I Praise Him

When I worship God, I stretch my hands in the air and thank him. I thank him for my life. I thank him for my family. But most of all, I thank him for my relationship with him. That, had it not been for him believing in me, I would not be where I am today—praising him with every breath I draw into my lungs.

"The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him" (Revelation 22:2-3 ESV throughout).

“The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:2-3 ESV throughout).

David did the same, except I have yet to dance as he did when he defeated the Philistines to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14, 16, 20-23).

That day was special. That day, the Lord God fought on David’s behalf and won (2 Sam. 5:17-25).

Now, when I praise God, I praise him for fighting for me. I have the reassurance that he will not leave me or forsake me, and just as he had done with David, he will send his armies before me to make the way clear so that it seems as if I have accomplished it all on my own.

It sounds crazy. I agree. But after seven months of God’s constant intervention in my life, healing me of my neck problem, ridding my heart of bitterness, exiling those who despised me into utter darkness, he has yet to fail me:

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).

And I will continue to praise him, lifting my arms in true thanksgiving for extending his mercy over my life and the lives of those in my family, just as it says in (Ps. 148:1-4):

“Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
Praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
Praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!”

Therefore, I pray also that he, too, may bless and fight for all of you as he has done for me because his mercy is great and his reach is infinite.

The Bible: Cover to Cover

When I set out to read the bible from cover to cover last year, I did not know I would be in for a few surprises.

"Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life" (Gen. 9:14-15 NIV).

“Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Gen. 9:14-15 NIV).

For instance, I had no idea that Job lived before Abraham, in spite of the fact that the Book of Job is located several hundred pages after Genesis. In addition, it was a revelation to me that after the flood, God declared that all animals would fear humans (Gen. 9:2 ESV throughout). And the thought that an honorable man such as Jabez, whose name meant “man of sorrow” or “borne out of pain”, had two verses written about him to demonstrate God’s blessings over his life (1 Chr. 4:9-10), left me wondering what else in the bible have I yet to discover?

The reading plan I used to accomplish this feat is part of the Olive Tree Bible Study app, which resides on my phone and on my tablet. I simply chose a chronological reading plan that consisted of the English Standard Version (ESV). When I travelled, I read it on my phone, sync’d it with my Olive Tree account, then, when I returned home, I picked it up from where I left off on my tablet. Even today, it makes for a seamless experience.

Choosing to read the bible chronologically has its advantages, too. I gained an incredible amount of insight into historical events when reading about the same story through two different accounts. I did not have to understand why certain things happened the way they did because the context remained the same throughout. The chronological reading plan is especially helpful when working through the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles, as the reign of kings can be quite confusing when studying it in a non-linear fashion.

All history aside, though, my favorite part of the bible is the gospels. In the gospels Jesus talks about how to get along with others (Mat. 5:43-48), how to have a relationship with God (Mat. 6:5-15), and what the ultimate goal for believers should be (Mat. 6:19-21).

And, of course, one of my favorite verses I cling to comes from the gospels:

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

In its basic form, it means that whatever I give is what comes back to me. I can attest that this principle works every single time I use it—and it does not apply to money only.

Anyway, I learned all these things in my first year reading the bible from cover to cover. I am hoping after having read the New International Version (NIV) this year, I will have something more to say about the experience.

In the meantime, I will quote this verse as my last thought for this post: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

The Righteous

“I am worried. I do not know what to do. I have made mistakes and I do not know if those mistakes will come back to shorten my days. The future seems dark, the present seems long, and I do not want to remember what happened in the past, as it makes me think of the wretched life I led.”

Or so I used to think.

"But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Mat. 6:30)

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mat. 6:30)

When I was unrighteous, my insecurities swelled with boasting—boasting of my talents, boasting of how I lived my life, and boasting of my successes. In reality, I was missing something. I did not know what that something was until I discovered it with new eyes (Acts 9:18 ESV throughout). Even more so, I was not searching for anything. Instead, it appeared as a blip on my spiritual radar that would light up occasionally to tell me it was there, getting closer to the center, and me not doing anything about it.

Only, what I thought was my center was nothing more than sin living in me (Rom. 7:17 NIV).

