Faithfulness, forgiveness, and freedom

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (Matthew 18:15-16, NIV)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me. … I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.

-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a letter from a Birmingham Jail

I have still been contemplating the deep words Rev. King wrote and found an interesting intersect with the message Pastor Jeff preached to Cornerstone last weekend on forgiveness.  Rev. King as I have asserted elsewhere was first and foremost a minister and servant of God.  His letter was one prompted by the printed criticism by his peers of his recent actions.

I cannot fathom the daily humiliations he had been subjected to during those dark days of segregation and overt racism in our country.  It is enough to find yourself alone in a jail cell for standing up and doing what your convictions tell you must be done.  But to add insult to injury, other ministers criticism of his actions were being publicized.  I suspect that these blows, delivered not by political opponents, but by brothers in the faith cut much deeper.

Rather than launch an attack, Rev. King modeled the exhortation found in Matthew 18:15.  He wrote a very long letter detailing not only the rationale and biblical justification for his actions, but his painful disappointment in the criticism they had made publicly against him.  Having made his points he concludes with tremendous insight.  If he was wrong and had overstated his case against them – he asked for their forgiveness.  If he had come up short – he asked for God’s forgiveness.  He was simply trying to be an obedient servant, faithful to God’s Word.

Their words of criticism not only hurt him personally, but also undercut the momentum gained by the sacrifices made by him and so many others.  He did not allow that to eclipse his view of them as fellow brothers and followers of Christ. He pointed out their sin against him at the same time demonstrating forgiveness.

Far too often as Pastor Jeff pointed out – we don’t even take the first step of love towards those who offend us.  We go directly to step two but not seeking others to aid in correcting and forgiving a brother or sister, but rather to build a coalition against the offender.  I know I have done this far too often to the detriment of the body.  This must change.  Another’s sins against us never justify our own disobedience to God’s commandments.

photo by Meltwater

photo by Meltwater

If we are to demonstrate true loving correction to the lost of this world, we must first be able to demonstrate the same to those within the family of Christ. As you contemplate these words, Rev. King’s example, and that of Jesus, I urge you to take some time and consider those who have sinned against you.  If you find some hatchet handles sticking out of the ground – it’s time to make amends.  It’s never too late for repentance and healing.  Remember, it has less to do with them as it does with you.  You must be faithful and obedient – and who knows, they may surprise you.  Either way – it’s a burden Jesus never meant for you to carry and forgiveness frees us from our own self-made jail cells.

Of course, we must all start with asking forgiveness of Jesus.  He paid the highest price that can be paid, His life, for our sins.  And He now offers His forgiveness freely, to any and all who will humble themselves enough to ask.

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”” (Acts 10:43, NASB95)

I will rise…rise with me

Twenty years ago, Jesus saved my life.  My life is His and I will rise…rise with me.

Refugees like me…

photo by mindgutter

photo by mindgutter

O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me. O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands— if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe— then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.Selah Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high; let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows. He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head. I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” (Psalm 7, NIV, emphases mine)

What a great reminder that when we cry out for judgement – we must seek it for ourselves first. It is not a ‘me against them’ or ‘us against them’ – it is us against the Lord. It is easy for pride to drive us to to respond wrongly (sinfully) both in situations where we are innocent and the more common case where we are also at least partially guilty. I long for the day when my kids will respond rightly to the ‘sins’ of their brothers or sister against them – by the time  their cases come before me – there is rarely an innocent party anymore!

This psalm puts it in perspective. When wronged, anger and self-righteousness are the usual byproducts. When another’s sin is so clearly in view, it is easy to forget or minimize our own. It is easy to desire punitive punishment and to be the means of it rather than true justice from the Lord. But we are not the measuring stick or plumb line – the Lord is. For me those cries for justice when combined with honest self-evaluation end up tempered with a desire for mercy. Mercy of course is meaningless without a clear understanding of justice. Lord, help us to do justly, love mercy, and to humbly walk with You.   You are our refuge from wickedness and evil.  Help us to see injustice as opportunity for Your fire to purify us first, as we also remember to make room and opportunity for other refugees – like me.

Where is the hope?

photo by KM&G-Morris

photo by KM&G-Morris

“Where is the hope? I meet millions of people who feel demoralized by the decay around us. The hope that each of us has is not in who governs us, or what laws we pass, or what great things we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people. And that’s where our hope is in this country. And that’s where our hope is in life.” – Charles Colson

In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” (Psalm 11, NIV)

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? This is a question that has not left my mind in sometime. With an all out assault being waged on the sanctity of life, the determination on the part of our government officials to become the indebted servants of China, and the recent judgement handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court redefining marriage, it is clear that the foundations are indeed being destroyed.  A big temptation is to respond in the flesh and seek political solutions to these political problems.  Satan would love for us to devote all of our energy and focus there in a futile attempt to bring about righteousness through political action.  But as a follower of Christ, I know that these are spiritual problems being expressed as political problems.  We mustn’t focus on symptoms, we must go deeper to the disease.  So what can the righteous do?   The best answer I know:

1. pray – pray that God’s people would radically align their lives to Jesus Christ and that God would turn the hearts of our leaders towards righteousness;

2. purify – no more ‘tolerance’ of sin in our own lives; we must search our own camps and cast out all idols – idolatry is as subtle as it is seductive and it has permeated even the church.  A genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, the creator and lover of our souls, and a radical alignment to His will is attractive to those His spirit has prepared.  We must focus less on being attractive to the world and more on a authentic following of the Christ.

3. proclaim truth and repentance – now more than ever we must have the courage to stand boldly and speak truthfully to all those around us, with everyone who will listen.  We must speak as those who know full well the fury of God’s wrath and also as those who know full well the fullness of His mercy.  What we are seeing now is both the hardening of hearts AND a failure of God’s people to make true disciples even within our own families.  There is no such thing as cheap grace as we will soon see.

As citizens of a free country, we do have civic responsibility to engage and seek just laws, that uphold human dignity and protect human life.  We should not neglect these duties, but our first priority must be to proclaim God’s truth with encouragement towards repentance and reconciliation with Jesus Christ.

When asking what can the righteous do – the quote from Charles Colson is excellent grounding.  If we want to restore the foundations, if we want real change, we must be God’s instruments to change hearts.  Church, it’s time to get praying, purifying, and proclaiming like never before!  It is true that “our hope is in God working through the hearts of people.”  Let’s give Him permission to move through our hearts to those of others.  And remember, no matter how ugly it gets, in the end…Jesus wins.