Certificates Of Debt


Debt is not a popular topic. The US government continues to bow under the massive debt we’ve accrued in the past few decades.

The state of California is no better. And then there is the debt of individual Americans!

The one good thing about all this insurmountable debt, I guess, is that we can more completely understand the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed so much money, his king was going to foreclose. The plan was to sell him, his family, and all of his stuff.

Jesus explained that the guy had no way of repaying his debt, implying that what he owed was far greater than what his king would receive from the sale.

A bad investment, some would conclude. The servant cost more than he was worth. Better to cut the losses and get out. And that’s precisely what the king intended to do.

Except the servant pleaded for more time.

As if!

More time was not going to change things. Five years or fifty years, the servant was not going to make enough money to pay what he owed. His situation was hopeless.

Enter the Christ of Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14; emphasis mine)

This passage reminds me of Romans 8:1—“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those certificates of debt Paul referenced in Colossians, those “decrees against us,” are the things of which I stood condemned.

And yeah, they were hostile to us—they condemned us to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But now they’ve been removed—taken out of the way, nailed to Christ’s cross. So it’s easy to see why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

He didn’t forgive the debt in the same way that the king in the parable did, simply by saying the word and wiping the slate clean. Instead, Jesus Christ paid the debt.

It’s a great picture because it shows God’s justice—the debt needed to be paid—coupled with His mercy that freed us from the debt.

It also shows the impossibility of the debt coming back on us. How do you un-pay something? How do you un-remove it from where it’s been or un-nail it from the cross, the place of death?

Paul explained about the cross in more detail in the first chapter of Colossians:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (vv 19-23; emphasis mine).

I love the “in order to” part of that passage. Christ has done the work, paid the debt, in order to present me blameless, beyond reproach—or specifically, beyond Satan’s reach. Simply put, all my certificates of debt are marked PAID.

This post is a a revised edition of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

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Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The God Of The Impossible


Nativity_Scenes015Mary was astounded. How could she not be? An angel had told her she’d get pregnant, and here she was, still a virgin, staring down into the little face of her newborn son.

As if that wasn’t enough, a group of shepherds crowded into their quarters to worship her baby. Angels, they said, had told them about this child—where he’d be born and how they could find him and how they would know him.

Then there were the two in the temple when she and Joseph went to present Jesus according to the law. First was Simeon who said strange things: that her son would be a light to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel. Then in his blessing, Simeon added that he was appointed as sign to be opposed. He didn’t stop there, but added some confusing personal prophecy about a sword piercing Mary’s own soul.

Then there was the prophetess Anna who thanked God for Mary’s son and talked about him to everyone who was looking for the redemption of Israel.

All this came on the heels of her cousin Elizabeth, her barren cousin Elizabeth, getting pregnant. The angel had told Mary that would happen, too. And it was then he made the whole astounding series of events make sense: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

The bottom line, and the only thing a person actually needs to believe in order to accept the astounding things we read about connected to that first Christmas, is that truth which Mary accepted. When the angel made his declaration about God’s greatness and power and limitless ability, Mary submitted to God—to His plans for her, His capacity to accomplish what He’d made known to her through His messenger.

She got it—that God was bigger than the laws of nature and that He was the fulfiller of prophecy. She ought not be a mother, but she was. The shepherds ought not have known about her son, but they did. Simeon and Anna ought not have declared a poor baby born to an unwed mother in a manger to be the Messiah, but they had.

Indeed, God can do the impossible.

That’s really the truth that separates people today as believers or unbelievers. If God can do the impossible, then He could take on human flesh and be born as a baby. If God can do the impossible, then He could die, once for all, the just for the unjust. If God can do the impossible, then no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no person so far from Him that He can’t reach them.

One of the worst kings in Israel’s history illustrates that point. Manasseh

erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God (2 Chron. 33:3b-7a).

A hopeless case, right? Idol worship, child sacrifice, witchcraft. Evil. But God didn’t turn His back on Manasseh.

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chron. 33:10-13)

Impossible! But no. God “was entreated by him.” God forgives. God redeems. God reconciles.

