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The First Denial

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’” -Mark 14:30ESV

On hearing Jesus’ statement that they would all fall away, Peter and the remaining disciples all declared emphatically that they would be loyal to Jesus no matter what. Peter went so far as to vow that he’d be faithful even if everyone else was not. This, of course, is when Jesus told Peter he’d deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought, and I’ve decided I don’t think Jesus meant this as an accusation. I don’t see Him pointing His finger in Peter’s face and shaming him or the other disciples. And I don’t really think that He was expressing disappointment in Peter and the other disciples either; He knew them better than they knew themselves. How could they have ever let Him down if He never expected them to stay faithful? In fact, for this reason, I’m not even sure Jesus’ words to Peter had to have been a set in stone prophecy. (Stay with me here.)

What if . . . really . . . what if, instead of becoming defensive, arguing with Jesus, and adamantly declaring his loyalty a second time, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31), what if Peter had stopped to think about Jesus’ words? What if, instead of saying never, Peter had said, “I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me!”?

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was making a simple statement about Peter’s character as Jesus knew it, letting Peter know what would emerge from his nature if Peter refused to listen, learn, and change. If that was the case, then maybe, just maybe, if Peter had paid attention and taken Jesus’ words as a warning to heed, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have denied Jesus at all. Peter’s refusal to do so was his first denial—a denial of the truth about Himself that Jesus had graciously revealed—a truth that quite possibly could have been changed had Peter accepted it and asked for Jesus’ help.

I wonder if maybe this is why Jesus later asked Peter three times if he loved Him. (See John 21:15-17.) This passage is often referred to as Peter’s reinstatement. Through the dialogue, Jesus takes action to forgive Peter by restoring their relationship and recommissioning Peter to serve. I’ve heard it taught that perhaps Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times because Peter denied Him three times. I know that Jesus used different Greek words for love within the dialogue, both translated the same in English. And I’ve heard a few different explanations about why He may have done this.

But . . . what if . . . also . . . Jesus simply wanted Peter to slow down this time before giving an impulsive answer, before making a declaration that time would prove he didn’t really mean?

Jesus loved Peter. He told Peter what he needed to know about himself, so that he could be aware and make better, more informed choices. So that Peter could change. When Peter denied the truth about himself, resulting in his denial of Christ, Jesus graciously gave him another opportunity to see and process truth, so Peter could grow into the person God intended him to be.

Jesus does the same for us. He warns us, so we can make better choices. He reinstates us when we fail. He loves us and patiently leads us, helping us mature into the people we were meant to be.

Lord, You know me better than I know myself. When you reveal character flaws that could lead to sin, help me slow down and listen. Help me change, so my actions will honor, not hurt, You. And thank You for loving, patient, restoration whenever I fail. I’m following You, Lord. I love You. Amen.

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Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

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A Prayer about God’s Way

Romans 5-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8

Lord, how did you do this? I really need to know. While we were still sinners, while we were at our very worst, knowing all that we had done, were doing, would do, and still have yet to do, You chose to give Your life for us—to give us hope, to make it possible for us to live as children in Your Kingdom now and to enjoy eternity with You forever.

What an amazing and absolutely undeserved gift! I thank You, Lord. Forever, I thank You.

But how did You do this? We hurt You, Lord! We still hurt You today. Even those of us who love You and live for You and serve You sometimes fail. And so many aren’t even trying, won’t hear Your voice, have no interest in Your will or believe that You are there.

When people hurt me, Lord, I build walls. My natural inclination is to protect myself from anyone who causes my heart pain.

But this is not Your way. And I know Your way is better. So teach me, Lord. I’m listening. Please help me understand.

Your Word says that You know how we are formed. You remember that we are dust. (See Psalm 103:14). Is this the key, Lord? You know that we are human, prone to act according to our own interests instead of in obedience to You. You know that our understanding is limited, our instincts hard to recognize and overcome. We are children still learning so much; there is so much to learn.

Is knowing this what gives You such fathomless compassion, grace, patience . . .

Hope?

