Forgiveness

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February 15

Thursday, February 15th, 2024

“Lest we forget…”

I woke up this morning with that phrase running through my mind. “Lest we forget…” It’s not uncommon to hear that spoken at a commemoration service honoring men and women who have served our country. And we never should forget.

In I Corinthians 10 a phrase very similar to that is used not once, but twice. In 10:6 it says, “These things happened as a warning to us…” In verse 11 it says, “These things happened as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”

The gist? Lest we forget.

As a follower of Jesus, I must not forget the lessons learned or to be learned. I need to recall the lessons others learned and shared lest I fall into the same pit they fell into or possibly avoided. Nor should I forget the lessons I have learned from past experiences.

I say all this because of an incident people just won’t let go of. All the “rage” this week has been the Travis Kelce dust-up with his coach, Andy Reid. I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. I could care less if Travis was telling his coach about his latest escapade with his overly-hyped girlfriend. I don’t care if he was telling Coach Reid that he had heartburn from his pregame meal. I. SIMPLY. DON’T. CARE.  But since I wasn’t born yesterday nor is my head buried under a rock, I cannot escape hearing or reading about the pundits, especially other overly paid football players. I read an article where several of them said, “If that had been me I would have been…” Then one of them pulled out the race card (Isn’t that getting kind of old?). It is my understanding these players quickly forgot the grace shown to them by the NFL just a few years ago. One was convicted of choking his girlfriend in college and yet…wait for it…he is given a second chance and drafted because he can catch an odd-shaped ball.  Did he forget? Obviously.

My point is this: “Lest we forget.” As a Christ-follower we must never forget what we deserved versus what we received. The Israelites were given the examples in I Corinthians 10 (I encourage you to read the first 12 verses for reference and context) so they would not forget. They must not forget the damage and tragedy of sin and disobedience. But they also must not forget the goodness of God.

Good words for me to remember lest I forget.

February 7

Wednesday, February 7th, 2024

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to do is for a person to forgive himself of past sins or discretions. I’m guessing we have all been there-either personally or with a friend or someone we know.

It might go something like this:

  • Person: Does God forgive all my sin?
  • You: Yes. I firmly believe He does.
  • P: I’m not too sure about that.
  • Y: Why?
  • P: I’ve done some really bad things. If I told you everything, you would turn away from me or it would at least curl your insides.
  • Y: Try me.
  • P: I just couldn’t. You would no longer like me or want to be my friend.
  • Y: First, that is not true. Second, what does my reaction have to do with God?
  • P: Because He would turn away and say, “That’s too much. I just can’t.”

You can carry that conversation on if you like. I want to stop it and add my thoughts. This conversation or one like it, and the thought of that person, came to mind when I read Psalm 130:3-4 this morning. “Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.” Can it be any clearer? Consider I John 1:9 which says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

I relish the truth that God forgives and when He does He forgives totally and completely. No hanging on. No crossing His fingers. It is not only forgiven but also forgotten.

Now…if we can just forgive and remind ourselves of that.

January 24

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

I’ve been thinking…about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an important aspect of everyone’s life, whether one is a Christ-follower or not. It comes into play seemingly in about every relationship we have. For the Christ-follower is it important to know we have God’s forgiveness. On the human side, it is important for us to either forgive or be forgiven.

One vitally necessary component of forgiveness with God or with another person is knowing unconditional forgiveness. None of us want to hear, “I’ll forgive you if…” We certainly feel unloved or, at best incompletely loved, if say a spouse says to a partner, “I’ll forgive you for the affair if…” or a father says to a child, “I’ll forgive you for the breach of conduct or break of trust if…” How disheartening that is! Why? Because that type of forgiveness has strings attached to it.

The story of the prodigal son is unusual because it is not the father who puts the conditions on the relationship, but the son. Check out the story in Luke 15. The son says, “I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as your hired servant.'” (Verses 18-19). Basically, the son says, “If I do this and this then…If I show adequate repentance, become a servant then maybe my dad will forgive me.” It wasn’t the father but the son who put conditions on his love and acceptance. And what happens? The son doesn’t even get out his whole spiel before the father is bending over backwards to forgive and welcome him home and basically say, “My son! Welcome home!”

