Friday, February 28, 2014

Lesson #2...Matthew 18:23-35

Matthew 18:23–35 Yesterday we read Jesus's parable of the king who forgave his servant—who then refused to forgive a fellow-servant. (You may want to read it again from Matthew 18:23–35.) From this parable, we learned that to refuse to forgive is hypocritical.

But there's a second lesson: to refuse to forgive inflicts inner torment upon us. Remember how the story ends? It is exceedingly significant. "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him" (Matthew 18:34).

"Well," you say, "that was just a parable. We can't press every point and say each little detail applies to us." Granted, but in this case, it's not a little detail. It's the punch line, the climax of the whole story. How can I say that? Because verse 35 is not part of the parable. It is a statement Jesus makes after the story ends. It is His penetrating application of the whole parable on forgiving others:

"My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:35)

Frankly, this is one of the most important truths God ever revealed to me on the consequences of an unforgiving spirit. When Jesus said, "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you," He was referring back to the closing words of the parable, which says: "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him."

This is no fictitious tale, like some pirate who tortured people behind a secret door. No, Jesus says God personally will allow those who refuse to forgive others to be tortured.

What in the world does that mean? The Greek term from which torturers is translated is a verb meaning "to torment"—a frightening thought. When I first saw the thing begin to take shape in my mind, I resisted it. I thought, "No, that's too harsh!" But the further I probed, the clearer it became.

The same term is used to describe a person suffering "terrible anguish" (8:6 NET). And it is used to describe the misery of a man being "in agony" in Hades as he pleads for relief (Luke 16:23–24). When we read of a man named Lot, who was surrounded and oppressed by the conduct of unprincipled men, we read "his righteous soul [was] tormented day after day" (2 Peter 2:8). Again the same term is used. Pain, agony, and torment are all a part of this torturous experience.

But here in Matthew 18:34–35, Jesus refers to tormentors—a noun, not a verb. He is saying the one who refuses to forgive, the Christian who harbors grudges, bitter feelings toward another, will be turned over to torturous thoughts, feelings of misery, and agonizing unrest within.

And who hasn't endured such feelings? It is one of the horrible consequences of not forgiving those who offend us. It makes no difference who it is—one of your parents or in-laws, your pastor or former pastor, a close friend who turned against you, some teacher who was unfair, or a business partner who ripped you off . . . even your former partner in marriage. I meet many divorcees who have been "handed over to the torturers" for this very reason.

Believe me; it is not worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven! Release the poison of all that bitterness . . . let it gush out before God, and declare the sincere desire to be free.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A lesson in forgiveness...Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21–35 Over the past few days, we have examined Jesus's words to us when we have offended someone. Tough steps . . . yet essential.

But what about when someone offends us? The apostle Peter asked Jesus a similar question:

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" (Matthew 18:21)

Good, relevant question. What's the limit we should place on forgiveness? Peter was feeling magnanimous that day, for the Jews were instructed to forgive once, forgive twice . . . and a third time, but from then on, forget it. Peter doubled the limit then added a bonus for good measure.

Observe the Lord's response:

"I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:22)

Obviously, He is not saying literally, "Would you believe 490 times, Peter?" No, not that. He's suggesting an infinite number of times. Limitless. I would imagine that thought blew those disciples away . . . which, no doubt, prompted Jesus to go into greater detail. Hence, a parable with a punch line. Read the story very carefully, preferably aloud and slowly.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." (Matthew 18:23–34)

The king's slave had amassed an incredible debt (equivalent to about $10,000,000!) requiring infinite forgiveness, which the king provided. That represents vertical forgiveness—a beautiful reminder of God's forgiving the sinner.

The horizontal comes in view in verses 28 through 34. That same slave, having just been forgiven that incredible debt, turned against a fellow who owed him less than twenty bucks and assaulted the poor fellow. When the king got word of his slave's violent reaction, he was furious. I mean, he was livid! And the confrontation that followed was understandably severe.

A couple of things emerge from the latter part of this story that provide us with reasons to forgive others. The first we'll look at today . . . and the second one tomorrow:

To refuse to forgive is hypocritical. Note again verses 32 through 33.

"Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'"

Because we have been the recipients of maximum mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? The compassion that God demonstrates on our behalf calls for us to do the same toward others.

Anything less is downright hypocritical.

 We have received maximum mercy, so who are we to demand justice from others?

