Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Our God Who Exonerates

Okay, I'm still doing the alphabetical worship thing--spending a few weeks going through the alphabet discovering who God is. And I'm on the letter X. Oh dear. I think God is going to allow me some leeway here and so I want to talk about God as an exonerator. It's an incredibly freeing concept not only for our own walks with God, but also our interactions with other people. Exonerate defined is "to clear, as of an accusation; free from guilt or blame." The moment Christ gave His life on the cross exoneration occurred in the most tangible and practical way we will ever experience. In His own words, Christ said "It is finished." And with those three simple words, the guilt, blame responsibility and shame of every sinful act we will ever commit was taken from us and laid upon the shoulders of Jesus. In that moment, we were exonerated for all time. Just a couple of months ago, Jeff and I went out to eat dinner. We are careful with our budget and don't go out all the time, so it's always special when we do. I enjoyed eggplant parmesagn (which was almost as good as my moma's) and Nathan ordered an entire pizza just for himself! We relished our lavish choices and enjoyed the meal completely. When we went to leave, the owners came out and said, "There was a gentelman in earlier and he paid for your entire meal!" Are you kidding me? The four of us had eaten our fill! We had ordered everything we wanted without any thought to who was paying. Someone else happily, joyfully and willingly paid for our indulgences. It is the same with Christ--He picked up the tab of our lives and left us to walk on free of charge. But many of us are still trying to pay for things, make things right. And worse still, many of us are still holding others accountable for tabs Christ has already paid. I'll be straight up--I tend to go glassy-eyed when people start talking about the incredible feelings of joy and relief they experienced at the moment of salvation--the moment when they realized they were forgiven. Christ's forgiveness is somewhat a cliche among Christians and their songs. I'm not minimizing it--definitely not! But for those who grew up in church (the group to which I belong) forgiveness is often something we've heard so much we no longer appreciate it's meaning. Where forgiveness tends to get flavorful for me again is when I consider it amidst my current day to day life. There are areas in my life where I struggle--areas that no matter what book I read or what prayer I pray I still find weakness. Some might call them a thorn in my flesh. Paul talked about it when he said in frustration "the good that I would, I don't do..." Paul and I share that in common. In those areas of repeated sin I am abundantly grateful for exoneration and overwhelmed at the reality that over and over and over again, Christ's death is sufficient. When I stand before God and say, "Yep, that was me. I did it again." And He says, "It is still finished, Sarah. I forgive you. In fact, I knew the moment I was giving my life that you would do this again and I willingly paid back then. It's finished." Then, in those moments, I know grace and I thank God for it's abundance. Let me ask you though, are you like me? Are you like me in that I sometimes take that very grace and refuse to grant it to others? Just the other day I met an individual who was representing an organization. I found the person to be far less than professional, even unprepared. I walked away from the interaction thinking about how I would avoid this person in the future. In essence, after ten minutes, I had written this person off for life. (I'm not proud to admit that) I didn't really even realize the finality of my conclusions until the Holy Spirit nudged my heart and grabbed my attention. I haven't written them off, Sarah. They were less than perfect, but can you extend them some grace? You have plenty. I've given you an endless supply. Ouch. How humbling for me to stop and consider the number of times I hold people accountable for things that Christ has already paid for. What if the restaurant owners had told us we still needed to pay them for our meal--that the other guy's money wasn't good enough? Within our day to day routines, I think we often harbor unforgiveness and don't even realize it. Just like that tiny interaction--some would say there was nothing wrong with what I surmised. But here's the thing, God calls us to forgive. Over and over. His Word says others will know we are His followers by "our love for one another." He also says "if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt. 6:14) We tend to think about forgiveness in terms of the big things: forgiving an abuser, forgiving a cheating spouse, forgiving a co-worker for cheating us. What about the tiny stuff? Forgiveness, as Christ told Peter is not a luxury we can choose to spend or withhold. It is a literal act of worship. Every time we withhold forgiveness we are in effect saying "Christ's death on the cross was not sufficient to cover this wrong." Emotions have very little to do with forgiveness and they also have everything to do with it. We get confused because we think we should feel forgiveness. We will rarely feel great forgiveness--we choose it. We choose as Christ did to exonerate people for their shortcomings--to say it's okay because Christ picked up the tab. It is true that emotions have a great deal to do with forgiveness in that usually when we are wronged we feel the pain of that wrong. But that pain is something that Christ alone can heal. He alone fixes hurt within us. Not others. When we hold the debt of another over them by withholding forgiveness we are usually doing so in hopes of some form of recompense. Man will never be able to make amends for the wrongs they commit against us--whether great or small. That wasn't how God designed it. Sure, they can say they are sorry and even correct something they've done. They can improve. They can change, but only God can heal our hearts. Only God. When we forgive we say "God's got you covered. What you did or didn't do is already taken care of by the God of the universe." Exoneration--freedom. Freedom to forgive others. And freedom to receive God's forgiveness in our lives. To walk on with our heads held high. This is something we should hold close to our hearts and keep fresh in our minds as we interact with others. When I forgive particularly painful hurts, I will often say "I release you from the responsibility or this debt to God's capable hands." In effect, I am saying "This hurt. I forgive you because Jesus has already paid for it and I have no right to hold you accounatable any longer." It's what God says to us every single time we confess our sins to Him. "I release you from the responsibility of that sin because Jesus already paid." To be exonerate leaves us with only one logical choice--to exonerate others. May we make it in every single area where forgiveness can be granted--both big and small. II Cor. 2:5-10, Eph. 1:7, Col. 3:13, Heb. 10:18, Mark 11:25

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