Tag Archives: Forgiveness

God’s Grace.

One of Jesus’ most powerful parables is also one of the most well known: the story of the prodigal son. In terms of offering hope nothing matches the incredible story of God’s redemption and grace.

You may recall that the younger of the father’s two sons demanded his inheritance before his father died. It was an audacious and arrogant ultimatum but one the father agreed to honor. Upon receipt of his share of the estate, the son sets off for a foreign land where he quickly squanders the funds on riotous living. Destitute and starving, he lands a menial job feeding swine. For a young Jewish boy nothing could be more humiliating. He had hit rock bottom.

In time he comes to his senses and decides to return home. Certain his behavior has permanently severed the relationship with his dad, the son develops a narrative he hopes earns his dad’s mercy: “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (Luke 15:18-19, NLT).

The son believes his father loves him conditionally. As long as he acts uprightly, honors the family name, and doesn’t rebel, his father will love him. But any shameful or inappropriate behavior will cause that love to cease. In light of his debauchery the son concludes his dad no longer considers him family. His only hope lies in offering to work as a servant.

Does that reflect your view of God? Have you failed Him in the past and now believe He no longer loves you? Has a lifetime of rebellious behavior led you to conclude you can never be part of God’s family? Do you share the prodigal son’s view that you have to earn God’s mercy or that His forgiveness is conditioned on acts of contrition? If so, you’re going to love the rest of this story.

As the son approaches home his dad sees him and races out to greet him with hugs and kisses. Awash with joy, the father ignores the entreaty his son has rehearsed and instead tells the servants to bring a luxurious robe, the family ring, and comfortable sandals for his son to wear. What’s more, he instructs the staff to kill the prized calf and prepare a feast. It’s time to celebrate! What a remarkable contrast to the reception the prodigal son expected.

Jesus’ point could not be clearer. God loves unconditionally. Nothing we do – no sin, no act of rebellion – can separate us from His love. Equally comforting is the fact that we do not have to work our way back into God’s favor. He extends mercy to all who ask and does not insist we earn it.

Have you avoided God because you assumed He wouldn’t want you? Have you languished in despair over the idea that too much evil has flowed from your heart to earn God’s grace? Have you avoided committing your life to Christ because you believe He only calls the righteous? Well take heart. None of that is true.

God’s mercy and forgiveness await all who come. Like the father in the parable, He stands ready to receive you and enthusiastically awaits your arrival. Isn’t it time to take that journey?

Guilt – Conviction – Grace

An increasingly popular view among Christians is that God does not want us to feel bad about ourselves. Since by God’s grace no condemnation awaits the believer, we often conclude that any feelings of guilt or remorse are an attempt by Satan to diminish our joy and spoil our delight in the Lord. Since God builds His people up and such emotions run counter to that objective, they cannot come from Him.

But we need to be careful. While the devil indeed uses guilt to demoralize us, a danger exists when we assume that feelings of remorse and shame never have a place in a Christian’s life; that they are contrary to a healthy faith. In fact, we do ourselves a spiritual disservice when we categorically dismiss such emotions as an attempt by Satan to render us spiritually ineffective. Scripture actually informs us those feelings play a critical role in our spiritual growth and maturation.

The apostle Paul wrote the following words to the church at Corinth, after learning of their sorrow over his first epistle to them: “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it” (2 Corinthians 7:8, NKJV). His first message had made the church uncomfortable and led to feelings of grief, yet Paul doesn’t apologize for or regret his words. How could so prominent a church leader be so insensitive to the feelings of believers? Listen to his reasoning.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner. What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (vs. 9-11, emphasis mine).

Paul informs us there are instances when sorrow and remorse are appropriate. Indeed, he clearly asserts they represent a godly response to sin. Consequently, when he learned of the Corinthian church’s sorrow he rejoiced, because that sorrow led to repentance from the sins that had ensnared them. Whenever feelings of regret or guilt lead to repentance and the accompanying forgiveness, we too ought to rejoice.

