Category Archives: grace

Grace-filled Speech

Editorial Note: I originally published this article in February of this year. Given some exchanges I have seen recently in the blogosphere, I felt that it would be relevant to repost it. I do not write this to single anyone out, but to remind myself what Christian discourse is intended to be.

One of the great things about blogging is that it gives everyone a chance to express their opinions. In some ways (not every way, of course), it is even better than dialogue. People’s comments are judged based upon the merit of what they say, not their appearance; and you can’t be interrupted in mid-sentence. As I visit various blogs, I enjoy hearing the thoughts of various bloggers. I have found many whose thoughts are informative, encouraging and inspiring. I even enjoy some of the theological debates that I have encountered, they are certainly challenging. Debate is a healthy thing, it teaches you to clearly understand and articulate your beliefs.

I am concerned, however, at the lack of graceful speech that I often find being demonstrated by God’s people to one another. When debates begin to escalate, the speech often degenerates into language that, while not profane, surely is scathing. Labels begin to pop up, sarcasm replaces reason, anger replaces gentleness, etc.

The purpose of grace that is given to God’s children is to help us get along. Well-meaning platitudes aside, believers will never come together as one until we get to heaven. There are simply too many opinions that vary too greatly. I often tell my church, “Where there are two Baptists, there will be three opinions.” But disagreement does not mean we cannot get along. Grace is meant to unify, mollify and edify. God says that our speech is to be “seasoned with grace”. The church is described in the Bible as a “body”. The Bible further states that we are members one of another in that body. I like to think of grace as the cartilage between the bones that enables the bones to work together without causing pain. Anyone who has ever experienced this in their physical body can testify to how hurtful that can be.

We are never so right that we may use ungracious speech to those who are wrong. I am becoming more and more convinced that being right with a wrong spirit is almost as bad as being wrong.

We should be truthful. We should maintain integrity to our beliefs. We should earnestly contend for the faith. But we should never resort to disingenious questions, scathing remarks or personal attacks.

I want to thank those of you who read my blog for demonstrating what I am speaking of now. I am sure with the number who come here that there are those who hold different positions. We have had Calvinists, Arminians, those who are neither, Baptists (of several varieties), charismatics and only God knows how many others. In a group of that variety there will certainly be differences, but thus far we have avoided the vitriolic speech that I have mentioned.

As we speak with others, whether on-line, at church, work, school or even on the highway (ouch), let our speech be graceful and draw men to God.

Edifying Blogs

I wanted to take a quick detour, today, from the I John series and write about something that I feel is important.

Yesterday, Ken Fields posted a great article on blogging in a way that is edifying to readers. In his article, he discussed the approach of writing posts that were intended to build up the faith of readers as opposed to intentionally posting on controversial topics just for the purpose of drawing hits on your sitemeter.

Now I am not completely naive. I understand that any topic is potentially controversial. As I often tell my congregation, “Where two Baptists are gathered together there will be three opinions.” But it is nice to know that there are some blogs that are edifying to me. Some of these blogs are devotional in nature, some are sermons, some have the ability to handle potentially controversial topics without allowing acrimony and vitriolic debate to hijack the conversation.

Let me share a few of these with you.

Bonnie Calhoun always encourages through the gift of laughter. Another lady who is willing to be transparent as to how God is working in her life is Dionna Sanchez. If you want some good, common sense stuff that is amazingly on point yet done graciously (unless you are a terrorist), check out Joe’s Jottings. If you want to read the insights of a woman who is raising a beautiful family in a godly way, check out Lisa’s blog. Windows to My Soul is the blog of Vicki who writes wonderful devotional posts. I always get a lift by the friendliness of Jeff Morris’ (aka as Danny Kaye) blog as well. Check out Maegan’s blog (this is Lisa’s daughter) to see a young person who really loves God.

There are a few blogs I visit that have the ability to tackle topics that may be controversial, but they do so with a spirit of Christian gentleness. Some of these are Rose’s Reasonings, Theological Musings, and Godward Thoughts. KC does a wonderful job of this and then there is the aforementioned, World From Our Window.

There are some pastors and teachers as well who are a great blessing to me. My brother’s blog is always a blessing (except when he is making fun of me). T.A. Blankenship, Garry Weaver and Steve Weaver always have excellent “soul food” as well. Ray Van Neste always challenges pastors in a good way to be better at what they do for God. My dad doesn’t blog often, but when he does it will bless you.

