Teaching at the Tree is communicated in a practical, easy to understand way that is relevant to your everyday life. It’s not religious jargon, just the truth of God’s word presented in a loving and challenging way.
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Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me,
and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you,
up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18: 21-22
Forgiveness is one of those commands that Christians make situational. We tend to make comments like, “There certainly is no way I am supposed to forgive my mother for leaving me and my siblings,” or “God would never ask me to forgive my wife 100 times over for emotionally abusing me time and time again.” We decide in our own minds there must be a “cut off” for forgiveness. I have dealt with this in my own life. I have argued with God over forgiving someone for the umpteenth time. Let me tell you friends, I do NOT know better than God. He has never said, “Well Danielle, you might be right this time. Maybe you shouldn’t forgive them.” He ALWAYS calls us to forgive.
BUT…what we need to remember is what forgiveness really looks like and what it means.
I recently read a devotional by a single mother, Amanda McDowell, and a statement she made really stuck with me: “Forgiveness is simply acknowledging a wrong and giving it to God.” We don’t have to excuse the behavior or even forget it; we just have to give it to the One who is in control, the One who promises to fight our battles for us. In this devotional, Amanda talks about how her husband told her that he didn’t want to be married anymore as she was rocking her small child to sleep. She reminds us that forgiveness is constant, that the anger and bitterness creep back in, and when that happens, you have to pray and release to God again. I feel like we sometimes can fall into the trap of believing we simply say the words, and all the pain and emotions go away. Forgiveness is a process, a process that can only be done alongside Jesus. This is my struggle, friends! God has been working with me on forgiveness for years. I am a very slow learner, and I am constantly in conversation with God over this.
You can forgive the unforgivable. You are not excusing their behavior, you are not forgetting what they did, and you are not losing anything. Instead, you are gaining righteousness with God, and you are releasing all the pain and bitterness that has been holding you back. Forgive the people in your lives. Remember that you are not in charge of righting injustice. God will take care of that…you are just called to let it go.
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.
Romans 12:19 NIV
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
My son is the king of “Hey, did you see that?” Even the slightest accomplishment such as landing a water bottle upright, or even more impressively on its cap, warrants an excited, “Hey Dad, did you see that?” It can range from bottle flipping to video games to school work to sports. He desires to be seen, recognized, and acknowledged for his accomplishments.
But I don’t think this is a “kid” thing. Inside all of us is a desire to be recognized and loved for the things we accomplish. We want to know that what we are doing is important, and that we are loved and needed by the people around us. We want to know that we have importance, that who we are and what we do has value and worth. And I don’t think that desire in and of itself is bad…but if not pointed in the right direction, it can cause a lot of heartache. Some of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life have been the result of trying to win this adoration from other people, or feeling slighted at not getting it. I have seen it drive my heart to unhealthy comparison and competitiveness, where I feel the need to constantly put people below me. I have seen it drive me to pride. I have seen my heart turn to bitterness when I perceived a lack of recognition given, and I have let that bitterness fuel gossip and all kinds of malicious thinking. In essence, if we are looking to simply find our worth and value from the people around us, it will lead us to extremely dumb thinking and behavior.
But that desire, if pointed at the right source, can protect us. We can take a cue from my son as to where we are meant to find our value and worth. My son desires to have MY attention. He desires to know if I saw what he did. And though other opinions matter to him, when he says, “Hey Dad,” he is looking to get that acknowledgement from me. And this is what Jesus tries to drive home to us through the book of Matthew. He says things like: If your prayer is for the purpose of being seen by man, you already have your reward (6:2); when you do something good, do it for the sake of God seeing you, not other people (6:3); or if you want to be great (which is the desire to be acknowledged and recognized by men), you have to humble yourself and serve and become the least (18:4).
The point of everything Jesus says in these verses is that desire you feel to be acknowledged, to be known, to be recognized, is best fulfilled when pointed toward our Father. We are safer people when our hope is to find our value and worth in and from our Father. So the next time you do something that you feel warrants praise and recognition, I hope you (and I) can echo the words of my son and say, “Hey Dad, did you see that?”
Have you ever considered that knowing Christ makes you privileged? Listen closely to what I am saying, because I don’t want you to misunderstand or use this information to think of yourself more highly than you should. Here is what I mean. In Mark 13:16-17, Jesus is in the middle of a conversation with His disciples that started with them asking Him a question about His reason for teaching in parables (a story with a purpose). In this conversation though, Jesus speaks of the incredible privilege His disciples got to experience by being in close relationship with Him every day. He says to them, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” He was communicating to them that the relationship they had with Him was unique, and not everyone got to experience the blessing that came with having access to God’s presence at all times. This was a grace they had been given, not a grace they deserved. They were not born into privilege but adopted as sons by a compassionate Father who loved them, not because of what they offered Him, but simply because He cared for them deeply.
