God Has No Grandchildren

Topical Scripture: Judges 2:6-16

A young Malian who immigrated to France will be made a French citizen and has been offered a job by the Paris fire brigade. This after he saved a child dangling from a balcony.

Mamoudou Gassama climbed up four floors of the apartment building in seconds and rescued the child. He has been called a “real-life Spiderman.”

If only such heroes could save us spiritually.

Human nature doesn’t change. The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is still mine. I want to “be as god” (Genesis 3:5). I want to be president of my own universe. I follow God with failing steps and fall down as often as I stand tall. Your story is much the same.

This pattern of sin comes clear early in the history of the Hebrew people. They have no sooner entered their Promised Land than they begin a downward spiral into immorality which stifles their souls and corrupts their nation. We can find the same pattern in our lives and culture. But the God of grace is as ready to heal and restore us as he was ready to help them.

Where do you need his forgiving love?

Failing to transmit the faith (Judges 2:6–7, 10)

Things start well in the Book of Judges. Joshua dismisses the people from the national gathering which heard his final address, “each to his own inheritance” (Judges 2:6). Throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and saw the great works of God, the nation continued to follow the Lord (v. 7).

However, “Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (v. 10). No one told them. No one instructed the next generation in that which the last generation had learned from and about God. The faith is always one generation from extinction, and the worst nearly came to pass here.

It is vital that parents teach the faith to their children. In fact, we who are privileged to be parents have no greater responsibility under God.

We don’t have to adopt Freudian principles to understand that children typically relate to God as they relate to their parents. If our children see us follow Christ at church but not at home, they learn that faith is only for the church building. If they hear us speak in one tone to people but another way behind their backs, they learn that faith is only for public show. If the only time they hear us pray or watch us read Scripture is at church, they learn that prayer and Scripture are only for Sunday.

God’s command is clear: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). These were the most public ways they could display the word of God.

The prophet’s edict is still God’s intention for us: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3).

Genetic engineering is much in the news. The idea that parents can one day determine the sex, hair and eye color, abilities and capabilities of their unborn children is exciting to some and abhorrent to most of us. It is very troubling to me as well.

But while I don’t believe in genetic engineering, I believe very strongly in “spiritual engineering.” We must do all we can to help our families and friends follow Jesus, to mentor them in the Christian faith, to encourage and influence them for Christ. Eternity is at stake.

In what way will the next generation be strong in the faith because of you and those you’ll teach this week?

Spiraling downward (Judges 2:11–19)

The baton has fallen to the ground, and it will never be carried as well again in the Book of Judges. The next verses provide an umbrella under which the narrative across the following chapters fits tragically well. The pattern is clear:

  • The people rejected God as their Lord and are worshiping other gods.
  • The Lord responded with divine retribution which led to military defeat and “great distress” (v. 15).
  • The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (v. 18), so that God had compassion on them.
  • He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (v. 16).

This downward slide would continue throughout the Book of Judges, as the conclusion of the book makes clear: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

Now let’s examine this pattern in more detail, for it is still the basic sin pattern in our lives today.

We reject God as Lord

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (vs. 11–12a).

Who were these other gods, among them the “Baals” and “Ashtoreths” (v. 13)?

“Baal” was the Canaanite word for “master” or “lord.” The name described one of the chief male deities of Canaanite religion. He was seen as lord of the weather and storms, so that his voice was heard in the thunder, his spear was the lightning bolt, and his steed the storms.

The Canaanites worshiped Baal in a variety of ways, usually on hilltops called “high places” (so they could be as close to him as possible). They sacrificed animals (and sometimes children) and performed sexual dances on his behalf.

The wife of Baal was Ashtoreth. She was seen as the evening star and the goddess of war and fertility. She was worshiped through temple prostitution (involving both men and women). Sacred pillars (perhaps phallic symbols) were placed near the temples of Baal as altars to her. The Greeks worshiped her as Aphrodite, the Romans as Venus.

These deities were enticing to the Israelites as they entered the land of Canaan, for several reasons.

First, the connection of deity with locality was an accepted fact of ancient religion. The Jews were the first people in human history to worship one God and to believe that he was the Lord of the entire universe. Every other ancient people associated individual deities with specific places or functions. Such localized worship was the popular thing to do.

