A couple of weeks ago my family and I were eating at our favorite pizza joint.  When our server took our drink order I asked for water with lemon.  A few minutes later she returned with a glass of water and several little packages of lemon powder.   I didn't receive a real lemon, but an artificial one!

When Kristin and I first married we would keep two jugs of tea in our refrigerator.  Because she grew up on unsweet tea and I grew up on sweet tea, we would keep a jug of each.  After several months I decided to wean myself off of sweet tea, so I would add artificial sweetener to unsweet tea.  I'll admit while the sweetener added a "sweetness" to the tea, it wasn't like drinking sweet tea made with sugar.  There was a bitter aftertaste that I couldn't get used to.  Finally I gave up and relented to drinking unsweet tea.  If I couldn't have the real thing, I didn't want a cheap imitation.  

Righteousness can be like the lemon powder or the artificial sweetener: it looks like the real thing but it's not.  Artificial righteousness can fool some, but after awhile it becomes apparent that it's simply a cheap imitation of the real thing.  

In Matthew 7:15-27 Jesus spoke of those who had artificial righteousness.  They appeared to be holy, but it was just that: an appearance.  In addition to Jesus calling these fakes ferocious wolves, he said their artificial righteousness would be obvious by simply looking at the "fruit" of their life.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.  A righteous life bears good fruit.  Jesus said there are many who have artificial righteousness and base their goodness on their deeds, but in the end they will die and slip into a Christless eternity.  

5 takeaways from this passage:

  1. There ARE people who have an artificial righteousness, so be on guard.  We must avoid being impressed by someone's words and instead observe their actions.
  2. What's on the inside will eventually come out.  Jesus said what is bound up in one's heart will eventually proceed from their mouth.  How true, how true.  Anyone can put on an act, but over time the true person begins to emerge.  
  3. Artificial righteousness is ME-focused.  In verse 22 "many people" were showing off to Jesus:  look what we've done! they exclaimed.  Look how good we are!  Hey Jesus, you should be impressed!  
  4. Authentic righteousness is Christ-focused.  Any righteous deeds done are for the glory of Christ and not for self-gloating. 
  5. Authentic righteousness is reading, hearing and doing God's Word.  Jesus said anyone who hears His words and obeys them are true believers.  Authentic righteousness is accompanied by humility that points others to Jesus.  

So, do you have an authentic relationship with Jesus or are you settling for artificial sweeteners and lemon powder?  

For more on this, watch the full message!

Who are what do you run to when you are really scared?  In those crucial moments of your life, when you experience an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety, who or what do you run to?   Whatever your answer, that's where your faith is.  God wants us to run to Him, but we don't always do that.

Sometimes we find it easier to run to another person, vice or habit to comfort us.  Some "lose themselves" in their work or hobby.  At any rate, when we are gripped by fear, we need to run to God.  However, when we run TO Him, we need to have faith IN Him!  

The disciples were on a boat with Jesus when a storm blew up.  Fear begin to grip the disciples as the waves grew bigger.  Jesus was sleeping.  The Creator is never threatened by His creation.  In a panic, the disciples woke Jesus!  Indeed they ran to Him, but they were gripped with fear and had lack of faith.  In their fear, they began to question Jesus' character!  "Don't you care that we are drowning?" they cried out!  In this moment, Jesus demonstrated His sovereignty: he commanded His creation to be still, and it obeyed.  Then, turning to His disciples He asked, "Where is your faith?"  

Friend, where is YOUR faith?  Who or what you run to first when you are afraid is where your faith lies.  God wants us to run to Him, but many choose to run to addictions, careers, people, and the list goes on.  While it would be easy to focus on "bad things" one should not put their faith in, I want to focus on something even more challenging: resisting putting faith in "good things" instead of God.  What do I mean?  Let's look at some GOOD THINGS that compete for our focus and faith in God:

