The Power to Forgive is Love

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ephesians 4:32  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:13  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

As I was driving to the office one morning I was thinking about how easily we forgive people at times and how hard it is other times. I began analyzing why that is. From my human perspective I came to this conclusion – forgiveness is offered in direct proportion to the level of hurt we experience. Let me give you an example.

The other day someone said something to me that in retrospect could have deeply hurt me. At the time it did not. I totally took it as the jesting of a friend whom I trust and love. The next day I received a call from that friend and he apologized for what he had said. He asked me to forgive him. I said there was no need because there had been no offense taken. In his heart he felt he had sinned, but I had not received it that way in my heart. I told him he was forgiven. That was easy.

But what if I had been deeply hurt by his comment? How easily would I have forgiven him? I think we can all relate to situations in our lives that have hurt us so deeply that the act of forgiveness becomes difficult. You see, our pride dictates our response. What if that’s how God responded to us?

We choose whether the sin of another person offends us or hurts us. Not so with God. Every sin, no matter how humanly insignificant, offends God’s holy nature. Idleness is equivalent to idolatry. Lust is the same as lying. Manipulation is no less severe than murder. Yet when with humble and broken hearts we repent of that sin before the throne of God, we are forgiven. There are no strings attached. There are no degrees of penance based on the severity of the sin. Since the condemnation of death is the same for every sin, the forgiveness provided by the blood of Jesus is also the same for every sin.

Every sin is forgiven.

No matter how deeply God’s nature was offended by our sin, He forgives immediately and completely when we turn from the darkness and walk in His light.

The challenge is for us to forgive others the same way. No matter how deeply they hurt us, or how long it took them to step out of the darkness and admit it, we are to forgive them immediately and completely and walk in the light with them again. No penance required. No stipulations and safety nets applied. Total forgiveness and restoration to fellowship and friendship is extended when humble confession and repentance is displayed.

I know that sounds hard, but with the commanded to forgive others as God forgave us He has provided the power of Christ in us to obey it. Only one thing can stop that power from accomplishing the work of forgiveness – pride. When our feelings take precedence over God’s forgiveness, we have allowed pride to quench the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Pride is not kind. Pride shows no compassion. Pride is not forbearing and patient. Pride does not forgive. Love alone conquers pride.

Love that forgives others is a love that was nurtured by the forgiveness of another. Like the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus, love had been nurtured by the forgiveness she had received from Him. Jesus used her as an example to us all when He said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

When we realize the incredible love it takes for God to forgive us for our sin we will then love enough to forgive others the same way. Those who daily repent of sins, no matter how seemingly insignificant, are constantly reminded of the awesome love of the Father and His forgiveness. They are the ones who know how to forgive others no matter what they have done. Those who wait to repent of only the “big” sins are the people who have trouble forgiving the little sins of others. They do not live in the constant joy of God’s wonderful love.

Which person are you?

Pastor John

Let It Go!

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 18, 2019

Jonah 4:1 – 3 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Matthew 6:14 – 15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

 The Old Testament story of Jonah is fascinating because of what it teaches us about forgiveness. Here are the key points of the story to refresh our memories.

Nineveh was a wicked city, and that may be an understatement. Nineveh was located on the Tigris river in the Assyrian Empire, and had a population of around 600,000 people – 120,000 of them were children.

The Assyrians were vicious warriors. When they returned from battle with their captives, they would scare them into obedience by posting the heads of their victims on posts around the walls of their city. This kept outsiders out and insiders in. If anyone was caught trying to escape, they would be impaled alive on a pole from bottom to top. They showed no compassion and did not value another person’s life beyond what value it could bring to their own.

The wickedness of the people in this city was a concern to God. Jonah was aware that Assyria had been chosen by God to be the nation that would take Israel into captivity because of its own sin. God is working to prepare the Assyrians to be able to be used as His instrument of discipline. But Jonah doesn’t want that to happen. Not only have the Assyrians already done enough to be destroyed, but to even think that such an evil nation could be used by God to correct His chosen people is absurd. Jonah cannot fathom the embarrassment and humiliation that his people would have to endure by having their sins exposed by a more sinful nation. So, when God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them, he refuses and runs away from the Presence of the Lord.

Following an almost tragic boat ride and an encounter with a great fish, Jonah obeys God and travels to Nineveh. He preaches a simple message – only 8 words in total – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”  But God used that simple message to save the city. The people repented of their sins and God forgave them.

