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.

through the shock and storm

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[e] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job is an amazing book, chalk full of wisdom, but in a way, not one of my favorite stories in Scripture, not that that really matters. But for God to take up a wager with Satan over one of God’s servants, just seems to me to be strange at best, and then to let Satan do what he did, just a mystery. Well, if it’s truly a story which actually happened, then yes, I’ll just let it remain in mystery, a category that is becoming increasingly meaningful to me over time. But actually I hold it to be a wisdom story, telling a tale which actually did not happen. Where is the land of Uz? A story well worth going over again and again for the wisdom one can glean. Indeed part of the wisdom literature in Scripture.

What Job went through as indeed shock and awe, more like awful, one might say the shock and storm which followed. Although Job maintained his integrity and held on to faith in God, it was not without severely questioning God to the max. His three friends did well initially, just being with him in silence for seven days. But when they opened their mouths, their help became a hindrance. Or one can say, something Job had to work through as well, not just his own protests, maybe one might say doubts and surely wonderment before God, but also what surely sounded like pious platitudes in his ears, eloquently expressed by his three friends, with a young man adding some on at the end, although the latter might have been getting a little warmer to the truth in what he said.

Job is a case in point of what we need to do when we face hard times, hardship in whatever way it might come, difficulty, and even rejection from our friends and yes, companions in the faith. Job’s friends were each men of faith from different perspectives, maybe different traditions of practice of it. Well meaning to be sure, and sincere to the nth degree. In the end Job had to pray for them, which in itself is instructive to us, but God somehow required that for their forgiveness, which again is a word to us to try to avoid their error.

Through the shock and the storm we must hang in their and remain in faith, in the faith. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to go through it, though faith surely will lessen if not the difficulty, at least the harm done to us, and should hopefully mitigate or diminish, indeed negate any harm to our souls.

Surely Job was never the same afterwards. He had known of God he said, but through the experience he had come to see God. And he lost his first seven sons and three daughters forever in this life. But God brought him through. A lot of this a mystery to me, but maybe part of the brutal necessity of this life, living in this broken world. God will see us through to the other side as long as we hold on in faith, come what may. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

remaining hinged in an unhinged world

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

It’s an unhinged world today it seems. And it’s easy, in fact impossible not to react when one has opinions or convictions.

James’s passage is about the power of the tongue for life and especially for death. He echoes Proverbs, but as a faithful pastor, expounds on that. That precedes what is quoted above (click link).

Then James ends on the note above, about true wisdom.

There seems such a dearth of that nowadays, and it can become confusing when government leaders, and especially religious, indeed, even Christian leaders seem to advocate for something different, askew from true wisdom. I suppose they would argue otherwise, if they would be concerned about this suggestion at all. And Satan comes as an angel of light, so that his messengers come as servants of righteousness. A lot of time what is going on is a muddying of the waters. Again it becomes confusing and even more so when Christian leaders get involved in what seems to be something less than wisdom, at least to me. And sad.

Regardless of the merit of my thought here, there is one thing for sure. What God calls us to in Christ is a heavenly wisdom which is down to earth, but not of this world. It’s a wisdom that refuses to exact pound for pound of flesh. But instead, forgives one’s wrongdoers, though holding them accountable out of love.

Although this is not what the passage above is talking about, it is indeed related to it. Give it a good look and listen. That is what God is calling us Christians to be and do today, what is wonderfully exemplified to us in this young man.

In and through Jesus.

grace and judgment

It seems in a way that grace and judgment are mutually exclusive in Scripture, like oil and water. They simply don’t mix. In other words, if I’m a person of grace, then I will at least reserve judging others to God. I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. In real life situations, we do have to make judgments along the way. I think the difference grace can make is the honest attempt, and even characteristic of one’s life to look at themselves first, and hold themselves in the mirror, while being reticent to do so with others.

Consistent judgment of others is evidence that one’s own heart is not imbued with grace. To be clear, grace here means God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new life to those who don’t deserve it and never could. But grace doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to a wrong, either. We may have to confront, but we do so in mercy and love. Confrontation is especially important when others are being mistreated. We do so with the hope of God’s grace being extended to the one in the wrong, that they might repent and find their way into God’s grace.

We leave all final judgment to God, and are tentative about our own perception of others. But we have to apply the best discernment we have from God to real world situations involving people. That can become messy in more ways than one, so we have to do that with the utmost humility.

So while grace and judgment in a way are separated, in another way they’re joined together. When necessary, we make judgments, but always couched in grace, so that we do so only out of love, and not for selfish motives. So that even when someone crosses us, we challenge them in love, always with the hope of reconciliation, ever ready to extend the hand of forgiveness, or cover over the sin. In and through Jesus.

keep on forgiving

Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Luke 11:4a

Forgiveness is not something we withhold from others. We at least need to forgive everyone for whatever wrong they’ve done to us from our hearts. But there’s what I have called a functional forgiveness as well. Meaning that we forgive them only when they acknowledge their fault to us, being sorry that they did it. That kind of forgiveness is for their good. For some things, and especially concerning those in the church, people need to be held to a certain standard. And our Lord teaches us to do that (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:15-20). But forgiving others from the heart includes both the functional forgiveness we extend, as well as forgiveness for all the other wrongs done to us, even by our enemies who might want to harm us all the more.

