Foreword:

Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.

A note for all my readers: I've been experimenting with YouTube videos for Bible teaching for a while, and I'm working through Revelation here. My YouTube videos are currently short studies in Matthew, and at present I'm posting videos on Revelation as well. Both appear on the blog, which is turning into a Vlog. I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for better coverage.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Forgive? NOT ME!!

The topic of personal forgiveness is one that Jesus touched on many times.  He made it clear that forgiving someone else for his misdeeds was imperative.

Matthew 18:21-35, ESV:
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven (NIV, seventy-seven times).

23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.'
29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'
34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers (original=basanistais, "torturers") until he should pay all his debt.
35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

When God forgives us, He "removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west."
He does this to remove evil from our lives.  When we receive forgiveness, we are expected to forgive in like fashion--freely, completely, with grace rather than grudging, and thus remove evil from our lives in another way. When I forgive someone, I eliminate his control over me, and I remove the leverage Satan has in my soul.  I no longer have to think about how I'll "get even." I no longer fret about the injustice. I'm not angry about the past. I can let the evil go, and move on to the new life God has promised me.There is almost nothing more important in the Christian life than forgiveness. Failure to forgive ruins our present and our future, and the past becomes the present as we stew over it.
As I read this text, and go over my own life-history, I see many problems caused by failure to forgive.  Some, of course, were my own problems (yes, I have sometimes failed at this), and others I observed in people I knew.
The text above discusses the realities of forgiveness, and the problems we face if we do not forgive.
Peter asked, "How often?" Jesus said, "Don't stop."
Then Jesus told a story about a king and a subject.  The king forgives the subject. The subject goes out after receiving forgiveness, and refuses to forgive his fellow-subject.
Then the king imprisons the first subject, delivering him to the torturers until he pays up.
This last statement brings up a very real point, and enforces what I've observed over the years.  When you refuse to forgive, something happens to YOU--the failure twists you, alters your perspective, makes you full of hate and evil.  Sometimes this evil lives in your soul quietly, with nobody but you knowing your rage and desire to destroy.  Sometimes it breaks out into the taking of revenge, and strangely enough, often makes you just like the person whom you need to forgive.
What Jesus tells us about how the evil in our hearts imprisons and tortures us is true.  I've seen it too many times to count, and I've felt it.
So if there is someone in your life whom you need to forgive, do it. NOW.  Otherwise you, too, will live your life out with mental torment and rage.  It will eat you up and destroy you.  Don't let that happen.  Forgive. Set yourself free from those who've wronged you, and walk away.  You can do it. Do it right now.
You may have to forgive over and over. Do it. When the person comes back into your mind, forgive them. Pray for them.
This, by the way, opens the door for GOD to deal with them as He sees fit.  He knows how to do that, and what they need.
And never forget the story of the debtor who owed so much, whom the Lord freely forgave. That's you.  Now go and do likewise.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Church Discipline? You've gotta be kidding!

Reconciliation and separation are two topics that just come up in the context of human life, and the church is no different.  Here's how Jesus commands us to handle these matters:
Matthew 18:15-18 (NKJV):
15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you (KJV, "thee," Greek, "you," singular) as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This passage is often mentioned in the context of "church discipline." it doesn't fit there at all.  Matthew 18:15-8 is about me having a dispute with someone else, and what to do about it. So here's what I do, assuming I'm trying to get some mileage with a brother or sister over a personal dispute:
I go to him, alone.  I sit down and reason with him.  I tell him what's bothering me. If that fails, I go to two or three others, and get their opinion (Jesus doesn't state that, but it's pretty likely that if you go to one Christian about another, and discuss it with him, he's going to give you his opinion.  I would). Assuming they agree to go with me, I take them.  The three or four of us reason with the person who's sinned against me. He doesn't listen. I then have the right to sit down with the entire group that both of us are members of, and discuss it with them.  More opinions, and so on...assuming that the church agrees with me, the church group discusses the matter with the person who's sinned against me. If he won't listen to them,

the only thing that happens is that I ALONE then have the right to forgo any association with him. 

His relationship with the church does not change.  

In other words, he is now (and only at present) not my friend.  I can avoid him.  I don't have to sit by him.  I don't have to pretend to like him.

This is not about the church disciplining an errant member. It's about me having a personal problem with someone, imagined or real, and the process I must go through to stop talking with him, to stop treating him as a friend, to stop having him in my home.  

How do I know this is what it means? One word. In the Greek, it's "you" singular ('soi')
It's in the KJV this way: "Let him be to THEE as an heathen man and a publican." The word, "thee" is "you" singular, not plural.  It's not right for the entire church to "shun" someone because he or she has "sinned against you," and now you have a problem with that person.
Fast forward to the actual way we treat people.
We don't like someone because of some real or imagined sin against us.  We gossip.  We "go underground." We let everyone else know what they've done to us, and undermine them with our words. In other words, it's easy to use methods that we see in everyday society to hurt our brothers and sisters.  This passage is really about the offended person, and what he must do, the lengths to which he must go, just to avoid associating with the person who sinned against him. He must go to him privately.  He must take two or three others, once he's laid his case out before them. He must go to the church.  If the person who committed the offense won't listen, and IF THE ENTIRE CHURCH agrees, then it's ok for the ONE  PERSON "sinned against" to refuse contact with that brother or sister.
The "sinner's" offense doesn't necessarily affect the church's behavior toward him.  It only affects the one person.
Incidentally, what Jesus says here is permissive. it's not a command.  It's like, "if you follow all these steps and you still don't get satisfaction, then you have a legitimate right to treat this other person as a Gentile and a tax collector." This puts the people in the church, and the church itself, in the role of counselor and helper, to assist us in reconciling with one another.

The way this is usually done amounts to forcing the "sinner" to take a bath in acid.

The way it's supposed to be done is with two things in mind:

  1. To keep us all in fellowship with each other individually.
  2.  To keep the church itself close and of "one accord."

This process is much more difficult than it seems at first.  It requires wisdom (the person who's been sinned against may be dead wrong, and need to be counselled, or there may be a crime here that you have to consider reporting to the authorities), tact (you don't reconcile brethren by hurting one to help the other), and kindness (you don't harm either side, if you can help it). It also is somewhat drawn out, which gives everyone time to calm down and think rationally.
Most of us chicken out, and won't use the process the way it was intended. We also mistake the purpose of this section--get warring people together, get them to reconcile, even if it takes the whole church.

Note that how Jesus puts this doesn't:

  1. Leave room for gossip.
  2. Allow you to hurt one brother or sister at the expense of another.
  3. Let you abuse or circumvent the process in order to get your way.
It does:

  1. Rely on the wisdom of others, and forces us to present our issues to them.
  2. Force us to a defined process that intends reconciliation, not excommunication (that's not even contemplated in this passage).