I am forgiven

A Forgiveness Horror Story

 “Charlie Evans, slave number 437, to see the king.” The squire looked down his slender nose at Charlie. “Approach the throne.”

Charlie counted each trembling step. Twelve. Twelve steps to seal his fate. He didn’t dare look up. He kept his eyes on his own bear feet. A pair of yellow, pointed-toed shoes clicked up beside him. The squire rattled his scroll. “His Royal Majesty graciously bestowed upon Charlie Evans, slave number 437, a loan of $500,000 exactly five years ago today. The accounts say the full amount is now due.”

Silence filled the hall. Charlie swallowed. “I don’t have it.”

“Speak up.” The squire’s voice cracked.

“I don’t have it, Sire. I lost it all.” He had been so confident five years ago. He’d had a no-fail business plan, a profit-making promise, a sure deal. He’d won the king’s trust and funding. He’d tried. Truly. And failed. I’m a failure.

The king gave one quiet little snort. “Throw him in debtors’ prison until the money is paid, and sell his wife and children.” The squire’s yellow shoes clicked backward to make way for the guards. That’s when Charlie threw himself and his dignity face down on the palace tiles.

 “No!” The wail bounced off the stone walls. “I have been a foolish man, Your Majesty. I owe you a debt I can never repay. Please, please have mercy on me. My precious wife – she trusted me, and I’ve failed her. We’ve only got two daughters, my lord – they are just 2 and 4. Please don’t separate them from their mother. Please allow them the love of their father. Please, Your Majesty, have mercy.”

Charlie lay, nose to the floor, his sobs the only sound in the vast room. And then …

“I forgive you.”

Charlie looked up. The king was leaning forward on his throne, looking him straight in the eyes. “I forgive you. You never have to repay the money. Get up and go home. Be a husband and father.”

Charlie hadn’t run in years, but he scrambled up off that floor and ran now. He was free. Forgiven. Debt cancelled. He threw open the palace doors and ran into the sunshine. The cacophony of that village street seemed a symphony of joy.

That’s when he saw Jacob, slave number 348, buying an apple. Jacob owed Charlie $10. He’d borrowed it to buy a shovel five months ago, promising he’d pay it back when he dug enough holes to earn a profit. Five months. Enough time to dig a lot of holes. Charlie pushed his way through the crowd.

“Jacob.”

“Hello, Charlie.”

“Nice coat. Is it new? You owe me $10.”

“I can’t pay it. I’m sorry. No one has hired me to dig anything.”

“The law says I can throw you in prison for that.”

“Please don’t. I’m sorry. It’s just $10. I’ll get it to you soon.”

“Just $10?” Charlie looked around for a sentry. Ah, there was one. “You there,” he called. The big man turned. “This slave owes me $10 and refuses to repay me. Throw him in prison.”

“Charlie, please. I’ve got a wife and kids. You know I can’t make any money in prison. They’ll starve.”

“You should have thought of that before you took my ten bucks.”

 The sentry grabbed Jacob by his collar and hauled him away.

Charlie didn’t see the little slave girl buying bread nearby. He didn’t know she worked at the palace. And he wasn’t there when she told the king. But the next morning, the king’s soldiers yanked Charlie out of bed, ignored the screams of his wife and drug him to the torture chambers. As he hung there on the rack, the king himself swept into the filthy room.

“You wicked man. I forgave you $500,000 because you begged me, and yet you refused to forgive your fellow slave a lousy $10.”

Charlie couldn’t answer. The pain paralyzed his brain, and when he opened his mouth, only a groan escaped. The king went on.

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy? You of all people, shouldn’t you have forgiven as you had been forgiven?”

Again, Charlie moaned.

The king wrapped his wine-colored robes about him and turned to the jailer. “Keep him here until he pays me every last cent.”

“So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matt 18:35 NASB

I didn’t make this story up. You can read Jesus’ version in Matthew 18:21-35.  So, let’s just spell it out here shall we?

Charlie is me. The king is God. The debt is my sin. Jacob is the person who has sinned against me.

