Forgiven (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a study on Philemon 8-16.  You can review Part 1 here.

Forgiveness doesn’t end with the words, “Forgive me.” Paul knew this. Philemon could say, “I forgive you, Philemon, but the Roman law says I can still have you killed or at least beaten.” There were a number of things that Philemon could do if he wanted.

You know this feeling, right? A person comes to you, admits they are wrong. You know you have to forgive them, but what about after that? Now they’re on your turf! They’ve admitted they’re wrong! They’ve opened themselves up to anything! The temptation is to strike, right? Hurt them as much as they hurt you. Make them pay. See how sorry they really are. Maybe keep the offense in your back pocket and slap them with it later. After all, it’s your right!

The world would say to Philemon, “Onesimus owes you. Make him pay. Make him feel what you felt. Pour on the pain. Crush him. Unleash the punishment. Tighten his chains.”

You may have a right to punish your offender, but you don’t have to punish them before you forgive. All over scripture you are told to treat your enemies well—how much more when a brother or sister in Christ comes to you repentant and in need of forgiveness! If they are a follower of Jesus, then Jesus was punished for their sin. You need not add to it. Don’t answer forgiveness with more pain and punishment.

“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.” – Philemon 10-12

Paul doesn’t shy away from Onesimus’ offense, but notice how he comes to his defense. It’s as if Paul says, “Onesimus is a new man. He has truly repented. He has made things right with God and he wants to be right with you, Philemon. Yes, he became a “useless” person, no good to anyone, but now he is living up to his name and is “useful” again—to God, to me and to you! Now honor him and what God is doing in him by NOT acting on your right to punish him or take what you are due. Rather give him what he doesn’t deserve—mercy and grace.”

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Forgiveness gives mercy and grace

Do you notice that within the word “forgiveness” is the word “give”? Forgiveness comes with a gift. Forgiveness gives up resentment or payback and gives grace and mercy in its place.

Forgiveness is costly. It gives up what you think you deserve for what the other person deserves. Yes, it’s awkward, often risky, usually emotional, and definitely challenging. Onesimus traveled over 1,000 miles from Rome to Colossae to seek it. And Jesus left heaven to come to earth and died to give it. We ought to follow this example and go the distance to forgive too. Forgiveness may be costly, but not forgiving is more costly costing you intimacy with God and people. But with the great cost comes great reward—a relationship deeper, richer and stronger than it ever was before.

Jesus didn’t withhold words about the swiftness and seriousness of seeking forgiveness,

“…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser…” (Matthew 5:23-25)

This is your one pink slip from Jesus to get out of church or to be late for church. I had to use this slip recently with my wife. On the way to church, I said something stupid pretending to be smart. It offended her. In the church parking lot Sarah said,”I’m not going in there like this.” She was the smart one. I was ready to go in there pretending everything was alright. But you know the misery of worshiping God when you are in the wrong with someone. I sought her forgiveness and we ended up being awkwardly late to church.

In Ephesians 4:26 Paul said, “…do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” The implication here are that you need to take the time and make the effort to seek forgiveness or you put out a welcome mat for Satan and give him a key to enter in to cause more pain and harm. You know what it’s like to go through a night of uncertainty and misery after a fight with someone. You ask yourself, “Do they still love me? Are we still friends? What happens now? Why did I say that? What can I do? Maybe it’s too late.”

Martin Luther rightly said that we are all Onesimus. Outside of Christ we too were runaway slaves, created to serve God, but guilty of sin we ran as far away from him as we could get. Yet God in his mercy took us who were once useless and made us useful in his kingdom. Forgiveness is about God and his glory, not ours. This is about God’s mercy, God’s kindness, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness. God is the hero of this story, Paul’s story, Philemon’s story, Onesimus’ story, your story, and everyone’s story. Forgiveness is a story bigger than us.

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Forgiveness is used by God for good

This is probably my favorite part of the letter. If Philemon were a made for TV movie this one-liner would be a tearjerker. Paul says,

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” – Philemon 15-16

It is almost as if Paul says, “Philemon, I know it’s hard to hear right now. And I know that it doesn’t make sense, and that there’s real pain in your life. Perhaps this was God’s plan all along. Perhaps this is the only way you would be able to see Onesimus as more than just your slave, but now be able to see him as a human, a brother in Christ. Perhaps this is part of God’s plan to finally break down the walls between masters and slaves, between classes, and bring unity to your home, your church, and your nation. Perhaps God is setting you up as an example to follow so that more people will throw away prejudice and embrace their brothers and sisters in Christ. This could be the beginning of something beautiful and redemptive—and you’re on the forefront of it! Don’t get in the way of what God is using for good!”

Paul willing risked his friendship with Philemon because he knew that God was doing something much bigger. Paul invited Philemon (and you and me) to see past arguments, hurts, and relationship pain to the bigger, gospel picture. The one that displays to the whole world that we are people of love, mercy and grace; and nothing does that better than when people see forgiveness your relationships.

When you hold onto unforgiveness, you are no different than the world. Eventually, as someone said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” Or unforgiveness is like a cancerous tumor. The longer it remains the harder, messier and more complicated it is to remove. Unforgiveness makes you like a dog on a leash and your master is the one who has offended you.

When you hold onto unforgiveness you think you own your offender, but really it is the hurt, rejection, anger, and shame of the offense that owns you. You become a slave to it. When you realize that you can’t own no one, forgiveness breaks the chains of both the offense and the offender. This doesn’t mean the hurt completely goes away or that it will be erased from your memory, but forgiveness takes the power out of the poison. It hands the reigns over to God who handles vengeance better than you can.

It’s important that we address the issue of slavery within this letter. When we think of slavery today, we tend to think of it through the lens of colonial America. Images emerge of race and color, masters beating their slaves, and ships sailing from Africa to America. It was horrific. However, this image doesn’t line up with the Roman Empire in the first-century. In the Roman Empire some slaves became property through battles or by being the children of slaves, but people also became a slave to repay debts. This is similar to our credit system today, except that the debtor worked directly for their creditor.

Let’s be clear, nowhere does the New Testament provide theological support or justification for slavery. The way of the Empire was not the way of Christ. Although Paul didn’t speak directly against slavery, letters like Philemon provided the seedbed that eventually led to the abolition. Paul’s concern for slavery wasn’t primarily about brotherly love and equality, though those are good things, but about people being “in Christ”.

If you are in Christ, it removes labels such as “Jew or Greek, free or slave, male and female,” and replaces it with brother or sister (cf. Col. 3:11).

You are no longer a slave. You are a child of God—a new creature in Christ.

Physical slavery is a picture of our spiritual slavery. Paul reminds us that we were all once slaves, ultimately betrayers against God, chained to our sin, holding a debt we can’t pay. While there are many stories about forgiveness in the Bible, Philemon is a living example of the Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21ff). In the story, a servant was forgiven $10 million dollars by his master. Never in a lifetime could he repay it. But when that servant’s friend owed him $10 dollars he nearly killed him. The master made his servant come back, called him wicked, and now asked him payback his debt. Forgiveness cancels the debt. Jesus was the master. He forgave the greater debt.

Paul knew that the #1 thing that destroys the church, its mission, and the reputation of Christ is when two believers live in unforgiveness. On the flip side, two believers who forgive show the world the power of the gospel.

“When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled our debt, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” –  Colossians 2:9-14

You may find yourself in the position of Philemon—someone who has been wronged by someone else and struggle to forgive. Or you might find yourself in the position of Onesimus—someone who has wronged someone else and is in need of repentance. Throughout our lives we find ourselves in both places, people needing to forgive and people needing to be forgiven. The hardest word God asks you to say is “Forgive me,” or “I forgive you.”

Where are you at today in the relationships around you? Do you need to receive God’s forgiveness?  Is there someone that you need to ask forgiveness from, or is there someone you need to talk to and let them know that what they did hurt you?

Remember who you are “in Christ”: One who is forgiven much who can forgive much too.

 

Questions for Reflection:

What is the meaning of Onesimus’ name? How does Paul play on his name? How was Onesimus useful to both Paul and Philemon?

How does our modern history of slavery shade slavery in Onesimus’ day? In most of the world there are groups of people severely restricted by economic and social barriers in ways that strongly resemble slavery. There are also people actually enslaved. How can you help them find freedom?

Why is the reality and analogy of ‘slavery’ so important to understanding our salvation and who you are?

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Forgiven (Part 1)

Since going to Chad, Africa I have learned three foreign languages—French, Arabic and a tribal language. Each are unique and difficult. I’m not bragging. I’m no linguist genius. Those who know me well know that I often slaughter the English language!

English is a difficult language. Just ask those trying to learn it.  Here are the Top-10 hardest words to say in English for a non-English speaker:

  • anemone
  • colonel
  • isthmus
  • Massachusetts
  • worcestershire
  • sixth
  • asterisk
  • defibrillator
  • squirrel.

But the hardest thing to say in English is “forgive me.” Undoubtedly it is the hardest thing to say in any language!

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Today we will continue discovering Paul’s letter to Philemon. As a review, remember Paul began the letter by thanking Philemon for how he has been refreshed in Christ through him because of his love for others, but now Paul will have hard words for Philemon asking him to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, who returned home with Paul’s letter in hand.

If all we had to the New Testament was this letter and no other, we would still see Christianity was a radical new way—a counter-cultural, society-altering, demographic-unifying way of life. It still is. And today we will discover how this letter tackles issues like slavery, betrayal, and forgiveness.

It was likely this letter was read publicly by Philemon’s son and all the church in his home listening. Can you imagine the scene? Can you feel the weight of it? What will Philemon say? What will he do? What would I do? This letter isn’t theoretical, it’s true to life because in life we will find ourselves in both Philemon’s shoes and Onesimus’ shoes. This letter is a guide to how the gospel touches relationships. Philemon verses 8-16 are really a practical theology of forgiveness

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Forgiveness isn’t Optional

Paul began by saying, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required…” (v.8) Paul could have played the trump card. He had the scriptural authority, pastoral authority, spiritual authority and apostolic authority to command Philemon to make things right with Onesimus, but he didn’t. He didn’t abuse his power for personal gain. He didn’t ignore the issue either. He didn’t push it under the rug. He didn’t say, “Oh, let’s just forget about it.” No. He simply and pastorally put the issue of forgiveness into Philemon’s hand. He honored Philemon and honored the process.

