A Play by Play of Forgiveness

Misty Moring

Forgiveness is not some cosmic brain dump.

Neither is forgiveness an arbitrary scribbling over of the past.

While it’s wonderful to relish in the relief of God’s forgiveness toward us, it makes sense that should know exactly how it works, because God commands us to forgive as we have been forgiven. (Eph. 4:32)

One of my favorite Psalms actually gives us a play by play description of forgiveness. Forgive the simpleness of this short Bible study. I promise it’s nourishment for your soul!

Check out Psalm 103:1-5

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). This is a list of the benefits of knowing God. But in truth, none of the benefits of knowing our Creator-Father would exist aside from the forgiveness through Christ that enables us to reconcile with and have a relationship with our majestic God.

Fittingly, David starts with the benefit of forgiveness.

  1. Forgives all your iniquities: Here God pardons sin. Pardon is another word for absolution. As far as God is concerned, sin is gone. (Check out verse 12 of the same Psalm.) We say things casually like “pardon me” and hope that before he’s taken another two steps, the guy we just ran into with our grocery cart has forgotten what we look like. That’s pardon.
  2. Heals all your diseases: Okay, so diseases here is the English word, and it works but doesn’t cover all the ground of the original Hebrew. This word is comparing the effects of sin in our lives with disease. Not only does God forgive and pardon our sin, but he restores favor (or health). He puts us back in good standing, in good health. All his right anger toward us is replaced with favor.
  3. Redeems your life from the pit: This word means to ransom or avenge. To this point, God’s grace toward us has taken place between us and himself. However, the moment we sinned, we signed an agreement with the devil. We chose to do things his way (“all wrong doing is sin” James 5:17, “if you’re not for me your against me” Matt. 12:30) The moment we sinned, Satan had rightful claim to our souls, but God (through Jesus) steps in here. He avenges our wrong and ransoms us from certain death.
  4. Crowns you with steadfast love and faithfulness: Think of a crown of glorious jewels encircling your head. Then, imagine being encircled by a protective wall. This word “crowned” means to surround like a protective wall, with steadfast love and faithfulness. Not only do these wonderful attributes adorn you, they surround and protect you.
  5. Satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s: Within the comfort and protection of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, ransomed from evil’s vengeance, in perfect health and completely pardoned, all our longings and desires are satisfied. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we realize all that has been done for us, it delights us! It fulfills us. It is enough–more than enough. All of our longings, desires, hopes, dreams and needs have been met in the benefits of God!

How to be Served

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with beholding-his-splendor-111076-mGod something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Phil 2:6-7

Most of the time, when challenged to think about biblical servanthood, my mind charges into a list of opportunities: what can I do? Who has God called me to serve? What are my gifts and who is most at need of comfort, encouragement, prayer—anything?

Of course, I can list a myriad of ways that I fall short—things I’m not doing. And, I’m grateful the Lord allows me to serve others in many ways. But, as I mulled over being a SERVANT sister, the Holy Spirit trickled thoughts into my mind, like tiny cleansing rain drops, offering me a fresh perspective on servanthood. I distinctly heard Him say, Who is serving you? Whose kindness and generosity are you benefiting from?

He led me to a verse that I’ve skimmed over many times, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me: to the one who orders his way rightly, I will show the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Maybe there’s more to “ordering my way rightly” than simply doing as much as I can for other people—more to service than serving.

This last week, I went through my normal routine: cooking and cleaning in my home, volunteer work at the hospital, laundry, helping at church, praying for others. Occasionally, these things inspire me to pat myself on the back. Sometimes they even leave a little chip on my shoulder when I think I’m doing more than my share of serving.

But, what if biblical servanthood is equally expressed through a humility cultivated by knowing how well I am served? What if it includes gracefully acknowledging and receiving service?

I thought about who serves me:

My husband who works everyday to provide for our family

The kind lady on the phone who helped me work out a banking issue

The friend who texted back immediately when I cried of being lonely

The Starbucks guy who gave me my coffee for free after I waited in line

The man who came to fix my washing machine

The humorous cashier at the grocery store whose smile brightened my day

More than any of those and certainly more significant than any act of service I have ever performed, is the example Christ set in His service of me. Often, I forget to look at His sacrifice in that context. I fail to be grateful that He still serves me by continually cleansing me from my sin and always interceding for me before the Father.

Father, make me a servant like Jesus. Open my eyes to see and receive the goodness of others with gratitude and humility. And above all, thank you for Jesus’ willingness to be a servant and to save me. 

 This was first published on the delightful website http://www.servantsisters.org

Book Review, Shades of Mercy

By the way, Guys! As you read this review, keep in mind who you know that might like a copy of this book. I have four copies to give away. The first four people to message me, or comment here requesting a book, will get a copy. Merry Christmas!

A story about racial tensions tosses most of us back more than, “Four score and seven years ago,” to a time when, “Our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

But that’s too far.

