Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Keys to The Kingdom - Forgiveness

Volume 4 No. 244 October 30, 2014

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Jesus Giving Keys of Kingdom to Peter. Painting by Peter Castello, 1598
Jesus Giving Keys of Kingdom to Peter. Painting by Peter Castello, 1598
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword: Granting Forgiveness From Sins - An Important Mission of the Church

What exactly are "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" given to Peter and what did Jesus meant when he said, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven?" This defines the mission and power of the church. In this issue of the Malankara World Journal, we will take a closer look at the "Keys to the Kingdom" and "binding/unbinding authority" of the church given by Jesus. ...

2. Bible Readings for This Sunday (November 2)

Bible Readings For Koodosh E'atho - Sanctification of Church

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_Koodosh-eatho.htm

3. Sermons for This Sunday (November 2)

Sermons For Koodosh E'atho - Sanctification of Church

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Koodosh-eatho.htm

4. Inspiration for Today: Shining Moments

In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of -- moments when we human beings can say "I love you," "I'm proud of you," "I forgive you," "I'm grateful for you."

That's what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff. ...

5. Featured: The Keys Of The Kingdom

The keys to the kingdom is the offer of the gospel. Whenever you offer the gospel to another person you are opening the door of heaven to them. What happens if people go through that door? They are saved. They are born again. They become children of God and you have opened the door for them. What if, when you share the gospel, the person comes right to the edge, they put their toe in the door, and then they pull it back, and walk away? What happens then? They have closed the door to heaven. You have opened it and they have closed it. That's the significance of what Jesus is saying here. ...

6. The Rock of Forgiveness: Binding and Loosing

I have always heard this piece of Matthew as being about forgiveness. Indeed, while a vast majority of those who follow Jesus would say that the 'rock' that Jesus promises to build his church on was actually Peter, or that it is Peter's confession which all the rest is built in, as for me, I can't help but wonder if that foundation is actually forgiveness. ...

7. Keys

How I wish we displayed more facility at showing the world that Christ's mission was and still is, and that therefore the church's mission always has been and still is, fundamentally a mission of divine mercy. That any wisdom, any doctrine, of which the Church might dare to boast, is grounded fully and exclusively in the truth of divine mercy; that any virtue, any ethical achievement of which the Church might dare to boast, is grounded fully and exclusively in the goodness of divine mercy. The mercy that picks us up each time we stumble, each time we fall. ...

8. Why Did Jesus Choose Peter to be The Keystone of His Church on Earth?

Could Jesus have chosen any of his other disciples? What were Peter's qualifications? The normal human problems we all have: character deficiencies and inner conflicts. We all know that later on Peter would deny Jesus three times because he would be afraid for his life. Peter was not perfect.

Perhaps this is why Peter was chosen, because he was not perfect, because of his imperfections and his flawed humanity; perhaps Jesus chose him to remind us that we need not be perfect in order to be good Christians and to practice God's teachings. ...

9. Forgiveness: Life's Most Important Choice

Any student of the Bible might wonder why the book of Genesis devotes more space to Joseph's life than to Adam and Eve, the first couple, or to Noah, the hero of the ark and the flood, or to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation. I believe the answer is that Joseph illustrates one of life's most important choices: the choice to forgive. ...

10. God, You Want Me to Forgive Her?

I had approached her in obedience to God expecting to set her free; instead, I walked away from that encounter unshackled from the bondage of unforgiveness.

That moment has served as a spiritual marker in my life for over four years. The memory is as clear now as it was on that January day. I learned some valuable lessons, lessons that I try to share with others every chance I get. ...

11. God Wants to Set You Free

We are meant to live free. Totally free. This is what we discover when we start to live a forgiving lifestyle. Not hindered or encumbered in any way.

As I lived out my word in 2013, I was reminded that although I had forgiven big things, I needed to address little offenses. God showed me the power of little things that irked or flared in resentment, robbing me as I nurtured a hurtful word or action ... long after the person who caused the pain had left the scene. ...

12. Wounded Warrior in Syria Learns Power of Forgiveness

Forgive? Don't talk to me about forgiving. You didn't see what they did to my father, to my brother, to my daughter. You didn't see what my son's body looked like when they brought him home in a box.

A lot of Syrians will declare something like that -- with blood in their eyes. The Syrian civil war that began last year has turned into a fight to the death between factions determined to destroy each other. Clans want payback. Families want revenge. Some of those hatreds seep across the border into Lebanon, where the same ethnic and religious tensions exist.

But Fadi*, a Lebanese follower of Christ, has learned about the power of forgiveness. And he wants to share it with Syrians, the people he once hated. ...

13. Self Improvement: Keep Pressing On Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Step out of your comfort zone today! Keep pursuing and keep believing. It doesn't take any more effort to believe and stay filled with hope and faith than it does to develop a negative and defeated attitude. ...

14. Self Improvement: Find The Inner Barriers That Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

We all have questions when something we think we want doesn't show up in our life. We can blame our family, we can blame the government, we can blame God or bad luck, but none of that really matters.

We're asking the wrong question. If something or someone doesn't show up in our life, it's because we have not been willing to pay the price. ...

15. About Malankara World

Foreword: Granting Forgiveness From Sins - An Important Mission of the Church

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

This Sunday (November 2, 2014) is known as Koodosh e'tho or Sanctification of the Church. It is the beginning of the Church Liturgical Calendar. Next Sunday is called Hoodosh e'tho or the Dedication of the Church. Then we start our advent Calendar where we look at the important events happened prior to the birth/incarnation of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day.

This week's Gospel reading is theologically very significant. It has also attracted a lot of controversies/disagreements between the Catholic Church and Universal Syriac Orthodox Church on one side (both believe in the primacy of St. Peter) and the reformed churches and some of the other Eastern Orthodox Churches on the other side.

Let us take a look at this segment from Matthew 16:15-18.

"Jesus said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

The debate is on what Jesus meant when he said, "on this rock I will build my church." Is the rock Peter, the apostle or the confession Peter made, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the rock refers to Peter and that our Patriarch sits on the throne of Peter and is his legitimate successor with all the rights and responsibilities entrusted on Peter by Jesus Christ.

This has been debated extensively; so I do not want to dwell on that point today. Instead, I like to go to the following verse in Matthew 16:19 that received very little attention. Jesus continues:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

This part is very important; but not understood well. For instance, what exactly are "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" given to Peter and what did Jesus meant when he said, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven?"

This defines the mission and power of the church founded by Jesus Christ. In this issue of the Malankara World Journal, we will take a closer look at the "Keys to the Kingdom" and "binding/unbinding authority" of the church given by Jesus. In my opinion, this part is very significant as far as the church is concerned. Most of the theologians believe that the "keys" were given to Peter alone and the "binding/loosening" authority was given to all disciples and, through them, to all the clergy in church (see Matthew 18:18).

The image of the keys is probably drawn from Isaiah 22:15–25 where Eliakim, who succeeded Shebnah as master of the palace, is given "the key of the house of David," which he authoritatively "opens" and "shuts."

Jesus refers to the "keys," in plural. There are more than one key. Universal Syriac Orthodox Church believes Jesus gave two keys to Peter. The emblem of our Patriarch has two keys.

Patriarchal Emblem on St. Mary's Cheriapally, E Pampady, Kottayam
Patriarchal Emblem on St. Mary's Cheriapally, E Pampady, Kottayam Diocese
Notice the two keys that is carried by the successors of St. Peter.

What do these keys do? Literally, they open or shut the entrance to the Kingdom of God. We cannot enter the Kingdom without the Grace of God as we all have sinned and are not eligible to inherit the kingdom without additional help. Jesus has paid for our sins. He has given authority to the church to forgive our sins. One key is to withhold forgiveness and the second key is to grant forgiveness. [1]

"whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Look at John 20:23. Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. Jesus said to his disciples, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

So, here is the church’s authority to "declare the forgiveness of sins" after the confession of sin. Jesus gave the church the authority 'to grant forgiveness' and 'to withhold forgiveness.'

