Where Do We Go from Here?


This is a long post today, but bear with me. I think the content is crucially important.

With all the turmoil in our world right now, we need wisdom to lead us through political division, racial talk, and false narratives from every side.

Believe it or not, our times are not unlike what Jesus and his disciples lived through.

Therefore, the teachings and parables of Jesus in the Bible stand out as the final word on how to navigate the season we’re in today.

This week I’ve been pouring over the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. I’ve been, once again, amazed at how relevant it is to our current times. I’d like to unpack a few things that have spoken to me.

As people who read and apply the Bible to our lives, we often take isolated scripture passages out of their context. While this isn’t always a bad idea and can actually be encouraging, we can also miss the greater message Jesus imparted when we do so. For example, I think we’ve heard these:

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11 (true, encouraging, but we miss that God said this after leading people into exile as a way to help them see their need for him and then obey him.)
  • “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Actually, this is misquoted and incomplete. This comes from 1 Cor. 10:13 and God is talking about temptation. He doesn’t tempt us, he won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and will always provide a way out of temptation.
  • “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38 –true in every situation, but we hear it mostly applied to finances; however, in context it applies to forgiveness. Think about that one.

I think you can see what I mean.

Matthew 18 is a chapter from which many verses have been singled out and used outside of the context of the entire chapter. I discovered that this week.

And WOW!

Here’s what I believe I’ve missed before…

  • The theme is unity. (Don’t we need that right now?) In verse 1 the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest. (Sound familiar?)
  • Jesus starts his discourse on unity by speaking of humility. Jesus says change and become like a little child. Humble ourselves. (vs.3-4)
  • There are things and people in the world that can lead us into disunity –our sin can cause others to stumble and fall too – so we need to do whatever it takes, even cutting things off, to protect ourselves and others. (vs.5-9)
  • If someone, even one person, wanders away from safety, we look for a way to help them. God doesn’t want any of us to be lost in sin, despair, brokenness, etc. (vs.121-14)
  • When someone says or does something that hurts us, it’s not only us, but the whole body of believers that suffers. When we confront them, we should do so, not to argue and persuade them that we’re right and they are wrong. Not to press our opinion or validate ourselves. We go in love to present to them in kind words what the problem is. The Bible says if he listens to us, we win him over. What that actually means in the original language is if he’s willing to hear what we have to say (let’s be willing to receive), we have gained him back into relationship with us. If he’s not, Jesus lays out an entire process, in which at least two or three others can see and agree that something is amiss. Following the process, is intended to help someone see how he is hurting his fellow believers. Unity folks. (vs.15-17)
  • If after following the steps of this process, someone refuses to have an open mind/heart to hear his friends (brothers), that is the point where it is for the safety of the entire group to treat him as not part of the group. That doesn’t mean we don’t forgive and continue to love. (vs.17)
  • Jesus goes on to tell us that when we seek him and agree with what he says we have the authority to fasten to him and declare the enemy/sin unlawful. We can release God’s love in the situation and break or dissolve the enemy’s hold on it. Where two or more agree (with God’s will – unity here), Jesus is in our midst and will do what we ask. We must be praying for the person and the situation.(vs.18-20)
  • Then he goes on to tell a parable about being willing to forgive they way he forgives us. We shouldn’t treat someone badly when they sin against us. We remember how much we have been forgiven. Forgiveness brings peace and opens a way for reconciliation. (vs.21-35)

This is my take away.

Jesus reminded us that we are to be:

  1. Humble.
  2. Willing to acknowledge and protect ourselves and others from sin.
  3. Open to doing whatever it takes to help someone who is struggling. (Without judgment.)
  4. Willing to lovingly confront when necessary to bring reconciliation for the benefit of all.
  5. Obedient in following the process Jesus gave us.
  6. Involving others who are close to the situation only when necessary. (Not in gossip.)
  7. Seek God’s will and join with others in prayer about it.
  8. Forgive.

I have to ask myself where I’ve ignored, avoided, denied or missed any of this. The first being am I humble?

Humility leads to unity.

Jesus, who had every right to assert his god-ship over us all, willingly laid it down to show his love for us. His was the ultimate act of humility.

