Tag Archives: forgiveness

The Swivel Chair

When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction?  That was me.  I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity.  Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).

After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year.  Have you read it?  If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words

For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me.  And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you.  How can I make it crystal clear?

The Swivel Chair in my mind
The Swivel Chair in my mind

How about this?  I have a swivel chair in my office.  I can choose to turn it in all different directions.  I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway.  It’s my choice.

Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds.  We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts.  But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions.  It can turn toward God or away from God.  And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.

If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe.  In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”.  That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).

But it’s not up to God.  That’s not the kind of world He created.  Instead of creating robots,  He created human beings with free will.  Why?  Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him.  If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love.  Love requires choice.  And the choice is up to us.  He already made His choice.  He loves us no matter what.  But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.

And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him.  Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God?  Isn’t once good enough?  Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?

Nope.  Salvation happens one time.  But we are human.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again.  Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires.  And that is “sin”.  That is turning away from God.  That is “missing the mark”.

Think about that swivel chair in our mind.  There are only two directions:

  1. Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
  2. Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction

Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense.  There are only two directions: Faith or Sin.  We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin).  “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.”  Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  Intimacy with Him is the goal.  Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.

In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken.  Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.”  When I read that, my heart broke for her.  I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life.  Turn around.  Come to Him.  That is repentance.  That is faith.  That is humility.

In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives.  Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”

He loves us.  He created us.  He wants us, warts and all.  He knows we’re messed up.  He knows we’re broken.  But that brokenness is not sin.  That is part of being human.  Our sin is our turning away from Him.  Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?”  Here is my answer.  And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.

Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”,  and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.

Go ahead.  Read that again.  In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge  smile on His face, and read those words to Him.  He’s so happy to see you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

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Thank You (“Christian Redefined” part 1)

Our church is getting ready to start a weekend message series called “Christian Redefined“, looking at what Jesus really said about the religion that bears his name.  What was he expecting from us when he came to visit this planet?

I’m not in on the church’s planning meetings, but the new series announcement got me thinking about what it really means to be a Christian.  I’ve written a lot about the importance of our posture towards God.  We can either live our lives turned away from Him or turned towards Him.  But what does that look like in practical terms?

In my post Moment by Moment, I talked about how I had turned away from God and stopped saying “forgive me”, but ended the post talking about thankfulness.  It wasn’t until I did a “mini-series” on Forgiveness that I realized what was really going on.

We only ask for God’s forgiveness one time: at the moment that we acknowledge that Jesus has saved us from ourselves by dying for us and coming back to life again.  In that “lightbulb” moment where it all comes clear, we see that we need God’s forgiveness.  But God forgave us long before we turned away from Him.  He forgave us before we were even born.  Now, I don’t understand how all of that worked, and I wrote about that, if you’d like to read more: A Forgiven Atheist?  What I do know is that we don’t have to keep asking for forgiveness over and over again, and I wrote about that here: Garbage Truck Confession

So, if Christianity isn’t about asking forgiveness over and over, what is it about?  I think it’s about developing new habits, not “trying harder”, but training our minds to respond wisely.  I’d like to talk about 3 specific training areas:

1) saying thank you

2) saying bless you

3) asking “what am I to do?”

I have too much to say about each of those, so I’m going to break them up into 3 different posts.  Let’s start here, with saying thank you:

Yes, we’re human, so we’re selfish and we want to be in control.   We’re going to turn away from God and do what we want to do.  Over and over and over again.  But God did something really beautiful.  When Jesus died and was resurrected, he said it was good that he was going away because he would send us his Holy Spirit (John 6:7-11).  He calls his Spirit the Advocate, the Counselor, the Helper, because He will help us and counsel us.  What happens if we go to a counselor for help and then don’t listen to them?  Can they help us if we’re not listening?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit will tell us when we have turned away from God, but we have to be listening.  And when we hear Him and turn back to God the Father, what’s the most appropriate response?  “Thank you!”  All day long, every time our thoughts are turned to God, thank Him.

