Forgive and Forget About It

Forgive and forget. 

Someone asked me if this was in the Bible. After a pause, I shouted, “I think I know what my next blog will be about!” Truth be told, I thought it was a principle found in the Bible. I mean, shouldn’t we forgive as God forgives us, forgetting others’ sins “as far as the east is from the west”? How can we call ourselves Christians if we don’t forgive and forget?

The Bible speaks often of forgiveness, but forgetting the sins of others is relatively rare. Jeremiah 31:34 concludes, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” The Hebrew word for “remember” has to do with the action that results from bringing someone or something to mind. A rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant to us so that He will “remember” His promise to “never again” flood the world and “destroy all life.” (Genesis 9:15) In other words, God does not get amnesia and need to be reminded of things He said, but when He “remembers,” He acts according to His promises. In the case of sin, he chooses to no longer “remember” our sin, sparing us from acting out His wrath that we would have deserved if not for His merciful “forgetfulness.”

Matthew 18:21-22 is often used concerning forgiveness.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

Whether it should be translated “77 times” or “490 times” is beside the point; the point is that we should not keep count of the times that someone has sinned against us, but should extend mercy to him/her as God gives us mercy. The common misunderstanding is that there should be no limit. The ensuing parable shows that there is a limit. After the king forgives the servant for a huge debt, the servant does not forgive a fellow servant for a small debt and, after the other servants appealed to the king, the servant was confronted.

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Notice that the fellow servant asked for forgiveness. Most scholars believe that repentance is implied when Peter asked if he should forgive his brother. A very similar passage in Luke 17:3-4 reinforces this belief. “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Since repentance is required in the Luke passage and the fellow servant repents in the ensuing parable of the Matthew passage, it is reasonable to assume that repentance is required as part of forgiving fellow servants of the Lord. The fact that the king punishes the servant rather than giving him unlimited mercy is the most compelling proof to me that true repentance is necessary in order to forgive and forget. If Jesus intended to convey unlimited forgiveness, the king would have forgiven the wicked servant at the end as well.

My point is this: we should give mercy and forgiveness to all that ask just as God gives mercy and forgiveness to us. Some may never repent. Someone who beats his wife can even sound sincere when he asks for forgiveness, but if he continues to beat her, he has not repented and she should not be forced to “forgive and forget.” Others might bully us or continually insult us and discourage us. We need not subject ourselves to such abuse. If someone calls us “brother” or “sister,” then it is our responsibility as a community of believers to confront those who sin, so they might repent and be restored and forgiven. Forgive and forget may have alliteration and clever rhythm and rhyme reminiscent of the Reverend Jesse Jackson in his prime, but it is not humanly possible to forget the past. Only God can truly forget sins.

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God give us to strength to stand under Chevettes

God will never give us more than we can bear.

I heard this one a lot – especially as a chaplain. Sometimes it was uttered in a desperate search to find comfort in the midst of overwhelming tragedy. Sometimes people use it to console others. Most believe they are quoting Scripture, but it is hardly the time to correct someone after her husband of fifty years dies after a long bout with dementia. So before you use this phrase again, please consider what the Bible has to say about it.

The reason this phrase is so appealing is probably because it is lifted out of context from Scripture. It can be found in 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” What a promise! For those who struggle with addiction and habitual sin, there is hope. One word is often overlooked, however. God does not promise that no overbearing tragedy, difficulty, or illness will be allowed into our lives; He only promises that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear.

Great job, Jon. Please refute more sources of comfort for me.

Here’s something better. Though it seems overwhelming tragedy is inevitable in this life, there is a remedy. Paul writes later in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together,reminding us that we are not alone and that we are a community of believers rather than individual islands of isolation. Paul further encourages us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Think of the ramifications for this! If something overbearing happens to us, we need not let it crush us under its weight. Instead others can enable us to stand under it by sharing our burdens with us. For example, if I tried to lift a Chevette over my head by its back bumper, I might be able to bounce it a little to give the illusion that I got it off the ground, but I could never get it over my head. But if I got four other guys to do it with me because we were bored and still waiting for our youth pastor to arrive to drive us to a Christian hip hop concert featuring rap artists wearing backpacks for no other reason than because it seemed like a good fashion statement at the time and they matched their tight-rolled stonewashed jeans…yes, this illustration really happened back when Chevettes still roamed the highways and every Christian artist thought they were the next DC Talk. So long story short, I was one of five guys to lift a Chevette over our heads before any adults could come along and tell us how stupid it was even though we knew it would be awesome sauce, dude.