Do You view us with hope, Lord? Not hope that we might be okay, like children hope they might get something for Christmas, but with that certain-knowledge-of-a-future-in-Heaven-with-You type of hope that You give to us once we chose to become Yours? No matter how we’re behaving now, You know how we’re going to turn out. Is that a kind of hope? Is hope something You can do?

Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before [Jesus], he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus endured great suffering and humiliation because of the joy that He knew would follow someday. That sounds like looking forward with certain hope to me.

Whether the terminology is right or not, it’s not something I can enjoy or apply to my relationships with difficult people. I don’t know how they will turn out. You haven’t chosen to reveal that to me. (I can see how that may be a good thing.)

But I do know that we are all formed in Your image and that we are all works in progress in Your hands—still dust. And because I know we are all in Your hands . . . and You love us . . . and You are faithful, able, and good, I can trust You, follow You, obey. I can choose to do right even when other people don’t. How else will they ever see You through me?

You loved the world so much You gave Your one and only Son that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. (See John 3:16.) I live not to protect myself from harm but to trust You with my life no matter what so that “whoever”—no matter how sinful, hurtful, or hateful—may come to believe in Jesus and enjoy eternal life with You some day.

I do want all people to come to know You, Lord. Yet sometimes I struggle over being the one You call to love them in Your name—especially if they happen to be hurting me through the process. Please continue to help me with this. In doing whatever You lead me to do, I’m learning to trust You with me.

Lord, thank You for loving so much—for sending Jesus to make our salvation possible, to teach us how to live. Help us to follow His example, loving others for Your sake. We love You, Lord. Our lives are Yours. Always. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Thanking God for What He Gives Us to Give

Thankful Giving

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”Matthew 26:26

A new thought occurred to me when I read this passage yesterday morning. As many times as I’ve read the story of the Last Supper and heard it read during communion celebrations at church, I’m surprised—and thrilled—to have a new concept to consider. For me, it has come at just the right time. (Our God tends to work that way.) My husband and I are fairly new empty-nesters, entering what some generational researchers are starting to call our second adulthood. It’s a tempting time, a time when people are tempted to say, “We’re done! Let’s go play for the rest of our lives.” But we’ve still got a lot of life left in us—at least we still feel like we do—most days. We’re asking God how He wants us to spend this next phase of our life and thanking Him for every opportunity to serve.

This is how Jesus taught His followers to live. His actions at the Last Supper are the prime example for all of us.

Matthew 26:26 tells us that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. I’ve always pictured this as Him saying grace before the meal, thanking God for the food as many of us do. But what I noticed yesterday was that, in this instance, Jesus didn’t give thanks for what He was about to receive, like we do at meals. He wasn’t simply and routinely thanking God for food that He was getting ready to ingest. Look more closely here. He gave thanks for what was already His, for what He was able and preparing to give—His life for us. Jesus gave thanks—then He gave.

Jesus gave thanks for the bread that represented His body which He gave away. He gave thanks not for what He had to keep for Himself but for what God had given Him to give away— to save everyone else.

It occurs to me that if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to realize that life isn’t about collecting and keeping and giving thanks for what we claim as ours. It’s about thanking God for the resources He provides that enable us to participate in His plan to provide for others wherever we see a need: our money, our time, our strength, our ideas, anything we think we possess. We trust God to care for us; we use His gifts to care for others in His name. And we celebrate the blessing of being able to do so. We give God our thanks.

First Peter 4:10 says it this way: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

What gifts has God given you that you can thank Him for and give away in Jesus’ name? Ask Him for what purpose He has graciously placed various resources in your care. Ask Him to help you use them to meet needs, and thank Him for every opportunity you seize.

Father, thank You for all of the resources You’ve entrusted to our care. Show us how to share them for the benefit of others, for the health of Your Kingdom now. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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Finding Grace for Me

Finding Grace for Me“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”Psalm 103:8-9

My philosophy of illness and injury doesn’t always work out well for me. While I’m usually pretty compassionate with others, telling them to take it easy and get the rest they need, so they can recover more quickly, I’m more likely to tell myself to just walk it off. In fact, I read somewhere that you can run off a cold, so I try to keep up with my running routine even if I have to stop every few steps to blow my nose. I try to keep up with all of my other expectations for myself, too, believing on some level that if I stop to rest, I’ll succumb to the illness or injury. I’d rather outrun it.

