Thursday, September 28, 2023

Inevitable or Preventable?


A few times over the last week or so I've felt the questions rise within me, "Is it inevitable or is it preventable? (without knowing what the "it" was), and, "are we to prepare or to prevent?"

While asking the Lord for further insight on this He prompted me to rephrase the question and to ask instead, “What is inevitable and what is preventable?” and then “what and how do we prepare for what is inevitable, and what and how do we prevent what can be prevented?”

Inevitable means, “not to be avoided…unavoidable…no escape or evasion.”1
Preventable means, “...may be prevented or hindered.”2

There are some things coming that we will need to prepare for and some things we will be called to prevent. Our actions will be different based on whether the coming event is, in God’s eyes, inevitable or preventable. It’s important to note that the verdict of which is which is based on what God says is inevitable and what God says is preventable, not what we (or any other person) thinks or says about it.

So the questions become:

  • What is coming, (that the Lord will reveal to us)?
  • What is inevitable?
  • What can be prevented?
  • How do we tell the difference?
  • What do we do to prevent or prepare for each one? and
  • How do we prevent or prepare?

What is Inevitable

Concerning what is inevitable, ask the Lord how much of that He will reveal. He most likely will not reveal all of it to us, especially all at once, and especially that which doesn’t concern us. However, there are some things that are inevitable that we may still ask Him to reveal. In fact, we should seek Him for those things because He may not reveal them until we ask.

Why do we ask Him to show us what is inevitable if it’s just going to happen no matter what? So we can prepare, both for ourselves and others. And so we don’t waste our time trying to prevent what is inevitable when we could and should be working to prevent what is preventable and prepare for what is inevitable. Only He can tell us which is which—what to prepare for and what to prevent, and it may be different for different people.

The bigger danger, I think, is not being unaware of what is inevitable (as devastating as that might be) but its more dangerous (and you could say irresponsible on our part) when we assume that something is inevitable when it is not, when it is actually preventable. When we hear of something coming, or He shows us something to come, we must not automatically assume it is inevitable. We need to go to Him and talk to Him about it.

We sometimes underestimate what God has called us to do as His ekklesia—His governing body in the earth. All things are not inevitable, there are things that are preventable when His church takes their place in the kingdom as we are called.

What is Preventable

If something is preventable we need to find out from Him what our place and part is concerning it. Then seek Him on how to be equipped, and then actually ask for that equipping. Once again, He may very well not show us, or equip us, until we ask. Initiate a conversation with Him about these things, including:

  • Revelation about what is to come
  • Discernment to know what is inevitable and what is preventable
  • Wisdom, knowledge, and equipping to prepare for the inevitable
  • Wisdom, knowledge, and equipping to prevent what we can prevent

 In any case, never fear for He is with you always, no matter what is coming!

 Read Part Two Here




Saturday, September 2, 2023

Forgiveness Check-up


Do you ever struggle to forgive someone? Do you feel so obligated to forgive a person quickly that you mumble your forgiveness without a real sincerity? Let's take a look at the process of forgiveness as Jesus described it. 

Luke 17:3-4
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus was talking to His disciples when He said if your brother repents of his sin to forgive him, even if he sins against you seven times in one day, if he comes to you and repents then forgive him. Notice He said, “if he repents.” So if your brother or sister in Christ comes to you in repentance, seeking forgiveness for a wrong they’ve done, you are to forgive them.

But what if they don’t come to you in repentance?

First, let’s clarify that if your brother doesn’t come to you and repent then that doesn’t mean you don’t “forgive” him. 

Forgiveness is a relational thing. It takes two people. According to what Jesus said here you can't really “forgive” a person if they don’t come to you and repent. In the same way that you can’t withdraw money from your bank account if you don’t ask the bank for it. It’s there, it’s available to you, but if you don’t go through the process of requesting it then the bank won’t just randomly give it to you. They don’t even know you want it. In the same way, if a person who has wronged you doesn’t come to you and ask for forgiveness you can’t give it to him. They have got to go through the process of requesting it—to come to you and repent.

However, that doesn’t mean that you hang on to unforgiveness if he hasn’t repented. That doesn’t mean that you hold on to bitterness and seek vengeance. You deal with all of that (hopefully) at the time the sin is committed, (or when you find out about it). 

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Love will not allow any bitterness or resentment to remain in your heart when someone wrongs you or sins against you. Neither will it seek vengeance or revenge on a person who wrongs you.

Romans 12:18-20 
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

We sometimes call forgiveness the thing that we do when we determine we will not become bitter or seek revenge on a person who wrongs us. Or we call forgiveness the thing that we do when we have held on to bitterness and then come to point where we realize we need to let go of our bitterness toward that person. But really, that is simply guarding our own heart against sin and determining that we will walk in love and not take account of the wrong(s) we suffer because of another person’s sin. We call it forgiveness, but it's more accurate to say we are keeping our own heart pure before God, and remaining in His love, which puts us in a position where we stand ready to forgive if/when they ask. Forgiveness is what we do toward them when they come to us in repentance asking for our forgiveness.

