Unlimited Forgiveness

“How many times do I have to forgive somebody who hurts me? As many as seven times?” What a great question Peter asks Jesus. We’ve all been there. We all have people in our lives that need continual forgiveness because they’re always offending us and hurting us. Peter’s asking, “When is it OK to give up on somebody and just stop forgiving them?” Jesus’ answer is going to stun us. He replies, “Seventy times seven!”  Peter gasped thinking that forgiving 7 times was way over the top of human endurance and far more than anyone deserved! I’m sure like many of us, Peter broke out his calculator and figured it out – 490!  We’ve got to forgive people 490 times before we can drop the ax on them? Peter didn’t get it – and neither do we. To make his point clear, Jesus told a simple parable of a King who had a servant who owed him such a huge and unpayable debt, he was about to yank him from his family and throw him in debtors prison where he would rot! However, the King had mercy and grace, and forgave his servant of all his debt, down to the last penny. Imagine the burden gone, a new future and a second chance. But that’s not the end of the parable. A fellow servant owed the now debt-free servant just a couple of bucks. The forgiven servant demanded that he be paid. And when the other servant couldn’t repay the debt, the forgiven servant had the other thrown into debtors prison. Other servants caught wind of what happened, and reported it to the King who immediately cast the servant into prison. “Couldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” Then Jesus summed up the parable by stating, “So also My Heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart!” Jesus made the point that it’s time to throw away our “sin-counting” calculators because as Paul wrote, “love keeps no score of wrongs.” 1 Cor. 13 That was always the message of Jesus. When He taught us to pray, He said, “Pray this way: “Father, forgive us our sins – in the same manner and way – that we forgive the sins of others.”  Treat us the same way we treat others. Forgive us in exactly the same way we forgive the people in our lives! To Jesus, nothing less is acceptable in the Kingdom of God! It’s not 7 times, or 490 times – there is to be no limit to our forgiveness because God’s forgiveness is unlimited to us! What could possibly motivate anybody to forgive like that? Simple. When dealing with others, constantly remember the incalculable debt of sin that God has forgiven us of.  No person’s sin against me can possibly compare with the volumes of sins that God has forgiven me of. Jesus simply says, “Live forgiving others the way you have been forgiven by Me!” A true sign of Christian maturity is a lifestyle of forgiveness found in the truth of how much we ourselves have been forgiven by God.  We need to constantly remind ourselves that in this often unforgiving world, “I will forgive others, because God has forgiven me of so much more!”



4 Keys to Changing Your Life

How’s everybody doing with your New Year’s resolutions?  They’re hard to keep! Most people have already given up just days into the new year!  Someone remarked in making resolutions “to set the bar high so you can easily walk under them!” It’s not easy to change your life for the better. We’re all creatures of habit and routine. Almost 3 thousand years ago the prophet Jeremiah asked, “Can the Ethiopian change the color of his skin, or the leopard his spots? Can we do good, if we are accustomed to doing evil?” (Jeremiah 13:23 NLT) I’m glad that God answered with a resounding, “Yes!” The Bible is saturated with accounts of people who radically changed their lives for the better. I’ve found over the years that there are 4 necessary keys in bringing about lasting change in our lives. First, we need desire. Do we really want to change? And how badly do we want it? I remember pushing a heavy 7 man blocking sled across the football field with our coach shouting, “How bad do you want it boys? How bad do you want to win?” It’s not great English but them message is clear: change takes sacrifice, work and persistence. If you want it enough, you’ll pay the price.  You’ll do whatever it takes with all that you’ve got! God says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart!” (Jeremiah 29:13 NLT) Second, we need a plan for change. We need to set specific, measurable and realistic goals for moving us toward the changes we desire.  Coaches not only instill the desire for winning, they construct a game plan to win! Most changes we want to happen in our lives fail because we had no plan outlining the specific steps necessary to get where we want to be. One of the most important yet often forgotten part of your plan is accountability. Tell someone about the change you’re making, your plan to get there – and then ask if they will check in on you regularly asking about your progress and if you are sticking to your plan! Accountability is huge in effecting change. A plaque hung over the mantel of the doorway to a half-way house for recovering addicts read, “We do together what we can’t do alone!” Ecclesiastes 4:9 reads, “Two are better than one and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” Third, we need power to facilitate change. Unfortunately, our own “will-power” may get us started on the way, but often it’s too weak for dramatic change. We need power outside ourselves – the power of God!  The Apostle Paul, who experienced dramatic changes in his life wrote, “I can do all things in Christ who makes me strong!” (Philippians 4:13 NLT) Real and lasting change takes a power beyond human strength! It takes Jesus Christ, knowing Him personally as Lord and Savior of your life!  Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20) With the power of Christ living in us, nothing is impossible! Faith based recovery programs have by far the greatest success rates for real and lasting change because they teach their clients to depend on God’s power and not their own strength to change. Last, we need to make the decision to begin! We must be daring enough to take the first step in working our plan.  It’s takes a conscious decision of our will to say, “Yes Lord, with Your help and in Your power, I will change!” This can be both risky and hard. This is where we try to talk ourselves out of it all. “I’ll start my diet…Monday! I’ll start working out when it’s more convenient!”  Nike has it right: “Just do it!” A patented slogan that comes right out of scripture: “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT) Everybody knows the phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” Even Mary Poppins (in her new movie) tells us, “Today or never! That’s my motto!” The change you want to happen in your life is possible when you desire it, develop a plan for it, trust God for His power to accomplish it, and then just do it! Go ahead, go for it! Author Mary Lamb reminds us, “One year from now you will wish that you started today!”