Second, the need to prosper agriculturally was vital for the people as they entered the land. Just as the Pilgrims learned how to farm in the New World from the Indians who already inhabited the land, so these Jews needed to learn how to survive in this new country. If the Canaanites worshiped Baal as a means to their crops’ success, such a practice would be enticing to the Hebrews as well. Religion would serve their quest for prosperity and success.

Third, the sexuality inherent in Canaanite worship would appeal to the Hebrews. They had long been warned against adultery and licentiousness. Now they were surrounded by people who had made sexual pleasure a basic part of their worship. Such lustful religion would appeal to people across ancient history (note the temple prostitutes in Ephesus and Corinth during the apostolic era of the Church).

Popularity, prosperity, and pleasure—are these not still attractive today?

In what ways are you tempted to Baalism today? Human nature doesn’t change. Anything which tempted our parents will also tempt us. Popularity and peer pressure are just as powerful for us as for the ancient Israelites; our desire to succeed can easily corrupt our faith commitments; lust and pleasure can entice us away from obedience to our Father and his word.

Whenever we back down from an unpopular stand for our Lord, or compromise to get ahead, or yield to sinful pleasure, we continue the sin cycle which Judges condemns. Do you have business with God today?

We incur divine wrath

The sin of the Hebrews “provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12–13). With this response: “In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (vv. 14–15).

God is Lord of our circumstances and times. He permits or even causes suffering in our lives when such pain leads to greater good.

We see this pattern across the word of God. Joseph went through Potiphar and prison on his way to Pharaoh and humble service to the Lord. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness until he was ready to put the Lord’s will before his own. The people spent another forty years in wilderness wanderings until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

Scripture states: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This famous verse does not say that all things are good, but that God will use all things for good. He never wastes a hurt. He is able to redeem any pain which we will give to him.

Our Father deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. God can and will use people, circumstances, and events to draw us back to himself. Is there a place in your life where the Lord has withdrawn his blessing so as to draw you closer to humility and dependence on his strength?

We repent

The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (Judges 2:18). And God had pity on his people and intervened with compassion.

It is a tragic fact of human nature that we typically turn to God only when we must. We want to be in charge of our own lives and destinies; “I did it my way” is the theme song of our culture. We must often get so far down that we can look nowhere but up. But when we do, God hears us.

God wants us to come to him in repentance for our sins: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, he is overjoyed when we make this decision: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

Such repentance is the necessary condition to grace. Not because our sorrow earns God’s favor, but because it positions us to receive what God’s grace intends to give. We often think that we must feel badly enough for long enough that our pain merits God’s favor. But his salvation is given only by his grace (Ephesians 2:8–9); our response is gratitude, repentance, and commitment.

God heals and forgives

When we return to God, he responds to us in grace. At this point in Hebrew history, he provided a “judge” who would lead them out of oppression to freedom and prosperity: “Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord had compassion on them” (Judges 2:18).

These “judges” were more than legal arbitrators. They were military leaders, redeemers, and liberators. Each was an instrument in the hands of God, intended to call the nation not to themselves but to the God they served. Through them the Lord provided liberation and protection for his repentant people.

Now through the Lord Jesus, the supreme liberator of mankind, he offers the same compassion today.


Are popularity, prosperity, and pleasure temptations in our culture? In your life? If we put them before God, we incur his wrath as a means to our repentance. But if we choose to repent, God heals and forgives.

Where do you need his grace today? Has the ancient sin cycle surfaced in your life? What business do you have with your Father this week?

Many years ago, in the pioneer days of aviation, a pilot was in the air when he heard a noise which he recognized as the gnawing of a rat. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane. It was a very serious situation. At first the pilot did not know what to do. He was more than two hours from the next landing strip, and two hours gone from the field where he had taken off.

Then he remembered that a rat is a rodent. It was not made for the heights; it was made to live on the ground and under the ground. And so, the pilot began to climb. He went up a thousand feet, then another and another until he was over 20,000 feet up. The gnawing ceased. The rat was dead. It could not survive the atmosphere of those heights. More than two hours later the pilot brought the plane safely to the landing field and found the dead rat.