But like I said, this doesn’t always work out well for me. This week I had to give in and rest.

I haven’t been happy about this.

At first, I tried to console myself with the thought that forced relaxation was giving me an excuse to enjoy more guilt-free reading time. But even as I was saturating my mind in great books—really great books!—I was scolding myself for not being more disciplined. The floor needed to be vacuumed. I had a blog post to write. Minimum maintenance was not enough! My lecture to myself went on and on.

Then one of the authors of one of those great books I was reading included Psalm 103 in his work, and God drew my attention to the beginning of verse 9: He will not always chide.

Psalm 103 is one of the most beautiful expositions of the character of God and His stance toward His children one can find in the whole Bible. (If you haven’t read it in a while, click here to read it in the English Standard Version at BibleGateway.) It reveals His justice and righteous, His mercy and grace, His love and compassion and patience—all given in perfect parental balance. He expects obedience because He wants what is best for us, yet He remembers that we are dust and provides for us what we cannot while helping us grow stronger every day.

He will not always chide. He knows that would only discourage us. There will always be something we can improve on.

When I realized that I was expecting more of myself than God expects of me, I stopped. He and I had a long talk about the situation. God helped me to see that though I was calling myself undisciplined, there are some things I am extremely disciplined about—even in illness. And so I made a list.

It’s what I do.

I made a list of everything I expect or want myself to do routinely. Then I put stars by the ones I’m already disciplined about, activities I do so routinely that I can’t even imagine not doing them. There were quite a few, and most of these were the ones I would consider most important on the list. I realized that labelling myself undisciplined, especially while sick, was unfair and untrue. I may struggle to be disciplined in a few areas of my life, but generally, I am a disciplined person.

Realizing this, I decided to stop scolding myself. Instead I tried offering myself the grace that God already gave.

From that stance, God and I went over the rest of my list together. I chose one item on the list to focus on for now. My goal will be to incorporate it into my routine as diligently as the items that I’ve already put stars beside. At the same time, I’ll still be aware of the other items on my list. I’ll keep trying to incorporate those as well, but, with God’s help, I will remember that though I’m not doing these as perfectly as I’d like to, I am doing them well enough. At some point in the future, as God leads, when my current focus item has become something I can’t imagine not doing routinely, I’ll turn my focus to another item on my list.

And when I can’t get to everything, I will not chide. Instead I’ll seek God’s grace toward me.

  • In what area of your life is God offering grace while you are not?
  • What do you tend to chide yourself about?
  • What will you do to discover God’s opinion on the matter?
  • How is He calling you to obey?

Father, sometimes I expect too much of myself. I expect myself to be able to do what I would never expect, counsel, or even want other people to do, knowing it is too much. I expect more of me than even You do—and You know what I’m capable of. You created me. You know me better than I know myself. You have good plans for me. You love me just as I am. When I catch myself chiding myself, draw my attention to You. Help me to seek Your opinion on the matter and to respond obediently. I guess obedience isn’t being more perfect than I am. It’s humbly doing what I can as You lead—and trusting You with the rest. Please help me with this. I thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Grace: The Stuff of Which Priceless Pearls are Made

Grace is The Stuff“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. I wait for your salvation, Lord, and I follow your commands.”Psalm 119:165-166

As I continue to study the topic of grace in my weekly Bible study group, I’ve been presented with many examples of people trying to find the grace to forgive the big stuff—the seemingly unforgivable, usually one-time, wrongs. At the same time, I’m trying to figure out how to come up with the grace to forgive little irritants—recurring annoyances that I must encounter again and again. Sometimes we are bound to people or circumstances that cause us much stress. How do we respond with grace?

My husband’s and my current irritant is an oppressive property manager. Before signing our lease, we read it carefully and asked many questions about everything that concerned us. Once we were sure we understood what we were getting into, we signed. This was about two weeks before we actually moved in. When we arrived in town and went to pick up our keys, however, the property manager presented us with one more paper to sign. This paper had all the deal breakers on it. Had he been up front with us, we never would have signed the lease. Yet our choice at that point, he made clear, was to sign and proceed on his terms or refuse to sign, forfeit our security deposit, six weeks rent, and non-refundable pet fee, and find ourselves without a home.

