forgiving others

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3b-4

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

In the sometimes rough and tumble existence of life, there’s forgiveness needed, yes, on all sides. But especially so when sin is especially evident, say in one’s attitude or action toward another, sometimes in angry words spoken.

Jesus told his disciples to hold each other accountable for their sin, and forgive them when they repent (see Luke passage above).  And he made it clear that forgiveness is ongoing, that there’s no limit to how often we forgive the same person (see Matthew passage above).

Jesus told a parable in the Matthew passage which makes the point that we forgive because we’ve been forgiven. And forgiven for a worse offense than what was done to us. We might say that sin against God is worse than sin against us, though it’s true that all sin is essentially against God. God has forgiven us because of Jesus’s death for our sins. So we in turn must forgive others. And that if we don’t forgive, we’re handed over to the torturers, so that in essence, we’re only hurting ourselves.

People do need to know they’re forgiven, and frankly, we all need it along the way. So let’s freely extend it to others, yes holding them accountable, but when all is said and done, wiping the slate clean, as if nothing has happened at all. And as necessary, doing it again and again. In and through Jesus.

I’m not referring to abusive relationships. We should forgive, but keep our distance. And also try to hold them accountable, so that they will get the help they need.

 

heeding God’s call

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord.

Amos 7:14-16a

There is a sense in which any of us who are in Jesus have some sort of calling from God. And the gift to go along with that. It really matters not what friends or even academics might think of that, although we should be humble and teachable, and learn what we can from their critiques. But in the end, we are answerable to God alone. We must pay attention, and be obedient to God’s call.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we’re infallible, or always get it right. Or that we think we’re something special, or a cut above anyone else. No. We’re all different, and everyone’s gift from God is a God thing and therefore a good thing. You shouldn’t compare as in putting against apples, oranges, pears, trees, etc. to each other. They’re all different, but all good in their place.

That’s what I attempt to do. I want to be accountable to the church, to others, and I’ve tried to be. And again, I know there have been flaws in what I’ve done, and that in some ways I’ve refined myself over the years. And yes, I have a hard time with some of what I do, as well. I don’t care at all about my own opinions, for example. But they are one person’s considered thought, weighing, as well as influenced by the thoughts of others, one who has lived a pretty good number of decades.

But in the end, what matters is God’s calling. And our answer to that. Let’s be faithful to the one we will answer to in the end. Together. In and through Jesus.

be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

loving rebuke

I often think  that only God can deliver the correction we occasionally (at least) need. After all, it is God who is love. We are not, but are a mixed bag of good and bad, and left to ourselves, we’re at the center of our existence, or something less than the actual God is, often some combination of that.

And yet Jesus tells us that if our brother or sister sins against us to rebuke them. We have to watch out, because they may not be sinning against us. Only God knows the heart. It is hard to receive and probably even harder to give any kind of rebuke. We need to be on each other’s side, and any possible correcting words may put a wedge between us. That said, somehow by grace, we ought to be open to this practice, as long as it’s not commonplace, I say. Dallas Willard doubted that such can be done today, since people always take it personally and feel condemned. I wonder what it is in our age which makes this so, but it does seem to be the case in my own experience.

Probably giving a rebuke is not without sin when we do so out of our own personal pain, or aggrievement. Certainly prayer ought to accompany it, and preferably much prayer. And if much prayer, than it would seem wise only to offer a word of loving correction after one has at least slept on it. In other words, don’t rush in to correct.

If we do offer that word soon after the incident, we need to be concerned lest the relationship is hurt. We want a growing relationship through God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s grace in and through Jesus is the sphere in which we live. So we should be open to offer a word of apology and the asking for forgiveness for giving the rebuke in the first place. But probably we shouldn’t be hasty in doing that, either, unless we were clearly out of bounds in our attitide and action. While we likely were not without sin in offering the rebuke, there is also likely some truth in what we offered. If we ask for forgiveness out of our own feeling of fear and condemnation, that in itself isn’t right, either. We need to have enough clarity in the light and love of the Spirit to be able to proceed that direction. It may be wisdom to simply pray. Love does cover over a multitude of sins, so it may end up being something apt to address later, or completely let go. Yet in never mentioning it, it still remains. Maybe that in and of itself is an impetus to continue to pray, which may be needed.