Commentary by unknown author

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Key is Faith!...Psalm 61:1-3

Psalm 61:1-3 

Hear my cry, O God. Listen to my prayer. I call to You from the end of the earth when my heart is weak. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a safe place for me, a tower of strength where I am safe from those who fight against me. 

David knew the key to life's success did not come from the world's standards but from God. As he was persectued by King Saul from mere jealosy, he continuously sought after God's will. He would cry out to God. David was under more stress than we could comprehend. When was the last time you were hunted to death that endured nearly a decade? In today's society, we face a very different type of persecution. Satan works behind the scenes to devise his schemes inorder to make the lives of believers a living nghtmare. 1 Peter 5:8 Keep awake! Watch at all times. The devil is working against you. He is walking around like a hungry lion with his mouth open. He is looking for someone to eat. 

Remember the last trial you went through? Did you try and fix things yourself or did you cry out to God? Did God answer you right away? Did the outcome meet your expectations? Most likely He didnt answer as fast as you wanted Him to and your expectations may have fallen short. Walking with Jesus is not easy, especially when the enemy is constantly throwing everything he has at you. But have faith that Jesus is right there with you! Hebrews 13:5-6 God has said, “I will never leave you or let you be alone.” So we can say for sure, “The Lord is my Helper. I am not afraid of anything man can do to me.” The key is Faith! David had enormous faith! No matter what happened, he cry'd out to God, he sought after The Lord. His story had a happy ending, but the road traveled was rough. The point is that God restored David, protected him from his enemies. God loved David and He loves you just the same. We are made in His image. Then why does it seem like God favored David more than you or I, The key is Faith! Notice how Peter continues in 1 Peter 5:9-11 Stand against him and be strong in your faith. Remember, other Christians over all the world are suffering the same as you are. After you have suffered for awhile, God Himself will make you perfect. He will keep you in the right way. He will give you strength. He is the God of all loving-favor and has called you through Christ Jesus to share His shining-greatness forever. God has power over all things forever. Let it be so. Notice Peter said "After you have suffered for awhile"...God is there so do not lose heart. He wants you to cry out to Him. Stay strong in your faith!

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Truth and promise never to leave or forsake me. I will cry out to you O God, hear my prayer and keep watch over me as I do your will. In Jesus name, Amen!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seek Wisdom over Emotion...Proverbs 11:14

Proverbs 11:14 

A nation falls where there is no wise leading, but it is safe where there are many wise men who know what to do. 

Seek Wisdom over Emotion. It's human nature to react in emotion. We are made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 And God made man in His own likeness. In the likeness of God He made him. He made both male and female. God is perfect in Love and we were made to Love God. 1 John 4:8 Those who do not love do not know God because God is love. Thus it is perfectly natural for us to behave in an emotional way because we are reacting in the strongest emotion...Love...and that comes from God. 

The problem lies with our sinful nature. Romans 7:5-6 When we lived to please our bodies, those sinful desires were pulling at us all the time. We always wanted to do what the Law said not to do. Living that kind of life brings death, but now we are free from the Law. We are dead to sin that once held us in its power. No longer do we follow the Law which is the old way. We now follow the new way, the way of the Spirit. When we are faced with a trial, true spiritual maturity will show when you seek God's purpose and Will as opposed to yielding to your emotional instinct. Yes we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves Mark 12:31 “The second Law is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other Law is greater than these.”  However, we must act according to the Will of God in Love and not our own selfish, sinful ways. 

Next time you are faced with an opportunity to seek wisdom over emotion, remember God's Insurance policy for us all...Romans 8:28 We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan. 

Father, thank you for teaching us your way through your Word, through relationship with your son and through prayer with you. Teach us your will and guide us daily in spirit. In Jesus name, Amen!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Asking for Forgiveness...Romans 12:18

Let's say you've mustered the courage to approach someone you've offended. You've confessed what you did with sincerity. You've asked for forgiveness. But he or she refuses to forgive you. Now what?

The important thing for each of us to remember is that you are responsible for you, and I am responsible for me (Romans 12:18). With the right motive, in the right spirit, at the right time, out of obedience to God, we are to humble ourselves and attempt to make things right. God will honor our efforts.

The one offended may need time first to get over the shock and next to have God bring about a change in his or her heart. Healing sometimes takes time. Occasionally, a lot of time.

"What if the situation only gets worse?" Another good question frequently asked. This can happen. You see, all the time the one offended has been blaming you . . . thinking all kinds of bad things about you. When you go to make things right, you suddenly cause his or her internal scales to go out of balance. You take away the blame, and all that's left is the person's guilt, which does a number on him or her, resulting in even worse feelings. But now, it's no longer your fault.