This parable is frighteningly to the point: God has forgiven me all my sin, all of it, every single bit of it – a huge, life-time, gargantuan amount of sin.

Any sin that anyone else commits against me is small compared to the amount of sin God has already forgiven me. Even if my offender’s sin against me feels enormous, all I have to do is compare it to my lifetime of sin against God to put it in perspective.

And, if I don’t forgive my offender … God… will … not … forgive … me.

Have you ever said it?  “I could never forgive him.” Or maybe, “Well, I can’t forgive her because she hasn’t apologized.”  You are playing with fire. Anyone want to guess what the torture chamber stands for in this account?   It’s a horror story, and it’s a true one.  We can’t gloss this one over, painting God as a kindly grandfather who will let this slide.

It’s frighteningly important: forgive.  No matter what he or she has done.  No matter how wrong. No matter how hurtful. Forgive. Or you’ll face your God without forgiveness.

Forgive, out of joy and gratitude for your own forgiveness.  Forgive, and forego the prison of bitterness.  Forgive, and find freedom.

Forgive, as extravagantly as you have been forgiven.

I am forgiven

Forgiven–Sin No More

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

…When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “no one, Lord.”

Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”~ John 8:6, 10-11, NKJVYou can’t grasp a stone while keeping a grip on grace. One or the other must stay on the ground.

I can only imagine what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day. Perhaps a list of references, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 14:3. Maybe a collective list of secret sins harbored by the individuals gathered around. We don’t know. But we do know that His actions changed a woman’s life.

He would not condemn her.

Her entire life, men have slammed her with either their contempt or their lust. On more than one occasion, both. But this one, the one they call Jesus of Nazareth? He silences the fury of the crowd with his voiceless response. He convicts those who had been so thirsty for her conviction. And then He speaks with words that are neither ostentatious nor impotent.

They dispersed, leaving her with her life.

“Does no one condemn you?”

Trembling, she barely meets His eyes. There, kindness gathers in pools—deeper than any she’d ever seen.

“No sir.” She cannot hold His gaze. He can see her sin, she knows it. Not just the fornication from which she’d just been ripped away, but the whole of it. Every evil thought. Every rebellious act. She is certain He knows it all. Shame ripples through her veins as burning liquid stings her eyes. If only the dirt would swirl around her—swallow her. Stoning may have been better.

“Nor do I.” Compassion lilts His voice. “Go, and sin no more.”

The tears fall, but they are no longer bitter. What manner of man is this? He would neither condemn her, nor take advantage of her? She’d never met such a one. Wonder crashes over her, and she chances a look back to him. He is waiting for her gaze with a small, tender smile.

Her breath catches short. Love. That is love! But not like any she’d ever seen among her people. Pure, unselfish, forgiving love. And he’d just washed her with it. In that instant she knew He was the Christ. Only the Chosen One could love like that—only the Messiah could forgive.

Forgiven. Released from the old sinful life. Redeemed from the demand of death, from a life of sin. She would not be the same. Ever.

The gift given to that woman on that day by that man has been given to me as well. Is my life the same?

I am forgiven

The Price of Forgiveness

If his gift is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male. … He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. Leviticus 1:3,4

Every Friday for about a year, I met under the stars with about six African women to tell Bible stories.  We sat in the shadows of their mud huts often until midnight.  It was the only time they had free after a day full of working in their fields, hauling well water, chopping fire wood, and cooking dinner over open fires.  Those dark hours were quiet – except for the occasional donkey throwing a braying fit – so we were able to weave our way through the Old Testament.

My African partner and I explained the Jewish sacrificial system to them, and we told them about this verse – how, by laying a hand on the sacrificial animal’s head, the sinner’s sin was symbolically transferred to the animal.

Friday after Friday, we worked our way through the Bible until we reached the stories of Jesus.  The women were non-literate, and they had never heard the stories before. I was amazed at the spiritual truth they could mine out of the Biblical passages.  Unschooled does not mean un-smart.  Some of them were enthralled with this Jesus. Some just came to listen out of curiosity.  One, I’ll call her “Jill,” was a skeptic.  She asked wickedly astute questions, but it was obvious she didn’t believe anything we were saying

The full moon bathed the whole group in silvery light the night we told the crucifixion story.  I asked a question: “Why do you think Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ as he hung on the cross?”

