Monthly Archives: May 2013

5.26.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

Unfinished Business

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Genesis 37:3-28

Joseph was one Bible personality who faced several life events that might have destroyed him and his faith in God. When Joseph was a young man, his father Jacob’s favoritism toward him, along with his cocky sharing of dreams that seemed to show he’d be superior to his brothers, alienated and infuriated them.  They took a cruel vengeance on him (and his father) by selling him as a slave to traders going to Egypt.

TUESDAY

Genesis 39:1-20

Instead of letting his brothers’ betrayal crush him, Joseph worked honestly and well. A powerful Egyptian named Potiphar made him overseer of his entire household. But Joseph faced another cruel reversal. His very integrity in refusing sexual overtures from Potiphar’s wife led her to falsely accuse him of rape. It seemed as though his faithfulness had gotten him nothing more than an undeserved prison sentence.

WEDNESDAY

Genesis 41:14-46, 45:1-15

Through all circumstances, Joseph held fast his trust in God. (In Genesis, unlike in Webber’s musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph always said God, not him, interpreted dreams—cf. Genesis 41:16). His God-given ability allowed him to rise to second in command in Egypt! Joseph’s spiritual growth and victory was more lasting than his wealth and political power. Instead of taking revenge on the brothers who sold him, he saved them from famine, forgave them and reunited his family, allowing Jacob to die in peace.

THURSDAY

John 4:13-26

Jesus met a Samaritan woman who came to Jacob’s Well at noon alone—circumstances that suggested pretty clearly that she was a social outcast. His offer of “living water” intrigued her. Then Jesus, refusing to get sidetracked into an abstract theological argument, described her messy life situation honestly. When she accepted his honesty and acknowledged the reality of what he said, she found God’s grace and a new life through him, the promised Messiah.

FRIDAY

1 John 1:5-2:2

John wrote this letter to persuade believers to embrace the light of God’s truth and love. John encouraged his readers by pointing them to some of the solid foundations of faith as the basis for facing the reality of our brokenness and shortcomings. He taught a way different from our natural urge to hide our failures, to look better than we are. We find God’s mercy and power, John said, by telling our truth and becoming vulnerable.

SATURDAY

Isaiah 52:1-10

Isaiah 52 spoke to Israelites living through tragedy and exile. Verses 1-6 reviewed the oppression they had faced at various times in their history, including recently. But those interruptions were not the whole story, the prophet wrote. God still ruled, still saw them as a part of God’s eternal purpose and mission, and was always at work to bring them peace, good news and salvation.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, you alone are our hope and our salvation. Rule over our lives, bringing your truth and light where darkness tries to engulf us. Heal our injuries and our diseased souls and bring us inner peace and strength. Calm our troubled minds and replace foolish or hurtful thoughts with your wisdom. Hold us tight, never letting us go. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)                                                                                

What were some of the thoughts that you have heard or read expressed by victims of the massive EF5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma? What would your thoughts have been if you heard and saw that kind of devastation around you? Would you have had thoughts of God? Would that have helped you in any way?                                                                                                                                              

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY     

  • ReadGenesis 37:3-28. As it did for Joseph, life has a way of making unforeseen, negative things “just happen.” Has this ever happened to you? Did you learn anything from the experience? How can our faith in God help us get through these kinds of things? How does it feel to “lose control” over your own life? Do you feel the same way when you lose control by giving your life over to Christ? Joseph felt superior to his brothers. Was he? Was the problem with his behavior the “facts” or the attitude he took toward the rest of his family? Why does Christianity stress the value of humility?
  • Read Genesis 39:1-20. After this second unexpected reversal, what might have been running through Joseph’s mind? Do you think God was working against Joseph? If we were in his place, might we think this way? What are common reactions to being falsely accused? In reading this, do you see any signs that Joseph might have grown spiritually? Under what kind of circumstances do we tend to grow spiritually? Is there any way we can prepare ourselves in advance for difficult times that surely will arise?
  • Read Genesis 41:14-46, 45:1-15. How loyal was Joseph to his God, and to Pharaoh? In general, what was the result? What can we learn from this story? What was Joseph’s attitude toward the brothers who had sold him into slavery? Considering their treachery, could Joseph easily have seen his brothers as enemies? Which of Jesus’ lessons might be likened to Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers? Can you see the light of Christ being reflected even in this, the first book of the Old Testament? Do you suppose Joseph’s brothers learned anything from Joseph’s forgiving nature?
  • Read John 4:13-26. What do you think Jesus meant when he offered his “living water”? Is this his promise of eternal life? In what ways might we, in this life, fill our cup and drink of this living water? Why wasn’t this woman bitter about her life?  Do you think she might have realized that she had made choices that contributed to her troubles? Do you think her life became better after this brief encounter with Jesus? Why?
  • Read 1 John 1:5-2:2. How would you describe “the light” that God brings into your life and into the world? What is the darkness in the world? Have you ever felt blanketed by the darkness? How are the words “good” and “evil” related to this discussion? Have Christians chosen to live in the light? Does anyone choose to live in the darkness? How so? What kind of people might choose to hide in the darkness? What might convince them to come into God’s light?
  • Read Isaiah 52:1-10. The Hebrew people had been living in terrible times of oppression. They must have thought God had abandoned them. What did God say to that? Did God speak to them with a booming voice? Who spoke for God? Would everyone have believed that Isaiah was speaking God’s message to the people? Would some of the people become hopeful and some remain despondent? Why this divide? Where does our faith come into play? Do we tend to look toward the hope of God, or remain fearful of what terrible things might happen to us? Who or what threatens us and where is our salvation?

