Forgiven to Forgive

Matthew 18

One parable that comes up many times when you talk about forgiveness is the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  This parable demonstrates how we should forgive others no matter how big their sin is.  But to understand this parable best, we have to understand to whom Jesus was teaching, why Jesus was teaching this parable, and what happened before Jesus started telling the parable.

Before Jesus taught the parable, Peter asks in Matthew 18:21 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  To him, it probably felt like he was doing more than he needed to by forgiving others that many times.  But Jesus responded that you should forgive others up to seventy times seven times.

After saying this, Jesus goes into the teaching of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  The parable starts by telling how the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  One of the slaves who had been brought to the king owed him ten thousand talents, which was equal to 20 years of work.  Since the slave could not pay back the money, the king ordered for the slave, his family, and everything he owned to be sold.  The slave pleaded with the king and asked for time to repay everything back to the king.  The king then cancelled the slave’s dept in mercy towards him.

Just like the slave, we are in the debt of God.  The ten thousand talents which the slave could not repay back is like our sins.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our response to God is to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, just like what the slave did.  Through mercy, God grants us that forgiveness and cancels our sins.

We are like the slave in the beginning of the parable, but we do not want to be like the slave at the end of the parable.  After leaving the king’s presence, the slave finds a fellow slave who owes him a hundred denarii, and demands to be repaid.  One denarius was worth one day’s wage.  The fellow slave pleaded with the slave, asking for time to repay his debt.  The slave, however, did not show mercy to his fellow slave and had him thrown in jail.  Other slaves who were watching this unfold, went and reported to the king what they had just seen.  When the king found out what had happened, he was very angry for he had shown mercy to the slave, but the slave would not show that same mercy to others.  Because the slave had thrown his fellow slave in jail for owing a debt, the king threw the slave in jail for owing him debt.

This parable concludes with Jesus explaining how if we do not forgive others, God will treat us the same way.  We have been shown mercy by God, deserving to be punished but instead were forgiven.  In the same way, we need to show mercy and forgiveness to others who sin against us.  Matthew 6:14-15 says, “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.”  We want that forgiveness from God, and to receive it we must forgive others who sin against us.  If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  

Saying that we forgive somebody, but not truly forgiving them in your heart, is not real forgiveness.  The forgiveness towards others must come from our hearts to count.  Matthew 18:35 states, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”  In every version that I have looked at, it explicitly states that it must be from your heart.

When forgiveness comes from our hearts, we are forgiving others with no pride or desire for revenge.  If we have pride or a desire for revenge, there is no true repentance or forgiveness.  The slave in the parable did not have true repentance and forgiveness, which caused him to not forgive others.  He had not truly repented, but was glad just to be “off the hook.”

As Ephesians 4:32 says, we need to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving towards others, just as God has forgiven us.

Kaitlyn Hamilton

Kaitlyn, a middle school student from Michigan, has made the most of a wild and crazy 2020 and she is already working on her third time reading through the whole Bible this year. Way to go! Thanks for sharing with us today!

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 18

Tomorrow’s reading will be John 7-8 as we continue on our journey through the Bible. Print your copy of our Bible Reading Plan and hop onboard! Kaitlyn will tell you there is something new to discover every time you read His Word!

A Time for Justice, A Time for Mercy

Ezekiel 20-21Ezekiel 20 8b 9a NIV sgl

In Ezekiel 20 God is explaining to the Israelites why he has gotten so tired of their rebellion.  He explains how each time they had rebelled he had mercy on them for the sake of his name so that the rest of the world would not mock him, but this generation of Israelites is following in the path of their ancestors and this time he will not have mercy.

 

“30 “Therefore say to the Israelites: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will you defile yourselves the way your ancestors did and lust after their vile images? 31 When you offer your gifts—the sacrifice of your children in the fire—you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. Am I to let you inquire of me, you Israelites? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will not let you inquire of me.”

 

God has had mercy on them so much that the people of Israel do not really see the consequences of their sins and continue to go back to their sins over and over, and God has decided that it is time for them to feel the full weight of their sin and realize what the consequences are.  Again, though, he says that he will not stay angry with them forever, and he will bring them all back and will lead them again after a time.

 

“42 Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your ancestors. 43 There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. 44 You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, you people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.’””

