That Stinking Sin

by Dena Dyer @denajdyer

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.                                  Romans 3:23-24 NIV

“What is that horrible smell?” my husband asked me after climbing into the front seat of my car.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve looked under the seats but there’s nothing there. Maybe something spilled?”

A day later, the smell was even worse. Desperate to find the cause, we got our brightest flashlight and looked under the hood (thinking maybe a mouse had crawled up in the engine and died). We even searched the side pockets on the car’s doors to see if some bit of food had gotten trapped.

Finally, I looked in a box of clothes I had been planning to take to Goodwill, which had been behind my back seats for a couple of weeks. And I found a small grocery sack with—wait for it—a two-week old tube of ground turkey. It had expanded and looked ready to explode. Holding my nose, I put the gaseous tube, along with the donation box in a big garbage bag and deposited into our outdoor trash can.

The next morning, as I drove to work, God nudged me. That’s like sin, He pointed out. Even small sins can become a big problem over time. At first, our sin may seem like no big deal. But over time, it poisons more of the areas and relationships in our lives, until nothing remains unaffected.

I remember when bitterness over a friend who betrayed me turned sour, affecting my ability to trust in others and risk friendships. It stank up my words and thoughts, until my husband noticed and called me out. I had felt justified in my emotions and reaction, and so I had allowed myself to become blind to its insidious, creeping nature.

But here’s the good news: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 NIV).

I did confess my bitterness and anger to the Lord. I rejoiced that Jesus paid for that sin, and that it would not stand between the Lord and I. But the Lord did more than forgive. Over time and with His help, I forgave the person who had hurt me, releasing her to God, and I felt the freedom to pray for her and (gasp!) even wish her well.

In the illustration above, the Holy Spirit is like the flashlight, helping us search out sin and convicting us of its presence so we can confess. God has already removed our sin by the blood of Jesus. We are clean and wear His righteousness. In His grace, he has set us free.

Today, ask God what sins–big or small–are “hiding” in your own life. Then confess the wrongdoing and thank God for His forgiveness and mercy.

This blog is excerpted from Dena’s book, Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms, which is available as an e-book from online retailers. 

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dena headshotAbout the author: Dena Dyer is an award-winning author, speaker, and non-profit leader. She loves encouraging hurting, harried women with humor and hope. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook, or at her website.

Dena’s book, Grace for the Race,  uses real-life stories, Scripture, and gentle humor to soothe the souls of frazzled females. By being honest and vulnerable about the ways God has shown Himself to her as she’s struggled with motherhood, Dena hopes to help moms realize that they’re not alone, and they’re not crazy!

Join the conversation: Have you nursed bitterness in your heart? How did God set you free?

Deck the Soul with Boughs of Forgiveness

by Dr. MaryAnn Diorio @DrMaryAnnDiorio

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will…give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins…”   Luke 1:76-77 NASB       

CHRISTMAS!  The word evokes many feelings, depending on our experiences. For some, Christmas is a happy time, filled with beautiful memories and joyful expectations. For others, Christmas is a depressing time, a season one wants “to get over with” as quickly as possible because of bad memories associated with this time of year.

Having ministered to people for many years, I have come to the conclusion that depressing memories at Christmas time are most often related to problems of refusing to forgive. Hurts from the past become more pronounced during the Christmas season, but the reason those hurts still affect us is that we have not let go of the bitterness associated with them. In short, we have not forgiven the people who have hurt us.

Why do most people have such a difficult time forgiving? I believe the main reason is that they do not understand what forgiveness really means. So, what is true forgiveness?

LET’S LOOK FIRST AT WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT:

  • Forgiveness is NOT letting someone off the hook.
  • Forgiveness is NOT condoning evil.
  • Forgiven is NOT being a doormat.
  • Forgiveness is NOT having to trust again the person who hurt us.
  • Forgiveness is NOT a feeling.
  • Forgiveness is NOT an option.

NOW LET’S LOOK AT WHAT FORGIVENESS IS:

  • Forgiveness IS taking the person who hurt us off of our hook and placing him on God’s hook, then praying that God will have mercy on him.
  • Forgiveness IS acknowledging that evil was done but choosing to bear the consequences of that evil without retaliation.
  • Forgiveness IS taking charge of our emotions.
  • Forgiveness IS setting boundaries with the person who hurt us, even refusing temporary or permanent interaction with that person, if necessary.  An example would be a wife who is being beaten by her husband.
  • Forgiveness IS a decision.
  • Forgiveness IS obedience to God’s commandment to forgive.