From last week: Did you begin each day with a prayer that started with a few words of praise to God, followed by giving thanks for your many blessings? Did you seek contentment throughout your days, regardless of the circumstances? What was this experience like for you?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Karen Lampe’s sermon, May 26, 2013:

   How we deal with our “Unfinished Business” in our lives has a huge bearing on the outcome of the journey that we take in life. It affects our relationships and how we daily make decisions. These events can hurt us or they can propel us into good things, making us better people….

   I invite you to write down one most significant event of your life. It can be something you had no control over, perhaps your birth order or gender, something someone said to you, or an event or series of events that you could not have predicted. There are other times when we’ve experienced major situations that leave us with questions. Perhaps you went through or are going through a difficult illness, an abusive relationship; perhaps you survived or witnessed a tornado or car accident. There are times when we experience huge loss or death in our life. Maybe it’s the loss of a family member or dear friend, a bankruptcy, loss of a job. With all of these significant situations there can come “Unfinished Business.” We have questions of why and what if; “how could it be, Lord?” There are some events during when we think to ourselves at some point, “How are we going to get through this, Lord?”….

   This week the loss of lives, homes, schools and whole neighborhoods in Oklahoma leaves us breathless. No matter what age we are, when these things happen we move through a grieving period, asking questions and trying to make sense of it. The personal stories of loss have been flooding us throughout the week. This will leave many of the parents, teachers and children who scrambled for cover with new perspectives, with memories and images that leave them with “unfinished business” about how to put their lives back together. For us as a church it gives us the question of “how can we help?”

   On this Memorial Day weekend, we also think about how war affects those who have served and those family members who have felt the ripple effect of the pain of war. 

   I have here uniforms that my husband’s father Raymond Lampe wore. Ray was 18 when he enlisted in the Marines straight off the farm to serve in WWII. In his seven years of service he fought in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan. Ray saw his buddies and those who he led into battle die. He was severely injured in Saipan and was sent home. He was awarded two purple hearts. He rarely spoke about these years, yet his family knew it had affected him deeply. One night when his wife, Norma was very ill, we sat together while Les my husband sat vigil with his mom. That night Ray opened up to me of the pain he had seen. The tears fell and he recalled the memories. Ray carried unfinished business throughout his life.

   This past week in our church family we lost a precious son, Tim Updike. Tim served two tours of duty in the Middle East, one in the Iraq War and the other during Enduring Freedom War. His mother Janice has served on our staff for 17 years. Father Alan and sister Laura have been members for 20 years. For years we prayed that Tim would make it home safe from Iraq. He did, but nothing could protect him from the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression that tormented him after he came home. This past Monday his journey ended when he couldn’t see clearly and took his own life. His heavenly father no doubt welcomed this precious son home, yet we wish so much that he could have made it through that unfinished business of war….

   How do we deal with our unfinished business?  What are the mechanisms? How do we make sense of all of this?  How do we hold it together?

   Knowing and naming our unfinished business, or helping someone else to name theirs, can be hugely significant….Sometimes before you can even begin to name or really understand what you are dealing with there may be a need to do what some authors call “Going to the balcony.” Margaret Wheatly who has written the book Adaptive Leadership details how important it is to step back from the busyness of life and ponder any unfinished business from a distance.

   That same sort of instruction is modeled for us by Jesus. Jesus gave us a model of going to the mountain tops, to the seashore, to the desert and being still. Listen. Go to the balcony to get your bearings. The Psalmist who encourages us in the 46th Psalm says, “God is our refuge and very present strength in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change (through the challenge of lymphoma, a tornado, or war), though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.” Then finally, “Be still, be still and know that I am God.”

The next step is to take action to resolve your unfinished business. The idea here is to be intentional, and often we find that part of intentionality is to ask for help.

   When we think about the effects of war, we may remember the German preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer….The young pastor was imprisoned for an extended time and was executed just a month before Germany surrendered. This was a great tragedy, but while he was in prison he pondered and wrote. He went to the balcony hundreds of times. His brilliant writings that came out of that time have inspired multitudes of Christians. The obvious moral to Bonheoffer’s story is that sometimes what we think of as “Unfinished Business” does not end as we think it should. God will redeem whatever it is and make good of it. That is what we can count on….    In closing, let’s remember those things that are our unfinished business and then let’s review the ways we might find peace:

  1. Be still – step back, go to the balcony

  2. Be vulnerable—share your story with others

  3. Be grateful-  as soon as you can, thank God for the good that will spring up

  4. Take action if you can –for yourself or on behalf of another

  5. Be assured and have hope—God can and will take all of our unfinished business and with redeeming love, make good of it!

Joseph – Interpreter of Dreams

   Joseph is one of the greatest Old Testament heroes, second perhaps only to Moses. What separated him from others was his absolute trust in God, regardless of what happened to him. He is a shining example of what can happen when a person surrenders to God and obeys completely.

   In his youth, Joseph was proud, enjoying his status as his father’s favorite. Joseph bragged, giving no thought to how it hurt his brothers. They became so angry with him they threw him down a dry well, then sold him into slavery to a passing caravan.

   Taken to Egypt, Joseph was sold again to Potiphar, an official in Pharaoh’s household. Through hard work and humility, Joseph rose to the position of overseer of Potiphar’s entire estate. But Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph. When Joseph rejected her sinful advance, she lied and said Joseph tried to rape her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.

   Joseph must have wondered why he was being punished for doing the right thing. Even so, he worked hard again and was put in charge of all the prisoners. Two of Pharaoh’s servants were hauled in. Each told Joseph about their dreams.

   God had given Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams. He told the cupbearer his dream meant he would be freed and returned to his former position. Joseph told the baker his dream meant he would be hanged. Both interpretations proved true.

   Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. Only then did the cupbearer remember Joseph. Joseph interpreted that dream, and his God-given wisdom was so great that Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt. Joseph stored grain to avoid a terrible famine.

   Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, and after many tests, Joseph revealed himself to them. He forgave them, then sent for their father, Jacob, and the rest of his people. They all came to Egypt and settled in land Pharaoh gave them. Out of much adversity, Joseph saved the 12 Tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people.

Final application:                                                        

This week, begin each day with a prayer for the people of Moore, Oklahoma as they continue their grieving, clean-up and reconstruction process. Pray also for all the professionals and volunteers who have massed there to help in the process. If there is any way for you to help, consider doing so. Next week, share with the group any special insights you might have had.  

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5.19.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Most Important Commandment of All

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Psalm 100:1-5

Psalm 100 is called “A Psalm of Thanksgiving.” The psalm’s five short verses are rich with praise-filled language and images that celebrate God. Although we sometimes say, with sorrow or resignation, “Nothing lasts forever,” the psalmist didn’t see life that way. He was confident that one vitally important truth is eternally durable: “The Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever.”

TUESDAY

Ephesians 5:18-21, Isaiah 12:1-5

In the ancient world, as today, some people tried to numb themselves against life’s pains with alcohol (as well, of course, as other escape mechanisms). To Christians in the city of Ephesus, Paul wrote that psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and always giving thanks to God were a better way. He no doubt had praise songs like the one in Isaiah 12 in mind.

WEDNESDAY

Colossians 3:15-17

It’s easy to read a passage like today’s and think, “What lovely, uplifting devotional words.” But remember: the apostle Paul was not writing abstract devotional thoughts. He and the early Christians lived in a world as cruel and unsettling as ours, and one that often turned its hatred and scorn particularly on them. His counsel about peace, praise and gratitude was a survival manual for a spiritual combat zone, not just a set of nice, uplifting pleasantries.

THURSDAY

2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18; John 16:31-33

Jesus saw beyond this world. He taught about “the Kingdom of heaven,” not as a vivid way of imaging some spiritual values, but as the defining reality he lived in (cf. Matthew 5:1-16, John 18:33-36, 19:7-11). When facing death on a cross the next day, he said, “I have conquered the world.” It’s little wonder that his follower Paul wrote, “We don’t focus on the things that can be seen…the things that can’t be seen are eternal.”

FRIDAY

Philippians 4:4-12

The apostle Paul’s statement that God’s peace “exceeds all understanding” may make more sense when we remember that he sent this letter from a dank, dreary Roman prison cell (cf. Philippians 1:12-14). Even in those conditions, he had that peace. He shared three of the keys he’d found for God’s peace: to give worries to God in prayer, focus on the good in life and practice contentment.

SATURDAY

Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Matthew 22:34-40

The vital habit, the central key, to living a good life is to trust in, love and serve God. Ancient Israel believed this truth—Deuteronomy 6:7 ensured its continuity with the words “Recite [these words] to your children.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that Jesus, asked what is the greatest commandment, quoted that same simply life-changing call: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind!”

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Dear God, we choose to become fully committed citizens of your kingdom, children and servants in your household. We choose to open our hearts to your comforting embrace, shedding our sorrows and worries. We choose to walk with you always and at all times; we choose to worship you in all circumstances, being content with our lives. Fill us, Lord, with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Do we as Americans tend to be more thankful for what we have, or are we always demanding more? When things go badly for us, do we tend to look for what we can do better, or feel as though “someone” has cheated us out of what we really deserve?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Psalm 100:1-5. What, in life, lasts forever? What did the psalmist say lasts forever? How might thinking as the psalmist did affect the life of a Christian? When life is going extremely well, what should we remember? Should we “thank our lucky stars”? Should we be proud of our talents and skills for getting us there? Should we be humbly grateful to God? When things are going badly for us, how can this “Psalm of Thanksgiving” help us?

 Read Ephesians 5:18-21, Isaiah 12:1-5. Have you ever realized that we often, even as practicing Christians, allow our lives to operate on a kind of auto-pilot, often without even thinking of God? Do you think this is a common experience for most of us? Why are we often so “unconscious”? What can we do to wake ourselves up and praise our creator, thanking him for our many blessings? What can we do to allow him to be a more active participant in the conduct of our lives? Instead of doing things that numb us, what can we do that will heighten our awareness of God?

 Read Colossians 3:15-17. Verse 17 begins, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” How often do we do this? Would our lives be different if we all really focused on and followed this verse? Would the lives of others be different as a result of our commitment to this verse? Verse 17 continues with, “…giving thanks to God the Father through him.” On a scale of one to ten, how good (would you guess) are most Christians at thanking God for their daily blessings? How good are you at it? Why don’t we do this more often? In human interactions, have you seen some people who always express gratitude for a gift or kind deed, and others who hardly ever do? What can you learn from those observations about how we relate to God?

 Read 2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18; John 16:31-33. In as few words as possible, how would you summarize the message of these verses? How could Paul say that the troubles of this life are temporary? Do you think this way when you are facing your own difficulties? How do we focus on things that are unseen? Does “spiritual discipline” help you with this? How? Have you ever felt like you have had a glimpse of God’s kingdom? When and how? Do you think God did this for you? Why?

 Read Philippians 4:4-12. What do you think Paul meant when he said in verse 12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”? Why did he call it a secret? How would you describe “the peace of God”? Re-read verse 8. Is this naïve, “looking at life through rose-colored glasses”? Is this similar to the “glass half full or half empty” question? How do you see life? Do you “turn your troubles over to God”? Does this help?

