The More Things Stay the Same, the More they Stay the Same

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Thomas Hobbes (image courtesy of famousbiographies.org)

On the surface of things, it appears that not much has changed over say, the last 4 centuries. It is as if it is in our DNA to not trust, respect or even get along with people who differ from us by skin color, nationality, or political bent. Recent events in this country have brought these latent feelings to a boiling point once again.

Listening to the car radio the other day, I heard a speaker reference Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher from the 17th century. I was struck by the similarities of his thoughts from 1651 to the current state of affairs.

Hobbes, in his most famous work Leviathan, wrote the following:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Emphasis added)

The focus of this work by Hobbes was the plight of humankind living without a strong leader. I’ll leave that particular thought alone and instead focus on his description of society bound for chaos as noted in the bold print above.

Our news feeds are filled destruction and violence as years of oppression and struggle have been brought to a head by the thoughtless taking of lives by those paid to protect and preserve it. I am not here to argue one point versus the other; only to say that every life is precious in the eyes of our Creator and we should hold each other in that type of esteem as well.

What strikes me is how close Hobbes description of life in anarchy reflects ours today, some 450 years later! The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. Many are living daily with the fear of violent death, which casts a pall over the lives of any thinking and caring person. It indeed can make the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

I, for one, don’t want to have this dark description be true of my life, and in fact, it is not. Though I do not have much of a say as to the brevity of my life, I certainly do have when it comes to being solitary, poor, nasty or brutish. And please understand, on my own I have made no great strides with any of these. It is only through the grace of God, poured out on me through the Savior Jesus Christ that has raised me out of the mire.

As Edward Mote wrote in that great hymn, my hope too is in Jesus Christ. Only when we, that is all of us, embrace the righteousness that only comes from the Lord, can we live as a people not described by Hobbes.

Jesus left clear instructions: Love others as He loved all. When individuals can truthfully live out this command of Jesus is when we will see true cracks in the walls of hatred and judgment of others.

Let us begin today to be what history will record us as. With God’s help we can be remembered as people who loved others as themselves, who promoted forgiveness and kindness instead of division and strife.

I pray for a grassroots growth of many individuals coming to know the love of God, for He truly is humanity’s only true hope.

1 My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Refrain:
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

2 When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. [Refrain]

3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. [Refrain]

4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. [Refrain]

Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #459

Lyrics by Edward Mote

May you all come to know more deeply the love God has for you,

Pastor Chuck

 

Dogs or People?

 

I’m a dog person.  I mean, I really like dogs.  If I see you out with your canine, I will invariably ask if it’s alright if I pet him or her.  Almost always, the answer is yes.  That’s because, in my opinion, dog people understand one another.

I had yet another opportunity to meet a new to me dog the other day.  I saw Brutus, taking up most of the corner of a waiting room, sitting with his human mom.  Being a 165-pound Great Dane, you can see how he would take up space.  I asked and was given permission to pet the gentle giant.

As dog owners, our conversation went along predictable lines as we shared stories of our beloved pets habits and activities.  It was then the Brutus’ owner confided to me another common sentiment among those who love their dogs:  she liked dogs better than most people.

I responded by telling her I understood how she felt but that I, being in the ministry and all, had to make sure I put people ahead of our furry friends.  Whereas this usually changes the topic, this lady instead pressed me, “But don’t you sometimes like dogs better than people?”

I laughed off a response and then it was time for Brutus and his owner to go, leaving me to ponder her question about which I liked more.  Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with my Facebook page knows that I adore our Goldendoodle, Violet.

Image may contain: dog

 

In my eyes, she is the perfect dog: friendly to everyone with a ‘I want to please you’ style that is so endearing.  Smart and playful, Violet is loved deeply.