Forgiveness isn’t optional. It isn’t dependent on how you or the other person feels, how long it’s been, or anything else. Forgiveness is a command (an imperative). Jesus teaches this in the Lord’s Prayer. He says when you pray say,

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Matthew 6:9-15)

Jesus commands forgiveness. Without even pausing for a breath, Jesus connects our understanding of forgiveness with God to our willingness to forgive others. The implication is that we cannot say we understand how much we are forgiven if we are unwilling to forgive others.

C.S. Lewis when reflecting on Jesus’ words about forgiveness said this,

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. To forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.” from Weight of Glory

Why forgive? You’ve been forgiven much! To Colossae, Philemon’s church, Paul said, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (3:13) to the Ephesus he said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32)

If you have wronged someone and you haven’t made it right, forgiveness isn’t optional. If you were wronged and the other person has asked for your forgiveness, then forgiveness isn’t optional. If you are a Christian, then forgiveness is a command.  The alternative is dangerous.

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Forgiveness is an expression of God’s love

Forgiveness when expressed is a beautiful thing. There is nothing that makes you more like God than when you forgive. Paul was already confident in Philemon’s love, but that would be tested to forgive Onesimus. Paul is not going to twist Philemon’s arm, rather he says, “I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” (v.9) Paul adds in verse 14 that he doesn’t want Philemon to forgive out of compulsion, but to love Onesimus with Christ’s love that is so natural to him (cf. vs, 5-7).

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” Lewis hints at the many rationalization or ideas we use to explain away why we shouldn’t forgive. For example, “The hurt is too big to forgive,” Time will heal it,” or “Why forgive if they’ll for it again?”

God doesn’t want you to forgive people because you have to. He wants you to want to because of Christ’s love for you, your love for Christ, and your love for your siblings in Christ.

The idea of loving and serving out of compulsion is an interesting conundrum in Scripture. When Paul told the Corinthians to give to help suffering Christians in Jerusalem he said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Giving is better if done with love.

When Peter spoke to the elders of the church he said, “…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you …” (2 Peter 5:2) A leader in the church is not to serve because he feels he has to, but because he wants to. The same goes for preaching, counseling, teaching Sunday School, and helping in the nursery.

Which is better, the gift given out of love or the one out of compulsion? It sort of deflates the gift and the giver when you hear on your birthday, “Here’s your birthday gift. I had to get it because it’s your birthday.” Or on Valentines Day you hear, “Here’s a rose, babe. I’m supposed to get you flowers because I saw it in a commercial.” Everything is better when motivated by love rather than obligation, right?

God’s love is most visible when you forgive. Forgiveness is a visible expression of the gospel in Romans 5:6-11, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul is putting that theology into practice. Forgiveness dies to self for the sake of loving like God loves. Forgiveness removes the ugly graffiti in your soul and lets God’s love shine.

Part two is coming soon…

 

Questions for Reflection:

What do you learn about forgiveness from Paul, Philemon and Onesimus? What do you learn about the forgiveness you have received from Christ? What is your motivation to forgive (cf Ephesians 4:32-5:2)?

Philemon had a difficult choice to make.  He had been wronged by someone who he had power over but apparently had come to believe in Jesus. A spiritual leader in Philemon’s life (Paul) was strongly urging him to forgive the man who had wronged him. Put yourself in Philemon’s shoes. Could you forgive? Would you build a friendship across a cultural divide? Could you trust God to make this right? Would you do the right thing? Could you love the one who had wronged you?

Do you have anyone who has wronged you to whom you can extend forgiveness? What would that look like?

Jesus Calls you to a Greater Faith

An arrogant Christian is an oxymoron. A Christian has no room to boast in himself. Rather that is reserved for Jesus.

There is little difference between arrogance and confidence. The difference is the attitude. An arrogant person boasts in his ability while a confident person simply acts.

A Christian can be confident because of Christ. The root of our confidence as a Christian is that we have unlimited and unhindered access to the Most Holy Place where Jesus reigns as a Great High Priest (vs.19-21). This should encourage us to look both upward and outward as we approach God. Upward with a sincere heart and full of faith and hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Outward considering how best to stir one another towards love and good deeds (vs.22-25).

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:19-25

We have power to forgive others because God has forgiven us of so much sin. If we go on sinning, we continue rebelling against God, stomping on the sacrifice of Christ, and insulting the Spirit of grace. Ultimately, if we go that route we reject the sole means for salvation through Jesus and what remains is fear of judgement without hope (vs.26-31).

The writer of Hebrews takes note of his readers confident faith in God even in their present difficulties. They knew that Jesus made it possible for them to inherit greater and lasting possessions and this gave them hope through their present circumstances (vs.32-38).

This hope multiplies our hope too. Through Jesus we have the means to keep on persevering, even in the face of temptations and persecutions. By enduring through public insults, humiliation and suffering, with others, we grow a full faith (v.39).

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the difference between arrogance and confidence? How do verses 19-25 define confidence we have in Jesus?
  • What are some arrogant attitudes Christians can have towards God? What arrogant attitudes do you often exhibit?
  • Which of the three “let us” commands do you have a struggle walking in? (vs. 22-24)
  • How does one drift from their faith, waver in hope, or neglect loving others? What is the remedy for this according to the text?
  • What access do you have to God through the Most Holy Place and the Great High Priest? What is the benefit of this unlimited and unhindered access? Why are we prone to timidness rather than boldness?
  • How does faith go hand in hand with meeting together with other believers?
  • Why are you grateful we don’t have to endure this life and faith alone? Who do you have around you that you are meeting with that stir you to love and good works? Why is it difficult to stir others from a distance? Who are you stirring?
  • How do hard times draw us together and comfort often draws us apart? How do you see in verses 32-39 the power of remembering past hardships to bolster present faith? Do you have a similar remembrance?

What is your response to who God is?

Those who have seen God are never the same.  The children of Israel asked to see the Lord of Moses, but when they saw the Lord they were afraid and ask Moses never to allow them to see God like that again [see Daniel 10:7-10, Luke 2:10, Acts 9:3-4].  In Revelation 1:9-18, John saw the awesomeness of Christ and fell as a dead man.  People who see God are left with an awesome, fearful, and unforgettable impression of who God is.

stop-drop-and-rollA response to seeing God is similar to one who is on fire.  What is the normal trained response or actions for someone who is on fire?  Stop, Drop and Roll. Just as that is a memorable way to deal with being on fire it is also a great way to respond to God.

STOP to take a long look at who you are and who God is. 

And I said:“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah sees that his spirit is on fire.  Hot!  Isaiah is deeply impacted by seeing God.  As he glimpses God’s holiness and glory he says, “Woe is me.”   This is not “whoa!” but “woe!”  In ancient times “Woe” was a pronouncement of judgment on those who dare disobey God’s Word (cf. 5:18-23).  It was a shot to the heart, a punch in the kisser, and a kick to the spiritual stomach.

As Isaiah gets a glimpse of God and he’s devastated.  He got a peak behind the curtain of the holy of holies and is found out. He’s caught. He’s ashamed. He’s afraid.  He speaks a judgment upon himself as if to say, “I’m toast!”  It’s not an understatement—Isaiah’s freaking out. He is no longer shocked by the sins of the king or Israel but by his own sin.  Before he pointed one finger at Israel but now points three back at himself.   He sees no ones sin but his own in the presence of God.  Isaiah thinks he’s toast.  He knows he deserves to be.  That he is still alive is a wonderful thing.

This is a good thing for us to see.  We are good at pointing of the sins in others, but bad dealing with our own.  We play the comparison game with other Christians and pride ourselves on not being as sinful as the other Christian.  Jesus said to the religious leaders who were shocked at the lifestyle of the prostitute, “Whoever is sinless throws the first stone.”

We are a people of “compare-ers.”  We compare our actions to those of others to see whether we are acting right.  And, quite honestly, compared to all the people in the world, Isaiah was probably one of the best people there was.  But when he saw the glory of God there was no comparison.  Although Isaiah was better than most people, he knew that he was filthy compared to God’s pure holiness.  Isaiah admitted that he was a sinner. He had no excuses for his sinfulness.  He had no one to blame.  He had no where to run and hide.

I believe there is a great need to reintroduce the word “woe” to our devotional vocabulary.   When you finally take a moment to look at who you really are and who God really is.  Our “Woe!” can lead to “Whoa!” which leads us to the next response.

DROP to your knees and receive God’s forgiveness.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said:“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

There is something very interesting and weird going on here that is being illustrated.  In Isaiah’s day, their was a pagan practice called the “washing of the mouth.”  wash your mouth outSimilar to washing ones mouth out with soap it was a ritual that took an inanimate idol and made it inhabited by a god.  The image would be purified and cleansed to be ready for a god to dwell in it.  The cleansing ceremony Isaiah experiences is quite similar, but ironically God chooses Isaiah to cleanse and be His spokesmen to the pagan idolaters.

So what could Isaiah do about his sinful condition? Absolutely nothing!  What did God do?  Everything.  God’s messenger flew to Isaiah, took a burning coal from the altar, and touched his lips.  Fire is used in the Bible to purify things (Malachi 3:2-3).  This burning coal from God’s altar was a symbol that God was the One who made Isaiah pure.  Only God can save someone from his sins (Revelation 7:10).  God did not just cover up Isaiah’s sin. God took Isaiah’s sins away!  Isaiah’s sins would not be remembered or talked about ever again because God took them away!

I am so glad the story doesn’t end in verse 5.  Isaiah is not left feeling the heat of his sin.  He feels the forgiveness and restoration of God.  He is not left feeling afraid, guilty or shameful.  He feels true freedom.

