Know the Father

John 17:1-3 (NKJV) 1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

This past week was Father’s Day in the United States. It is a good thing to honor our earthly fathers on their day. However, there is another Father we need to honor even more. That is our heavenly Father. In this verse Jesus points out something we must understand. He came to give us eternal life. Eternal life is not just living forever. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus, his son.

In this verse, he says we must know God, but as he begins his prayer, he addresses God as Father. The God Jesus says we must know to experience life eternal is the Father God. This is a revolutionary idea. The Hebrews were called the children of Abraham not the children of God. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was not their Father in the sense that Jesus means it here. To the ears of the disciples, what Jesus said was a new revelation of God. It would have been strange s at best and would have sounded like heresy at worst.

Before Jesus came to the earth, the focus of the story of the bible was the nation of Israel. The individuals that we read about were overwhelmingly those whose lives had direct or indirect impact on the nation. Although there were exceptions, God moved for kings, priests and prophets. The Old Testament is the story of the nation God created to be the channel for the Messiah to come to the earth. When he finally came, the emphasis shifted to reflect God’s real purpose; saving all people.

For 3 ½ years Jesus ministered in the earth. Why did he do that. His purpose for coming to the world was to die for the sins of all mankind. He could have done that soon after he turned 30. 30 was the age of adulthood in Israel. You had to be 30 to be a priest. By the time Jesus was 30, he had lived as a human long enough to be “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities” as Hebrews 4 describes him. Why not just die then?

Of course, there are many things we could say as to what was happening during those years. However, one of the most important things he was doing was showing the world who God really was. God was limited in how he could deal with man under the Old Covenant. Sin was still in charge of the world. Man was full of sin nature due to his fall in the Garden of Eden. The world saw God through the Jewish religion, especially the Law.

The Law was of God. Paul tells us so in Romans 7 among other places. However, the law was a necessity because of sin. The Law gave access to God for sinful men. It also gave access to men by a holy God. It could never fully reveal the true nature of God. Jesus came to do that.

In the Old Testament, God dealt with prophets, priests and kings. In the New Testament, Jesus dealt with widows, fisherman and farmers. In the Old Testament, everything revolved around the nation. In the New Testament, everything was focused on the individual. I like to think of the story of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.

Luke 7:11 (NKJV) 11 Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.

This is a small city of no great importance. The widow and her son were nobodies in the grand scheme of things. They were not important to the nation of Israel and we have no record of the boy or his mother after this incident. Why, then, would Jesus stop and raise him from the dead? There is only one reason. He was moved by compassion for a widow who had no hope except her son.

For three and a half years Jesus demonstrates the loving nature of God to the world. He heals the sick, raises the dead and casts out demons. He teaches things that people had never heard before. The bible says he taught as one who had authority. When he opened his mouth the heart of God came forth. As we read John 17 we have come to the end of that process. He is about to fulfill his purpose for coming to the earth. He will soon go to the cross and did for the sin of all mankind. There is one more revelation he must communicate to his disciples before he goes.

I believe the statement in todays scripture is what Jesus needed his disciples, and by extension us, to see. He does not call God the healer, the deliverer or the provider. He does not call him the God of Israel or of the world for that matter. In this final prayer for his disciples in front of his disciples he calls God Father. In verse 23 he says something that sounds simple to our ears but would have been revolutionary to theirs.

John 17:23 (NKJV) 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

God is Jesus’ Father. They could probably accept that. However, to say that God loved them as much as he loved Jesus, his son must put them in the same relationship as Jesus. God is their Father as well! This was an unheard-of idea to Jewish ears. There are sixteen references to God as Father in the Old Testament. There are over 130 references to God as Father in the New Testament. There are six in this chapter alone.

Jesus spent over three years revealing the true nature of God to the earth. Just before he leaves, he sums up everything he had revealed to them in one word. Father. God is their Father and he loves them as much as he loves his “only begotten Son.”

In John 16:25-28 he says that the “Father himself” loves the disciples. In John 20:17, after the resurrection he exhorts the woman not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to heaven. Then he makes another revolutionary statement.

John 20:17 (NKJV) 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”

He did not say tell them I am going to my Father but to my Father and your Father. God is our Father. God is my Father. Eternal life is knowing this truth and coming to know him. This is the same word used of sexual intercourse in the bible. It says that Adam knew his wife and she conceived. There is nothing more intimate than that kind of knowledge. Without the sexual connotation, to know our Father on that level is eternal life.

