forgive painting

Forgiveness is a lovely thing to witness. Having led more than a few Restoring Your Heart (RYH) groups, I’ve had lots of opportunities to watch the forgiveness process as it unfolds in people’s lives. The following is one such story.

I know we have all experienced forgiveness at one time or another. Maybe by giving it or receiving it ourselves. Or perhaps been a witness to someone else giving it or receiving it. We’ve all learned about it, studied about it and most likely, struggled with it.

One of the most encouraging and unexpected times I saw forgiveness in action was in a RYH group I led many years ago.

Margie was about 45 years old when I met her. She had joined a RYH Processing Pain group that I was leading in a local church.  Margie, myself and five other women met together for two hours each week to go through the RYH Processing Pain workbook and share emotional hurts from the past. The purpose of the group is to better understand our childhood, grieve our hurts and come to a place of forgiveness. It’s a healing process. During the three months of meeting together in a safe environment, the group members generally form a close bond with one another. Margie’s group was no exception.

A little history on Margie. Margie grew up in a strict home. Her parents were cold and stoic, and as we went through the lessons together Margie told us how they frequently called her stupid and ugly when she was a child. She was neither, by the way.

Not surprisingly, Margie married a man who didn’t treat her much better. She was accustomed to being put down and although she didn’t like it, it was “normal” to her. One day, when Margie’s sons were close to high school age, Margie’s husband left her…for another man. And although in many ways Margie was glad he left, the way he did it confirmed everything her parents had told her about who she was, ugly and stupid.

When we started the RYH group, it was clear that Margie had an enormous amount of animosity towards her ex-husband. The lessons in the first half of the workbook are focused on childhood but Margie had a hard time staying with her childhood issues. She wanted to vent about her ex-husband at every session. About a third of the way through the workbook, Margie realized the process was moving towards forgiving those who had hurt us. She became very agitated and announced that there was one person she could never forgive…her ex-husband.

Everyone in the group validated Margie’s feelings, confirmed that she had been mistreated, and comforted her in her hurt and anger.

Fast forward to the end of the workbook, just past the forgiveness part. Margie walked into the group session that night and she looked radiant, seriously glowing. She was happy and excited. She looked like a different person.

“You will never believe what has happened to me!”

Of course, we all wanted to know. Margie looked so beautiful we wanted whatever had happened to her, to happen to us as well.   “What? What?”

“I have forgiven my ex-husband! I don’t know how it happened! I never thought I would forgive him! But I have and I feel SO FREE!! God is so awesome!”

During the process of Margie acknowledging her pain and grieving her losses, she was able, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive. It not only changed the way she felt, it literally changed the way she looked. That night I actually saw the beautiful face of forgiveness.

If Margie’s story has encouraged you or perhaps touched something deep within your own story, and you would like to see and experience the healing power of forgiveness in your life, learn more about the WDA Restoring Your Heart Ministry at  www.RestoringYourHeart.com.

 

Heart of StoneWe often hear about people whose lives hang in the balance because of their damaged hearts. They need a new heart to continue living and cling to life while waiting for a heart donor. All of mankind has a similar condition. Everyone needs a new spiritual heart because the one we have is not open to God or interested in Him.

By God’s grace He offers us a new heart. He sent His very own son, Jesus Christ, as a willing donor. Jesus wants to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, a heart that is responsive to God (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Actually, He wants to do much more than this. He wants to give us salvation, make us a part of His family, bring about our healing, enable our spiritual growth and bring us to heaven.

All of these blessings are possible because Jesus Christ came to this earth and died for our sins on the cross. We deserved to die, but He died in our place. Peter said it very clearly, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (I Peter 3:18).” Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead created the possibility of the redemption of all mankind. Now it is up to us to respond and receive the gracious gift God offers. For those who repent by turning from their sins, turning to Christ and trusting Him for salvation, all that God offers will be theirs. Once a person has received God’s grace and enters into salvation, God begins the process of transforming that person into the likeness of Christ. In doing this, God is restoring His fallen image in man. He is reversing the effects of the Fall.

Man is now made alive spiritually.
Man, who was dead spiritually, is made alive through personal salvation. Paul describes what God has done in his letter to the Ephesians.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-4)

To be alive spiritually means that we are able to relate to God and experience a special relationship with Him as our loving Father. This new relationship with God saves us from His wrath and will last for eternity. God will never tire of us. And we will never tire of Him. This relationship, like any other, grows as we invest time in it. We have not only gained an eternal loving Father, but we have also become part of a whole new family, the family of God. He is the Father, and we who believe are His children (John 1:12).