When Adam sinned in the garden there were three consequences of sin that happened.  First, guilt.  He broke one of God’s rules.  Second, shame.  He want to hide from God and cover his nakedness.  Third, fear.  Adam was afraid for his life as death was introduced into the world.

You might know firsthand the the affects of shame, guilt and fear.  Maybe shame seeped into your life because of a hidden or naughty habit, a relationship crossed certain boundaries, or a detail about you if uncover you would haunt you forever.  Maybe guilt got the upper hand because you felt like you’d never measure up to the standards of someone or you just can’t quite quit that nagging guilty pleasure.  And guilt manifest itself in depression, self harm, eating disorder, or blame shifting.  Maybe fear trapped you because of various unknowns, via threats breathed down upon you, or someone holding dirt on you that if leaked could tarnish your reputation and future.

We often look at guilt, shame, and fear as bad, which they are if used as tools against someone or yourself.  However, God uses them for good as a tool to motivate you not to go there again and to seek rest in God’s forgiveness.

Notice how God’s pursues forgiveness in Isaiah.  He he does this with you too.  He pursues you through the work of Christ on the cross that shed His blood as your substitute so that you might be forgiven and free.  Have you known the forgiveness of God?

Just as God took away all of Isaiah’s sins, God wants to take away your sin also.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to become the holy sacrifice that takes away your sin. Just look at what the Bible says  God does with your sin.

  • God purifies your sins by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
  • God takes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
  • Your sins can never be found (Jeremiah 50:20).
  • God forgives you of your sin and cleans you from all wickedness (I John 1:9).
  • God will trample on your sins under His foot. Just imagine God stomping His foot on your sin! And God throws all your sins into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19).
  • “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

If you have not done so, it is time to drop your shame, guilt, and fear at the feet of Jesus who will forgive you today and forever.

ROLL up your sleeves and get going.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go…” (Isaiah 6:8)

Again, the verses do not end after 6-7.  Isaiah is not immobilized or handicapped.  He is not out of commission and sidelined because he has blown it or because he is a sinner.  Interesting, after God took away Isaiah’s sin, he hears God speak!  So often he is silent because our sin is like putting in earplugs.

What does God say?  After God cleanses Isaiah He commissions him: see to it that My people know I am forgiving too.  It is no irony that Isaiah’s commission is similar to Jesus commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20.

Commonly, commissioning follows cleansing.  Cleaning is God’s path to making you ready, useful, and humble for the task he has you to do.  One who is forgiven is forgiving and goes and tells of God’s great forgiveness.  That’s the goodness—the gospel—in a nutshell.

God was looking for the person who would be His messenger.  Isaiah didn’t hesitate.  He wanted to be the one used by God.  Isaiah sees who God is.  He is wowed.  He says WOE!  And God wipes away the fear, guilt, and shame of his sin.  Isaiah is pure and clean in God’s eyes.   He is ready to be used by God.

Likewise, Jesus came into this world to rub shoulders with people harboring loads of shame, guilt, and fear.  He came to free you from it.  He died for the sinner so that the sin would no longer have any power.  So that you could know the greater power of forgiveness and be used by God as an example of what God does through Jesus.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate (where atonement was made) in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:12-16)

Today you stand at the altar.  Will you stop and humble yourself before God and see him as he is?  Will you drop to your knees and enjoy his forgiveness?  Will you roll up your sleeves and let others know who God is?  How will you respond?  Let God touch your lips that you might taste his goodness and sweet forgiveness.

 

Coming up next: the result of responding to God in obedience

Previously in this series: God is

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

In Isaiah 6:5. Isaiah responds to his vision of God.   What does Isaiah immediately become aware of?   In other words, when you see the holiness of God, what do you see in yourselves?  Have you every experienced that before?

Why is it important to learn about who God is?   Why is it important to see God not as you want to see Him, but as He truly is?

What does it mean to you STOP, DROP and ROLL as Isaiah explains it?  Why is this important to remember as a follower of God?

born to forgive

Sunday at church I heard a great message about forgiveness from a familiar passage (Luke 7:36-50).  However, I fall in the trap of hearing a lot about forgiveness, but practicing it superficially.

Jesus was born to forgive.  His life teaches us three things about about forgiveness: 1)  It takes compassion , 2) It is costly, 3) It involves continuity.

One of the most celebrated encounters Jesus has in the Gospels is when a sinful woman washes His feet with her tears and her hair. Those around Jesus were shocked that He would allow Himself to be so intimate with someone so sinful.

People would expect Jesus to shun the woman who washed his feet at dinner because of her past; the Pharisees were shocked that Jesus would let himself be touched by her, but Jesus accepted what she brought to him with love. Not only did He accept her, he defended her. Jesus forgave her, fully aware of what her sin was, and Jesus honored her sacrifice and the enormity of what she brought to him. She didn’t even need to speak during the entire story – she needed no defense. It was not because of her arguments that Jesus bestowed His forgiveness.

We need to recognize our need for forgiveness before we can accept it. However, it is not because of our effort that we receive it – it is freely given. And when something is that freely given, we cannot keep it to ourselves. We often put ourselves into the position of the Pharisees. Who would the people be today that we would shun? Whose sins would we say cannot be forgiven? How might Jesus be asking us to both extend and receive forgiveness?

build up

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You will notice that building projects are going up all over your neighborhood, so it is in your church. Building up never stops, but this is how it starts…

Could you imagine getting a personal letter from the apostle Paul? That’s what we peer into when we read the letter to Philemon. By the time Philemon got this letter (58-60 AD) Paul would have had a reputation. I am sure when Philemon got this letter his adrenaline was pumping and heart fluttering.

Paul wrote the letter while in prison at Rome. It is also where he wrote Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians. In fact, Philemon, lived in Colossi, which is modern-day Turkey. We do not learn much about him. What we know is from this letter. There was a church that met in his home. His son was a minister. And he must have had some wealth as he had a slave and likely he had others.

The bulk of the letter is about Onesimus—a runaway slave. We do not know a lot about Onesimus either, but what is known is that he ran away from Philemon and went to Rome. For whatever reason he was not able to hide or blend into the crowd and was caught and thrown into prison. In prison, he connects with Paul who is in prison too. Paul is there for preaching about Jesus.  Paul’s ministry isn’t stifled by his circumstances, rather Paul continues to proclaim the good news to a captive audience. Onesimus hears and comes to faith. As Paul learns Onesimus’ story he encourages him to reconcile with his master.

Thus the thrust of the letter is Paul pleading to Philemon to receive back Onesimus, not as his slave but as a brother in Christ.  Paul is an inbetweener. He is in-between both Philemon and Onesimus. Have you ever had to be an inbetweener?  Can you think of two people not in a right relationship with each other, but you are in a right relationship with both of them?  May this letter encourage you as an inbetweener.

The beauty of this story is that it is true story. While there are many stories about forgiveness in the Bible this letter is a living example of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11) or Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21ff). It is an incredibly personal letter. Yet it is a fitting letter in a series of letters that Paul writes to churches, in which he mainly addresses divisions and relationships within the church.  Paul is aware that the number one thing that destroys the church, its mission, and the reputation of Christ is two believers living in unforgiveness. On the flip, two believers walking in forgiveness magnifies Jesus.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul often addresses. The first type of person TEARS DOWN. These people look for ways to cutdown others. They speak words that are discouraging, critical, and are quick to point out faults and failures. They are the kind of people you love to avoid if you are needing encouragement, but love if you are needing someone to empathize with your own critical spirit. The second type of person BUILDS UP.  They are the kind of person who encourages, sees the good, speaks truth in love, and has the knack of pointing you back to Christ.

Can you think of someone close to you who tears down or builds up? How would others describe you? Paul is known for building up people. He is a disciple of Christ who makes disciples of Christ, which necessitates one who will build up the church and those within the church. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another that looks like.

1. Give thanks to God for people and circumstances (v.4)

To give thanks is ironic considering Paul’s circumstances. Where is Paul again? He is in prison. What would that be like? Notice Paul doesn’t mope. He doesn’t curse God. He knew this would be a result of his calling and following Christ (Acts 9). Instead, Paul is engaged in writing letters of encouragement to others from prison. Also he is taking the opportunity to share the gospel and is leading people to Christ in prison. In fact, the gospel is reaching the ears of those in Caesars household (Phil.4:22).

Thankfulness is a choice. Gratitude is the attitude that gives fortitude to your faith. Would others around you consider you a thankful person? Are you thankful for the cards you were dealt? You might not have had a choice in the kind of family you your born into. You have learned that you cannot control the actions or words of your parents, spouse, children or friend. Maybe you’ve experienced someone walking out on you or you have felt the wounds of neglect or abuse. It is most difficult to chose to be thankful when you don’t feel it, but rather feel pain, abandonment or bitterness.

I am the son of two unmarried teenage parents. They married to appease their parents but the marriage only lasted a few years. I lived with my mother and observed a revolving door of relationships. I felt I had to be the responsible one. I would stay up late waiting for her to come home from her outings. My mother failed lived up to my high expectations. I thought if she’d just change to what I wanted things would be better. I had much self-pity. Even when my mom and I came to Christ I was still unthankful. I thought if only the church could fix my family. When I went to college I chose a college far away from home.  However, my sour feelings still followed me. After I finished college, I couldn’t find any other job alternatives, but moving back home with my mom and working with her. It was a summer of irony. God in His providence was giving me an opportunity to forgive as if to say, ‘Justin, If I you do not reconcile with your own mother. you will not be an effective agent of reconciliation to the world.’ It was true. I was about to go to South Africa on mission that fall. Living in unforgiveness could have derailed the mission and my faith. As hard as it was I sat down with my mom and thanked for working three jobs to support me while I was young. I thanked her knowing it was not easy to raise a young boy being only a teenager herself. I thanked her for loving me.

Beware of self-pity and pitying others. Can you hear those close to Paul saying? “Poor Paul. Why would God let such a person be thrown into prison?” Others might have mailed him letters saying, “Dear Paul, you know you could have avoided imprisonment if you just kept your mouth shut,” “You can’t save the world,” “Maybe prison is just God’s way of saying, ‘Take a break.’” It is clear from Paul’s writings that certain people were aiming to tear down his apostleship and most of them came from within the church. Isn’t that a shame? It’s a shame it also happens today. It might even be happening in your church.

