Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Forgive My Older Brother? Ha!

by Goy Ben-Yahweh (The Prodigal)

I hope you saw my big brother’s ugly letter from yesterday.  Isn't that just like him?  He’s such a Pharisee.  He’s always been “the good one,” always wise, always making good choices, and always looking down his nose at people like me.  His joy is in my suffering, because he knows I deserve it – and he loves it when people get what they deserve.  When I repent and receive mercy, he is unhappy.  Even though he’s obedient to our Father, he is nothing like Dad. 

He has no passion, no feelings, no real affection – and crazy discipline.  He has few temptations in life because he doesn't really want to do anything “bad.”  Heck, he hardly wants to do anything good, even. 

He reads 2 Samuel 11 and says, “I would never skip the battle, sleep with Bathsheba and murder Uriah.”  Of course what he fails to say is that he also would never be a zealous warrior-king like David.  He never would have danced or played music or written poetry or been a man after God’s own heart.  He’s just a rule-following robot. 

A friend sent me this note in response to my big brother’s letter from yesterday:
Gives me a stomach ache just thinking about not forgiving, particularly when a person has come home in great humility, asking for forgiveness and willing to be a servant.  "Your" older brother is in big trouble, what a miserable sad person he is, that needs a big hug and to be reassured that he is loved.  The family needs some lessons in our Father's love.  If he would listen, I know Jesus could help him!  He needs our prayers!
She reminds me of another friend asking me at church if I was going to forgive Israel (my brother).  The answer I gave was, “Of course!”  But I wasn't sincere.  I’m sick of being judged by this guy.  For whatever reason, he (like much of our family), is judgmental and self-righteous.  How can I forgive a person who prays like this?
“God, I thank You that I’m not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or like my little brother, Goy.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”  Luke 18:11-12
They don’t like people like me.  We are disgusting to them.  Dad wants them to go looking for us and rescue us with joy – to leave the 99 sheep at home and go to the faraway land and find us before we fall all the way down to be with the pigs.  He wants them to tear the house apart looking for us, and party when we’re found [Luke 15]. 

But they know we use bad language, we’re dirty, and do disgusting things; and they want nothing to do with us.  They know we’re liars, adulterers, weak, gluttonous partiers who have many vile habits. They hate us more than Jonah hated Assyrians, and run in the opposite direction from us.

They not only won’t come looking for us, they aren’t even happy when we repent.  Like my brother’s letter yesterday, or Jonah’s response to God’s forgiveness:
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He didn't do it.
But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.
 He prayed to Yahweh and said,
Yahweh, wasn't this what I said while I was still at home? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
 Therefore now, Yahweh, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”  Jonah 3:10-4:3
I remember once a young server who was learning a new job.  She had been a server before and had been very upset with newbies because they were so stupid, and now she was one of the stupid new people and she sickened herself.  When I suggested she show more mercy/grace/forgiveness to herself and then remember to be kind to other new people in the future, she accepted it with her head, but I could tell her heart wasn't in it.  You see, she’s one of those strong, disciplined people who don’t understand us weaker souls and finds us repugnant.  They thank God they’re not like us.

Another was trying to get members of God’s house to be more obedient and faithful, but his patience was always pushed to the limit as he saw their shallowness and it made him sick. 

Shoot, I've done the same thing myself! 
Once I get cleaned up and get home and things are going well, I often wonder why others don’t come along and join the party at Dad’s house.  It’s an invitation to a banquet, for crying out loud.  All Father asks is that you clean up and obey!  And then I remember my own wrong-headedness, and I’m ashamed of myself.  Yes, I forget what I've been, and how far the grace of God has carried me, and not me carrying myself. 

But big brother and those like him (it seems to me) are never ashamed of themselves.  I don’t think they know how hard it is.  They don’t know my circumstances or anything else, and yet they are so judgmental and impatient – even while claiming to be in Yahweh’s household?  I'm glad I'm not like them. 

