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South Fellowship Church

Reconciliation, is it Possible?

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:18-21 NIV)

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 6:14-15 NIV)

Offering forgiveness or asking for forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Jesus directs us to both ask for forgiveness for our sins and to offer forgiveness for others sins. But reconciliation requires both parties to be willing to set aside the offense, offer forgiveness to the offending party, and to enter into a friendly relationship once again. Reconciliation restores the relationship.

Let’s look at some examples from the Bible. In the book of Genesis, there are two stories of reconciliation between family members who have broken relationships. Genesis 33 tells us the story of Jacob returning to the land of Canaan and meeting his brother Esau for the first time since Jacob had previously stolen his birthright and blessing. Genesis 37 tells of Joseph, his dreams, and his 10 brother’s jealousy. As a result, they sell him into slavery in Egypt. But Genesis 50 gives us the end of this story, where Joseph – now the second person over all of Egypt – tells his brothers, “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them,” Genesis 50:19-21.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a beautiful picture of forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and healing of broken relationships. Reconciliation is not possible if either party persists in insisting on revenge, or insists on the need for retribution. Administering justice is God’s job – not ours. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them. The LORD will vindicate his people,” (Deuteronomy 32:35-36a).

The story of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32 tells us about reconciliation between the father and the younger son. But the end of the story leaves us wondering how the older son will respond. Take time to read this parable over carefully. Look at the seeking of forgiveness and the offering of forgiveness. Notice the reconciliation and the lack of it with the two brothers. Search your heart. Ask God to show you what you need to see in your own relationships. Seek forgiveness, or offer it. Seek reconciliation as He directs.

Reconciliation, is it Possible?2022-02-18T13:04:54-07:00

Struggle For Justice

There is a problem with forgiveness. Sometimes, it isn’t just to forgive. Some evils do not deserve forgiveness. As you read this, you may think I am just trying to grab your attention with a shocking statement, but I am not. Evil demands justice, and if there is no room for justice, there is no room for forgiveness. Before you dismiss me as a heretic, hang with me.

I lived in Rwanda when the 1994 genocide took place. Many people don’t know that the conflict didn’t start that year. Instead, it began several hundred years before when one of the tribes overthrew the other violently. They would chop the leaders off at the knee in front of their families to belittle them. See, height was considered a sign of leadership. Then children of that generation grew up and eventually retaliated against the tribe who had so brutally murdered their parents. It is difficult to imagine such violence, and it simply isn’t okay if we simply forgive.

Child slavery, rape, and the abuse of the helpless are evils that cause us to feel a wave of just anger at those who perform such acts of wickedness. That feeling isn’t wrong; it is a feeling that agrees that this world is broken and it’s not supposed to include such evils. So what do we do with passages that call us to forgive? The answer is we give the weapon of justice to God. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

We are not wise enough to weigh the world’s evils in balance and determine when and where justice should be served. Instead, we give our anger and suffering to God to deal with justly. He then does so perfectly because the death of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate act of justice against evil. When we give God the sword of justice, we are free to forgive fully.

There has been significant healing and forgiveness in Rwanda since 1994, but it was not through an attempt to sweep the injustice under the rug. Instead, the Rwandan church has learned to give God the weapon of justice and trust in his hands. Only then can true forgiveness happen.

Do you have someone who has hurt you? It is not wrong to feel that hurt. Today, take a moment to offer those feelings to God. Feel free to vent your pain to him and ask for his justice. Once you are done, leave the sword of justice in his hand to wield when and if he chooses, even if he already has on the cross for the one who has offended you.

Struggle For Justice2022-02-18T13:02:56-07:00

Not Forgiven

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Forgiveness is no joke in God’s Kingdom. Jesus states several times throughout his ministry that if we hold unforgiveness in our hearts toward others, “our Father will not forgive us” (Matthew 6:15). Ouch. Jesus takes unforgiveness seriously and as followers of Jesus, we cannot ignore this teaching.

What does God’s unforgiveness mean exactly? Does this mean God is an unmerciful God and unwilling to act kindly toward us if we don’t cooperate with him? Or does this mean when we don’t cooperate in the area of forgiveness we, as children of a merciful King, refuse his Kingdom values and therefore, cannot taste it for ourselves? I propose the latter.

Our resentful behavior will be held against us by our Heavenly Father much like a good parent withholds reward from his/her child acting out of character and out of alignment with family values. We are the children hurting when we refuse to forgive. We are the ones jeopardizing our experience of the trust and intimacy with our Heavenly Father when we don’t extend his Kingdom values to the world around us. We are the immature who are missing out on tasting the goodness of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus emphasizes forgiveness because our human relationships affect our relationship with God. When we forgive, we draw close to the only God who forgives and when we walk in resentment, we separate ourselves from the source of forgiveness – and with it his life and blessing.

