Forgiving God

Today, we finish up our short three-part email-only series on the topic of forgiveness. Hopefully you’ve caught the first two entries in the series. (If not, you can catch up on the Riverwood website.) We’ve talked about forgiving others, as well as forgiving yourself. But today, I want to finish things up by talking about forgiving someone we rarely think of forgiving – and that’s God Himself.

I suspect you might want to push back at me for a moment. Because forgiveness usually comes as a result of someone doing something wrong against you. But God, we theologically know, can’t do anything wrong. Everything He does is good.

Forgiving God blank 350x196 - Forgiving GodBut if we are honest with ourselves, our feelings sometimes betray our theology. We may know intellectually God is good, but sometimes our emotional reaction to a horrendous experience can lead us to believe He isn’t good.

That’s exactly what happened to Job.

God has Wronged Me
Job’s story is told in the Old Testament book that bears His name. Early in the book, we learn that Satan approaches God and asks for permission to ruin Job’s life. Satan ends up killing most of Job’s family, most of his servants, and taking all of his wealth. In other words, Job lost everything. (Talk about a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.)

Initially, Job responded amazingly well. But eventually, as he thought more about the situation (thanks to some “friends” that came to “comfort” him), Job felt God was to blame for his devastating loss. Which is why he cried out…

“…God has wronged me and has closed His net around me!” (Job 19:6 – NASB)

Job was mad. He was emotionally hurt. He was in deep mourning. And in his pain, he couldn’t understand why God would let all of his kids die, most of his servants die, and all of his wealth be taken from him. (And on top of it all, his wife left him.) So Job blamed God for doing “wrong.”

Ever felt like Job did in that moment? Ever felt like “God has wronged you” and royally screwed you over?

If you have, you’re in good company.

How to “Forgive” God
So what should you do if God has “wronged” you. I think you need to do two things.

But before I share them with you, please hear this: The two ideas I am going to give you are not to sound trite or shallow. The hurt, pain, and anger you might feel won’t instantly disappear if you just do these two things. These two things aren’t like a magic incantation that will make your pain vanish instantly. It might take some times to truly come to a place where you can forgive God. But as your pastor, I long for you to have a deep abiding spiritual connection with your Creator, fully trusting Him with every area of your life.

So what are the two things I advise you to do?

1. Re-Understand “Good”
Each of us have an idea of the definition of “good.”

  • Chocolate is “good.”
  • Hanging out with friends is “good.”
  • Helping a sweet little old lady across the street is “good.”
  • Lending a helping hand to a neighbor is “good.”

But, if you are a parent, when you discipline your child, your little one does not think your correction is “good.” She will probably get mad at you for not letting her eat a 36th piece of candy, or he will howl when you won’t let him watch a fourth episode of Paw Patrol. But the reason you are correcting your child is because you are trying to do what is truly good for them. They may not understand it, but with your greater wisdom and insight, you do.

Likewise, when we face horrible situations, even evil ones like rape or murder, we need to realize that while God did not make the evil happen, He can still work it out for good. He has far greater wisdom and insight than us. He sees to the end of time, knowing how all things will work together. This is why we can say nothing happens outside of His control.

And so we need to allow our definition of “good” to change. Even when our circumstances aren’t “good,” He still is. And when our definition begins to change, we can do the second thing:

2. Worship God
How do you know you have truly forgiven a fellow human? When you can walk into a room, see the other person, and not internally recoil. Likewise, you know you have forgiven God when you can truly worship Him.

But sometimes, you have to seek God before you feel ready to “forgive” Him.

As you read the Psalms, you see David do this all the time. In Psalm 22 (which I linked to above), right after David accuses God of doing wrong, he immediately begins to worship God. Notice what he says:

“Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.”
(Psalm 22:3-5)

I don’t think David fully understood why God was letting certain things happen to him as he penned this psalm, yet he didn’t wait until everything was right again to worship God. It seems as if David was reminding himself, “You know, my ancestors went through some tough things like slavery in Egypt, being trapped against the Red Sea, and wandering in the dessert for 40 years, yet God led them through each thing. So just as my ancestors didn’t understand why God was working in those ways, I don’t understand what He is doing right now. But I guess if they could end up trusting Him to deliver them, I can trust He really is good and will deliver me as well.”

