forgiving others so that we might be forgiven

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32

Our Lord tells the parable of the unforgiving servant who although he was forgiven a huge debt outright, would not forgive a servant of his who owed comparatively little, but didn’t have the resources to pay it back readily. And in the Lord’s teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, we’re taught to ask for forgiveness of our sins, since we’ve forgiven others of their sins against us. And then after the prayer that unless we forgive others, we ourselves won’t be forgiven. Yet Ephesians tells us to forgive each other just as God in Christ has forgiven us. What are we to make of this?

I think this might be akin to John in 1 John telling us that we’re to confess our sins, and that as do so, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). We’ve been forgiven which we’ve been taught is past, present and future because of Christ and Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. But we’re to live that out in the present. 

We might hold grudges against others, against another, and we withhold forgiveness from them, maybe in some kind of passive aggressive way, but oftentimes that apparently being so receded that we’re unaware of it, but we simply don’t forget the offense and still hold it against the person. Instead we’re told that we’re to forgive them. As we’ve already been forgiven as we’re told in Ephesians. But also so that we might experience forgiveness ourselves for the sins we inevitably commit. Including the sin of not forgiving that other person.

This is something we have to do, and keep working at doing. It may involve struggle, and time, but in our hearts and minds we need to be committed to that. God will help us follow through as we set our face toward that goal. In and through Jesus.

the accuser of the brethren/ the faithful

Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan,[b] “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan![c] The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Then the angel of the Lord assured Joshua, saying “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.”

Zechariah 3

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”

Revelation 12:10-11

One of the facts of life that we as believers in Christ face right along, off and on are accusations leveled at us from Satan. They usually come to us from our own head or from others. But they are directed by the Accuser and Adversary, Satan. Maybe for some of us, the Accuser needs little help. But where did our propensity to accuse ourselves come from in the first place? And certainly the Adversary can make it a whole lot worse, pouring gasoline onto the fire so to speak. And it can be a question of whether the chicken came from the egg, or the egg from the chicken. Make no mistake, the devil is in the details.

The victory is already ours for us in Christ. But it’s a case where we need to receive and accept it, and rest in it. And that means we must act. It’s passive in a sense in that it’s not our saving work, so that we receive it. But it’s active in the sense that we do receive it at necessary times again and again. The texts may not bear that out, but life experience does.

We also have to simply realize that accusations as such from the enemy are simply a part of this life for us as followers of Christ. We must be set to always be recipients of God’s grace, of God’s ongoing saving work through Christ, and our full participation in that. We have to accept the rough patches, and even worse. By God’s grace going on, knowing our sin and sins have been taken care of by Christ through his death, that made clear through his resurrection along with the new life this brings. And we seek to follow our Lord fully come what may to the very end in the way of the Lamb.

We don’t argue with the Accuser, but simply rest our case with God in Christ. God will take care of it now and forever in and through Jesus.

no, it’s not wrong to have a broken and contrite heart. quite the contrary

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

After we’ve sinned, and I refer not just to “great transgression” (Psalm 19:13), but to all sin, when we confess and repent we’re often told to forget about it. That our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) which is true upon genuine confession and repentance. But if we’re to take seriously the great penitent Psalm, 51, then we need to accept the fact that what pleases God is not only acceptance of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ, but also God’s acceptance and I would even say pleasure in a broken and contrite heart over our sin.

That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our sin, or hate ourselves. We hate what we’ve done, and not merely the consequences. If we hate only the consequences, then we certainly don’t have a broken and contrite spirit. For most sins the consequences are only a reminder that we haven’t arrived in this life, and that we do well to be more and more humble. For some sins the consequences may be greater along with the realization that there’s work for us to do to be rid of our tendencies without ever thinking we’ll come to the place in this life when we’re actually above the possibility of falling again.

No, with thanksgiving and praise to God we accept God’s forgiveness upon our confession of sin. But we also take our sins seriously, out of love for God and others allowing our hearts to be broken. So that our lives following will become different. Hating what we’ve done, and making amends as best we can with an entirely different life. Letting God, as the psalmist, probably David in Psalm 51 aspires, to do God’s work of thoroughly cleansing us on the inside, so that our hearts might be inclined in love toward righteousness and justice, wanting to avoid all wrong.

In and through Jesus.

better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

love fearlessly

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:16b-21

The sermon I heard yesterday, “Love Fearlessly,” seemed to turn the normal interpretation of this passage on its head, I might say in typical Anabaptist fashion. The passage itself bears this interpretation. If we know that God’s love for us is absolute and sure no matter what we face or even what we’ve done, then we can love others with that same kind of love. And God’s love experienced and lived in by us banishes our fear, so that we can love others fearlessly.