Friendship nowadays seems to be about buddy, buddy times, in which there is no accountability. Maybe a better way to apply any needed rebuke is by example in love, and letting go of the perceived wrong done against us. After all, that is to be our heart attitude. And too often rebukes are done harshly. It might be best to approach someone with questions, and listen, trying to put the best construction on their answer. That could leave the window open to help them understand how their actions or words might have come across to us, or someone else.

We certainly do need to trust God in all of this. What wisdom might any reader like to offer on this? 

accountability

Roger Olson has an interesting post entitled Evangelical Superstars and Why They Fall. It may be disappointing in its simplicity, but it may well hit the nail on the head. The big problem as he sees it: lack of accountability.

Olson touches on something of the heart of the problem in terms of both the unquestioning trust often given to leaders and how power corrupts. There needs to be ongoing accountability. We all need that, but particularly those in high positions of leadership and responsibility.

Another important factor is something not confined to evangelical circles. But it especially can be a problem among us evangelicals. We tend to put the pastor on a pedestal and we make the sermon the most important part of a service or church gathering. My own experience in this is that unless the church was good in the music part, I was more than ready to hear the message. Or even give it. The other stuff was mere preliminary to that. The sermon is in the spotlight and often dictates whether or not visitors will continue to come. And because of that the preacher being the pastor tends to have extraordinary power, provided they can give a good message.

Sermons are important and a gifted pastor is vital to the health of a church. They need not be charismatic in personality, but God’s gift for pastoring which includes teaching needs to be on them. But we would be far better off if instead of the sermon in the preaching of the word being pretty much the end all of most evangelical churches, it would instead be one major part. In fact I would prefer that it be a major part of the main thrust: to keep Jesus Christ and the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in him front and center. Liturgically and in everything else. Instead too often the church is driven by whatever the sermon might be and that is driven by one person, the pastor. So that everything centers around that and around them. Churches which major in both word and sacrament I would think tend to do better in this way. But to get back to the main point of this post, that does not necessarily mean that proper accountability is taking place.

The bottom line whatever other variables is to recognize and be committed to ongoing accountability. Not in terms of popularity as to whether or not the pastor is making people happy. But in terms of what is spelled out in scripture as to qualifications for leaders in ministry. Perfection is not the standard, but maturity and growth. Can we say that we can follow the leader even as they follow Christ? Are they following Christ? Of course that involves ongoing humility in confession of sin. The best leaders will be transparent and quick to confess their sins. If we’re all to be accountable, looking out for each other, leaders ought to show the way in that. On some level everyone can participate in that, but there ought to be leadership in place in churches, including godly lay members who can help in that way.

Not an easy subject, but an important one for us to grapple with.

 

the unreal world of social media

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Writing is something many of us do who are online, whether with our own blog, Twitter, Facebook, or something of the like. And sharing back and forth, or seeking to communicate that way can be good. Words can open up the world, even bring us into a new world. Witness scripture itself, par excellence for that.

Yesterday I felt abandoned and alone. But late in the day, mid afternoon, I was able to work with a friend, and we had good interactive fellowship with each other. My heart was turned from near despair in stone cold to peace and joy. Hopefully my friend was encouraged as well, not that he needed that in the way I did at the time.

There is no substitute for face to face interaction. For committed friendship to each other. And for us in Jesus, all of that in and through him.  Just to be in each other’s presence in grace with full acceptance of each other. Along with openness for all kinds of interaction, including the need sometimes for correction, or input to help us on our journey. I would rather have one true friend than one thousand “friends” on social media. Actually there can be some good occurring along those lines on social media, but we need each other right where we live.

Any church which has any degree of spiritual health will value relationships. They really need to go beyond friendly chit chat. There needs to be a commitment to each other in the Lord. For better or for worse, even outside the bonds of marriage. Of course we have to exercise caution and wisdom with those of the opposite sex. We need plenty of wisdom in friendships. But this should be a priority in our lives.

 

 

fellowship

The New Testament word translated “fellowship,” or perhaps more aptly, “participation” is from the Greek word transliterated koinonia. We in Jesus are in this new life together. We indeed are one body in Christ, and the Head, Christ actually does communicate and bless members of his body through other members. If I’m connected to the Head, Christ, I can be a blessing to others in him, as well as receive his blessing from others.

