May 17, 2010

The Forgiveness Equation

So my computer has a virus. Booooo. Public Service Announcement time: If you haven't updated/added a virus protection program to your computer recently, please do so now. I'll wait. Seriously, this just cost me $260. I'll wait.


Ok, now that that's done, I've got to be honest and say that I will soooo not be able to post anything new until I get the computer back, which will probably be next weekend (I'm writing this on Sunday night at the office). So for those of you who read this (and I can't tell you how thrilling it is to know there are actually people who read this) I offer my humble apologies for the absence. But I do want to leave you with one last post for the week, especially since you've all been a part of my writing it... the sermon!

I went through about 3 iterations of this thing, but below is the sermon in its entirety. I tend to write verbatim, and then follow it mostly. :) You'll notice bits and pieces (and whole sections) from earlier blog posts, so there isn't much new here. But I do want you to see how it turned out...

The Forgiveness Equation

My verse today is 1st John chapter one, verse 9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Ok, so if you’ve ever had to hear me talk about myself, which I believe you all have had to do once or twice… you’ll know that I have a degree in art. But what you might not know about me is that when I was in school, I was actually quite good at math as well. So today the title of my sermon is The Forgiveness Equation. What I plan to do in the next few minutes is lead you through a look at this verse on forgiveness, and give you an equation to remember as you go about your day. Not that we can create an equation to define God or life in their entirety, but the basic equation for forgiveness is one that we can always use, one that will help us live a more balanced life in Christ.

Now, we have been studying the writings of John in this quarter of VLI, so one thing that we’ve all been told is that to truly understand what John is saying, we should look at the context. Who is John’s audience? If you study the writing style of 1st John, it doesn’t read like a typical letter and in fact scholars believe that this is what is called a “circular letter,” a sort of “Best of John” publication that was passed around among the Christian community. So these words are speaking to Christians.

This works well for me, since I am… a Christian. Now, since I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I could think that I’m done, right? That there’s nothing else I need to do in my life. But the thing is, God wants us to lead wholesome, holy lives. Unfortunately, we miss the mark on that all the time, don't we? We sin all the time. So what can we do? Well, here is where the equation factors in. But first let me give you one more verse, this time from 2nd Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This verse adds a second dimension. If we pray to ask forgiveness AND we repent, or turn from our sins, THEN God will forgive us. Do you see the equation here? In literary terms we’re talking about an if-then statement. IF we pray AND turn from our sins, THEN God will forgive us. To put it in mathematical terms, think about it this way. A + B = C. So, A:Praying plus B:Repentance, Equals C) Forgiveness.

Prayer plus Repentance equals Forgiveness. When you have an equals sign in an equation, the total of whatever is on each side has the same magnitude. Thus 1 plus 2 equals 3. If you remove one of the numbers from either side of the equation, it no longer works. If you only have 2, then you do not have 3.

If we only ask God to forgive us for something that we have done, but we do not have any intention to stop doing it, do you think that God will jump to forgive us?

So what is that balanced equation again? Prayer plus Repentance equals Forgiveness.

Now. What if we get crazy with our math skills here? If you remember your basic algebra, you will know that what you do to one side of an equation you must also do to the other, in order to keep the balance. So take the simple equation A + B = C. Let’s add the number 3 to it. I know, it’s crazy, right? Well, if I were to say (A + B) + 3 = C, would that be right? Nope, because we already established that A + B = C. So what would I need to do to make it even? I’d have to add something of the same value to the other side to make it balance out, something equal to the value of the number 3. What’s equal in value? How about one plus two? That’s three, right? So, and I know this is high-brow thinking here, but if I were to write (A+B) + 3 = C + (1+2), is that equal? Why yes, in fact it is. Because we’ve already established that A plus B equals C, and so now each side of the equation simply has the value of 3 added to it.

So, what value can we add to our Forgiveness Formula?