Jesus provided something for us that is more powerful than we understand. In Romans 6 he says that because of the resurrection we can walk in “newness” of life. We have access to a new kind of life. This life causes us to live forever in God’s presence but it is much more than that. It is the living power of God at work in us. However, we will never walk in that life unless we “know God and Jesus whom he sent.” How must we know him? We must know him as our Father.

Fatherhood is under attack in our world. Many fathers fail their families. Fathers are often portrayed in the media as either weak or evil. I have dealt with more problems in peoples lives that come from “father issues” than any other kind. Is it any wonder that the devil wants to pollute the image of fathers? If we cannot receive God as our Father than we will never walk in the fullness of what he has for us. We must know the father but how?

I Must Decrease that He may Increase

John 3:25-30 (NKJV) 25 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified–behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

In my last post, I looked at the last verse in this section of scripture in light of the current situation in the church. I am part of that generation that lived through the Charismatic Renewal. This move drew from the discontent of the 1960’s and revolutionized the church in the world.

Prior to the 1960’s there was a major division between the Pentecostals and the rest of Christianity. The Pentecostals believed in the present-day operation of the 9 manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14. The rest of the church did not. There were many divisions among the Pentecostals and there were many divisions among non-Pentecostals but this was different in terms of how God manifested himself to and through people. The charismatic renewal changed that.

For the first time people of all denominations began to accept the reality of the present-day function of the manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with other tongues as they did on the day of Pentecost began to cross denominational lines. A whole new classification of Christian emerged. Called “Charismatics” they had no connection to what is known as the classical Pentecostal denominations.

Charismatics challenged both the classic denominations and the Pentecostals. Neither fully accepted them but they became the fastest growing segment of Christianity through the latter twentieth and early twenty first century. They completely changed how Christianity was viewed and practiced for many millions of people around the world.

Now these “crazy Charismatics have children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren who have been in the church since they were born. It is inevitable that they must carry the torch but they will carry it in their own way to their own world. I believe we, the pioneers of the charismatic renewal changed the world. Now we must watch and find our place as it changes again. Will it be for the better or the worse. That is up to all of us.

This section of scripture describes a very similar time. John was the “new thing” of his day. Classical Judaism had become cold and dead. The Pharisees represented a system that was so steeped in tradition that they would not be able to recognize the messiah when he stood right in front of them. John challenged that system. He began preaching that there must be a personal repentance. John was preaching a personal relationship with God.

The Pharisees believed that to be right with God one must follow the Law of Moses and do the sacrifices it required. There was nothing particularly personal about their system. You might or might not feel something for God but it was not required. Keep the law. Follow the ritual of the Jewish religion and you would be in good standing. That is very much what happened in the 1960’s.

The Christianity of the 1950’s tended to be the same. They went to church on Sunday and lived ungodly lives the rest of the time. As long as they followed the ritual standards they were considered in good standing.

The people who followed John rebelled against that and so did the young people in the 1960’s. John preached a real relationship with God. The “hippies” were looking for reality. Many of them found it in a personal relationship with Christ. The Charismatic renewal grew out of the same discontent. God moved in both John’s ministry and in the Jesus People/Charismatic movement to call people back to the kind of life and relationship that he initially intended.

There is much, much more that could be said about this parallel between the Charismatic movement and the John the Baptist. What concerns us today is the fact that both of their times came to an end. There was a next step. In the case of John, he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. In the case of the Charismatic renewal, it is yet unclear to me if we were to prepare the way for the return of Jesus, that was certainly our belief, or if we are another step in a long process that will eventually result in his return. Nevertheless, just as John’s time came to an end so has the time of the cutting-edge aspect of the charismatic movement.

There is always a next step. Jesus did not cast John aside. He endorsed him and his importance. I believe it is important that we do not forget what went before us. It is because of them that we can go forward.

Luke 7:28 (NKJV) 28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

In today’s scripture John was what God had been doing for some time. He represented the current move. He had challenged everything and people flocked to him. Now they were turning away from John and following Jesus. It was not easy for John’s followers to accept that. As you read on in the story you will find that even John had his doubts at times. However, it was time for Jesus earthly ministry. John had done his part. His disciples did not understand. John gave them and all of us the answer.

We must decrease that he might increase. It is not the other way around. His increase was not going to cause John to decrease. John made a choice. I believe we all have a choice to make today. I believe there is a new move of God that has begun in the spirit but has yet to manifest fully in the world. I do not know what that is going to look like but it must happen.

John did not say that my way must decrease so that his way can increase. He did not say that my generation must decrease so that his generation can increase. They were very close to the same age. He said I must decrease that he might increase. I believe we must all begin to pray the same prayer and make the same commitment.