  1. Religion.  We can be religious without having faith in God.  When our faith is in "keeping the rules" in order to gain favor with God instead of responding to God out of an authentic heart of love for Him, we can miss Jesus, not by a mile, but by an eternity!  When I was in elementary school there was a section of my report card that had a place for the teacher to comment on my character and conduct.  When I received good marks, I would be so excited to show my parents!  I just knew they would be so proud of me for "being good."  Indeed, I would gain favor and they would love me more.  However, they loved me just as much when I didn't receive good marks.  I learned that my parent's love was unconditional.  God is not impressed with our "good marks."  He loves us unconditionally and proved that love that while we were in sin, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  If your faith is in "doing good" and "keeping the rules" instead of Jesus, you will miss Him by an eternity!
  2. Religious symbols representing God.  God commanded us not to worship idols.  An idol is anything we esteem more than God.  In the Old Testament, King Hezekiah destroyed Moses' bronze snake because people looked to it for healing instead of God.  In I Samuel 4 we read where the Israelites lost 4,000 men in a battle.  Afterwards they reasoned, "we need to bring the Ark of God here so it will save us from future defeat."  The next battle they lost 30,000 men!  They looked to an object representing God for their salvation instead of putting their faith in God.  Do you have a "lucky cross" you carry in your pocket?  How about an angel hanging from your rear view mirror to protect you while you drive?  God wants you to look to Him for your protection, not symbols representing Him.  When our faith is in religious objects and not God, we miss Him by an eternity!
  3. Good deeds.  In Ephesians 2:8-9 we are told that we are saved by God's grace through faith and that salvation is a gift from God and not a result of anything we can do.  In Ephesians 2:10 we are told that as a result of our salvation our good works come from an overflow of a changed heart.  When our faith is in our works, we negate the work of Christ on the cross and we miss Him by an eternity!

When our faith is in Jesus, we gain a true perspective of God, ourself, and everything around us. Like a snow globe shaken, circumstances in our life can block our view from reality.  But like a snow globe that is still long enough, when we learn to be still and trust God (Psalm 46:10), we begin to see more clearly how God is sovereign over our life and working for our good (Romans 8:28).  

For more on this, watch the full message.  

Think of a time your life was really chaotic.  Nothing seemed to make sense.  You felt beaten and battered.  You wondered where God was.  For many of us, three common questions were uttered out of our despair:  Why me? Why this? Why now?  But there are two problems with these questions.

First, these questions are "me" focused.  Secondly, these questions call into question God's character.  A mark of spiritual maturity is arriving at a point where our attitude declares: Why NOT me?  Why NOT this?  Why NOT now?  It's an attitude that understands God's sovereignty and is willing to cry out, "God if this (chaos, storm, unpleasant situation) is your plan for me right now, then why not?  So be it!" 

Instead of wasting time trying to figure out WHY the chaos, let's approach it from another angle and consider the WHAT...

1) What if God has something to teach you?  The chaos you find yourself in has the potential to teach you valuable lessons about God, yourself, life, and others.  In times of struggle you learn the sustaining power of God.  You learn your true character.  You learn who your friends really are.  

2) What if God has something to teach others and He's using your situation as the shining example?  Several years ago my then 8 year old daughter had open heart surgery.  It was a very stressful time for my wife and me.  We spent many hours in prayer asking God to bring complete healing and for Him to get the glory regardless of the outcome.  Several weeks after Miranda's surgery we were able to bring her to church and celebrate her recovery.  In addition to the many doctors and nurses who we had the opportunity to witness to, a lady in my church came up to me and said, "I've heard you preach about faith, but for the last several months I've watched you live out faith.  Your faith in God has inspired me and given me encouragement to do the same..."  I was humbled beyond words, and immediately said to her, "To God be the glory!"  You see, our situation positioned us to point others to Jesus!  

3) What if God is protecting you from something you can't see right now?  Several years ago Miranda had two pet rats.  Don't worry, these were the pet store type!  She kept them in a cage in her room.  We also have a very hyper Boston Terrier that would have loved nothing more than to get her grips on them!  When the rats weren't sleeping, they were climbing all over the cage seeking ways to escape.  Had they been able to talk I am convinced they would've cried out, "Let us out of here!  We don't like our situation!"  However, I knew if we let them out of the cage, Rosie would attack and their little rat lives would be lost!  I had a much broader perspective than the rats!  Sometimes we beg God to let us out of our situation, but God knows more than we do and can see what we can't see.  In His wisdom he will sometimes let us stay in our current situation to protect us from greater danger. 

