Posted in Devotions, Lent

“Blood mingled with sacrifices”

“By His Blood” 2020 Lent devotion #33

Photo by frolicsomepl on pixabay

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. (Luke 13:1)

Boy, that’s a gruesome headline, isn’t it? Imagine traveling to Jerusalem to worship. But as you bring your sacrifice to the temple,  there is pushing and shoving, a fight breaks out, swords are drawn as soldiers step in and before you know it, there’s more than the blood of bulls and lambs to clean up. Some of those from Galilee died that day, too. 

Why did that happen? Were these Galileans worse sinners than those who lived to worship another day? No. Stuff happens. All the time. Jesus then adds, “But if you don’t repent, you will all likewise perish” (15:3). It could happen to you! 

For those who gather to worship, it’s not about who is better or worse. In the mirror of God’s law, we all sin and fall short of his glory. We all deserve the wages of our sin, not just a messy death but eternal separation from God himself. 

In repentance, we realize it’s only by God’s grace that we stand. It’s only because of his mercy that we live. It’s only because of Christ that we have a chance. His blood, shed on the cross, becomes the atoning sacrifice for our sins. For my sin. And for the sins of everyone in the world. 

You and I have to get past comparing ourselves to others. Comparisons will never give you the security that Christ can. And nothing compares with Him!

Lord, be merciful to all caught in the crossfire of sin in this world. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Amen. 

Posted in Grace

Forgiveness is a must

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

“Is it ever OK for a Christian to not forgive?” In a word: no.

I wasn’t present, but I know the question came up recently in a bible class. More than a few folks argued that there are just some offenses and sins that couldn’t and shouldn’t be forgiven.

Scripture is clear: Christians forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven. When Peter asked Jesus if there was a cap on forgiveness, Jesus said, “No.” Peter asked, “How many times do I forgive someone? Seven times?” Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times.” In other words you always forgive.

Jesus then tells a story that illustrates his point in Matthew 18:23-35. God’s forgiveness is so extravagant that we must forgive the comparatively small things others say or do against us. His instruction to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” expresses the same directive. Our mandate is to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He sets the example; we follow suit.

No one ever said it was easy. Forgiveness is hard. God doesn’t just look the other way or say, “Forget about it.” His declaration of the forgiveness only happens because Jesus was crucified, paying for our sins with his life. In fact, Jesus paid for all sins by his innocent suffering and death.

“But what if they don’t repent?” “What if they aren’t sorry?” Neither changes the call to forgive. Forgiveness is one-sided. You let it go. You don’t hold it over someone’s head. You don’t seek retribution. You do not make them pay for what they have done.

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, though. It does, however, give us a different way of remembering without resentment or bitterness. Forgiveness makes it possible to see the one who hurt us through the lens of the cross, which always brings Christ’s compassion and mercy into view.

However, forgiveness may or may not lead to reconciliation. Forgiveness is one-sided. You can intentionally forgive in your heart all on your own. Reconciliation, however, takes two. It requires two people to work to heal a broken relationship. Reconciliation may take a long, long time. Though pursued, it may never happen. You may never get along with someone, even though you have forgiven them.

What about Jesus’ words to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23)? The church pairs these words with Jesus’ teaching about what to do when a “brother sins against you” (Matthew 18:15-20). Much responsibility is given to the church to hold its members accountable for their actions and proclaim God’s forgiveness. In other words, the preaching of Law and Gospel is serious business! Just remember, you are not the church. You are simply a child of God, forgiven and free from your sins. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

Posted in church, Grace, Ministry

Denied.

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Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.

 

Posted in Grace, Life

Gloom, despair, agony, repentance and mercy

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I guess you have to pick your poison. Tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida, superstorms in New England, earthquakes in California, shootings, bombs, abduction, epidemic, drought, infestation, pestilence, plague, processed meat — no matter where you go, there is a very real, imminent threat to your life, your family, your church, your friends and your community. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?

Are there really more threats on our lives? Or is there just more breaking news about threats to our lives? Has anyone done the research? Are there really more people dying from those things, or is there just more gloom, despair and agony thrust upon me each day?

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). He wrote that in the context of urging some Christians not to get too attached to the things of the world. They won’t last. And each tragedy, disaster and act of violence that claims life and makes us afraid is a powerful reminder that it’s all going to be gone someday (2 Peter 3:10-13), to replaced by something new and much, much better.

So how do we react to the events? How do we respond to the news? If someone close to us is affected, we show mercy help them through it in every way we can. If they are far away, we pray and contribute to support those who are in that place providing help.

But we also keep Jesus’ words in mind: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Headline news provides a vivid reminder of our sin and its consequences in this world, and the only cure is the forgiveness and life we have through our faith in Jesus Christ. Let the headlines send you running to Him, and then back out into the world with His mercy.