"What if I decide simply to deal with it before God and not go through the hassle and embarrassment of talking with the other person?" We'll do anything to make things easier, won't we? Well, first off—that is a willful contradiction of the command. To paraphrase Jesus, "Stop, go, reconcile, and return!" (Matthew 5:24). Not to go is direct disobedience. It also can result in things getting worse.

Let's say I am driving away from your church parking lot next Sunday morning. I back my car into the side of your beautiful new Mercedes. CRUNCH! Your stomach churns as you see me get out of the car, look at the damage . . . and then bow in prayer:

Dear Lord, please forgive me for being so preoccupied and clumsy. And please give this dear brother grace as he sees the extensive damage I have caused out of sheer negligence. And provide what's needed as he takes this car in to have it fixed. Thanks, Lord. Amen.

As I drive away, I wave and smile real big as I yell out the window, "It's all cleared up, my friend. I claimed the damage before God. Isn't grace wonderful!"

Tell me, how does that grab you? I have rather strong doubts that it would suddenly make things okay with you, no matter how sincere my prayer might have been. You and I know that would do no good.

The Savior does not say, "Simply pray and I'll forgive you." In fact, He says, "Stop praying until you have made things right!"

One final question: "What if it is impossible for me to reconcile because the offended person has died?" Obviously, you cannot contact the dead. In such unique cases, I recommend that you share your burden of guilt with someone whom you can trust. A close friend, your mate, a counselor, or your pastor. Be specific and completely candid. Pray with that individual, and confess openly the wrong and the guilt of your soul. In such cases—and only in such cases—prayer and the presence of an understanding, affirming individual can provide the relief you need so desperately.

When you have been the cause of an offense, that is, when you are the offender, have the heart of a servant. Stop, go, reconcile, and then return.

Contributor unknown

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Forgiveness...Ephesians 4:31-32

Ephesians 4:31–32

When wrong has been done against another person, there are only two possibilities of blame. But whether we are responsible for the offense or we are the recipients of it, the first move is always ours.

The true servant doesn't keep score. The general principle is set forth in Ephesians 4:31–32, which says:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

That's a beautiful summation of the whole subject of forgiveness. It describes how to live with a clear conscience and thus be free to serve.

And observe the reminder—you forgive others "as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Remember!...Proverbs 3:1-2

Proverbs 3:1-2 

My son, do not forget my teaching. Let your heart keep my words. For they will add to you many days and years of life and peace. 

There's something to say about retention. We are instructed to remember God's Word not only in mind but also in our hearts. If we do so, God's promise is life and peace. We are called not only to know God's Word but to live by His Word. Think back when you were in 3rd grade. How much do you remember of what you were taught? What about Algebra class in jr high or high school? Retaining what you learn takes effort. How do you do that? 

First, by praying in God's Word, ask the Holy Spirit to keep God's Word ever present in your heart and mind. (John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so the shining-greatness of the Father may be seen in the Son. Yes, if you ask anything in My name, I will do it.)

Second, study God's Word daily in partnership with the Holy Spirit and put His wisdom to work in your life. Don't just memorize His Word, live it! (1 John 2:27 Christ gave you the Holy Spirit and He lives in you. You do not need anyone to teach you. The Holy Spirit is able to teach you all things. What He teaches you is truth and not a lie. Live by the help of Christ as the Holy Spirit has taught you.)

Third, Trust in God to reveal His truth in your life. (Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not trust in your own understanding.)

Luke 1:37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” Trust in God in helping you not only forget His teaching but put His truth into action by keeping His Word in your heart!

Thank you Father for your truth and promises to always help us rely on your Word in our lives. May we shine your light for all to see your goodness! In Jesus name, Amen!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Prayer & Thanksgiving...Colossians 1:12-14

Colossians 1:12-14

"I pray that you will be giving thanks to the Father. He has made it so you could share the good things given to those who belong to Christ who are in the light. God took us out of a life of darkness. He has put us in the holy nation of His much-loved Son. We have been bought by His blood and made free. Our sins are forgiven through Him."

Paul speaks of thanksgiving and prayer in the first chapter of Colossians. He had heard that the people of Colossae have accepted Christ and their faith was growing. He Prayed without ceasing for them as he mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

Notice how he pairs prayer with thanksgiving. To pray is to give thanks. To know that you have been saved, not by your own doing, but by someone else's action...someone who has known you longer than your parents, knows you better than your spouse. Doesn't ask for anything in return. Loves us unconditionally. Christ gave his life so that you could spend eternity in heaven with the Father, just because He loves you! Doesn't that deserve thanksgiving in prayer? In every way!

