I am forgiven, Who I am in Christ

Reblog: 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.

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Life, Abundantly

 I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. John 10:10

Life. Pulsating, throbbing, vibrant life.  Jesus declared that was his whole reason for his visit to Earth – to give us life in abundance.

He didn’t mean life would be easy, or even that it would be pleasant.  Only that it would be full – full of Him, full of grace, full of peace, full of purpose and mission.

Some of the hardest experiences in my life have been the ones that have given it the most meaning.  I had to climb mountains that left my legs aching only to spend hours at the top under the African sun weeding rice.  I had to give birth to my first baby in a hospital where I didn’t speak the language of the doctors and nurses.  I had to flee a country I loved because of civil war, leaving behind my dearest friends and the work I had poured myself into.  None of those things were fun.  On the scale of difficulty, they ranged from annoying, to frightening, to absolute heart break.  But I wouldn’t trade any of them.  They are part of the fabric of my abundant life.  God gave me those challenges because he’d also given me a mission – to spread his message across Africa.  I was living a life of meaning, as well as one of sweat and frustration.

I’ve endured conflict and hurt at the hands of others.  I’ve had failed friendships just like you. And, I’ve found forgiveness and healing and restoration, because the God of grace has breathed his life over my hurts.

I’ve also had adventure and variety.  I’ve laughed so hard my sides ache. I’ve tasted Asian and African and South American cultures.  I’m married to a man who shares my passion for the missions and ministry.  We have two incredible kids. All these things are blessings from the abundant-life giver Himself.

Abundant life doesn’t mean abundant money.  It doesn’t mean abundant easy circumstances.  It means that through life’s storms, we have purpose.  We have passion.  And we have peace, only a faith-step away, if we will reach out and take it.

Jesus came to give us life, and to give it abundantly.

I am Invited to Live

On Life and Grace

I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 HCSB

I’ve been a Christian since I was 8 years old.  That’s a mighty long time, and you’d think I’d have this Christian-living thing down pat by now. Decades of practice should have already made me perfect.

Except that it hasn’t.  Daily, I make mistakes.  I sometimes act selfishly.  Just last week, I messed up big time and hurt people I love.  Let’s just call it what it was – sin.  If anyone deserves judgment, if anyone has her punishment “coming to her,” it’s me.

And yet, what I got was grace – undeserved favor.  God forgave me. My family forgave me. All is restored and well, and I am a wiser woman because of the ordeal.  Last week, I felt the weight of the yuckiness upon me. This week, I am praising God for the fresh breath of life He’s given.

How can this be?  How can I deserve one thing and receive another?  Because John 5:24 is active in my life.  I have heard Jesus’ words, and I believe them.  I believe God sent Jesus to earth to become my sacrifice, to take my punishment for me.  He died – so I don’t have to.

I will not come under judgment, now or later. While I walk on this planet, I am forgiven and free.  When I step off of it, I will still be forgiven and free.  I have life here.  I’ll have life there.  Eternally.

But this grace didn’t come cheaply.  Christ gave his very life to win it for me.  So, I’m not saying a person can just live however she wants to live, sin as much as she desires, and in the end it’s all ok.  No.  Becoming a Christian means giving your life to Christ, making him Lord and boss.  There is a difference between living your life in willful rebellion and in living it while striving to please Him but tripping over your own humanness every now and then.  I’m in the latter category.

I have passed from death to life.  My sins are paid for.  Christ was judged in my place.

I am free to live.

I have been offered peace

Christ: Our Peace

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.  Ephesians 2:14 NAS

“Annie” sat in my back yard in Africa and showed me her scars.  “This is where he hit me with a belt.  This is where he got me with a tree branch.” Sadly, the culture in the country where I served believed a man had every right to keep his wife in line by hitting her.  And his family was welcome to join right in.

“My mother-in-law was the worst,” Annie told me.  “She’d drag me out of the hut and call my husband to come beat me.  She’d get furious if I didn’t help her cook.  Sometimes, she even hit me herself.”

And so, Annie fled her little village to go live with her own mother in the capital city, where I met her. We became fast friends, and after a time, she gave her life to Christ.  Once a week, we’d have a Bible study on my porch.  Annie couldn’t read, so what we really had was a story-telling session.  I’d either tell a Bible story in her language or play one for her on tape, and then I’d ask her all sorts of questions to help her understand and apply those truths to her life.  Week by week, we walked through the life of Christ.

The day we covered the crucifixion, I asked her this question: “Jesus died on the cross saying ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’ Since we are supposed to be like Jesus, is there anyone you need to forgive?” 

Annie thought a moment.  “Yes,” she said.  “My mother-in-law.  Just a few days ago, she sent a messenger from our village to me to beg my forgiveness, because she is old and ill.  She can no longer cook or even bathe herself, and there is no one to take care of her.  She asked me to come back and do it.”

