Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Forgiveness and Trust

If I had to sum up the meaning of Christmas in one word, I would choose RECONCILIATION. ‘To reconcile’ is to settle a quarrel or a dispute, although my favorite definition is ‘to make friends again’.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.


Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Christmas time brings families together and sad but true, there are often family members that we have not reconciled with. We are willing to carry hurts for decades, (though I can think of nothing more exhausting), and we grin and bear the tension during the holidays. I wanted to write about forgiveness for a while and this time of year seems to be an extremely appropriate time.

Someone has said, “never trust your emotions, they lie!” The prophet Jeremiah received the word of God regarding our inner core,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Apart from Christ, our emotions are consummate liars but even after conversion the emotional life is a complicated phenomena. Our desires and inclinations seem to be in a near constant state of struggle against our old nature (Romans 7).

Read in Matthew 18:15-35, our Lords teaching on forgiving our brother (or sister). The teaching and the following parable give us a very strong and straight forward OUGHT. You are probably already very familiar with this scripture and you live in guilt because you just feel stuck in unforgiveness – you can’t do it! Here are just a few thoughts to consider and I mean to comfort you rather that increase your feelings of guilt:

It may seem strange, but the best way to get your mind around forgiveness is to think of the offense in terms of a financial debt. Money is tangible and so our Lord used a financial debt to help us to understand forgiveness.

Let's say you loan me 1000 dollars and then I don't pay you back. After a long awkward relationship I go to you and say, "please, forgive my debt because I can't pay it." You do. Now, my debt is forgiven and you no longer hold me accountable for the money. I am relieved and I thank you profusely. We hug and have coffee together - we've been reconciled.

What happened to the debt, did it evaporate? No, YOU absorbed it. YOU took the pain, the hurt, the inconvenience. When you forgave me it cost YOU something. Someone had to pay the debt and it was YOU. You forgave my financial debt because you had the financial and intestinal means to do so. It was an act of mercy but it cost you something.

When someone hurts you emotionally it's no different. You just can't pretend it never happened because someone has to absorb the pain. Forgiveness requires prayer and a full understanding of what Christ has done for us. Christ has taken all debts upon himself so that if a brother or sister hurts you, then you ought to forgive that brother or sister. Nevertheless, though we OUGHT to forgive, we still must be aware that we will have to take the hurt upon ourselves and THAT requires emotional strength and spiritual maturity.

Forgiveness is the willingness to absorb the hurt and pain in order to free the offender from any further debt to you. Trust, is the willingness to risk being hurt AGAIN and having to absorb the pain AGAIN.

You OUGHT to forgive but let’s follow the Lords teaching from a sermon on discipleship in Luke 14,

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?

Reconciliation is like the rebuilding of a tower. You ought to build it but you ALSO ought to count the cost. If you don’t consider the amount of hurt or loss that you must absorb then you may find the whole attempt crumbling and even more pain will come to all involved.

Forgiveness? Trust? Can you afford these emotionally? Maybe not! You may not be ready, but it should be your goal and Christ’s forgiveness of us is the foundation that we need to work from. Trust doesn't mean that you should be foolish but it does mean that you are willing to risk being hurt for the sake of the Gospel and the furthering of the Kingdom. In all things, may God be glorified.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Will May Be Free.. But That NATURE?

No amount of logic or conscious reasoning is going to convince a person that they lack free will, not when one can FEEL the truth of free will. You ask what would I like, pecan or pumpkin pie? Pumpkin! It was an effortless decision and therefore proving that I have free will because NOTHING outside of myself made me choose the pumpkin – I chose freely.

In actuality, all I've proven with this illustration is that we are decision making agents. We cannot simply define 'free will' as the ability to choose freely without outside compunction because there are factors within us that determine our choice. We won't go into the technical points here but let's keep in mind that we always choose based on a list of criteria that bring about the most desirable outcome. A truly FREE choice would be a RANDOM choice in which no desire or urge effected the decision.

I have previously given a workable definition:

Free will – the ability to choose freely that which we desire the most.

