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The Amazing Do-Over: Day 5

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another; forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31, 32

But, you may say, my bitterness is a result of A B and C in my life. Or, you may insist, anyone who has been the victim of D E and F (as I have) would have every reason to be angry. No, the above verses say, you are bitter because you are a bitter person; you are angry because you are an angry person. Don’t look for justification; just get rid of it.

Negative emotions are addictive. And like all addictions, once they find a place in your life you can’t imagine starting or ending the day without them. But as an old saying goes, “Bitterness [or any of the above emotions] is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill the other person.” And it is a death by suffocation as your hopes, joys and dreams become limited by a particular person or event.

Scripture tells us that citizens of the heavenly kingdom Jesus came to bring are to live with a kind, compassionate and forgiving attitude toward all, even if (especially if) they don’t deserve it. It is not difficult to find people who fit that description.

Our daughter-in-law has the loveliest note tablet with pastel flowers and these words across the top in flowing script: “She designed a life she loved.” That is almost how our Lord is instructing us to see our life’s journey, except at the top of His note tablet it would say, “She designed a life her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ loved,” that is, we are to design, then execute, a life walk characterized by kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Many years ago I had a wonderful neighbor who was thoughtful, generous, caring and completely uninterested in spiritual things. Whenever I invited her to my church her standard reply was: “You Christians have been fighting forever. When you learn to get along with each other, I will be interested in going to church.”

The world is watching. Do they marvel—like the king’s servants—at our amazing example of uncommon love and unexplainable forgiveness? Or is our life, as it is lived out before them, a stumbling block to the gospel and the Savior who died for them?

Nancy Shirah

The Amazing Do-Over: Day 4

Then the master called the servant in, “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 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. 
 Matthew 18:32-35

…Forgive and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:37).

In the end, the story isn’t about who owed what to whom or the punishment they received. Remember the parable begins, “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts…”.

In the parables Jesus was introducing His listeners to a new way of living in a new kind of kingdom over which He would reign. Entrance into the kingdom is obtained through God’s forgiveness for a debt of sin that we can’t comprehend, let alone repay. But forgiveness is not a one-time vertical transaction—from God to you. It is a core characteristic of life at all levels in Jesus’ kingdom.

Peter thought his proposal to forgive another up to seven times was gracious, if not magnanimous. Jesus was saying that in His kingdom, that kind of thinking can get you in trouble: “…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Forgiveness is not our call. Even if we aren’t very good at it, we are not exempt. When we have been hurt or insulted and forgiveness just doesn’t seem possible, we should hold our offense up to the pardon a holy and righteousness God has freely given to us.

Here, from Psalm 103, is a magnificent word picture.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His compassion on those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Go outside on a clear night and look up at the stars millions of miles away; or stand on the beach and look out at the ocean stretching to the horizon. That is the incomprehensible vastness of Christ’s forgiveness and the immensity of God’s never-ending kind of love. And it is our template.

Nancy Shirah

The Amazing Do-Over: Day 3

Our Lord continues:

But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened (Matthew 18:28-31).

The servant who had just experienced the removal of an insurmountable debt,  the restoration of his wife, children and worldly goods and averted a life sentence in debtor’s prison, is now on the other side of things.

He makes a point to find a man who owes him money, supposedly a few hundred dollars, then demands an immediate settling of the account. Just as with the wicked servant, this servant promises to repay the debt over time, something that would be possible given the sum of money at stake.

The servant who had been forgiven the massive debt refuses to have patience with-- much less pity for--the man who owed him a recoverable sum of money. He called the authorities and had the man thrown in prison until he could pay what he owed (which is, of course, impossible to do when one is in prison.)

And this is how we know how the king’s compassion touched all in the palace who witnessed it. When the servants who had seen their master’s act of overflowing and undeserved generosity to the first servant, saw this same man turn around and use his freedom, advantage and forgiven state to bully then destroy another, they “were greatly distressed.” The NASB translates it “deeply grieved.”  I think a good Southern translation would be, “I was so upset, it made me sick to my stomach.”

What did the palace servants do? They went to their master and told him everything. We know nothing about the spiritual state of either the king or the servants, but we do know that there is something in all humanity that recognizes good and evil, fairness and injustice when they see it. 

Nancy Shirah

The Amazing Do-Over: Day 2

Before Peter has a chance to recover from Jesus’ surprising answer to the forgiveness question, the Lord begins to tell a story:

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me; he begged, and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go (Matt. 18:23-27).

The amount owed to the king can be loosely translated, “millions of dollars,” which might not be a problem for Donald Trump or Warren Buffet, but on a servant’s wages, repayment of a debt that size was a complete impossibility. Even repossessing all the man’s worldly goods and selling his family into slavery, would not make a dent in what he owed.

We learn some important things about the king in the story. He is wealthy and powerful, and he holds others to a certain standard. We also learn something about the servant; he is poor, irresponsible and in complete denial—whether through pride or stupidity-- of his predicament.

Then “the servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go." I am sure the palace guards had already grabbed the servant’s cloak and were preparing to give him the old heave-ho, when the king’s words of pardon motivated by a heart of pity, erased that insurmountable burden of debt. As we will find out later in this story, all who witnessed the king’s actions were affected by what he did.

Pity, as used here, means a deep feeling of compassion motivated by the utter helplessness of another. There was nothing the servant could offer to improve his situation. The amazing point of the story is that it was when the wicked servant’s helplessness was at its most ridiculously obvious (“Be patient with me…I will pay back everything”) that the king unilaterally moved to do for the man what he was totally incapable of doing for himself

Nancy Shirah

The Amazing Do-Over: Day 1

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-seven times.”  
Matt. 18:21-22

This week I am inviting you to join me on a journey. This journey is toward an understanding of the radical nature of true forgiveness as God intended it to be practiced.

The starting point is in familiar territory with the all-too-recognizable truth about most of us regarding forgiveness. And Peter is the perfect spokesperson. As he saw it, forgiveness is personal. When I forgive, if I forgive, how and how often I forgive a particular person or situation, is my call. They have up to seven generous chances to get it right.

But when Peter runs it by the Lord, Jesus answers with a number that is variously interpreted as seventy-seven, seventy times seven, or even a number that means seven to the seventieth power. Even the smallest of these numbers is one that any sincere legalist would find difficult to keep up with.

Commentators tell us that in Peter’s thinking the number seven was calculated to win some points with the Teacher. The acceptable figure was around three offenses. But whether it was three or seven or ten, forgiveness, as Peter saw it (and often as we see it), had a heavy “keeping score” component.

Truth be told, it isn’t only keeping score, it is assigning a weight to the evidence. Our feelings, our slights and insults, our losses, our side of the story. That is where the truth lies and where the quest for justice should begin.

However, if we are followers of Jesus Christ and citizens of God’s kingdom, we are called to radically different understanding of how forgiveness operates.

Remember I said it was a journey and, for most of us, one that will take our lifetime. As the old saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And when it comes to truly understanding forgiveness that step ought to be in the right direction or nothing else really matters.

Nancy Shirah