Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

An admission of guilt

Read: Leviticus 4-6, Matthew 25:1-30

I have a very early memory of my younger sister and I being in a convenience store with my father. As we were walking down a row lined with candy, my sister grabbed a gumball (shaped like a football—she remembers the incident) and, before my dad could do anything about it, popped it in her mouth and chomped down. I’m quite certain my father was a solid mix between livid and embarrassed. He knelt down in front of us and explained to us both that what had just happened was theft and there were consequences for it. We were marched up to the front counter and my sister made to apologize to the store clerk and pay for the consumed goods. We both learned a hard lesson that day. Sin is sin whether we realise it or not, and there are always consequences, even when the offense wasn’t intentional.

Today’s reading in Leviticus is all about the lengthy process required when unintentional sin is brought to light.

If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty.

Leviticus 4:27 (NIV)

Sounds a little harsh. How can a person be guilty of they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong? Like us kids in the candy store, whether we were aware or not, to consume goods before purchase is wrong. Claiming ignorance did not alter the fact that a theft had occurred—no matter how insignificant it seemed.

It is my understanding that in the Philippines, it is legal to kill/murder someone if they are suspected of being involved in the drug trade. Say someone from the Philippines then comes to Canada or the US and they see a drug sale going down and decide to take matters into their own hands. Bodies are left on the street and the offender feels as though they have done their new country a great service. But drug dealer or not, to kill another human being is very illegal and there are some very serious consequences for the crime. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get that person off the hook.

In Leviticus, God explained this concept to His people. You may have unintentionally sinned, but once you are made aware of your guilt, you are accountable and must take certain steps to ensure your atonement.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 (NIV)

It all seems a rather hopeless. Until you keep reading.

and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24 (NIV)

We have all sinned. But we also have all been justified. Like the Israelites, all we must do is admit our guilt before the Lord.

1 John 1:9

Our situation isn’t hopeless. It’s quite the opposite, really. Unlike the Israelites, our sacrifice has already been made once and for all. We need only to make our admission and accept the grace.

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

Wonderful results

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have wonderful results in all of our endeavors? It would be fantastic if we could expect great success in everything that we do. Now, there’s nothing wrong with optimism, but let’s face it, in this life, wonderful results are hardly going to be the outcome of every situation. But James speaks of having wonderful results in one particular area—prayer.

If you’ve had every prayer answered in the way you wanted it answered when you wanted it answered, congratulations. You are a far better person than I. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t had to deal with the disappointment of unanswered prayer. I’d love to be able to give you the key to having all of your desires fulfilled, but I can’t. What I can do, though, is try to shed some light and help us all be a little more effective when it comes to prayer.

The ladies Bible study in my church has spent the better part of a year going through the book The Master is Calling by Lynne Hammond. Her main scripture in the book is a part of our reading today.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.

James 5:16b (NLT)

Earnest is often translated as fervent, but even that doesn’t give us the full grasp of the idea that James presents. According to Hort and Mayor, earnest can best be translated to inwrought prayer. In other words, prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Longer, louder prayers aren’t what get us answers. Praying through the guidance of the Holy Spirit does.

But let’s not forget the first part of that verse.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

James 5:16a (NLT)

We all like the idea of earnest prayer being full of great power and having wonderful results, but I can pretty much guarantee that we’re not as keen to be confessing our sins to each other. This isn’t even the first time answered prayer and forgiveness have been mentioned together.

Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.

Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)

Sin is the barrier between our prayer and the answer to it—whether it’s our own sin or the sin of another that needs to be forgiven. We might see a lot more of those wonderful results if we’d first take the time to humble ourselves, ask forgiveness, and offer forgiveness rather than praying longer and louder in the hope that God will hear us over the cacophony of our disobedience.

There is great powerful available to us and wonderful results waiting on the other sie. But we need to get over ourselves first. Admit when we’ve been wrong. Accept others when they’ve been wrong. When we open ourselves up to each other we can then open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit. And only then will we see those wonderful results.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 29-31, James 5

Pardon me once

When my eldest niece was young and she wanted to be excused, she’d asked to be pardoned. Twice. “Pardon me. Pardon me.” Someone told her that she only needed to say pardon me once. Then next time she needed to be excused, she put into practice what she’d been told. “Pardon me once. Pardon me once.”

If you’re the one in the wrong who needs to be pardoned, you only need to ask God’s forgiveness once. We almost always look at forgiveness as something that God does strictly for our benefit. We know that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice in our place. But as much as forgiveness is for our sake, it’s for God’s sake as well.

