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The 911 tapes from Tiger Woods car accident at 2:30am the morning after Thanksgiving were due to be released yesterday (story here).  Normally I have no interest in these sorts of tabloid news, but I really admire Tiger and so it caught my attention.  You might think having $100 million a year endorsement deals would be heaven on earth but I beg to differ, swimming in his fish bowl would drive most of us off the edge. 

Whether or not anything is on those tapes that Tiger would wish was erased I have no clue.  Given all the public scrutiny and people’s desire to dissect the lives of those they worship, I doubt the tapes will be tampered with, let alone destroyed.  Sooner or later we will get to hear what was said when a neighbor called 911 after learning Tiger had crashed into a fire hydrant and then veered off into a neighbors tree.  Troopers have already concluded that alcohol wasn’t involved.  Tiger has stated that his wife Elin immediately ran out of their home and came to his rescue smashing out the back windows of his Cadillac SUV, ironically with golf clubs in hand.  It has also been reported that Tiger has skipped meeting with officers a few times now—listening to ESPN the last couple days one could almost get the feeling that Tiger committed armed robbery (it should be noted that he isn’t required to give a statement to the police—supposedly Florida law states you must merely provide your license, registration and proof of insurance when in an accident).   

What Tiger was doing out at that time of night really shouldn’t be my concern and if you ask me it shouldn’t be yours either. Read the rest of this entry »

Remember that even if you make the right choice, you’re forgiven.  -Unknown  

I haven’t done a very good job of confessing my sins to anyone lately even though the Bible says it’s a good idea—and whenever it’s me verses the Bible, well, let’s just say I need to think less of what I think and more of what it says. 

And my blog certainly isn’t my confessional booth. 

The reality is this: Lately I haven’t even been confessing my sins to God as I have been busy trying to ignore them and I know that seems like a perfect strategy to a good number of people—as if maybe ignoring our sin is to deal with it effectively.  But that approach doesn’t help me in my walk with God I have learned.  So I was out taking a walk here on a beautiful Michigan July afternoon today and I got to talking to God and he hadn’t forgoten my name even though I had been putting off talking to him for longer than I will admit.  After thanking him again that I was still alive after a stormy few years (as I find myself doing on a pretty frequent basis for a guy who doesn’t pray near enough—thanking him that is).  And then I began to confess a few sins he already knew about so I lumped them together and just said something pretty close to this; You know I have a lot to ask forgiveness for Lord.  I ended in mid-sentence before I ever finished my thought as I sensed that God just may have had something to say himself in response to my prayer (as if I needed to stop talking before he could seal my lips and roar back at me if he wanted to). 

Do you want to know what God said to me? 

I’m not going to tell you just yet.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.     (James 5:16-18, The Message Bible)

Maybe you think it’s too easy to be forgiven and that we should have to climb a flight of stairs on our hands and knees in our skibbies in the freezing cold every time we sin.  If you do, I feel sorry for you—God’s mercy can’t be bartered for.  I told you that I’d tell you what God said to me so I will—he didn’t say anything.  I didn’t need him to, I knew right then and there when I started speaking the words what he might say to me.  It was clear: Although I might have a pile of sins—he has more forgiveness than I have sin and my going on about them wouldn’t be needed.

And what God says to every one of us who trust in his mercy, is simple—the fountain of his forgiveness never runs dry.

When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us… He enters into our trouble and saves us.

-Eugene Peterson

          

Things aren’t always the way we are told they are.  I was in church this past Sunday and my pastor was going on about the virtue of honesty.  During his message he talked about the most well-known story in terms of honesty possibly in American history.  It’s a story involving the patriot, war hero and president, George Washington.  The story goes that young George was asked by his father about a tree that had been cut down at the family compound and responded: Father, I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down this cherry tree.

Well, the story is a big fat lie—seems the most popular story about honesty is nothing more than a sham.  