Till Jesus founded the church and gave the power to forgive sins, only God could forgive sins. So, this is very important and powerful. The Bible connects repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness without accompanying repentance is often "cheap forgiveness."

The church has the authority to evaluate our confession and to determine if we are sincere in our confession and then to offer forgiveness of the confessed sins if appropriate. Whomsoever the church shall judge worthy to be forgiven while s/he lives, shall obtain forgiveness of his/her sins from God. By the power given to the church by Jesus Christ, once the sins are forgiven by the church, they are wiped out from our record. It is that powerful!

JEROME, an early Church Father, describes the role of the clergy in this process:

"Bishops and Presbyters, not understanding this passage (Matthew 16:19), assume to themselves something of the lofty pretensions of the Pharisees, and suppose that they may either condemn the innocent, or absolve the guilty; whereas what will be inquired into before the Lord will be not the sentence of the Priests, but the life of him that is being judged.

We read in Leviticus of the lepers, how they are commanded to show themselves to the Priests; and if they have the leprosy, then they are made unclean by the Priest; not that the Priest makes them leprous and unclean, but that the Priest has knowledge of what is leprosy and what is not leprosy, and can discern who is clean, and who is unclean. In the same way then as there the Priest makes the leper unclean, here the Bishop or Presbyter binds or looses not those who are without sin, or guilt, but in discharge of his function when he has heard the varieties of their sins, he knows who is to be bound, and who loosed."

Pope Francis expanded on this recently. He pointed out the high responsibility placed on the clergy in executing the sacrament of confession. In a speech given to priests and seminarians attending a course on the Sacrament of Confession, Pope Francis spoke about the mercy of God, stating that it is the most important aspect of their ministry. "Confession is not a court of condemnation, but an experience of forgiveness and mercy!" the Pope said.

Reflecting on the theme of mercy, the Pope pointed out that "the protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit," adding that "the forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" [2]

Christianity is unique. Jesus is more interested in unconditional love and forgiveness and less on punishment. But it is important that the church convey to its members that their sins can be forgiven, while they are alive, through repentance and confession.

I recently read a story as told by The Rev. R. Scott Colglazier that makes this point powerfully. Here is the story in Rev. Scott's own words [3]:

She was very ill. And she was at home dying of AIDS. It would be hard to overstate how depressed and discouraged she was feeling. A friend was so concerned that she called a priest to come by and visit the woman. I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn't always work so well when somebody calls a minister to visit someone else, but in this case it actually did work.

The woman candidly told the priest: "Look, I've made such a mess of my life. I've made so many mistakes. How could God ever forgive me?"

The priest listened. He said to her, "God can forgive anyone. Anytime. We just have to trust it. Receive it. Let it come close to us."

The woman said, "I think I'm beyond believing it."

At that very moment the priest happened to notice that on the woman's bedroom dresser was a beautiful picture of a young girl. She looked to be, maybe, 12 years old. He asked the woman, "Who is that little girl in the picture?"

And for the first time in the conversation the woman smiled. She said, "Oh, that's my daughter. She's the only beautiful thing I have left in my life."

The priest said, "And if your daughter made some mistakes and did some things that were wrong and was hurting and broken, wouldn't you forgive her, wouldn't you come close to her and still love her? Wouldn't you still want her to be in your life?"

The woman, whispering now, said: "Yes. Yes. Yes, of course."

And then that priest made a wonderfully astute theological connection. He said, "I want you to know that God has a picture of you on God's dresser. And God still loves you. And you are not alone."

What a God we have! A God who understands us; a God who had lived with us so He understands our pain; he cries with us as he did when he stood in front of the tomb of Lazarus; a God who is standing on the other side of the door, knocking. He will enter and cleanse our hearts if we welcome Him. There are no sin that is too big for God to forgive.

Jesus entrusted His church to listen to our confessions and to forgive our sins if we are found worthy to be forgiven. This is the most important and powerful function of the church. So, while people debate endlessly about what is the "Rock" referred by Jesus, we know our church has the two keys:

(1) The key of forgiveness and
(2) The key of withholding forgiveness.

Those keys are very important. Jesus paid for them with His life.

The Kingdom of heaven will be built not from the perfection of virtue, but from the forgiveness of sins. - St. Augustine

Please read the articles in today's Malankara World Journal to understand this further.

References:

1. "The Keys of the Kingdom," by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Sermons from Seattle.

2. "Pope Francis: confession is not condemnation, but mercy" by Elise Harris, CNA

3. "The Energy That Is Christ" by The Rev. R. Scott Colglazier

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (November 2)
Sermons for This Sunday (November 2)
This Week's Features

Inspiration for Today: Shining Moments
In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of -- moments when we human beings can say "I love you," "I'm proud of you," "I forgive you," "I'm grateful for you."

That's what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.

-- Fred Rogers, from The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things To Remember  

Featured: The Keys Of The Kingdom

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Gospel: Matthew 16:19

[Editor's Note: Due to space constraints, this is an abridged version of the message. The full message is given in the Malankara World Library.]

This morning I am going to take you back to Matthew 16:13-19.


From The Mundane To The Sublime

Matthew 16 describes some of the foundational things Jesus had to say about the church. [Please read these messages in Malankara World Library using the hyperlinks]:

The church's testimony - "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
The church's foundation - "Upon this rock I will build my church."
The church's assurance - "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Today, we are looking at the closing verse of this section, the verse on the church's authority, Matthew 16:19:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

This is the Church's authority.

And that leads us to the question this morning, does it make any difference that we are here (church)? If so, what difference does it make? I want to suggest to you this morning from this passage of Scripture that it makes a great deal of difference that we are here. I am going to tell you two spiritual truths from this passage that comprise the most shocking and surprising spiritual truths that I will ever share with you. I hope you will listen carefully. I hope you will follow along in your Bible because I want to share from the Word of God why I think it is important that we are here.

I said these are shocking truths. They are shocking and surprising and startling, because they lift us from the mundane to the sublime, and they transform a rather nice and beautiful Sunday morning worship service into something which is preparation for the greatest work that man can do on the face of the earth. So, then, does it make any difference that we're here this morning?

Yes, it does for two reasons.

1. It makes a great difference who we are and what we're about because God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven.

That's a shocking statement. In fact, when I was preparing this message I tried to get around that the best I could. As I studied this passage, I spent a long time pondering what it really means. At one point this week I had 24 books on my desk—mostly commentaries and Bible dictionaries, trying to see what Matthew 16:13-19 was really saying. When I finally put everything back on the shelf I concluded that where I started was where I had to end. That, indeed, this verse is teaching us that God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven After all, that is the fundamental question of life. When you die, are you going up or are you going down? Are you going to heaven or are you going to hell?

The Power Of The Keys

I am saying God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven. You say, where in the world do you get that? Take a careful look at verse 19, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." What's a key? A key is a mechanism or device which opens something. If you have the key to something you have the authority to open it up. For instance, I have in my pocket some keys. I have a key to my Honda (somebody take it please). I have a key to my mini-van which I think I'll keep. I have a key to the glove box of the mini-van. I have a key to the church which I use when I come to work. And, finally, I have a key to our house. What does it mean? If I have the keys to the car I have the authority to unlock it, to get in and to take my car and drive it away. If I have the keys to my house, I have the authority to open it, to unlock it, to go inside and once I'm inside to lock the door behind me if I feel like it. Whoever holds the keys has the authority to open and close. Jesus is saying, "I am going to give you some keys." If I were to give to one of the choir members my keys, I'd be giving to them the authority over my house, my car or to enter the church because that's what my keys do. Keys impart authority.

In the ancient Near East, the kings would have a palace and in the palace they would have a storeroom where they would keep their money and grain. It was an important place. And the king would pick out a trusted servant to whom he would give the key to the storeroom. That was the highest honor the king could bestow. In those days the servant who had the key would wear it on a chain around his neck so it would be obvious to all that he had the keys of entrance into the palace and into the treasures of the king. If the steward were doing his job he would never take the chain off from around his neck. He wore it continually as a sign of the authority given to him by the king. The man who had the key was the man who could let you inside to see the king or he was the man who could refuse you entrance. That's what's behind Jesus' statement when he says, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom."

