Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Forgiving others: Is it an option?

I watched the movie Amish Grace the other night, about the Amish school shooting in 2007 that left 5 girls dead and seriously injured several others. The movie centered around the story of one mother’s struggle to forgive the man who murdered her daughter. Her husband, referring to the words of Christ at one point, says that they must forgive this man in order to have their own sins forgiven.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mathew 6:14-15)

I remember my reaction to this verse when my husband taught through the Sermon on the Mount last year. I remember thinking, surely it can’t mean that. I knew it was saying we had to forgive others, but I knew it couldn’t be giving a prerequisite for salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The verses in Mathew troubled me, so I did what I normally do in these situations, I filed them in the back of my mind to bring out and mull over again later. Watching Amish Grace and finishing the 90 Day Bible Challenge this week gave me the shove I needed to pull these verses back out and muse on them once more.

The parable of the unmerciful servant in Mathew 18 has a similar message, so it seemed like a good place to start. Jesus is prompted to share this story after Peter asks Him how many times he should forgive his brother. “Up to seven times?” Peter asks, thinking himself quite generous with his forgiveness. Jesus answers him, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” I don’t think Jesus is saying forgive your brother 490 times, but rather He is saying we must forgive our brother an unlimited number of times. This launches Jesus into His parable about the king who wants to settle accounts with his servants. He calls in a servant who owes him 10,000 talents and orders that the man and his family be sold into slavery in order to pay the debt. At this point the servant throws himself on the mercy of the king and begs him to “be patient” with him and give him a chance to pay back the debt. The king, his master, takes pity on the servant and cancels his debt and lets him go.

We all know what comes next. The servant who has just had his huge debt wiped out by the merciful king goes to one of his fellow servants who owes him 100 denarii ( just a few dollars in comparison to the millions he owed the king), and demands that his fellow servant pay him. The fellow servant does the same thing the servant had done to the king. He falls to his knees and begs the servant to be patient with him and give him a chance to pay back the debt. The servant who has had his debt canceled by the merciful king refuses to forgive the debt of his fellow servant, even though it is a much smaller debt than the one forgiven him. The master hears of this and calls in the unmerciful servant and points out his hypocrisy and wickedness. “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you?” (v. 32-22) The king then turns the unmerciful sinner over to the jailers to be tortured until he pays back all he owes. Jesus summarizes the point of the parable by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (v. 35)

The only difference I really see between the Mathew 6 and Mathew 18 passages is that in chapter 6 we’re told to forgive men and in Mathew 18 we’re told to forgive our brother. Is there a difference? Sometimes I think there is, but in this case since we’re told to forgive both of groups of people, I think any difference is rendered moot.

Luke says it this way. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37)

So it seems indeed that those who forgive others will be forgiven. I believe Jesus explains how this works when He speaks to His disciples about the Holy Spirit that He will send them to be their Helper after He returns to heaven.

“On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:20-21)

And I love this verse in Philippians: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine)

The first half of Romans 8 deals with living in the spirit and also helps me understand how this works. “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you…For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:5-9, 13-14)

And finally, one of my personal favorites: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?... Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14, 17, 26)

So, back to our mandate to forgive others. I think it means what it says and says what it means with this qualification: it is God who is at work in us that enables us to forgive others. Could I forgive someone who killed my daughter? No. Could God? Yes. Therefore, if I am a believer and have the Spirit of God in me, then I can do what God would do and forgive. ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 3:13) The ability to forgive then is just another test of obedience and obedience in turn is a sign of belonging to God.

“We know we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in Him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in Him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6) And what example did Christ set for forgiving others? When He hung on the cross for our transgressions He asked God to forgive those who had Him crucified. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:32)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

I appreciated that the husband in Amish Grace explained to his wife that forgiving their daughter’s murderer was not the same as forgetting the atrocity or saying that what he did was ok. He assured his wife that their daughter’s murderer would not go unpunished. He would stand before God who judges all men. All sin is ultimately against God, so it is fitting that He avenges Himself for it.

Most of us are not ever tested to the degree those Amish families were. Most of us have small grievances by comparison that we must forgive. However, we’d do well to remember that even when we don’t feel like forgiving, and even when we aren’t ready to forgive, it’s really not an option for those who are in Christ.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Catching up

It's been so long since I blogged about our personal lives I thought I'd catch you up a little.

Monk had a great swim meet a few weeks ago. He won every event he swam in and also won the high point award for his age group. This was the highlight of the meet. The not-so-great part was Baby Lu throwing up 3 times. Once in the car just as we were pulling into town (4 hrs from home) and twice in the meet all over her stroller and me. What can I say? It was a memorable swim meet. Monk has one more short-course meet that he gets to swim in as a 10 year old (before aging up), so he's training hard for it.

Twinkle Toes didn't get much of a celebration for her 9th birthday because it fell on the night of our homeschool Scout pack's pinewood derby, which Big D was in charge of this year. Last year Monk won "coolest car" and second place in the open category of racing. This year he was disappointed to not win anything, but Twinkle Toes cleaned up. She won first place in both the sibling and open categories. Not only that, but the people running the race who have many other race results stored on their computer said her car was like the fastest pinewood derby car ever- at least on their track! So Twinkle Toes had a nice birthday, after all. And to top it off, I took her bowling last night with a couple of her friends.

