Tag Archives: forgiveness

Humbling Ourselves: Practicing Forgiveness

“… bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”   Col. 3:13 (KJV)

This week as I scanned my mail, I observed an email celebrating the Lenten season.  When I looked to see who had sent it, I noticed its source was a past associate, with whom, I had become very “disenchanted.” Translation? They had committed an action that I felt was unkind and I had not yet found it in my heart to forgiven them.  With this personal story as a backdrop, I’d like to focus this week’s Lenten season study on practicing forgiveness.

In the Lord’s Prayer, receiving forgiveness from God is joined to forgiveness of others.  (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4) Jesus used several parables to illustrate the need to pursue forgiveness.  In the parable of the unmerciful servant, He makes the point that human beings are obligated to forgive because God has forgiven them. (Matt. 18:23-35) In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus contrasts the “forgiving” heart of the father in the story with the “unforgiving” older son.  It is a study in the stubborn refusal to forgive that is characterized by hardness, a demand for revenge, and arrogant refusal to celebrate.  The older son’s self-justified indignation and smugness “over being right” was causing just as much pain and separation between himself and his father as was caused by his younger brother. Unforgiveness often causes as much pain as the original offence.  (Sound familiar?) Let’s go back to my email.

I opened the email (which I usually delete) and oh my, was I blessed by what I received.  It was as follows:

The only authentic fasting is fasting that includes a spiritual attack against our own sin.  If there is an unresolved pocket of sin in our life, God is going to come to us and say, “The fast I choose is for that sin to be starved to death.”  From A Hunger for God by John Piper

My heart was “doubly convicted”—my “unresolved pocket of sin” had been exposed AND my fasting this Lenten season needed to be more authentic.  God did speak to me and say, “Eileen, the fast I choose for you is that you starve to death the sin of unforgiveness.”   The refusal to forgive indicates a rebellious, stubborn heart that has “not drunk deeply of the water of grace and mercy at the well of God’s forgiveness” (Luke 7:47).  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32).

Unforgiveness has been described as poison to the person who holds it in their heart.  Some people carry unforgiveness around like a banner of entitlement—“I’ve been wronged and it’s my right not to forgive!”  While forgiveness is not easy, God has provided His Spirit within us to show us how we can be freed from the death grip of unforgiveness.  Ask Him to set you free.  

 

RESPOND:

This week you will have an opportunity to learn more about and practice solitude.  Read the short article, What the Bible says about Solitude as part of your “Journey of THE CROSS”.

Then practice solitude by inviting the Holy Spirit to help you with an unforgiveness you may be holding in your heart.  Give yourself completely to God to help you knowing that “God loves you just as you are but also loves you too much to let you stay as you are”.

Spiritual Failures

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72 (NIV)

One of the most difficult things for believers to do is to recover from spiritual failure.  Instead of asking for forgiveness, repenting, and then moving forward, followers of Christ are tempted to simply give up and continue in their pattern of sin.    What believers need to do instead is to exercise more “personal compassion”.  Personal compassion is the practice of forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our “humanity.”   In a society where human error is deemed inexcusable, personal compassion moves beyond the actual mistake and begins to mitigate the negative emotions that follow them—this includes regret, shame, and guilt.    Once that occurs, the believer can be restored and continue their faith walk. Our text found in the Gospel of Mark, shares a familiar recounting of Peter’s spiritual failure prior to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter finds himself in a precarious position as he observes from a distance the trial of Jesus after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Interestingly, none of the other disciples were mentioned in this denial account—only Peter.  Peter was part of Christ’s inner circle with James and John.  He had experienced special moments with Christ—the transfiguration and walking on water—and was privy to key revelations about Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the promised Messiah.  After the feeding of the 5,000, it was Peter who proclaimed that Jesus was the true source of eternal life (John 6:69).   It was because of Peter’s confession of faith that he would become the “foundational rock” (petra) on which the universal Church would be built (Matt. 16:18-19) versus a “piece of the building” (petros).  So what happened to Peter in the courtyard that caused him to disassociate himself from Jesus?