Opening The Doors Of Heaven

This verse has been a subject of great controversy over the centuries. Over 2,000 years there has been a great debate. If you look at the books on church history, you will find sections in some of the books which discuss something called, "The Power of the Keys". That is, they are trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom." What were the keys and to whom did he give them?

Let me tell you how the Protestant Reformers interpreted this verse. Martin Luther said that the preaching of the Word of God represents the keys of the kingdom. I've already told you the keys of the kingdom is the authority to open the door into the kingdom of God. What opens the door into the kingdom of God? Luther said it was the preaching of the Word of God. It is through the preaching of the Word that men come into a right relationship with God. Luther's great point was that the preaching of the Word should not be restricted to the pastor or to the priest or to any ordained clergy, but that the preaching of the Word belongs to the entire church.

John Calvin essentially agreed with Martin Luther, but he specified that "the keys of the kingdom" represented the preaching of the gospel which is revealed in the Word of God. When the gospel is preached the keys are being exercised to unlock the door of heaven so that those who believe the gospel may go through. When the gospel is preached—the particular method or occasion doesn't matter—that's like taking the keys of the kingdom, opening the door of heaven, and saying, "Would you like to come in?" Is it not true that men go to heaven by believing the gospel? Is that not what the gospel is for? That's the way to heaven. It is the Word of God and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that men must believe. So when the gospel is preached, the keys are being exercised and men and women are being invited to enter the kingdom of heaven.


Peter And The Gentiles

Now, that much is clear. Is there a place in the Bible where this interpretation can be sustained? Is there an example where Peter used the keys of the kingdom in this way? I think the answer is yes. All you have to do is read the book of Acts. Come to Acts chapter 2. What is Peter doing? He is preaching on the Day of Pentecost. To whom is he preaching? To the Jews. And by his preaching, Peter is opening the door of heaven to the Jews. Come over to Acts 8. He's preaching again. To whom is he preaching? He's preaching to the Samaritans. He's opening the door to the kingdom of heaven to the Samaritans. Come over to Acts 10. To whom is he preaching? He's preaching to Cornelius and his household. What's he doing? He's opening the door of faith to the Gentiles. So, in the book of Acts in chapters 2, 8, and 10 you have Peter preaching the gospel and opening the door of heaven, first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles. It perfectly fits what Jesus said in Matthew 16.

D. A. Carson explains the significance of Peter's ministry in the book of Acts this way:

Peter accomplishes this binding and loosing by proclaiming a gospel that has already been given and by making personal application on that basis … Whatever he binds or looses will have been bound or loosed so long as he adheres to that divinely revealed gospel. He has no direct pipeline to heaven, still do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has already acted first … Those he ushers in or excludes have already been bound or loosed by God according to the gospel already revealed which Peter, by confessing Jesus as the Messiah, has most clearly grasped. (Expositor's Bible Commentary, 18, p. 373.)

Let me summarize what I have just said.. The keys to the kingdom is the offer of the gospel. Whenever you offer the gospel to another person you are opening the door of heaven to them. What happens if people go through that door? They are saved. They are born again. They become children of God and you have opened the door for them. What if, when you share the gospel, the person comes right to the edge, they put their toe in the door, and then they pull it back, and walk away? What happens then? They have closed the door to heaven. You have opened it and they have closed it. That's the significance of what Jesus is saying here. When we share the gospel we are opening the door to heaven and if men and women will come in, let them come in and let the praise party begin. If they will not, if they choose to walk away, then we must say to them, "O, my friend, I love you, I care for you, I pray for you but you have just shut the door to heaven. Unless someday you repent and change your mind and come back, you will walk all the way to Hell." That's what Jesus is saying.


What More Could God Do?

When I said he has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven, that really means that we have the privilege (and duty) of preaching the gospel. When we share Christ, we are using the keys of the kingdom. We are opening the door to heaven.

Let me put it this way. God has already done everything necessary for the whole world to go to heaven. What more could God do than he has already done? He has given his only begotten son, who walked on this earth for 33 years. He sent his Son who worked miracles, who raised the dead, who cast out demons, who loved the sick and the sinful, who loved the little children. That same Son was betrayed with a kiss from someone who was supposed to be his friend. That same Son was mocked and beaten and crucified beside two criminals. That same Son condemned to death by the guilty. He was hung on a cross between two thieves. Before he died, he cried out, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

God has already done it. He's done enough. Is there anybody in Oak Park who needs to be saved? Come on in. Anybody in River Forest who wants to go to heaven? Anybody from Cicero, Berwyn, Elmhurst? Anybody from Chicago who wants to be sure that when they die they'll be with God? Good news! God has already done enough. He has done enough.


"Why Should I Let You Into My Heaven?"

And because God has done enough, he has declared that the conditions for entering heaven are very simple: You must understand that you cannot get to heaven by yourself. You must cling to the cross of Jesus Christ as your only hope of heaven. That's the condition of salvation. Any man, woman, boy or girl who truly believes, "that moment from Jesus a pardon receives." God's already made it clear. If you've ever taken Evangelism Explosion, you already know the second question they want you to ask when you're out witnessing: "Suppose you were to die tonight and you were to stand before God and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?' what would you say to him?" That's a good question because it is his heaven and if it is his heaven he has the right to set the conditions. God has already set the conditions and it has nothing to do with going to church and nothing to do with being baptized and nothing to do with giving money and nothing to do with being good and nothing to do with any human effort. It has everything to do with clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ. That's the gospel. That's the good news.

And God has said to you and me, "Don't just sit here. Don't just think that you've done enough. Don't just say, ‘Bless me Lord.' But go out from this place and spread the good news and open the door to heaven to men and women who cannot find their way. When they come in, bid them welcome. If they turn and walk away, warn them lest they die."

That's the first part of it. God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven. We do that, as John Calvin said, as "porters" of the kingdom of heaven. God gave to his church the keys to unlock the Pearly Gates. And thank God, it has nothing to do with anything about membership in this church or any other church. How do we determine who goes to heaven? Have you believed in Jesus Christ and are you clinging to him? If you have and if you are, I'll see you in heaven. And if not you are not trusting in Jesus Christ, I must warn you concerning the reality of hell. That is our task.

There's a second great truth in this passage.


2. He has also promised to ratify in heaven our decisions on earth.

This, if possible, is an even more radical statement. This is a very strong statement Jesus is making. He's upping the ante here. He's saying when you say to someone, "You are forgiven," if you do it on the basis of the gospel they are forgiven. If you say to someone, "You are forgiven, past, present and future, because you are a son of God," and you are acting on the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ that because he has believed on the name of the only begotten son of God his sins are forgiven. When we declare forgiveness to someone who has believed in the gospel God says amen from heaven. When we say to someone who has rejected the gospel, your blood is upon your own head God says amen from heaven. It's true. Look at the text.

Jesus said, "Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." He's talking about declaring the forgiveness of sin to people. If you say to someone, "Because you have rejected the gospel, you are still bound up in your sin," God says, "That's right. They are still bound in their sins." If you say to someone who has believed in Jesus Christ, "Because you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven," God says, "That's right. You are loosed from your sins."


Done On Earth, Done In Heaven

And you say, Pastor Ray, why is that so? In the translation of this text there is an extremely unusual Greek construction called a periphrastic future perfect. It occurs only a handful of times in the whole New Testament. The NIV translates these phrases "will be loosed" and "will be bound." But, as D.A. Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has argued, that translation is not the best. The New American Standard offers a better translation: "Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven" and "Whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven." Note the phrase "shall have been." It suggests action in heaven preceding the action on earth.

But what is the "binding" and "loosing" Jesus is talking about? It's the picture of man bound up by his own sins. When he is forgiven, he is loosed from his sins. "For Christ, in delivering us, by his gospel, from the condemnation of eternal death, looses the cords of the curse by which we are held bound." (John Calvin)

What role do we play in the binding and loosing process as it applies to individual sinners? In the first place, only God can forgive sins. That is one of the clearest teachings of God's Word. (cf. the whole discussion between Christ and the Pharisees in Luke 5:17-29 on this very point.) No mortal man can ever forgive sins. No one can ever say, "I forgive your sins" or even, "On my own authority, I declare that your sins are forgiven." To say that would be blasphemy.