Man can now choose to do what is right.
Man, who was enslaved to sin before being made alive spiritually, can now choose to do what is right. He did not lose the ability to choose at the Fall. Rather, he came under the negative influences of his sin nature, the world and the continuing deceptions of Satan. These influences confuse his mind so that he regularly chooses wrong and is blinded to his sinful human condition.

Christ has changed all that. We have been enlightened and delivered from enslavement to sin (Romans 6:6). Through our new relationship with Christ, we can now find wisdom and strength to choose to do what is right. God has given us the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to live in us and to empower us to live for Him. The Holy Spirit together with the Bible and the people of God show us truth so we can make good choices in our lives, choices that are right and bring glory to God.

This is not to say that we will always make the right choices or do the right things. We can still choose to do what is wrong. In fact, all our old enemies (our sin nature, the world and Satan) are still trying to deceive us and blind us. We are in a spiritual battle in this world, and our enemies are formidable. But Christ is greater and stronger than they are. As we learn to depend on Him and mature spiritually, we will increasingly overcome these enemies, but this battle is an ongoing one, one that will continue throughout this life.

Man now has confidence before God.
Man, who was shamed when he was spiritually dead, can now have confidence before God. Since the Fall, man has had a problem with sin and the resulting guilt. He is not able to live up to his own standards, and deep in his heart, he knows it. There are many ways he tries to cover his guilt, but they are generally unsuccessful.

Jesus came to take that guilt away. His death was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath against all sins: past, present and future. He removed the barrier of sin that was between God and man, and now, nothing separates the believer from God. Paul put it this way, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

The concept that we are fully and totally forgiven, even when we continue to sin, is a difficult concept to accept. Satan and our consciences continually condemn us and tell us that God certainly cannot love sinners like us. We need to focus on the truth: there is no sin too great to be forgiven, and Jesus has come to cleanse our guilty consciences. Therefore we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. In fact, God tells us to do that very thing. He instructs us to approach Him with confidence in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16) and to pursue Him aggressively.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Man is now made one with other believers.
Man, who was at odds with his fellow man, is now made one with other believers. Needless to say, man’s treatment of his fellow man has generally been less than admirable. As cultures move farther and farther away from Christ they become increasingly ruthless (Romans 1:18-32). There have only been 144 years of recorded history when there hasn’t been some kind of a war going on.

Jesus came to reconcile us not only to God but also to one another. He has leveled the playing field and removed reasons for prejudice by dying for all people. Everyone comes to Him on the same terms; He makes no distinction between races, sexes or any other classes of people. All who come to Him join the same family of God and have equal access to the Father. Christians are a multinational group of people who find their commonality in Christ. The oneness they share implies intimacy, agreement, companionship and teamwork. Christians have shown over and over that they can demonstrate these qualities with other believers no matter what other differences may be present.

Revelation speaks of our common heritage and inheritance in Christ.

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve God, and they will reign on the earth.

Summary
God, through Christ, reverses many of the effects of the Fall. He takes away our spiritual deadness, our slavery to sin, our shame and our hostility toward one another. He replaces them with spiritual aliveness, the ability to choose right, confidence before God and oneness with one another. The reversal of these effects begins at salvation and continues as we grow spiritually. Finally, when Christ returns for His people and sets up His Kingdom, all the effects of the Fall will be removed and replaced with something far better than we can imagine. We have a great hope and a great future!

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on the benefits of being God’s child as you read Ephesians 1:3-10.
• What changes have you seen God make in your relationship with yourself, with God and with others?

 

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Atomic Bomb BlastThe Fall of man was like having an atomic bomb go off near Eden. Adam and Eve survived, but because they were exposed to the radiation, they were greatly deformed and sickened. It was as if they were altered genetically, and all their offspring for all generations would be affected.

All men have been affected by the Fall. They no longer love God and the things of God but have become hostile toward Him. The Bible indicates that as a result of the Fall, all men have received a sin nature. Paul in Romans 8 describes how this fallen nature affects everyone. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires . . . The mind of sinful man is death . . . the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:5-7)

A reasonable question in light of this is, “Has the image of God in man been destroyed?” The answer is no. God’s image was defaced and damaged, but it was not obliterated. The Bible continues to speak of mankind as being in God’s image and admonishes all men to treat others with dignity and respect because everyone still reflects God’s image to some degree (James 3:9, I Corinthians 11:7).

Because of the Fall, all people are lost and unable to respond to God. There is a desperate need to reverse the effects of the Fall. And God, in His graciousness and love, has set in motion all that is needed to gradually reverse these effects through two initiatives.