So, let’s take forgiveness seriously today. I’m sure everyone of us has someone to forgive – whether it’s a major trauma or minor infraction. It’s inevitable. We’re human. But let’s first stop to check in with our souls. Do you feel distant from God today? Get honest and tell God where unforgiveness is creating a barrier with him and receive his forgiveness so you can continue extending his forgiveness to those around you.

Not Forgiven2022-02-18T13:08:45-07:00

No Trespassing

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV)

What comes to mind when you see a warning sign “NO TRESPASSING”? For some, it signals a selfish property owner or an unreasonable government entity. As for the owner or guardian of the property, the sign may be necessary to ensure not only protection for animals, people, or vegetation, but also so that important work is not disturbed. The sign may indicate gaining permission and instruction before safely accessing the property.

We don’t know all the reasons our Heavenly Father put up the following “NO TRESPASSING” sign. But after His warning was violated, everything on earth changed.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Has someone ignored your personal “NO TRESPASSING” sign? Has that person disturbed or done permanent damage to the Holy Spirit’s work in you or someone close to you? Yes, it matters. Yes it hurts. Yes, you may be entitled to human or even divine justice. But here is an astounding perspective on grace and mercy from the heart of Jesus after he underwent three unjust trials that left him suffering under the most shameful of executions:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV)

In Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, he presents two neighbors with differing views of the stone boundary wall between them. The first neighbor repeats the sentiment, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall”, suggesting the wall is unnecessary because reasons for the wall have seemingly vanished. But the other neighbor insists, “good fences make good neighbors”.

Has someone likewise contested a personal boundary that should be respected? Are you tempted to cross someone else’s boundary? If a serious boundary violation has already occurred, our Heavenly Father urges us to shift natural desires for unlimited vengeance to His timely and capable judgment. LIkewise, He insists our forgiveness must harmonize with His mercy toward fence jumpers. Are feelings still raw from one of those painful intrusions? Talk over the offense with our Heavenly Father to gain His perspective.

Here’s a less personal exercise (maybe): Observe these two photos below. Was it necessary to put a fence around these invaluable giant trees – some over 3,000 years old? Can you lay aside a desire for vengeance and forgive those who regarded these trees as trophies or lumber? Forgiveness is necessary, but it is impossible without allowing God to change your heart.

No Trespassing2022-02-18T12:59:47-07:00

Formation Guide | Week 8

Forgiveness is a major theme for Jesus in his personal and ministry experience on earth, so it must become important for us, too. Read the verse that follows the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14 and ponder the process of forgiveness. What might Jesus want you to know about forgiveness?

  1. Get Honest … How difficult is it for you to forgive? Who is it easy to forgive? Who is it difficult?
  2. Change Mind … Listen for what Jesus wants to speak into your experience concerning forgiveness.
  3. Walk Anew … What step might Jesus want you to take in response to what he’s shown you?

FORMATION CHALLENGE … Take a next step toward reconciliation

Formation Guide | Week 82022-02-18T12:55:39-07:00

From the Evil

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

Have you ever turned your mind to heaven and whispered a prayer like, “Oh God, please let them be okay” or “God protect them” or “Please heal them?” Whispered prayers like these are prayers I have often prayed with great emotion. If I am honest, my prayers could have been simplified too, “please let no bad things happen to the ones I love or to me.” The line “deliver us from evil” feels similar to the prayers I just described. Not wanting bad things to happen is such a familiar thing to us. Why wouldn’t we want to avoid evil things if possible?

The truth is, sometimes tricky things in life help us to grow. Elsewhere in the scriptures, we learn that God uses challenging and painful things to help us grow. Does this prayer against the evil things prevent us from the growth that might come if we go through them? Perhaps, but the invitation that Jesus gives us is to pray against the evil anyway. Our dislike of evil in the world and our lives is not an unnatural feeling. Instead, it reminds us that the evil in the world is not what God intended for his creation. What about the growth, then? What about those moments when God teaches us through the pain of evil happenings?

When we pray this, we give our desire to a wise father who can figure out how and when to intervene in our lives to either protect or challenge us. We pray for transformation from evil to good. I believe God is wise enough to handle our prayers and know what to do with them for our and the world’s good.

