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!
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The Problem With “I Did It My Way”

I choose My Way. Words on old wooden board.

I’ve been haunted recently by a fresh perspective of the Gospel. Don’t worry, that’s a perfectly fair use of the word which dictionary.com defines as: “preoccupied, as with an emotion, memory, or idea; obsessed.” So, I’m perfectly happy to have this Gospel ghost invading my thoughts, permeating the atmosphere of my mind.

That doesn’t mean that my mind is completely settled and at peace though. No, instead I’ve come to realize how poorly I’ve assimilated this Good News into my daily life. We’ve been told that the Gospel must get from our head into our hearts, but I think it’s more truthful that the Gospel must rule in both places—occupy both head and heart simultaneously to do us any real good. Otherwise, it may affect our destiny but it won’t change our day-to-day.

You see, since I said “yes” to Jesus at seven years old, I’ve been doing my best to live for him. But, while most of my life has been a valiant effort to please and honor God, it has also been a belligerent rejection of his unrealistic mercy, affection, love and provision. Ultimately, I’ve gotten stuck on the hamster wheel of “Oops, sorry God,” to, “I’ll do better; try harder,” to, “Thanks for giving me eternal life,” to, “See how pretty and shiny my life is now?” and back to, “Oops, sorry God. I’ll do better.” Then, it’s back to work on how best to manage my sin, get my behaviors (the external and obvious sins) under control so that I can go back to being a happy, successful Christian quietly humming, “I Did It My Way.”

So, God’s been relentlessly kind in pointing this out to me through various excellent books: Craving Grace, by Ruthie Delk; Waking Up, by Ted Dekker and of course, the Bible. Now, if you’re interested in joining me on this journey, you’d be wise to read both Delk and Dekker’s books cover to cover. I recommend doing that with the Bible too, but it’s helpful to start with a story that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. So, let’s look at a lesser-known story—the story of Amaziah, king of Judah, in 2 Chronicles 25.

Young Amaziah, barely 30 years old, was a newbie to ruling a country. But the Bible says right off the bat that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. (If you know anything about the ancient kings of Judah and Israel, you know that’s not a common characteristic.)

But even though Amaziah (like those of us who call Christ Lord) was obedient to God mostly and desired to do what was right, he still had the human hankering to “do it my way.” Just before heading out to war, he gathered his troops and then decided he needed a few more. So he paid 100,000 men from Israel to join his army. God quickly dispatched a messenger:

“O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or cast down.”

This was Amaziah’s first opportunity and he triumphed. He quickly released the Israelite soldiers and headed into battle confident God’s way was best. God delivered. Amaziah and his army conquered their enemies and took much spoil. But suddenly, Amaziah’s pride at his success took a turn for the worse.

“I Did It My Way,” must have been playing in his head too, as he took the idols of his conquered foe and set them up at home. Another messenger arrived saying, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” (Good question!)

But Amaziah replied angrily, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop!”

Let’s stop here. Can you see yourself? I see me as clearly as if a polished mirror lay between the pages of my Bible.

How often have I sought to obey and Lord, been successful—even acquired the admiration of other Christians—only to pat myself on the back (discreetly) and think, “I’ve got this good-God thing down!”

Don’t deny it. It happens to every. single. one. of us. The telling point is what we do next. God faithfully sends a reminder to each of us, in every situation (The Holy Spirit is called the counselor for a reason!) to pull us back from the devastating affects of our own way.

What next? Will you shout (with the memory of your most recent victory playing in your head) that, “I’m doing okay doing it my way!” Or, will you quickly see again the cross, the Good News, the Gospel—the resurrection—and realize that every single victory is from the Lord. Will you realize that if you adopt the idol of your most recent success you will quickly find yourself in the position of your defeated foe—guarded by something that cannot deliver or save?

Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

Clean Forever

river-scene-2-1413837-mHow often do you take a shower? Hopefully more than once in a lifetime.

How often do you cleanse yourself from sin? How do you do that anyway?

There are some pretty scary verses in the Bible that demand that we be cleansed from sin. According to 2 Corinthians 6:17 and 7:1, unless we are cleansed from sin, we cannot take full advantage of God’s awesome promises. In 2 Corinthians 6:16,18 Paul spells out several of God’s promises, enough to us really excited:

I will live among them

I will walk among them

I will be their God

They will be my people

I will welcome you

I will be your Father

You will be my sons and daughters

Sounds great right? Until you turn the page and find the caveat at the beginning of chapter seven: “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.”

It’s that little word cleanse that scares me. I know that God is holy; how can I ever be pure enough, clean enough, pure and virtuous enough to lay hold of those awesome promises? I want to know God as Father, to be welcomed by Him and to walk and talk with Him. But even if I’m good and clean enough for one day, what about tomorrow when I mess up again?

I wonder if ancient Israel dealt with such fears and guilt under the sacrificial system. After all, the priest constantly offered sacrifices and burnt offerings. Every Israelite knew they would break God’s law again, but they also knew there would always be one more lamb slaughtered for their sins. Day after day, week after week, year after year, they could walk away from the temple confident that they had cleansed themselves from sin in the blood of a lamb. God washed away their filth in an animal’s blood and once again they walked in God’s favor. All of God’s promises for protection, deliverance, health and provision were theirs.

