I am sure you have experienced many occasions when someone has hurt you. Depending on the relationship with that person the hurt was a deep wound or you brushed it off. The ones we can brush off are easier to forgive. Like a friend who is late for an appointment, or a child draws on your freshly painted wall. The ones that causes a deep wound are much more difficult to forgive. A spouse’s infidelity, a friend that broke a confidence, an unkind, critical remark. Those are much harder to forgive.
How about the person who wounds you time and again? They do the same thing repeatedly and leave you deeply hurt, questioning your own value. That is really hard to forgive. Some might say impossible. The easiest thing perhaps is just to cut them out of your life…but that isn’t forgiveness.
Peter asked Jesus such a question; “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times.” We are not told what prompted Peter to ask the question. Perhaps Peter had a person in mind. A family member that continued to put him down? A neighbor that kept taking advantage? A spouse that had an addiction? We aren’t told. But it was something Peter wanted to find out. He asked Jesus if forgiving 7 times was sufficient. The rabbis of the day taught that three times was sufficient. So Peter doubled that and threw in one more for good measure. Going above and beyond.
And the question implies that Peter has experienced repeated hurts – for the same thing. His brother put him down repeatedly. His neighbor didn’t respect boundaries repeatedly. His spouse was addicted and creating havoc in the home. Or perhaps Peter was thinking of himself. Maybe his impulsiveness got him not trouble more than once. (I know the Bible doesn’t tell us these things…I am using my sanctified imagination.)
I am sure each of us have asked the same question hoping that Jesus’ response might give us some wiggle room. We’d like to think there is a point at which the transgression is so grievous that we don’t have to forgive. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t give us any wiggle room. Not only no wiggle room but His answer goes beyond imagination. What He is saying is that we are to be God-like in our response to an offense.
We have often read and I have said myself that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. It frees us from the offense. It isn’t matter of letting someone off the hook – it is getting ourselves off the hook of transgression done to us!
But it is more than that. When we forgive we are reflecting God’s character – it is Hs nature to forgive. The act of forgiveness is more, so much more than our emotional well-being. Therefore when we forgive we enter into a very divine grace, a sacred behavior. I am beginning to see that the act of forgiveness is not about me at all. It is a form of true worship. It is me being willing to lay aside my desires for what I think is fair, picking up my cross and following after God.
And perhaps by His grace God will use me to bless the one that wronged me. Isn’t that what Jesus did on the Cross?
I am not saying that it is easy. It goes against my own nature. I strain against such. I argue. I fight for my rights. I nurse my hurts. I walk in self-pity and carry bitterness. But in the end I come down to this very simple truth. Jesus said to forgive over and over and over and over again – it reflects His nature. That’s what He wants from us. That is what He is doing in us.
The contrast between evil and good has been in the news and on our front pages this week.
It was a thrill to see Dr. Brantley on the news yesterday as he left Emory University Hospital hand in hand with his wife. It is a miracle that he is alive and expected to live a full life. Ebola is a deadly virus that kills 30 to 90 percent of its victims. Dr. Brantley credited God and the many prayers around the world for his healing. I praise God for it – as we all do.
In the same week we learned a family of deep faith lost their son to a gruesome beheading by the barbaric group called Issis. Evil seemed to triumph. Josh Foley’s parents prayed earnestly for his release. Many prayed for him as they had prayed for Dr. Brantley. Prayed for his safety and release. Even the Pope prayed. Why were their prayers not answered?
How do we juxtapose those two events? Why did God not answer one prayer but He not answer the other? Do we have to make ourselves theological pretzels to make sense of it? Are there answers?
First, God did answer both prayers. Just because one was answered as we hoped does not mean He didn’t answer the other. We do not know the mind of God.
I will be the first one to tell you that I don’t have an answer and anyone who does, is not being honest. There are just some things we don’t and can’t understand. I can tell you I believe in the sovereignty of God with all my heart. I know He is in control and He has a plan. His plans are being worked out even now – though we may not be able to see it. What we see is not all there is. There are major events happening in the spiritual realm right now. There is so much more we don’t know. I can’t help but believe that God is setting the stage for the return of Christ.
