I Was Right

A few years ago, shortly after enjoying the best God time of my life, I wrote a poem about forgiveness. I was struggling with literally dozens of grudges then, and writing this was the first step in the process of letting those go.

“I was right!” I shouted,
Alas to no avail.
The night dark and unclouded
The moon, still smiling, pale.
“Answer me if You’re there!
Or have You gone away?
They were wrong! It’s not fair!
Do You hear me when I pray?”
Softly rustled the leaves
And as I turned I spied,
As though between two thieves,
A flanked tree with branches wide.
“I was right then as well,
More than you’ll ever be,
But love saves more from hell
Than right or law or creed.
They were wrong, it is true,
But does that matter now?
Life became unfair for you
When blood dripped from my brow.”
“I was wrong,” I gently wept,
The pale moon smiling still.
Then heard as in the clouds crept,
“That doesn’t matter, either.”

Group Hug!

I had a friend in Virginia who, at a women’s Bible study, said, “I bet when we get to Heaven, Jesus is going to shout, ‘Group hug!'” That mental picture has stuck in my mind since I heard the story. I see Him running up to us, so eager to greet us all, so holy and perfect, greeting us happily when our actions should have condemned us to never be in His presence again.

I used to think the Gospel was something that God intended more for other Christians. I saw it as Him saying, “Well, I kind of died for everyone else, but if you want to hop on the bandwagon, that’s cool, I guess.” I didn’t believe He actually loved me personally, that He would have come to earth, lived a perfect life, and died at my hands to save just me.

When I think of it now, though, I’m humbled to the point that I have to fight back tears.

Our church has a bunch of different people in it. There are people like me, clean-cut but in just t-shirt and jeans. There are people who wear button-up shirts and slacks or dresses. There are a few bikers with their leather jackets and a dozen patches sown into them. There are those who barely part their lips during worship, those who sing loudly and off-key, those who dance, and those who sit down with their head bowed the entire time. God loves every last person in that church.

He even loves the ones who don’t love Him. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have sent prophets to Israel to warn them about the consequences of their sins. He wouldn’t have sent the disciples to the Gentiles. He wouldn’t have forgiven those who crucified Him. He loves us first, that we may love Him, not because we love Him.

And His is the truest love, for He has nothing to gain by us. Nothing we can offer can make Him more glorious or complete. Nothing we withhold can make Him poorer. He lost His life for loving us and gained nothing.

Just as He showed His love for all of us on the cross with His arms wide open, He is in Heaven now with His arms wide open still, this time waiting for the chance to give us the biggest hug we’ve ever gotten.

A Daily Sacrifice

In Old Testament times, there were daily sacrifices to cover the people’s sins. It seemed there were hundreds of things you could do wrong that would require bringing a bull, sheep, or doves to the priests. 

Aside from doing the will of God because they loved and worshiped Him, this had a very important consequence for the Jews: it made sinning awfully expensive. 

Sin was even more expensive for God: He sacrificed His Son for our sins. God didn’t have to have a way to cover sins. He could have decided that one sin was enough to doom someone with no way out. Then He decided that we could atone for our sins, but it would cost us. When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were shepherds. They ate manna and meat from their flocks, but even that was done very, very sparingly because they didn’t want to eat themselves out of their future. The cost of their sins, though high, was extremely generous because God didn’t have to give them a way out. Plus, it was fair in the sense that they were paying for what they’d done.

This isn’t where God stopped, though. He sent Jesus to be a one-time sacrifice for all our sins. No more bulls and sheep and goats. No more paying for our own mistakes. He paid once and for all time. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In short (since I brought this up a few posts ago), a guy owes his king more money than he could ever pay back, but the king forgives him. This guy then finds someone who owes him a comparative pittance and throws him in prison when this poor guy can’t pay. The king is furious and throws the servant in jail until he pays every last penny. 

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. If you’re paying someone exactly what is owed, then there’s no forgiveness necessary. A criminal can do his time and be released, but the government isn’t forgiving him. He paid his due and now he’s free to go. The king in this parable would have nothing to forgive if he’d been paid all the money due to him. When he forgave, he gave up the rights he had to that money and took a tremendous loss.

God took an even greater loss for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament weren’t worth our souls’ redemption from Hell, but God viewed them as sufficient for our sakes. There was also a lesson in there, that sin is a debt that must be paid. God took a lesser payment in the Old Testament and then made full payment Himself in the New. 

When someone wrongs you, you may have to take a loss. Whether it’s not paying back a debt, making you look bad in front of your boss so you don’t get a promotion, or physically harming you, there may not be a way they can make amends. When you forgive, you should do so knowing that your forgiveness means their debt to you is paid in full. No holding it against them, no treating them differently, no seeking or hoping for their harm. Paid in full, just as your debt has been because of His sacrifice.

The Nature of Sin, Part 4

In the final part of this series, I want to examine one last aspect of sin: its effects on us. When we think of the results of our sin, what usually comes to mind? The need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Yes, we need it, but there are more effects than just eternal damnation. The results from the people we’ve hurt or the powers that be? I confess that I often consider these first when I realize I was wrong. While I have never been much of a rule-breaker and even less of a law-breaker, I’ve wronged many people over the years and I’ve even apologized more as damage control than because I really felt convicted about what I’d done.

Sin has another effect, though: separation from God. The punishment that we earned with our first sin was Hell, which is not only the everlasting fire, but separation from God as well, which I believe is an even greater torture. Jesus didn’t cry out in pain, not when He was beaten, had the crown of thorns pushed down on His head, when He was flogged, or even when they nailed Him to the cross. He cried out when He felt God turn away from Him (Matthew 27:46). God the Father could not look on His Son because Jesus had the weight of all our sins on Him at that moment and God is so holy that even Jesus was separated from His presence by that sin.

When we sin now, something similar, albeit less drastic, happens. We turn away from God and experience a degree of separation.

Imagine that we’re in a room and talking. You can see my face and my gestures and look into my eyes and I can do likewise. Then you turn your back to me. I’m still in the room with you, and we can still talk, but something has changed. The lines of communication are not what they were before you turned away.

When we sin, we do something similar with God. We turn away from Him (note that it is we who are turning, not Him) and so rob ourselves of the fullness of His presence. We don’t get His wisdom, His peace, His sense of love, or to enjoy perfect faith in Him to look out for our best interests. We’re still saved, but we’re not taking full advantage of what God is offering us.

When someone wrongs you, they’re doing the same thing. They’re separating themselves from the fullness of God they were meant to enjoy. That penalty is far higher than anything that could happen to them on earth. The only reason we don’t see it as a big deal is because we’re already not as close to God as He wants us to be. That separation, though, is very real and of immense importance. They’re taking more away from themselves than you or the law could ever take from them. So when they harm you, you may be justified in being angry (Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry, but not sin), but remember that what they’re doing to themselves is far worse than what they’re doing to you. If anything, they need understanding and compassion more than bitterness or lashing back. There is no punishment worse than separation from our Creator, our Father, and our God.

The God of Details

Have you ever considered just how detail-oriented God is? In Numbers 14:30-32, God promises that only Caleb and Joshua, of all Israelites 20 years and older at the time, would make it to the Promised Land. In Numbers 26:64, we see that came to pass exactly as God said. Exodus 9 says that God made a distinction between the Egyptians’ livestock and the Israelites’. Not a single one of the latter was hurt. It also says that when the flies and locusts came in plagues and Moses prayed for God to remove them that not a single one remained. They didn’t return to normal levels; they disappeared entirely.  Continue reading