Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mathematics of Christmas: Jesus = Love + Forgiveness + Life + Peace

God came to earth as a Baby, and Satan attacked quickly through the wicked King Herod, who sent soldiers to Bethlehem to murder all little boys who were two years old and younger. Satan was hoping to destroy his Enemy. He murdered all of those sweet babies, but he did not stop Jesus from doing what He came to do. Jesus came to glorify the Father as He reconciled sinners to God, and He accomplished His purpose.

The Advent of Christ was a beautiful, holy thing. From the moment He was laid in that manger, His eye was focused on the cross, but between the times Jesus made contact with those two wooden structures, Satan attacked again and again and again, sometimes face to face, sometimes through people who unwittingly (or not) did his bidding. He thought he had won once and for all when the Lord of heaven and earth was nailed to that cross, when He gave up His spirit, but he had not. Satan was defeated on that cross, as was death.

First Peter 5:8 tells us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Believers, Satan is our enemy. We must ever walk with care, making sure that we do not stray onto his feeding grounds.

God so loved us that He gave His precious Son, and with His Son came forgiveness and life and peace. The Baby in the manger came to die on a cross so that we might be forgiven and in turn, forgive others. Jesus already did the math for us: love, forgiveness, and peace are words that should rule our relationships and our lives. We need to praise our Lord for His grace to us, pray for wisdom and strength as we take our sustenance from His Word, search for ways to please and serve Him, and always seek peace with one another, as we love one another from the heart.

"Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:22–23).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful on the twenty-sixth of November

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I am thankful for my brother and sister. There are too many miles between us these days. It is hard when close family members decide to move away. Very hard.

But sometimes (like tonight on Facebook), our day somehow brings us to a place where we get to interact. All three of us at once. Tonight it was playful banter that reminded me of when we were young. You know, back when we laughed, teased, yelled at, and smacked one another? Yeah. Those were great days. Sibling rivalry aside, I really miss them being close enough to hug. (The dog’s name was Prince. He wasn’t one, but we loved him anyway.) The only one missing tonight was mom, but she wasn’t online at the time. :)

We started out as a family with four children, but our oldest sister passed away suddenly eighteen years ago. We all miss her very much. She was a sweet lady with a ready smile and a contagious laugh.

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I am grateful for the abundant blessings my Lord has graced me with.

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may exult in You. For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:11–12).

My prayers for my family are never as eloquent as Paul’s were for the believers of his day, but it is also my desire that the Lord would increase the faith of those that I love, drawing them into a deeper understanding of the love of Christ.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:14–21).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful on the twenty-fourth of November

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I am thankful for the increasing information that is becoming available to those with special dietary needs. I am thankful that public awareness of gluten intolerance (and other conditions) is growing. I am thankful that, though I must be careful what I eat, the food I put in my mouth is not my only source of sustenance.

I love God’s Word; though bread is a commonly treated theme, the pages of Scripture are naturally gluten free. :)

In the early chapters of Deuteronomy, we find that the sons of Israel were about to finally enter the Promised Land. Their forty-year tour in the wilderness had been difficult and in chapter six God was explaining through Moses His purpose for that time.

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3).

I suspect manna was the most nutritionally-complete and well-tolerated food there ever was this side of Genesis chapter three. In spite of this, the people had a huge pity party and pined for the fresh fruits and vegetables of Egypt; they also wanted a nice, juicy steak (see Numbers 11). The history surrounding that is worth a look, but God’s reason behind it—and everything else that happened to them—is seen in the Deuteronomy 8 verse above. He humbled; He allowed hunger; He provided manna; He did this to help them to understand that it all pales in comparison to the need of His people to humbly approach the Word of God and receive the spiritual nutrition that He provides there.

Beloved of God, this is our meat and drink. This is our bread and wine. Through the Word of God, we can keep our focus on Who we have and not on what we lack.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful on Black Friday

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I am thankful for thankfulness in the midst of those things which do not seem to deserve thankfulness.

I did not go shopping last night (wouldn’t have gone then anyway), but I usually go out some time in the afternoon on Friday—after the insanity has settled a bit. This year I did not. Instead, I stayed inside and gave Proctor & Gamble some serious business by using a boatload of Puffs® Plus Lotion tissues*, playing games with my family—such as Hive®, with the Lady Bug and Mosquito extensions, Mastermind® (ours is a really old one. Looks a lot different than the one linked), Boggle®, and Yahtzee®—and kept my germs to myself.