Well, let’s look at a real-life situation. I might be the only person in the room today who is really really bad at repentance. I will ask God left and right to forgive me, but I’m not the best at saying “and I will never do this again.” I will admit it’s a failing of mine. But let’s say that I do accomplish to ask God’s forgiveness for something that I have done, and I commit to Him to stop doing it. As an example, let’s say I’ve been gossiping about my boss behind her back, and I finally realize that it’s wrong. So I pray and say “God I have no right to speak ill of another person. I am so very sorry, please forgive me.” And I even add “Ok God, I’m going to stop doing this now, I promise.” So, super-cool, I have forgiveness, right? Right.

But what happens in two days when my boss does something absolutely insane again? And when I’m tempted to run to a friend and tell him all about that crazy thing she said or did and how much I can’t believe that I have to work for this crazy, crazy insane person. How do I avoid this?

Let’s look at Hosea 12 verse 6 for the answer: Return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

I love this verse because it tells me what to do in this situation. Return to my God. When I feel the desire to stray into temptation, I must return to what God has called me to do in life, and He has NOT called me to be a gossip, I can tell you that. Then, I must maintain love and justice—I must act in a manner appropriately to who I am as a child of God. And last, I must wait for God. If I reach out to God to help me in my temptations, and wait on Him, he will give me the strength to maintain a Godly lifestyle.

So I’m thinking that maybe here is a value I can add to my Forgiveness Equation, to give it some lasting value. I’m going to focus on the word Maintain. So, if I pray for forgiveness, and I repent of my sins, and then I maintain the life God has designed for me, what will I get? What is equal to the value that is maintaining a Godly life?

To answer that let me tell you about how much I hate doing the dishes. I HATE doing the dishes. If it weren’t for the environment I’d have switched over to paper plates and plastic silverware years ago. And it’s just me in my house! I mean really, it shouldn’t be that hard to wash my own dishes, right? In a busy week I may only be home long enough to eat a bowl of cereal every day. That’s one bowl, and one spoon. If I were to wash that one bowl and one spoon every day, then I would never have dirty dishes, right?

But alas, I own more than one bowl and one spoon. Which means that if I really want to, I can take that one dirty bowl and spoon and put them in the sink, and the next day pull out another bowl and spoon, and another and another, until at the end of the week I have zero clean bowls or spoons, and several dishes in the sink in varying stages of crusty. Eew. I hate washing crusty dishes. It takes forever to get crusty dishes clean. First you have to soak them, then you have to scrub at them. I hate doing that.

But whose fault is that? Right. It’s mine. Because I didn’t take the time to wash my dishes as I used them. Had I maintained a habit of spending the 35 seconds it takes to wash one dish and one spoon, I would have reached the end of the week with a clean sink, and all clean dishes, and no headache. I would have been able to look into the kitchen and have… peace of mind.

Aha! There it is. Peace. If I can maintain a lifestyle in accordance with God’s rules for us, I can have peace.

So if we add peace to the equation we now have this:

If I Pray for forgiveness and repent of my sins, AND maintain a life in accordance with God’s rules, THEN I will receive forgiveness AND peace.

So. Let me reread all three of these verses together:

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

So what is the equation again?

(Prayer & Repentance) + Maintenance = Forgiveness & Peace.

Our lives are certainly not as simple as a mathematical equation, but sometimes it helps to have some simple guidelines to remember, things that we can repeat to ourselves when we’re in situations where we need God’s guidance.

So when you are in a place where you feel that your equation is unbalanced, when you are missing either forgiveness or peace in your life, perhaps you will need to look to the other side of the equals sign, and figure out what it is that you’re missing. No forgiveness? Perhaps you haven’t truly repented of some recent sin. No Peace? Perhaps you aren’t maintaining the lifestyle to which God has called you. But the great news in this is that all you have to do to balance your equation is do what you weren’t doing. If you aren’t praying, pray; if you’re not repenting, repent; if you’re not maintaining… then maintain. If you can do this, then you will receive both forgiveness and peace. And that is an equation to live by.

