Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. He thought he was being really generous by suggesting “seven times.” He must have been shocked to hear Jesus’ response that we should forgive “seventy times seven.”
Jesus then shares the parable of the unforgiving servant — the one forgiven a massive amount who would not forgive someone else a tiny amount. The point?
- If we don’t grasp how much we’ve been forgiven, we have trouble forgiving others.
- When we don’t forgive others, we fail to grasp how much we’ve been forgiven.
- Unforgiveness in our hearts results in a pending response by God concerning our need for forgiveness.
- Unforgiveness on our part result in a bondage we choose to live with.
When we deeply, emotionally, and absolutely grasp the depth and degree to which we have been forgiven, it’s not so difficult to forgive others.
If you’re having trouble forgiving others of their trespasses, you haven’t truly embraced how profoundly you have been forgiven. AND you won’t live in freedom until you do forgive.
Authentic biblical faith is what enables us to overcome fear. Fear paralyzes us from significantly following after God. Fear is the number one thing that keeps us from being and becoming everything that God has in mind for you–the fear of failure, fear that God’s way won’t be as good as yours, fear that something tragic will happen, fear that God won’t come through like He says He will, fear that God won’t provide, fear of pain, fear of what others think.
We have a nation filled with Christians who are living an acceptable lifestyle, according to the standards of many churches today. We measure our Christianity according to the expectations of our Christian culture and fellow believer-friends. Many of us measure up quite well. But how does God see you? Are you living a lifestyle of risk-taking faith? Are you crazy for God? Would others say you are?
Glenn and Susan Herschberger at a recent gathering in Guadalajara, Mexico.
I recently had a wonderful Skype session with a couple of our sharp missionaries in Panama City, Glenn and Susan Herschberger. We had an opportunity to catch up just a little, talk through a few tweaks we need to work on in the Home Office, threw around a few possibilities for future ministry, and just had a nice time chatting together. I love how technology brings us to close to one another even though we are thousands of miles apart.
For me, the highlight came when I asked Glenn, “What do you love most about what you’re doing in Panama?” Without a moment’s hesitation, and with a grin on his face, Glenn declared, “I love the diversity, the color. It’s the heart of God. It’s a beautiful thing.” I saw the passion of a true missionary coming through with startling clarity. When God’s heart-beat becomes our heart-beat, we’re in the bull’s-eye of God’s plan for ministry.
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations (ethnos, meaning race, tribe, or people group) will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:4 ESV
God longs for all the people groups of the earth to worship Him. When people of diverse cultures, races, and traditions gather to worship, a profound beauty emerges. People sacrifice personal preferences, give up traditions, grasp new ways and practices for the sake of others, live out selfless community life, and greatly honor the God who longs for all people to worship Him together.
- This is God’s desire, not only in glory, but right here on planet earth. After all, Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
- This is God’s desire, not only for Panama City, or other A2:5 English-speaking church plants around the world, but for your church, your city, and your community.
It’s a beautiful thing!
Numbers 14:36-37a, “And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land—the men who brought up a bad report of the land— died by plague before the Lord.” ESV
This is not the warm fuzzy verse to start your day. It’s an important one, however.
Of the 12 spies sent into Canaan, ten returned with a very negative, overly emotional report that turned the entire nation againt God. The statement above gives us a quick synopsis of what happed to those ten. First, however, understand what they did:
- They “made all the congregation to grumble” against the Lord. The word “grumble” in Hebrew means to stop, stay permanently, to be obstinate. The verbal expression of that condition is to complain. This is important to know because the people were not just afraid or lacking some faith. They had an agressive position of stubborness. Their sinful state had positioned them to never enter Canaan. They had no intention at all of ever following hard after God.
- They brought a “bad report about the land.” The Hebrew used here literally means to slander. It reveals that what was spoken by the spies was not a logical assessment of what they had found. This was an emotional, determined negative report trying to make the land look really bad. In fact, the idea is that, as they were giving this report, they were undermining God’s plan for their nation. “Slander” is an agressive sinful assault on a person’s character. This was an intentional report meant to bring dishonor to God.
As I consider this, I can’t help but think that the Israelites failed to care for their souls. Could it be that bitterness, anger, and rage had captured them so deeply that they were incapable of following God no matter how obvious He proved His love for them? Could it be that their distrust of God had grown so deep over the years and through the generations that they were unwilling to change their view of God?