But there is a true sense in which we may declare to a person the forgiveness of their sins on the basis of what God has already done. For instance, we know that God forgives sins on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That forgiveness is received through personal faith in Christ. When a sinner comes to faith in Christ, we may say with absolute certainty, "Your sins are forgiven." We know that God will back us up on that because he said he would. Are we forgiving his sins? No. He didn't sin against us, and anyway, we don't have the power to forgive sins. All we can do is to declare God's forgiveness.

When we say to someone, "Good news, your sins are forgiven," God says, "Amen. That's right. I already did it." And when we say to someone, "My friend, you are still under the judgment of God," God says, "Amen. That's right. They already were under judgment." Done in heaven, done on earth. Done on earth, done in heaven. Not on the basis of whim or human personality but acting on the basis of the Word of God. When we act according to the principles of the gospel, we open the door to heaven. When they come in, we say, "Your sins are forgiven," and God says, "Amen." Then acting on the gospel when we invite them to come in and they walk away, we say, "You are under the wrath of God," and God (in great sorrow) says, "Yes, that's true." That's what this text is telling us.


To Whom Much Is Given

Why is this in here? Because we don't take seriously our Christian obligation. We don't take seriously our Christian obligation to Oak Park and River Forest and all the other communities. We have a good time and we go out and if anybody comes to us, great, we'll tell them the good news. But if not, there are other churches. My friends, there are not too many other gospel preaching churches in this neighborhood. That's one reason God put us here. That's one reason Jesus gave us the keys. He said, "I'm giving you the keys to the kingdom." That's the most important thing in the world. He didn't give the keys to the school system. He didn't give them to the city hall. He didn't give the keys to the government. He didn't give them to the men at ABC and NBC and CBS. He didn't even give the keys to the noted scholars from the universities of the world. He gave the keys to the kingdom to us and said, :"Now go out from this place and open the door to heaven to the people you meet. When they come in, tell them they are forgiven. If they reject you ,warn them of coming judgment. And whether it's grace or whether it's judgment, whatever is done on earth in accordance with the gospel ,God says it will be done in heaven.

God Takes Us Seriously

That brings me back to Don Zimmer. After the game yesterday, he said, "The reason these guys don't lose is because they have discovered that every game is important." They have discovered something that some of us have never discovered. Every Sunday here is important. Every Sunday Calvary Memorial Church is life or death. It's heaven or hell. It's light or darkness. It's the upward path or it's the downhill slide. Every single Sunday.

Do you know what I think the bottom line of this message is? God takes us seriously. If I give you the keys to my house, I'm going to keep my eyes on you day and night until I get my keys back. When God gave the keys of the kingdom to his church he was saying, "I'm giving you something I'm not giving to anyone else in the whole world. Do something with it." He is watching us day and night to see what we are doing with what he has given us. God takes us seriously. What we are doing here is utterly serious. So we take the keys of the kingdom and we go out these doors and we open heaven to those who come in and we bless them and declare their sins are forgiven, and we warn those who turn away.

© Keep Believing Ministries

The Rock of Forgiveness: Binding and Loosing

by Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven."

I have always heard this piece of Matthew as being about forgiveness. Indeed, while a vast majority of those who follow Jesus would say that the 'rock' that Jesus promises to build his church on was actually Peter, or that it is Peter's confession which all the rest is built in, as for me, I can't help but wonder if that foundation is actually forgiveness.

And taken that way, this is a little disconcerting to think about, isn't it? That you and I who hear these words as also meant for us are given a gift to give away which has such eternal consequences? That our ability or willingness to forgive and yes, perhaps, to be forgiven, so shapes us that this shaping is indefinite in time and scope? Oh yes, taken this way we understand that as God's people, this forgiveness is central to who we understand ourselves to be. It holds a power little else does. And it is ours. Ours to receive. Ours to give away. Or not.

Now I have to say that in some ways my sense is that you and I best recognize the power of forgiveness when it is absent.

I think, for instance, of the young woman who recently sat in my office. She and her fiancée look forward to their wedding day in the near future. They are ready for this next step in their lives. But the bride-to-be could not stop weeping for her younger sister refuses to forgive her. She is afraid of how this will play out on her wedding day. She is more afraid of the consequences for her future relationship with her only sister.

Or I think of the old man who claimed the podium at a funeral I officiated at a few years ago. I did not know the family and so I did not see it coming. As soon as I had spoken the final blessing, he stood up and said, 'Pastor, may I have a word.' It wasn't really a question. I stepped back. He stepped forward. Next he demanded that his wife's brother and nephew come and join him before the crowd of those gathered. He proceeded to announce to the room full of family and friends and neighbors that until her dying day his wife had fervently prayed that the two of them would forgive each other. She died with that yearning unanswered. Then the old man turned to his brother-in-law and nephew and demanded that they forgive each other then and there.

I don't know if that forgiveness 'took.' I can't imagine it does when we are so publicly shamed into it. And yet I couldn't help but wonder at the parallel. He was asking them to forgive each other for the sake of his wife who loved them both. We are asked to forgive, if for no other reason than for the sake of Jesus who loves us all. Who tells us now that this gift we've been given to give and to receive is the foundation for all the rest.

Or I think of the five year old member of my congregation. Last spring we were learning the story of Joseph. We got to the part where Joseph reconciles with his brothers and I asked this group of grade-schoolers why we forgive. This little one raised his hand high in the air and when I spoke his name he said, "Because if we don't forgive, we will always be alone."

Apparently, he and his dad had shared this conversation just a few days before. He was angry with a friend who had chosen to sit with someone else on the school bus that morning. He went home and shared this hurt with his dad who told him, "If we don't forgive, we will always be alone." Wow. What a gift to have that understanding so early in life.

In these past years there has been a whole lot of research on the power and the importance of forgiveness. Or the power of not forgiving. Just take a moment and 'google' forgiveness research: the headings alone will capture the gist of what has been learned. Those who forgive live longer. They have healthier hearts. Other ailments heal more quickly. And these are just the physical effects of forgiving. We already know our ability to forgive has profound effects on our emotional lives and on our relationships with one another. And this does not begin to address how old wounds un-forgiven play out in communities or between nations.

Now I am no expert at this. While I do not experience deep ongoing brokenness between and among those most important to me in my life, I certainly have my share of long held resentments which I have never let go.

I think, for instance, of my seventh grade tormentor. Today we are certainly not friends in real life nor are we 'friends' on Facebook. We lost track of each other sometime not long after 8th grade graduation. However, her name and profile picture will show up from time to time on social media for we have mutual friends. Once not long ago I went to her page and was able to see there the shape of her life: husband and children and grandchildren. Her profile picture has her riding a motorcycle. She likes country music. From what I can tell she doesn't live too far away, but I haven't laid eyes on her in more than 35 years. And yet the sound of her name, her smiling for an unseen photographer still stirs me up. I have not forgiven.

Or I think of a congregational anniversary dinner I attended a while back. The church I grew up in was celebrating 50 years. In my formative years the congregation was rife with conflict. We left there when I was still young when those resentments and hurts were still raw. I discovered at this dinner that they still are --- for when the pastor who was at the center of the conflict stood to speak, I found myself tensing up. I did all I could to avoid bumping into him or his wife in that banquet hall. I expect they did the same in turn, for it turned out there was no need for an awkward exchange. I drove home knowing that I have not forgiven.

Now neither of these examples would seem to impact my day to day life. I could go the rest of my life and not see any of these people ever again. Even so? The fact that I have not forgiven does not seem to be an issue for them. It is for me though. They have not let me go because I have not let go. And I wonder now if my inability to 'forgive' an old bully shapes how I face bullies still. If I just avoid them instead of going after them. And I wonder if my unwillingness to forgive an old pastor shapes how I pastor now. If those old hurts impact my ministry in ways less than helpful in the congregation I now am called to serve.