Like the disciples, we too have been adopted into privilege. We were not given this privilege because we somehow earned it, but Christ made it possible through His death, resurrection, and the gift of sending His Holy Spirit. We have a relationship with the King, and not all generations have been given the unique blessing of seeing what we get to see and hearing what we get to hear. What a privileged time we live in, to have access to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at all times. More so, we get to read and hear the very words of God, to see the evidences of His grace play out in our lives. Sure, life is broken and messy and unheavenly now, and we see a dull reflection of what life can truly be, but still we are given the promise that this isn’t life eternal. The hope of life eternal, where there is no darkness, is just another example of how privileged we truly are. This privilege is not to be flaunted and waved around as a means to devalue anyone who has not experienced this grace yet. However, it can be celebrated and lived out in a way that glorifies God and gives others a glimpse of what a life can look like that has access to the presence of God at all times (Matthew 5:16).
This morning, I went to the gym and did an intense workout. During the workout, I felt as if I was going to pass out. My world was spinning at times, I felt exhausted, and I just was not feeling like myself. After the workout, my trainer came up to me and asked what was wrong with me. I then told her that I felt like I was on the verge of blacking out. The first thing she asked was “Have you ate anything today?” I paused and realized I had missed that vital step in my morning routine. I hadn’t eaten, and that caused me to be mentally and physically exhausted throughout the workout. As I was driving home, I realized this applied to my life in many ways.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
I realized as I have gone through difficult seasons in the past, I was either: 1) Not feeding myself, or 2) Feeding myself the wrong things. I don’t mean actually consuming food; I am talking about spiritual food. As I would walk through confusion, hurt, and the storms of life, I tried to feed myself with material things, like friendships, romantic relationships, etc. They all have one thing in common: They are worldly, temporary things. I shied away from feeding myself what I truly needed. What I needed to be feeding myself was God’s worship, God’s presence, and God’s Word.
I feel like we have all been there, too. When we see the worldly things in front of us, it is a lot easier to feed ourselves with THAT, instead of what we can’t see, which is God. As we make the decision on what we want to feed ourselves with, I truly believe that decision can change the outcome of the season we’re going through. As in my workout, I didn’t do my best and I felt horrible throughout the whole thing, only because I didn’t feed myself. If I would have eaten physical food, the workout would have turned out a lot differently. If we feed ourselves the world, we won’t have lasting peace, love, and contentment for the situations God placed us in. If we feed ourselves with God, He will come through and keep us afloat when we are drowning in the things of life. So if there’s one thing I think we all need to remember, it’s that feeding ourselves with God will ultimately be the best choice we can make while going through tough seasons of life, and will likely change the outcome from defeat to victory.
Blessed is the person who keeps on going when times are hard.
After they have come through hard times, this person will receive a crown.
The crown is life itself. The Lord has promised it to those who love him.
James 1:12 NIRV
The two weeks leading up to the new building opening were most definitely challenging for us as a staff. We put in a lot of thought, hours, sweat, and tears as we were preparing for opening night. I have to be honest, it was tough and there were a few times I just wanted to give up. In the moment, all I could see was the stress, challenge, and frustration that went into trying to move and open up a new church. It was exhausting!! But even in the middle of it all, I knew the end result, the end goal, seeing it all come to fruition, was going to be worth it. I just had to keep moving forward, looking ahead toward the goal that was sure to bring a lot of joy and a feeling of accomplishment.
Have you ever had a time like this? A time when you knew you were going to have to put in the hard work, but knew the end result was going to be worth it? It’s hard sometimes to keep moving forward. We know from our limited human perspective that giving up looks, and may possibly be, easier. But there is so much to be said of those times when we keep pressing on toward the goal. I don’t know about you, but the things I have worked the hardest for, the things where there has been a struggle, have often turned out to be some of my greatest accomplishments and blessings. It’s so easy to give up. It’s so easy to walk away, but man, when you put your all into it and see it to completion, it is incredible. It is nice to be able to take a step back and say, “I persevered. God gave me the strength I needed and look at what He helped me accomplish.” I fear too many times we miss out on incredible experiences, amazing life lessons, and God moments because we give up and don’t persevere in the hard times.
The night the building opened was amazing. We knew going into it what we were trying to accomplish. The ultimate goal for us was to create a space and environment without barriers, a safe place where lives are changed. The goal always before us was God, and drawing people into relationship with Him. The instant worship started, it was almost as if God said to all of us, “Well done.” All of the tears shed, all of the sweat dripped, every tiring and frustrating moment was all worth it. To see our congregation worship Jesus in that space was incredible. In that moment, I was able to just sit back in awe of all God had done. It was a moment I would have missed had I given up.
I hope this encourages you to keep pressing on toward the goal. In the moment you feel like giving in and giving up, keep going. Remind yourself that the end result will be worth it. Remind yourself the lessons learned will help you grow. Remind yourself of the hope you have in Jesus. Allow Him to be your strength as you continually press on toward the goal. Don't give up, my friends, but remind yourself daily that one day it will all be worth it. Anything you do for the glory of God is worth the sacrifice.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:12-14 NLT