The Reading Disciple

By: Chelsea Swain

Forgiveness. You can pray for it. You can yearn for it. You can seek it. But how do you know that you have truly forgiven someone with all of your heart? It is not something that can be done simply with words. It is something that must be a spiritual work done in your heart with the help of God.

We all know that wounds do not often heal overnight, and some wounds are certainly deeper than others. These take time and need proper care and attention. Deep wounds, if not cared for properly, could become infected and in turn infect your entire body. Likewise, do not let your unforgiveness infect your whole body and make you bitter. Give it to God. Pray about it, continually, and God will change your heart. In giving our heavenly Father control of our lives and allowing Him to take care of our healing we find that He is willing to help bear even our deepest pains.

For the multitude of sins we have committed, God could have given up on us long ago. Instead, God chose to love us, to wait, to be a gentleman, and forgive us when we turn to Him. If the God of the universe can pardon our sins, how much more should we pardon the sins of others? Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to “Be kind to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”  And Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

To be sure that we are seeking spiritual healing and nourishment, we must be connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ (John 15:5), and through seeking His Kingdom first forgiveness will abound and God will transform your heart and renew your mind so that you can move on to what He has for you. Here are a few reading suggestions to help you stay connected to our Father:reccomend-read

I am a huge fan of Joyce Meyer. I love how her words are so convicting and not condemning, yet also powerful and motivating. In her book Anxious For Nothing she encourages readers to trust fully on God and seek His Kingdom and His will above all else. Meyer reminds us of the sound counsel found in Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own troubles.” This is a familiar passage we often quickly forget.

Another great point Meyer shares is that when we find ourselves in a state of frustration, we are probably trying to do God’s work for Him. As followers of Christ, we need to be spiritually mature and seek Gods will before our own (James 4:15). We do this by staying connected to God through an active prayer life and also through personal communication and fellowship with other believers. When we are patient we will see that God is faithful.

Another book I would recommend is The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. Whether you are married or single this is an amazing read. Keller states that, “Marriage is not about personal fulfillment. It was created to be a reflection on the human level of our ultimate love relationship and union with the Lord. It is a sign and a foretaste of the future Kingdom of God” (p 14). I love this because so many people today marry with the attitude of “what’s in it for me” and wait in expectancy with a consumeristic mindset.

However, being married for several years now, I think we can all agree that a mindset like this will not lead to a lasting marriage. Keller also discusses how marriage today is idolized in movies and in the media. This “dream marriage” is portrayed so much that people find themselves comparing or seeking that truly false ideal. He says that marriage helps spouses become their future selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship (p 151). In addition, Keller focuses on the roles of a husband and a wife and even speaks about the “gift of singleness.” Check out his book for a deeper understanding on marriage and how it affects our walk with the Lord.

Do you ever open up your Bible and feel overwhelmed with what to read? Unsure of where to start? YouVersion.com may be a great resource for you! YouVersion contains the entire Bible in many different versions and it is free. I have it on my Iphone, Nook, and can access it, of course, on my PC. I have access no matter where I am!

Specific reading plans of multiple durations and topics are available. You will find over 144 devotional plans, including Learning Spiritual Discipline, Growing Patience, and Talking with God in Prayer. There are topical Bible plans, partial Bible, whole Bible, youth and family plans. Each day you can have a specific reading from the Bible to help you stay connected with God.

I am currently working on the Bible-in-a-Year Plan and thoroughly enjoying God’s Word and learning more about Him! The Bible is the living Word and it should be a very important part of our daily life.

Another wonderful feature of YouVersion is that if you fall behind on your reading, you do not have to give up on it. You can simply “catch up” to where you currently are and keep on moving forward and seeking God’s face.

Friends, I urge you to stay connected to our Father, Our Creator. Put Him first in your life and seek His Kingdom above all else. I encourage you to enjoy these books and resources and I pray they would help you in your walk with the Lord.

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Chelsea Swain is a disciple of Christ. She is married to Steve Swain and they have two beautiful daughters and a baby boy on the way.

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The Power of Forgiveness, The Doom of Remorse

Consider the vastly different ends to the lives of Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.  Both were hung on trees, but only one of them was hung (and crucified head-down) for Christ’s sake.

As one of the Twelve, Judas would have known Jesus and His teachings intimately, witnessing firsthand the unfolding of His ministry of love, self-sacrifice, and revelation.  Though Jesus foreknew Judas’ betrayal, His choice of Judas as one of the Twelve was not tainted with failure, it is simply a formidable example of Jesus allowing anyone, along with their imperfections (no matter how severe), the opportunity to follow Him.