WOW! 600,000 converts. Jonah must be ecstatic. But he isn’t. He’s actually mad, because he didn’t really want the people to repent. He wanted them to be destroyed because he felt their sins warranted it. He goes outside the city and pouts. He even tries to defend his feelings to God. He says, “See, I knew this would happen. I knew you would forgive them because I know who you are. But I disagree with what you are doing because you obviously didn’t consider me in all of this. It would be better for me to die right now than to have to go back home and face the condemnation of my own people because of what I have done.”

Jonah was more concerned about his own feelings and freedom from possible suffering than he was about the liberation of others who were already suffering. He is no different than any of us who make judgments about others based on their actions when we should be praying for their deliverance from the bondage of sin that causes them to choose those actions.

Check your heart right now. If the worst criminal you can think of was captured, and God specifically sent you to share the Gospel with him, would you go? Or would you stay home because you want him to pay for what he has done? Even if he was still condemned to death by the courts, would you want him to die in his sin or would you have the compassion of God and want him to die as a brother in Christ?

Let’s bring it a little closer to home. How have you been treating the last person who hurt you? Or maybe you need to think about the first person who ever hurt you. I didn’t say this was easy. I know how hard it is to not only forgive a person who has hurt me but then to treat them with love and kindness even when they refuse to accept it. I’m in that situation right now. But we must recognize that anything short of forgiveness, acceptance, and restoration for those who have hurt us is totally of the flesh and is a product of our pride. We can argue with God all we want about our reasons for our feelings, but none of them can change the eternal fact that God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. He wants to forgive, and he wants us to forgive also. In fact, Jesus said that the degree to which we forgive others is the degree to which we ourselves are forgiven.

So check your heart. Against whom are you harboring an unforgiving spirit? Repent of that sin today, and then go and forgive them. Their spiritual life is of far greater importance than your personal feelings. Life is not about us or about our glory – it’s about God and His glory. His glory is seen when we respond to people the way He would. Let God’s glory be seen in the way you forgive others.

Pastor John

Unbound from Guilt

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, February 15, 2019

Psalms 32:1 – 5  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… 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.

On Wednesday we studied a part of forgiveness that is hard for many to understand – the issue of whether or not we are required to forgive ourselves for us to feel forgiven. I want to explore that a little deeper.

When we say that we have been forgiven by God, but we have not been able to forgive ourselves, we are really struggling with the issue of guilt. Guilt is essential to bring us to Christ for forgiveness, but it is not to endure beyond the point of God’s forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom, who had been a prisoner of the Nazis in World War II, said it this way – The purpose of being guilty is to bring us to Jesus. Once we are there, then its purpose is finished. If we continue to make ourselves guilty—to blame ourselves—then that is sin.

Martin Luther was one who struggled with his sins. For the longest time he could not accept the true forgiveness of God. Before his break with the Catholic church he went to confession every day and was so guilt-ridden by his sins he would almost have gone every hour. On most nights Luther slept well, but he even felt guilty about that, thinking, “Here am I, sinful as I am, having a good night’s sleep.”  So he would confess that. One day the older priest to whom Luther went for confession said to him, “Martin, either find a new sin and commit it, or quit coming to see me!”

When we claim to be forgiven, and yet we allow the guilt of the sin for which we have been forgiven to captivate us and hold us in its grips, we have not truly accepted the forgiveness of God. We daily hang ourselves with the noose of guilt. We are like the monkey in this story from Brother Andrew’s book God’s Smuggler.

In his early days he had served in the Dutch army in Indonesia. In the late 1940s he bought a young ape, a gibbon, who took to him, and Andy treated him as a pet in the barracks. He hadn’t had the gibbon for many weeks before he noticed that when he touched it in some areas around the waist it seemed to hurt him. He examined the gibbon more closely and found a raised welt that went around his waist. He carefully laid the animal down on his bed and pulled back the matted hair from this welt until he could see what was causing the problem. He discovered that when the gibbon had been a baby someone had tied a piece of wire around his middle and had never taken it off. As the monkey grew larger the wire became embedded in his flesh.