Reformation
The first initiative we call reformation. Man is in need of a radical change of heart: hostility toward God needs to be changed to love; a sense of alienation from God needs to be changed to a sense of acceptance by Him; a natural inclination away from God needs to be changed to a desire toward Him. But man cannot change himself. He cannot reverse the effects of the fall. There is nothing in this world that can change him. This world says that man can be changed through education or political views or his own will. Though there is some truth in these views, none of these can change or heal a heart that has turned against God.

Only God can change a man’s heart. God brings about a radical inward change when a person repents of his sin and submits to Him. Ezekiel the prophet describes this radical inward change in this way:

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25 27).

Christians usually notice evidence of this change of heart shortly after their conversion. They find new desires within themselves. They want to pray and seek God while in the past they did not have time for God. They seek to be around other believers and have a new desire to understand God’s word and to follow Him. They often have a new inward sense that they are children of God. One of the most surprising things that happened to me when I came to Christ was that I was changed from a totally self-centered person to a person who really cared about other people. I have no explanation for this change except that God invaded my life and changed me. God changed my heart.

Restoration
The second initiative of God toward us we call restoration. Even though He changed our hearts at salvation, He now needs to change our lives by restoring the defaced image of God in us. Paul refers to this in Colossians 3:10 when he says, “you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” This is the process of renewing that begins when we come to know Christ personally, and continues throughout our lives.

We are being restored to Christlikeness. Jesus is the visible expression (image) of the invisible God, so to be made into Christ’s image is to be made into the image of God. This process begins at salvation and goes on throughout our lifetime. Then when we die and go to be with Jesus, God instantly finishes the project. Thus, the effects of the Fall will not be totally reversed in our lifetime, but God will bring to completion that which He has begun in us. (Philippians 1:6)

The restoration process has two parts. The first is growth in our relationship with Christ, which is accomplished as we spend time with God and His people seeking Him, learning about Him and His ways and applying His Word to our lives. The second part of restoration is healing from the damage of sin. We all come into the Christian life damaged by living in a fallen world and by the sinful choices we have made. We have all been hurt in our lives and often have little insight about how to heal from those hurts. Often, the need people have to heal from emotional damage has not been well recognized in the church, but it is clearly part of Christ’s message of hope to us.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-3 (Luke 4:18-19), which refers to the healing aspect of His ministry.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion –to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus came to set us free from the damage that sin has done in our lives. The damage from our past sinful choices and sinful treatment by others may take many forms: addictions, depression, a distorted self-image, relational problems, unhealthy thinking patterns, unresolved emotional problems or many other difficulties These problems have roots in unresolved pain from our past, and to get better a person must process that pain and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. This takes time and help from others who understand the healing process. Notice that healing is a process and does not occur instantly at salvation.

God has set out to transform us. Apart from His work in our lives we would never be able to change. He has to reform us by changing our hearts and then restore us by giving us the strength and direction to become more like Christ. Apart from God’s work in a person’s life there is no hope of a better, more meaningful life.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Isaiah 61:1-4
• Think about and answer these questions:
a. What are areas in my life that need to be restored?
b. How have I seen God begin this process of restoration?

Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

The Fall of Man – Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617)

If man is created in the image of God, why does he struggle with so many problems? Why do people have so much trouble getting along? Why are there so many wars? Why are people so selfish? These and many questions like them betray the fact that there is something wrong with man. Though he started out well, something happened along the way that upset the apple cart, and he has never fully recovered.

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there is a record of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and we learn what happened to man that has caused so many problems. We can only imagine that the garden was a beautiful, lush place filled with all kinds of vegetation and animals. The weather was perfect, and there was plenty to eat. There were also opportunities to explore and learn. Everyone got along well, and God was at their “beck and call”.

God had given them only one restriction. They could eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree in the middle of the garden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9,15-17). God told Adam that if he were to eat from that tree he would die.

In Genesis 3 another character enters the garden—Satan in the form of a talking serpent. His purpose was to try to persuade Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. In a very clever way the serpent called God’s character into question and caused Eve to doubt God’s goodness (Genesis 3:1-6). He convinced Eve to try the fruit, and she, in turn, convinced Adam to join her, and nothing has been the same since.

What happened as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin is often called the Fall of man. He became less than he was created to be. Before the Fall, man desired to know and follow God. Afterward, man’s attitudes were hostile toward God (Romans 8:5-8). This inclination against God is what the Bible calls a sin nature (Galatians 5:19-21). Man’s hostility or his indifference toward God leads to many sinful behaviors. As a result of the Fall, man is thoroughly sinful and unable to make his way back to God. He is lost and can’t save himself. This does not mean that he is as bad as he can possibly be.