I was driving to get my taxes done yesterday, which is almost an hour drive each way.  Thankfully, the roads were clear, but there were a few snow showers that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear almost as quickly as they started.  There were big trucks that were entirely too close to my car for my liking.  And there was a headache behind my eyes that just wouldn’t go away.  But every time my thoughts came back to “Thank you, Lord”, “Thank you, Jesus” or “Thank you, Lord Jesus”, my body calmed down and the drive was smoother.  There is something healing and freeing in the words “thank you”, especially when they’re directed towards God.

When I was in counseling 3 years ago, working through the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, my counselor told me, “Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “Thank you”.” I had gotten myself into a crazy pattern of needing help, getting help, feeling guilty for being a bother, falling apart and saying “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me, but I felt so guilty for causing such a mess.  But my counselor was absolutely correct.  If I someone helped me and I immediately said, “Thank you”, the guilt never came , I stopped falling apart and my pitiful, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” cycle never started.  Thank you, Jesus!!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the church at Thessalonica, he gives them these instructions:

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

If we don’t know what God’s will is for our lives, now we do:  joyful, thankful prayer in all circumstances, all day long, no matter what happens.  “Happiness” depends on what “happens” to us.  Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  And what does the Holy Spirit remind us to do?  Turn around and say “Thank you!”

As I’m writing this post, this song is playing on WOW  Cable’s Music Choice channel 534.  Something tells me I should include it here.  🙂

33 Miles – “Thank You”

What if I looked at my life in a different way
Took a little more time to stop and pray
I know it would change all the moments in between

Garbage Truck Confession (part 3)

A few weeks ago, Pastor Chris Zarbaugh gave what was, in my opinion, the best message on confession that I had ever heard.  Here’s the link to that message: Get Rid of Your Baggage.  Chris taught on 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (ESV)

After hearing that message, I was inspired to write about forgiveness, reconciliation and repentance.  I wrote about them from a person to person point of view and from what I believe is God’s point of view.  Last year, I wrote on repenting (turning to God) but I had yet to address the subject of confession.  What does confession have to do with all of this?

In that message a few weeks back, Chris said that to “confess” means “to agree with”.   When we go to God in confession, we are agreeing with God.  The verse above from the 1st Book of John (1 John 1:9) talks about the very first time that we went to God to ask His forgiveness.  That was the time that we decided to follow Jesus.  That only happened once.

Every other time that we confess to God, it has nothing to do with forgiveness, but we think it does.  We mistakenly think that there is a transaction occurring when we confess.  We think we’re bringing our “bucket of sin” to God, which He empties and hands back to us.  We live our lives and the bucket fills up again, so we go back to God in confession.  And the cycle continues, as if God is a Heavenly Garbage Man, taking our junk week after week after week, right on schedule.

But that’s not what’s happening at all.  Chris stressed the fact that no transaction is taking place in confession.  There is no bucket to empty.  God forgave us 2000 years ago when Jesus died and was resurrected.  That “bucket of sin” was emptied and thrown away long before we were born.  In confession, we are simply agreeing with God that we turned away from Him and thanking Him for having already forgiven us.  In thankfulness, we can turn back to God, knowing that we are in good standing with Him.

All Sons & Daughters say it so beautifully in their song, “Brokenness Aside“:

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

Don’t like that word “sinner”?  I didn’t either, but here’s what I found out:  A Forgiven Atheist?

A Forgiven Atheist? (part 2)

“Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it.”
“Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.”
Forgiveness, posted on 1-28-15

We have all been forgiven.  We have all been reconciled.  That’s the good news.  Literally, that’s God’s Good News: the Gospel.  But what if I don’t believe in God?  Or what if I believe He exists, but I don’t see that I’ve done anything to hurt Him?  What would I be taking responsibility for?  Or what if I believe that He is not a person, but an unseen force?  How would I have a relationship with an unseen force?

I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life.  I didn’t believe God existed.  Heaven, Hell, billions of dead people somewhere up in the clouds, none of that made any sense to me.  I thought reincarnation made a lot more sense.

And isn’t that the problem?  We grab onto what makes sense to us.   As I said in the last post, “we want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do.”  I believe that, at our core, we are selfish, greedy and prideful and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do.  Just look at a 2 year old.  No one had to teach them how to say, “Mine!” or “I do it myself!”  That’s inborn.