Religion isn’t shy about trying to convince us that in order to get control of our sin problem (we are saved you know—and sinning isn’t what we ought to be doing)—all we must do is somehow kill our desires.  It’s no wonder so many of us consider following Jesus more like living in a torture chamber than we do a daily celebration.  

 21-22 If such is the case, is the law, then, an anti-promise, a negation of God’s will for us? Not at all. Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.    (Galatians 3:21-22, The Message Bible)

Just as the law (I’ll add religion) was powerless to save us—so it is unable to give us a lick when it comes to living the Christian life.  All the law can do is point us to Jesus—it can’t empower us to follow him in a million life-times.  We can thank God for the law in that it painfully shows us our utter inadequacy, but we must not then turn around and attempt to live up to it’s standards in hopes that we ever will ever meet it’s demands.  To do so is to undermine the faith we placed in Jesus when we gave up trying to earn God’s favor—as if we ever could have.  Jesus bridged that chasm.

The big fat lie of religion is that is powerful enough to rescue us when all it does is hinder us, and in the end, it sucks the very life out of us when we put any stock in it.  Jesus—the author of liberty—is the only One we need to put our stock in.

Do you know why most Christians don’t get any better or why you don’t get any better? It’s because you’re doing it wrong, dummy! You are obsessed with sin and your faith has become another ‘system of laws’ whereby you feel guilty and try and try and try to do better. It doesn’t work, never has worked, and never will work…

-Steve Brown

  

If I had this freedom thing down pat I wouldn’t bother writing about it.  But I want to breath it with every gasp of air I have left before they box me up and stick me in some stuffy cemetery.

A few days ago I returned from a weekend away to see my oldest daughter graduate from high school.  It was exhilarating and frightening all in the same swoop.  Maybe you can relate to my feelings—she’s my first-born and makes me one proud dad.  Anyways, I woke up the other morning and headed into the bathroom after putting my morning coffee on just to be greeted by a big red spot on the tip of the end of my nose (and for those who haven’t seen me—I don’t have the smallest beak in the world).  The thing was irritating and it hurt too.  Figures Id’ get one—my dad gets the pesky buggers every once in a while and I make fun of him.  I thought by the time you were so close to forty these little ego deflaters would be history for good—let alone a man in his mid-sixties.  I suppose I have something to look forward to besides streets of gold. 

Nobody likes zits, or least no one has told me any different.  Zits are like sin if you ask me—although those of you lucky enough to never get a zit can’t say you never get a sin.  Sadly, some times it seems like I hate zits more than I hate sin.  I also got to thinking about the fact that I didn’t touch my big zit—not once, and it disappeared within a day (to my satisfaction).  Sin is like that I have found, and although my sin nature hasn’t taken any extended vacations lately to my dissatisfaction—my sins do seem to have a way of being less of an issue when I don’t obsess about them but rather trust that God meant it  when he said he forgives every last one of them.   

 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.    (Romans 13:13-14, ESV)

I think the idea here is to starve the flesh—my sin nature has trouble surviving let alone prospering when I don’t feed it.  Like my big zit, I have this thing for obsessing about things that are better left alone and I am slowly but surely learning that it helps to stop thinking about my sin and start focusing on the one who has delivered me from it’s penalty. 

Temptation has a  way dissipating when it isn’t messed around with.

Freedom is transformative.

-President George W. Bush, May 1st, 2008 (Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month)

 

No matter your political persuasion—or non-persuasion—there is no arguing the effects that freedom can have on a country (of course it’s not so smooth at times or unopposed as we are seeing in other parts of the world—and then there are the blatant abuses of freedom here at home that may very well prove to be the undoing of our great democracy).  More specifically though—I’d like to look at the impact that freedom can have on one solitary human heart.

Like the slave girl that Lincoln purchased (see previous post) and her subsequent decision to stay with him after learning she was free to go where ever she pleased—freedom is a liberating and moving force.  Freedom has the power to transform a life like no other power on earth.  Just ask a prisoner upon their release from prison.

God loves us with a love that sets us free.

