How Many Times?

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Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

– Matthew 18:21-22, NKJV –

Peter thought he was doing pretty well.

I can just see how he sidled up to Jesus. “So, Master…”

Perhaps Jesus was still with all of the disciples in that place where he held up the child and said they should be like that little one.

Or maybe the disciples had gone to a home to rest and Peter came up to Jesus for a little well-deserved commendation.

His self-approbation was cloaked as a question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

See, the rabbis taught that since God had only turned away three times from punishing some of Israel’s enemies, God’s people were certainly not expected to forgive anyone more than three times (John MacArthur Study Bible, on Matthew 18:21).

Peter knew he was being generous here. I mean, seven times. He must really be godly, to be willing to forgive seven times. Can’t you just see him struggling to wipe away a triumphant grin and maintain a studious expression as he waited for Jesus’ answer?

I don’t know what Jesus was doing then. Perhaps he and the disciples were still in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee, still at the place where Peter asked Jesus before about paying taxes (Matthew 17). I can see Him on a rooftop at dusk, watching stars that His voice had created sparkle into sight as the sun sank behind the reflecting, rippling yellow-gold sea.

I have to wonder–what did Jesus do? Did he stare deep into Peter, see right through the overconfident outside to the heart-depths of a too-talkative fisherman? Did he look into Peter’s eyes for a long, breathless moment before answering? Did Peter get that sinking feeling when he locked eyes with the Teacher and knew he should have just kept his mouth shut?

Peter’s mistake was not just his. Jewish teaching still puts limits on love, bounds on forgiveness. One current-day rabbi writes:

“Our tradition teaches us to have a big heart, to be forgiving. We are supposed to pursue putting things right. But Jewish tradition also acknowledges the limits of forgiveness as well, and teaches us that sometimes we must withhold forgiveness until the individual who has wronged us has gone through a complete process of teshuvah, repentance.”

But Jesus didn’t agree. He said no to Peter’s generous seven pardons. He raised the bar.

And with those multiples of 7, that number of perfection, he showed that there was no cap on forgiveness.

There’s no end to what we must forgive.

There’s no limit to how much we must love.

There’s no number on how many we are duty-bound to comfort.

Because we have a God of boundlessness, of mercies that are fresh every day.

We have the Savior who is all the fulness of God–and we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10).

We have a well that cannot go dry, a spring that will never cease to bubble life and life abundantly.

Out of this abundance, we must give. We will never lack, never be drained. There is always filling–sweet, deep, fathomless filling–in Immanuel’s land.

How can we forgive the worst, hand over the pain and turn to love? How can we forgive the one who scars us so deeply?

The friend that turned.

The love grown cold.

The words broken.

The dreams shattered.

The trust torn.

How is there forgiveness here?

It is this—God did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

All things.

We have healing, comfort, all the love and faithfulness our hearts could crave.

And God did not spare Him, but crushed Him–for us, because of us.

How can we not give Him all in return? Sparing nothing, holding nothing back from Him who gave everything.

Turning over the hurt, the pain, the lostness.

Giving up the ache, the grief, the anger.

For life.

Deal?

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

– C.S. Lewis –

Thanks to Bobby Mikul and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

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When God Talks

young woman praying

“Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him….”

– Genesis 17: 3a, NKJV –

It’s funny how simple statements can rock a world’s construct.

So far, in the Bible, God hadn’t spoken to all that many people.

Adam and Eve walked with Him.

Enoch walked with Him too, and was taken up into heaven one day, no death-taste.

There was Noah, the man who believed God’s weather forecast years in advance. Talk about faith.

Then there was Abram.

An old man, far from home, who’d left all to follow a God who spoke to Him and called him to a place he’d never seen.

Was there something special about Abram?

It sure wasn’t his youthful vigor–he was ninety-nine in Genesis 17, when the Bible says God talked with him.

It wasn’t his truthfulness–he lied about his wife to a king.