Lately, I can't get this song out of my head. Titled simply, "Forgive," it is sung by Sara Renner. (You can get it on ITunes.) I heard it first this last spring at a conference. The repeating refrain is, "If you wanna live, forgive." This week I sent a note to Sara telling her I hadn't been able to track down the sheet music online and wondering if it was available. She immediately sent me the lead sheet. I wrote back to thank her and to ask about copyright. She said they were working on that, but in the meantime to use it, sing it, spread the word. The world needs it.

Indeed, the world needs it. I need it. You need it. And according to today's Gospel lesson, my wholeheartedly embracing it and living it has eternal consequences. Consequences which begin in the very next moment of our life together.

Even as I know and believe this, I am deeply aware of how far I fall short. And so for now I'm hoping that my tendency to not forgive is outmatched by Jesus' willingness to forgive. As I know and trust, it certainly is. For as Peter proclaims so clearly in those moments before he is given this awesome gift and responsibility: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." This being so, perhaps what I do or do not do is not so central. And yet even at that, this power of binding and loosing is still given to us. Even at that, this binding and loosing we are given to do has profound consequences.

And so I am given pause today to realize once more how much it matters now: this matter of forgiveness. It is central to all that we are and hope to be. It is the very foundation on which we are built, the rock on which we stand. And so this much I know for sure: no matter what happens in heaven, it certainly matters now.

  • What 'camp' do you find yourself in? Do you hear the 'rock' as being Peter, Peter's Confession, or the Power of Binding and Loosing which has been granted us?
  • What does it mean to you to 'bind or to loose?' What does it mean that this may have eternal consequences?
  • If to 'bind or to loose' is actually about forgiveness --- as I believe it is --- how have you experienced it in your life and ministry? How is life itself tied to forgiveness even now?

Source: Dancing with the Word

Keys

by Rev. Foster Freed, Parksville, B.C., Canada

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

At the outset, let me observe that this morning's reading is one of the New Testament's most significant. It is found in all three synoptic Gospels: in the 16th chapter of Matthew, the eighth chapter of Mark (which is presumably the original) and in the ninth chapter of Luke. In each of these Gospels, though most obviously in Mark and Matthew, this episode represents a turning point. With Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah (which is the theme of this morning's reading) and Peter's subsequent failure to recognize the true meaning of Jesus' Messiahship all three Gospels arrive at a critical juncture. To that extent, all three synoptic gospels are in agreement.

And yet, for all their agreement, Matthew in his telling of the story, includes important details that are found neither in Mark nor in Luke. Listen. Listen first to Mark's Gospel.

"Jesus asked them, But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, You are the Messiah. And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him."

That's Mark's version.

Now listen again to the version from Matthew we heard earlier.

"Jesus said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

That's quite a mouthful, isn't it? And it raises a number of issues that have divided Christians along all sorts of fault lines. Most notoriously, it has divided Roman Catholic Christians from both their Eastern Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters.

As my sermon title indicates, I want to examine the whole notion of the keys: the keys that were handed to Peter. Keys to the kingdom of heaven. Keys that will bind and loose on earth, so that (to quote from Matthew) 'whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.' But what does any of that mean?

Well: at a minimum, it means that a profound authority has been conferred upon Peter, upon other church leaders, upon the church itself. And our temptation, I fear, has been to err in one of two ways in the face of such authority: the first turns the church into a dreadfully serious business, an institution that takes itself far too seriously. In reaction, we then go to the opposite extreme by not taking the Church's distinctive mission seriously enough. But surely it is possible (not easy, mind you, but possible) to take the work we have been given as the church seriously, without taking ourselves seriously. And so yes, as distant descendants of those earliest Christians, as distant descendants of Simon Peter and the others, we ought never underestimate the weightiness of the work we have been given: the gospel we proclaim, the prayers we offer, the bread and cup we share, the care and compassion we offer in Christ's name. Let us never underestimate the importance of that work to God's work: its power to do great good, and (God help us) its power to do great harm, its power to harm when we betray the trust that has been placed in our corporate hands.

We can go further, I think: we can say more about those keys that were placed in Peter's hands. And I was struck, this past week by the two contrasting images that emerged as I pondered Peter and his keys. One of those images came from my study of some of the fine commentaries I perused, commentaries that are fairly unanimous in their understanding of the keys, explaining that Peter is being given the authority which rabbis traditionally held (and in some Orthodox Jewish circles still hold) to make binding decisions in the areas of doctrine and ethics. And I found myself contrasting that with an image that has become a staple of pop culture (and all kinds of very funny jokes): the image of St. Peter and his keys, standing guard at the gates of heaven. And as I weighed those images, as I contrasted those images, I was left with a question.

Why is it that the image most non-churchgoers have of the institutional church, tends to draw so heavily on the rabbinical image: the image of a group of right-minded folks who delight in laying down all sorts of doctrinal absolutes they themselves don't really believe, and all sorts of ethical absolutes they themselves never manage to keep. And I know that's a miserably unfair caricature: we're not like that. And yet, the fact remains that the church, as far as the world is concerned, seems to be far better at binding than at loosening. Far better at the creation of binding doctrinal norms and ethical rules, than at the setting loose of God's people for lives of hope-filled freedom in the midst of a horrifically complex world.

And I think most of you know me well enough to know that I am repudiating neither doctrine nor morals! The shelves of my church study are lined with many volumes of theology: with a decided preference for those theologians who view theology as nothing more than sustained commentary on the church's teaching, the church's doctrines. As for ethics, again I hope you know me well enough to realize that I am not so naive about the human race as to believe that we could get along without at least some guidelines (which had generally better take the form of rules, regulations, and laws) to assist us in governing our unruly passions and our boundless pretentions. I know that, and I hope you know that I know that.

But! I also know this. Simon, son of Jonah, this Peter, on whose confession the church is founded, immediately managed to make a botch of the whole business, entirely misunderstanding the true nature of Jesus' mission. This same Peter then proceeded to deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times on the night of Jesus' arrest. Furthermore, it was this very Peter (according to John's Gospel), who could think of nothing more productive to do after witnessing the risen Christ, than to return to Galilee and get back into the fishing business. And then, some 20 years later, when you would think he had finally managed to get things sorted out, it was this same rock-like Peter who received a good tongue-lashing from the apostle Paul. Why? Because Peter had withdrawn from table fellowship with fellow Christians, simply because they were Gentiles. You see: Jesus founded the church on the back of a man who was a repeat recipient of divine mercy. Someone who fell often, but who was allowed to stand again. In other words, Jesus placed the keys to his kingdom in the hands of someone who had as much reason as any human being who has ever walked the face of this earth, to acknowledge his radical need for God's mercy-drenched grace.

And oh, how I wish, how I wish, that the Church did a better job of presenting the Gospel in that way. How I wish we displayed more facility at showing the world that Christ's mission was and still is, and that therefore the church's mission always has been and still is, fundamentally a mission of divine mercy. That any wisdom, any doctrine, of which the Church might dare to boast, is grounded fully and exclusively in the truth of divine mercy; that any virtue, any ethical achievement of which the Church might dare to boast, is grounded fully and exclusively in the goodness of divine mercy. The mercy that picks us up each time we stumble, each time we fall.

I'm reminded of St. Augustine's famous quip. That the Kingdom of heaven will be built not from the perfection of virtue, but from the forgiveness of sins.

I'm also reminded of the decision the present occupant of Peter's chair made two weeks ago, during what will likely be his final trip to his homeland. John Paul's theme throughout his visit to Poland was Divine Mercy, reminding us that it is mercy that will lead us into the work of justice. Mercy and justice not as opposites, as we sometimes suppose, but as realities that go hand in hand. Mercy leading us, divine mercy leading us to justice.

Finally, I am reminded of a wonderful song: one of the last songs written by a remarkable evangelical Christian song-writer, who was taken from us far too young: Rich Mullins.

"Let mercy lead, (let mercy lead!)
let love be the strength in your legs,
and in every footprint that you leave,
there'll be a drop of grace."

I like that. The good news being....