I sat there with my mouth open.  Really?  Forgive the monster who drug you to your snake husband to have you beaten?  Quite frankly, when I’d asked the question, Annie’s mother-in-law and her husband were the furthest people from my mind.  I despised them.

And yet, I knew the culture.  Old women were cared for by their daughters-in-law.  There were no nursing homes, no state institutions to step in.  Men didn’t fill the role of caregivers, and there are some things a son can’t do for his mother anyway. 

Annie and I sat there in the shade of my porch for several quiet moments.  “I need to go home and do it,” she said.

And she did.  She traveled back to her rural village and moved in with her mother-in-law.  She cooked for her.  She fed her.  She helped her to the outside latrine, and she bathed her – the woman who had made life hell.  Annie’s husband was around, but she didn’t get back together with him. When her task was done with her mother-in-law, she left again.  But for the time she was there, he left her alone. He could not strike this living picture of Christ’s forgiveness.

Annie made this verse come alive for me.  Jesus was truly her “peace,” the peace between herself and her husband’s extended family.  No power on earth except Christ himself could have worked that kind of forgiveness in Annie’s heart.  It was forgiveness of deed – she took action on it.  I still stand amazed.

When Paul wrote this verse, he was talking about Jews and Gentiles, two groups who had been brought together in Christ despite their differences.  He Himself is our peace, able to take down the dividing walls of Jews and Gentiles, husbands and wives, estranged siblings, two co-workers, factions of church members, parents and kids.  With Christ in our lives, we can truly forgive.  We can act on the forgiveness.  We can have peace.

Christ – our peace.

I Am Hidden In Christ

Adopted Because of the Lamb

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

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

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

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. Psalm 103:10-13

Funny how some things stay with you. My daughter recently asked me what my favorite Bible verse is. It’s Psalm 103:10, and it’s due to content as well as personal context.

I heard a man preach on Psalm 103 several years ago. I don’t remember his name, but I can still hear his voice. He hooked me from the beginning because, in a very humble and servant-like manner, he stood before the congregation of well over five hundred people and quoted that Psalm from memory. In its entirety. Without stumbling.

Impressive.

But his sermon sank in deep as he pulled that lovely song apart, and my heart latched on to verse ten–He has not dealt with us as our sin deserve, or punished us according to our iniquities (I know–it’s a different version from above. I’ve switched Bibles since memorizing it). Powerful words of mercy. And this preacher painted an image I have not forgotten.

A Shepherd will intercede for an orphaned lamb. It’s best if the orphan can be matched with a ewe whose baby did not make it. But there’s a problem; ewes know which baby is theirs by smell, and they’ll reject a lamb who is not their own. The solution is rather gruesome. The shepherd will skin the dead lamb and cover the orphaned baby with the hide, allowing the hungry, motherless baby life by way of adoption.

Wow. I am hidden in Christ, adopted because of His sacrifice. When God looks at me, when He does not punish me as my sins deserve, it’s because I am wearing Christ–covered by the Lamb of God.

An image, I pray, that I’ll never forget.

I am Made New

Getting Dressed in my New Self

But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator. …Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. Above all, put on love __ the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:8-9, 12-14

I had a choice to make when I woke up this morning. God gave me free reign to make it. I had to decide what to wear. Would I keep my PJs on all day? No, I decided, I would not. So then came the second choice: What would I change into? I chose jeans and a t-shirt with my kids’ school mascot on it. Having made the choice, I took action on it. I walked to the drawer and pulled out the clothes and put them on.

And as I read these verses this morning, I realized that God has also given me free reign to make a spiritual choice. Am I going to spend all day dressed in the “old man?” I could, you know, because that old man is quite comfy to me, as snuggly and familiar as my pajamas. And I’m ashamed to say that some days, I choose to stay in him. I choose anger and half-truths. I chose resentment and unforgiveness.

But that’s not the good choice. Instead, God is calling me to make the right choice, to put on His image as deliberately as I chose my jeans this morning. Acting like a new man requires my mental and physical work – it doesn’t just naturally flow out of me. I’ve got to decide to have compassion, be humble and patient. I must choose to forgive and accept.  And then, having made the choice – I’ve got to actually do it. And sometimes that is the hardest part.

Christ has made me new. His work of forgiveness on the cross is what enables me to put on the new man. But some days, I just feel grumpy. And those are the days I’ve got a harder choice to make than on the days when my emotions are soaring. When my feelings are sour, I’ve got to choose to change what I’m dwelling on. My emotions will follow my thoughts. If I choose to think about my blessings, if I choose thankfulness, I soon begin to feel thankful. And that makes it ever so much easier to act it.

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?