 15-16 We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over ‘non-Jewish sinners.’ We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.   (Galatians 2:15-16, The Message Bible) 

Some of us are up to our eyebrows in legalism—so caught up in the snares of rule-keeping that we don’t even bat an eyelash at it’s death-hold on us anymore.

The religion God promotes is never about rigid rules but it’s always about transforming freedom.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

-Lyrics from hymn—Just as I Am (Charlotte Elliott) 

We never come to Jesus with our shirt pressed and our shoes shined.  We are more like an unkept and destitute beggar when we finally call out to Jesus.  Very few of us ever come before we have tasted the pleasures of sin for a season.  It takes looking—and unsuccessfully—for salvation in things, power, money, and people we look up to before we are resigned to surrender. 

And when we do—the relief is unspeakable.

 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…   (1 Timothy 1:15a, ESV) 

If you ever attended a Billy Graham Crusade or have seen one on television—you have no doubt heard the hymn—Just as I Am.  For every television tele-evangelist phony, Billy Graham has served as proof year after year that men of God do exist and that not every popular preacher has to sell snake oil, have goofy hair, make pitiful appeals for cash, have a corny smile, worhip a positive attitude, or have a Jesus-less message.     

The former slave trader John Newton and mentor to William Wiberforce came to Jesus just as he was.  Newton was a terrible sinner and a man with unclean hands—a life defined by abuse and filth (you don’t have to trust me—he tells on himself in his own writings).  After a miraculous conversion, Newton went on to write the most widely sung hymn of all-time—Amazing Grace.  Newton lived to be eighty-two years old and mantained an active ministry until he was laid up by failing health the last two years of his life. 

Newton—unshaken in his faith before his death—told his friends:

My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.   

If John Newton could come as he was—there’s no sin too great and no person too bad to simply come, and come just as we are.  

Jesus hasn’t turned anyone away yet and he’s not looking to start.

…my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great and hard-boiled sinners. You must not, by no means, make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid of imaginary, nominal and childish sins. No! No! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, and from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total… Dr. Staupitz [Luther’s mentor] comforted me on a certain occasion when I was in the same hospital and suffering the same affliction as you, by addressing me thus; Aha! you want to be a painted [meaning having a good external appearance] sinner, and accordingly, expect to have in Christ a painted savior. You will have to get used to the belief that Christ is a real Savior and you a real sinner. For God is neither jesting nor dealing in imaginary affairs, but He was greatly and most assuredly in earnest when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sakes.       

-Martin Luther, (in a letter to his dear contemporary George Spalatin after learning of counsel Spalatin had given someone which proved to be sinful advice—which Spalatin was then heart-broken over).  

 

The above account reminds me of a story former Presidential (Nixon) aide Chuck Colson shares (who now heads Prison Fellowship—which reaches inmates and their families across the globe in 112 countries with the Gospel of Jesus Christ).  Colson re-counts of a man approaching him after he had finished up a speech.  The man was considerably offended by Colson’s portrait of each of us as sinners as Colson tells it and decided he’d take Colson to task.  Colson heard the man out and responded, “I have more in common with Adolf Hitler than Jesus.”

We need pardon no less than Hitler needed it.

King David understood this—he prayed to the Lord after his adultery covered up by a carefully executed murder:

 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  

 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.   (Psalm 51:1-3, ESV)

If God forgives any of our sins he forgives the worst of them.  Jesus wasn’t given up as the peace child on account of our trivial or minor offenses—no—it was for our real offenses.  Trivial sin is our idea—each and every sin is serious and grave business with God.  If you took your smallest infraction it would have been quite enough to require the payment of God’s very own Son.

In other words—there are no misdemeanors with God—only felonies. 

Is the prayer of your heart as David’s was? 

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  

The effort to repay God, in the ordinary way we pay creditors, would nullify grace and turn it into a business transaction.  If we see acts of obedience as installment payments, we make grace into a mortgage… Let us not say that grace creates debts; let us say that grace pays debts.

