Forgiveness, Reconciliation & Restoration

Jack knew that he must forgive Jill. Jack knew that he could forgive Jill. He knew the offense but she didn’t. He knew her attitude had not changed but she didn’t. He knew she needed to recognize her wrongs and confess, but she didn’t. Jack knew his forgiveness of Jill did not depend on any of these circumstances. Why?

All of Jack’s sins were forgiven by God when he put his faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus secured Jack’s forgiveness through His perfect person and work on Jack’s behalf. Jack is a forgiven sinner living in the abundance of grace. His wealth is so vast, and his thankfulness so deep he can afford to settle Jill’s moral debts by extending forgiveness as he has been forgiven in Christ.

As one writer says, “On account of the gospel, even massive debts of pain, loss, and grief can be settled from our own “bank account” of grace.” Jack’s account of grace in Christ Jesus is so full, he will never miss a payment to set Jill free from the relationship debt she owes him. But Jack’s forgiveness of Jill does not insure reconciliation and restoration where there is great pain and hurt in their relationship due to sin.

Forgiveness from the heart is not the same as a reconciled and restored relationship. Forgiveness always lays the groundwork for reconciliation and restoration, but does not always promise a beautiful relational edifice.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Reconciliation requires mutual repentance, confession and forgiveness. There are times in a relationship when love covers a multitude of sins, or glory is displayed in the overlooking of an offense. However, relational harm and the shattering of Christ’s honor in a relationship requires reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires both parties to acknowledge their sins and failures. This is called repentance. It is important in relational conflict to acknowledge what you have done to bring relational harm or how you have dishonored the name of Christ. Second, reconciliation requires an admission to your own contribution to the conflict. This requires mutual confession with a heart willing to grant forgiveness to one another. There are two sides to the relationship and reconciliation requires both sides to act in repentance, confession and forgiveness.

Jack and Jill knew they were at odds. Jack suggested that they take some time after the children went to bed to reflect on what was causing harm in their relationship and if there was anything dishonoring Christ in their relationship. They both took time to “look at the log in their own eye”. They came together and confessed their sins to one another and their Lord, trusting him to forgive them, and in that grace they forgave one another. There was forgiveness and reconciliation, but there was still need for further restoration.

Restoration, Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Reconciliation requires mutual repentance, confession and forgiveness. Restoration is a process of rebuilding trust, respect, and closeness in relationship. Reconciliation and restoration have different goals and paths for reaching the desired ends. Restoration always requires reconciliation to come first.

If I broke my leg in a skiing accident I would go to the hospital or doctor to set the bone and get casted. It would only be after a period of healing that I would go to the physical therapist to restore my leg to usefulness. It would not be beneficial if I went to the physical therapist before the bone was fully healed.

Trying to pursue restoration, trust-respect-closeness, without first going through reconciliation, repentance-confession-forgiveness, is not helpful. Yet, we often are looking for peace for ourselves, so we short circuit what’s best for our relationships by pushing on to restoration without reconciliation.

Jack needed to confront Jill on sin that had brought harm to their relationship. He had to reflect on his own sin and trust God for forgiveness before he ever went to her. Now, having both repented and confessed and given forgiveness, they were ready to rebuild trust, respect and closeness. But Jack feared being lied to again. He even noticed his insecurity around Jill. He saw how he tried asking her questions to get her to say things over again in different ways to insure she was telling the truth. Jack had to learn to trust Jill as she told him certain things, respect her as someone God was changing into a truth teller reflecting the image of Christ, and draw close to her in relationship as a sinner like himself whom God had justified by faith in Christ, not being afraid of being hurt by her again.

Jack and Jill learned that living at peace with one another takes work. They needed to make every effort at forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). They knew they needed to keep short accounts in their own life and with one another, paying close attention to themselves and breathing the air of forgiveness. But they knew because God had reconciled them to himself in Christ by his own death and resurrection, they had all the stores of his grace to give in a life of gratitude overflowing in forgiving love.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” Miraslov Volf


Forgiveness and Bitterness

We begin angry. We experience hurt and we hold someone responsible. We hold them accountable and make them pay. When asked, “Are you okay, are you angry?” We reply, “No, I’m fine.” But we’re not ok. The relationship remains shallow, and inside we are in turmoil and our thoughts and desires deceive us. Bitterness has found a place to roost.

