Don’t Let the Passion Burn Out

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We are Christians, called by His name. He has saved us from a horrible fate and given us, not just life, but abundant life.

But do you ever find yourself growing hard? It becomes a burden to go to the extra prayer service. You don’t want to go to church today. It becomes more of a duty than a joy. You forget to pray more than you remember to. The Bible doesn’t hold the same charm that it used to.

I was reading in Hebrews this morning and it brought some light:

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘today’, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:12-13

I see a progression in this passage. It starts with unbelief and goes to a hard heart. The very next passage talks about rebellion toward God which is the next step. You don’t start out with a hard or rebellious heart toward God, but maybe you don’t believe Him like you used to. Maybe you’ve had things that you have held onto for so long without seeing results that you have finally let go. This can cause a hard heart.

It also talks about being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Sin is deceptive. Why? Because the enemy of your soul would have you believe that it is never really as bad as it seems. It wants to hold on and not be dealt with, just shoved under the rug. Sin always wants to lessen the consequences. That is where it is deceptive. “It’s not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” But sin will separate you from God and it will never tell you that. Deal with sin and don’t let it deceive you.

Then there is unbelief. What are the things that are hard to believe God for? Where is it hard to give Him reign in your life? Build your faith in those areas. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17) Find scriptures on those areas. Read them over and over. Post them on your bathroom mirror. Say them out loud.

Don’t let sin or unbelief dampen your passion for God. Take God at His word. Find Scriptures for your life and pray them over your life. Let nothing separate you from God. Don’t let your heart grow hard in unbelief, but keep your faith alive through the Word of God.

“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” Hebrews 3:19

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Seventy Times Seven

Matthew 18:21-35 “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.’”

Long passage, but it has been on my mind today. It will really rock your world if you let it. Too often as Christians, we let things bug us. People get on our nerves or flat out offend us. Sometimes they legitimately hurt us. But what is our response? It can make the difference in eternity.

So first, the servant is brought before the king with an insurmountable debt. He begs for mercy and is forgiven a debt that he never could have paid. He promptly goes and finds a fellow servant and demands a few dollars from him and shows no mercy. You can imagine why the king responded the way he did.

Let’s put this in real life. We hold a debt to God that we can never pay. He has forgiven us for things that we could never make up for. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. The payment for the wrong that we have done is death. But instead we have been forgiven and given life.

And in return, we find someone that we feel owes us and won’t forgive them. Why? What makes us feel that we have the right? I think more often than not, we forget the debt that we have been forgiven. Then when we hold something against another person, we put ourselves in a place of torment. Verse 34 says torturers, other versions say tormentors. We never really hurt the person that we don’t forgive, we really only ever hurt ourselves. The torment in your mind is unbearable.

The other thing that unforgiveness does is that it separates us from God. We can’t hear His voice anymore. It makes it so that the only thing that we can think about it is what we think is owed us. And because we can’t hear His voice, we aren’t walking in obedience to Him.

The last thing that unforgiveness and bitterness does is that it drives people away from you. Your closest friends and family will begin to get distant. The only time they stay close is when they themselves are harboring unforgiveness. Then it becomes misery and company. But those that don’t will subconsciously step away because of the things that you allow in through the unforgiveness and the torment.

Legitimately, there are times when it hurts deeply. People do things that are wrong to us: physically, mentally or emotionally. Forgiving them isn’t saying that what they did was right. Forgiving them is moving on and not letting it hold on to you. It is trusting in God and looking to Him instead of to the circumstance. Forgiveness is moving forward and keeping your heart right with God.

Let God shape the way you think. Remember that it is seventy times seven, not so that we keep account, but so that we don’t live in torment. Forgive so that your Father can forgive you. It’s like a faucet. You can’t turn it off to those around you and expect that it is still going to flow from above. Forgiveness is the only option in light of eternity.

The Heartbeat of God

Pondering the love of God today…

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

One part at a time: God so loved the world that He gave… Most everyone when they love, they give. It is easy to do. When a young couple falls in love, they will do all sorts of things for each other. Parents will do just about anything for their children in the name of love.

But how many people would give their only son for someone else? How many would willingly offer their son’s life in the place of a stranger, even a criminal? How many would allow their son to give his life if he wanted to?

And yet, the King of the universe gave His only Son to take my place. I didn’t deserve it. God owed me nothing. In fact, by the way I lived; I was one to spit in His face. But in spite of who I was and am, He still loves me.