-John Piper (Future Grace)

 

Okay—are we done demanding God be fair yet?

John Piper calls it the debtor’s ethic and makes a powerful case for approaching God and his loving-kindness altogether differently than  many of us have been taught.  One of the traps of feeling like we deserve something so undeserved as forgiveness is the subsequent feelings of being somehow entitled to favorite pet sins as a sort of consolation for our good time—it’s a God will understand mentality which never fails to result in our engaging in a lifestyle or activities that don’t serve God, ourselves, or others well. 

When we approach God’s forgiveness or any of the benefits of his grace and mercy with an approach of anything other than a gift—we slip into approaching God as some big cosmic scale up in the sky and we somehow justify our giving him anything less than all of us (or worse yet—a measly 10%).  We are his, and everything we have was given to us by him if we remember rightly (aren’t we stewards rather than owners?).   We reason that it is plenty for us to give God six of the seven days within our week—I should get at least one day to have my time the reasoning goes.  A heart set free by true forgiveness says What mercy God has given me!—is there any sacrifice too great for me to give back to him?

Do you see the distinct difference?

The forgiveness we receive in Christ is a net result of the liberating grace of God.  Grace is all gift—no re-payment necessary.  And so it is with forgiveness since it is one of the fruits of grace after all.

1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’   (Romans 4:1-8, ESV)

Do we live in this kind of faith—a belief that we haven’t earned an ounce of the forgiveness that Jesus provided for us through his sinless life and by sacrificing his very life in our place?

Giving back to God is the response of a heart set free—paying him back isn’t.

Like it or not—we are debt free.

Your sins are erased
And they are no more
They’re out on the ocean floor…  ~Ocean Floor,
Audio Adrenaline 

The harsh charges have been read: High Crimes Against Heaven.  The incriminating evidence has been plainly and painfully presented against you.  The many witnesses have marched forward.  The clear argument has passionately been made—the prosecution has spoken.  The defense has rested as it never got started—you didn’t have a prayer.  The jury has deliberated and rendered a verdict.

Eternal Sentence—with no possibility of parole. 

You didn’t stand a snowballs chance in Gehenna.

 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV).

Jesus didn’t suffer and die with plans to forgive some of your sins.  He didn’t hang on a cross out in the scorching afternoon sun with crusted blood clinging on to every inch of his body in hopes to forgive most of your sins.  He didn’t withstand the ultimate humiliation and mockery so that every sin you have ever committed and will ever commit—except for your worst one—would be forgiven.

He paid for all of them.

Your case is closed—never to be re-opened.

This evil is planted in all human hearts by nature: If God were willing to sell His grace, we would accept it more quickly and gladly than when He offers it for nothing.  ~Martin Luther

So if forgiveness is free and subsequently can’t be purchased for any price—just who is it that  gets the gift of forgiveness?  Do the worthy receive forgiveness?  Certainly not—there’s none of those.  And if there were what would they need forgiveness for?  Forgiveness is for sinners.  That must mean it’s the unworthy who get forgiven.  In many cases it is those most unworthy who get to go free with Jesus after all (a clumsy reading of the New Testament would suffice in making that case).  So, yes, the unworthy  recieve forgiveness.  But does everyone who is unworthy get forgiven?  That would mean we all get pardoned.  If that is the case, can we all just be extra bad and bank on being forgiven—right?  Not hardly. 

If you can be squeaky clean and still not be forgiven don’t think for a mili-second that you can be bad to the bone and slide by (let me  add that the Bible teaches that we are all “bad” in and of ourselves contrary to what 99% of us think about ourselves).  I may be one of a small number re-stating what the Bible says on this but it’s not going to stop me from saying it—God alone is good and any goodness we possess is from him.  End of story.