And selfishness doesn’t go away as we grow up.  We learn ways to disguise it so it doesn’t look so bad.  The most talented can even make it look like we’re doing good things, when we’re really just serving ourselves.  Manipulation is such a creative tool.  We don’t think we’re hurting anyone, but our pride, greed and selfishness, by their very nature, hurt other people.  And they hurt God too.  

Now, I am not a pastor.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  I don’t have a Masters of Divinity.  I have 21 years of following Jesus, working through Bible studies, listening to sermons, living life, hurting other people and asking for forgiveness.  I’d like to think that I’ve learned something in those 21 years, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out.

CS Lewis didn’t have it all figured out either, the brilliant man that he was.  But he had an awful lot of wisdom to share, and thank goodness he shared it.  I love what he said in the chapter “The Perfect Penitent” from “Mere Christianity“:

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.  Theories as to how it did this are another matter.  A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work…. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works….I think they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality…. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be — the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning.”

Lewis goes on to give his theory of why Christ died.  And he encourages us to remember that his explanation is only one picture, one viewpoint.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.  I will say the same thing here.  I have an explanation to share, a theory, but it is only one picture.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.

Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin”.  It’s one or the other – faith or sin.  I believe that in every moment of our lives, we have two choices, two postures.  We are either:
1) turned toward God (faith) or
2) turned away from God (sin)
Using that terminology, here is my basic “theology”:

1) “Sin” is when we “turn away” from God , so a “sinner” is someone who turns away – that’s all of us
2) Jesus took on and paid for our “turning away” on the cross
3) “Repent” means “to change one’s mind” and “to turn around” – to turn back to God

I wrote about this in 2014.  Feel free to read more in these two posts:
Two “churchy” words and
The Face of Grace

Jesus was the only one who never turned away from God.  He was the only one who could do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  Romans 5:8 says “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

That word, “sinner”, has gotten a bad rap, but it’s simply a description of our posture.  As an atheist, I was a “sinner” – one who lived her life turned away from God.  I still am a “sinner”.  I still turn away from God.  I’m human – it’s part of our nature.

But in 1994, when I came to realize that God existed, that He was real and personal and He wanted a relationship with me, I could step away from trying to make sense of it all.  I could recognize and take responsibility for the hurt I had inflicted by turning away from God for so many years.  I could ask His forgiveness and accept the reconciliation that only Jesus could make possible.

“For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”  I Timothy 2:5 (NLT)

“Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”  Colossians 1:22 (NLT)

Click here for Part 3

Forgiveness (part 1)

Life would be so much easier if it weren’t for all of us human beings.  We really make things complicated, don’t we?  We want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do.  And in the process we step on each other and somebody gets hurt.  And the hurts don’t just go away.  They build up.  And if it’s true that “hurt people hurt other people”, the problem multiplies.

If we have any hope of surviving as a human race, we desperately need to forgive one another.  And not just one time, but over and over and over again.  This isn’t just “I’m sorry” and move on.  “I’m sorry” feels a lot more like “I’m sorry I have to say this” or “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry you think I hurt you.”  I’m sorry, that’s not forgiveness.

Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it.  The scary part about asking for forgiveness is that the ball is in their court.  They can choose to forgive or to withhold forgiveness.  That’s probably why we’d rather say, “I’m sorry”, hoping that they’ll say, “It’s okay” and move on.  But it’s not okay.  The proverbial “toothpaste” is out of the tube and we can’t put it back in.

But it might be a lot worse than just hurtful words.  They might decide that we’re not a “safe” person.  They might forgive us, but they may choose to sever the relationship.  Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness.  Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.

And what if the shoe is on the other foot?  What if we’re the one who’s been hurt and we’ve been withholding forgiveness from someone?  We might think that, by not forgiving them, we’re taking revenge against them, hurting them like they’ve hurt us.  But what if they don’t even know that we’ve been hurt?  What if they’re oblivious to the whole thing?  St Augustine said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”  We’re the one being poisoned by the unforgiveness we’re holding onto.

On the flip side, Lewis B Smedes said in his book Forgive and Forget, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”  There may never be reconciliation of the relationship, but forgiving someone who has hurt us will actually set us free.

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

-Matthew West, “Forgiveness

Click here for Part 2