Over the past several months, I have gone through a transformation. I wrote about this transformation and the things that I have learned in my previous post Forgiveness. In short, I wrote about reconciliation and letting go of grievances in order to move forward to becoming a new person in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). I also learned God has played a bigger role in my life more than what I was expecting. I found evidence of a deeper theme running through my years that, although I was not aware of it, came in the form of a realization.

This post is about that realization.

The Verse That Changed My Life

Those unfamiliar with the Holy Bible, the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7 is where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, teaching his disciples about God’s blessings on the humble and the peacemakers, instructing them on how to overcome anxiety, and encouraging them to set aside treasures in heaven. As God was leading me into a new walk with him (Mic. 6:6-8 NIV), the one scripture that kept appearing everywhere throughout this period came from Jesus sitting on the Mount,

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

Do Not Be Anxious

Learning about the concept of “and all these things will be added to you” required me to not only search, but after having found it, to read the entire passage in context beginning from (Mat. 6:25), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” The anxiety one feels striving after food, drink and clothing also extends to attaining lodging and all the other necessities this life has to offer. In other words, Jesus says I should not worry about all that. Verse 26 explains why, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” He goes on to explain that Solomon, King of Israel, once the richest and wisest man in the world, could not compare his array of royal garments to the attire with which God clothes the lilies of the field.

When I think about it, there really is no need to hold on to that sinking feeling of uneasiness regarding tomorrow because God has it all figured out today. If he can look after flowers and animals, which are of lesser value than I am, who is to say God will not take care of my needs? Did he not create me out of the dust of the ground, shape me into his image, and breathe into me the breath of life making me into a living soul? Has he not given me dominion over all things under the heavens and in the sea below? Was it not he who forged the universe and everything in it promising it as an inheritance to all who believe in his son for generations to come?

If he could do all that, he can certainly look after my needs and me. Nothing is impossible for God (Mat. 19:26). Jesus even emphasizes this point when he concludes his teaching by stating, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).

To understand Jesus’ intentions when he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, I had to define what the kingdom of God was. To do that, I dedicated last year to accomplish one of my life goals—to read the bible from cover to cover. I reasoned that if I needed to understand God’s will, I had to understand his word.

Much to my astonishment, I am reading the bible again this year for the shear pleasure of it.

The Kingdom of God

During one of my study sessions, the very first verse I came across regarding God’s kingdom I found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Mat. 6:9-10). Above all things, Jesus wanted God’s kingdom to come on this earth and taught his disciples to desire likewise. And why not? Part of his mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God to the entire world, as described in the gospel of Luke, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:42-43).

Aside from being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus also taught others to seek the kingdom of God. However, he preached his message in such a unique way that the people at that time sought him from all the ends of Judea and Galilee. Only, his method of delivering his message was not for preaching the kingdom of God to everyone but to a select few, “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:10-12).

As strange as it sounds, Jesus taught in parables not to make things clearer, but to hide the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Odd, is it not? Why would Jesus do that? Why would he want to hide the true meaning of the kingdom of God? Was it not his mission to save everyone from his or her sins?

Surprisingly—for that time—no.

Jesus was the sower planting the seeds, and it was his disciples who would reap the harvest (Luke 10:2), in terms of the new church he was building (Mat. 16:18-19). The book of Acts reveals the actual growth that took place once Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit for all those who hungered for the kingdom of God, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

Over the course of his ministry, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet, once fully grown, provides a shade for which birds can build their nests (Mark 4:30-32). Said differently, Jesus emphasized how his ministry, proclaiming the kingdom of God, which started humbly soon after the arrest of John the Baptist (Mat. 4:12-17), would one day flourish to engulf the entire world, as written in Revelation 22:1-5, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Being a believer to me means looking forward to the time when God will reign over all things with power and great glory, and his kingdom, of which Jesus proclaimed there would be no end.

Yet, the kingdom of God is only one-half of what I should be seeking.

God’s Righteousness

Getting back to the last part of (Mat. 6:33), where Jesus stated “and all these things will be added to you,” I desired never to worry about food, drink, or clothing ever again. Instead, I concentrated my efforts on God’s will.

His will for me was to seek his kingdom. His will also was for me to seek his righteousness.

Of course, what I did not know was how to define God’s righteousness. In my mind, righteousness had to do with integrity, morality, and walking upright in the face of adversity. However, those were just words according to my own opinion. Anyone, really, could have an opinion as to what God’s righteousness is. What I wanted to know, though, was God’s definition of righteousness. At any time, had he made a clear statement about it? If so, where could I find it? Was it something complicated I could not understand on my own? Or was it as simple as reading a single passage?

