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Guest Blog #3...Even more on forgiveness.
I guess the Lord really wants to make sure I get it. Our pastor was in the last 16 verses of Acts 7 today at Sunday service and there it was--a brightly painted picture of forgiveness:
Acts 7:57-58 “But they (the Jewish ruling Council) cried out with a loud voice and covered their ears and rushed at him (Stephen) with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city (Jerusalem), they began stoning him…”
Stephen had been chosen by the early church there in Jerusalem to take charge of some administrative duties; thus allowing the disciples full freedom of time to their ministries of prayer and the Word. The Lord had other ideas for Stephen however. He became a Spirit-filled force; he performed great signs among the people and began teaching them with God’s wisdom. This raised the ire of the same men who had worked so hard to kill Jesus. So they arrested and tried Stephen.. He was given the chance to make a defense; but at some point during his discourse, Stephen recognized that the elders before him were no different than the ones who had persecuted and killed God’s prophets for millennia…he also knew that he was next and that heaven awaited him. He was given a vision of God’s throne room with Jesus standing next to God’s right hand.
The Council’s reaction to Stephen’s vision was described in the above verses. In their anger, they apparently forgot/overlooked Rome’s restrictions concerning the death penalty. So…here was Stephen: wrongfully arrested, falsely accused, and illegally being killed by stoning. By all accounts, he was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…or was he?
Acts 7:59-60 “They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”
I am astounded as much by what Stephen says as by what he doesn’t say. Earlier during his trial he had upbraided the elders for resisting God with their evil hearts. He shows us a righteous anger similar to Jesus’ when He cleared the Temple (John 2:14-17). Stephen was by no means a weak and delicate man. He had guts. But here, with rocks pounding him slowly to death, we don’t see a spirit of wrath, vengeance, retribution, or hate. I don’t see curses, rage, or resentment. Why? Verse 55 tells us: “But being full of the Holy Spirit…” In fact, Stephen’s entire life as documented in the Scriptures was dominated by the Spirit: Acts 6:5: “…they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”; verse 8, “Stephen full of grace and power…”; verse 10, “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen was speaking.”; verse 15, “…all who were sitting in the Council saw Stephen’s face like the face of an angel.”
So…it appears that the Holy Spirit is, among many other things, the active agent of forgiveness; which may explain why it is sometimes so difficult for us to fully and completely forgive…we can’t do it on our own accord. We need the Helper and His power. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you…If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7,11) Let’s ask…let’s seek…let’s bang down the door on God’s goodness and watch Him work!!"
Guest Blog #2...More on forgiveness.
I guess the Lord wants to make sure I get it. I don’t often have dreams--especially dreams I remember in the morning. But last night I did. And even more infrequently does the occasion of a dream lead me to wonder if God sent it or not. I don’t doubt that He can and does but I do doubt my own mind…it has been transformed and renewed but I also abused it a lot in years past (and do so even now…it is an ongoing battle as my mind is assaulted daily even hourly: television, magazines, advertisements, language, coworkers…). Much of what I have and do expose it to still pops up to wrest me away from my Savior. I now know why God exhorts us: “Brethren…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything is worthy of praise…dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) He does not want us filling our minds with garbage…it distracts, discourages, and pulls us away from Him.
Nevertheless, the content of my dream aside, I was led to ponder more on the idea of forgiveness when I woke from that dream--the consideration of Biblical principles always fits the criteria of Phil 4:8...I love how the Lord draws us into His Word! So…forgiveness…
Matthew 18:21 “Then Peter came and said to Him (Jesus), ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive Him? Up to seven times?’”
I can’t wait to ask Peter, when I get to heaven, exactly what it was that led him to ask this question of Jesus. I would bet that there was some stuff going on amongst the men who followed Jesus. And I know there is stuff going on with me and you every day that challenges us to forgive: little wrongs, slights, pet-peeves, outright slander, underhandedness, gossip, hate, discontent. Some of it is at school or work; some is at home; some is in our extended and/or distant families; some is on-line; some is at church; some is with our loved ones; some is with strangers; some is with our friends; some is with our government. It is another ongoing all-pervasive battle we face.
Matthew 18:22 “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times but up to seventy times seven.’”
Basically, we just have to keep forgiving. There is no end to it. And to make sure we get it, Jesus immediately told the story of a man who owed the boss $16 million and was completely forgiven that debt. The forgiven man then responded: he turned around and viciously tried to collect $3000 from one of his debtors. Who did he think he was!?! …and who do we think we are when we don’t immediately forgive each other…we ourselves have been forgiven that massive $16 million debt. “He (God) 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 loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm103:10-12) Jesus wants us to do the same in our dealings with each other…so remember, when the affronts start coming at you…just start flinging them to the east and west…forgive. I now know that I have to stop coming up with all the reasons to not forgive. There are no caveats, stipulations…there is no small print. Help us Lord…help us love.
"Guest Blog #1.
Jonathan is taking a short rest and was gracious enough to let me guest blog for him…mercy may be needed after this first foray--we will see.
My name is Jason…my middle name is Jonathan. It is a good name.
I just endured an 18-hour roundtrip drive from Chico to Ely, NV during which I started listening to our pastor’s recent Wed nite survey through the Bible. It took him nearly a year and a half to complete. I got from Genesis to Nehemiah during my trip. Thank you Lord for MP3!! It was quite a different experience traveling through the Bible in such rapid succession and I look forward to the next long trip where I hope to meet all the prophets.
At one point during the trip (near Fallon, NV…just past midnight), I finished listening to I and II Samuel and decided to call Jonathan with some questions…(it sure is nice having a night-owl friend). I commented to him that I thought: “If King David were President of the U.S. his antics would rate him up there with some of our worst leaders: infidelity, murder, corruption, pride, misuse of power, etc” And Jonathan wisely steered me from my negative thoughts to think that: “Despite his shortcomings, David experienced forgiveness, received forgiveness, and moved forward forgiven.”
I recently read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. There is much to recommend concerning that book but the passage that shined brightest for me was the one where she ran into one of her German captors (torturers) years after the war. She had just finished one of her many presentations in which she told how the love of Jesus was what held and sustained her. The man came up to her, joyous that she held him no ill-will and had forgiven him. He held out his hand. Corrie then writes of the raging battle that waged within her at that moment. She did NOT want to shake that man’s hand! But the Holy Spirit empowered her, filled her, and spilled out of her as she submitted to the Lord and shook that man’s hand with the love of Jesus in her heart.
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t do that…I just can’t. I have tried and failed. I’ve thought that when the time came I could be just like Corrie and be an ambassador of love and goodwill. But I can’t. Corrie herself said that she couldn’t either. I can’t react instinctively with love…sometimes even with my own family! But we are called to be perfect. We are called to love. We are called to forgive. And since I can’t do it on my own…well, the answer is simple: Jesus. “Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2
Where is my mind? Where are my thoughts? Where are my activities? Where are my words? Where is my heart? Where is yours?