It takes a mature Christian to look at difficult people and circumstances and say, “God is using this. God is eternal and sovereign. Everything he does or allows is good.” Do you believe God is using every person or circumstance to make you more like Jesus? What about those harsh or hurtful words? What about that hard thing that occupies your thoughts? God comes to you through difficult circumstance or difficult people. God is at work in the things we see as bad, ugly, painful or hurtful. Remember, God is for you!

If you need proof just survey the Bible. You will see dozens of examples of men and women gripped with gratitude despite unideal circumstances. Joseph was abused by brothers and falsely accused by Potifar’s wife, but in the end sees how God used bad for good (Gen. 50:20). Jeremiah preaches for 50 years and sees no one turn back to God, rather they drag him through the ditches. This weeping prophet hopes in God (Lam. 3). Then there is Job. Everything is taken from him. To make matters worse he has friends who give him bad advice and his wife encourages him to curse God or die, but in the midst of it he sees how God was making him like gold (23:10). Jesus himself was rejected, abused, abandoned, betrayed, and disrespected, yet forgave those who did not understand what they we doing to him. Each bore sacred sorrow, yet praised God.

Joseph Scriven grew up in Ireland. He faced many difficult circumstances in his life namely losing two fiancés before he was to be marry. In the midst of the hardship he went to the One who was most faithful. He put pen to paper and wrote ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.

Like these examples you and I are in God’s university. The problem is it’s not a 4-year degree and then you pass. For some of us it is lifelong. Each person and situation is a unique subject to learn how God uses all people and circumstance for his glory and purposes in you. Chose to be thankful.

2. Build up others by focusing on the work the Spirit of God (v.5)

Why is Paul so thankful for Philemon? He sees God’s work in Philemon. He has visible characteristics of God that are manifesting themselves. If you are a follower of Christ you too are showing the world the powerful work of what the Holy Spirit can do with someone. For Philemon, the visible characteristics were his love for people and his faith in Jesus.

What would the person sitting next to you say are the visible characteristics you are displaying right now? Can you imagine what an encouragement that would be to have someone point those things out to you?  This is what the apostle Paul is doing with Philemon. He is building him up in Christ by sharing with him the ways he is seeing Jesus in him.

Are you this kind of person? Or are you critical of others, especially of people in your church? There are many excuses one can create for being critical of others. Criticism is almost thought of as a spiritual gift or strength. One can spend more time finding faults in others or shooting holes in the pastors message than looking for ways to build up the Body.

Do you recognize the name William Wilberforce?  William Wilberforce made it his lifework to abolishment of slavery in Great Britain. It was a seemingly impossible work that brought him much discouragement. Wilberforce was at the beginning of his career, but John Wesley (who was nearing the end of his career) caught wind of Wilberforce’s discouragement and jotted him a note just 6-days before his death. He wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”  Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul focuses on the good he sees in Philemon. Paul has the right words at the right time to help his brothers continue on the right path. He focuses on the character of Christ in Philemon, namely his “love for the saints,” which will be the very character needed when he reunites with Onesimus.

3. Affirm others through prayer and fellowship (vs.6-7)

Philemon’s faith had already been active; but now wants it to be ‘effective’ in relation to Onesimus. It’s as if Paul says, “I have seen how effective your faith is within your house church. Now extend that same faith to your brother Onesimus.”

The world would say to Philemon, “Onesimus owes you. Make him pay. Mark him as a runaway the rest of his life. Make him feel the weight of what he did to you. Pour on the punishment. Tighten his chains. Don’t forgive him.” Doesn’t that sound miserable? Yet that is where we often gravitate, but there is no personal or corporate benefit to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness imprisons you to the past. It clings onto the pain. It feeds the open wound with anger, bitterness, retribution and other ungodly characteristics. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door. It is a welcome mat to the devil. Unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God. It simply paralyzes your walk with God. In fact, unforgiveness angers Him because it is opposite his redemptive heart.

Yet on the flip-side, forgiveness makes you most like God. It frees you from the past and produces other godly characteristics. It removes the ugly graffiti from your spirit and lets God shine. Forgiveness is a most visible expression of the gospel. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32) “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)

Philemon is a treatise on Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Paul has been a recipient of Philemon’s faith and love, moreover, he has been a recipient of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. And he sees the image this would be to the world, the church in Colossi, and his brother Onesimus. Paul says, “Philemon, you’ve got all these great characteristics that God is working in you, continue in them bless ‘our brother’ Onesimus. Jesus has forgiven him and so must you. Whatever difficult emotions this fuels with you, remember that love and faith you have in Christ. Embrace Onesimus. He is coming your way soon.”

Paul’s letter to Philemon shares the basics or ABC’s of building one another up:

  • Affirm others through prayer and fellowship.
  • Build up others by focusing on the Holy Spirits work.
  • Chose to be thankful for people and circumstances.

The Spirit of God has likely brought to your mind a relationship that needs building up. Maybe, like Paul, you are an inbetweener. How do the examples of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus bring healing on your own journey with Christ? Which of the three characteristic of one who is forgiven do you need to work on today?

forgiveness and ministry

pointing fingers

A relationship that his been vital to me has been to long-time missionary Marc Blackwell. I first met Marc during my year long church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. By the time I met him he had already been serving overseas for three decades and had been used by God to plant churches from Sarasota, Florida to Harare, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. In the short time that I was with him he demonstrated how to plant churches, showed the innards of being a godly husband and father, and helped me “act like a man”. It was a high privilege.

Today we have the high privilege of hearing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had just wrapped up his third missionary journey and for two decades he had planted churches around the northern Mediterranean coastline.

If you could describe Paul in one word, what word would you use? There are certainly many words one could choose, but I would choose the word “defender.” Paul was a defender of the faith, a defender of Christ, a defender of the resurrection, a defender of his own ministry, and today we will see him as a defender of the unforgiven. Today’s message is on forgiveness and ministry,

2 Corinthians has a different flavor than 1 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter has a zesty flavor as he addresses questions and concerns in the church, but his second letter has a sweet n’ salty flavor as he shares his heart as a pastor and defends his calling from Jesus.

We don’t know much about the explosive situation that happened at Corinth between letters, only that there was a man who opposed Paul and shredded his character and ministry. A mutiny arose and some in the church sided with the man. It was sticky enough to cause Paul to leave Corinth. It also caused him and the church much pain. Paul wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” which is not included in the NT. It was clearly a difficult letter for him to write (v.5; cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-13a).

By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the majority of people in the church agreed with the apostle Paul, not the false teacher. The church grasped onto Paul’s guidance and disciplined the man from the church. The discipline proved to be effective for the man grew sorrowful and it led to his repentance. Isn’t it wonderful to see church discipline work? Yet there was still one problem at Corinth: some in the church had not forgiven the man nor did they restore him to the church. For whatever reason, whether some members of the Apostle Paul posse were offended more than Paul and wanted to inflict more punishment or some were skeptical if the man really had repented or if there was fear he would be a repeat offender, we are not sure. But what is sure, this type of situation can shipwreck a church and the reputation of Christ. This is why Paul takes time to address the situation.

When Paul used the title the Body of Christ to describe the church he wasn’t using it as a churchy slogan (cf. Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12). It was a God-ordained image for a community of brothers and sisters with radically interconnected relationships. That’s why Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). The pain that Paul felt by this man’s personal attack was also felt by the church, but the joy Paul had for his repentance was not shared.

You are most like God when you forgive (vs.6-9)

One of the hardest thing to do in life is to forgive an offense, maybe it’s because of the pain and shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s because our world elevates revenge and retribution, when forgiveness is viewed as weakness. I love superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America, but within each you will see a theme being “Revenge is mine. I will defend my pride.” Today, revenge is in and forgiveness is out.

Paul is a hero of a different kind. He felt the pain from being shamed. And most in his shoes would find a way to round house kick this man Chuck Norris style. Yet Paul walks a different road and he submits to another power. And he asks the church to forgive the man and restore him to fellowship (vs.6-8). What we see is Paul’s heart, a heart that Christ had freed and restored on the Damascus Road, where he—the chief of sinners—had come face-to-face with the grace of God. He was a man given much grace and becomes an agent of grace to others. Like Joseph, Paul understood the plan of God is to forgive and restore his brothers.

Paul praised Corinth for their obedience to discipline the man, but he poo-poo-ed their reluctance to welcome him back into the family. The offense bounced off Paul. The pain of his opposer didn’t rub him wrong. He already forgiven him. He thought their discipline was punishment enough, it worked, and the man didn’t need to suffer anymore. Enough was enough. Paul now saw the man was being swallowed up in his sorrow and if he wasn’t restored soon the man would drown in it. What the repentant disciplined man understood, many in the church do not understand—life apart from the Body of Christ is to be void of its benefits and securities and comforts and joys.

If forgiveness is of paramount importance for this man and the reputation of the church, so it is with us. Forgiveness is not optional, rather it is a matter of obedience (v.9). Our ministry is a ministry of forgiveness. We extend the forgiveness of God with those who hope God will forgive them someday. To forgive an offense is to act most like God, while withholding forgiveness is the most self-righteous act. God is a forgiving God. He forgets our offenses as far as the east is from the west. Jesus is forgiving even on the brink of death on the cross (Lk. 23:34, 43). What would a lack of forgiveness on our part say about our Christ or his church? Let us freely forgive because we have been forgiven much.

You are only able to forgive an offense because you were also forgiven (vs.10-11)

Paul makes his plea to the church to forgive by saying, “I, the offended, did it, and you can do it too.” (v.10a) And he adds that the forgiveness was for you—the Corinthians’ sake—“in the presence of Christ.” (v.10b) The fact was, if the Corinthian church refused to forgive this repentant sinner, a poison would choke the way of grace and their refusal to forgive could kill their church.