Do you see it? The father (God) is not the one with the conditions.  It is the son who hamstrung himself. How many times have we not seen and accepted God’s complete and absolute forgiveness because we don’t think we are good enough or done enough or repented sufficiently enough or been sorry enough? It’s not God; it’s us!

Stop putting conditions on God’s love and acceptance of you. Instead, bask in the glow of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Thinking done. 🙂

January 15

Monday, January 15th, 2024

One of my favorite pastimes/hobbies was doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Many, many hours have been spent bent over a table building puzzles. Cold, winter weather was only good in my mind for killing insects and staying inside to build puzzles. I’ve slowed down in recent years because I have to admit to being a “puzzle snob” i.e. there are only certain ones I would do (Titanic & trains mostly), plus I didn’t want to spend the money on the ever-increasing price of having leisure. However, I was given a panoramic puzzle of PNC Park (Pirates baseball field) which I did, glued and gave away to a sports memorabilia collector, and one of the Pittsburgh skyline. I finally decided to do the skyline starting last Thursday.

I’ve been watching it come together. Sorting pieces throughout the “edge-finding” stage, has me sort of guessing pieces that go together. I then bunch them in a certain pile to be sorted later. Often, I find out I was wrong and they actually belonged somewhere else. This puzzle is s-l-o-w-l-y coming together, piece by piece (makes sense right?). Often I will have little side projects going on as “like pieces” are found. Eventually, I get to incorporate them into the greater puzzle. Sometimes it is literally a slog through seemingly endless tries. And then sometimes it is like voila! One piece pulls in another and another until multiple pieces later a bigger picture emerges.

One of my favorite groups is a Christian power metal group called Theocracy (I know that is probably not most of my readers cup of tea). Their most recent recording includes a song called Mosaic. The song, as you can probably surmise by the title, is a take on broken pieces made into a beautiful piece of glass. Out of the ugliness of broken glass the artisan can make something beautiful. A snippet of lyrics says, “‘Cause after all, the pieces fall landing where they may/You never left or chose to throw it all away/An unknown future, broken past/Like imperfect panes of glass/Revealing a larger grand design.” (Lyrics by Matt Smith-2023)

Life is a mosaic, very often made up of broken pieces of glass. No one’s life is perfect; we are made of broken pieces of glass. But we have an Artisan, a Creator, a Master Craftsman, who loves us, never leaves us, and puts us all back together. Sin breaks us; He rebuilds us. He will take broken, disjointed fragments and put them back together in the right place, making sense of it all. He makes a beautiful mosaic out of broken, shattered lives.

He’s done if for me. He’s done it for people I know. Let Him do it for you.

January 8

Monday, January 8th, 2024

Forgiveness…it goes both ways. By saying that I’m not saying forgiveness happens when I forgive someone and they either forgive me or reconciliation takes place. No. I’m going in another direction.

First, there is vertical forgiveness. This is the forgiveness we receive from God-initially and ongoing. Forgiveness for sin in the process of salvation, and then forgiveness on a daily basis as a result of the continual need for it.

But I think the hardest just might be horizontal forgiveness. Forgiving others. Being forgiven.  It is the former I am interested in today. Sometimes someone does something to us that rips our soul to pieces. Shakes us to the core.  There is betrayal. Anger. Bitterness. All which can develop as a result. Betrayal is real; anger and bitterness are killers.

Let me explain. Without details let’s just suffice it to say that several years ago the church I pastor was the victim of a crime. A substantial one. The leaders of the church chose forgiveness rather than prosecution and restitution. I was part of that leadership and even today would not change a thing. While there were some people who were extremely upset at our decision, the choice was made. We have never looked back wondering, “What if..?” Plus, God has been so phenomenally good to us there is no way we made the wrong decision.