But the lady’s question lingered.  This usually means that something is going on in my brain or spirit that God wants to address.  It didn’t take long to come into focus.  For me, it’s not so much a question of liking one over the other.  The sticky point is how much patience I have with dog v. human.  Violet can have an accident or chew on another dish towel or eat the occasional jig-saw puzzle peace and I take it all in stride.  Her good points outweigh these minor inconveniences to such an extent that these bumps in the road hardly register with me.

If only I could so easily extend grace to the world of humans around me.  Personal slights or forgetting something important that I told you are nearly capital offences at times.  The list of ‘how could you’ can get quite long.  Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, but it is an honest one.

Having identified an area that needed adjusting, God was just as quick to show me how to start.  Praying, as I like to do on my long afternoon walks with the above-pictured Violet, God spoke quietly to my spirit.  Basically, He reminded me that He loved me.  So much so that He gave His one and only Son to die for the forgiveness of sins, mine included.  His Spirit also reminded me that my very capacity to love comes from God and that I ought to access it more frequently.

Taking this to heart and putting into practice these last couple of days has been a joy.  Allowing God’s grace to flow through me to others has re-opened my eyes and heart.  These folks, all created by and loved as deeply by the same God who poured Himself out for me, deserve my patience and all the understanding I can muster.

Colossians 3:13 instructs me (and all of us) to: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (NIV) I’ve been doing this all along with my four-legged friends, simply loving them for what they are.  Applying this same criteria to the bi-peds around me is helping me to see them more clearly and compassionately for who they are as well.

Next time I’m asked which I like better, I’ll have a clearer answer! It’s not an ‘either or’ but rather a ‘yes and’ that works the best!

How about you: Dogs or people? And cat lovers too!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Teach Me to Pray

See the source image(image courtesy of bing images)

To the question, “Why pray?” I wrote that Jesus Himself prayed, concluding that if the Son of God saw value in praying, you and I should as well.  The next question for us to ponder was, “Does anyone listen to my prayers.” Once again, Jesus provides the comforting answer: Yes, prayers are heard in heaven!

Taking these first two examples as being the encouragement to pray, wouldn’t the logical next question be: “How do I pray?”

The disciples of Jesus believed it was. They had followed Jesus for a while and had seen Him go off to pray by Himself many times.  They understood, at least partially, that this was a practice they ought to partake in as well.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

Jesus then answered their request with what we have come to know as the Lord’s prayer:

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  3Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2-4)

Many people have been taught this prayer (or something close based upon which Gospel and translation you use) at an early age.  For me, I learned the words, in their proper order, so that I could recite it when asked to.  I have since come to believe that Jesus was after a little more than rote memorization as He answered the disciple’s request to teach them how to pray.

Before I go any further, let me be clear, I am not promoting a formula that must be followed to have our prayers heard.  Rather, I am suggesting that we use the Lord’s Prayer as a guideline.  Please recall in the first of this series about prayer when we stated that prayer is simply a two-way communication between God and the person praying.  Jesus was teaching His followers, both then and now, the great importance of getting oneself prepared to converse with the Almighty.

Thinking along this line, let’s reconsider Jesus’ teaching on how to pray.  First and foremost, prayer is all about us recognizing Who it is we are praying to.  We are not clicking on a name in our phone book, or chatting with a buddy over coffee, but rather coming to speak and listen to the God of the Universe.  Hence, ‘Father’ is a term of deserved respect.  We then recognize God’s perfect holiness when we say ‘hallowed be thy name.’  Jesus is teaching that in order to get our hearts ready to pray, we need to approach God with all the reverence we can muster.

Next Jesus says to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come (other gospels add ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’). Praying this is an admittance on our part that the world in which we live needs God!  All the centuries of humankind following its own will instead of seeking God’s has left this world in a sorry state.

Jesus then emphasizes the need to further personalize our conversation with the Father.  Asking to ‘give us our bread’ is another way of acknowledging that only God can give us what we truly need on a daily basis.