It is easy to be critical of Peter because of our “unsympathetic bentness” from decades of Bible classes, Sunday school lessons, and Good Friday sermons.  But instead of condemnation, try-on a more compassionate approach.  Imagine what Peter felt that night?  What emotions did he experience in that courtyard?  Anger, fear, and confusion were probably racing through his mind.  Jesus had been arrested and now people around him were questioning, “Weren’t you with that Nazarene Jesus?” The young girl challenged him, “This is one of them.” They gathered around Peter, “You’re one of them because you talk like a Galilean!”  (Mark 14:67-70)  Peter had never been in a situation like this so how did he respond?  “I know not…I am not…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”   As he made his final denial, the cock crowed and he remembered the words of Jesus, “You shall deny me.”  What was Peter’s reaction?  He collapsed in tears.  His emotions vacillated between regret, shame, and guilt.   Peter responded in the only way he knew how—in his humanity. How would you have responded?

If we are honest, we will admit that like Peter, we might experience “spiritual failure”.   While we may not be in a palace courtyard, we may experience spiritual failure in the corporate boardroom, when we “support” policies or practices that are outside Christian conduct.  We might deny Christ when we “quietly accept” ideas put forth that are contrary to God’s will and Jesus’ teachings, i.e., all religions lead to heaven.  We may even “curse” others when we fail to stand firm in our profession of faith and instead follow what’s “politically correct.”  God has warned us (much like the crowing cock) that we too may be tempted to “deny” our Lord.  Our identification with Christ’s comes with consequences.  We must remember who we are and whose we are.  Expect to be challenged! (John 15:18)

So what is the invitation God is offering us in this account of Peter’s denial?  First, this narrative invites us to understand our humanity with its frailties and weaknesses.  We should acknowledge the potential for spiritual failure (1 Cor. 10:12) knowing that God uses our failures to strengthen and shape us (James 1:2-4).  Second, it is critical that we recognize the source of our strength is the Lord—His Word (Ps. 19:11) and His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ep. 3:16).  Peter made the mistake of depending on his own personal commitment (Mark 14:29) rather than Jesus’ words to him (Luke 22:31-32; Mark 14:30).  Lastly, and most importantly, we must exercise personal compassion if and when we fail.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was the beginning not the end of his becoming the promised “Rock.”  Jesus restored Peter after the Resurrection (John 21:15-19) and greatly used Him at Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond.   God alone is both able and willing to restore us after our spiritual failures.  Let the Lover of your soul restore it (Ps. 23:5).

 

SELAH:  Read the account of Peter’s denial in Luke 22:54-62.  Imagine yourself to be Peter and write down the emotions you might feel.  Then ask God to reveal the places where you might be spiritually vulnerable and how to avoid it.

 

 

A Heart to See God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 (NKJ)

 

As a little girl, the second memory verse I learned (after “Jesus wept”) was the beatitude that we will examine today. I learned it quickly and adopted it as my favorite verse to recite at family dinner gatherings.  I can’t explain how the choice of this verse came to be; perhaps my mother felt it would help in calming my mischievous spirit.  Little did I realize that my mother’s teaching would lead to a fuller vision of God and His Kingdom.

Jesus was intentional in His teachings.  His purposefulness is seen in His presentation of each of the beatitudes especially with the placement of this sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Jesus has to this point shared with His disciples key behaviors of those who enjoy the “happiness and satisfaction” of living by kingdom rules.  The Beatitudes in unity and individually, radically flew in the face of how the world defined happiness, satisfaction, and success—poor in spirit, mourners, meek, merciful, hungry and thirsty.  Today’s beatitude is no exception to this teaching pattern as it redefines purity and the resulting blessedness of “seeing God.”

In reading this beatitude today, one might comment on its simplicity in meaning and presentation.  However, in the context of the 1st century, Jesus’ statement was revolutionary, for he presented it to a nation literally obsessed with purification laws and procedures (Lev. 11-15).   Imagine the shock of hearing Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  “What does He mean by, “See God?’  No one, not even Moses, has ever seen Jehovah God!”   The listeners’ minds must have raced to understand this new teaching, “Purity of heart and nothing else?  No Jewish legal system or codes?”   This alone was sufficient reason for the scribes and the Pharisees (who benefited from the current religious system) to desire Jesus’ death.

The importance of the heart in sustaining a relationship with God was not a new concept.  In the Old Testament, the Lord described the heart, the seat of man’s affection, as “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  David understood the importance of purity of heart as he pleaded with God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him (Ps. 51:10).    Who are the “pure in heart”?  They are those who mourn the impurity of their hearts to the extent that they do what is needed to cleanse and purify it (Matt. 4:17; 1 John 1:9).  When standing in the presence of Holy God, they understand their personal depravity and the need for forgiveness (Rom. 3:23); confession followed by repentance is the proper response in order to receive the blessedness of God’s kingdom.  Purity of heart is only possible through a “contrite and meek” heart (Ps. 51:17; Is. 57:15).