We signed under duress.

Most of the time it is okay. We love the house. But once or twice a month we have to deal with property-manager-related irritations. If he would leave us alone, we’d happily live here for three or four years and prove to be among the best tenants ever. As it is, once our lease is up, he’ll probably be looking for someone else to live in this house. Those last minute additions to our lease are just. that. annoying.

When I think of this situation, I pray for grace. Lots of grace! Here is what God is helping me to understand:

Irritants like our property manager are like the grains of sand that get into an oyster’s shell. The sand irritates the delicate oyster, but there’s nothing the oyster can do to get the sand out of the shell. Instead, the oyster produces some kind of secretion to coat the sand and ease the pain. Every time the sand irritates, the oyster adds another layer until a pearl is formed. Naturally, the greater irritations produce the largest pearls.

This is grace. When I feel irritation building up inside of me, I ask God to help me wrap it in grace. The grace doesn’t come from inside of me, though. I must go to God for what I need. He calms me down and comforts me. A pearl is born. If the irritation won’t go away, I must go to God again and again. The pearl grows every time I do. It occurs to me that this process works, over time, whether I’m dealing with a recurring, little irritation or trying to forgive a huge, unforgivable-in-my-own-strength sin. In either case, when I feel pain, I go to God and ask for more of His grace.

I saw this in action this morning as I read through Psalm 119. I’ve always seen this Psalm as a tribute to God’s Wisdom, praise for His Word—for His Law. This morning, though, I noticed there are actually two recurrent, almost parallel, themes. Along with expressing his devotion to God’s Law, the psalmist is pleading for salvation, deliverance, and freedom from oppression. This man was dealing with a serious irritant. Yet he responded by declaring his devotion to God, his loyalty to God’s law, his love for God’s Word as he asked for relief.

We can do this, too. No earthly oppressor has any kind of ultimate authority over us. We are members of God’s Kingdom. In His perfect timing, He will fight for us. He will set us free. When we look at any annoying, aggravating, or troubling situation from that perspective, the irritant seems to shrink. In fact, we can almost laugh at some; our God is just. that. BIG!

Paul wrote about this when he told the Corinthians about his thorn. We don’t know what this thorn was, but it irritated Paul. Three times, he asked God to take it away, but God refused. His reply to Paul was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is a challenging passage, but I think I’m starting to get it now. God’s grace is the stuff we ask for when we need comfort from the pain of life’s thorns. As the grace builds up, beautiful pearls are born and grow for the glory of God’s name.

In a future post, I’ll write a little more about how these pearls bring glory to God’s name. In the meantime, I’m still calling on God for grace in irritating situations.

  • What are you asking God to take away or free you from?
  • How can you remind yourself to go to God for grace when something irritates?
  • How has He comforted you in troubling circumstances that you have no immediate power to change?

Father, thorns are ugly and painful, yet sometimes we choose to endure the pain and complain. Please remind us that You have all the grace we need for any situation. We only have to come to you. Please comfort us until You choose to set us free. Create a beautiful pearl in our lives for all the world to see. Thank You, Lord, for grace. Amen.

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Gracefully Removing the Labels That Hurt

Ugly LabelIn my current Bible study class, we’re studying the topic of grace. In this past week’s lesson, we looked at the story of The Woman Caught in Adultery. You can read the story here if you are not familiar with it.

To summarize, this woman was dragged before Jesus by a group of legalistic religious leaders who were using her to trap Jesus. They wanted to know if He would enforce the letter of the law and have her stoned or deny the law and condemn Himself. They thought they’d wrangled Jesus into a no-win situation. But Jesus simply told them to let whoever among them who was without sin throw the first stone. The crowd slowly dispersed. When the woman realized that no one had condemned her, Jesus told her that He wouldn’t condemn her either. He told her to go and sin no more.

At this point in the lesson, our group leader asked us what we thought became of the woman. My imagination grabbed hold of that question, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d gone home.