Obviously, it must have caused him a great deal of discomfort. That evening Andrew began the operation, taking his razor and shaving off all of the monkey’s hair in a three-inch-wide swath around his middle. While the other boys in the barracks looked on, he cut ever so gently into the tender flesh until he exposed the wire. The gibbon lay there with the most amazing patience. Even when he obviously was hurting him the gibbon looked up with eyes that seemed to say, “I understand,” until at long last he was able to get down to the wire, cut it, and pull it away. Instantly, as soon as the operation was over, the gibbon jumped up, did a cartwheel, danced around, and pulled Andy’s hair in joyful glee – to the delight of all the boys in the barracks. “After that, my gibbon and I were inseparable. I think I identified with him as strongly as he with me. I think I saw in the wire that had bound him a kind of parallel to the chain of guilt still so tight around myself—and in his release, the thing I too longed for.”

Some of us are still in the bondage of our sin because we didn’t accept the fact that upon the confession of our sin to God He forgave the guilt of our sin. We return to the altar of repentance over and over again for the same issues because we have not trusted the loving forgetfulness of a faithful and forgiving Father. Garrison Keillor tells it this way as he spins another tale:

“Larry the Sad Boy … was saved 12 times in the Lutheran church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961 he threw himself weeping and contrite on God’s throne of grace on 12 separate occasions—and this in a Lutheran church that wasn’t evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing “Just as I Am Without One Plea” while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar. This is the Lutheran church, not a bunch of hillbillies. These are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetly, tastefully, at the proper time ….Twelve times! Even we fundamentalists got tired of him …. God did not mean for us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and … make church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting.”

God’s word does not say “burdened are we whose sins have been forgiven.” No, it says ”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.”

 If you are still carrying the guilt of repented sin, then you are being deceived. God has forgiven it. God has forgotten it. Your memory of it is your choice to listen to the deceiver. When he comes knocking at your memory’s door, let Jesus answer. The guilt of your sin has been removed. Begin living in the freedom God has given you.

Pastor John

Twue Wuv!

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 14, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:4-8  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Happy Valentine’s Day. For the majority of us, this is the day we go above and beyond the norm to express our hearts to the one true love of our life. For some of you this is a very hard day because the one true love of your life is already in the presence of the One True Love of their life, Jesus Christ. I hurt for those who have no one with whom to share this day. But I rejoice in the promise of God that His love is sufficient to sustain you, because He is the One True Lover of your life.

For those who have a valentine with whom to share your love, let me challenge you with some questions to ask yourself. How you answer them could provide you with the greatest valentine gift you have ever given.

  1. Are you patient with your valentine, not demanding change according to your schedule, but letting God grow them and change them at His rate and according to His purpose? Love is patient.
  2. Are you being kind to your valentine, even when they have done nothing to deserve it or even when they have hurt you? Are you doing acts of kindness out of the love you have in your heart for them rather out of a desire to solicit a response from them? Love is kind and does not envy.
  3. Are you building up your valentine by focusing your attention on who they are or are you drawing attention to yourself? Love does not boast and is not proud.
  4. Are you polite to your valentine, treating them with respect and honor, both in public and in the home? Love is not rude.
  5. Are your choices and decisions made for the unconditional benefit of your valentine or do you hope to receive a personal benefit for what you have done? Love is not self-seeking.
  6. Do you get easily frustrated with your valentine over little things that really don’t matter much in the big picture of your love? Love is not easily angered.
  7. Do you know how to truly forgive your valentine by never using that sin or mistake against them in the future? Love keeps no record of wrongs.
  8. Does your love remain constant and even grow when your valentine tells you the truth about something they have done wrong, or do you enjoy the times you can put them in their place because of what they have done? Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
  9. Do you protect your valentine by giving encouraging and uplifting reports of your valentine to others so they form positive opinions of who they are, or do you vent your frustrations to others and thereby diminish their status in the eyes of others? Love always protects.
  10. Do you restore trust in your valentine after there has been a failure or disappointment, and do you believe the best about them no matter what has happened? Love always trusts.
  11. Do you see the full potential of your valentine and believe that it is achievable, and do you encourage your valentine to fulfill that potential? Love always hopes.
  12. Are you committed to your valentine no matter what happens because your love is a decision of your will and it cannot be destroyed, or is your love based on your emotions and personal happiness and will change as needed? Love always perseveres.

It doesn’t matter what kind of gift you buy today if these questions are not answered properly and lived out consistently in your relationship with your valentine. Your gift will be meaningless if not backed up with sincere love. But if you daily live true love as described in today’s Scripture passage, then it will never matter to your valentine what kind of gift you buy, because you will have already given them the greatest gift of all.

