Love to Forgive

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13

Bearing with one another is hard.  I get so irritated with people. Someone parks too close to my car in the parking lot.  A customer service person ignores my multiple attempts to get her attention. My teenager talks back.  No one comes to the table when I tell them dinner is ready. Some stranger next to me at the movies is scrolling facebook while the movie is playing.  I could spend the next ten pages listing out examples of people who irritate me.

But God is telling me to forgive those people just as the Lord has forgiven me.  So, how do I do that? The answer is in that second part, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Forgiveness is the most beautiful example of God’s love, and the testimony of forgiveness tells the one forgiven that Jesus also wants to forgive them.  It’s like becoming an ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I’m not making this stuff up!  We are supposed to be representing Christ to a lost and broken world.  Does that mean we can’t be irritated? I don’t think so. I think it just means we don’t act on those feelings, but instead act on the righteousness of Christ that we have become.  We need to represent Jesus and His forgiveness. How else will people know His love?

Forgiving irritating people is hard enough.  What about forgiving people who have hurt you?  How do you forgive a rapist? How do you forgive a murderer?  How do you forgive yourself? These are harder questions, but the answer is still the same.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

Love is hard. Really, really hard.  But representing Christ by forgiving people is what makes His love most known.  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, we show the world nothing.  It is the ultimate embodiment of who God is and what He has done for us.  To share the love of Christ with the world, we must love the world. And if we love the world, we must forgive just as Christ forgave us.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In the fullness of every Believer in Christ, is the Spirit of the Living God.  He is capable of doing more and more than we could ever even fathom. As Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His great power at work within us”.

God doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own.  He knows we aren’t capable of that. That’s why He gave us His Spirit: to seal us as His own and to help us do the impossible.  It’s not by Power, Not by Might, but by the Spirit!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We have a promise from God to be able to forgive.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We’re not alone.  We have the Spirit of the Living God pulsing through us. And God can and does forgive all who would accept it.  Therefore, we can too.

Jesus, teach me to forgive.  Give me the power and courage to trust You to help me forgive people.  Help me forgive myself. Help me to testify to Your love through forgiveness. It’s so hard, God.  But You have promised me that I can do all the things You ask of me because of Your power at work within me.  So, help me get out of the way so You can work, God. Help me put aside pettiness and insecurity and anger, so that Your pure love and forgiveness can be channelled through me.  Shine Your light through me, Father. Amen.

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A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Authority in Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Feminism sprouted from the age old oppression and forced authority man has inflicted upon woman since the beginning of time.  Since Eve disobeyed God and led her husband into sin, and received the curse upon herself that came from disobedience to a merciful, loving and benevolent God, she has been trod upon, belittled, marginalized, and lorded over.  And let’s face it, that sucks.

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
   but he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16

In the eyes of humanity, we were doomed from the start.  Except that doesn’t really fit with God’s character, or how He has always dealt the His people. God is merciful and His love is enduring, not fickle. I believe that if we look at our place in humanity as women with God-centered eyes, knowing with confidence that God loves us as much as He loves men, we can see our place in the world as something beautiful, powerful, and of deep significance to the Kingdom of God.  

The consequences of Eve’s actions, combined with the knowledge of good and evil, put us in the position to choose to act out of love for ourself or out of love for God.  The choice became ours, as our hearts became self-focused instead of God-focused. From that point forward, man has had authority over women, an authority that God never, ever, ever intended.  In fact, God had a completely different plan for humanity. He had a plan of equal partnership, where men and women complimented one another for the glory of the Father, and ruled over the creation that God had made together, with God himself as their partner, friend, and Lord.  

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

But we were never going to overcome the consequences of Eve’s sin on our own.  As long as we are aware of ourselves and have the choice to choose to be selfish or put others above ourselves, we can never overcome the power that sin gained over us.  Fortunately for us, God was never content with that outcome, and so, from the beginning, God promised us that He Himself would rescue us from the consequences of our sins, and restore us to a place of partnership and love with HIM.

So, what does that mean for women?

There’s a passage in the New Testament, that man has used throughout the course of Christian history since the resurrection of Jesus, to place himself solidly over his wife.  