All of mankind was impacted by Adam and Eve’s sin. The following are three ways human life was affected by Adam and Eve’s choices.

Physical Death

God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die. They did eat, and although they did not die immediately, they did begin to die. Their physical death had become certain. The only question was how long they would live before they died. And they were not the only ones who would die. Death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12). So through the sin of one man, sin spread to all men, and all men died.

Separation from God

Separation from God is spiritual death. Man’s relationship with God died with the Fall, and he was separated from God, the source of all life. Thus, man would not only die physically but also spiritually, leaving him to wander around aimlessly looking for something that was missing—looking for life from God.

Many people realize there is something missing in their life and are searching for something more or better. But they don’t know what it is. It is God. Even when we do have a relationship with God and life is better, there is still a sense that something is missing. We will never fully experience life and fulfillment until we go to be with Jesus and experience life beyond our imagination. We look forward to that day with a deep yearning. But it begins with finding life now through a relationship with the living God.

Physical life moves from life to death, but spiritual life moves from death to life (John 5:24). We were all born dead spiritually and only find life through Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again (John 3:3). All men are born dead spiritually, and their need is to come to life by becoming alive to God.

Changed Relationships

The Fall changed man’s relationships in many ways. It changed his relationship with himself, other people and even with nature. We are told that before the Fall the man and the woman were naked but not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). But immediately after the Fall, they realized they were naked and were ashamed (Genesis 3:7). Shame altered man’s relationship with himself. All of us now struggle, to some degree, with self-worth because of our sin. One of our greatest needs is to regain a sense of our value and worth.

Sin also damaged man’s relationship with other people. Immediately after the Fall, Adam and Eve’s relationship with one another took a turn for the worse. Adam blamed Eve and God for his sin, and Eve blamed Satan (Genesis 3:8-13). There was fear, shame and blame but no remorse or repentance. Relationships began to suffer. It was not long after the Fall that Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). And not long after that, God was sorry He had even created man. He sent a flood to destroy man but preserved the human race because of one righteous man and his family, Noah (Genesis 6:5-8).

Even man’s relationship with nature was affected by the Fall. The world itself was altered. Originally the earth produced all kinds of fruit. After the Fall, fruit production was more difficult. God cursed the ground and caused thorns and thistles to grow to crowd out the crops man needed to live. Man would have to work hard to survive in this new world (Genesis 3:17-19). All of creation, we are told in Scripture, was subjected to frustration through the Fall and awaits its liberation from decay that will occur when God’s children are liberated (Romans 8:19-21).

The Fall of man was like a tragic train wreck. It left mankind and this world battered and in twisted disarray. A train wreck can be cleaned up and cleared away. Man’s condition and the condition of this world will not be fixed completely until Christ returns to make everything right. When a person comes into a personal relationship with Christ, Christ begins the process of restoration that will continue throughout the person’s whole life. But the restoration will not be completed in this lifetime, and so we look forward to Christ’s return and the completion of the good work He has begun in us.

The Fall of man and its terrible consequences are not a pretty story. But it does help us make some sense out of this world and explains why there is so much pain and suffering. It also helps us to develop realistic expectations in an imperfect world.

Application Suggestions

• As you think about your life over the past few weeks, how has sin hindered your relationship with God?

• Read and meditate on Genesis 1-3.

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broken picture with restored picture

Two things in life that I find really interesting are WORDS and FEELINGS.

I love the way words can be put together in endless patterns and sequences out of our imagination to do all sorts of things. Tell a story, convey information, give instruction or evoke a feeling. Our own creativity determines how we will put words together, never the same way, never like anyone else.

I love that feelings are frequently a mystery and can be so hard to understand and identify. Sometimes appearing when we least expect them or sometimes being ushered in early in anticipation of a certain situation. There are so many words to describe feelings and yet sometimes we are unable to name a feeling when we feel it.

And then there are words, standing alone, that just by our knowledge and experience of them, can arouse feelings in us.

For me, the word RESTORATION is one of those words. When I hear “restoration”, I feel positive and secure, maybe even safe. Restoration is a good word. It even is fun to say. Repeat it out loud a couple of times and see if it doesn’t feel good just rolling off your tongue.

Restoration means to be brought back to a former or original condition, to be brought back to a state of health, soundness or vigor. With a definition like that, it is no wonder it feels so good to say it….rest – or – ation!

In this Pocket Principle, we learn about how restoration occurs in us spiritually. And since all our parts interact when we experience spiritual restoration, we also get restored mentally, emotionally and even physically. Read on to learn what God had in mind when he gave us the Gift of Restoration. Hopefully, this will cause you to feel positive, secure and safe.

Understanding People – Restoration through Christ

 

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