Wait! Who is Blessed?

Today’s reading is Psalm 32.

I love Psalm 32, don’t you? It’s so comforting. However, most of my life, I’ve read it in a vacuum. I love it’s message about forgiveness. I bask in it and then move on. But now that we are walking through the psalms slowly, one at a time, this psalm explodes with new meaning.

Do you recall the doorway into the psalms: Psalm 1? The entire psalter started with a beatitude. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” It paints the picture of the person who doesn’t take counsel from the wicked, sinful, scoffers, but simply meditates in God’s Word. There are the blessed, and there are the wicked. And let’s face it, at the end of Psalm 1 there is a small part of us thinking, “Blessed is the man who has never violated God’s Law.”

While reading that first psalm, we might be able to convince ourselves we fit. We like God’s Word. We think about it a great deal. We try hard to follow it. However, having worked our way through all the psalms so far, we have been disabused of that notion. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t sinless. There have been plenty of times God’s law and will were not our meditation. There have been plenty of times we have listened to the counsel of the wicked. Where does that leave us?

Enter Psalm 32. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a second beatitude. “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Praise God! The blessed are not the perfect, they are the forgiven.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 32.

PODCAST!!!

Click here to take about 15 minutes to listen to the Text Talk conversation between Andrew Roberts and Edwin Crozier sparked by this post.

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Please, Forgive Me

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.

In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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Seven Times in a Day

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

But if my brother sins against me seven times in a day, isn’t that an indication he hasn’t really repented? Perhaps. How many times have you committed the same sin against God and then repented and asked for forgiveness? This goes so against the common sense of our age. After all, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven times in a day… Certainly, this is not Jesus’s permission for any of us to sin repeatedly so long as we say the obligatory “I repent.” It is Jesus’s instruction to drop the rebuke and the punishment when they declare their repentance, even if this is the seventh time today. Neither is the point that on the eighth time they’re out of luck. Rather, the use of seven here is a symbolic idea of completeness. As in the seventh year all debts were completely forgiven no matter how great, every day we forgive the spiritual debts completely even if it is an unlikely seven times in one day. “But this is so unnatural,” we cry. “No one would ever do this.” Even the apostles, hearing this, begged for Jesus to increase their faith. Of course, Jesus’s response was that they didn’t need an increased faith, they needed to actually act based on the faith they had. No doubt, it is unnatural. In fact, we might, in a sense, say it is supernatural. No one who is disconnected from Jesus will ever pull this off. “But what if someone takes advantage of me?” Perhaps we need to remember that no one has ever lost their soul for being taken advantage of, but we may well lose our souls if we refuse to forgive. After all, our prayer is for God to forgive us the way we forgive others.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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If Your Brother Repents, Forgive Him

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Because so few understand what it means to rebuke a sinner properly, few understand forgiveness as well. Because of this misunderstanding, I fear many of us focus more on forgiveness as defined by psychologists than as defined by the Bible. For instance, while searching for images to go with this post, I saw a meme that says, “Forgiveness is for you, not for them.” From a psychological standpoint, this sounds deep and profound. The idea is whether or not a person repents, let go of your anger, your frustration, your seething desire for revenge. Quit feeding your negative feelings toward them because it is destroying you on the inside. If you would just learn to forgive, you would be so much more psychologically healthy. The problem with this biblically is that while all those things are emotional and psychological prerequisites to spiritual forgiveness, they are not forgiveness. That is, if you hang on to your anger, your frustration, your desire for revenge, or if you continue to feed your negative feelings toward a person, you will never forgive them, but letting all those go is not forgiveness. After all, when Jesus was on the cross dying as the sacrifice that would pay the debt for the sins of the crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”, that nailed Him to the cross, that stood their jeering, “Come down and we’ll believe in You,” and He said, “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing,” was He hanging on to anger, frustration, vengeance? Was He feeding His negative feelings toward them? No, obviously not. And yet, He wasn’t forgiving them. The One who had the power to forgive sins on the earth and who had even told people their sins were forgiven while on the earth, didn’t do that on the cross. He didn’t say, “You are forgiven.” He didn’t say, “I forgive you.” He didn’t forgive them, but asked the Father to do so. And the Father did forgive many of them…on the day of Pentecost and in the days and years following (as did Jesus). Whether or not someone repents, we need to let go of our hate, our anger, our grudge-holding, our desire to hurt, our desire to get vengeance. We need to do that because these emotions and desires hurt not only the person we feel them towards, but also hurt us. In fact, as we learned yesterday, the only way to rebuke properly, with the desire to bring someone to repentance is to let go of these things. But, until they have repented, we must continue to warn them, to rebuke them. Until they have repented, their relationship with God is in jeopardy, their soul is in danger. How can we call it love to simply let sin go and allow a person to walk blithely on to eternal destruction? We need to understand that Jesus’s words here in Luke 17:1-4 are not for our psychological health (though that may be a serendipitous byproduct), they are for the salvation of sinners. Sometimes the sinner is us. Sometimes the sinner is someone else. If your brother sins, love him enough to rebuke him. If he repents, love him enough to forgive him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 17.