4) What is God's goal for you?  To be like Jesus.  As we grow in our relationship with God, chaos gives us the opportunity to learn valuable life-lessons, strengthen our faith in Jesus, grow in our character, and mature in our being.  

God is sovereign through the chaos!  He has a plan for your life.  He can use the good and the chaotic for your growth and for His glory.  Choose today to align your thinking with God's Word (Romans 12:2), to align your feelings with your aligned mind, declare the truth of God's word resisting the urge to doubt God's character, and walk by faith, not by sight.  

For more on this, watch the full message

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I just returned from Haiti after another life-changing trip.  I have the joy of partnering with Truth Evangelistic Ministry (truthem.org) and its director, Chuck Martindale to go to the valley of Z'Orange (Z-rhan-jay) Haiti where Bro. Chuck has been ministering for 15 years.  I took a team from my church 

 (pictured above) and had the opportunity to set up 4 different "mobile" medical clinics.  70% of Haiti has no access to healthcare.  So it is such a joy to be able to be part of a team that provides much needed medicines, ointments, creams, bandages and so forth.  

As always, I'm the one who walked away from that experience with the blessing.  Jesus told us that as we do to the "least of these" we do unto Him.  When we acknowledge others, we acknowledge Him.  When we love others, we love Him.  When we ignore others, we ignore  Him.  When we are willing to be emptied out, to serve, He pours back into us and replenishes us in such an amazing way.  To be with my Haitian brothers and sisters, who have so little yet have so much joy, demonstrates that when you have Christ you have what really matters.  

I know a lot of you reading this follow me on FaceBook and see my pics and posts.  If you don't, please "like" my FB page to receive pics, posts, and videos.    

The Mission House and Grounds 

(Notice the well in the background.  This and three other wells within a mile or so, are the only sources of fresh water for thousands of people.)  Therefore it's a gathering place and a great opportunity to get to know the Haitian people.  

My family visiting a near-by orphanage.  These children are taken very good care of and we've become close with the pastor and his wife that run it.

Medical clinic set up in a local church

Medical clinic set up at another local church.  This church is only accessible by foot, so the medications and gear have to be carried by foot.  Many of the Haitian children come alongside us and carry our bags and gear for us.  We don't have to ask them to, they just willingly do it and with a smile! 

After a two hour hike up a mountain that can only be climbed by foot, I stopped and took a picture of the valley of Z'Orange below me.  This is always an awesome site for me to see.  Haiti is a beautiful land with beautiful people.  Despite the incredible poverty, the joy I find there among the people and being with the people is like no other.  

The fact that you're reading this may answer the question posed in the title.  You may not be losing your eyesight, but you may be going blind.  Even more shocking, you may be blind right now!  I'm amazed at the power of perspective.  It's been said "one's

perspective is one's reality."  I would agree with that.  And unfortunately many bad decisions are made because of lack of perspective.  So how can we keep from going blind?  How can we keep proper perspective of what's really going on?

Years ago I was a huge fan of American Idol.  My favorite part of the show was the auditions.  I was amazed at how many people couldn't sing to save their life but refused to listen to the truth when the judges would clearly say, "You can't sing."  Or maybe you've sat with a friend who is down or depressed over a situation.  You may actually see something positive come from your friend's situation, but they don't.  They're too focused on their hurt or pain to see anything good come from tragedy.  A friend of mine called me and was very upset because he was fired from his job.  But his boss was very difficult to work for and even harder to please.  I explained to my friend he now had an opportunity to find a better job.  At first he was so mad and hurt he couldn't fathom the possibility of finding a better job.  Several weeks later he called me with good news:  he found a better job with better pay, better hours, and better management.  It's easy to look at others and say, "Don't you see the obvious?!  What's wrong with you?"  However, if we're not careful, we can be blinded to the truth as well. 

In Isaiah 43:18-19 we read where God was doing some amazing things in the midst of His people but they weren't seeing it.  They were blinded to the truth around them.  They simply weren't getting it.  In this passage God gives some very simple instructions on how to prevent being blinded to His activity:

1)Forget the former things.  Think about your "former things."  Failure.  Guilt.  Mistakes.  Ignorance.  Hurt.  God says "Move on!  Don't stay stuck in your past."  Past failures don't dictate future failures.  It's healthy to learn from our past but very unhealthy to stay stuck in it.  