No matter how badly we have been hurt, we must choose to forgive. It’s the best thing we can do for our own well-being. Refusing to forgive is unhealthy for us. It chains us emotionally to the person who hurt us. Forgiveness breaks that chain and sets us free.

What better time is there than the Christmas season to forgive those who have hurt us? Paul wrote the Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 NASB). The very essence of Christmas is the truth that God forgave humanity through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Who are we not to forgive when God has forgiven us?

So this Christmas, let’s forgive! But not just forgive. Let’s ask those whom you have wronged to forgive you. As the Word of God tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late for the healing forgiveness brings.

May we all forge happy memories this Christmas as the power of forgiveness sets us free!

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Marianne DiorioAbout the author: Dr. MaryAnn Diorio loves God, people, children, and dogs, in that order. She is passionate about story and its power to transform the human heart. Dr. MaryAnn, as she is affectionately called, writes compelling fiction that deals with the deepest issues of the human heart. She and her husband Dominic are the blessed parents of two wonderful daughters, a fantastic son-in-law, and five precious, rambunctious A Christmas Homecoming (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by [Diorio, MaryAnn]grandchildren. Find out more about MaryAnn at http://maryanndiorio.com/.

For a heartwarming, compelling story on the power of forgiveness, you may wish to read MaryAnn’s popular novella titled A Christmas Homecoming,  available in electronic format for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad.  To view the beautiful book trailer, click here.

Join the conversation: When has forgiveness set you free?

 

Time with the Master Gardener

by Elaine Helms

We had dinner in the new home of my cousin when she moved back to town. It was a lovely evening, during the course of which she showed us around her intriguing courtyard garden. Both of us were drawn to the excellent job she had done with laying stone for sitting areas and paths. My thoughts started whirling as I considered a favorite private spot in our own backyard, where we had a lone cement bench.

It wasn’t long after that visit that we headed to home improvement stores to shop for our own artistic masterpiece.  My recently retired husband happily engaged in our new project, and we spent many weekend hours digging, leveling, dreaming, and laying stone. We planted flowering shrubs along the curvy path, then blooming plants in pots next to and behind the bench. It all created just the right vibe fit for a secret garden.

We were so excited and thought how much it looked like something at many flower shows we had attended. What a delight to sit on the bench and savor the beauty, and to be inspired to worship our Creator who created everything for our enjoyment.

Eventually, a few rainy days kept us inside. When I finally walked back out to look at it, to my horror thousands of little green weeds had sprouted, filling part of the mulched path and in between plants. I marveled at how quickly my spotless, manicured garden had changed into a plot in need of a gardener on her knees.

Three parallels to my walk with our Lord suddenly struck me as I began to pull weeds.

First, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly a voracious weed can appear seemingly out of nowhere and spoil a beautiful scene. Just like when surprising negative thoughts suddenly appear without warning. Like those pesky weeds, when allowed to linger and be nurtured, those thoughts could develop into full-fledged sin. As my garden needs faithful attention, so do my thoughts and walk with my Lord.

A little time with Jesus, the Master Gardener, allows Him to point out those weeds in my heart. Selfish ambition, pride, arrogance, and hurt feelings allowed to fester can be detrimental to my spiritual growth; but I can confess and turn from them, and know I am forgiven. “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NASB).

Second, the healthiest, most productive plants are those that have been fertilized and get the appropriate amount of sun. In the same way, yielding to the Spirit and knowing God in ever-deepening ways are fertilizer, water, and sunshine to a healthy and productive heart. As Paul wrote: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23 NASB).

Third, the kind of flowers, fruit, or vegetables produced in my garden totally depend on the kind of seeds that were planted. This reminded me to take care in what I plant in my heart—Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34b NASB).

I feel close to God when I visit with Him in the garden; but even closer when I yield my heart to His Master Gardener’s touch.