Watch this video and reflect on how God can deliver people from evil things. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjLlLPZderk

From the Evil2022-02-14T12:31:17-07:00

Deliver Us

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive have also forgiven us our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6: 9-15 NIV)

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you to be strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. (Ephesians 6:10-12 MSG)

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an ‘indispensable’ weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Ephesians 6:13-18 MSG)

Over many years of studying and pondering The Lord’s Prayer and Ephesians 6:10-18, I’ve realized something that can happen when we become accustomed to a particular way of viewing them: The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar and is said on such a variety of occasions that it is easy to lose sight of how much it covers in our relationship with God, his otherness, and his knowledge and care for us and our needs.

Ephesians 6:10-18 is many times called the “Armor of God”. It is easy to assume that it is something we can put on from the outside in order to stand strong in the Lord. Armor was part of the culture during the time Paul wrote that description, but progressively I have come to see each “piece” as a description of Jesus, himself, and to believe that it is nurtured from within us, where the Holy Spirit of truth, whom the Father sent to live in us (John14:15-17), and The Father and Jesus (John 14:23-27) makes their home with us.

In John 17:14-15, Jesus is praying for his disciples and he says, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they aren’t of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Ephesians 6:10-12 reminds us that we are on a battlefield and that the weapons we need are the ones God gives us in Jesus. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation (the word “salvation” means “deliverance”). Most especially they are the Word, both the written word and the Living Word, Jesus.

Set aside some time each day this week to think about how God delivers you from the evil one by supplying the “weapons” he has given you to strengthen you in him from the inside (heart, mind, and soul) to the outside in your relationships and actions in the world.

Deliver Us2022-02-14T13:38:33-07:00

Lead Us Not

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:14)

What is Jesus saying here? It seems he is asking his Father in Heaven to “not” lead him down this path. Interestingly enough, his request contradicts the very thing the Spirit of God led him to do only two chapters earlier. Matthew tells us Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11).

Looking further back in scriptural history, we know God allowed Job to experience testing and trial from the evil one (Job 1:6-9). Israel was led into the wilderness for a time of testing (Hebrews 3:7-9). And this type of suffering is to be an expected theme in the lives of God-fearers – everywhere from the Garden of Eden to Christ’s return (Genesis 3, James 5:7-11). So, what is Jesus really getting at here when we know God does, in fact, lead his people into seasons of testing?

To answer this, let’s start by asking a different question. What is Jesus modeling for us? Yes, we know God sometimes does lead his people into seasons of hardship. Jesus just experienced this, yet we hear Jesus pleading his father to never do that again. Jesus continued to model this when he pleaded with his Father to relieve him of the unbearable suffering at the cross (Matthew 26:42).

Jesus models a childlike plea. He’s not afraid to ask his father to remove hardships in the form of temptation and testing. He models for us that it’s okay to beg God to remove the hardship. It’s good to be like a child in our requests before him and to ask even for things we assume he will deny.

Today, sit with Jesus at a table and imagine him sipping tea or coffee with you. What do you want to ask him to do for you? How does he respond to your request?

Lead Us Not2022-02-14T12:26:36-07:00

What is Temptation?

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Corinthians 10:12-13 NIV)

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13 NIV)

Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples in the common everyday language of the Jewish people – Aramaic. The word that is translated as “temptation” in most English Bibles actually means “wrong thinking or testing”, according to Chaim Bentorah who is a lifelong Hebrew scholar. I understand this phrase in Matthew to mean – Father, don’t let my own wrong or flawed thinking influence me to sin, or don’t let the trials and tests I am going through cause me to succumb to sin.

James teaches us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created,” (James 1:12-18).

God can not tempt us – it would be against His nature. He will not, He can not do anything that is not in keeping with His nature. But He does allow us to be tested. Jesus himself, “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matthew 4:1). The author of Hebrews says, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin,” (Hebrew 4:15). The author of Hebrew also encourages us by explaining Jesus’ temptation in this way, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted,” (Hebrews 2:18).

We will have times of testing and trials. In those times – pray to God, read His word, use God’s truth to help us decide how to respond to our testing and to our trials, so we do not sin.

What is Temptation?2022-02-14T12:25:08-07:00

Formation Guide | Week 7

On earth, Jesus needs the Father’s guidance and his deliverance. So do we. Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and ponder Jesus’ personal need for guidance and deliverance from evil while he was on the earth. What might Jesus want you to know about his struggle with the enemy?

  1. Get Honest … How often do you feel misled or under attack from dark or evil forces? Share with Jesus how this struggle makes you feel and what beliefs consequently arise in you.
  2. Change Mind … Listen for what Jesus wants to speak into your experience concerning the enemy.
  3. Walk Anew … What step might Jesus want you to take in response to what he’s shown you?

FORMATION CHALLENGE … Find someone trustworthy and share your struggle

Formation Guide | Week 72022-02-13T22:10:33-07:00
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