Bitterness is the result of anger and resentment not finding forgiveness. It is an experience of hurt that turns to beliefs, thoughts, accusations, and vengeance. Bitterness goes beyond anger as the unforgiving person hangs on to what has been done to them. Bitterness is making a decision not to forgive a wrong done. “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” (Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith).

We must never underestimate the hurt and pain we experience in this life. However, the further hurt and destruction caused by unforgiveness leading to bitterness is inestimable. We often think that unforgiveness is a friend protecting us from further hurt, but it is an enemy whose is aim is to destroy through bitterness. Unforgiveness in the midst of pain and hurt leads to a hardness of heart leaving us unable to love God and others. We use bitterness to control situations and protect ourselves. While perched on the roost of bitterness we keep others at a distance, yet we are left cold and exposed.

Bitterness is a root that produces poisonous and bitter fruit (Deuteronomy 29:18). It is a roadblock to receiving God’s grace leading to all kinds of trouble (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness is a deadly thornbush in the desert producing the fruits of anger, wrath, clamour, slander and malice (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness permits us to stand in the place of judge, jury and executioner in the lives of others. The more we dwell on the wrongs done to us, the injustices we experience, the pain we feel, the losses that have built up, the deeper the root grows and the more poisonous the fruit of our lives. Our hearts become hard and our countenance mirrors their calloused condition. Bitterness leaves us and our others marred by it’s poison living a rotting death.

The only cure for this condition is forgiveness received and given. Bitterness focuses upon the wrongs done to us. Breaking up the hard soil of our bitter hearts begins by looking to the cross of Jesus Christ where we see the wrongs he suffered to give us the forgiveness of our sins and his life. We all have sinned and deserve every wrong in this world. But God in grace suffered wrong in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. He paid our debt forgiving our sin through the cost of his own life to make us free. Forgiving others begins with being forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

The bitter soul must trust God for the forgiveness of their wrongs. Bitterness does not go away when people get things right or situations are corrected. Bitterness is a root sin that must be put away in confession and repentance. We look to the cross where our sins were paid for, and we humbly approach God’s throne of grace to receive mercy for our sins of bitterness, resentment, anger, control, slander, gossip, lying, words that hurt or silence that has wounded, and the other deadly fruit that has grown from the root of bitterness. The humble receive God’s grace in Christ as they willingly return to him admitting the wrongs, receiving his cleansing, and trusting him for the grace to love.

In gratitude to God the once bitter heart is ready to put on love for the fruit of forgiveness and restoration to relationships. In Christ, as the beloved of God, we can put away bitterness and it’s fruits, and put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you (Colossians 3:12-13). In gratitude to God we forgive and refuse to rehearse the wrongs that have been done. Remembering the wrongs is not bitterness. We cannot extricate ourselves from remembering, but we can be free from unforgiveness and bitterness doing what we can to restore relationships.

Sometimes our bitterness goes beyond human relationships to our relationship to God. We must never put God in our debt. The idea that a person must forgive God for the hurt they have suffered is to insinuate that God has sinned. God is holy and righteous. His holiness pervades all his sovereign wisdom and goodness. Therefore God cannot sin. We may not understand the pain, hurt, loss and difficulties he allows us to experience in this life, but we cannot charge God with sin (Job 1:21-22). He is in the heavens doing whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). His purposes, though mysterious, are good (Ruth). We must accept that even the greatest pains we experience are not outside of a most loving God’s sovereign designs for his own children (Romans 8:28-29).

Beware of the poisonous root of bitterness by fleeing to God for forgiveness and the grace to give forgiveness in love.

Motherhood and Security


I have had the privilege of being mothered for fifty one years. I have had the joy of watching my six children experience the same benefits of being mothered for 28 years. There is a certain security in being mothered.

While ‘being mothered’ may stir up certain feelings of animosity among the offspring of certain wicked, negative, controlling, or hovering types of nagging mothers, being mothered positively provides security in shaky world.