Despite Judas’ penchant to pursue his own will (ultimately to his doom) he was offered and afforded numerous occasions to repent, and though his final doom was an inevitability so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 13:18) there is also Scriptural proof that Judas’ own free will was not violated1.  Moreover, his wretched choices were made even after being advised and warned of his evil intentions and ill fate.

This brings us to the question of Judas’ damnation or salvation.  Matthew 27:3-5 reveals that when he saw Jesus being taken to Pilate, Judas regretted his betrayal, but he did not repent.  And his immediate actions indicate that he remained unsaved from damnation, for in his guilt he returns the blood money he had accepted and then hangs himself.  He never asks for mercy or to be forgiven.  Such is the conduct of a despairing guilt-ridden conscience and anguishing spirit, not a renewed conscience and forgiven spirit.  Even Judas’ admission “I have sinned” is not a confession to faith, it is merely an accurate observation.  Also, during one of Jesus’ prayers to His Father He refers to Judas as “the son of perdition” (John17:12), meaning one who is headed toward destruction and personal ruin.  Although His prayer was prophetic in nature, Jesus’ foreknowledge did not rob Judas of his self-determination- Judas’ own actions continually confirmed his own rebellion.

In contrast to Judas there is Simon Peter, who chose to pursue Christ in spite of his own obstinacy.  Peter discerns early in his discipleship that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but stumbles habitually through being directly influenced by Satan and rebuking Jesus, denying any association with Jesus, cutting off the ear of a high priest’s servant, and failing to watch and pray during Jesus’ most critical hour of need2.

Yet where Judas failed, Peter excelled in that he placed his faith in the Person of Christ rather than in himself or an ideal.  And Peter never lost sight of Who Jesus was or the salvation Jesus offered, humbly owning his personal flaws and striving to grow in Christ’s grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18)3.  Herein, Peter remained free of the shackles of remorse.  In the fullness of his time, the apostle Peter accomplished his mission for the Kingdom and gave his life by taking up his own cross and dying upon it.

We each have a cross to bear as we follow Jesus Christ, and though we may not be crucified upon our “crosses” we must surely crucify our flesh daily and entreat the Spirit to empower us to also fulfill the Law, by loving God and loving others.  Jesus’ spiritual authority was in direct proportion to His intimacy with the Father, thus our spiritual authority will be in direct proportion to our intimacy with Jesus…

Endnotes:

  1. John 6:70-71; 13:10-11, 18, 21-27; Matt. 26:25, 50
  2. John 6:68-69; Matt. 16:22-23; 26:69-75; John 18:10; Mark 14:37-42
  3. Acts 2:14-41; 3:1-10; 1 Peter 4:1-2

 

  • Jpower-of-forgivenesson Birch is cofounder of Recover Church, a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologeticswere the pillars of Christianity. He is also the author of Simplifying the Complex.

    For more information visit veritasunum.org.

 

Forgiveness is Not Optional

Candy Abbott

“Pray for me to be able to forgive my husband,” Kitty confided as she took a seat in a chair that our Sisters in Christ affectionately call “The Lord’s Lap.” Two other prayer partners and I stood over her. “Pray for my attitude,” Kitty added as we gently laid our hands on her head and shoulders.

Words formed in my Spirit, and I sensed a prophetic message coming—something new to me. When I opened my mouth to repeat what my spirit heard, my own voice startled me. It came out loud and authoritative—a booming, amplified sound—that originated not from my mind but from the very depths of my being. I was as eager to learn the profound truth I was about to utter as Kitty must have been. The message came haltingly, one word or phrase at a time, and I spoke it as it came:

“Forgiveness.”

“Is not.”

“A nice thing.”

What? I could barely breathe. That makes no sense!

During the pregnant pause while I stood there feeling like a fool with “Forgiveness is not a nice thing” hanging in the air, rather than interject some flimsy explanation of my own, I waited. The women waited. And then the Lord formed the remaining words in my spirit:

“. . . It is required of all who call themselves My children.”