My meal plans were out the window; instead, my husband made a delicious, spicy, turkey soup for lunch and a hearty breakfast for dinner. My mom played games with us too, and we got to Skype with our daughter/sister/granddaughter (and grandkitten) again. So in spite of the fact that I could put a wide-open faucet to shame, it was a very nice day. These day-to-day annoyances are nothing when compared to the abundant blessings the Lord has given to me and to my family.

“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me" (Psalm 13:5–6).

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*
Our contribution to the BF expenditure madness: My husband went out and bought some of them today to replenish our newly-depleted stock. Bam! Our deal of the day: three-pack for less than five bucks.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful on Thanksgiving

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I am thankful for Skype. My daughter will not get to come home until Christmas, but on Wednesday evening she was able to get her computer set up with Skype, and she, her dad, her brother, her grandmother, and I had a really sweet visit.

I love the closeness of this. It is going to make the miles between us so much easier to take. We also got to see that adorable grandkitten. So even if Dorothy was right and there is “no place like home,” Skype works much better than that old witch’s crystal ball. That magical sphere was just a make-believe television; Skype is interactive!

Rivers and Roads till we hug, sweet one, but just a Skype away to see you.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle" (Psalm 103:1–5).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful on the twenty-first of November

“But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11).

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I am thankful for the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. I have often been struck by the request of the mob for the release of the unsavory, probably creepy, Barabbas. (That mob was made up of the same fickle, ungrateful people who—only one week before—had been  shouting “Hosanna!” anticipating He would lead the long-expected, final rebellion that would result in His crowning and rule over all of Israel’s enemies—Jesus had other plans).

There is an inescapable irony in this. Jesus’ purpose in dying was to satisfy the justice of Righteous God by dying in the place of all who would bend the knee in humble repentance before Him. His purpose was to make a way for the vilest and most wretched of sinners to be forgiven, purified, made fit for the presence of Almighty God in heaven.

And here we have a vile and wretched sinner being released, and a gentle, innocent, loving, healing, forgiving, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Man sentenced to death instead. The crowd chose the guy in the black hat instead of the One who could wash them white as snow. I can’t help but wonder how many of those same people in that same mob had been healed by Him. How many had been blind, and now saw? How many had been lame, sick, dying, dead, who now walked, were healthy, were alive and whole? Well done, people. Way to be grateful.

And now for Barabbas. What do we know about him? The Gospels paint a rough portrait of that man. Matthew tells us that he was “a notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16). Notorious is not an adjective that most people would want inscribed on their tombstone. Mark said he “had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection" (Mark 15:7). Insurrectionists are not the best choice of companions, and I wondered when I read this if he was merely tagging along, or if he was a full participant in the crimes committed. Luke cleared that up with this parenthetical  statement. “He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.” (Luke 23:19). So he was in it up to his eyeballs. He had been tried and convicted of insurrection and murder. He was a dyed-in-the-wool thug of the lowest degree. John’s description is very simple, but it brings in a final piece of the puzzle, making the picture complete. “Now Barabbas was a robber.” Robber of goods, robber of political power, robber of life.

How could this be? How could the crowd manage this unthinkable, unscrupulous trade? It was a little tradition that Pilate had put into place to try to appease the Jews.

Matthew said as an aside, “(Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted)” (Matthew 27:15). Mark added, “Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested” (Mark 15:6). Luke inserted, “[Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]” (Luke 23:17).

John gives us a fuller account: Pilate said to (Jesus), “‘What is truth?’* And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?’ So they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.’ Now Barabbas was a robber” (John 18:38–40; the verses preceding this quote are worth your time. You should go read them. Click on this link to read the full interaction between Jesus and Pilate and the mob: John 18:28–40).

Something I have often wondered about that Barabbas. I have wondered if he robbed again. Did he murder again? Once he was released, did he become a model citizen. Did he change his stripes? Doubtful, unless…Unless Jesus’ substitutionary death touched his hardened heart as it did the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40–43). Unless the Holy Spirit convicted, convinced, and caused him to repent as he realized the magnitude of the injustice of having the only truly innocent Man ever to live, die in his place. This is something the Bible does not reveal. I have always thought it possible, since—in real time—Jesus took Barabbas’ place on the very cross he should have died on, but I won’t know for sure until eternity.

