Category Archives: Something to Ponder

Giving Attention To…The Most-Forgiven People In The World

I am grateful that my Doctor of Ministry pursuit at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) has me reading some great books … AND I am grateful that some of these books are already familiar to me! One of these familiar books was The PeaceMaker (by Ken Sande, a Reformed elder and Christian attorney). Proving the value of reading good books twice, I came across this phrase last month which I did not recall from my first reading nine years ago. Listen ~ and register an amen (or otherwise): Christians are the most forgiven people in in the world!
If you said and nodded amen, that means you agree ~ and so you regard this as true. Well, is that true?! If you are a Christian (and according to your public professions, most of you are Christians), do you often think of yourself as the most forgiven person? Just as critically, is this how the world thinks about us, that we are and we think we are the most forgiven people in the world … or do they think something else about our self-perception?! Since I am in the mood for great questions (sneaking in three of them already!), I may as well keep on charging ahead. Ask and answer these ones in your personal mental space:
· As part of that most-forgiven club, what is it you are forgiven of/from? There is a hidden, assumed word there, one which we must highlight: sin(s). So the most forgiven people in the world must have been great, low, chief sinners?
· Forgiven … by Whom? Surely not by the self, or by energy or a simple force. Forgiveness must be by a Person; Who?
· Why have you been forgiven? That is, on what basis? Who paid? What price?
· Forgiven … how much? … how often? … how deeply? That is, what does true and full and free forgiveness mean? What does that feel like ~ inside you?!
· Forgiven … for what purpose? Any reason, beyond mere guilt-clearance?
· Are you merely forgiven ~ or are you more-than-forgiven? Is “Forgiven-Sinner” the only label you wear now? Is that your best label? Did Jesus pay for more?
· Consider Bible connections between forgiveness, law, repentance, faith, and grace.
· Is there any Bible relationship between forgiveness and love? How about: God’s love produced your forgiveness which produces your love for God, for His gospel, and for other offenders, even those who have sinned against you? Especially since Jesus Christ put it thus: She who is forgiven much, loves much. And since we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” … is all of this true in your case?
· Does it follow in you (and in most Christians) that the most forgiven people are also the most forgiving people? Would there be evidence for or against this in your own trial?
· And what difference does all of this make concerning assurance of salvation, family and church life, on the job and at school, for your life in the community, in your dealings with this sinful world, and in your Christian witness?

FRANK THINKING ABOUT HARD WORDS

Faithful are the wounds of a friend … amen?! Do you like THAT wisdom? Among a few pet-peeves in my ministry, one that continues to gnaw at me (too often with respect to others, and too seldom concerning myself) is this one, concerning professing Christians ~ most of those I know being convinced about inerrancy. So of course, they will agree (quickly, wholeheartedly, without reservation) about this theological premise: “I sin daily in thought, word, and deed. I am a desperate sinner ~ saved only by the wonderful grace of God.” True enough … so ~ what is my peeve?! That if a fool (like myself) should ever point out one specific sin of the millions, to such a professor ~ well, the battle is on, it is all-out war, and the defensive walls rise!
My discovery, point, and peeve is that it is evidently much easier to confess to the general principle of sin than to any particular ones: “I am a sinner in general … but not in the specifics.” This reminds me of a groaner of a joke: “I do not like shopping at general stores, because I cannot get anything specific!” My brothers & sisters, we must deal with our own specific sins before God, and we must be faithful concerning hard words with and for our friends. I am calling for a mutual ministry of admonition … that we would be ready, willing, and able to both give and receive. Some counsel:
1. Aim to receive all criticism and admonition as coming from God’s love and grace. John Calvin admonishes: If we will be judged by people here and now (that is, repenting and turning away from sins which are exposed by the ministry of other people in our lives), then we will not be judged by God for these same sins later.
2. But what if my critic is 99% wrong ~ and only 1% right ~ in his harsh analysis of me?! Well, thank God and your critic for that 1% … and deal faithfully with that part. God can use even an ill-motivated enemy to move along my sanctification. Paul was buffeted by Satan with many wounds; through these, God worked growth in Paul. Critics can expose our blind-spots and tenderize our hardened consciences.
3. Keep short accounts with everyone so that when rebuke-for-sin is necessary (either way), nobody is distracted to think that the rebuke is really about settling old scores (or using imagined slights as excuses for another fight).
4. How does it feel, to be rebuked harshly?! Does anyone really enjoy that? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (the GOLDEN RULE). The design of this RULE is that you should lead, in the right way. Notice, then, the pattern of Paul in so many of his epistles. Paul leads with encouragement, and ends the same way ~ even if the middle of his letter is heavy on rebuke. And even in that portion which must focus on the censure, Paul will mention his true affection (brothers & sisters; my little children). Paul treated even the Galatians & Corinthians with tenderness.
5. Recall your PEACEMAKER training?! Beware (especially within yourself) the equally poor responses of Fight & Flight … of murder or suicide … of running at the enemy to do vigorous battle or running away to hide (hiding sins and hiding feelings).
6. Is it possible ~ follower of Jesus Christ ~ that you are not close enough to anyone such that this co-ministry of hard, necessary words could even happen?! If true, this is an ultimate example of Flight: You so fear this kind of necessary and healthy admonition, rebuke, and criticism that you forego all human relating. You may imagine that you are avoiding pain, but it is merely a temporary respite, and much greater pain is soon to come.
7. Finally ~ in the midst of hard words, trials, tragedies, disappointments, conflicts, admonitions, and rebukes ~ even a few of these which are really not deserved (yet all of them are painful), a question always presses us from on high: Do I really want to become more like Jesus Christ (to be continually renewed after the image of the Son of God) or am I actually more interested in preserving my dignity, fighting for my rights, and staying true to myself (even if God is interested in transforming that self)? Our response to criticism and admonition may reveal our actual answer to this greatest of sanctification’s questions.
A final “hard word” (but I hope you do not think it is): It would be inappropriate for me to pass around a clip-board right now, asking who wants to sign up for this kind of HARD-WORDS CO-MINISTRY! Why would it be improper? Because you are already signed up for this, by virtue of Christ bringing you into His body (the church), and this is especially true for you official, communicant members who (know it or not) were thereby committing to this ministry of mutual blessing. So let us be faithful (and kind) ~ in the giving and in the receiving.