Free choice is not the problem in this logical and theological puzzle, the problem is with our DESIRES. Are our desires free from pre-determined influences? Let me give you another illustration and one of my favorites:

At one time I had three beautiful Golden Retrievers and a lovely fenced little farm for them to run on. Let's say I put them outside the back door with the promise of a treat – a hunk of juicy STEAK. The three dogs stand in rapt attention as I lift the meat over my head. Mind you, there are no leashes on them, no leads or dog runs, nothing to constrict or control their movements – they are totally FREE to go anywhere they DESIRE.

I throw the first morsel to the right. Can you predict which direction the three dogs will go? If you chose a unanimous decision to go to the right then you are correct. Next I throw the steak to the left, the opposite of the first toss. Yes! You are correct again, this time they ran to the left. Next, to keep things fresh I toss the meat to the right again. I could have thrown it straight and long and of course the dogs would follow the meat. No matter how many times I throw a piece of meat and ANY direction, the dogs will follow - it is their NATURE.

The dogs are free to choose and free to move in any direction but they are in bondage to their NATURE. Our nature is the fountain of our desires and though our wills may be free in choosing, our wills are NOT FREE of our nature. Our natures, apart from Christ, are IN BONDAGE TO SIN.

Ephesians 2:1

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

In this verse lies the sad condition and the truth about free will. Our will may be free from outside control but it cannot escape it's bondage to the desires of our fallen nature. By nature, all mankind are haters of God and can NEVER make a saving decision toward God – it would violate our nature.

Jesus, in his explanation to a nationalistic Nicodemus told the curious Pharisee,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
So if the Lord says, “whoever believes in him, should not perish”, then doesn't that mean we have the freedom to choose eternal life? Not if we are God haters, not if we are by nature children of wrath. The truth is that the answer to “whoever will believe” is NOBODY. Unless God first changes our God-hating nature then no one WILL believe.

Hence Jesus explains in John 6:44

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him
and again in verse 65,

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

So, in any discussion, remember to define your terms. We do indeed have wills and in as much as our wills are free from OUTSIDE control then our wills can be called FREE, but watch out for the problem INSIDE. Even the best that our minds and hearts have to offer comes from a polluted well, a fallen nature that apart from Christ is an ENEMY of God. Hence, Isaiah tells us that "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." We are in bondage to sin and it is ONLY in Christ that we are truly given the ABILITY to NOT SIN - it is the closest that we will come to true FREEDOM in this life. To God be the Glory.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

FREE WILL! Ok, grab your forks, we're going to open this can of worms.

For a very long time now I have wanted to address the topic of 'Free Will'. There is much confusion about this subject and enough suspicion of it that most will avoid a study of it, thinking it's a can of worms best left unopened. The real problem with a discussion of 'free will' is that folks don't define their terms before they start an argument. Just as with Calvinism, people bring their own bias, understandings and misunderstandings to the table and then spend hours talking past each other. Our goal here is to break these complicated or misunderstood ideas down into bite sized portions and if I've put this discussion off, it's because this is such a FABULOUS meal with many courses and many ways to present it. I will try and answer the biggest questions but it will take several installments. In this first portion I will give you a great working definition of 'free will'. In subsequent offerings we will look at God's Sovereignty and Salvation, Is God's Will Free or Necessary?, Free Will and Human Responsibility, the Will or Wills of God and more. Let's begin with God.

God is the First Cause and “in Him we live and move and have our being”. Acts 17:28 God is the Creator and has ownership of all things and may dispose of all things as He see fit. God's sustaining power holds all the elements of the universe together, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies. God knows every part of His creation with perfect intimacy, (just as He knows you!). God is the King of kings, this means that He is King in the fullest and most absolute sense, His authority is complete and total. The theological word for this kingly and absolute authority is 'sovereignty'. God is sovereign in power and sovereign in His will.