My generation cannot hold onto the past. We changed the world. I absolutely believe that. However, this is a new time on God’s prophetic calendar. I, we, must decrease. Our ways must decrease. Our desires must become less important. What is good for us cannot be what we hold onto. It is time for his ways, his will and his desires to increase. That does not mean those of us that are older have not place. We must find our place just as John’s disciples had to find a place in what God was doing next.

That holds for the next group as well. Even as you come to the forefront and find new ways and methods you must remember that it is not about you. It was never about us. It was about Jesus increasing. You must decrease if you are going to change your world. The only answer is Jesus. Nothing else will meet the need of our world. Nothing else will move us closer to the coming of Jesus. Nothing else with bring the manifestation of God we so desperately need to day.

Let us all decrease that he might increase. If we do we will find our place in God’s prophetic move and we will change the world again.

I Must Decrease so that He May Increase

John 3:30 (NKJV) 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

This week we had the privilege of ministering in Mamaroneck, NY at Pastors John and Mary DiMarco’s great church. As I was preparing to preach, the Lord dropped this scripture into my heart. I always prepare a message. However, especially when I travel, the Lord will often lead me in a different direction when it comes time to speak. That was the case here.

This is an older church demographically at the moment. They have been in the same location for more than 20 years. They have gone through name changes, pastor changes and affiliation changes. This is unusual. Most of the time a church that has undergone so many upheavals will simply disappear. This one ended up buying the building they were renting. In Westchester County, New York property is immensely expensive. For any independent church to own a building is a miracle let alone one that has been through so much. I felt the Lord saying that this indicated that he wanted them there and that he had a plan and purpose for them.

We live in critical times. I pointed out that the church membership is physically older people. Right now, we ae seeing something of a collision between a younger generation coming into their own with many new methods and ideas and an older generation who built some powerful things. They are more in tune with the current culture and climate as well as the methods that are needed to cut through the current lifestyle with the Gospel.

That said, the previous generation, my generation, occupies an important place in the history of the church. In the 1950’s, 60’s and into the earlier 70’s the church was undergoing a tremendous transformation as we saw the last major move of God. Many things were coming together after World War II that had an impact on both the church and American culture. A great global tragedy had been averted. Those who returned from war came back with a sense of patriotism and the strength of traditional American culture. For those who waited at home, there was tremendous gratitude for the safe return of their loved ones and the preservation of our way of life.

One of the things that benefited from the post war atmosphere was Christianity and religious participation. Even those who did not enjoy the safe return of their loved ones were more likely to turn to the “god of their fathers” than to turn away. There were some powerful moves of God during those times. However, much of the religious resurgence was on a traditional level. Being a Christian became necessary for acceptance. Church membership became a plus on any resume. The morality that goes along with religion became the public rule of the day.

The problem with all that is that morality based on religion cannot overcome the sin nature of man. Outwardly people were religious and moral. Behind closed doors it was another matter. People made sure to go to church on Sunday but cheated and lied to build business and make money the rest of the week. As post war prosperity increased so did greed and the power of the dollar. He who died with the most “stuff” won.

As the children of the 50’s and early 60’s looked on, what they saw was hypocrisy and decided that religious Christianity was the problem not the answer. The result was quite possibly the most tumultuous and rebellious period in United States history. The greatest divide was between the young and the old. The young saw the older generation as shallow and hypocritical. They rejected everything their parents stood for including Christianity in many cases

As bad as this time was, there were some important positives. Free love, free sex, rock and roll and drugs were certainly a large part of what went on. Nevertheless, underneath was another undercurrent. They were looking for reality. One of the phrases of the day was, “That’s real, man.” It meant, “This thing is authentic. It is not phony and it has the potential to bring change to people and to society.”

Many turned to eastern religions as “real” or at least more real than their parents Christianity. Some turned to social and political change as the answer. Most of those in the “rebellion generation” never found what they were looking for and ended up becoming their parents. The one area they tended to stay away from was formal and traditional Christianity. Denominational churches declined and church participation declined even further.

There was a group of people in that period who found what was “real man.” They found a different kind of Christianity. They found a living relationship with a God who so loved the world he died for it. They discovered that the bible taught personal experience with the man who had come to earth and died to put all the things wrong in humanity right. The met the “real” Jesus. They were filled with the “real” Holy Spirit. The church and the world has not been the same since.

It was not only young people that were a part of this move of God. Many from every generation and walk of life found the reality that the “hippies” sought but it was the young generation of the 60’s and 70’s that fueled it. Many had tried every imaginable method to find reality. Drugs did not do it. Free sex and the counterfeit free love of the day did not do it. Politics did not give the answers they sought. Finally, they found reality. Not in religion but in relationship. Not in a church name but in a spiritual experience with a real God, Jesus of Nazareth.