This trip down memory lane is proof that no matter what burdens might be troubling you, if you share them with those you trust so that they may carry the burden with you, you will be able to stand under the weight of it all. It doesn’t stop there, however. David encourages us in Psalm 68:19 that God joins with us every day. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah.” In other words, if we all come together carrying our own burdens, then we cannot bear it all, but if we share our burdens with others, God comes empty-handed to help bear the whole load. Then our burdens will feel light as we lean on Him and each other. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Everything Happens For a Reason (or so they reason)

Everything happens for a reason or so the saying goes. But in a world filled with meaningless violence and natural disasters, can this saying really be true? And is there Scriptural basis for this claim?

Before we determine whether this statement is true or not, we must determine what it means. Usually this saying is quoted after hearing bad news or discussing a difficult situation. For example, someone might tell her friend that her husband just filed for divorce or her son was involved in a car accident. Inevitably, it seems, the friend will reply, “You know that everything happens for a reason.” In other words, whatever evil or heartbreaking event occurs in your life, there is a Supreme Intelligent Being orchestrating every event in the world in order that some good can come out of it all in the end. This reasoning has a fatal flaw, for while it acknowledges an omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) God, it leaves no room for a God of justice. If everything happens to bring about good for everybody no matter how they behave, how is that fair? Is God then working for the good of Osama bin Laden?

Romans 8:28 clarifies this issue. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Notice who this verse is talking about: “those who love God” and “are called according to His purpose.” Those who do not love God or answer God’s call do not receive the same promise. Some scholars believe that this is talking about heaven – that all things will end up well because those who love God will end up in heaven. Other scholars (including myself) believe that God watches out for His people and, though bad things happen to good people, God has a way of turning it all around for good. That doesn’t mean you can expect a leprechaun to hand you a pot of gold after a few bad things happen to you, but you can be confident that God is in control and has your best interests in mind

Joseph had a hard life. His brothers betrayed him, sold him into slavery, and convinced their dad that he was dead. When his brothers came to him years later begging for food in the midst of a severe famine, Joseph viewed the moment not as a good time to avenge what they had done to him, but as proof that God had used them to accomplish His will and save all of them. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” I’m sure Joseph didn’t think that slavery and prison and betrayal were “good” things to experience, but he realized in that moment that God was the One that orchestrated the events in his life that led to the salvation of him and his family. Joseph even consoles his brothers in Genesis 45:5 saying, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

Things happen to Christians for reasons that may never be explained, but they are ultimately for our own good. God can even use senseless events in our lives to achieve His purposes. Knowing this can bring us comfort in the midst of our suffering because we trust Him to look out for us even if our lives seem to be spinning out of control. We can only hope that when something tragic happens to our non-Christian friends, it will lead them to a relationship with God and His purpose for their lives. Only then can they be confident that even trials can be turned to gold.

He’s brought me here, where things are clear
And trials turn to gold
He shared with me, his victory
He won in days of old

O Lord, I don’t deserve
The riches of your word
But you’ve changed my filthy rags
To linen, white as snow

The view from here is nothing near
To what it is for you
I tried to see your plan for me
But I only acted like I knew

O Lord, forgive the times
I tried to read your mind
Cause you said if I’d be still
Then I would hear your voice

My Lord, my king, my urge to sing
And praise the things above
No words can say the glorious way
You changed me with your love

He’s brought me low, so I could know
The way to reach the heights
To forsake my dreams, my self esteem
And give up all my rights

With each one that I lay down
A jewel’s placed in my crown
Cause his love, the things above
Is all we’ll ever need

He’s brought me here, where things are clear
And trials turn to gold

(Trials Turned to Gold by Keith Green)

I would rather be a tall drink of cool water or a hot cup of coffee rather than a lukewarm swig of vomit juice

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15, 16

Many interpret this in terms of passion, with God preferring white hot passion or cold indifference to Him rather than lukewarm fuzzy feelings for Him in an on-again off-again relationship. Really?! God wants us to be completely apathetic to Him. (Where is a sarcasm font when you need it?) Given the context and the geography of Laodicea, there is no evidence to support such a distant, passive-aggressive God. He speaks to us just as He spoke to the church at Laodicea, warning us of the consequences of our actions (or inaction) and giving us time to repent and change.

