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30 January 2012

Forgiveness - 30 January

We’ve already learned that we need to forgive. We’ve seen Biblical ways to do so, and we’ve discussed our responses when someone hurts us. This week, we’re going to move on to answer the question How do I know if I’ve really forgiven someone?

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37  And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”  Luke 7:36-39 (ESV)

Who was this woman? And why did the Pharisees look down at her? (The Pharisees were a Jewish sect who prided themselves on good works. They were concerned about outward appearances more than matters of the heart).

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Luke 7:40-50 (ESV)

Rather than confronting the Pharisees directly, Jesus chooses to tell a story. Why do you think He chose to do that? I think that He chose this path because it’s easier to see a parallel (which he made quite clearly in this passage) after you’ve heard a story. If Jesus had skipped the story and just started talking at verse 44, would the point be as clear? I think that both aspects of this passage are important – the story as well as the direct application. It helps me to understand that I am the sinner who owes much. I should be the sinner that loves much as a result of the forgiveness offered.

I’d never really paid attention to verse 47 before. Her sins were forgiven because she loved much. She didn’t care what people thought of her. She saw her sin and she showed her love for the One who could forgive her. Simon, on the other hand, looked down upon her and didn’t show Jesus common respect. Simon didn’t think he needed forgiveness. He thought that he was doing fine because his outside was fine. The woman poured out her treasure and showed humility and appreciation for Jesus.

How does this story apply to you?  Are you more like the woman, knowing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness? Am I more like Simon, who is concerned about external appearances?

How does understanding the depths of my own sin impact my thoughts of forgiveness?

There’s a lot to ponder in this part of the lesson. I trust that you will prayerfully consider the implications of this passage on your life, and I look forward to meeting with you on Wednesday.

27 January 2012

Forgiveness - 27 January

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23 (ESV)

Jesus sets the standard for us as Bible believers. Sinless, not lying, no getting even, no threats – Jesus simply trusted that God would judge justly. How much of His example do I follow? Do I plot revenge against those who have wronged me? Do I slander my boss when I’ve been corrected for something I did wrong? Do I act pompously, or do I bully those who get in my way?

“But it’s so harrrrrrrd to keep my mouth shut. I just want to tell everyone how mean he was to me!” But how much harder was it for Jesus to stand silently while He was being ridiculed? After all, He was God’s Son.  He chose to trust in God’s plan instead of using His own power. Should we not do the same – trust that God has absolute knowledge of what is happening in our life, and trust that He knows how to make things right – and most important, trust that God knows what is right in every situation!

We are to love and live with unconditional love. We are to accept others unconditionally (but we are not to love their sin and we have a responsibility to see that people hear the Gospel). We are to forgive unconditionally. We are to do this so that we model our Savior’s behavior!

Forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion. One of my favorite singers is Don Francisco. One of my favorite songs says Jesus didn’t die for you because it was fun. He hung there for love because it had to be done. And in spite of His anguish, God’s Word was fulfilled. Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of your will!

When I forgive others, it’s not the same as God forgiving them. Although it is my task to forgive you when you’ve wronged me, it’s still your responsibility to ask God for that same forgiveness.  It’s important that we continue to pray for those who have wronged us, because if they have not accepted Christ as their savior, they will go to hell. And those who have accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation need our prayers as well!

Forgiveness is a serious business.  It’s crucial to our spiritual health, and it’s crucial to our physical and emotional well-being as well. It’s a model of Christ’s behavior on this earth. It’s a way for a non-believer to see Jesus in our lives. It’s a way of healing relationships. When I forgive you, it’s sinner-to-sinner. When I ask Jesus, who died on the cross just because I sinned, to forgive me, I’m asking to become holy in the sight of the creator of the world.

It’s hard to model Jesus sometimes! Jesus requires it. Let’s pray for each other – pray that we improve our forgiveness skills every day.

See you next week for week 5 of this series!