Psalms 143:1-2 came to mind, where it talks about God being righteous. However, there is more to it than that. It says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”

When I first read this, I wondered if I even had a chance to understand God. If no one is righteous, what is it to say that I can seek his righteousness in order for him to bestow me all things? I had to know more. It could not simply end there.

And it does not end there. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans as a means to address the necessity for justification through faith due to sin, as he wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).

Paul was saying faith gives life to the righteous. Without faith, the righteous could not understand God because faith reveals God’s righteousness. To put it another way, faith is my lifeblood. Faith is the means by which I will know God. Hebrews 11 demonstrates that throughout the generations great biblical figures have accomplished incredible things, not from anything other than by faith.

Therefore, as Paul stated later in Romans 6:1-11, death does not have dominion over me because I have died to sin and am now alive through faith in Jesus. Verses 12-14 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

It took me a long time to figure out what Paul meant because I thought through grace I was free to do whatever I wanted, including sinning without penalty. But Paul was not condoning that idea at all. On the contrary, I became aware of sin through the knowledge of the law (Rom. 3:10-20). Without the law, I would not have known what sin was. Additionally, when sin is no longer the chain that holds me in bondage, I am free to act as God’s instrument for righteousness.

Who Are the Righteous?

Throughout these studies, though, the question that kept resurfacing was, “Who are the righteous?” If Psalms 143:2 declares that no one is righteous, and in Romans 3:10, Paul agrees, then why does Jesus say, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13)?

The bible is replete with verses pointing to the righteous as those whom God will show favor.

For instance, Abraham attempted to intercede on Sodom’s behalf asking God if he would punish the righteous along with the wicked for the city’s iniquities (Gen. 18:23). And after Solomon built the temple of the Lord, he presented a prayer of dedication to God expressing his desire for God to condemn the guilty all the while rewarding the righteous according to their righteousness (1 Kings 8:32). And the prophet Isaiah foretold of God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem assuring the righteous the protections afforded to them by the Creator of all things (Isa. 3:9-10).

Nevertheless, the question remains: Who are the righteous?

The apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and whom Jesus gave charge over his mother while hanging on the cross (John 19:26-27), wrote his first epistle to the church in Asia Minor (now Turkey) instructing believers there to remain faithful to the truth. In (1 John 1:5-6), he wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Later in verse 9, he said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Now, for a long time I had to think through that idea because I had the notion I was unrighteous. I thought my sins would always keep me separated from God. Yet, what John was saying is God will purify me and make me righteous.

John brings the message home in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” And to ensure it is God’s righteousness of which he is referring, John explains it clearly this way, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (v. 8-10).

I cannot describe how incredible a truth (1 John 3:7) is. I will repeat it once again, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

Which brings me to the realization I spoke about earlier.

The Wow Moment

Jesus gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He was perfect in every way, without blemish (1 Pet. 1:18-19). He was righteous. To think I could measure up to Jesus’ stature is unthinkable. Still, the scriptures are clear. If I practice righteousness, I am righteous, as he is righteous—not only I—but also everyone who repents, accepts him as savior, and sins no more.

No other truth comes close to understanding God’s love than for him to have given his only begotten son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for the sins of the many so that I and everyone else can live a true life in righteousness.

And that, dear friends, is a wow moment!

I learned this over the course of several months, but not after a lifetime of doing things the wrong way. I still find it difficult to imagine that I had no clue who God was.

Yet, he was there for me. He never left me. He simply waited—waited for me to catch up while he did a great work (Deut. 11:7).

Peace

At this very moment, I feel privileged, not in the sense of what I own, but in the sense of who is now in my life. I have felt this way ever since deciding in the spring that, after a twenty-year absence, I belonged back in church.

"My Peace I give you" (John 14:27).

“My Peace I give you” (John 14:27).

Now, the funny part about it all is that my wife, Luana, had never stopped attending. In fact, not so long ago, she was going to a revival church one week and a fundamental church the other. Given my skeptical mindset at the time, it made for some interesting comic fodder. I could not pass up the opportunity to razz her about the obvious inconsistency with believing two sets of doctrine. After all, both churches could not be right about salvation, I thought!