God begins by saying, “I know your deeds,” not “I know how you feel about me.” As a Christian for thirty plus years, I have gone through periods of my life where I only felt lukewarm towards Him or even apathetic. That’s ok! For it is in these periods (often called The Wilderness Period, or The Dry Season, or The Dark Night of the Soul) that our faith grows stronger as we learn to hear Him when He is silent and learn to trust Him though we cannot feel Him or see even His shadow. God is not condemning the church of Laodicea for how they feel towards Him (each member would have been at different stages); God is commenting on their deeds, which were putting their souls in jeopardy.

Speaking of Jeopardy, I’ll take Ancient World Geography for $1000, Alex.

This city’s source of water came from the hot springs of Hierapolis, six miles away. Water flowing through these stone pipes would arrive tepid and nausea-provoking. (The Book of Revelation by Robert Mounce)

Alex: Jon?

Jon: What is Laodicea?

Alex: Correct.

Thank you, Alex. Lukewarm water is useless. You can’t bathe in it. You can’t drink it. You can’t even lock and load it into a Supersoaker (ice cold water on a summer day is much more effective). Essentially Jesus is saying, “Your deeds are like your water – useless and nauseating.” In order to be effective, water needs to be hot or cold. Mounce points out, “the contrast is between the hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold, pure waters of Colossae,” the two cities in the region with much better water. What heals aching muscles better than a hot bath? And what feels more refreshing than a tall glass of cold water on a hot day? It is these acts of love that we should be doing.

God gave each of us gifts and talents to help others just as he gave Laodicea wealth, a well-known medical school famous “for ophthalmology together with the region’s well-known eye salve, and “a soft, glossy black wool” that “was much in demand and brought fame to the region.” (Mounce 107) Yet Jesus characterized Laodicea as “poor, blind and naked” spiritually, the exact opposite of what they were known for. So what talent has God given you that could help others, but has thus far only been used for yourself? Don’t hoard it like Laodicea did. And don’t try to be hot and cold at the same time by doing other people’s ministries instead. Ask God to show you what it is that He gave you to use for other’s benefit. Otherwise you’ll be as useless as a screen door on a submarine.

Is there something in my hair?

Judge not lest you be judged.

How many Christians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Ten, one to change the light bulb and nine to judge whether he did it right.

Many of you laughed, some of you winced because the simple fact is that Christians are famous for “judging” others. Often when a Christian comments on a person’s behavior, a common retort is “Don’t judge me!” This phrase has become so cliché that even people who have never read the Bible use it. Unfortunately it is taken out of context and misapplied often.

“Do not judge” is found in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1. “Judge” has two meanings that can be applied in this context. The first meaning has to do with “condemning” a person to a death sentence; in other words, damning someone to hell for what you determine to be worthy of death. Many scholars believe Matthew intended this meaning because when one “judges” that a person is going to hell, then one is essentially “playing God” and only God has the authority to judge humanity. This contradicts Biblical principles, however. Hebrews 9:27 says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There are no exclusions; everyone will be judge by God after death. If we apply the above meaning to Matthew 7:1, then we negate Hebrews 9:27. If we define “judge” as “condemn others to hell,” then wouldn’t that mean that we can avoid God’s judgment if we obey the command in Matthew 7:1? Whether God judges us to spend eternity in heaven or hell, judgment is unavoidable (Revelation 20:12-15).

The only other Scripture that mentions avoiding judgment is Luke 6:37. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Notice that there is a distinction between “judging” and “condemning.” If Matthew really meant “condemn,” he would have used the same word Luke used for “condemn;” instead, he uses the same word Luke uses for “judge.” The Luke passage thus confirms that we should not condemn others to hell, but it also confirms that there is more to the meaning of “judge” than merely condemnation.

The second meaning of judge is “to express an opinion about, criticize” (BAGD). In other words, it is one thing to determine if an action is right or wrong, but forming an opinion about someone based on what little you know or heard about them has its consequences. The next verse tells us what the consequences are: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2) So the way you judge others is the same way they will judge you and “the measure you give will be the measure you get” (BAGD). If you criticize others relentlessly, expect others to criticize you relentlessly. If you give people the benefit of the doubt when they screw up, people will be more likely to give you the same benefit.

Verses three to five basically make the point that if we are too busy finding fault with others, then we will not notice our own faults. It is like telling someone they have something stuck in their teeth when we have an arrow sticking out of both sides of our head. Jesus is making the point that we all have faults that others can criticize, but rather than spend our time pointing out what is wrong with the world, we should worry more about our own vices and how we can find deliverance from them in Him. Maybe then they can overlook our errors as they wipe the splinter of wood from their eye.