The Bible doesn’t answer this question for us. We like to hope that after an encounter like that . . . with Jesus . . . in person, the woman went away changed, happily following Jesus and living according to His Word.

Realistically, though, this woman would have had some issues to work through. The religious leaders exposed her sin to the whole community. The people hadn’t stoned her, but she bore a label anyway. Adulteress. Dead woman walking by Jesus’ mysterious grace. How did her husband and family feel about her sin? Her lover’s wife and friends? Was she welcome at the Temple? In the market? Or was she branded an outcast? Shunned?

When people receive grace from Jesus and try to change their lives as a result, people who liked the way they were often try to pull them back into sin while people who were hurt by their actions are afraid to trust them. Jesus lifts people like this woman up out of the dirt, telling them to go and sin no more, but other people continue to throw dirt at them behind His back. If they throw enough dirt, people who are trying to change are tempted to give up in despair.

Label of GraceI don’t know if this is what happened to the woman or not. I’d like to hope everyone there was changed by that encounter with Jesus that day. I’d also like to hope that, even if the crowd wasn’t changed, the woman knew Jesus forgave her and found His grace to be enough. (It is, you know. This is true.) I hope that, if this woman did find herself a Scarlet Letter outcast, she chose to leave what she no longer had anyway in order to stay close to Christ. If you are in this situation yourself, clinging to Christ is the key. Let Him strengthen, teach, and encourage you as you pray He’ll also work in the lives of those who are causing you pain. “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.”James 4:8

When I consider this Bible story from the what-happened-next point of view, I realize how important it is to follow Jesus’ example of grace. As His impromptu object lesson revealed, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We find those words in Romans 3:23 followed by these, “and have been justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Justified: Just as if I’d never sinned. I learned that definition so long ago, I don’t even remember where. But it’s a perfect reminder here. When someone receives Jesus’ grace, that grace removes the sin labels. Therefore, our grace has to stop seeing those labels, labels that are no longer there. The shamed and humiliated adulteress has become the beloved daughter of our King. We need to learn to welcome her as our new sister and friend.

Since the afternoon of that Bible study, God has been working hard on me. He’s been bringing names to mind—people from the past, sometimes very long ago, whom I’ve labelled with concrete signs. The labels stick to people who’ve hurt me—or mine. I forgave but left the labels on . . . to protect myself . . . just in case. These labels don’t say things like adulteress. Instead, they say, “Dangerous! Beware.” These labels must come down. I must ask God for the grace to pray them down. I must entrust my heart to His care, and trust His work in their hearts as well.

At the same time, I’m realizing that there may be people out there I’ve hurt. Not intentionally, but maybe through a careless action, a misspoken or misinterpreted word. I’m asking God to give them grace for me—maybe even, if needed, give me the opportunity to make things right. I’m asking God to heal wounds given and received by filling all our hearts with His grace. May all the ugly labels go away.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for the grace You offer. Help us to receive it. Help us to pass it on. We’ve all sinned and fall short of Your glory, but You sent Your Son to make it right. Help us to remember the gift we’ve been given at such great cost. Help us follow Christ’s example toward us. Please make all the ugly labels go away. Help us to see each other as You do, so we can encourage each other along. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Confronting Others God’s Way

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” –Matthew 18:15, NLT

Purple PansyConfronting someone we care about is hard. In fact, the closer we are to a person, the harder a confrontation may be because we fear rejection, hard feelings, even loss of relationship if the discussion is not well-received. That’s why we must carefully consider how we’ll handle confrontation when it’s necessary.

When someone we care about offends us, we have options to consider—lots of options! Sadly, not all of these are healthy, but all of them are hard. In fact, the healthiest choice may actually be the hardest one of all.

Let’s consider some of the ways we may choose to deal with an offense:

1. Retaliation. At first, this probably feels like the easiest option—if not the most tempting. An eye for and eye—a tooth for a tooth. Exact justice so all’s fair. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it?

Not really. Especially if we care about the person we’re getting vengeance on. Now we’ll not only have to suffer with the pain of having been offended but also with the guilt of having offended someone else and, possibly, the end of a relationship. At the least, damage on both sides will have to be repaired. Retaliation may feel good for a moment, but once that moment passes, we’ll have a bigger mess to clean up.