There are those who were wanting vengeance. I chose forgiveness and with that freedom. I’m convinced that the person who carries around or holds onto bitterness and hatred has the problem. I believe that to refuse forgiveness or to hold a grudge makes that person a slave to the one their anger and bitterness is directed at. To put it succinctly, they own me. If they enter my thoughts and dreams, influence my attitude or I find myself tying up in knots at the mere mention of that person’s name or presence, they own me.  By God’s grace, I refuse to allow that. I belong to Him, the ONE who forgave on the cross, not that other person. He is the same ONE who said that if I have been forgiven I must forgive as well.

I laid to rest many years ago any hard feelings, ill will, vengeance, bitterness, or anger the enemy of my soul would want me to have. I refuse to play the devil’s game.

Today I lay to rest that perpetrator. The family asked if I would conduct the funeral. I, of course, said yes.

December 27

Wednesday, December 27th, 2023

I had totally planned as I sat down for my Encounter Time this morning to write about the aftermath of Christmas. What’s it like? Why do we feel let down? How can we overcome this “down” affect?

But then I read a psalm this morning. Psalm 51 to be exact. For those who don’t know, Psalm 51 was written by David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, her husband (and his subsequent cover up). Having his sin exposed to him by Nathan, the prophet, David fell to his knees. Psalm 51 is the result of that guilt and repentance. You can read the whole sordid story of David and Bathsheba and the surrounding events in 2 Samuel 11-12.

I thought I would hit the highlights of Psalm 51. This is, by no means, exhaustive. Please just keep in mind that David was living in guilt and shame for his actions. His words speak to all of us:

“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.” David knew where and to Whom He needed to go. He relied on God’s unfailing love.

“Wash me clean from my guilt.” There it is! The albatross around his neck and heart.

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Sin had left its crimson stain as an old hymn says. He needed the stain removed. He needed to be cleansed as white as newly fallen snow.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit in me.” A clean heart wasn’t enough. His whole “self” needed cleansed and redirected.

“Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” It is important to see that sin didn’t cause him to lose his salvation, but he did lose the JOY of it. One can’t enjoy something if guilt is hanging around.

“Forgive me for shedding blood.” David realized there was more than just adultery involved. Murder was too. He needed forgiven and cleansed for that.

He ends with a statement: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

The road to healing; the road to forgiveness; the road to a renewed and restored relationship with the Father begins with a repentant heart. I don’t know if you needed this today or not. If you don’t then please feel free to pass it along to someone who may. If you do, may you have the restored joy which comes from a renewed relationship with God. End the old year and start the new year with a clean slate. 

All Scripture is from the New Living Translation.

November 8

Wednesday, November 8th, 2023

I was reminded again today of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart. I can remember being in Homeville Jr. High (PA) and hearing it for the very first time. “Creepy” was my first reaction.  But as I got older and (supposedly) more mature, and now that I am in my 70s, I saw and still see the truth of the story and the result of the tell-tale heart.

I’ll encourage you to find the story online and read it. Short synopsis: one man kills an old man, hacks him to pieces and then buries him beneath the floorboards. The police come to investigate and the man is so cocksure of himself that sits with them in the room where he is buried and then sits in a chair above the spot. As the interview progresses, the man begins to hear what is a beating heart. It gets louder and he can’t understand why the police cannot hear it. He finally breaks and confesses.

Guilt does that. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I read David’s words in Psalm 32:3-5 to myself and to others: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” (NLT)

David lays out what we should know and have probably experienced: Guilt is a killer. It kills our heart. It kills our happiness. It kills our joy. It kill our peace. It’s like this scepter sitting on our shoulder (only it’s in the heart) whispering in our ear, “You’re done. It’s all over.  You’ll never survive. You’ll never recover. You’ll never get better. You’ve ruined everything.”

L.I.E.S.   ALL   L.I.E.S.

Guilt finds its release at the foot of the cross. Jesus took care of that guilt and shame and offers His forgiveness. Take it. Stop carrying around the extra baggage.

October 18

Wednesday, October 18th, 2023

I read recently that the Italians (of which I am one) have an interesting custom (which I have never participated in). On New Year’s Eve, at midnight, the windows of every house open, and everyone pitches out whatever they absolutely hate-furniture, clothes, dishes, unwanted wedding presents (hopefully not the spouse! 🙂 )-they all come crashing down to the ground. That is what I call some serious housecleaning. Talk about “Look out below!”

