Lord gave my husband a specific scripture to use against it. Night after night, day after day, as I spoke the lies, my husband spoke the Truth. As I cried and paced, he followed me, quoting the Word! He often prayed aloud over me. He sought the Lord for wisdom on my behalf as to how and what I should do to get well. He sought the counsel of a godly physician, as well as the Great Physician.

            I believe the most important thing that my husband did for me was to continue to pray, to continue to press into the Lord for my healing. He knew in his heart that the Lord would hear his cry and heal me. The Lord has blessed me tremendously with a godly husband. He has also blessed our marriage with a oneness that only He can give.

My mother in law recorded many healing scriptures, and together with my husband, they played the recordings for me whenever someone was not available to speak them. Slowly the battle that the enemy was raging in my body and in my head began to turn. Those who love me sought the Lord on my behalf, knowing that I was too weak to do so myself.  The enemy who was seeking to devour me had no choice but to retreat when faced with Truth!

[Mark’s account]

When fighting depression from the support side, there were two primary weapons I used: prayer and truth. When I wasn’t directly involved in refuting the lies or providing encouragement, I spent my time in prayer. This is where knowing who you are in Christ and knowing what Gods Word says is so important. Much of my prayer time was while driving to and from work or while lying in bed. I had to know the Word because, as often is the case, there is no time to look up scripture. I laid hands on her in accordance with the Word. Mostly, I was just there for her. When I wasn’t there, I was available and she knew it.

I had a long commute to and from work and when I wasn’t in prayer while driving, I listened to the Scriptures. For me, it was a great way to refresh my scriptural knowledge. Dramatized versions made it easier and more interesting. Zondervan has a good dramatized version that is word for word with the Bible. Also, recruit someone or several people you trust who will intercede for you and your spouse during this time. Agree with them in advance as to how they should pray. It’s important that they actually “pray the Word.” In my case, my mother acted as intercessor and prayed with and for Debbie when I couldn’t be there, spending many hours with her while I was at work.

Be prepared to refute the lies with Truth directly. When the depressed person says things like “I’ll never get better” or “It’ll always be like this” be prepared to say “That’s a lie” and then reply with the truth. Do not allow your feelings to be hurt. My wife was not hurtful to me but don’t be surprised if this occurs. This type of battle will require a lot of time and courage. I was fortunate that I am self employed and had the freedom in my schedule to be there for Debbie.

Another important thing is to prevent the depressed person from withdrawing into darkness. The devil loves the dark and wants to drive us there so we’ll go deeper into it. Exposure to natural light and the company of other family members is important. Try to get the depressed person around family and into as much normal activity as possible. Also, playing Scripture on an ipod or CD is very helpful, especially while sleeping. My mother made a recording of healing scriptures that we listened to again and again. John Hagee Ministries has a wonderful pre-recorded device that plays healing scriptures repeatedly. Truly, Scripture is like a healing balm, so play it and play it some more! Oh, and the enemy HATES it! Remember, Jesus used the Word to fight the devil  in the desert.

I’ve likened our depression experience to a battle. There is direct combat when one is refuting the enemy’s lies head on. During such a battle, there are those who are interceding in prayer. I liken this to artillery, harassing the enemy and keeping him off balance while we fight the lies with the truth. When the enemy withdraws we attack him with prayer – Give him no rest! We press in hard with prayer. And we cannot rest until the battle is won. Thank God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV)

BIO

Mark and Debbie were high school sweethearts. They have been married for 30 years and they have six children and seven grandchildren. Mark runs their inspection & engineering business in Salisbury, MD. Debbie is a stay-at-home mom, she has been free from depression for nine years.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Suffering Well as a Living Sacrifice

 

                                              When peace,like a river,attendeth my way,                                                                                                   When sorrows  like sea billows roll,                                                                                                             Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,                                                        It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio Spafford, the writer of this classic hymn, knew a lot about suffering. He and his wife lost their four year old son to scarlet fever.  Within a year they would also lose all of their significant real estate holdings in the great Chicago fire of 1871.  In need of respite, Spafford decided to take his family on vacation to England.  The trip would not only offer much needed rest but would also allow the family to reconnect with longtime friend D.L. Moody, who was there on an evangelistic tour.

