Psychologist James Dobson reported seeing a sign at a convent in southern California that had the following message: Absolutely No Trespassing—Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law. Signed, “The Sisters of Mercy.”
If we truly understood the enormous scope of the mercy we have received from God, we would be much more willing to give mercy to people who have wronged us.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story about a servant who owed his master an unbelievably large amount of money. Since he could not pay back the debt, the master had pity on the man, cancelled the debt and let him go.
That man in turn found a fellow servant who owed him a relatively small amount of money. Rather than forgive as he had been forgiven, he demanded payment. When the fellow servant could not repay him, he had him thrown into prison.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and reported the incident to the master. The master called the servant back into his presence and said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (v.33). The angry master handed the ungrateful servant over to the jailers to be severely punished.
Jesus finishes the story will this application—“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (v.35).
Think of all the numerous sins that God has forgiven you. Then consider your willingness to forgive others for the relatively minor sins they commit against you.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”—Matthew 5:7.
One of the oddest greetings recorded in Scripture is when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and proclaimed, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12b).
Gideon must have felt like anything but a might warrior at the time. The Midianites had invaded Israel, and their oppression was so severe that Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep the Midianites from stealing it. Rather than confronting the enemy, this “mighty warrior” was hiding from them!
After hearing this greeting, Gideon had some questions. He wanted to know “…But if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about…?” (6:13b). “The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” (6:14).
We may have some questions of our own for the Lord. If the Lord is with us: Why is abortion still legal? Why do so many people think that homosexuality is OK? Why did COVID 19 happen? Why is the Taliban back in power? Why is there human trafficking in our nation? Why is Christianity openly mocked by so many people in the United States? Why are so many children abused? Why are so many bad things happening if the Lord is with us?
Instead of answering our questions, God seems to say to us the same thing that he said to Gideon, “Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?” Rather than question God, we would do better to obey him and carry out whatever assignment he has given us.
Gideon then resorted to excuses, a common human trait. He pointed out that his clan was the weakest one in his tribe and that he was the least in his family (6:15). Humility is a wonderful quality, but it can sometimes be used as an excuse to avoid serving the Lord. Let’s always strive to be humble, yet obedient.
Gideon then asked for confirmation of God’s call. Gideon put a fleece on the ground overnight. The next morning he found the fleece wet with dew, but the ground dry, just as Gideon had asked. The next night he put the fleece out again. This time the fleece was dry the next morning, but the ground was wet, just as Gideon has asked God to do. At this, Gideon was convinced that God had indeed really spoken to him and had given him this assignment.
We still talk about “putting out a fleece” to confirm that God wants us to take on a specific task or go in a certain direction. He often confirms his assignment to us through circumstances that cannot possibly be a coincidence, or by sending other believers to advise us that this does indeed seem to be God’s will for our lives. Once we get the confirmation, then we must spring into action.
Chapter 7 tells us how God thinned out Gideon’s army. The Lord didn’t want the Israelites to think that they had defeated the Midianites through their own strength. They must know most certainly that it was the Lord who gave them the victory. So an army that was once 32,000 strong quickly became a mere 300 men!
If this seems to be unorthodox, wait until you hear the battle plan. The 300 warriors were to face off against the mighty Midianite army by waving a torch, blowing a trumpet and giving out a shout. The plan worked! The Lord confused the Midianite soldiers. First they turned on each other, then they ran. The Israelites pursued them, captured their leaders and won the victory—just as the Lord had said!
You may not feel much like a mighty warrior right now, but God sees you for what you can be if you align yourself with him. So put your questions and excuses behind you, obey God and go out in the strength that you have. You will find that the Lord will be with you and he will give you the victory. And it will all be for his glory!
Several years ago a tornado ripped through a small mid-western town. The local newspaper reported on the event, stating that the storm that blew away the Methodist church did no real damage to the town!
That’s a scary proposition that gives every Christian a reason to stop and wonder about the effectiveness of their congregation. If your church would suddenly cease to exist, would your community even miss it?
Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We must always strive to be relevant and effective, impacting the lives of the people around us in a positive way so that the kingdom of God will grow.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?…You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:13-16.
The Bible uses several illustrations to point out the importance of bringing people to Jesus.
In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep. The shepherd leaves the rest of the flock in order to find the one that is lost. When he finds it, he calls his friends and neighbors to come and rejoice with him because the lost sheep has been found. Jesus says that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.
In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus performs a miracle in which the disciples are able, in one cast of the net, to catch enough fish to cause two boats to begin to sink. He then commissions them to “fish for people”.