Just because you desperately need forgiveness doesn’t guarantee your receiving it.  I may need a new liver but just the fact that I need one doesn’t secure my recieving one.  The bible makes it clear that not all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus—not everyone has their sins forgiven.  We will be spared the eternal penalty for our sinbecause we have been forgiven.  Basic I know—but it bears repeating.    This all goes back to the fact that we are forgiven and get to go to heaven based on nothing we did (i.e. the thief on the cross with his mountain of sin the size of Mt. Everest being fully forgiven).  

It all comes down to getting what we don’t deserve, not who sins less.  Not fair! we protest.  Re-consider before you jump off that cliff.

8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  ~Psalm 103:8-12, ESV

Just imagine for one brief moment what you’d get if God were fair.  God doesn’t forgive us because he’s fair, he forgives us because he is full of grace.  If God were fair we’d all have a one way bus ticket to an eternal lake of fire.  The bible teaches that God is just, it doesn’t make a case for his fairness.  Are you scratching your head asking questions?  That might be a good thing if it’s not dandruff. 

We haven’t been forgiven by God because the world owes us or because God is fair or because we deserve it.

To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.

This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  Jesus is ‘not’ saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others.  In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just fair warning; and in the second place, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most.  What apparently Jesus ‘is’ saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.

-Frederick Buechner (Beyond Words)   

 

Buechner is a genius.  He is my favorite writer for more reasons than I can list.  His ability to simplify and hit the nail on the head without being neither dry or dogmatic is one of the many reasons I so admire his writings.  Here, he is addressing the forgiveness we extend to one another for certain but he is also eluding to the forgiveness God extends to each of us who come to him for it.  He spares no words in getting right to the heart of what can be by far our biggest obstacle in receiving forgiveness—pride.  He’s not slow to name it.  And while God has no pride that stops him from granting us forgiveness—we certainly can have a fair share of it ourselves when it comes to receiving the forgiveness we need so badly—and want so desperately.  Have ever been in a spot where you really wronged someone and forgiveness was something you certainly didn’t deserve (like we ever do)—can you remember having the hardest time asking for it?  I can.   And no—I won’t tell why.

God is looking for humility.

 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.            (2 Chronicles 7:13-15, ESV)

Our pride blocks the flow of a forgiving and a forgiven lifestyle.  How we need to be forgiven!  But it’s like we don’t want to forgive ourselves because if we are transparent—we then become vulnerable—but forgiveness requires vulnerability if anything.  We have to submit ourselves to someone else’s mercy—that is, if they have any.  And we can even run a little low on mercy with ourselves—imagine that, and it explains maybe why we have such trouble forgiving ourselves.  God has mercy to give and more than we ever give him credit for.  But we still fight the temptation to get sucked up into believing that he’s going to one of these days say—Alright, you have asked one too many times and I’m tired of forgiving you—you have had plenty of time to clean up your act and get this one right, of all things.  Look at you, you are pitiful.  I have forgiven you and forgiven you and here you are again! 

But God never says anything of the sort.

It’s us who have the pride. 

 

Forgiveness is the remission of sins. For it is by this that what has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.

-Augustine

 

I am no scholar and neither do I pretend to be one, but I think that many times within the simplicity of living that I try to embrace I find that I stumble across things so easy to see I wonder how others so learned and smart fail to mention them more often. 

Maybe you feel the same way I do, or maybe you don’t—but either way take for instance the new findings of the scientific community here just recently which suggest that brain cancer may be linked to the usage of cell phones.  Hello!  I don’t know about you, but the first time I started using one  of those little devices (now that we are all addicted and can now no longer do without them)—the first thing   that came to my mind when I could feel a burning sensation on the side of my head after 2 minutes on the phone was—This can’t be too healthy.  It’s taken us this long to discover this?  Right.  And Barry Bonds never used HGH or steroids.  To even suggest that big business doesn’t somehow hide the truth when it’s convenient for them to do so—or instead pays others to keep it hidden for them—is about as naive and denialistic as it gets.  I know two influential families right here in the Detroit area who are sure the deaths of loved ones in which brain cancer was the culprit were linked to cell phones.  I haven’t tried to tell them they may be wrong—somehow,  I don’t doubt they are right.