I can’t speak for Kitty, but those words changed my life. Since that day, I began to see forgiveness as mandatory, not something I could take or leave based on how heavy or light the offense. Over the years, I have learned to forgive quickly and thoroughly, which is so freeing! People can say and do horrendous things, but the pain they inflict, intentional or unintentional, has no hold on me. Forgiveness breaks its power. To nurse a grievance and rehash it only serves to keep me stirred up and in bondage. Some things are easier to relinquish than others. On occasion, I may still wallow in the injustice for a few days—but the sooner I forgive, the sooner I am able to go on my merry way, unencumbered.

I had the privilege of working with a man known for his positive influence and ability to get things done. For two decades, I enjoyed working side-by-side with him. But then he changed. He suffered multiple health problems and nearly died. After surviving emergency surgery, he had a miraculous recovery and returned to work. But instead of his optimistic self, my co-workers and I quickly realized his personality had become, well, tyrannical. Critical and demanding, I felt the brunt of his verbal abuse day-in and day-out. So, every day, I had the choice to let his remarks wound me and keep score of the incidents—or forgive him often and thoroughly. After all, there would be more the next day, and the day after that. I couldn’t afford to let these things consume me or I would become bitter and tied up in knots . . . and what kind of Christian witness would that be?

Other co-workers felt the sting, too, and looked to me as an emotional barometer. “How is he today?” “How do you do it—how do you stay so relaxed and cheerful when it’s like walking on egg shells around here?”

I’d say things like, “Forgive is an action verb.” I put this and other positive sayings on cards and kept them in my desk drawer for quick reference. On occasion, I handed them out.

Never have I been so dependent on my Bible. In clinging to it, I discovered that I couldn’t forgive by my own determination. For it to be authentic, I had to be connected to the Vine and let the Lord do the forgiving in and through me (see John 15:5).

I prayed the Fruit of the Spirit for my co-worker (see Galatians 5:22-23). Every day for one week, I would ask the Lord to grow “love” in him . . . the next week, “joy” . . . the next week, “peace” . . . “patience,” etc. There seemed to be fewer incidents during those weeks—my co-worker seemed less confrontational. Others commented that the atmosphere had changed. Whether God was working in my co-worker, I can’t say, but by exhibiting these qualities, the Holy Spirit impacted my own attitude and perspective. If insults or barbs came my way, I practiced letting them roll off. After a while, these things no longer penetrated my peace of mind. It became “normal” for me to not take offense.

My co-worker didn’t ask to be this way. I doubt if he even knew how his behavior affected those around him. But even if he were the kind of person who took pride in being annoying and cantankerous, it wouldn’t make any difference. We all have faults and needs. I read something once that has stayed with me: “People who are the most obnoxious are the ones who need love the most.”

Seven Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing with a Difficult Person:

  1. Commit to forgive. If you are a child of God, forgiveness is not optional, nor is it easy. But it is beneficial. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).
  2. Forgive quickly. Don’t let the hurt and anger fester or you will be in bondage, giving power to others’ negative words or actions. “If you are angry, do not let it become sin. Get over your anger before the day is finished” (Ephesians 4:6 NLV).
  3. Stay in your Bible. Get a red-letter edition, and read the words of Jesus. Savor them. Let them breathe life and peace into you as you embrace the very mind of Christ. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” (Romans 15:5 NIV).
  4. Pray for those who irritate or torment you. Nothing will help you flip the switch from anger to compassion faster than praying blessings on those you’d rather smack in the face. Take it to the Lord in prayer. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44 NIV).
  5. Be kind. If it doesn’t come naturally to show kindness to a mean-spirited person, think in terms of killing him or her with kindness. When we practice forgiveness, we preach without words. The tone you set may even serve as a catalyst that will inspire other someone else to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).
  6. Remember, it’s not about you. Forgiveness is not about you and your emotional pain. It’s about God’s sacrificial love and your willingness to apply His example to your life. As a child of God, you are required to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [yourself], not looking to your own interests but . . . to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
  7. Forgive in God’s strength, not your own. To forgive as far as east is from west, you’ll need divine intervention. Connect to Christ at a root level, and let Him do the work. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:5, 10 NIV).

seasoned-with-salt

Candy Abbott is an author, publisher, inspirational speaker, and grandmom. But most of all, she sees herself as a “fruitbearer” as it is her life’s goal to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in all that she does. She began writing in 1983, around the same time she co-founded Sisters in Christ. Candy is a charter member of Southern Delaware Toastmasters, elder and deacon at the Georgetown Presbyterian Church, director of the annual Fruitbearer conference, founder of Delmarva Christian Writers’ Fellowship, and president of the Delaware Association of American Mothers. She and her husband Drew own and operate Fruitbearer Publishing, LLC. They have three children and four grandchildren, all in close proximity to their home in Georgetown, DE. Visit www.fruitbearer.com or www.fruitbearerevents.com.