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22-24

I think man’s long-time interpretation of this passage has truly been to his detriment.  And I think that Jesus might just agree with me. God has a pretty serious commission for men, actually.  And it isn’t to control or lord over them.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Jesus didn’t die so that men could be saved and women oppressed. He wanted men and women to be an example of His relationship with the Church.  And we are called to be joint heirs with Christ, not slaves to an unknown power. We are called to be God’s children, not his servants.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:14-17

Jesus showed us this during His life on Earth.  He lifted up women. He comforted them, encouraged them, and lovingly went to the cross for them, just as He did for men.  He loved women as his sisters, joint heirs to all that he had been given. Look at how He honored the woman with the alabaster jar.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13

Women didn’t follow Jesus because He oppressed them.  They followed Him because He loved them and honored them and lifted them up. And that is exactly what he wants men to do with women.  Jesus considered women of equal importance as men.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 ESV

So, how do we reconcile submission to our husbands with equality? Isn’t submission the opposite of equality?  Letting someone else be the boss has to mean I have no authority, right? Nope.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1-7

The Lord led me to this passage of scripture as a young woman, in the very early years of my marriage to a radical Muslim man.  When I realized the folly of my choice to marry a man who was not a follower of Jesus just because he revered God, I repented boldly before the Lord, and asked Him to help me figure out the mess I’d made of myself and save me from it.  And He did, using the passage above to give me profound hope.

Nothing I could do would change my husband.  Nothing I could say would alter his total devotion to Islam.  Nothing. My family and friends, who had been against my marriage from the start, told me to divorce him.  But the Lord had a different plan because the Lord loves women, and He doesn’t want to see them oppressed. As I sought the Lord’s counsel he showed me true hope in His power.  So, rather than stubbornly try to fight my husband into salvation, I submitted to the Lord.

And that’s the key.  I submitted to the Lord.  I repented and submitted. And Jesus did not use it against me, or punish me, or make me feel small.  Jesus didn’t command homage or obeisance or penance. Instead, He offered me help and hope and courage.  This small act of helplessness and submission to the Lord Jesus, gave me my first example of what genuine love and respect could look like.  When I humbled myself to a place of complete desperation and acknowledged my inability to do anything on my own, and I turned to the Lord for help, I learned for the first time what a marriage was supposed to be.  I was the bride of Christ before I was the bride of my Muslim husband. And Jesus quickly showed me how beautiful and honoring a loving husband could be in Himself.

Submitting to God’s authority over my life had brought me hope and life.  It hadn’t brought me to a place of oppression. Jesus lifted me up instead of wiping His feet on me.  He told me He loved me and that He was eager and always ready to help me. It felt good. It felt right.  It felt like, though I’d totally screwed up, that the Lord loved me so unconditionally, that my submission to him would be honored and not exploited.

Two years later, after much submission to the Lord, and having enlisted an army of prayer warriors to the cause of praying for my husband’s salvation, my sweet husband submitted to the Lord for himself, and found the same love and forgiveness and help that I had found.

Submission to another is an act of love and trust.  I put my faith and trust in the Lord to rescue me and help me.  And Jesus came through. But there’s more to it than that, because God’s cool like that.  He lavishes His love upon us, he doesn’t just toss us a bone now and then on a whim. My submission to the Lord became my biggest testimony of God’s pure love for me and for my husband.  By my submission I showed God’s faithfulness. I became a living example of what serving and submitting to a loving God actually looked like. And it won my husband’s heart without me saying a word.

My husband and I have now been married almost 25 years.  23 of those years have been as partnered Christ followers on mission and in service to the King of Kings.  And over the years, the Lord has continued to elevate me to a place of great authority and respect in His eyes.  My brief willingness to admit I was helpless on my own, became a legacy of testimony about what real love is supposed to look like.  It’s a glorious partnership. Being humble enough to trust in the leadership of another became my legacy.

I believe the Lord intended that for all women, from the time of Eve’s choice to serve herself instead of God, God decided that if humanity would just have faith enough to trust Him to lead them, that He would do it!  The consequence of sin can bring death, or it can bring humble repentance. God is ready and willing to forgive anyone who would humble themselves enough to trust Him. And God loves to exalt the humble.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11

How much more opportunity do we need as women to be exalted by the Lord of Hosts?  To submit humbly to God and to our husbands, is to receive the great blessing that comes from our devoted and loving Father to exalt us and use us as the perfect conduit to show our partners what love looks like, so that they can know how to love us.  That doesn’t sound anything like oppression to me! It sounds like authority in love.

Jesus has given women the chance to have great authority over the impartation of love, which is the most important gift from God that we can receive.  It was love that made Jesus humble himself to take the cross. It was love that made the Lord God save His people. It was love that made God never give up on a selfish, sinful, adulterous people.  It was all because of love. Therefore, as a woman, I have been given the opportunity to carry the authority of offering a testimony of love to my husband, in order that he can learn how to love me and love God.  Ya, that’s right. God made women to be the forerunners of love, to show men what the bride of Christ is supposed to look like. And that’s a pretty big deal.