In John 4:34-38, Jesus tells his disciples that the fields are “ripe for harvest”. Just as the crops become ready to be brought into the barn, people are ready to be brought into the kingdom of God.
All of these examples—finding lost sheep, fishing for people and harvesting a crop—require deliberate action on the part of those who would participate in evangelism. Those who want to be a part of bringing people to Jesus must make the decision to actively engage in the process.
One of my favorite sources of wisdom is the resident philosopher at the Maysville Ledger Independent, Ponto the Office Dog. In one of his most recent musings, Ponto had this to say about leadership—“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”
It stands to reason that you can’t lead people in the right direction if you don’t know which way to go yourself. Many have been led astray by people who simply didn’t know where they were going.
Secondly, you have to go that way yourself if you really want to lead people. It’s often not good enough to simply point people in the right direction. They probably won’t take your advice if they don’t see you going that way yourself.
Finally, a leader has to show the way. People want to understand why you are going in that certain direction rather than any of the other directions you might have taken. A necessary part of leadership is to explain the journey to your followers as they go with you along the way.
Of course, Jesus is the ultimate leader. He says, “…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
As I write this, the 2020 Olympic Games—held in 2021 because of the pandemic—are winding down. Soon all the athletes will be home and either contemplating retirement or thinking ahead to their next big competition.
The Bible often describes the Christian life as being like a race. We can learn some things from the sports world that will help us do a better job of living for Jesus.
First of all, participating in competitive racing requires some training. This involves watching what you eat and exercising vigorously. At the beginning of this year I set a goal of losing 10 pounds. As of this morning I have 14 pounds to go!
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Exercise does us some good. Let’s take care of our bodies, since, as followers of Jesus, our bodies are a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Lift some weights. Just get moving! It will do you some good.
But this verse emphasizes training for godliness even more than physical training. Every time we say a prayer, read Scripture, worship God, do a good deed or witness to someone about Jesus we exercise our spiritual muscles. Every time we exercise spiritually we get stronger and become better equipped to run our race for Jesus.
Hebrews12:1-3 describes our race: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Many great heroes of the faith—like those listed in Hebrews 11—have gone before us and shown us how to live for God, trusting in him no matter what happens in life. They taught us by their example that we should never give up.
In order to run for Jesus, of course we have to throw off any sin that could entangle us. Don’t be tripped up by trying to live according to worldly values rather than the holy life that God calls us to live. As a matter of fact, it is not only sin that impedes us. We are to throw off “everything that hinders”. It is possible to be distracted by things that are not necessarily sinful, such as our career, our family, our hobbies, pleasures and other pursuits. Don’t let anything keep you from running your best race for Jesus.
This Hebrews text also calls for us to fix our eyes on Jesus. A passing glance is not good enough. Fix your gaze on our perfect example—Jesus. He showed us how to live. And he endured far more suffering than any of us ever will. Consider what Jesus went through so that you will not lose heart.
Finally, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27—“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Only a few Olympic runners receive medals, but everyone who finishes the race for Jesus receives the prize of eternal life! So don’t falter! Don’t give up! The Bible offers no rewards for those who used to follow Jesus, but then gave up. But for those who persevere, God promises an eternal home in heaven!
A couple of preachers got together for a cup of coffee one day. During the course of the conversation one minister asked the other, “How many people do you have in your church?”
“About 100”, was the reply.
“How many of them are active?”
“Really? I find it hard to believe that you have 100 members and all of them are active!”
“It’s true. 50 of them are actively supporting me and the other 50 are actively working against me!”
Sadly, this humorous story holds some truth for many congregations. It’s a shame that Christians can’t be more in harmony with one another. Jesus prayed that his followers would be united so that the world would know that God had sent Jesus to save the world (John 17). Much of our evangelistic success will depend on our ability to get along with one another.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:3.
Some people complain about growing older, but if you think about it there are some benefits of aging. For one thing, you are not as likely to be kidnapped. And if you do happen to find yourself in a hostage situation you are likely to be the first one released.
Another positive thing about being older is that people are more patient with you. No one expects you to run. Anywhere. Ever.
Oh, here’s a good one. No one views you as a hypochondriac no matter how much you complain about your many ailments. They think that at your age this is normal.
By the time you get to be a senior citizen, there are no more lessons to be learned the hard way. You’ve already done all that!
What else? Oh, you can eat supper at 4:00pm if you want.
And the things you buy won’t ever wear out. They will last you for the rest of your life!
So, there are some benefits of aging. But for those of you who do not yet consider yourself to be old, here is some good advice—“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).