A handful of us, some Okies like myself, remember the stories in our state history books about the land runs and the Trail of Tears.

But that’s still too far.

Not many of us think about racial tension and inequality in generations so recent we can still touch the lines upon their faces; some of them haven’t even grayed. Shades of Mercy, by Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira, sheds light upon those obscured years.

Set in the 1950s, Shades of Mercy, is a refreshingly sweet romance, grounded in the gritty truth of harsh farm life in rural Maine. Fifteen-year-old, Mercy, is of well respected stock, working diligently as the “son her father never had”, on their successful farm in Watsonville, Maine. Her family loves her and her parents are devout Christians raising their daughter to have strong biblical morals, and especially to have a respect for all human life, no matter what their race. So it’s only a minor problem that she’s fallen in love with Mick, a young Maliseet Indian.

At least, it’s only a minor problem in Mercy’s imagination.

The Maliseet are marginalized in Watsonville. On the land of their own fore fathers, they now live on Hungry Hill, or an area more appropriately identified as the city dump. In tattered shelters, shacks really, whole families live hand to mouth and many of the men have dissolved into drunken depression. Among these is Mick’s family.

Mercy’s father, Mr. Pop, is the lone, white farmer who generously offers work to the Maliseet men and pays them fair wages. Often Mercy is allowed to drive the pickup to Hungry Hill to pick up Mick and his relatives and bring them to Mr. Pop’s farm to work. On those special days, she and Mick quietly nurture their relationship, hiding it as best they can, knowing that the entire town will frown upon their love.

The blanket of secrecy is yanked out from under them when Marjorie Carmichael, the older sister of Mercy’s best friend, runs away with her Maliseet boyfriend, Glenn. Mr. Carmichael is livid and blames the entire Maliseet tribe for the disappearance of his daughter. Tempers simmer, those who had inklings of Mercy and Mick’s romance begin to mention it publicly, drawing them into the conflict. Then, Mr. Carmichael accuses Mick of a horrible crime.

The only ones willing to defend Mick are Mercy’s family. Fortunately, her father’s brother, Roger, is a capable lawyer, deeply involved in promoting equal rights for the Maliseet. While Mick waits in jail, Mercy’s family works desperately to vindicate him. Mercy herself struggles to cling to Mick’s promises of “someday” when they will be able to be together publicly, without shame.

Shades of Mercy is a touching story, though personally, I feel it lacks the depth to fully engage an adult audience. Mick and Mercy’s romance is portrayed very well for what it is – a teenage romance. The dialogue is a stilted and awkward between them sometimes, just like two high schoolers would be today. At one point, they communicate by passing notes between them, but instead of writing to each other, they draw pictures of woodchucks burrowing underground. Accurate for a youthful crush; perhaps not so entertaining for an adult reader.

Lustrea is a native of Maine and does a superb job of orally painting the countryside. Her vivid descriptions left me actually feeling the chill of Maine’s winter months. Occasionally, these descriptive scenes, like the family’s attendance of the annual festival and fair, seem a little irrelevant to the story, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.

The resolution of the central conflict, Mick’s imprisonment and the secrecy of his and Mercy’s romance, seems unmemorable. The man Mick is accused of putting into a coma, perhaps on his death bed, wakes up with full consciousness of the incident and vindicates Mick. Shortly after, the young Maliseet is released, he and Mercy are restored. Since the whole town has come to know their feelings, and Mercy’s father has always vouched for the Maliseet’s equality, they kiss publicly.

The Indian Rights Council plays a background role in the story. Throughout the book, Mr. Pop and his brother attend Council meetings and push for the Maliseet’s rights. However, when the story concludes, the reader is left with only hope for a righteous outcome.

Shades of Mercy, kept me entertained, though by the final chapter I was ready for the happy ending and a more complicated story. I think the book will be most enjoyable for a young, teenage audience.

Hell is the Place of Justice

I’m not a fan of justice. That makes me sound amoral and seems to set me at odds with the Jesus I call, Savior. I submit to you that Jesus was no trumpeter of justice either. In fact, I think justice reigns in hell.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I think we have a problem here.

Do you remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? An indebted servant was brought to the king to pay his debt. Fully unable to redeem himself, the king ordered the servant to be sold along with his wife and family. The servant groveled before his master, begging to be given one more chance. “Please, please be patient and I will pay you back every single penny.”

How the servant must have staggered at the response. I imagine that he had to be helped up off the ground, so astounded was he by the mercy extended toward him.

“I forgive you all your debt. You owe me nothing.” However, his good mood was short-lived when he came upon a fellow servant who owed him a meager amount. “YOU OWE ME!”

When the tables were flipped and the first servant was in a position of power, he demanded justice. 

Consider this equation.