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Time with the Master Gardener – insight from Eliane Helms on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Elaine HelmAbout the author: With her passion for God, humor, vulnerability, and spiritual strength, Elaine Helms encourages audiences and readers to draw closer to God and live the abundant life Jesus came to give His followers. Prayer Coordinator for the Southern Baptist Convention for 10 years, and Prayer Coordinator for My Hope America with Billy Graham 2012-2013, Elaine has over 28 years of experience in church, national, and interdenominational prayer leadership. www.ChurchPrayerMinistries.org

God is at work all around us, doing things that only He can do.  Prayer is His plan for accomplishing His Purposes, and He invites you to join Him.  Prayer 101, What Every Intercessor Needs to Know, is a comprehensive guidebook for discovering how to pray as God intends. You’ll journey through Scripture, find inspiration in the stories of others, and learn simple and effective principles for prayer. An ideal resource for groups, Prayer 101 includes review questions for each chapter and a prayer ministry guide for churches eager to put prayer into action.

Join the conversation: How has the Master Gardener been at work in you lately?

From Bitterness to Beauty

by Ashley Lauren McClain

I recently saw a quote going around social media. “God doesn’t always change our circumstances. He sometimes changes us.”

Have you ever prayed for something with such confidence that you just knew God would do it…that it was just a matter of time before He came through and answered your prayer? I have.

My husband and I had recently walked together through a really hard season at our church. I was ready to go, and he was determined to stay. Month after month I woke with the same prayer first thing on my mind.  “God, change his heart to go, or give me peace to stay.”

Of course, I was fully confident that the Lord was going to change my husband’s heart and waited with full anticipation for Him to do so. But He didn’t. He changed my heart instead. He did that by showing me that I had allowed unresolved conflict to become bitterness.

As the writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers to live lives in holiness and peace, he also warned them of things NOT to do. Living with a root of bitterness was on this list. “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15 NLT).

If you have ever lived with a root of bitterness in your life, you know that poisonous is the perfect word to describe what it does to us. My hatefulness had affected every aspect of my life, just as literal poison spreads in the body. There was no peace… in any situation. And worse, I had allowed my anger to spread to others, causing corruption in them as well.

For a long time I felt totally justified, until the Lord began to reveal the extent of my issue. As He did, He proceeded to change me, unexpectedly softening my heart towards the situation. His grace and mercy completely amazed and overwhelmed me. Had I preemptively run away from the situation, I would never have experienced His healing power. I would have missed Him taking me from bitterness to beauty and freedom that ONLY the Lord could have done. Trust me. I was very determined I would not change my mind.

There is no way to even begin to explain the beauty that is on the other side of bitterness if we are just willing to walk through the process with the Lord.

He is so kind to not let us stay there, because He has so much more for us. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that this is not easy, but I will also be the first to raise both of my hands and say “Thank you Jesus for not letting me stay in camp bitterness. Thank you for loving me so much that you didn’t answer my prayer the way that I wanted you to. Thank you for wanting so much more for me than I could ever have imagined for myself. Thank you for being so good.”

I don’t know where you may find yourself today. But I do know if you find yourself in camp bitterness where I was living, the very best thing you can do is to give that burden to the Lord.

I encourage you to let Him change your heart, to willingly walk through that process with Him.

Let Him free your heart and show you what unspeakable beauty, freedom, and joy that is waiting for you. He wants so much more for us. Sometimes we just have to be willing to let Him change us, as hard and as humbling as that may be. It is so very worth it.

 “…giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3 NASB

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Ashley McClainAbout the author: Ashley McClain is a girl with big dreams and a blog to encourage women in their journey through this life we have been given by the greatest Gift Giver there is! She loves to read, write, drink coffee, and spend time with the hubby & puppies! Connect with Ashley on her website ashleymcclain.org. She would love to hear about your journey too!

Join the conversation: Has God ever healed you from the root of bitterness? Please share!

Breaking Free

by Doris Hoover

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.  Psalm 118:5 NIV

Specks of color flutter across my field of vision, flitting from flower to flower, to tree and back. I glimpse masterful designs painted on tiny wings – mosaics, stripes, and polka dots. Beautiful winged creatures sail in the breeze, free and unfettered.

In contrast, their earthbound larvae creep along the ground or on tree trunks, caterpillars awaiting the day they’ll morph into spectacular butterflies. Caterpillars and butterflies may be the same creatures, but they live two very different lives.

