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Winter sunset in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Background Text: Hebrews 12:15

Devotional Text: Ephesians 1:18

This week, we are midway through Advent season. On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of hope because when Jesus entered this world he gave hope to all people.

Today, I am continuing to write about forgiveness as seen through the disciples of Christ, as they have written the wonderfully inspired Scripture that brings us away from hostility and bitterness toward others to the hope proclaimed by Jesus through the mercy of God. I think you will find that their words speak to us today with the same relevancy as when they were written.

In the Book of Acts, we find the trials and tribulations of Christ’s disciples as they sought to tell the world the good news about Jesus. Their lives were certainly not perfect. Many times they were at risk of being beaten and arrested. Apostle Paul wrote to the believers from his prison cell a number of times.

Acts 16:22-34 tells us the story of Paul and Silas having been thrown into prison for speaking about salvation through Christ. Before being jailed, they were flogged and their feet were chained.

Scripture tells us these trials did not stop Paul or Silas from worshipping Jesus, the savior, as they prayed and sang hymns in their cell while other prisoners listened. Suddenly, an earthquake jolted the prison bars free and the doors opened wide, allowing Paul and Silas to leave.

However, being men of God and not wanting the jailer to get into any trouble, they did not flee, but instead spoke to the jailer about receiving salvation, both for himself and his household. After receiving the word of God’s salvation, the jailer and his entire household believed and were baptized.

After that, the jailer washed the wounds of the two men and fed them a good meal. In the morning, word came down that Paul and Silas were to be released.

What a great story of faith! Paul and Silas had to be hurting after the severe beatings they received. They not only were locked in jail, but they were also locked down at their feet. But what did they do? They sang hymns to God. They prayed to God. They did not whimper or whine. They trusted the Lord would see them through.

When the earthquake would have readily freed them, they chose not to go. Instead, they thought of the trouble the jailer would get into, so they remained in the jail and did not run away. They chose to tell the good news to the jailer and all his household, so that more people could believe and be added to the kingdom of God.

What extraordinary men they were. What made them so extraordinary was their belief and trust in God. Their faith was so great they did not worry about their circumstances.

They also did not blame the jailer for their circumstances, but gave thought to what it would mean for the jailer if they should escape their confinement.

Let’s continue with what the disciples themselves have to teach us through their words.

I love the words written by Paul to the Corinthians in his second letter to them. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, he wrote that we should “not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day-by-day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul continued his words of trust in God throughout his writings in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1:7-8, he wrote about our redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sin, and the “riches of his grace.”

In verse 18, he reminds us to keep “the eyes of our hearts enlightened (concerning the mercies of God toward us), that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

He doesn’t end there. In chapter 4:26, he tells us we can be angry with one another, but not to let that anger fall into sin, adding, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Verse 31 continues along the same lines: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Instead (verse 32), “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”

Have you ever tried to go to sleep after having an argument with someone? It’s not easy. Usually, we toss and turn and relive what we said, trying to figure out how you got into such a predicament.

This is the time to pray and ask for God’s help so you may sleep in peace, for tomorrow is a new day. With God’s help, you never know what good may come of it. For God can take what looks bad on the outside and use it for good.

1 Peter 3:9 offers this advice: “Don’t repay evil for evil or insult with insult. Instead, repay with a blessing.”

Don’t argue. If it’s too much for you, walk away. If you can, answer with a soft helpful answer. Never seek revenge on someone. Hebrews 10:30 has these words for us: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay says the Lord.”

Hebrews 12:15 tells us we must watch out for “that poisonous root of bitterness that grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” That includes ourselves. Holding onto bitterness in our lives does little to harm the other person, but does great injury to our own attitudes and ways of thinking.

Romans 12:12 helps us to let go of our hostility toward one another, meaning enmity, unfriendliness, hatred. We are to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

A final word of hope in our God comes from James 1:19-20: “Know this, my beloved brothers (and sisters): let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger we feel does not produce the righteousness of God.”

The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh is the pastor of Schenevus United Methodist Church in Schenevus, New York.

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