Let us pray: Lord God thank you for providing us with simple rules that we can take to heart, ways to remember all that you have called us to do. Thank you for providing us with your forgiveness and peace. Give us the ability to see when we are leaving out a critical part of our equation, so that we may return to a balanced life. In your name we pray, Amen.

May 12, 2010


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

I'm dealing with an issue at work where some people are starting to say that the department I'm in is not exhibiting "teamwork" any more. It's a hard thing to hear, since I feel that I have generally been a "team player" for the 4 years I've been in this department.

But I have to wonder what "teamwork" means to other people. Because for 4 years, I pretty much bent over backwards to do whatever they wanted. Is that really teamwork, or them taking advantage of me? And is the fact that I'm beginning to feel the workload over-much and as such am pushing back on projects actually the reason why they perceive me as no longer being completely team-oriented? I don't know, but I can tell you that it's something I'm thinking about.

Especially when you read that verse in Philippians. I mean really... have I actually just become selfish? Have I decided that I do not in fact want to help anyone else out any more? That I'm better than them?

I don't really have much wisdom for you today. All I have is the same question I ask myself: Are you thinking of yourself more highly than you ought? If not, why might others think so? If so, what must you do to change this?

I'm not even sure what my answer is. But I pray that I will figure it out, so I can move forward accordingly.

May 11, 2010

Rest... It's Good For You

For anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)

Hello there! I took a long weekend from work, so I took the time off of doing this blog as well. Not that I can't or shouldn't study the Bible on my days off, but the decision I made was to do this every weekday before work.

But this whole thing of work and not working has been on my mind a lot lately, and especially the idea of rest. Last night I was actually in bed for 8 whole hours. I did wake up once during the thunderstorm, but otherwise I slept well. And you know what, for the first time I feel a little more ready to tackle my work week. And let me tell you, lately I have not felt ready to tackle anything having to do with work!

And I think one of the biggest reasons is that I rested. Now, I still had a fairly busy weekend, and I didn't get as much sleep any other night as I could or should have, but still, just being away from work sometimes is amazing. And necessary.

God Himself worked for 6 days, then rested. If the creator of the universe can decide that He needs a day to not work, who are we to tell him otherwise? The sabbath is a holy day. Unfortunately Sunday often becomes just as busy as any other day, especially if you're involved in a Sunday morning church ministry.

But the point for me today is that we must all find our sabbath. We must all find our rest, our time away from work. Put down the BlackBerry and focus on renewing your mind, body, and soul. Those questions that everybody at work thinks are so urgent? Unless you are a doctor, they can probably wait.

So this week, let's all try to find some Sabbath time. Maybe it's reading the Bible during your nightly bath, or reciting scripture to yourself in the shower. Perhaps it's praying on your walk to work. And perhaps it is truly setting aside a day to just not do anything. Can you believe that resting is an act of worship too? I believe it is. I believe when we rest (not when we are lazy, but when we truly rest) we are saying to God "Ok, I know you've got this covered. So I'm just gonna hang out and enjoy your magesty."

Let's all rest sometime this week.

May 6, 2010

Return to Me

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 1:3)

So, I'm still working through this idea of confess, repent and maintain to receive forgiveness and peace. I think this verse does a great job of explaining another side of the concept.

Do you sometimes feel that God has completely given up on you? Like He's at somebody else's party and you're stuck in your house all alone with nothing but 20 noisemakers and the cat?

Do you ever find yourself asking God why He isn't working in your life?

May I offer one point of interest: God never leaves us. Never ever. We leave Him.

Do you remember the illustration I used in Confession Restores Fellowship? I gave the idea of a brick wall being built between you and God. And really, you're the person putting up the bricks, so you're the one who needs to tear them down again.

