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The most important word – conclusion

September 9, 2014

Forgive – that beautiful and impossible word came at a huge cost. And yet it is also free.

How does that make sense?

If you have not read the Scriptures or are unaware of the good news Jesus came to preach, I would heartily encourage you to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then I would encourage the reading of Romans and Hebrews and of course, the whole of Scripture.

photo-91But to explain in my limited way, let me attempt to tell you why Jesus came.

If you accept the teachings of Genesis – of a world made by a Creator, of a man and woman who disobeyed that Creator and brought sin and brokenness into the world, then you will understand that when something is broken it needs to be fixed. That’s our desire, isn’t it? When something that we value breaks, we either wish we could undo what happened or repair the damage.

We can’t ever undo what’s been done and though God could have undone Adam’s choice and rewound time (because He’s God and He can do what He pleases), He chose not to. He didn’t allow Himself to go against the laws of nature that He had already put into play. And He did not undo the consequences that He had laid out should the man and woman go against those laws.

So when they did, the only choice left (besides people suffering the consequences) was to fix and repair the damage. Actually, in God’s case, He did more than fix. He promised to remake the world and wipe out the suffering.

That’s why Jesus came. Back in Genesis He was there creating the world and in Matthew He entered that creation with the express purpose of fixing it all. That fix required a cost because the unfortunate nature of consequences is that they tend to last. And in sin’s case, it became imbedded in the DNA of humanity to the point that it cannot be eradicated. Not without divine intervention. Not without a divine sacrifice.

You see–all of those sacrifices people have offered to various gods over time and even the sacrifices God required of His people Israel could never eradicate sin. The blood of goats and bulls can’t wash a human heart clean. Even people who sacrificed their own children on ancient altars couldn’t find forgiveness in the blood of their child. Because their children, though innocent, were still flawed.

So God put on human skin and stepped into the world and did what was required to make things right again. The cost was much more than dying a cruel unjust death. His actions, His sacrifice caused a rip in the divine fabric, in the very relationship of Father and Son. All because they determined to bring the creation back to what it was meant to be. To offer forgiveness for the sin that tore it apart.

On a much simpler scale–imagine being given a gift you don’t deserve and could never repay–and this gift came from the one person in the world that you have hurt the most. It’s the father offering his best ring and robe to a wayward child, even though that child did his best (or worst) to cause his father pain. It’s the shepherd searching valleys and canyons and pits and the base of cliffs, getting tangled in brambles and suffering cuts and bruises to rescue a rascally, rebellious lamb. It’s a man selling all he has to buy a precious jewel and then giving it to his enemy.

That’s what Jesus did. He offers the ring and robe, he searches the deepest pits for his lost sheep, he gave up all he had so his enemies could be forgiven. Bought back. Remade.

That’s the good news as best as I can explain it.

A gift that’s ours without cost and yet the most expensive treasure we could ever own. If we accept it.

Selah~

by jill at 5:56 pm in ,

The most important word – part 3

September 8, 2014

What is the nature of divine forgiveness and why do we need it?

The short answer from a Christian perspective is because the Bible teaches the concept from beginning to end. Genesis tells us of the fall from grace and the story of redemption and forgiveness is the main message of Scripture, culminating in the triumphal return of Jesus Christ when He erases sin from the equation of humanity and eternity.

The longer answer will, I hope, cause us to examine our hearts a little more closely.

It is not hard to look around us today or look into times past and discover that something is seriously wrong with the human condition. We are living in a world ripe with evil, hatred, bitter (and ancient) grudges, and unforgiving spirits.

But turn the dial closer to home and look into our own hearts. What is it about humanity that causes us to feel a sense of guilt? Why does a child blush when they are caught in a lie? What makes a toddler grab a toy away from another or hit a playmate for taking what he deems his?

photo 2-2Why is there evidence even from ancient times of peoples who offered sacrifices to their gods in order to appease them, to seek forgiveness? Do not most religions today offer the worshipper some way to do penance, to find relief from guilt, freedom from wrongs they’ve committed?

What is that sense within us that produces a guilty conscience? Or seeks absolution at the end of one’s life?

If we are willing to look at it again, the Bible does give a plausible and perhaps the best answer to that question. For though evolutionary thought can suggest these emotions are somehow leftover from our ancestors, then where did our ancestors get them? If we evolved from lower life forms, where did sin or guilt come from? Why the sense (laws or no laws) of right and wrong?

God calls that inner struggle sin. It’s a condition we are born with (blame it on Adam), but one we don’t have to die with. In fact, it’s one of the only things about us that we have a choice to change if we are willing.

From the time we are born and without the help of modern technology or serious surgery, we can’t change the color of our skin, where we were born, our parental heritage, our gender, our hair color, the shape and color of our eyes, our height, our build, our DNA, our physical makeup. We can’t even really change our personalities, whether we are introverted or extroverted and a zillion other things about what makes us who we are. In most of these things we didn’t get to choose.