So my friends think I should forgive my older brother who is angry that I've come home.  But here’s the thing: I don’t understand him, and - he isn't asking for any forgiveness or offering fellowship.  Shoot, he doesn't think he’s done anything wrong!  And … he makes it almost impossible for any of the rest of us to come home, because we all know we’ll have to face the self-righteous jerk. 

As he said himself, if Dad forces him to pretend to be welcoming he will, but he never will from the heart – just his discipline.  He will never, ever actually be happy that I’m home.  He will never, ever forget my mistakes and hold them against me.  He’ll make me spend the rest of my life in his service, trying to force me to “prove” myself – to prove that I’m really faithful this time and can be trusted. 

Well, of course I can’t be trusted; who can be trusted, but God? 
I can only be forgiven, loved, and welcomed home when I repent.

Ahh,,,what do I know?  
I’m just a sinner who wants to be a servant in the household. 
Fortunately for me, that’s Father’s decision and not my so-called “brother’s.” 

So … should I forgive the self-righteous jerk?  Maybe later.  Right now I think I’ll call him a few more names and taunt him a while.  After all, he’s not following Dad’s rule to accept me after I've repented, so really he doesn't deserve it – does he? 

Now that I think of it, the jerk is right about one thing: forgiveness is stupid.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Forgiveness is Stupid

by Israel Ben-Yahweh (Prodigal’s big bro)

Luke 15.25-32
The wasteful, worthless, disrespectful son came home.  What’s shocking about that? 

When his life was in the toilet, he ran home to safety and plenty. 
Of course!

What do you expect?  He’s always been a bum.  He was rebellious from the beginning.  He always wants things his own way … always disobedient.  Just like that scumbag sister of ours who has become the town tramp.  I’ll bet she runs to our brother, Yeshua and bathes his feet in tears.  Yeshua is so na├»ve, he’ll pretend he doesn't even know what a tramp she is.

Why doesn't our Father have any more self-respect than that?  Why does He allow people to trample all over His Name, His reputation, and even the blood of His own Son? 

Well, I don’t know what His problem is, but I won’t - No, sir.  I've stayed home and followed the rules.  I’m good.  I do just what I’m told, all the time.  Oh, sure, I've made a few mistakes, but nothing big or deliberately disobedient like those two.  Maybe Father will forgive them, but not me.  If Dad asks me to be nice to them, I will.  And if He tells me to forgive, I will – at least as far as anyone can tell.  No way I’m going to just let them get away with doing whatever they want and then simply getting off with nothing more than their apology and return home?  You have to be kidding me!?

Maybe our Father’s that naive, but not me.  No way I’m gonna let people trample on me or take advantage of me any longer.  If those two lazy, worthless people won’t behave themselves, then let them rot.  Why should I pay for their mistakes? 

Now Father has killed my prize calf to put on the biggest BBQ ever seen.  He had him cleaned up and welcomed him home to a huge, expensive party like he was some kind of celebrity or something.  And where did all this come from?  From my inheritance!  This fool already spent his – now Father is taking from what would have been mine and giving it to this one. 

Apparently Father doesn't know what he has done.  I mean if you stop and think about it, it’s disgusting.  The stuff this prodigal boy has done is so nasty that decent folk don’t even discuss such things, much less actually do them.  He’s a drunk, an addict, and a pervert.  His life was so disgusting, even God turned His back on the boy and let his clothes wear out and belly go empty.  Good.

If mercy is so plentiful, why bother being good at all?  Why not just continue in sin, that grace may increase?  After all, it seems to work for this foolish little brother of mine. 

What about you? 

Will you be the doormat of mercy for others like Yeshua?

I say you should join me.  Let’s expect people to be good like we’re supposed to, and if they fail, then to hell with them.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Forgiveness is NOT... (Forgiveness #3)

This is part three in a series.  It would be helpful if you review the first two before reading this.
Not Grace

Forgiveness is not overlooking, ignoring, rationalizing or justifying a wrong. 

Overlooking or ignoring a wrong is often something we confuse with forgiving.  This is what we can do when we aren't really hurt by the wrong, or when it wasn't personal. 