2)Don't dwell on the past.  In other words, don't live in the past.  If you were a teenager in the 80's like me, living in the past would dictate that we still wear spandex and sport a mullet!  MYTH EXPOSED: there is NO SUCH THING AS THE GOOD OLE DAYS.  Sin and evil have been around since Genesis 3.  We can read stories in the Bible of deceit, murder, jealousy, rage, sexual immorality, lying, cheating, etc. and that's before we're out of Genesis!  Someone who is well up in their years said to me the other day, "I miss the good ole' days."  I replied, "You mean the days of WWII, concentration camps, and the holocaust?  Or are you talking about the days before women could vote?  How about the days when white people and black people were segregated in public places?"  The truth is, the good ole' days are only the good ole' days because we're years removed from them and memory has a way of blocking out the bad stuff.  When we dwell on the past, we don't embrace what God has for us right now.

3)Open your spiritual eyes.  Ask God to give you His perspective.  See people as He does.  See the world as He does.  See time as He does.  See tragedy as He does.  When you see as God sees you will do what God does.  

4)Trust God.  He has your life and your future in His hands.  You may not understand your circumstances right now, but trust will fuel you to keep running back to God and not from Him.  If you really believe His word, then you'll accept that He loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11; John 10:10).  Trusting Jesus will give you proper perspective and keep you from going blind!

Let's move forward!  Let's keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author of our faith and the One who perfects it as each day passes (Hebrews 12:2).

For more on this, watch the full message

 

When everyone else says, "You can't!" you say, "I CAN!"  Why?  Because you have passion!  Passion is what fuels our desire to accomplish something great even when our circumstances seem overwhelming.  If you work in a job where you constantly count down the days until pay day, you may be in  

the wrong profession.  When you get paid and your thought is, "I get paid for doing what I'm doing?!?" you are serving and working with passion!  

So many people see life as a list of tasks to accomplish in order to realize a certain end.  Unfortunately, the end never comes and the person spends his days toiling with a loss of joy and passion.  But this isn't healthy, and it's certainly not God's desire for anyone.  He wants us to enjoy this life He's given us.  He has great plans for those who trust Him (Jeremiah 29:11).  The plan for enjoying an abundant life begins with knowing Jesus.  From that, God puts passions and desires in our heart that if we will live them out, we will experience the best life ever!  

Instead of doing something out of mere obligation or for some ulterior motive, we should live our life and do what we do because we have passion!  We all want to feel a sense of purpose and that our life counts for something.  We all desire more out of life than being stuck in a rut of work, eat, sleep, and do it all over again tomorrow.  When we are fueled by passion, 5 amazing things happen:

1) We sense God's prompting.  We feel compelled to do and act, and we take initiative.  We sense that what we are doing is motivated by more than just our own will.  When we sense God is leading us to take action, we can rest in that fact that He will provide.  We don't have to stress over making sure we're going to have everything we need to accomplish what He's prompting us to do.  And that leads me to...

2) We see God's provision.  The Bible says in Philippians 4:19 that God will supply all of our needs.  If He's given you a passion to do something, don't waste time stressing over how you're going to make ends meet.  God's got that figured out.  He put the desire in you, remember?  So He will provide for all your needs.

3) We realize God's power.  As you are living out your desires and accomplishing God's plan for you, being fueled by passion, you will realize a strength you've never had before.  God's power will sustain and keep you.  What others would say is impossible, you see as an opportunity to accomplish greatness.  As you are doing that, you will realize God's power.  Give Him the credit!  Give Him the glory!  And let your strength be a witness to all that there is a God!

4) We feel God's presence.  Fact: you're not alone.  God is with you.  He is providing for you.  He is strengthening you.  And He will never leave you.  When you realize you are not operating alone, you will draw great comfort in knowing that God is aware of your situation.  He sees and knows your challenges that lie ahead.  He's already provided the solution for you.  Just stay focused on Him.

