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Guilty

User Submission: Forgiving the Guilty

The following is a submission from a user like you. Emily shared her incredible story so that it might touch the hearts and lives of our readers. If you would like to share your own story, you can do so here

For as long as I can remember I have always found healing in writing. It’s how I process emotions and a whirlwind of overwhelming situations – situations that seems to weigh so heavy on one’s heart that it shakes their faith to the core.

Because I had many stories with situations like that to share, I began writing my book last September. I had been brainstorming for three years before I actually sat down to write it. More than anything, I wanted to be as honest and as open as I possibly could. It truly was a healing process for me as I reached back into the recesses of my mind to share very personal stories about my life – stories that would glorify my King, Jesus, and point others straight to Him and the miraculous transforming power of salvation, healing, and deliverance.

Although I openly discuss many things that the Lord helped me overcome, mostly sexual sin and rebellion, there is a particular occurrence that strengthened my faith more than anything I could have ever imagined. I find myself needing to talk about it today, knowing deep down in my soul that no matter how dark, tragic, or extremely sad it may be, Jesus has turned beauty from these ashes and will receive glory from it because what the devil meant for evil, the Lord has and will continue to turn around for good!

Last week, I found out that the man who murdered my father five and a half years ago was given a guilty sentence. He will serve up to 45 years in prison as a punishment for his actions.  And while most people are shouting: “That man should burn in hell!” I am preaching, “You MUST forgive!”  because I know the severity of holding onto the wrongs that others have done to us. My friends, it is simply not worth it.

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

Although I made a CHOICE to forgive the man who took my dad’s life right after it happened, I wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts after reading the articles describing the horrendous acts of murder that turned my world upside down in November of 2008. Seeing the photo of this man, as he was escorted by two police officers out of the courtroom, his stone cold eyes looking straight back at me, made my stomach churn. My heart was pierced and so many different emotions rose up in me.

Avoiding traumatic thoughts and emotions was the main reason I chose not to follow the murder case as the years went on. Immediately, I chose to forgive and move on with both my life with Christ and my now husband. I did not want to live in the trauma. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or miss my dad terribly.  It was because dwelling on all of this wicked and demonically influenced tragedy would never bring my dad back.  I knew that justice belonged ONLY in the hands of the Lord.  Most of all, I longed for that man to repent of what he did and find a life-changing relationship with my Jesus like I had found. I still pray for that to this day.

I can’t say that I have found the strength to pray a prayer like this from soley within myself. My strength does come from within though, but it is the power and might of the Holy Spirit who has given it to me. My life verse from the Bible will forever hold true, and I will never stop standing upon the promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I’m so thankful for that promise.

Jesus will never abandon me. Although, my earthly father is gone, I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than anyone could. I cling to Him when the storms of life try to overtake me, for He is my anchor of hope. I cling to and stand upon His Word that is full of promises – promises of His love, mercy, and grace, for He is my Rock and firm foundation. I cling to my Jesus and the voice of His Holy Spirit, for He is the One who gives me strength and courage to endure every trial I could ever face. No matter how dark life may get, know that when you trust in Jesus, and you hide your life in Him, you have a Light within you that shines so brightly it will overtake all of the darkness.

Bride of Christ

The Bride of Christ

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s 10 am at a local coffee shop and the smell is intoxicating as espresso and sweet breakfast treats fill the air. I sit with my bakery indulgences and a warm latte waiting to meet a fellow Christian for the first-time. You see, I agreed to meet with a woman who was interested in learning more about walking with Christ. It wasn’t long before we began sharing snapshots of our lives and testimonies. Everything was off to a good start.

Then, the conversation took an abrupt nosedive as she said one of the most disturbing comments loudly for all the other listeners to hear, “the church is a whore.”  She said this statement without deep sadness, but as if she had determined herself the rightful judge over God’s universal Church. I immediately felt defensive, but I allowed her to continue. She proceeded to vent about the lack of correct Biblical teaching and how the Gospel has become so sugar-coated that we no longer, in her opinion, address sin head on. It took only a few seconds for it to become clear that she was angry! Flabbergasted by her persistence to point a finger at all the Church’s wrongdoings, I finally couldn’t help but say, “I understand your passion to see people live right before God, but remember God sees the Church as His bride and I am pretty sure, flaws and all, that He is madly in love with her.” Yet her comments resonated with me for the entire day.