For example, things or people that are merely annoying, dull or clumsy – it’s easy to overlook their minor irritations.  Another example: insults from children are much easier to overlook than those from a respected opinion leader. 

In other words, the less we care – the easier it is to ‘overlook’ something … but it is not forgiveness!

"Owe me $25? No problem"
When you’re strong, it’s easy to overlook a burden, endure a struggle, etc.  Using the example of money, overlooking a debt owed is easy if you’re a billionaire and someone owes you a thousand dollars.  But if you’re unemployed and stretched thin, it’s hard to overlook it when someone owes you a thousand dollars.  In either case, overlooking the debt isn't the same thing as completely writing it off and considering it no longer owed.

When we overlook things, we face temptation to be arrogant and proud of our strength, our wealth, or our own “goodness.”  Self-righteousness was the sin of Pharisees - and most religious people today.  We stoop low to “help” others but really we don’t recognize that we’re just as guilty and poor as they are.  No, forgiveness isn't overlooking a wrong. 

This doesn't mean overlooking something or ‘letting it go’ is the bad thing to do.  In fact, when the wrong (or sin) is committed by someone who is not a fully-committed disciple of Jesus, we must overlook it.  They don’t have our Lord directing their steps, and so they don’t have to live by our high standards.  Dealing with outsiders (“the world”) is the one occasion we must overlook a wrong.  (See 1 Corinthians 5.9-13 & Matthew 5.39)

But when it comes to a fellow disciple, we must obey Jesus, and never overlook a wrong
We must rebuke the sinner, and if he repents, forgive.  If not, take it to another, then the church, and then break fellowship, if he still refuses to repent.  (I’ll write more about this process later.  For now, see Luke 17.1-4 & Matthew 18.15-20.) 
If you pay attention to this, you’ll see that the process is designed to help the sinner – not make the rebuker feel good or superior, and not to punish the sinner, but to correct him or her!  A proper rebuke is an act of love.  Overlooking a disciple’s sin is selfish and arrogant.

justifying is not forgiving
Did he steal because he was hungry?  Did you cheat because you thought everyone else did?  Did she pretend to be something she was not in order to avoid scrutiny?

This is what I did for Lance Armstrong.  All interested followers of bicycling knew that people used some kind of performance enhancing drugs.  We also know that in the Tour de France when a rider pulls along a support car for medical or mechanical support, he holds on to the car for a little bit.  Technically he’s not allowed to get a push or help from a car, but they allow a bit of it.  They allow it, but that doesn't mean it’s right.  I justified Lance by saying it isn't really cheating if you don’t get caught – it’s just clever, like an NFL lineman holding or an NBA player committing a foul that doesn't get called.  It’s just part of the game.  Right? 

“Justifying” is when we say something is right when it’s wrong.  It’s when we say it’s OK not to give your whole self to God, but only a percentage is fine.  It’s when we say it’s OK to tell a “small” lie.  It’s when we only cheat a little on taxes or resume, or when we’re only nice to friends and family and refuse to love our enemies.  It is not right, no matter who tells us otherwise.

And when we say to someone, “It’s OK, it wasn't really a big deal,” that’s when we’re justifying their sin and not forgiving it.  Consider these Proverbs:
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—Yahweh detests them both.  (17.15)  
 There is a way that seems right to a man......but in the end it leads to death.  (14.12)

rationalizing is not forgiving
Here’s another example from Lance Armstrong.  After his cancer surgery removed a testicle, he rationalized taking testosterone because he assumed he “was running low.”  That’s how we tell ourselves a lie.  It’s what Eve did when she blamed the snake, Adam did when he blamed Eve.  It’s what we all do when we speak of irresistible temptations.  We know what we did was wrong, but we tell ourselves it’s OK “under the circumstances.”