I have a number of friends, parishioners, and acquaintances who lost their mothers to the grave. At crucial moments of their lives their secure world was left shattered. The tender moments of childhood and young adulthood welcome the timelessness of a nurturing mother. But when time runs out and that mother breathes her last, those children and young adults meet with significant moments in their life, sometimes life changing and devastating moments. C.S. Lewis lost his mother at age nine. He wrote in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, “With my mother’s death all settled happiness . . . disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” Stretches of sea interspersed with islands is the measure of a life without being mothered.

It may not be a secure experience for all who are mothered, but for those of us who have shared in God’s common and special grace, being mothered is like traveling on land from one rest stop to the next. Mothers provide security in a shaky world because they lead us home.

All God’s creatures are made for a home. We were made for a secure home with provision and protection, nurture and care. The glory of a mother is in carrying out her calling to secure this home for her children. It is not the home of HGTV or Southern Living, but the home of warmth, love, care, and communion. It may be a tent in the desert where tears are wiped away or a suburban palace where tantrums are firmly and gently handled in wisdom. These secured mothered homes direct us home.

We all know we were made for a home. God placed his first parents in a garden to create a home for their offspring. Their distrust and rebellion in that garden lead them out into a wasteland exercised to all the foolishness of their transgressions and creature worship. But God promised a way home. The way home through the offspring of the virgin mother. A secured home, a garden city, provided through the life, death and resurrection of the seed of the woman, was the blessing promised to all the nations. He would come from heaven through the channel of the womb of a mother. He would come to lead her home by convicting her of sin and leading her to himself for righteousness. He would lead her and a countless number to security in the midst of ravaged selves and a ravaged world. Our souls wrestle until they find their rest in him.

Everyone is restless trying to get home. Everyone who works a long day, travels on a plane or a bus, wrestles over a math test, avoids the bully on the playground or eats breakfast at the hotel, is trying to get home. Mothers lead us to that security of home. They are not the real security we are seeking, but we know it’s through them that we find pictures, buds, images and reflections of it. Their nurturing, love, care, kindness, gentleness, patience, wisdom, shrewdness, caution, industry point us to a home beyond themselves. A joy filled security that is beyond them. A security we seek in their Creator, Sustainer and Savior, whether they have acknowledged him or not they are directing us there.

Timothy, the young pastor and disciple of the Apostle Paul, lived in the secure world of a mother who lead him home. Paul writes to him reminding him of the faith of his mother that now dwelt in him (2Tim.1:5). Eunice had been mothered by Lois who had lead her home. Timothy had been taught God’s sacred writings since childhood and it was these writings that the Spirit of God used to lead Timothy by faith to Jesus Christ for salvation (2Tim.3:15). Being mothered was a good thing for Timothy. It lead him to peace with God where he constantly stood in his grace, hoped in his glory and was settled upon God as his joy (Rom.5:1-11). Being mothered leads to security in a shaky world. For some like Timothy it is direct, but for others like C.S. Lewis it’s in seeing he was being lead home all the way though through shadows.

Motherhood is a gift and a calling to lead children securely home.

Forgiveness and the Place of Anger


There is one certainty about human relationships, they can be painful. Forgiveness, absorbing the pain in hurtful relationships, is necessary for those relationships to function as God designed. We forgive, it’s costly, as we have been forgiven in Christ, it was more costly.

Anger is a necessary and costly emotion we experience when we are hurt by another. Trying to avoid anger in the midst of pain is like trying to smile when your child pokes you in the eye playing the fool. Experiencing some degree of anger is normally associated with forgiving someone for wrongdoing.

But not unrighteous anger. The Bible says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20); And, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26). Unrighteous anger is expressed when we are controlled by anger. It seeps out of our lives when our hearts are cold, hard, filled with animosity and bitterness. It oozes out in silence, physical separation, avoidance and numbness. Other times it comes gushing out in bitter language, wrath, clamour, slander, gossip and even murder. Unrighteous anger and forgiveness don’t go together.

Unrighteous anger is not interested in paying someone else’s debt. It makes others pay. It says, “I know God says vengeance is His, but I’ll take it from here.” When we make others pay for a wrong done to us we are getting back at them. It is our way to feel powerful and in control, to seek an advantage for ourselves, and to seek peace and joy when we feel others have robbed us of it. Unrighteous anger toward wrongs done to us only adds sin to sin.

