Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

We have been discussing a particular passage from Matthew's Gospel on Sunday mornings in Bible School. It's from chapter 18 and if the subheading in my TNIV is correct this passage deals (exclusively?) with 'Dealing with sin in the church.'

If this passage does in fact lay out conditions for how to deal with sin in the church then it seems to me it has very little to do with how I relate to some random person who isn't in the church and who happens to sin against me–either deliberately or otherwise. If this is true, then it appears that Jesus might be suggesting there are conditions on the nature of forgiveness offered by Christians to one another within the church. (Although, to be sure, I don't think that is true.)

So I've been thinking about this forgiveness and it's rather tricky nature. I don't really think forgiveness is tricky. I also do not think forgiveness requires any steps on the part of the person needing forgiven. I think forgiveness is a choice that we make proactively. In other words, I forgive and refuse to hold on to my rights. I know it's a peculiar idea here in America that I refuse to cling to my rights for vengeance, my rights for recompense, my rights for justice.

I know that here in America if I don't require repentance before I forgive someone then I am giving them license to do whatever they want. I know that it appears that without requiring a change in behavior I am simply inviting that person who sinned against me to continue living in a state where they might (likely, will) continue sinning against me over and over again. Here in America that's how we roll. We have built an entire industry on the basis of the eye for an eye.

But Jesus has undid this, hasn't he? Think about it for a moment. All the way back in that book that some tell us is irrelevant, we read the story about a fella named Lamech who killed a young fella one day. Seems that the young fella looked at him cross-eyed one day and Lamech went all Mayweather on him and killed him. Then he uttered these words to his wives, "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech is avenged seventy-seven times" (Genesis 4:24). Well this is interesting isn't it?

Lamech was born and bred for the home of the brave and the land of the free; the land of Judge Judy and The People's Court; the place where we all hope someone scratches our car so we can sue. We are rights happy in America; furthermore, we are especially fond of following the way of Lamech: I demand my rights. Sadly, church folk have fallen into this as well. We demand our rights–rights that Christians in other parts of the world do no enjoy and, therefore, cannot have enforced.

Then here comes Peter and he's all down with Lamech: Lord, I want to be generous so how often should I forgive someone who tramples my rights? Like, what, seven times? (I guess keeping track is a good way to count that you don't break the law. So that on sin number 8 Peter would have been fully justified to not forgive.)

Then here comes Jesus in response and listen for echoes in his words, "No, Peter. Not seven times. Seventy-Seven times." (Or maybe 490, but clearly without limit.) Now if we are to forgive someone this many times we have clearly not placed demands upon them. But note the echo: Lamech said I demand my rights without limitation and that was the culture that reigned. Then Jesus said, let go of your rights to ridiculous lengths. Don't demand justice. Don't demand the eye. Let it go. Forgive. Be generous with forgiveness. Jesus is saying, and we should be listening: "With my arrival here on earth I am bringing a new ethic to your relationships, I am giving you a new way to live. Gone is the culture of rights and demands for personal justice. Gone is the way of Lamech. Arrived is the new way. My way. It is about forgiveness."

Of what benefit is it to anyone for me to demand my rights?

So, something like five years ago the church I was serving, and had served for nearly 10 years, decided they could live without me but not without their building. They believed I could live without the house I had just bought with my wife, but they could not live without the building where they met for worship on Sundays. So they did the only logical thing: they fired me. Without warning. With only six week's severance. And with the tag line, "It's nothing personal."

Now here I am, five years removed from that. We have lost our house. I lost my career. I nearly lost my family because I had to live apart from them for a while to work. And we have lost much more besides. Two things have never happened: I have never been told why I was fired (it wasn't doctrinal at all or because of some discovery of an outrageous sin) and the neither the church nor any single individual member have/has repented and asked for my forgiveness to this very minute on September 12, 2014, 9:40 PM.

By the logic of conditional forgiveness, that church and every single member of that church who sinned against me and my family should remain in a state of unforgiveness. By the logic of conditional forgiveness, I never should have forgiven them for absolutely wrecking my family. But I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. Stanley Hauerwas wrote, "Accordingly, the forgiveness that marks the church is a politics that offers an alternative to the politics based on envy, hatred, and revenge." In other words, those who claim Christ have no claim to rights.

The only thing we have a right to do is forgive. Much like Stephen who asked Jesus not to hold against his murderers their sin–even as they were stoning him to death. Much like Jesus who said, "Father forgive them they know not what they do." Much like Jesus who said, "If someone punches you on the right cheek, turn the other also." In other words, the Christian has no claim on individual rights.