25 January 2012

Forgiveness - 25 January

If then you have a new life with Christ, give your attention to the things of heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Keep your mind on the higher things, not on the things of earth. 3 For your life on earth is done, and you have a secret life with Christ in God. 4 At the coming of Christ who is our life, you will be seen with him in glory. 5 Then put to death your bodies which are of the earth; wrong use of the flesh, unclean things, passion, evil desires and envy, which is the worship of strange gods; 6 Because of which the wrath of God comes on those who go against his orders; 7 Among whom you were living in the past, when you did such things. 8 But now it is right for you to put away all these things; wrath, passion, bad feeling, curses, unclean talk; 9 Do not make false statements to one another; because you have put away the old man with all his doings, 10 And have put on the new man, which has become new in knowledge after the image of his maker; 11 Where there is no Greek or Jew, no one with circumcision or without circumcision, no division between nations, no servant or free man: but Christ is all and in all. Col 3:1-11 (BBE)

What does this passage have to do with forgiveness?

If I am giving my attention to the things of heaven, and seeking higher things, then will I need to hold an unforgiving spirit? Or will my attention be focused on loving the person and praying for their salvation, showing Jesus to them by my actions?

If I put to death evil desires, will I want to get even with the person who wronged me?

If I put away bad feelings and unclean talk, will I need to gossip about the person who hurt me?

If I choose not to make false statements, will I stop embellishing the wrong done to me? Will I accept my part in the issue that needs to be dealt with? Will I be honest with myself and with God?

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13  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. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Col 3:12-15 (ESV)

Here’s a very clear passage about the behavior God expects of Bible believers. Forgiveness is mandated:

…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
No wiggle room there. I must forgive. But the ability to forgive comes from the rest of the text. I must first put on compassion, kindness, meekness, humility and patience. I must choose the path of Christ, and that doesn’t happen until I’m saved and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in my life. When I choose the path of Christ instead of the path of a “carnal Christian”, I put on the attributes that Christ showed. Once I do that, I understand that forgiveness flows from God, through Christ and to me – and then must flow from me to you!

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Eph 4:30-32 (ESV)

What does this passage tell us about the Holy Spirit? We can grieve him – by being bitter, angry, malicious, slanderous, and contentious.

Besides grieving the Holy Spirit, what affect does your bitterness have on your family and personal relationships? Can you remember a time when bitterness caused a family, friendship, or church split? Do you think that, as an example, the election process would be changed if people chose to “put away” bitterness and focus instead on finding solutions to problems? How about that nasty boss at work – if you chose to “put away” the bitterness, would your work situation improve? And my friend – the one who chooses to “punish” me by not speaking when she’s angry – would the situation improve more if I told everyone how terribly she acted, or if I “put away” that bitterness and chose to pray for her instead?

Those kinds of changes don’t happen without God’s help. If you want to make a positive change and start to “put away” your bitterness, ask God to help you. Find an accountability partner – a Bible believer who you trust to keep your confidences, and who will check on your progress and agree to pray for you. Seek pastoral counsel. Resolve to make changes – one step at a time.

One of the ways I’m trying to “put away” my bitterness is simple prayer. When I think of “her”, or “what he did wrong”, I choose to stop and simply say “Lord, I pray for ______”. I don’t make the prayer elaborate. I don’t even say why I’m praying – because if I do, I am tempted to re-re-re-rehash the hurt I feel. I simply choose to make sure that I turn my feelings of anger and bitterness over to God in prayer – by asking Him to bless the person who I am feeling bitter toward! It has revolutionized my life. I still suffer from anger issues, of course, but those few words remind me that I am to turn over all my cares to God. Because I choose not to elaborate in my prayer, my focus is on the person and not the wrong. It instantly calms me, and I show God (and myself) that I am working to obey His word.

23 January 2012

Forgiveness - 23 January

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:19-21 (ESV)

That’s a clear list of things to avoid! I see a couple of things I need to work on. How about you?

