Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"But I Can't Forgive Myself"

I often hear people say, “I have received God’s forgiveness, but I just can’t forgive myself.” There is a lot of pain behind a statement like that. This usually indicates the person has done something so bad that he/she continues to feel deep shame for it. In addition, some feel the need to punish themselves for their past sin by continuing to feel bad about it.

But is it biblical to forgive self? I don’t want to in any way be insensitive to the pain one who going through that makes such a statement, but there is no biblical support for forgiving self.

The real issue is, “Have we truly accepted God’s forgiveness?” If we have accepted God’s forgiveness, then there is no need to forgive self, because if God declares something forgiven and cleansed, then that is all that matters.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Acts 10:15

If you say, “I have received God’s forgiveness, but I can’t forgive myself”, then you are putting yourself above God and this is a subtle form of pride. If you say, “I can’t forgive myself,” you are saying your assessment of your sin and forgiveness is more important than God’s.

Furthermore, if you are trying to punish yourself for your past as some form of penance, you need to understand that Jesus bore the punishment of God for your sin, and His punishment is enough. He was punished for your sin, so that you would not have to be punished.

It is an offense to the cross to not forgive yourself for a sin Jesus died to pay for!

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isa. 53:5

Take this to heart: nowhere are we told to forgive self. The issue is accepting God’s forgiveness. It is what He says about our sin that matters, not what I say about my sin. If God declares it forgiven, then case closed!!!

The solution for our sin is the blood of Jesus. Jesus shed His blood so that we could be completely forgiven. Therefore, bring your sin to the cross and leave it there. To pick it back up is an insult to the sacrifice of Jesus!

Meditate on these truths, and allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of righteousness (e.g. that you are forgiven and stand in the righteous in Christ):

“God made Him who knew no sin, to become sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21

“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 Jn. 1:9

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Jas. 2:13

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Ps. 103:12

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isa. 43:25

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isa. 1:18

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Hebr. 8:12

“Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebr. 10:14

“Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebr. 10:17

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebr. 10:22

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 Jn. 2:1-2

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Anger and Men

Anger is a common struggle for men. This is because God has hard-wired men to be aggressive, fight for causes, and lead. When something gets in the way of a man, he is susceptible to anger. This can be good or bad.

With Jesus, anger was good, but with us, it is often not good.

God’s Word says, “be angry but sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). How do we do this? Ephesians 4:26 is quoting Psalm 4:4. However, Paul is only quoting part of Psalm 4:4. The rest of Psalm 4:4 gives the secret to being angry but not sinning: “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). I believe this teaches that the best thing you can do when you are angry is remove yourself from the situation (so you don’t do something stupid!), get alone (on your beds), and allow the Lord to search your heart (ponder in your own hearts).

In allowing the Spirit to search your heart, ask this crucial question, “Lord, show me the goal that is being blocked.” Anger is due to a blocked goal. Often our goal is selfish and needs to be yielded to the Lord. 99% of anger is because we are not getting our way. We must be willing to surrender this to God. God uses anger to surface our selfishness and pride, so that we will allow Him to change that area of our life.

Now, anger can be righteous. In this case the goal being blocked is a righteous goal, and God may be using our anger to move is to godly action. When Jesus was angry in the Temple (Mark 11:15), it was because His goal of seeing the Temple used for worship was being blocked. He expressed his anger by overturning tables. Had He expressed His anger by hitting people, then He would have sinned. But He did not.

If we are angry because a righteous goal is being blocked, then we need to be very careful that we seek the Lord about how to respond to that anger. Those who expressed their anger toward sin and injustice in a godly way have done much good for the kingdom of God over the years.

So, to summarize: anger is due to a blocked goal. If the goal is ungodly, then it needs to change. If the goal is godly, then we must not sin in our strategy to meet the goal.

The bottom line is that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us control our anger. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Ask the Lord’s Spirit to so empower you, that you see changes in your life that are unexplainable apart from God!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Believing is one thing ... Doing is another

I got saved my senior year in high school and was immediately discipled by a more mature Christian. What a privilege! Oh, how he helped me grow in the Lord. Then I went to college and was discipled by various men for all four years. What a privilege! Oh, how they helped me grow in the Lord.

Part of my discipleship included reading the book “Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman. What a privilege! Oh, how that book made me believe in discipleship.

When I became the senior pastor of a church in 1990, I immediately selected four men to disciple. We met regularly, and I sought to pour my life into these hungry and teachable men. What a privilege! Oh, how I helped them grow in the Lord. And oh, how they helped me grow in the Lord.

After about two years, I was benefiting as much as they were from our discipleship meetings. So, we kept meeting for 17 years as an “Iron Man” group (“as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” – Proverbs 27:17) instead of as an intentional “discipleship group.” There is definitely value in both kinds of groups. However, I got away from intentionally discipling men.