5) We fulfill God's plan.  The greatest achievement in all the world is coming the end of your life and hearing Jesus say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."  Your life mattered.  You counted.  You affected others for good.  You made a difference.  You left a Godly legacy.  You fought the good fight!  You finished well!  

Don't waste your life.  Go out there and live!  Fulfill God's plan for you!  Serve, work, and live with passion!  Resist ruts.  Don't serve out of obligation but out of joy!  Say YES to the BEST and NO to the REST.  

For more on this, watch the full message.

What really excites you?  What is your passion?  Maybe it's music, poetry, woodworking, cooking,  hunting, spending time with family, and the list could go on and on.  God's desire is for you to experience an abundant life in Him.  That doesn't mean we are

guaranteed wealth or power, but it does mean that God wants us to enjoy this life He has given us.  He puts passions in our heart for one reason:  so we will use our passions to advance His kingdom's purposes.  God's desire is that humanity would know Him through a relationship with Jesus.  If you are Christ-follower, you are an example of God's love for all to see.  Your passions will drive you to ministry.  Your passions will motivate you to love and serve others.  

However, we have an enemy.  The Bible says that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us.  The devil and his legions of evil are predators.  Jesus said Satan desires to steal from, kill, and destroy us (John 10:10).  In other words, Satan is a predator that desires to rob you of your passions and prevent you from advancing the good news of Jesus.  If we don't guard our lives in Christ, we can fall victim to what I call passion predators.  Let's look:

Here are 9 passion predators:  

1. An unclear purpose.  When we know our Creator, we know our purpose.  Without that, we wander aimlessly and accomplish very little. 

2. An unused gift or talent - when we use our God-given abilities for selfish gain, we lose our passion to love and serve others. 

3. An unbalanced schedule - when we say "yes" to one thing, we say "no" to everything else.  When we say "yes" to everything, we become overwhelmed, we disappoint others, we burn out, and we lose our passion. 

4. Undesirable circumstances - when our focus is on what's going on around us instead of keeping our focus on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), we lose perspective and passion.

5. Unresolved conflict - lack of forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  We only hurt ourself when we don't forgive.  

6. Pride - when we think more of ourselves than we should, and less of others, we will become self-absorbed and our passions will turn to methods of pleasing only self. 

7. Past failure - you tried once and failed, therefore you give up.  We must remember: past failure does not dictate future failure.

8. Habitual sin - repeated, unconfessed sin.  This "compartment" of your life that you refuse to surrender to the lordship of Jesus can lead to greater disasters in your life.  

9. Unnourished spirit - ignoring spiritual disciplines that help you grow in your faith in Jesus

There is help!

First, evaluate (or re-evaluate) your life.  Look at the list of passion predators.  How many of those listed are biting at you?  Be honest.  Second, be willing to ask God to help you resist those passion predators.  Be willing to make necessary changes and learn from others who guide you to God and His Word.  Third, employ boundaries.  Be willing to say "no".  It's not a dirty word.  Be willing to set parameters around your life and activity.  Determine beforehand what you're willing to do and not do.  Communicate that to others and stick to it!  Fourth, prioritize!  When "good" things are in the wrong place in our life, they're not good for us.  Say "yes" to the best and "no" to the rest. 

None of this is easy and we all struggle from time to time.  But difficult doesn't mean impossible.  You can begin taking steps to reducing your passion predators and realizing the abundant life God desires for you!  

For more on this, watch the full message.  

WHO is most important to you?

WHAT is most important to you?

How you answer those two questions will determine the direction and quality of your life.  

Don't believe me?  Try it.  Be honest with yourself and answer those two questions.  While it may be hard to admit what your real answer is, you know what your real answer is.  And so do others, because all one has to do is look at your life and observe your actions to see what is really important to you.  Believe it or not, the hardest person to convince of what's really important to you is you!  Many struggle with doing what they know is right.  It's one thing to know who and what should be most important in your life.  It's another thing to live a life that demonstrates that.

Jesus was asked, "What is the most important commandment?"  His answer was quite simple: Love God with all your being and love others.  Jesus summed up the Bible in one sentence.  As a matter of fact he said the entire Law of God hangs on that statement.  