And who knows, maybe our proactive efforts to forgive people who sin against us will actually lead someone, or some church, to repentance.

But even then we shouldn't hold our breath. I'm not.

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Friends, here is an offering. I haven’t been posting much lately because I have been terribly busy reading for my seminary classes. I still need to finish those posts from the 90 Days with Jesus series. This sermon is about grace and will be/has been preached to my congregation December 9, 2007. I hope you are blessed.–jerry 

Luke 5:17-26
Grace as Unmerited Forgiveness

Introduction

“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

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We have studied deeply over the last 3 or so years. We have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture and I hope built a lasting theological foundation. I hope by now you understand what the Bible has to say about being a disciple. I hope the sermons I have preached over these last 3 years—sermons about the Cross Driven Life, The Resurrection Driven Life, the Missions Driven Church, The Church in Exile, 90 Days with Jesus, A Theology of Suffering, and many others besides—have strengthened and encouraged your walk in Christ.

Over the course of the next several months, I want to start fleshing out that theology for you. I want to put some legs to it, give it some flesh, give it a little color and depth. But this doesn’t mean the sermons will be easier to understand. I have shown you the world against the backdrop of Scripture, from the point of view of Calvary, from the vantage point of the Resurrection. Now, we must begin to see how this theology ‘works’, what it does, how it affects us, how it determines and guides our each step of each minute.

As we approach that aspect of our ministry together, we must make another stop along the road to visit an important marker that is easily overlooked and under-appreciated and all to often avoided altogether. I am talking of course about grace.

I imagine that all of us have some experience with grace even if we are too ashamed to admit it. And if we have not had experience with grace then perhaps we have missed out on the single most fundamental aspect of Christian faith—the one aspect that sets us apart from every other religion on the planet. Here in this world of Christ’s Grace there is no merit, no earning, no achievement. We are what we are, we become who we are, and all that we can every imagine is solely because of His grace. It is this grace I would like to spend the next 4 weeks talking to you about.

We begin today by looking at a short story from Luke’s Gospel—we have been in John and Matthew already this year—that demonstrates the first of our four grace points: Grace is Undeserved Forgiveness. This morning I’d like to note four particulars of this story as they relate to grace.

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Obstacles to God’s Grace (17-19)

Whatever else we might say about this story we can say this: The man in the story, the paralyzed man, the man who never says a word, the man lowered through a hole in the roof, had all sorts of obstacles in his path to grace. Here’s what Luke tells us: “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.” Now, was this a literal statement? If every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem had its own representation of Pharisees and teachers of the law—and there were representations from all of them that day—and they were all sitting there while Jesus taught—well, this was the first obstacle to this man experiencing God’s grace.

I imagine some hustle and bustle, some commotion. I picture these people running up to the house carrying this man on a stretcher—yelling, “Clear the way! Move! Coming through! Make space! Man on a stretcher in need of grace!” And there sits all the Pharisees and Lawyers around Jesus—not budging an inch.

Aren’t some folks like that? Aren’t some folks simply and utterly absolute obstacles to God’s grace? Aren’t there some people who will do nothing to make it easier on people to receive God’s mercy? The implication is, of course, that Pharisees and Lawyers actually made it harder on the man to get to Jesus. Doesn’t it rather boggle your mind that these people didn’t move out of the way so that the man on the stretcher could get to Jesus?

On the other hand, you have these man carrying the stretcher. These are the folks who will do anything to get someone before Jesus. I imagine this man waking up that morning and getting ready for the normal day of sitting outside the Dung Gate or the Fish Gate and begging. Someone gets him dressed, feeds him, takes him to the toilet, and then lays him out on the stretcher where he awaits his friends. They come to him. But that day, one or all or maybe even the man himself says: “Today, let’s do something different. Today we are going to Jesus. I hear he’s in town. Listen, I want you to do whatever it takes, with all that is in your power to get me in front of Jesus.” But the Bible says, “Jesus saw their faith.” So maybe the conversation went like this: “Today, we’re doing something different. No begging today. Today we’re taking you to Jesus. Today we are going to do whatever it takes to get you in front of Jesus.”

Some people are those types of people who will do anything it takes to get someone in front of Jesus. They will carry a man on a stretcher. They will ruin someone’s house by digging a hole in the roof to lower him right into the middle of the lecture hall. I can’t be sure, but I wonder if these men who carried that man that day had themselves experienced God’s grace in some way prior to this meeting. Some people will stop at nothing to get someone else before God so that they too might experience His grace.

“And the Power of the Lord was present for him to heal.”