Two years ago God used Ken Adams to reveal to me that I certainly believed in discipleship but was not doing it. I made a serious commitment to get back to doing discipleship. Here is the commitment I made: Lord willing, every year for the rest of my life I will disciple a different group of men. Their commitment to be in my group will be the same: Lord willing, every year for the rest of their life they will disciple a different group of men. And so forth and so on.

I have done this now for two years, and the fruit has been amazing. These men are growing, and some are now discipling others. I plan to have a reunion every five years of all the men affected by this commitment to truly DO discipleship, and not just say I believe in discipleship!

“And the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Important Lessons from 25 Years of Pastoring

Recently I was asked to speak to a church staff of about 30 on the most important lessons I have learned in 25 years of pastoring. Here are some of my notes from that talk:

1. The best thing you can give your church is a spiritually-alive pastor; therefore, do whatever it takes to stay spiritually healthy.

It is our job to keep our walk with God strong and vibrant. The best example we have is our love relationship with Jesus. We have the privilege of getting paid to seek the Lord. We must take advantage of this opportunity, and do everything we can to grow in the Lord. If you find yourself spiritually dry, and need some time away to seek the Lord, do it! There is nothing more important you can do for yourself and your church than keeping your walk with God strong. This also insures that your ministry be an overflow of your relationship with God.

2. Be aware of your fatal flaw, and make sure it doesn’t get the best of you.

We all have at least one area of vulnerability or “besetting sin” (Hebr. 12:1) in our life. Like with Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12), the Lord may not completely remove it, but use it to keep us dependent on Him. However, if we blow it, this area could cost us our ministry. Don’t let this happen. Too many lives are at stake.

3. Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
Too many pastors have served the church at the expense of their family. We have a lot of flexibility with our schedules, and can actually use this flexibility in a way that benefits our family. Be at your child’s soccer game in the middle of the day; schedule a getaway during the week; and do breakfast or lunch dates with your kids when other dads are at work. My biggest fear (and I hope it stays my biggest fear) is that I would be successful in ministry but a failure at home.

4. Get your identity from who you are in Christ and not from your ministry performance or title.
If you are joyful only when the church is going well, and down when the church is doing poorly, it might indicate your identity is too wrapped up in your job. We must know who we are in Christ. This security and significance in Christ cannot be taken away and is not dependent on our ministry performance.

5. Minister as a team; it’s biblical, easier and more fun.

A pastor is to equip the saints for works of service (Eph. 4). This means he is not to do all the ministry himself. He is to train others to do ministry. He is to delegate and give away the ministry. In addition, he is to minister alongside others. We need others around us. It is dangerous to do ministry alone. God designed the body where every member is equally important. When you minister with a team you enjoy, it is so much fun.

Tips for Teams:
a. Value every member.
b. Affirm each other.
c. Know your role and don’t try to do others’ role.
d. Submit to authority and trust God to change them.
e. Speak the truth in love.
f. Defend one another.
g. Be clear on the vision and support it.
h. Don’t talk about others behind their back.
i. Believe the best in others and give them the benefit of the doubt.

6. The Word and the Spirit is the double barrel shotgun of ministry.
We need the Word for truth and the Spirit for power. The Word without the Spirit equals “dry up”; the Spirit without the Word equals “blow up”; but the Word with the Spirit equals “grow up”! “I came not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with the demonstrate of the Spirit and power, that man’s faith might not rest in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

7. Don’t forget who the real enemy is.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:10). Our enemy is not the deacon board, our spouse, nor our chief credit. Our real enemy is Satan, and he can be defeated as we submit to God, resist the Devil, and stand firm in the faith (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pe. 5:8).

8. The church is still the hope of the world, and Jesus is still her Head.
The church is the hands and feet of Jesus. His body is His method of accomplishing His will. Because Jesus is so committed to His kingdom and His Bride (i.e. church), we can be confident that He will continue to change lives and build His church. Never forget that Jesus is more concerned about the welfare of His church than we are. Remembering that Jesus is the Head of the church (and not me) helps me to sleep well at night.

9. Discipleship is one of the most eternal investments we can make.

Jesus gave his primary ministry effort to just 12 men! If His top priority was discipling a small group of men, should ours be any different? I made a commitment two years ago to disciple a small group of men every year for the rest of my life. For men to be in my discipleship group, I require them to make this same commitment. “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful me, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

10. God’s power can change anyone.
One of the greatest joys in ministry is seeing lives changed. We all know this is accomplished only by the power of the Holy Spirit! Recently I witnessed the former faculty advisor for the atheist club at the University of Georgia get saved! If ever I doubt God’s ability to change someone (or something in my life), I will think of how this man has been changed by the power of God!

I consider pastoring one of the greatest privileges in the world. For more on this, see my book “Pastoring With Passion” (ChurchSmart publishing). Feel free to email me at davidholt08@gmail.com