The Christmas story is both the proof that God can do the impossible and the declaration that the God who is Lord of the impossible accomplishes the miraculous.

How right to praise His name.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 1, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Impossibility Of Empathy


donald_trumpEmpathy, according to my atheist blogger friend Violetwisp, provides a moral framework by which a person can make moral judgments. So, no, God did not “set eternity in our hearts” or a “God-shaped vacuum” or a “moral compass.” Our morality comes from our ability to “understand and share the feelings of others.” (Oxford American Dictionary)

Which is impossible.

No one can actually understand and share the feelings of someone with a radically different experience from ours. Take Donald Trump, for example. I’ve never been a multimillionaire. I’ve never had my own TV program. I’ve never had multiple marriages. I’m not a man. I have never wanted to run for President or to deport illegal aliens by the truckload or to carpet bomb the Syrians. There are many, many other things that make my life and experience different from Mr. Trump’s. So how am I to understand and share his feelings?

I can’t. We could easily be from different planets. He says deplorable things about women. He encourages violence against those who protest against his positions. He advocates for religious discrimination in the name of homeland security. He condones torture. Many of his “plans” for solving the problems in the US are unconstitutional.

I don’t understand someone who behaves as he does unless I assign motives behind his actions. My conclusion is that he cares more for himself than he does for others. Consequently, he’ll find a loophole so he doesn’t have to pay income taxes, then blame the government for the existence of the loophole. “If you’d just stopped me from being greedy and selfish, then I would have been like all other Americans,” he seems to be saying.

Am I empathetic toward Mr. Trump? No. I believe I understand him. He wants what he wants when he wants it and doesn’t care who he bulldozes out of his way to get the power or prestige or possessions he’s set his sights on. But do I feel for him? He’s had advantages in this life that few have had, and he comes to the twilight years of his life as a power-hungry bully who lies and manipulates and blusters and fawns—whatever works to create sycophants. I don’t feel for him. I think he should know better, that he should have done more with what he’d been given.

The truth is, he might have experienced heartbreak when he was young. He might have been lonely and alone as a child and has been acting out from a place of pain ever since—to live in a way that keeps him from feeling the heartache, to exact revenge on a perceived perpetrator, to make up from what he considers his lost youth. I simply have no way of knowing what is behind his deplorable actions and words and ways of relating to people in public.

I do not empathize with him. I don’t even want to. I don’t want to explain away what he’s done or what he continues to do.

tex_watsonEmpathy is a failed strategy. It cannot move me closer to Donald Trump. I could extrapolate from that one example to a host of others. I don’t empathize with David Duke and other racists. I don’t empathize with the Planned Parenthood execs who sold fetal body parts. I don’t empathize with the Manson family prisoners who have had parole denied repeatedly.

How am I supposed to empathize with a sex-trafficker? With a mob hit man? With an ISIS suicide bomber?

In case after case after case, I don’t understand someone or I don’t feel with them. And we haven’t even begun to talk about people from other countries who have customs and practices and traditions that are completely foreign to my experience.

Empathy doesn’t cut it. Can’t cut it. I don’t know enough to understand all these people. I don’t care enough to feel with them in their experiences.

Empathy doesn’t give us a moral framework apart from our own personal experience. And then we only feel with people based on our own perspective. Consequently, our moral judgment becomes, what do I want to have happen? So if I want abortion, then it’s legal. If I want slavery, then it’s legal. If I want divorce, then it’s legal.

Another gaping failure of empathy is to explain how all those unempathetic behaviors came into being in the first place. If the first humans were empathetic toward one another, all should have been well. But someone at some point introduced behavior that contradicted the moral framework that existed because of the perfect empathy governing those early relationships. What caused empathy to break down?

There is no answer to that question in the moral framework constructed by people who look to empathy as the solution to sin.

Yes, sin. That’s what we’re talking about. When one person violates another person, either in word or deed, it’s sin. Sin is actually deeper than that, but for the purpose of this post. focusing on the observable is sufficient.

Empathy can not change sin. That’s really what I’ve been saying. Empathy can’t explain why people sin, and it can give no answer to the cycle of sin—either those who sin against another or those who have been sinned against.