Have you ever moved? What a great time to get rid of unwanted our unused items. “Let’s see. I haven’t used this in 10 years. In fact, I forgot I even had it.” Pitch.  “This broken chair I said I was going to fix 6 years ago?” Pitch.

We call it purging. Pack rats need to do some serious purging. Hoarders need to do some serious purging.

Sinners need to do some serious purging. Huh. That includes all of us.  Unless, of course, you have no sin. No guilt. No regret over past actions or thoughts. (stated sarcastically and with tongue-in-cheek). Too many of us carry around garbage from our past. We hoard it. We bury it trying to forget it. But then some event, some word, some action, some thing, brings it all back and we are forced to deal with it. Maybe we had buried it so deeply we had forgotten it, but there it is!

2 Cor. 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Both Scripture from ESV)  Both of those verses talk about some serious purging. Of getting rid of sin in order to find new life.

Purging your house of old, unused, useless trash, i.e. garbage, is helpful and sometimes necessary. Purging your life of sin-past, present, and future-is absolutely necessary. Have you cleaned house?

August 17

Thursday, August 17th, 2023

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9 (ESV)

While many are quick to condemn lying, stealing, adultery, idolatry, homosexuality-you know…the so-called “big sins”- a pass is often given to another devastating and life-ruining sin: GOSSIP. I’m thinking more lives have been ruined by gossip than possibly all the others combined.

No, I’m not downgrading the severity of the so-called “big sins” in relation to a soul, but gossip is carried on regularly with seemingly no guilt.

The proverb above can be looked at two ways. One, it could involve me and another person. If someone does something to me, I could either choose to love and forgive, or spread to others what has been done. That other person and I will likely never again be close friends (if friends at all). 

Or two, I could be a witness to someone being hurt and spread the event with my tainted opinion. Again, instead of being one who helps others reconcile, I become the one who splits them.

James tells us the tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) We can talk about swearing and cursing, but gossip may be the cruelest of all.

Go by this: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. Keep the gossip to yourself.

August 10

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

Recently, I witnessed a healing. No, not the kind you are probably thinking (although I wish I could in this case). Here’s the story:

In the past, Person B listened to the voices of others and told me to leave Person A as a friend and as a pastor.  He then turned his “guns” on Person A. He continued listening to the voices and sought changes which did not happen. A resignation happened and the “guns” were taken up by another. Meanwhile one of the voices was pretty much out of the picture. Again, changes didn’t happen and another abandonment happened.

In the meantime, Person B has come on hard physical times. Devastating actually. As Person B’s pastor, I made the conscious decision to forgive and made countless visits-many of them hours away-to minister and to bring healing. I truly believe God has been faithful in bringing the latter.

But what about Person A?

I make weekly visits to Person B to encourage, to pray, to laugh with, to offer communion (something he misses since we offer it weekly), and to share the amazing healing power of God in a relationship. My love for Person B and his family is real and I want them to know that.  I want him to know that.  In my visits I sometimes take others, friends from his past, to visit and hopefully encourage and let him know he is not forgotten. And to offer hope. I decided-with the wife’s blessing-to bring Person A with me some day. I saw God work!! Now, whether Person B even remembered the past I don’t know-such is his memory. But I saw Person A engage with Person B and his wife and offer some vital help where they have been stymied before.  What a phenomenal gift it would be if Person A can pull off the help he has offered!! I can’t speak for Person B’s feelings, although he did get emotional when Person A told him that he and his wife were praying for him. Person B’s wife, I think, was simply relieved someone was going to do something.

Mention healing and our immediate thoughts go to someone physically healed. Rarely do we think of emotional healing or relational healing. I witnessed both, especially in Person A. Personally? I think being witness to the relational healing does more good to my soul than all the physical healings I have seen God do (and I’m not speaking of the showy, TV, made up kind).

Somewhere angels were rejoicing, and the Father was smiling, as they witnessed “Forgive as you have been forgiven” come alive. I know I am.