Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Can I Forgive Myself?

Clay Scroggins, in the second part of his Northpoint series "dtr: Define the Relationship", talks about how, when we are confronted with moving forward in a relationship with anyone, there is a point we come to where we have to define or re-define our relationships. The Bible tells us that we can have a relationship with God through His son, Jesus. But we, as humans seem to have a need to always define the perameters of all our relationships. Jesus, in fact, asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. It was a likely a defining moment to help Peter realize what his true relationship was or should be with Jesus. Peter responded saying Jesus was the Messiah. (photo labeled for reuse from Google search).

Christ says, that if we come after Him, we have to "take up" cross daily. He allows us to wade into the water under our own terms, but yet He calls us to be fully His. But what happens when we fall; when we have a moment or a season of falling away from him? Many people have left the church because they felt like God was disappointed in them. Whenever something like this happens, "the (black) door cracks open and allows shame to fill up our lives". Some people then decide to hide or try to sweep their guilt under the rug.

Having a friend that became pregnant at the age of 16, he watched this girl stay home, wear baggy clothes, become a recluse and tell no one. But with things that aren't as obvious as a pregnancy, people "find new outfits to wear" to mask their duplicitous lives. They become highly secretive. Other times, people decide to just change what they believe so that they don't have to "try to be good". We, for example, live in a culture where sex before marriage is in vogue and widely accepted. For those who give in to such relationships, they simply reprioritize their value systems and convictions. But this is where shame whispers hopelessness in to our minds. "You'll never amount to anything. Look at you. You're not good enough for God."

This isn't just a thought process of children, but rather a common thought process for adults too. But as adults, when we go through these times, how we respond then, in large part, greatly defines our relationship with God. Face it, we live in a wild roller-coaster world and it can be very tough to stand firm in our faith. But one guy we can all relate to is Peter, because if there was any one person in the Bible who blew it time after time, it was Peter. But he held to his faith dispite his failures. So, let's take a look at John 13:36, where Peter, after acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah, thought Jesus was going to be a great ruler and king and he was looking forward to being alongside him. But in this verse, Peter gets a double shock; not only is Jesus "going away", but he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times.

"When I think about this", says Clay, "I think about this bit on Saturday night live they do called 'Really'". "Really" takes news headlines and basically makes fun of them. One of the first headlines they made fun of was the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, trying to sneak marijuana through the Atlanta airport after he was already in hot water because of the dog fights! Not only that, he tried to sneak it in a 12 oz. bottle of water, which is also illegal. The commentators on the skit are dumbfounded and sarcastically ask, "Really?" "We know you are a running quarterback, but throw it away!"

So, Jesus was saying to Peter, "Really? or Will you really lay down your life for me?" Peter said he would die for Jesus. This man, who had walked on water with Jesus, had witness enough to give his loyalty, but Jesus already knew that Peter would fail. Maybe when Peter cut off the guard's ear, he was doing so to show his loyalty. But when Jesus was on trial before Caiaphus, John and Peter were in the crowd watching the people mock and make fun of Him. They watched the guards slapping their Messiah. But right in the middle of this horrific scene, a woman turns to Peter and says, "You were with Jesus!" to which Peter flatly denies. It probably took him completely off guard, like Clay's wife when she asks, "You're not going to wear that, are you?" Clay sheepishly responds with, "No, this is the piece of clothing I put on in order to go get dressed." Comic relief.

One of the guards in the crowd, (believed to be the cousin of the guard smitten by Peter) recognizes Peter and claims that Peter was with Jesus that night. Not only does Peter deny, this but he vehemently denies it. He basically responds with "May God strike me down if I was with Jesus." He curses himself, with anger, and says "I don't know that man!" Then, the rooster crows and Peter flees. Once by himself, he cries and cries. Even though his response was in the heat of the moment, he still denied his friend and Lord. "I remember when the rooster crowed for me," says Clay, "this guy named Steve Martin, who I went to college with......he and I were watching a game.....I said some things and this friend said, 'Man, you didn't used to talk like that.'" For the rest of the day, Clay couldn't focus on anything except his friend's convicting words. The question is, then, are we going to have enough sensitivity to hear our alarms; our rooster crowing? If we have enough humility, we can get back into relationships.

Haven't you ever done something wrong in a relationship and you wanted to hide from that person whenever you saw them? But here, the disciples watched as the crowd convicted, stripped, beat and crucified their Lord and betrayed friend. When the women found the empty tomb the next day, it was Peter who sprinted to the tomb, determined to know if this was true. Later, after his resurrection, Jesus and the disciples are at a fire. In John 21, Jesus asks if Peter truly loves him more than anything. When Peter says "You know I do", Jesus says, "Feed my lambs". But then Jesus asks Peter the same question again and then again. But the third time, Peter told Jesus that Jesus knew all things and knew this was true. Jesus was asking three times, because He was symbolically forgiving three times. Jesus showed grace and said that He was going to give Peter 1) another chance and 2) everything he ever wanted. Peter, was empowered by being forgiven. This, no doubt, helped give Peter momentum in his ministry later on.

When we were kids, we'd walk and then fall. Would our parents scold us when we fell? Of course not! They said get up and try again. Right? Why is it that when we fall in some churches, they abandon us and say we don't deserve to get back up? Why is it that the body of Christ sometimes doesn't help us up when we fail? Why don't some Christians forgive us or understand? Some people, unfortunately, do not live their lives as Christ, the amazing forgiver, does.

Yet on the flip side, other people who have fallen feel they can fall as many times as they choose. But if we were hot on a summer day and we went inside to cool off. And if, while inside, we grabbed a bottle of Windex, would it quench our thirst? Maybe for a moment, but then we would suffer the consequences. But that's not the way we are built. The same is true about sin. We weren't built to continue sinning. God will forgive us again and again. But if we understand grace, we understand that sin isn't good for us. God's grace is big enough for us to take advantage of, but if we understand it, we won't.

Philip Yancy wrote a book called "What's So Amazing About Grace?" In that book, he says that, from nursury school onward, we are taught how to succeed in a world with no grace. We grow up hearing, "The early bird gets the worm...No pain no gain....there's no such thing as a free get what you pay for....I like to win...and I insist on my rights. Yet if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel. I deserve wrath and I got love. We deserve to stay down when we fall, but Jesus says if we give Him our life, we can get up and walk again! He calls us to stand by His grace, with unending chances. He will not only assist us up, but he will help us to run. Don't stay down. Stand up.

God doesn't see the sin in us as Christians, He sees the forgiveness given by his Son. Standing up might mean we want to serve or get involved in a community group . Peter stood. He went into the homes of people and invited them into a relationship with Jesus. In 1 Peter 5:10, Peter opens with "And the God of all grace.." Clay says, "I can't imagine he could write these words without crying". Peter goes on, ".....will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast..." The message of the gospel is all about grace. We all fall. We all fail. But we don't all have to stay down.

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