Come to God’s Standard

The battle was intense. For hours there seemed to be no clear victor, until finally, the Union line broke and the soldiers in blue began to run to safety. In the fray, the Standard bearer carrying the company flag fell, mortally wounded, and the Standard lay on the blood-soaked ground. A young drummer boy observing the battle from the rear saw the colors fall. He immediately tossed his drum aside and ran against the tide of retreating soldiers. When he got to the site of his fallen comrade, he bent over and grabbed the Standard, and stood on a shattered tree trunk nearby. From there the boy waved the large company flag back and forth while bullets flew all around him. The retreating soldiers, having found the safety of cover, began to scream at the boy, “Bring the Standard back!” But the boy shouted defiantly, “No! You come to the Standard!” One by one the beaten soldiers, inspired by such heroic courage, came out from hiding and together charged the hill where the boy was and pushed the enemy into full retreat from the battle ground. We’ve seen it all around us. God’s people running from the battle for moral standards.  Scores of people – including many Christians and churches, are cowering in the fear of being labeled politically incorrect, offensive, bigoted and narrow minded. Many in the effort to not offend people, are embracing and bowing to the standards of our godless culture.   During WWII Nazi Germany exterminated over 6 million Jews, 3 million Soviet prisoners and perhaps another million or more undesirables in the shadows of towns and villages where the average citizen went about their daily routines. They saw the endless boxcars of people transported like cattle. They saw and smelled the smoke rise from the horizon. Yet for the most part, they shut their eyes to the horror going on within their reach. And through it all, the Church remained silent. A similar silence is happening today here in America. When Planned Parenthood was caught selling baby body parts for profit, there was no outcry or prophetic stand by the Church.  Should it surprise us that the Church remains mute now in the fury of politicians promoting infanticide? As if abortion used as birth control wasn’t enough, New York legislators cheered and applauded a bill that allows the snuffing out of a full term, fully developed infant after birth. It’s hard to imagine such blatant disregard for the sanctity of life and protecting human rights! It’s hard to imagine that people who so passionately embrace the science of climate change willfully choose to ignore the indisputable science of human development. When our President challenged Congress to protect these helpless pre-born children from late term abortions, and from post born murder, only half the room rose in applause while the other half sat motionless, many with scorn on their faces. I know. I hear it all the time: “Be quiet. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t be controversial or worse, politically incorrect. Let it alone. Look the other way.” Unlike our brave Christian ancestors who heroically gave their lives making a stand for Jesus Christ in declaring God’s truth to the immoral pagan cultures around them – the Church today has muffled its voice to the point where it’s not heard at all in public arenas.  We’ve been in retreat, moving God’s standards back instead of calling our culture to come to God’s standards. We have bowed our knees to our culture instead of calling our culture to its knees! Why the silence? It may be in part that if you’re in the business of growing bigger numbers of attenders, it’s not popular or “cool” to be swimming upstream against the raging current of our culture. After all, the Bible seems so narrow minded, bigoted and intolerant when it addresses the moral questions of our culture. Its truths appear antiquated, irrelevant and “out of touch” with “the real world today.” I’ve even heard respected Church leaders caution that if the Church speaks out the truth, we will lose the millennials and next generations – including our own kids and grandchildren. What if we reversed that kind of thinking and taught these next generations what the Bible really says about God’s timeless standards and the blessings that come to people and even to Nations who abide by them? The ethical conundrum and moral mayhem happening right before our eyes is the direct result of the Church’s refusal to speak with a clear, definitive prophetic voice – the timeless, eternal truths of God’s Word. It’s time for us, Christians and churches across our land, to stop running away from the fight and hiding in the safety of our church buildings, ever moving God’s standards back – and instead run into the battle together calling the people of our Nation to come to God’s standard!