Pastor John

Forgive Myself? Really?

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

From Job 7 “Does not man have hard service on earth…I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning. What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?”

Well that’s a pretty depressing way to start the day. But in my heart, I know that some of you reading this feel exactly the way Job felt when he said these things to God. Life stinks, doesn’t it? Hardship and suffering strain us and drain us. We wonder when we will ever enjoy a day without pain. When will we know the joy of freedom from stress? When will life ever be “normal” again?

There are two very important lessons to learn from Job’s life and attitude in this passage of Scripture.

  1. While all hardship, suffering and pain are the direct result of sin in the world, not all hardship, suffering and pain are the direct result of personal sin. Job assumes that because he is suffering, God has made him a target to punish his sin. We should never have to wonder “If I have sinned,” because when we walk in the Spirit we know when we have sinned. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives gives us the ability to discern the difference between consequences for sin and tests of our faith. We lose that discernment when we begin to focus on self and our condition rather than on the Spirit’s work in our hearts. When we know we have sinned, the Spirit leads us to repentance and God forgives. There is never a reason to doubt God’s forgiveness or to believe He is withholding it. If we do, we question the very nature of God and deny His righteousness and justice. On the other hand, when we know that our hardship is a test of our faith, we rejoice in it because it is proving God’s love for us as his child and our love for Him as our faithful Father. (See 1 Peter 1:3-9) 
  1. Depression and despair over the hardships, sufferings, and pains of life may be the result of not truly understanding or accepting the forgiveness of God. Here’s why I think this is a huge problem in the church today. I hear a phrase coming from the lips of Christians – “I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t seem to forgive myself.” I want to emphatically and dogmatically challenge the validity of that statement. The command to forgive ourselves is not in the Bible. But not only that, it is impossible. It is a deception of Satan to think that we must. It is how he holds us in spiritual bondage. So long as we believe we are still guilty and unworthy we have not truly accepted God’s forgiveness. We are not seeing our lives from His perspective. The person who believes they have not forgiven themselves is actually guilty of not accepting God’s forgiveness. They are still trying to justify their own life and actions, when from God’s perspective they were justified in Christ and made to be His child forever. For some reason, in their mind, they believe their opinion of themselves is more important than God’s opinion of who they are. Their insecurities, guilt, and shame become the chains with which Satan holds them captive, and the only key he claims to have for deliverance is self-forgiveness and self-justification. Unfortunately, Satan never reveals the truth that he has no keys. Jesus said, I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. When God forgives there is no need for any additional forgiveness.

My friend, if you are suffering today because you are trapped in the chains of believing you must forgive yourself for what you have done, you are in a futile pursuit. You will never be free. You must realize that what you are really doing is rejecting the forgiveness God offers you. When God says you are forgiven – accept it. When God says you are justified – accept it. When God says you are worthy – accept it. When God says you are qualified – accept it. There is no need and there is no way for you to improve upon what God offers. You do not make yourself worthy of God, so stop trying to make yourself worthy of people, including yourself. When you repent of your sin, God forgives. To believe anything else denies the very nature and character of God.

REJOICE! Your sins are forgiven, and God declares you righteous. Stop arguing with Him.

Pastor John

Humility Required

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2 Chronicles 7:13-14  “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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.

 The story is told of a rich Christian who had a large company of employees, many of whom owed him money. He was constantly trying to teach them something about Christianity, and one day he hit upon a plan. He posted a notice for his employees that said, “All those who will come to my office between eleven and twelve o’clock on Thursday morning to present an honest statement of their debts will have them canceled at once.” The debtors read the notice with a great deal of skepticism, and on Thursday morning, although they gathered in the street in front of his office, not one of them went to the door. Instead they gossiped and complained about their employer, and ridiculed the notice he had posted. They said it didn’t make sense.

But finally, at 11:45, one man jumped forward, dashed up the steps into the office, and presented his statement. “Why are you here?” the rich man asked him. “Because you promised to cancel the debts of all those who would come as you instructed,” the other replied. “And do you believe the promise?” “Yes, I do.” “Why do you believe it?” persisted the employer. “Because, although it was too much for me to understand, I know that you are a good man who would not deceive anyone.” The rich man took the bill and marked it “Paid in full,” at which time the poor man, overcome, cried out, “I knew it! I told them so! They said it couldn’t be true, and now I’m going out to show them.” “Wait,” said his benefactor, “it’s not quite twelve o’clock. The others are not entitled to any special proof of my sincerity.” When the clock struck twelve, the forgiven debtor ran out waving his receipt in the face of his fellows. With a mad rush they made for the door, but it was too late. The door was locked.