Some tried to go back to their parent’s churches but most rejected them. They could not break away from the mold of the 50’s. These people did not fit the pattern of the “good church goer.” They were often dirty. They said the wrong things. They had done things most church goers in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond could not imagine. They wanted Jesus but they would not conform to anything that was not “real.”

As time went on they learned more and they made many mistakes. I have a friend in his 80’s who speaks of things as “weird, wild and wonderful.” The Christians of that generation were all of that. They brought new methods and new music. The older generation could not understand the methods and railed against “that devil beat” that was ruining young people. They saw things differently. Doctrine was not as important as reality and relationship. All of it was hard on the established religion and its proponents.

With all the bad they also brought a heart that honestly wanted God. They brought a fresh look at the Bible. Sometimes coming up with doctrines that were just wrong but often seeing things that the mindset of the last generation just could not see. Jesus seemed to look past all the “stuff” and see their hearts. They were focused on the real and that was pleasing to God. They reenergized the individual’s relationship with God. They believed in the supernatural and spiritual elements of Christianity that were often lost as denominations focused on social and intellectual Christianity.

Some of the greatest churches in history have come out of this “weird, wild and wonderful” group of people. I truly believe that Christianity was brought closer to what Jesus intended the church to be than at any time in modern society. They knew certain truths by experience and over the years built a foundation in the Word that included many of the old truths as well. Chaos gave way to a new church “norm.”

That was who we were. Now we are the last generation and are faced with the challenge of dealing with the “new ways” of the new generation. How can we avoid the mistakes of our fathers? How can the next generation build upon and improve what we accomplished without losing the ground that was gained? That is the challenge of today in the church. The answer is simple. “I must decrease that he (Jesus) may increase.”

The Nature of Christian Forgiveness

 

Mark 11:22-26 (NKJV) 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

We have been looking at the connection between mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness releases the force of mercy into the world around us.

I founded and pastored 3 different churches over 39 years. In that time, one of the most common things I had to deal with was the need for forgiveness. This took many forms but the one consistency was that the unforgiveness they held hindered them more than the person who hurt them. In many cases the person they needed to forgive was completely oblivious to the fact that they were causing pain to the one needing to forgive.

I found that one of the problems was the lack of understanding as to what forgiveness is. Most people will try to forgive but they wait for a feeling. When they realize they still feel the same way they think they must not have forgiven. They try to forgive again but the feeling persists. Finally, they give up and give in to the unforgiveness. What we need to understand is that forgiveness is not a feeling it is a decision we make by faith.

Mark 11 23 and 24 are classic faith scriptures. If we have faith in God we can move mountains. When we pray in faith, if we believe we have the answer when we pray we will eventually see it. That is a guarantee out of the mouth of Jesus! The one condition he puts on this is that we must forgive. We can see that unforgiveness will hinder our faith but I think Jesus wants us to see something else as well. By putting forgiveness in the faith formula, he is also telling us that we must forgive by faith.

Hebrews 11:1 is pertinent here. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. I hope to be free of the pain this person has caused me. It is the substance of things not seen. The Greek word can also mean what is perceived by the senses. I do not feel like I have forgiven. I still feel hurt. Faith in my decision to forgive and the Word of forgiveness is the evidence that I have forgiven. Feelings will follow.

I have taught this for many years. It is powerful in principle but not quite so easy in practice. I have had many times over the years where people have wronged me, or at least I believe they had wronged me. and I needed to forgive. Recently some things have happened that put me in that position in a deeper and more personal way than ever before. I realized I was giving in to bitterness. God took me to various things in his Word that made it clear I had to forgive. It has been one of the most difficult battles of my life.

I understand how it feels to fight this fight. Nevertheless, it is a fight we must win. Faith will not work if we lose this fight. We will live in pain while those who hurt us go merrily on their way if we do not win this fight. More important, the mercy of God will not flow through us to a world that desperately needs it if we do not win this fight. We can and we will win but we must not give up or give in to the feelings.

What is forgiveness really? If we are honest we cannot forgive because we believe there must be some payment for the wrong we have suffered. Often, we do not have any particular payment in mind. This feeling is usually more abstract than that. We just feel payment is due. It may be some kind of equal hurt to the person or people we need to forgive. It might just be an apology. As with everything in life, we must look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2.)

Do you remember Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness on the cross? In the middle of the crucifixion Jesus cried out, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was asking the Father to forgive those who were actively crucifying him! Do you think Jesus would have done that if he had not already forgiven them?