It redefines love. But God is love, I think He has the best definition. God’s love is and always will be the greatest love. It never changes. The Bible says that God never changes, so His love can never change. The same desire, the same love that led Him to give His Son, still wants to spend eternity with us.

The heart of God beats for people. It beats that we could know Him and be close to Him. He wanted us to have eternal life. We were meant for heaven, not hell. Jesus took our place, we were deserving of death and He died in our stead that we might live forever with Him in paradise. God so loved that He gave. He gave the most precious thing that He had that, if we will believe, we can be with Him.

He Took My Place

I’ve been thinking a lot about Barabbas. He was a criminal, tried and true. He was in prison waiting to be executed for his crime. But he was released.

I find myself putting my name in place of his. I am a sinner, tried and true. Even though I have never been convicted of a crime or even had a speeding ticket, I am still guilty. Guilty of what? Guilty of breaking God’s law. The Ten Commandments are there to show us right from wrong.

Let’s pick one: Thou shalt not lie. I love the Old King James, it makes it sound so much more important. But, we have all lied, even if it was only a little white lie. A lie is a lie.

Thou shalt not steal. Most of us at one time or another, to some degree, have taken something that doesn’t belong to us. Guilty. Thou shalt not murder. OK! I can safely say that I have never killed anyone. But, the Bible says that if you hate someone in your heart than you are a murderer (1 John 3:15). Ouch! Guilty. Three for three.

But just like in the story of Barabbas, Jesus took my place. He took upon Himself the sins that I have committed, the lustful thoughts, the thoughts of hate, the wrong things I have done. The Bible says that He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I was deserving of death, for the payment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus, the only one who had no sins of His own to pay for, took mine and yours upon Himself to pay the price that you and I could not pay.

Why? So that we could spend eternity with Him. Sin keeps us away from God. God is so perfectly holy that it is against His very nature to dwell with darkness. That is why Jesus came.

I cannot read the story of the cross without tears, knowing that it was for me that He was crucified. Now I walk in freedom from sin because of it. I put myself in Barabbas’ shoes and can only imagine how he felt to know that an innocent man was killed in his stead.

Let us remember the cross as we live our lives. Remember what He has done, so that we live a little differently. The best part of the story is not just that He died for us, but that He rose again. Death could not hold the Prince of Life. The Spirit of God raised Him from the dead and He lives to give us freedom over the things that would hold in bondage.

Acquitted

Deep in a dank Roman prison a criminal awaits justice. He has been tried and found guilty. There were multiple witnesses.

“Murderer! Murderer!” He would forever hear the crowd screaming. Thankfully he had not long to live in the torment. The guilt and remorse were tearing at him. He hardened his heart. He would no longer feel emotion.

He had no sense of time, but he knew that the execution had to be in the next twelve hours or so. His hands got clammy. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and his mouth went dry. A Roman cross was his fate. He had killed a Roman citizen. The Roman’s dealt harshly with murderers.

He heard the guard coming. Not yet! It was too soon. What was happening?

The keys rattle in the door and the guard enters. He has a mean look about him. Or maybe that is just how all Roman guards are.

Roughly jerked to his feet by his own chains, he moans in pain. Where are they taking him? The courtyard, not another beating! He isn’t sure that he could live through another like the last one.

The guard pushes him ahead, down the corridor and up the stone stairway. The blinding sunshine hits his face, leaving the darkness of the prison behind. They come to the courtyard. His pulse starts to race.

Why are there so many people? The courtyard is jammed full. This isn’t just a crowd. This is a mob! And they are angry.

Why? He wonders.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” Barabbas’ heart pounds even harder. He is already on death row. Why are they again demanding that he be crucified? As his vision clears he sees a man standing before the judgment seat. He has seen this man before.

Jesus, the Nazarene, stands before Pilate, the Roman governor. What has he done? Barabbas begins looking around. He recognizes the Jewish leaders standing with Jesus. He begins to understand. Jewish justice will not crucify this man, but Roman cruelty will. The Jewish leaders are trying to convince the governor that this man is worthy of death.

Pilate stands. The crowd hushes.

“It is my custom that I release one prisoner to you at the feast. Which would you prefer? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called the Christ? Which of the two do you want me to release to you? ”

Barabbas is stunned. It is between him and this Jesus who will live and who will die a horrendous death this day. He can’t breathe.

“We want Barabbas!” the crowd erupts. Barabbas can’t believe what is happening. Will he be freed? What has this man done that would make the people hate him this much?

“What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

“Crucify him!” the crowd turns unreasonable. The governor has just referred to this Man as their Messiah, making Him their Savior. They become angry and unruly

“What has he done to be deserving of death?” Pilate wants nothing to do with this.

