Category  |  Forgiveness

An Encounter with Stones

After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.

Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself. 

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.

A New Name

In the article “Leading by Naming,” Mark Labberton wrote about the power of a name. He said: “I can still feel the impact of a musical friend who one day called me ‘musical.’ No one had ever called me that. I didn’t really play an instrument. I was no soloist. Yet . . . I instantly felt known and loved. . . . [He] noticed, validated, and appreciated something deeply true about me.”

Perhaps this is what Simon felt when Jesus renamed him. After Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he immediately found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus peered into his soul and validated and appreciated something deeply true about Simon. Yes, Jesus saw the failure and impetuous nature that would get him into trouble. But more than that He saw the potential of Simon to become a leader in the church. Jesus named him Cephas—Aramaic for Peter—a rock (John 1:42; see Matt. 16:18).

And so it is with us. God sees our pride, anger, and lack of love for others, but He also knows who we are in Christ. He calls us justified and reconciled (Rom. 5:9-10); forgiven, holy, and beloved (Col. 2:13; 3:12); chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Remember how God sees you and seek to let that define who you are. 

If I Knew Then . . .

On the way to work, I listened to the song “Dear Younger Me,” which beautifully asks: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? As I listened, I thought about the bits of wisdom and warning I might give my younger, less-wise self. At some point in our lives, most of us have thought about how we might do things differently—if only we could do it all over again.

But the song illustrates that even though our past may fill us with regrets, all our experiences have shaped who we are. We can’t go back or change the consequences of our sin. But praise God we don’t have to carry the heavy burdens and mistakes of the past around with us.

Why? Because of what Jesus has done. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! (1 Peter 1:3).

If we turn to Him in faith and sorrow for our sins, He will forgive us. On that day we’re made brand new and begin the process of being spiritually transformed (1 Cor. 5:17) (is 2Cor). It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done), we are forgiven because of what He’s done. We can move forward, making the most of today and anticipating a future with Him. In Christ, we’re free! 

Made Clean

When I opened our dishwasher, I wondered what went wrong. Instead of seeing sparkling clean dishes, I removed plates and glasses that were covered in a chalky dust. I wondered if the hard water in our area was wreaking havoc, or if the machine was kaput.

God’s cleansing, unlike that faulty dishwasher, washes away all of our impurities. We see in the book of Ezekiel that God is calling His people back to Himself as Ezekiel shared God’s message of love and forgiveness. The Israelites had sinned as they proclaimed their allegiance to other gods and other nations. The Lord, however, was merciful in welcoming them back to Himself. He promised to cleanse them “from all [their] impurities and all [their] idols” (v. 25). As He put His Spirit in them (v. 27), He would bring them to a place of fruitfulness, not famine (v. 30).

As in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, today the Lord welcomes us back to Him if we go astray. When we submit ourselves to His will and His ways, He transforms us as He washes us clean from our sins. With His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, He helps us to follow Him day by day.

Our Guilt Is Gone

As a young girl, I invited a friend to browse with me through a gift shop near my home. She shocked me, though, by shoving a handful of colorful crayon-shaped barrettes into my pocket and yanking me out the door of the shop without paying for them. Guilt gnawed at me for a week before I approached my mom—my confession pouring out as quickly as my tears.

Grieved over my bad choice of not resisting my friend, I returned the stolen items, apologized, and vowed never to steal again. The owner told me never to come back. But because my mom forgave me and assured me that I had done my best to make things right, I slept peacefully that night.

King David also rested in forgiveness through confession (Ps. 32:1–2). He had hidden his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12) until his “strength was sapped” (vv. 3–4). But once David refused to “cover up” his wrongs, the Lord erased his guilt (v. 5). God protected him “from trouble” and wrapped him in “songs of deliverance” (v. 7). He rejoiced because the “Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (v. 10).

We can’t choose the consequences of our sins or control people’s responses when we confess and seek forgiveness. But the Lord can empower us to enjoy freedom from the bondage of sin and peace through confession, as He confirms that our guilt is gone−forever.

Forgiven!

My friend Norm Cook sometimes had a surprise for his family when he arrived home from work. He would walk through the front door, and shout, “You’re forgiven!” It wasn’t that family members had wronged him and needed his forgiveness. He was reminding them that though they doubtless had sinned throughout the day, they were by God’s grace fully forgiven.

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Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Time to Flourish

Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.

But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.

My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.

God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.

The Beauty of Brokenness

Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Gold dust mixed with resin is used to reattach broken pieces or fill in cracks, resulting in a striking bond. Instead of trying to hide the repair, the art makes something beautiful out of brokenness.

The Bible tells us that God also values our brokenness, when we are genuinely sorry for a sin we have committed.  After David engaged in adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented. David’s prayer afterwards gives us insight into what God desires when we have sinned: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

When our heart is broken over a sin, God mends it with the priceless forgiveness generously offered by our Savior at the cross. He receives us with love when we humble ourselves before Him, and closeness is restored.

How merciful is God! Given His desire for a humble heart and the breathtaking beauty of His kindness, may another scriptural prayer be ours today: “Search me, God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).