A kingdom of mercy

I am convinced that the hope of the world is found in a kingdom that is not of this world – the kingdom of heaven. I’ve been studying the kingdom parables because I believe that God’s kingdom is the perfect antidote to the troubles that plague this world. Of all the kingdom parables, I think the easiest parable to understand is also the most difficult to put into practice.

Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant after Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then told a parable that compared sins to debts.

In the parable, a servant who was deeply in debt to the king begged the king for patience in settling his accounts. The king was more than patient; he took pity on the servant and canceled his debt in full. The servant then went out and demanded payment from a fellow servant who owed him far less than he owed the king. The servant’s debtor also begged for patience but the servant refused. Instead of being merciful, he had the man thrown into prison. When the king heard that his servant had not shown the same mercy that had been shown to him, he was angry and handed him over to the jailers.

Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I say this parable is easy because the message is clear. We are all so deeply indebted to God that we could never repay him. And yet, because he is merciful, he cancels our debts in full. We are to forgive others just as our Father forgives us. We are to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

I struggle sometimes to forgive others as I have been forgiven. The Lord’s prayer presupposes that we have forgiven our debtors. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How can we pray this prayer if we have not forgiven those who trespass against us?

This parable is hard because many of us do not forgive easily. We hold grudges. We keep score. We are so full of pride that we take the slightest offense as a personal affront. We don’t use the same standard when judging others as we do when judging ourselves. Instead of being honest about our own transgressions, we minimize them and make excuses.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 7:1-2

How easily we forget how much we have been forgiven! God sees us at our worst and he still loves us. He sees the darkness in our hearts and still forgives us.

As I was contemplating how difficult it can be to forgive, I read a few stories of forgiveness (and unforgiveness) in The Washington Post. As the author notes, sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over again because the wounds are so deep. And some people cannot bring themselves to forgive at all.

Forgiveness may feel unfair. It may feel like you are letting someone get away without paying the right price. But unforgiveness is an awfully heavy burden to carry. As Joyce Meyer points out, unforgiveness is a poison that hurts the person who chooses not to forgive. Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

To all those who struggle to forgive deep hurts, I pray for healing. I pray for an obedient and humble heart. And I thank the Lord for his never ending mercy and forgiveness.

Come out of hiding and confess your brokenness

My church studied 1 John in a sermon series called “Living Deep.” My pastor then gave us a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. I am slowly making my way through the list and am now on step six, “Come out of hiding and confess the reality of being broken.”

I am not a Catholic so I have never “been to confession.” I have no idea what it is like to confess my wrongs to a priest. When I became a Christian, I learned that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I confess my sins to God directly because Jesus intercedes for me.

Come out of hiding. Many of us want to hide our sins because we feel guilty and are ashamed. But there is no point in trying to hide from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. In one of my favorite psalms (Psalm 139), David wrote that God knows everything I do. He knows my every thought. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. God created my inmost being and knows everything about me. God is everywhere. It is impossible to hide or flee from his presence.

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you (Psalm 69:5).

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl. 12:14).

He who conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Sometimes we sin willfully and sometimes we don’t even know that we are sinning. For example, we may not be aware of our own pride. We often excuse the same selfish behavior in ourselves that offends us when we see it in others. God knows ever corner of our hearts. We can ask him to show us our hidden faults and to reveal the ways we offend him.

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:24)

Be honest. Just as there is no point in trying to hide from God, there is no point in lying about our sins and our struggles. There is no point in pretending to be better than we really are with anyone, but especially with God. He sees right through the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus called out. We can be real with God because he can’t be shocked by what he already knows.

In Psalm 139, David admits that he hates those that hate God. He counts the enemies of God as his personal enemies. I don’t find permission to hate anyone in David’s confession; I find the freedom to be completely honest with God about my feelings about wicked people. I am ashamed of myself when I catch myself hating God’s enemy, a man who opposes and exalts himself above all that is good, a man who sows deception, hatred and division. My heart convicts me because Jesus holds me to a higher standard – love your enemies. Getting real with God, I can say, God please help me not to feel this way.

Confess your brokenness. Confession starts with recognizing our brokenness before God. Many people don’t confess their sins because they think, I am not as bad as other people. They don’t understand that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Too often, the sin of pride gets in the way of admitting out failure to live up to God’s perfect ways. People avoid facing the reality that they are broken because it’s painful and messy.

Confessing our brokenness is good for the soul. Confession breaks the spirit so that it is open to being transformed by God. It puts us in the right posture before God – humble and contrite. God is pleased when we come to him with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In.

It is only when we confess our sins and renounce them that we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is only when we confess our sins and repent that God can give us a new heart and a new spirit.

Reading List

Psalm 139:16-24
Proverbs 28:13
Ezekiel 36:26-28
Matthew 11:28
Galatians 3:4-7
1 John 1:9,4:16-18

Because I am a child of God

First John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

Because I am a child of God…

I am a child of the promise.

I am beloved.

I am forgiven.

I am no longer a slave to sin.

I am no longer alone.

I am joyful.

I am led by his Spirit.

I love as I have been loved.