What a powerful reminder that no matter what it takes, we must do the deep honest cleansing work that God wants and needs to work in us. We can never go where God is leading if we are not healthy in our soul.
Let me conclude with a few thoughts from this sobering passage:
- The stakes are high for leaders. The plague that wiped out the 10 negative spies came quickly and decisively.
- Negativity is more than just a view, but rather, a dangerous sin often rooted in unresolved issues that have infected the soul.
- Leading others away from God’s best plan is a dangerous exercise.
Infecting others with disbelief is a losing proposition.
The Psalmist states, “To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit,” Psalm 28:1.
David declares the critical difference that a listening God makes in our lives–it puts us on a totally different tragectory than those who do not follow after God. As stated here, if God doesn’t respond to our “call”, we will be like all the others that “have gone down to the pit.”
There are three parts to the above statement:
- We call.
- God listens.
- God communicates.
This, of course, is not news to us. We know these things! However, what we may have overlooked in the “equation” is how desperately we need to hear God’s voice. If we fail to hear from God, we default to a pathway on which godless people tread. We will “be like those who have gone down to the pit.” So call out to Him, know that He hears you (especially when you feel like He’s absent), and listen closely to how He responds.
God speaks in many ways…
- His Word
- Whispers–those easily overlooked directives and thoughts He places in your mind
- Through godly people
- Divine appointments
- Unscripted opportunities
- Health or non-health (our bodies tell us things on God’s behalf…)
- An infinite number of other ways, too
So, call to Him, know He hears, and listen very closely to what He speaks in return. It makes ALL the difference.
As I was reading my Bible this morning, I came across an interesting little verse in Luke 6:7: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched closely to see whether Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath.”
What I find unique about this statement is that:
- The teachers of law and the Pharisees knew Jesus could heal
- They were intent on finding error even in the good things Jesus did
Fortunately for us, the New Testament gives us a magnified look at what hypocritical religion looks like. The leaders of religious life in Israel were simply religious. They were not righteous.
- Religious people are intent on the details of life but often miss the big and important things. Of these people, Jesus stated, “You tithe mint, dill and cummin, but overlook the weighter things like justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
- Religious people are determined to make themselves look good or feel spiritual, even if it means pulling someone else down.
- Religious people are bound to legalism — a system that measures spirituality by deeds done, laws obeyed, and a right standing with God being earned.
Righteous people know that who they are, what they become, and however they influence their world is all through the grace and power of God alone. They live with a contagious enthusiasm for life, a passion to be the presence of God in their world, and a gratitude that compels them to do what’s right.
- Righteous people live for God’s pleasure and affirmation.
- Righteous people demonstrate unrestrained compassion for people…even on the sabbath.
- Righteous people overlook the judgmental assaults of religious people.
The religious can only become righteous through the miraculous intervention of God. Self must be crucified, the old way of legalism is recognized as filthy (Paul described it as “waste and garbage”), and in humility, they must fall before God seeking His gracious intervention. Only then can the religious become righteous.
This may not be what you think.
I had something quite unique happen yesterday. I shared with a “person of great influence” what I believed to be a God-arranged opportunity for global impact in another region of the world. I explained what I saw and exprienced, what I believed to be blatant opportunities to bring unreached people groups to Jesus, and how we might strategically see that take place. It wasn’t that there was resistance to my assessment, but neither was there hearty support. In the afternoon, in an all-staff meeting, I gave a report of my trip, what I had seen and experienced, the needs and opportunities I saw, and shared pictures of the wonderful and lost people. And God’s Spirit came down. He just gripped me and impacted pretty much all of us in the room. And had quite an effect on my “person of great influence.” In fact, after the presentation, he said, “I think we’ve all fallen in love with these people today and that God seems to be arranging a divine opportunity.”
The information was the same as earlier. In the second setting, however, the Holy Spirit clearly did a work among us.
- He opened our hearts.
- He helped us to feel what Jesus feels.
- He engaged us to the opportunity at hand.
- He did what no person can do.
The Spirit intercedes. Indeed.
