God Won't Be Bought

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

I simply do not think it is a coincidence that the poor widow is exalted as an example right after Jesus belittled the scribes for devouring widows’ houses. The Law was clear; the mistreatment of widows was an abomination (see Exodus 22:22-24). Isaiah 1: 12-17 is profoundly parallel to Luke 20:45-21:4. As in Isaiah’s day, the scribes were trampling God’s courts. Their long prayers were an abomination because they did not correct oppression or plead the widow’s cause. As Isaiah went on to do in his book, Luke goes on in the rest of this chapter to describe the judgment that will now be coming upon Israel. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence, but the word translated “greater” in Luke 20:47 is from the same family as the word “abundance” in Luke 21:4. That is, those who gave out of their abundance would still receive the more abundant condemnation. Their abundant gifts will not change that one iota. God will not be bought. God will not be bartered with. God wants all of us. We can’t pick and choose the bits we want to give to Him. We can’t pay Him off to make up for it. We can’t “do church” right enough to make up for lacking love, compassion, and justice. Of course, we must also recognize it goes the other way. We can’t “do mercy” enough to make up for worshiping God falsely either. The point here is not that one is better than the other. The point is if we try to pick and choose, we’ll never be able to drop enough money in the plate to buy God’s favor. God won’t be bartered with. God won’t be bought. We must render to God all that is His, and that is all that is us.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 21.

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Hey, God, Look at Me

Today’s reading is Luke 18.

Let’s make sure we always understand exactly why the tax collector was justified and the Pharisee was not. The Pharisee was not condemned because he avoided extortion, injustice, and adultery. He was not condemned because he fasted twice per week and gave tithes of all that he got. That is, the Pharisee was not condemned for thinking God’s law was important, for attempting to obey it, or for attempting to demonstrate his devotion by doing spiritual things above and beyond God’s law. He was supposed to be like this and so was the tax collector. Additionally, the tax collector was not justified because he was a sinner. He was supposed to avoid sin and needed to be rebuked for it. If we are not careful, we might get the idea that God doesn’t care if people obey His law and folks who dismiss His will are automatically justified. The Pharisee was humbled and condemned because of self-exaltation. The tax collector was exalted with justification because in humility he turned to the Lord. The Pharisee was not condemned for keeping God’s Law, but for thinking he was special, set apart, and deserving of praise because of the particular laws he kept instead of being humble regarding the ones he had not and seeking God’s mercy in that humility. The tax collector was not justified for dismissing God’s will, but for realizing how important God’s law is and knowing he could do absolutely nothing to make up for how badly he had broken it. Jesus is not saying, “If you want to be justified, ignore God’s law, just say the right prayer.” He is saying, “If you want to be justified don’t think the rules you’ve kept make up for the rules you’ve broken. Humble yourself before God, realizing only His mercy can justify you.”

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 18.

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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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God Knows Your Heart

Today’s reading is Luke 16.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Christians explain the grace of God for their sins by saying, “Well, God knows my heart.” This is sometimes said as if our heartfelt devotion and personal sincerity make up for our sins. “Hey, I may be mistaken about how to worship God scripturally, but God knows my heart.” We say that as if we do not recognize how terribly frightening the prospect of God knowing our hearts really is. Jesus’s words to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15 demonstrate this. Jesus makes it clear to His detractors. “God knows your heart.” And that fact does not bode well for them. God is not fooled by the outwardly righteous demeanor of the Pharisees. He knows exactly how rotten their hearts are. As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). God does not give His grace to us because of how amazingly devout and sincere we are in our hearts. God doesn’t overlook our sins because we meant well. After all, if that was the basis of salvation, it wouldn’t be grace, would it? Here is the amazing thing. Despite knowing our hearts, Jesus died for us anyway. He established His kingdom. We need it. None of this, of course, is permission to be an insincere hypocrite. None of this, of course, is permission to be an apathetic, half-hearted citizen of the kingdom. It is, however, a reminder that our comfort is not that Jesus knows our hearts, but in discovering and knowing the heart of Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 16.

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Faithful Stewardship

Today’s reading is Luke 16.

Perhaps one of the reasons I always struggle with the parable we discussed yesterday is because the text goes directly from giving us an unfaithful steward as an example to talking about being a faithful steward. I think we need to see this point about faithful stewardship as Point 2 in Jesus’s brief sermon about stewardship of finances. The first point: use your stewardship as a blessing to others, and blessing means helping them get to eternal dwellings. The second point: be faithful with the stewardship. That is, do what the Master wants with the things that belong to Him. Otherwise, He won’t welcome you into eternal dwellings. We have a tendency to think all the money that flows through our hands in this life is a really, really big deal. But Jesus explains our house, our car, our clothes, our finances down here on earth are actually very little. In the grand scheme of things, they aren’t really important. It is what is coming in eternity that is the big, big deal. What I find even more amazing is that little statement that is often overlooked. What we have now isn’t even our own. However, if we are faithful in the stewardship of what is God’s right now, in eternity we will be blessed with what is our own. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what that means. I just know I want it. Which gets back to Jesus’s main point. We are stewards. The #1 principle for stewardship is to do what the Master wants done with what belongs to Him. Be faithful to the Master with what belongs to Him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 16.

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