Forgiving Like Jesus Forgives

[This is a guest post by my friend David Rojas. David is a blogger, and also does awesome IT work. He has rescued my blog several times, and I highly recommend him.]

Yes, it’s hard to forgive. Much harder than I could have imagined; and often in ways I don’t expect. Do you ever find it easier to forgive the “bigger” or more “shameful” offenses against you, but struggle with those “less important” ones? For me, the most difficult moments of extending forgiveness are usually those where someone has offended me in some small way. Perhaps they may say or do something that hurts or offends me, to which I “explode” or make such a big deal of until I find myself sitting in a puddle of vomit, licking my wounds (which are often scratches at most).

But oddly enough, the “little” offenses I commit against others I barely think twice about, while the heinous, shameful, guilt-ridden sins drag me down to the pits of Sheol leaving me forlorn and pressed down beneath the gates of condemnation.

Perhaps you can relate?

Let me tell you: there’s really good news for you and me!

In Matthew 18 (verse 21), Peter came to Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus’ answer may have initially surprised His listening disciples, but I’m certain they understood it well later, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy- seven times.”

He continues,

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

Pausing here for a moment, let’s picture this king as our King, Jesus, and we are the servant who owed much to Him, yet could not pay. Can you relate at all?

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

If Christ is your Lord and Savior, and you have been born again, this is exactly what Jesus did for you and for me. Out of His love and mercy towards us, He completely forgave us ALL our great debt we owed Him, which we could not pay, because of our sins against Him. Isn’t He so good to us?

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

Sadly, this has too often been my response toward my brothers and sisters. This has been what the Holy Spirit has recently been convicting me of. How easy it is to take an offense towards me and hold it against my brother or sister. How many times have I acted just like this unforgiving servant, demanding repentance or satisfaction of my own desires? And in all of this, I forget how great a debt I have been forgiven, and the price that was paid for my redemption–the very own blood of Jesus. O Lord, forgive my selfishness!

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Unforgiveness is often a result of pride and bitterness; it’s placing ones own desires above those of any other, and proclaiming that your will be done–not God’s. The effective result of living in unforgiveness is slavery and imprisonment to self and sin, and ultimately death. There is no life, no joy, no peace and no love in the presence of sin. Where is freedom found in all of this? In Jesus.

There is no greater example–no greater demonstration of the power of love and forgiveness in all of history than what Christ Jesus did for us at calvary. You and I, who have been born of God, have the Holy Spirit who is our helper to overcome sin. We can, by the power of Christ in us, extend this same love of Jesus towards all who sin against us.

Recently, the Lord has brought this parable to my mind again and again as I fight for love and joy in relating to others around me. He has shown me from His word, not only the importance of forgiveness, but also how to forgive. It truly starts with dying to myself; laying down my desires and my “rights” and humbling myself before Him, asking for His strength to be worked in me. I must ask the Spirit to show me my sin. I must focus on removing the log from my own eye.

When I think of what Jesus has sacrificed for me, and of how great a debt He has forgiven and wiped clean, not even the greatest sin against me by my brother can compare. I have no right to complain, no right to judge. How can I be so selfish? How can I withhold grace? How can I not love and forgive, just as I have been forgiven?

The next time you struggle with forgiving your brother, or friend, remember this parable; remember Christ’s sacrifice and how He has forgiven you!

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” ~ Colossians 3:12-14

God’s Astounding, Jaw-Dropping, Eye-Popping Patience

How patient and long suffering is our God! How amazingly loving he is.

Psalm 106 is a litany of how God’s people spit in his face again and again, yet when things sour they come back to God, and he forgives and blesses them again and again.  It’s a broken record of their failures and God’s patience.

As soon as Israel comes out of Egypt, they start their slur campaign accusing God of wanting to kill them and they “rebelled by the sea,” yet “he saved them for his name’s sake,” (7) and God carves a path for them through the waters yet sweeps the Egyptians away.

Israel suffers a huge case of God amnesia- “they soon forgot his works” (13). How do you forget God splitting the Red Sea?  They continue their belly aching, are jealous of Moses, and party at the golden calf.  “They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (21).  If I were God I’d have said, “That’s it.  I’m done with you, have a good life – without me!”  Yet God spared them when Moses prayed for them.

They go on to despise the promised land (ever have someone be ungrateful for a gift you’ve given them?), don’t believe God’s promise (ever had someone call you a liar?), worship Baal and eat sacrifices offered to the dead.  God sends a plague but as soon as Phineas intervenes in prayer he relents yet again.

Do they learn anything?  When they finally enter the promised land instead of destroying the peoples as God had commanded they mix with them, serve their gods and even sacrifice their sons and daughters to demons.  As a grandfather and dad, I can’t imagine hurting one of my kids or grandkids, yet Israel murdered theirs for demons.

V 43 sums it up: “Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity.”

Then comes the most amazing verses: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remember his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (44-45).

What?  After all their bad mouthing him, dancing with demons, ingratitude and self-absorption, God relents?  God, are you a masochist?  Do you like rejection?  How much love do you have?  An abundance.

How patient God is with me! How great is his long suffering toward me! Now if he was so forbearing with Israel, even forgiving them when they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons, how much more will he be patient with us who have received his Son and been washed by his sacrifice.

And if God is so patient with us, should we not be patient with the failures of others?. Let’s remember God’s steadfast love when others sin against us or when they’re slow to change.

Jaw-Dropping, Shake-Your-Head-in-Wonder Mercy

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.  (Psalm 106:44-45)

If you read this verse alone, it doesn’t seem so amazing.  But read it in context and it’s jaw-dropping, head-shaking amazing.