There’s only one remedy that has proven effective—forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on my understanding or my feeling with another. I can forgive without knowing why someone behaved in a despicable way. I can forgive and work toward a restored relationship without feeling with the person who holds hatred in his heart.

I’ve played the empathy card before. I’ve sat with friends and listened to their tales of woe. I’ve worked to understand and feel with them when they have been wronged and mistreated. And what did it bring? Relief? No. It nurtured more of the feelings of resentment and anger that the original actions engendered. No relationship healing occurred. Only greater division.

But forgiveness—that’s a different thing. Forgiveness humbles and heals. Forgiveness bridges gaps without excusing or erasing responsibility. Forgiveness requires growth and added maturity in both the forgiven and the forgiver.

I suppose forgiveness is impossible too, apart from the great example of forgiveness God enacted when He sent His Son to provide a way for us to access His forgiveness; apart from the power of God to work in and through our frail human desires.

Yes, God alone is stronger than the heinous acts one person does against another. Only God can turn people who hated each other into friends. Only God can give the ability for a Nazi concentration camp prisoner to reconcile with one of her guards. Only God can lead a kidnap victim to forgive the men who were responsible for her husband’s death. Only God can put it in the heart of a congregation to forgive the racist who gunned down their loved ones in their own church.

God does what empathy can never do. Because God can do the impossible. Empathy . . . not so much.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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Forgiveness Is Not An Option


2017-Honda-Civic-ReviewI read a friend’s blog post today about forgiveness and I realized anew how little we talk about or understand forgiveness. Our speaker Sunday said something that also struck a nerve. Actually he was quoting Charles Spurgeon. He said the fall caused us to cling to grievances and to forget benefits.

Cling to grievances. That’s a lack of forgiveness.

Scripture has a lot to say about forgiveness. Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote on the subject, taking a look at one particular Biblical example.

– – – – –

New cars come with options. When I bought my car, it didn’t have a lot of perks. Those I could add if I chose. In most cases, I decided to go with the basics because the options cost extra.

Some time ago I heard another sermon on forgiveness, and it drove home a point I have learned and re-learned: forgiving others is not optional. It’s a product of having been forgiven. It’s not a means to forgiveness and it’s not an accessory that can be dispensed with at will. But for the Christian, it’s part of the basic package.

This is one of the areas that flies in the face of all other religions and anything the secular culture believes. As a matter of fact, it flies in the face of us Christians, too. It is not natural to forgive — but being forgiven makes it possible.

Once you’ve experienced the weight of guilt inexplicably removed through no effort of your own, two things happen. One is a sense of relief and gratitude. The second is a sense of kinship. You see someone else in the throes of justified condemnation, you see yourself and you understand, that was you once upon a time.

Interesting that the Apostle Paul, from time to time, reminded the people he wrote to of just this fact. Take his letter to the Colossians, for example, in which he wrote

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you once walked when you were living in them. (3:5-7 – emphasis mine)

It’s good that Scripture reminds us to look at what we were — exactly what people without Christ are. We were the prodigal, squandering our inheritance, we were the eldest brother, too jealous and judgmental to go inside and welcome his brother home.

But those two brothers illustrate the difference between being forgiven and not. The prodigal was a mess and knew it. He came to his father with nothing but the hope that he could serve because he had no way of making amends. When his father ran to him, hugged him (before he’d had a bath), restored him to his place as son, and set in motion a celebration, he knew he didn’t deserve any of it.

The brother coming in from the field, however, thought he deserved better than he got. He should have a celebration thrown for him, he reasoned, because he’d earned it. What’s more, he wasn’t about to join in a celebration for a wayward brother.

One son, contrite and humble, the other son, bitter and condemning. Which one had experienced the father’s forgiveness?

Jesus’s story doesn’t say that the prodigal son forgave his brother for not coming to his celebration, or anything like that. But it does tell us that the stay-at-home brother had an angry heart toward his brother and toward his father.

So who did he hurt by holding onto his anger? His brother? His father? They, I suspect, had a great time at the welcome-home feast. Only the bitter brother was left out.

