Good Friday has passed, but Jesus’ prayer on that fateful day should be taken to heart. One take-away from the day Jesus was crucified was His willingness to forgive those who persecuted Him.
Looking down from the cross on the Roman soldiers who were gambling for His clothing, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
But it wasn’t just the Roman soldiers He referred to during this distressing time. On either side of Jesus were two criminals who belittled Him. As the religious leaders mocked Him and the crowd jeered at Him, what did Jesus do? He prayed for them—a prayer of unmatched mercy and redeeming love. Even in His agony, Jesus’ concern was not for Himself but for the forgiveness of His enemies.
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Did you know withholding forgiveness from someone who has wronged you does more harm to you than the one you refuse to forgive? Refusing to forgive not only weighs down the spirit, it can also affect your physical health. Whether it’s a minor spat or long-held resentment toward another, unresolved conflict can go deeper than most realize, especially if it’s a family member or friend.
Refusing to forgive ups your risk of high blood pressure, the risk of heart attack, sleep problems, increased pain and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. As we age, research reveals a greater increase in the connection to forgiveness and our health.
“To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory”—Isaiah 61:3(TLB).
Photo by Carol Round
Bright yellow daffodils began to appear in late February in northeastern Oklahoma. Because of the mild winter weather, trees are budding, snakes are slithering and mosquitoes are buzzing.
While I don’t welcome the snakes or the bugs, I love the sight of flowers and trees announcing the upcoming spring weather. Even without a harsh winter, these sights bring renewed hope, especially for those, like me, who are struggling.
Out for a walk recently, I spotted a cluster of sunny daffodils sprouting from a tomb of rocks around a large oak tree in a neighbor’s yard. The contrast between the yellow flowers and the gray and brown mottled surface of the rocks drew my attention. The flowers, pushing their way through the harshness of the stone, reminded me of God’s promises.
In Isaiah 61:3, God promises the Israelites that He will give them beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning and praise instead of heaviness. They faced challenges, but God offered hope.
In the midst of our trials—the fear, the uncertainty, the weariness, the suffering, the mourning—we can take heart in God’s promise to give us beauty for the ashes of life. We can find the beauty in these hardships if we seek Him. In 1 Chronicles 16:11 we read, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”
“The whole earth is full of his glory”—Isaiah 6:3(KJV).
Listening as our associate pastor read the familiar words, I marveled anew at God’s love for us. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God didn’t have to create anything. He didn’t have to create the birds of the air or the flowers we love to pick or the other multitude of creatures and plants for our enjoyment. Just as He created us for His pleasure, He wanted us to enjoy and take care of His creation. Oh how we have failed—all of us. I take comfort, however, in the fact that He never fails us.
As I glanced out my kitchen window this morning, I was surprised by God. A large red-headed woodpecker was enjoying the suet at the feeders hanging on the edge of my deck. This beautiful creature, along with the various other birds that visit each day, are stunning. The variety in their size, shape and color leaves me breathless. How easy it would have been for God to make them all alike. How boring would that be? But, He didn’t.
Clear distractions, focus on each moment.
God loved us so much that He went out of His way to create, to spend five days deliberately preparing a Creation He called “good.” In today’s world, it’s sometime difficult to find the good in the midst of all the chaos.
A recent quote by an unknown author gave me pause. The author said, “The New Year is a time to learn to rely more heavily on the grace of God.”
To do this, I’ve realized I have to let go of some things to make way for His work in my life. Here are some suggestions to help all of us unclutter our lives:
Why are you a Christian? Is it because your parents are Christians? Is it because of the church you attended as a child?
I began to ask myself these questions after I was confronted by a nonbeliever on a social media site. He said, “I bet you were raised by Christian parents who made you go to church.”
Actually, although my parents were raised as Christians, they had drifted away from their faith. They didn’t attend church by the time my sister and I were born. However, when my parents purchased a house in a new subdivision in Louisiana, my sister and I, alone, began to attend a small church down the block, along with other neighborhood children. Looking back as an adult, I know it was part of God’s plan. I don’t believe in coincidences.
I believe in an Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.
I’ve shared before that I drifted away from the church many times over a 40-year period. It wasn’t until I was almost 50 that I became aware of the difference between religion and relationship—a relationship with our Heavenly Father through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, let me ask you, “Why are you a Christian?” If I were to answer that question, I would first share the wonderful things that God has done for me, in me and through me since I answered His calling on my life.
In a recent exchange of emails with a friend who lives in Texas, he confessed he had not attended church for years.
He added, “After being on fire when I discovered the teaching of The Word at Calvary Chapel in a converted strip center, several years down the road I watched us grow and move into a large new building and, to me, the church became a stranger to me…a victim of its success you might say. I know The Lord. I crave The Lord. But I have been absence from audience with Him, deceived I’m sure by The Enemy into thinking that I’m doing just fine by my own self-righteous indignation. Perhaps I am, but that has separated me from The Word as well. Psalm 119 tells us to hide God’s Word in our hearts so as to not sin. The characters have faded because of my absence.”
God will never forsake or abandon His children.
I can relate. I, too, drifted away from my Christian upbringing, which began in Lake Charles, La., where my sister and I grew up walking to a small church just a block away from where we lived. We attended faithfully. After leaving home, my church attendance was sporadic until my sons were born. I wanted them to have the same foundation so I returned only to leave, once again, in my late 30s.
It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I realized what was missing in my life. It wasn’t just the fellowship of Christian believers but a relationship with my Savior and Lord. So, in 2001, I recommitted my life to Him.
Posting encouraging sayings and Bible verses on Facebook is part of my ministry. The responses I receive from others about my posts encourage and bless me too.
Recently, I posted the following: “God’s mercy is bigger than your mistakes.” I received the usual responses like “Amen” and “Praise God.” However, one response baffled me. The woman who responded is not a “friend” on Facebook but can still see my posts. She wrote, “I don’t know about that.”
When I answered with, “Yes, it’s true,” she replied with “I hope you’re right.”
Don’t let poor choices and sins define you.
I encouraged her to read the Bible. Later that day, I decided to search for scriptures to reassure her. After locating 37 different verses about God’s mercy, I posted several below her response in hopes it would help her. I wondered why she felt God’s mercy could not overcome her mistakes. I also wondered about the mistakes she had made.
We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. It’s how we learn, and if we are willing to admit we made wrong choices, we grow in wisdom.
Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23-24 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
“Day by day the Lord observes the good deeds done by godly men, and gives them eternal rewards”— Psalm 37:18 (TLB).
Barefooted and clad in a sheet, the man shuffled across the street. With head down, his demeanor suggested someone who was lost. This photo of humanity had been captured by a Tulsa World photographer and was plastered across the top inside page of a recent Sunday newspaper.
After snapping the photo, the curious photographer wanted to know the rest of the story. Why was this man walking across the street with a sheet around his shoulders? Upon approaching him, the photographer discovered the man had just been released from a criminal justice center early that morning, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts.
There are no limits to God’s amazing grace.
The man had called an ambulance in an attempt to get a night’s hospital stay. In addition to the ambulance, the police showed up. According to the man’s story, authorities then arrived and gave him a sheet to protect him from the cold until he could eat breakfast at a local soup kitchen and food pantry when it opened.
When the photographer first spotted the sheet-clad man, he said, “(It was) incredible for me because of the religious implications, but it was unusual to see a barefoot man walking down the street wrapped in a sheet.”