Forgive Like You’ve Been Forgiven

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Jesus said that the devil’s agenda was to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). We see this on full display in the aftermath of the first sin in the way relationships humans had with each other changed. 

God said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Dr. Henry Halley commented, “The last two lines of this verse could be paraphrased, ‘You will now have a tendency to try to dominate your husband and he will have the tendency to act as a tyrant.’” And to Adam, God said that he would now have to work harder than ever before to harvest the food he needed for survival, which undoubtedly caused stress in his relationship with Eve. In the very next chapter, the strained relationship between Cain and Able resulted in the first homicide (Genesis 3:17-19, 4:1-8). 

In these relationships, intimacy was stolen, closeness was killed, and life was destroyed. 

An irreplaceable tool for avoiding this heartache and destruction that sin causes in our relationships is forgiveness. 

Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). In reply, Jesus told a story about a man who owed the equivalent of 20 years of a day laborer’s wages and a man who owed about three months of a day laborer’s wages. The first man who owed so much was forgiven entirely of his debt, but he wouldn’t forgive the paltry amount that was owed to him by the second man. 

To the forgiven but unforgiving man, Jesus said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (see Matthew 18:22-35). 

That should be our standard: Not how others treat me, but how God has treated me! Not how much others owe me, but how much God has forgiven me!

Do I want God to put a quota on how many times I can be forgiven? Do I want there to be a limit on how big of an offense God will forgive in me?

Of course not!

That’s my standard. I must show the same mercy to others as I have been shown by God. 

If my forgiven sins are forgotten sins (and they are), then I need to treat my brother and sister the same way. This is why Jesus told Peter to stop counting the number of offenses. We are to treat every offense as though it was the first and only offense.

The man who owed so much money asked for more time to repay his debt. But the master did more than that: He forgave the debt—he wiped it off the books completely, as though it had never happened! 

When God forgives our sin, He separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. He keeps no record of the offense ever having occurred (Psalm 103:10-12). 

This is to be our standard too. We are to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness will restore intimacy, closeness, and life to our relationships. 

This is difficult to do. As Peter pointed out, a brother or sister—someone close to his heart—had sinned against him. But this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases that verse in The Message, “Keep us forgiven with You and forgiving others.” 

May the Holy Spirit help us in this important work of ongoing, complete, and restoring forgiveness!

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Grateful For What You Have

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

We said last week that nobody likes to be around a complainer, although many complainers would say they’re not complaining but just sharing facts. In their mind, they have a legitimate right to let everyone know how they’ve been short-changed, gotten a bad deal, or experienced something that no one else has gone through.    

Have you ever heard your kids say, “I’m starving”? And perhaps you think, “Do you really know what starving is?” Or what about people waving their very expensive phones around as they complain, “Isn’t there any WiFi here?!” 

This isn’t a glass half-full or half-empty thing. This is really closing your eyes to the fact that many people don’t even have a glass, or if they do have a glass, they don’t have access to the water that they need. 

I was delivering some Christmas toys to a family and I discovered they had lost everything they owned. When I came to their house their furniture was mismatched, their food and clothes were donated, and their kids only had a couple of simple toys to play with. And yet this family was happy to be together! 

That sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? 

We have to choose grumbling or gratefulness, but as E.M. Bounds noted, “Gratitude and murmuring never abide in the same heart at the same time.” So if you are complaining about what you don’t have, you cannot be grateful for what you do have. 

There is a fascinating story told in all four Gospels of a woman named Mary. She was an uninvited guest at a house where Jesus and His disciples had been invited to dinner. Jesus was not there because someone was grateful to have Him in his home, but because Simon the Pharisee and his cronies were trying to find a reason to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. 

Simon was so focused on his “gotcha” moment that he completely overlooked his host duties. He didn’t wash Jesus’ feet, nor greet Him with a kiss, nor anoint Him with perfume, as the custom of the day demanded. But Mary, standing behind Jesus at the dinner table, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed His feet, and anointed Him with an entire bottle of costly perfume! She did all of this out of gratitude for what she had received from Jesus. 