No one apologized to Jesus. No one had asked him for forgiveness. They continued killing him. Yet in the midst of the pain he was in, he prayed that God would forgive them. One of the first things we must understand about Christian forgiveness is that it has nothing to do at all with the one who needs forgiveness. Your forgiveness depends on your faith and your decision. We cannot afford to wait for an apology. We cannot forgive once payment has been made. We must forgive. It is up to us and the sooner the better!

There is a legal term that I believe can help us understand what we must do. That term is pardon. In our legal system, if a person commits a crime, is caught then tried and convicted he is a criminal. Depending on the severity of the crime he or she loses many privileges people in our society enjoy. A convict will always have “a record” which disqualifies them from many jobs and will influence whether they will be hired by anyone for any job. He or she may be innocent, but that does not matter if they are legally convicted of the crime.

If a person is convicted of a crime and it is certain they did the crime it is possible for them to receive a pardon. This pardon must come from a person with the authority to grant it. Often it is the governor of the state in which the crime is committed. Most presidents, as one of the last things they do in office, will pardon people they feel are deserving. The person pardoned may not deserve it. They may have done terrible things. They may or may not express any remorse. That is irrelevant. A pardon is solely up to the pardoner. It has nothing to do legally with the one pardoned.

A convict may serve 20 years in prison but he will always be a convict. A legal pardon is different. Although people may remember his crime the government does not. The one pardoned loses no rights. He has no record. It is as if the crime were never committed even if it was. The person convicted of a crime he did not commit and serves his whole prison term carries the stigma until he dies and even beyond. The person who is pardoned does not.

Romans 4:25 says Jesus was raised for our justification. There is a little saying that defines our justification in Christ very clearly. Because of what Jesus did it is “just as if I never sinned.” I did sin but Jesus bought a pardon for me and there is no record of my sin. I can live free of guilt and condemnation even though I was guilty. I am justified. I am pardoned.

There may be a guilty party in our lives. They did the crime. They caused the hurt. However, we cannot hurt them back enough to ever feel healed ourselves. The pain will stay with us. We must remember that Jesus bought our justification. He gave us a access to a pardon by the court of heaven. We must do the same for those who hurt us. This is revolutionary, I know. It is not easy. I know that too. If we choose to pardon the offender, they will still have to deal with God but we will be free.

One last thing you need to know. This is a faith battle. The feelings may not change immediately. Jesus forgave in the midst of the pain. So must we. There may be real inequities that you feel need to be dealt with. However, we must forgive that we might be healed. Let God deal with the rest.

Once the decision to forgive is made we must apply the Word of God to our feelings. We must confess our forgivingness; not to the person but to ourselves and to God. Jesus prayed that God would forgive them. We can do the same. We must speak and meditate on the Word of God concerning forgiveness until we are healed. Eventually the pain will go and we will be free.

As I said, I have had to fight this battle recently and it was very hard. However, the stakes are too high for us to lose. The power of mercy released in forgiveness is too vital to our world today. We are not alone. We can win this battle because the Holy Spirit is within us and when we forgive we are operating in the very nature of God. He will back you up.

Forgiveness:Mercy in Action

Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) 21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Yesterday we looked at the connection between mercy and forgiveness. Each one of us needs to see God’s mercy at work in our lives. In Daniel 5, the ungodly leader Belshazzar was told by God that he had been weighed in the balance and was found wanting. In Romans 3:23 we read that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Just as Belshazzar was found lacking, so are we. Jesus is a manifestation of God’s mercy to balance the scales in our favor. Without mercy, we have no possibility of escaping judgement.

When God put mercy in motion in the earth he built a principle into it that is very important. In the beatitudes, Jesus states this principle.

Matthew 5:7 (NKJV) 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

He extends mercy to us according to his sovereignty. It is his decision. However, we see in Jesus’ words that if we are merciful to others, mercy shall come to us. I must show mercy if I want to see it flow consistently to me. The purest form of mercy is forgiveness. Yesterday we read from Mark 11 that if we want our faith to work properly we must forgive anyone that we have something against. If we do not forgive, Jesus says we will not be forgiven. If we do not show mercy, it will hinder God from showing mercy to us.

I prefer to think in the converse. If I forgive, I am assured forgiveness from God. If I show mercy I shall obtain it. That is a spiritual law. We live in a world that is full of sin. People need mercy. People need us to be the channels of mercy. When I live a lifestyle of forgiveness, I become a channel of Mercy to the world.