Sin is a rodent. It cannot live in the secret place of the Most High God. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere of prayer and trust and Scripture and worship. It dies when we take it to the Lord.

This is the promise of God.

How to Love Our Enemies

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:43–48

Richard Steve Moser III of Cincinnati went to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles last year to get his driver’s license renewed. The problem was, he claimed to be a Pastafarian, otherwise known as the satirical “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

He thus insisted on wearing a spaghetti colander on his head for his photo. When the government agency refused, he claimed religious discrimination. The American Humanist Association has taken up his cause.

Some of the “enemies” we face are of our own making. For instance, scientists are paying people $3,300 to be infected with the flu for research purposes. Others are not: A retired soldier lost his medical alert dog in Arlington when she was stolen from his house.

And some people are making headlines for making good choices. Actor Matthew McConaughey made the news this week when he helped served Thanksgiving dinners for firefighters battling wildfires in California.

Last week I asked you to name the person who hurt you most deeply or most recently. We learned from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount what not to do: we are not to return hate for hate, hurt for hurt.

This week, we learn what we are to do.

Love on purpose

Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v. 43).

“Love your neighbor” is a familiar biblical injunction. We find it as early as Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Neighbor” comes from “nigh-bor,” one who is “nigh” or near. Loving our neighbor is a basic and familiar Christian ethic.

But were Jesus’ hearers really taught, “hate your enemy”? In fact, they were. The Jewish rabbis considered fellow Jews their neighbor. Everyone else, the Gentile world, was not, and was in fact their spiritual enemy. The Gentile world would corrupt them with its defiled food, customs, and paganism.

Here we find basic humanity exposed. It’s easy to love those who like us and are like us. It’s hard to like those who are not like us and do not like us. It’s human nature to love our neighbor and hate our enemy.

Now Jesus takes his stand: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44).

This statement has no parallel in the Jewish tradition or literature. No religious teacher in world history ever defended such an ethic.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred while practicing these very words, said about them, “The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus” (The Cost of Discipleship, 164).

This is the action which makes our love both real and possible.

Jesus expanded these words by saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). When we pray for our enemies, our love becomes real. It moves from sentiment to substance, from feeling to action. It takes wings and grows feet. It becomes practical and tangible.

And when we pray for those who persecute us, our actions produce feelings. We act out love, and eventually feel love. It’s a process which takes time, but it works.

Such forgiving love in action reveals our spiritual genetics: “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (v. 45).

God blesses both the evil and the good. Sun shines and rain falls on the unrighteous and the righteous. And we’re glad, for we’ve all been evil and unrighteous.

A father should love his children, whether or not they love him; and so God loves us. A sibling should love his sister or brother, whether or not they love him; and so should we. Such love shows us to be our Father’s children.

Otherwise we are no different from the children of the world. The tax-collectors, the most despised people in Israel, love those who love them. The pagans destined for hell greet those who greet them. It is human nature to love those who love us. It is divine nature to love those who do not.

Such selfless, forgiving love fulfills the purpose for which we were created: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

“Perfect” is the word teleios. In this context it means to achieve the purpose for which we were intended. In this sense a screwdriver is “perfect” if it does its job. It is not “sinless”—it may have nicks on the handle and paint on the blade. But if it turns the screw it was meant to turn, it is teleios.

What is our intended purpose? Jesus made it clear: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. God is love (1 John 4:8), and he has created us to love as he does, to forgive as he does, to love our neighbor because we love our Father and to prove we love our Father by loving our neighbor.

And so selfless, forgiving love is the purpose for which we exist. Now, how do we learn to give it?

Love in practice

Dr. Everett Worthington edited a defining book on forgiveness, titled Dimensions of Forgiveness: Psychological research and theological perspectives. When he began his research, he had no idea how much he would need its results personally. On New Year’s morning of 1996, his elderly mother was found beaten to death with a crowbar and a baseball bat. His advice is both professionally informed and personally compelling.

Dr. Worthington suggests five steps towards forgiveness. In examining them while preparing this message, I was amazed by their parallel to Jesus’ words in our text. They form the acronym REACH.

“R” stands for recall. Recall the hurt, as objectively as you can. Admit the reality of the pain you have experienced. Do not deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or excuse the person who caused it. Think about the person who hurt you most, as realistically as possible.