Of course there are those who will disagree and argue that there must be a catch...Be careful here. These thoughts are mere lies from Satan himself attempting to make you think you must earn His love. Isnt that the way the world works? In order to climb the ladder of success, to need to earn your your dues...nothing is free in this life. Sound familiar? Be Watchful bretheren! Thats what the world wants you to think...John 15:19 "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world and the world hates you."

Paul continues to describe that Jesus existed in the begining with God in Colossians 1:15-17 as he did in John 1:1 "Christ is as God is. God cannot be seen. Christ lived before anything was made. Christ made everything in the heavens and on the earth. He made everything that is seen and things that are not seen. He made all the powers of heaven. Everything was made by Him and for Him. Christ was before all things. All things are held together by Him."

Let us be glad and rejoice that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life! (John 3:16).

Thank you father for your everlasting love for us and for the ultimate sacrifice for our sake. In Jesus name, Amen!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Become a giver...John 3:16

Proverbs 22:9; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:7

Shortly after World War II came to a close, Europe began picking up the pieces. Much of the old country had been ravaged by war and was in ruins. Perhaps the saddest sight of all was that of little orphaned children starving in the streets of those war-torn cities.

Early one chilly morning an American soldier was making his way back to the barracks in London. As he turned the corner in his jeep, he spotted a little lad with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. Inside, the cook was kneading dough for a fresh batch of doughnuts. The hungry boy stared in silence, watching every move. The soldier pulled his jeep to the curb, stopped, got out, and walked quietly over to where the little fellow was standing. Through the steamed-up window, he could see the mouth-watering morsels being pulled from the oven, piping hot. The boy salivated and released a slight groan as he watched the cook place them onto the glass-enclosed counter ever so carefully.

The soldier's heart went out to the nameless orphan as he stood beside him.

"Son . . . would you like some of those?"

The boy was startled, "Oh, yeah . . . I would!"

The American stepped inside and bought a dozen, put them in a bag, and walked back to where the lad was standing in the foggy cold of the London morning. The soldier smiled, held out the bag, and said simply: "Here you are." As he turned to walk away, he felt a tug on his coat.

He looked back and heard the child ask quietly: "Mister . . . are you God?"

We are never more like God than when we give. "God so loved the world, that He gave" (John 3:16).

Let me encourage you, in spite of the high cost of giving and the small number of servant-models you may see around you, to determine to be different. God tells us He "loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7), and He promises us that the one "who is generous will be blessed" (Proverbs 22:9). Let's believe Him!

Deep down inside most Christians I know is a deep-seated desire to release instead of keep . . . to give instead of grab. It is worth whatever it takes to let that start happening. Moms, dads, singles, kids, teachers, preachers, businessmen, professionals, blue-collar workers, students—it is worth it!

Become a giver . . . and watch God open the hearts of others to Himself. We are never more godlike than when we give.

commentary by unknown author

How to Love your wife...Ephesians 5:28

Ephesians 5:28

"So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies."

A man who loves his wife sacrificially loves her in a satisfying way. If husband and wife are “one flesh” in marriage, then to hurt her is to hurt himself, and to do good to her is to do good to himself. Husbands are to know what is satisfying to their wives, and to seek to give those things. So husbands, do you know those things? To determine whether or not I knew the things that were satisfying to my wife, I gave myself a little test. Let me encourage you to try it, too. I wrote down on a piece of paper three things I believed my wife enjoyed. Then I gave her the paper, and asked her to “grade” it. I was one for three. It’s funny—no woman, or very few, could live with a man for long and not score 100% on such a test. But we men are not so observant.

Paul understood this gender difference and encouraged men to love their wives as they loved their own bodies. Men know their bodies. They know how much they weigh, and what they like to eat, and how many cups of coffee will keep them awake at night. They know how many miles they can jog before their knees begin to ache, and whether a nagging pain can be ignored or needs a doctor’s attention. They listen to their bodies.
Imagine how many marriages would improve if a man attempted to know his wife as well as he knew his own body, and to treat her with as much care as his own flesh! Husbands…that’s how to love your wife!

Commentary by Dr. Ed Young

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Boast in Weakness...2 Corinthians 12:9-10

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 

Each time he (Jesus) said, (to Paul) “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I (Paul) am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

It's easy to comply with the world view now a days. We all want the credit, fame, attention, glory... I can go on and on. The fact is that these things we seek are nothing more than plumbata, darts, temptations...LIES from satan in the attempt to distract us from the Truth...Jesus!