Many of you desire to have proper priorities.  Many of you desire to love your family correctly and to make sure they know you love and cherish them.  Many of you want your friends to know you genuinely care about them and their well-being.  Many of you want to deal with your anger you've had pinned up inside for years.  Many of you want to forgive others who have caused you tremendous pain.  Many of you want to break away from the negative thinking you continuously find yourself struggling with.  Many of you want to laugh and enjoy life.  Many of you don't want to be jealous of others when you see them loving life and having healthy relationships.  But at some point you're going to have to move from simply wanting to actually doing what is necessary to have a fulfilled life.  Jesus gave you the solution!

When we learn to love God with our entire being, it shapes who we are.  Our love for God influences every action we take:  the words we use, the way we treat people, how we handle stressful situations, our work ethic, and even how we grieve.  When God invades our life, the things that are important to Him become important to us.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  Notice: if anyone desires to passionately pursue Jesus, the first step is to die to selfishness.  As we take up our cross, we are taking up God's cause.  We care about what He cares about.  God cares about people knowing Him.  So should we.  As we love God, we develop a burning desire to advance the Gospel.  

Now, go back and reflect on the two answers you gave previously: who and what is most important to you?  If you answered anything other than your relationship with God (loving God) and sharing your faith with others (loving people), then that's a red flag that you need to reprioritize.  You need to take a good hard look at what's really important.  The more you love God, the better equipped your going to be to love correctly your family and others.  The more you love God, the more He will help you see the proper place in your life for the two answers you gave.  

Your answers will indeed determine the direction and quality of your life!

We were created for relationships.  We all need them.  We all want them.  We are not designed to go through life alone.  Belonging is a basic human need.  It's in our relationships we discover who we truly are.

Yet, relationships take work.  They don't just happen.  We have to be intentional to love.  Jesus commanded us to love.  We can have everything but love and we have nothing.  So it's important that we get this one right:  how can I love better?  How can my relationships thrive? 

In 2006 climber Lincoln Hall was rescued by fellow climbers on Mount Everest (29,000 ft.) after being left for dead in the Dead Zone (26,250 ft.).  These climbers put aside their own desire to reach the summit to save Hall's life by descending with him and getting him the medical attention he needed.  These complete strangers practiced love in the truest sense of the word.  Love is unselfish, serving and even sacrificing actions towards another.  This kind of love is missing from many relationships today.  The fact is, many relationships are in the Dead Zone and need rescuing.  

Just like Mount Everest, there are mountains in every relationship that we must navigate carefully and with love in order for our relationships not to die in the Dead Zone of each mountain.  

The Mountain of Misunderstanding.  Relationships usually start out fun, exciting, and some would even say "healthy".  But somewhere along the way, communication ceases to move beyond the mundane.  Each in the relationship is more concerned with being heard than with listening and considering the other's point of view.  Sometimes the silent treatment ensues and sends messages, perhaps unintentional nonetheless effective, that the other person doesn't matter anymore.  

The Mountain of "Me First".  This dead zone is defined by an attitude that says "Meet my needs!" instead of "I want to meet your needs."  People in this dead zone are looking out for self and personal agendas trump the greater good.  

The Mountain of Mistakes.  Fact:  we all mess up.  Fact:  it's easier to see other's faults before seeing our own.  The person in this dead zone is hypocritical in that resentment is held and forgiveness is withheld from the offender in the relationship who made the mistake with no regard to his or her own mistakes and need for forgiveness.  

These 3 mountains are in every relationship.  But they don't have to define the relationship.  There is hope!  In order for the relationship to be healed, 2 things have to happen:

1)We must look at our relationship mountains through God's perspective.  He's bigger than the challenges we face.  What seems an insurmountable mountain to us is only a small hill when compared to the healing power of God.  We need to understand that with God all things are possible.  Jesus assured us that if we abide, or remain, in him we could do all things through his strength (John 15:4; Philippians 4:13).  Having a relationship with Jesus gives us proper perspective to see the truth of what is in front of us.  This protects us from discouragement that could lead to apathy, eventually paralyzing us to take no action towards healing and reconciliation.  