2. Avoidance. This may seem like an easy option, too—unless we live with the one who has caused us pain. Even then, it’s possible to go about our business pretending that what happened didn’t really bother us. Denial can become our happy place! But only for a time.

The trouble is, when we choose avoidance or live in denial, we’re actually waiting for the one who hurt us to come to his or her senses, apologize, and make things right. But how can another do this if he or she doesn’t even know we are hurt? Eventually, we’ll become frustrated and impatient or the unknowing offender will repeat the offense, pushing us to confront in anger or to make our withdrawal from the relationship permanent. If we care about the person who has offended us, we’ll want to avoid this.

3. Gossip. This one disguises itself as asking for help. We go to a disinterested (or overly-interested) third party with the story of our wound, inviting that party to give us advice or intervene on our behalf. At the very least, this newcomer will give us sympathy . . . we believe.

Unfortunately, this only burdens the third party in an unfair way. The matter to be resolved is between the offender and the offended (unless, according to Matthew 18:16, we’ve already confronted our offender, who then refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing). Once we tell our side of the story to a third party, that person will feel obligated to act—to confront for or with us, to talk to the offender to hear his or her side of the story, or to confront us with the offense that we are now guilty of. Worse than that, if the one who offended us learns we’ve talked about the situation to someone else, the offender will feel offended, too. We’ll find ourselves owing two people an apology instead of receiving the apology we believe we deserve. I don’t think any of us wants this.

4. Direct Confrontation. I’ve already said that this may be the hardest option, but it’s the only one that keeps us from committing a wrong ourselves, from taking bitterness or malice inside of ourselves. And, like pulling a bandage off, it will hurt for a moment, but then it will be over. We’ll be able to see healing—even if the offender responds negatively! Just telling someone they’ve hurt us, getting it off our chest, begins to free us of the pain inside and allows us to move forward in a Christ-like way—so long as we’ve confronted in a Christ-like way.

Before we confront, we pray for wisdom. We ask God for the timing and the words and the love we’ll need. We also choose to forgive. We decide to offer grace before we know how the offender will respond. In doing so, we put the value of the person and the relationship above the hurt of the offense. Once we know that our heart is in the right place, we find a convenient time to meet with the one who hurt us and gently and respectfully state our case. Our goal in doing so is understanding, reconciliation, and peace. If the one we are confronting cares about the relationship, he or she will work with us toward that goal. If not, we go back to God for direction from there, knowing we’ve treated our offender as Christ would.

Jesus loved us, forgave us, and offered reconciliation before we even knew we’d done wrong. He gently confronts us by His Spirit and through His Word. Then He leaves the response up to us. When someone we care about hurts us, we can follow His example, asking for His Spirit’s help as we confront . . . in love . . . gently . . . for peace that’s real.

Father, when we need to confront, help us to do so boldly for the sake of the relationship and the good of everyone involved. Amen.

Other verses to consider: Hebrews 12:15, Romans 12:18 (The links will take you to the verses at BibleGateway.)

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The Imaginary Israelite and His Secret Sacrifice

“Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord—that person shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; they have shed blood and must be cut off from their people.” –Leviticus 17:3-4

Pink FlowerBecause being cut off from one’s people is a pretty harsh sentence, I took some time to think about this crime of sacrificing something somewhere other than where God says one can. Not that I’m planning to offer any sacrifices anytime soon. Thanks to Jesus, our Savior, there’s no need for that. But I still wanted to understand this crime and its punishment.

The crime has to do with location and lack of obedience. Imagine that one of the Israelites has sinned, feels guilty about it, and wants to make things right. God has given clear instructions to him on how to do that: bring a sacrifice to the entrance of the tent of meeting to present as an offering to the Lord in front of His tabernacle. This Israelite is more than willing to offer a sacrifice, but he doesn’t want to offer it in front of the tabernacle.

Why?

The answer is probably shame with a healthy dose of pride. This person wants to be rid of sin but doesn’t want to deal with the shame of having sinned. He doesn’t want to admit in public that he’s a sinner. He wants to offer the sacrifice in secret. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after the Fall, he is hiding, even from God.