 

We are so blessed that we live after the time of Jesus, and can have our sins covered by his blood.  That way God can deal with us in mercy and use our example and our witness to spread the gospel and the glory of his name.  It is important to remember that it is not for our sake, but for the sake of God’s glory that we are shown this mercy.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at Biblegateway here – Ezekiel 20-21
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezekiel 22-23 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

A Carrot and A Stick – REPENT

Ezekiel 13 – 15

Ezekiel 14 3 NIV SGL

 

In Ezekiel 14, we’re told that some of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel.  God told Ezekiel in 14:3-6, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?  Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry.  I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!’”

 

I see two attributes of God at work here:  justice and mercy.  For those claiming to follow God, but not really following Him, there will be justice (i.e. punishment).  They will be made an example so others will see and turn to God.  This is a scary concept, and should cause us to repent and turn completely back to God so this doesn’t happen to us.

 

We see God’s mercy as he says to those not following him, “Repent!” and “Renounce all your detestable practices!”.  This too should cause us to repent and turn completely to God.

 

It doesn’t matter whether we respond better to a carrot or to a stick, since we’re given both.  The simple fact remains that we need to repent, renounce all our detestable practices, and turn completely to God.

 

And once that happens, we’re told in 14:11, “Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

 

May this be said of us too.  But it is conditional upon repenting and turning completely to God.  The choice is yours.

Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 13-15

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezekiel 16-17 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Jonah

Jonah 1-4

Jonah 4 11 NIV sgl

 

The story of Jonah is a strange one, isn’t it? Never mind the whole getting swallowed by a whale thing, Jonah himself is not a particularly estimable character, yet we have a whole book in the Bible named after him. I love the VeggieTales song “Jonah Was a Prophet” from their first theatrical movie Jonah. The chorus sums up the story quite nicely:

Jonah was a prophet

oo-ooh!

but he really never got it

sad but true!

and if you watch it you can spot it

a-doodley-doo!

he did not get the point!

 

Jonah just might be the world’s most famous hypocrite. He was shown mercy from God and rescued. He later rebukes God for being too merciful towards the people of Nineveh. I usually read this story with a sort of warning, “Don’t be like a Jonah,” someone who misses the point. But what made Jonah do these things? I don’t believe Jonah was just simply unintelligent. We are told he was a prophet. He must have been somewhat learned or at least skilled in communication for God to have chosen him to be His mouthpiece. So, while Jonah acts stupid throughout most of this story, he surely must not have been stupid.

What is it that changed for Jonah? What made him become so blind to God’s truth. Looking over the story, I think there are two things: pride and disappointment. In the final chapter of the book, when it becomes evident God is not going to destroy the city of Nineveh, Jonah becomes angry with God. He basically tells God he knew God wasn’t actually going to destroy the people and accuses God of wasting his time by sending him there (verse 2).  It seems Jonah forgot his place as God’s servant. In the following verse, Jonah expresses disappointment. Jonah had hoped the Ninevites would be destroyed and becomes so wrought with this lost hope he fades into depression. Jonah’s pride and disappointment blinded him from seeing the truth about God’s compassionate mercy.

Are you a Jonah in your own life, right now? Has your pride or disappointment prevented you from seeing God at work? Our lives have undergone many changes over the last several months. With so much cancelled and shut down, disappointment almost seems like the new normal. Pride can also take hold during these pandemic times as we can become jealous of those whose lives seem to go on relatively unscathed. I have felt both these things, especially the disappointment. It can be blindsiding and out right devastating when something we have hoped and planned does not happen. While I have not the magic words to make the pain disappear, I do know I must not let it blind me from God’s truth. Remember where our hope and treasure truly lie, in the coming Kingdom of God. Fix your gaze upon those everlasting promises and don’t be a Jonah.

 

Emilee Ross

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+1-4&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 15 and 2 Chronicles 26 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Be Transformed

Romans Chapter 12 

 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

This!

 

These are some of the wisest words that Paul shares in Romans.  And that is saying a lot.

 

“In view of God’s mercy.”

After the abundance of mercy that God has shown us, we should desire to please him and properly worship Him.  So how do we do that?  By offering our bodies as sacrifices to God by being HOLY and PLEASING to Him.

