A Prisoner Set Free Though Bonds Remain

“So that your trust may be in the LORD, I have taught you today, even you.” (Proverbs 22)

One of my inmate “parishioners” from #CCC came to me last night in a fret after my fledging “Advent Message” on the “Consequences of the Incarnation” Today, he goes before a federal judge, and faces possible sentencing from 10 years to Life for the “consequences” of Fed Drug charges. He has ever been the model student and believer for months, and states that about 10 months ago God changed him. “Something happened.”

In my numerous years of prison ministry I have seen brokenness and I have seen the con of the con man. Jailhouse religion really abounds. It takes wise discernment to sense the heart and I do so imperfectly. I have had my share of disappointments and affirmations. But in this case this man has sat faithfully under the sound of the preached word for several months or years, and on multiple occasions I have witnessed his honest non-verbal wrenching and wrestling and grimacing with the hard gospel truth of repentance and faith, of dying to self and of cross-bearing; of discipleship and following the Christ of Scripture regardless the cost. We pull no punches but lay out the full-orbed Gospel truth of man’s guilt and God’s just wrath satisfied in the substitutionary work of Christ and Christ alone. We don’t peddle the word of God as many, nor do we offer a soft-sell faith of easy believism, but rather we preach the blood-stained, old rugged cross. We teach, “ Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say?”

My pupil is a voracious reader and has a cell full of quality Christian literature we have given him. Screwtape and Pilgrims Progress are some of his favorites. Greg Steele and I have taught him for months. Week by week as I have observed him, I believe he believes. I believe he understands. And I wonder what God has for him? We prayed. I counseled. His fears of today are real. He was troubled about the “why” of his fear (he perceived this as a lack of faith and not a mere attack of faith), and anxiety wondering why faith seemed to have fled him in this near hour of darkness. (Doesn’t faith always stress us in trial?) He then remembered the Garden and how Christ struggled. My inmate parishioner ultimately prayed in like manner, “Thy will be done.” I encouraged him to boast of his weakness that Christ might be manifest and perfect His power within him. I reminded him that Lewis states in Screwtape that having courage is not the same as feeling courageous. A man of courage acknowledges his fears and chooses to do the right thing regardless of fear. The Word instructs us in the right thing. Courage is a plan of action implemented, it is not a feeling; it is a directed course of action. The right thing is to not be anxious but to pray the Lord in acknowledgment of fears, with thanksgiving, and with the expectation of peace. Courage finally trusts God with the results though they may not be as desired or prayed. He believed that.

I think we as free men and believers do well in application of the following. My experience says there are many repentant brethren incarcerated for past transgressions who yet suffer consequences for their wrongdoing of another past life. They love the Lord and serve Him with painful gladness today. They miss family and friends yet their faith flourishes. They need your encouragement by prayer. These men want to be as a Joshua. They want to be as Joseph. They need your prayers.

I also steered him to Psalm 27 and 139 in further counsel. I told him the Psalms are for comfort and instruction in trial. Pray for him. He is a good man who erred. The Father knows his name. The Son too. My desire is for leniency but more so for His continued usefulness as we really don’t know what God has in store for him.

“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”Hebrews 13:3

Fear After the Fact of Forgiveness by the Sovereign Potentate

“But there is forgiveness with Thee, That Thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:4)

Well, it works for me this way, anyway. You do as you will… or should I say, “as you can”?

God must act in forgiveness before we can properly fear Him. Yep. It’s another one of those “but God…” scriptures similar to the Ephesians 2 Grace First Model. I mean, it’s His move isn’t it? It always has been. After all, He is a seeking, a pursuing God. On the Chess Board, God is always white. No slur there, He is light. (I digress. Back to the reservation! Oops! “Sorry,” said Pinocchio.)

Are you confused in thinking the old hymn goes, “’Twas not that Thou didst choose me, for Lord that could not be! Thy heart would still refuse me, Hadst I not first chose Thee.” That’s the Arminian and erroneous version. #Rutrow

Of course we know how is really goes…
“’Twas not that I didst choose Thee,
For Lord that could not be!
My heart would still refuse Thee,
Hadst Thou not first chose me!”

If you think about it, otherwise it is the Job, (the man Job, and not employment we seek), experience of Divine revelation. “Lord, I heard about Thee with the hearing ear, but now mine eye sees Thee, and I retract and repent in dust and ashes.” #Worship. True worship contextualizes even body posture as a secondary nonverbal cue as to heart condition. 

