When I Need Forgiveness

As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I’m learning to open my heart to the seasons of life and to surrender to that which He desires to teach me with each new season. Having battled cancer over the past year and a half — a life-changer for sure — I feel Him calling me now to transition from a season of militancy, strife, and vying for mortal existence, to a season of calm renewal, of openness and vulnerability, and of contemplation of lessons learned.

Looking back over my life from the perspective of a cancer survivor, I see too much rage and ruin. I see too many broken hearts and shattered dreams — people who should have been loved by me, but who were hurt by me; people who should have been fueled with a greater spiritual fire through their acquaintance with me, but who were, instead, left sidetracked and discouraged.

One can, of course, in light of lessons learned and growth experienced, determine to do better in the future; to take greater responsibility for the emotional, spiritual, and even physical welfare of the precious hearts that God permits into our lives. But, I think, it would be cold and irresponsible to simply forget about those people who I’ve hurt along the way; and to just move on without any thought or concern for their continued well being. Genuine penitence requires more of me than that, I think. And, it’s not just their continued well being that this season of reflection brings under review, by my own as well. My heart, I feel, is that much more empty, and my soul is lacking, to the degree that I persist in refusing to take responsibility for, or do anything about, the people I love — and who once loved me — but who have been hurt by me somehow, somewhere, along the way.

I tell my students, when they sometimes come to me with hurting hearts because they feel as though they’ve let God down by sinning and falling short of His glory, that repentance is not just a one time thing, but a daily walk of life. I try to reassure them with Jesus’ words, when He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4, NASB). If Jesus would tell His disciples something like that, don’t you know that God is ready, willing, and capable of forgiving us over and over and over again as He watches us struggle with the sin in our lives. But, I am also quick to point out to them that a trite, haphazard “I repent,” with no real intention of surrendering to the will of God in the matter, is an abuse of God’s grace; and the Bible warns us against those who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4, NASB).

I sometimes tremble at Jesus’ statement concerning those very “religious” people who will stand before Him on that great and glorious final day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But He will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23, NASB). Cloaking our selfishness and rebellion in the garbs of religious fervor and Christian service does not fool God. The Lord knows those who are His. On the other hand, it is not just sin, in and of itself, that condemns any person. The Apostle John reminds us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB). There is never a moment when any one of us can claim to have no sin. The Bible teaches that “… all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB).

And so, we need to live in a perpetual state of repentance and with the mindset of continual confession of our need for forgiveness, God’s grace — the blood of Christ to cleanse us, the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. And we are assured of that grace; for we are told that, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB).

But it is not just God’s forgiveness that my heart craves — although I want and need that most of all — but also the forgiveness of others; those who I have hurt along the way. My heart often aches for the renewal of relationship, for the rekindling of love’s fire, with certain people who were once so much a part of my life, but who have been lost to me — yet remain precious to me. Even in our sophisticated, high-tech, globally connected world today, just finding someone who seems to have vanished from our radar sometimes seems an insurmountable task; let alone actually contacting them and begging their forgiveness. And, you know, I wouldn’t blame them or hold it against them if that “forgiveness” was long in coming. I know I don’t deserve it! And, I guess, I may have to be prepared to, somehow, move on without it — accepting that as the consequences of my own foolish behavior. But, I simply must attempt to seek it. My heart will allow for nothing less.

Of course, I must also keep in mind that, not only do I need forgiveness from others, I must also be ready to give it. I remember Jesus’ teaching concerning this matter when He taught us to pray, “… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mathew 6:12, NASB). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul reminds me that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (I Corinthians 13:5, NASB). And the Bible warns, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NASB).

Don’t you know that it pleases God and makes Him smile when His children are good to one another; when they take care of one another. In essence, this is what it means to, as Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34, NASB). Or, as the Apostle John says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” … “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I John 3:18,23, NASB). I think of Jesus story of the prodigal son, and how his father so rejoiced at the homecoming of his long-lost boy. When two hearts that have been estranged, or even just separated by time and distance, find one another again, and “forgiveness” is truly sought and authentically given, love is rekindled in the beauty, power, and holiness of the Lord; what a time of rejoicing — and God smiles upon His children!

Forgive me for hurting you,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

“You are the Light of the World” – ummm, really?!?

Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.

Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.

Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?

In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).

I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).

And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

That they may see HIM in us,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

What Can I Offer Him?

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:6-8, NASB)

I sometimes get so frustrated with the worldly, fleshly thinking that so often pervades this secular humanists society in which we find ourselves. People who don’t want to acknowledge God, who think that this world and everything in it is just one cataclysmic accident, are always looking for reasons to justify their position; or to denigrate the beliefs of others. So bad things happen: a commercial airliner with hundreds on board disappears out over the southern Indian ocean — or wherever it ended up; a land slide in Washington wipes out an entire community, killing dozens; people we know and love, young and old alike, are taken from us by cancer, or by a terrible auto accident, or by who knows what — there are a thousand ways to die in any given day. Humanity lives with perpetual heartache and tragedy. Sometimes I think there are definitely more “broken hearts” out there than there are those that remain yet unscathed.

I’ve experienced the sensation of all the strength suddenly draining from my body upon hearing the news that someone I love has departed. I’ve spent sleepless nights sighing, crying, and wrestling with God — asking, “Why, oh Lord, why did You let this happen?” And it frustrates me to no end when I see the atheists, the agnostics, the anarchists, the “unbelievers” among us prey upon that. They try to lay all that tragedy and heartache at the feet of God, or those who believe in God, and say things like: “Why does your so-called God let this happen?” or “If there really is a God, and if God is really good, then He wouldn’t let these kinds of things happen.”