Unrighteous anger is a self loving response to a wrong done to us. But righteous anger is a necessary human emotion that reflects God’s image in us. Christians are told, “Be angry and do not sin;”. (Ephesians 4:26)

It is deceptive to ourselves and others to act like evil or wrongs are insignificant and do not matter. Lying, drunkenness, addictions, infidelity, immorality, pornography, abuse, tongue lashings in front or behind, hatred toward others, racism, ethnocentricity, and all kinds of other wrongdoing matter. When we are angry about the things God is angry about our anger is justified, and we are experiencing pain and hurt correctly as the image bearers of God. When we deny that we are hurt by the wrongdoing of others we are not being human as God made us to be.

If we are to be angry and not sin, if we are not to be controlled by anger, then when a wrong is done to us we need to learn how to trust God with our anger and forgive.

Righteous anger is a process of turning to God in our hurt. Bitter people don’t turn to God honestly. People who see their bitterness and their other sins nailing Jesus Christ to the cross will humbly turn to God when hurt by the sins, evil, and wrongdoing of others. There is a process of turning to God acknowledging his rule even over your pain. The process continues as we learn more about God through the pain. There is the honest reflection on what I need to learn about myself, especially regarding the anger I feel. When we ask ourselves, “Why did I respond that way?”, we begin to understand our own hearts. This knowing of God and ourselves will lead us down the road of paying another person’s debt when we’ve been wronged entrusting God to do justly, even when another does not.

We can learn to experience righteous anger in the presence of God and ourselves by looking to the cross and the throne of God. At the cross we see Jesus entrusting himself to God the Father. There was no unrighteous anger in him as he bore our sins, paying our debt. Therefore he has left us an example to follow so that we will entrust ourselves, our relationships and circumstances to God when we are hurt. The cross tells us God judges justly and shows mercy (1Peter 2:21-23).

We can also look to his throne where Jesus reigns to help us by his mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). He knows what it is like to be sinned against and can sympathize with our weaknesses. He also knows what it like to forgive others. He knows what it is like to confront the wrongs of others that are destroying theirs and others lives. He can give us help by his grace and mercy for all these difficult areas when we are forgiving others. He can help us know when to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11), and when to go to another who has sinned against God and us (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 3:12-13)

But his throne is also a future place where we see no more pain and hurt (Revelation 21:3-4). It is a place to look to in faith and hope as we experience the pain of suffering others wrongs in this life. It is a future communion with God and his people absent of the hurt we and others cause. In this promise we love by forgiving others and being willing to overlook or confront if necessary.

We must learn to confront evil and wrongdoing in ourselves as well as others when we are getting and giving forgiveness. My wife can tell me she forgives me while she expresses to me the anger she felt when I used my words to deceive her. She can pay down my debt and absorb the pain of my wrongdoing while she tells me in gentleness, kindness and love that God hates a lying tongue, and calls me to follow Christ in truth. She can express to me how she sees her own deceptive heart and how God has forgiven her in Christ, and now she can forgive me.

There is a place for a holy indignation. However, if we make someone else’s wrongs against ourselves unforgivable, then we have made ourselves gods. But if we will see God, ourselves and others truly, then we will not be afraid to experience righteous anger as we pay someone else’s debt or wrongdoing in forgiveness.

First Steps in Giving Forgiveness

Giving forgiveness requires getting forgiveness. God gives forgiveness freely at the cost of the death of his own Son. All mankind has nothing but need. We cannot make up for our sins. We are completely dependent upon God’s mercies, and God demonstrates his love for us while we were sinners Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). God accepted this sacrifice of Jesus and verified this payment for sin by raising Jesus up from the dead. Therefore, all who live by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins have their debt paid in full and are acceptable to God for the sake of Christ. Therefore, since we are freely forgiven in Christ, we freely give forgiveness to others as we look to God forgiving us in Christ.

Giving forgiveness freely is costly. We acknowledge this when we put others in our debt. The natural assumption we have about other people is: People should get what they deserve based on the activity of their life. We live by the principle when we refuse to forgive. But when God forgives us, we have done nothing to cause his forgiveness. There is no reason in us for his mercy. God pays our debt in the death of Jesus Christ, freely forgiving us. Jesus got what we deserve, so we could get what we don’t deserve. We struggle to forgive when we lose sight of our true selves, and do not dwell on God’s mercy.