So it is with us. Those who have experienced forgiveness aren’t in a position to shake our finger in anyone else’s face, reciting all their misbehaviors. Our eyes are downcast, or closed in worship, or fixed on the face of Jesus.

Those who have not experienced forgiveness feed their anger and jealousy, and end up missing out on the joy and rejoicing they could be a part of.

It’s a nasty thing, unforgivingness. It eats away at joy, contentment, gratitude. Certain names, we don’t want to hear; certain pictures, we tear up and throw away; certain places we no longer visit; certain days, we dread.

Can a forgiven person act that way? Only until the Holy Spirit comes along and says, And you once walked in those same sins when you were living in them. At that point, we realize forgiveness isn’t an option.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in February 2012.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 7:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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Survivor


I’m a fan of Survivor. I saw the very first show over ten ago when it was a summer fill-in that broke out as one of the most popular game shows of all time. Yes, game shows. It isn’t “reality” TV by any stretch of the imagination. It is all about competing against a group of strangers by trying to outwit, outplay, and outlast each of them.

The twist, of course, is that the contestants are also living side-by-side with these same people, and to a certain extend, are dependent upon them for food, shelter, fire, water, and victories so they don’t have to face the dreaded “Tribal Council” where they might be voted out of the game.

The game changes from season to season, but recently the producers pitted the men against the women, with a twist: both teams were camping on the same beach, so they were neighbors. Because of an accident that sent one of the women out of the game with a broken wrist, the men were declared the winners of the first challenge, winning the reward—flint so they could start fire. They had been given a choice. They were in the lead when the girl hurt herself and the game was stopped, hence, by rule they were the winners, but they could choose to play it out and win “fair and square.” They chose to take the win in hand.

But here’s the amazing thing: the women were shocked by their choice! They thought for sure the men would do the gentlemanly thing and let the game play out.

As if!! My first thought was, Do none of those women have brothers? Are they so clueless about the competitive nature of the men who sign up to play Survivor? I also thought, How entitled of them. Not only did they think the men should have let the game play, they then thought the guys should share fire with them when they got back to camp. They even tried to steal some embers during the night but couldn’t keep the coals alive.

Lest you think too badly of the women, the men pulled the first unethical trick. When they reached their launch spot, they had 60 seconds to unload a truck of whatever gear they thought they could use. One of the women grabbed an ax, and one of the guys preceded to steal it. Let’s say, the guys showed their true colors right there—they were playing a no-holds-barred game. But later in camp the women were still expecting chivalry. Really!?!

During nearly every season, someone makes a point of playing the game with integrity and someone else gets their feelings hurt when they get stabbed in the back—betrayed by tribe mates who promised to take them all the way to the end. Some years the one who engineers the betrayals is considered a mastermind and ends up winning the million dollar prize. Other seasons, the leader of all the manipulation is considered a villain and despised for using those he betrayed.

The whole thing is an interesting study in human nature. Who believes whom, who leads, who follows, who works, who whines. One thing I noticed in a recent season: when a leader talks “trust” and “honor,” then pulls the strings to betray someone, the contempt others feel for him is greater.

Which makes me think of the Church and today’s society. When we broadcast the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, people will listen—who, after all, doesn’t want love and forgiveness? But when we who lift high the banner of Christ, turn around and behave in an unloving, unforgiving manner to our fellow Christians in front of the watching world—to our neighbors, co-workers, even our enemies—the contempt spewed upon us is great.

Deservedly so. Christ Himself told the parable of the forgiven servant who turned around and would not forgive, and Jesus concluded by giving a dire warning.

And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34-35)

Not that our forgiving others earns us forgiveness, but our having been forgiven causes us to be so grateful, we want to pass on what we have received.

And if we don’t? Chances are we’ve missed the essence of forgiveness. Like the Survivor contestants who turn against one who talks honor but plays dirty, those who watch a professing Christian proclaim forgiveness, only to turn around and withhold it, will despise him and what he stands for.

Some people despise Christians for what we believe, and some people despise Christians for what we’re rumored to be or do. Some people despise Christians because they despise Christ. But woe to us if we earn the disrespect of others because we withhold love and forgiveness.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in February 2012.