Yesterday I went to church not in the best of moods. I was unhappy over something about which I could do little or nothing about except to pray. Instead of waiting on the Lord, I was rather getting hotter inside, though holding that in well through the service and Holy Communion into what might be called fellowship time.

It was then that the Lord began to give me the grace needed to deal with the problem point. First with a sister who shared with me something appropriate and helpful, even liberating for my problem, then carrying on in friendly conversation with others, and then the clincher on this from one of our pastors. When we left, the problem was essentially taken care of inside of me, even if the matter itself is ongoing.

The fellowship of the body of Christ, or our participation together as Christ’s body is a blessing that is so inherent and integral, that is, necessary and a part of what it means to be in Christ and of his body the church, that to lose out on this for one reason or another, is to lose out on something fundamental to God’s work in our lives. We tend in this culture to downplay that, though I’m glad to be a part of a church which does not.

While it is possible to go to church gatherings, or be involved in that too much, so that we have little time for anything else, we should avail ourselves of every opportunity within reason of being together. It isn’t so much in what we do, but in simply being present with each other. That presence and God’s presence in Jesus by the Spirit will take care of the doing in the form of conversation, listening, words offered and prayer. Neither is the point in how we come across. Of course all should be in a grace-filled love. I may think I’m as weak as can be, ineffective, yes, but Christ may be using me just the same for another. Just as he is using another to minister to me, building me up/edifying me in love.

Yes, we’re in this together, no less. There is no such thing at all in scripture, in the New Testament as a lone ranger Christian. Though at times we may need to stand alone, we are essentially one body in Christ, for each other and for the world.

shunning

The Amish practice shunning, which to them means not having any fellowship with those among them who depart from their tradition, their distinct practice of the faith. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes it clear that there is to be a strong discipline practiced to help unrepentant believers. In another passage he says that they are to be warned as those in family.

Unfortunately in our day extremes are practiced. People can go on from church to church with little to no accountability concerning ongoing sin issues in their lives. The church can’t help them, because they refuse any accountability. The high churches which are steeped in sacramentalism, are relegated to the sacrament of confession to a priest. The churches which reject that all but lose out on confession most of the time, until the sin arises and comes to a head, so that the unrepentant one is all but lost, whether or not they remain in the church.

How do we approach sin issues in our own life which may bring reproach on Christ’s body the church, as well as be destructive to ourselves and others? How do we approach the same in a brother or sister who may be close to us?

We need to look at ourselves first, and pray that God would uncover in us anything contrary to his will. We’re to cover over many sins, or pray for the one sinning, and confront when need be the sins of other brothers and sisters in Jesus. And we must hold to a balance of neither imagining that we in Jesus are without sin in this life, or that we must sin in everything we do. But there needs to be a commitment to accountability, if we’re to follow our Lord faithfully together in him. For the world.

don’t judge

Scripture warns us, indeed Jesus did, against judging others. I think this works on at least two levels. We’re most definitely not to judge another in the sense of any final judgment which only God can render. And we’re to be wary of jumping in to correct problems in others unless we are ruthlessly doing the same first to ourselves.

Much of the time for us it’s better just not to make any judgment of others at all. Scripture does tell us that we will know people’s heart by their fruit, meaning works and life. Not in some complete, final, or in/out sense, but something of what people have in their hearts at the time. And we in Jesus not only need God to search our own hearts so we can understand whatever might be wrong in them, but we need the Spirit’s searching as well in order to try to help anyone else. But again we need to be slow to undertake any such endeavor. In fact it’s best for a time that we refuse to judge another at all, instead being sure that we ourselves have our own house in order.

I think we are best most often to refuse to judge another because it really takes time to begin to discern all the good along with what might be wrong in another. If our attention is on someone, it may be a problem we have in our own hearts, as well as possibly a problem they have. Or it may be something evident to us about them, even if we can’t put our finger on it at the time. But even if we think we can, we need to step back and slow down and pray. And be slow to think such and such about a person. We need to learn to “read” another person and maybe something of what we can see of their life with love. And we need to remember as well that love covers over a multitude of sins. We need that from others ourselves.

In the end we’re all in this together in Jesus, and together in this for all. God makes it so that we do need each other in Jesus. All mediated by Jesus, but for and through us to each other, as well as in regard to and for the benefit of the world.