I wonder if God created caterpillars to demonstrate the power he has to change lives. Metamorphosis isn’t just for butterflies — it’s for people, too. Through God’s power, we can be released from the bonds that keep us earthbound, the fleshly attitudes which impede our ability to fly.

The Lord can change the lives of broken, defeated people, those chained to addictions or childhood traumas, those shackled with the weight of bitter memories. Minds encased with wrong thinking can crack open like a cocoon, freeing us to think and live in a new way.

When circumstances knocked me to the ground, I wasted years groveling in the debris of bitterness, unable to rise above the resentment that kept me in the muck. “I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me” (Psalm 118:13 NIV). Jesus showed me how to rise above the sinful attitudes that kept me earthbound. He showed me the way of forgiveness.

It wasn’t easy to change the way my mind thought or the way my heart felt. The change could only happen through His Holy Spirit in me. The Lord opened my eyes to see that I was living a caterpillar life by crawling in the dirt of resentment. He showed me the truth about bitterness, that holding on to bitterness will keep me from fully living out God’s abundant grace for me (Hebrews 12:15). Through my bitter attitude, I was willingly shackling myself to the earth.

The Lord brought me to a point where I had to make a decision. I could continue to be miserable and creep in the dirt of resentment, or I could release my bitter memories and forgive the one who hurt me.

Just as a butterfly has to fight its way out of a cocoon, I had to fight my way out of bitterness. It took much prayer, confession, and repentance before my heart changed. It took God’s power working in me. “The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118:16 NIV) When I chose to forgive, my cocoon cracked open and now could fly above my resentments. I was free!

The Lord wants each of us to fly. He didn’t create us to crawl through life, miserably dragged down by weights we don’t need to carry. We’re meant to live as butterflies, to be creatures of beauty, offering loveliness to the world.

We can leave our caterpillar existence. The Lord sees our hurts and wants us to break free from the bonds of our wrong thinking. He has power to heal the most aggrieved heart. By teaching us how to forgive, He shows us how to rise above what plagues us.

God envelopes us with his Spirit, encasing us in his power as he works in our hearts. The moment we choose forgiveness over bitterness, the Lord molds us into something new and beautiful. We break free from our cocoons as changed individuals with beautifully painted wings. Then He releases us from the palm of his hand, and we soar.

Thank you, Jesus, for the miracle of forgiveness that sets us free.

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Breaking Free – insight from Doris Hoover on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

doris HooverAbout the author: Doris Hoover lives in Florida, but she also spends time along the coast of Maine. Her passion is discovering God’s messages in nature and sharing them with others. You can visit Doris at captivatedbythecreator.com. 

Doris’ book, Quiet Moments in The Villages, A Treasure Hunt Devotional invites you to step outside to discover the treasures God places around you. She leads you to beautiful places in her home town. Her poetic descriptions and beautiful photography draw you into moments that will stir your heart.

Join the conversation: Have you struggled to forgive a hurt from the past? How did the Lord enable you to forgive? Please share your story!

What Are We Really Forgiving?

by Ava Pennington

What’s one of the most common reasons we give for not forgiving others? If you’re like me, you might say forgiveness implies approval or tolerance of the behavior. We read about forgiveness, talk about it, and teach it. Yet for most of us, forgiving others is one of the most difficult things God asks us to do.

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me that one reason we may find it difficult to forgive is because we misunderstand what it is that we’re forgiving.

What if I told you we are not forgiving the sin?

King David wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).

Even the Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood that God alone can forgive sin. That’s why they pitched a fit when Jesus forgave the paralytic. In Luke 5:18-25 (ESV), we read:

Behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed…but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Yes, only God can forgive the actual sin. And since Jesus is God, He demonstrated that He also has the authority to forgive sin.

Perhaps that’s one reason we struggle with forgiveness. We’re trying—and failing—to forgive something we don’t have the right to forgive. We justify our failure to forgive by saying we don’t want to communicate tolerance for the sin. Or that it’s not right for the other person to “get away with” what they’ve done.

So if we’re not forgiving the sin, then what are we forgiving?

Consider that we’re forgiving the offense. The offense against our rights. Against our values. Against our family. Against whatever it is that we hold dear.

By forgiving the offender, I’m saying my rights are less important than freedom from bitterness and resentment. I’m saying my job is not to forgive the actual sin, but the offense against me. The offense that has trespassed my rights.

