I’ve been forgiven? How could I have forgotten??

If you had nearly died from a strange illness and the doctors had given up hope, then suddenly you recovered and were able to get on with your life, could you ever ever forget that?

If you had suffered on death’s row at Angola Prison, and the prison chaplain was preparing a final prayer and the chef had laid out your last meal, when suddenly the governor pardoned you and you walked outside a free man, and then got on with your life, could you ever forget it?

Apparently some people can forget the most momentuous events in their lives.

Consider this line: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten that he was forgiven from his past sins. (II Peter 1:9)

It appears that some calling themselves Christians no longer remember that they have been forgiven of their sins. How strange is that? And how does it happen?

I think we know.


The Apostle Peter saw professing Christians around him living as though they had no past, as though they had dropped full-grown into the Christian life out of heaven.

It was a bizarre thought to him, as it is to us.

Peter identifies qualities which make for fruitfulness and usefulness in a believer’s life: Applying all diligence, add to your faith moral excellence, and to your moral excellence knowledge, and to your knowledge, self-control….perseverance….godliness….brotherly kindness….love. (II Peter 1:5-7)

Believers exhibiting such godly traits have great influence for the Lord in this world. However, some who call themselves believers show no evidence of moral excellence (virtue), have no knowledge, little or no self-control, a complete lack of perseverance, and so forth (vs. 8). That is, they are living in sin, are ignorant of God’s word, indulge every passion, cannot stay with anything they start, show no signs of Christlikeness or simple kindness or a love for other believers. And yet they call themselves Christians. How could this be?

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Ten things only the strong can do

Facebook “Memories” reminded me of this a few days ago, and I’ve not been able to forget it.

We had stopped on the interstate at a Pilot Truck Stop for a bathroom/coffee break.  After paying for the coffee, I realized I did not know which was my exit. I said to the clerk, “Do people get turned around in here?”  She laughed, “All the time.”

Then she said, “The exit to the truckers actually goes up a few steps, but the exit to the cars is at street level.  Last week we had an elderly woman on a walker in here.  I called to tell her she was headed to the wrong exit.  She turned around with fire in her eyes and said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not stupid!’ and went right on.  When she got to the door, she saw her mistake, and turned around and went toward the other exit.  But she never said a word as she passed me.”

I smiled. I know how that is.  There is a simple line that explains her rude behavior:  Only the strong can admit they’re wrong and apologize.  Everyone else will try to justify themselves, find excuses, or even place blame.  The strong will have no trouble admitting to the error and not try to hide it.

The more I learn of God’s word and human behavior, the more I see a number of activities which only the strong can do.  Here’s a partial list.  You’ll think of more…

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A text the legalist cannot handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). 

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify all the tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  Someone said of a legalist, he knows God didn’t require this rule in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.

The legalist has God figured out.

To the legalist, everything God does has to do with our grades, our performances.  And for us to insist, “He has not dealt with me according to my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities” just does not compute.  Such a teaching does not work in his system.

This is the text–and grace is the doctrine–which the legalist cannot abide.

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Thank God for the ability to forget

When you come into the Promised Land and move into houses you did not build, take over crops you did not plant, and eat victuals you did not grow, then beware lest you forget the Lord. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

Don’t forget.  Unless you need to.

The theme of half the sermons from Old Testament prophets is “Remember, O Israel.”  The Hebrew word is zakar and it’s justifiably a big deal in God’s Word.

But there is a lot to be said for forgetting, too. Much in our lives does not need to be retained.

I heard of Jill Price, a California woman who remembers everything. Not that she wants to. Ever since she was 8 years old, beginning in 1974, her mind appears to have switched on some feature the rest of us do not have and wouldn’t want in a thousand years. From 1980 forward, she has “near perfect” recall on everything.

By “everything,” we mean what she had for dinner, what she watched on television, the news that night, the temperature, conversations, everything.

Jill Price’s story is told in a book some have called “the weirdest book of the year” with the title The Woman Who Can’t Forget.

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Sometimes apologizing is not enough

“My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

Bill Glass played a full career with the Cleveland Browns as an All-Pro defensive end before retiring for another career spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In his book Get in the Game, Bill Glass tells of the time his team was battling the St. Louis Cardinals (back when they were still in that city).