Think about that for a moment, if what I have just said is true – that God's will has his absolute total and supreme authority behind it, then logically we must conclude that there can be only ONE FREE WILL in the universe. God's will trumps all other wills. Let's see if you believe this: You have a loved one who is unsaved, do you pray for that loved one that salvation will come to him? When you pray, do you pray to God or do you call your loved one and pray to him or her? If you pray to God for him or here (as you should) then you must admit that God's will can over power, restrict and manipulate the will of your loved one. If God's will does not trump your loved one's will then you should pray to your friend or relative and say, “Bill” or “Mary, save yourself, please!” You don't do that, in fact what you really want is for God to 'violate' the 'free will' of your friend, to quicken them, to open the eyes of their heart and CAUSE them to come to the savior.

That's enough to digest for now but I did tell you I would give you a working definition of 'free will' and I will do that so you can ruminate on it until the next serving.

Definition: 'Free will' is the ability to choose freely that which we desire the most.

Memorize that because it's going to get you out of trouble and offer a delicious morsel to those who hunger for a better understanding of God and his dealings with His creatures. I will take this definition apart in the coming days.

(Go To Part Two)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Danny Kept Me Up All Night!

I started hanging around with Christian kids in 1970 when I was 15 years old; the chief reason was a record breaking cross country runner named Danny Biebel. He was one of those young men who just seemed to do all things well. He was a son of a Baptist preacher who wasn't afraid to bring his faith to school, to races or to wherever he went. Danny was a natural leader and because of his athleticism, aspiring athletes were drawn to him - I sure was. He mentored us on running and the Bible and the discipline required for both of those studies.

In '72 I faced a crisis of faith and of being. My parents were headed toward divorce and a series of events that typically rocks the security and comfort zone of the children of divorce. I thought that being a Christian would make me immune from such messy disturbances. I wanted to be a Christian for the camaraderie, for the running, for the bliss. At 17 I was learning that Christianity doesn't change situations, doesn't stop catastrophes and demands your all not just your interest. The price was too much, my experiment with Christianity was over.

That's when the Lord sent Danny to my door. Every time I got together with Dan, there was an interesting ritual that took place.

Dan would ask, "How are you doing?"
"Fine", I would answer.
Then Dan would stare right into my eyes and there was a pause.
After a bit of discomfort Dan would ask, "How are you doing... really?"
"No really, great, I'm fine."
Then Dan would shift his body and look away for a moment, as if to say "Stop wasting my time with small talk, you're avoiding the truth."
Then he would look back into me and cock his head and say, "No, I mean, how are you doing... really?"

I'm not sure what Dan would have done or said next, THAT was always enough to get me to turn from my denial and admit that things were bad and I was hurting. I told him that I don't want Christ anymore, it's not what I was expecting.

Dan said, "Let's go for a ride."

We drove to the home of a family in the church and Dan asked if we could use their upper room. They said sure. Dan and I went up and sat on the floor for a few hours as he recounted Bible promises and I resisted. He spoke again of Christ's sacrifice but it wasn't enough. He asked me if I wanted to pray - I said "No".

Finally we left and being the middle of the night I was relieved that he would take me home. Instead we drove across the river into New Hampshire and up onto a high hill in Plainfield where the view was amazing. Above us was a vast canopy of stars and below were the lights of houses in the valley. We sat for a long time in silence and then he asked again, "Would you like to pray?"


Dan said, "You see all those lights down there?


"How many of those people do you think have problems?"

Interesting, with that question I now felt that it was God himself who was staring into me and then looking away to let me know He didn't appreciate me wasting time with small talk and avoidance.

Dan explained that God doesn't take our problems away but he also doesn't let us go through them alone. That suffering is common among the children of men but that God brings purpose to our inflictions. I knew that if I was to turn to Christ again it wouldn't be for running, for family, for friends or for fun, it would be a surrender of everything, it would be a confession that I would be willing to lose it all for the prize of knowing Christ.

Being a distance runner, Danny's favorite Bible verse was Hebrews 12:1,2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Dan again turned to me and said, "So... do you want to pray?"
I knew that the Christian walk would never again be easy but I said "Yes."

Danny had inspired me to become a runner and I thought winning the race was the goal, but in the end he was my hero because he showed me that we win when we STOP and know that Jesus is Lord; that we are more than conquerors when we bow low and acknowledge God's sovereign will, and surrender to His love, His mercy, His plan.

Danny kept me up all night. Thank you Dan.