 Read Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Matthew 22:34-40. From your experience, what moves us beyond being thankful to God to becoming people who love God with all our hearts? Are the same factors involved for everyone? Does this go beyond sentiment, and require our commitment and devotion? Do you think some people feel that such dedication to God somehow diminishes their own worth? Is this kind of pride right or wrong?

From last week: Did you identify a different person (or group) each day to whom you could offer some small measure of unexpected generosity? Did you pray that you would do this in Christ’s name and that he, rather than you, be glorified? Did you accept their thanks, if offered, with humility? What was your experience in doing this?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 19, 2013:

Today we focus on what both Moses and Jesus considered the single greatest commandment in the Bible: the command to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. The great commandment appears as a part of what Jews call the SHEMA YISRAEL. This is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The first two verses of the Shema are pivotal. It begins, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” Or it is sometimes translated, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This affirmation that Yahweh alone is God is followed then by verse 5 in which we find the Great Command. It is the appropriate response to the One who created all things and gives life to everything. We read, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”…

The foundational affirmation of the Great Commandment and the Shema is that God exists. The Bible starts with this central affirmation, “In the beginning, God…” But there are a number of people who challenge this assertion today. So I want to offer some of the reasons I believe in God. You likely have your own reasons as well. But here are a few of mine:

[NOTE: we do not have space to include Pastor Hamilton’s explanation of each point. If you did not hear the sermon, or want to hear it again, please listen to it at http://www.cor.org/sermon.%5D

1. The Beauty, Order, Natural Laws and Majesty of Creation points towards God.

2. I Believe in God Because of the Witness of Others

3. Jesus Miracles, His Death and Resurrection

4. The Impact Faith in God has on People’s Lives

5. God Answers “The Questions Implied in Our Existence”

6. My Own Experience of God….

That finally leads me to the question of how we respond to the belief that there is a God as the Shema proclaims. The Great Commandment summarizes our response: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. By the New Testament period mind was added to the list, which was a part of the heart and soul in Jewish thought.

This is what we were made for. We find ourselves most fully human when we are seeking to love God with all that we are—our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is meant to be a daily part of our lives. Here we could learn from faithful Jews who remember their mission by reciting these words first thing in the morning, and the last thing before they go to bed, who hang these words on their doorpost and touch them when they go out and come in, and who would seek to recite them as the last words on their lips before they die. Even more important than reciting the words, is living them.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said this is what the Christian life is meant to look like: By the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we’re meant to grow in love for God and neighbor day by day.

In the Hebrew of Deuternomy the word for love is AHEV which included a deep loving affection as well as the way you treat someone you love deeply. In the New Testament the Greek word for love when Jesus is quoted in the gospels is AGAPE which focuses not on feelings, but on doing—on living sacrificially, practicing acts to bless the other. Both are important. We’re meant to grow in our feelings and relationship with God. How do we do that? The way we grow in any relationship. I grow in my relationship with LaVon by telling her I love her, by talking with her and listening to her, by putting her first, by acts of kindness and sacrifice, and by telling her I’m sorry when I hurt her. It is by thinking of what she wants, seeking to bless her and lift her up.

This is meant to be the daily rhythm of our lives with God. We don’t just believe in God, we actually seek to love him with our heart, soul, mind and strength….The greatest commandment, the one in which you find joy and meaning and life, is simply this: “The Lord is Your God, so Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Do this and you will have found life.

What is the Doxology?

A doxology (from the Greek δόξα [doxa] “glory” + -λογία [-logia], “saying”) is a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns. The tradition derives from a similar practice in the Jewish synagogue, where some version of the Kaddish serves to terminate each section of the service. The dictionary defines doxology as “an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service.”

Doxologies are found frequently in the Old Testament. Sometimes a doxology may begin with the term, “Blessed.” For example, Abraham’s servant, upon finding Rebekah (who would become Isaac’s wife), “bowed his head, and worshipped Jehovah.” He said, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:26-27; cf. Exodus 18:10; 1 Chronicles 16:36). B.F. Westcott catalogued sixteen doxologies in the New Testament.

The Gloria Patri, so named for its first two words in Latin, is commonly used as a doxology by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Independent Catholics, Orthodox and many Protestants including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Reformed Baptists. It is called the “Lesser Doxology,” thus distinguished from the “Great Doxology,” Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and is often called simply “the Doxology.” The Latin text of the Lesser Doxology is “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.” Literally translated, it means “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” As well as praising God, this doxology is also a short declaration of faith in the co-equality of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Another commonly heard doxology is “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” which was written in 1674 by Thomas Ken, a priest in the Church of England as the final verse of two hymns, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun”[5] and “Glory to thee, my God, this night,” intended for morning and evening worship at Winchester College. This final verse, separated from its proper hymns and sung to the tune “Old 100th”, “Duke Street”, “Lasst uns erfreuen”, “The Eighth Tune” by Thomas Tallis, among others, frequently marks the dedication of alms or offerings at Sunday worship. It is commonly referred to simply as The Doxology or The Common Doxology. The familiar words are “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Another familiar doxology is the one often added at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.” This is found in manuscripts representative of the Byzantine text of Matthew 6:13, but not in the most ancient manuscripts. Most scholars do not consider it part of the original text of Matthew, and modern translations do not include it, mentioning it only in footnotes.

Although the word doxology is not found in the Bible, the themes expressed in doxologies are certainly scriptural. Praising God for His blessings (Ephesians 1:3), ascribing to Him all glory (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 3:21), and affirming the Trinity (Matthew 28:19) have often been integral parts of Christian worship.

Sources: various

Final application:

This week, begin each day with a prayer that starts with a few words of praise to God, and is followed by giving thanks for your many blessings. Seek contentment throughout your days, regardless of the circumstances. Next week, share with the group any ways in which your days seemed better to you.