....the good news being that it is just such grace, that it is just such mercy, that now has a name. Mercy now has a name (we call him Jesus!), mercy now has a story (we call it Gospel!)...

...and also, mercy now has a community of followers (we call it church!): a key-wielding community of followers, that lives for the express purpose of telling the world, and better still of showing the world, the face of God's unyielding love.

"Jesus said to them: But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

Source: Sermon Preached at Knox United Church, Parksville, B.C., copyright (c) by Rev. Foster Freed 2002 - 2006

[Editor's Note: Due to space constraints, this message was edited.]

Why Did Jesus Choose Peter to be The Keystone of His Church on Earth?
Why did Jesus choose Peter to be the keystone of His church on earth? Jesus knew that the time was nearing for him to suffer and die on the cross. He had to choose someone. But why Peter?

Could Jesus have chosen any of his other disciples? Were any of them more qualified than Peter? What were Peter's qualifications? The normal human problems we all have: character deficiencies and inner conflicts. We all know that later on Peter would deny Jesus three times because he would be afraid for his life. Peter was not perfect.

Perhaps this is why Peter was chosen, because he was not perfect, because of his imperfections and his flawed humanity; perhaps Jesus chose him to remind us that we need not be perfect in order to be good Christians and to practice God's teachings.

God trusted Peter. Why is it so difficult for us to trust one another?

Perhaps most of us will never become great leaders or famous people, nor will we be called on to die for our beliefs. We may never be in a situation in which fidelity will demand the ultimate sacrifice. What is important is for us to do our best in all our actions, to practice love for our fellow men during the routines of our daily living, and to love our God with our whole body, our whole mind and with our whole soul.

Wouldn't the world be a much better place if every one of us practiced our Christian teaching and did God's work while we are able?

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, I profess and believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are my Lord and my Savior. Make my faith strong like Peter's and give me boldness to speak of you to others that they may come to know you personally as Lord and Savior and grow in the knowledge of your love.

Source: Food For Thought

Forgiveness: Life's Most Important Choice

by Dr. Robert Jeffress

Any student of the Bible might wonder why the book of Genesis devotes more space to Joseph's life than to Adam and Eve, the first couple, or to Noah, the hero of the ark and the flood, or to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation. I believe the answer is that Joseph illustrates one of life's most important choices: the choice to forgive.

Think for a moment what would have happened if Joseph had not forgiven his brothers. Imagine that when his brothers came requesting grain, Joseph had answered, "You want food? Funny you should mention that. Just today I was thinking about how much I wanted food when you left me for dead in that stinking pit."

Had Joseph held on to his desire for vengeance and allowed his brothers to starve to death, the lasting consequences would have reverberated throughout eternity. Instead, Joseph's remarkable story not only ensured the development of the nation of Israel, from whom Jesus Christ would come to save the world, but also serves as an inspiration and illustration for how we're to bestow true forgiveness upon others.

True Forgiveness Admits That Someone Has Wronged You

How often have you heard the following advice: "Stop playing the blame game. Instead of concentrating on what other people have done to you, focus on the wrongs you have committed"? Such counsel, while sounding pious, is actually lethal to the process of true forgiveness. You cannot forgive another person without first acknowledging that they've wronged you. Lewis Smedes writes: "We do not excuse the person we forgive; we blame the person we forgive."

Joseph understood the importance of assigning blame to his brothers. In his confrontation with them he did not act like a Pollyanna by saying, "Now guys, I know you didn't mean to sell me into slavery. You were probably just having a bad day. Let's forget this ever happened."

Nor does he acknowledge his own partial responsibility for his childhood conflict with them by saying, "Brothers, there's enough blame to share among all of us. Let's allow bygones to be bygones and try and start over." Instead, Joseph is painfully direct: "You meant evil against me." Joseph was saying in effect, "What you did to me was inexcusable. You and you alone are to blame for the years of unjust suffering I endured."

Nor did such a statement reveal unresolved bitterness in his life. With his next words - "but God meant it for good" - Joseph showed that he was focused not on his brothers' offenses, but on God's sovereignty over the situation. Nevertheless, Joseph understood that we cannot forgive people we aren't willing to blame.

In the same way, before you can forgive someone, you must first identify who and what you're forgiving. You must admit (at least to yourself) that an injustice has occurred.

True Forgiveness Acknowledges That a Debt Exists

Wrongs create obligations. A traffic violation results in a fine. A guilty verdict results in a sentence. A broken curfew results in grounding. Sin results in eternal death. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Usually we think of wages positively, but Paul uses the term negatively: Because of our sin we have "earned" eternal separation from God. Wrongs result in an indebtedness.

Joseph not only admitted that his brothers wronged him, but that they owed him for what they had done. When Joseph said, "do not be afraid" (Genesis 50:19), he was implying that they had every reason to be afraid! They deserved the death sentence for what they had done, and with a simple nod Joseph could have had them executed. Before either we or our offender can appreciate the freedom that comes from forgiveness, we must first understand the obligation that accrues from our offense.

Yesterday morning I was in a hurry to get to work and was doing about 70 miles per hour when I sailed past a patrolman. I'm not sure he noticed me. Or perhaps he did notice me and even recognized me and decided that it was "Be Nice to a Speeding Pastor Day" and let me off the hook.

But suppose the patrolman had turned on his lights and siren and stopped me. He would have reminded me of the speed limit for that stretch of road, then informed me to what degree I had violated that, as well as the penalty for such a violation. He might then have continued, "Although I should throw the book at you, I'm going to let you go this time. However, if I ever catch you speeding again …" But before "forgiving" me of my violation and deserved penalty, he would still have made it clear what that violation and penalty were.

Before we can properly forgive another person, we must accurately access what he or she owes us.

When you think of the word forgive, does someone's name immediately come to your mind? In addition to identifying exactly what that person had done to you, I encourage you to calculate the debt he or she owes you for that wrong. Be severe as you think you need to be.

"Because of your affair, I should divorce you."
"Because of your negligence, I should sue you."
"Because of your actions, I should prosecute you."

Remember, offenses always create obligations.

True Forgiveness Releases our Offender of His or Her Obligation

Only after we've identified the offense committed and calculated the debt owed can we truly forgive the other person. Remember that the word "forgive" means to release another person of his obligation toward us, as Joseph did. Instead of giving his brothers the death sentence they most certainly deserved, he formally released them from their debt by giving them a new land that they did not deserve:

"And you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have" (Genesis 45:10).

In the same way, there needs to be a specific time when you formally release your offender of his obligation toward you. Whether or not you choose to voice your forgiveness to your offender, you can express it to God. Visualize in your mind the person who has wronged you. Admit to God that you've been hurt - deeply hurt - by what he or she had done to you. Calculate what that person owes you for the offense: money, separation, divorce, jail, or maybe death. Finally, let me encourage you to pray something like this: "What ______ did to me was wrong, and he should pay for what he did. But today I'm releasing him of his obligation to me. Not because he deserves it, or has even asked for my forgiveness, but because You, God, have released me from the debt I owe You."

Adapted from When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense © Robert Jeffress (Waterbrook Press)

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

God, You Want Me to Forgive Her?

by Dena Johnson, Dena's Devos

As I sat through the funeral service, I couldn't concentrate on the words being spoken. I kept hearing a still, small voice in my head.

"Extend forgiveness," the voice urged.

It was my first time back in this church building since my husband had resigned his position as pastor of the congregation nearly five months earlier. Two days after the resignation, I learned the true reason behind the shocking announcement: he had been having an affair with a woman in the church. That woman was in the funeral service with me.

"Extend forgiveness," the voice again urged.

"But, I don't forgive," I argued in my spirit. "She doesn't deserve my forgiveness."

"Extend forgiveness."

As I argued with God throughout the funeral, He began to wear me down. Eventually, I thought, "Maybe if I tell her I forgive her, it will free her from her guilt and shame. Maybe she can go on with her life and save her failing marriage."

As we all filed out of the sanctuary at the end of the service, I found myself in a sea of people, many of whom had been deeply hurt first by our resignation and then by the revelation of the affair. I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. It had been hard enough to muster the courage to step back in this place. Now, God wanted me to approach the woman who had taken everything I held dear.