INJUSTICE  = JUSTICE

There’s no solution. For the most part, society operates on a system of justice. Crimes deserve punishment. Debts require payment. There’s a sense of getting even in justice. It’s like a scale. If justice is meted out in equal measure to an injustice, then we are pleased. But do we really want to spend the rest of our lives struggling to balance the equation? Is it desirable to constantly be teetering back and forth between good and evil?

What we really long for is come to a full balance of justice. We would love to land fully on the side of justice such that our fears of being offended or of being the victim of injustice are never realized. What can we apply to injustice to equal justice?

INJUSTICE + MERCY = JUSTICE

The cross of Christ was God’s ultimate display of injustice and God’s ultimate display of mercy. The consequence is JUSTICE, a justice turned on its head. The perfect man, Jesus Christ was unjustly punished for man’s offenses toward God. The only justice that God could give man, prior to the cross, was hell. And so, God applied mercy to our sins. In one action, God applied injustice to Jesus and mercy to mankind. Now, we live in the shadow of justice.

God has been paid in full for all our sins. Like the first servant in the story, man has been redeemed from his debt in a cosmic display of mercy.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Justice has been turned on its head. God’s expression of mercy changes what justice is for us. It is now JUST for us to show MERCY, for that is what was shown toward us. However, in our world, this kind of mercy leaves Christians looking like a doormat. We can only let this mercy alter our understanding of justice as we walk in humility. To live justly, we must walk humbly with our God who teaches us mercy. 

Does Mercy Truly Triumph Over Judgement?

Talk of injustice brings to mind apartheid, racism and lawful matters. It makes us think of courts and authority and right versus wrong. When a hurricane is hurling toward our doorsteps, we usually don’t stop to wonder about the justice of its attack.

My husband and I didn’t respond to Hurricane Sandy with the prescribed panic and preparations. I didn’t buy any extra batteries, water or canned food. We didn’t board up our windows or batten down hatches. In fact, the only thing I was concerned about was whether or not we would lose power.

During the freakish summer storm that caught most of the east coast by surprise, we lost power for about 2 days. With heat indices topping 110 degrees, we lay motionless in our basement complaining mildly. It’s a terrible inconvenience to not be able to make my morning coffee, dry my hair, do the laundry or watch TV. So as Sandy came, I dreaded another few dimly lit days.

Sandy rattled our windows and threatened to toss the neighbor’s trees into our roof, all day long. Suddenly I thought of a little old maI see almost everyday on my dog walks. He sits serenely on a wooden bench in the shade beside the public library. Usually, he is surrounded by newspapers and a couple of small, flattened boxes. He’s always dressed in the same brown, mid-weight coat, black pants and plain shoes. I don’t think he speaks English, because when I nod politely and murmur, “Hello,” he just looks simply back at me.

What startles me every time is the shine in his eyes. Blackest black, they glisten and glint in the morning light. The sparkle belies what I wonder about his situation: is he homeless, hungry, hot or cold? Does anyone know he’s out here everyday and does he have any family?

One quick dash to our mailbox that afternoon, proved that Sandy was ushering in winter. The temperature had dropped to low 40s and wind whipped, slapped and stung as it played pingpong with raindrops. I wondered, Is he out there in this? Was he out there this summer?

The next morning, my dog and I hustled down our usual route past the library, and there he stood in the narrow doorway, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets, elbows locked defensively at his sides. His chin was down as if he could disappear inside his coat collar.

Impulsively, I ran down the hill toward the library and pulled what little cash I had from my pockets. “Here,” I said. “Please, go get something warm to eat or drink.”

At first he wouldn’t take the money from my hands, but I stood for a second, really wondering what to do. He didn’t answer me either. Finally, both brittle cold hands wrapped around my own, and cupped the money then slid away, concealing the bills. I touched his arm and said, “God bless you.” Then hurried away.

I was fortunate to show the man mercy, but what about justice? Is it just that I will finish my walk, shed my layers and curl up on the couch beside a husband who loves me? Is it just that even if he manages to get a hot meal and a pair of gloves, tomorrow he’ll be right where I saw him today? Is it just?

That day, my heart began to simmer in my chest. I wondered helplessly, at first, What could I possibly do? The next day, I got a sweet letter from the child we sponsor through Compassion International. Innocently, she asked about my life, but what could I reply?

Is it just that she is an orphan? Is it just that her lot in life is to scrap and save and rely on mercy just to live; while I enjoy variety in my food, advanced education, warmth and relative comfort?

“He has shown thee oh man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

It’s just like the Lord to leave me without excuses. Through the volunteer coordinate from another organization, I recently learned about a group called FACETS that reaches out to the homeless specifically. Starting in just a few weeks, they will begin a special program to prevent hypothermia among the homeless in our county. I called immediately and was put to work the next day.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Despite the social urge to do something about these injustices, judgement cannot reconcile innate discrepancies. Romans 12:1 tells us that God has shown us great mercy. To live out this mercy, to be a conduit from God’s heart to an unjust world, this will triumph.