Her statement, as offensive as it may be, is a bold one that makes my temperature rise. Surely I would never refer to the Bride of Christ in such a way as to call her this outlandish name, but I cannot deny that I and all of the true Christ followers are, for better or worse, unfaithful. In fact, it is in our very nature. While I disagree with the way in which the comment was presented (as I do not believe in bashing God’s places of worship), there is a story in the book of Hosea that could shed some light on her point. In Hosea, each chapter illustrates a comparison between the ever faithful Hosea and his wife (a former prostitute often lured back into adulterous affairs). The prophecy of Hosea centers on God’s unending love towards a sinful Israel. Hosea 1:2 shares God’s agony over the betrayal of Israel,

 “For like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

Hosea was the prophet used by God to communicate these real emotions that he too had felt for his wife. One of my all-time favorite books is actually written about Hosea and is called, “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. This book vividly shows the relationship between Hosea and a fictional character (Angel) – a direct correlation to God’s pursuit of the Church. Can it be that God is constantly taking us back even when we deny Him our love? The answer is ‘yes’ – we are all unfaithful, yet we are still His spotless bride. This is so phenomenal to me that I thought I’d give a visual. If you are married, do you remember the moment before you said “I do?” Perhaps these are not the exact thoughts that were racing through your head, but the moment everything seemed new and wonderful. This is how Jesus sees us. He remembers the joy that He felt when we said “I do” to becoming His. We are not perfect; in fact, God was clear in communicating this through the illustration of Hosea and Israel’s disobedience. However, we cannot pain God by calling ourselves unclean when He has covered us in His righteousness through salvation.  There are two important points I would like to highlight:

We are unfaithful. (Romans 3:23)

If we were perfect, we would not need forgiveness; if we did not need forgiveness, we would not need a Savior. We are an unfaithful people. Don’t believe me, just look at our history, laced with wanderers constantly needing to repent for their sins. We too are these people who go astray, constantly falling short. Hence, the remarkable need for grace.

We are God’s spotless bride. (Revelation 19:7-9)

If you suffer from a constant cycle of guilt, this one is for you. You are God’s bride. He adores you and He sees you as His very own, for better or worse, as long as you remain in Him. Therefore, when referring to God’s Church, we must hold our tongue in bashing it for the sake of anger. We must be careful not to knock those in authority and those who God has called to serve His precious bride, us, the Church.

 

My prayer for you is that you remember God loves you enough to make it a permanent covenant. He did not give Himself because we deserved it, but because He saw us from the beginning of time as His and ‘very good.’ We must honor Him and His Church, always refraining from breaking His heart by lashing out against her. We are His beloved and may we never forget it!

Betrayal

Betrayal

If you have ever been the victim of a deep betrayal, you can understand and describe the pain with vivid imagery. I believe that these same gut wrenching human emotion pierced Jesus’ heart when one of His very own betrayed Him. You see, Judas,  for a lowly amount of coins, betrayed the forever King. It makes no sense, yet we are all at some point in our lives betrayers. We all make decisions that sacrifice the ultimate worth of Christ’s love for cheap pleasures.

I can think back to moments when metaphorical coins seemed a desirable trade for choosing my fleshly desires over my spiritual ones. In simple terms,  I was choosing sin over Jesus,  I was Judas in those betraying moments. Has this ever described you? It’s perhaps not the most pleasant thought to dig deep into, but can you name your offenses? Can you list your sins? For some, it might be easier than others and I want you to know that when Jesus becomes your Lord and Savior, there is no more condemnation – Jesus removes your sins as far as the east is from the west. Yet, the point in which I am trying to highlight is that without recognizing and repenting of our betrayals, we can never truly see the fulfillment that comes when grace is presented. There is a Scripture in 2 Timothy 11- 13 that hit me pretty hard when I read it and I would like to share it with you,

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown himself.