We ought not be confused – just because you understand how a person fell for a temptation doesn't mean they didn't fall.  Forgiving requires full acknowledgement of the sin, not a watered-down version via rationalization.  How can we rationalize a sin and hate it at the same time?  Rationalizing a sin often feels like we’re being loving, but it’s not.  Read these two passages on love:
“Love without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good”  (Romans 12:9)
“Love doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

merely saying you forgive is not forgiveness
Forgiveness isn't something you can merely say – it’s something you do.  If you carry around a grudge, have you really forgiven the other person?  If so – then how will you feel on judgment day if you discover that God said He forgives you, but still wasn't prepared to let you enter into heaven?
"Yes, I love you, I forgive you"

The Prodigal Son’s dad saw him from a distance, ran to him, embraced him, and celebrated with him.  He felt compassion,” Jesus said, he didn't merely say, “Yeah, OK, son, come home and get to work.”  

That’s what God does for those who truly repent - He has compassion on us!  He allows us to again have a relationship with Him!  

The question is – can we really forgive?  
Can we feel compassion for the person who has wronged us?   

Jesus felt compassion for people – that’s why he healed, why he taught, why he served, and why he died on the cross (Matthew 9.36, Mark 1.41, Luke 7.13, etc.).  Compassion is a feeling, not mere words.  It’s when we genuinely want the healing of another. 

This compassion-fueled forgiveness (or mercy, or grace) is also a baffling concept for most religious people.  It was the “trick question” Jesus would ask the religious guys of his age because they could not understand this passage:
“I desire mercy (or compassion) – not sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6; Matthew 9.13, 12.7, etc.)
Forgiving someone means that we show them grace, mercy and even compassion.  Not because we rationalize or justify their sins, but because we ourselves know how hard it is to be right with God.  We can “sympathize” with their weakness, like Jesus.
For we don’t have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin!  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16

partial forgiveness isn't forgiveness
Forgiveness is complete, or it’s not forgiveness.  Grace covers all of our sins, not just some of them.  We don’t work down some of our sins and only get forgiven for the ones we couldn't repay. 
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23
When (if) I forgive you for something you've done to me – I must do so completely, if I am to be like Jesus. 

In the same way, when we ask a brother to forgive a wrong, we are asking him to accept the full brunt of the pain or debt.  A beautiful example of this is the letter from Paul to Philemon, asking him to forgive and release Onesimus (Philemon’s former slave).  Paul expects Philemon to offer full mercy, full grace – and even expects Philemon to receive Paul as a guest in his home after having done so!  May we all be like Philemon & Jesus!  

forgiveness is not stupidity, foolishness, neediness, weakness or blindness
Let’s say a husband abuses his children, and the wife knows.  But she doesn't want to do anything because she’s afraid of losing him.  That’s not forgiveness, it’s weakness & fear.  Maybe she also rationalizes that he only does it when he’s drunk, or maybe she justifies it by saying that it’s simply discipline.  But the truth is that he is sinning against her, the kids and God. 
True forgiveness is not blindly allowing sin to continue! 

A shepherd that neglects or abuses his flock is sinning (Ezekiel 34).  A person who tempts a brother or sister is putting a stumbling block in his or her path (Luke 17.1-2).  But we often overlook these kinds of wrongs and say our church is ‘basically good,’ or our family is ‘basically good,’ just with a few flaws (rationalizing) … because we’re afraid of losing something.  

Fear, affection, and ignorance move us to overlook sins, and allow them to continue and even abuse others.  But we’re scared we may lose something, and we tell ourselves that this is mercy – it’s us being ‘non-judgmental.’  Or we overlook sins because we're ignorant, and don't even know it's sin - or stay uninformed and don't know others are sinning.  Are we our brother's keeper?  

This is not forgiveness at all!  It’s a lack of faith that God’s way is better than our way.  It’s a failure of our trust that God is enough.  It’s our sin, allowing evil people to continue to be lost.  Examine yourself!  Challenge your motives – are you ‘forgiving’ people, or merely making excuses to preserve a system because you’re afraid of what would happen without it? 

In a later article we’ll cover this in great detail – we are obliged to rebuke sometimes, even though it may cost our friendship, our church, or our family.  Do not be afraid.  God is faithful. 
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  Luke 17:3

Forgiveness is not: overlooking, ignoring, rationalizing or justifying a wrong. 