First, I would like you to consider what Mary didn’t have:

  • a seat at the table—even though the dinner was in her hometown of Bethany, her brother Lazarus was invited to the meal, and her sister Martha was serving the meal 
  • a good reputation—twice Simon the Pharisee said, “Does Jesus even know what kind of woman she is? Does He know she is a sinner?” 
  • the acceptance or approval of others—even the disciples thought her gesture of anointing Jesus with so much perfume was a wasted extravagance 

Next, let’s look at what Simon did have:

  • an elevated position as a Pharisee 
  • considerable wealth—he had servants and a home large enough for a big dinner party 
  • healing from leprosy—the Gospels refer to him as “Simon the leper” which tells us that he had been healed of his leprosy 

Now, let’s consider what the disciples did have:

  • an enviable position as disciples of Jesus
  • a dinner invitation to Simon’s house
  • access to the financial resources that people gave to Christ’s ministry
  • and let us never overlook the fact that they had access to Jesus Himself like no one else had

Finally, let’s look at what Mary did have:

  • forgiveness—Luke says this about her, “A woman who HAD lived a sinful life” 

Gratitude is truly a great attitude. Grateful people stand out because they don’t grumble about what they don’t have, but they are focused on what they do have.  

Mary knew that she didn’t have the outward marks of success or favor or approval, but she did have the assurance that she had been forgiven. For that, she was more than willing to give everything she had to Jesus in thankful worship! 

And as a result, look what Mary now has:

  • the kind words of Jesus—He assured her that she was forgiven (Luke 7:47)
  • Jesus as her defender—He told His disciples, “Leave her alone” (John 12:7)
  • an eternal testimony—Jesus said that wherever the Gospel was preached, people would tell Mary’s story (Matthew 26:13) 

I think a good way to sum up the distinguishing way grateful people live is like this: They don’t grumble about what they don’t have, but they are extremely grateful for what they do have. 

When you find grumbling slipping out of your mouth, remind yourself of just how much you have been given. Even if you think to yourself, “I don’t have much,” you can be assured that you have Jesus, and He is more than enough! And with that assurance, let your gratitude be lifted up in extravagant, fragrant praise to God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series The Great Attitude of Gratitude, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Links & Quotes

Don’t wait until you feel like doing the next good thing, just do the next good thing and the good feelings will follow. Not only that, but you will motivate others too!

“Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.” —Booker T. Washington

This is a cool mini-biography of Gottfried von Leibniz, a German polymath, committed Lutheran, and one of the most wide-ranging intellects in all of history.

“Forgiveness does not excuse the offending behavior. Forgiveness excuses the offender. The fact that God forgives us of sin, does not make sinning okay. The fact that we forgive someone of their sin towards us, does not make the sin okay.” —Kanayo Situ

“The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.” —Alfred Lord Tennyson

“In life you can take things one of two ways: you can take them for granted or you can take them with gratitude.” —G.K. Chesterton

T.M. Moore has an excellent post on how we can prepare for temptation before it even comes. Please check out this whole post which concludes with this thought, “Make up your mind, each day, that you’re going to resist temptation with prayer, preparation, and resting in the Word of God. Let the Spirit Who brings conviction and repentance be at work within you before you come upon the nets and snares of temptation, and you’ll be in a much better position to overcome the evil that threatens to engulf you, with the good choices and conduct that please the Lord and honor Him.”

More amazing evidence of the creativity of our Creator. Researchers have discovered how plant roots adapt based on the presence or lack of water.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Cutting The Root Of The Weed Of Sin

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Cutting The Root Of The Weed Of Sin

I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:5) 

     We must confess the guilt as well as the fact of sin. It is useless to conceal it, for it is well known to God; it is beneficial to us to own it, for a full confession softens and humbles the heart. I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. Not to my fellow human beings or to the high priest, but to Jehovah. … 

     When the soul determines to lay low and plead guilty, absolution is near at hand; hence we read, “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Not only was the sin itself pardoned, but so was the iniquity of it; the virus of its guilt was put away at once, as soon as the acknowledgment was made. God’s pardons are deep and thorough: the knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the ill weed of sin.

From Spurgeon And The Psalms

I notice again the Selah at the end of this verse. That word means to pause and deeply consider the previous words. I shared a sermon about the weight that is lifted and the freedom that is restored if we will just confess our sin to God! 

But the devil loves to condemn us, to whisper the lie that we’ve sinned one too many times for God to forgive us again. This is truly a lie because a forgiven sin is a forgotten sin. So in essence when we ask God to forgive us for our most recent sin, He views it as our only sin! 