That doesn’t mean we can never change. But true change starts with honesty and effort and at a heart level it has to address that most important word–forgiveness. For if we are honest with ourselves, we know we all need to be forgiven. We might not understand from whom to seek that forgiveness or why we need it, but I daresay we know we need it. Unless we are completely cold and hard-hearted. We wouldn’t feel the need to apologize to another person if we never felt guilty for hurting that person.

And in the end it comes down to apologizing, acknowledging, admitting to God our need of His forgiveness for the sins we commit, for the darkness within us, for that sense of inner struggle in our hearts that causes us to keep thinking, saying, doing things we know aren’t right. Things that fall short of what He made us to be.

To err is human. To err is sin.

But God forgives because that is who He is. And because of what Jesus accomplished when He came to earth, He can.

Conclusion to come.

Selah~

by jill at 4:47 pm in ,

The most important word – part 2

September 7, 2014

Forgiveness comes with a cost. And with an admission. What are they?

First, let’s look at it the admission from a purely human standpoint -

photo 1-2If someone wrongs us, whatever that wrong may be, in order to forgive them we must admit that we were wronged. We must acknowledge our pain, our anger, and face the fact that we were hurt.

That may sound simple, especially if we are quick to feel. But sometimes we bury our feelings and mask our hurts and deny that anything is wrong. We lie to ourselves that what that person said or did wounded us. Been there?

I think this can be easiest when we are in a situation where we truly want to believe the best of someone or some situation. If we are loyal at heart, we might not recognize that someone is mistreating us. We might blindly continue a relationship that is one-sided not realizing that the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

Or perhaps we set expectations of our significant friends and family that are too high for them to meet, and when they don’t meet them, we tuck the hurt deep inside us. Could it be fear that keeps us from admitting the way we truly feel?

For if I admit that I am bitterly angry at someone for something, especially if that person is someone I love, I dare not cast blame or admit my anger. Christians shouldn’t feel that way, right?

But this kind of denial can lead to depression. Christians can become masters at suppression, especially when it comes to being honest with God. If we dare lift the lid on the boiling resentment and hurt, we might say something, feel something, act in such a way that would prove we aren’t perfect, aren’t godly. And often we can’t admit that even to ourselves.

So bitterness builds until deep down hate grows–toward ourselves, toward others, toward God, toward the church…the list is endless.

I remember many years ago (I think I was in my early teens) suffering some intense feelings that I didn’t understand. I did a lot of soul searching and realized that if I wanted to be free of the hurt and bitterness, I needed to admit it. I needed to acknowledge the truth to God. He already knew how I felt, so why deny it?

So I wrote a letter to the people who had hurt me telling them exactly how I felt. (One side note–those hurts were not abusive or in any way huge deals–and in fact, the people in question had no idea the hurt in my heart.) But I did and it was affecting my spirit, my joy.

So after giving those feelings to the Lord, I wrote “I forgive you” all over the letter I’d written, front and back, and burned the paper. Those people did not need to know my hurt. They had not done anything intentional. You see even minor or imagined hurts matter to our hearts.

But forgiveness of any sort starts with truth. We have to stop lying to ourselves and to God. Because divine forgiveness is what we really need.

More on that to come.

Selah~

by jill at 4:39 pm in ,

The most important word

September 6, 2014

There is one word in the English language that trumps all others. It has seven letters and touches every person everywhere from time immemorial. This word reflects the character of God and at the same time the true nature of the human heart.

Pretty impressive qualities for only seven letters. You can find the word in the message of Joseph’s brothers when they sought peace with the brother they had wronged, in the prayer of Moses when he pleaded with God on behalf of Israel when they exchanged the worship of God who had delivered them from slavery to a calf made of gold. You hear it in David’s words when he felt the crushing weight of his own guilt for his sins, in Solomon’s prayer when he beseeched God at the dedication of the temple, and in Jesus’ words as he hung from the cross regarding those who had put him there.

The word is forgive. 

Joseph’s brothers - ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin…”

Moses - Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.

David - Look on my affliction and my pain, And forgive all my sins.

Solomon - Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.

Jesus - “Fatherforgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

photo-89In 1711 in his An Essay on Criticism II, Alexander Pope said in, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” There is truth in that statement, for only God has the power to truly forgive sins.

Jesus riled the religious leaders when He told a sick person that their sins were forgiven for these leaders recognized that only God held that power and that right. They did not recognize that Jesus as God had that same power and right.