As we state our everyday need of God’s provision, we are then to humbly ask Him to forgive us our sins.  Obviously, this extremely personal point will differ from one person to the next.  Remember, it is our heart position in respect to God that Jesus wants us to recognize.  As we find the perfect forgiveness God extends, we then honor Him by forgiving those who have wronged us. (Easier said than done, I know; but holding on to resentments or unforgiveness only hurts us, not the other person)

Finally, after experiencing the freshness that only God’s forgiveness can bring, we ask God to not lead us into temptation (a more accurate translation of that word may be trials). If we are praying along the lines Jesus instructs us to, we can experience an ever-deepening relationship with our Maker.  Praying as Jesus suggests teaches us to keep things in a clearer perspective.  If we are making an effort to put God first in our lives, I believe He will help us to do so.

Jesus wants you and me to excel in communicating with the Father.  Following His instructions with regard to how we ought to pray will allow us to get as close to God as we desire.  I believe that many of the questions and struggles of life can be best met when we do so with the assurance that can come as a result of prayer.

Why pray? Jesus did! Does anyone really hear my prayers? God does! Want to learn how to pray? Use the outline Jesus provides to develop your personal prayer life!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

 

Death of a Salesman

 

My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus said to His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 NIV)

Jesus calls us His friend. What a friend indeed!  Our human experience with friendship pales when compared to the friendship offered by the Son of God. Sure, most of us get blessed with that one close friend in life.  Someone to confide in and that you trust completely.  The friend who wants to be around you; not because of your stuff or your home, but just to be with you.  As kids it’s called inseparable; impossible to see one without the other.  Plenty of laughter and good times; a person you spend time with and it seems completely natural to do so.  They stand with you in trouble or even get in the middle of it if they see you are hurt or threatened.  This rare kind of friend is a blessing for sure.

Yet I, for one, have never been a perfect friend to anyone.  Likewise, even my closest friends during my life have all had their share of imperfections as well.  Not so with Jesus!

Friendship with Jesus is an immeasurable upgrade over even the best we have known here on earth.  In the scripture passage at the top, He tells us all about it.  We are no longer simply servants, but in fact we become co-laborers with Him.  Jesus let’s us in on His business, which He has learned from His Father.  We can’t go any higher than that!

To be sure, this is not an ‘all get and not give’ relationship for us.  Jesus is also clear that if we are to be His friend, we will voluntarily obey His command to love Him.  We demonstrate this love for God as we unselfishly love each other.  Though this may seem difficult (or at least it does to me when I consider some of the people I know that seem pretty unlovable), God supplies the means: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It is simple, but not always easy.  When we struggle in this area of loving others, might I suggest we take a step back to consider what it is Jesus offers when He extends friendship to us.  It is a friendship I haven’t earned or deserve, but it is offered to me nonetheless.  We get the opportunity to love Him simply because He loves us.  When I stop looking at others through the lens of my understanding or perception and start to consider them simply as others that the Lord loves equally as much, my heart softens.

When we obey the call to love others, we are directly involved with God’s business.  Remember Jesus said He no longer called His disciples servants because He had let them in on the Father’s work.  The same applies to us to today.  We don’t know God’s Master Plan, but we can participate in our part of it: Love others as Jesus loves us.

Never forget that it is Jesus who brings the ‘weight’ to this friendship relationship.  He has already done immeasurably more than we ever could hope or imagine.  He proved His love to mankind by dying in our place that our sins could be forgiven.  What a friend! If you know that forgiveness, you have a pretty good idea of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus as your friend but find yourself interested in doing so, open up your heart to Him.  I have experienced enough of His faithful friendship to know that if you want His friendship, He will make the way so that you can.

 

How Would Jesus be Received Today

 

I sometimes wonder how well Jesus would be received if He came to the earth in this day and age.  I’m not talking about His promised Second Coming, but rather if He and His message were being heard for the first time right now. The gospels tell us that He ruffled quite a few feathers in the religious establishment back then.  So many in fact that those very same ‘religious’ leaders plotted to have Him killed.  I hope we as leaders who follow Him would be less territorial; yet even so I’m sure there would be many meetings of church boards and committees formed to discuss what was going on!