I watched Jill’s face, and I saw the Holy Spirit reveal it to her.  She spoke slowly.  “Because that was the moment that God laid his hand on Jesus’ head and put the sins of the whole world on him.”

Indeed. 

This forgiveness I enjoy?  It came at a terrible price.  Jesus became a sacrifice – a bloody heap of physical suffering. But when uttered those anguished words, he was separated from God himself. Spiritual suffering.  He’d never been separated before.  And why?  Because my sin had just been laid on his head.  It had just rolled off of me and on to him.

He died in my place.

The wages of sin is death.  Death is separation.  Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.  Jesus endured them both. For me.

So I could be forgiven.

May I never cease to be awed.

I am forgiven

Forgiven by My Father

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him. ~ Psalms 103:10-13, NKJV

This is my favorite passage. Let me show you why . . .

Several years ago we caught one of our sweet children doing something wrong—and it was a pretty big deal. It was long and convoluted, and the whole of it played out in dramatic fashion (little girls are knitted with drama, right?). After the worst of the confession and discipline played out, she sobbed heavily. It was the kind of crying that comes from the soul, from a heart that is broken, not from a sneak that is simply mad at having been caught (I have three daughters, so I’ve become pretty good at recognizing the difference). I looked to my husband and we exchanged one of those puzzled ‘now what?’ glances. Disappointed by and now concerned for this rebuked, distraught little darlin’,  we gathered her little trembling frame close.

EscapeShe pushed us away.

“Why?” We asked.

“Because you don’t love me.” She cracked between labored breaths.

I began to cry with her. “You really think I don’t love you?”

She took the tiniest peek at me, and then turned away. “No.” She broke again. “No, but you shouldn’t love me.”

Oh, that killer moment. It still makes me tear up.

I love my little girl. I wish we had different words for love, because saying I love her the same way I say I love my coffee doesn’t do any kind of justice to how I really feel for her. I. LOVE. Her.

Years past that moment, though I can remember the poignant emotion of that day, I honestly don’t know exactly what she had done. Because it was forgiven. It’s gone.

I’ve felt her ache, though. In moments when I realize how utterly wretched I am, how desperately broken, ugly, and wrong my heart is, I weep before God. “Why do you love me? You shouldn’t.”

And then He takes me close, and I’m pretty sure there are tears in His inaudible voice as He whispers, “I love you. As far as the east is from the west, I have removed your sin.”

And it’s gone.

I am forgiven

I am Forgiven — A Joint Post

How happy is man the Lord does not charge with sin, and in whose spirit is no deceit! When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:2-5 HCSB

From Susan

I was monstrously unhappy. Discontent. And if you had asked me “Susan, what’s wrong?” I would have given you a whole list of things. So many people were making me miserable, treating me unfairly. I truly believed that it was my situation that was pitiful, that all my unhappiness was to blame on my external circumstances.

How happy is the woman in whose spirit there is no deceit. I had deceived myself, so cunningly. I was blind to an entrenched mental sin on my part, a cherished thought pattern. And I didn’t see that it was God’s hand heavy upon me, not everyone else’s, that was making me so miserable.

But then the day came when God’s truth finally lit up my mind’s sin like a spotlight, and I recognized it for what it was. I was horrified. And finally, I confessed it and began a beautiful process of allowing God to heal me of that stronghold.

And then it came – happiness. Lightness. Fresh air. Joy. God forgave me. He removed his heavy hand from me. My circumstances morphed themselves into blessings instead of burdens. The people I had convinced myself were to blame became friends.

I read this verse to my kids the other morning during our morning devotional, and I asked them to describe what it is like when you finally confess a sin and find God’s forgiveness. It was my 12-year-old son who answered, and so if you’d rather not read a middle-school boy’s rather – um – unsavory answer, just skip on down to Jen’s part from here.

But he said, “Well, Mom, it’s like that feeling of relief you get after you take a big dump on the toilet.”