Jesus’ stipulation of a “pure heart” as the requirement for “seeing God” was a challenge for a religious system that was founded on its outward practices.  “Seeing God” in this beatitude is, to be sure, a reference to what will be achieved in future eternity when the saints, the pure in heart, are able to perceive the holy, righteous One enthroned in heaven (Rev. 5:11-14).    However, like Moses who desired to see God’s face (Ex. 33:17-23), the pure in heart begin to have a glimpse of God even in this life.  God is seen in His sovereign acts of mercy and grace in the life of both believers and nonbelievers (Matt. 5:45).  God’s hand is seen in His providential work within the physical world—in its creation and its sustenance (Acts 17:28).  God is seen in His transforming work in the hearts of sinners as God restores them to newness of life (Rom. 6:6-9).

Seeing God is a challenge for people living in the 21st century—both nonbelievers and believers.  For nonbelievers, this is not surprising.  Satan has blinded them from seeing the possibilities that Christ offers (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 4:4).    Kingdom living is at enmity with a world that neither recognizes nor accepts the authority of God, the lordship of Christ, or the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, believers aren’t always the best witnesses for kingdom living. For some believers the ability to achieve purity of heart seems impossible and unattainable.  This thought is fueled by the incorrect belief that God is seeking external perfection and flawless behavior from believers.  This is a trick of Satan to frustrate and discourage the believer’s efforts to live holy. For other believers, they simply choose to stay in their sin, unrepentant and spiritually impotent.

As children of God, we have everything we need to live pure and holy lives (2 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 3:2-3).  The vision of God is clearly in our view (1 John 3:2-3).  As we daily renew our minds through study of God’s Word, faithfully pray, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, our pursuit of purity becomes “second nature” and part of life lived in the kingdom of God.  To those who pursue purity of the heart belongs the unclouded vision of God right now which will reach consummation when Christ returns (1 Cor. 13:12, 1 John 3:2).  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Prayer:  Father God, we thank You for the simplicity of salvation and that we, through confession and faith, may see You in all your glory and majesty.  Give us clean hearts that we might see You and witness to Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy.

The Blessedness of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7 (NRS)

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Are you merciful?  Are you moved beyond mere pity to the point of action in resolving pain and distress?  This fourth beatitude, moves to an area which requires self-examination as to the type of “kingdom behavior” followers of Christ are expected to exhibit once having experienced the blessedness of mercy.

Mercy, rendered “steadfast love” in some Bible translations, denotes more than just feelings or emotions.  It indicates a passionate need to relieve the situation that is causing pain to others.  Mercy is a concept integral to our understanding of God and His dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, God’s mercy is expressed in phrases such as “to be merciful” (Deut. 21:8), “to have mercy on” (Luke 18:38), or “to show mercy toward” (Ps. 103:11).  Merciful is used to describe a key attribute of God and can be observed in both His giving of grace and in His withholding of punishment.  (Lam. 3:22; Is. 4:8; Dan.9:4; Zech. 10:6)

Who are the merciful?  The one who extends relief from human suffering, pain, and other distress that one may face.  Jesus gave the great New Testament illustration of being merciful in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  On his journey the Samaritan sees this poor man who has been in the hands of robbers, stops, and goes across the road to where he is lying. The others (the Levite and the Priest) have seen the man but have gone on. They may have felt compassion and pity yet they have not done anything about it. But here is a man who is merciful; he is sorry for the victim, goes across the road, dresses the wounds, takes the man with him and makes provision for him. That is being merciful. It does not mean only feeling pity; it means a great desire and indeed and endeavor, to do something to relieve the situation.

How is mercy recognized in kingdom living?  God’s kingdom exists in a community that displays both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. This is the way God demonstrated His mercy and love for us:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).   Having experienced the mercy of God personally, believers become the means of mercy for others; mercy follows of necessity if we have truly experienced mercy.  In addition, since mercy is part of God’s character and we are His children (Rom. 8:16), it is an expectation that mercy be demonstrated by those who are called by His name.  There is no greater blessing than to share in God’s eternal nature through extending mercy to others.

Who shall obtain mercy?  The blessedness of mercy is not mercy given by others but mercy received from God.  This mercy has already been given to the believer through God’s plan of salvation.  While believers act as channels of mercy to others, they concurrently enjoy unlimited access to mercy that will continue through this life into eternity (Rom. 5:1-2). In receiving God’s mercy, we experience the greatest gift—eternal life lived with the Father and the Son.