Sometimes we’ve been hurt by a person who commits these sins. We’ve had alcoholic parents, or been raped. Someone has committed incest. Angry and abusive parents or spouse, people who have been involved in witchcraft, or making us watch or participate in seeing movies, plays, or other things that we shouldn’t. You had no control over what someone else did to you. You pay the price today, in the form of unforgiveness – which can lead to you continuing the cycle of abuse and bad behavior.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Eph 5:3-10 (ESV)

Paul says that some things shouldn’t even be found among Christians! If you’ve been saved, you should work to avoid all the things that Paul lists here. It’s an ongoing process, and if you need help, you should speak to a pastor (or email me for prayer of course). You can’t change the patterns of behavior overnight. You can’t even change them on your own. You need God’s spirit, and support from brothers or sisters in Christ, to get you away from the things of this world.

Sometimes we think that our generation has new “issues”. We see ourselves as special – the MTV generation, where sex and drugs are right in the open, where lawlessness prevails. It’s pretty obvious from Paul’s writings that the only real difference between them and us is that they didn’t have TV, internet and air conditioning!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:9-11 (ESV)

If you’ve been hurt by someone, and they have not accepted Christ, they will not inherit God’s kingdom. If they have accepted Christ, then He has forgiven them of all they have done to hurt you! You must forgive them as Christ has… and even if they are not Christians yet, it’s your responsibility to forgive them. Perhaps by your act of forgiveness, they will see the love of Christ and come to salvation too!

Today we’ve seen a list of things that keep people from the kingdom of heaven. You’ve probably seen a couple of your sins on that list. We’ve also been reminded that Christ is big enough to forgive even those sins – and that we are washed, sanctified, and justified through Him. We know that we are to follow His example in everything – and this includes forgiving your rapist, or your abuser, or the one who abandoned you or brought you into drugs or witchcraft or …

We must forgive as Christ forgave. We must pray for those who have hurt us. Their sins are keeping them from heaven if they haven’t asked Jesus for forgiveness. We need to pray for those who remain outside the kingdom so they come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Who do you need to pray for – today – to ask God to make a way for their salvation? Who do you need to forgive today – as Christ forgave you?

I’ve got a lot to think and pray about. I have sins that need to be addressed. I plan to spend the next two days mulling over the list Paul gave us, and my responsibility to change and grow THROUGH Christ, and my need to forgive anyone who has abused me. But in some cases, I think that “forgiveness” will be easier than “praying for their salvation”, and that is a problem, too! Aaaaagh! It’s so much more than saying “I forgive”. It’s letting go, just as God let go of my sins. Sigh. So much to think about and pray about.

See you Wednesday.

20 January 2012

Forgiveness - 20 January

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Cor 15:1-8 (ESV)

What are the main points of the Gospel, according to Paul? Which vers(es) give you those points? I plan to memorize those verses so I am more fully equipped to share the Gospel!

How does the Gospel relate to forgiving others? And are we to forgive ourselves? The Gospel doesn’t talk about self-forgiveness! If we worry about forgiving ourselves, we’re actually saying that God’s grace isn’t enough!

We need to turn our sins over to the Creator, and we need to forgive others. Period. God will take care of the rest! But how do I get God to do that for me?

Agree with God that I’ve sinned. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Take responsibility for my sins. Tell God I am willing to make restitution and reconcile. 

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Matt 5:23-24 (ESV)

Thank God for Jesus’ blood, which cleanses me from my sin. Accept His forgiveness.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:19-21 (ESV)

Believe God! I am no longer condemned.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (ESV)

Thank God for His gifts – including the Holy Spirit – and tell Him that I want to walk with the Spirit and turn away from my sins (turning away is genuine repentance).

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  Gal 5:16-26 (ESV)

I want to be more Christlike. I want to have the fruit of the spirit – not the works of the flesh. The more Spirit I have, the easier it will be to forgive!

Happy weekend! See you Monday.