Too Great to Forgive???

“The things I have done are too big and too bad to be forgiven.” Sadly, I hear this statement or a rendition of this statement often enough that it doesn’t catch me off guard as I talk to people about Jesus. Sometimes when people say this they are referring to the totality of the actions in their life, yet what I find more often than not is that they are referring to a particular decision and actions. I have accepted and seen that in the human heart is the potential for good, yet I have also accepted and seen in the human heart a depravity at the deepest levels. It is because of this depravity, that statements like the one above while they break my heart, they do not surprise me. In all honesty and with a broken heart, it doesn’t take much time to see the brokenness and the depravity of humanity.

The question is what do you do if you personally have a question like “my sin is too big and too bad to be forgiven” and how do we respond to statements like this? In no particular order, let me give you some suggestions that I have learned.

Listen with Grace
When you truly open yourself up and listen to people and if you listen to enough people you will hear things that will surprise, shock, and things you had never imagined. When you hear things such as this, you must respond with grace and compassion. I realize this may go against an initial response, yet as we read the Bible Jesus repeatedly responded with grace and compassion.

There are a few realities that we must recognize. First, the person you are listening to is already crushed, broken, and they are at that moment freely admitting that the decision and actions that were taken are bad and awful. Second, it is not our job to pile on with finger waging. As believers, our job is to be a representative of Christ to those around us; to share the wonderful news of Jesus, His love and forgiveness; and to recognize with grace and truth the seriousness of sin. Third, as soon as you give a hint of finger waging, the person will shut down and the wonderful news of Jesus will be shut out.

Recognize and Affirm a Sin is a Sin is a Sin
We as people consistently want to put things on a scale from great and excellent things to terrible and awful things. We do the same thing with the sins that are committed as we arrange them on a sliding scale. Some sins we say are awful and terrible, some sins are bad, and some sins we put in the category of ‘no harm, no foul.’ We can also see this with the distinction we have with lies: white lies and black lies.

We can make a distinction and categorize on a scale the different chili recipes or sports teams, yet the reality is there is no distinctions when it comes to sin. The saying is, ‘A sin is a sin is a sin’, it doesn’t matter where on the scale of awful to not too terrible we place a particular sin. The Bible tells us in the first part of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death (NASB).” I want you to notice with me it doesn’t say that what we deserve for a particular sin or category of sins is separation from the Lord. It says that the thing we deserve because we commit sin is separation.

When we say that we have committed a sin too bad to be forgiven, we have erred in attempting to put sins in categories. The simple truth is all sin is serious, and the solution for sin is the same- Jesus.

Know the Cross is Sufficient
When we believe that our sin is too big and bad to be forgiven, whether we realize it or not, we are saying that our sin is greater than the crucifixion of Christ or that our sin is greater than His ability to forgive. Colossians 2:13-14 tells us, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (emphasis mine; NASB).”

My friends, many of you are in this position of believing that your sin is too great to be forgiven. I want to tell you that the cross of Christ is sufficient to forgive all your sins. The hurdle isn’t if Jesus ‘can’ forgive you and make you whole because He freely offers that wholeness and forgiveness. The hurdle is if you are willing to ask and believe.

Celebrate that His Grace is Enough
The last thing I want to encourage you toward as you realize the love and the forgiveness of Christ, is to celebrate. We are celebrating for a reason and that reason is the wonderful grace of Jesus. My friends that wonderful grace is amazing and more than enough. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven, we are made whole, the joy that comes through abundant life, and we have the hope of heaven. Let us celebrate!

What is Love?

With today being February 14th and Valentines Day we see heart shaped everything all around us.  Heart shaped biscuits (thanks Bojangles), heart shaped Reeses Peanut Butter candies, and who can forget the heart shaped donuts (thanks for that sugary delight Krispy Kreme). With all that heart shaped goodness it is a wonder that we all don’t have heart problems. Yet, I digress. With today being Valentines day it is natural to think about love. The question is ‘What is Love’?

Is love about being shot with an arrow by some sort of fat winged baby? We say that we are love struck where we have an infatuation with another person. Maybe you find yourself thinking about them all the time or you find your heart races and your palms get sweaty when you get near that particular person. Is this love? This MAY be the infantile beginnings of ‘love’, but can not and must not be classified as love.

Is love about raging emotions and passions? This is the ‘love’ we see in movies and TV shows. This is the ‘love’ of soap operas. This is a ‘love’ that is primarily physical. Yet is this truly love? Is love truly as fleeting as emotions and passions of here one day and gone the next? Is this love? While a romantic love will and must include emotions and passions, emotions and passion in and of themselves is not love. It is not love because love is greater than something fleeting. True love has resiliency. I always makes me sad when I hear a marriage is broken because a member of the couple says, “I feel out of love with ______.” If love is more, if love is greater, and if love has resiliency then raging emotions and passions can not be love. Further, raging emotions and passions can not be love because these raging emotions and passions are self motivated. Yes these emotions and passions are directed at another individual, yet it starts and finishes with what “I want” and what “I need”. It is self-centered not other-centered. True love must be other-centered. In and of it’s self this ‘love’ in reality is simply lust.