Because of what forgiveness is not, it’s also not weakness.  Disciples have all the strength God can supply to be merciful – if they will.  Submit to God, fear Him, and the rest you can do through Him. 

Forgiveness is grace, mercy, and the power of love.  Read this passage … do you see strength or weakness in this description?  Is this person merely a doormat? 

Love is patient & kind 
It isn't arrogant, 
Doesn't seek its own, 
Doesn't take into account a wrong, 
Doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 
Bears all things, 
Believes all things, 
Hopes all things,  
Endures all things 
Love never fails 
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Forgiveness is strength and love combined.  
It’s part of holding one another accountable, but accepting the one whose faith is weak.  
It’s true compassion, 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Blessed are the Merciful

The next entry on forgiveness was to be on "What forgiveness is not," but I want to add this message in here.  

Last night I was blessed to be a part of a 3 column study, in which one copies a text, word-for-word; then re-writes it as one's own personal paraphrase, and then in the third column lists actions one expects to take based on this teaching.  Last night's verse was this one: 
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." Matthew 5:7
Jesus teaches that those who show mercy - who are forgiving - will themselves be forgiven.  Do you understand this?  It can affect our motives.  Remember what Jesus said about the village sleaze in Luke 7: 
For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
I mean, this woman was promiscuous - and everyone knew it, and yet Jesus forgave her sins ... and not the good guys who played by all the rules!  

If we lay those two teachings together, it means that the more aware we are of our own sins, the more likely we are to forgive others, which in turn will bless us with the mercy we so crave.  

Gratitude, humility, mercy & love combined! 

What was cool about the thing last night was that we made it practical.  I have practical things to try this week, to be more merciful.  I'm going to pray every day for my 'enemies,' or those that have hurt me.  Already I prayed for bad feelings for things done to me by so-called family, friends and brothers.  I will make it my business this week to open my heart and fellowship to the people that I haven't forgiven from my heart - and next week, someone will ask me how I did.  And THAT is going to be awesome, knowing that someone loves me enough to care if I'm actually growing in Jesus - or not.  

I encourage all of you to do your own three column study of this, and if possible, partner up with someone for accountability.  Make an actual effort to obey Jesus, literally, daily, with determination ... and see if God won't make you grow.  

If you need more info about doing your own three column thing, put it in the comments and I'll help, or direct you to someone who will.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Forgiveness is

Who are you?
The forgiving, the forgiver,
or the brother? 
You think you know what forgiveness is? 
Read on – there’s more to it than you know. 

First, what forgiveness is not
It’s not overlooking or ignoring a wrong.  It’s not rationalizing, excusing or justifying a wrong.  (We’ll cover this in greater detail in the next article)

understanding forgiveness
The best way to start thinking of forgiveness is to think in terms of money and debt.  When a guy steals or borrows money from you, he’s in your debt.  Forgiving his debt means that you suffer the loss for his failure.  That’s why forgiving is so hard – the one who was wronged … stays wronged.  The debtor doesn't repay because he or she can’t repay.  The pain or loss goes to the shoulders of the one who was wronged. 

When we sin against God, He forgives us by redeeming our debt to Him through the blood of Jesus.  When we sin against one of His children, it’s the same thing – the blood of Jesus on the cross wipes our debt clear, so that God will accept us back into His fellowship. 

When we sin against a brother or sister, that person is hurt.  He feels the pain, bears your burden for you, and accepts the loss.  When you forgive me, you are the one who is hurt, but when you truly forgive, just like God, you take it - and welcome me back into your fellowship. 
…Jesus … for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame:
Our grief he bore, and our sorrows he carried.
He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed.
He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due
Yahweh was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; if he would render himself as a guilt offering
He poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors               Hebrews 12.2 and Isaiah 53 mash-up

forgiveness is full redemption
Biblical forgiveness is an offer of redemption.  It’s not merely a pardon.  
Do you know the difference? 

Pardon is when we let something go.  
It’s like ‘overlooking’ something (discussed further in the next article).  