5.12.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Secret to True Wealth

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Proverbs 11:23-28

Israel’s Proverbs described how life usually works, rather than promising that God will always force things to happen in a certain way. They closely linked righteousness with generosity, praising those who share generously with people in need and put their trust in God’s values. They included that idea again in their verbal portrayal of an ideal mother and wife, writing that “She reaches out to the needy; she stretches out her hands to the poor.” (Proverbs 31:20).

 

TUESDAY

Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 26:1-10

God’s first promise to Abram said his mission was to bless “all the families of earth.” Though the people of Israel, being human, often forgot or ignored that message, their worship practices (described in Deuteronomy 26) embedded God’s call to live generously and bless others. They honored God by giving the first portion of each crop to God’s work.

 

WEDNESDAY

Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22

When we studied the desert sanctuary two weeks ago, we found that, through Moses, God gave detailed directions for the structure. The same was true about ways of being generous. For example, the law told the agricultural Israelites to be generous in the way they harvested their fields. They were not to gather every last bit of grain or grapes for themselves, but to intentionally leave some for the poor and the immigrant to collect

 

THURSDAY

Luke 16:10-15

Jesus’ message in today’s passage was clear, and controversial. Israel in Jesus’ day had a small number of extremely rich people and lots of very poor people. Many religious leaders were among the rich. Jesus challenged their values, saying it is impossible to serve God and wealth. Those who saw all their wealth as a sign of God’s blessing sneered. Jesus replied, “What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.”

 

FRIDAY

Luke 14:7-14

For Jesus, generosity was not just about giving money. It was an attitude that touched all of life. At first, you might see this passage as advice on a clever way to make yourself look good to others. Read against the backdrop of all Jesus’ teaching, it shows that Jesus taught generosity in relationships as well as finances. He urged people to avoid selfishly pushing for their own recognition and advantage, to leave room for honoring others.

 

SATURDAY

Philippians 1:27-2:4

Two key church leaders in Philippi, both of whom Paul counted as friends, were at odds (cf. Philippians 4:2-3). Both loved God, but it seems from the intensity with which Paul addressed the church that each person thought she was right, and wanted to “win.” When he wrote “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes,” that was not abstract “feel-good” counsel. He was asking them to extend Jesus’ spirit of generosity to the other person in the midst of a very real, very painful life issue.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Heavenly Father, may we give to others generously as you have given to us, forsaking our own self-interest. May we love others so that they might live in the warmth and light of your own love. May we be good custodians of the many things you entrust to our care. May we learn to value others as highly as you have valued us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Which people first come to mind when you think of generous people? Why are generous people often honored at lavish dinners? When the people honored are humble, do you think they should feel a responsibility to appear and accept the awards?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Proverbs 11:23-28. Do these words reflect realities that will occur in this world, the next or both? Do you believe that, if we are generous to those in need, we will receive blessings from God? Are God’s values different from our natural, human values? How do we make the leap from the usual human values to God’s? How might we suffer if we are stingy with God’s blessings? Do non-Christians ever notice if we are either stingy or generous? Are they likely to draw any conclusions about whatever they observe? How might those conclusions affect their decisions about faith?

 Read Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 26:1-10. Do these verses apply to us? If so, how? When you read the Bible, do you try to place yourself “in the moment,” as if the words were directed straight at you? Does this cause the words to seem to take on greater meaning? What percentage of our goods do we usually associate with “the first fruits” that belong to God? In considering how we give back to God, what is your usual yardstick for determining what you give? Is money the only area in which to think about giving “first fruits”? What does the phrase “time, talents and treasures” mean to you?

 Read Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22. How might these verses apply to you and your life practices? In what small or large ways can we “leave a little behind” for those who have little? How can we share with others in ways other than through donations of money? How can we “leave a little behind” for our family members? For our friends? For our co-workers? Are we being called to sacrifice for others? How do you feel about that?

 Read Luke 16:10-15. What kinds of things do most people value? What do they tend to be most thankful for? What kinds of things do we often overlook that we should really be thankful for? Are we generous with our health? How could we do that? Are we generous with our faith? How would we do that? Are we generous with our country and its freedoms? How could we do a better job of that? In what ways might we serve money? How does our commitment to follow Jesus affect the ways we relate to money? How does “serving money” affect our decisions about career, family, homes, cars, etc.?

 Read Luke 14:7-14. Are these verses about where you sit at a banquet, or something more? Why is humility important to our spiritual growth? What dangers are inherent in trying to be a “big cheese” in the eyes of others? Does this mean that we should not seek positions of leadership and authority if we have the right talents for that? Where do our talents and skills come from? Do talents and skills we happened to be born with give us the right to feel superior to others? Most would agree that Abraham Lincoln was a great leader and president. Do you see him as humble or prideful? Does his apparent humility cause you to admire him more or less?

 Read Philippians 1:27-2:4. How hard is it to forsake our own interests in favor of others? Take the time to list who, or what groups of people, might you include in “others”? Is this what Jesus meant when he was speaking of generosity? If we give to others, are we giving to God? How do you know? In what ways might we take from others for our own self-interests, ignoring their needs?

From last week: Did you identify one person who has hurt you, and has never apologized to you for doing so? In light of last week’s study, did you begin the process of thinking about what the value would be to you to forgive that person? Did you make it a matter of prayer, perhaps of deeper study, perhaps of working through the situation in-depth with a counselor or pastor? Did you choose someone you trust, tell them what you’re struggling with, and ask them to get together with you for regular updates on your process of forgiveness? What was you experience in doing this?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 12, 2013:

Today we’ll talk about three forms of generosity: generosity of spirit, generosity with money and generosity of time and talents.