God made a similar offer to the nation of Israel through King Solomon. The fundamental principles of that offer apply to each of us today on an individual basis. We all have sinned and fall short of His glory. We are unable to pay the debt for that sin. But God has posted a notice on the company bulletin board that has a striking resemblance to a cross. It says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will forgive their debt of sin.” It’s an incredible offer, but the conditions attached are difficult.

Humility – To stand guilty before the One who said he would forgive but who could also demand payment. Humility demands agreement with God about our condition and offers no self-defense. Humility relinquishes all rights and surrenders completely to God’s rulings. Humility trusts God’s grace and mercy. Praise God that the payment has already been made in full by Jesus Christ so that God’s justice guarantees forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Prayer – To knock on the throne room door knowing that God will open it, and renouncing all human resources, turn in total dependence upon God, believing that He will do what He promised to do. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. (Titus 3:4 – 5)

Seeking God’s face – To submit to God’s purpose for our lives and become a witness of God’s grace. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  (Hebrews 10:19 – 23)

Turn from wicked ways – Repent of the sin, turn from it with a sincere heart, and desire to not do it again. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Hebrews 10:26 – 27)

When our hearts sincerely reflect these four conditions, God completely forgives our sin. When we approach the throne of God with humble and broken hearts that cry out to Him in repentance of sin and submission to His will, He will forgive us completely and eternally. Hallelujah! Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalms 139:23 – 24)

Pastor John

Free to Forgive

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 11, 2019

Numbers 14:19 – 23  In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” 20The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.  21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth,  22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.

Many times we confuse forgiveness with the removal of consequences. That’s the lesson we learn from today’s Bible story.

When Moses asked God to forgive the people of Israel for their rebellion, he was asking God to restore His relationship with them. Moses understood fully the consequences of sin and did not ask God to remove those consequences. Moses did not ask God to deny His nature of justice. What Moses did ask was for God to “lift them up” above the consequences into the incomparable fulfillment of relationship with Himself.

The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home and fell into a life of sin. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 “Pacos” showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.

Each of us is a Paco. We have rebelled against God. We are afraid of the consequences of our sin, so we try to hide our sin. But when the Father extends His arms of love in an act of forgiveness, we run to Him. Even though the consequences of our sin may remain, the restoration of relationship with the Father completely overshadows any of the pain of our sin.

When God forgave the Israelites, He told them they would still pay for what they did. But the fact that they were not separated from God was intended to make their consequences bearable. If our focus is on relationship with Christ, then the sufferings of this world will seem insignificant, even when caused by our own sin.

Imagine the joy you could bring to another person’s life if you offered them the same love. They are suffering in their sin. They need to be forgiven. They need to know that someone will love them even while they are suffering the consequences of their sin.

I remember the day many years ago that I had a young man in my office who confessed to me that he had been stealing from local stores. He even stole a larger item from outside a business and dragged it behind his car to his back yard. He wanted to know what to do. I told him that he must immediately go and confess in person to the people from whom he had stolen and return the merchandise. He was scared. He knew that meant being arrested and charged with theft. He knew it meant paying restitution and possible jail time.

As we talked, I led him to understand that the pain of the guilt he would carry by not confessing would be much more severe than the pain of the court system. He also began to understand that his greatest need was to know that he and Jesus were in right relationship, and if that were true than nothing could separate him from the love of God. He agreed that he wanted the love of the Father more than the stuff, and more than his image and reputation. He confessed and faced stiff fines and jail time, but he learned that the love of God is far more satisfying than what the world can offer.

As a part of our conversation, I promised him that I would go through this with him, and that nothing he had done could stop me from loving him and serving him. That was a key turning point. Even though he had not sinned against me personally, I was still tempted to separate myself from him until he got his act together. The Holy Spirit showed me that what he needed was someone to walk with him while he got his act together.

Maybe that’s what God is showing you also. Have you separated yourself from someone because of their sin, when God may be calling you to forgive them and walk with them through the restoration process? That takes time and energy, and it’s hard work – but isn’t that what Christian community is all about? While we tend to think that the person who has committed the sin is the one in prison, maybe we are really the ones in prison because of our unforgiving spirit.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.

Pastor John