I’m more intrigued to know how every day folks would receive His message in this enlightened time.  His message of love and forgiveness resonated with many when He walked the earth; so much so that we are still talking about Him 2000 years later!  Would it today?  After all, Jesus didn’t teach a complicated system.  It can be boiled down to this: Love and obey God, love others, and be as forgiving as you have been forgiven.

The Good News of salvation because of His death and resurrection is straight forward.  It is just as straight forward when dealing with sin.  That’s where I think the greatest resistance would be today.  Jesus taught that sin was an affront to God; it is what keeps us separated from Him on an eternal basis if it is not dealt with by trusting in Christ’s forgiveness for salvation.

It is here that I believe today’s culture would take exception to what Jesus was telling them.  You see, the things that are going on in our society aren’t all that different from the vices and problems people had 2000 years ago.  Granted, life seems to happen at a faster pace now than it did then, but that doesn’t change the basic things still confronting people.  We may call them different things and certainly technology puts all sorts of things out there in the moment, but the condition that plagues humankind now is the same as it was then.

What is that condition? The seeking of gratification of our desires above all other things.  Frequently, these things are not in line with what God has in mind for us.  When we follow these unhealthy desires, we are then in disobedience to God.  In a word, we sin.  Generally, our culture doesn’t like that word.  What current society champions is that individuals have the right to do whatever and whenever he or she chooses is.  Scripture would define this attitude as selfishness.

We as humans have gained almost immeasurable wisdom over time.  Our understanding of how things work, the progress in science and medicine have made our lives quite comfortable in many ways.  Unfortunately, I do not believe we have learned how to consistently put the needs of others before our wants.  Nowhere does this seem more evident than in our society’s embracing of the breakdown of traditional sexual values.  Current culture calls this being progressive and open. But these thoughts are a contradiction to what Jesus taught, hence my belief that He would meet considerable opposition if He were bringing His message of obedience to the Father to the world today.

Today’s ‘anything goes’ mentality has become so pervasive that it seems to ostracize someone like myself and others like me, who proclaim as unchanging truth what the Bible teaches. God clearly states in the Book of Genesis that He created humankind male and female and that marriage was to be a union of the two into one.  The physical aspect of biblical marriage is designed to not only have us pro-create but also to have it be such a pleasurable act!  How far we have fallen from our Maker’s plan for marriage and His over all desire for us to live in peace under His headship.

This is but one example of the ever-widening gap between what is acceptable in today’s world and what God intends for people who willingly follow His decrees.  As I look at the places where I minister, I see much pain, disillusionment and despair.  Much of the pain and suffering I am called to bring comfort to is the result of lives lived, and choices made, that are outside of God’s desires.  If I were to see that current lifestyle choices were bringing true peace and happiness, I might re-consider my stance on biblical truth.

However, it is not happening; and because I know that our God is a God of love, I will continue, with His help and to the best of my ability, to minister that godly love at every opportunity.  One of the ways I do this is to gently explain that God has not arbitrarily set up rules for our conduct, but rather He has only our best interest at heart.  The lifestyle God wants us to live is good for us!

Please know that I hold no judgment against anyone who is caught up in the lies of today’s society.  I am simply to follow the example Jesus gave, to minister His love to folks right where they are in hopes that they can come to experience the freedom His truth is all about.

I started this blog out wondering how Jesus’ message of love would be received today if He were to be delivering it personally.  History shows that mankind, for the most part, has refused to embrace the call of obedience to the Word of God.  People, having not really changed much over the millennia, would undoubtedly harbor the same doubts that they did when Jesus walked the earth.

Don’t let this dissuade you!  I believe the power of God to transform lives is still active today.  I know this to be true because He did it for me!  It is that hope that there are others who will receive the loving forgiveness of the Savior that motivates me each day.  Jesus has already come to deliver the message of salvation.  I need only be a carrier of that hope and in so doing let others see that the power of God is readily available, for everyone!