Published in: on July 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on Survivor  
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What Is Judgment?


_Judges_GavelWhen I ask, What is judgment? I’m not referring to the Final Judgment or our judicial system, but rather one person judging another. Today Christians use the notion of one judging another as a club to buffet the Intolerant One into submission. After all, we’re told over and over, we’re not supposed to judge each other.

Or are we?

Often the “no judging” position is supported with what Jesus said in Matthew 7, concluding with verse 5:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

In a radio sermon some time ago, one pastor pointed out that the conclusion of this process is still one Christian taking the speck from his brother’s eye.

Just ten verses later, Jesus had this to say:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:15-16a)

So apparently the “no judging” rule has conditions. Otherwise how would we ever arrive at the understanding that a false prophet is false?

That idea of conditional judgment seems consistent with the Apostle Paul’s confrontation of Peter when he changed how he treated Gentile Christians, and with his confrontation of the church in Corinth for accepting into their fellowship a man living in immorality. Not only did Paul confront the church but he expected them to do the same with the sinful man.

Earlier, in I Corinthians he makes the statement that he has already judged the immoral man. Then this:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (I Cor. 5:9-13; emphasis in the original)

From this process, groups like the Amish and the Catholics practiced shunning and excommunication. Perhaps because of abuses and/or subjective interpretation, those conventions have been discredited. Church discipline seemed to decline.

In its place, we have tolerance. No judging.

But what happened to knowing false teachers by their fruits? What happened to going to a brother who has offended you, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18? How can we ever forgive if we don’t acknowledge offense?

On an ever increasing level, it seems the love we talk about is a brand that actually nullifies justice. But God is a God of love and justice.

His Word teaches correction and reproof along side love and forgiveness.

So maybe we Christians have gone overboard, tolerantly stepping around each other in an effort to avoid boat rocking. Instead, perhaps we should hold onto the sides of the boat and confront sins head on.

It’s not comfortable. It requires soul searching (or log-in-the-eye searching. Search me, oh God, try me, and see if there is any wicked way in me.) It requires confession. It requires letting go of my right to be right, to defend myself, to prove my point. It requires confronting and forgiving. But how true is the latter without the former?

This post originally appeared here in April 2010.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on What Is Judgment?  
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If I Speak With The Tongues Of Men And Of Angels


The_Good_Samaritan008Love is an action, we theists insisted in February 2015. The atheists in our group who responded to the question, What is love, were all saying that love is a feeling.

The difference shocked me. Apparently quite a bit separates our thinking, far more than what we believe about the existence of God. Apparently a Christian’s faith in God (I can’t speak for other theists), is the bedrock for a host of other beliefs: that love should be something we live out and offer to our neighbors, our enemies, our brothers and sisters in the faith; that the life of every human has value, no matter what the size of the body or the intellect; that sin is part of our DNA, part of being human; that judgment awaits; that there is life after life; and many more.

That exchange about love, though, stuck with me. Then last week one of the conferees at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference showed me a project she’s working on. Suffice it to say that as she described the work to me, she said, No one today knows what love is.

She’s right. Our culture has bought into the lie that love is nothing more than an emotion, not a commitment, not an action.

I could end this post right there, except there’s a line in 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love Chapter, that got me to thinking. It’s verse 3: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what about loving being an action? I’d assume that giving everything I own to needy people meant I did love them. And surely surrendering my body to be burned . . . who would do that if someone they loved weren’t benefiting?

I tried to imagine what it would look like for someone to do those sacrificial things and not love. I’m assuming there would be some other motive in play—perhaps self-righteous action intended to impress God or perhaps a church or whoever else might be watching. So even though the person would be giving up possessions, in their mind, they’d be gaining something they value more. It would be a deal, then, a trade off: I’ll do this good thing for these other people I don’t care about so that in turn I’ll get something of value from a higher power.

I think our culture is pushing us into do-gooder mentality. We’re supposed to let Syrian refugees into the US or send money toward the earthquake relief effort in Japan or Ecuador or boycott North Carolinian businesses, not because we love Syrians or Japaneses or Ecuadorians or transgender people. If we did, surely we’d be boycotting all the Muslim nations who behead people who are homosexual.