Yep. Not terribly poetic, but accurate.

From Jen:

Ah…the vivid and blunt imagery of a twelve-year-old.

I watched my daughter’s swim practice a while back, intrigued by the contraption her coaches strapped to the older swimmers. It wrapped around their waist like a belt, had nylon cords about eight feet long, and came together in a u-shape at the end with something that looked like kite material. Out of the water, it looked meaningless. When the swimmer dove in, however, the whole picture became clear. The thing acted like a parachute in the water, creating drag. Those kids had to work twice as hard to complete their laps because the equipment held them back.

That image came to mind as I read Susan’s entry. Among many possibilities relating to her launching point (I don’t have to say how hopelessly flawed I really am, do I?), I have one particular memory of a sin I clung to. Fiercely. Because I was entitled to it—or so I thought. But sin is still sin, even when it is cloaked by a sense of justification. And just like that water parachute, it creates drag.

Several years of swimming through life while towing that kind of luggage is exhausting—and defeating.  Strength drains away. Bones feel brittle. And, praise God, His hand feels heavy upon the one who continues to keep silent.

But the glorious turn in that verse is this—““I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin.”

I watched those same athletes compete in a meet a couple weeks after that practice. They flew through the water. Their tethers had been removed and they were free.

Sin always holds us back. Clinging to it, hiding it, or even justifying it doesn’t remove its heavy burden. It is only by confession and forgiveness that we are released from its grip. And when His forgiveness releases us, we are truly free.

I am not my own

A Sacrifice of Praise

And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he … threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:22-25 NASB

Ok, let’s just stop her a moment. Paul and Silas were stripped in public and pummeled until they bled.  Then the jailer threw them into the middle of the filthy prison and clamped a bar down on their feet.

Paul and Silas chose that moment to sing praise songs. 

These were men who most definitely were not their own.

If I put myself into that scene, I can see lots of tears and self-pity and prayers to get me the heck out of there.  If I put some godly men that I know in that scene, I can see some pretty serious anger going on.  But praise songs?  Wow.

Paul and Silas were so completely Christ’s that any moment was a moment to praise Him, and horrific moments so much more so.  I think this must be what Hebrews 13:15 calls “a sacrifice of praise.” 

Praise comes in so many forms.  Singing a pretty chorus in a pretty church on Sunday morning after doughnuts in Sunday School – that’s praise.  But is it a “sacrifice of praise?” I think not.  I think that only comes out of our lips on prison floors after beatings.

 A Christian wife whose husband scorns her, cheats on her, throws her out like so much trash – when she praises God, that’s a sacrifice.  A family man, a deacon, an upstanding guy who loses his job and then his house – when he praises God, that’s a sacrifice. A West African believer who lays awake at night listening to his children cry because they are starving and he has no rice to give them – when he praises God, that’s a sacrifice.

And I don’t think we can give those sacrifices until we understand whose we are.  If we are living for ourselves, we will praise God only when he does good things for us.  But if we are His, completely His, we will praise him no matter the circumstances in our life.  Because He deserves it – no matter what.

I am not my own

Belonging to Jesus

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. ~ Gal 5:19-26, NASB

wedding ringsWhen I got married I changed my name. I changed my address, my college, my future plans. I change my allegiance. I was no longer a single woman, serving my own desires, looking out for my agenda. I declared myself his. I belong to my husband.

Sometimes we look at Jesus like He’s the genie in the lamp. I’ll call you when I need you, but otherwise, I’m doing my thing. Living on my own terms.

But a disciple belongs to Jesus. They have made a declaration, to God, and to the world, “I am His.” And what does that mean?

I belong to Jesus, I am no longer pledged to sin.
I belong to Jesus, I have laid aside selfish ambition.
I belong to Jesus, I am committed to His joy.
I belong to Jesus, I claim His household as mine.
I belong to Jesus, I am not my own.

Life was different after marriage, but fifteen years down the road, I don’t have any regrets when it comes to that pledge.

Life is different when we belong to Jesus, but in an eternity of life with Him, there won’t be a single regret.