I believe the events in the past week illustrate the intense battle being fought between good and evil. We do know evil has already been defeated at the Cross – Christ is triumphant. Every knee will bow and acknowledge He is Lord of Lords. One day…
But back to here and now on earth there is suffering and heartache. Let us be faithful to the One who is at work in every circumstance. I don’t know who said it but, I like the quote, “When we can’t see His hand we can trust His heart.” If you are suffering today I offer no pat answers no cliches but a trust in the character of God Who is just, merciful, all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful, big, good, compassionate, near, faithful and the only true Hope in the world.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah. Quite a man. He confronted the wicked Queen Jezebel many times – stood for God’s truth and authority at his own risk. Jezebel, with her husband, Ahab, were formidable, powerful, calculating adversaries. They struck terror into the hearts of their opponents. Her name is synonymous with treachery and deceit, even today.
Elijah was God’s kind of “man of faith” – bold, faithful, courageous, human…
Elijah and the prophets of Baal had a face-off on Mt. Carmel. God showed up in a powerful, miraculous way (Read I Kings 18) – one of my favorite Bible stories! All the evil manipulation, politics, personalities, power are no match for God as God revealed Himself as the One True God. God’s victory was manifest that day in a spectacular way.
Right after God had used him to trounce the evil prophets, Jezebel threatens, as she was want to do! Elijah became afraid. From our vantage today – since we know the “rest of the story” we can be cynical of Elijah’s weakness and easily ask, “But why fear, Elijah. You just participated in a great victory. God showed up. He will again.” Think about it…he was human. What would you do? He was exhausted. He was spent in ministry for God. There was a bullseye on his back. He was afraid of Jezebel and he ran.
I am sure I would have too. Probably from your own experience you know we don’t usually go from mountaintop to mountaintop. From my father’s front porch you can see several ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It looks like it is all mountaintop – what we can’t see are the many valleys in between.
On that morning, Elijah couldn’t either. He was vulnerable. Did God criticize him? Condemn him? Reject him? No. God came to him.
God recently showed me in this passage that God came to Elijah while Elijah was sleeping, resting. Too many of us think we have to work nonstop for God. The busier we are the more value we have. The dark circles under our eyes are badges of courage. Folks, there is no crown laid up for exhaustion.
If we take time to rest we won’t miss God. He won’t forget us. He’ll come get us!
Jesus said, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…” That’s a command. He doesn’t condemn rest – far from it. He provides it.
Have you ever been depressed? Low? Lower than a “lizard’s belt buckle”, as my mother used to say. “Cast down”, as King David said in Psalm 42.
David wrote he cried day and night while men taunted him. He thought back to the good times which made him feel worse. He uses the word, “disturbed” – his usual joy and peace were in shambles.
If we are honest, think we all experience such times,. We live in a fallen world with evidence of that reality all around us as a passenger jetliner is shot out of the sky by a missile, as war looms in the Middle East, fires rage out West, refugees flee, flood waters rise, children are abused, evil seems to be willing… It’s tough out there and getting tougher day by day. It is so easy to feel despair these days – to feel powerless and get angry.
As we go through the dark times we long for God to come deliver us as David did when he wrote, “My soul pants for you, O God..my soul thirsts for God…when can I go and meet with God?” Perhaps you, too, have felt like David. He wanted a meeting with God to sort it out! He wanted God Himself.
David poured out his heart to God – not his neighbor, friends, therapist, spouse – but to God. No substitute. (I am not saying that having a neighbor, friends, therapist, spouse to talk to isn’t important – far from it – God gave us fellow human beings to helps us. He placed us in communities for a reason.)
But usually we sort of stop there talking to others seeking their advice and opinions. And just maybe when all else fails we might talk to God as a last resort. Not David. He went to God first and poured out his heart. He complained freely, boldly – he told God just how he felt!
Then he told himself to place his hope in God and determined to praise Him as his Savior and his God. (Notice the personal pronouns – his Savior and his God.) When David is feeling low he decides to remember God.
How many times when we are low, depressed and angry do we throw God into the mix and get mad at Him, too? Or act like a petulant child and decide we just won’t talk to God anymore? So there! Oh, yes, there are times when David acts like a child. David vents his anger and frustration towards God – God can handle it. He is much bigger than all of it and there is nothing we can say He hasn’t heard before. He is the safest One to talk to. David tells God exactly how he feels.
But he doesn’t stop there. He makes a decision. A decision to hope and praise – an act of the will. I doubt seriously if David felt like hoping or praising. Maybe he wanted to wallow in self-pity, or kill someone, run away, hide, get drunk… But he decided to hope and praise. Hope isn’t wishful thinking. It is confident expectation. Praise isn’t just saying ‘thank you”. It is worship.
That was David’s way out of despair. It is our way out too.
Despair or hope? Praise or complaint? Fear or peace? It’s our choice.