To have a generosity of spirit means freely practicing kindness towards others, particularly in how you look at and talk about others. It refrains from judging, it believes the best of another. It gives the other the benefit of the doubt. It seeks to see life through another’s eyes and to walk in her or his shoes. It is seeing the good in others, and responding to others with humility.

I have several friends who demonstrate this generosity of spirit. They are always looking to offer encouragement, they put up with you when you blow it, they assume the best of you and each other. They recognize your shortcomings and instead of pointing them out, look past them unless they see a chance to help you overcome them. This generosity of spirit is graciousness.

This generosity of spirit positively affects every relationship you may have. People like working for bosses who exhibit it. Such people have more friends. And marriages marked by generosity are more successful. A 2011 study published out of the University of Virginia on the state of marriages found that couples who scored high in generosity were three times more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriage than those who scored low on the generosity scale….

On Mother’s Day, we realize that true wealth often comes in the form of those who were blessed by you, who love you for the way you impacted their lives….

That leads to the second kind of generosity—generosity with our finances. From now to the end of this month, millions of people across America will be graduating from high school, college or graduate school. It is an exciting time. Many have big dreams of what they’ll make of their lives: a nice income, a nice house, a nice car, nice vacations, a nice retirement. But that is only part of the story of what makes for success in life. Success in life has far less to do with how much you make than with how much you give. As Jesus said: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.”

It is not what you have, but what you give that determines your success and satisfaction—your true wealth in life. Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson at the University of Notre Dame refer to this as the “Generosity Paradox.” They wrote, “Those who give receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.” It may be a sociological fact borne out by the research these two have done, but it is also a religious teaching—one of the five most important and fundamental teachings in all the Bible. We were created for generosity. We are, in the words God spoke to Abraham, blessed to be a blessing. This is what Jesus was teaching when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Smith and Davidson go on to write, “The more generous Americans are, the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy.”…

We were made for generosity. Our lives are meant to be defined by it. When we figure this out—that we are stewards of the blessings in our lives—we find joy. And your generosity begets more generosity. So long as you are focused on acquiring more, instead of sharing and giving, you’ll never have enough….

That leads me to one last picture of generosity in the Bible: the generosity of giving your time, your heart, and your gifts to bless others. It is what we see in Jesus as he is regularly interrupted to stop and heal another. It is what the Good Samaritan did when he put the man, beaten and half dead, on his own donkey and provided food, clothing and medical care as he was recovering.

This kind of giving is what we do with those we love—family or close friends—when we sacrifice and give of our time for them. You show up to mow the yard, or clean the house, or do things you hate doing at your own home, but you do them for someone else who’s just home from the hospital and you find that your love and friendship towards them actually grows because of your generosity towards them….This week we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Matthew’s Ministry in our church. There are over 150 special needs children, youth and adults who you’ve welcomed to your congregation. Each has brought their own gifts and graces and enriched our church family….Today there are hundreds of you who volunteer in this ministry. I’m so proud of you, and grateful. What would prompt a person to give up their Saturday night to work with Special Needs children, youth and adults in order to give parents a night out? What kind of people give of their time to serve children in our partner schools, or to teach someone else’s children in Sunday School, or volunteer to visit the hospitals, or help in any of the hundreds of ministries we have at the church, for no compensation? People who understand that it is more blessed to give than to receive. People who have glad and generous hearts. And what happens to these people? They find great joy in giving themselves….

Something that struck me about all of the attributes we’ve studied so far in this sermon series, including generosity, is that they are all attributes of God. When we practice these things we are most like God. We’re meant to set these as goals, to practice them, and to invite the Holy Spirit to form our hearts and lives so that we regularly practice generosity—in spirit, with our resources, with our time. When we give, we take hold of the life that really is life. This is one of the five most important teachings in all of the Bible—it is what we were created for.

 

A Counselor Reflects on Generosity and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help (p. 86-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is easy to think of the obstacle to generosity as the absence of thinking of others. We like to think of it this way because it makes our lack of generosity seem more innocent. We become like the child who knew he was to clean his room or complete his homework and is called on it. We reply, “I forgot,” hoping this will somehow make our neglect seem more neutral.

But absence is a non-entity and, therefore, cannot be an obstacle. By definition an obstacle must be a thing; not a non-thing. Lewis points out that there are two “things” that impede our lack of generosity: fear (namely insecurity) or pride.

The first part of becoming generous is to have the courage (if we are fearful) or humility (if we are prideful) to ask the question, “Which am I?” The same character deficiency which impedes our generosity will also impede our willingness to acknowledge our lack of generosity. This is why honestly asking good questions is vital to the change process.

Usually the lack of generosity rooted in fear does see the needs of others and is concerned about those needs. However, shortly after feeling compelled to be generous, they begin to consider the cost. “If I give [blank] to them, then I would not be able to handle it if something happened to me.”

The insecure person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else shares the same insecurity. Generosity is not assumed (believed to be available for their time of need “if” it were to arise) because fear reigns.

The lack of generosity rooted in pride either does not see the need because of its self-centeredness or condemns the needy person for not having prepared like they did. Self-centered blindness obviously prevents generosity. Condemning makes generosity seem like a reward for laziness. The prideful person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else should share the same approach to life they have. Generosity is not assumed (a natural response to the ability and opportunity to help) because they are the standard and they do not practice it.

We see in this reflection that generosity is about more than giving something away. Generosity transforms our experience of community. This is consistent with the book of Acts. The early Christians were generous so / because they were experiencing a new form of community.

Our goal in being generous is not to win more points with God, but to allow the Gospel to penetrate our assumptions about life in a new way. God is not punishing us or taxing us with his call to generosity. Rather, He is continuing the work He began when we first experienced the Gospel – freeing us from ourselves. The bars of that self-bondage may be fear or pride.