Confession and repentatance are the key to this. Return to me, God says, and I will return to you. Well, I believe that God used this wording because all of the people were saying "God why have you left us?" But remember, God is omiscient, omnipotent, omnipresent... it's not like He'd come back and say "Dude, sorry guys, I was totally taking a nap. What's up?"

Rather think about this picture:

Have you seen this one before? This is God "away from us." This is God saying "Dude, I was right here with you, and suddenly you pushed me out and shut the door. What's up?"

Have you heard the sermons before on this door? Have you noticed that there is no doorknob on the outside?

Return to God--open the damn door--and God will return to you.

If I ever get a chance to preach a sermon called "Open the Damn Door" I will be so happy. I've been studying up for a sermon I have to give for a class, so maybe it'll end up going in this direction... we'll have to see. :)

Back to the point... God hasn't left us. We've shut Him out.

And who is it that we shut out? The verse said it three times: the LORD Almighty. Um, that would be the Author of Life, the Living Word of God.

And because God has chosen to give us the ability to make our own choices, He allows us to choose to shut Him out. Our sin shuts Him out. Our shame about our sin causes us to shut the door to God. The very voice that He put in us telling us that we're doing wrong causes us to think "if I just shut the door, I won't have to hear this voice again."

But we've got to be ready for the consequences of doing that. For your life suddenly (or slowly) falling apart. For the lack of favor in relationships, at work. For the sense of unrest and unfulfillment. For feeling so very, very alone.

You ever wonder if, as you sit there with your noisemakers and your cat, you never once looked up and said "Wait a minute, I sent out an invitation, but I haven't been answering the door! Maybe that's why no one's here!"


Open the damn door.

May 5, 2010

Adding to the Jesus Math

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)
The word "maintain" shows up in the NIV 21 times. It's not a super-important word. But as I've been studying this idea of confession and repentance, maintaining a lifestyle that would have no need for confession sounds like a pretty good way to go.
It's like cleaning my house, which I'm horrible at doing. Because I can spend one day swiffering, magic erasering, doing laundry and putting the clothes away, washing the dishes, and even sorting the mail.
And 24 hours later it's all gone to seed.
Because.... I don't maintain it. I'll be honest. I'm really terrible at maintaining a tidy house. I've used this example before, where you can put one dish in the sink and it's ok, but a week later a sinkful of dirty dishes is going to be quite nasty, and a big huge pain in the butt to clean.
When ironically the 35 seconds it would take to wash my one morning bowl of cereal before it gets crusty just seems "too hard" for me sometimes.
But look at your spiritual life this way. Yes it's hard to avoid all temptation. Yes it's hard to stay sexually pure in whatever situation you're in. Yes it's hard not to spread that little bit of gossip. Yes it's hard to say no to the extra helping of ice cream.
But what happens after you give in "just this once?" Do you give in "just one more time" and "just one more" and "this is my last one I swear"?
And suddenly your pants are too tight and you've got 34 empty Ben & Jerry's pints in your garbage can.
And losing the weight is a looot harder than putting it on, isn't it? (Note how I went for the safe sin of over-indulging, and not the sexual/STD/pregnancy one)
So here's the deal. I think we have to consider expanding our mathmatical equation that I created in my Jesus Math post. That equation is Confession + Repentance = Forgiveness. And that's the basic one, the one we should all remember. But I wonder if we can do this:
(Confession + Repentance) + Maintenance = Forgiveness + Peace
Because isn't your life a little less hectic when you're keeping on the right path day after day? Yes you have to spend that 35 seconds every morning washing out your cereal bowl. But that saves you from having to spend 20 minutes at the end of the week scrubbing off the crusty cereal.
I haven't even managed Confession and Repentance well. But let's all try to do this thing, Ok? And if we're going to do it, we should do it right.
Lord God I ask you to forgive me for thinking that I could ever take the easy way out, the one-time forgiveness. Please help me to see when I need to confess and repent of a sin, and please also grant me the ability to maintain right living after I have received that forgiveness, that I would not find myself back in the same place, asking you for forgiveness again. Amen.