We might say that the functional forgiveness is primarily for the good of the other, the one who has sinned against us, while forgiving from the heart is not just for their good, but primarily for the good of the one who forgives. It’s a heart matter.

And being a heart matter to me suggests that it is more than functional, which we automatically do when someone acknowledges repentance to us. It is something we may well have to work through, in a heart by God’s grace of love, yes, forgiving them. But the wrong done to us may have been so bad, and perhaps the perpetrator is not even sorry they did it, that such forgiveness we may have to struggle through, and do again and again. God does this for us, and we need to do it for others.

We need to remember the example of our Lord on the cross when he prayed for his enemies, even for those who put him there, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But we also need to be honest to ourselves and to God, that there will be times when we are once again struggling to forgive someone for the wrongs they have done, either real or imagined by us. Once again, it’s a heart matter. Psalm 51 is a great passage to read about heart change. We often sin, and actually probably always do, when others sin against us. So that confession to God will be necessary, and perhaps to the person who sinned against us, if we responded in kind against them, returning evil for evil. If we just harbored it in our hearts we need to confess such to God, and work through it. We do this on the basis both of God’s mercy to sinners (Luke 6), and because of the cross where we find that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5).

And we may have to keep forgiving someone again and again. If we’re repentant ourselves over our struggle to forgive, God’s grace will be present, as it actually already is, to help us so repent. God will help us, and if need be again and again, to forgive the wrongdoer. It will probably take us awhile, and maybe will be something we keep doing the rest of our lives. Even if reconciliation with them is not possible. We forgive them, and release them into God’s hands, praying for their salvation, and for God’s good will to be accomplished even in the midst of evil, or what is not good. All of this in and through Jesus.

anger and grace don’t mix

26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4

Literally, it’s “Be angry,” but the NIV probably captures the meaning well, since it likely is not an actual command to be angry, but rather an accommodation. In fact it is not saying that anger in itself is sin, but suggesting that it can lead to, or become sin.

Ephesians quotes from Psalm 4 (see other translations from the link below, and notice the context):

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent. Interlude

Psalm 4:4: NLT

It might be okay to be angry. Anger is dangerous, and best avoided. But sometimes anger is not only acceptable and justified, but it might even be right. Of course the Lord’s anger is always right, what is called righteous anger. And given the evil in the world, it can surely sometimes be quite wrong not to be angry.

But justifiable anger needs to be given over to the Lord in prayer. We most likely will have to confess what is sin in our anger to God. We have to let it go, or at least give it to God as best we can. And we have to counter it with mercy extended to the one who might be in the wrong. Or dealing with the issue of just why we’re angry. Of course the Psalm 4 passage is good on this. Silence is most often wise, especially in the face of what is angering us, or most likely to. We dare not forget the deadly demonic force the tongue can be (James 3).

Anger and grace don’t mix. Do we want to endeavor to walk with God, and hear from God through his word? Then we dare not harbor anger. That opens the door to the devil, and to all the deception that comes with that. It is more than not worth it. It is bad in and of itself.

So no matter what the case, let’s deal with what is provoking or troubling us as best we can: in prayer, silence, pondering, more prayer, and definitely as well endeavoring to listen to God through God’s word. In and through Jesus.

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

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? 

overcoming love

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

1 Peter 1

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4

In the new life in Christ, there is nothing more revolutionary than the love which accompanies it. One is overcome with that love at the beginning, what is called “the love you had at first” (Revelation 2). Of course it has to be paired with truth; scripture does put “truth and love” together (2 John). One has to grow and mature in that love along with others, into the image of Christ.

Slights and attitudes that are wrong, of course showing up in one way or another in actions, do happen among believers. And when we think we’ve been the victim of such, we can isolate ourselves in hurt. Instead, somehow we need to love, and let go of that hurt. In doing so, we’re casting a real burden on the Lord, one might say. For sure, we’re obeying God’s word, which tells us who are in Jesus to keep loving each other deeply, since love covers over a multitude of sins.

If something is serious enough that we need to go to the person who perhaps sinned against us, we’ll have the discernment to realize such is the case. Even then, we go in much love, ready to listen and always to put the best construction on things. By and large, the passage above surely refers to those times when we simply let a small matter among a multitude of other small matters go. That can result not only in forgiving the offender, but in helping them change in accordance with God’s faithful working in their lives in Jesus.

At times we might be at the short end of the equation, so that we need grace extended as well. Though we ought to be sensitive to where we might have hurt someone in a way that was either unnecessary, unhelpful, or downright sinful.

There is nothing more basic in our lives in Jesus than this love, this overcoming love, which can help others into the same grace of God in Jesus, in which we stand, and out of which we live.