Forgiving someone else’s debt is costly and painful. Someone has hurt you because of what they have taken from you. The pain you feel is absorbed into your aching soul. There is grief and some degree of suffering depending on the extent of the offense. The suffering extends to your whole being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It cannot be minimized. The mantra, “Forgive and forget”, won’t work. You have suffered rejection. You’re avoided, excluded, judged and treated coldly. You have been used or abused for someone else’s pleasure. Other’s sins have a powerful and costly effects on us. Yet we are called each day, as we ask for forgiveness, to give forgiveness (Mt.6:12).

However, when we experience pain we want to make others pay. We inject coldness into the relationship. We may try to control the relationship by becoming demanding. We treat them shamefully as we judge them thinking about their wrongs. We become embittered accusing and slandering their reputation before others. We resent them and refuse to trust them. In this pain we hurt others and ourselves.

Traveling this road leads us to distrust people, and the God who made them. We become hopeless cutting ourselves off from relationship. We refuse to be hurt by anyone again. We are filled with ingratitude toward God, and we distrust him to ever do anything good in relationships again. This pained and unforgiving heart refuses to pay someone else’s debt. We are shrouded by our inability to see how indebted we are to God, and how merciful he is to pay that debt by the death of his only Son.

Therefore, the steps we need to take to give forgiveness are through the cross of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph.4:32). Kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness are God’s gifts to restored human relationships. Yet, they come with a cost. That cost was absorbed by Jesus Christ and is now extended through his church. Therefore, we have a continual need to know ourselves as indebted to God needy of his mercies, his kindness to lead us to repentance (Rom.2:4), and his tenderheartedness toward the ungodly, who he has accounted as righteous (Rom.4:5). This knowing of ourselves and dwelling upon God’s mercies in Christ will allow us to absorb and pay another’s debt. We will be willing to absorb the pain and hurt ourselves, the pain and hurt to the depth of our souls, forgiving from the heart (Mt.18:35). What does this look like?

First, I think about my own sin. I look at my own unforgiving sinful heart. I look at my own sin that put Jesus Christ on the cross. I think about the debt I owe God that I could never pay. Second, I confess my sin to God. I ask him to show me what my heart is really like and I confess it’s coldness and hardness. I look by faith, not to try to make myself better, but to Jesus Christ who paid the debt of my sin on the cross. I look at the height and depth and the length and width of God’s love in Christ. I look at the power of God’s love that raised Christ from the dead, as he demonstrated his righteousness. I ask God to work this love in Christ to me, filling me with himself, and his power toward me in Christ, that I may live to pay another person’s debt in kind tenderhearted loving forgiveness. Now I am ready to forgive another. I acknowledge to God the hurt and pain it has caused. But I do not demand that they make up the loss. I absorb the loss by faith in Christ and I forgive them, asking God for the grace to believe, hope and love. Finally, I ask God for the grace to help me not to rehearse this person’s sin. I entrust this person to God, and when I am tempted by remembrances, I entrust them to God again.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, On Forgiveness.

Value Sharing

It’s important to share value with ourselves and others. But it’s important we share the right value.

When I think of my unworthiness in light of what I did or did not do, said or did not say, thought or did not think, then I must think upon the worth and value of Christ’s death. 

When I think of someone else’s unworthiness in light of what they did or did not do, what they said or did not say, or I am sure they thought or worse yet, what they did not think, then I must think upon the worth and value of Christ’s death.
The Canons of Dort (1618-19) were written by a Synod gathered in the Netherlands to dispute five heads of doctrine that were infiltrating the Protestant church’s teaching. These remonstrances in writing are of inestimable worth in infiltrating the church’s mind and heart for right thinking and living. They are helpful in this scenario to assist us in thinking on the worth of Jesus Christ’s death and the sharing of that worth with others. 