Measle Bug (6) has been enjoying violin and has her first recital in April. American Boy (3) is getting a new bedroom upstairs near his big brother and he's thrilled about that. We've been carrying up toys one arm-ful at a time. And of course Baby Lu (17 mos.) is still mischievous as always. She got into the markers at Nana's house when no one was looking and quickly put on her war paint. I guess she was preparing for going on the war path:)

My exhaustion hasn't let up yet, but hopefully it will over the next week or two. I'm 11 weeks pregnant and looking forward to the second trimester. I'm plugging away at the 90 day challenge, still a couple of days behind, but planning on finishing up with everyone this next week. I've also been making my way through about 6-8 books relating to my creation series, so will be getting back to that soon.

And last, but not least, we had the pleasure of meeting Valerie from In Faith and Purity and her family this week. They were passing through town and stayed the night with us. We had a great time of fellowship and the kids enjoyed playing together. It's really cool that we're able to meet like-minded families through the blog world that can impact our lives in such amazing ways. What an encouragement! I hope they come back soon!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sign of Jonah

Jesus healed many people during His ministry and the Bible records how He often told those He healed to keep the miracles to themselves and not spread the news of their miraculous healing. I’ve pondered why Jesus wouldn’t want the news of His great power to spread. Was it just not the right time? Was it some sort of reverse psychology? Was it that He wished to avoid the kind of fascination with miracles that Simon the Magician had that leads to a false profession of faith (Acts 8)? I’ve had many a-ha moments since starting the 90 Day Bible Challenge in January and this has been one of them.

In Mathew 16 when the Pharisees and Saducees ask Jesus to show them a sign that He is who He says He is, Jesus tells them, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (v.4)

What is the sign of Jonah? Jonah had been told by God to take a message of warning to Ninevah, the capitol city of Assyria. Jonah had disobeyed the Lord, though, and taken a ship in the opposite direction. While at sea, God sent a terrible storm and after Jonah confessed to his shipmates that the great storm was his fault, they threw him overboard. Just as it appeared that Jonah was going to be drowned, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow him and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. Of course, we all know the end to the story that after three days the fish spits Jonah out on shore and Jonah goes straight to Ninevah to preach God’s Word. Amazingly enough, the Ninevites repent of their wicked ways and turn to God. We see in the story of Jonah God’s sovereignty in salvation- He saves whom He desires. The Old Testament contains many types of Christ, and Jonah is one of them. When Christ refers to the sign of Jonah, He is referring to His being buried for three days and three nights and then being raised from the dead. In other words, the sign to which Christ is referring, is His resurrection.

In Mathew 12, Jesus says it this way, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Ninevah will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” (v. 40-41 and also Luke 11:29-32)

We see a similar request by Christ for silence until after His resurrection in Mark 9 where after witnessing the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are ordered by Jesus “not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. (v.9) The disciples still didn’t understand what He meant by this. “They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” (v.10) So again, we see that the important sign after which they would be free to tell all about Christ, was to be His resurrection. In fact, it appears that the disciples didn’t really get who Christ was themselves until after the resurrection.

Although we have to be careful about not drawing these types out too far, I think Jonah taking the Word of God to the Assyrians also foreshadows the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles that happens after Christ’s resurrection and is told about in the book of Acts. Jonah struggled with his assignment at the time and even after witnessing the repentance of the Ninevites complained to God that he knew He was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2) Jonah was so discouraged by God saving the wicked Assyrians of Ninevah that he said he wished to die. (Jonah 4:3) The Pharisees and Saducees were also repulsed by this idea of God extending His covenant to all nations. Peter defends his taking the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his household in Acts 11 where he recounts the vision he had and the voice from heaven that said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v. 9) Peter goes on to give a testimony of the Gentile converts in Cornelius’ household receiving the Holy Spirit. “So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (v. 17) Several chapters later in Acts 22, Paul defends his taking the gospel to the Gentiles saying, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (v.21) Both Peter and Paul arrived at the same conclusion as Jonah. God is sovereign in salvation and saves whom He chooses. The difference is Peter and Paul accepted it, whereas Jonah could not.

We see other evidence of Christ’s secrecy when he teaches in parables. The reason Jesus gives for teaching in parables is so that “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Mathew 13:13) He goes on to explain if He didn’t teach in parables even those with calloused hearts “might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.” (v. 14-15) In other words, Christ used parables not as a teaching tool, as so many would have us think, but to actually prevent those with hardened hearts from hearing His message and repenting. Again, we see the theme of the sovereignty of God in salvation. He saves whom He chooses.

Anyway, back to the main point that Jesus desired people to come to saving faith, not by being enamored with His miracles, but by seeing the main sign that He was indeed the Messiah, the long awaited Savior who will rule from the throne of David forever. Only one who is immortal can rule forever and Christ’s resurrection and ascension prove that He truly is God, and not just another prophet who lived and died. Anyone can fake a healing, many can gain a following, but only Christ fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah given in the Old Testament culminating with His resurrection. The sign of Jonah is the ultimate sign of the Lordship of Christ. It was the sign to His disciples and all who lived while He walked on earth and it is still the sign for us today that Jesus is who He said He is. He died to pay the penalty for our sins and He conquered death so that we might live. Without the resurrection the Christian faith would be reduced to a fairy tale lacking in substance. The resurrection authenticates our faith. Our hope is not in vain, our hope is fixed on “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)


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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.