Call Me Foolish

 

We live in a time where everyone’s opinion is to get equal hearing.  The internet and social media have given a vast majority the ability to express their views and have them read/heard at virtually that same moment.  The current culture says to embrace all views because truth is relative; what’s true for you may not be for another.  This approach does not want to hinder anyone from expressing their beliefs.  In fact, it seems to me the more unconventional one claims to be, the more that view is accepted.

Yet, there is a disconnect between this warm and fuzzy approach and reality.  If current culture is as open as it claims to be, why is it a traditional belief, that being Jesus is Lord, is shunned as narrow or closed-minded? Please note that I am not defending the long-standing approach of the institutional Church.  Mankind has basically made a shamble of it and because of this I understand why so many stay away religiously.  What I am standing up for is the all-encompassing truth found in the Bible.

Relativism says that what’s true for you may not be for another.  Biblical truth, on the other hand, is true for/to all.  That doesn’t mean it is agreeable to everyone.  If my believing whole-heartedly in the eternal validity of the Scriptures makes me rigid in your eyes, I am truly sorry for your misunderstanding.  I may indeed misrepresent the truth I believe in by my thoughts or insensitive actions, but that’s on me, not God.

God’s truth applies to everyone, regardless of your denial of it.  I don’t mean to sound ‘holier-than-thou’ by expressing this when in fact the opposite is true.  It is only through humbly accepting and then allowing God’s truth to lead me that I can ever come close to sharing what I have experienced in my walk of faith.

What is this faith I claim to walk in? The Bible defines it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).  I look at this definition as being in two parts.  The first is the easier: being sure of what I hope for.  I know the true longings of my heart and have put my hope for their fulfillment in God.

It is the latter part of Hebrews 11:1 that has caused me some consternation.  Whereas as my hope is a somewhat less tangible thing, certainty in things I cannot see tends to fly in the face of my tactile tendencies.  Therefore, I do have empathy for those who want to see before committing.  There is an inevitable tension there.  The only way I have found to resolve this tension is to willingly submit to the authority God has over my life.

To do so requires that I recognize God for being who he says he is.  To the nonbeliever this sounds absurd, but not unexpected.  Hesitancy to have faith in God is not something new.  Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus a group of believers in Corinth were afflicted with doubts about many of the claims being made about Christ.  This is addressed in the first letter written by the Apostle Paul to them: I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 The Living Bible Translation).

There it is.  This is the ‘rubber meets the road’ truth around which all of Scripture is founded.  There are those who are ‘lost’ and those who have been saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  It is a harsh truth that is not readily accepted by modern culture.  Again, simply rejecting this does not make it untrue.  There are certainly more warm and fuzzy thoughts about our eternal destination out there being held to by many.  The concept of being lost in our enlightened society is considered foolishness.

Go ahead and call me foolish then! If I am foolish to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so be it.  I would rather be considered a fool than to give up the peace God has revealed to me through the Scriptures.  If the assurance I have about eternity because of faith in Jesus makes me seem simple in this advanced time, I’m ok with that.  If I am not taken seriously because I recognize my helplessness before the Almighty, I am good there as well.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me so long as I answer the call of God.  In so doing I recognize and submit to my need of a Savior.  This is God’s love manifest for ALL mankind.  His offer of eternal life is extended to everyone, always and everywhere.  I’ve taken him up on it because I believe it would be foolish not to.  Won’t you consider it as well?

77 times?

 

Many times I have written or spoken about the fact that a person who follows Jesus is much more involved with relationship, not religion.  This is not ‘my take’ on this subject, it is the very heart of the Lord.  We can see this in a short discussion He has with Peter in Matthew 18:21-22: 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?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Now on the surface it appears that Jesus is in fact giving a mathematical formula for how we are to dole out forgiveness.  Thankfully, He was not.  To best understand what is going on here, we need a little context.  A helpful hint I like to use is to imagine myself in the conversation, as it is taking place.  In this case, this is two Jewish men talking about forgiving someone who wrongs you.  The religious code of that time held that you were to forgive a person three times.  After that, you did not forgive them and basically you were to treat them as if they didn’t exist.