However, God was performing a great work with my life. All I had to do was to be patient.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).

Through my church, I have learned to be patient and listen to what God has to say (James 5:7). I have learned what true peace means (Rom. 15:13) and I have grown to understand where I fit in the grand scheme of God’s plan (Mat. 5:9).

I have repented (Acts 3:19). I have forgiven (Mat 6:14). Above all else, I have taken into me God’s spirit to become a new man in Christ, of which would not have been possible had God not called me to be a partaker of his plan (Acts 2:38).

With that in mind, I extend blessings to all my readers so as you may also find peace.

Forgiveness

You know, I have always thought forgiveness was this feeling of reconciliation one receives when one absolves another of an offence. I also thought forgiveness was not possible without an inordinate amount of restoration, or as I would like to call it, works of restitution.

A bridge can symbolize almost anything. But in my walk with God, it symbolizes forgiveness to new life.

A bridge can symbolize almost anything. But in my walk with God, it symbolizes forgiveness to new life.

After reading my bible, however, I have found forgiveness in God’s eyes is an entirely different matter. He treats the absolution of sins as his highest form of love. I had to delve deeply into his word in order to understand that when God forgives, he does it without conditions. That unconditional love God shows is so wonderful, so great, so just, that nothing will ever compare to the feeling of knowing he has forgiven me in whole.

A Root of Bitterness

Now, if you have not read any of my previous posts about my past struggle with a root of bitterness I will make it easy by explaining it here. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (ESV throughout).

I have done some gardening in my lifetime. I cannot brag of having attained a green thumb, but I am able to get by. As any gardener knows, when planting flowers, or anything else for that matter, the one thing that keeps popping up to the surface is weeds. I do not like weeds. They are insidious. If I do not remove weeds, they will choke the good plants and cause them to stop growing. Even more so, left unchecked, weeds can kill plants leaving me with nothing to show for all my toil.

Therefore, I take desperate measures when dealing with weeds. I dig deep into the soil looking for the root. If I were to cut the weed from where it breaks ground, it would only grow back. Then I would be there every few days to remove the same weed repeatedly. No. That does not make sense to me. Either I do the job right the first time, or I do not do it at all. Simple. I look for the root, and sometimes it is not an easy thing to eradicate. I can tug at it, but it may also have thorns to prevent me from removing it with my bare hands. In such cases, I use garden gloves for protection, but even then, the gloves may not be enough. I may need the help of various tools to aid with the extraction from the ground. A small shovel works well, as does a tool specifically designed to pluck the root.

It gets better, once I remove the root I then stand in one spot staring at a hole in the ground.

Similarly, a root of bitterness, as described in the book of Hebrews, can spring up and cause all sorts of trouble. The verse describes how that root, if left to grow, will fester and spread, corrupting other people as well. All of a sudden, the original incident that gave birth to bitterness becomes secondary, and every slight becomes an issue.

In Matthew 5:23, Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Why would Jesus want me to leave my gift at the altar, find the person who has a grudge against me and reconcile with them? They are the one with the problem. Why should I be the one to lose face and try to make amends?

The Sermon on the Mount

That attitude of not wanting to help others, Jesus covers in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In his sermon, Jesus blesses the people and talks about how Christians should become examples for others to follow, likening them to light (Mat. 5:13-16). He also talks about the perils of anger, lust (v. 21-30) and retaliation (v. 38-42). He finishes the chapter admonishing his followers to love their enemies, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 43-45).

Sporting around a root of bitterness will not encourage anyone to love an enemy. Jesus goes on to describe what happens when that root of bitterness spreads, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Mat. 5:46-47). In other words, Jesus is saying I should look to do more than love my friends. I should treat my enemies as I would a brother in Christ.

Jesus ends his teaching on the subject by instilling a goal to his listeners, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

Attaining Perfection

Perfection for someone ordinary like me is impossible. I fail at things. I do the things I do not want to do (Rom. 7:15). And I am a sinner (Rom. 5:12). How can I be perfect as God is perfect? Impossible.