Therein lies the distinction determining whether such emotions are healthy or unhealthy. When guilt surfaces for past sin from which we have already repented and received God’s forgiveness, we know Satan lies behind the attack and hopes to discourage and neutralize us. He loves to remind Christians of our past in a futile attempt to forget about his future. In such situations we should ignore our feelings of guilt and shame and instead rejoice over God’s mercy and forgiveness.

On the other hand, if such feelings are a product of unaddressed sin we’ve allowed to flourish in our lives – and from which we’ve never repented – then we know the Holy Spirit lies behind those pricks to our conscience. One of the critical roles the Holy Spirit plays in every believer’s life is bringing to bear conviction when we sin or toy with temptation. In such instances we need to confess our iniquity and ask God’s forgiveness. If we don’t, we risk becoming desensitized to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and suffering a slow spiritual decay.

Avoiding that outcome is one reason Paul tells us not to regret godly sorrow. It leads to salvation and a healthy relationship with Christ. In contrast, the world’s sorrow always produces death because it never recognizes the spiritual component of regret and guilt, and therefore can never properly address their root cause.

Take some time to examine the source of any guilt or shame you feel. Do not allow Satan to use those emotions to steal your joy and peace in Christ. But also resist the temptation to ignore them if they reveal the existence of ongoing sin. Remember, whenever we repent God extends His forgiveness.

How to Respond to God When We Sin.

We all sin. No matter how much we desire to obey God, there are times we fall short. Irrespective of the maturity of our faith, the passion of our worship, and our zeal for Christ, we will stumble and sin against the Lord. When that happens we must acknowledge our sin, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. Unfortunately, too often we take an approach that compounds the consequences of our sin and magnifies the gulf between God and us.

For example, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid themselves. They knew they had done wrong and didn’t want to face the consequences. When He confronts them with their disobedience, Adam deflects blame away from himself. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12, NKJV). Adam seems to suggest he has no culpability in the matter. God is partially to blame for giving him the woman and Eve is partially to blame for providing him fruit from the tree.

Not to be outdone, Eve adopts a similar approach when God questions her. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (vs. 13). Her defense points to the slimy snake as the source of her sin. But for its treachery she would have remained holy. Adam and Eve’s unwillingness to accept fault for their choices, to confess their disobedience, and to ask forgiveness drove a wedge in their relationship with God.

Another way many of us deal with sin in our life is to complain about God’s standards and insist His expectations are unreasonable. The nation of Israel demonstrated this time and again. God reveals their attitude when He tells the prophet Ezekiel, “The children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair’” (Ezekiel 33:17, NKJV). Rather than admit their iniquity, they instead insist that God is wrong to hold them to His standards. They refused to be held accountable for their actions and attitudes.

Another common response is to ignore God altogether and not even acknowledge His words. We tend to do this whenever our rebellious heart refuses to concede some aspect of life to God. We simply ignore His call on that area of life. This is exemplified by the nation of Israel numerous times in the Old Testament. Zechariah tells us that they, in response to God’s commands, “refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the … words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit” (Zechariah 7:11-12, NKJV).

Their unwillingness to heed God’s commands not only resulted in disobedience but also severed their relationship with Him. Their hearts became hardened. They were desensitized to God’s ways and grew more distant from Him with each act of rebellion. There are dire consequences when that happens. Paul tells us that at some point a sinner’s heart becomes so hardened that God gives them up to their lusts, vile passions, and debased mind (see Romans 1:22-28). At that moment they reach the point of no return, allowed to chase darkness without any further conviction from the Holy Spirit.

So how should we respond when God uses His Holy Spirit to convict us of sin in our lives? David provides a sound blueprint. When the prophet Nathan confronts him with his adultery and murder David cries out, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13, NKJV). He does not offer excuses, deny his behavior, or shift the blame onto someone else. He confesses his sin and pleads for mercy. Psalm 51 captures his response in great detail and I encourage you to read it slowly. Allow David’s response to saturate your soul and provide a model for repentance and reconciliation with God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

    because of your unfailing love.