If you are looking for a nice friendly place to hang out, talk sports and current events, and just generally have some fun from a Christian perspective, visit Tim Ellsworth’s place or Bro. Tony’s blog.

As I think about it, maybe this isn’t such a big detour from I John after all. I have really been blessed by all of these blogs and the people who run them.

Can anyone say “cyber-koinonia“?

The Defilement of Bitterness

Have you ever tripped over a root? Perhaps it was hidden under the leaves or concealed by darkness. Maybe it was in plain sight all the time but your attention was elsewhere. Regardless of why didn’t see it, the result is almost always the same, you are going down.

In Hebrews 12:15, we are cautioned to be, Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.

Notice that this bitterness is a result of our failure to appropriate the grace of God in our life. This root may come from painful experience. It may come from a grudge that we carry in our heart. It may even come from unconfessed sin that we try to pretend isn’t there. The bottom line is that it is there because we did not rely on God’s grace to remove it.

Here are some thoughts on roots.

Roots Spread
While we may think we can keep bitterness or sin confined to one area of our life, roots of bitterness know no boundaries. They keep spreading and infiltrating other parts of our worship, relationships and thoughts. They reach out and become intertwined with other roots, creating a labyrinth of corruption and defilement in our hearts.

Roots Drive Deep
The longer the root is allowed to remain, the deeper it will grow making it increasingly more difficult to remove. These roots, if left alone will become a part of who we are until we will become convinced that we are stronger for having them. How tragic it is when we think that we can draw more strength from bitterness than we can from the grace of God. So many people cling to their bitterness as if it is their most treasured possession.

Roots Bring Fruit
Whatever we sow, we will reap. That is both biblical and natural law. Dear friend, be assurred that root of bitterness will at some point bring forth fruit that is characteristic of its source. The bitterness will grow in your heart like a cancer and then suddenly one day it will come pouring out like evil bile revealing the secrets of your innermost thoughts.

The problem with this, is often many are defiled by our bitterness. How many children are deprived of the stability of a normal home because of bitterness in the hearts of their parents?How many of our friends are robbed of the blessing of full fellowship with us because of walls of unforgiveness or lack of trust that we build? How many families miss the joy of worshipping together in church because someone in the family has bitterness toward God or His people?

God promises that His grace is sufficient to remove any roots of bitterness. Don’t fail to use it. Lay the axe of grace to those roots and enjoy the fragrant glory of the blossoms of God’s grace in your life.

A Victorious Week

God is great. He is certainly capable of helping His people overcome great obstacles to accomplish His work.

Last week our church held Vacation Bible School. Any of you who are involved in such endeavors know that there are inherent challenges to such a ministry. It seems that from the beginning of our planning for this week, Satan continually fought. Literature costs exceeded our estimated budget. An eventually resolved, but initially bitter division between some of the leaders arose. During the week itself, several of our staff became ill. One of our workers was involved in a car wreck. On and on I could go of the unforeseen challenges that came against us, but God prevailed.

We saw the largest attendance we had ever had in the history of the church. We made some wonderful contacts with several families who are unchurched. Several of our newest converts and members got heavily involved in this ministry. Most importantly, we saw eight precious souls receive Christ as their Savior.

God really gave us a shot in the arm with this wonderful week. We are all physically tired, but yesterday was one of the best services we have had in several months. The Spirit of God really worked among His people and drew us all closer to Him and one another.

Thanks be to God who has given us the victory!

Power to Forgive

Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet, we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5

It has been said that, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” I believe that is true. Forgiveness is something that only God can do through us. Oh sure, perhaps we can find it within ourselves to forgive the slight offenses against us, but we cannot forgive on the level that God does unless His grace accomplishes it in us.

The worst offense I have ever had inflicted upon me happened a few years ago. It involved betrayal by friends, being lied upon, my family being treated unjustly and a few other assorted unkind acts thrown in. I realize that I am certainly not the only one to have endured this, and it is certainly not as bad as circumstances that perhaps many of you have had to deal with. I only share this because I want to testify to the healing power of God’s grace that enables us to forgive. He helped me, He can help you.