It is only a clear view of God that enables and insists upon a full view of His holiness so we decidedly and rightly fall and worship. Without fear. That’s the enigma. Without fear. And we serve Him in holiness. Without fear. And that is why Jesus came; access to the glory of worship without fear by fear being established. So it’s a fear of respect and awe; and we see and know glory!

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved…”
Newton. 

True and saving religion is a paradoxical thing that God only can explain in the mystery of Christ the crucified.
#Paradox #Mystery

“He made Him who knew no sin, to become sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

#HeckofaParadox and a #Glorious one at that!

#HeOpensTheDoor because frankly and Biblically, we are, on our best day, dead and in a casket, and there simply ain’t no caskets I have ever seen with a doorknob on the inside. And there sure ain’t nobody escaping.

Well, that was like a walk-about in the forest. I gotta go. My tractor is calling me to go break up some soil for that spring garden. And that appeals to me greatly.  


Now a worthy song… it actually fits. 

https://youtu.be/zKjq30_pC2k

Is it OK to Keep an Offensive Shot Chart?

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Matt 18:21-23

Oops! Here it is again. Forgiveness. Or the real and potential lack of it: Unforgiveness. As I read for probably the “umpteenth time” Peter’s self-proclamation of spiritual excellence by aspiration to forgive up to seven times it occurred to me that if we are keeping a shot chart we are probably in failure mode anyway. I mean really? If I am looking at the bean jar and see that this clown only has one bean left, then he had best toe the line, for after that I am licensed to cultivate bitterness in my heart by harboring unforgiveness for repeat offenses. Now that really makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? I trust my sarcasm is apparent.

2016-08-28 (2)

Jesus moves beyond the ordinary sized “bean jar” and makes us calculate not by addition and subtraction of beans, but by multiplication: 7 x 70 = 490, and that means I am assured to lose count and will have likely forgotten the original offense anyway, so let’s just forget the whole blooming thing! Maybe that’s the point?

CS Lewis talks a lot of this in his life struggles and in his works: Mastery of forgiveness of the offense and of the offender is a given when once it is done, on that initial occasion that grace is discovered, but when it is convenient to dredge it up again to utilize the offense for manipulative purposes in the present, that original offense reoccurs in the mind just as real and readily as before. Lewis then accurately identifies the quality of “re-forgiveness required to be just as real as the original forgiveness because just as much grace is demanded to satisfy our sinful hearts as before. You did not think your flesh had improved in the last few weeks did you? Not hardly. Lewis was especially helpful to me to be watchful for the “replaying” of previous offenses whenever I find myself idle or it seems convenient such as when I encounter an occasional friend who challenges my grace of love and forgiveness. The tendency is to immediately run back in my mind and say to Self, “Do you remember when!?” And we justify our coolness of response for his previous offensive word, deed or attitude. There are real life struggles here for offenses are experienced every day. They are in my world anyway.

Thoughts & Recs:

  1. Burn the Shot Charts and Accounting Ledgers… They are only good if you desire to feed bitterness and to ensure YOU fall into painful heartache. In fact I would say that if we are holding onto an account of offenses we are not truly forgiving by turning over the offender to the Almighty to be the one who recompenses: we are desirous to reserve the right of retribution if and when required and convenient. Remember: “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.” Biblical forgiveness liberates us from having to fix the wayward wanderer. Our forgiveness may very well mean in a real and painful sense that we hand the scope and rifle to God and say, “Here, you take the shot.” “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful…”
  2. Remember the standard: “Be kind toward one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
  3. We are all debtors to grace. If we believe we are better than the caught sinner we lie to ourselves and have a “Pharisee-complex”.
  4. The presumption in Peter’s hypothetical is that “brothers sin” against one another. Don’t be shocked, but good men have bad fights. It happens. Remember Forrest Gump as he ran? “It happens.” Yep. Got several Tees and some folks we do well to simply stay away from, even brethren. Let’s pray for them and love them from a distance. I have no doubt that Paul loved Barnabas and Barnabas loved Paul, but their ministry philosophy seemed to be at an impasse. That happens. That doesn’t mean these guys are against one another. God simply has them in different fields.
  5. Now. How about a time-out? “Take 5” and quietly sit alone without phone or distraction and truly ask God to reveal all those you are embittered against. “Making a list, and checking it twice.” Then deal with it however He leads.
  6. Review the “one another” commands in the New Testament, and figure out how the heck to practically implement them. Positive action of “faith working through love” has a way of removing offenses and squelching future occasions for sin. It’s hard to hate on someone you are serving with.