Jesus begins at the same place: “Love your enemies” (v. 44). Not “love if you have enemies.” He knows that we do, and that we know who they are. He warned us: “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Where is yours? Who caused it? Think about the person, and especially what that person did, the specific actions which injured you. Recall the hurt in all its reality.

“E” stands for empathize. Try to understand why this person hurt you, from his point of view.

Jesus tells us to “Love our enemies,” using the unusual Greek word agape. This word was employed very seldom in the Greek world prior to Christianity. The common Greek words for “love” point to sexual, family, or friendship love.

Agape is far more. It is selfless, sacrificial, the love which puts the other person first with no thought of reward. The love which cares for the other, however they feel about us.

How do we do this? “A” in Dr. Worthington’s acronym stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness.

Jesus tells us to “pray for those who persecute us.” His words are present tense—do it even while they are persecuting us. This is the act whereby genuine forgiveness always begins.

Such prayer surrenders the right to get even with the person who hurts us but gives them over to God instead. Such prayer enables us to see this person as God does, as a weak, fallible, complicated human being like ourselves. And such prayer begins the process of wishing for their welfare.

Note that praying for our enemies does not deny justice. Nowhere does Jesus teach us that forgiveness suspends the consequences of evil actions. The legal process which governs human affairs and nations must proceed. To forgive means that we pardon personally—we give up our right to punish this person ourselves. We no longer want revenge and vengeance for ourselves. We trust this person into the hands of God and that justice which is fair and right.

“C” stands for public commitment to forgiveness. Dr. Worthington’s clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” a letter of forgiveness to the offender. They write such forgiveness in their diary or tell a trusted friend what they have done. They make public their pardon for the one who has hurt them.

Jesus makes clear that our forgiveness must be equally public. This is our witness, proof that we are children of a forgiving Father. Such forgiveness separates us publicly from the tax-collectors and pagans of our day. It shows the world that we belong to a God of grace.

“H” stands for the final step, to hold onto forgiveness. Every time the pain returns, we take these steps again. We recall it, we empathize with the one who hurt us, we forgive altruistically through prayer, and we commit to such forgiveness. As we do so we become “perfect,” fulfilling God’s created purpose for our lives. We love as he loves. We make Jesus’ love real through our own.


Let’s recap: Recall the person and the specific hurt you felt. Empathize in selfless love. Be altruistic through prayer, surrendering your right to revenge and placing them in God’s hands. Commit definitely and publicly to pardon and reconciliation. Hold this commitment firm every time the pain returns to your heart, the anger to your soul.

In short, do for others what Jesus has done for us. Give to others that which he has given to you. And he will help you give it.

Corrie ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family to the Nazis, knew firsthand that forgiveness is such a process. She likened it to letting go of a bell rope. When you’re pulling on the rope which rings a bell, and you let it go, the bell keeps ringing for a while.

But if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stops. She says that forgiveness is not something we feel, but something we do. It is letting go of the rope.

This is what Jesus did for us. Now he invites us to pay forward his forgiving grace.

For whom do you need to let go of the rope today?

The Key to True Forgiveness

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:7

There was some strange news in the news this week.

  • A man built a pyramid from 1,030,315 pennies, setting a Guinness record. It took him three years. I’m not sure how he makes a living, but he has $10,303.15 in cash on hand.
  • A man in Spain sold a block of blue cheese for $16,142.41.
  • Another man fit 146 blueberries in his mouth, setting a Guinness record.
  • And veterinarians removed nineteen pacifiers from the stomach of a bulldog named Mortimer. Following surgery, Mortimer is fully recovered.

Much of what makes headlines this week will be forgotten next week. If you want to do something unforgettable and life-changing, put today’s beatitude into practice in your life.

Jesus declared: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Giving and receiving mercy leads to blessing we will never forget, on earth or in heaven.

Who is the person who has hurt you most deeply or recently? Who is the person you think of first when I ask you for someone you need to forgive? Let’s ask Jesus to help us do just that.

What is mercy?

Let’s begin with the question: What is “mercy”?

Here’s the short answer: grace is getting what you don’t deserve—mercy is not getting what you do deserve. It’s mercy to be forgiven. It’s mercy to forgive. That’s what mercy is; now, what is mercy not?