New Year and Change

With 2018 behind us, we know the year ahead will be full of life’s typical highs and lows but always hoping and praying life’s troubles will somehow skip over us and pass us by!  That’s because most of us lack a Biblical perspective of trials, troubles and suffering. We complain when the church building is too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. We moan when our cars break down. We feel ripped off when we find ourselves pinching pennies. We feel abandoned when we face sickness, and punished when bad things roll our way.   If one would take a moment on the internet and discover the intense suffering and persecution that many Christians face daily around the world, we’d be more thankful and tolerant of life’s disruptions. Jesus told us that we would face trials, troubles, persecution and even suffering in this world.  He told His followers, “A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”  (John 15:20 NLT) Moments later He said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33 NLT). God makes it pretty clear that we all go through seasons and circumstances of pain. Some more than others. Since our faith in Jesus doesn’t insulate us from trials and troubles, how should we respond to those hard times we all face living on this planet? First, we should find comfort, encouragement and strength in knowing that in the midst of our troubles and trials, we are never alone. The full verse of John 16:33 reads, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But be of good cheer for I have overcome the world!” Though we often have no explanation for the troubles and trials that come our way, Jesus – the victor and conqueror over sin and death – is right here with us each step of the way! That means we can lean into Him and depend on Him when life gets brutally hard knowing that when we’re too weak to keep putting one foot in front of the other – He will gently lift and carry us all the way through! Jesus promised “I am with you always!” And He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you!” Second, though God is never the source of our suffering, He promises to use it for His glory and for our benefit in making us more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT) God can take everything life (and the devil) can throw at us, and turn it around for good!  James echoes the same truth and teaches us that in such hard times our faith, character and endurance grows stronger. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So, let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT) Finally, realize that God never wastes our pain. He comforts us and brings us through it all so that in time, we can comfort others with the same comfort He gave us. “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT) Those gut wrenching trials, troubles and suffering we experience, are often God’s springboards launching us into ministry to others. Have you, with the awesome grace and comfort of God endured the heartache of addiction? A painful divorce? Chronic illness? Loss of a child or loved one? Lose your career and job? Faced bankruptcy? Homelessness? Incarceration? Then you are equipped to share the same comfort and grace with others in the midst of their storms! You can confidently and truthfully say what most other can’t, “I know how you feel!” Why? You’ve been there! And then comes the opportunity to ministry: “Let me walk with you in this season of pain and share with you how God comforted and sustained me and got me through to the other side!”



Thomas: God’s Love Rises Above Our Problems, Struggles and Frantic Lives

Published December 22, 2017 2:00 PM
Religion Columnist 

After much planning and many rehearsals, the big night had arrived. As the pastor began his sermon, he asked the overflowing Christmas Eve crowd, “What one word embodies the full meaning of this special season?” On that cue, four members of the second grade Sunday School class were to walk in, each one carrying a large poster board with a letter on it. They were supposed to spell the word “STAR” — from which the pastor would build his Christmas message. As the children entered, first there was just silence in the pews, then a snicker or two, and then outright laughter.

Somehow, the kids got reversed. Confused by the response of the congregation, the pastor turned to look at the children. They proudly stood in their holiday clothes smiling and waving at family and friends — but they hadn’t spelled the word “STAR.” Instead, they had spelled “RATS.”

Unfortunately, “Rats!” could summarize the way many people feel in this hectic season of shopping the sales and rampant spending. In the holiday rush, the true meaning of the season often gets distorted or lost altogether amid the tinsel, toys and troubles.

At a time when we should be reflecting on the One who came to bring peace, joy and fulfillment in life — we find ourselves seated before a doctor trying to explain the growing anxiety and depression we are suffering. More people contemplate taking their own lives during these dark winter months than any other time of year. Instead of feeling the keen connection of family, we often feel isolated and alone. If you were feeling lonely before Christmas, watch out. That empty feeling multiplies as you watch all the Christmas specials that remind you of the family and relationships you don’t have. With these simple ways to help keep toasty indoors and out, you can better enjoy all the snowy season has to offer.