Our do-gooder mentality is all about us looking like we’re tolerant. Or not tolerant. It’s OK to hate the bigots, and the child molesters and wife beaters and cops who shoot innocent people, at least for those with the do-gooder mentality and not genuine love.

God simply does not think like a do-gooder. He loves while we are yet sinners. Nobody has to clean up their act in order to be good enough for God to save them, and in fact none of us could pull that off. God also doesn’t have a list of acceptable sins—these are the ones He’ll save you from, those others mean you’re too far gone.

I heard a great story on the news the other day. An African-American in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jameel McGee, went to jail for something he didn’t do. Drug possession or selling drugs, I think. Some years later Andrew Collins, the white ex-cop who arrested him, admitted he’d falsified the report. He went to jail for his crimes, but got out and ended up working in the same faith-based employment agency as Jameel who he had wronged.

Jameel said when he got out of prison, he initially wanted to hurt the ex-cop. But that didn’t happen. When they started working together, Andrew said he was wrong and sorry and asked for forgiveness. And that’s precisely what Jameel did because he’s a Christian man: he forgave the formerly corrupt cop. Now here’s the clincher: they have become friends and do speaking engagements together about forgiveness.

Surprising, isn’t it. Forgiving our enemies sounds good when the enemy is at least locked behind bars. But here was a man who loved his enemy—the man standing right in front of him who had “cost him everything.”

There’s love in action.

And the world doesn’t understand it.

Here are a few of the comments to this video (not all taken from the same site):

    * This man must not love and respect himself.

    * Sadly it’s just a sad case of lack of self worth uncle tom syndrome on the part of jameel mcgee.

    * we’d be enemies for life

    * Forgiveness is one thing. But forgiving someone who did sh@@ like that and then becoming FRIENDS???? H### no. Not happening.

    * Well you can keep that kind of peace and love

    * Individuals like this are NOT leaders, THEY are FOLLOWERS. Weak minded without a spine.

The list goes on and on. I’m really shocked, honestly, and this is my post.

Jesus Christ is the dividing line. People who believe in Him can then love like Him. Love is not a gooey feeling or a pie-in-the-sky wish for unknown people or even cash thrown at a problem in an attempt to make it better. All that stuff comes from noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.

True love, the kind that Jesus said was the same as His love for us (John 13:34), will find the wounded stranger, who might actually be an enemy, and put him on our own donkey and take him where he’ll get help, paying extra if necessary. True love forgives shooters who sit in your church service before gunning down your friends and family in the name of racial hatred. True love grasps the hand of the former concentration camp guard in friendship and forgiveness. True love prays for the kidnappers who were responsible for the death of your husband.

True love is not a product of the do-good society. It is the product of God’s true love being replicated in His children.

Published in: on April 21, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Peace Of Christ


christmas-tree-ornament-911705-mIn Colossians Paul admonished the Church to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Apparently, then, the peace of Christ is something different from plain ol’ peace.

When I think of Christ, I’m conscious of God’s forgiveness; the great love He extends to us so that we might be reconciled to Him; the sacrifice He, the Sinless One, paid in order that we might have peace with the Father.

When I think of forgiveness and an end to a broken relationship, some of Jesus’s stories about forgiveness come to mind. One such was about a certain servant who owed an outrageous debt to his master. He begged for more time to pay up, though in reality he could never meet his obligation though he worked his entire life to pay what he owed. His master generously forgave him the entire obligation.

The servant went out and saw another servant who happened to owe him a modest sum. He insisted that he be repaid. The debtor begged for more time, but the forgiven servant refused.

When his master heard about it, he had him punished.

Why? Because he hadn’t apprehended what forgiveness is all about. The reconciliation he experienced with his master should have filled him with such thankfulness, he would want to pay it forward and let others also experience this same kind of bond.

It’s a bond of peace. It’s the end of keeping accounts. No more Peter-ish keeping score: Did I already forgive him seven times? I am not about to forgive one more of his ____. You fill in the blank.

