Tag Archives: Forgiveness

You are Invited

You have been invited by God.  Doesn’t matter what family or faith you have come from.  Makes no difference what trouble you have fallen into, or how unworthy you feel.  You are invited, which means you cannot buy a ticket or use any good works to bribe your way in.  God says, “Y’all come!”

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. …Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live….” (Isaiah 55:1 & 3a)

Jesus renewed that invitation:

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)

Notice the lack of fine print.  “All you” are invited.  “Whoever is thirsty” is on the guest list.  Jesus does not say, if you are good enough, or, if you were born into the right family or faith.  He does not discriminate between liberal and conservative, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, or any racial lines.  He says,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The invitation is for way more than rest:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

And, you are invited.  We humans use a four-letter word to exclude one another, the word “them.”  God and Jesus use a four-letter word to include us all, the word “come.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When You’re Ready

My wife and I got mugged in Savannah, not physically but verbally, by a guy holding a sign and yelling Bible verses at us.  He literally followed us down the street, trying to “save” us by forcing Scripture on us.  He probably thought he was earning brownie points from God.  I was annoyed.  More than that, I was frustrated, wondering how many people he had chased away from God’s grace that day.  If you get accosted by someone shoving God or the Bible down your throat, don’t fight back; run away.  Because God doesn’t work that way.

It’s not that God doesn’t care; He really does.  Jesus’ brother, James, wrote of how God intensely yearns for His Spirit to live in us, just as He intended.  (That is my rough and loose paraphrase of James 4:5)  God is passionate that we be restored to the fullness of spiritual life by having His Spirit alive in us.  He wanted that for us so much He paid a terrible price to accomplish it.

BUT HE DOES NOT FORCE HIMSELF ON US!  He waits for us to be ready.  James continued his thought with this:

“But He [God] gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 – my explanation in brackets)

“The proud” in that verse are those who think they have life figured out on their own and who have no use for God.  He waits.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes “the proud” become “the humble.”  In the words of Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone)

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal

When “the proud” become “the humble,” when they are ready to receive Him, then God approaches.  With grace.  Not with loud, angry shouting.  He sent His Son to find you and rescue you.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus invited people to come to Him and find rest, saying He was “gentle and humble in heart.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I remember seeing a video on Facebook about a guy who rescued an abandoned, starving dog.  The dog was aggressive, unwilling for anyone to approach but the guy just sat there and waited him out.  After a long time, when the dog was ready to receive it, the man gave him “more grace” – care, nourishment, healing and a new life.  There was no yelling involved, no signs, no scolding.  It was very much like my own experience with God, Who waited until I was not so full of myself.  Then, when I was ready to receive His grace, without holding anything against me, He gave me the life of His Son, Jesus.

He waits for you, too.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Like a Rolling Stone lyrics: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/rolling-stone#ixzz3UwbEdylf

Woot, Woot!

The red and blue twirly lights came on just past Fort Donelson, as we drove down along the Cumberland River in Tennessee.  I eased our 25 year old RV to the curb, rolled down my window and waited.  As the officer approached, I said, “Is this a Colorado marijuana stop?”  “Not yet,” he said with a laugh.  “i clocked you going 40, coming down that hill into town.”  You know what always comes next: you hand over the paperwork and then sit there, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel and wondering what’s coming as this sick feeling begins to grow in your stomach. My guess was 4 points and 150 bucks.  After what seemed like a very long time, he came strolling back from his cruiser, hitching up his pants and adjusting his hat.  Didn’t look good…  “Well sir, I’m going to give you a warning this time.  Please drive more slowly and y’all have a nice day.”  Do you remember what that feels like?  The sudden, unexpected rush of freedom and joy?  Woot, woot!

Be honest: If you owed $150 for every time you drove over the speed limit in your life, how much would you owe?  How about for just last week?  Justice demands that we pay the full amount.  Grace, the kind of grace I received from a cop in Tennessee, treats you as though you had obeyed the law completely.  We all know justice is good.  But grace is better!   What if you had to pay the full and just penalty for everything you ever did that was not good?  Hmmm….

Psalm 32 begins like this:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)

The first phrase is grace.  God will let you off (with a warning!) and treat you as though you had obeyed the law completely.  But notice that the second phrase says our “sins are covered.”  By Whom? This ancient psalm foretells the sacrifice of Jesus!  He will “cover” the cost for our sins.  Having done so, He will also cover over our sins, as though we had never sinned.  Amazing!  And “blessed!”  Woot, woot!

