Tag Archives: Forgiveness

On Being the Lost Sheep

For some reason the Pharisees liked to hang out with Jesus and criticize everything He did. You would think after a while they would just learn to ignore Him. But they didn’t and Jesus took every opportunity to try to set them straight. This is the situation we read about in Luke 15:1-7. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus hangs out with folks they considered “sinners.” Certainly these were people no self-respecting rabbi would associate with. So Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates His heart toward those very sinners – the lost sheep. But understand that the “lost” in this parable are still Jews. They are still covenant people. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles or unbelievers. He is talking to us – his people – and He is revealing His heart towards us when we get lost too.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

 First of all, notice that the entire flock has 100 sheep and the lost one belongs to that flock. It is not an outsider. It is one of the hundred! And even though this sheep may stray, it is not kicked out of the flock. It is not rejected. When He calls us to salvation and we respond in faith, we are counted among His flock. This means that we always belong to Christ. To me this is greatly encouraging – I know that I will always be His. It gives me great peace and comfort that once I am His, He will never kick me out of “His flock.” It establishes a relationship with Him that is stable not fearful.

But see also that it is possible, even within that stable relationship, even being part of the 100, to stray, to sin, to lose our way in being the kind of sheep He wants us to be. Being lost, sinning, in whatever form this may take – big or small, once or many times – does not automatically mean we are no longer His sheep. We may feel unworthy or condemned or ashamed, but that is us projecting those feeling unto God. That is not His heart toward us. I know that He does not reject me simply by looking at the shepherd’s response to the lost sheep – He goes looking for it! Jesus initiates the search. The individual was important. He didn’t content himself with just keeping the 99 and forgetting the one. No, Jesus perseveres in the search for the lost sheep. And He doesn’t give up until He finds it. Understand that Jesus will never give up on you! No matter how far you think you’ve strayed. How much you think you’ve disappointed Him. How ashamed or guilt-ridden you are.  He does not give up until He finds you wherever you are.

Not only does He search for us, when He finds us He then carries us back to the flock – back home to be with Him again. The sheep is lost and does not know how to come back. It would be lost forever if not for the shepherd’s action. Jesus carries the sheep back. The sheep is helpless to come back to the fold by its own power. We kid ourselves if we think we have the power within ourselves to “get our act together” or to “clean ourselves up.” We think we can do it ourselves and find our own way back to the fold. The only thing we can do by ourselves is get ourselves lost. We need Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit to show us the way back and carry us there. Again, this is terribly encouraging to me! Not only does He search and find me but He also restores me. It is His work from beginning to end.

But the story gets even better. When Jesus searches for us and finds us and restores us, He is not upset, peeved or annoyed. No, He rejoices. It gives Him great joy to have us with Him again. Why? Because a sinner has repented and been restored. Yes, the sheep needs to repent, but repentance is simply asking Jesus, our shepherd, to carry us back. It is not feeling sorry. It is not vowing never to stray again. It is not pulling ourselves out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Repentance is admitting that we are lost and we are not strong enough to find our way back. And when we do, not only is He happy but heaven breaks out into a party – noise makers and all!

This story, this parable, is simply a way for Jesus to let you know how precious and important you are to Him. You are His and will always be His. And even when you are not perfect – especially when you are not perfect – you can know that He has not and will not reject you.  Ask Him to carry you back. There is a party in heaven waiting to happen.

Maintaining our Freedom

In a previous post, I wrote about the freedom that Christ has won for us through His life, death and resurrection (read “True Freedom” here). In the post, I said that in Christ we have been set free in some very significant way.

First, we have been set free from the power of Sin (Romans 6:6).   “Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity.”

Second, Christ freed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:15). We are no longer required to earn or maintain our salvation through self-effort or man-made rules. This freedom allows us to freely pursue an open, joyous relationship with Him.   We are no longer trying to “prove” how good we are or how worthy we are to have been saved.

But Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians and says something that is truly remarkable and should cause us to pause to consider.  He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Did you notice that? “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Paul is saying that even though Christ has blessed us with this freedom, it is possible for us to revert back into slavery – voluntarily! Why? Why – and how – would we do that? Paul answers that question. Because our flesh – the remnants of our old sinful nature – still tries to pull us back. And unfortunately it is too easy to simply go with the flow and go right back into our old habits, practices and attitudes. In other words, we put the yoke of slavery to Sin or Law on our own shoulders. But Paul says it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to maintain our freedom.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16, 25)

 Walking in the Spirit sounds mysterious, weird or super-spiritual, but is simply another way of saying “hanging out” with Christ – abiding – staying connected. This is the stuff of our daily Christian life. We walk in freedom by maintaining a close, open relationship with the Spirit. It is a walk – together – side by side. He does His part – instructs, guides, teaches, convicts – and you do yours – respond. You see, the flesh causes us to try to hide from Him (like Adam), but walking in the Spirit means we deliberately approach Him even, especially, in the most dark moments.