Paul speaks about "boasting in his weakness". Humanly speaking, we'd say he's insane, lost it, out of touch...but spiritually speaking, he's 100% correct! Who should we be elevated and praising always? Us, our accomplishments, our pride? Absolutely Not...I know what your my flesh, humanly & honestly speaking, that's exactly what I want! However, that's why Paul said in "Philippians 1:21-22 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better." 

He's not saying "LOOK AT ME!" He's saying "LOOK AT CHRIST"

We need to look to Jesus, praise Him, give him thanks always as we walk with him in Truth! Jesus said salvation is simple, he didn't say that life as a Christian would be easy...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Terribly expensive...Luke 9:23

Luke 9:23

Can you recall Jesus's radical philosophy of being a servant to others? The basis of that statement is tucked away in His words:

He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)

Following Christ as His disciple is a costly, unselfish decision. It calls for a radical examination of our self-centered lifestyles. Whew! That's one of those easy things to say but tough to carry out.

Let's see if I can break this down into smaller bite-sized chunks so we don't gag on it. When you look closely at Jesus's statement, a couple of things seem important. First, those who desire to follow Him closely must come to terms with self-denial. And second, this decision to give ourselves to others (taking up our cross) has to be a daily matter.

That's costly stuff. Terribly expensive.

If we take His words seriously, then it isn't difficult to see some questions that we must ask and answer ourselves, like:

Am I serious about being a close follower of Jesus Christ?

Do I think of others to such an extent that self-denial is becoming the rule rather than the exception in my life?

Is my walk with Him a daily thing?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pray in the Spirit...Ephesians 6:18-20

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:18-20 tniv

When we open the book of Acts in the New Testament, we see the incredible power of the Holy Spirit to help the early believers to proclaim the message of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us and intercedes for us when we pray, we can pray in the Spirit, knowing that the Holy Spirit allows us to speak directly to God (Eph. 2:18) and intercedes for us beyond the power of words according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27). While we often trust this intercession and access to God to convey our own heartfelt needs to him, Paul reminds us of another incredibly important gift given us when we "pray in the Spirit": intercession for God's people to boldly, fearlessly, and clearly proclaim the message of Jesus. Why not dedicate time one day each week to pray for those who give their lives to proclaiming the good news of Jesus?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

An opportunity to act...Matthew 5:43-45

[Jesus said,] "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV)

We often talk about the privileges of being a child of God - forgiveness, salvation, a future in heaven with him, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and ultimate victory when Christ comes. One of the greatest privileges we get, however, is the opportunity to act toward those who dislike and hate us in a way that reflects the character of God himself. Anyone can return hate for hate, but it takes a child of God to return a blessing and a prayer for his or her enemies.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Self-Interest...Genesis 3:8-12

Genesis 3:8–13

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God for the first time—and sin entered the world—it didn't take long for them to begin looking out for number one. Enter self-interest:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

Adam didn't assist Eve. She really wasn't concerned about him either. Both got busy and whipped up a self-made cover-up. And (can you believe it?) they attempted to hide from the Lord God. Of course, you can believe it! To this day it's humankind's favorite game . . . even though we lose every time we play it.

Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." (3:9–10)

As God probed deeper, Adam and Eve became increasingly more defensive. They hurled accusations at each other and then at God.

The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me . . ." (3:12, emphasis added).

The woman said, "The serpent . . ." (3:13).

The pattern hasn't changed, has it? Since the original scene, the history of humanity is smeared with ugly marks of selfishness. Unwilling to be authentic, we hide, we deny, we lie, we run, we escape. Anything but the whole truth! We ridicule, we dominate, we criticize. We cut a person to ribbons with our words. And then we develop ways to keep from admitting it. Here are a few:

"I'm not dogmatic; I'm just sure of myself."

"I'm not judging; I'm discerning."

"I'm not argumentative; I'm simply trying to prove a point."

"I'm not stubborn, just confident!"

All this comes pouring out of our mouths with hardly a second thought. And in case you live under the delusion that we are mild-mannered and gracious in getting our way, watch what happens in heavy traffic . . . or at the checkout stand in the local grocery store. I mean, we go for the jugular! All to the tune of self-interest.

Indeed, this should not be

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Willful Sin...Genesis 2:25-3:7

Genesis 2:25–3:7

It's been my experience that before I can fully conquer any problem, I need to understand the problem as well as possible, especially its origin.