Yet, despite my own perceptions, it is possible. When the apostle Paul was dealing with pride, he had to overcome a messenger of Satan, whom he referred to as a thorn in the flesh. He pleaded with Jesus three times asking for relief. The story continues, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If God can make me perfect by his grace, which he gives freely regardless of my weaknesses, then I have nothing to worry about in this life or the next. Paul explains it well in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Filling the Emptiness

Remember the hole left behind after I had pulled the weed by its root in my garden? The emptiness I felt once I realized my life was not worth anything without God’s presence compelled me to kneel before him to ask for the soaking of his spirit. It was the only way I could move forward from the damage the root of bitterness had caused.

Back in my garden, I filled the hole with dirt, seeded and watered it every day until new growth sprouted to the surface. Likewise, instead of the emptiness left behind, I took to God’s word and seeded the hole with the word of life. I no longer needed to gird on the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20) as my tools to remove the weeds, but this time, I watched as the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) took root in my heart and spread throughout all my relationships.

Put another way, God, the ultimate gardener (Gen. 2:8-9), replaced that root of bitterness in me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I counted it a difficult thing to overcome a grudge, however, once I realized God had given his only begotten son as a sacrifice so that he could save me from the wages of sin (John 3:16), I looked upon my enemies not as I had, but with mercy. I gained the understanding through God’s Holy Spirit, that if I wanted God to forgive me of my sins against him, I needed to forgive others their sins against me.

God’s Forgiveness

Going back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus passes along the template his followers should use when praying to God the Father. I grew up knowing it as The Lord’s Prayer. Others may know it as the Our Father (Mat. 6:9-13). When praying to God, I use it as a prompt for what I want to say. Each verse is specific in intention, as I discovered one night when verse 12 jumped out at me. In it, Jesus says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

As anyone who has ever had a debt knows, it would be sweet music should a creditor decide to cancel a debt. For one thing, it means that whatever is owing to the creditor is no longer owing. I cannot imagine what it would feel like if someone should knock on my door and say to me that my mortgage is no longer payable.

In like manner, Jesus talks about doing just that, expanding on the idea even further at the end of the prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mat. 6:14-15).

Not only does Jesus make it clear that the Heavenly Father will not forgive those who do not forgive, but he also implies that full responsibility for those debts will fall on the heads of the unforgiving.

I cannot fathom the thought of dying with full knowledge that I could have released others of their debts against me. Moreover, should I have a hard heart, I will also have to worry about judgement being against me in due course, as Paul says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The Unforgiving Servant

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mat. 18:21-35), Jesus talks about forgiveness in its basic form. Peter came up to Jesus and asked him how many times should he forgive his brother—seven times? Jesus answered him saying not seven times, but seventy times seven (v. 21-22). What Jesus meant was not 490 times, but we should always forgive, having mercy for those who have wronged us. He then begins to tell Peter the story of a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents (v. 23-24).

Now, a talent in those days equaled to about 20 years wages for a single laborer. There was no way the servant could ever repay the master all that money in his lifetime. It would have taken the servant 200,000 years in all to wipe the slate clean. Stating it differently, Jesus wanted to emphasize the debt’s value as immeasurable.

Facing the fear of his master’s order to have him, his wife, his children and all that he possessed sold to repay his debt, the servant fell on his knees pleading with his master for forgiveness (v. 25-26).

What happens next astounds me, “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27). Knowing fully well the servant owed him thousands of years of wages, immeasurable by human standards, the master forgave all of it.

When I think of all the bad I have done in my lifetime, and I think of how God sits on his mercy seat (Heb. 9:5), ready to extend his grace on to me, I humble myself in utter worship in the presence of his glory. For it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Being Vigilant

But the story of the servant does not end there. Instead of being thankful that his master stayed the order to sell him, his wife, his children and all that he possessed to repay the debt, and instead of waking up every morning knowing his freedom was secure, the servant did something altogether different, “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (Mat. 18:28-30).

A denarii was a day’s wage. All the servant had to do was wait 100 days and his fellow servant would have paid him back. He did not wait. He had him thrown in prison.

When God forgives, going forward he expects me to forgive others in the same way. If I do not do that, I would have to deal with his judgement. This is what the servant faced, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (v. 32-34)

Eventually, the master delivered the servant to the jailers, until he paid all of his debt (v. 34). In the New International Version, it is more specific, “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Continuing with the English Standard Version, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v. 35).