I want to suggest to you three tools, three weapons in our battle against the flesh that will help us stay connected with the Spirit. These three tools, when appropriately deployed maintain our freedom in Christ. These three tools are: Renounce, Repent and Forgive.

The flesh is informed and empowered from the past – all the things we have done or said or all the things that have been done or said to us. This does not mean that everything in our past is bad, there may be much to be thankful for and bless, but we simply acknowledge those areas where damage was done or sin embraced and close the door. That is where “renouncing” comes in. Renouncing is closing the door, disowning, disavowing or rejecting the “deeds of the flesh” in our past and not allowing them to influence our lives today.

I have written about repentance before (Rebellion and Repentance – Part 1, Rebellion and Repentance – Part 2). Repentance keeps our account current with the Lord. It is focused solely on our actions today and doesn’t let things “stack up.” Repentance is not feeling sorry or sad. Instead, it is a decision of the will to make different decisions. Repentance is about changing one’s mind or attitude, not about “mucking about” in our soul looking for junk. It is being open to the Holy Spirit spotlighting areas that grieve Him and agreeing with Him.

Finally, we have the tool of forgiveness. Again I have written about it before (The Hardest Person To Forgive). It is such an important and powerful weapon against the flesh because it short-circuits the flesh’s desire to hate, judge, condemn and seek revenge.  Forgiveness “unhooks” yourself from the effects of the other person’s actions or words by not allowing the other person to control or influence you today. Forgiveness releases the person who hurt you to God’s justice and mercy. It doesn’t mean we excuse or approve the other’s action, it simply means we no longer hold on to the pain. And don’t forget that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others.

So there you have it. Maintaining our freedom in Christ comes from staying close and connected to Him. And He has given us some magnificent tools to help us do just that – to clear the emotional and spiritual clutter – that could hinder our walk with Him. Continue your walk in freedom. He is keeping stride with you each step along the way.

The Power of the Resurrection

Even though the Easter celebration is over it is still important to reflect on the great implications of that singular event. We read in the Luke’s account of the events of that first resurrection Sunday, the following story.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43 ESV)

 In this story Jesus goes to great lengths to present himself as a real, flesh and blood person. He proves his existence. It important that the disciples know he is truly and physically alive. It is also important for us to recognize that Jesus is truly and physically alive. Jesus is not a myth or legend, a good idea or concept, a philosophy of living or worldview or lifestyle. He is a person, once dead and is now alive!

The Church has been great about preaching the death of Christ, but misses the point that without the resurrection, his death doesn’t accomplish anything.   Consider the following Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:13-19 – But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. …17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 It’s because he was raised that his death became effective in forgiving our sin. So Paul is saying that without the resurrection, we would not be saved.

 Acts 13:29-33 – [Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia] …And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…

 It because Jesus was raised from the dead that all the promises the Father made could be fulfilled. The promises were not fulfilled by his death.

 Romans 10:9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

 This is a favorite verse used in evangelism, but note that our salvation is not based on believing that Jesus died but in believing that he was raised from the dead.

 I think it’s important, vital even, that every Christian understand and appreciate the power of the resurrection. Because my Redeemer lives I can pray for healing; I can overcome the attacks of the enemy; I can face the difficulties of this live; I can say to the mountains of depression, of fear, of broken relationships, of poverty, of sickness – MOVE and they move! Because my Redeemer lives I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and I become a witness to all he has said and done in my life. But it all depends on knowing Him – the risen Jesus. Because he lives, I live!

 AGAIN, it is important to understand and know that Jesus is a real, live person. It is as we know him and interact with him as a real person that we experience the life changing power of the resurrection with all the promises and possibilities that come with it.