2)We must love.  We must accept those in our relationships.  Fact: we can't change people.  We can teach, influence or manipulate people, but we can't change them.  Only God can bring change.  If we desire to see change in those we love, we must love (serve), accept, and pray for them.  PLEASE NOTE:  accepting someone doesn't mean we accept their poor behavior.  We address poor behavior in a way that honors God and preserves the relationship.  You want to see change in those you love?  Live like you want them to live.  Influence them by your actions.  And pray that God will bring the necessary change in time.  Manipulating or nagging them to change will only push them farther away causing even more damage to the relationship.

One final thought:  years ago my family went to SeaWorld and sat in the splash zone of the Orca show.  We all got drenched!  Shamu didn't discriminate who would get wet and who would stay dry.  He simply splashed and covered anyone close to him with water!  Our lives ought to be a "splash zone"!  Our love ought to get on everyone that comes close to us.  We shouldn't be choosy as to whom we are going to show love to or not.  When people leave our presence they should know we love Jesus because of the way we responded to them.  

If your relationship is in a dead zone, there is help!  There is hope!  Learn to love God more and by doing so, love others more!  

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WARNING:  If you're offended by the F-word, you need to proceed cautiously as you read this.  Let's be clear:  I don't like the F-word.  It's offensive.  I would hear people throwing it around and I would think to myself, how can they so easily say that word?  That is until I realized the beauty of the F-word.  I'm, of course talking about forgiveness.

As tough as forgiving is, I've also learned it leads to me being free. I no longer live in the prison of anger, hate and bitterness.  Years ago I suffered a major burn on the palms of my hand.  I was on a job site next to a hospital, so within minutes of frying my hand on the muffler of a machine, I was being treated.  After washing with cold water, the doctor put healing ointment on my hand and wrapped it. The ointment helped heal the wound.  

Fact: Sin causes wounds.

Fact: Other people's sin affects you.

Fact: We've all suffered wounds from others.

Is there healing? Yes! And forgiveness is the ointment that heals wounds. I know many of you have a negative reaction to the word forgiveness. I think it's because many don't have a clear understanding of what forgiveness really is. We need to land on a Biblical understanding of forgiveness if we are going to heal, move forward and thrive!

Forgiveness is NOT agreeing that what happened to you was okay.  Forgiveness is NOT condoning abuse or any other offensive behavior you've endured from others.  Forgiveness is NOT an invitation to reconcile with the offending party.  While reconciliation is the goal for many of us, the hard truth is many of the people we need to forgive are either dead or have no desire to reconcile with us.  And here's the biggie:  forgiveness is NOT forgetting!  

So what IS forgiveness?  Forgiveness is letting go of your perceived right to harbor hatred towards the offender.  Let me put it another way: forgiveness is choosing to live with the consequences of another person's sin in a way that glorifies God.  You don't have a choice in the matter of living with someone else's sin, but you do have a choice in how you are going to live with it.  Forgiveness, or letting go, is the first step in living with it in a way that benefits you, teaches you about God, yourself and others, grows and matures you, and builds your faith.  

While forgiving is NOT forgetting, it IS choosing to not hold the wrong actions of the person against them any longer.  So let me give you 4 realities about forgiveness:

1)Not forgiving is a form of pride because you are neglecting your own need of God's forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of others.  You've been shown mercy and grace.  So, who are you to not to extend that same mercy and grace towards others?

2)Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  You think you are in a power position when you don't forgive.  "I'll show them!" you say.  Reality: you're the only one suffering from your lack of forgiveness.  You're not in a power position, you're in a powerless position because your in the prison of anger, hate and bitterness.

3)It's impossible to live right and mature in your faith in Jesus if you don't forgive others.  Jesus reminded us that just as we've been forgiven by God, we are to forgive others.  If we don't, we are like the unmerciful servant Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18:21-35.  James 5:16 reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus connects prayer and forgiveness.  It's impossible to even have an effective prayer life if we harbor unforgiveness!  

4)Forgiveness is impossible without Jesus.  The only way we can truly forgive others is to recognize our own redemption, abide in Jesus, and depend on His strength.  When we realize just how much mercy and grace we've been shown by God, we are then better positioned to forgive others.  

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