To do that with "self," we must go back, way back, to that ancient scene pictured for us in the second and third chapters of Genesis: the garden of Eden. What a super spot! Beautiful beyond description, a perfect, pollution-free atmosphere, luxurious foliage, fragrant flowers, crystal-clear water—that garden would make Tahiti look like a pigsty by comparison.

And on top of all the physical beauty, there was absolute innocence. No sin. Which means that Adam and Eve had a relationship that was free of hang-ups. The last verse in Genesis 2 verifies that: "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25).

Naked. Laid bare. Open. Not just physically but emotionally as well. That explains why they were not ashamed. The Hebrew construction suggests they were not ashamed "with one another." There was this remarkable openness, a lack of self-consciousness in each other's presence. Talk about the ideal marriage! Their discussions, their actions, their entire existence were non-defensive, unguarded, and absolutely unselfish.

How could it be? No sin. Therefore, no selfishness. Until . . . You guessed it.

Enter the Devil with his alluring offer, and exit innocence with its pleasurable benefits (Genesis 3:1–6). And the result?

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (3:7)

Don't miss what that says about their eyes. They were opened. There was a sudden, shocking realization they were naked. Seems amazing to us, doesn't it? You and I couldn't be more aware of those times when we are naked. Just a half-opened zipper makes us blush.

But remember the difference. Suddenly, those two became self-conscious. They'd never known those feelings before. You and I have never known anything else.

What we read here in the Genesis account is the origin of self-awareness, self-concern, and selfishness. And it all started with willful sin.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Heart of Compassion...Colossians 3:12-13, 17

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. . . . Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12–13, 17)

It's as though You have written these words to us today, Father . . . indeed, You have. Though they date back to the first century, they fit the twenty-first century like a well-tailored garment. They touch every aspect of our being. Your words address our position in Christ and our practice on earth. They specify our struggles without overlooking the important, positive side of compassion, love, forgiveness, patience, humility, and gentleness. How we long to live as we say we believe. How far short of that we often fall. And we realize it again even this day, as we recognize the straight line of truth so clearly marked in Your inspired Word—God-breathed, preserved, and now provided for us in our language. Help us to live according to Your standards, day in, day out.

As You do soul-surgery in our hearts, may we allow the scalpel of the Spirit to pierce whatever area needs to be addressed. May each of us open ourselves to it. Guard us from hypocrisy. Few things are more detestable than a phony Christian! May we speak truth today. More important, may we live truth today. May we declare it to others in a way that makes sense. May Your Spirit take it from there and drive it home. May our lives and theirs be changed as a result of it.

It's in the name of Jesus Christ we offer our words of prayer. Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014 who's expense? 1 Peter 5:5-7

1 Peter 5:5–7

Maybe we should confess that one reason we find it so hard to set selfishness aside and adopt the spirit of a servant is that we're driven by dreams of success. We want to be winners.

Face it; we live in a success-saturated society. Right next to the books applauding our selfishness are dozens of bestsellers telling us how we can be more successful. Dozens of books and magazines every year, along with scores of DVDs and hundreds of seminars, offer new ideas and new motivation techniques that have the promise of prosperity. Success is big business. No wonder thinking like servants is so hard.

Curiously, however, few ever address what most folks want (but seldom find) in their pursuit of success: contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, and relief. On the contrary, the roads that are supposed to lead to success are not only rocky; they're maddening. As the Executive's Digest once reported, "The trouble with success is that the formula is the same as the one for a nervous breakdown."

And what formula is that? Work longer hours, push ahead, let nothing hinder your quest—not your marriage or family, not your convictions or conscience, not your health or friends. Be aggressive and, if necessary, mean, as you press toward the top. You gotta be smart, slick, and sly if success is the bottom line of your agenda. It's the same old fortune-fame-power-pleasure line we've been fed for decades.

At the risk of sounding ultra-simplistic, I'd like to offer some counsel that stands 180 degrees in contrast to all the above. My suggestions will never appear in the Wall Street Journal or as part of the Harvard Business School curriculum, but they do represent a philosophy supported in Scripture.

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5–7)

These verses address three crucial realms related to true success: authority, attitude, and anxiety. And the best part of all is this: following God's directives will bring the one benefit not found in the world's empty promises—a deep sense of lasting satisfaction.

It's what we could call the forgotten side of success. And I would add that it is the success that will come to those who wish to develop the heart of a servant.