But notice, the last phrase, which talks of the one in “whose spirit is no deceit.”   As you read further in Psalm 32, you discover that David is talking about one who openly confesses his sins to God, with no holding back, no deceit.  The process of surrender to Jesus, by which we are given the full pardon of grace, includes heartfelt, honest acknowledgement to God of our shortcomings and moral failures.  We don’t pretend that we deserve the grace He offers.  We come “without one plea.”  But that confession (which becomes a continual part of our relationship) clears the air.  We have no secrets and live, fully aware of just how much we need grace.

Woot, woot!

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Can You Hear Him Singing?

At just the right moment, when I really needed to hear these words, a good friend texted me with this:

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Did you ever sing over your kids? Quiet them with love? When my daughter was an infant I used to sing her to sleep with a song I gradually made up as I held her and danced around. “It’s time for little Muffin, to go to sleep again…” Years later, for my son, I sang an old Merle Haggard tune, “Honky Tonk Moon, shining on my baby and me…” When I sang over my kids, they’d settle down and nod off and I’d experience a peaceful kind of joy. God sings over His kids with joy, quieting them with His love. Wow!

Maybe you think God sings you an Eric Clapton line: “The next time I see you, boy you’d better beware…” But old Zeph says God rejoices over His kids with song; He takes delight in them. If that does not seem possible, consider what he said God has done for His kids:

The LORD has taken away your punishment [on the Cross],
he has turned back your enemy [Satan].
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; [through the Holy Spirit]
never again will you fear any harm.
[Eternal life]
Zephaniah 3:15 (NIV – with my additions in brackets)

So then, how do you get to be one of God’s kids? John tells us how. Speaking of how Jesus was not “received,” he says:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
John 1:12 (NIV)

Receive Jesus, and God will be singing over you.

Unlimited Forgiveness

“I’m sorry, Man, I did it again.  I thought it would be different this time, but…   I don’t know why I keep doing this…   All I can say is, I’ll try to not do it any more.”    Ever hear that from someone?   That first time was bad.  You got angry but you forgave him and got past it.  But then he did “it” again!   There was a bit more shouting and screaming that time.  But lets say you forgave him again:  What if he does “it” again?  What then?

” Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  (Matthew 18:21)

Peter knew Jesus was into forgiveness and figured He would praise his generosity and patience.  Seven times!!!  Can you imagine being that forgiving?  But Jesus responded, “Not even close…”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

In effect, Jesus said, “Don’t put any limits on your forgiveness.”  Why?  Wouldn’t you think after 3 times it would be reasonable to reach your limit?  Jesus told a parable to explain His reasoning:

““Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents [Modern equivalent = $6 Billion] was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [Modern equivalent = $12,000]. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” ” (Matthew 18:23-35)

Here’s the point:  When we surrender to Jesus, God (the King) cancels our unpayable debt.  He doesn’t simply erase it, but arranges for His Son, Jesus, to pay it for us.  When others need our forgiveness, there is no way we can refuse if we are truly mindful of how much we have been personally forgiven.  God’s forgiveness comes with a change of heart, so that our heart actions resemble His.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What Will You Do?

It’s supposed to be easy to install the new operating system on my Android phone.  But when I read the instructions, I froze up, because I couldn’t understand all the special terms and acronyms.  Even knowing that OTA means “over the air” made no difference.  I felt stupid and backed away.

Too often, Christians say things like “accept Jesus by faith,” a quote from my last post, forgetting that those words might sound like secret code-talk.  People don’t understand, feel stupid and back away.  Worse, many have a distorted idea of what those words mean and back away.  If I don’t install a new operating system on my phone it’s no big deal.  But failing to “install God’s new operating system” in your soul is tragic.  It’s a life or death thing.

So, what does it mean to “accept Jesus by faith?”

Your car breaks down in the middle of Montana, shudders to a stop and emits a brackish smell.  You get out and open the hood, looking down at the engine and trying to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.  You don’t realize it, but you only have a short time to fix it before a deadly storm blows in from the west.  You reach down and fiddle with the thingamawidget and tap on the fuse box.  Along comes a guy in a van, who stops to help.  After assessing your situation, he says,

“There is no way you are going to be able to fix that on your own.  But if you would like, I’ll be glad to take you with me into the next town.”