Ethicist Lewis Smedes offers these answers:

  • Forgiving is not forgetting. God can forgive our confessed sins and forget them. In fact, he does: Isaiah 43.25 promises that he “will not remember your sins.” But you and I cannot do this. Human beings cannot simply reformat the disk or erase the tape. You can pull the nail out of your soul, but the hole remains.
  • Forgiving is not excusing the behavior which hurt you. The person chose to do that which hurts you today.
  • Forgiving is not pretending that you’re not hurt. You can carry on, but the pain remains and often grows.
  • Forgiving is not tolerating. You may have to tolerate your employer, or your sibling, or your son-in-law. That doesn’t mean that you’ve forgiven him.

To forgive is to pardon. It is to refuse to punish, even though you have every right to do so. It is the governor pardoning the criminal—he doesn’t forget about the crime, or excuse it, or pretend it didn’t occur, or tolerate the behavior. He simply chooses not to punish, though he could.

So who needs your pardon this morning?

As Smedes observes, you may need today to pardon a parent who died and left you. The birth mother who gave you away. The “invisible ghost” in the organization who fired you, or mismanaged your investments, or cut your son from the squad or your daughter from the drill team. Someone who appears not to care if you forgive them or not. God. Yourself.

Who most needs your pardon today?

Why should you be merciful?

Why issue it?

First, to stop your personal cycle of pain.

This beatitude promises the merciful will be “blessed” by God. This “blessing” transcends your pain. God offers you a ticket off the roller coaster of hurt. But you must extend mercy to receive it.

You see, if you give back what others give to you, you are constantly their victim. They pitch—you catch. You’re trapped by your circumstances. Your soul is a genie in their bottle—how they rub it determines who you are.

If you refuse to pardon the person who hurt you, he hurts you still. Every time you plot your revenge you feel again your pain. Every time you nurse your pain you increase it. The person who hurt you may not even know you’re harboring your grudge and wounding your soul. He or she may have gone on with life. You’re hurting no one more than yourself. But you can stop today.

The second reason follows the first: pardon to receive mercy.

Jesus promises the merciful that they will be shown mercy.

This is not a transaction, a legal arrangement, as though my mercy obligates you and God to be merciful to me. Mercy is not a means to your end, but a free gift you choose to give.

But when you give it, a miraculous thing happens: You put yourself in position to receive mercy from God and others. Not because you earned it, but simply because now you’re willing to receive it. The most legalistic people with others are equally legalistic with themselves. If I won’t forgive you until you’re punished, I won’t forgive myself until I’m punished. If I won’t show mercy to you, I won’t receive it myself.

I was once hurt by a deacon and his family in a church I pastored. The pain was real and deep. Every time I saw him in worship, I felt my anger well up in my soul. I became short, irritated, on edge with others—and especially with myself. Intolerant of my own mistakes and failures. But the day I released my anger and chose to pardon that man, I found a new freedom with myself. A new willingness to be loved and forgiven by God.

If life must be fair, every injustice punished, we cannot forgive others. Or ourselves.

Here’s a third reason: pardon to break the circle of revenge.

If I must return your hurt, then you must return mine. And I must return yours. It has been truly said: You can no more win a war than win a fire.

But when you pardon me, the cycle stops. There’s nothing left for me to do but to receive or reject your pardon. I have no cause to hurt you, and abundant reason to love you and learn to love myself as well.

Here’s a fourth reason: to show others the love of Christ.

Jesus identified one characteristic as a guarantee that others will know we love him: “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Forgiving, pardoning, releasing love proves that God’s love in us is real.

During the depths of the Cold War, people in a particular East German town began throwing their trash over the Berlin Wall into the West German town on the other side. The West Germans, for their part, responded by tossing food and clothes to the East Germans. With this note: “Each gives what he has.”

How can you be merciful?

Let’s close with the practical question I hope you’re now asking: how can you be merciful? How can you do as Jesus teaches here, so that you stop your pain, experience mercy, break the cycle of revenge, and show others his love? What practical steps can you take this morning to offer mercy to the person who most needs it from you?

First, admit the reality of your hurt.

Name it honestly and specifically. Describe in words how you feel about it and the person who caused it. Describe even what you would like to do in revenge. Get your feelings out, as openly and transparently as possible.