The question before us is this: What sort of people are we? Are we the obstacle or the over-comer? Will we not flinch a muscle or blink an eye to help someone or are we the type who will stop at nothing to get someone before Jesus. Don’t you sense that excitement, the anticipation? This was urgent: This man cannot wait for the crowd to disperse, the man cannot wait until Jesus comes out, this man cannot wait until tomorrow: He needed Jesus right then and there, at that precise moment; there was no waiting—even if it meant ruining someone’s house to do it.

The Pharisees and Lawyers—they were sitting there.

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Friends,

There is a strong chance that you might not recognize these words you’re about to read. I didn’t write them, and it has been a long time since I have read them. They come from an author who has written many books on a variety of subjects (well, perhaps he always has one subject so that perhaps a better way of saying that is ‘he has written many books on the same subject from a variety of perspectives.) You may or may not have heard of him, you may or may not have read his books. But one way or another, I think you will be surprised by these words from one of his earliest books (1989):

There is a direct correlation between the accuracy of our memory and the effectiveness of our mission. If we are not teaching people how to be saved, it is perhaps because we have forgotten the tragedy of being lost! If we’re not teaching the message of forgiveness, itmay be because we don’t remember what it was like to be guilty. And if we’re not preaching the cross, it could be that we’ve subconsciously decided that–God forbid–somehow we don’t need it.” (75)

Are you ready? Or do you know? Well, the author is Max Lucado, the book is Six Hours One Friday. Mr Lucado brings us back to reality in the church with these words. It could possibly be the single best paragraph he’s ever written, and, the most important. The Church must remember the cross!

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

Friends,

I have been engaging in some very heated discussions with some folks who have visited here recently. It should be quite obvious that I don’t agree with anything that the atheists have to say, and very little of what the evolutionists have to say, and when the reader is both an atheist and and evolutionist, I laugh myself silly. It should be noted that they appeared here and replied to my posts of their own volition. I didn’t invite the atheists and evolutionists and liberals here. They came and, at times, provoked me with their insults, condescension, and arrogance. I responded in kind, but now, I am conscience-stricken and need to clear the air.

I have erred a bit, or a great deal, by not remembering the very Gospel that I preach. Granted, it’s my blog and I can say what I want to whom I want however I want, but I realize that ‘one catches more flies with honey than vinegar’ and that my approach of ‘argue with them until their anger and ignorance is evident to everyone’ hasn’t worked well. But I digress.

The Gospel says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clean conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than doing evil. For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit….” (1 Peter 3:15-18, NIV).

I have realized over the last couple of days that I have not been nice or respectful to certain people who have visited here. I sincerely hoped to engage in meaningful conversation and debate, but sometimes I got a wee bit over-zealous in my efforts to combat ignorance and unbelief. In a sense, I forgot that Christ is Lord, that that I don’t have to fear what they fear (1 Peter 3:14). He is my Fortress and Stronghold, not my own wit or wisdom. I can’t rely on myself the way atheists and evolutionists do. So, I am sincerely sorry for mistreating them.

I’m taking this space to make a public apology to certain friends who have come here and have been mistreated by my words. I assure you that I am not a hater, but that I do get a bit worked up when it comes to the Gospel. I’m not sorry for the things that I have said (except where I have resorted to insulting someone’s intelligence, the very thing that others have done to me that I despise), but sincerely for the way I have said them.

The Gospel deserves a better advocate that what I have been lately. I am also sorry to my other readers who may have been put-off by my tone. I’ll do better from now on.

jerry

John 7:53-8:11

53Then each went to his own home. 1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

You know, as well as I do, that people are mean. People have very little conscience most of the time. It has been seared, corrupted, abused, and conquered by ourselves in complete cooperation with the Enemy. People will use any means at their disposal to attack and vilify Christ—or His church. I have always wondered about the man in this story. I’d like to know how it is that a woman was ‘caught in the act of adultery’ but a man was not. This alone shows that they have no real regard for the law. Sadly, we see a lot of this in our own culture. You might say it is a double-standard. Really, it’s a blatant disregard for the law, a thumbing of the nose at righteousness, an unmitigated scoffing at true justice.

That said, this particular pericope does not revolve around these mean, arrogant scofflaws. If they had read the law they would have seen this: “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death’” (Leviticus 20:10). They also would have read in the 10 Commandments that the command ‘do not commit adultery’ has no particular sexual identity attached to it. In other words, it does not say ‘a man shall not commit adultery’ or ‘a woman shall not commit adultery.’ It says, pardon the archaic KJV language, ‘thou shall not commit adultery.’ They were quite wrong that day to bring only the woman before Jesus. (Sort of makes one wonder if the very man she was caught with was among those wanting to stone her.)