In The Second Head of Doctrine: Christ’s Death and Human Redemption Through It we read,
Article 3: The Infinite Value of Christ’s Death

This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

Article 4: Reasons for This Infinite Value

This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is — as was necessary to be our Savior — not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God’s anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

When I am tempted to look at my unworthiness due to my sin, I can look away to the infinite value of Christ’s death. The death of God’s Son is more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world, then it is sufficient to atone for my sins. God is pleased to look on Christ who died in my place and be satisfied with his sacrifice, so he is pleased to look on me as I live by faith in Christ, even though I sin. As I look away from my sin to this glorious Son of God, I am looking to the perfection and beauty of holiness in his humanity and deity. As I feel my unworthiness due to my sin and the certain misery and death I deserve, I look to Christ Jesus who bore the wrath of God for sin in my place. I see him, in my place condemned he stood. In the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ.” 

Now I am ready to look correctly at others.

I am tempted to see others and judge their unworthiness. I look upon them with contempt and pride. I think of them as unworthy of my time, my effort, my words, and my life. I certainly think of them as unworthy of God because of the errors of their life.

But when God arrests my mind and heart with the infinite worth and value of the Savior, then I am ready to pour contempt on all my pride, and give my life, my words, my all. I want others to see his worth for I know that their souls are restless. I know they feel the weight of sin as I do. I know they experience guilt as I do. I know they suffer misery as I do. I know they are dissatisfied with trying make themselves gods as I am. I know they are dissatisfied with the other gods they have shaped and formed for their joy. But now I no longer view them according to the flesh.

I can look on others as those for whom Christ died. I can take their hand like one beggar who has found bread and lead them to the infinite source of delight. I can lead them to the majestic holy Savior whose death for the world is of inestimable and infinite value. I will speak of this value and my life will reflect this value as it is spent in generosity for others, not from guilt or to check a box or performance, but out of gratitude because of the infinite worth and value of my Savior and his work. 

A Foundation for Giving Forgiveness 

We all experience hurt in relationships. Hurt in relationships complicates life. Complicated relationships complicate our lives- the way we think about ourselves, others, our relationship to God, and the way we live our lives. We all deal with these complications in various ways.

We like to find diversions or distractions. I saw a boat last week named, “Sane Asylum”. We may run away from relationships and situations. We become drop-outs, dropping out of relationships and life in general. Some of us are fix-it people. We try fix situations and people. This often leads to our attempt to control the complicated. Others look for something to buy, something, to eat, something to drink, something to abuse for pleasure. Some of us try to create comfortable places where we are secure by complaining, whining, gossipping, etc. 

Whatever means we use to create comfortable spaces in the presence of hurt and complicated lives, we are uncomfortable with ourselves, others, our relationship to God and life in general. Yet, we struggle to know what to do. Do I continue the relationship? Do I forgive? How do I forgive? And if I do, what is the relationship going to look like?

Giving forgiveness is necessary in a hurting complicated world. We all need a foundation of forgiveness to give forgiveness. When life began in the Garden of Eden there was no need for forgiveness. Adam and Eve were not sinning against God. They were not hurting one another. We can’t imagine such a place. But when man sinned against God there was loss. Adam and Eve’s distrust, disobedience and rebellion complicated life. They began a life of self love, self protection, living for and serving self, rather than loving God and others. All sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have walked the same road and brought about hurt and misery.. 

The foundation for forgiveness and the healing of hurt is revealed in the words of God. In the midst of hurt and loss God speaks life. He does so from the very beginning of the Scriptures, until his words of life and love find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. God unveils a loving rescue plan in his Word for all those in sin and hurt by sin.

Sin and its effects could not be ignored. God promised to punish sin in another, the seed of the woman (Gen.3:15), who is his servant (Isa.52:13). This servant would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, and be stricken and afflicted by God. This servant would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He would be wounded for our healing. It would be God’s will to crush him and have him put to grief as he would by his righteous life crucified upon a cross make an offering for our guilt (Isa.53:4-11). He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor.5:21). 

Forgiveness of sins is found in none other than Jesus Christ, the suffering servant, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rom.4:25). God’s loving rescue plan began at our greatest point of loss and is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the foundation of our receiving and giving forgiveness.