Source: http://www.bradhambrick.com/lewisongenerosity/

 

Final application:

This week, identify a different person (or group) each day to whom you can offer some small measure of unexpected generosity. Pray that you will do this in Christ’s name and that he, rather than you, is glorified. Accept their thanks, if offered, with humility. Next week, share with the group whatever you experienced in doing this—and God bless you for making this special effort.

 

5.5.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

Six Words to Set You Free

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Psalm 32:1-5

Seeking and accepting forgiveness starts with being honest. Often our first challenge is to be honest with ourselves. Most of us are expert at rationalizing even our biggest failings. But, as we repeatedly see in the lives of public figures, even if we know we’ve missed the mark, we think we can hide that from others, even from God. The psalmist found that keeping silent and trying to hide the truth was draining him of energy and life.

 

TUESDAY

2 Samuel 12:1-13, Psalm 51:1-10

In one of the Bible’s best-known stories, Israel’s King David took Bathsheba, wife of his loyal soldier Uriah, for himself. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David had her husband killed to cover up his deed. He thought he’d gotten away with it, until the prophet Nathan’s brave confrontation forced him to face what he had done. In Psalm 51, we see that David made no excuses, but owned his failure and asked God to forgive and cleanse him.

 

WEDNESDAY

Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery (cf. Genesis 37:14-28). Despite this awful wrong, Joseph’s gifts and character (with God’s blessing) led to him rising to second in command in Egypt. He saved his family (and all of Egypt) from starvation, but his brothers still feared Joseph would take revenge for what they’d done. But by then Joseph chose to forgive, freeing his brothers (and himself) from the fearsome cycle of revenge.

 

THURSDAY

Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15-22

In Matthew 5 Jesus used hyperbole to show that we need to seek forgiveness when we’ve wronged another. In Matthew 18, he laid out a process for dealing with hurts among church members. Pastor Hamilton wrote, “When Jesus spoke of the church, he was referring to a rather small group. He was saying, ‘Peter, when John says or does something that wounds you, if he doesn’t see it or acknowledge it, go and speak to him in private and tell him’” (Hamilton, Forgiveness, p. 88).

 

FRIDAY

Colossians 3:12-15

Forgiveness is not simply a natural quality of the human heart. Paul and the other apostles echoed what Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer (cf. Matthew 6:12): the spirit of forgiveness begins with God forgiving us. It doesn’t just stop there, however—we cannot accept God’s forgiveness while remaining angry and vengeful ourselves. God’s forgiveness changes us, and makes us willing to forgive one another.

 

SATURDAY

Luke 23:32-34, Acts 7:54-60, Ephesians 4:31-32

The world has changed since New Testament times. Thankfully, it’s unlikely any of us will ever die on a cross, or be stoned to death. Jesus and his follower Stephen, however, faced those terrible deaths. Yet both of them asked God to forgive even the people who were killing them, people who didn’t even want to be forgiven. Their prayers showed how the kind of forgiving spirit Ephesians called all of us to can permeate our lives.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. We join David in praying, “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” “Create a clean heart for me; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!” Continue shaping us into people of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, with hearts that are resilient and free of bitterness. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

The Hatfields and the McCoys conducted a famous (or infamous) multi-generational feud. Closer to home, have you ever seen people carry on a feud that disrupted relationships long after the original offense lost any connection to the feud?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Psalm 32:1-5. The psalmist wrote, “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans” (Psalm 32:3, The Message). What are some of the main forces that make humans want to keep our wrongdoing “all inside”? How can criticism and judging keep people trapped in guilt, rather than helping them to move into greater wholeness and freedom in life? When have you experienced the freedom of honestly confessing to God, and perhaps to other trustworthy people? Have you as a group developed enough trust and honesty that you can talk about your failures as well as your successes?

 Read 2 Samuel 12:1-13, Psalm 51:1-10. David’s confession did not bring Uriah back to life, or stop his son Absalom from leading a rebellion against him. If confession and forgiveness don’t wipe out the negative consequences of bad actions, then why bother to do them? Or are there some, perhaps more profound, negative consequences that confession and forgiveness do deal with? Did Nathan help or hurt David by confronting him about what he had done? Is there anyone from whom you will accept a challenge you when you have missed the mark?

 Read Genesis 50:15-21. Joseph’s brothers didn’t make fun of his colorful coat, or call him names. They sold him into slavery! As Pastor Hamilton wrote in his book, “This wasn’t the kind of thing where you say, ‘Oh, good. I read a book on forgiveness. I’m going to let it go now. I’ll just pray about it and it’ll all be gone.’ It doesn’t work that way. We chip away slowly at these giant stones and pray that God will help us let go of the pain” (Hamilton, Forgiveness, p. 115). In what ways is the process different for dealing with small hurts and large injuries? How can God (perhaps working through other members of your group) support and strengthen you when you are “in process” in dealing with issues of forgiveness?

 Read Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15-22. We know Jesus used hyperbole in his teaching (e.g. “Cut off your hand or put out your eye rather than sin with it”). To what extent do you believe he was doing that in Matthew 5:23-24? How big a deal is it, really, to worship when we’ve hurt someone else and not sought to make it right? Do you find it easier or harder to talk one-on-one with someone who has hurt you than to tell other people about the hurt? What are the benefits of proceeding as Jesus taught in Matthew 18?

 Read Colossians 3:12-15. Paul listed five qualities he wanted Christ’s followers to show: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Which of those five is easiest and most natural for you for you to exercise? Which do you find hardest? In what ways has God showed that “hardest” quality toward you?