But redemption is when you pay the price for the person’s release.  It’s easy for me to pardon someone who owes you money, or who has hurt you.  But when you have hurt me, and you have asked me to forgive – I must absorb the pain without retaliation.  When you owe me money and I forgive your debt, it means the money has to come from my pocket.  That’s why forgiving is so hard! 

Abraham Lincoln 'pardoned' or emancipated the slaves of the U.S.A., but God & Moses redeemed the children of Israel!  Lincoln just issued an order saying, "Let them go," but God bought and paid for His slaves.   

“I am Yahweh, and I’ll bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I’ll also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you'll know that I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I’ll give it to you for a possession; I am Yahweh.”
Exodus 6:6-8

The worse I've been hurt – the greater my temptation not to forgive you.  The more you take, the harder you hit, the greater or more personal the loss – the harder it will be for me to forgive you for what you've done to me.  Some losses cannot be paid for – only forgiven:
You don’t delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You aren't pleased with burnt offering.   The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.          Psalm 51:16-17
We like to think we can do “make up” homework to work off our demerits.  We want to do extra chores, or give more money to church, or do something – anything – to relieve this guilt.  But no sin can be forgiven by God except through the blood of Jesus.  And sometimes when we sin against others, there’s nothing we can do.  There’s no take-back for some wrongs, no compensation that can restore us, only the forgiveness of the person who is wronged.  And the wronged person is always the one who suffers for our sins.  Always. 

Forgiveness is what God gives us through His Son’s blood.  It’s a debt paid by God.  It’s 100% paid – we can’t earn it.  We can’t beg for it and receive it.  There’s no about of work, effort, brownie points, sacrifices or anything else we can do to even make up for a little bit of our grace and forgiveness.  It’s all on Jesus’ back – every sin we commit that God forgives. 

It’s unconditional, because if we place conditions on our forgiveness, then it’s not full forgiveness, is it?  When we demand payback, restitution or even partial remuneration, we are demanding some degree of justice. 

Justice is fair, it’s right, it’s paying what you’re owed.  But forgiveness is mercy, forgiveness is grace.  It’s when we completely forgive a debt owed. 

See our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount:
You’ve heard that it was said:        ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you:
Don’t resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and don’t turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:38-42
In this section our Rabbi teaches that the difference between the Torah (the Old Covenant) and the New Covenant (Jesus’ covenant of love) is that under the new covenant we no longer demand justice.  Now we are expected to be merciful!  We actually allow others to hurt us, and we forgive them.  And this is exactly what our Lord did when He was hanging on the cross and prayed,Father forgive them.” They/we don’t deserve forgiveness.  It’s a gift.  It’s grace. 

forgiveness is an action, a deed, a work
Some people say they forgive, but do they?  As in all of our lives of self-sacrifice to God, forgiveness is easier to say than it is to give, or do.  When God forgives us, He welcomes us back into His fold.  He allows us to continue to be His children, His friends, His servants.  Otherwise, what good is His forgiveness? 

It’s natural for us to hold on to grudges, to walk about with hurt feelings, to refuse fellowship – but it is not Christ.  Again, it’s natural and understandable, but it is not Christ. 

When we say, “I forgive you,” but then withhold fellowship or attention, is it really forgiveness?

I had a brother forgive me recently.  First he said it, and then he confessed to me that he was angry with me, but then … he embraced me and prayed with me.  He asked God to forgive his anger, even while he prayed for me to be forgiven.  Now THAT was forgiveness!  His heart was open and raw, and he confessed his anger – but he did not allow his anger to get the best of him.  Instead he prayed with me.  In the process, he saved my life. 