Horatio had some business dealings that needed his attention so he decided to send his family on ahead of him.  Nine days later he received the devastating news that the ship had sank and his four daughters had drowned, his wife only narrowly escaping the same fate. Spafford took the next available ship to England in order to reunite with his wife.  While en route he was notified by the captain that they were crossing over the site of the wreck that claimed his children’s lives.  At that moment of great sorrow, Spafford returned to the quiet of his cabin and began to pen the now famous words, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How could he do this you may ask?  In the face of such overwhelming personal tragedy, how could he trust so fully in God?  I believe that Horatio knew there is ultimately nothing in this world that compares to that which is to come in the next, for Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In the current spiritual climate we are told that if we have enough faith we need not suffer.  That we can be healthy, wealthy, and free of pain if we just believe hard enough.  This “prosperity” gospel, while widely popular, is really just another false gospel that dilutes the true teachings of Jesus Christ.  Think about it.  Can a gospel that excludes Jesus ever be true?  For He surely never had great material wealth and he certainly suffered greatly.  Jesus even tells us to expect suffering: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Notice how He not only leaves his followers with a warning but also a promise of comfort.  This sentiment is echoed throughout the Bible.  Though we may face times of great trials, God never abandons us and we can take great comfort in the fact that He  is our source of peace.

Inevitably in these situations the question arises, Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  Before answering this question I think we must first realize that we live in a fallen world.  God did not bring suffering into the world.  Rather, it came as a natural consequence to sin.  When Adam and Eve chose to willing disobey God they forever brought pain, suffering, and death into the world.

Secondly, I believe we need to see that there is purpose in our suffering.  Romans 5:3-5 states “ … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”  And James 1:2-4 adds, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Clearly, we can see in the midst of our suffering that God is using it to refine and grow us, sanctifying us for His purposes.

In no way am I trying to diminish the reality of any pain we experience.  Certainly the hurt we endure is physically and emotionally tangible.  I am simply pointing out that we are not alone in our suffering.  We do not serve an unfeeling God.  He cares deeply for us and shares in our pain.  “Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18).

Remember also that “Jesus wept.”  These two words are found in John 11:35 and are famous for comprising the shortest verse in the Bible but should be remembered more for their significance, for they show so much about the heart of our Lord.  He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still He shed tears.  Why?  Because He was wholly sympathetic to the grief of those around Him.  His heart was filled with sorrow for the pain of His children.

Suffering is an inescapable reality of life.  Yet, how we choose to approach it can define its ultimate outcome.  We can become self-absorbed and bitter, cursing God for our pain, allowing our trails to be in vain.  Or we can choose to seek out God and allow Him to use our suffering for His Glory and for our good.  We can choose to inspire and encourage those around us through our understanding and steadfast faith.  We can trust that His promises are true and that we will one day share in His glory.  The decision is ultimately yours.  I pray you choose to suffer well.

By: Kyle Hubbard

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

If God is Good, Why is There Suffering?

To genuinely understand why there is suffering, we must examine our origin and our Fall.

When God had completed His Creation He pronounced it as being “very good,” for there was no death, disease, pain or suffering (Genesis 1:31).  Genesis 2:17 informs us that God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat of it under penalty of death.  But, after failing their test of obedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their right (and ours) to live in perfect relationship with our loving Creator (Rom. 5:12).

Because God is perfectly and purely holy, He had to judge man’s sin.  Adam was accountable to the fact that death would be the penalty for rebellion, and so God enacted a Curse on both humanity and all creation (Rom. 8:20-21).  Therefore, the death and suffering that has existed and continues to exist is a result of our sin.

It should be noted that the world’s sin-infestation includes the distress of natural disasters, severe weather, personal tragedies, and the like.  This constitutes that all suffering is a direct consequence of Adam’s sin, allowing no excuse for anyone to blame God for such.  Moreover, God surely has good reason for allowing pain and suffering to beset the Christian (Rom. 8:28); our failure to understand “why bad things happen to good people” does not invalidate God’s goodness, it simply reveals our ignorance.

Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin when that happened so long ago?

Humanity is infected with an inherited (from Adam) sin-nature, yet God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him.  By the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we each have the opportunity to recognize our sinfulness and turn to Him for forgiveness and then live a life according to His Spirit (John 3:16-17).

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 19).

“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Why did God allow Adam to choose poorly, and why does He allow us the same?

True obedience cannot exist without the choice to disobey, and free human choice is a product of God’s love.  His love is persuasive, not coercive.  We were created in His own image because God loves us and desires fellowship with us, and truly sincere fellowship is only true and sincere when it is chosen, not forced.  This fact makes our choice to love and live for God superbly relevant.

True obedience, therefore, is coupled with freedom and responsibility.  Micah 6:8 shows that one must (responsibly) permit themselves to be taught what is right by God, but one must also do what is right (obedience).  Freedom enables one to choose rightly, or not.  And since humanity has been gifted with free choice (itself an aspect of freedom), we are thus accountable to the Giver Who will bless the right choice.

Adversely, if one abuses that freedom they set themselves against God, inviting consequential judgment.  John 3:36 offers insight into freedom and choice: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Just as Adam and Eve had the forbidden tree to “test” their obedience, so we today have the forbidden fruits of a sinful nature that test our own.

So how can God be both loving and just, are not the two at odds?

Injustice is a part of our fallenness as we remain under the Curse.  The innocent will suffer and die along with the guilty.  Some suggest God is cruel in allowing certain atrocities to occur and fester (natural disasters, war, famine, disease, cancer, terrorism, tyrannical governments, corrupt politics, lawlessness, etc).  But, suffering (benign and malignant) will be a part of this world until Jesus establishes His throne in Jerusalem.

Yet God is just and must punish sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:11-15) even while His love compels Him to save sinners, for Jesus the Just suffered for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18) and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

However, each individual must choose to accept His sacrifice in order to become such righteousness.  Even our own sense of desired justice (as when good things happen to bad people) is a reflection of our being made in His image.

God is also love and will not force anyone to love Him (1 John 4:16).  Moreover, love must be freely expressed lest it cease to be love.  He desires everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and our choice grants us the opportunity to love Him of our own volition, yet for those who reject Him there must be punishment.  His perfect justness is in fact an aspect of His perfect love.

Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell if He wants everyone saved?

This is answered in the previous question concerning God’s justness.  However, the inquiry at hand is flawed.  The appropriate construct would be, Why would a good, perfect, and just God of love NOT condemn His enemies to hell?

Of course, God did not create us to condemn us; He created us to share in His love.  But those who choose not to love Him effectually condemn themselves to hell in that their choice determines their destiny (John 3:18, 36).  Though the Lord God desires everyone to be reconciled to Himself, He allows us to act on our own desire by way of His sovereign gift of free choice- an occasion of true freedom born of His optimal love.

Did God create evil?

No, He did not.  God through free will made evil possible, but disobedience to His will (per our choices) makes it actual.  Sin was born in the heart of Lucifer when he fell to pride as a result of his own free self-will (Isaiah 14:12; 1 Tim. 3:6).  Indeed, it is difficult to grasp how Lucifer and the other third of the angels (Rev. 12:4) rebelled against God

when all they had known was His goodness and love!  This proves that a truly free will is a potent attribute to have been endowed with, further revealing our Creator’s value of love freely expressed and justice wholly accomplished.

An unfortunate event occurred when Lucifer facilitated the fall of man, thus passing on the stain of sin.  Though such was foreknown by God, it unleashed the circumstance of the Christ’s Passion and provided a way of absolute restoration of what was lost in Eden’s garden.

In conclusion, how can we even claim the existence of evil and suffering absent an infallible standard of Good and Peace toward which we make a distinction?  Thus, the existence of both evil and suffering actually prove the existence of a good and peace-loving God.  Assuredly, evil will ultimately be defeated and those who reject God will be justly separated from all that is good.  And fuller splendor awaits those who choose Jesus Christ in preparation for a world of perfect love freely expressed!

By: Jon Scott Birch @ jonbirch.com

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.