Barabbas was a notorious, robbing, murdering insurrectionist. But guess what? He was no worse than you or I. ALL sin is heinous in the eyes of a holy God. And ALL of us are sinners. We all deserve to die. Not just physical death—on a cross, in a car accident, of a heart attack, in war, from eating a poisoned apple—but eternal death, the second death, eternal punishment in hell, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Eternal darkness. Eternal separation from God. We all deserve death as sure as Barabbas did and Jesus didn’t. And we all need to recognize our sin, throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus, repent, confess, be forgiven. That is hope. That is something to be thankful for! Jesus’ substitutionary death was died for you. What are you going to do about that?

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*
Truth was standing right beside him. Truth was about to be scourged, mocked, spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a tree.  What is truth indeed, Pilate? Who is Truth? Jesus said Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Truth was literally staring you in the face.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful on the twentieth of November

I am thankful for the ability to remember. I am thankful for things that bring back memories. I am also thankful that my son is coming home for Thanksgiving.

This video has gone viral on YouTube. It reminded me of a sweet moment when my son was younger. The edges of the memory are as hazy as the sky that day, but the resonance of the event remains.

We were at a zoo in the winter, so all of the critters were inside. We were in a large room inside a large, concrete building. There were standard cages in the middle of the room and along its walls were windows with a foot or so between each window. Behind those windows were small rooms with animals in them. I don’t remember exactly what kinds there were, but probably snakes, lizards, that sort of thing.

As we were walking along one wall, our son was sliding along against it, peeking into each window he came to. It was a pleasant and lazy progression—until he looked into one window in particular. On the other side was a monkey. That monkey happened to be looking out the window, and was apparently a little high strung. The last think it expected was to have a kid’s head suddenly appear right up against the glass. The monkey was startled and started to shriek. The son started to shriek. The mother started to shriek. Only the father did not start to shriek. It was quite comical, really. We all settled down in no time, but it was a great little adventure in the midst of a quiet, gray sort of day.

And speaking of sons. I am also thankful for the wise words that are written to them in the Proverbs.

Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding, for I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction. When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, then he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; love her, and she will watch over you” (Proverbs 4:1–6).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful on the nineteenth of November

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I am thankful for the busy days I have ahead of me preparing for Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the Lord’s provision. I am thankful for my hardworking husband.

“Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening” (Psalm 104:23).

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

“Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name”(Psalm 30:4).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful on the eighteenth of November

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I am thankful for yummy gluten- and dairy-free food! Today our church had our Thanksgiving celebration and part of that included a dinner. There were two of us cooking g- and d-free today and between us we pulled together a rather wonderful meal.

I really enjoyed the pumpkin pie. It was the best I have had since going gluten free six years ago (and when I say the best, I mean as opposed to some really rubbery, nasty, poor-excuse-for-food-let-alone-pie dishes I have tried in the past). My friend, Sarah, said she just adapted her grandmother’s recipe. Well, she just did an amazing job of it. It was delicious, and she has graciously agreed to share her recipe, so I can make it for Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the Lord’s provision of such a great variety of foods in this world. I am thankful for Sarah and her amazing talent for cooking gluten- and dairy-free. And my thankfulness for her abilities is not merely for selfish reasons (though there is that) but for the sake of her family members who are blessed by her kitchen wisdom every day.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (136:26).

“She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens” (Proverbs 31:15).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thankful on the seventeenth of November

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I am thankful for books that exhort, encourage, and affirm truth. I am currently reading A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament by Michael Card (Yes, the same Michael Card who sings those beautiful, haunting, doctrinally-rich ballads that sound as though they must have originated in ancient Israel). My friend loaned it to me after we discussed the lament. I have not been hurrying through it. It is the type of book I like to read and ponder and then read some more.

A particular passage that struck me recently is about Job. What Card said about Job’s love for God above all else is wonderful. It is exactly the love that all believers should have for our Lord.

Job loses everything: his possessions, his children, and eventually, his health. At this point, to die would paradoxically be a blessing to him, but death is mysteriously denied him (6:9). The an of Torah obedience is forced to a painful place wherein he realizes that, though he might not have seen it by any other means, indeed he does love God for Himself and not simply as the source of all His blessings. The reason to love is not found on the other side of the equal sign of the equation. It is in the inequitable, untranslatable hesed.* Without the pain, Job might have never realized either the depth nor the dimension of this kind of relationship with God, and perhaps never would we (43, emphasis mine).

This is why there can be abundant joy in the midst of pain. This is why sorrow can be considered sacred. This is why the dark valleys glow in the light of the presence of Jesus Christ.