Forgiveness Unplugged

Troy’s View:

marriage 2.jpg    Defining forgiveness can be accomplished in many ways, utilizing a variety of metaphors and word pictures; but what comes to mind as I color forgiveness in my own thinking involves birds.  There is nothing more sad then seeing a flightless bird struggle on the ground because it has injured its wing.  It is vulnerable to predators and will soon die if it is not relieved.

Forgiveness is like giving flight to a helpless sparrow.  When people commit wrongdoings they become weighted under the guilt of their offenses.  To forgive is to give the guilty fresh wings.  The art of forgiveness is a skill that we discover many times throughout our life.  A life of forgiving cannot be ignored for it is typically a daily adventure that becomes so common place that it is often taken for granted, ignored, and regulated to everyday life.  Rarely do we see the practice of forgiveness as a spiritual enterprise that is shaping who we are and who we are becoming.

To forgive is to embrace our own humanity, acknowledging the simple yet profound truth that each of us is capable of any crime and any offense.  The statement “I can’t believe you did that!” or “I can’t believe you said that” disconnects us from the fullness of forgiveness because it sets the stage for pride and superiority.  In truth, as we approach forgiveness, we should say within ourselves, “Yes, I can see how you would do that or say that because I too am human.”

Concerning marriage, one could view it like a studio in which couples learn to paint.  Sharing forgiveness with your spouse allows you to become the rescuer of the wounded bird, giving your spouse the ability to heal and fly again.

Dionne’s View: 

When I was a child, I thought forgiveness was something that was owed to me if I simply said, “I’m sorry” (even if I had my fingers crossed behind my back).  As a young adult, I understood forgiveness to be something that I gave to someone if they begged and pleaded for it and then promised to never hurt or disappoint me again in life.  And you know what that got me?  More hurt and disappointment.

Now, as a married woman of 22 years, I have discovered a new way of viewing forgiveness.  The compound word forgive contains two words: FOR and GIVE.  Depending on the situation, I now say, “FOR the sake of our friendship, I will GIVE you understanding.”  “FOR the sake of our children, I will to GIVE you the benefit of the doubt.”  “FOR the sake of your heart for me, I will GIVE you grace.”  “FOR the sake of the forgiveness I have received from Jesus Christ, I will GIVE you an extra dose of love.”  Etc, etc, etc.  You fill in the blanks.  Looking at forgiveness in this way has empowered me to be generous with this special gift.

So you may be asking, “But what can my spouse and I do so that we don’t find ourselves needing forgiveness so much?”  Here are a few tools we have used over the years that have been beneficial for our relationship.

Forgiving Yourself

It is impossible to completely forgive another if we cannot forgive ourselves.  Self-forgiveness is like self-love.  Jesus said that we are to love others as we love ourselves.  He was operating under the assumption that we naturally love and care for ourselves.  In order to do the same with forgiveness, we must lose our false ideas of perfection.  This side of heaven, we will never be perfect.  Sin will be part of our story until we meet God.  This does not mean that we treat sin lightly, but it should mean that we forgive ourselves abundantly and often.

It has been my experience that I have discovered God’s grace for me only after some bout with failure.  Jesus has whispered His love to my heart in moments of weakness and wrongdoing and reminded me of His eternal commitment to me.  Yet, at times, I have failed to forgive myself.  If I am to extend the kindness of forgiveness to Dionne, I should frequently give it to myself.  God already has forgiven me and if I resist self-forgiveness, it weakens the forgiveness I offer to my wife.

Checking-In

One of the greatest tools that Dionne and I have used over the years is something we call checking-in.  We have always been intrigued by how couples communicate in public.  Together we have witnessed many good moments when spouses honor one another with kind, respectful words and warm touches.  We have also witnessed the opposite where couples criticize each other and demean a person’s character.

It is not difficult to imagine why some struggle in their relationships particularly if it is so easy to treat one another with disrespect around others.  After recognizing this for a while, we decided to always ask each other if anything was said or done that made the other feel uncomfortable or disrespected.  We simply take turns asking, “Did I say or do anything that bothered you tonight?”  This has been so very valuable for us.  There have been times when I had to tell Dionne that I didn’t like it when she interrupted me in the middle of a conversation, and she has had to tell me that she did not like a particular comment or joke.  We answer each other honestly and quickly, not giving the issue time to grow.  We have made this such a habit that we instinctively became good at not having many offenses between us.