Because of your great compassion,

    blot out the stain of my sins.

Wash me clean from my guilt.

    Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my rebellion;

    it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;

    I have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what you say,

    and your judgment against me is just.

For I was born a sinner—

    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.

But you desire honesty from the womb,

    teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;

    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again;

    you have broken me—

    now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins.

    Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

Do not banish me from your presence,

    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

    and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

    and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

    then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

    that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.

    You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

(Psalm 51:1-17, NLT).

David does a number of things in his prayer to God. He confesses the specifics of his sin, proclaims God’s standards are just, and admits his tendency to sin. He then pleads for God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. He asks God to restore his joy and give him an obedient heart. He concludes by asking God for two things: an opportunity to share His ways with other rebellious people, and for a voice that sings praises to God.

The next time God lays conviction on your heart, don’t ignore it. Resist the temptation to justify your behavior. Avoid shifting the blame to someone else. Instead, follow the pattern offered by David. Confess, seek mercy, ask for God’s cleansing and restoration, and share His truth and love with others. Finally, sing with a grateful heart that He hears and answers your prayer!

Salvation & Discipleship: Two Halves to a Whole Faith

Irrespective of your age, ethnicity, citizenship, upbringing, wealth, or social status, you’ve likely given some thought to God and wondered what happens after you die. And if you’re like most people you’ve probably invested time reflecting on whether heaven exists and what requirements, if any, God demands from those who want to spend eternity with Him.

In your search for answers you may have studied various religions and spiritual texts to understand what God wants from you. Your research may have concluded that securing a place in heaven requires adherence to strict rules, being a moral person, or ensuring your good deeds outweigh your bad. You likely learned that most religions teach that you must earn your way to heaven and work hard to receive God’s mercy. Fortunately, none of this is true.

The fact is we cannot earn salvation. No matter how good our deeds, how holy our lives, or how hard we try, we will never do enough to merit eternal life. Why? Because God has established a standard of perfection to enter heaven. A single sin, then, separates us from God and operates as a barrier to eternal life.

Don’t despair, though, all is not lost. It turns out the truth is much better than having to work your way to heaven. God offers His love, mercy, and forgiveness (as well as eternal life) to anyone who wants it, irrespective of who they are, what they’ve done, or where they’re from. Best of all, God offers salvation without condition – it is a free gift. Scripture explains it like this: “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV).

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost. On the contrary, the cost is quite high. How is that possible? To comprehend this apparent dichotomy we need to understand the relationship between the gift of salvation and the cost of discipleship. They are not mutually exclusive concepts but rather two-halves to a whole and healthy faith. Let’s examine what God’s word says about both to discern how these truths co-exist in the Christian faith.

Basics of Salvation:

1] Repent. Repentance represents the first step to a renewed relationship with God. Both Jesus and John the Baptist initiated their ministries with a call to repentance, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, NKJV). Repentance requires confessing our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness.

2] Place your faith in Jesus. Only the blood of Jesus removes the stain of sin from our lives and only His sacrificial death on the cross fulfills the requirement of the law. Jesus died that we might live for eternity. In fact, Scripture states, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT). Jesus removed any doubt about the singular path to salvation when he exclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV). Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter explained that Jesus “is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name” (Acts 10:43, NLT).

3] Confess and Believe. Embrace Jesus as Lord of your life. The apostle Paul tells us how: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT).

We must believe and proclaim Jesus is Lord, and that belief must flow from the heart. This is critical because only then will we readily embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and pursue with joy the basics of discipleship outlined below. If our belief is limited to our intellect or emotions, we will reject Jesus’ claim on our lives.

4] Surrender your life to Christ. This is as critical an element of faith as any above, yet for some reason preachers, pastors, and priests often neglect it. Certainly the gift of salvation resonates with more people if we ignore this component of authentic faith. But to do so is to undermine the message of the cross. Besides, if we really believe with our heart that Jesus is Lord then we will enthusiastically surrender our lives to Him – knowing that He first surrendered His life for us.