They understood the Law: They were, in fact, required to stone the woman and the man. Jesus doesn’t deny that the woman should have been stoned. On the contrary, he issues the command: Stone her. Jesus was not going to abrogate the Law just because they were trying to trap him. However, neither was he going to allow them to abridge the Law just because they were trying to trap him. The Law is the Law—the Law cannot be done away with. ‘Go ahead. Stone her. Who will be the first? Don’t hesitate.’ Jesus has no qualms about the punishment of the guilty: ‘Go on. Stone her.’

So, why does Jesus do what he does? Why does he say what he says? Why does he allow this woman to escape unscathed by the smooth stones and jagged rocks they were about to hurl in her direction? (Can you imagine this woman laying there in the dirt: ashamed, dishevelled, hair matted and gnarly, tears cutting wadis across her skin, eyes bloodshot, afraid to look up, afraid to take her hands away from her face? Perhaps she had heard of Jesus—there was whispering and rumors of him all around (see chapter 7). Can you imagine how she felt when she heard Jesus say, ‘Go ahead. Stone her.’ I well imagine that a chill went up her spine.) But I think that is not entirely what she heard. Maybe it was more like: thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. One by one. One after another. Then some murmuring. Then some shuffling. Then some rustling of garments. What does forgiveness sound like? How do we hear it? What sound echoes through our ears when that water washes us clean? Annie Dillard wrote that man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall. It’s an overwhelming thing. A torrent of mercy. A waterfall of grace. A tsunami of forgiveness. It’s more than we can handle; it’s more than enough.

What does grace sound like? Can we hear it? Can we see it? Can we taste it? Can we feel it? Can we smell it? Thud. Thud. Shuffle. Murmur. Shuffle. Thud. Thud…

Amidst her crying and sniveling, amidst her weeping and whimpering, the sound of rocks and stones was heard. Those boulders hauled on carts to Jesus had miraculously turned to tiny pebbles when they hit the ground and yet their thud was heard—not least by those who had gathered around Jesus that morning to listen to him teach. Those stones carried in their hands and pockets had become giant boulders these men could no longer hold on to under the weight of their own perjury. I don’t suppose for a minute those men who accused her actually forgave her. I don’t suppose they were willing to extend grace because they did not want to experience grace themselves. They walked away because they had no choice: Jesus had vanquished them. Theirs was a grace not given freely but begrudgingly. My point is that they didn’t walk away because they were forgiving her but because the Bird had caught the fowler in his own snare.

If the LORD had not been on our side—let Israel say-
2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,
3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)

Man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall.

But the story did not end just there either. There’s one more scene that takes place after the accusers had gone and Jesus was left alone with the sinful woman and those who had gathered that morning to listen to him teach. Jesus again acknowledges that this woman was guilty although he does not condemn her. Maybe this goes back to John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Yes. The mistake, however, is in thinking that Jesus did not judge this woman. He did, in fact, judge her. What he didn’t do was act in accordance with the judgment he leveled. He was perfectly ready to allow her to be stoned—on a certain condition. In this act, he also judged those men who wanted to stone her. Jesus did judge, but he did not condemn. This in no way means, however, that he approved her actions or condoned her indiscretion or applauded her sin. No. She was guilty.

Here’s what he did: He showed her grace and forgiveness. Still it did not end there because he also said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” I take this mean this: Forgiveness and grace sets us free to a new life. Once forgiven, we can no longer remain in our old way of doing things. We can longer continue in the decrepit filth of sin. Once set free, we are no longer slaves. Free to live a new life, free to take on a new character, free to to pursue righteousness and holiness. There is no longer a sin life for the one forgiven. “Release from a life contrary to the will of God is always with a view to life according to the will of God” (Beasley-Murray, John, 147).

PT Forsyth has said this same thing rather beautifully in his book The Cruciality of the Cross.

“The feeble gospel preaches, ‘God is ready to forgive’; the mighty gospel preaches ‘God has redeemed.’ It works not with forgiveness alone, which would be mere futile amnesty, but with forgiveness in a moral way, with holy forgiveness, a forgiveness which not only restores the soul, but restores it in the only final and eternal way, by restoring in the same act the infinite moral order, and reconstructing mankind from the foundation of a moral revolution. God reconciles by making Christ to be sin, and not imputing it (2 Cor. v. 21). The Christian act of forgiveness at once regards the whole wide moral order of things, and goes deep to the springs of the human will for entire repentance and a new order of obedience.” (51-52)

Here is a beautiful thing: Set free. Go and leave your life of sin. If you have been set free by the Son, you have been set free indeed. From what do you need to be set free?

Just what does grace sound like to you?

Soli Deo Gloria!