What do you do?  You might say, “That’s ok, I appreciate it, but I think I can get it…”  To which he replies,

“You don’t want to be out here much longer; there’s a really bad storm coming.”

You have two choices: you can continue to take care of your problem by yourself, or you can “accept his offer by faith.”  If you trust him, and truly believe he can save you from the coming storm, that he really has your best interest in mind, then you abandon your own efforts to get yourself going and surrender to whatever it is that he will do.  You climb in, and let him take over.

“Accepting Jesus by faith” is the same kind of decision.  There is something desperately broken with human life as we know it.  Most of us try one thing and another to fix it, or at least to make the best of it.  Jesus comes along and says,

“You will never get that fixed on your own.  But if you will trust Me, I’ll take you with Me and take you to the only One Who can fix what is broken.  You don’t want to stay out here, though, because before long it will be too late.”

What do you do?  If you accept His offer, you trust Him, so to speak.  Jesus then brings you to The Father (John 14:6), Who forgives you completely (Romans 8:1), receives you in a loving and sustaining way (John 1:12), and gives you His Holy Spirit to fill your soul (Acts 2:38; John 14:16).  This Spirit is life, a kind of life we cannot imagine without experiencing it, and it lasts eternally  (John 7:37-38).  It truly is a new operating system.

What will you do?


What the heck just happened?  Or, what was that all about?  When you read about Jesus, you may find yourself scratching your head, asking that kind of question.  Good!  If you want to get the most out of Jesus, you have to ask.  Because Jesus frequently used object lessons, where there was more to be learned in what just happened than there was in what He said.  Here’s a good example:

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if (since) it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” (Matthew 14:25-32 – I’ve changed “if” to “since” in v. 28 for clarity)

What was that all about?  What just happened?  One obvious lesson is this: When  Jesus asks the impossible, keep your focus on Jesus, not on all the scary things that hinder you.  Jesus let Peter learn that truth through what happened to him.  Jesus underlined the principle with what He said to Peter:

…“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”” (Matthew 14:31b)

That important principle, is repeated in the Book of Hebrews:

” Therefore, …, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  [How can we do that?] Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, ….” (Hebrews 12:1-2 – excerpts plus my question in brackets)

Jesus frequently asks or motivates us to do things considered impossible in the world.  Impossible things like forgiving.  There are times that forgiveness seems as impossible as walking on water.  But, when you fix your eyes on Jesus, and not on all the hurt, when you allow faith to push aside doubt, you can walk across that impossible “water,” you can walk toward Jesus.

That’s just one example.  When Jesus asks the impossible, do what Peter did.  Call out to Jesus and say, “Lord, since it is You, tell me to do the right thing, the thing that looks so impossible.”  Then trust.  Likely, you will be amazed, as were His disciples on that windy night:

“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”” (Matthew 14:32-33)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Where Credit is Due

Jesus said every sin could be forgiven – except one!  He freely associated with people who were caught up in sinful behavior that shocked the religious leaders.  He was accused, Himself, of being a drunkard and a glutton.  He told a woman who had committed several serial acts of adultery that He did not condemn her.  Jesus was a compassionate and forgiving and taught that God the Father was also forgiving.  And yet, He said, “Watch out!  There is one sin that cannot be forgiven – ever.”

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

What was He talking about?  What did He mean?  We don’t have to look far to see.

” Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 12:22-24, NIV)

Jesus demonstrated the compassion and power of God in a healing of spiritual and physical dimensions.  It was clear to “all the people” that He had done so by God’s power.  Indeed, “all the people” began to suggest that He was the “Son of David,” the Messiah King, promised by God.  But the Pharisees told the people that Jesus was acting on behalf of Satan (“Beelzebub, the prince of demons”), not because of what they saw Him do, but in response to what they heard the people saying about Jesus.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the act of publicly attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the influence of Satan, when you know it is not true.  Those guys had deliberately tried to diminish what God was doing, so they could control the people and protect their own reputations.  They said, “That’s not God doing that, it is Satan.”  Jesus said, “Watch out; doing that is unforgivable!”