It seems to me that David allowed worship to recalibrate his heart so he could see that God was still good, even if he mistakenly believed God had wronged him.

Ultimately, forgiveness of God comes down to trust. Do you trust that God is good, in control, deeply loves you, and is with you through the struggle? If not, you will find forgiveness of God nearly impossible to attain. But when you look at the cross, and see what God has done to release you from your sin, you can know He truly is good and can be fully trusted, even when you have gone through hell on earth.

If you are struggling to forgive God, feel free to reach out to me or to another Jesus-follower who you know will listen to you and encourage you. Sometimes just sitting and talking about these things begins to remind you that God loves you. And as you remember, you’ll find yourself “forgiving” Him.

Forgiving Yourself

by Erin Bird

I couldn’t believe I had done it again. I had been watching a football game on TV one night, but when it was over, rather than turn off the flickering light in front of me and head to bed, I watched the news.

I know that’s not really a big deal, except for the fact that I still didn’t turn off the TVwhen the news finished. Instead, I began to watch the Tonight Show. Then I watched a MASH rerun. And then it got so pathetic, I watched an infomercial.

Ugh! Why didn’t I just turn off the TV and go to bed?!? And why was I doing this againhaving just made the same mistake a couple weeks prior?

forgiving yourself2 350x196 - Forgiving YourselfThis incident occurred back in probably 2005 or 2006. Even though it’s been quite a few years since this event, it is still humiliating to admitI had spent like 6 straight hours wasting my time watching shallow television programs. (I mean, come on… an infomercial?!?! What was wrong with me?)

I remember being so embarrassed by my behavior, I didn’t want to tell anyone. When LeAnn asked what time I had come to bed, I think I avoided the question or just said, “really late” hoping she wouldn’t ask for specifics.

But the bigger problem was happening inside me. I was disappointed in myself. Actually, it was worse than that. I was madat myself. I think my anger came from the fact that I had done this same thing multiple times. So this time, I held on to my anger. I kept beating myself up internally for days, saying all sorts of negative things about how pathetic I was. And in my internal self-mutilation, I refused to forgive myself. Because to forgive myself felt like saying, “Ah, it’s not a big deal” when I knew this behavior was keeping me from being the husband, father, and pastor I wanted to be.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have learned that self-forgiveness is needed and necessary. Why? Here is what I have learned…

To not forgive yourself means:

#1. You falsely believe you are wiser than God.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Every human born since the time of Adam & Eve has been born with a spiritual nature wrecked by sin. “For allhave sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” declares Romans 3:23. But the Perfect Holy God has forgiven you of allyour wrongdoing through the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (Romans 5:6-8) Which means allof your sin, from the small little lie you told yesterday to the embarrassing things you did last year or last decade, have been removed from you and are no longer held against you. (Psalm 103:11-12)

And so if an all-wise, perfectly-just God can forgive your wrongdoing against Him, who are you to refuse to forgive yourself? Do you think God is wrong to forgive you? Or that you are somehow wiser than Him by refusing to forgive yourself for your momentary stupidity?

Please realize that by forgiving yourself, you are admitting God is wise, just, and generous with His love to forgive you. And by forgiving yourself, you are bringing yourself into alignment with God’s heart for you.

#2. You falsely believe the cross of Jesus was not enough.

Perhaps you see your Heavenly Father as being a God of love, so you know He would forgive you, but you think your sin too big and horrible to be forgiven. If that’s the case, you are acting as though the cross of Jesus isn’t enough to pay for your sin.

The Apostle Paul, before he became an apostle, evangelist, and church planter, spent his days zealously persecuting anyone who claimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Paul, in his pride, had approved of murder and mistreating people. Paul’s sin was so great, he later described himself as one of the worst sinnersto have lived. And yet, Paul came to realize that the cross of Jesus was far more than enoughto cover his sin.