Often it is the little things that produce problems in a relationship – like little foxes that spoil the vine.  If we can learn to end problems before they begin, we will find ourselves needing to forgive less and enjoy one another more.

Vault Talk:

When I think about vaults, I picture Fort Knox or, on a smaller scale, a safety deposit box at a bank.  These vaults contain very precious treasures and only a few people have access to them.  Over the years, we have developed a vault where either of us can share anything without risk of judgment or condemnation.

For a moment, we take off the husband/wife hat and become honest friends.  During this time of sharing, there is no fear of rejection or abandonment.  The pressure of hurting the other’s feelings or creating an argument is lifted.  It is simply a space to be completely vulnerable and transparent when dealing with a topic that isn’t normally involved in everyday life.  After the conversation has ended and closure is achieved, it is locked away in the vault, accruing value, only to be brought out and cashed in when mutually agreed upon by both of us.

So, what kinds of conversations deserve to go in the vault?  Here’s one.  After being a stay-at-homeschooling mom for 11 years, I went to work at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  I loved my job and felt a new sense of accomplishment.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the attention I started to receive from males on campus.  Whether it was a professor or a college student, this interest affected me.  It was time to go the vault.

I told Troy that we needed to go to the vault when he was ready.  Once ‘there’ I was able to freely share how it all made me feel great about myself, how I momentarily thought about what clothes I would wear to work, etc.  The beauty of having this vault talk was that before we even began, our guards were down.  I wasn’t worried that I would somehow make Troy feel inadequate as a husband and he wasn’t tempted to say something like, “WHAT! I don’t give you enough attention??!!”  Instead, he listened like a friend and encouraged me like a sister.

Once this was locked away, we were stronger as husband and wife. Now, you must know that this concept only works if you are completely honest the first time you go to the vault.  You can’t say, “Remember that vault talk we had five months ago about x, y, and z?  Well, a, b, and c also happened and I’m telling you now because…”  This scenario is a recipe for disaster!

Acceptance vs. Forgiveness

Another tool that has been useful for us is learning the difference between when acceptance is needed versus forgiveness.

Many times I was trying to find it in my heart to forgive Troy, when really, I needed to accept the beautiful creation God had formed in him. This comes easier with time as you get to know one another.  Each time you check-in after being in the company of others, or have a vault conversation, you are growing in your understanding of one another.  The deeper this understanding goes, the easier it is to trust the other person’s heart and diffuse offense before it has a chance to turn into a situation where forgiveness is needed.

I remember a time when Troy and I were at the store.  We decided to split up to get one or two items and meet back at line 12.  Well, I got my item and was at line 12 in no time.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  I realized I had a choice to make.  I could have stomped through the store trying to find him, stayed there fixing the look on my face so when he finally turned the corner he would know how mad I was, or I could’ve had a talk with myself, reminding me of his heart for me and how he would never want me waiting alone like this unless it was for something important.

So, I picked up a magazine and waited some more.  Sure enough, when he got to me, he quickly apologized then explained who he was talking to and why.  Thankfully, I was already in a good place mentally and I had an opportunity to re-accept why I love him so much in the first place- he generously gives himself to people.  Because I accepted him, he didn’t have to beg for forgiveness.  We were at peace.

Beyond Religion

As we think about the many layers of forgiveness, it is important that we rid ourselves of religious language and legalism that actually prevents forgiveness.  It is very easy to hide behind religious activity and never truly forgive or ask for forgiveness.  Religion in some forms can mistakenly give us a license to be dishonest.

Growing up in church, everyone seemed to ‘have it all together.’  You’ve heard it said that people wear their best masks to church.  But what would happen in the church if married couples could be honest about what is happening in their relationships without the fear of judgment or rejection?  How many homes could be saved if more honesty was expressed?  What would happen if we learned to be vulnerable with our fears, temptations, failures, and triumphs?  Could we begin to see statistics move in a more positive direction?  Let’s endeavor to have honest, caring, and healing relationships so we can soar… just like the birds.

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Pastor Troy and Dionne have served the congregation of Freshwater Dream Center for 6 years.  They fellowship at 921 Mt. Hermon Rd. Salisbury, MD 21804.  For more info visit: freshdreams.org