What is love? True love grows with the couple. While there will be certain things in love that will remain, true love will grown and shift through the seasons of time. As a pastor who counsels with couples one of the things I run into from time to time is the false expectancy that the feeling of love will remain the same throughout the life of the relationship. Yet in reality that puppy love will shift to a young love, and that love will shift to another level of love. We all wish that we could have 50+ years of marriage where we remained in the honeymoon phase, yet this is simply not the case and to have this expectancy leads to frustration and ultimately failure.

Love focuses on giving not taking. When love becomes self-centered it ceases to be love. Therefore love must be other-centered. If I’m focused on loving my wife and wanting the best for my wife and she is focused on loving me and wanting the best for me, this results in a happy, successful and fulfilling marriage. When my wife is focused on me, while I am focused on my wants, this will lead to things going awry and unfulfilling. That is one of the funny things about love and marriage: when each is focused on giving more, then each will receive more than they otherwise would have.

Love is that couple who has been married for 50 years holding hands in the park. Love is that spouse pushing the other in a wheel chair as they stay true even in the face of age or illness. Love is holding your loved ones hand as they breath their last. Love is working together as a couple even in the face of adversity: loss of job, a move, a poor financial decision, or a poor personal decision. Love is seeing your bride for the first time as they open the doors for them to walk down the aisle. Love is turning off the TV, putting down the phone, and grabbing those few minutes after the kids are in bed to talk about the day.  Love is that engagement story, that you have told what seems to be a million times. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a NIV).”

Why are you to love your enemies?

In the last blog post we began to speak of loving others. Jesus tells us as believers in Matthew 5:44 (NASB), “‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” My question is why? Why should we love those we term as enemies? Let’s be real this person who we consider an enemy is called an enemy for a reason. Why in the world would we love them?

Jesus in the the verses that follow, Matthew 5:45-47, states, “‘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?’” It is from these verses that we get four reasons why we as believer are to love even those we consider enemies. For time sake we will consider one for this post.

You are love even those you consider enemies because as a believer you are a child of God. In fact as a child of God you are to emulate your heavenly Father and exemplify love for others, even those that are enemies. Jesus states in John 13:34-35, “‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Just as Jesus has loved you, you are also to love others. In fact people will know that you are a believer in Jesus because of your love for others. In another verse that emphasizes your need to emulate your heavenly Father is 1 John 4:7-11, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Just like the passage in John 13 you see in this passage that just as the Father has loved you, you are to love others. In fact, your heavenly father has loved you so much that He sent Jesus into this world to be the propitiation (atoning sacrifice). If your heavenly Father has love you so extravagantly, shouldn’t you also love others?

Loving other’s isn’t always easy. To be honest there are some people that intersect our lives that are hard to love.  Yet even through this difficulty we are still called to love others just as our heavenly Father has loved us.

Love and Like

I’ve been thinking about the command that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:44 when he states, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  What an unbelievable statement that Jesus says. Let’s be honest some people are hard to love. You know the people that simply rub you the wrong way. Those that you just want to avoid an when you see them coming you want to head the opposite direction. The people that seem to always be against you. Maybe they are unkind or cruel to you. In short they are people you would consider an enemy.

Through the unbelievability, Jesus commands for us as believers to love one another even those that we would consider an enemy.

What does this love look like? Love seeks and works toward another’s highest welfare. It is self giving and self-sacrificing for another’s good. While love oftentimes includes emotion, it always is characterized with action. Love is seen through our attitude and the outworking of that attitude in our actions. Love must be seen through actions before it can be considered love. It is this kind of love this desire to seek the best, even for those we may consider an enemy.

You ask, are we supposed to be my best friends with everyone? To answer this it is important to understand that love and like are not synonymous. In other words Jesus commands us to love one another, not necessarily to like one another or to be best friends with everyone. Is it possible to that we can love without liking a particular person? I would say yes. We can love without liking, yet we cannot like without loving. For instance, you invite someone over to your house only for them to steal something when you turn your back. Can you still want the best for this person? Yes. Will you invite this person back to your house and allow them to be alone? No. You can love without liking, but you cannot like without loving. Say for instance, a particular person is always out to shame you and bring you down. Can you still love and want the best for this person? Yes. Will you want to seek out this person and spend your free time with this person? No.

Now please hear me, this distinction comes with a thin line. We are called to love others and want the best for them, even those who wish to see us fall. The trick is that while we may not like everyone, we mustn’t allow this dislike to become a hatred or distain. It is this hatred and distain that would put us in contention with the command that Jesus gives to us, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Do you love others? What about those you consider an enemy? How does this love workout in your attitude and actions?