Jesus said that unwillingness to forgive is proof of not having experienced His forgiveness. Remember Jesus prayed, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He drives the truth home in the next sentence, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Jesus is serious about forgiveness. This “forgiven people forgive” teaching was so elementary to Jesus’ teaching that he devoted entire parables to it, “‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (Matthew 18:35).

Your example to forgive an offense might be just the encouragement that a lost sinner or a young believer or a well-established church needs to see to help them when an opportunity to extend forgiveness comes their way. A few years ago, I met a elderly missionary couple who served on an international team in the jungles of Brazil. A small misunderstanding caused one couple to be offended and it grew to be so painful that the villagers could feel it. The team was on the verge of separation. They tried one last meeting to discuss the situation, but before they did they shared communion. As curious villages looked through windows at the three couples they saw them break bread and drink together. The meeting to follow never happened because in the image of communion the couples remembered who they united around first and foremost. The team wept, prayed and embraced one another. Decades later after a church was established in the village and the church began to have it’s own issues and the elders remembered the example of the missionaries who had broke bread and forgave one another as Christ had forgiven them.

What do you learn about forgiveness and ministry from this text? I have learned two vital truths: First, my ministry of forgiveness comes from Christ. I am challenged by how Paul minimizes the offense and maximizes the presence of Jesus. I see that the motivation to forgive was given to Paul “in the presence of Christ,” as He looks on in approval and empowerment.

Second, unforgiveness is Satan’s strategy. Paul concludes his plea by saying if you don’t forgive the man you have been duped by Satan — “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (v. 11) The young church in Corinth could have collapsed if they refusing to obey God by forgiving the repentant sinner, even though he caused such pain. If they had let him stew in his sorrow, they would have cooked him and them. And Satan could then have put a fork in the church of Corinth.

Corrie ten Boom recalled in her book The Hiding Place a postwar meeting with a guard from the Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister had died and where she herself had been subjected to horrible shame:

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”

God’s Word says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And again, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). It is your ministry to forgive because you have been forgiven.

Is there unforgiveness in your heart today? Is there pain or embarrassment or shame caused by someone that you need to allow God to restore? Will you rejoice, today, in your own forgiveness?

walking in forgiveness

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When I was 10 years old I shared the school bus with a stoutly loud-mouthed bully. He knew just the buttons to push to make me blow: comments about the size of my nose. The other kids on the bus would snicker, mostly because they didn’t want to be his next verbal target. I thought to myself, “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this kid?” I did not have any soap or earplugs, but I did have a plan.

I was as skinny-as-a-toothpick, but I was significantly taller than him by a mere foot, which at 10-years old says a lot. I also watch a lot of batman cartoons. I stood up and stare him down. I could beat a blind man in a staring contest. My plan did not work and I didn’t have a plan-B. I had to think quickly because I could see he was about to take a crack at me. I could turn my other cheek by sitting down in defeat or I could wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged to the back of the bus and gave him a knuckle sandwich. Immediately the bus driver slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver marched to the back, grabbed us both by our shirts and ushered us to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we both pouted as we waited for our parents at the bus barn. Not only did my fists hurt, but my pride took a hit too. And it wasn’t the last time.

Have you felt the cut of a sharp word, been scalded by a heated exchange, or battered by abusive comments? The hurt from these kinds of situations should not be belittled. Nor should you exaggerate your response to these kinds of offenses. The top two responses are, first, hiding the hurt by stewing it into secret places. If you are this type of person you keep your relationships under serious surveillance cautious to not get burned again.

The second response to an offense is like a volcano spewing the hurt back in hell-fury. If you are this type person you pursue payback by inflicting more punishment fitting for the crime hoping your offender feels your pain. Have you ever played the board game Battleship? No one likes getting hit, but we like to do the hitting. This is the reason why many are glued to reality TV shows. They are built on the premise of backstabbing, one-upping, reckoning, and revenge seeking. Now, I am a fan of some reality TV shows too, however, retribution on your terms more than likely turns sinful. Only God can best play the part of God. Only God should take out vengeance.

There is another way since stewing or spewing is not helpful for the one offending or offended. What is the other way? Forgiveness is the only means to unleash an offense. To not forgive in a sense makes you like a dog on chain and your master is the one who has offended you. Forgiveness does not have leashes attached; rather it is a willingness to treat the offense as if it never happened. A mark of new life in Christ is walking in forgiveness [Ephesians 4:24] and Christ is your example [v.32]. Here are four practical truths on how to walk in forgiveness from Paul to the church at Ephesus who like most churches were having relational struggles:

1. Speak the Truth [4:25].

Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies like a leech, especially if you’ve been offended. People would rather risk covering their tracks with a well-choreographed lie, than humbly speaking the truth. Unforgiveness sucks the truth out of people. That is the way of the father of lies [Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44].

There are three roots behind each lie: 1) to get something you want, 2) to enhance who you are, 3) or to protect yourself. And people who do not put off falsehoods will exaggerate by saying, “You always ____. You never _____. Every time I ____, you ____ everything.” Speaking in absolutes is a sign of a liar.  Now truth speakers gather the facts. They never assume anything. They always ask for what is true [cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11; Philippians 2:1-3]. They “speak the truth in love” and the Truth sets free [cf. 4:15; John 8:32].

2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28].

When you “let the sun go down on your anger” you do not deal the situation. Not dealing with anger is not a way of dealing with it. The tendency is to hold off until a better day when it feels right or the timing is right. However, digging up the past should be left to archeologists. And adding time to anger only multiplies the problem, since sin loves to multiply itself with more sin. Unresolved anger leads to the sins of bitterness, rage, and wrath, which can continue to snowball down the mountain until an angry avalanche has left mass devastation.

Question, is all anger sinful? No. For the verse says, “be angry and do not sin.” [cf. Psalm 4:4] God created anger and has a good use for anger. Righteous anger is having a deep seeded conviction about evil [v.27]. In other words, righteous anger doesn’t add time to the situation, it seeks to solve as soon as possible after the offense before unrighteousness sets into the place anger. Those who walk in new life are timely problem solvers.

3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30].

Words can pierce people to their core. Words have caused wars and killed million [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Matthew 5:21-26]. And “corrupting talk” is the means by which we use words to disintegrate others [v.29]. Remember Goliath? He is a biblical example of corrupting talk. He had a big mouth and was all talk, but David championed over Goliath by letting God fight for him. David attacks the problem by trusting in the strength of his God, and God comes through with vengeance upon Goliath’s injustice.

Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve you [Matthew 15:11], but also God [v.30]. Why? Each person is made in the image of God. When you murder another persons character it tarnishes the God who created them [cf. Isaiah 63]. You will have to stand before the throne of God and give an account of how you treat one another. Those who walk in new life in Christ build up, speak grace, rather than tear down what Christ, the Word, came to redeem.

In the book/movie, How to Train a Dragon, Vikings made a living slaying the dragons and the dragons lived to slay Viking villages. The key character Hiccup, a boy Viking, in the story wounds a dragon, but does not have the heart to slay it. Thereafter a friendship between the boy and the dragon begins. What they both come to learn through their friendship is that the slaying between the Vikings and dragons was a misunderstanding. This is also true in the arena of anger—the issue is not the one attacking you, but your self-controlled response to the attack. A gentle answer does turn away wrath, and an attitude of grace can keep you far away from messy misunderstandings.

4. Seek to be Proactive, not Reactive [4:31-32].

It is easy to justify your primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Genesis 3:8-13]. Fire does not put out fire; it just makes a bigger fire. When someone offends you firing back in anger declares the offender as the winner and leash holder. Do not hand over the leash so easily. Replace old reactions with pro-actions. In other words, act—don’t react. Have a Plan-B, C, D, X, Y, and Z.

Fifteen years after the school bus brawl I had another situation occur, but this time it was on a larger scale within my church. Someone raised false accusations against my biblical teaching and in their anger they publicly slandered my character. I was hurt. I was tempted to prove myself right and the other them wrong. No knuckle sandwich this time. Instead, I was convicted to extend forgiveness to the offender as if their offense never happened. It was something I could not do on my own power, but the kindness of the God and the forgiveness that God had given me was used as an instrument in my accusers life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of our powerful God [Romans 12:21].

Walking in forgiveness follows the example of Christ [v.32] by speaking the truth, solving today’s situations today, slaying the problem not the person, and staying proactive not reactive. Walking in forgiveness shines the light of the gospel to an unforgiving world [Luke 6:45], including your marriage, your children, your parents, your friends, your coworkers, your church, and your neighbors.

What is a Christian’s motivation to forgive one another? In Christ, you have the only pure motive to forgive one another and His death paves the way saying, “Forgiveness is available to all!” When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not that He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. He was, in fact, more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God fight for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Isaiah 53:4-12]. Even Jesus’ last words were, “Father, forgive them for them know not what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

God has forgiven your sins as far as the East is from the West. When you don’t extend forgiveness what you are really saying with the hurt or offense done to you is far greater than the offense you have done to God. The comparison is incomparable [Isaiah 55:8-9].

Who do you need to unleash forgiveness to today? Walk in forgiveness.

is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus?

I grew up in central Wisconsin. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Brett Favre (along with 5 million other people in the State). I know his stats starting from 1992 to present. I would pretend to throw like him my backyard. I’ve read all his Sport Illustrated cover stories. I worked at a Sporting Goods store so I could collect his memorabilia. I can even tell you the name of the town he lives in down south (Kiln, Mississippi). I have never met Brett, yet I feel like we’re buds. I know a lot about Brett Favre (probably more than most of you), but I really don’t know him. I love to watch him fling a football, but I don’t really love him like those closest to him.

Sadly, some in the church think of Jesus like I thought of Brett Favre. Now I am not comparing Jesus to Brett Favre (although I know some fanatics who might). You can be just a fan of Jesus. You can know a little about Him, and love things about Him. But you might not really know Him or love Him as He desires. This leads to the question in the title: Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? No, it’s not a trick question, but the answer may surprise you.

When Jesus came He called for faith and followership from the least to the greatest, the poor to the rich, the sinner and the religious. Jesus came to save the good, bad, and ugly. We see this in Luke 7. As we step into the story it begs us to ask another question: Who am I most like in the story?