By this time, it is apparent that forgiveness has nothing to do with the one who may have perceptually caused the offense, but works by releasing the chains of the one holding the grudge. Once those chains fall under the weight of God’s grace, they become as if they never were. Ephesians 4:31-32 describes the process in a beautiful way, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

My Forgiveness Campaign

I went on a forgiveness campaign of my own recently to reconcile with everyone in my life who I thought perceived me as an enemy. I had to grovel. I had to apologize. And in some cases, I had to open my heart completely in order to show my sincerity and seriousness with wanting to remove any occasion for the devil to lay his hooks into me again (1 Pet. 5:8). The hardest part about the whole thing, though, was the rejection. I realized that not everyone wants reconciliation. I thought it odd, at first. I mean, I did my part by leaving my gift at the altar, but the other person just did not want to hear it. They were content with the way things were.

To that, I cannot do a thing. What is important is I have done my part asking for forgiveness. And to me, that is all that matters. My comfort lies in the knowledge that Jesus also faced rejection when he was walking among us on earth (1 Peter 2:4-8). So, why should it surprise me that even I should bear the burden of rejection?

For this reason, before reaching the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it a point to emphasize a lasting lesson to his followers, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Mat. 7:1-2).

And Lastly…

When it comes down to it, forgiveness is not only about eradicating a root of bitterness and moving on. It also requires vigilance to love an enemy as oneself. I can attest it is not an easy task to do when all there remains of the relationship is sad memories. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, anything is possible. As long as I keep repenting, turning away from wrongdoing, God will blot out my sins (Acts 3:19). He will extend his grace, and Jesus’ sacrifice will not have been for naught (Rom. 6:5-8).

The Cost of Change

I had a good week last week. When I think back at everything that has happened, I wonder how I did it. I have my neck problem that appears occasionally, but I have been able to manage it. I am meeting new people, and my family life has never been better.

With springs comes change

With spring comes change

As for the new church I have been attending, I can truly say I am enjoying it. The organization is not the cult group that I was a part of twenty years ago; therefore, I am thankful knowing I can be myself without worrying that I am breaking some stringent directive. Given many may describe it as an evangelical church; the messages have a general theme aimed toward changing the heart.

My writing has also gone through a change, which is really a reflection of what has been happening inside me lately. No longer do I have the root of bitterness that has held me captive for all these years, inspiring me to write horror. Now I wake up in the mornings with God on my mind and with thoughts of how I could glorify and praise him. The stories I am writing deal with people who overcome spiritual and physical challenges at the cost of moral obligation.

All these changes did come with a price.

I no longer post articles three times a week. My focus has shifted toward God first, family second, and friends third. And my book Resilience, which I had written over the winter, currently does not have a publication date.

Regardless of these things, I am happy.

For years, I suffered insomnia, averaging two hours of sleep a night. Now, not a night goes by that I do not have a solid six to seven hours. It reminds me of the other day when I was watching Saving Private Ryan. In one of the scenes, the sniper character was able to sleep through anything. He was God-fearing, and he recited scripture whenever he delivered a bullet to an enemy. One of the other soldiers wondered how he could sleep through the night, given all the bombs going off around them and the number of people he had killed. Another soldier replied that the man had a clear conscience.

When I think about it, I suppose I, too, go to bed with a clear conscience.

The other thing I have done is to reconcile with almost all those who have considered me their enemy. I found it surprising that everyone I offered my hand to in renewed friendship embraced me with open arms. Of course, I had to humble myself before them with apologies and sacrifices, but overall, almost all responded positively to me wanting to put the past behind. This experience has prompted me to write a long bible study on forgiveness, of which, one of these days, I will publish here. For the time being, however, I cannot say it is ready, as I have yet to write a conclusion.

Is there anything else I can say about the price I paid?

All things considered, the recent changes in my life have introduced me to new things that I do not think I could have experienced had I not found God again. Just knowing I am free from the burden of having done wrong has brought a new hope I will surely appreciate no matter what life throws at me in the coming months.

So, yes, with my whole heart I can say I had a good week.

Our Deepest Fear

I recently watched the film Coach Carter. I remember having caught the movie years ago, but so much time had passed that the memory of it had faded. I am glad I spent the time to enjoy it once again.

"Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

The plot focuses on Ken Carter, a hardware store owner, who takes the helm coaching an inner city basketball team that he leads to an undefeated season.

