God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”Luke 23:34
It’s Good Friday as I write this. It’s the day we remember what Jesus did for us on this day, some 2,000 years ago. God’s own Son, the one person in all of history who was completely innocent and made up of nothing but good inside was falsely accused, blindfolded and beaten, stripped, mocked, scourged, condemned to death, and nailed to a cross.
I’m a sinner, and if you knew me well, you’d agree that I’m in need of God’s forgiveness. If you’re reading this right now, I’m guessing you’re the same. So Jesus endured all of that for me and for you. God is perfect love and at the same time perfectly just, so, it had to be this way, there had to be an answer for me and for you to be reconciled to God, and Jesus is that answer.
When I think of all the sins I’ve committed over my lifetime, I’m appalled. But I’m also grateful that Jesus would do what he did for me,
So I can be forgiven.
Jesus Christ’s mercy toward me and his grace toward me, he blows my mind.
Do you feel the same way?
Unforgiveness in the Garden
A few years ago I built this raised garden bed. We used a particular design Kathy and I saw on a home and garden TV show. It’s twice as tall as typical raised garden beds and, from a birds-eye view, the shape is that of a low and wide U. We also decided to add some tall posts so we could hang a string of lights around it. It’s made of cedar wood and it’s rather fancy-ish. With my friend Jay Mark’s help, I lovingly nurtured this project to its brilliant completion. The part of the story I’m about to tell you happened after the beautiful cedar wood garden bed was finished.
It took longer than it should have for me to finish this project, because I’m obsessive, and slow, and, at the same time, not particularly skilled at this type of work. It was painstaking but in the end, it came out looking pretty great, if I do say so myself. I was careful to put the best looking wood toward the front and center, and the less desirable wood in the back and off to the side.
So after the woodwork was done, the day finally came for Kathy and I to fill the garden bed with dirt, Kathy thought it would be a good idea to unload the dirt by tipping the wheel barrow over the edge of the garden bed, rather than shoveling it in by hand.
I thought this was brilliant because we had almost three yards of dirt to move in order to fill the garden bed. Yeah, it’s fairly big. So after shoveling out maybe two thirds of the dirt from a wheel barrow load, I rested the front of the wheel barrow on the edge of the garden bed and tipped it up over the edge and offloaded the remaining dirt.
Then I was interrupted, and while I was distracted and busy with whatever the interruption was, Kathy decided she would give it a try. In the process of doing so, she took out a chip of wood right near the front and center. It was one of the pieces I had carefully chosen for it’s beauty and straightness.
Just as soon as I saw it, I could feel anger welling up inside me.
“Why would she attempt to do that?”
“Why wouldn’t she wait for me, her husband, who’s stronger?” (Though marginally so.)
“How could she destroy what I had so carefully crafted?”
Kathy went back out to the street, where the pile of dirt was, with the wheelbarrow. Seeing that I was now out of her view because of the fence between us, I vented my anger by throwing the shovel to the ground as hard as I could. Have you ever thrown a shovel to the ground as hard as you could? It’s awkward, I can tell you.
Anyway, shortly thereafter, I noticed that where I had tipped the wheel barrow over the edge, there was a chip out of the wood there too. And suddenly, I wasn’t quite as upset with Kathy as I was before. Then as we continued to work, I managed to ram the metal brace, the part in front of the wheels of the wheel barrow, into the front of the garden bed box which created a significant dent in the wood, right there front and center. Exactly where I had spent the most time and care.
Now I was even less concerned about Kathy’s transgression.
The transformation in my heart that resulted from my own mistakes was remarkable.
What I took away from that afternoon was this:
When I perceive myself to be more righteous than my wife, or my brother in Christ, or anyone for that matter, I impair my own ability to forgive.
When I’m humble — or after I’m humbled as was the case in my illustration — my capacity to forgive is expanded, dramatically.
The Poison of Self Righteousness
Jesus spoke of this problem often. In fact it appears it was one of his most important concerns. He was continually talking to the Pharisees about it. The same spirit we saw in my moment of anger about Kathy damaging my precious raised garden bed was in Simon the Pharisee when he passed judgment on Jesus and the sexually immoral woman, the one who wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Jesus, the Son of God, knew Simon’s internal dialogue and it was similar to mine. If I may paraphrase,
“Why would she do that?”