Did you notice how the beginning lines all have the opposite outcomes? Dying means life, suffering means ruling and, later on in the verse, faithlessness is remarkably met with faithfulness. Jesus was always using radical ideas to describe His Kingdom. In fact, The Beatitudes are a great example of this as well. Yet, will He call us His if we do not call Him ours? The answer is no. We cannot expect to live a life of betrayal towards God (even if we speak Him with our lips, but not without our entire being), and claim to be His. God’s sovereign name does not allow this injustice. We may pretend by doing all the things that look ‘right’ on the surface and still, Jesus can respond by saying, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)

Thus, repentance and a true relationship with Him is necessary. Betrayal is simply not an option when it comes to belonging. We must recognize that this makes God a good God, unchanging and unwavering in all of His ways. Yet, there is good news for us who are weak…this does not mean we are perfect. In fact, we can screw up! We can lack faith and fall short (like Paul so often spoke about in the New Testament) and God is still faithful. Why? He cannot show betrayal to those who are marked His. Jesus’ costly bloodshed will not allow God to turn us away when we are sealed by His precious covering that occurred on the cross. He cannot deny Himself. We can be Peter, at times, sinking in an ocean deep even though we can hear God saying “come” and He will never disown us for we are His. He will keep reaching His hand towards us. However what we cannot survive is to live as Judas. We cannot kiss Him, yet deny Him. We must make sure that we are pursuing His will (and not our own) or we are living in a way that breaks His heart.

I hope that as you are dying to your flesh daily, remembering that in the end you are truly gaining. I hope that you also remember that when you endure, you will someday reign. And, when you fall short, I hope that you never forget that He is still faithful. So, I’ll end by proposing the same thought I began with slightly modified: have you ever been the cause of a deep betrayal? Was this offense towards the One who wants to call you His and capture you heart forever? I believe that these gut wrenching and human emotions of betrayal pierce Jesus’ heart when one of His decides to choose to betray.

Blessed Are The Merciful

Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

I continue to be perplexed at the anger and rejection that so many Christians heap on people whose sin is obvious and public. What befuddles me is that this is about as far from doing what Jesus did as you can get. I look at how Jesus treats the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery, or the drunks and prostitutes. What I see in Jesus is a savior who was completely committed to holiness and glorifying God in all He did. Yet, He did not allow that commitment to result in the condemnation of those who consistently wrestled with sin and lost. Rather Jesus showed great mercy to those people. He certainly called out their sin and challenged them to live a holy life. But at the same time He empathized with their weakness and sought to lift them to higher things. And He did this even though He never sinned and, therefore, never needed that kind of mercy.

In the beatitudes Jesus has made it clear that we are spiritually bankrupt and in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy. If you are a follower of Christ you have received that mercy, countless times over. Knowing that we have received such wonderful mercy, what can we do other than to pass that mercy on to others?

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of the Unforgiving Servant. It is about a man who was forgiven a monstrous debt by his master. The debt was so large that it would take the average worker (in Jesus day) 200,000 years to earn that much. He was forgiven something he could never pay. The servant later comes upon a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of about three months wages. That fellow servant asks for time to pay the debt. The man refuses to give him time and in great anger, throws him in debtors prison along with his wife and children. Later, the master hears of this and in his anger, throws the servant in prison for the rest of his days. Jesus makes the point that He is the master and we are the servants who, because of the cross and resurrection, have been forgiven of a debt we could never pay. In light of that, how dare we spout vitriol and anger at people who have sinned against us in significantly smaller ways. How dare we not show mercy to a fellow debtor.

Giving people mercy simply means to not push on them the punishment that they deserve for what they have done. If you throw yourself on the “mercy of the court” you are saying, “yes I am guilty but please do not punish me to the extent I deserve”. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have thrown yourself on the mercy of His cosmic court. And you have received mercy. Having freely received, we are to freely give. It doesn’t mean that we fail to call sin what it is. It means that we call it what it is, but we let a person know, we will not heap anger, rejection, punishment or suffering on them, because we have received a far great mercy from the Lord.