In today’s scripture, we see Peter amazed that Jesus would ask them to forgive. “How often do I have to forgive him?” Peter asks. This is in response to Jesus’ statement of a principle concerning dealing with someone who has offended you. Why did Peter seem to look at all of this as so strange? The answer is that Jesus was telling them something that was not part of their religious culture. Forgiveness is a New Testament principle.

I searched the Old Testament writings for the words “forgive” and “pardon.” There is not one admonition that I could find that told the Old Covenant saints that they must forgive. They ask God to forgive them. There are many statements in Leviticus and Numbers that tell Israel what the law will require for their sins to be forgiven. There are many statements that portray God as forgiving. There is no commandment to people that requires they forgive.

There are two instances of people asking forgiveness. If a more extensive search were done using other terms, I am sure the idea of one person forgiving another is in the Old Testament story. What is missing is any command from God to forgive others. There is certainly no declaration that people must forgive those who offend them. That is a New Testament idea.

Peter thought he was doing well when he asked if he had to forgive his brother 7 times. Jesus made it clear that the forgiveness he was requiring was far more than that. He told Peter that 7 times was not enough. Peter must forgive 70 times 7. I have heard it said that Jesus was talking about forgiving the same sin 490 times in one day! I know some people who can be obnoxious, but I do not know anyone who could offend me 490 times in the same way in one day. Jesus want us to be clear on how important forgiveness is to the New Testament believer.

Why is forgiveness a New Testament commandment and not an Old Testament one? I believe it is because the kind of forgiveness that Jesus’ requires flows from the recreated human spirit. We cannot forgive this way in the flesh. We must forgive this way to walk above the flesh and access the power of the spirit. Forgiveness, as Jesus taught it enables us to rise above the limitations of the flesh. It accesses God’s powerful mercy both for us and for the ones to whom we show forgiveness.

I do not pretend to understand all the spiritual significance of this. I do know that I am seeing a dimension of revelation concerning mercy and forgiveness that I have not seen before. Anything that flows from the heart of God is powerful. When he gives us commandments it is so we can access these powerful forces. Forgiveness makes us a channel of mercy. Mercy is the open door to grace. Grace is the source of salvation. When I forgive my brother or even someone in the world with the unconditional forgiveness that God shows me in his mercy, the power of God’s mercy flows to that person and is released into the world.

The parable Jesus tells in response to Peter’s question is very powerful. Most of us are familiar with it so I will briefly paraphrase. There was a servant who owed 10,000 talents to his master. The value of 10,000 talents at that time was 16 years normal wages! He begged the master to forgive the debt. The master forgave the debt.

The servant went to a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. That is about 100 days wages. The man owed 16 years wages and the master forgave him. He would not forgive someone who owed him roughly 3 and ½ months of wages. When the master heard that the man was not a channel of forgiveness he rescinded his own forgiveness and threw the servant into prison.

What is the lesson. How can I ever forgive the way Jesus tells me I must? What was your debt to God? Could you ever pay that debt? Has God required you to make amends? The devil may remind you of your past but the bible says that God casts it into the sea of forgetfulness. He will never bring up our past. It is forgiven.

How does that compare with anything done to you? I know that the pain we sometimes feel when we are wronged is very real. I have been there more often than I would like. However, I owed an eternity of offenses to God. He sent Jesus to pay the price and when I received his sacrifice as my own, he forgave me. How can I withhold forgiveness for whatever debt may be owed to me by another person when I consider that?

We cannot forgive this way on our own. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. When we consider the debt we owed and compare it to the debt owed to us, it is much easier. What has been left unforgiven in your life? Many have been abused as children. That is a hard debt to forgive, but if you choose to forgive it will release a power in your life that cannot be overcome.

Has someone taken something from you. Do you believe someone has hindered your destiny? Maybe someone has been mean to you. Those are real things and they hurt. Nevertheless, when we choose to weigh them in light of the eternal debt God forgave us in Christ, they do not look so big. After all, they are debts that only affect life here. They will not carry on to eternity. Our forgiveness in Christ will.

Mercy and Forgiveness

Mark 11:24-26 (NKJV) 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

It has been a while since I last posted. My wife and I took a much needed vacation and although I intended to keep writing on the trip it was, well, vacation. When I last spent time with you, we were talking about the prophet Jonah and how he related to the Mercy of God. Let me define the dimensions of the love of God once more.

Compassion is that part of God’s love that moves him toward us. He sees that we are in trouble and, even if the trouble is of our own making, God’s nature causes him to desire to do something about it. Compassion is like empathy or sympathy except much more. Compassion not only feels what we feel and is affected by our condition, but compassion results in action. God is moved to help us by compassion.