The apostle Paul provided a clear articulation of this principle and how it relates to faith and grace in his letter to the church at Philippi. After outlining the many advantages he enjoyed before his conversion (wealth, status, power, education, and zeal) he asserts:

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV).

Paul captures beautifully the truth described earlier, that salvation is free but costs everything. On experiencing the saving grace of Christ, Paul chooses to count all things as loss. He does this not to earn salvation or God’s favor but that He might know Christ more intimately. He wants to remove all distractions and impediments from growing close to the Lord. Because his faith is genuine, he refuses to allow anything in this world to undermine it.

When we embrace Jesus as Lord with all our heart, we gladly echo Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).

Once you profess faith in Christ, embrace Him as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, it is time to get about the business of growing as His disciple. This involves a number of principles, many of which we have discussed in detail previously on this blog. I encourage you to review previous entries to learn more about what it means to live as Jesus’ follower. To get you started, here is a brief overview of what living as Jesus’ disciple involves.

Basics of Discipleship:

1] Cultivate your relationship with Christ. Nothing is as important to the condition of your faith as investing time nurturing a healthy, mature, intimate relationship with the Lord. Carve out time in your schedule to study the Bible, pray to God, and seek His presence on a regular basis. Create opportunities to worship and praise Him in private. Develop the habit of pursuing Him daily and make an effort to increase your time with Him as your faith matures.

2] Adopt Christ’s attributes. Embrace His standards of holiness in your speech, your conduct, your thoughts, and your relationships. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from someone focused on the things of this world and the desires of the flesh into someone focused on heavenly things and the desires of the Spirit. Allow Him to replace your pride with humility, your deceit with honesty, your rebellion with submission, your anger with gentleness, and your infidelity with faithfulness. Study the person of Jesus as revealed in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and follow His example in all areas of your life.

3] Treat people as Jesus did. Demonstrate the love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, selflessness, forgiveness and generosity of God to the world. Many will never know God unless they see Him exhibited in our lives on a daily basis. Represent the person of Christ in a way that honors Him by caring for the hurting, the depressed, the poor, the refugee, and the rejected.

4] Evangelize and disciple others. While walking the walk is critical, it is also important to identify opportunities to verbally share the good news of Jesus with others and help them grow in their faith. Ask God to provide you opportunities each week to make known His redemptive sacrifice and unconditional love for everyone, and then capitalize on those openings – even if it costs you your friends, short-circuits your career, or jeopardizes your safety.

If you have yet to repent, trust Jesus as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, I encourage you to consider making that decision today. If you have already committed your life to Christ and are unsure how to grow in your faith, I encourage you to begin incorporating into your life the principles and practices outlined above, especially as it relates to building a robust relationship with Jesus and living as His disciple. He is calling you to follow Him, how will you respond?

New novel a powerful story of relationship redemption.

Front Cover.

My just released novel, An Unexpected Outcome, is the riveting love story of Colby and Haley Carlisle. The novel takes readers on a journey of commitment, broken vows, second chances, and relationship redemption.

Critics call it:
“A gripping, tragic portrait … with complex, sympathetic main characters.” (Kirkus Reviews).
“Suspenseful…A story with many twists.” (San Francisco Book Review).

The novel captures several remarkable characters readers will never forget and contains a number of intense, adrenaline-inducing scenes that will keep you enthralled.

When Colby and Haley marry they agree to prioritize family first and value each other above all else: work, wealth, friends, and hobbies. Then Colby receives an unsolicited proposal that promises to gratify all his secret desires. But it comes at a cost and sets in motion a sequence of unexpected events that jeopardizes Haley’s life and threatens their marriage. As the couple struggles through the chaos they must decide whether to rebuild their marriage and give each other a second chance. What results is a heart-pounding outcome neither imagined and neither will ever forget.

Plenty of action exists to keep the pages turning and a number of plot twists and turns will surprise readers, lead them on an emotional roller coaster, and appeal to fans of romance and action genres.