There is a symbiotic relationship at work here. We have received mercy from the Lord so we give mercy to others. When we do, we will continue to receive mercy. When we don’t give that mercy, we can be assured that we will not be receiving it. The unforgiving servant learned that sad lesson.

Good Friday

Good Friday: How Love Wins

To any of you who have not purchased what is in my opinion one of the greatest Christian albums of all time, buy yourself this precious gift. The CD is called “Music Inspired By The Story” and it features some of the top Christian artists singing songs from many different Bible characters perspectives. The way in which Nicole Nordman, the lyricist, and Bernie Herms, the composer, express humanity and God’s love in this musical composition is nothing short of an inspired masterpiece. Yes, I am this passionate about it and the dozens of people I have convinced to purchase this album have agreed with me! If you own this CD, you know I am right and please leave a comment as to which is your favorite song (mine changes constantly).

As I shift gears, I personally have been inspired by one of the songs on the CD called “This is How Love Wins.” The words leave me in tears every time. As we approach Good Friday, I’d like to reflect on Jesus’ death through the eyes of a very unlikely man. You see, the word “Cavalry” makes me emotional. For those of you who read these articles each day, you can refer to my “Love at First Sight” article to further understand my connection to, and passion for, the streets I walked in Jerusalem that led to a deeper understanding of God’s great love and the personal song it inspired called, “He Gave Calvary.” This passion is understandable because this is where Jesus began the journey to win us back. We were nothing more than common criminals, thieves, who had robbed God of so much love and repaid Him with constant disobedience.

We were just like Joe. Who is Joe, you are probably wondering? I am glad you asked! Joe was a kid who was always getting into trouble and from a young age had a bit of a mean streak. He tried hard to please his parents while in elementary school, but after his many attempts to win their love had failed, Joe decided he would capture other people’s attention by being the neighborhood troublemaker. Joe was a small kid who always boasted scuffed up knees and smelt of rotten eggs. By middle school, Joe embraced his evil by causing other people pain in any way he possibly could. He would throw rocks and break windows, bully other children, and disrespect adults. Needless to say, school was mostly spent in detention and the principal’s waiting room. It wasn’t long before Joe’s family split and his now single-mother had to take another job to pay the bills. This resulted in Joe living out his nights home alone. Joe knew he was abandoned, unloved, and a mistake. In fact, deep down he wished he could change who he was, but he had established his identity as a hoodlum and he was committed to be something, even if that something was a no-good teenage boy. As Joe grew up, fathers kept their daughters far from Joe and Joe became increasingly lonely. Joe had no friends, no one who loved him, and he had no education or promise of a future. After dropping out of school his sophomore year, his time was spent drinking, smoking and trying to experience new ‘highs.’ By the time he was nineteen, he was out of juvie and back in jail a year later for car theft. There seemed no hope for Joe. Many years later, Joe found himself on death row for murdering four girls who were all teenagers. No one would be sad to see Joe pay for his sins and no one would ever love Joe. Yet, this is not what happened in Joe’s story next.

Here are some of the words to the song “This is How Love Wins,” will you pretend with me for a moment that this was Joe’s voice singing these words?

My life began like any other man held beneath a mother’s loving gaze
Somewhere between now and then I lost the man I could have been
Took everything that wasn’t mine to take but love believes that it is not too late
Only one of us deserves this cross, a suffering that should belong to me
Deep within this man I hang beside is the place where shame and grace collide
And it’s beautiful agony that He believes it’s not too late for me

This is how love wins, every single time
Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die
This is how love heals, the deepest part of you
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds
This is what love says, standing at the door
You don’t have to be who you’ve been before
Silenced by His voice, death can’t speak again
This is how love wins

We now see that Joe, this fictional, no-good character, did one remarkable life changing thing – he allowed God’s love in. He surrendered to Jesus and called Him Savior – repenting of all his sins. Joe’s story could have been similar to the nameless thief on the cross who accepted Christ just moments from his last breath and who is now in Heaven with our Lord. Joe could be countless little boys who are growing up right now, unloved, unwanted and yet, they also still have one final hope: redemption through Jesus. Even if you see yourself as a pretty good person, there is probably a part of Joe that is a part of you. We are all sinful, lost, hopeless, people without one truth: Good Friday. Good Friday and Jesus’ decision to embrace Calvary that allowed all the average and horrific Joes, who could never be good enough in their own right, to become royal children of a King. This is how love wins, every single time.