Knowing this, and the fact that Peter has now been living with and learning from Jesus for over two years, we get some insight into Peter’s ‘growth.’  The rule says up to three times, so Peter, feeling spiritual, offers four additional pardons!  Oh Peter, like so many still do today, you missed the point.  It seems like the ‘scorecard’ mentality for religion isn’t a new phenomenon.

I’m not finding fault with Peter, for I too like to have something tangible to hang my hat on.  Some type of cosmic scorecard sounds appropriate.  I can keep a list of all the wrongs done me and can cross-reference the names with those who have sought my forgiveness.  The problem with this approach is that my list will always be considerably longer because many of the injuries done me will be known only to me!

What Jesus is teaching is the exact opposite of keeping score.  Rather than having a running account of wrongs done to you up to seventy-seven times, the Lord tells us that forgiveness cannot be quantified or qualified in any way.  It is a matter of our heart, and it is a matter of choice.

 

The relational (heart) piece of forgiveness starts when we take a grander view of just what forgiveness is.  Remember, you are in the conversation as it is taking place and though you don’t know it yet, this is the Savior of the world who is speaking with Peter.  What an advantage we have now, living as it were on ‘this side’ of the cross.  Here we know that the ultimate price has been paid through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is forgiveness in the biggest picture!

The basic point is this: we who have been forgiven much ought to be most forgiving of others.  If you read on in Chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes this point clearly in telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  This guy, who owed millions, begged the king to forgive his debt because he couldn’t possibly pay it back.  The king mercifully wipes the slate clean, only to have this fellow have someone thrown in debtor’s prison who owed him a mere fraction of what he had just been freed of.

This is what we are to keep in mind regarding forgiveness.  Because Jesus has forgiven us the debt we could never repay, we ought never quantify the forgiveness we extend to others.  Our hearts, being humbly aware of the mercy we have been shown, are to share the love of the Lord as we forgive others.

Giving forgiveness is also a choice.  Knowing what I know about it, I can still self-righteously withhold my forgiveness.  I put myself in the judgment seat and decree that someone wasn’t sincere, or they waited too long or, whatever.  Once I sit in that particular chair, I have lost the whole point Jesus is teaching us.

Who is it that is ultimately harmed by my unforgiving attitude? Me.  If I decide to harbor ill-will and resentment toward someone, it eats away at me, not them.  They can go about their life not even knowing I have allowed them rent free access to my mind, where my tortured thoughts of veiled retribution keep me hopelessly bound in anger.

Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin and from ourselves! He speaks of this several times in John Chapter 8: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-32, 36 NIV).  Once freed from the sentence of death our sinfulness deserves, we begin to realize the wondrous gift Jesus has given us.  He has freely loved us, providing the ultimate sacrifice as proof.  Living in this awareness, can we be so petty as to resist forgiving others?

The bible also tells us to not keep an account of the wrongs done to us.  The Apostle Paul, in writing what has become a familiar verse read at weddings says of love: It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it in not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV).  This we ought to take to heart, for we only waste our time mulling over the things of the past instead of living in the present.

Let the scorecard of the wrongs and slights be gone.  If you can get rid of it, the freedom Jesus offers will become much clearer to you.  Who wants to keep track of up to seventy-seven sins against you anyway? Instead, try to keep in the forefront of your heart and mind the only number that matters; 0.  This is what God sees wrong with you if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior.  The Lord wipes clean your eternal slate, and then He throws it away! Savor this indescribable gift the Savior gives.  As you do, you will find that by extending forgiveness whenever and wherever allows you to stay all the more focused on loving God, and others!