More and more studies are finding that many of our problems may actually have ties to unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness can take on the form of stress, anxiety, quarreling, countless divorces, and broken relationships of all shapes and sizes.  These symptoms of unforgiveness are often accompanied by major health problems  and all kinds of destructive behaviors and conditions.  An inability or unwillingness to forgive someone certainly has powerful consequences.  I’m thinking it’s the number one cause of say— murder. 

Unforgiveness is an epidemic we fail to identify much of the time when we talk about the great perils of our day.  One thing remains though—whether God is willing to forgive us or not never needs to be in question.  His commitment to forgive remains constant and unchanged.  I ran across a story the other day that will help illustrate the beauty and simplicity of the forgiveness that only God can offer.  I’ll re-count it the best I can.

A little boy was visiting the Washington Monument with his family.  As the boy approached—he noticed a guard close by.  The boy peered up at the guard and mustered up the courage to ask Can I buy it?  The guard—appreciating the boy’s confidence—leaned over and asked How much do you have?  The boy reached into the bottom of his pocket and pulled out a quarter.  The guard hesitantly replied That’s not quite enough son to which the boy replied, I kind of thought you’d say that.  So the boy dug a bit deeper through his pockets and came up with another nine cents.  The guard looked the boy in the eyes and explained Son, you need to understand three things.  First, thirty-four cents is not enough, in fact, if you had $34 million it would still wouldn’t be enough to buy the Washington Monument.  Second, the Washington Monument is not for sale.  And third, if you are an American citizen, the Washington Monument already belongs to you.

And so it is with the forgiveness God so richly extends to us.  We can’t earn it—it’s not for sale—and it is already ours if we are in Christ Jesus.

 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.    (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV)   

…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.     Amen

-An except from The Apostles Creed

 

Back in grade school we all had that moment when our teacher paused and informed the whole class that she wanted to hear questions—The only stupid question is the question you don’t ask—or something along those lines.  And for the most part that’s true I suppose.  Any question that’s sincere can’t be all bad.  And so to wonder about forgiveness is only to be human—even if we have experienced it’s powerful reality—we still want to understand it, as we should.

The forgiveness of sins is listed with some pretty big names there in the creed several of us would have grown up reciting—the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting are no small potatoes.

The truth is that without the forgiveness of sins the other two are a mere wish.  

The question Who gets forgiven? is easier to answer than we might guess—especially for us left-brainiacs.  Entire volumes have been written on the matter but I think it comes down to a very basic issue.  I’m not going to discuss the hot potato doctrines of election or free will and develop some sort of middle ground we can all gather around the camp fire and agree upon.  Maybe some day I will get into those views and what the Bible says—and I could—but today I will leave that to the ivory tower types.  I do have my moments I like to put on my Sunday best and present the five points of Keneism—I will spare my fine readers the agony.  But just because I’m not going to draw a proverbial line in the  sand doesn’t mean I won’t say something. 

What I fear is a say-nothing-of-substance-approach when it comes to important doctrines (in case we have forgotten, Jesus was controversial—not for controversies sake but for the sake of truth).   I’d rather stand for something than fall for anything—and I want the truth of God in any matter.  Seems to me enough of us already don’t take the Bible seriously enough at times—me included.  When it comes to our subject at hand—forgiveness—it is ever-so dangerous to take on the mind-set that much of our culture does: God just forgives every-body’s sins because he’s a nice guy.  Nothing could be further from what the Bible actually teaches.  God takes sin seriously (Jesus didn’t die a brutal humiliating death on a tree at the hands of blood-thirsty barbarians for nothing) as he also takes seriously the forgiveness of the hideous offense it represents to him.  Just because we like to remind one another that God hates the sin and not the sinner we must not forget that God hates the very hint of sin for many reasons including but not limited to what it does to debilitate and destroy the very people who commit it—namely you and I.