Then, I saw her. Still arguing with God, I began to walk toward her with a determination that could only come from God. Much to her surprise (and mine), I wrapped my arms around her and whispered in her ear, "I forgive you. If we let Him, God can take this entire mess and use it for something amazing in our lives."

With that, I walked away. Something inside of me had changed, though. The burden I had carried for nearly five months seemed lighter. The anger inside of me had dissipated. There was joy in my heart, a smile on my face. Peace seemed to flow through me.

I had approached her in obedience to God expecting to set her free; instead, I walked away from that encounter unshackled from the bondage of unforgiveness.

That moment has served as a spiritual marker in my life for over four years. The memory is as clear now as it was on that January day. I learned some valuable lessons, lessons that I try to share with others every chance I get.

1. Forgiveness is not something I do; forgiveness is something God does through me.

When I walked toward her, I did not want to forgive her. I did not intend to forgive her. But, I was walking in obedience to God. Because He was telling me to forgive, I chose to be obedient. My obedience was simply the conduit through which His forgiveness could flow.

2. Forgiveness is not conditional upon the other person's actions.

My anger and bitterness toward this woman never returned - even when I discovered she was still seeing my husband several months later. God's forgiveness had allowed me to put the anger and bitterness behind me and move forward with my life.

3. Forgiveness is not conditional on the outcome of the situation.

My husband and I eventually divorced as a result of their continued affair. My life was once again turned upside down and ripped apart. But, forgiveness toward her continued to be the attitude of my heart.

4. Forgiveness sets me free.

For months, I had been locked in a prison of anger towards this woman. I had found that it was easier to be angry with her than with my husband - the one I still lived with, loved, and had pledged my life to. I had no idea how trapped I was - until I walked away in freedom that day. Lack of forgiveness prevents you from enjoying the abundant life Christ came to offer. When we choose to let anger and bitterness rule in our hearts, we choose to forfeit the very blessings Christ came to give us. We choose to trample upon the sacrifice that God gave - forgiveness through the blood of His very own son.

5. Forgiveness does not always mean restoration.

This woman and I had been friends prior to the affair. We had spent days hanging out at her pool, gone out together to enjoy girls' night out. However, I don't see that ever happening again. I can forgive her, but I do not have to include her in my inner circle. However, I can still treat her with kindness and respect, as a sister in Christ.

6. Sometimes forgiveness is not a once-for-all situation.

Sometimes, forgiveness becomes a daily choice. It requires letting go of the anger, asking God to daily direct my steps, and allowing God's forgiveness to flow through me. It requires me taking up the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), being transformed daily by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). I have forgiven my ex-husband, but it has been a daily process of choosing God's way over my own.

This woman did not deserve my forgiveness that day. Then again, I didn't deserve Christ's forgiveness when He willingly laid down His life at Calvary for me. I didn't have to change for Christ to forgive me. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NLT). If this is the type of forgiveness He offers me, shouldn't I be willing to extend that same forgiveness to others?

Perhaps there is someone in your life that has wronged you, someone that you need to forgive. They may not deserve your forgiveness, but I remind you that you didn't deserve Christ's forgiveness. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32). You are not capable of forgiving on your own; however, God is waiting for you to come to Him, to ask Him to allow His forgiveness to flow through you. Take the step of obedience today, and choose forgiveness. You will experience a freedom that only Christ can give!

One final thought… You might need to start by forgiving yourself. Remember, God considered you worthy of forgiveness. Who are you to say that you don't deserve a gift that Christ so lovingly lavished upon us?

About The Author:

Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God's comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena's experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.

God Wants to Set You Free

by Suzie Eller

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
Isaiah 43:19a (ESV)

Last January I prayed about my one word for the year. I hoped for words like "discovery" or "new" or "intimacy." Something beautiful and fresh in my relationship with God.

As I knelt I sensed the word "forgive."

This wasn't logical. I teach on forgiveness. I write books and articles about forgiveness. It's the one word I thought had already defined my life.

Yet, every time I prayed, that one word remained.

So, in 2013 I began to let this word saturate my life, and discovered new lessons my Heavenly Father wanted to show me. One of those was a shift in the way I viewed forgiveness. We often hear these directives:

You need to forgive.

You should forgive.

But as I let this word guide me in my conversations, in my responses to people and events, in my feelings, and in my faith, a powerful truth emerged:

We get to forgive.

We aren't prisoners of bitterness, locked behind the walls of our anger. We have free will, and can choose to step out of unforgiveness, into a place of beauty at any time.

However, if we choose to hold on to our hurt, it can feel like a dry wasteland has taken up residence in our hearts. It roots its way into our thought process, and in the way we view life or people. It may make us feel strong as we hold on to a grudge or build a wall to protect ourselves, when in actuality we have only hemmed ourselves in from all that God wants us to experience.

In Isaiah 43, the Israelites had a choice as well. They were in a hard place, and had been for a long time. They had heard about the miracles performed in the past, but God was offering to "cut a path through the wilderness, and create rivers in a dry wasteland" (verse 19b). He was prepared, if they followed His leading, to show them something they wouldn't see or experience otherwise. God makes the same offer to us.

We are meant to live free. Totally free. This is what we discover when we start to live a forgiving lifestyle. Not hindered or encumbered in any way.

As I lived out my word in 2013, I was reminded that although I had forgiven big things, I needed to address little offenses. God showed me the power of little things that irked or flared in resentment, robbing me as I nurtured a hurtful word or action ... long after the person who caused the pain had left the scene.

If there's unforgiveness lurking, festering, hurting you, will you consider allowing God to move into those broken and wounded places in 2014?

Will it be easy? Not for most of us. Living life as a forgiver is one of those acts of faith that may seem impossible, especially when another has caused you pain. But forgiving leads you from a place of hurting to healing, it clears away past baggage that weighs you down, and offers a new identity based on who you are to God, rather than what someone did.

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

  • Forgiving offers a fresh slate.
  • Forgiving allows us to discover new depths and facets of our faith.
  • Forgiving leads to deeper relationship with God as we live out this word daily, even when it is difficult. For we aren't alone in this journey, and God has more for us as we follow where He leads.

Dear Lord, may this be the year I forgive and live free. Show me day by day what forgiving looks like, and give me wisdom and strength to live it out. Thank You that I get to forgive so I can discover what You have for me! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Reflect and Respond:

You never know where your one word might lead. Mine led me to the words I first hoped I would hear: new, discovery, intimacy!

Prayerfully ask God for a word. It may not be forgive, for God knows what you need. As you begin each day, ask God to show you the opportunities to live out your word. How will it affect your choices? The way you respond to others? The way you live out your day?

Power Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (NIV)

Matthew 6:12, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (NIV)

© 2014 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.
Source: Encouragement for Today

Wounded Warrior in Syria Learns Power of Forgiveness

by Erich Bridges

BEIRUT (BP) -- Forgive? Don't talk to me about forgiving. You didn't see what they did to my father, to my brother, to my daughter. You didn't see what my son's body looked like when they brought him home in a box.

A lot of Syrians will declare something like that -- with blood in their eyes. The Syrian civil war that began last year has turned into a fight to the death between factions determined to destroy each other. Clans want payback. Families want revenge. Some of those hatreds seep across the border into Lebanon, where the same ethnic and religious tensions exist.

But Fadi*, a Lebanese follower of Christ, has learned about the power of forgiveness. And he wants to share it with Syrians, the people he once hated.

Now a 40-year-old husband and father, Fadi suffered terrible mistreatment by his father while growing up in a traditional Christian family in Lebanon. It was so bad that he ran away at 13 to join the Lebanese military, only to suffer even more brutal abuse in the ranks. Angry and bewildered, he stopped believing in God -- or anything else. He threw himself into soldiering, eventually sustaining eight serious wounds in his unit's frequent cross-border clashes with Syrian forces. Any of the injuries could have killed him, but he survived to fight again.

A fellow soldier gave him a Bible, but he tore it up in anger. As an afterthought, however, he put the pieces in the breast pocket of his battle vest. The next time he saw combat, the Bible stopped a bullet meant for his heart.