How bout that Bill Maher guy, you know the popular comedian and commentator who totally ripped into that “Noah” movie that was recently released. I’ve heard some comments he made being discussed on conservative airwaves, but according to a recent article in The Christian Post, some of what he actually said on television was:

“The thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t the silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with Himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies, what kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean besides Chris Christie,” he said.

“Hey God, you know you’re kind of a d**k when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues,” he noted.

The comedian then tried making the case for why people should not get their moral direction from the Bible. “You know conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality. Well maybe it’s because you worship a guy who drowns babies,” he said. (Blair, 2014)

But actually, I don’t know what’s really worse, the fact that this guy said a bunch of things like that on national television, or the fact that, as Blair (2014) noted in his article, “TV host Bill Maher left his target audience in riotous laughter…” I’m like, “Seriously? A whole studio full of people actually thought those comments were funny? What is happening in America, today? And who were all those people anyway? Do you have to pass some kind of liberal, agnostic, secular humanist litmus test before being admitted as a member of his audience?” I think I would have just quietly, or not so quietly, stood up and walked out… after having hauled off and thrown my right boot at the stage — forgive me Lord; I know, I know, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, NASB).

I have to confess, I shouted out “booooooo” and threw some popcorn at the movie screen when I took my granddaughters to the cinema last week and, before the movie, they showed a totally raunchy, sexually suggestive, piece of garbage that was supposed to be some kind of “music video.” My teenage granddaughters, one on each side, just stared at me, somewhat disapprovingly, in stark amazement. “WHAT?” I exclaimed! And they totally broke out in laughter! Well, you know, you just kinda get tired of all the “nonsense” — a dozen other words come to mind > a hem < — being perpetually shoveled in your face by today’s liberal media! >>> so I threw some popcorn back at them; I know that must have seriously upset the whole Hollywood film industry <<<

Anyway, back to my point and, I think, I have one. The thing is, what the secular humanists are missing is the fact that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THIS WORLD! I mean, it “IS” for “THEM” because this world is “ALL THEY’VE GOT!” Or so they think. For them, it’s all about the comfort, the safety, the prosperity, the well-being, the happiness, and long life of humanity in this present realm. And being thus so fleshly minded, they cannot conceive of a God Who does not necessarily put humanity’s materialistic wants and desires, and physical, fleshly good first and foremost — at the very topmost rung of His eternal ladder of priority.

Have you ever read the book of Job? Talk about a mind-bender ~ sheeeeeesh! God broke the man’s heart in more ways than any of us can dare to imagine or would care to innumerate. And when Job cried out “why?” God’s response was: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4, NASB). Furthermore, even though Satan was the actual ravager who inflicted all the harm, God was willing to take responsibility for it because He allowed it to happen. Job didn’t know that he was a key player in a cosmic spiritual battle of epic proportions. And, that part was never even explained to him. All he knew was that, though he was suffering immeasurably, there was a God who cared for him. And so, he absolutely refused to do what Bill Maher did, “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Well, Maher hasn’t died, physically, yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, too.

As Micah cried out, so I cry out, “Oh God, what can I bring to you, today, as a sacrifice of praise and worship that is in any way worthy of You?” All my commandment keeping falls short. All my service in Your kingdom pales in comparison with what Your Son has done for me? Do You want my sacrifices? If I could, somehow, manage to do what that rich young ruler who came to speak with Jesus couldn’t do — if I could sell my every possession and give the money to the poor — would that be enough? Is a sacrifice of praise from my lips, a song or prayer that exalts You — we call it “worship” — really what You want from me? Or, is it something else You’re ultimately looking for?

In an absolutely stunning passage of scripture, the Apostle Peter said

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:6-9, NASB)

In light of teaching like that, do you think we can, or even should, be exempt from the distress of various trials? How, then, would faith ever become real — something more than a mere abstract concept? How, without distress, can faith be “tested,” be “refined,” become “more precious than gold”? Remember, Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB). Can we, do we, believe that?

And so, what is the ultimate call? Is it all our religious stuff and ecclesiastical trappings — our so-called “worship”? Or, is it not, to find a way through all the tragedy to keep our faith intact and, as Micah prophesied so long ago, “to walk humbly with your God”? To, like Job, remain faithful to Him no matter how much it hurts; to refuse to curse God, to refuse to give up on Him, to refuse to play Satan’s game and blame God for all the heartache in this world and thereby justify unbelief. But rather, to allow the heartache, the pain, the suffering, the sorrow to purge the dross and perfect our faith!

Those of you — us — who are going through the fires, or who have been through the fires, or who will, beyond doubt, one day surely go through the fires, have something to offer God that is immeasurably valuable beyond anything in this mortal world: a broken, contrite, faith-filled heart!

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17, NASB)

Beyond words,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Blair, Leonardo. (2014). Bill Maher curses God, Bible, Noah story and ‘stupid’ Americans who believe; Calls God ‘psychotic mass murderer.’ The Christian Post U.S. Retrieved from http://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-maher-curses-god-bible-noah-story-and-stupid-americans-who-believe-calls-god-psychotic-mass-murderer-116276/