 1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’   (Mark 2:1-5, ESV)

Jesus went on to heal the young man of his debilitating physical condition as well—however, the healing of his soul by the forgiving of his sins was the first order of business.

It always is.

That God in the person of Jesus forgives sin shouldn’t be taken lightly or for granted. 

It’s a big deal.

Heaven and hell are at stake. 

God has cast our confessed sins into the depths of the sea, and He’s even put a ‘No Fishing’ sign over the spot.  

-D.L. Moody

 

I don’t know about you but when I was a little tyke my mom would catch us kids getting into the cookie jar every once in a while.  And when that would happen—we were in for a shake-down quicker than you can say pancake.  Our mom was gonna get to the bottom of who was sneaking some of her toll-house chocolate chip wonders without asking.  The cookies weren’t always off limits but taking the last seven of them might land you in jail.  She’d line up my brother, my sister, and I (seemed she knew when I did it without even asking most the time and I still don’t know how)—and ask Alright, who did it?—all the while I still had a cookie or two in my secret stash—my front pocket.  Come to think of it, maybe it was the soiled corners of my lips that gave me away? 

Being inconspicuous has never been a strength of mine.  I was the oldest, and I was supposed to be the example or so I was told—maybe it was just too much pressure.  You can’t blame me for having some kind of excuse—can you?  Besides, the cookies were just too yummy to say No to when they were calling out my name as I’d stroll through the kitchen on my way out to play a little ball.

You know what I learned from those days of breaking into and entering the cookie jar?  It’s always best to ‘fess up instead of cover up—my mom would grant me pardon when I would.

When I didn’t—well, that’s another story.

 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10, ESV)

I did it.

The question is—can we admit to God that we’ve had our hand in the cookie jar even when he knows the truth anyways?  

Two criminals were crucified with Christ. One was saved; do not despair. One was not; do not presume.    ~Augustine 

Author and pastor Mark Buchanan re-counts the following in his book Your God is Too Safe:

There is a story about Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. He was inspecting the Berlin prison. As he walked through the hordes of shackled men, they fell pleading at his feet, protesting their innocence. They claimed to be falsely accused, models of virtuous living, completely innocent of all crime. Only one man didn’t do this. Frederick called to him, ‘Prisoner, why are you here?’

‘I robbed a man, Your Majesty.’

‘And are you guilty?’

‘Yes, Your Majesty.’

Frederick called the guard over. Pointing to the man who confessed, he said, ‘Release this man immediately.  I will not have this scoundrel thief kept here where he might corrupt all these fine, virtuous, and innocent men.’

Buchanan continues…

That’s the lovely irony of confession: The one who actually confesses gets out of prison… 

God’s economy is rather quite simple—God grants pardon only to those willing to admit their offenses.  Keep in mind, one of the two criminals who hung beside Jesus confessed his guilt and praised Jesus as the Son of God and the other did not—he was too busy giving Jesus guff about being the Son of God.  And it goes without saying which one went on to eternal torment and which one to eternal joy.   

 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’           (Luke 23:39-43, ESV)

Will you confess your sins and see the Messiah’s innocence?

You must know you are guilty.

It is only the guilty who confess and look to the Cross who get to go free.

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.   -Martin Luther 

 

Forgiven

There may be no bigger word in the English language other than say—lovehatefreedomhope—or gas prices. 

Forgiveness is no small item.

Clint Eastwood knew a little about the power of the word back in 1992.  His modern-day classic western Unforgiven was his first film to break the $100 million threshold.  The film scored big with four Oscars.  Originally the movie was going to be titled The William Munny Killings—but someone on the marketing side of things had a better idea I’m assuming. 

Forgiveness isn’t just the stuff of movies—it is the stuff of life. 

King David knew a thing or two about the kind forgiveness only God can grant—the sort that leaves no doubt if understood correctly—he wrote: 

 6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!  

8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 

11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:6-11, ESV) 

Although David asks for forgiveness—and so he should—he has assurance. 