1. Am I like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot knowledge of God, but no intimacy [Luke 7:36].

In Luke 7, Jesus is invited over for dinner by a Pharisee named Simon [v.36]. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus over just after He scolded the Pharisees for not accepting either John or Himself. And the Pharisees just accused Him of being a party boy with the tax collectors and sinners [7:34]. But Jesus didn’t play favorites. He accepted dinner invitations from the Pharisees too, without asking about their motives [cf. 11:37; 14:1].

What is a Pharisees? In the Bible, they are a group of Jewish religious leaders. In its title, Pharisee, means, “separated ones.”  They built ‘fence laws’ (traditions) around God’s law to help them keep God’s law and to protect their personal image so that they appeared holy and separate from the sinful world. They hung holiness around their neck like Mt. T wore gold chains. Their fence laws were often stricter than God’s law. They were good law keepers and made sure others saw it. Their fence was painted and polished on the outside, but inside it would not meet any inspection codes. Pride and hypocrisy are the failures of fence law’s. They knew a lot about God, but they really didn’t know Him. In Matthew 15:8. Jesus describes the Pharisees as “people who honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

Simon invitation to have the traveling rabbi over for a meal would have been considered a religious brownie point. Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor. In the Middle East during those days there were certain rules of etiquette. First, a customary greeting would be given of a kiss on the cheek or hand. To neglect the kiss of greeting would be like having a person come into your home and not saying, “Hello!” or shaking their hand. Second, in a shoeless culture, the washing of feet was mandatory before meals. Normally the host or his servant would wash the feet or at the very least they would give water to the guests to wash their own feet. Third, for an especially distinguished guest, some (inexpensive) olive oil was given for anointing their head.

When Jesus comes to the house of Simon, there is no kiss (greeting), no washing of feet, and no oil for his head. The reason is not certain why Simon did not do these courteous gestures. But from Jesus’ words later on, Simon didn’t really know Him. If Simon really knew who He was he would have honored Jesus more extravagantly.

It’s not that Simon did not know God. He knew a lot about God. As a Pharisee, he spent his life studying the Scriptures. By the age of 12 he had memorized the first 12 books of the Bible. He would squash the kids in your AWANA ministry! By the age of 15 he had memorized the entire Old Testament. Sadly, he committed to memory more than 300 OT prophecies about the coming Messiah, yet he didn’t even realize it is the Messiah who sat at his dinner table. He knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.
He’s all knowledge, but no intimacy.

When I graduated from Bible College I had quite the chip on my shoulder. I read the Bible backwards and forwards many times for class. The Bible became a textbook. I knew enough Greek and Hebrew to look smart. I knew the Bible, but my head was the size of a hot air balloon and it was filled with pride. God used a lot of patient people in my first ministry to chisel away at my pride. And it’s still a temptation.

Pharisees often confused knowing God for loving God. In church, it is easy to get this confused too. We build systems that cater towards knowing about God, but not necessarily loving God. We have endless Bible studies with workbook and Bible curriculum with homework. Sermons notes with fill in the blanks. If you grew up in the church, you probably go to Sunday school, where you have a teacher. In the summer the kids may go to Vacation Bible school. All these programs help you know, but not always love God.

Hear me out (before you throw stones); I wholeheartedly encourage studying, teaching, and preaching God’s Word. It is a biblical mandate. It’s my calling. Even our example, Jesus, read and quoted Scripture as proof that He knew God’s Word. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. Obviously where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge of God, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.

Think about it this way, the proof that I love my wife is how much I know her. I know what kind of deodorant she uses. I know her favorite kind of Thai food. I know what makes her laugh or cry. So knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.
Probably the best biblical word for intimacy is the word “know.” But this knowing goes much deeper than knowledge. The Bible first uses this word to describe a relationship in Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew Eve his wife.” The Hebrew word for “knew” here is the word yada, which means ‘to know completely and to be completely known.’ Unabashedly, Genesis 4:1 is an intimate moment between a husband and wife. It’s a beautiful picture to help see what it really means to know God.

In Psalm 139, David uses this word yada to describe how God knows us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

So the word used to describe a husband and wife is also used to describe how God knows you and wants to be known by you. This changes the way I think about knowing God. He’s not interested in a let’s-just-be-friends relationship; a noncommittal dating relationship; or a relationship where you define the terms; He is seeking the kind of commitment and intimacy best illustrated in a marriage relationship. Do you just know about Jesus or do you really know Him? Are you like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot of knowledge of God, but no intimacy

2. Am I like the woman?  She’s got little knowledge of Jesus and lot’s of love [Luke 7:37-38].

While Jesus is eating at Simon’s house a woman comes on the scene. She comes uninvited. To better comprehend the awkwardness of this moment, you must understand that she wasn’t just any woman. She’s “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” [vs.37] Her reputation negatively precedes her. She’s done bad things that have damaged her reputation. Maybe she slept with her boyfriend, cheated on her husband, is in a same-sex relationship, or was a prostitute in the small town.

We are uncertain the specifics that drew her to Jesus. But in desperation she came to Him at Simon’s dinner party—a dinner she would never be invited to attend nor would she have interest in attending anyways. As she wandered in she felt the condemning glares from “holy men”. Nervous as she might be, she brushes off the glares and stares at Jesus.

Apparently she had heard Jesus teaching, maybe earlier that day. What about Jesus teaching made such an impact? Was it forgiveness? Perhaps while listening to Jesus she thought, “Can He really forgive my shameful past?” Was it redemption? Maybe as Jesus spoke she realized that only He could put back together the broken pieces of her life and make her whole. Was it love? Maybe she wondered, “Certainly Jesus knows how messed up I am; how the guilt of my sin stains me so deeply. Could He love me too?”

What she does next is impulsive, extravagant, and culturally unthinkable, especially to someone who did not know Jesus [v.38]. Can you feel the tension? The woman approaches the dinner table and stands at the feet of Jesus. The table is silent. Everybody is watching. Everybody knows who she is. They are thinking, “What is she doing here?” She looks around at the guests. She gets glares of judgment. She looks at Jesus. He looks at her. She looks to Him in faith seeking forgiveness for her shame. He looks back with a loving smile. She says nothing. Nothing needs to be said.

She is so overwhelmed, tears of repentance rain down. She falls and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet. Her tears begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. She sees the muddy streaks and suddenly realizes that His feet haven’t been washed. She can’t ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair. The dinner guests gasp out loud at her disgrace. Then she takes a costly alabaster jar of ointment. Perhaps in the past she used it drop-by-drop for many men. But now she empties it. She will not need it anymore. She pours out, her life, on His feet, and she kisses them over and over.

The woman does a gutsy and glorious thing, all at the same time. She faced her sin. Rather than running from it she runs to the only one who can forgive her. She is broken, grieved, and repentant. Her offering of worship is a sweet smelling aroma. In a moment, she moved from a life of shame to a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

When is the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman? Repentant? Broken? Honest before God? When’s the last time you’ve poured yourself out before Him? When is the last time the shed tears over your sin and shame? When is the last time you demonstrated unashamed and extravagant worship?
Can you relate to this woman?

This sinful woman is a mentor to us all of a repentant heart and worshipful response towards Jesus. Unlike the Pharisee, who loves himself too much, she sees herself for who she is—a sinner needing forgiveness. Do you remember who you were before Christ? Do you see the seriousness of your sin? The closer I get to Jesus, the more sinful I recognize myself as being. I am the Pharisee when I forget I am like the woman. The woman didn’t know a lot about Jesus, but she knew He could forgive her sins. She didn’t love a bunch of things about Jesus. She really loved Him. Proof of her love was over-the-top worship. Do you love things about Jesus or do you really love Him?

3. Am I like Jesus? He’s got unbiased love and unconditional forgiveness [Luke 7:39-50].

It is easy to look at the two characters of the story and say, “I definitely don’t want to just know God like the Pharisee. I want to love God like the woman.” But you can assume or zoom by the third character in the story—He’s most important. His name is Jesus. He is the main character of not just this story but also the Bible. He is the one you most need to emulate. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]

Notice how Jesus responds to Simon’s statement whispered under his breath [v.39 “If Jesus were a prophet He would know what kind of woman this sinner she is]. Jesus doesn’t blast him out of his boots by saying, “I heard that! Why would you say such a stupid thing, Simon! How dare you judge me? I am the Judge here.” No. But He doesn’t ignore Simon either. Listen to the tenderness in His voice: “Simon, I have something to say to you…” [v.40] In answer to Simon’s statement, Jesus uses His prophetic powers to read Simon’s heart. He told him a short parable. It is one of the smallest parables of Jesus (only two verses long), but it is hugely significant [vs.41-42].

In summary, a banker loans money to two men, one receives two year’s wages and the other receives two month’s wages. Neither man can pay back the banker. Unexpectedly, the banker shows grace and removes the debts from both their records. When each man should be bankrupt and file chapter 7 they are given a new start to life. Obviously, both gain new affection for the banker. But Jesus asks a crucial question, “Which man loved the banker the most?” Simon being no intellectual slouch has a ready answer [v.43]: “the one with the larger debt.” And Jesus acknowledged Simon has the right answer as a religious person would, but it did not mean he saw he was the one with the small debt.

Jesus’ story is not just for Simon, but it’s for all the ears at Simon’s table (including you and me). What is your place in the parable or Simon’s table? How would you respond to Jesus’ story? Would you sit beside Jesus and acknowledge only a small debt, or would you fall down at His feet and, in tears, begging for the forgiveness you do not deserve?