In my book Shepherd Leadership, I challenged pastor-shepherds to make good use of confession: 

     When your reactions aren’t Christlike, admit it. Someone might want to push back, “But if I say I was wrong, then I may lose some leadership credibility.” I would agree that you will lose credibility if you believe you are a self-made leader and if you are climbing up a career ladder that you designed. But if you are truly living and leading as a servant that God has equipped and placed among this flock, admission of an un-Christlike action or reaction triggers something extraordinary: God’s help. Peter said it this way: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). 

     Did you catch that? God stands back from the proud person who will not admit his error nor ask for help, let alone ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, God lavishes His grace on the humble one who admits both his error and his need for help. Admission of an inappropriate action or reaction brings God’s help! 

     Friends, the mark of a maturing shepherd is not one who never misspeaks or never makes a mistake. No, the mark of a maturing shepherd is the one who is closing the gap between his mess up and his confession, and one who is experiencing fewer mess ups over time because the Holy Spirit is helping him get healthier and more mature. —an excerpt from chapter 12 of Shepherd Leadership

Don’t listen to the devil’s lies, but hear the loving voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to confess your sin and receive immediate absolution from it. As Spurgeon said, “God’s pardons are deep and thorough: the knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the ill weed of sin.” 

If you would like to know more about Shepherd Leadership, please click here.

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Links & Quotes

“…when it comes to following Jesus, life is never as good as it gets. There is always more righteousness, more peace, and more joy in the Spirit to know, and more love and truth to share, as long as we are willing to press on.” Read more of this post from T.M. Moore here.

Commenting on Haggai 1, Dr. Henry Halley reminds us, “One of the most insistent Old Testament teachings is that national adversity is due to national disobedience to God.” In a series of messages I shared from the minor prophets, I noted the precision of the fulfillment of God’s prophecies, especially in the book of Haggai. So when God promises punishment for disobedience, we should take notice. Revival will come when we repent from those sins.

J. Warner Wallace understands why the church is often confused about the role of apologetics in evangelism. In this video he does a marvelous job of explaining the value of apologetics—

Links & Quotes

Dan Reiland shares 5 reasons leaders stumble and fall.

Max Lucado addresses the sickening news of sexual abuse coverups in the church. He wrote, “[Jesus] defended the weak, stood up for the forgotten. The idea that His church would be unsafe for His sons and daughters disturbs Him deeply. And you can bet your Bible that He’ll turn a few tables. If history teaches us anything it is this: Jesus will not sit idle while His church drifts from His cause. ‘I will rescue My flock from their mouths,” He declared through a prophet. ‘It will no longer be food for them’ (Ezekiel 34:10). 

“Repentance is necessary; heartfelt, tear-stained, face-on-the floor repentance. By all of us in positions of leadership. Will we see it? I pray so. Regardless, I pray that you will pursue the difficult path of seeking Christ in spite of Christians who have let you down. His pastors have failed to pastor. But when they don’t, He still does. Let Him pastor you.”

Darren Carlson wrote, “Healthy pastors experience the fullness and complexity of their emotions, and then hold them up against the sinlessness of Christ. How might Jesus respond to the pain and loss and victory and neediness in front of me? We grow emotionally as leaders by studying the heart of Jesus as he walks among sinners and sufferers.” His post ‘Healthy Pastors Have Emotions: How to Test and Cultivate Your Feelings’ is an excellent read. I explore the emotional health of shepherd pastors in my book.

Nicky Cruz’s story is a fascinating one. His message for America today should be heeded!

My friend Greg Heeres and I had a helpful discussion about leaders and forgiveness on our Craig And Greg Show podcast. Here is a brief snippet:

Podcast: Forgiveness Frees Your Leadership

Listen to the audio-only version of this podcast by clicking on the player below, or scroll down to watch the video.

