Friday, October 31, 2008

The Troubling Issue of Self-Forgiveness

On more than one occasion recently I have heard from sincere believers that they are struggling with forgiving themselves over some issue of sin in their lives. In seeking to express the angst they are feeling the wording comes out virtually the same in each instance, “I know God has forgiven me but I just can’t seem to forgive myself.” Is this a valid concern? Is it a real apprehension? Do we need to forgive ourselves? Let me try to think biblically about this with you as my sounding board.
First, the biblical examples of forgiveness are always from the one who has been sinned against. On that basis one might be able to build a mild case for some type of self-forgiveness as in, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:18 where immorality is shown to be a sin against one’s own body. Honestly though, it is a bit too mind-boggling, if not downright silly, to picture one’s body forgiving one’s self for the sin of immorality.
Factually, nowhere in Scripture are believers exhorted to forgive themselves. So we would do well to question the notion of self-forgiveness as a real need. But it is a sincere felt need and to dismiss the concern as coming from Christians who are caught up in the self-love, self-help unbiblical religious psycho-babble of our day (as some sadly do) is to ignore the real need behind the feelings expressed. We must be sensitive to bring the light of Scripture to bear upon the real need behind the felt need.
For help I turn to two comments by David in Psalm 51. The first is, “my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Folks caught up in ego-centric spirituality would suggest that David had a case of the “can’t forgive myself-itis.” But is that the case? And was it bad for David to have his sin ever before him? I would suggest that v. 17 of that same Psalm encourages us to keep a long remembrance of our sin for it would foster a continual broken spirit and contrite heart, which God will not despise (cf. Isaiah 66:2).
The other comment of David is found in v. 12 where he pleads with the Lord to “restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.” Perhaps this is the crux of what sincere, struggling folks are experiencing. Rather than a need to forgive self, they are in need of a restoration of the joy of God’s salvation in their lives.
And how does one find that new joy? I am unable and unwilling to suggest any easy one-two-three step process. But I do believe the answer begins with a deep and abiding comprehension of grace. I am a sinner. The sin I committed is very real and against the very holiness of God. I should confess that sin to him according to 1 John 1:9. And I should begin to remind myself of the wonderful truth that God has imparted to me the very righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. I should rehearse the glorious promise of Romans 8:1 that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
For the weakness of our flesh that still wants to cry, “But isn’t there something I have to do?” remember that Christ has taken that sin, with all our others, and borne them “in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24)
So what is the cure for feeling not quite totally forgiven? True confession and true abandonment to the marvelous doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Before You Vote

For those who accuse evangelical Christians of being "one issue" voters, this is about as good a response as can be given by Justin Taylor. Read and watch with care, compassion and confession.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Mighty Man

I lost a friend today...Joe Taylor. A tragic accident. Earthly life instantly snuffed out. Lost is a relative term. I know exactly where he is. He is in the presence of the Lord. But he is lost from earth. Thus through tears of grief and joy I write.

To say that Joe is one of the best friends I have ever had is a gross understatement. By the grace of God, Joe entered my life (more accurately, I entered his life) in the Fall of 1981. Janet and I had gone to Eastman, Georgia, along with our baby girl Merea to preach, as they say, “in view of a call” to be the pastor of the First Baptist Church.

It’s strange that I can still remember Joe from that morning, sitting in the section to my right on the second or third row, in what I would come to know as his usual seat. I still remember, 27 years later, his walking up to me after the service and, with the passionate look in his eye that would become all too familiar to me, telling me that I simply must come and be their pastor. Something about him struck a chord with me. It wouldn’t take me long to find out why.

When I think of Joe, I think of David’s “mighty men,” who stood with him in very difficult times—men who were absolutely dependable through thick and thin. That’s what he was to me...a mighty man, a friend who stuck closer than a brother. In the midst of some of the most difficult times of my life, Joe Taylor stood with me, bearing much of the burden, often holding me up, even at great personal cost to himself. Countless times I made the trek to his office at the bank knowing I would come away a stronger man than when I went. I wouldn’t have made it through those years without Joe Taylor.

One of the greatest joys of my life as a pastor was baptizing Joe’s son Vince. I’ll never forget Vince, who was wise way beyond his years, but who was afraid to be baptized, coming to the conclusion that, if Jesus could die on the cross for him, he could take a chance on being baptized. What courage and joy he showed in that simple act. A whole church was blessed by that young life.

Then, joy turned to painful sorrow, as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together. Vince, who almost died as a very young child from a brain tumor, had the tumor return with a vengeance. He was rushed to the hospital on a Friday morning and on Sunday, while we prayed for him in church, he went to be with the Lord. Losing a child simply has to be the greatest pain a parent can suffer. I watched this man wrestle with God and come out of that valley a stronger man. Yes, his heart was broken, but how true it is that “a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise.”

Through the years, though separated by many miles and many years, the friendship never diminished, though the contacts did. How well I remember the closing words of every conversation, every phone call: "If you need anything, call me." He really meant it. He was that kind of friend. Well, Joe, God knew what I needed. I needed a friend like Joe Taylor. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to God for His gift of this friend to me.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Personal paraphrase of Habakkuk 3:17-19:

17: Though my investments should not bear interest, And there be no funds in my IRA,
Though the yield of the market should fail, And the mutuals produce no funds,
Though my job should be laid off from work, And there be no gas in the car,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength, He is my security, He is my success.

I think God is up to something. Could it be much the same as he said to Habakkuk:

“Look among the nations! Observe!
Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—
You would not believe if you were told.” (1:5)

This past week as I sat reading God’s Word, praying, thinking about the things of the Lord and the troubled economic times we are in, I was filled with a compelling urge to preach Sunday on Habakkuk (I hesitate to say “God told me” because of the trite way so many use that phrase. I believe God led me in my thinking). Though I have been teaching through the book of Acts on Sundays for a while now, I was unable to put aside the idea of speaking a word from the Word to the folks that would help us get our heads on straight about life, especially in tough times. God is in control and we should cling to Him even though all else might fail.

But here’s the really unusual part. A dear pastor friend in Kentucky also preached on Habakkuk yesterday. I also attended a wedding yesterday. One of my good friends who had driven from Fresno to Southern Cal for the wedding stopped in Bakersfield to visit the church of another friend. This pastor friend told of being compelled to interrupt his sermon series and preach from (you guessed it) Habakkuk yesterday morning. The friend at the wedding also told of hearing from his son-in-law who visited a church in Sudan on Sunday. With no previous warning he was asked to stand and preach as a guest. As he moved to the front he felt led to preach from Habakkuk, and so he did.

Four seemingly isolated places. All on the same Sunday being filled with the desire to preach from Habakkuk. I have no way of doing a wider survey, but I’m really curious if this was a phenomenon repeated in many other places.

The message of Habakkuk is very simple. God is going to use a wicked nation to punish Judah because of the deep sinfulness of the people of Judah. Habakkuk (whose name means “cling”) gets the message and waits for the impending doom. While he waits he reiterates his resolve that though all the normal worldly evidences of security and prosperity should fail, he will still cling to God.

Why? Because God is his strength. God is his security (“feet like hinds’ feet). Watch the deer as it runs through the forest with feet that never falter and never stumble. Every step is secure. And God is his success (“walk on my high places”). A victorious military leader climbs to a high place and parades before his troops as they cheer his successful victory.

The simple message is: take the long look, the eternal perspective.

“For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
As the waters cover the sea.” (2:14)

It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. You have God’s Word on it.