I’ve recently struggled with judging. When I exert judgement on others, I’m taking a position of strength and casting my “superiority” on others. We can often use the phrase “truth-telling” or “honesty” or “transparency” to justify our strong stance or expression of strong feelings. But think about it — what good comes out of judging? There are Christians littering our wake who are tattered and torn by the “honesty” we freely cast on others. Over and over and over. Don’t misunderstand me — there is a right and wrong (and not always what we’ve concluded) and there are rare times when pronouncing judgement is necessary. But we often do that to people sincerely seeking after God who fail to conform to our expectations of what that might look like.
Maybe I’m rambling, so let me simply state it this way — my new conviction today:
- Transparency is a beautiful thing when we reveal our weakness to others. It dispenses God’s amazing grace on those who need it most.
- Transparency is a destructive thing when reveal our “strength” to others. It imprisons people in the bondage of legalism.
I’m always amazed at the ways in which God uses “the weak things of the world to shame the the things that are strong.” God takes our weakness and makes it our greatest strength. We’ve been using the terminology “ministry of weakness” in our missions leadership team recently. All around the world, we see how God is using weak people to do His greatest work.
This principle is true every day in my life, too. God wants to use my weakness, vulnerability, humility, and failures for His glory. He wants to use this weakness to be the strength of my life — so much so that it becomes a lifestyle — a lifestyle of weakness.
FAITHLESSNESS is something I never want to be known for. The first generation of freed Israelites are characterized as being faithless. Numbers 14:33 states, “…they (your children) will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness.”
What did faithlessness look like for the generation of Israelites who chose to turn away from the Promised Land?
- They did not believe that God was good — especially after their Egyptian slavery of 400 years.
- They overlooked the promises God had made to them years before, such as those to Abraham and his descendants, “I will make you a great nation” and “I will give you this land.”
- They were suspect of the miracles God had performed on their behalf (the 10 plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, water in the wilderness, etc.).
- They chose to continue life as the victims they were rather than the victors God intended to make them.
- They chose a familiar bondage over an unfamiliar freedom.
- They wouldn’t believe that they could have a life as good as what God told them they would have.
- They lived by human intuition rather than by divine guidance.
As I was jotting down this non-exaustive list, I was humbled by the fact that these “bullet points” are a part of my life way too often. How I long to live every day in the arena of faith rather than faithlessness. After all, “without faith, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God.”
God is moving in such amazing and unique ways around the world right now. Thom Wolf, with his finger on the pulse of what God is doing in the world, believes that the 21st century will be most ever like the 1st century — especially in India. Three trends stand out that led him to this conclusion:
- The ministry is given back to the common Christians, not the highly educated or social elites.
- The Holy Spirit is igniting and empowering movements way beyond human manufacturing.
- Persecution is prevalent and purifies the church to do great things for the glory of God. Persecution always makes the church stronger, by the way…
I have been fascinated by the church planting movments (CPMs) around the world. If you want to be inspired and challenged, read “Church Planting Movements” by David Garrison and “Miraculous Movements” by Jerry Trousdale. You will find that, even though as Americans our Christianity is fairly stable and consistent, many places in the world are seeing mind-blowing Holy Spirit-led multiplication of disciples and churches — the kind that have been rare in the history of the church. God is up to something. Take notice, people.
In a recent round-table discussion of denominational mission leaders, we talked about our deep desire to see God do a new thing among our churches in the U.S. too. It led to some great conversations and valuable insights. For me, the crux of the issue is the following:
- In our American Christianity, we have a knowlege-based spirituality. Learning leads to spiritual maturity in our motif of belief.
- In many places in the world, there is an obedience-based spirituality. Obedience leads to spiritual maturity–simply doing what God’s word tells us to do.
What does the Bible say? Of course, so much. However, those that were the least mature in Jesus’ eyes were the Pharisees — those that had the most knowledge and information. The Scriptures tell us that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In contrast to this, Jesus told us that “if you love me, you will obey my commandents.”
Back to movements in the world: Movements happen where obedience rather than knowledge aquisition leads the way. This doesn’t mean information is bad, it simply means that the believers in Holy Spirit-led movements understand that obedience to what they know is essential–and they do it. In our American motif of knowledge-based spirituality, we take years to learn what we’re “supposed” to know about the Christian life…and by then we’re stale and stagnant.
As James reminds us, “For him who knows what to do and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”
Can we change the American spirituality motif? Of course not — only God could do that. But each of us can choose to begin a movement in our own hearts…one of complete and immediate obedience to God.