When I was in college, I worked a summer on a ranch in Colorado. One evening, tired and hungry after a long day of mowing hay, I drove the tractor into the yard. Acting like the hot shot I thought I was, I cranked the steering wheel hard left, stamped on the left brake, and spun the tractor around.
The sickle was down and swept the legs out from under a 500-gallon gasoline tank standing nearby. The tank hit the ground with a resounding boom, the seams split, and all the gasoline spewed out.
The rancher stood nearby surveying the scene.
I got off the tractor, stammered an apology, and—because it was the first thing that popped into my mind—offered to work the rest of the summer without pay.
The old rancher stared at the wreckage for a moment and turned toward the house. “Let’s go have dinner,” he drawled.
A scrap of a story Jesus told passed through my mind—a story about a young man who had done a terrible thing: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you,” he cried. He intended to add, “Make me like one of your hired servants,” but before he could get all the words out of his mouth his father interrupted him. In essence, he said, “Let’s go have dinner” (Luke 15:17–24).
Such is God’s amazing grace.
In 2005, Collins falsified a report that resulted in McGee being thrown in prison for four years; and McGee vowed to find Collins when he got out and “hurt him.” McGee was eventually exonerated, but not before he lost everything. Meanwhile, Collins’s many falsified reports were uncovered, he lost his job, and he too spent time behind bars. But both men came to faith in Christ while in prison.
In 2015, the two discovered they were working together in the same faith-based company. Collins recalls, “I [told McGee], ‘Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.’” It was “pretty much what I needed to hear,” said McGee, who graciously forgave him. The men were able to reconcile because both had experienced the incomparable love and forgiveness of God, who empowers us to “forgive as the Lord forgave [us]” (Colossians 3:13).
Now the two are great friends. “We have this joint mission . . . of letting the world know that if you owe an apology to somebody, put your pride down and go apologize,” said Collins. “And if you’re holding something against somebody, let go of the bitterness because it’s like drinking poison and hoping it’s hurting them.”
God calls believers to live in peace and unity. If we “have a grievance against someone,” we can bring it to Him. He will help us to reconcile (vv. 13–15; Philippians 4:6–7).
For years, feelings of unworthiness and shame over my less-than-godly past had an adverse impact on every aspect of my life. What if others discovered the extent of my blemished reputation? Though God helped me muster up courage to invite a ministry leader to lunch, I strived to seem perfect. I scrubbed my house spotless, whipped up a three-course meal, and donned my best jeans and blouse.
I rushed to turn off the front-yard sprinklers. Twisting the leaking nozzle, I screamed when a gush of water drenched me. With towel-dried hair and smeared makeup, I changed into dry sweats and a T-shirt . . . just in time to hear the doorbell. Frustrated, I confessed my morning’s antics and motives. My friend shared her battles with fear and insecurity stemming from guilt over past failings. After we prayed, she welcomed me to her team of God’s imperfect servants.
The apostle Paul accepted his new life in Christ, refusing to deny his past or let it stop him from serving the Lord (1 Timothy 1:12–14). Because Paul knew Jesus’s work on the cross saved and changed him—the worst of sinners—he praised God and encouraged others to honor and obey Him (vv. 15–17).
When we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, we’re freed from our past. Flawed but fiercely loved, we have no reason to be ashamed of our real faces as we serve others with our God-given gifts.
The story is told of a group of salmon fishermen who gathered in a Scottish inn after a long day of fishing. As one was describing a catch to his friends, his arm swept across the table and knocked a glass against the wall, shattering it and leaving a stain on the white plaster surface. The man apologized to the innkeeper and offered to pay for the damage, but there was nothing he could do; the wall was ruined. A man seated nearby said, “Don't worry.” Rising, he took a painting implement from his pocket and began to sketch around the ugly stain. Slowly there emerged the head of a magnificent stag. The man was Sir E. H. Landseer, Scotland's foremost animal artist.
David, Israel’s illustrious king who penned Psalm 51, brought shame on himself and his nation by his sins. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his friends and engineered the death of that friend—both deeds worthy of death. It would seem his life was ruined. But he pleads with God: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12).
Like David we have shameful acts in the past and the memories that accompany them, recollections that taunt us in the middle of the night. There’s so much we wish we could undo or redo.