May 4, 2010

Verse of the Day 2.0

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Ok, so I did not get much sleep and I don't want to end up being late for work, but I wanted to keep true to writing every day. And lo and behold, the verse of the day over at was actually pretty appropriate to what I've been studying!

It's funny, the Bible sure is full of a lot of admonitions from God for us to confess our sins and turn away from them.

Do you think that's because as humans we seem to have the moral memory of a gnat? I bet you if I put a verse like this up every single day, everyone who read it could go "oh yeah right I should do that today." And then the next day, and the next.

Ok, there are some of you who've been working on the fine art of not being a sinful blob, but I haven't quite gotten there yet. :)

But when I see how many times God had to remind His people, well, then there's hope for me.

May 3, 2010

Hiding From, or Hiding In?

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32: 1-7)

Ok, so I took this portion of the Psalm out of the poem format (and removed the "selah"s) for a very specific purpose: I wanted the words to be read as statements. Sometimes I think it's easy to see the song in a psalm, and miss the message. I mean, if you're familiar with one of the big songs written from the last line, you've already gotten it running through your head. But what the heck does that line mean, anyway? You are my hiding place???

I want to connect this verse to the passage I studied a week ago: 1 John 1: 5-9. I did a lot of talking about the Light of God and how it sees everything. So how, then, can God be a hiding place? Well let's do this... let's start at the beginning of today's verse...

First realize that he (or she) whose sins are forgiven is blessed. Really truly honestly blessed. That right there should be enough to make us want to confess our sins, right? Because remember, Forgiveness + Repentance = Forgiveness. We should never take forgiveness for granted.

Plus, what happens to us while we "keep silent," while we avoid confessing our sins? Because that's really what we're doing. It's not like God doesn't know about them until we tell Him. Light of God, remember?  So in not confessing, we're actually actively keeping silent. And while we're keeping silent on our sins, our bodies will waste away with our groaning.


Yes, really.

Think about it, if you sin, you've probably put yourself into a negative or unhealthy lifestyle of some sort. And that will wear on the body. Stress and worry wear on the body. In fact doctors have noticed stress as one of the leading causes for a number of physical problems because it weakens the body's defenses.

And I love that bit about the groaning. Because really, don't we complain allllllll the time? I know I do. So instead of whining and complaining and stressing out about all of my problems, what I should be doing is... confessing my sin. Even when I feel that I am the victim in any certain situation. Because chances are that I've been thinking uncharitable thoughts towards that other person, and not loving them the way I'm supposed to. And love is the greatest commandment, isn't it?

So we must confess and repent, so that we may receive forgiveness. This is a constant thing, like doing the dishes. It's really easy to put one bowl and one cup in the sink. But when, the next day, you put another bowl and cup, and perhaps a plate and a crusty pot in that sink, and then the next day you build on that again, well, it's gonna take a whole lot more effort to clean that first bowl, isn't it?

But the payoff of regular confession (we sin regularly, so we should confess regularly) is that we will not only have a balm for the hurt and pain that our sins brought on us, but--and I'm going back to the beginning here--we will have a hiding place in God.

When the world gets us down, and persecutes us or embarasses us for being believers in Jesus Christ, we can take refuge in God. We do not use Him as a permanent hiding place to completely escape the world, that's not His plan. But when we feel that we are being attacked, there is no better place to hide than under His wing. For our God will protect us, and shelter us, and keep us from harm. But if we ignore that we sin and try to hide it, we will not be in a place where we would even feel that we could ask God to shelter us.

So confess your sins. The guilt you've been harboring is too much to bear, and it will show. God knows what you've done anyway.

I think sometimes the hardest part isn't admitting you've sinned but telling God that you'll never do it again. Well, we can't be perfect, but with God's help we can overcome all obstacles. Really, we can. And instead of hiding from His grace, we can be protected by it.

That's the place I'd like to be right now.