 

How do we know what holy and pleasing looks like to God?  By renewing our minds in God’s word.  Paul lays it all out right there for us.  Isn’t this easy?

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”

This warns us that the world’s system – the popular culture and manner of thinking that is in rebellion against God – will try to conform us to its ungodly pattern, and that process must be resisted.  And yet, many of us find ourselves being conformed to the world all the time.  It sneaks up on you sometimes.  Is our mouth just as foul as our coworkers?  Do we covet the latest ‘thing?’  Has your position on the sin of homosexuality moved?  Is viewing pornography ‘no big deal?’  Do you seek revenge against someone if they have wronged you?  (That one is addressed later in this same chapter.)

 

How do we know if these things are wrong or not?  By being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This is the OPPOSITE of being conformed to the world.  Our minds start out being ruled by feelings, rooted in the flesh.  At that point we look just like the world.  But we need to have a source of truth – God’s world – that tells us what is right or wrong, despite what our feelings tell us.  Feelings lie.  The world lies.  But God’s word never will.

 

We can only be transformed in our minds by becoming more and more familiar with what God’s Word says.  Do you really stand out from the world?  As a Christian, you should.  The transformation you experience, from your old way of thinking and acting, should be as complete as Bumblebee or Optimus Prime from the Transformers movies when they transform from vehicle form to robot form.

 

greg5.png

 

 

Finally, Paul is not calling us to be completely separate from the world, but instead to not be like the world.  We need to stand out in the world in such a way that we attract attention, and hopefully then draw others to God.  If we completely separate ourselves from the world, changing the lives of unbelievers would be impossible.

 

Greg Landry

 

 

Don’t Step on Superman’s Cape

Romans Chapter 9 

In Romans 9 through 11, Paul deals with the problem associated with the condition of Israel. What does it mean that Israel has missed its Messiah? What does this say about God? What does it say about Israel? What does it say about our present position in God?

 

Paul first expresses his grief over his lost Jewish brothers who have rejected their Messiah.  It had to be very difficult for Paul to fully believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and yet see his brothers reject this truth and thereby reject the potential that accepting that truth held for them.

 

Do you similarly mourn for the lost today, especially people you are close to?  If so, have you ever attempted to share the life-changing good news with them?  If you haven’t, maybe you are the one God has always intended to share the gospel with that person.

 

Paul then responds to a concern that people then must have had.  If the Jews are God’s people, and yet they have seemingly been rejected by God, then how can the Gentiles have confidence that God will not similarly reject them.

 

Paul makes the point that the nation of Israel has not been rejected as a whole.  There has always been and always will be at least a remnant remaining.  Just because someone is a member of the nation of Israel does not not mean they are necessarily a follower of God.  Similarly, not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is truly following Christ.  If such an individual is missing out on the promises of God, it is not because God is a promise breaker.

 

Beginning in verse 14, Paul explores the topic of God’s mercy.  It is important to remember what mercy is. Mercy is to not get what we deserve. God is merciful to us every day that he does not smite us down for whatever sin we have just committed.  At the same time, God is never less than fair with anyone, but fully reserves the right to be more than fair with individuals as He chooses.

 

But if God uses the disobedience of someone like Pharaoh to fulfill his plans, then how can God still find fault with Pharaoh?   Did Pharaoh have freewill or not?

 

It is tempting to want to question some of God’s decisions.  How foolish.  There is an old song with the following chorus:

 

You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t question God’s choices.

greg pic2

 

OK, I changed the last line.  But that is Paul’s response to the previous question of freewill.  I will expound upon that and say that indeed we do have freewill.  But God will allow the direction of our heart to be used for His glory, even if that direction is away from Him.  And He doesn’t need to explain himself.

 

We should all aim to be used for God’s glory due to the goodness of our hearts, not the hardness.

 

Greg Landry

 

 

Conversion for All

Acts 9 5 (1)

Acts 9 

Saul is the worst kind of person. In our human eyes, he is completely undeserving of love, grace and patience. We would have tried to avoid him at all costs. I­n this chapter we see a true miracle happen, Saul becomes a person we don’t recognize anymore, and God does it all to show us how much he loves us.