Could it be that the act of forgiveness is the ultimate act of admitting that I’m not God? That in giving up my right to be angry and resentful, I’m submitting to the authority God has to forgive sins?

Could it be that when we forgive others, we’re expressing our awareness that we’re in desperate need of the same forgiveness? Because, let’s face it, it’s just about impossible to go through life without giving offense, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Sooner or later, we’ll need others to forgive our offenses against them.

Even so, forgiveness is not something we can even begin to do in our own strength. We need the prompting of the Holy Spirit to motivate us to surrender our rights (Galatians 2:20). And we need the power of the Holy Spirit to humble ourselves to actually forgive (John 14:15-17). Finally, we need the Holy Spirit’s comfort to know that God is a just judge (Genesis 18:25), and we can trust that He will make all things right in the end.

There’s a freedom in forgiving others. Freedom in knowing God is God and we are not. Most of all, freedom in offering what we, ourselves, need.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 NIV

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: Have you ever struggled to forgive?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The Trouble With Snakes

by Sheri Schofield

It was time to sell the house. The market was moving quickly and my husband felt we could make a good profit if we got in on the boom. We lived in a quiet neighborhood next to a wetland full of wild iris, willows, a seasonal pond, and lots of wildlife in Washington State. It was an ideal place to raise our two children.

Drew, a lively third grader, was always catching little creatures in the swamp. One afternoon he came racing into the house with a bucket. “Mom! Mom! Look what I’ve caught!”

I peered over the rim to see four black water snakes. “Can I keep them?” Drew begged.

“NO!” I said quickly. “They will escape!”

My husband Tim said, “No they won’t, Sheri. I’ll make sure they can’t get out of the terrarium.”

I did not argue with him, but I just knew we would regret this.

A couple of days later, the doorbell rang. It was a middle age, plump lady who was a prospective buyer. I smiled and ushered her into the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. As we turned to go down the hallway, I noticed an escapee from Drew’s room coming our way.

“What’s THAT?” the lady screeched.

Trying to be soothing, I said, “Oh, it’s just a little ….”

“SNAKE!” she shrieked, jumping three feet straight up. She landed with a loud crash then pivoted and raced out of the house, pounded down the sidewalk, and squeezed herself into her tiny VW Beetle.

“But it’s a very nice house!” I called after her hopefully.

She gunned the engine and raced off in a cloud of dust.

We didn’t sell the house that spring. About a month after we removed it from the market, Drew and Christy, our youngest, caught two-dozen black snakes from the wetland. Together, they brought them to the back door, beaming at their catch.

“NO!” I said. “Get rid of them!” This time there was no argument from Tim.

A few minutes later, I heard a shriek from my next-door neighbor, Val. Dashing out the back door, I looked over to see if she was okay. I saw Val waving her hands around frantically, her two kids each holding up two black, wiggly snakes for her to see. I quietly went back inside and closed the door. When another neighbor screamed, I just shook my head. No need to wonder about the reason for the scream. Her kids played with mine, too. I didn’t answer the phone when it rang, either.

It’s so easy to allow little things into our lives that displease our Father. We may think they are harmless, like those water snakes. But they are bound to show up at the most inconvenient moments! If I hold onto anger or resentment, it is going to become evident. It will eventually grow into something that will hurt those around me, even those I love the most. For anger and resentment turn into bitterness, and bitterness poisons not only me, but others as well.

I’ve found that the best way to keep those seemingly little sins out of my heart is to deal with them on the spot, refuse to let them into my soul, and close my thoughts against them. I must not hold onto feeling self-righteous or wounded, or those feelings will come crawling out into the open around others.

Lord, let me treasure only those thoughts that find their origin in You, not in the serpent of Eden!

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things …. and the God of all peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8 & 9, NIV

sheri schofieldAbout the author: Children’s ministry veteran Sheri Schofield was unexpectedly called on to save her husband’s life, a battle that took her to the Pentagon, Congress, National Security and the President of the United States. At her website, www.SheriSchofield.com, she shares this journey in her book One Step Ahead of the Devil. Sheri’s new book, The Prince And The Plan, launched on June 1. It is designed to help parents lead their children into a saving relationship with Jesus.

Join the conversation: How do you guard against harboring anger or bitterness?