By all measures, this story inspires and provides a glimpse of what obstacles people face when battling trials on the road to success. I found, however, the most poignant moment of the film does not come from one of the team’s many wins, but comes when one of the students thanks Coach Carter for his dedication to the team. Even more so, the speech is in answer to the coach’s curiosity of what the student feared most.

After some research, I found the origin of the speech the student recited came from a book written by Marianne Williamson called A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I have been thinking about how my presence could help liberate someone else’s fear. As I look to become stronger in God’s word, I am finding the things that once frightened me are no longer an issue. This is to say, much of what I have learned in the past few months has given me the freedom from the anxiety stemming from fear. If anything, I have allowed God’s spirit to flow through me and on to others who need it. In other words, lately I have functioned as nothing more than a conduit for helping others.

Now, believe me when I say this, it has never been my intention to live the life I am living now, renewed in the spirit and allowing my light to shine in an obvious way. Before this, I have chosen to stand by the sidelines while permitting others to step in on my behalf. I will admit my liking to having had a low profile.

This is the reason Williamson’s quote has affected me so much. It reflects that which has taken shape in my heart, manifesting itself through deeds I did not know I could accomplish. And realizing I no longer fear because I no longer linger on the thought of suppressing my real self, makes me all the more thankful I am living the life God wants me to live—shining a light so that others may be liberated also.

Therefore, I ask. Would you care what anyone thought if you knew what your true potential was?

Psalm 23

In the span of a month, I have memorized Psalm 23, one of King David’s most famous songs dedicated to God. It is something I have wanted to accomplish since returning to church April 10, much like reading the bible cover to cover, which I completed last year. I am rereading the bible again this year, but this time it is the New International Version.

I am not sure what the reaction to this post will be (my 500th), but I am writing it to help others who may have wondered about the meaning of the psalm. Before going on, below is the full text, as presented in the English Standard Version:

Pslam 23

  1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  2. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
  3. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
  4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
  5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
  6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The interesting thing about memorizing scripture over a long period is having the luxury to think through the verses and their meaning. I can say without a doubt, each verse has had an impact on my life.

Let me begin with Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

When David wrote this, he knew all about being a shepherd through experience. In his time working out on the field, he had saved his flock from the jaws of a ravenous lion (1 Samuel 17:34-35). For David to compare God to a shepherd was natural for him. He knew all about the life of a shepherd because he had been one before defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:36).

Back in February, when I was in the throes of agony, I did not desire anything from God other than relief for the pain in my neck. I would classify it as an upsetting experience. However, it encouraged my belief that nothing really mattered in life other than to be kind to one another and live as peaceable a life as I possibly could. In other words, my want—desire—was nothing in comparison to knowing God was working a miracle in my life. He was my shepherd, and I had no hesitation knowing he was on my side.

Psalm 23:2-3 continues to say, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

I cannot say how important those verses were when I was going through one of the most distressing periods of my life. I had to let go of certain things in order to let God nudge me in the right direction. Once I had done that, green pastures and still waters presented themselves for me and I finally found peace. It was not by accident. A shepherd knows where he wants to lead his sheep, and God took his time to bring me into the fold of the flock. I resisted, but he was there to lead me in the path of righteousness. It may sound corny, and I would have agreed with you several months ago, but after having lived through it, I am in no way fearful to give him all the glory and honor for my renewed spirit and attitude.

David Changes the Way He Talks About God

Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

Something I had not noticed before was how David refers to God in a more personal tone. Instead of using pronouns such as him, he uses you. I wondered about that. Why would he do that?

I have had my dark days where I did not see the light. I define dark days as a time when I did not know God, and led a life that went diametrically opposite to what God wanted. Nonetheless, when I did wrong, he made sure I knew about it through his correction in the form of situations that did not work quite the way I had planned. Now, that is not to say his rod and his staff are bad things, because he was purging sin from my heart, and I knew he was not about to abandon me because of my sin. No. If God was using the rod and the staff to tap me back into place along with all the other sheep, then I knew he loved me. All he wanted was for me to be safe. Moreover, yes, that was a comfort.

David felt the same way, and to express the comfort he had with God, he referred to him in the most intimate way he could.

Pslam 23:5 says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

When memorizing this verse, I learned that God sometimes will not get rid of a problem, but control it, which left me with no other choice than to accept it and move on. Much like a pack of wolves wanting to kill me, he did not get rid of the wolves but he protected me from them instead.