To understand this further let’s read what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“though formally I was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example”

What he means by this is that God had you in mind when he redeemed Paul. He showed his “mercy”, “perfect patience” and “overflowing grace” so that we can take hope for our own salvation and the salvation of others even when it seems like there is no hope at all. God changed Paul suddenly and without warning; Paul wasn’t preparing his heart or life to accept God, it just happened.

 This is a perfect illustration of Jesus’ suffering done for you. Saul persecutes the name of Jesus and rebels against God for YEARS. He abuses, mocks, and tears-down everything that God had built up. Jesus asks him in verse 4, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul doesn’t have an answer but drops everything to listen to the voice of Jesus.

 God chose Paul way before Paul chose God.

 The same love that God showed Paul, He wants to show you even when you think you’re too angry, or are too far gone, or can’t be converted, or don’t think a loved one can be converted, or aren’t good enough, or aren’t strong enough, or don’t think He can do it, God can and will suddenly and unexpectedly move and with more mercy, patience, and grace than you ever thought possible.

Grace Rodgers

Hi all! I’m Grace! I live in Michigan and attend Garden Park Church of God.  I’m an Industrial and Graphic designer and you may recognize my work at FUEL, mid-west family camp or in various projects throughout the conference. When I’m not designing you may find me rock climbing, gardening, or giving piano lessons. I’m excited to spend this post-Easter week with you!

Who Will Stand in the Gap?

Ezekiel 22-23

ezekiel 22

Saturday, March 25

Throughout Ezekiel there are certain themes that keep circling back around: God’s judgment against Jerusalem, Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.  In today’s reading we see another very graphic depiction of Israel’s immorality.  This time, it’s the northern kingdom of Samaria and the southern kingdom of Judah.  They are likened to two sisters who prostitute themselves.  They again perform lewd acts shaming themselves before their neighbors.  It’s very sad, indeed.

God searches for someone to help:  “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”  God could find no one righteous to fill the gap and act as the mediator between God and His people.

We know the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom.  One day, Jesus would stand in the gap to keep God from destroying the earth.  Jesus on the cross fills the gap between a holy God and a sinful people.

I hope that these devotions from Ezekiel will help you to see some important truths with greater clarity.  God loves His people very much.  God wants His people to be faithful and obedient.   Some are and some aren’t.  When His people are unfaithful, God brings calamity and judgment, in order to turn people’s hearts back to Him.  It’s not the judgment that ultimately turn hearts, but it’s the fact that despite all of our wicked acts that deserve punishment, God is faithful to His promises and His steadfast love remains.  Ultimately, its God’s mercy that leads us to repentance.  May you know His love and His mercy through Jesus Christ, the man who did stand in the Gap for us.

-Jeff Fletcher

Consequences for Evil Overflow

Ezekiel 20-21

ezek 20-17

Friday, March 24

In Ezekiel 20 God reviews Israel’s history.  Over and over God provided for His people, over and over He warned them to get rid of their idols, keep His commands and observe His Sabbaths.  Over and over Israel failed to obey God and experienced the consequences.  Over and over God was compassionate and loving and forgave His people and restored them to blessings.

Israel has repeated this history again.  They failed to get rid of idols, they failed to keep his commands and observe his Sabbaths, and now they were about to experience the consequences of their sins.  God would once again treat them with mercy, not as their sins deserved and restore them to their land.

Ezekiel juxtaposes God’s promise to be merciful and restore His people with the threat that His judgment is coming and that both the evil and the good will be cut off from the land and the city and the temple.  Yes, everyone will suffer the consequences of the evil behavior of some.

There is tension throughout Ezekiel.  The wicked will suffer for their sins and the righteous will not suffer, except that at first they will suffer for the sins of others.  Sometimes when God brings his judgment designed to bring people to repentance there is collateral damage.  Good people suffer when bad people sin.  It’s how it was then, it’s still how it is today.  God’s salvation is coming, earth will one day be restored and made whole and good, but in the meantime, good people will suffer alongside the wicked.  Christians are martyred in places like Pakistan and Syria.  Christians sometimes suffer persecution in the United States.  Trials may come to God’s people during times of judgment, but those who trust God and repent of their sins will be saved.

-Jeff Fletcher

(photo credit: http://w3ace.com/stardust/scripture/verse/Ezekiel_20:17)