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Love Your Enemies

Today’s reading is Luke 6.

I’m going to go off the beaten path for this blog and daily devo. You have probably already seen this, but today I just want us to think about loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, praying for those who abuse us. Today I want us to think about being merciful as our Father in heaven is. I don’t think I can add anything to the great example set recently in the public news. Even if you’ve already seen it, watch the video below to see a stellar example by a brother in Christ.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 6.

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Charge That to My Account

Today’s reading is Philemon 1.

Talk about walking in the footsteps of Jesus. If Onesimus owed Philemon anything, Paul says, “Charge that to my account.” “I will repay it,” Paul says. And then he points out, “To say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” There is just so much in this statement. First, Paul was willing to pay another’s debts. He was willing to act as Jesus did paying our debts. Second, he was asking Philemon to exact the payment from him instead of Onesimus, but then reminding him that the account was so far in Paul’s favor that when Philemon charged the debt of Onesimus to Paul, Philemon would still owe Paul and not the other way around. Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that exactly the way we should treat the sins of others? Jesus went to the cross to the pay our debts. When others sin against us, He is asking us to charge that to His account. He will pay the debt. However, we are so far in His debt that when He pays the price for those who have sinned against us, we are still in the red ourselves. Let’s keep in mind that when we are forgiving others, we are really charging those debts to Jesus’s account. Then, let’s remember how much He has already paid on our account. Is there anyone today whose charge you need to lay on Jesus’s account?

Tomorrow’s reading is 1 Timothy 1.

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Forgive Like Paul Like Jesus

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 2.

Who is this guy that needs to be forgiven in today’s reading? For the longest time, I’ve just assumed Paul is referring to the fellow who needed to be disciplined in 1 Corinthians 5. It may, in fact, be him. However, in these paragraphs there is an indication that Paul had made a painful visit to Corinth in which whoever this man is caused Paul some direct pain, though Paul was more concerned about the pain and harm inflicted on the congregation. Then Paul claims he is forgiving this man. How can Paul forgive the man in 1 Corinthians 5? The Bible does not speak of a priestly role that grants forgiveness to others for whatever sin they are committing. Whoever this fellow is, he has actually done something specifically to Paul that Paul is saying he forgives. Paul’s point seems to be to the Corinthians that they do not need to withhold love from someone on his account. Rather, he is forgiving that person; they need to forgive and reaffirm their love. In other words, Paul won’t hold the grudge. The man has repented, he now needs to be forgiven and loved. What a picture of the gospel. What a picture of following in Jesus’s footsteps, to forgive and reaffirm my love to the one who has caused me pain. This is living the gospel. Today, I need to forgive like Paul who forgave like Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is 2 Corinthians 3.

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Free

Today’s reading is Acts 13.

Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. That forgiveness means being freed and justified from everything from which the Law of Moses could not free or justify anyone. What a message! Forgiveness. Freedom. Having been enslaved to sin and pursuing a law that could not set them free, you would think the Jews who heard this message would have been overjoyed. And they were. Until they saw the Gentiles were as well. They were overjoyed until they saw Paul’s message was drawing in Gentiles who never listened to the message of the Jews. Then jealousy kicked in. And they chose slavery. They judged themselves unworthy of the message by rejecting it. And these are our two options. Either accept the message and be free or judge yourself unworthy of the good news and remain enslaved. We each get what we ask for. Be free. Be forgiven. Turn to Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 14.

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Forgive

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

There are a lot of good works I find hard to do. Perhaps this is the hardest, and yet it makes us most like Jesus. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Stephen, while being stoned says, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” That is the gospel. That is the gospel in action. That is the gospel in our lives. Certainly, sacrificing money, time, resources, opportunities for others is Christlike. But sacrificing my right to anger, my right to payback, my right to get even, to get vengeance, my right to hold a grudge, my right to just not like them, my right to view myself as better, and on the list goes. Yet, here is Stephen walking in our Savior’s footsteps. What have you been forgiven by Jesus on the cross? Who do you need to forgive?

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 8.

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Forgiven

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

WOW! Jesus said that while He was actually offering the sacrifice that would provide their forgiveness. He was offering that sacrifice while the people He wanted forgiven were taunting Him, mocking Him, beating Him, belittling Him, crucifying Him. If He wanted them forgiven, how much more does He want you forgiven? Come to His cross. Come to Him. The good news is He wants you to.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 24.

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