Forgive(n)

Jesus answered, _I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times-2

Matthew 18:21-35

If you’ve ever sat down and had a conversation with my dad, he’s probably told you about a restaurant he’s been to. He loves to research unique restaurants in every city we visit. When he falls in love with a new restaurant, whether it’s the hole-in-the-wall diner with the best burgers and apple pie or the breakfast place with cinnamon rolls bigger than your face, he wants to tell everyone about it. When you discover and experience something so special, you have to share it. Forgiveness is the same way.

Being forgiven has got to be the most joyous and freeing thing you have ever experienced. God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, freed you from your bondage, your sin, your shame, and your death. Now, it’s your job to give away that same forgiveness (warning: it’s not quite as easy as talking about giant cinnamon rolls)

Jesus tells a story about a master and his servants that resembles an episode of Downton Abbey, but lacks really good music. A servant owes his master 10,000 bags of gold, a debt he is not able to repay, so the master orders that he gives up everything, including his wife and children, to be sold. The servant begs for forgiveness, and the master cancelled the debt and let him go.

The story takes an unfortunate twist.  The servant encounters a fellow servant who owes him 100 silver coins. The newly freed servant violently chokes the other servant and demands that he pay back his debt. The indebted servant begs for forgiveness, but he was thrown in prison. Those who witnessed the hypocrisy were outraged and reported everything they saw to the master. The master calls the servant he forgave in and says, “You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” The master then handed the servant over to the jailers to be tortured until he paid back all that he owed.

We’re the first servant. We were forgiven by our master for a debt that we could never repay. We’re free, and now a choice is before us: will we forgive those who have done wrong to us? Tread carefully because the consequences of this situation are severe. If we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven. Jesus says that if we don’t forgive our brother or sister, we will be subject to the same treatment as the servant. Forgiveness is hard, but it’s our responsibility to share the joy and freedom that comes with forgiveness.

Think about someone who has hurt you. Maybe they haven’t even sought out forgiveness, but it’s up to you to make the first step. As you experience how hard forgiveness can be, thank God for forgiving you because it wasn’t easy for Him either—He watched His son die for you.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.

-Mackenzie McClain

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God is Still Our Healer

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“The blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). This was true when Jesus said it 2000 years ago and it is still true today. God is alive and active in our world. I hope I have made that clear through my stories this week. He still heals the blind, he still makes the lame man walk, He still cures the leprous, He still makes the deaf hear, and of course we know that He will raise the dead to life.

From the story of the blind man, we learned that God still heals our physical afflictions and healing shouldn’t be our end goal. After you are healed, you need to tell people about it! Our memory verse from Matthew says that the Good News was preached to the poor. We can’t neglect that part of our healing. We need to let others know how Great our God is and let them know that they can receive healing, too.

From the story of legion, we learned that God still heals our mental afflictions. If you have a demon in your life, something that has taken over your every action, God can take that away. Maybe He intends to do that through prayer, like in my story, or maybe He intends to heal you through the knowledge that He has placed in doctors. Once again, we need to be sure to share the good news of our healing once it happens.

From the story of being devoured by a lion, we learned that God still heals our emotional afflictions. God can lift the burdens of this world of our shoulders. Sometimes God doesn’t follow the timetable that we want him to, but that doesn’t mean he has forsaken us.

From the story of regeneration and renewal, we learned that God still heals our spiritual afflictions. Finding forgiveness from God is easy in concept but hard in practice. The Truth will set us free so long as we know the Truth and we continue in the teachings of Jesus. This means turning away from past sin and moving in the right direction.

From the story of the Law, we learned that God still heals us through the observance of His Law. God gave His law to Moses in order to protect the Hebrews from disease. Even though we don’t follow the law of the old testament, the principles still apply in modern medicine. Get check-ups and listen to the doctors that have the knowledge of nature bestowed upon them by the One who created nature.

God is Still Our Healer.

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Regeneration and Renewal

titus 3 5

Titus 3    &    James 5

Two chapters?! They’re both short so I’m sure you’ll have no problem reading both.  I just couldn’t decide which of these chapters I wanted to use to discuss healing of the spirit, so I am going to use them both.