It is not important that you know the details of the situation. I came out feeling humiliated and broken with a strong sense of loss and failure. I will admit that even though I knew I shouldn’t, I carried anger and resentment toward those who hurt me. I would try to deal with it, but I found the “old feelings” would still resurrect themselves given the slightest opportunity. Not long after, one of the parties involved was killed in a tragic accident. I am ashamed to say that a small part of me felt vindicated that this had happened. (This shows what unchecked bitterness can produce in us.)

I am learning that forgiveness is not always a “magic wand” that we can wave and make the hurt go away. I am learning that it is a healing process that God provides for us by His grace. Here is what I mean.

I had often read and even memorized the text I quoted above. I had even preached it on more than one occasion.

I knew that this healing was much more than mere physical healing, even though God is certainly capable of that too. I also knew that the sins we commit can leave their mark on us, but God’s grace is capable of healing that.

I had an epiphany one night, riding down the road and contemplating this scripture. It suddenly occurred to me to “connect the dots”. Jesus felt the pain of transgressions inflicted by others. Not only did He bear the pain of sins I have committed, He also has borne the pain of sins inflicted on me by others. I don’t have to carry that pain any more. When I claimed this truth, and surrendered this pain to Him, I felt a release like I had never experienced in my life. I could literally feel the hurt and bitterness leaving me. That night, I found the grace to forgive those who had hurt me as well as to admit my own wrongful contribution to the situation.

This is why God tells us to forgive others as He has forgiven us, for Christ’s sake. God is under no obligation to forgive us, but because Jesus bore the pain of our sins, God is willing to forgive. If He can forgive us for that reason, can we not turn loose of our pain and pride and forgive others for the sake of Christ?

My prayer for you that are carrying bitterness toward others in your heart is that during this Easter season, as you reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior, that God will give you the strength to turn loose of the pain and resentment. I pray that you will find the spiritual healing in Jesus that can lead you to forgive those who have sinned against you.

Obstacles to Forgiving

I talk with many people who are bitter. At some point in their life they have been hurt by someone else and they have carried the pain of that event ever since. This pain has so integrated itself into them both emotionally and intellectually that it has actually become a part of their psyche.

The problem with this is that pain and bitterness are active in our life, not passive. If left unchecked, this root of bitterness will continue to grow deeper in us, filling us with anger and resentment. It will spread into our treatment of others, affecting our relationships. It will blossom into unhappiness, rage, wrath, spitefulness and unkindness. It can even have an effect on us physically.

You would think that any person would gladly turn loose of such a cancerous presence in their life. Sadly, many do not. For some reason, they nurse that grudge and treasure it like Gollum and the ring. It becomes their “precious”.

Why would they not release something that is so harmful? I have heard many excuses, without exception they are rooted in pride.

Some feel that by forgiving others, they are yielding their own right to be hurt and are empowering the one who hurt them. Some think that if they forgive, they are saying that the other person was right. Some believe that by forgiving, they are saying that what the other person did was okay. The bottom line is, they feel that they are entitled to carry the hurt, anger and bitterness.

None of this is true. Forgiveness actually empowers the one who forgives. Are they not the one who decides to not let the actions of others control how they feel? It certainly is not saying that the other person is justified in the wrong that they have done. That is not characteristic of the way God forgives us. God does not excuse our wrongdoing, He pardons it.

From the human perspective, it may indeed seem that we are entitled to withhold forgiveness. As Christians, however, we are commanded by God to forgive those who sin against us, so that our sins may be forgiven.

The next post in this series will deal with finding the grace to forgive.

Forgiveness

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

Recently, I have had several conversations with friends about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? Does God really expect me to forgive everything? Is it ever right not to forgive? Is forgiving and forgetting the same thing? Over the next few posts, I hope to examine these questions and perhaps others. Perhaps you have insights or experiences with forgiveness that you would like to share.

At some point in our life (perhaps several points), each of us will have a need to ask others for forgiveness. By the same token, we will have a need to forgive others. This need for forgiveness stems from the presence of the sin curse in us.

Our verse that I quoted above indicates that forgiveness is coupled with kindness and tenderheartedness. Kindness refers to an overflowing of grace in our hearts. Tenderheartedness describes the quality of showing pity, or goodness to others. The truth is, this is something that God produces in us. If we are going to forgive on a divine level, we must allow God to produce that forgiveness in us.

