Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“How Churches Could Be More Convincing”
For the first nine years or so on the corner of Lincoln and Main, I’d often say during messages, “Please don’t tell anyone that I’m your pastor because I don’t want anyone to think you got what you got from me.”
Part of it was only staff members Karen, Mona, Jeremy, and Murph were welcoming and nice to me when I landed; and part of it was Belvidere’s First Presbyterian Church had a reputation for being snobby, snotty, grudge-holding, and disrespectful to each other as well as clergy.
After some additions and subtractions – revival sometimes don’t mean bringing people in but getting the people out who don’t love Jesus and all of His children – I haven’t said that too much over the past five years.
Of course, every once in a while when the wolf is at the door…
Truth is at least 95% of the folks on the corner of Lincoln and Main have always been better than worse; pero just a few fleas can make a big dog itch and just a few irregulars, irascibles, and irreconcilables can taint a church’s reputation and, if not held accountable to confession and repentance as prerequisite to restoration, make things more miserable than merry.
Mark Twain’s conclusion about too many churches remains chastening: “The church is always trying to get other people to reform. It might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little by way of example.”
Pointedly, churches could – ah, let’s say should - be a lot more convincing to the unchurched who are like the churched who need Jesus to feel existentially loved and eternally secure.
Specifically, churches could be a lot more convincing if they were known exclusively for agape expressed through mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Sadly, too many churches have really bad reputations; especially when it comes to the lack of forgiveness among its pulpiteers and pewsitters.
It seems too many churches talk a lot about it without knowing and making known what forgiveness means, how to do it, and why it’s so important to Jesus and people who say they love Jesus.
Forgiveness is really important to God.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Yeah, debts, debtors, trespasses, and trespassers are synonyms for sins and sinners though sins and sinners are a lot more literal to the original languages of the Bible not to mention original sin.
You say potato, I say…
Moretheless, that part of what we call The Lord’s Prayer is the only part of the prayer that Jesus explained immediately after finishing the prayer: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, God will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you.”
It’s really hard to say this but Jesus is saying our forgiveness from God is conditional upon our forgiving others.
Forgiving = forgiven.
Unforgiving = unforgiven.
I’m reminded of Karen McCoy who went home to Jesus on June 24, 2015.
A few days before graduation, she said, “If people won’t forgive, hell with them; and, Pastor Bob, I didn’t say that. Jesus said that!”
Herbert Lockyer is sobering about the connection between forgiveness and God’s favor in Everything Jesus Taught: “There is one sin…[that]…Jesus said a forgiving God cannot forgive. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…the willful, conscious, and final rejection of the pardon God offers in Christ…God cannot forgive such a soul for such a soul is unable to receive and appreciate forgiveness. It has gone too far ever to return.”
Lockyer goes on, “Jesus emphasized the relationship between the two aspects of forgiveness, namely, God’s forgiveness of man, and man’s forgiveness of man…At the heart of the teaching of Jesus was the insistence that the human who would not forgive the human could never be forgiven by God…Jesus seems to say, ‘How dare you ask God to forgive you when you refuse your forgiveness to a brother?’”
He concludes, “We must do to others as we wish God to do to us. If we refuse to forgive, our own forgiveness is denied.”
I think of a conversation between John Wesley and an unforgiving man.
When Wesley asked him to forgive someone, he said, “It’s no use, Mr. Wesley. You know, sir, I never forgive.”
Wesley snapped, “I hope you know you will never be forgiven; or else I hope you have never sinned.”
So there it/He is.
Our forgiveness from God is indisputably and eternally connected to our forgiveness of others.
Forgiveness is really important to Jesus and eternally consequential to us as it makes things a lot more merry than miserable in the meantime.
I was really miserable about all of this for the longest time because nobody really explained the meaning of forgiveness to me.
I’ll never forget my third grade Sunday School teacher who said, “If you can’t forget, you can’t forgive and you’ve heard what Jesus said about that.”
I thought I was going to hell for sure.
I mean I have a pretty good hard drive and don’t forget too much.
Told that if I could pull up the sins from the past from my noodle’s files, it meant I was not forgetting ergo not forgiving and therefore damned.
It was a lot to take for a third grader.
With thanks to God for people who spend a little more time in the Bible than others, I learned the meaning of forgiveness as intended by Jesus.
He used words that meant forgiveness is kinda like forgetting in that we don’t hold the past against each other.
We kinda forget even if our divinely designed noodles can recall the infractions of the past.
Biblically, forgiveness occurs when the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual barriers of the past are torn down and the past no longer inhibits present and future relationships.
That’s what God has done for us by grace through faith in Jesus and that’s what God expects from us for others: “Love each other just as much as I love you.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we like people who have caused problems in our lives or trust them or want to go to the movies with them.
It means we are not out to hurt them or retaliate against them while using the past as rationale for not trying to get along now and then and forever.
Nobody is suggesting it’s easy.
Heaven, Jesus went to the cross over it.
It’s not easy.
It’s freedom from the resentments, grudges, and other emotional dung-holes that weigh us down.
Forgiveness yields freedom from manipulators and mean-spirited and hateful and hurtful and other miscreants.
Being forgiven by God and each other is almost paradise.
It’s a taste of heaven.
While grudge-holders are gravediggers with the only graves being dug being theirs, the forgiving and forgiven by God and each other know unparalleled peace and calm.
Forgiveness transforms misery into merry and glum into glad.
It lightens the step because the load has been lifted.
David sang about the joys of forgiveness in Psalm 32: “How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…How happy we are to get a fresh start and clean slate…Reconciled with God and each other sparks joyous celebration.”
David cautioned against holding onto sin: “When I kept it all inside, the stress and pressure never let up…All the juices of my life dried up.”
Then David moved to the formula for forgiveness from God and each other that was echoed in 1 John 1:5-10. Here’s the apostle’s punch line: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” David put it this way: “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord, and You took away the guilt of my sin.’”
I like Peterson’s paraphrase: “I said, ‘I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God’…Suddenly, the pressure was gone…my guilt dissolved…my sin disappeared.”
That formula for forgiveness from God is supposed to be our formula for forgiveness with each other; and God has made it clear that if we don’t exercise that formula in our relationships with each other, we forfeit it in our relationship with Him.
The rest of the psalm reiterates the most common theme of Holy Scripture: “Trust and obey! For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey!”
It doesn’t take much discernment to know David most likely wrote this psalm after getting caught in the sack with Bathsheba and then knocking off her husband so he could stay in the sack with her and then experiencing God’s forgiveness after confession and repentance.
That’s the usual formula.
Confession and repentance are prerequisite to restoration between us and God and each other.
Yet – and it’s a very big yeeeeeeet. A yet that I’m still praying about and reading about as I continue to scratch the surface of my relationship with God by the book – I’m still trying to understand how our incarnate Lord’s last act of forgiveness could/should impact our relationships with others who have not confessed sin nor made any attempt to repent from sin.
The crucified Christ said from the cross in the presence of those who were among the most guilty of denying, torturing, and murdering Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is among the most unpredictably astounding things that Jesus ever said. He is asking Father God not to hold the sins of everyone culpable for His passion and death against them; but rather to forgive them as ignorant.
How often have we heard ignorance is no excuse?
One of our Lord’s last words disagrees with that sentiment; and there’s no way on earth to understand such forgiveness.
All we can do is praise and thank Him for forgiving our unconsciously and even consciously ignorant unconfessed and unrepented sins: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Maybe, as Twain suggested, we could/should model Him a little bit better with each other as others watch us.
Maybe we could be a lot more convincing if we took our forgiveness to the next level.
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!