Now Jesus is ready to make His point [vs.44-47], “Do you (even) see this woman?” Jesus did not dispute the woman’s condition. They both agreed she was sinful. That’s not the point. The point: how acceptable is she before God? Simon is disgusted with her. He is also inhospitable with Jesus. But Jesus lets her touch, kiss, and wash His feet. Why? She loved much. She was a human in need of divine grace. She needed what only Jesus had to give—forgiveness and salvation. Ignoring any reply or reaction from Simon, Jesus spoke to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” [v.48]

Can you hear the dinner party guests gasp again? They began chattering around the table, “How could He forgive sins? That is God’s job. Who does this man Jesus claim to be?” [v.49] Precisely! God. As God, He can forgive. And Jesus’ words here are ultimately what get Him hung on the cross by religious people, like Simon. Again Jesus ignores them, and focuses solely on the woman, “Go on without worry. Live a new life. Your faith has saved you.” [v.50]

Jesus’ words are an invitation to Simon, and us all, to open our eyes to people around us who have been marginalized or ostracized. Before this moment, Simon failed to really see anything at all; he saw neither Jesus nor the woman. He was blind to her act of repentance and love. He only saw her sin. We don’t know if Simon changes. But we do know Jesus loves Simon as much as He loves the woman. He longs for Simon to see her not as a category (sinner) but as a person who, above all else, needs God’s love and forgiveness, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The question of this text remains still remains, who am I most like? Simon? The woman? Jesus? The Pharisee and the woman are both sinners on opposite extremes of the pendulum. And Jesus gives them both what they need. The Pharisee needed truth in love. The woman needed forgiveness and assurance of His love. Jesus’ call to faith reaches out to people society deems as despicable (even the rapist, molester, cereal killer, stripper, or terrorist). But the church, unlike society, must show the sinner the way to Jesus and show His forgiveness and unconditional love. What can we do as a church or followers of Christ?

First, understand that faith often appears in the most unexpected places. It could be at your Sunday lunch and your waitress at Red Lobster, or the guy outside the bar, or the young pregnant gal walking to the clinic, or the uncomfortable and awkward outcast sitting in the pew near you. Let God bring salvation the way He chooses to the people He chooses. God can transform the worst of sinners and the greatest of the religious [cf. 8:1-3].

Second, beware of religious taboos such as never associating with sinners or shooing them away from the church. Yes, there is a place for protecting your church from false teachers, confronting sin, and “being in the world, but not of the world.” But how will they know unless you show love and forgiveness of the Light of the world? Our church creed must read: we are all equal in Christ who is our Head, though messy and sinful we are still His glorious Bride, everyone is welcome, for we are One in Him.

Third, cherish the truth that no one is worthy to receive what Jesus offers the woman. Know your place among the unworthy. What if God sent you a bill every month for your sin, what would you owe God? What would your debt be? Too much! Thank God, He sent Christ to forgive your debt. If you are in Him, He’s paid it all. Don’t you think that Jesus’ coming to earth, being obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross is rather extravagant? My response is to pour out over-the-top gratitude. Be proud to be a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

Fourth, believe Jesus alone has the power and authority to forgive sins and offer salvation. You can be the most religious or most sinful. The distance between you and God is repentance. Respond to Jesus in humble faith and accept His forgiveness and salvation. Today.

Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? It is best to know and love Jesus from your head all the way to your heart. Jesus said when asked by a Pharisee the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

thumb licks [10.13.11]

A sample prayer plan. For those of you who like to have it really spelled out.

Forgiveness is a ridiculous thing. A smart lessons from The Tale of Despereaux.

Sin is cosmic Treason. Startling truth from R.C. Sproul.

Managing social media before it manages you. Addicted to facebook, twitter, or google+?

Honor your missionaries. I am bit biased towards this post.

Holding translators responsible. Wycliff’s stance on contextualization.

Want to Live forever?

lessons learned from my second year of marriage

Marriage is still sanctifying. I would lie if I were to say, “Marriage is easy.” Put two sinners in a room and you will have conflict, but we have both so benefitted from the spiritual growth in Christ.

My brides beauty is accelerating. Every day my wife becomes more and more beautiful to me. Sarah is the most beautiful woman I know.

Sorry is a cheap substitute for forgiveness. I have learned that saying sorry is not all that effective. Seeking forgiveness is more meaningful and biblical.

Sarah is more than this man’s best friend. Sarah is my closest companion. I love talking, playing games, reading books, watching documentaries and biographies, and taking walks with this wonderful woman. She is more than a friend. She is a lover I love and long to be with.

Study your wife [1 Peter 3:7]. Although I have only taken 2 steps in this mile long journey and still have 5278 more steps to go, I enjoy the new discoveries and territories yet to be explored. I feel like Christopher Columbus charting the course toward a new land or Jacque Cousteau diving depths the seas anticipating to see, hear, and learn about the mysteries beyond the surface of the deep.

Encourage creativity. Stiffing creativity sours a marriage. Sarah is a wonderful writer, song writer, and artist. Giving her freedom to devote time and energy to these talents not only benefits her, but also her husband. I love it when Sarah makes new dinner dishes. They do not always turn out [i.e. mystery stew], but at least she does not have fear of trying. I have learned to choke it down and then tactfully tell her to try something different next time.

Watching my wife transform into a mother has been a great privelage. I had no doubt Sarah would be a great young mother. She has grown so much in the last few month as she cares for an utterly dependent young girl.

Eating dinner together and sitting together afterwards is important time. I am normally a fast eater and I never enter the military. Taking time to eat around the table to talk about our day, pray, and spend quality time together has tremendous value for our marriage relationship.

Submitting to Christ is the source of true love in marriage [Ephesians 5:21ff]. It is helpful that Sarah reminds me that she loves her Savior. I love it that she desires and encourages me to be like Him than being like some other example of man.

walking in forgiveness

By 5th Grade, I had enough of the loud-mouthed short-statured classmate who sat behind me on the school bus. Year after year, he hurled hateful words at me that half the time I had never heard before. The other kids would snicker, mostly because they didn’t want to be his next verbal target. This Smurf-sized bully knew how to push buttons. I thought to myself, “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this kid?” I did not have any soap or earplugs, but I did have a plan.

Now being as skinny-as-a-toothpick didn’t help me much, but I was taller than him by a mere foot, which in 5th Grade says a lot. I decided to stand up and stare him down. I could beat a blind man in a staring contest. My plan was not working, it was time for a quick plan: either I could turn my other cheek by sitting down in so-called defeat or wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged to the back of the bus and started wailing on him. It did not take long before the bus driver took notice and slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver marched to the back, grabbed us both by our shirts, and ushered us up to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we both pouted as we waited for our parents at the bus barn.

Have you felt the cut of a sharp word, been scalded by a heated exchange, or battered by an abuser? The hurt from such situations should not be belittled since they can be so handicapping because the pain can be paralyzing. People do not like pain. There are two sinful responses when dealing with offenses: First, hiding the hurt by stuffing it into secret places. This person keeps their relationships under serious surveillance and is cautious to not get burned again.

Second, heaving the hurt back in hell-fury. This person pursues payback by inflicting more punishment fit for the crime, which in the mind of the offended will cause the offender feel their pain with hopes they will come begging for mercy. Have you ever played the board game Battleship? Doesn’t it feel good to get a hit, especially if your opponent got a hit on you? This is the reason why you are glued to your favorite reality TV show, which is built on the premise of backstabbing, one-upping, reckoning, and revenge seeking. Now, I am a fan of some reality TV shows too. However, retribution on our terms is always sinful, and sin never leaves you completely at peace. Only God can best play the part of God. It is not our prerogative to take out vengeance

Within both of the sinful responses to offenses above forgiveness was not a viable option, even if it was it may have been misused or misunderstood to manipulate the situation. Unforgiveness is controlling. Unforgiveness in a sense makes you like a dog on chain and your master is the one who has offended you. Forgiveness does not have strings attached, rather it is a willingness to treat the offense as if it never happened. A mark of new life in Christ is walking in forgiveness [v.24], and Christ is our example [v.32]. Here are four practical truths about walking in forgiveness:

1. Speak the Truth [4:25]. Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies, especially if they have been offended. There are three root reasons why people why—to get something they want, to enhance who they are, or to protect themselves. We would rather risk covering our tracks with a well-choreographed lie, than humbly speak the truth. Putting away falsehoods would make our offenses far less painful and more loving, since those who walk in new life speak the truth in love and do not follow the father of lies anymore [cf. 4:15; Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44].

2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28]. When you let the sun go down on your anger you do not deal with anger quickly. Not dealing with anger is not a way of dealing with it. Adding time to anger multiplies the problem. Sin loves to multiply itself with more sin. How does anger lead to sin? Unresolved anger leads to the sin of bitterness, rage, and wrath, which can continue the sinful snowball barreling down the mountain until the angry avalanche has left mass devastation.

Now is there such a thing as righteous anger? Yes, anger is not sin, “be angry and do not sin.” [cf. Psalm 4:4, Why would this psalm here be so important?] God created anger and the right use of anger. To have righteous anger is to have a deep seeded conviction about evil [v.27]. In other words, righteous anger doesn’t add to the situation, it seeks to solve as soon as possible after the offense before unrighteousness sets into the place anger. Those who walk in new life are timely problem solvers.

3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30]. Words can pierce people to their core. Words have caused wars and killed million [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Matthew 5:21-26]. “Corrupting talk” is when we use words to disintegrate others [v.29]. Like Goliath we have a big mouth that gets us into trouble, but the David championed over Goliath by letting God fight for him. David attacks the problem by trusting in the strength of his God, and God comes through with vengeance upon Goliaths injustice. 

Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve you [Matthew 15:11], but also God [v.30]. Why? Each person is made in the image of God. When you murder another persons character it tarnishes the God who created them [cf. Isaiah 63]. You will have to stand before the throne of God and give an account of how you treat one another. Those who walk in new life in Christ build up, rather than tear down what Christ came to redeem.

In the book/movie, How to Train a Dragon, the Vikings made a living slaying the dragons and the dragons lived to slay Viking villages. As the movie progresses, Hiccup, a boy Viking, wounds a dragon, but does not have the heart to slay it. Thereafter a friendship between the boy and Toothless the dragon begins. What they both come to learn through their friendship is that the slaying between the Vikings and dragons was a big not as it appeared. This is also true in the arena of anger—the issue is not the one attacking you, but your self-controlled response to the attack. A gentle answer does turn away wrath, and an attitude of understanding can keep you far away from messy misunderstandings.