I noted with interest in my “one another” search that the first “one another” in the epistles deals with love and preference to one another, and the final reference speaks of the judgment of God upon unrepentant man as we devour “one another”. There could be a subliminal message there? Just kidding… or maybe not? Some segments of society are excelling at the latter scriptural observation, yet we as believers are guilty too of lagging in diligent love toward one another. Our goal ought be to out do one another in love to His glory by His grace. Then “the world will know we are His disciples when we have live one for the other.”

May the Lord help us to heed His holy, sufficient and relevant word today, and speedily at that. Don’t you sense time is short? I do.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord…” Rom 12:10-11

“And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.” Rev 6:4

When Forgiveness Stinks

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”Matthew 18

Forgiveness sometime stinks. Upon forgiveness we lose our perceived position of power and right of retaliation upon the offending party. We must lay our club down. We become disarmed. Peace treaties are signed and enacted and if we violate these treaties, we exchange positions and are in need of forgiveness. Risk is inherent in these gnarly relational intrigues. Power over the offender by withholding forgiveness was illusionary anyway… what were we thinking? That we somehow were different or better?

Forgiveness of serial offenders is obligatory when the “forgivor” is faced with legitimate repentance of the “forgivee”. We commonly forgive that chap closest to us multiple times daily… we forgive ourselves and go on and forget our transgression, and life is restored until our next sin and repentance. (#CSLewis)

To not forgive is inexcusable and off the table. Am I in the place of God? This does not nullify a potential change, even a relational change. (“I’ve got my eye on you…”) Serial forgiveness of a serial repenter does not imply my assumption or obligation of a lowly victim status. It is not grace nor graceful to enable an abuser by my becoming a serially abused person. The victor or innocent one in these repetitious fracases can easily morph into the victim status; there is but an ill-defined, short distance and few steps from the doorway to doormat. Doesn’t God in Christ offer options of expectations? If you repent then you are saying “God did something in me and to me. It is no longer I, but now the new me!”

Consequential loss of privilege may be required. A pastor who betrays his congregants in a gross or public way, or by serial blunders, is not worthy of his calling even when forgiven. He needs go get a real job in a real secular world as Moses in Midian, show faithfulness, (practice humility and repentance with the sheep as another dumb sheep and not as a shepherd), then wait upon the Lord with an eye out for a burning bush. Then only with a reluctant dragging should one draw near the pulpit again. 

“Forgiveness is one of the easiest things we might do once we have finally done it. It is much like riding a bike, once accomplished we never forget how to ride and we wonder why it was ever so difficult.” Lewis paraphrase

“Forgive and you shall be forgiven.”
Jesus

“To err is human, to forgive is divine.” (Someone) 

“Yada Yada” we all said…

Guilt & Shame Misapplied

Our Folly of Fooling with Flimsy Robes of Guilt and Shame

Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  

Guilt and shame in situ are non-redemptive works of the flesh or nonproductive byproducts of works the flesh. Some seek to sanctify them as enshrined works of grace, and as such they may give a sense of justified comfort to the embittered soul or solace to the perpetually hard-working pharisee.

Guilt and shame are not redemptive in their first cause as they drive one from the Light of the presence of God. Redemption is only by Light and through Light, not away from its warmth and hope and glow. Guilt must be distinguished from the nature of true conviction of sin. Conscience may scream but the Spirit alone brings sorrow as a redemptive product of the grace-process calculated to drive one to Christ, our solitary hope. Guilt and shame provide the staircase to descend into deeper darkness and despair. Though active shame may force change or departure, and even modification of behavior, it is not to be construed as Biblical sorrow leading to repentance. Such shame returns inward or other-ward to the source and not from the sin. Shame forces one into a strange relationship of satisfaction and authentication of blame and excuse.

Fortunately for we guilty shameful sinners there is a redeeming Father who tenderly delights to pardon the wayward child overtaken in a fault. Guilt and shame in the hands of this lovingly redemptive God are His tools to awaken need as He takes these products of the flesh and outfits them as vehicles to drive one toward good, redemptive purposes in glory. One may find himself overcome by despair at the strong arm of the Enemy but such is the Spirit’s pleasure to reveal Christ as the Remedy to deliver and satisfy. 

Guilt and shame flee the light and presence of faith in Christ. There will be no guilty sinners in heaven, only saved ones who know no condemnation, ideally on earth as in heaven. There will be no shame in heaven, but only joy of sins covered in robes of righteousness. 

One of the most mind-boggling considerations of our walk with God this day in this world is the freeness of no guilt and no shame and no condemnation He grants us to partake of before the journey is complete. He freely gives the “No Condemnation Contract” to guilty sinners today, and as such, we draw near Him to listen to Him.