In Titus 3:3, Paul graciously gives us a list of things that we do wrong. There’s no doubt that every one of us can find a few of these words to associate with. These things are why I believe that we all need spiritual healing. You may have heard that term used before by non-Christians, but what I mean by spiritual healing is a little different. I mean the renewing of our minds through forgiveness. I mean the ability to turn away from our sins and start walking in the other direction.

Spiritual healing is easy in concept. We all know that Jesus died for our sins. There is grace overflowing for us. Titus 3:5 says “He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” All we have to do is ask for forgiveness and it will be ours.

But spiritual healing is so hard in practice. So many times, we let our past selves become the master of our present selves. Two things can happen that get in the way of our healing.

First, the sins of our past enslave us and we can’t forgive ourselves. We beat ourselves up for things that we should be able to leave behind. John 8:32 says that the Truth will set you free. If that is true, then why is it so easy to feel tied down? Jesus gives a conditional before saying that you can be free. He says, “know the truth.” The truth can’t set you free if you don’t know the truth. You need to know who Jesus (the Truth) is and you need to know the truth of forgiveness. The truth is asking for forgiveness is easier than feeling forgiveness.

Second, we continue to live in our sin. Remember how Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”? He also said, “Continue in my word.”  If you haven’t truly turned away from your past sins, then of course they are going to continue to rule your life. Once again, this is easy to understand and hard to practice.

In my experience, there is a crucial step that is always overlooked when it comes to spiritual healing. Let’s look to James now, in 5:16. We need to confess our sins, not only to God, but also to each other. We need to hold each other accountable, and you can only do that if you know what your friend is struggling with. James also repeats something that I’ve been saying all week: pray. Pray together for healing because “The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James give us an example of an effective prayer. Elijah prayed that God withhold the rain and God did so. The key point of the example can be easy to miss though. Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours; he faced temptation and sinned just like us. He prayed earnestly, and through his prayer, he was able to do great deeds for God.

Don’t let your past enslave you. Turn from your sin. Confess your sin to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let the Truth set you free.

-Nathaniel Johnson

 

 

The Good News Gospels

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Throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s work with His people.  The ups, and the downs.  His plan through the ages.  And through it all – there were prophecies, predictions and foreshadowing of what was coming – a Savior who would take upon himself the sins of all men and make a way for mankind to be reconciled (brought back together) with God.  Some have counted over 350 Old Testament prophecies of Jesus that are fulfilled in the New Testament, everything from: born in Bethlehem, came out of Egypt, praised while riding on a donkey, performed miraculous healings , not a bone of his body broken, etc…. Jesus fulfills everyone.  He is God’s plan that began in Genesis, or actually before the creation of the world.  And, we have not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 accounts of his life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection in the Old Testament – they are the gospels.  And here’s a little bit about each one:

 

MATTHEW – Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled in Jesus

Matthew is an excellent link between the Old and New Testaments because Matthew is writing particularly to the Jews to convince them that Jesus is the promised Messiah from God, the same Messiah that the Old Testament prophets had said would come.  Matthew, who knew his OT well, included 53 direct quotes and 76 other references to the Old Testament. Matthew, originally a tax collector, left his work to follow Jesus’ call.  He became one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples who were Jesus’ closest students and followers.  His new life mission was to persuade the Jews that the Savior they had been waiting for had arrived and his name is Jesus.  This book is an excellent introduction to Jesus!  Here we read of Jesus’ geneology, his birth, the visit from the Magi, his baptism and temptation, the calling of the disciples, and the great Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  Many more teachings (often about his favorite topic – the coming Kingdom of God) and miracles are included.  Then Jesus is put to death so we can be forgiven, and then miraculously resurrected 3 days later.  In the final verses the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world and make disciples.  And that is just what Matthew did when he wrote about the man who changed his life.