Husbands and wives, friends and other family members, take note: this is very hard.  We will often say we forgive, and then keep the peace in silence.  This isn't really forgiveness at all.  If your family, friend or spouse claim to be disciples of Jesus, then rebuke them when they sin, and truly forgive them when they repent – and don’t merely say it … but welcome them back to a healed relationship.  And remember: scar tissue may be there (like my brother’s anger), but scar tissue is often forms a bond stronger than the original. 
Love is patient, love is kind … it doesn't seek its own … doesn't take into account a wrong suffered … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.        Excerpts from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

forgiveness is what we give

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6.12
Does this part of the prayer bother you?  It should.  On many occasions Jesus makes it clear that if we are not forgiving, God will not be forgiving to us.  This line from the Lord’s Prayer is also reflected in this Parable of Jesus:
Then Peter came and said to him,
“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him; up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him,
“I don’t say to you, up to 7 times, but up to 70 x 7.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him. But since he didn’t have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying,
‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying,   ‘Pay back what you owe.’
So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying,   ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him,
   ‘You wicked slave!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”           Matthew 18.21- 35
So the challenge for all of us disciples is clear: we are receivers and givers of grace.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe and accept forgiveness, but we must.  Usually it’s much harder to forgive.  The burden of anger and resentment, the shame of having someone “take advantage” of us is staggering.  But Jesus said “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

When we forgive, we become a bit more like Jesus.  The grace we sing about, the mercy we enjoy – these are all gifts from God that are not free.  When we forgive, we feel – we experience – the same things (in much smaller degree) as does God when He forgives us. The pain and the joy of grace! 

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be teleios, as your heavenly Father is teleios.”    Matthew 5:44-48
“Freely you received, freely give.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Forgive Me

I crave forgiveness.  Not since my rebirth have I been in such need of mercy.  Actually that’s not true – I've always needed forgiveness, I just now recognize it so much more. When we feel guilt, when we recognize our sins, that’s when it’s easy to tell everyone else how forgiving they should be.  

But I also need help being more forgiving.  When we've been hurt and others ask us for forgiveness … we are tempted to demand restitution, or often – simply refuse to extend the right hand of fellowship. 

I've been wronged, and I've done wrong.  I need to give and receive it. 

We all need forgiveness, and we all must give it.  This topic is neither easy nor simple, but it is necessary.  The next few blog entries will be about forgiveness from the scriptures, and there will be bits and pieces from Lance Armstrong’s story.  Most of those involved in his story aren't Christians, but it makes an excellent parable for all of us.

Topics will include:
  • ·        What forgiveness is – and is not 
  • ·        Forgiveness from God – and one another
  • ·        Confession, apologizing and repentance
  • ·        What to do after you’ve sinned
  • ·        Different responses to disciples and outsiders 
  • ·        Reactions and expectations
  • ·        Moving forward after the fact

What’s better than forgiveness? 

Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.  God’s love sent His Son to die for us – so we would be forgiven.  Forgiveness is grace – it’s mercy – it’s love.  If we love God and our neighbor as ourselves, then we will be forgiving as we wish to be forgiven. 

Forgiveness is (for me) my greatest challenge to Jesus’ statement that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”  Giving money is easy.  Giving a smile, singing a song, telling a joke, ‘hanging out,’ patting someone on the back, having a bible study … these things are easy.  But: 
  • Turning the other cheek is not. 
  • Forgiving a debt is not. 
  • Forgiving harm to a friend or family member is very hard 
  • Forgiving harm to a brother or sister in Christ is perhaps the hardest thing of all 

Is it more blessed to [for]give than to receive?  According to our Lord, it is.  And He knows, because He’s pure forgiveness. Being like Jesus means we forgive.

Each of us needs forgiveness, and each of us must be forgiving.  Our Lord understood this when he taught us to pray like this:
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 6.12
I’m still deep in study on this topic.  I expect to write some basic lessons here, and I hope you will also study this topic.  It is changing my life in beautiful and unexpected ways. 

My prayer is that you will read these and share these, that you will learn from my mistakes, and that you will seek God’s help to be more forgiving, and to recognize your own need for forgiveness as deeply as I am. 

Here's a prayer for forgiveness from Psalm 51:
Be gracious to me, O God,According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity & cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, & my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned & done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak & blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, & in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
 Create in me a clean heart, O God, &
…renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Don’t cast me away from Your presence &
…don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation &
…sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, &
…sinners will be converted to You.
 Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
 O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You don’t delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You aren’t pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.