So don’t think you have to do anything to pay off your sin– Jesus paid it for you! And because your debt against God has been paid off, you are forgiven. So you can forgive yourself because the cross was more than enough to cover all your wrongdoing against your creator.

Forgiving Others

Welcome to November! Hard to believe 2019 will be here in just two months. Oh, and before I forget to say it, be sure to set your clocks back one hour as Daylight Savings Time comes to an end this Saturday night.

Forgiving Others Blank 350x196 - Forgiving OthersThe arrival of November not only means changing our clocks, it also means the Thanksgiving holiday will be here soon. Typically, people like to talk about the topic of “giving thanks” throughout the month. But based on the results of the survey we did in September, I’ve decided to spend the month of November talking about the topic of “forgiveness” since forgiveness is often something we wrestling with often.

So for the next three weeks, we are going to look at the topic of forgiveness. Next week we’ll be looking at the need to forgive self, and then the week after to forgive God. (Yes, sometimes we need to “forgive” God – we’ll talk about that in two weeks.) But let’s kick this series off with the angle most of us think about when it comes to forgiveness – Forgiving Others.

I Can’t Forgive Them!
One Sunday in 1997, when LeAnn and I were living in Venezuela teaching at a school for the children of missionaries, I preached on the topic of forgiveness in our English-speaking worship service. Apparently, God used the message to help Patricia, one of our freshmen students, surrender her life to Christ later that night while talking with a fellow student. Patricia’s “conversion” was the talk of campus the next day, because she was known as the school agnostic.

I happened to walk into the school office the next day when a couple of fellow staff members were talking about Patricia and my message. As I walked in, the school secretary said, “Erin, that was a really good message yesterday, and it’s wonderful that Patricia gave her life to Christ last night, but I just can’t do what you were saying in your message. I just can’t forgive someone. You have no idea what they did to me, and I just can’t do it.”

While her words broke my heart, I completely understood. While I never learned the details of what happened to this gal, (and whatever she had gone through was possibly far worse than anything I had ever faced at that time), I knew firsthand the struggle to forgive someone.

And yet while I could be empathetic, I hurt for that school secretary, because to NOT forgive someone upholds three lies:

1. God’s Not Just
When you refuse to forgive someone, you are in a sense saying, “I don’t believe God’s in control, and I don’t believe He will enact justice.” But justice is at the very heart of God’s character! He can’t NOT be just.

Yes, God is merciful. But remember, while your sin was mercifully forgiven, it was also justly paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross.

2. I’m Punishing the Wrong-doer
To forgive someone else feels like letting them off the hook, so we hang on to the hurt, as if we are hurting them right back. But the problem with this is that the offending party might not even be aware they hurt you, or they have even moved on. Which means they aren’t the one in your emotional prison, you are!

This tells me forgiveness is more about you and your emotional health than it is about trying to punish the other person. So you need to forgive for your sake!

3. I don’t need to forgive
Lastly, when we refuse to forgive someone their sin against us, we deceive ourselves into believing we don’t have to forgive them. But listen to what God tells us through the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

You need to forgive others, setting aside your anger, because God has set aside his own anger at your sin and forgiven you! If you ever feel like “I just can’t forgive them for such evil,” remember the gospel teaches our sin was so bad, it deserved death. But God through Christ, upheld justice by paying off our sin, then mercifully granting us forgiveness. And so to forgive others their sin against you is to be like Jesus.

A Disclaimer
Before I close, let me say this: forgiving someone their wrongdoing doesn’t mean they don’t have to face any consequences. For instance, you can forgive the drunk driver for killing your parents in a car accident, but it doesn’t mean the driver gets to keep his license and keep driving.

But don’t hang on to the hurt, wishing harm on them. That only keeps you in an emotional prison and leads to really bad theology about God’s sovereignty. Instead, forgive them, praying for them to be changed by the gospel and become the person God wants them to be.