When we find that we have done nothing for our loss and can do nothing for our hurt but trust the one who suffered the greatest loss and hurt for us, then we have a foundation for forgiveness. His forgiveness comes first and ours is like his as we follow as his children by faith in Jesus Christ. (Eph.4:32)

There will be a time once again where life will not hurt and the complications will shut out. There will be a time when we don’t have to forgive. But it’s not now. The present is the time for receiving and giving forgiveness. The foundation of our giving forgiveness is the receiving of God’s toward us in Christ Jesus. Our hearts must be changed by his grace each day if we are able to pray each day, “Our Father in heaven…forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

We live each day believing that our performance for the day will determine the verdict we desire. But in life in Christ it is his performance each day that gets us the verdict we do not deserve. His verdict is spoken each day in the courtroom of heaven over all who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. That verdict is, “Not Guilty” (Rom.8:1). In the heavenly courtroom there is nothing that can separate a person from the love of God in Christ (Rom.8:33-34, 39). It is this verdict, this foundation that enables us to perform forgiveness in hurtful and complicated situations.  

If forgiveness is not usually your first response to those who have hurt you, this is a warning sign. It is a flashing light that you have lost sight of God’s forgiveness of you. It is signal that your faith is in something else- your performance, record, reputation or rights. It is barrier in the road to life warning you that you have become the judge as you have lost sight of the grace of God freely given. You have drifted from the foundation, the Cornerstone who is Jesus Christ and God’s righteousness and love demonstrated to you in him.

The first step to giving forgiveness is receiving it. Therefore, we must return in the kindness of God to admit we need forgiveness. It is this humble admission that leads to joy in God and freedom to forgive others. We are then free to give what we have received. 

The Missionary God & His Missionary Church

God is on mission to glorify his name in all the earth among all the peoples of the earth, and we’re invited to join him. Dr. John Piper writes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad). God who inspired the text, “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps.67:3-4); is the God who sent his Son into the world to seek and save the lost (Lk.19:10), and give them eternal life, knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ who was sent. (Jn.17:3), who is the joy of all peoples. He is the same God who now extends his mission by his church (Mt.28:18-20).

Christ Church is holding a Missions Conference March 31 – April 2. One of the ways I am preparing for the conference is by reading again, Let the Nations Be Glad, The Supremacy of God in Missions, by John Piper. This book was first published in 1993. Dr. Piper’s tells us why he wrote this book in the Preface. He says, “This book is partial payment of a debt I owe to the nations. The apostle Paul is not alone in saying, “I am a debtor to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish.” (Rom.1:14). To those culturally near me and those culturally far I am a debtor. Not because they gave me anything that I must pay back, but because God gave me what can’t be paid back. He gave me the all satisfying pleasure of knowing him and being loved by him through his Son Jesus Christ.” (P.7). Dr. Piper’s desire is to not lose possession of Christ, and for those who read not to lose possession of Christ. He does not believe that he or others in the church will lose God’s gracious gift of salvation if we does not participate in missionary endeavors. However, he does believe in the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, and making the worth of Christ known to all peoples. Therefore, he is interested in the church doing her utmost to display the glory of God in the face of Christ so that we with the nation’s share in the infinite value of Jesus Christ and his eternal life.

In the opening chapter Dr. Piper wrote, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” (P.11) This book is for worshipers who believe that God is using them to lead others to worship him. Dr. Piper says this is a book for “leaders who need the flickering wick of their vocation fanned into flame again with a focus on The Supremacy of God in missions.” Every worshiper of God is a “leader” with a “vocation”. All who are redeemed in Christ will lead others down a low road or high road spiritually in their various callings (vocation). Every person who lives by faith in Jesus Christ is the seed of God for the blessing of all the nations and is included in God’s great commission to go and make disciples of all the nations through a generous life of praying, providing and participating. Therefore, every Christian needs the “flickering wick of their vocation fanned into flame again.” Reading or re-reading Dr. Piper’s book and participating in this years Missions Conference is one of the means God will use to accomplish this grace.