PERSONAL MERIT & HOLY WORSHIP?! MAY IT NEVER BE …

Exodus 37:9b ~ “… The faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat. …”
This morning, let us think carefully about what we are doing here, right now, within holy worship. What I mean is: What do you think you are doing ~ for God? Let us consider some of the many activities which religious people have performed, in the supposed attempt to merit God’s favor, even though the design of each activity was to teach them of the necessity of God’s unmerited grace.
In Old Testament times, God’s people were highly engaged with sacrifices, feasts, and sacraments:
1. Sacrifices, like those offered on the annual Day of Atonement. How remarkable ~ if it ever happened (!) ~ that a Jew could stand near the Tabernacle or Temple, as the high priest would sprinkle a portion of the blood sacrifice onto him, symbolizing that worshiper’s need to have his own fresh sins covered through the death of another creature. And yet … even while the blood was being applied to him, that worshiper might have been imagining: “What a godly, spiritual person I am, for having bothered to show up at Jerusalem this year” … and counting up how many favors God owed to him for the coming farming season! We could extend this realistic possibility to what similar “worshipers” were thinking about as that same high priest laid his hands on the two goats …
2. Feasts, like the Passover. Again, each family was much involved with blood, this time slaying their own unblemished lamb, and spreading its covering blood onto their doorposts, so that the death this family deserved would be paid symbolically by another creature. And yet, pride of annual performance could often leak in.
3. Sacraments, like circumcision … the very act itself depicting and symbolizing the necessary cutting away of our sinful flesh ~ what we are as fallen humanity ~ a removal of that inborn offense, replaced with full dependence on spiritual help from God. And yet, we know that more racial and personal pride surrounded the circumcision ritual than any other aspect of Jewish life.
Are we New Testament Christians immune from this field of problems? Hardly! Professing believers are very busy about formal worship, Bible reading, the prayers, … and (again) sacraments (in our case, reduced to two ~ Baptism & the Lord’s Supper):
1. Our formal worship. Your presence at New Sabbath services (I trust?!) indicates your heart conviction that we very much need God, His favor, and His means of grace. Yet church attendance, famously, is often a point of personal, comparative pride.
2. Bible reading. How much we need a word from the Lord ~ even more than we need physical bread. And yet, it is way too easy for me to check off my DAILY BIBLE READING RECORD, and then imagine I have maneuvered God into my debt.
3. Prayer. What is genuine, spiritual petition ~ but a confession of faith, of sin, of trust, and of absolute neediness?! And yet this act (too often) is counted by nominal (in-name-only) and disobedient Christians as, somehow, meritorious.
4. Sacraments, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism (akin to circumcision) is to symbolize my need to be washed clean of sin. Though it is properly performed one time on each believer, this cleansing picture applies to a lifetime of sin, all of it needing coverage by that liquid which is stronger than water. The Supper is the repeating sacrament; some of us will enjoy hundreds of celebrations. Each one is to remind us of our need for continuous feeding and life-power from outside the self. And yet, like our Old Covenant counterparts, New Testament saints are too quick to count up what our God owes to us for our sacramental observances.
How much better, my faithful (faith-filled), gracious (grace-bought), merciful (mercy-driven) brothers and sisters ~ to be taught by the Lord through all these means of His blessing and grace, concerning:
1. our personal unworthiness (even our counter-merit) as considered on our own, by ourselves.
2. the absolute and infinite worth of Jesus (the righteous, faithful, worthy One).
3. our inclusion in, union with, and dependence upon Jesus Christ, for any good thing. This is the gospel ~ and what it means to live by faith in the Son of God.
There are a few ways in which we can and should emulate the angels. God has given us this picture in His word about the construction of the wilderness Tabernacle and the design of the Ark of the Covenant within it (see the Exodus 37 reference above). On the top of the Ark, God instructed that the angelic figures should be fashioned to gaze intently at the mercy seat (also known as the atonement cover). This is where satisfaction for Israel’s sin was symbolically made, and where Yahweh said He would meet with His people through their appointed high priest. Jesus Christ, of course, is our Atonement, our Great High Priest, the effective Cause of God’s mercy toward us. Let us follow the angelic gaze, looking to Christ on the basis of blood-bought mercy, and not to any supposed worth in ourselves for ritual compliance or anything else.