That day, Cleveland had St. Louis backed up to their own 5 yard line. Cardinal quarterback Charlie Johnson took the ball and was running around in the end zone looking for someone to throw it to. Meanwhile Bill Glass, right defensive end for Cleveland, was bearing down on him from his blind side, while Paul Wiggin, left end, was barreling toward Johnson from the other side.

It was a defensive end’s dream. They are about to sack the quarterback in his own end zone. This can be a game-changer. Bill could just hear the crowd cheering.  This was going to be great.

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Where are my old, forgiven sins?

“Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 10:17).

In the former days of computer technology, back when we preachers were finding what a help it could be to our writing, Pastor Frank Pollard retreated to the mountains to work on sermons and a book.  At one point, as he told later, in the midst of a chapter he was laboring over, he accidentally stroked a certain key and the entire piece disappeared.  Nothing he did retrieved it.  We all know that experience and identify with the frustration he felt.

So, later, he asked a computer-savvy friend to explain this.  “Where did my writing go?”

“It didn’t go anywhere,” said the friend.  “It just disappeared.”

Frank insisted, “It had to have gone somewhere.”

“Nope,” said the computer friend.  “It did not go anywhere; it went nowhere.”

Now, being the preacher constantly in search of illustrations and metaphors to make the Christian life understandable and the gospel applicable, Frank decided that this is how it is when “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.”  Where are those sins now? They’re just gone.

I can think of three scriptures that pretty much voice the same reality.

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Forgiveness: Shortcut to healing

I walked into the hospital room just as the doctor was leaving. “He said I could go home,” the patient beamed. “And just think–after seven months!”

She had entered the hospital on March 6, and today was October 9. Through every day of the Spring, all through the hot Summer, and into the Fall, she had lain in that hospital room as sick as anyone I had ever seen. Even two weeks earlier, I wondered why she didn’t just give up. And here she was leaving.

I pulled up a chair and asked the question on my mind:  How had she gotten better so fast?

Something radical had happened.

“It was two things,” she said, and she gave me permission to tell her story. “They found out how to cure my infection and then a man came into my room. He stood right there and told me he sensed that I had a spirit of unforgiveness deep within me.” She smiled at me, then added, “Now, imagine someone coming into your room and telling you you’re carrying a grudge and it’s keeping you ill! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.”

And what did you do, I asked.

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What if Jesus had not died?

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  –I Corinthians 15:17

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”  (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

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Forgive? Of course! It’s what I do.

Freely you have received; freely give.  –Matthew 10:8

Dr. Watson was complimenting Sherlock Holmes on a brilliant observation no one else had noticed.

“Of course,” Holmes remarked. “It’s what I do.”

Forgiveness and grace—that’s what we believers do.

Here is one page from Ruth Bell Graham’s 1989 book, “Legacy of a Pack Rat,” with a parenthetical, explanatory remark of my own.

“Someone has said, ‘If there had not been a Stephen, there might never have been a Paul.’” (Paul watched Stephen being stoned to death for nothing more than preaching Jesus. As the stones beat the life from him, with his dying breath, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” –Acts 7:60 Paul never recovered from seeing this good man die.)

“A tribal war was raging in Uganda. The soldiers led a line of prisoners to a bridge over a crocodile-infested river where they could shoot them and dump their bodies into the water for the crocodiles to dispose of.

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12 things pastors should make a habit of doing promptly–and 5 they shouldn’t!

Do these things promptly…

  1. Confess sins.  “Keep short accounts with God,” it’s called.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Write notes of appreciation.  “Great song Sunday.”  “I hear great things about your class.”
  4. When inspiration for a sermon or an article  comes in the middle of the night, it must be recorded then or, count on it, you’ll never remember it.  Keep a pad by the bedside.
  5. When you agree to do a friend  a favor–write a letter of recommendation, call on a patient in a hospital, whatever–do it immediately or you will never do it.
  6. Jot down a story, illustration, or thought for a sermon that occurs to you.  If you’re in the car alone, look for an exit and get off the highway so you can write this down.  I’ve sometimes asked my wife to make a note for me as we drove.
  7. Pray for someone when prompted by the Spirit.  When I spot someone who reminds me of a person I knew years ago, I take that as an impulse to pray for them.
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