 

MARK – To the Gentiles: A Suffering Servant Has Come

This is the shortest of the 4 gospel books, packed with action, and perhaps written first.  The author, perhaps called John Mark, was not one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, but was likely a close associate of Peter.  It is thought that Mark listened to all of Peter’s preaching about Jesus and carefully recorded them in what would become the book of Mark.  Mark would also accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.  This book was written to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience – perhaps specifically the church in Rome, at a time (60 AD) when powerful Rome was persecuting Christian believers.  It was important that the church be strong in their understanding of who Jesus was and what he did.  In the book of Mark we read of Jesus healing the sick, controlling nature and battling the powers of Satan.  And yet, the Jewish leaders plot to kill him (and do), his neighbors don’t understand him and his family thinks he is crazy.  Jesus is the Ultimate Suffering Servant – with his life – and his death.  Mark is perhaps preparing the church for a little suffering of their own.

 

LUKE – Jesus is Savior of ALL – Jew and Gentile

The author, Luke, was likely a Gentile by birth, and a well-educated doctor.  He also was known as the missionary Paul’s dear friend and fellow missionary.  His introduction states: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may now the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (1:1-4).  Luke was writing to not only tell of Jesus, to strengthen the believers’ faith, but also to assure people that Jesus had come to save the lost – both Jew and Gentile.  He is the only gospel writer to include several parables (one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach using earthly stories with earthly meanings) including: the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son.

 

JOHN – Jesus is the Son of God who Saves

The author is likely John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, and the one sometimes called, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John and James had left the family fishing business when Jesus called them to follow him.  They would become 2 of the 12 disciples.  This gospel is the most unlike the other 3 gospels.  Over 90% of John is not found in the other gospels.  John does not include any of Jesus’ parables, or his birth or temptation or ascension.  Instead, he emphasizes who Jesus was – the Son of God.  He includes only 8 miracles, 6 of which are not recorded elsewhere (including water to wine and the raising of Lazarus).  John includes many of Jesus’ “I Am” statements explaining Jesus and his mission.  “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).  “I am the bread of life” (6:35).  “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (14:6).  And John is the only author to include the Upper Room Discourse (chapters 14-17) which was Jesus’ last teaching to his 12, as well as his prayers for himself, his disciples and all believers who would follow – including you.

 

 

How many people today think they know who Jesus was – but haven’t read the gospel accounts?  Read them to see God’s plan in action.  See for yourself Jesus’ love and compassion for the lost, as well as his insistence for a changed life (go and sin no more – John 8:11).  See his love for His Father and his commitment to God’s Word and His Will.  See his excitement and teaching about the Kingdom of God and who will be a part of it.  To properly carry on your mission from God – you MUST be in tune with what Jesus’ mission was.  Find it – in the gospels – and you too can share in God’s good news – for yourself and for your hearers.

 

Seek His Mission,

Marcia Railton

 

Come back tomorrow – we will have just one book to cover as we see the history of the early church.  What will they do when Jesus is no longer in their physical midst?

Don’t Look Back

Acts 13 38

Acts 13 

Isn’t that what this is all about? The best gift – freedom and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. People had been waiting for him for years and now they were finally preaching about it, sharing the good news. Could you imagine being alive back then and reading the stories from the prophets and then finally hearing about Jesus? People had been talking, speculating, doubting, waiting, and anticipating him for YEARS. It is such a confirmation to our faith, it would be impossible not to talk about it!

In Acts 13, Saul, who is now called Paul, is on a mission to proclaim the gospel and he is not looking back. It’s crazy to think about the person he was just a few chapters ago. He is a great example of how we should approach our own missions. We die to ourselves, find our identity in Christ, and don’t look back. We have a lot to proclaim and not a lot of time, so worrying about who we once were will only hinder us!

-Grace Rodgers

New and Improved!

Hebrews 8

Hebrews 8_10

Today we get to look at a short chapter that is pretty packed!  I really enjoy how this chapter is laid out; it makes it easy to pick out what is being said. As a college student, I love when authors give you a heads up by saying, “Here’s the main point!”.  It’s like they are pointing flashing arrows at key concepts that will be on the test later.  Not that there is necessarily going to be a written exam at the end of this book… but we are definitely expected to know what is going on here!  Verse 1 and 2 clues us in as to what the author is trying to get at.  We have a high priest sitting at the right hand of God serving in a heavenly sanctuary that wasn’t built by humans.  He’s there!