The theme of this years missions conference is Kingdom Prayer for All the Nations. Rev. Allen M. Baker will be with us to encourage and exhort us as a church to participate in the building of God’s kingdom through prayer. John Piper says in chapter 2 of his book, The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Prayer, “Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief.” Prayer is the second cause that God uses to accomplish his decree of seeking and saving the lost among the nations. We enter the kingdom by faith expressed in prayer (Lk.18:19) and we continue as children in God’s kingdom by faith through prayer (Lk.18:1,8). In our praying we are focused upon God’s ultimate desire to be worshiped in all the earth, “Hallowed be your name”. Therefore, we pray, “Your kingdom come,” that God’s name will be glorified in all the earth the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church’s role in the mission of God to fill the earth with the glory of his name among all the nations begins and continues in prayer. Jesus has taught us to pray and never give up. But not for calling down more comforts for our already prosperous life. We cry out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, how long till you vindicate your cause in the earth? How long till you rend the heavens and come down with power on your church? How long till you bring victory among all the peoples of the world?” (P.70). He answers, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk.18:7-8). The “faith on earth” is the instrument God gifts his church to take hold of him and all his grace with, here, expressed in prayer. Let us learn and practice prayer for the supremacy of God among all peoples.

Plan to participate in this years conference by signing up for our gathering on Friday evening March 31st and Saturday seminars on April 1st. I also encourage you to prepare by taking up and reading Dr. Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions.

It’s Ash Wednesday I Can’t Wait for Sunday

It’s Ash Wednesday, the day for smearing ashes on the forehead at the beginning of the season of Lent. Yet, I am at work and can’t wait to participate in worship on Sunday. Am I lacking in piety? Probably, but that’s another matter. Participating in Ash Wednesday may mark someone as more pietistic than someone not participating, but the mark is not always a reality.

To ash or not to ash, that is the question? If I were a Roman Catholic I would be participating, in the same way I am an American who give thanks and eats Turkey the last Thursday of the month of November. If I were an Anglican I would probably participate for the same reason. It is a part of what it means to be Catholic or Anglican participating in a church calendar that follows the traditions of those slices of religion. But I am a confessing reformed Presbyterian who enjoys six days of work and one of gathering with the body of Christ for corporate worship. Call me boring.

Ash Wednesday was introduced as a part of the church calendar of the Roman Church in the fourth century. It is the beginning of a 40 day fast prior to Easter. The Sunday’s coming before Resurrection Sunday do not count as fast days but all other days starting with Ash Wednesday are considered a fast. The sprinkling of ashes or the marking of the forehead with ashes is a reminder that man is dust (Gen.3:19) and that being identified with Christ we are forgiven of sins. Nothing wrong with that theology.

However, God has provided in his service of worship this certainty and our participation in that certainty every Lord’s Day. When the Law of God is read we are reminded that we are but dust of the earth who breaks God’s law by omission and commission each and everyday. Therefore, we pray asking God to forgive us our sins and have mercy on us for the sake of Christ. Then there is from God’s Word a verse or passage read or prayed assuring us of his pardoning grace for all living by faith in Christ Jesus. The same is true when we hear God’s Word preached as the law and the gospel bear upon our lives. The reading and preaching of God’s Word leads us to repentance and faith. Also, when the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed the very same theology is proclaimed until our Lord returns. God has accommodated himself to us in all these means demonstrating our utter fragility and helplessness, like dust that is swept up by the swirling winds, and at the same time proclaiming himself and his salvation to us in glorious wisdom, power and goodness revealed in Jesus Christ.

We who participate in these means of grace week in and week out are no less spiritual than those who are participating in Lent. We are not to judge them as sinful for participating in Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent, but neither can we who do not participate be judged as being less pietistic or spiritual.

However, deciding to participate in Lent because: a person is seeking a deeper spirituality or experience with God; someone is trying to shake up a dull religious life; my friends are doing it together; a person needs help with their self control; or this is what it means to be a hip Christian… is dangerous. Participating in a liturgical calendar is not a prescribed means of grace through which we participate in God’s salvation in Christ. God brings us into his grace and keeps us there by ordinary means. It is possible to substitute a form of godliness for God himself revealed in Christ. This is dangerous. This is how we cut ourselves off from God’s grace in Christ. It is always dangerous to yoke ourselves to performing self justifying feats, rather than trusting God by faith to work toward us by his grace in the ordinary ways he communicates his salvation to his creatures. Perhaps if we would give more credibility to the ordinariness of repentance and faith in Christ, communing with God around his Word and prayer each day, and the ordinary corporate Lord’s Day worship each week, we may find ourselves participating by faith in a little bit of heaven while in the earth.

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