Am I even close to doing that? What about when someone doesn’t share my opinion? When I have the “right” to justice? If I’m reasonably (or not) hurt by someone’s words or actions? If something is not what I hoped for or expected?

Unless we start there, none of the rest will matter because it won’t come from the correct posture of our heart.

If I point out someone’s sin, even with the motive of helping them…

If I proclaim to others about what someone did that was so wrong or hurtful…

If I try to “help” someone see the error of their ways or opinions…

If I confront another…

If I pray for someone…

None of those things done without humility with end up serving in love, and can actually lead to more harm and division.

The Bible says:

“If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love {humility}, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love {humility}, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love {humility}, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3

If we follow Jesus’s example of love, it begins with humility. God’s example of giving his only son to reach his children who have turned against him? Started with humility. Jesus allowing himself to be mocked, beaten, and hung naked on a cross for us? A tremendous act of humility.

Humility may not be popular, but it’s right. It’s not easy—in fact it goes against everything in us that wants to fight for ourselves* (that’s pride by the way).

No matter what situation we face in today’s world, humility is the first step to reconciliation and ultimately, unity.

Where can we apply that to our lives today? I’ll bet, like me, you can find more than one area.

May you experience the depth of Jesus’s humbling presence and love today.

*please know that if you are in an abusive situation, it is appropriate to flee and get help – Jesus loves you and wants his children to be safe and healthy in our relationships – that’s why he gives the process 😉 If you’d let me, I’d love to pray and help in any way I can

Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”


An author friend of mine from California writes great blog posts about hope. I swapped with her this week since we both share our findings of hope in our world from opposite places in the nation. I pray you’re blessed by her wonderful post this week. You can read more of her posts, and see mine this week on her site at www.carolshope.com.

Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”

By Carol Nicolet Loewen

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her succession, Queen Elizabeth II referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis,” a horrible year. Many of us would say the same of 2020.

Our country is in the midst of an ever-expanding pandemic as we wait and pray for an effective vaccine. We have isolated, masked, attended church, family, and business meetings on Zoom. We are hitting new highs for COVID-19 hospitalizations and are cautioned against being together with family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa holidays. Fires and floods have taken lives, homes, animals, property. And our election results are still in question, with the media quick to step in with their interpretation before waiting for the final electoral vote in December.

We need hope. And out of that hope we need love that goes beyond our differences.

I heard a statistic recently that more than 80% of Americans–whether Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, church-goer or non-church goer–say they have no friends who see the world differently than they see it, politically and theologically. We prefer to stay in our own comfort zones rather than deliberately choosing to know and learn to love someone who is “unlike” us. And nothing divides us like fear. Fear of loss … of control, safety, rights, freedom, health, power, economic stability, and on and on.

We look for affirmation, security, and love in a variety of ways, many of which are not only unproductive, but potentially dangerous.

  • The sexually abused daughter who grows up to become promiscuous, believing physical intimacy is the way to gain security through the approval of men.
  • The son who has never been able to please his father, continues to push himself, trying ever harder to get an “atta boy”. He becomes a workaholic who is almost an absentee parent.
  • The tycoon who thinks his business success will buy him security. 
  • The perfectionist who continually beats herself up because she could have “done it better,” never satisfied despite awards and recognition.
  • The rioters and looters who attack and destroy businesses of those they claim to defend.

What we’re looking for is a blessing. “Blessing” is defined as God’s favor and protection; a special favor, mercy or benefit. Three thousand years ago, God gave Moses a blessing for the people of Israel, which my lovely mother sang at my wedding. It still carries deep meaning. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26

Only in the blessing of God do we find unconditional love which remains constant, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who HE is.

“Thy love is uncaused and undeserved. Thou art Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 97)

God has chosen to delight in me. What an amazing, life-altering fact! I don’t have to earn His love. I can’t. I simply need to receive it, bask in it, find my security in it. And when I am secure in His love, I am able to love others and fear begins to evaporate.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18

So then how can I GIVE a blessing to others? In a video, an impatient man is given a pair of “all-seeing” glasses. People who before were irritants or interruptions are seen through a new lens—recognizing one needs a hug, a woman just lost a dear friend, a man lost his job. Seeing their pain, the man responds very differently than before.