So what about now? How do we cleanse ourselves? How can we be comforted in knowing that today’s sin and tomorrow’s sin is washed away as completely as yesterday’s sin, so that we can claim the sweet and precious promises of God?

As a whole, in the modern church, we act as if we are cleansed at salvation—that glorious, single moment when we prayed and accepted Christ’s payment for our sins. But then, we must keep ourselves clean. We stand from our knees determined to be better, purer, more God-honoring, cleaner people with set-apart lives. But uh-oh, merely 30 seconds later, or maybe it’s 30 minutes or 30 days—but sooner or later we feel filthy, tarnished and unfit all over again. For us, there’s no behavior, no lamb or other sacrifice or ritual we can perform to make us feel clean again. Are we doomed?

The word cleanse in 2 Corinthians 7:1 is katharizo. It means “to clean, cure, free from sin and guilt; to purify.” It is actually used over and over again throughout the Bible and many times in the Gospels.

The interesting thing about the use of the word katharizo in the Gospels is that it nearly always refers to something Jesus did. Specifically, this is the word used when Jesus healed lepers. Cleansing is an action performed by Jesus Christ. 

So how then can we “cleanse ourselves” as 2 Corinthians instructs, since we are obviously hopeless to keep ourselves clean? We cleanse ourselves from earthly things and sins, just as the ancient Hebrews did: we come again with the Lamb to the Father’s throne. No, Jesus doesn’t die again, His sacrifice was once for all, supremely more powerful than the blood of bulls and goats. (Hebrews 10:1-10)

When we come to the throne with Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice, the Father again—and over and over again for all our past, present and future failures—sees Christ’s sacrifice and deems us clean. The only way we do this, when we fail, is to anchor ourselves again in the knowledge that we ARE clean, because of Jesus.

We cleanse ourselves not by working to “stay clean” but by repeatedly coming, grateful and humble to the cleaner.

Below are several more verses that bear this out. I encourage you to look them up, dig The Word yourself and discover your ever-compete cleanliness.

Revelation 7:14, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 9:12-14, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 5:26,

Titus 2:14, Hebrews 9:14, 1 John 1:7, 9

How Christmas Can Tear You Away From Christ

christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mThere is a widening fissure between the modern American Christmas and biblical theology.
And while I agree with the movement to “put Christ back in Christmas”, that’s not what I’m getting at. I am concerned with the fundamental distortion of grace played out in gift giving.

Most of us can define the word “gift” easy enough. Dictionary.com puts it like this: “something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” Biblically, this is described in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our salvation, our righteousness is a free gift—unearned—to us from God the Father through Jesus.

The first problem arises with good old Saint Nick. At the beginning of December, or perhaps depending on the amount of leverage needed to coerce good behavior, we begin telling our children that the only way Santa will favor their stocking is if they are good.

But wait a minute, I thought Santa was bringing gifts! When did this become remuneration?

The misconception continues far beyond the Santa myth of childhood. We bribe our teenagers with better Christmas gifts if they get good grades, abide by curfew or don’t gripe about their chores.

Now, I’m not suggesting we do away with all the festive manipulation, but perhaps we need to change our vocabulary. If a gift is necessarily free and unearned, then we must term our holiday exchanges as just that—exchanges—good gifts for good behavior.

Moving on from all that, and assuming we’ve glibly acknowledged the truth but will most likely continue wrapping up “gifts” to place under the tree, let’s consider for a moment the equality and fairness of such a thing.

I remember as a kid overhearing my parents and grandparents discuss the ideas they had for my sisters and me. There were always careful calculations to ensure absolute fairness. If my presents cost $50, then by all means they must find enough things for my sister to make sure the same amount is spent on each child. I think once or twice this became such a challenge that they simply purchased gift cards of equal amounts and told us to pick our own presents.

Dictionary.com doesn’t have much to say about the fairness phenomenon, but Jesus did. In Matthew 20, he told a story about a land owner who sent workers into his vineyard. Throughout the day he hired more laborers, but at the end of the day, he paid them all equally, regardless of the number of hours each worked. I love how he concludes the story:

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matt. 20:13-15)

In this case, the owner was paying wages for services. To the workers he first hired, he paid the agreed upon wage—they earned every cent. But, to the last ones hired, he paid them what they earned and included a gift—money they had not earned. The master administered justice to the first group and grace to the second group. Neither received injustice.

When we tell our children that we buy them gifts for Christmas and at the same time tell them they must be good, subconsciously but not so subtly, we are teaching them that gifts must be earned. If then we say the “gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”—does that mean they must earn His favor too?

When we play tit-for-tat at Christmas, what does that do to generosity? What does that teach our children that a gift really is?

This mentality is not something we can simply nod our heads about and resolve to do things a bit differently next year. By blurring the lines between gifts and wages, generosity and fairness, justice and mercy, we make it infinitely harder for our children to understand the sovereign, merciful, holy justice of God. If we aren’t careful, our distorted Christmas theology can lead our kids right into the arms of a works-based salvation and a universalist perspective of redemption.