“CRUCIFY HIM!” the mob is getting out of hand.

Pilate signals the guard. “You have been freed. You will not pay for the crime you committed.” The guard removes Barabbas’ chains and shoves him away, glowering down at him.

He puts them on the other Man. His hands and feet never felt so light. He chances a glance at the other Man. Expecting anger and hatred, their eyes meet. They hold. Barabbas looks away. Who is this Man?

He sees no anger. He sees no hate. It was the look of his father when he had been hurt as a child, compassion and kindness.

The soldiers lead Jesus away. The mob follows. Barabbas can’t move. Twenty minutes before he had no hope. He was a murderer on death row. Now he is free, acquitted of his offense.

He follows behind numbly, not knowing where else to go. He witnesses a beating more brutal than he had received. Thirty-nine blows with a cat-of-nine-tales. The Romans are cruel in their torture. Jesus utters not a word. Barabbas thinks of his own beating and the string of profanities that he had used.

The solders mock Him and spit on Him. They take a crown made of twisted thorns the length of a finger and press it onto His head. “Hail! The King of the Jews!”

They strap the cross to Jesus’ back. He can barely stand. They find another man to carry the cross. Jesus comes behind, barely walking. Each time He stumbles results in cruel lashes from a Roman whip.

Barabbas continues to follow as they climb the street to the Place of the Skull. It is a Roman death field. With every step, he is reminded that he should be the one carrying the cross.

He tries to find out Jesus’ crime but no one seems to know. Some say one thing and some another. He begins to piece together what he knows. Jesus is a Jewish carpenter and teacher. He is called a Nazarene. He is hated by the Jewish leaders for the things he taught.

Finally a man tells him that the Jewish leaders want Him dead because of His teachings and what they called blasphemy. This makes sense. The Jewish leaders aren’t known for their straight ways of dealing with people they don’t like.

He comes on the hill a little late. The crosses already stand, three of them. Jesus is in the middle with a criminal on either side. Barabbas knows these men.

“If you are the Son of God, come down off the cross.” The men at the cross continue to scoff at him.

Barabbas hears Jesus say, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The soldiers put a sign above Jesus’ head that says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The priests and elders of the Jews mock Him even further. “He saved others but He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let God deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’.”

Barabbas’ stomach turns. He can stand it no longer. He turns to leave the gruesome scene.

As he turns, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken Me?”  The cry holds such anguish that Barabbas turns one last time to look in His eyes. Then he turns and runs. He runs until he can’t run anymore. He collapses on the side of the street. He sobs. He has not cried in many years. But he can’t help it.

He was to have been executed. And now Jesus hangs in his place. Why? It isn’t right. He is deserving of death and has been released. Jesus is no more than an innocent teacher and carpenter. Or is He? The people called Him the Son of God.

Barabbas picks himself off the ground. The sky is getting dark. He isn’t far from his home. He turns down the alley that leads to his door. He opens it and enters, closing the door behind him. Closing the door forever on Barabbas the murderer and standing as Barabbas, the acquitted.

Adapted from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Give and Keep Giving

Luke 6:30-36 “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

ImageQuite a chunk of Scripture, but I was thinking about it today. It is so easy to think that we are owed something. There is a certain expectation that we place on those around us. The biggest issue is that, often, we rarely verbalize these expectations.

At work, it is so easy to get frustrated with a coworker and fume inwardly day after day. At home, unspoken expectations cause more friction, fights, and divorces than we’d care to examine. The only way that we can do this is to put others beneath us. They owe us something. We’ve worked too hard to be treated this way. The words of Jesus challenge this concept.

“Give to everyone who asks…” Give more than what is asked for. No matter how the treat you, don’t treat you, or the way that you would wish to be treated; do it for those you have the hardest time with. Do it for your Lord if for no other reason.

“Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return.” Sometimes this means working your tail off, knowing that there is nothing in return but a reward in heaven. Don’t give up. Don’t get angry. DON’T get offended. It’s not worth it.

We are called to be Christ-like. “He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” That is one of the hardest things to do. The unthankful, the person that doesn’t even care how much work you do and adds more to your load, be kind. The evil, I think we rarely come across anyone that we would label evil. The concept behind this word is anyone that brings a press to your life as a Christian. Be kind to those.

Make Jesus your role model and His Word your guide book. Make the conviction in your heart everyday to be kind, no matter how you are treated. Lean on Him. Ask Him to remind you. He will. Be the light that He calls you to be by the way you treat those closest to you.