Forgiveness – The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ the servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owned.

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

Forgiveness can be a difficult thing to do sometimes, but having to live with an unforgiving heart can be even more painful and demanding.

How do you respond when you are hurt or betrayed by someone? Whether being rudely cut off in traffic, secretly betrayed by a close friend, or abandoned by a parent, each of us will be confronted with the issue of forgiveness. How will you respond when you are faced with forgiveness? Will you allow hate and vindictiveness to take over or will you allow the compassion and forgiveness of Christ to flow through your words and your heart?

In our scripture reading, Jesus gives us the parable of the unmerciful servant. We find that God is very forgiving, but He also judges those who refuse to forgive.  In the parable, Jesus tells us that we are to forgive seventy-times-seven times – in other words –  without limit on our forgiveness. For Matthew, forgiveness is the ultimate expression of love. Those who have been forgiven ought to be able to forgive.

Remember the words of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” In the midst of suffering and death, Christ asked for his Father to forgive those who were crucifying him. Why then is it so difficult for us to forgive others, especially over petty, insignificant things?

As Christians, the scriptures are clear, we are to forgive. There are not any special conditions that must be met in order to forgive. We simply must forgive, because we have been forgiven.

God Calling Sinners

Scripture Reading: Acts 9: 1-9: Saul’s Conversion

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.    “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

We first encounter Paul at the beginning of the 8th chapter of Acts. We are told that Saul was giving approval to the death of Stephen and then later on, other followers of Jesus. The book of Acts tells us that Saul was on his way to Damascus, Syria to seek out followers of Jesus (those who belonged to the Way – as these early believers called themselves). Saul was searching them out in order to take them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. Damascus was the closest, most significant city outside the Holy Land and it also had a large Jewish population. The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 150 miles, which would have been a four to six days’ travel.

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light form heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This is Saul’s first encounter with the risen Christ and this Damascus road conversion experience is not what you would expect. Someone reading this story for the first time might have imagined Jesus coming with an army of angels to avenge the persecution of the followers of the Way. We should know by now, however, that Jesus is going to do the unexpected. Jesus is calling upon this oppressor of His followers to be the chairman of the church’s new outreach committee to enlist new members, the Gentiles.

Saul then goes from Damascus into Arabia. We are not exactly sure how long Saul stayed in Arabia but the book of Galatians suggests that it was at least three years, before he would return to Damascus and then to Jerusalem to begin his public ministry. Paul, in his writing in Galatians, seems to indicate that this period of three years was some sort of spiritual training in the Spirit. This is a wilderness experience similar to that of Moses and Jesus in which Paul receives and attempts to understand his calling.

Throughout the Bible, God calls people that the world seems to pay little attention to (David, Moses, Saul, Samuel, Jesus). The world values fame, power, prestige, money, etc. If you follow God – you can’t follow the world, or what society values as important. Paul decided to follow God but it was a calling that was anything but easy. If you have any doubts, read the following passage from 2 Corinthians 11:25-30:

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Wow! How many times does Paul mention that he was in danger? That’s a tough calling. As followers of Jesus, we hopefully will not experience all of these things that happened to Paul, but we will encounter some of them. Like Paul, we must come to terms with our weaknesses, and we all know about weaknesses, because we have plenty of them. Paul reminds us that it is in our weaknesses that God’s power is made complete.  God’s power was made perfect when He called Paul, and also when He calls you and I. As humans, we are all weak but God is all powerful. How will you allow God to use you?

 

Patience

Scripture Readings:

Ephesians 4:2: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Proverbs 14:29: A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I was leaving Athens to go visit my mother at her rehab facility in Baldwin, Ga. Our family got a late start and I must admit that I was running short on patience. Traffic was heavy, because it was the second day of classes at the University of Georgia and the five o’clock work traffic was already on the road. As we were driving down Lexington Road, I got behind a car that kept “tapping” the brakes. I couldn’t pass the car because the left lane was lined with traffic so I had to stay behind this slow moving, break tapping car.