You may want to put them on paper. Write a letter to the one who hurt you, then tear it up. You may want to talk to a friend you trust, or a Christian counselor. Most of all, admit it to God. As someone said, “Tell God on them.” Pour out your pain and hurt. You must admit the cancer exists before the surgeon can help you.

Second, ask God to help you pardon the one who hurt you.

You are not expected to be “merciful” without Jesus’ help. That’s why these Beatitudes are addressed to believers, followers of Christ. And why they are sequential. If we admit our need of God and mourn for our own sins, living under the control of the Spirit and seeking to be righteous in every relationship, then we can be empowered to extend to others the mercy we have received.

Turn to the Holy Spirit who dwells in your heart and soul. Ask him for the power and pardon of God. Ask him for the ability to see this person as he does. And to see yourself as he does—both of you redeemed sinners. Ask him to help you give to your enemy the mercy God has given to you.

And act as though he has. Don’t feel yourself into a new way of acting—act yourself into a new way of feeling. Step out by faith. Every time the pain wells up inside your heart again, tell yourself again that you have released this person from the prison of their sin. That the ink on the pardon is dry, the deed is done, the forgiveness made.

Third, initiate restoration.

With God’s help, act in courage. Jesus taught us to go directly to the person who sins against us (Matthew 18:15). Tell the person honestly what he or she did to you, and how much this pain has hurt you. They may not even know their injustice or comprehend its severity. If I hurt you, I want to know it. I want you to talk to me, not about me. And I to you. Go to the person in question, with honesty.

Tell this person that you have pardoned him. He may not understand what you mean, or believe it, or accept it. She may never reciprocate what you have done. This is not yours to decide. You must begin the process of healing the relationship, whatever your partner in restoration decides to do.

And find an honest way to a new relationship. To forgive is not to be naïve. It is not to allow an unrepentant, unchanged person to hurt you yet again. Neither is it to assume that they will never change. Seek a wise balance with the wisdom God gives to know what and where you can trust. You may never have the old relationship, but you can have a new one by the mercy of God.

Last, be realistic. We humans forgive slowly, a little at a time, usually with anger left over. One day at a time. Remind yourself that you have forgiven as many times as the pain comes back. And over time, it will come back less. And one day, perhaps, not at all.


To forgive, you must first be forgiven. You cannot give what you have never received. Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sins, to pardon your failures, to be your Savior and Lord? He’s waiting to do just that for you, right now. And to help you give his forgiveness to the person most in need of this gift from you.

Take a little quiz with me. Name the wealthiest person in the world. Name the last Heisman trophy winner, or last winner of the Miss America pageant, or last recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

When you forgive someone for what they did to you, you will never forget it. Neither will they.

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

The Key to True Peace

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:9

A friend sent me these first-grade proverbs. The teacher gave the kids the first half of the sentence, and they supplied the rest:

  • “Don’t bite the hand that . . . looks dirty.”
  • “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll . . . stink in the morning.”
  • “A penny saved is . . . not much.”
  • “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and . . . you have to blow your nose.”
  • “Better to be safe than . . . punch a fifth grader.”

Even first-graders know that peace is valuable. And they’re right. It has been estimated that in the last 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, constituting 8 percent of recorded history.

Clearly, our world needs peace. Between the floods on the Gulf Coast, rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, and challenges with Iran’s nuclear programs, it seems that turmoil makes the news every.

Where do you need more peace in your life? With whom are you at odds today? Where do you need a relationship to be healed? Where do you need peace?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” Jesus promises. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom”: peace with God, self and others. Today we’ll learn from God’s word where we find such peace for ourselves, and then how we can give it to the person with whom we need it most.

Make peace with God

Where can you find peace for your own heart, soul, and mind?

The Bible says, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11).

Jesus promised us, “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). Later he said, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Peace is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). It is the result of the Spirit’s work, not human ability.

Clearly, we cannot create peace ourselves. We can only receive it from God. How? Here are some answers from God’s word.

First, if you want peace, accept the love of God.

Actress Sophia Loren told USA Today, “I should go to heaven; otherwise it’s not nice. I haven’t done anything wrong. My conscience is very clean. My soul is as white as those orchids over there, and I should go straight, straight to heaven.”