Now, maybe you are thinking, “I don’t have to worry about that; I’m certainly no religious authority and nobody is going to be influenced by what I say.”  Maybe so.  But in the light of the severity of what Jesus taught, perhaps it is appropriate for us to be cautious about what we think whenever we see something that God does.  For example, during the last several months, The River Church in Lyons, CO has experienced several astonishing acts of rescue and relief, as they were recovering from a devastating flood.  Their well went completely dry.  The experts determined that the ground water had shifted and that the only thing to do was to drill another well – something the church had no money to do.  But a volunteer work crew, assembled from churches all around the country, gathered around the well house, joined hands and prayed that God would restore it.  That afternoon the water began to flow – pure water that passed the county’s stringent health standards.

How do you understand that event?  Who did that?  How did it happen?   There are many physical explanations you could use.  Most of them would need to include the word, coincidence.  Or, you could shake your head with awe and humility and give the credit to God.  I’m pretty sure that is the safest course.  And ultimately, it matters little how God pulled it off.  The main thing is to understand why He did it.  And to give credit where it is due.

Bible quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What Really Matters

Eric Wallace threw himself out of an airplane and parachuted into the middle of the Air Force Academy football stadium, just before the game.  But when he landed, he knelt down before his girlfriend, Melanie and asked her to be his wife.  The parachute part was sensational.  The proposal was more important.  The day will come when what really matters to Eric and Melanie is that they agreed to be husband and wife, “’til death do us part.”  On days like that, how he showed up to ask her won’t be so important.

Matthew focused in on what really mattered when he told about the paralyzed guy and Jesus. The way Mark and Luke tell the story, his friends smash a hole in the roof and lower him down on ropes, to get him to Jesus.  But Matthew leaves that part of the story out, skipping ahead to what really matters.  He wrote:

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)

Being lowered through the roof was the sensational part.  Being healed of paralysis must have been what the man was hoping for.  But Jesus jumped right to the part that really mattered: “Your sins are forgiven.”  I realize that some priests and clergy presume to pronounce sins forgiven, but in truth, only God has the authority to forgive sins.  That is why…

“At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3)

The blasphemy they accused Jesus of was taking on the role of God.  In Luke’s account, they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:4-8)

The startling part of this story was when they tore open the roof.  The sensational part was when the man stood up and walked home, healed.  That part wowed the crowd!  But the healing was only a sign, a sign to prove the part that really matters.  What really matters for you and me is that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

When you go to Jesus, seeking forgiveness, it makes no difference what you had to do to get there.  If He heals your body when you come, that is a bonus, of only temporary significance.  But what really matters to you eternally, is that your sins have been completely and eternally forgiven.  When your mind wonders and doubts if it is really true, you can be sure it really is, because Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.  That’s what really matters.

Cool New Stuff

When you update an app, you expect it to work better, right?  Sometimes you don’t notice any difference but sometimes your updated app does cool new stuff.  When you trust Jesus, you get more than an update. You get a whole new operating system – the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit definitely comes with cool new stuff.

Like mercy.  We humans are not naturally wired to extend mercy, but God is.  When He described Who He was and what He was like to Moses, God started out with mercy:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…  (Exodus 34:6)

Mercy is the character of God, 101.  Bob Dylan writes songs; God extends mercy.  So, when a person receives God’s Spirit, Who begins to transform how he operates, one cool new result is an increased capacity for mercy – to give it and receive it.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began by  preaching hope for those who knew they were spiritually bankrupt, for those who mourned their condition and hungered for a soul that worked right (See the previous 4 posts).  He told them they would be comforted and filled, hinting that He would give them the Holy Spirit.  But then Jesus switched gears and began to speak of what happens in a person who is comforted and filled by His Spirit – what the cool new stuff is.  He said:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  (Matthew 5:7)

That’s cool new stuff 101.  Those who have the Holy Spirit notice a growing capacity for mercy – to give it and receive it.

It’s not that being merciful earns us mercy from God.  Being merciful in a genuine way shows that God’s Spirit is living in us.  In that condition, we are enabled to receive God’s mercy.  This mystery is repeated often in Jesus’  teaching.  The unmerciful are unable to receive God’s mercy.  The unforgiving are unable to receive His forgiveness.  It’s not that they don’t deserve it; nobody deserves mercy and forgiveness.  If we are deserving, it’s not mercy or forgiveness.  It’s that our souls are unable to receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, to really accept them in a settled way, unless they have been brought to spiritual life by His Spirit.  When we receive mercy, we naturally extend it.  And vice versa.

It’s cool new stuff from our new operating system.