I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

When someone commits a wrong against you, you have two options: you can forgive or you can hold a grudge. The only benefit to the latter is that you can feel self-righteous by holding this fault over the person who committed it against you. But by refusing forgiveness, you are effectually cutting off that relationship from the root and preventing it from ever being able to grow.

Harbouring unforgiveness keeps that offense in front of you and, when allowed to fester, it will make you bitter. Like a weed in a garden left unchecked, it will propagate to other areas and choke out anything good. Unforgiveness forces us to look at a person and see their faults first. Everything they say or do—good or bad—goes through the filter of their sin. No relationship can ever grow or even move forward unless there is forgiveness and acceptance of it.

More than it affects the person at fault, unforgiveness, if left unchecked, can ruin the one holding on to it.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

So when God forgives us, for His own sake as much as ours, He forgets what ever happened. He has to. If He were to remember and keep record of all our wrongdoings, forgiveness in the future would be impossible to offer. In order to remain the God who forgives, God has to blot out our sins, destroy every record that it ever happened.

When we forgive others, three things happen: we release ourselves from being bound by unforgiveness, we release the offender from their punishment, and we take away the ability from anyone else to convict that person of their sin.

This is the example God has put before us. We only have to ask to be pardoned once. For His sake, God cannot withhold forgiveness, nor can He keep any record of our wrongdoing. That is to our benefit. And, if God has done all of this for us, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone who asks it of us?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 43-44, Colossians 2

Defender

I’m not a hermit. Sometimes I wish I was. Because, if I were a hermit, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to deal with people. Let’s face it, sometimes people aren’t the most fun to deal with. But what is life without them?

I mess up. A lot. My neurological makeup is such that I miss out on a lot of social cues and conversational intricacies. As a result, I have been told I often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Or I’ll say the right thing in the wrong way. Or I say nothing at all and come across as a complete jerk. More often than not, I don’t even know I’ve done it unless someone close to me points it out.

Neurological atypicalities aside, I often find myself alone. Close friends have been difficult to come by and even family isn’t always aware or understanding of my abnormalities. I feel alone.

That’s why this verse in Job stood out to me today.

You must defend my innocence, O God, since no one else will stand up for me.

Job 17:3 (NLT)

So what does it mean for God to defend me, stand up for me?

The Lord is for me, so I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
I will look in triumph at those who hate me
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in people.

Psalm 118:6-8 (NLT)

Even in my dark places, when I feel completely alone, God is still there. With me.

Even though I may feel like the entire world is against me, God is still there. For me.

If I am wrong, He will forgive me. If I am innocent, He will defend me.

Though the words and actions of people around me may hurt, they can have no eternal effect on my spirit. Those people and their words cannot take God, my defender, from me.

People have always failed and will always fail. But the Lord will not. In those times when we struggle in our relationships, we can put our trust in God knowing that He will remain sure even when everything else may not.

He is for me; He will help me.

Daily Bible reading: Job 16-18, Acts 9:1-22

Opportunity knocks

OPPORTUNITY: Fit or convenient time; a time favorable for the purpose; suitable time combined with other favorable circumstances

Opportunity sounds like a good thing to me. Who wouldn’t want a time favourable for a purpose? Who wouldn’t want favourable circumstances?

Many people, though, through the misguidance of others or through their own ignorance aren’t even aware of the greatest opportunity that will ever be offered on this side of eternity.

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by crucifying him. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this to give the people of Israel an opportunity to turn from their sins and turn to God so their sins would be forgiven.

Acts 5:30-31 (NLT)

Jesus died to give us an opportunity—a suitable time combined with favourable circumstances—to turn from our sins and turn to God so we can be forgiven. When is that opportune time? Right now. It is always right now.

For God says,

“At just the right time I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)

Today is the day of salvation. Today. Right now. This moment. For one reason or another, there are a great many people who believe that they must wait to receive salvation. That they have to somehow make themselves better in order to be even offered the gift. Nothing could be further from the truth! The gift has already been offered. The opportunity given. The only thing that can prevent anyone from receiving the gift is themselves by not reaching out and accepting it.

Too many people have made salvation far more complicated than it really is.

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 (NLT)

Can it get any more simple than that? Stop waiting for the right time. The right time is now! Jesus is waiting for you with open arms in whatever state you’re in at this very moment. Go answer the door because opportunity is knocking.

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Revelation 3:20 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Esther 4-6, Acts 5:17-42

Hack a hole

Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.