The Hinge Point of Salvation

As we enter this season leading up to the Easter celebration, it is appropriate to re-visit one of the key events in salvation history that, I think, is too often underemphasized.  For me the narrative of Jesus’ anguished prayer battle in the garden of Gethsemane is too important, too critical to miss.  Here is the story told in Luke’s gospel.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:39-45 ESV)

Jesus asks the Father to “remove this cup.”  But to grasp the significance of this moment we need to understand what the “cup” refers to.   As Jesus faced his physical death by crucifixion, there was something far more difficult, more unbearable he was facing, something he was asking the Father to remove.  You see, Jesus knew that for the first time since before time began, he would experience separation from the Father.  The “cup” was the wrath and judgment of God on mankind’s sin – our sin.  Jesus was about to take the brunt of that judgment upon himself and it left him in near unendurable anguish, so much so that the Father sent an angel to comfort him.

We forget sometimes that Jesus was a man – human.  And as a man he had a choice to make at that moment in the small olive grove on a small mountain in first century Judea.  I believe that Jesus could have decided NOT to go through to his death.  I believe that Jesus could have stood up and walk away.  At that moment in time our salvation hangs in the balance.  This is the hinge point of redemption history.  If Jesus walks away, we, all of us, are left without hope and totally lost, condemned to face God’s judgment on our own. 

But in that moment, Jesus utters six words that changes the course of human history, “nevertheless, not my will, but yours.”  It is in prayer, in his relationship with his Father that Jesus willingly chooses to follow God’s plan.  He submits in obedience.  He does not claim divine privilege or succumb to human fickleness.  “Nevertheless” becomes for us the single most important word uttered in human history, because with that word we have hope of salvation.  This word fills our hearts with Joy, with Delight, Elation Exultation, Courage and Confidence.  We are rescued!  We will never experience the cup of wrath!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  (Romans 5:9)

 This moment, this word, fills us with wonder and drives us to our knees.  This is grace – undeserved.  This is the focus of our worship – not just at Easter – but every day.

Joseph’s Path to Greatness

We find in the book of Genesis the story of Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons.  I’m sure you know the story, at least, the part about his technicolor coat.  His whole story is told in chapters 37 through 48, but in summary it goes like this.  Joseph had several dreams in which his brothers would be bowing down to him – his older brothers no less.   His brothers did not appreciate what they perceived as arrogance and insolence so they first threw him into a pit then sold him as a slave to Egyptian traders.  He was then sold to an Egyptian man named Potiphar and there succeeded until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him.  He resisted and she falsely accused him of attempted rape.  This landed him in prison.  There he found favor with the jailer and fellow inmates who later deserted him and forgot about him.

At this point, I would have expected Joseph to be really bitter against his brothers and none too happy with God for letting all those bad things happen.  He’d be saying something like, “God what about the dreams you gave me?  What about my family?  Why am I stuck in Egypt?  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.  What did I ever do to deserve such bad treatment?”  But this isn’t the end of the story.

In prison Joseph languished until the day one of his former fellow inmates recommended him to Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  Pharaoh was so impressed he promoted Joseph to administer his kingdom.  Joseph achieves greatness!  In the meantime, back home his family was experiencing a famine and they go to Egypt to buy food from none other than their brother Joseph who they did not initially recognize.  When they approach Joseph to ask for food, they all bow down to him – just like in the dreams.  In the end, Joseph was reunited with his entire family as they moved to Egypt under Joseph’s care and protection.

Here’s my point, God had indeed given young Joseph a calling, a mission, if you will, for his life.  He would achieve a place of authority.  But to fulfill his calling, Joseph would experience abandonment, deprivation, accusations, and betrayal.  And his path to greatness would be delayed by decades.  Yet Joseph ended up in the right place and time to help his family and assure that God’s people would be provided for.  God’s great plan of salvation was in full swing.  God’s ways are inscrutable and, from our perspective, seem random and frustrating.  We want a direct line from now to then on a path of ease and comfort, but that is not how He works.  He never has and I don’t think He ever will because He sees things further down the road than we could ever imagine.  He knows which zigs and zags are necessary to carry out His plan.  We don’t.

I believe we all have a calling, a calling to some level of greatness in the Kingdom.  We just don’t know what path we will need to take to get there.  I’m not saying that we will experience everything that Joseph did, but the path will certainly not be what we imagine – or even prefer.  That doesn’t mean we won’t end up in exactly the right place at the right time.  In the meantime, as we wait on God, what do we do?  We simply live our lives in a way “worthy of the calling” (Ephesian 4:1) and not minimize the impact we are already having on those around us.  After all, that is part of the greatness of the Kingdom, here and now.

If His Yoke is Easy, Why Am I Still Overwhelmed?