4. Stay Proactive, not Reactive [4:31-32]. In other words, act—don’t react. People have a tendency to justify our primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Genesis 3:8-13]. Fire does not put out fire, it just makes a bigger fire. When someone offends you firing back in anger declares the offender as the winner. Do not throw in the towel that easy.

Years later after the school bus brawl I had a similar situation occur, but this time it was on a larger scale within the church. Someone raised false accusations against me, which slandered my character. Instead of heading over to their house and letting them have it, I quietly confronted them in love and grace. In time, God did the fighting for me and I did not have to prove myself. I extended forgiveness to the offender as if the offense never happened. This is certainly something I could not do in my own power. The kindness of the God and the forgiveness that God had given me was used as an instrument of brokenness in this person’s life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of our powerful God [Romans 12:21].

Walking in forgiveness follows the example of Christ [v.32] by speaking the truth, solving today’s situations today, slaying the problem not the person, and staying proactive not reactive. Walking in forgiveness shines the light of the gospel to an unforgiving world [Luke 6:45].

What is a Christian’s motivation to forgive one another? Can someone be too sinful to not be forgiven? In Christ, you have the only pure motive to forgive one another and His death paves the way saying, “Forgiveness is available to all!” When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not that He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. He was, in fact, more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God fight for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Isaiah 53:4-12]. He has forgiven your sins as far as the East is from the West.

Resources on Forgiveness:

cross-centered relationships

What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?

What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.

For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?

1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.

First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.

My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.

Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].

2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?

What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.

What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.

What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.

Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]

3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]

How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.

Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.

nearly perfect forgiveness

On the last out of the last play of a perfect game Umpire Jim Joyce emphatically signaled safe setting off a roar of groans echoing through the stadium. Everyone who saw the play could see that Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians was out at first base.

The call could not be reversed. It was final. No instant replay. Just a bad call leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Detroit Tigers fans who have never seen a pitcher in their pinstripes pitch perfect game in the entire teams existence.

Joyce later admitted that it was a bad call. It is rare for an umpire to acknowledge a mistake. It really shows genuine humility and character. The veteran umpire personally apologized and hugged the prospective perfect pitcher Armando Galarraga after the game. In the locker room following Joyce said, “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

Today at the game the team awarded Galarraga with a brand new Corvette. Joyce and Galarraga met at home plate and the pitcher presented the umpire with the Tigers’ lineup card. Joyce shook hands with Galarraga and patted him on the shoulder. Joyce wiped away tears and and went to work. The MLB gave Joyce the option to not work today’s game, but Joyce chose to stick with his job behind the plate.

Joyce later said to reporters, “I wish my family was out of this. I wish they would direct it all to me. It’s a big problem. My wife is a rock. My kids are very strong. They don’t deserve this.”

This is a wonderful lesson of forgiveness and restoration. Joyce’s willingness to admit fault was courageous, but Galarraga smile despite being ripped a perfect game was priceless.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”

a fruitful look at forgiveness

We have defined forgiveness as a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is an event, not a process [i.e. Jesus on the cross]. Forgiveness is not forgetting, rather it is not dwelling. Forgiveness is like taking a trash bag full of pain and hurt and throwing it away. However, many people like to go to the dump and dig through their old dirt, but that gets you more messy and stinky.

The Bible paints a picture of forgiveness as a tree with deep roots and healthy fruits. The Bible uses this illustration to say that what comes out of a man’s mouth shows you what is in his heart [cf. Luke 6:43-46]. The root of the matter is the heart. The fruit is our behavior. Ephesians 4 gives a practical principle of how to test the quality of fruit by getting at the root issue. God has not called us to be fruit inspectors; rather we are to be root investors.

When I hold onto unforgiveness I will produce destructive fruit [Eph 4:31].

We often ignore or fail to realize the cost of unforgiveness. The cost of unforgiveness is loss of intimacy with God, loss of relationship with others, and stunted spiritual growth [i.e. put off—bitterness, rage, anger, etc.]. If I do not deal with my ungodly anger quickly it will soon be snowball that ends in a deadly avalanche.

I want you to get a real look at forgiveness [Is.55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”]. This is not just a passage about the bigness or smartness of God, in the context it is about His forgiveness. You see we measure our forgiveness with a yardstick: Are they worthy of my forgiveness? And how much am I suppose to forgiven them? God’s forgiveness cannot be measured or compared to our view of forgiveness. Our forgiveness is so little compared to God’s. We cannot conceive the boundaries on God’s forgiveness.

When I unleash forgiveness I produce delightful fruits [4:32a]

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” When I put off the fruits of the old man and begin to live as the new man Christ created me to be I begin to bear fruit that is in His likeness [cf. Gal.5:16ff]. His image has rub off on me. You cannot fake this kind of fruit for long. It is the result of an intimate relationship with the maker and sustainer of the universe.

Growing up my grandpa Dale had a few apple trees. The apple tree didn’t produce much. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say gramps decided to fix the tree one year. He went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because they will just rot too. Forgiveness that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling fruit? You can know if you are forgiving person if you have the freedom to give your best, most, and greatest to God and others without reservation.

Why do I need to be forgiving? What is my motivation? [4:32b-5:2]

“As God in Christ forgave you…” When I forgive I am most like God [cf. Matthew 6:12]. I want to be forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. Stop for a moment. Think about all God has forgiven you. Are you amazed? How can you not be impacted by that truth? Think about those you are having a difficult time forgiving. How can God’s forgiveness motivate you to forgive today?

I am certainly no trekkie, but in conclusion we are going to take forgiveness through to the fourth dimension. Here is how we must deal with unforgiveness: First, defer to God. All forgiveness is from God—He is the final frontier [John 20:22-23]. Second, decide to take the initiative. God gives the grace, and you must you decide to enter the race [cf. Lk.15:20; Rom.12:18]. Third, disengage from your emotions. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving that is not an option [Gal.5 “fruit of the Spirit”; Is.43:25]. Fourth, the final dimension is to deliver your enemies to God through much prayer [cf. Luke 6:27-28].

speak forgiveness

Have you ever said anything that you regretted? This week, instead of saying the word song or tong, I said the word thong both in very awkward church related settings. When I refer to regretful words I am not speaking of embarrassing moments but to purposeful things you say that are hurtful and harmful to others.

In 5th Grade I was riding home from school on the bus. Behind me there was a classmate who was making fun of me by saying things that were rude and crude. I had enough and there was a decision to be made: turn the other cheek or wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged back there and started wailing on him. The bus driver slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver rushed to the back of the bus and grabbed us both by our shirts and ushered us up to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we waited for our parents at the bus barn. My mother was not a happy camper.

When someone offends us we want to hold onto the hurt and anger. Or we want to pursue payback, seek revenge and retribution. Unforgiveness is controlling. When we choose to not forgive we put the perpetrator in the drivers seat and say in a sense, “You are in control, you call the shots.” Unforgiveness is like a dog leash and its master is the one who has offended you.

God knows that we struggle with forgiving and being forgiven. That is why He has given us His Bible. He communicates with us and gives us an example of how to communicate with others. He knows it is our mouths that get us into the most trouble. He builds a bridge and gives us the means to get over it. Let’s look at four fascinating truths God gives on how to be forgivers and godly communicators. If we seek to live by these it will save us from a lot of conflict.

1. Speak the Truth [4:25]. Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies. People who do not put off falsehoods will tend to say things like, “You always ____. You never _____. Every time I ____, you _____.” Rather than speaking in absolutes; gather the facts, never assume anything always ask for what is true [cf. 1 Cor.2:11; Phil 2:1-3]. Speak the truth in love to build up, not to break down [cf. 1 Cor.13:1-3; Eph.4:15]. Do not burn your bridges, rather seek to build them back.

2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28]. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger because you more than likely will not deal with it. Not dealing with it is not dealing with it. We tend to hold off on dealing with confrontation or forgiveness until a better day when it feels right or the timing is right. But digging up the past should be left to archeologists and projecting on the future is for prophets. Adding time to anger multiplies the problem. Unresolved unforgiveness or anger leads to bitterness. Deal with your situations today by keeping current.

Here are some good questions to ask before you speak:

  • Do I have my facts right? Proverbs 18:13
  • Should love hide this? [i.e. Is it “sinful” or preferential?] 1 Peter 4:8,
  • Is my timing right?  Proverbs 15:23
  • Is my attitude right?  Ephesians 4:15
  • Are my words loving?  Ephesians 4:15
  • Have I prayed for help?  Proverbs 3:5

3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30]. Words pierce people to their core. Words can bring life or kill [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Mt.5:21-26]. Corrupting talk is when you your words, statements and tone to disintegrate others. We can be champions at putting other people down. Like Goliath we have a big mouth that gets us into trouble. David let God do the fighting for him.

Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve the offended, but also God. Do you know why? Each and every person was made in the likeness and image of God. When we break apart peoples character it tarnishes the very God who created them. Corrupting talk does not help the situation, however, edifying words search for a solution [cf. Eph.4:15; Col.4:5-6].

4. Step ahead, don’t step back [4:31-32]. Be proactive in your speech rather than reactive. In other words, act—don’t react. We have a tendency to justify our primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Gen.3:8-13]. When someone offends us and we fire back in anger, wrath, bitterness, and slander we are letting them get the upper hand. God says as followers of Christ we are to step it up by putting on the character and communication of Christ.

When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not the He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. In fact, He was more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God do the fighting for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Is.53:4-12].

Years later after the school bus brawl I had a similar situation occur. Somebody was accusing me a things that were false, slandering my character, spreading lies and gossip. Instead of heading over to their house and letting them have it, I quietly confronted them in love and grace. In time, God did the fighting for me and I did not have to do anything to prove myself. I extended forgiveness to the offender and treated them as it never happened. Do you know what happened? The kindness of the God had taught me, and the forgiveness that God had given to me was used as an instrument of brokenness in this person’s life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of God [Romans 12:21].

The way you communicate and extend forgiveness to others reveals your relationship with God [Luke 6:45].