There is a grace that not only forgives sin but also uses it to make us better than before. God wastes nothing.
In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to integrate an all-white public elementary school in the American South. Every day for months, federal marshals escorted Ruby past a mob of angry parents shouting curses, threats and insults at her. Safely inside, she sat in a classroom alone with Barbara Henry, the only teacher willing to instruct her while parents kept their children from attending school with Ruby.
Noted child psychologist Robert Coles met with Ruby for several months to help her cope with the fear and stress she experienced. He was amazed by the prayer Ruby said every day as she walked to school and back home. “Please, God, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).
The words of Jesus spoken from the cross were stronger than the hatred and insults hurled at Him. In the most agonizing hours of His life, our Lord demonstrated the radical response He taught His followers: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . . Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–28,
This remarkable approach is possible only as we consider the powerful love Jesus has given us – love stronger than even the deepest hatred.
Ruby Bridges helped show us the way.
We found our visit to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, deeply moving, for it sits on the site of what was formerly the largest slave market in East Africa. The designers of this cathedral wanted to show through a physical symbol how the gospel breaks the chains of slavery. No longer would the location be a place of evil deeds and horrible atrocities, but of God’s embodied grace.
Those who built the cathedral wanted to express how Jesus’s death on the cross provides freedom from sin—that which the apostle Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). Here the word redemption points to the Old Testament’s notion of the marketplace, with someone buying back a person or item. Jesus buys back a person from a life of slavery to sin and wrongdoing.
In Paul’s opening words in this letter (vv. 3–14), he bubbles over with joy at the thought of his freedom in Christ. He points, in layer after layer of praise, to God’s work of grace for us through Jesus’s death, which sets us free from the cords of sin. No longer do we need to be slaves to sin, for we are set free to live for God and His glory.
One afternoon I spent two hours at an art exhibit—The Father & His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness—in which all of the pieces were focused on Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:10–31). I found Edward Rojas’s painting The Prodigal Son especially powerful. The painting portrays the once wayward son returning home, wearing rags and walking with his head down. With a land of death behind him, he steps onto a pathway where his father is already running toward him. At the bottom of the painting are Jesus’s words, “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion” (v. 20
I was deeply moved by realizing once more how God’s unchanging love has altered my life. When I walked away from Him, He didn’t turn His back, but kept looking, watching, and waiting. His love is undeserved yet unchanging; often ignored yet never withdrawn.
We all are guilty, yet our heavenly Father reaches out to welcome us, just as the father in this story embraced his wayward son. “Let’s have a feast and celebrate,” the father told the servants. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 23–24).
The Lord still rejoices over those who return to Him today—and that is worth celebrating!
Susannah Cibber gained fame in the eighteenth-century for her talent as a singer. However, she was equally well known for her scandalous marital problems. That’s why when Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin in April 1742, many in the audience did not approve of her role as a featured soloist.
During that inaugural performance, Cibber sang of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Those words so moved Rev. Patrick Delany that he jumped to his feet and said, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
The connection between Susannah Cibber and the theme of Handel’s Messiah is evident. The “man of sorrows”—Jesus the Messiah—was “despised and rejected” because of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
The connection between Messiah and us is no less apparent. Whether we stand with the judgmental audience members, with Susannah Cibber, or somewhere in between, we all need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus, by His life, death, and resurrection, restored our relationship with God our Father.
For this—for all Jesus did—be all our sins forgiven.
We sat around the table, each person adding a toothpick to the foam disc before us. At our evening meal in the weeks leading up to Easter we created a crown of thorns—with each toothpick signifying something we had done that day for which we were sorry and for which Christ had paid the penalty. The exercise brought home to us, night after night, how through our wrongdoing we were guilty and how we needed a Savior. And how Jesus freed us through His death on the cross.
The crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear was part of a cruel game the Roman soldiers played before He was crucified. They also dressed Him in a royal robe and gave Him a staff as a king’s scepter, which they then used to beat Him. They mocked Him, calling Him “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:29), not realizing that their actions would be remembered thousands of years later. This was no ordinary king. He was the King of Kings whose death, followed by His resurrection, gives us eternal life.
On Easter morning, we celebrated the gift of forgiveness and new life by replacing the toothpicks with flowers. What joy we felt, knowing that God had erased our sins and given us freedom and life forever in Him!