Paul’s entire admonition about peace says this:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

I’ve thought for some time now that the “and be thankful” part seems sort of out of place. But as I began to think about Jesus’s parable, it seems clear: when we are thankful for the forgiveness we received, we are willing to extend forgiveness to others—which is the means by which we appropriate peace with one another.

If we’re holding grudges, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re plotting how to get even, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re harboring resentments, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re paying back evil for evil, we aren’t at peace

Paul says we—believers in Jesus—have been called to peace. In fact that’s precisely what Jesus did:

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Ah, but that’s love, not peace.

Have you ever tried to love someone you were holding a grudge against? Or plotting against, or resenting, or gossiping about or giving the cold shoulder to or the evil eye or whatever behavior you perceived they had given you? Those things are not loving. In truth, love is the gateway to peace in the same way that forgiveness is.

It makes sense. God’s forgiveness of us didn’t happen in a vacuum, separated from His love. Nor did his love and forgiveness fall short as a means to peace with Him. It’s a package deal. We love, we forgive, we live in peace to which we’ve been called.

We are one body, and a body needs to be at peace with itself or there are problems.

Peace is pretty important at Christmas. Relatives who don’t always hang out with each other or even see one another more than once a year, get together, and there can sometimes be tensions. We are tired and busy and many have been traveling and are living out of a suitcase.

We love Christmas, but it can still be stressful.

Enter love and forgiveness, then peace follows.

Published in: on December 11, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Peace On Earth


AdventCandles2 To a large extend the Christmas carols and cards that declare peace on earth or the nativity plays that repeat the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, including the angelic host shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace” have been relegated to the mythology heap. They are nice sentiments reminding us of traditions of old, but there’s no connection to reality.

Further, the words are so familiar, we’ve stopped really listening to them, stopped thinking what exactly they mean. They are part of the Christmas trappings, not something real that’s meant to be believed in the twenty-first century.

Right?

Not at all. Those words, unlike some of the other lyrics in the songs, are straight from Scripture.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

    Glory to God in the highest,
    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased
    .”

(Luke 2:8-14, emphasis added)

Scripture, all of it, is inspired by God. It’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. There are no verses designed to make us feel good during the holidays. There is power in what God says.

Recently our Sunday teacher said something about the passage we know as the Lord’s prayer. He specifically mentioned what comes right after the opening address:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

God has a specific will which is actualized in Heaven. What happens here on earth is a mixed bag, a result of our made-in-God’s-image personhood but our fallen-and-rebellious nature. We are not yet what we will be.

But we are to pray for God’s will here and now.

Christ’s coming has made this prayer possible. With His birth came glory to God and peace to those reconciled to God.

Like all the gifts of God, however, they aren’t dispensed with a wave of His magic wand. Peace first starts with us confessing our rebellion against God because the true absence of peace is our declaration of war against God.

Oh, few people actually say, I’m going to war against God. Most do so through subtle means—ignoring Him, His Word, His way. It’s really quite passive aggressive. A few declare war on God by asserting His nonexistence. Whichever, all of us like sheep have gone astray. That’s us, at enmity with God. He says, Over here. This way. Follow me. And we say, I didn’t hear anything, did you? Nope. Nothing at all. Probably there’s no one there. Besides, I didn’t want to go that way. I want to go this way.

When we confess that we’ve gone our own way, and turn to follow Him by trusting in the fact that Jesus has paid for our rebellion and we are forgiven because of His shed blood, then we become those men with whom He is well pleased. We become those who enjoy the peace the angels trumpeted.

Too many people assume Jesus’s coming was supposed to put an end to wars and domestic violence and bickering and hatred and prejudice and murders and terrorism and arguments and all forms of non-peaceful behavior. In reality, if all people believed in Him, that’s exactly what would happen. God would give all people His forgiveness, which prompts us to turn around and forgive those who offend us.

And if all people were praying, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all people were offering themselves to God to be instruments of that peace, then we would see peace on earth in all its completeness.

The reality is, so many are still straying like sheep. They haven’t sought out the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls. They haven’t humbled themselves before Him and come to Him to be gathered in His arms, to be carried in His bosom.

