This week we wrap up our look at forgiveness in the Bible. Our case study this week is a man known as Paul.
Paul’s story starts in Acts 8, when we meet Paul when he was known as Saul, a man who was deeply religious and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. He followed their laws and persecuted those who were known as Christians or “followers of the way”. While Saul was on his way to persecute more people, God stopped him. On that road to Damascus a bright light shone blinding Saul, and through the blinding light God spoke to Saul and asked him “Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (verse 4-5). Blind Saul was led to the house of Ananias. Ananias prayed for Saul to be healed. God healed Saul and Saul dedicated every moment of his life and death from that point forward to spreading the truth about the saving power of God and Jesus.
What can we learn from Paul’s story? Let’s start with forgiveness. As Saul he was attacking God and all that God loved. Yet God believed that beneath the outer hatred there was a man of strong faith, faith that was worth fighting for. Saul did some pretty terrible things, but God forgave him.
We also learn that change is possible for anyone at any time. Paul’s opportunity for change and forgiveness occurred while traveling to do harm, and God turned the experience around for good. God could have stopped Saul earlier, or later, but God chose that exact moment. Why? We may never know, just like we may never know why God chooses to touch our lives in special ways at special times.
Paul was given a fresh start by God, what if your day for a fresh start was today?
Coming up next week is Halloween. Many Christians, and other religious people, are against the holiday, believing that all it does is promote evil stuff. I think that it has lost a lot of it’s original meaning, and now it’s mostly a holiday where kids (and some adults) dress up and get candy. While I could share many reasons why I like Halloween (including the candy), let’s focus on two reasons that are the most convincing, and what we can learn from this holiday.
1-it gives kids a chance to try something different. No matter what their parents say or how they’re groomed, Halloween provides kids an opportunity to be anyone they want to be. Kids use their imaginations and live their dreams for this one day. We should take a clue from them and try something different. We’ve been taught certain things, raised certain ways and have fallen into certain habits. Trying something different is not only fun but healthy.
2-Halloween promotes community. There’s no two ways around this, Halloween requires you to go around your neighborhood, meet your neighbors and have some fun. You can’t properly celebrate Halloween without seeing other people. You can celebrate Christmas with a drink and watching Miracle on 34th Street, but you can’t “do” Halloween without knocking on other people’s doors.
So this Halloween, stay safe, have fun, and go out into your communities!
There are many things to be said about forgiveness, some of the best have been said already:
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes
“Forgiveness is a funny thing. It warms the heart and cools the sting.” William Arthur Ward
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese
“Forgiving is love’s toughest work, and love’s biggest risk.” Lewis B. Smedes
“Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” Roberto Assagioli
“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” Indira Gandhi
“As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.” Isabelle Holland
“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” Hannah More
“Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” Bernard Meltzer
Which of these thoughts most inspire you?
For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about forgiveness in the Bible. The first Monday in October we talked about Joseph. Week 2 we talked about David. Last week we talked about Jonah. This week we’re taking a look at a New Testament woman.
John 8 shares the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery. The pastors of the day brought this woman to Jesus that they caught having extramarital sex (no mention is made of the man). According to Jewish laws, this wasn’t a good thing to do. So the pastors brought this woman to Jesus and asked him what he thought should be done (Jewish law says she should be stoned). Jesus leans down and wrote something in the dirt and then said “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” and then he wrote some more in the dirt. Well, it turns out none of those pastors had been perfect, so one by one they left the scene until Jesus was left with the woman and the crowd. Jesus says to the woman “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.””
What a strange story. I’ve been amazed by this story for years and have taught several studies on it. I just have two thoughts for you today:
-“I don’t condemn you either.” It’s been said since the early Old Testament (around Joseph’s time) that the idea is to not have sex outside marriage. Jesus and God established that rule, and yet Jesus says here that he doesn’t condemn the woman. So if she did do something wrong, why does Jesus let her go?
-we all need forgiveness. For whatever tricks the pastors were trying to pull here, Jesus knew who the woman really was. He knew her situation, he knew her shame and he loved her. Most days we do things that need forgiving, and if we were dragged in front of Jesus I think we would feel like she did. At the end of the day I don’t think that what really matters is the error. It’s that we seek or offer forgiveness. It’s not about doing right all the time, it’s about knowing that we’re human, accepting our mistakes and living lives actively forgiving each other. Should we try to do right? Yes, of course. But it’s simply not possible to always be right in God’s eyes right now.
This week I encourage you to not ignore the error, but to look past it and see the broken and hurting person behind it; they could use a friend.
It’s not easy to be different in this life, but I think we’re a the point that it’s normal to be different. But, your difference can be the best thing in the world. Why? Well, if we were all brain surgeons, we would all have great brains, but we would probably be in wheelchairs attached to feeding tubes. But being different means we have TV’s, romance novels, Starbucks coffee, Ikea living rooms and babies who live despite great physical challenges. Maybe different is good.
What can you do to be different?
-Have a great attitude
-Accept your differences
-Accept that it’s ok to not be exactly the same as someone else
-Don’t copy someone’s work, make it your own
-Accept that life changes often
I know that I can’t begin to make the impact on the world I want to if I try to be like someone else, because I’m me. I’m not a movie star, I’m not married to a billionaire, and I’m not super great at math (I love calculators). But that’s ok, because I’m good at being an entrepreneur, organizing rooms, encouraging others and writing. And even at the end of a less-than-perfect day I’m still happy that I’m me with all my unique qualities.
What about you? Are you making your own difference or trying to make a difference for someone else?
This Saturday is Make a Difference Day in the USA. There are tons of things you can do to make a difference in the lives of those around you as well as the world, here are a few of my favorite ones:
-put your extra change in the donation cup at a coffee shop
-tip your waiter/waitress 5% extra
-walk your neighbor’s dog
-watch your friend’s kids
-donate food to a shelter
-volunteer at a food kitchen
-give your old clothes to veterans
-buy from mom & pop shops not the big chains
-get your boss or coworker coffee
-adopt a pet from a shelter
-mentor a teen
-start a business
-support a missionary
-listen to your partner
-get that special treat for your kids
-call your parents
-hold the door for someone
-create creative things (paintings, jewelry etc)
-sponsor a child
These are just a few of my favorite ideas, what can do to make a difference in the world?
This October we’re talking about forgiveness. Two weeks ago we talked about Joseph, and last week we talked about David. This week we’re finishing up our look at Old Testament men with a look at Jonah.
Jonah’s story begins being asked by God to go to Ninevah and tell the people to repent. Jonah doesn’t want to so he gets on a ship sailing in the opposite direction, the ship hits a storm and because God was angry at Jonah and sent the storm, Jonah is thrown overboard to save the ship and those on it. But God sends a big fish to save Jonah, and he spends 3 days and nights inside the fish. Jonah repented, God releases him from the fish on the shores of Ninevah, and Jonah goes and preaches to the people. They repent and God forgives them. End of story right? No, actually Jonah’s mad that God forgave them.
In Jonah 4 Jonah says “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”
God just forgave Jonah for running away and now Jonah’s mad that God’s forgiving other people. Yes they were bad people but they did repent and ask God for forgiveness. How do we come to terms with this? What would your reaction be if God forgave murderers or rapists? What if God wanted to forgive Hitler, John Wilkes Booth or Vlad the Impaler? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Jonah’s situation, or forgiveness in general, share your comments below.