When I was googling the word, hesed, I ran across this website. I don’t know anything about the author, and clicking on the Home link leads to the discovery that this particular website has been declared “closed,” but I really like his definition of the word.

I consider the following to be a good, working definition of hesed: the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!

It is this love, demonstrated through the life and death of our Savior Jesus Christ, which has shaped our lives and made us who we are today — a people filled with joy and confidence who know the source of life, who are living the way life was meant to be lived.

My prayer for you is that your life would be gripped by hesed as you cast yourself on the only hope for mankind, the love and sacrifice of Christ...

There is one more quote that I want to share before I end this post. It contains a beautiful truth that my friend quoted to me from memory when she told me about the way this book has blessed her. On page 45, Card is still discussing Job’s struggle through the pain that came at him out of nowhere. The part she quoted is in bold, the underlined parts are underlined in her book.

By the end of the book, I always imagine Job and God standing with their arms around each other like a couple of weary boxers. Job’s jaw is swollen. One of his eyes is black. He must keep one arm around his Opponent in order to remain upright. But he has a grin on his bloody face that comes from the knowledge that it was never about winning the fight. It had absolutely nothing to do with being right. It was always, only about being faithful. Job has survived the prescribed number of bouts. He has finished his race. His reward? Does he get his children back? No, he gets God back.

I am also thankful for my sweet friend. We have known each other for a relatively short time, but she has enriched my life more than she knows.

“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness [hesed] is everlasting (Psalm 106:1).”

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17).

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*
Though Card says hesed is an untranslatable Hebrew word, the Bible translators had to put something in its place; and they chose words like mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, goodness, etc.].

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful on the fifteenth of November

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I am thankful that God is always on His throne and always watching over me. Sometimes the happenings of life can seem overwhelming. Sometimes pain is relentless. Sometimes I get tired of the effects of sin on this world and its inhabitants. Tired of the sin of others. Tired of my own sin. But no matter what is happening between the skin of the earth and the heat of the sun, I know that God is always on His throne and always watching over me. I know that His love never fails. I know that He will take me through it all, and He will be waiting for me on the other side. He is my rest. He is my rock. He is everything, and He has already won the battle.
 
“For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He watches all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21).
 
The interesting thing about this verse is the context it is nestled in. The subject is the importance of fidelity in marriage, and the point is being made that if a man fails to be so, his failure will not go unnoticed. The Lord sees it all. This is true no matter what life’s circumstances may be, the Lord is eternally omniscient—always on His throne, always watching over me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful on the fourteenth of November

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I am thankful I am able to teach. I have been doing so for many years (see this post about that), and I currently have two opportunities in a week’s time to teach preschoolers. I love it. They absorb far more than most people would expect, and they are always adorable, delightful, and entertaining. So far this year, none of them have revealed any dark family secrets which their families can be thankful for.

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3–5).

The other blessing that comes from a church full of well-stocked quivers is job security for me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful on the thirteenth of November

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I am thankful for the great variety of birds that God has given us to enjoy and admire and photograph and draw and even eat!

“Then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.’ God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day” (Genesis 1:20–23).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful on the twelfth of November

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I am thankful for the Lord’s provision of brave men and women who have served this nation. So many have fought or are fighting for our freedoms. So many have given life and limb for us. I honor our military. I am thankful for the long history of this country and the great work that has been done within and without its borders.

I drew this caricature from a black and white photo. It is of my dear father and his buddy when they were in the army. Dad passed away several years ago. I am missing him this evening.

"Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight" (2 Samuel 10:12).

Thankful on the eleventh of November

(I start writing on one day, but I don’t finish till the next.)

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I am thankful for the valleys of life. Those places where the shadow presses in. Sometimes the darkness comes because of outside influences beyond my control. Sometimes I alone am to blame. Sometimes it is a combination of things. Grief, anguish, sorrow, anger, pain can be found there. Sometimes stupidity. Sometimes pride is lurking in the darkest places, courting destruction, placing relationships and opportunities at risk.

Still, in the valley there is also hope, and this is why I am thankful. Because even in the darkest valley, the light of Christ glows. It is when I am in the low times that God pushes and prods and shapes and molds my character—conforming me to His image. It is here that He chastens, convicts, convinces, comforts. It is here that He guides and directs. Providence steps in. Sovereignty overrules. Humility. Repentance. Grace. Restoration.

“Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

“Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:5b–11; this entire chapter is worth reading, but it is too big to post it all here).

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things pass away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).