I think this begins with our fellowship with God. We know that God is willing to forgive anything that we confess to Him, (I John 1:9) and He desires for us to have that same willingness to forgive others. But if I am not willing to ask for God to forgive me for my sins, it is not likely that I will be willing to forgive others. If I do not ask God to forgive me for fear that He will not, I certainly will never find the strength to forgive others for the wrongs they commit against me. The strength to forgive is found in an understanding and receiving of God’s forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? When God forgives us, it is not that He simply “looks the other way” or winks at our wrong. It is more than Him looking at our sins and saying, “That’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to.” The word “forgive” means “to send away”. When describing divine forgiveness it actually involves three phases.

The first is remission of the punishment for sin. Let me say that God NEVER lets sin go unpunished. The fact is though, that Jesus has borne the punishment for our sins on Calvary. When we confess a sin to God, rather than pouring out His wrath upon us, He is reminded that His Son atoned for that sin and His sense of justice is satisfied. This should bring humility to us in knowing that God is not obligated to forgive us, but has chosen to do so for the sake of Jesus.

The second phase is removal of the cause of the offense. God tells us that He will remember our sins and iniquities no more. How does an infinite, all-knowing God simply “not remember”? God certainly is not forgetful, He chooses, by His grace to remove our offenses from before Him, casting them into the sea of forgetfulness. This is accomplished by the application of the blood of Christ to the offense. I will speak more of this in a future post in this series.

The third phase is removal of the stain of the offense. Sin leaves its mark upon us. It produces a vile stench in the nostrils of a holy God. It soils the garment of our self-righteousness, leaving us standing before God in nothing but filthy rags. When God forgives us, He removes not only the punishment and cause of the offense, but the residue of it as well. We all have garments that we refer to as “grubbies”. Those clothes that are so stained and soiled that they are only suitable to wear for the dirtiest of occasions. Do you realize that when God forgives you, your garments become white as snow? The Bible describes the righteousness of Christ being imputed unto us. I like to think of this as God taking my filthy rags of self-righteousness and placing them upon Christ on the cross, and taking the righteous robe of Christ and placing it upon my shoulders as I stand before Him. When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us, and there is nothing left to remind Him of our transgression.

This gives us the model of how we are to forgive. We will look into how we can apply this to forgiving others in the next few posts. In the meantime, the question for today is, “Have you received God’s forgiveness?”

Grace-filled Speech

One of the great things about blogging is that it gives everyone a chance to express their opinions. In some ways (not every way, of course), it is even better than dialogue. People’s comments are judged based upon the merit of what they say, not their appearance; and you can’t be interrupted in mid-sentence.

As I visit various blogs, I enjoy hearing the thoughts of various bloggers. I have found many whose thoughts are informative, encouraging and inspiring. I even enjoy some of the theological debates that I have encountered, they are certainly challenging. Debate is a healthy thing, it teaches you to clearly understand and articulate your beliefs.

I am concerned, however, at the lack of graceful speech that I often find being demonstrated by God’s people to one another. When debates begin to escalate, the speech often degenerates into language that, while not profane, surely is scathing. Labels begin to pop up, sarcasm replaces reason, anger replaces gentleness, etc.

The purpose of grace that is given to God’s children is to help us get along. Well-meaning platitudes aside, believers will never come together as one until we get to heaven. There are simply too many opinions that vary too greatly. I often tell my church, “Where there are two Baptists, there will be three opinions.” But disagreement does not mean we cannot get along. Grace is meant to unify, mollify and edify. God says that our speech is to be “seasoned with grace”.

The church is described in the Bible as a “body”. The Bible further states that we are members one of another in that body. I like to think of grace as the cartilage between the bones that enables the bones to work together without causing pain. Anyone who has ever experienced this in their physical body can testify to how hurtful that can be.

We are never so right that we may use ungracious speech to those who are wrong. I am becoming more and more convinced that being right with a wrong spirit is almost as bad as being wrong.

We should be truthful. We should maintain integrity to our beliefs. We should earnestly contend for the faith. But we should never resort to disingenious questions, scathing remarks or personal attacks.

I want to thank those of you who read my blog for demonstrating what I am speaking of now. I am sure with the number who come here that there are those who hold different positions. We have had Calvinists, Arminians, those who are neither, Baptists (of several varieties), charismatics and only God knows how many others. In a group of that variety there will certainly be differences, but thus far we have avoided the vitriolic speech that I have mentioned.

As we speak with others, whether on-line, at church, work, school or even on the highway (ouch), let our speech be graceful and draw men to God.