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Spare Change - October 2021

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It seems like everyone is offended about something today.  People are more sensitive about what is said to them and at the same time less sensitive about what they say.  Christians have had to think about the issue of offense for a long time because it is addressed in the scriptures.  In fact, the scriptures are clear on what is expected from the followers of Jesus.  Nevertheless, we find ourselves at odds often.  What can be done?  How should we deal with offenses from brothers and sisters in Christ? 

The issue with offense is first an issue with intention.  It has been called the bait of Satan because when we take the bait of offense, we spring a trap in our lives.  In this way Satan has a field day with our relationships.  If he can get us sideways with each other then his work is done.  He can sit back and watch us as we sin with hateful thoughts and actions.  The issue of offense is paramount to the health and success of the church on its mission.  That is why God spoke about this in the scriptures and put a plan in place to deal with offenses. 

The first thing we must address is our heart.  We are told in Philippians 2:1-11 that we are to have a humble attitude.  We are encouraged to share the “mind of Christ”.  Meaning that we think like Christ, especially in how we treat others.  We are to think about others, placing their needs over our own.  Jesus is our supreme example in how He humbled Himself by coming to earth to be our sacrifice on the cross.  This is our model of humility; we are to sacrificially care for others. 

This type of attitude means trying to think the best of others or another way of saying it is we give them the benefit of the doubt.  This is often the basis of most conflict.  We assume intentions or we think of people in the worst way.  The Christian's first move should always be to assume the best of someone else.  It is kind of like being innocent until proven guilty. How many conflicts would be solved if we just did this?  I guarantee it would eliminate a large chunk of them. 

What about the conflict of intentional offenses?  In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus lays out a plan of reconciliation when an offense is given.  The key to this plan is seeking reconciliation.  Often when people try to resolve conflict they are seeking to “win” or get their pound of flesh.  This is never Jesus' attitude.  Jesus wants us to care for the other person in a way that will restore the relationship.  Jesus tells us to first seek the person that has given the offense; this can go either way, as evidenced by other scriptures.  Someone needs to go and initiate the process.  If the one-on-one meeting does not work, then the person is instructed to follow the plan of getting others involved, up to the point of involving the church in the process.  The hope is it never gets to this point but that is the ultimate authority in this situation.  Why don’t we follow this plan more often?  I have seen many Christians simply refuse to interact with someone because of an offense.  That is not what Jesus tells us to do. 

There are two possible reactions to an offense.  Either the offense is small and possibly unintentional, so you just overlook it.  You love that person and know they were having a bad day or mistakenly did something, just let it go.  If it is something that cannot be overlooked or it was intentional or is an issue of sin, then YOU MUST BEGIN THE RESTORATION PROCESS! Do not wait until they come to you, you start the process.  Jesus gave us this instruction because He knew we would experience conflict.  We are sinful people, albeit redeemed, but still struggling with the flesh and because of that we experience conflict any time there is a group of people together in a church, family, workplace, neighborhood, etc.  We cannot avoid it, the only thing we have control over is how we deal with it.  Dealing with offenses in love and grace will separate mature believers from immature ones.  In fact, Jesus says in John 13:35 the world will know we belong to Him by how we love one another! 

This has been, and still is, a struggle for me.  I would love to say I handle all offenses correctly, but I still need to be reminded of this truth.  I do have the opportunity to be offended or to offend others often.  I have found if I start to get offended, I need to remove myself from that situation for a short time to pray.  When I pray for help and wisdom, the Lord is always faithful to help me deal with situations in a Christ-like manner.  The key is to actually go and deal with the situation and when I do, do it in a loving way that is always seeking reconciliation.  Is there an offense you have given recently or has someone offended you?  Start by reading the scriptures from this article, praying, and then seeking reconciliation.  God will help you to get it right!

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Spare Change - September 2021

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Life can get pretty rough at times.  Sometimes we feel like we are making good progress in our spiritual growth, while other times we seem to be falling further behind.  What do you do when you find yourself spinning your spiritual wheels?  Do you lean into your faith and seek the Lord or do you press on by yourself?  One thing we often do, but should try to avoid at all costs, is run back to the sin that we have been freed from.  I know there are sins that, with the help of the Lord, you have conquered but when we feel weak, tired, and defeated, that is when Satan can do a lot of harm.  We know we shouldn’t, but we run back to those sins because we find short term pleasure, we feel an emotional release, or it's just plain easier than fighting with it.  While there is a short-term freedom from the fight, we know that our spiritual lives take a hit.  There is a great example of this found in 1 Samuel 28.

Leading up to this passage, King Saul has become extremely jealous of the king-in-waiting, David.  David is more famous and more beloved than Saul.  He even tries to kill David, which causes David to go on the run.  Saul’s spiritual life takes a nosedive during this period.  The last of the great judges, Samuel, has died and Saul cannot get a word from the Lord.  In the past God has spoken to him through dreams, prophets like Samuel, or the Urim (divination tool of the priest); however, now God was silent.  This was a result of Saul’s hard heartedness.  He refused to humble himself to seek God’s will.  He had an entitlement that God frowned upon.

Saul, looking for any spiritual insight, goes back to a dark place.  Before King Saul the people of Israel were tossed to and fro in their spiritual allegiances.  They worshiped idols and practiced all kinds of different forms of worship during the period of the Judges.  King Saul, with the help of Samuel, had helped Israel get more focused on worship of the one true Lord, Yahweh, the God of the patriarchs.  Saul had kicked the mediums, sorcerers, and others performing magic out of Israel. That’s what makes what Saul does in 1 Samuel 28 so troubling.  He goes and finds one of the banished mediums to get a word from the Lord.

Do I even have to say how messed up this is?  Instead of repenting and turning back to the Lord he goes around God to a lady that practices forbidden magic.  This medium even acknowledges that what she is doing is forbidden, but Saul swears a promise by the Lord that she will not be punished.  Saul is acting very blasphemously now.  Despite his reckless behavior, he asked her to conjure the dead judge, Samuel.  The medium is shocked when Samuel appears.  This is most certainly a work of the Lord, not the medium as evidenced by her shock.  God is using this to get Saul’s attention.  Samuel does not have good news for Saul.  He confirms that God has indeed turned away from him because of his sinfulness and disobedience.  He also tells him God will allow him to die at the hand of his enemy the Philistines.

Saul was already far from God and instead of seeking God’s face in repentance he doubled down on sin.  He ran away from God to the thing he had put out of the kingdom.  He knew that magic was sinful, but when faced with what he thought was no other option, he ran headlong back toward sin.

Can you relate to Saul in this story? What do you do when you are far from the Lord?  What do you do when you feel God is silent?  Do you get frustrated and run further away from God into sin? Like I said before, there is comfort and ease with sin, but it's always short lived and ultimately not worth it.  Sin will always take you farther than you want to go and ask for more than you are willing to give.  It starts as a friend but quickly turns into a bitter master.  What sin is it for you that tempts you to run back to it?  Brothers and sisters, it is not worth it.  We need to turn to the Lord with pure repentant hearts instead of acts of worldliness or rebellion.

When I was a young student in college, I was challenged to memorize James 4. Part of it has always stuck with me and I find it very helpful in dealing with temptations. James says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded”. God is waiting and wanting us to come back to Him.  If you are far from Him don’t run away, run to Him.  Like the prodigal son, He waits with open arms, all He requires is a humble and contrite heart of repentance.  So, no matter what you are going through, come back to God today!

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