After several miles, I finally got an opening to pass the car. By this point, I had run out of patience completely, I thought. As I passed the car and got back into the right lane, I tapped my brakes two or three times, just to let the driver know how it felt. We had to stop at the next light and the car that I was so aggravated with pulled up behind me. The driver of the car was a woman in her sixties and she had a cross hanging down from her rear view mirror. I felt ashamed of myself and my immature behavior and I told my wife and kids that I was sorry that I had acted so childishly.

Trying to make up lost time, I cut down a few side streets to try and avoid more traffic. As I approached an upcoming road, I noticed a pickup truck that was about to pull out. Surely this truck won’t pull out in front of me I thought, but he did. Driving this truck was an older gentleman who had his truck packed full of junk and he was maintaining a speed of 25 mph. I followed him for about three miles and we had to stop at three stoplights during that time.

Finally, we got to where the road turned into a passing lane, and just before we got there, this man turned off the road into a convenience store. I knew my children were watching me and what my reaction would be. There were probably thinking that dad was going to “sit down on the horn” on this poor fellow that had unknowingly put me even further behind. I remained calm however, hoping that our trip would now pick up a little speed.

After I had driven about a mile, my wife looked at me and said something that brought silence to the car. She said, “You know that if you had not hit the breaks several times in front of that lady, you would have been well past that road that the man pulled out in front of you from.” The kids sat quietly waiting to see what my reaction would be. After a few seconds, I began to laugh and so did everyone else. My wife was right, my immature reaction and lack of patience, slowed us down enough that we got behind this man that was traveling at a snail’s pace.

I’m not going to suggest that God put these people in my way in order to help me cultivate more patience, or did He?

 

 

Trusting in God

Scripture Reading: Psalm 33:13-15,20-22: From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth- he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33 is a psalm of praise to the sovereign God of Israel. The psalm begins with a three verse call to praise and it concludes with a three verse response to praise. When I read the words of this beautiful psalm, I find comfort and hope in knowing that I am not alone, God is watching over me.

I know that many of you have worries and difficult problems to deal with as you start a new week. Health concerns and difficult decisions that lie ahead are some worries that I know are present in your lives. Whether it is the health of a child, a parent, or a spouse, many of you are struggling with these types of uncertainties or concerns. Many times, just getting through the day is an accomplishment.

Some of you are worried about jobs, especially the lack of jobs. There are those who are apprehensive about how they are going to provide for their families or themselves. And there are those among us that are unhappy in our present work, who feel unfulfilled and are longing to move on to something else.

When I pause to think that God is looking down from heaven, not only watching how we live our lives, but watching over us, I feel a peace that is not of this earth. I trust in God because I can look back on my life and realize how He has watched over me in the past and I know that He will do so in the future. When difficult and stressful times come my way, I draw strength from my God that is in heaven, watching over me.

What does it mean to wait in hope for God? For me it starts with faith, a faith that God is in control of my life and also in control of this world that we live in. When we put our faith and hope in the things of this world, we eventually face disappointment. This world has a way of making us believe that it has our best interests in mind and then, after coming face to face with reality, we realize that we have been deceived.

God is truth and love and everything that is good and pure. God is my help and my shield, the psalmist says. Even though we will go through difficult times as believers, if we trust in God and his good purpose and plan for our lives, we will be rewarded. God doesn’t want to see us worry excessively about the trials of life that many times drag us down.  God wants us to learn to trust in Him and to place our hope in Him.

I have watched my mom suffer over the last few days and we have been able to talk about our faith and trust in God. Many times we cannot understand why pain and suffering come our way. In times like these we can either place our trust in this world or we can turn our worries and fears over to God, who loves us and watches over us from heaven.

Peace in a Weary World

Scripture Readings:

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I am somewhat behind schedule in posting my daily devotionals. This past Sunday my mother fell and broke her femur bone near her hip and has been hospitalized for five days now. She had surgery on Tuesday and started her physical therapy yesterday. She has been through a difficult time and she faces more challenges ahead while she undergoes rehabilitation. I am encouraged by the effort that she is putting forth and I know that she is ready to work hard so that she can return to her home.