Unfortunately, it’s not the sacrifice itself that brings forgiveness and cleansing from sin. It’s the going before God. It’s the humble confession and the asking God on His terms which restore relationship and allow us to receive grace.

When our imaginary Israelite offers his sacrifice his way, he isn’t taking his sin to God. Rather, he is trusting in his own actions to save himself from sin. He is offering his sacrifice to a false god he’s created in his mind, one who will let him keep his secrets while privately paying for them. But with the secret stays the shame, and the real God says the shame has to go. That happens only with a public admission of guilt.

And because this person refuses to follow God’s instructions, insisting on doing things his own way, he is declaring himself not one of God’s people. Therefore, God won’t accept his sacrifice. This Israelite, by his own choice, must go on his way.

What’s this mean for us today? As I’ve said, Jesus already offered His own life as the only sacrifice needed for our sin. His was a very public sacrifice, removing all our sin and shame. Therefore, to be part of His Kingdom, we become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) for Him.

  1. We admit that we are sinners; we have sinned. (This does not mean that we always tell everybody everywhere every gruesome detail of anything wrong we’ve ever done. We share those details with discretion, as the Holy Spirit leads, if we need to talk about it in order to heal, if we need someone to hold us accountable so we won’t fall into that sin again, if our story can help someone else to overcome.)
  2. We ask God for forgiveness and for help to always live His way.
  3. We accept Christ as our Savior.
  4. We make a public confession of our faith. (In other words, we tell people what Jesus has done for us and that we’re living in His Kingdom now and for eternity.)
  5. We live for Him every moment of every day.

The Israelites had to offer sacrifices every time they sinned. But Jesus is the only sacrifice that we will ever need. We go to Him daily, however, for the strength and wisdom to live the way He wants us to live, sacrificing any part of our lives that displeases Him, not because that’s what saves us but because we love Him, we’re grateful to Him, and we want our lives to honor His name!

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Jacob’s Confident Prayer

White Flowers“I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.”Genesis 32:10

Jacob was nervous on the night before he encountered his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years. He had reason to be. The last time he’d seen Esau, Jacob had just stolen his blessing. Esau was angry enough to kill, so Jacob ran away from home in order to stay alive.

But Jacob learned some things in twenty years away. As he prepared to renew his acquaintance with his brother, he prayed.

As I read his prayer this morning, I noted Jacob’s approach. First, he tells God that he is returning to his people, including Esau, because God told him to and because God promised to take care of him. In other words, “Lord, You led me to this place. I’m trusting You to keep Your promise.” (See Genesis 32:9.) When we’re acting in obedience, remembering that God is control of the outcome is a good thing to do. God never forgets this, but our verbal affirmation of His role in the operation is significant. It shows our submission to His will, and our decision to trust.

Next, Jacob remembers where he came from and compares it to where he now is, giving God all the credit for the changes in his life. This was the part of the prayer that most caught my attention. Instead of starting out by presenting his urgent request for safety, Jacob praises God for what He’s already done. What’s more, he notes that God chose to bless Jacob not because of anything Jacob had done to make himself worthy of God’s favor, but just because God wanted to.

I wonder if that part of the prayer was more for Jacob’s good than for God. Jacob stated the facts beautifully, and God surely deserved to hear those words from Jacob’s mouth, but Jacob needed to acknowledge those facts, to own up to his shortcomings and to express gratitude for God’s grace. That done, Jacob could present his urgent request for safety with confidence. (See Genesis 32:11.) God had already done so much for Jacob just because He wanted to. Jacob could move forward in trust that God would continue the work He had begun.

  • What are you concerned about today?
  • What has God already done for you?
  • Where have you come from and where are you now?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What work in you has God begun?
  • Where is He leading now?
  • How can you show God that you trust Him with your life?

Father, help us to recall where we’ve been, to trace the path You’ve brought us on so far, and to recognize where we are. We are thankful for all You have done. As You lead us into the future, we have the confidence in You we need to trust. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Cover RevealAnnouncement: I’m giving away two copies of my new book, Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually, one for the winner and one extra for the winner’s friend. To enter this giveaway, click here. To learn more about the book, click here.