“Why wouldn’t Jesus send her away? He’s no prophet, or he would know she’s a sinner.”
“How could Jesus allow her do that?”
Jesus responded this way,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Luke 7:36-50
While Jesus shared the parable about the prodigal son, in his audience there were two groups that day: Sinners and Pharisees. The part of the story about the son who rebelled was for the sinners. The part of the story about the older son who was jealous of his younger brother was for the Pharisees. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’ve been faithful to the Father (or at least you perceive yourself that way) for some time now. If that’s you, you might be in much greater danger of falling into the sin of the older son, than you are of falling into the sin of the younger. An uncharitable attitude toward sinners is a sin. And so is judging those around you because, whether consciously or unconsciously, you perceive yourself as doing better than the ones you judge.
Jesus said “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and . . .” (get this) “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
“Whoever says, ‘You fool!’” Jesus said. Today we generally don’t use the word fool when we resort to name calling, we use a synonym, and that synonym is idiot! Or moron! But it doesn’t matter, Jesus’ teaching still applies.
When I say of another human being, “What an idiot!” or “He’s a moron!” I’m liable to the hell fire. This terrifies me because that’s my nature.
When I think I’m better than someone else, when I think I’m better at preserving the newly built raised garden bed, or when I think my political views are more intelligent, or when I think I’m better at cleaning up after myself than the people I’m living with,
or when I think I’m a better driver than the guy who just cut me off,
and that word “idiot” or that word “moron” pops up in my internal dialogue — or even my external dialogue — I’m not only feeling self righteous and compromising my ability to forgive the way Jesus forgives, but according to Jesus, I’m “liable of the hell of fire.”
The Measure We Use Will Be Used to Measure Us
After teaching us how we should pray and sharing “the Lord’s prayer,” Jesus commented on only one part of that prayer, and that was the part about forgiveness.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” Jesus said. (see Matthew 6:9-14)
This seems to be nonnegotiable. Because Jesus also said with the judgment you and I pronounce, you and I will be judged. And with the measure you and I use, it will be measured to you and I. (Matthew7:2)
So if my measure is that I’m free to remain in a state of unforgiveness toward someone, as long as I’m better than that person in whatever area I believe they’ve transgressed, then anyone who believes they’re better than me is free to remain in a state of unforgiveness toward me. Which brings us to these two monumental problems:
- The one person’s forgiveness that’s essential for my own survival, is God’s forgiveness.
- God is better than me — infinitely better.
Fortunately God shows us the answer to these two problems in Jesus.
Jesus and Forgiveness
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, God’s own Son, the One in whom God is well pleased, the Alpha and the Omega, God’s Light of the World, the one person in all of history who was completely innocent and made up of nothing but good inside was mocked, disrespected, scourged, beaten, and crucified.
Long before this moment, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus instructed us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now, on the cross, we see him teaching us to pray for our persecutors. He does more than just tell us how to forgive. He shows us how to forgive — as he’s suffering unimaginable cruelty.
What a contrast from my heart, in that moment when I was upset with Kathy for chipping the wood. She was doing something good at the time. She was helping me because she didn’t want me to shovel that three yards of dirt by myself. That chip in the wood was completely unintentional.
Compare that with the heart of Christ. If there was ever anyone who had a right not to forgive, it was Jesus. Yet after all that terrible abuse and brutality, there on the cross as he was dying, he said,
“Father, forgive them.”
Maybe you’re like me and you become frustrated with the people around you sometimes. If you are like me and, whether they deserve it or not, you want to be a person who loves like Jesus and forgives like Jesus, if that’s you, then pray with me:
“Father, please don’t let my pride get in the way of me forgiving. Help me to forgive freely, the way You forgive me. You’re so much better than I am, I am so much less than You, and yet You forgive me anyway. Your mercy and Your grace overwhelm me. Help me to show mercy and grace to those around me. Help me to forgive everyone who trespasses against me, even my enemies, even those who persecute me. Help me to walk humbly. Bless me with a forgiving heart.
“In Jesus name.”
Image of Christ on the Cross between Two Thieves by Peter Paul Rubens via Wikimedia Commons — Public Domain
Available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.