You either are or you aren’t forgiven.  There’s no multiple choice on this one.  God never plays a sort of guessing game with us here.  Forgiveness is free of charge for the asking to the most undeserving.  No public penance, alms in the coffer, or Hail Mary’s necassary.  We don’t even have to confess our sins to a priest.  How the enemy of our souls wishes it were so—and goes to any length he can to convince us that our being forgiven is somehow in the balance.  It is on this truth that our peace with God is derived and so it is no wonder with all of the watered down teaching we subject ourselves to that we might be unsure about the forgiveness that is already ours—a forgiveness never to be undermined or stolen. 

Forgiveness is not one of those abstract concepts such as your feelings in comparison to your husband’s feelings (if you have a husband who acknowledges having them that is)—what’s the difference between tall and short—or not-so-good versus not-so-bad.   

You can’t be kind of, almost, or just about forgiven. 

Half measures avail us nothing.

And that is why God sent Jesus to a bloody cross to purchase our forgiveness—no one and nothing else would do.  Our forgiveness didn’t come cheap.

Forgiveness is not only a large component within the life of the follower of Jesus—but it is a basic need and a much over-looked facet of the Christian life.  Those who downplay or minimize the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in regards to the subject of forgiveness not only are disobedient but they do their listeners a disservice.  To preach judgement and forget forgiveness is to miss the gospel message entirely.  Jesus never came to judge or condemn the world—far from it.  He came to forgive and save sinners. 

One would be hard pressed to argue that the forgiveness we relish in—due to Jesus alone—could ever be appreciated too much.  When I read the New Testament—the letters of Paul in particular—it becomes clearer than clear to me that to the extent that we understand the forgiveness we have received and continue to receive—the more freedom we experience in our walk with God and with others. 

I’m not going to tackle forgiveness in the context of inter-personal relationships here—I’ll leave that to the relationship guru’s—and more importantly to the Bible for now.  However—I am going to take the next few blogs to uncover what it means to be forgiven by God. 

And God knows we all need to be forgiven on a continual non-stop basis.  While hopefully we know we need God’s forgiveness, more importantly—hopefully we know it is ours unequivocally.

No question about it. 

…The law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbor; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell.
 
Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth.
 
Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.  ~Martin Luther  
    
Some time ago now, my pastor was sharing on the wondrous Book of Romans over the course of a couple year span and still didn’t manage to exhaust all the gems of truth throughout Paul’s ground-breaking letter.  On this particular Sunday my pastor was explaining in detail the nature of our bondage to sin while at the same time making a case for the freedom from that same power of sin that faith in Jesus affords each of us the very split-second we come to a place of conversion.  As he began to speak and walk around the lectern it became obvious to all of us in attendance that our pastor was sporting more than his usual striped conservative tie and white shirt under-neath his black robe he’d wear during the colder winter months.  He was being followed by a rusted iron sort of thick link chain that had been attached to his ankle—as it also had been affixed to a post of some sort in the middle of the stage area.  Every time he would get so far as he meandered about, he would be forced to stop.  The chain—symbolically sin—was holding him back or captive and it was doing a good job in limiting him as to how far he could go.
  
The point became crystal clear that sin ruled and he had no freedom to go beyond it’s death hold on him.
 
 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 6:21-23, ESV)
 
The following week Dr. Alberta had the same chain with him.   However, there was one exception—it wasn’t attached to him any longer.  The chain was laying there cut off and all by it’s lonesome.  He had been set free and was free to go wherever he wanted—but there was a problem.  A big problem.  Whenever he would get to the area where the chain had previously restricted him the week before—he’d all-of-a-sudden get caught up and find it difficult to go any further than he’d gone before he was set free—just as if the chain were still attached to his ankle.  It was almost as if he had been conditioned to believe that he could only go so far.  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  It explains a struggle I have found myself tangled up in on more occasions than I could count on of all our fingers combined.
 
Have you been set free from the bondage of sin? 
 
Are you living like you remember—or are you living like you have forgotten?

 

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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