During the Christmas season, we can easily drift into comparing our lives with others around us. They seem happier, wealthier, and almost carefree! They look like they really enjoy life! But beyond outward appearances, we really have no idea of what others are going through chronic illness, loss of loved one, broken relationships, marital discord. It doesn’t have to be this way. The world may not know what this season is about, but God does. He left the glory and splendor of heaven to come to us wrapped in frail humanity. God did that as an expression of the deepest love you could ever imagine. A love for you and me. A love that rises above our problems, struggles and frantic lives. A love that calms our anxious souls, and lifts the depressed spirit. A love that clears the confusion and clatter, and points us to a life filled with purpose and meaning.

There’s a popular Christian plaque that I’ve seen many times. It reads, “I asked God, how much do You love me?” And God replied, ‘This much.’ And He stretched out His arms and died.” It’s equally true if God had said, “This much!” And He emptied Himself of His glory and came to earth as one of us!

God loves you that much. And that kind of love is more valuable than any present you can order online or find under your tree on Christmas morning.

So, take a deep breath and slow down. Look up at the stars. As big and immense as this universe is, there is a God who loves you and wants to have an intimate friendship with you. Just open your heart and tell Him how you feel. Tell Him about your emptiness, your hurts and your struggles. Let Him shower you with His love. Let God remind you of the greatest love story ever — that He had you on His mind and in His heart from the manger to the cross. Do that, and it could be the best Christmas you ever had!



Always Vote For The Perfect Candidate

 

pastor_bill
Published in the Carroll County Times newspaper October 28, 2016

History records that there was a perfect candidate. He lived in every way a perfect life.

No one could find any dirt on him from the past. No scandals. No shady deals. There were no skeletons in his closet or moral failures or “ethical” wanderings. He was a simple carpenter who made chairs, tables and plows. He wasn’t a politician or community leader. He had no following or political ambitions.

In his early 30s, he hit the campaign trail. His popularity soared. He was loved by the masses. Large crowds quickly formed wherever he showed up, often begging him to speak to them. His words echoed in his listeners’ hearts as he painted life not only as it is, but what it could and should be.

He was a rebel who goaded the establishment and made enemies with traditionalists by exploding their paradigms of thought and practice. At the same time, he revered and supported the deeply established teachings and values of the ancients. He had a way with words that cut into the human soul, giving people great comfort, hope and encouragement. Someone described his speeches as being “words of life.”

He was a champion of the poor. Not just in rhetoric, but in practice as he fed thousands and healed many of their diseases. He gave the poor hope and value — and often remarked of their special place in the nation he was building. He stood valiantly against the injustices endured by the poor and disenfranchised. He included those people who society excluded. He consistently broke down racial and gender barriers that separated people from others, and from fully experiencing life. He genuinely embraced all types of people and invited them to join his movement. It became obvious that he was changing the system by changing people, one by one.

His detractors were crafty and influential. Try as they may, they just couldn’t win back the crowds. These leaders were pegged as “establishment” leaders who only cared about their place in society — and keeping their “cushy” positions of authority and respect. To protect themselves and their jobs, they secretly plotted against him. They tried again and again to outwit and trick him through verbal gymnastics and unanswerable questions about the law. But to no avail. He countered every question with powerful truths that amazed the crowds and dumbfounded the inquisitors. Eventually, the ruling party dragged him to court on false charges. The “rigged” system found him guilty! They beat him and killed him.

Then the unprecedented happened. Something no one could have predicted. This candidate, dead in the tomb for three days, rose from the grave and continued his campaign — a campaign that is every bit as alive and active now as it was then, 2,000 years ago.

As we prepare for the final days before this year’s presidential election, remember the perfect candidate who still is building a nation — a kingdom without end — who still actively seeks those who will join him on his quest of changing the hearts and lives of people; of building a world without suffering and pain, without hatred and violence, without hunger and want. He’s still looking for those who will stand with him to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, who will love the unlovely and care for those this world excludes; who will work for justice, righteousness and peace to prevail.

No matter which candidate you vote for Tuesday, Nov. 8, make sure that in your heart you have voted “Yes!” for the perfect candidate, Jesus Christ!

The Rev. William Thomas is pastor at Hereford United Methodist Church. He can be reached at pastor@herefordumc.org.