At peace

Romans 12:18 NIV

‘Live at peace with everyone’ is overwhelmingly general when it’s taken out of context. However, Paul gives us a lot more advice on how to live that instruction out if we go back to Romans 12. He writes: ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord’ (Romans 12:17-19 NIV). What Paul is encouraging us to do is to take responsibility for our own actions. We can think of peaceful living as an idyllic world where everyone is happy and loving towards each other, but Paul makes it less about the world being lovely in general, and more about our responses. He seems to define living ‘at peace’ as having everything to do with how we respond to actions committed against us. That leads to a really interesting possibility. We can choose to live at peace with those who make life difficult for us, whether they regret their actions or not. That is how peace depends on us, and also how we can avoid the mentality that someone else’s wrongdoing can excuse our own if we’re putting them to rights. Romans 12 shows us that we are called to live to godly standards even when those around us don’t. We’re told ‘not be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:21 NIV). And that is the key to spreading peace. Even when we’re faced with wrong, we can still forgive and live right.

Neh 1-4; Luke 21:12-24; Ps 78:17-31; Prov 23:26-28

Start again

Isaiah 43:18 MSG

However much we try not to, we will all fail at some point in our lives. But that doesn’t need to stop us. Failure can be used to make us stronger, it grows us and prevents us from making the same mistakes again. When we become trapped by our failings and anything else in our past, we limit our future. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we can’t let ourselves move on. If we don’t stop looking backwards, we stop ourselves looking ahead to all that God has for us. But God says: ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land’ (vv.18-19). When we let unforgiveness, bitterness and hurt fill our lives, we become despondent. At one point in Elijah’s life, he got so depressed that he didn’t want to go on. He cried out to God: ‘”I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors”‘ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). Later when he was strengthened by God, he was able to start again with a new mission in life (see verses 15-16 NIV). When we seem to be facing problem after problem, and our past just seems to be made up of mistakes, we can end up saying ‘I have had enough, Lord’ too. But however bad our past has been, however much baggage we are holding on to and however despairing we are about our lives right now, we can start again. God is always doing new things. He forgives us and has plans for us to step into. We just need to forgive ourselves and step into them.

1 Tim 4-6; Luke 9:37-45; Ps 42:1-5; Prov 19:12-14

Bitter or better?

Genesis 50:20 NLT

At seventeen, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. He suffered for many years because of what his brother had done to him. Once he was ruler of Egypt, during the time of the famine, he held the power of life and death over his brothers. And despite what they’d done to him, and the things he’d had to go through, he chose not only to forgive them, but to feed them. He said: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.’ (vv.20-21 NLT). How we treat the people who hurt us is important. Often our natural response is retaliation, anger or bitterness. We can hold on to what that person did to us for years. Everything they do after that is seen through the lens of bitterness and hurt. But God calls us not only to forgive people, but to be generous towards them. Ever heard the phrase ‘hurting people hurt people’? We need to be aware that people’s own situations may lead them to hurt others, and be gracious towards them. And, just like God did for Joseph, He can use the hurt others have caused for good. He can redeem any situation. Whether that’s through growing us, blessing us or using it to advance the kingdom, this redemption means that we can stop holding on to bitterness. Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44 NKJV). Are we willing to do that?

1 Sam 20:30-23:29; Luke 5:12-26; Ps 102:18-28; Prov 17:11-14

It’s not you, it’s me (3)

Philippians 3:13 NIV

Whatever our past may have been, God has a better future in mind for us. But too often, we keep ourselves stuck in the past. We hold onto bitterness, hurt and disappointment. We keep thinking about the things that have happened to us, or the mistakes we’ve made. We prevent ourselves from moving forward into that better future that God has for us. We need to forgive the people who’ve hurt us, forgive ourselves, and let it go. But forgiving others can be a lot easier said than done. We feel that they don’t deserve our forgiveness, or feel that forgiving them somehow excuses what they did to us. But the truth is, forgiveness sets us free. It cuts the emotional tie between us and the people who’ve hurt us. It removes some of the heavy baggage we’re carrying around. God sees and knows what’s happened to us. We can give it all over to Him and find peace and freedom in forgiveness. ‘Forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ’ (Ephesians 4:32 NCV). This includes forgiving ourselves for things we’ve done. We can end up beating ourselves up over things we’ve done, or not done. And God doesn’t want us to live like that. He forgives us, so we need to forgive ourselves. God’s got incredible plans for each of us. The Bible says: ‘God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing’ (Ephesians 2:10 NCV). But stepping forward into those plans requires us to stop stepping back into the past, let go of things that are holding us back and instead strain towards what’s ahead.

Gal 5:22; Luke 19:11-26; Ps 36:5-9; Heb 10:19-23

Stop blaming others and accept responsibility (3)

Philippians 3:13 NKJV

Whatever your past may have been, God has a better future in mind for you. But before you can “reach” for it, you must forgive the people who’ve hurt you, forgive yourself, and let it go. When you do that, you’ll likely experience a wide range of emotions. You may feel anger, thinking life’s unfair and it wasn’t what you wanted. You always envisioned a husband or wife who’d be there to take care of you. You never expected to have to take responsibility for life on your own. You may feel fearful, afraid you won’t be able to do it – and that if you fail you’ll only have yourself to blame. You may feel annoyed that now you have to consider your life in a different light, from a different perspective. You may even feel sad over the way you’ve blamed others in the past, knowing deep down inside that your life wasn’t proceeding the way you wanted because of your own choices and decisions. You may feel ashamed of your past mistakes, unsure if you really can take personal responsibility and move forward. Whatever emotion comes up, good or bad, know that it’s normal when you’re making a significant life change. And however you feel, don’t judge yourself! Acknowledge what you’re feeling; ask yourself if your thoughts are rational or if they’re just old fears talking to you. Then stick to your commitment to stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own life. The word for you today is: “Forgetting those things which are behind…[reach] forward to those things which are ahead.”

Soul food: Gal 5:22; Luke 19:11-26; Ps 36:5-9; Heb 10:19-23