 Read Luke 23:32-34, Acts 7:54-60, Ephesians 4:31-32. When Jesus asked God to forgive the Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders for crucifying him, he revealed a profound reality about God’s heart. Stephen clearly had learned from Jesus’ example. Does it ever cross your mind to ask God to forgive, say, the Boston marathon bombers, or someone at work or in your neighborhood who acts in ways you find hurtful? What do you believe it means to “Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ”?

From last week: Did you think about how you hope your own home is somehow a reflection to others of who you are and what you believe? Were you able to think of changes that might make it a better reflection of your faith? Will you make any of the changes you thought of?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 5, 2013:

Let’s begin with the art of apologizing. Some of you are old enough to remember the scene in the 1970 film Love Story with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. There is a line in there in which McGraw’s character says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But, as Ryan O’Neal himself would say in the 1972 film, What’s Up Doc?, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

The inability to offer sincere apologies is a form of narcissism or emotional, psychological and spiritual immaturity. This is why three of the most important words we can say in life are, “I am sorry.” We can’t stay married, we can’t retain friendships, we’ll never be effective leaders or managers if we don’t learn how to say, “I am sorry.”…

Lousy apologies are inauthentic, self-serving, cheap. We’ve all given them. “I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I did.” “I’m sorry you are so sensitive.” “I’m sorry if you felt I did something wrong.” “I’m sorry if something I may have done hurt you.” “I’m sorry but…”

What does a good apology look like? Four things, I think: 1. An Awareness of How You’ve Wronged the Other, 2. An Earnest Feeling of Regret or Remorse, 3. A Confession Accepting Responsibility for the Action, 4. A Commitment to Change. One other note—often going directly to the person, in person, is the best way to apologize, but sometimes doing this first in a letter with a follow-up call to get together is a better approach. The Biblical word for the kind of apology we’ve just described is “repentance”….

Our response to authentic repentance is meant to be forgiveness. What is forgiveness? It is relinquishing the right to get even (retribution, revenge), choosing to pardon and releasing the person from their burden of guilt. It is choosing to let go of the bag full of resentment that you carry, the right to retaliate, or at least to hold the wrong over the head of the other.

Forgiveness is a huge theme in the New Testament. Usually when you find something spoken of frequently in the Bible it’s because the issue is something people really struggle with. Again in the Sermon on the Mount we find Jesus including the act of extending forgiveness in something as important as the pattern for our daily prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I want you to notice what you are praying when you pray the Lord’s Prayer. You are literally praying, “Lord, please forgive me in the same way and to the same degree that I’ve forgiven those who’ve wronged me.”

That is a dangerous and frightening prayer! If you are prone to withhold mercy you are inviting God to withhold mercy for you. The word for trespasses is actually the Greek word for debts—someone wrongs us, they owe us, just as we wrong God and owe God recompense. In this prayer we pray for God to let go of the obligation justice makes for us to repay our wrongs to the degree that we release the debts others owe us.

In Matthew 18 Peter asks, “Lord, how should I forgive? Is seven times enough?” To which Jesus replied: “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Other ancient versions have seventy times seven times. In essence, how many times do you want God to forgive you when you’ve sinned? Do you want his mercy to ever run out?

Now let me mention that you might be called to continue to forgive, but that does not mean there are no consequences. I had a friend who I learned through experience could not keep a confidence. I still love the guy, but I no longer trust him with my confidences. Likewise you might forgive an abusive spouse, but that doesn’t mean that you must stay in an abusive situation….

That leads me to the final point. Among the big messages of forgiveness in the Bible is that the God that we serve is willing to forgive. This is God’s answer to the question implied in our existence. God made provision for the Jews in the sacrifices. He spoke to it again and again through the Psalms. Among the most beautiful of these passages are verses like Psalm 103:8-12:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.”

Jesus came and was known as a friend of sinners: prostitutes, thieves, drunkards, adulterers. The people he broke bread with—remember, the word for breaking bread with in Latin is companion—Jesus’ companions were people who were no worse than any of you. They had all lied, cheated, struggled with sexual addictions, or alcoholism, or had mistreated others. But Jesus noted that his mission was to “seek and to save those who are lost.” His death on the cross was meant as a dramatic act demonstrating humanity’s sin and God’s redemptive mercy.

This is the central focus of the Christian faith—God stands ready to forgive us. He seeks authentic repentance. Baptism and the Eucharist both point to God’s desire to forgive you. And which of us does not need this gift? So I’ll ask our third question, “Have you repented and accepted God’s mercy?” If you have not, today is the perfect day to confess your need, and trust in his mercy.

 

From C. S. Lewis’ writings on forgiveness:

“There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve give it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again.” (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 24-25)

 

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” (Letters of C. S. Lewis, p. 230

 

“If you had a perfect excuse you would not need forgiveness: if the whole of your action needs forgiveness then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, so ‘extenuating circumstances.’ We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable.

…What we have got to take to him is the inexcusable bit, the sin. We are only wasting time by talking about all the parts which can (we think) be excused. When you go to a doctor you show him the bit of you that is wrong—say, a broken arm. It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and eyes and throat are all right. You may be mistaken in thinking so; and anyway, if they are really all right, the doctor will know that….

As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think: as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending carefully to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness beings with the one per cent of guilt which is left over. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (The Weight of Glory, “On Forgiveness” (1947), pp. 122-125)

 

“We must forgive all our enemies or be damned.” (God in the Dock, p. 191)

 

Final application:

This week, identify one person who has hurt you, and has never apologized to you for doing so. In light of this study, begin the process of thinking about what the value would be to you to forgive that person. Make it a matter of prayer, perhaps of deeper study, perhaps of working through the situation in-depth with a counselor or pastor. Choose someone you trust, tell them what you’re struggling with, and ask them to get together with you for regular updates on your process of forgiveness.