Christ took care of sin’s claim on us through his death, so we need not fear. Instead we can accept God’s love for us and share that same love with others, all others. This is the love that through Christ truly wins forever.

Our experience goes in and out so that we can’t wait on experiencing God’s perfect love to the point that our fear is gone. Yes, we’ll experience that at times, but we need by faith to accept that love in spite of our fears. And we need to love others even when we’re afraid. Loving fearlessly means we push through our fears with that love which ultimately drives out all fear.

To be lived out in community and in our individual everyday lives. Something I want to be working on from every conceivable angle. In and through Jesus.

don’t confront anyone except…

“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

“Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4; MSG

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.

Galatians 6:1; MSG

I think what the Lord tells us along with the rest of Scripture is that we’re to never confront or try to correct anyone except out of and in love. We should do so with tears so to speak, never imagining the falsehood that we’re better than the other person, not for one moment. We ought to know better than that. We’re all in this together, and it may not be long before we need some loving correction ourselves.

First though we need to pray and pray some more. We don’t jump into confronting people over a sin. At the same time we want to take all sin seriously. Or if we see something that might possibly be sin, that doesn’t look right, we might do well to ask questions. But only after prayer. And to do all of this within a relationship of love.

We should never be looking for what is wrong or might be in others. Yes, we need to keep our eyes open, but first and foremost we should be concerned about what is wrong with ourselves. And in prayer for God to reveal that to us, that we might always be sensitive to whatever is not right inwardly and outwardly through the light of discernment God gives us. And we’ll know better when we’re wrong, but we need God’s help in this. But we don’t do well if we fail to help others from what could end up being a devastating fall for them, affecting many badly.

Any confrontation and correction must be done gently, out of love. Not an easy task. I guess that’s why it’s not done. And we rebel against such. But we need to be committed to this, not only to give, but to also receive it when need be. But it’s not in the cards in our church life, or so it seems to me. Or it’s done in something other than a loving way, maybe perfunctory as mere duty, or even worse, in anger and arrogance. I’m thankful to now be part of a tradition which is committed to this, though not at all in some legalistic, threatening way.

May God help us in this. In and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14

I remind you, my dear children: Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. You veterans were in on the ground floor, and know the One who started all this; you newcomers have won a big victory over the Evil One.

And a second reminder, dear children: You know the Father from personal experience. You veterans know the One who started it all; and you newcomers—such vitality and strength! God’s word is so steady in you. Your fellowship with God enables you to gain a victory over the Evil One.

1 John 2:12-14; MSG

John might just tell us here something like we’re equipped by God for the time, to meet the demands before us. A lot of that is just the continuing on in every day life, in the necessary work we have to do. Another essential part of this is the love we’re to show to others, particularly our own family.

But then we also have to address the difficult times in which we live. What God wants us to be and do now. From this letter we can say it is the life of Christ in our midst that makes all the difference. John specifies certain things here: having our sins forgiven in Jesus’s name, knowing God, having God’s word in us: in our hearts, bones, lives. And thus standing in the victory of God in Christ over the evil one.

John would tell us that God gives us all we need for the present time. It’s up to us to live it out individually and together. We’re beholden to nothing more or nothing less. In and through Jesus.

if John “the elder,” the beloved apostle were here today: 1 John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.

If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 1:5-2:2; MSG

John here is talking about the light believers in Christ are to be living in, in contrast to the darkness. It’s the light of God no less, the God who is light. Our walk in this world is to be in that light and in nothing else. C.S. Lewis pointed out, in that light we see everything else much clearer and for what it truly is.  Anything other than that light is darkness. It doesn’t matter what it is, if that’s the “light” we’re living in, it’s actually darkness. And we’re sinning.

Yes, we maybe are no longer called “sinners” or “unrighteous” in Scripture, in fact we’re called “saints” or “holy people.” But this passage makes it clear that we still need a Savior. We still have sin, what I just heard a pastor call “sin sickness” in our lives which needs to be healed, or taken care of by God, not only legally, but fully.

We’re called to simply acknowledge our sins, ongoing, something which we’re to practice in our lives. At the same time John wants to help us to not actually commit the sin we would inevitably stumble into, left to ourselves. It’s a matter of walking in the light, in the light of the God who is light.

In this blessing we have a shared life, fellowship with one another as the blood of Jesus through his sacrificial death on the cross continues to cleanse us from all sin. When we do sin, as we confess it to God and when need be to those we’ve sinned against, that sacrifice of Christ takes care of it.

This is the reality in Jesus in which believers are called to live. To understand more fully what John is telling us here, we need to read the rest of the letter. But for the moment we’re let in on this marvelous reality for all of us in our individual lives and together. In and through Jesus.

God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.