Psalm 106 is a devastating record of human failure and sin.  Here’s a synopsis: God pours out blessing on Israel.  Israel punches God in the face.  Israel gets desperate, cries to God.  Incredibly, God has mercy and pours out blessing.  Repeat.

Israel sees God send unbelievable plagues on Egypt.  Then he compels the Egyptians to heap treasures upon Israel as they leave Egypt.  But as soon as they get to the Red Sea they forget it all and rebel against him.  God rescues them anyway, splits the Red Sea, drowns the Egyptian army.  The light’s on for a brief moment: “Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.”  The next line says: “But they soon forgot his works.”

They crave meat in the wilderness, put God to the test, are jealous of Moses and Aaron, worship a golden calf.  God rescues them, and they forget him again and again. They murmur against him, join themselves to Baal, eat sacrifices offered to the dead, mix with the inhabitants of the promised land, serve their idols, and even sacrifice their children to demons.

If I were God, I’d have wiped Israel out early on.  I’d have said “That’s it.  You’ve crossed the line for the last time.  I’m done with you.”  I mean they sacrificed their children to demons.  How much more could they have spit in God’s face?  Yet after all their sin we read:

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

What?  God, are you kidding?  Are you crazy?  What kind of God are you?

An astoundingly patient, longsuffering and merciful God.  A jaw-dropping, shake-your-head-in-wonder merciful God.

Psalm 106 isn’t just about Israel.  It’s about us too.  After all our rebellion, rejection and spitting in his face, God had immeasurable compassion on us and sent his Son Jesus to save us and bring us to himself.

What hope this gives me to know my Father’s so compassionate and forbearing with me.  And what patience this inspires in me toward others.  God has been long-suffering with me.  How can I not be so with others?

Forbear with your children.  Even if your children are grown and have rejected you and all you taught them.  Be compassionate toward your fellow believers too.  Keep a tender heart toward them, and keep praying for them, even if they reject you.  Remember how God loved you and gave his Son for you.  And remember how patient God has been with you even since you’ve been a Christian.

I want to be like my God, and hope others might experience his compassion and long-suffering patience from me.

photo by arbyreed

Things Take Time

I don’t like to wait.

Like Queen, “I want it all, and I want it now.”  I want to download a book instantly, the moment I desire it, while sipping my coffee which the barista had waiting for me when I breezed through the coffee shop door.  I want line-free grocery stores.  I want God to give me patience, this second, thank you very much.

But one thing I’ve learned is that in the kingdom, things take time.  It just doesn’t seem like the God who created 17-year locusts is in a hurry.

It takes a long time to bear spiritual fruit.  Young believers need lots of encouragement, prayer, listening, explaining, and patience.  They need to hear the truths of God’s word again and again. They need friends to forbear with them when they’re assaulted by doubts or take two steps forward and three back.

It takes lots of listening, note-taking, question asking, and counseling to help a couple struggling in their marriage.  Sometimes they leave holding hands, then the next time you meet, they come with voodoo dolls of each other bristling with pins.

Often it takes believers who suffer tragedies to a long time to recover.  When a child or loved one dies it can take years to struggle back from such heartbreak, even with God’s grace and help.

When a Christian is severely sinned against, though they know and desire to obey Jesus’ command to forgive those who sin against them, it’s not easy.  It takes loads of grace to forgive someone who’s devastated them by their sin.  We can’t just say, “Hey, forgive them and get over it.  Just move on.”

So many times over the years I’ve expected people to change quickly.  I’ve thought I could meet with them once or twice, dispense some quick wisdom, and poof, problem solved.  Not true.  We need to be patient with the idle, the weak and the faint-hearted.  We must be quick to listen, slow to speak. We must bear with the failings of the weak.

When you see little progress in those you seek to help, remind yourself that none of your labor in the Lord is in vain.  In his perfect time, Christ will complete the good work he began in them.

photo by jurvetson

Meet Jonah the Jerk

God is the God of second chances. And he’s also the God of third chances, and fourth chances, and fifth chances.

Case in point: Jonah.

Have you read the book of Jonah any time recently? It’s a surreal book featuring Jonah the Enormous Jerk and the God of Everflowing, Overflowing Grace.

God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and prophesy their impending destruction. Jonah isn’t so keen on that idea and makes a break for Tarshish. The moment Jonah ran, God should have killed him. But he gave him a second chance. His mercy won’t let Jonah get away that easily.

God hunts down Jonah with a storm of epic proportions, which results in him be thrown into the sea by the ship’s crew (who, by the way, placed their faith in Yahweh). It would be right for God to let Jonah inhale the water and suffocate, but he doesn’t. Instead he appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. Jonah is vomited onto dry land.

He goes to Nineveh, preaches, and 120,000 people repent in sackcloth and ashes. It’s probably the greatest revival in history and it certainly is every preacher’s dream come true. But Jonah is in no mood to celebrate. He stalks outside the city and sets up a booth to sit in, hoping that God will still bring the hammer down on Nineveh. God doesn’t and Jonah flips out on God. He’s angry that God would be merciful to such scumbags and now would like God to take his life.

Jonah should have been vaporized on the spot. But God gave him a third chance.

God sends a plant to cover Jonah from the sun. The plant is present for only one day, but it appears to be the best day of Jonah’s life. The next however, it’s gone, eaten by a God-appointed worm. Jonah has had enough. He again asks God to kill him on the spot. But God continues to extend compassion to Jonah, and gives him yet a fourth chance to turn from his wickedness.

The book of Jonah ends without telling us what Jonah did, but I think he finally got it. God just wouldn’t let go of Jonah. He loved him too much and wouldn’t let him wallow in sin.

God does the same with you and me. God always sticks with us. He should have dumped us long ago, but he is utterly faithful to the end, and will keep pursuing us with compassion.

Which makes me really glad.