The reason I think this distinction is important is because there is a process we go through to come to the point of keeping bitterness and revenge out of our heart. When someone sins against us, we might be able to let it roll off of us without a problem. But there are times we may need to take a minute to acknowledge a wrong done toward us and go to the Lord about it. We may need to talk to the Lord to gain understanding about the person, what they did, or the situation in general. We might need healing from wounds caused by the person's sin. We might need to examine our heart to see if we’ve done anything wrong. This takes a little time, prayer, and thought to work through, but when we feel that we have to immediately “forgive” a person (or God won’t forgive us) then we may bypass this important process of healing, self-examination, and seeking the Lord for His perspective.

Now that we understand what we can do right away when we are wronged to keep our hearts right, let's look again at what Jesus said:

Luke 17:3-4
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Notice Jesus first said if your brother sins to rebuke him.

Again this is relational, so you don’t go around rebuking every Christian you know for what you perceive to be sin in their life. There was a woman who came to our church once who told us of a time she visited a church with her two young children. Before the service even started some women came up to her and told her they had already found four things wrong with her. That is not what Jesus meant here and I would guess that not one of those four things was actually sin.

So we don't want to go around looking for faults in every Christian we see. Yet with those we have a relationship with, the best course of action to take when they sin against us is to talk to them about it and address it (See Matthew 18:15-22, Galatians 6:1, James 5:16, 20). Try to clear the air right away. Ideally, we want the relationship restored. Sometimes that’s not possible. But in any case, we still do what we need to so we keep our own hearts pure and ready to forgive.

Forgiving as Christ has Forgiven us

Paul said we are to forgive our brothers and sisters as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). 

How has He forgiven us? Jesus came and died so we could be forgiven of our sins and made righteous. Yet it doesn’t happen without our coming to Him in repentance asking for His forgiveness and His salvation. Then, once we are born again into His family, we walk with Him endeavoring to keep His Word and not sin. But if we sin, we confess it to Him, and seek His forgiveness.

John said if we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Asking for forgiveness brings us into relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ and it keeps us in relationship with Him even if we sin after we have experienced His salvation. He provided for our forgiveness by dying on the cross and He is not holding our sin against us (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus took our sin on the cross and paid the price. He presents us before the Father without spot (sin, defect) or blemish (original sin).

In the same way, we do not personally hold our brother’s sin against them. We do not hold bitterness in our heart against them or seek their demise. Yet the act of forgiveness doesn’t happen until they ask for it, and we let them know we have forgiven them, having genuinely kept our hearts pure from anything which would result in unforgiveness. In our minds, and heart, we have already forgiven them, it’s ready and waiting for them as we’ve already gone through the process of forgiving them before the Lord—a process that might have included healing, correction, a strengthening, and/or gaining understanding on our part first.

Stephen asked the Lord not to hold the sin (of stoning him) against those who were stoning him (Acts 7:60). God is the one who forgives sin, and though Stephen wouldn’t be around to forgive them if any of his murderers repented later on, at the time of his death he did “forgive” them by keeping his heart free from seeking vengeance and letting the Lord know he did not want anything to be held against them on his behalf.

We do not have to, nor should we, wait for a person to come to us in repentance before we "forgive" them. We prepare our hearts now.

What About Retaining Sins?

John 20:21-23
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

According to Strong’s Concordance the word retain is the Greek word krateo which most often in the NASB version is translated seize or seized. It’s also translated to hold, hold fast, take hold in various forms or arrested.  The word means to be strong, rule.

Keeping the thought in mind that you don’t technically forgive someone until they come to you seeking forgiveness (even though you’ve determined not to hold on to bitterness or a vengeful heart), we might look at this action of retaining sins as something that occurs if a person is seeking forgiveness for a sin but wants to continue in it. In other words, they are seeking permission or tolerance of the sin, not true forgiveness. They want “forgiveness” and fellowship among the brethren, but not through repentance.

There are times that sins are to be “seized” or “arrested.” It is to be ruled over and put in its proper place. We are to declare what God has already judged about sin—that it is not to be allowed to freely operate in the church, among believers. It is to be rebuked, not tolerated.

So what this means is that by our forgiveness we are not saying we condone someone continuing in sin. We seize that sin, arrest it, address it and confront it in our brother or sister. More important than restoring their relationship with us is the restoration of their relationship with God.

 So What to Do?

To check up on yourself, go before the Lord and talk to Him about anything you may be holding in your heart against another person who has wronged you. Ask for healing if needed, ask for understanding, and receive any correction He gives you. Remember that His love has been poured out in your heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Remind yourself of His love for you and receive it fully because receiving His love is what gives you the ability to love others (1 John 4:19). Ask Him for forgiveness for anything in your heart that you are holding against anyone else. You do not need to wait to be free from the pain that their sin has caused you. You can be free right now.

If that person does come to you in repentance, asking for forgiveness, then you will be ready and willing to do so because you already have in your heart. They may never repent and ask for forgiveness. Some may have passed away and others just might never seek your forgiveness, but in any case you are not bound or wounded by their sin anymore. You are free from that sin and the rippling affects of it.