I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, so I can bless those around me … with a warm smile, a listening heart, a “thank you” to store clerks, health care professionals, and others. I want to intentionally affirm those I love and those who need encouragement.

I have needed a blessing these past weeks. Have you?

What choices will you make this week to receive and give the blessing? I’d love to interact with you at carolshope.com.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17b-19

Carol Nicolet Loewen writes of hope from the depths of her own loss. She resides in San Jose, California with her lovely second husband and their dog, Paige. Marrying a wonderful man at age 36 and losing him twenty years later taught her to value every moment, that we can survive loss, move ahead and even love again. It also allowed Carol to experience God’s faithfulness during the hardest time of her life. She is working on her first book, a historical novel of hope set in Bolshevik Russia, and loves to connect with her readers at carolshope.com.

Peace Be With You


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This week I was reading in John 21, and God spoke to me about peace. He asked me to share what he said, but first let me set the scene.

The followers of Jesus are cowering together in a room together with the doors locked.

Why?

Because their leader, who they thought was going to bring about political freedom, has been murdered. Tortured, mocked, and nailed on a tree to die for “no reason” according to the man who released him to be crucified. And even though some of them have seen him alive after he’s risen from the dead, they are hiding because people are hunting them to kill anyone who has followed Jesus.

Chaos, riots, turmoil in the streets. Fear permeating through the locked doors. Sound familiar?

And then Jesus shows up in the midst of their fear and says “Peace be with you.”

Today I heard him speak through his word and the whispers in my spirit. This is what he said:

No matter what is happening in the world right now, when I am with you, you will have peace. Do not get caught up in the drama of the times. Sit with me. Abide with me, and I will bring peace. I will cover you with peace. Not the peace the world claims void of racism and pandemics and turmoil and killing and riots, but peace outside of that, beyond it, in spite of it. Peace is not the absence of turmoil, it is my presence that is perfectly right and transcends what you can see. If you seek me, you will find me. If you trust me, you will rest in me. If you align yourself with me, it doesn’t matter what is happening in the world, you will be in peace, surrounded with peace, covered with peace. I AM WITH YOU. Peace be with you. Let me breathe on you. Live in forgiveness. Stop doubting. Stop looking for something in the world to bring you peace, just believe the I AM, and I AM with you. Peace be with you.”

May you find peace in Jesus today.

What’s Going On Here?


The world is a scary place right now.Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, CA

Wars, rumors of wars, riots, racism, political debates (and I’m not talking about the candidates), shootings, random acts of terror…

How do we think about all the bad news?

In 61 A.D. in the prosperous Roman colony of Philippi, the people may have been wondering the same thing. Their mentor, Paul, was in prison in Rome (actually under house arrest) for telling people about Jesus so they sent him some gifts to encourage him. In a letter thanking those generous souls, Paul also wrote to encourage them to hang in there no matter what circumstances were.

Here’s a look at what Paul had to say:

Paul:

What has happened to me has really served to advance the good news about Jesus. (1:12) (Modern vernacular: It’s all good, bro.)

What this means for me:

No matter how hard or bad circumstances are, God will use them in a good way to do something great in us or through us.

Paul:

What has happened to me will turn out for deliverance. (1:19)

What this means for me:

Sometimes my difficult circumstances help free someone else from bad things in their life when they can see how I handle them. Those same situations can also cause me to gain a different perspective about my life, thus freeing me from life-long, harmful misconceptions.

Paul:

Whatever happens conduct yourself in a worthy manner. (1:27)

What this means for me:

It’s easy to get scared, frustrated or worried when bad things happen. But I need to be careful how I act and what I say so that others will be helped by my attitude, not hindered by it. If I can remember the two previous points, they should help my focus stay on God where I’ll find peace, calm and an eventual solution.

Paul:

Stand firm without being frightened. (1:28)

What this means for me:

If Paul can keep his cool and not be scared in prison when he’s done nothing wrong, I can trust that God’s got my back too. The more I think about the magnitude of God and the bigger picture, the less frightened I’ll be.

That’s the good news.

 

What frightens you most about today’s world? How are you coping with the growing turmoil?