So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men, Romans 12:18 says. It’s not up to us so many times. If it were up to me, I’d sit down with the fighters in Syria and tell them about Jesus, the One who sacrificed His life for them. I’d tell the abortion doctors about how God values life so that they’d stop raining terror down on the smallest, most helpless babies.

So far as it depends on me, I’d bring world peace. But of course, those things don’t depend on me and I can do little to affect change.

Nevertheless, there are things I can do—like praying for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Like loving my neighbor and forgiving those who misuse and abuse and badmouth me.

After all, peace with God puts all the stuff I’m inclined to fight about into perspective.

Published in: on December 10, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Real Secret To Happiness


For the most part, people want to be happy. In fact the US Constitution says the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right given by God. Nevertheless, happiness seems elusive.

Some say happiness is appreciating what you have, others that is is to stop caring about anything. Some say happiness is surrounding yourself with family and friends, and some economist theorizes that embracing the rat race–not escaping it–makes us happier.

I heard this from my former pastor some time ago.

A truck driver stopped at a diner for lunch. Three bikers, covered with tats and piercings and dressed in studded leather, watched him take a seat at the counter. When the trucker’s food came, the bikers left their table and sauntered up to the counter.

One grabbed up the trucker’s burger. “Just the way I like it,” he said, and took a big bite.

The second scooped up the trucker’s fries. “I need a little something to snack on,” he said.

The trucker glared at the two men downing his food but said nothing.

The third man swooped up the trucker’s cola. “I’m a tad thursty,” he said, and gulped down half the drink.

Slowly the truck driver rose. He motioned to the waitress for his check, followed her to the register, and paid.

As he walked from the diner, the bikers howled with laughter as they finished off his lunch. “Not much of a man, is he,” the first one said to the waitress.

“I don’t know about being much of a man, but he’s not much of a truck driver, that’s for sure. He just ran over three bikes.”

Some people think happiness lies in good old revenge. Part of me likes payback, too. It makes me feel justice has been served, and I like that.

Unless I’m the one due justice. The times I mess up, the last thing I want is justice. When it’s me waiting for the sentence to fall, I want one thing–forgiveness.

Believe it or not, forgiveness is the secret to happiness, and not just receiving forgiveness but giving it out as well.

As I’ve written here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in the past, we all stand in need of forgiveness–hence the adage, Nobody’s perfect.

We can rationalize our sins as quirks or foibles or character flaws. We can promise we’ll do better, we’ll make things right some day, we’ll compensate with acts of kindness and generosity. We’ll try harder. And we hope it’s enough–that the people in our lives won’t get sick of us or tired of waiting for us to get our act together.

But honestly, we give up on ourselves from time to time. So we hide out–in work or sex or a bottle. Of course that puts us in need of more forgiveness, and the burden becomes heavier.

God has provided the forgiveness we need.

The reality is, God knew all this, loved us while we were in the midst of the mess we were making, and gave His Son Jesus to pay for every lawbreaking, rebellious thought, attitude, or action in our lives. Nothing for you to do, God says. Jesus took care of your debt. You just confess your sins, and He is faithful and righteous to forgive them all (1 John 1:9).

So that’s the magic word: forgiveness.

When we receive forgiveness, we have the impetus to go out and forgive others.

Rather than living with debilitating bitterness and desires for revenge, we can be as free from the wrong others do as if we sat in their trial and saw the judge hand down a just sentence against them.

Why? Because God said He would repay.

If they confess their sin, then Jesus’s blood will be their payment. If they cling to their rebellion, they will face ultimate judgment.

My holding a grudge? I’m the only loser. My repaying evil for evil? I’m the loser.

Look at Christians who survived horrible things and forgave those who caused them–Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Gracia Burnham, Kent Whitaker (author of Murder by Family, see “The Compelling Quality of Love”). Their lives of joy and service speak volumes. They reaped ten-fold, and counting, the benefits of their forgiveness.

Who wants to be happy? Pretty much everyone. The real secret to happiness is accepting God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and then forgiving those who are just as imperfect as we are.

This post first appeared here in July 2012.

Published in: on November 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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