So if you need to forgive someone, let me encourage you to do so. It may not happen overnight, but with God’s strength, you can truly let God be the Judge of the offending party, and you can seek to live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved.

Making Jesus Followers

I have really enjoyed our time on Sundays in the book of 1 John. Can’t believe we are going to finish it up this Sunday! (If you want, read chapter 5 once or twice before we study it together on Sunday.) If you’ve missed any previous message in the 1 John series, you can always catch up on the website or through iTunes (or your favorite podcast app. I personally use the Overcast app on my iPhone.)

Wrapping up Jesus-Centered Parenting
For those of you who aren’t parents and have no dreams of ever being one (or feel like its a LONG way off), I have good news – this is the last in our series on parenting. Based on the number of responses I’ve received, many of you found this series incredibly helpful, which I am VERY glad to hear. Hopefully this last article will do the same.

This week as we wrap up, I want to talk about THE most important part of parenting. So far, we’ve talked about showing your child kindness, being consistent in our instructions and discipline, casting vision to our children, empowering them through responsibility, and giving them our time and attention.

But there is one thing that trumps ALL these other areas of parenting. If you get this one thing right, the others tend to fall into place. And, if you get this one thing right, it will be the difference between being a good parent and a great parent.

What is this one thing? (You can probably guess from the title of this email!) The greatest thing you can do as a parent, if you are a follower of Jesus, is to provide your child with every opportunity to follow Jesus through the Gospel.

Weaving the Gospel into the Everyday
In the book of Deuteronomy, God is giving His people, the Israelites, instructions (like the Ten Commandments). But when you get to chapter 6, God basically says, “And here is THE most important command I give you.”

And what is this “greatest command”? To continually teach their children (and remind themselves) to fear (follow) the One True God.

Take a moment to read it yourself:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

I realize you are not an ancient Jew, but I still think you can learn something from this.

1. Talk about the Gospel
First, notice how talking about God was to be commonplace. They were to talk about loving God while sitting down, while walking, even when they headed to bed or got up in the morning. Talking about God was not just relegated to worship services or prayer times before a meal. It was woven into the very fabric of daily conversation.

As you seek to raise kids who love Jesus because they understand the gospel, you can:

  • talk about Jesus while giving them their evening bath,
  • talk about what you are learning while driving to Wal-mart together,
  • mute TV commercials and talk about how the TV show you are watching affirms or contradicts the gospel,
  • or talk about where your kids saw Jesus at work in their lives while at school.

The more you talk about Jesus, the more natural it becomes. So talk about the Gospel when you sit down and when you walk, when you lay down and when you rise.

2. Give yourself reminders
Second, God tells the Israelites to put regular reminders around themselves about loving God, whether in something they wear or something they put in their house.

You can do this by:

  • wearing (or giving) a special ring or bracelet
  • putting Scripture art on your walls or sticky notes with Scripture on the bathroom mirror
  • putting a prayer reminder on a sticky-note on your steering wheel
  • hanging a prayer calendar near the kitchen table with reminders to pray for a different person each night at supper

Find ways to reminder yourself and your kids that God is with you and that following Jesus is an everyday thing, not just a Sunday thing.

An Important Warning
Before I can end this, I need to remind you of one thing: You cannot force your child to follow Jesus. Only God can truly open their eyes and hearts to the beauty of the gospel.

I love how Pastor Matt Chandler puts it: Only God can light the fire within your child, but you can put as much wood, and paper, and fuel around your child as you can, so that when God lights it, they burn brightly.

And realize: if your child doesn’t place their faith in Jesus, or renounces the faith, you have not failed as a parent. All you can do is let your child see God’s work in you, and let them know about the gloriousness of the Gospel. And who knows, your child might later have a change of heart. As long as they are drawing breath, you can still hope and pray for God to light the fire. (If you want to learn more on this point, read what pastor and author Marty Machowski (who wrote the curriculum we are using in Kids Creek) says about this from a personal perspective.)

So talk about Jesus, remind yourself and your children about the Gospel, and let God do His work in your child as He also works in you.