I’m sure we’ve all heard or read this verse dozens and dozens of times. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

It’s held out as a beacon of hope and rest, as a panacea for all that ails us.  Who wouldn’t want to rest?  Who wouldn’t want to be relieved of their burdens?  Here is His promise.  We only need to believe it and it’s done.  All our problems disappear and life is stress-free.  Easy, right?  The problem is that it doesn’t seem to line up with our experience or, for that matter, the experience of most of the Christians I know.  So what’s the problem?  Why, when Jesus makes such a remarkable promise, we are unable to make it real in our lives?  Let me offer some suggestions.

I think too many of us live with the expectations we or others have set for us.  We think we have to live up to some standard of behavior, thought or belief that becomes unbearable because we will never be able to measure up.  We will always fail in some else’s eyes or our own and we feel the burden of defeat.  So you want to stop feeling so weighed down, then stop living some else’s life.

Similarly, we are overburdened by wrong priorities.  We spend our time, money and energy pursuing some idealized version of the Christian life because that is what “we are supposed to do.”  Aren’t we supposed to volunteer for every church event or kid’s school activity?  Aren’t we supposed to take care of everyone else’s needs instead of your own?  Somehow we’ve come to believe that busyness equals godliness, even though I’ve never found a verse in the Bible that says, “Be busy and know that I am God.”  I’m not saying that our lives will never be busy – more on that later – but that we need to be busy for the right reason.

And many of us are overburdened and overwhelmed because we are living in unforgiveness.  Every day we live with the hurt, anger, hatred of what someone has said or done to us.  We re-live it and we grow bitter and hostile and unpleasant, perhaps not outwardly but certainly our souls grow dark.  Perhaps our feelings of hurt and anger are justified, but the unforgiveness is not.  Whether it is directed towards others or ourselves, unforgiveness weighs on our spirits.  It crushes our spirit.  It drags us down into very ugly depths. 

We fail to live out Jesus’ promise because we haven’t taken the time to lay down our own burdens.  How can I take his yoke, when I am carrying so much other stuff?  So we wistfully smile at the concept of rest and try to make it through another day.  We think we are “carrying our own cross,” when, in fact, we are carrying our own garbage.  First, take a good hard look at all the burdens you are carrying, then drop them.  Just drop them.  Then you can go to Him to see what He has for you.

There is yet one more misconception I want to address.  If you read that verse carefully again, you will realize that Jesus did not say we would have no burdens.  He did not say life would be easy.  He did not say our life would be stress-free.  He said He would put a yoke on us and lay a burden on us.  His, not ours.  To me to have a yoke means we are harnessed to do work, not lounge around.   Christ has work for us to do.  He has an assignment for us.  We have a row to hoe.  I believe that Jesus is telling us that we can drop the self-imposed loads and instead take up His calling for our life.  You see, I think that when we are living out our mission, our calling, our gifting according to His willing we will find the strength and endurance to carry on joyfully even in the midst of difficult external circumstances.  I think that living the life He gives us will seem to us as any easy yoke or a light burden.  But be careful here, everyone’s yoke is different.  So don’t judge yourself or others by what you perceive as unequal treatment by our Lord, instead be content to carry your own yoke.

There you have it.  I’m not telling you how to live the un-burdened life, but how to live the “true-burdened” life.  It starts with laying down expectations, wrong priorities and unforgiveness.  Then ask Him to show you what He has prepared for you and receive it gladly.

Always a Way Back

Recently I sat down and through in one sitting the entire book of the prophet Hosea.  Ok it’s only 14 chapters.  When you read through an entire book of the Bible you get a feel for the entire sweep of the message; you get the ebb and flow.  As I read through Hosea, two things became crystal clear.  First, God was really, really angry about Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him.  But I saw in His anger, hurt; the pain of a scorned lover.  Their rejection resulted in judgment, yes, but also in sadness.  Second, I saw how He still loved His people.  In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of their going astray, He still calls them back to Himself.  Listen to what He says to Israel in the last chapter of the book

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.   I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

 It’s incredible to me that God would say this!  Any normal human being would simply walk away from a relationship like that, from that kind of deliberate, defiant rebellion.  Fortunately, God is not like us, with Him there is always a way back.

 So I want to encourage you with the message of the book of Hosea.  No, not the unfaithfulness part, but the return part.  It seems to me that there are times when we think we’ve gone too far.  We’ve sinned too greatly.  We’ve strayed too far to come back to God.  “There is no way He could ever want me back now,” we think to ourselves.  But if God could look at Israel in the midst of their infidelity and love them, certainly He will accept us too. 

 So no matter who you are or what you’ve done, there is always a way back to God.  Go back, no, run back into His arms.  He’s waiting for you.