Mark 2:2-4 (NLT)

Have you ever thought about what this would have been like to experience? Not only being in the presence of Jesus and being able to see and hear him teach while among the crowd, but to have been in the room while a part of the roof was being removed.

I don’t know about you, but as a basement-dweller, I am very much aware of the noise above me. I know the room was crowded and probably on the noisy side, but you can’t tell me that no one noticed as chunks of clay began to fall from the ceiling. Soon, a hole appeared. Someone definitely would have noticed that. And, once the original hole appeared, hands and faces would have been seen as they hole continued to grow.

Now, if you’re sitting in church and suddenly a hole appears in the roof, I have a difficult time believing that the service would go on as usual. Surely, even if the pastor didn’t stop teaching, someone would send an usher or security team member out to see what was going on and try to put a stop to it. But no one did.

Jesus allowed these men to continue to hack a hole in the roof of Peter’s house. He allowed bits of clay to rain down onto the heads of the people below. He didn’t command that they stop and a path be made clear so that the men could walk into the house. Jesus allowed the entire situation to play out before first forgiving the sick man and then healing him.

One commentary calls these men the eager group of interrupters. When the crowds were too dense to pass through, they didn’t turn around and go home. When they received glares from the men in the room (who, by that time wore a dusting of clay), they didn’t stop digging. These eager interrupters didn’t stop what they were doing until their friend was able to walk from the home on his own steam.

At what point would you have stopped? When the crowds were too much? When the climb to the roof with an invalid was too difficult? When the clay on the roof was too thick? When the men below gave you the look of death for disrupting their meeting? When Peter gasped at the sight of the giant hole in his roof?

These men had more opportunities than most to give up, yet they did not. But I believe the most important part of this encounter is Jesus allowing it all to happen. He could have made the job easier, yet he did not. These four crazy friends worked for their buddy’s healing. Their faith took action and nothing was going to stop them, not even Jesus.

Like the strength a butterfly gains from escaping its cocoon, I believe that there are also times where the easy way is not the best way. Would the man’s healing and forgiveness held as much value if they’d been able to walk right in?

Just because Jesus allows difficulties, doesn’t mean he is no longer willing to come to our aid. Perhaps he is rooting for us to build our own strength and faith first.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 26-27, Mark 2

Be mad, have faith

It’s that time of year. The time of year when many television stations begin to air one cheesy movie after another. I’m a sucker for them. I’ll watch over again movies I’ve seen every year since I was a kid. They were cheesy then, and they’re even more cheesy now.

In one particular film, a very profound point was made. A woman – who claimed to be an unbeliever – was ranting about her life. Her cheating husband, the parents who abandoned her. She was mad at God for all of it. But then someone (of course the man she’d end up falling in love with and marrying by the end of the move) pointed out to her that you can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe in.

There are a lot of people these days mad for a lot of reasons. And a lot of people asking how God could have allowed all of this to happen. There has to be a measure of belief for that question to even be asked. To me, people who start a question with, “If God really exists…” are looking for a reason to believe. They are searching for faith.

What an opportunity we have as believers to show God to the world.

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV)

It only takes a little faith to start something big. We’ve all heard about the mustard seed – something tiny can produce something massive in comparison.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

Both the Old and New Testaments say the same thing, turn to God, seek Him, He will reward you.

Now is not the time to stand and point fingers. Now is the time to get on your knees and seek the God who wants to reward us. The God who wants to see our lands healed and restored to what they were intended to be – for the United States, one nation under God, for Canada, God having dominion from sea to sea.

Sometimes, it’s okay to be mad at God. At the very least, it means you have the faith needed to draw near to Him. Just don’t stay mad.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Grace

What is grace? To some, it is the Get Our of Jail Free card because, after all, God will always forgive me, right? It would mean that we can do anything and, as long as we ask forgiveness, we’re good. But if you’re never truly repentant, can there ever be true forgiveness?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)

The doctrine of grace is this: we are born into sin because of Adam’s sinfulness in the Garden. Because of that sin, we are ever separated from God and can never be reconciled with Him. Grace is what we have been offered through Jesus’ blood as a way to come to God. One of my Bible school teachers put it this way:

Faith is our grip on God.
Grace is God’s grip on us.

Grace is not an excuse to sin, but rather an excuse to stay away from sin. We can either be alive in Christ and dead to sin or alive in sin and dead to Christ. We cannot be both alive to sin and alive in Christ. If Christ, the light of the world, be in us, darkness cannot also dwell there.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:4-5 (ESV)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 75-77; Romans 6