The next aspect of God’s love that always comes into play is mercy. Mercy is when we do not get what we deserve. God is a holy God. I recently read an interesting message by R. A. Torrey. He uses the banquet with the ruler Belshazzar when God wrote on the wall of the banquet hall in fire. One phrase stands out.

Daniel 5:25-27 (NKJV) 25 “And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting;

Belshazzar was celebrating what a great ruler he was. He was second only to the king at that time. However, God made it clear that he was not quite as taken with Belshazzar as Belshazzar was with himself. “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” What measure did God use? In Torrey’s message, he went to great lengths to show that the measure by which this man was found wanting was that of the Ten Commandments and certain of the teachings of Jesus.

I do not want to take the time that he did to go through them, but it was evident that when we put those commandments on one side of the scale of justice and our lives on the other, we did not measure up very well either. In the end, his point was though none of us measure up to God’s standards, he gave the redemptive work of Jesus to balance the scales. That is mercy.

I deserve to pay for the things that I have in my side of the scale. However, God in his compassion saw my need and was moved to meet it. It was his mercy that sent Jesus to pay the price we could not pay. I did not deserve that and neither did you.

When the redemptive work was done, God offered it to us by grace.

Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

Compassion moved God to pay the price in his mercy and grace gave us access to it. Where mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve. God made Jesus available to balance the scale in our favor. All we must do is accept what we do not deserve by faith.

Jonah disobeyed God. Judgement came upon him and those with him because of his disobedience. He deserved that judgement. He repented before the sailors upon whose ship he brought destruction. They reluctantly obeyed his advice and threw him overboard. Jonah deserved everything that came to him but in one of the wonderful statements of the bible, it says that God had prepared a fish. The fish was God’s mercy to Jonah and it preserved his life.

Although Jonah was thankful for God’s mercy in his life, he got angry when God showed mercy to Nineveh. We also want God to show mercy to us but it is not enough to receive mercy and grace. God expects us to be channels of mercy to our world. Jonah could not seem to do that. He was concerned about himself, his reputation and his future. God was concerned about the people of Nineveh.

As a Christian, it is our duty to bring God’s mercy to the world.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NKJV) 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

The world does not deserve reconciliation. The world deserves judgement. God is not mocked. Judgement will come but that is not our message. Our message is that mercy has provided a way to “balance the scales.”

That brings me to where I want to go now. There is a force that will activate mercy in our lives both for our own need of mercy as well as our mandate to be channels of mercy to the world. In Mark 11, Jesus shows us that faith cannot work without a lifestyle of forgiveness. If we do not forgive we cannot receive forgiveness and faith becomes impossible.

Forgiveness is mercy in action. We all want God to forgive us. We all want mercy instead of judgement. However, if we do not give mercy we will find it difficult to receive mercy. If we do not forgive we will find that forgiveness is not working in our lives when we need it. We will also find that our faith does not work. It will be weak and ineffectual.

I believe that our world needs to see God’s mercy. There is so much wrong today that it is hard to understand how people can be the way they are. Greed, immorality, terror and all manner of ungodliness has become acceptable. People want to reject the commandments and nature of God if they in any way limit how they fulfill their own flesh. Even in the church, there is a sense that we should not teach about the need to walk in holiness before a holy God. Someone should tell Jesus there is no need for righteousness in our living.

Matthew 5:20 (NKJV) 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Someone should tell Paul that we need only depend on God’s grace and that we have no responsibility for our behavior.

2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV) 1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The world does not deserve mercy or grace. That is why we must preach it as never before. To understand grace, we must remember mercy. We have all been weighed in the balance and found lacking. That is whey Jesus came. Our message must not be that holiness does not matter. It must be that God, through mercy and grace provided a way for us to live in relationship with a holy God.

We will never be able to access or convey mercy if we do not walk in forgiveness. It is vital to us and to our world.

Channels of Mercy

Jonah 4:1-4 (NKJV) 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4 Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

In our study of Jonah and the mercy of God, we have seen that Jonah rebelled against the Word of the Lord for his life and ran in the opposite direction. Even though he deserved punishment, God showed him mercy and through a number of extreme circumstances he found himself back to where God wanted him in the first place. We would think that his gratitude for God’s mercy would have caused him to rejoice over God’s mercy for others but it did not.

Chapter 4 of this book is very interesting. In Chapter 3 he finally does what God wanted him to do. He preaches to the city of Nineveh telling them that in 40 days they were going to be overthrown. In response to his preaching, the king and eventually the whole city repent. God’s mercy, so important in Jonah’s life, was released in Nineveh because of Jonah’s obedience. This is a wonderful result to his ministry, correct? Not in Jonah’s eyes.