On this episode of “The Craig And Greg Show” we talk about: 

  • [0:41] Greg and I talk about what may be the most overlooked leadership builder a leader’s toolbox. 
  • [1:34] What is it about forgiveness that people struggle with?
  • [2:34] How can leaders make forgiveness a core value in their organizations?
  • [3:40] I share a memorable joke about unforgiveness.
  • [5:10] Grudges prohibit followers from freely following because suspicion becomes the dominating factor in the organization.
  • [6:13] Forgiven faults need to be forgotten faults.
  • [6:41] Unforgiveness leads to stunted growth both personally and organizationally.
  • [8:25] Does unforgiveness undermine trust? I shares a painful time I experienced attacks.
  • [10:00] I named my dog as a personal reminder of how to handle difficult people.
  • [10:50] Forgiveness is paramount to servant leadership.
  • [12:58] The Bible calls our hypocritical unforgivers.
  • [13:37] An example of a petty leader’s strategy of unforgiveness.
  • [14:21] Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it takes maturity to do it.
  • [14:46] Both forgiveness and holding grudges are barometers of leadership.
  • [15:22] There is incredible freedom in forgiveness.
  • [16:09] There is a perceived power in holding grudges.
  • [16:38] Forgiveness serves others on our team.
  • [17:06] Forgiveness looks forward to better things.
  • [17:59] The personal experiences that Craig and Greg have had make them well-equipped to work as your coach. Check out our coaching huddles!

Check out this episode and subscribe on YouTube so you can watch all of the upcoming episodes. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify and Apple.

New Inside

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character (Phil) is stuck in a small town where February 2 keeps repeating. Phil tries desperately to get out of this town and out of this day, but nothing he seems to do gets him out of the endless loop. He becomes smarter and richer each day, but at the end of the day, everything resets to the beginning. 

It’s frustrating! 

God’s people of the Old Testament had their own “Groundhog Day”—the Day of Atonement that came every single year. This was the day their sins were confessed, forgiven, and atoned for, and had a very specific set of sacrifices and rituals. Much like Phil in the movie, they began to go through these motions almost entirely without thinking. 

Year after year, millennia after millennia “the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, [couldn’t] make perfect those who draw near to worship” (see Hebrews 10:1-4). 

Even those who were God-fearing and tried their best to live perfectly righteous lives could find in the law provision for those who “sin unintentionally” (Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18, 22, 24, 27-29). It was just another reminder that the loop of sin-confession-repentance-forgiveness-atonement was never ending. 

And as if all the requirements of the Torah weren’t enough, Jesus came on the scene and seemed to raise the bar, telling us even though our outward actions might look righteous, our inward thoughts and attitudes made us just as sinful (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). And then Jesus even dropped this on us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)! 

Perfect?! As perfect as God?! This could easily make people throw their hands up in resignation, “I give up! Why even try?” 

Through Ezekiel, God prophesied an internal change. This wasn’t something I must do, but something GOD will do—

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) 

The solution to our endless loop of sin-confession-repentance-forgiveness-atonement must become internal. It’s no use trying to correct the fruit if the root is still evil! That requires an inside job. 

On Good Friday, the last words Jesus spoke before His death were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

What was finished? Our struggle to get ourselves out of this endless loop. The writer of Hebrews had this to say about Jesus: 

But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. … For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:12, 14) 

Remember Jesus told us we had to be perfect like God? The root word for “perfect” in that verse is telos. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” He said one word in Greek: tetelestai. This also comes from the root word telos. Jesus perfectly finished all that was necessary for us to become perfect in God’s sight. 

Christians often use the the phrase “I invited Jesus into my heart” as an expression of their faith in what Jesus did for them on the Cross. That word “IN” is a good reminder. 

Jesus comes IN and the fear of punishment—the fear of being eternally stuck in the endless loop—has to go out. “There is no fear IN love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect IN love” (1 John 4:18). 

The word “perfect” in that verse is also from the same root word telos. 

Not only does Jesus come IN to our hearts to make them new, but He also takes us IN to His perfection. “Looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith—giving the first incentive for our belief—and is also its Finisher—bringing it to maturity and perfection…” (Hebrews 12:2 AMP). 

Jesus shared a last supper with His disciples. His last supper was the first Communion. At this time Jesus told them He was establishing a “new covenant.” How do we square this with His previous statement that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it? 

Jesus said this new covenant was IN His blood. His blood doesn’t abolish the law, but it perfects the law. His perfect blood makes out hearts new and takes us out of the external loop and IN to His prefect righteousness. 

Jesus accomplished all that was needed to make us perfect inside, and then to perfectly take us into God’s presence. As the hymn The Old Rugged Cross reminds us, “In that old rugged Cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see. For ’twas on that old Cross Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me!” 

May we always cherish the perfection that was purchased for us on that Cross. 

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Poetry Saturday—Oh The Lamb

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object met my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career.

Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb,
The Lamb on Calvary,
The Lamb that was slain and liveth again
To intercede for me.