"That incident affected me a lot," Fadi says. "The book that I refused safeguarded me from death. I started to desire to know more of Jesus. I prayed to Him, saying, 'If You are really the God of love, then help me to love You. Let me love my father and love those who abused me so I can know that You really love me.' In time, the love of Christ filled my heart toward those people. Since that date, I'm a new creation in Christ. I cannot forget the injuries or the pain, but they helped me discover God's love."

Fadi retired from the military, started a family and continued to grow in Christ. Still, he harbored deep hatred for his enemies: the Syrians. So he asked God to give him love for them, too.

"When the war started in Syria in 2011, I went to my pastor and told him I'm ready to serve the Syrian refugees," Fadi recounts. "I was convinced that in order to love them, I needed to be available to show God's love in a practical way."

In typical Fadi fashion, he put his life on the line to do it -- visiting border villages under threat by Syrian forces.

"Many times, as we were serving the Syrian refugees on the borders, we were facing a direct attack from the Syrian army," he says. "I was trained because of my years of experience in the army not to be afraid of those attacks. One time we were visiting a family in a village divided from Syria by a riverbank. As we were there, this village started to be attacked randomly by the Syrian army -- bombs and gunshots. We saw dozens of women and children escaping from the border areas toward us, asking for refuge. We needed to leave the area as soon as possible. But at the same time, I had the feeling that I'm like any one of them and that I cannot leave them. So we remained in that village until the attacks stopped."

Once he encountered a unit of Syrian soldiers after visiting a family living just across the border. He greeted the soldiers, convinced he would be shot at any moment. But they let him go on his way. "I never did that again, because God gave us wisdom on where to go and how to do things," he says with a grin.

Another time he aided a Syrian family crossing a river into Lebanon. "Why are you risking your life to serve us?" the mother in the family asked.

"I shared the love of God in my life," Fadi says. "She told me that many times she had refused to accept a New Testament from her Syrian Christian friend. But she said, 'As you have told me about the love of Christ, I promise you I'm going to read the New Testament. I want to know more about that love.'

"I don't know the reasons behind all that's happening in Syria," Fadi says. "But I know that God's reason is to share His message, His Word, with those people. I love to serve them."

Recently Fadi and a few co-workers visited a Syrian Muslim friend in Lebanon. It was the day before Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival that commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. (Muslims believe Abraham took Ishmael, rather than Isaac, to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed.) Hundreds of sheep slaughtered for the observance hung in shop windows and on street corners as Muslim families prepared for the holiday.

Fadi's Muslim friend, Abu Khaled*, fled his town in Syria last year after 20 days of shelling by Syrian forces. He hid with his family in the sewers, then walked 50 miles to reach Lebanon. He hasn't seen his oldest son, captured in Syria, in more than a year. The son might be dead. But Abu Khaled, an influential older man who has become a leader among Syrian refugees, doesn't want revenge. He wants reconciliation.

"If we decide not to forgive, the cycle of death will continue," he said, rubbing his gray patch of beard. "But someone needs to sacrifice."

With his permission, the Christian visitors told the full story from the Bible of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son -- and God's intervention to supply an animal as a substitute. Then they talked about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who became a sacrifice for all. Abu Khaled listened carefully. The conversations will continue.

As they prepared to leave, Fadi embraced Abu Khaled.

"He is my brother," Fadi said.

*Names changed.

About The Author:

Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Contributions to relief ministry among Syrian refugees can be made by visiting imb.org/syrianrefugees? and designating "Syria relief" in the comment line. For updates on how God is at work through the crisis in Syria and ways to pray and help, email love4syria@pobox.com. Contributions to the spread of God's Word among Syrians can be made by calling Faith Comes By Hearing at 1-800-545-6552 and designating a gift for the Syrian Refugees Project.

Source: Baptist Press; © Copyright 2012 Baptist Press. All Rights Reserved.

Self Improvement: Keep Pressing On Beyond Your Comfort Zone

by Linda McLean

A famous mountain climbing resort in the Swiss Alps caters to businesses that encourage their employees to hike up the mountain trails together. The goal is to build camaraderie and to teach teamwork. Although it is about an eight hour trek to the summit, anyone in reasonably good shape can ascend to the top. In the morning, the hikers gather at the base of the mountain for a pep talk before starting the climb. Usually the group is so excited, they can hardly wait to head up the slopes, have a group picture taken, and celebrate the excitement of the journey they are embarking upon.

They hike for several hours before taking a break. Approximately halfway up the mountain stands a quaint alpine restaurant. About noon, the weary hikers trudge into the restaurant, peel off their hiking gear, and plop down by the fireplace to have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and eat their lunch. With the mountain as their backdrop, the hikers savor the warm, cozy, picturesque setting.

Interestingly, after they are full and comfortable, fewer than half the hikers choose to continue climbing to the top of the mountain. It isn't because they aren't able; it isn't because the climb suddenly appears too difficult. Their reluctance to continue is simply because they are satisfied with where they are. They've lost their drive to excel, to explore a new horizon, and to experience vistas they'd never previously imagined possible. They have tasted a bit of success, and they think it is good enough.

Many times, we approach life a lot like those full and comfortable hikers sitting in the restaurant enjoying the view. We have a goal to break a bad habit, to lose some weight, or to pay off our credit cards. At first, we're so excited. We're fired up and we go after it! The first leg of the climb up the mountain is powered by enthusiasm for our new goal. But over time, we get lazy and complacent. Maybe we see a little improvement, but then we get comfortable right where we are. This might not be a bad place, but we know it's not where we're supposed to be.

Like those hikers sitting in that quaint restaurant, we are still perfectly capable of craning our necks and looking up the mountain. We're not stretching our faith or our potential and we know it. Maybe you own a business, and you've experienced a bit of success. Lately, however, you've been coasting. Or maybe you set out to lose 20 pounds, you lose 10, and feel like all is good and you get complacent. Don't stop halfway just because it's easy! Instead, remember what it is that you really, really want. Put out the effort and go the whole way… to the top of the mountain.

Step out of your comfort zone today! Keep pursuing and keep believing. It doesn't take any more effort to believe and stay filled with hope and faith than it does to develop a negative and defeated attitude. Get up every day and say, “This is going to be a great day! I believe my dreams are coming to pass. There are great things in store for me and everyone around me.” When you have that kind of attitude you are releasing God's goodness. But it doesn't come easily.

People who see their dreams come to pass are people who have resolve and backbone. They are the ones who refuse to settle for the little victories along the way and see themselves at the finish line, instead continuing on, pushing on toward the ultimate goal. No one wants to be mediocre. You are made for so much more.

Realize that what your mind focuses on, it can achieve. It is up to you. Pay attention only to those silent whispers within that say “You can do it!”

About The Author:

Linda McLean is an internationally respected business and life coach. Her company: www.mcleaninternational.com helps businesses and individuals reach their next level using a customized solution-oriented approach to business and life planning.

Self Improvement: Find The Inner Barriers That Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

by Wes Hopper

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."
Rumi

We all have questions when something we think we want doesn't show up in our life. We can blame our family, we can blame the government, we can blame God or bad luck, but none of that really matters.

We're asking the wrong question. If something or someone doesn't show up in our life, it's because we have not been willing to pay the price.

One of the major 'price' issues with big goals is the presence of the inner barriers that Rumi points out. Most of these barriers are the self-image kind.

We think, "I can't do that, I've never done that, what if I fail in public, I don't know how, I don't have the money, I can't speak in public, no one will love me..........."

These are all self-built barriers. When you feel that resistance in you, ask yourself, "What is the thinking I'm doing that makes me feel like that?"

Uncover all those old scripts that go way back to your childhood, all the scripts that told you what was wrong with you.

Replace them with memories of a big win in your life. If you can't think of one, invent one! See yourself as very capable, dedicated and victorious.

Make yourself a little sign that says, "I can do it!!"

With that thought firmly in mind, go do it!

PS - I didn't say it would be easy, but I did say that you could do it!

Source: Daily Gratitude

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