Listen, by contrast, to the word of God.

The prophet said of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul added, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When we accept Jesus’ forgiving love by faith, we receive God’s peace: “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

We cannot be at peace with a perfect God and live in his perfect heaven, unless we are made perfect ourselves. This is why Jesus died on the cross: to pay the penalty for our sins, to purchase our forgiveness. We can only be at peace with God by accepting his love, by making Jesus our Savior and Lord.

If you’re trying to be good enough for God—religious enough, moral enough, successful or significant enough—know that you’re not succeeding. Imagine what it would take for a human being to impress the God of the universe. But we can accept the atoning love of Jesus and be made right with God. This is the first step to true peace.

Next, if you want peace, obey the word of God.

Musician Paul Simon once told an interviewer, “The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life—and love. It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.”

Note the contrast between his statement and God’s word.

The Psalmist prayed, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). God said through his prophet, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;” (Isaiah 48:18).

God’s word gives the guideposts we need to live successfully. Herein are the signs which point us to our destination and keep us out of ditches and dead ends. These principles are for our good, and they give us God’s peace.

So, meet God every day in the Scriptures. Measure your every decision by his truth. Obey his word, and you’ll have his peace.

Third, if you want peace, receive the forgiveness of God.

Dwight Moody gave a Bible to a friend, but first wrote these words on its flyleaf: “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

When we obey the word of God, we judge ourselves in its light. We see ourselves as God does. The closer we are to God, the further away we realize we are. Then we seek and receive his forgiveness for our sins, and we have his peace.

God told the prophet, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). He added: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” (Isaiah 57:20). And he warned: “The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” (Isaiah 59:8).

His word is clear: “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). So confess your sins to God if you want to have peace with him. He is waiting to forgive you, cleanse you, and set you free. He loves you that much. But you must ask.

Fourth, if you want peace, trust the will of God.

Advice from the Book of Job: “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you.” (Job 22:21). Paul agreed: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Trust the will of God, and you’ll say with the prophet: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Are you at peace with God this morning? Have you accepted his love? Are you obeying his word? Have you received his forgiveness? Are you trusting his will?

H. G. Wells was right: “If there is no God, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.” He promises you his peace and tells you how to receive it. The decision is yours.

Make peace with others

Now, how do we give this peace we receive from God? How do we become “peacemakers” with others? With whom do you most need peace today? Think of that person and take these biblical steps toward the peace you need.

First, initiate pardon.

As we learned from the fifth beatitude, we are to choose not to punish whatever wrong has been done to us. God’s word instructs us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19).

Later the apostle adds, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Initiate pardon. And you will be a peacemaker.

Second, seek reconciliation.

Jesus teaches us, “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 altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, emphasis added).

If someone has something against you, whether you believe their anger is justified or not, go to them. Seek reconciliation. And you will be a peacemaker.

Third, choose peace.

Whether the person accepts your pardon or receives your attempts at reconciliation, choose peace. Give them to God and choose his peace.

The Bible says, “God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). It exhorts us: “Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Our Master tells us, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

God commands us: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, and that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15).

When we have God’s peace in our heart, we can give it to others. And when we give peace to others, we find it in our own heart. As we love God, we love our neighbor. As we love our neighbor, we love God.

And then we “will be called sons of God.” Jesus does not say that we become sons of God—that would be works righteousness. But people will know that we are God’s children as we give his peace to them: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).


Is your soul at peace with those who matter to you? Would you seek peace with God, and with them? Your life will be forever different if you will.

Consider John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. He rode enough miles on horseback preaching the gospel to circle the globe ten times. He preached more than forty thousand sermons. You can buy more than ninety-five books containing his writings in English. He was clearly one of the greatest Christian leaders in history.

But his story did not begin the way it ended.

As a young man, Wesley went to America as a missionary but was not himself converted. He wrote in his journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”

Then he encountered Moravian missionaries on board a ship bound for America. He notes in his journal that one day, the group had just begun to sing a psalm of worship when “the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans [Moravians] calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, No.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

“From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious Day which I have hitherto seen.”

Wesley later testified that the Moravians’ peace contributed directly to his conversion.

Who will see the peace of Christ in you this week?