It wasn’t his brains–he lied again, to another king. Some people just never learn…

It certainly wasn’t his upstanding moral character–he let his wife talk him into marrying her servant girl in hopes of a child.

And, although Scripture commends his faith, that wasn’t flawless either–what else do you call that man-made attempt at an heir that Abram agreed to when he took Hagar to himself? What do you call it when Abram laughed out loud at the idea of himself having a son, when he was already almost a hundred years old. Normal people were having great-grand kids at this age. Maybe even great-great-grand kids.

So what was so special about him?

All I can figure out is that it is the same thing that is so special about us–

The calling of God.

Us, unworthy, never with enough good deeds to make us valuable. And still He calls.

The Most High, Almighty God, who bends down and talks to us.

Just like He stooped down from His majesty in this verse and made a covenant with a not-so-perfect nomad with sun-wrinkled skin and wobbly knees and a faint heart. A wife who had even less faith. A house that had never rung with the laughter of their own child.

And He promised him a nation, when he didn’t even have an heir.

There’s a lot that God did for Abram–gave him a new name, for one. Promised him an everlasting nation. Sent him out into a land where he was a stranger. Said He would multiply him as the stars. Answered his prayers of persistence.

But one thing still strikes me, quivers like an arrow sticking into wood.

God talked to Abram.

Why?

We’ve established that it wasn’t because Abram was so great.

We aren’t so great either. Our sin totally corrupts us, blinds us to the Light.

And yet He came into this world that we like to call ours, and He talked to us.

Talked and lived and then made His biggest statement of all–a living Word, a dying cry–

“It is Finished!”

The debt was paid, the ransom price given. It was so,so high. Did all of heaven gasp when its King shuddered out His last breath? Is that why the ground writhed and the rocks seemed to cry out in that hour? In what kind of world would God die and let us live?

He wrested the sin-gap from between His face and ours and let in all the light of His glory. And–wondrous love–He still talks to us. He loves to walk with us. He loves to love us.

We should get excited here–God talks to us. We have a Book full of His messages, a prayer-closet that could overflow with communion, a Spirit that dwells with us.

Loving us isn’t a dull duty to God. Not at all! He delights over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)!

Facing today may seem impossible to you.

The deadlines hover. The dishes are mountains in the sink. You’re just fed up.

But stop. Breathe. Remember.

God chose to speak to you. That is a great honor, a beautiful, filling thing.

He delights over you with singing. Not because you’re worthy, but because He is worthy.

Beloved one, rest. Live in the light of His face. Really live–a whole-heart, down-to-earth, in-the-grit living. He didn’t call us so we could sit here, did He? We must walk in Him, abide in Him, go and be poured out as He was.

It’s an exciting life. It’s a joyous life. And He will be there, all the way–leading, talking, loving…and singing with delight over you.

Can you hear His song?

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….”

– Hebrews 1:1-3, NKJV –

Thank you to Petr Kratochvil for the photo from Public Domain Pictures!

So This is Love

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“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

– 1 John 4:9-10, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Sometimes, when I’m not sufficiently humbled, God awakens me to just how much His reminders strike to the core of my beliefs.

It was a revelation to me, simple as it is, that what God tells us in His Word is not just a quaint collection of rules and promises with no connection to me.

Instead, I began to see that each tale of the disciples was confronting my faithlessness. The ordeal of Martha’s busyness was meant to bring me to a halt and consider my own reckless hurrying. Peter’s misstep in the Galilee waters shows me my own tendency to look at the towering waves rather than the powerful Wave-Maker.

So when I heard again a familiar verse in 1 John, I heard something new this time.

Love is like this, John says: Not that we loved God, but He loved us.

John ought to know, from three years eating and sleeping and talking and leaning on the chest of Love Himself.

He knows what Love is—Love is a God who put on skin and put eternal vision into two human eyes and limitless power into two rough carpenter hands. Who had a God-sized task and embraced it in the frame of a human man, had a journey only the Ancient of Days could make and walked down that path with only two dusty feet.