She and I have talked often about peace this week and how we can have the peace of Christ in our daily lives. Even through her suffering, she has maintained her Christ like attitude, and has personally touched many of her healthcare workers. I told her that she has been a witness for Christ from her hospital bed this week.

The staff at the hospital has been superb this week and we have been blessed to meet some very kind and wonderful people. One nurse that comes to mind was here with us for three consecutive days. She was a caring and kind person and I just sensed that there was a different spirit about her. We started talking and we soon realized that our family knew her father from many years ago. Her father has served as a pastor for 54 years and had lived in the small town where I grew up.

When my mom told her that I was an ordained minister she said, I sort of sensed that about him. She told my mom that she knew we believed in Jesus because of the way we interacted with others.  I will say the same for this lady, because we sensed the spirit in her also. Other people notice how you live your life and how you treat others. I was glad that we could be good representatives of Christ in a world that cares only about self.

In my daily walk with God, it seems that I am in a constant struggle with letting go of my problems and worries and just giving them over to God. People may ask what we mean by saying, “I am giving my problems and my worries over to you God.” For me, it is the realization that I am not in control of my own life, I need God’s help each and every day. Our culture has taught us to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and make our own way in the world. God is trying to teach us that we desperately need Him in our lives, walking with us on our journey of faith.

I believe that God is more than willing to let us try and make it on our own. He knows that sooner or later we will realize that we need God’s presence and direction in our lives. God has to remind me of that quite often in my daily walk with God. The world that we live in makes a desperate attempt to convince us that we can find all the peace that we want from the things of this world. Jesus said, I am giving you a different peace than the world gives and if you trust in me you will be less afraid to face the trials that this cruel world will send your way.

So I pray that you will find a peace that is from our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus and our creator God. May the peace of Christ fill you with a joy that comes not from this world, but from heaven above.

 

 

Going Through Trials

1 Peter 5: 7:  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

It’s 3am on Sunday morning as I write this post and I can’t sleep. I have been replaying events that happened this past week over and over in my mind and I can’t let them go. Work this week has been difficult, frustrating and at times almost unbearable. I have encountered many people who are mean, uncaring and unforgiving. And I have let that affect my attitude for most of the week. Instead of turning to God for peace and reassurance, I have let my emotions get the best of me. I have struggled a great deal this week and I suspect that I know why. (More about that later).

This week has been hectic because the kids have been preparing for school to start on Monday. I went with one of my daughters to her open house this past Thursday. It was a good experience for her as she got to see her classrooms and meet her homeroom teacher. The first week of school, always brings a great deal of stress and worry to our home, and this year will very likely not be any different.

My mom and aunt have had a difficult week and I am extremely worried about their declining health. It is important to them that they care for themselves at home while they are able and I fully support that decision. However, I know that the time is getting near that some difficult decisions will have to be made and so I worry. My mom twisted her knee a couple of days ago and was suffering a great deal. I called her on Saturday morning to check on her and decided that she needed to go see a doctor.

She needed medical attention but “didn’t want to bother me” because she knew that I had struggled through a long and grueling work week. She told me on the drive to the doctor that she didn’t want to be a bother on my day off. I told her that I could never repay all the many times that she cared for me and that I would be a poor excuse for a son if I couldn’t do the same for her now. God blessed me with a wonderful mother and I am honored to be able to take care of her at this time in her life.

Now getting back to my struggles this week. I know why my week has been more difficult that usual. I have not given God the proper attention that He deserves. I have failed this week to set aside my usual time to focus on His word and to listen in prayer.  Most mornings I get up early and read my Bible and pray before I go to work. This is a special time for me to connect with God, while the house is quiet, well before anyone else is up. It is a time in which I can recharge myself and draw near to my creator. It prepares me for what lies ahead that day.

This past week, I have come up with every excuse imaginable to not have that early morning time with God. I have continued to pray and to read my Bible, it just has not been at the start of my day. As Paul the Apostle would say, the things that are spiritually important to me I do not do but I end up doing things that I do not want to do instead.