Even more so, I was in the middle of a personal anointing at my church. I had gone up to remove a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) from my heart, and I had gone up to ask for forgiveness for the transgressions I had committed to the Lord my god. More than anything, I wanted reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Because of this, the minister left my forehead soaked with anointing oil, something I had never experienced before. The event made verse 5 all the more real to me.

God’s Grace

Lastly, Psalm 23:6 states, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I am at the point where I know God has forgiven me and his mercy is now upon my life. I do not have to worry that I am unworthy to receive his grace, because really, he has given me his grace freely without conditions. Nothing I do will earn me salvation (John 3:16). I know that now.

And with that knowledge, I know that when I die I will dwell with God forever.

 

Transformation

Seven weeks have passed since I last wrote. Right now, I am not quite sure how I can express my gratitude to all of you who have sent me the kind words you did. Believe me when I say that your words have lifted my spirit and allowed me the ability to keep moving forward.

As many of you know, I have taken a much-needed rest from blogging. It is not a decision I made without consulting my family and friends. Quite honestly, I have missed the daily grind of producing three posts a week while also maintaining a rigorous writing schedule for my future books. However, the time away has given me the opportunity to reevaluate my life from a spiritual perspective.

Before I continue, let me just say that I am fine. I had a scare in early January when a problem in my neck had resurfaced, and as time went on it had steadily gotten worse. I had something similar happen to me four years ago when my left arm went numb due nerve problems stemming from my neck. So imagine how I felt when the same thing was happening to me all over again. I could easily have pricked my left index finger and not feel a thing.

I am still not ready to come back in full force, but when I do, nothing will stop me from completing my life mission. You have my word on that.

So why am I here, then?

I have had something happen to me. For those of you who believe in a higher power, this is one of those stories. I will understand if you feel uncomfortable for what I am about to tell you. If you want to leave, I will understand. A few months ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of a miracle as well. But miracles do happen, and it happened to me.

This is the part where you can keep reading or stop, because this is the part where I bring God into the picture.

For several years I have done nothing more than write about zombies and about the horror genre. I have written about other things, too, but most of my writing, especially my books, focused on the zombie apocalypse. Now you might wonder what could have possibly happened to me that would have caused me to rethink my creative direction. After all, the zombie genre is hot. What writer would not want to be a part of it?

To give you a bit more context, during my time away I was also going through a transformation of sorts where I felt a calling to do more with my life. The more I resisted, the more it became evident to me that there was more happening than what I would have wanted to admit. That resistance came from a root of bitterness that had sprung from deep within my soul. I had no idea it was there. It had been there for years, and it took me by surprise when I eventually began dealing with it this weekend.

And when I say dealing with it, I mean going militant in order to flush it out of my life. This entailed a lot of bible study, a lot of prayer, and going back to church. That last part is the kicker. I have not been back to church in two decades. I have attended annual Easter and Christmas services in the past, but only because I had to, not because I wanted to. When I went back to church yesterday, I went back because I wanted to.

And that is when the miracle took place. The root of bitterness left me, and I could feel God’s spirit flow through me, filling every part of my being. I had someone pray over me, releasing me from the burden of sin. I could hear God’s voice telling me that salvation is now mine. Some may laugh, but it did happen, and I will forever lay testimony to his glory for him taking me by the hand so as he may lead me to still waters.

There is more.

In all this, something else happened. I think I now know what I need to do. All the writing I have done, every single post I have written, every book that I have published has been nothing more than training for the real writing.

After praying about it and talking it over with my family, I think what God wants me to do is write about everyday people and about how God touches their lives. The real superheroes are those folks who go to work every day and are examples for everyone else to follow while God works through them to perform great miracles. I believe that. I believe it so much that I confess I have written a superhero book called Resilience, but I will set it aside as a means to glorify God by presenting him my industry instead. More than anything, I would like him to work through me so that I can give honor and glory to him. It might sound crazy, I know, especially after everything that I have written about in the past.

But let me ask you this—are not the craziest ideas the ones that change the world?

So in the next little while, as I try to figure this whole thing out, you may see more of me, writing about things I may have not written about in the past. And I might create things I did not know I could create. Because, really, what I want to do above all else, is glorify God with the works of my hands.

It may seem like a crazy idea, but the craziest ideas are the ones that change the world.

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