And just so I—so we—don’t forget, John writes this verse in the fourth chapter: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Propitiation is the Greek word hilasmόs. Not just a payment, or a reconciling, but a sacrifice that makes us friends. That is what His coming to die did—brought near those who were far off. Brought us into abiding, by the High Priest offering Himself as the spotless Lamb. (From Zodhiates’ Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible.)

Aren’t we tempted to think highly of our own love? The thoughts lurk at the edges of our minds—“Isn’t God so lucky to have such a loving child like me?”

And His coming—that, for sure, wasn’t because we loved Him so much that He could not resist coming for a visit!

What kind of love is this that picks out the most worthless, despised, hating creatures and says, “I want them”?

When the sparks fly from our eyes in our loathing, that’s when He loves us.

I wrote in desperation once, tears brimming, because of a young friend who was shouting in the next room, in total flagrant rejection of the cross-life, the Jesus life:

“I stand, inside-aching and wanting to scream prayers to heaven because this kid is hell-bent and doesn’t even care. How I can watch a soul rot right before me?

“I hate my life!” my friend finally shouted.

I half-wonder why the kid doesn’t just proclaim hate for everyone else too and get it out there. Because the self-consuming is blazed in red across angry cheeks and spits out in recoiling disrespect.

The back and forth of two counselors rip the child into a seat, say to sit up straight, try to crush out the unreal world-lust dreams with reality. And the kid’s middle-of-them words split up between their shouts and the child’s so sick angry.

I’m sick too, torn, worn of all the masking, now coming out oozing filth and hell-rage. Can’t deny how sickening a stench folly has.

I feel like the devil is arm-wrestling for a soul and he’s winning.

Oh, Savior, that everlasting arm! You have strength to save, to turn a heart of stone into flesh.

Please, interpose that blood! Please strike conviction into a heart so hard I can’t fathom, yet have a deep clenching that I could have been that too. Once I was, too.

I bite my lip, draw away from conflict that rips my heart. I want to keep crying to heaven for help for one world-lover of a child who has lived hell so long that heaven is despised. Who is so blind that godliness is disgust and a sin-wreck of a life is lusted after.

How, dear Father, Abba, is a soul so dead that it hates life? How is a beggar so blind that it spits at the Healer who could heal darkness-seared eyes with one touch? How is a child so deaf that it gnashes its teeth at the idea of a Song?

How did I not see the desperation before?

I hurt at the darkness—it chokes me, makes me cling to a Savior who gave grace to pull me out of this mire.

Don’t forsake this child now, Great God. Please, please, intervene. Please bring Your arm into this match and bring Satan to his knees. Please force the darkness to tremble, the life-chewing cancer of sin to remit.”

In another room, I wrote furiously, praying with so much pain that I marveled. Before, how had I not seen how deep our disgusting stain penetrates?

How had I never seen the desolate death exuded by my own heart, how desperately wicked I was? I knew that my heart depths were not any cleaner than that of the friend screaming a room over.

But there is a difference.

I’ve been washed.

I’ve been justified.

I’ve been sanctified, am being sanctified.

And the promised glorification is just a few heartbeats away—who knows how many but God?

So in remembering the defiant shouts of a so-lost friend, I see what Love is.

That a God would die for the rabble that shouts for His death.

That Jehovah would heal those whose hearts are decayed with sickness and touch lepers and make them fit to sit at His table.

That my Jesus would see me floundering in the blood of willful rejection and would wash me spotless and wrap me in His own robe. To be white-clothed in righteousness I could never earn, never even desire without Him.

So I see now, what a fool I am when I think my love is something to brag about.

“By Your perfect sacrifice, I’ve been brought near, Your enemy You’ve made Your friend.

Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace, Your mercy and Your kindness know no end.

Your blood has washed away my sin. Jesus, thank You.

The wrath of God completely satisfied. Jesus, thank You.

Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table. Jesus, thank You.”

–  “Jesus, Thank You” by Pat Sczebel –

So, not that we loved God.

But He loved us. Loved us.

Can you believe it? Us. Guilty, vile, helpless (from the hymn “Hallelujah, What a Savior”).

Our guilt, shame—it’s not for us to dwell on now, to return like a pig to wallow in it.

We remember so we can bless God for pulling us out of the mire.

To try to wrap our heads around redeeming love.

And then go on our way and sin no more.

And put on display to a pitch-black world the Love that will never let us go.

To go and do likewise.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us,

that we should be called children of God!”

– 1 John 3:1, NKJV –

Thank you to Petr Kratochvil for the lovely photo from Public Domain Pictures.net!

The Wall that Crumbled

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“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1:9, NKJV, emphasis mine –

It’s not often that a verse that I’ve read a million times,  heard all my life, comes out at me in a new light.

But today it did.

I was listening to the Word of Promise Bible on my computer, following along in my own Bible. 1 John began and the words flowed along quickly, chapters filling my ears.

And somewhere in the second or third chapter, I was still scribbling in my journal about 1 John 1:9.

So familiar it’s almost trite. It’s the verse of assurance, an appendix to the Romans Road.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them.

Simple as that.

Confess and He will forgive.

But those two adjectives that describe Him—why haven’t I stopped to see before?

Faithful. Well, that’s not surprising. If there’s anything I rest my life on, it’s my God’s faithfulness.

But the other trait—justice.

Not only is He faithful, but also just to forgive our sins. Yes, merciful, but the very noble, unswerving justice of His nature means He cannot do other than forgive our sin.

He cannot, will not deviate from the path of overwhelming grace—Jesus came down, stepped right into abominable, writhing humanity.

If He pressed on in joy to His cross, will not God also give us all in Him?

The King of heaven bowed His bloodied head and then with the greatest outpouring of grace-power cried,

“It is finished!”

Yes, gone. Done. Accomplished. Finished.

So it’s not just a merciful impulse or a split personality idiosyncrasy that insists on forgiving desolate sinners in spite of stern justice.

But here, His justice forgives.

In Christ, there is no wall between justice and mercy.

That wall crumbled in that earth-quaking noon darkness, when God bowed and the universe’s Ruler subjected Himself to death. When the last breath rushed from bruised lungs, even the rocks cried out and trembled at the dying breath of their Creator.

And that justice-mercy barrier shattered to pieces.

And there’s nothing else that will satisfy God’s justice than to look on me with favor.

To do less, when Christ has offered so great a ransom price, would be to deny His own justice.

Nothing else will be true to His character, nothing else in line with both bottomless grace and flawless integrity.

This sin-laden girl will live, and live abundantly, because God laid Himself down and died.

I will rejoice, because Jesus swallowed up my oh-so-deserved sorrow.

Mercy looks on me and smiles.

But Justice—what will it declare to this trespasser who dares run into the throne room?

Unlike Esther, not uninvited.

What response, to a trembling soul on its knees? The King on His throne rises, looks on with love.

And the soul that dared throw itself on this Ruler’s mercy, who knew like that Persian queen of old that this was the only chance for life—to throw herself on the mercy of that great One on the throne.

And Justice holds out the scepter of welcome and declares life to the suppliant.

Live! Live!

And on my knees, I lift up trembling fingers and touch the extended hand, the hand of a King bearing the eternal scars of a criminal.

A sinner’s hand touches that of the Sinless King.

Justice and Mercy meet there, in a faith-touch that takes power right from Him. But He does not ask who touched Him, not this time. He looks down with eyes I can’t fathom, love I can’t measure. By His touch, sees all of me.

Yet I am forgiven, invited into His fellowship.

Made joyfully alive, unconditionally accepted, completely whole.

At His feet.

Thanks to Consuelo Suarez for a great photo from Public Domain Pictures.