This week I am getting back to my spiritual time with God at the beginning of the day. I will try to let God take control of my worries and anxieties and I will make every effort to trust in Him as he leads me through my week. I am facing many additional worries and problems and difficult decisions in this upcoming week. This week however, I am determined to give my fears and anxieties over to my loving and caring God. I know that my God who loves me and watches over me, will be there for me, and He will help me to overcome my worries and my lack of faith. Thanks be unto God for His forgiveness and for His mercy.

 

 

Peter: Disciple, Rock, Human

Scripture Reading: Matthew: 16:13-19: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Peter’s story is told in all four gospels and also in Acts. When I think of Peter, many thoughts come to mind. I remember Peter going up on the Mount of Transfiguration with his fellow disciples, John and James, and of course, Jesus. There, Peter witnesses an incredible scene with Jesus, whose clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Peter saw two men, Moses and Elijah, appear to Jesus and talk with him about his departure from this earth. In the midst of this incredible moment, Peter says something about putting up three shelters (Luke says that he did not know what he was saying). While Peter was still speaking, a voice comes from a cloud and tells Peter to “listen to him (Jesus).”

This is the same Peter of whom Jesus said that He would build His church upon. Jesus saw something in Peter that Peter may have not seen in himself. Peter would accomplish a great deal for the kingdom of God, but like most of us, Peter would be a constant work in progress.

After Peter’s brilliant confession of Christ, from our scripture reading in Matthew today, Peter then pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him after Jesus told his disciples that he must face death. Jesus very plainly tells Peter that he does not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

We see Peter in Gethsemane, there with Jesus and the disciples, to keep watch with Jesus and pray. Jesus asks three of his disciples to go a little farther with Him, to be closer to Him (Peter, John, and James). After praying, Jesus returns to find the three disciples sleeping and he says to Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).  Twice more, Jesus would go away to pray and each time when He came back, Jesus found them sleeping.

A few moments later, Jesus is arrested and the ever impulsive Peter, cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus admonishes Peter and Matthew tells us that “all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Later that night, Peter would deny Jesus three times and this would probably be for Peter, the lowest point of his life. Matthew tells us that Peter wept bitterly.

After Jesus ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and Peter stands up and gives a sermon at Pentecost and 3,000 were saved that day. Peter was on his way to becoming the “rock” that Jesus said he would be.  Paul would later call Peter a “pillar” of the Church. It was said that the crowds came to believe that the mere casting of Peter’s shadow upon the sick was capable of bringing about miraculous healings.

Peter eventually went to Rome. While there, it is believed that John Mark (the writer of the Gospel of Mark) served as his translator as he preached. There is a Church tradition which says that “Mark the disciple and interpreter of the apostle Peter, wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome, embodying what he had heard Peter tell.” Thus Peter was the source of the Gospel of Mark.

According to Church tradition, the Roman Emperor Nero, publicly announcing himself the chief enemy of God, was led in his rage to kill the Apostles. Because of this persecution, Peter was crucified upside down while in Rome around 67 AD.

I have always been fascinated by the stories of Peter. It seems that on many levels I can relate to Peter the man, the human. Peter is taken to the Mount of Transfiguration where he is privy to a scene that only two other human beings were allowed to see. For me, I would probably allow pride to set in and I would use that occasion to build up my importance. I wonder if Peter ever felt that he was on a different level than the other disciples. It seems that he was one of Jesus’ “go to guys.”

I can also relate to Peter in terms of his failures and my own failures. Many times I do what I want to do, not what God wants me to do. And I am prone to “lose my cool” like Peter did as Jesus was being arrested. Even though Peter failed many times, Jesus did not give up on him. Jesus knew that Peter had some growing up to do and He knew that it would take some time, it was a process.

Jesus knows that about us also, we are a work in progress. Some days we can accomplish a great deal for God’s kingdom and some days, we disappoint and fall very short of what God intends for us to do. The good news is that God created us and He continues to mold us into His image, each and every day. So don’t get down on yourself when you stumble and fall. Remember Peter, and know that you are in good company.