As we move on to verse 5 we see that the current tabernacle at that time was built specifically to mirror the one in heaven.  I found that tidbit really interesting!  I’m someone who tends to gloss over the verses that are just measurements and descriptions of structures… I find them pretty boring to be honest.  BUT, how cool is it that the tabernacle Moses was to build had all of those specific measurements for a real purpose, besides just structural stability?  It gave me a little bit of a boost to read through all of those seemingly unimportant building directions we find throughout Scripture!

Verse 6 and on is somewhat of a comparison and contrast between the old covenant and the new.  First, we see that the new covenant is made superior and is established on better promises (vs 6).  In verses 7 and 8 we see that a new covenant was deemed necessary by God because he found fault in the first and wanted to establish one between both the people of Israel and Judah.  The next verse I think would’ve been a little tough to swallow as an Israelite.  Here the author is writing about how the Israelites did not remain faithful to God’s first covenant and because of that, He turned away from them.  Thankfully the chapter doesn’t end there and continues on to describe how amazing the new covenant will be!

In the last few verses we are told that we will be God’s people, that all will know the LORD, and that we will be forgiven of our sins!  Verse 12 says that God will remember our sins no more and that our wickedness is forgiven.  Praise God for a second chance! (Truthfully more like third, fourth, fifth, one millionth….) To end the chapter verse 13 restates that the old covenant is done, gone, obsolete.  We are living under a new covenant that offers us a clean slate.

Today I encourage you to take advantage of your clean slate, let your sins of yesterday be dissolved and obsolete like the old covenant, and press forward with the reminder that your sins have been forgiven through Jesus Christ.  What are you going to do today with that grace?

-Sarah Blanchard

 

 

A Better Hope

Hebrews 7

Hebrews 7 26

Hello everyone!

Thank you to Kyle McClain for getting us started into Hebrews; he’s a hard act to follow!  We can’t jump right into chapter 7 without revisiting the last few verses in 6.  In the end of the previous chapter we are discussing Jesus being regarded as a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.  (Gesundheit!)

The beginning of chapter 7 explains who Melchizedek was for the readers and, in a way, giving Jesus some street cred.  The author clearly wants to stress the place of power and importance this King was in (vs. 4) and why it was important that Jesus came from his order.  Verse 15 and 16 explain a little more on why Jesus was to come from his order- it’s because his ancestry doesn’t exactly lead to priesthood!  Coming from a carpenter and a seemingly average woman isn’t a common start for someone so deserving of our praise and worship.  I think the author here was trying to give Jesus some more credibility for the Hebrews he was writing to.

Verse 18 and 19 has some of my favorite language in it!  “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”  Why do we need Jesus?  Because the old law was weak, useless, and made nothing perfect!  Couldn’t be more clear than that.  With our new hope (Jesus), we are able to draw near to God and have a close personal relationship with Him.  Before Jesus, the law required sacrifice and prevented people from having that personal relationship with God that we all know and love.  After Jesus, or rather after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are saved completely and always have a connection to God through Jesus’ intercession (vs. 25).  How amazing is that?

In the last few verses of chapter 7 the author again is explaining how lucky we are to have Jesus and why we should come to him!  He is not only perfect and blameless, but he also sacrificed himself once for the forgiveness of all sins (vs. 26-27).  Past, present, and future.  He took care of them all!  As someone who has grown up in the church it’s easy for me to unconsciously be aware of this fact.  I know Jesus died for all of my sins.  Big and little, from when I was born to where I am now, and where I’ll be tomorrow.  But I’m guilty of forgetting, or at least not recognizing how important that is for my life.  If I try and place myself in the shoes of the people who were reading this letter for the first time in that setting, how overwhelmed with grace and love would I be?  I no longer have to sacrifice by the old law, because there is a new oath that has been appointed by a forever-perfect Savior.  Can you imagine the relief, love, and astonishment you might have as someone hearing that for the first time?  Why is it different for us today, simply because we already know?

Today and throughout this week I encourage you to pause and consciously reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ.  Recognize his sacrifice and thank him for the relationship he allows us to have with our Heavenly Father!

-Sarah Blanchard