While God holds this ultimate ability to forgive sins, in both Old and New Testaments we as human beings are also admonished to forgive others. Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

And Matthew 6:15 says, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Holding a grudge is the same thing as not forgiving. And God takes it seriously enough to say that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had many times in my life when forgiving someone was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The pain of someone’s wrath aimed at you, the rejection of someone you love, the seeming unfairness of circumstances or the mistreatment we face, real or not, are all temptations to take an offense to heart, to bear a grudge. To not forgive.

But so many things happen when we choose not to forgive others. Our prayers go unheard. Our hearts grow bitter. Our relationships sour.

Unanswered prayers make God seem distant. Bitterness leads to hate. Relationships shatter, sometimes to the point they can never be mended.

Peter asked Jesus one day, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Stop and think about that. If someone repeats the same offense to us, seven times seems like a lot, doesn’t it? And yet, Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

That does not mean we keep count or stop at 490 times. For if we keep a record of wrongs, we aren’t really forgiving, are we?

I wonder how I would fare if God kept a record of my wrongs and said, “You’ve hit 500 times for this same offense, I’ve run out of mercy.” Aren’t you glad God isn’t like that? His mercies are new every morning!

All because it is within His character to forgive. But forgiveness comes with a cost. And an admission.

More on that to come.

Selah~

by jill at 4:48 pm in ,

A biblical novelist looks at Genesis – conclusion

August 29, 2014

What’s in a word? Genesis 1 shows us how God spoke the world into existence with phrases that began, “Let there be…”

What does God’s voice sound like? I’ve often thought that thunder was just God speaking. His voice does thunder. But it also whispers. What if God’s whisper caused an explosion of creativity that resulted in a world more perfect than we see today?

Let there be…

Light darknessAnd all at once…or perhaps slowly, like the array of beauty you see in a gradually brilliant sunset…light appeared.

The Bible says that God himself is light. So did light already exist in His presence and He just decided to let that light appear in the expanse of darkness that hovered in nothingness? Or were these lights the stars that we now see in the heavens?

Scientists and theologians can debate the order of words in Genesis, and some will say it happened literally, exactly as it states, and others will say there couldn’t be light before their were stars (our sun is a star). While I find these discussions fascinating, I wasn’t there.

But I believe God was.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  

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;

The word of God.

People refer to the Bible as the word of God. The Scriptures themselves speak of the good news of Jesus as the word of God. Throughout the Bible God is shown to take any means necessary to speak to human beings—through angels, prophets, in dreams and visions, and even directly to leaders, kings, even a young child (Samuel).

When God speaks, things change. People change. God’s words create. They are life.  (Philippians 2:16) They are food. (John 6) They are light and truth and pure and holy and powerful. By them we grow in faith and in knowledge of God.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, 
and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.Psalm 33:6 (If so much came about through God’s words, imagine what He brought forth through a mere breath!)

To hear God speak worlds into existence had to be one amazing experience. Those that witnessed it (as well as enacted it), the Father, Son, and Spirit, explained how it happened in rather detailed accounts throughout Scripture. Apparently the “morning stars” and the “sons of God” were also witnesses of at least some of creation, but I’m not sure anyone is truly clear on who they were. Angels perhaps?

These written biblical words tell us that we aren’t here by accident. We might have been formed out of chaos, but there was order to our creation and purpose to our being. Which brings me back to the reason for this series of blog posts.

I cannot prove to anyone without doubt that science doesn’t sometimes disagree with the biblical account. I cannot prove that Genesis happened exactly as the Book says it did. I wasn’t there. I’m not the Creator.

But as a student of Scripture and a student of the craft of story, I can say that the Bible makes the most sense when we see it as a whole. When we understand that it carries the stories from a history of people who really did once live. And those stories were written to teach us about life, about sin and forgiveness and a Creator who went to great lengths to prove his love for beings, who by their choices marred that creation. A Creator who became one of us so that He could be exactly as Job, that ancient patriarch knew He had promised to be—his Redeemer.

This best-selling book is put together with words in 66 separate books written centuries apart by many different authors. And yet foreshadowing in Isaiah is fulfilled in Matthew. The life story of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar makes clearer sense in Romans. And the promise in Genesis 3 to the woman over the serpent finds its culmination in both the Garden of Gethsemane and the final chapters of Revelation.

The literary structure alone should put the English student in awe of its craft.

And yet as the book so eloquently states in that Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith, no one will ever truly understand the words apart from faith.

As I mentioned the other day, it takes faith to believe most things in life. It takes faith to believe the simplest things—like taking for granted the chair will hold me when I sit down, feeling certain that the person I’m speaking to is telling me the truth, trusting that life is going to go on today as it has yesterday.

The Bible defines faith:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:1 & 6

God spoke the world into existence, and He still speaks to us through that creation. He speaks in pictures and He speaks in words. His words made those pictures and have told those stories. May God grant us eyes to see Him in what He has made…and perchance to hear His gentle words in our hearts.

Selah~

 

by jill at 12:00 pm in ,