If you need to be freed from guilt and sin, Good Friday makes this possible. It’s a beautiful gift and one where love wins. The following is a Scripture that allows you to change your story. If you are a Joe, the good, bad, or ugly version, I challenge you to allow love in,

“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  (Romans 10:9-10)

If this was your fist time truly believing these words, please send us an e-mail so that we can begin to help you on this amazing journey. If you are a believer already, please don’t forget to intentionally seek after other ‘Joes.’ You have truth that they need and Good Friday is a perfect time to start allowing love to win.

Old Testament

Appreciating The Past: Our Personal History and The Old Testament

Although humans are all uniquely designed, we have a commonality which connects us as one people. One of these traits is our unique ability to have had and remember a past. Regardless of what your specific past consists of, the past molds us into who we become. The past teaches us how to correct personal issues, grow from heartache, and reminisce over precious memories. The past is crucial in understanding the future we desire. For some of you, the past if filled with regret; however, I want to give you a hope that can only come from Jesus. Our past has been covered and stamped with a new identity when we enter into a relationship with him. We are all new creatures because of the relationship and His perfect redemption for all of us.

You see, our pasts have been rewritten with grace.

Jesus understood the importance of the past when He first arrived on earth. While still having the unique perceptive of understanding through the divinity of the Trinity, an innocent baby crying for His mother’s embrace lived life one day at a time like a regular human being. Now, let’s look at in Scripture during a time where Jesus was at the peak of His three year ministry assignment – spreading God’s message for humanity and sharing one of his most famous sermons: the Beatitudes. Shortly after delivering words about how God sees things from a heavenly perceptive, He shared this insight:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

While Jesus spoke of radical ideas to traditional people who came from different backgrounds, He was specific in one thing that had to remain enact: the past. Jesus wanted to make certain that He clarified who He was and who He was not. He was not a man who came to compromise the past history of a Jewish nation who had believed in the one true God and followed Old Testament Law. He was the One who came to fulfill the promise of the past and eventually include us Gentiles into a new future. He had come to bring an end to the questions that many had contemplated for centuries and others had just started to ask.

Therefore, without truly understanding the Old Testament today, we are much like a person with amnesia trying to recall something that is missing, without a clue as to where to start.

Regardless of your like or dislike for historical events, I would encourage you to take a deep interest in Biblical history. If you are in a season of passionless faith, opening the Old Testament and seeing God’s hand on a history that affects all Christians is not only fascinating, but necessary.  Unfortunately, Christians often skip over the detailed moments given to us in the stories of the Old Testament. embracing primarily the redemption accounted for in the Gospels. While that is certainly important, think about it – most Christians are introduced to Christ in a New Testament context before learning Biblical history and seeing God as a just ruler and Law maker. Part of this is because we are all in need of a Savior and sometimes the word “God” can seem aloof. Yet, God, in the beginning, was the one who walked in the cool of the day with a young couple named Adam and Eve, establishing a relationship with them. He was never meant to be seen distant, He was always a God who wanted to be with His creation.

Often, we want to take hold of grace before truly understanding the order of a logical God. Yet, we can find so much beauty in the past if only we are willing to explore it.

By seeing all aspects of God, we will no longer be as angered by historical events that seem unfair because we will see that our history is laced with disobedience – a time where we were more than unfair to God, not vice versa. If we truly saw the holistic Word, we would be moved to tears before ever pointing a finger. Therefore, my encouragement to all of you is to make a commitment to understanding history, the Jewish culture, and everything in-between – these are God’s chosen people and we were adapted and graphed into this plan. Today is a perfect day to start discovering your past, in Christ, through falling in love with the God of the Old Testament who has fulfilled everything through the New Testament – an incredible series of events set into motion in the very beginning… all the way back in Genesis.