In today’s scripture we read that Jonah was angry. In modern language Jonah said, “I knew you were going to let them off. I knew you were gracious and merciful and I would go say all these things and you would hear their cry and not do it. Now I look like a fool. I would rather die than live with this kind of reputation.”

What was Jonah’s problem? He cared more about himself and his reputation than he cared about the people of Nineveh. He was a prophet of God. If his words came to pass in Nineveh, the world would know him as a great prophet. When God honored Nineveh’s repentance and did not destroy the city, Jonah thought that the world would see him as a false prophet. Jonah did not care about the people of Nineveh. Jonah cared about Jonah!

God puts Jonah through a series of experiences and questions designed to show him how wrong he was. As we look at them, we should put ourselves in Jonah’s place. Jonah climbed a hill overlooking the city where he waited to see what might happen. I think Jonah was hoping God would change his mind and the city would be overthrown. While he is sitting there a plant grew up that gave him shade from the hot sun.

As we read the account we find that this was not just a normal plant. This plant “was prepared” for Jonah by God. Do you remember the fish? It was also prepared by God to be available to save Jonah. This plant was another manifestation of God’s mercy. This time God was trying to save Jonah from himself! Jonah enjoyed the shade of the plant for one day. It was very hot and the plant became very important to Jonah.

When the sun came up on the second day, the Bible tells us that God had something else prepared for Jonah. He had prepared a worm. What was the function of the worm? It was to eat the plant. Jonah’s precious shade tree was gone but God was not done. God prepared an east wind that drove the temperature even higher than the sun alone. Jonah was miserable but he has not learned anything yet.

Jonah 4:8 (NKJV) 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah was so self-centered that he simply did not get what was happening. God asked him a question. “Is it right for you to be angry about this plant?” Jonah answers, “Yes, it is. I have the right to be angry even enough to want to die!”

Never try to argue or reason with God. God reminds Jonah that he had nothing to do with the plant. He did not plant the seed from which it grew. He did not cultivate it and nurture it to maturity. Even so, he had compassion for the plant. God says to Jonah, “I created the people of Nineveh and they are in sin because they do not know any better. You cry over a plant that gave you comfort but that you had nothing to do with creating. I gave mercy to people that I created. If I want to preserve them and use you to do it, that is my choice.”

The book ends there. We do not know if Jonah got the message or not. God poured out his mercy on Jonah when he was guilty. He deserved punishment. Nevertheless, God did not punish him. Jonah had to go through some discomfort and even some fearful and trying times because of his sin but God had a fish prepared for him that saved his life.

In Jonah’s own words he acknowledged that it was God’s mercy that saved him and he promised he would never forget God’s mercy. When it came time for God to show the same mercy to others, all he could think about was himself. How would it look to the world if his words did not come to pass?

As the story plays out, I see profound disappointment in God’s actions. God shows Jonah how he felt toward the people of Nineveh. Jonah felt deeply for this plant because it gave him comfort. God felt deeply for the people of Nineveh because they were his creation and they were innocent because of their ignorance.

There is a great deal to think about in this story, but let me get right to the point. How much mercy has God shown you in your life? Beginning with your salvation, you have been spared most of the consequences of your bad choices and bad decisions because of God’s mercy. God wants you to walk in that power of mercy but there is more to mercy than what it can do for you. You are not just to be a recipient of God’s mercy. You should be a channel of that mercy to others. That is a major part of our message (2 Corinthians 5:17-21.)

Do you want to see revival? When you deal with the people in the world who seem so evil, remember God’s mercy to you. Let that temper how you respond to them. When God showed mercy to you, it was not something you created. It did not come because you deserved it. It came because God chose to give it. Repentance releases mercy in my life, but mercy flows from God’s sovereign choice.

How can I get angry when God does not judge someone else? I must remember God’s mercy to me and ask him to help me be a channel of mercy to the world around me. This is easy in the abstract but If I make it personal it will become a force that will extend the Kingdom of God in my world.

Jonah received mercy for himself with great gratitude but was angry when God showed it to Nineveh. In Jonah’s eyes Nineveh was an ungodly city that deserved destruction. He was right. They eventually were destroyed but that was not Jonah’s business. We look at the world today and we see a great deal of evil. It is destressing to us. We know something must be done but judgement is not our business. Mercy is our business.

In my next post, we are going to look at some things in Jesus teaching that drives this point home. For now, think about Jonah and about yourself. Remember God’s mercy in you life and ask the Lord to help you become a channel of that same mercy to the world. He will take care of judgement, you take care of mercy.