I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near the Cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look,
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Tho’ not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned my guilt,
And plung’d me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive,
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die, that thou may’st live.”

Thus, while His death my sins display
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb,
The Lamb on Calvary,
The Lamb that was slain and liveth again
To intercede for me. —John Newton

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The Gift Promised

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Have you ever seen kids tearing into a Christmas present and then being disappointed that what they got wasn’t what they wanted? They may say something like, “This isn’t what I put on my wish list!” 

From the response of the religious leaders in the Gospels, it appears that the gift of Jesus on that original “Christmas morning” was very similar. It’s almost like they were saying, “This isn’t the type of Messiah we wanted!” They wanted someone to give them freedom from the Romans, but their Heavenly Father wanted them to have something far bigger and greater: Eternal freedom from the penalty of sin. 

The first humans had the joy of being innocent in God’s presence, where they had everything they needed. But satan got Adam and Eve to focus on something they wanted, and that sin of disobedience brought an immediate separation. They now feared the nearness of God. 

There were immediate and painful consequences for their sin, but God wanted the heaviest of penalties to fall on Himself. To foreshadow this, God sacrificed an innocent animal to cover their nakedness, showing us what the gift of Jesus would do for us (Genesis 3:1-21). 

In The Holy War, John Bunyan tells the story of the town of Mansoul enslaved to Diabolus. The crafty serpent plays on their fears by reminding them how terrible it would be if they allowed Holy God to come near them while they were in their sinful state: 

“‘Gentlemen,’ quoth he, ‘and my faithful subjects, if it is true that this summoner hath said concerning the greatness of their King, by His terror you will always be kept in bondage, and so be made to sneak. Yea, how can you now, though He is at a distance, endure to think of such a Mighty One? And if not to think of Him while at a distance, how can you endure to be in His presence?’” 

Diabolus even tried to make their slavery to sin look like freedom: “I, your prince, am familiar with you, and you may play with me as you would with a grasshopper. Consider, therefore, what is for your profit, and remember the immunities that I have granted you.’”  

As John Piper reminds us, “Christmas is for freedom.” Indeed, that’s just what we see on the first “Christmas morning” in words like salvation, no fear, and great joy (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:10-11). 

Turning again to The Holy War, here’s what the Father said to His Son: “Wherefore the King called to Him Emmanuel, His Son, who said, ‘Here am I, My Father.’ Then said the King, ‘Thou knowest, as I do Myself, the condition of the town of Mansoul, and what We have purposed, and what Thou hast done to redeem it. Come now, therefore, My Son, and prepare Thyself.’”  

Immanuel (or the Romanized spelling Emmanuel) is the One who removes the separation caused by our sin, and rejoins us to God. That prefix “im” means with, and the suffix “El” means God. The root word means God’s kinsmen. Immanuel comes to repair what was severed by taking sin’s penalty on Himself, and allowing us to once again enjoy the closeness of kinship with our Heavenly Father (Matthew 1:22-23; Galatians 4:4-7). 

When the people saw this Gift on Christmas morning, they said, “This isn’t what we wanted! We wanted a rich, powerful, conquering King. One who would send the Romans running in fear!” As a result, very few unwrapped this Heavenly Gift. But God reminded them, “That may be what you wanted, but I have given what you need. I want you to have not just temporary freedom from the Romans, but eternal freedom from your sin so that you can be forever in My presence!” 

This is what Jesus rejoiced to do for us with the Gift of His life, death, and resurrection. One more passage from The Holy War tells us, “Then said the King’s Son, ‘Thy law is within My heart: I delight to do Thy will. This is the day that I have longed for, and the work that I have waited for all this while. … I will go and will deliver from Diabolus, and from his power, Thy perishing town of Mansoul. My heart has been often pained within Me for the miserable town of Mansoul; but now it is rejoiced, but now it is glad.’” (The timing for the Incarnation of Jesus and even these words of Immanuel Himself are found in Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:5-7). 

God’s love is too great to be limited to just meeting our wants because in our immaturity and sinfulness we don’t know what we really need—but He does. So His love sent Immanuel to us. 

The Gift was given to us at Christmas, but in our immaturity and shortsightedness, we didn’t realize the full impact of this Gift until Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! Now by placing our faith in His completed work, we can be rejoined to God and live in unshakable hope of an eternity with Him! 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Christmas Unwrapped At Easter, please check out the links I’ve shared here.

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