Sunday, September 26

How many times.....

“Then Peter came to him and said, "Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!” Matthew 18:21-22 NET

“How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”......the great Bob Dylan croons in his song, “Blowing in the Wind,” “How many times must a man look up, before he sees the sky?”

It is the answer that we may never know the answer to, yet it came up in the conversation earlier this week with a dear brother in Christ over coffee.

“How many times,” he asked, “is enough before you consider ‘due diligence’ to be done?”

My mind immediately conjured up Matthew’s verse….”How many times??”

Common teaching in the day was that you have to forgive someone three times before you can ‘ethically’ call it quits and be considered exonerated in the community. Peter added a healthy number, a little over double, to his quip figuring he’d ace the exam before he even got the question. And he failed, miserably. Jesus basically told him that he wasn’t in the ballpark; far from it……there is never an ‘end’ point to forgiveness.

You forgive as many times as you have to forgive, without fail.

Otherwise, the limitation you impose on another is the same you’d have imposed on you, which we all know is not even close to the necessary ‘coinage’ to buy our way out of the debt of repetitive sin.

Even the definition of ‘forgiveness’ implies that it ‘resets to zero’ so that we would in effect be forgiving for the first time whether it was for the third or fiftieth time. Forgiveness is a decision to relate to another as if the wrong done to you had never happened.

And too often, we fail at even coming close to true forgiveness.

But isn’t that how God has forgiven us? Isn’t that how we are called to forgive others? And, if the possibility of being redeemed by the blood is IMPOSSIBLE without forgiveness, isn’t it safe to say that forgiveness can be switched out for the ‘other’ fruits of the spirit or characteristics that Christ tells us to expect in our faith, in our homes, in our communities and our congregations? Things like love, joy, peace…..”

How many times are we to exhibit that to our friends, neighbors, congregational members and community?

Seven times?

We should only love our neighbor seven times before we ‘give up’ on them and mark them off the evangelism list?

We should only love our spouses through seven rough times before we feel justified to withhold that love?

We should only bring joy to a widow or a single parent once or twice before we consider the resources of the church to be properly expended for them?

We should bring peace to the restless a handful of times before our mission is fulfilled?

We should only be in relationship with someone until it is no longer convenient to our lives?

After all, the Great Commission says, “Go and preach the Good News for a few days, making a few disciples of all you’ve been taught……”

Doing that which is good is not good in excess, right? And, after all, we only get a few opportunities to live sin-free before we are discarded into the ‘mistake’ pile.

Unfortunately, the current and the past church models (read post-Acts church here) are inherently human and therefore run with human assumptions and expectations. Many of these fall far beyond the scope and the breath of the Gospel intent and description.

Seven times anything in the modern church is a very hard thing to see replicated in anything that requires forgiveness and restoration, or entry into the messy lives of people repeated times.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the models used are working…..churches are building grand buildings in which to house the worship, educational, outreach, children’s, youth and various vehicles and conveyances that once hauled everything to and from a temporary rental location.

They have acres of land cultivated and amazingly tranquil for those long walks pondering the visage of God.

The church down the road from me, a mega-sized church across from another denomination’s mega-church, is like a beacon in the sea of nighttime darkness…….spot lights and other lighting blaze against the night as the church lies locked up, waiting for the staff to arrive in the morning and be about the Lord’s business.

The Crystal Palace……Saddleback…..Willow Creek…..Mars Hill…….

Hundreds of thousands flock to these leaders and hear the Word preached, sometimes it’s even the Word of God rather than a remix of their own version of what the Bible says in the postmodern, emergent sense.

And yet, when the multitudes walk out of the doors, they are blind to the very mission field that starts inches from its thresholds.

But, my opinion on the state of the ‘Christian’ church and the leadership isn’t something new, it is the same as it was a year ago and a year before that.

What’s changed is my opinion of the human factor in the model of God’s church. When humanity comes to do ‘God’s work,’ it is instantly corrupted and hopelessly flawed.

The best intentions last for a while, the purpose and mission statements are actually believed and lived for a time. Then humanity takes over and we get the success stories of Willow Creek, Northridge, and others. Even then, some of these megas seem to stumble along in the truth somehow for a time….but the corruption of establishing and implementing a business model for a God-endeavor always gears the heart towards human ability and God leaves the building.

But, you forgive seven times seventy and fight alongside the remnant to bring the congregational body back on task for what God has purposed the church and its members for.

You forgive the slights, the disappointments and the hurts because you realize that humanity even in the corporate sense of the word is corrupted even in the best of circumstances and we all are limping towards the prize, the final destination of those who believe and have confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Maybe that is where I’m hung up at and why in this desperate and frightening time, I want to tuck into myself and curl up in my room, far away from the world and its darkness, far from the sinfulness of those whom claim to be perfect and isolated from the one thing I know is truth even as my faith struggles with this fragile humanity…..that God is God and I am not, that Christ is King and died for me and that the knowledge imparted of the Absolute Truth of the Way cannot be denied.

Seven times Seventy.

Forgiveness, loving, hoping; any fruit of the Spirit I believe can be inserted in the place of forgiveness….and still the verse and intent is the same.

And yet, we question how many times we have to ‘endure’ something before we can escape it; love, relationships, heartache, pain, suffering and a montage of other ‘things’ that plague us in this life.

We never question however, how many times we can ask forgiveness for our sins.

Maybe I’m just not cut out for this whole ‘Christian community’ thing because I’m one of the broken, the stupidly confused that just don’t ‘get it,’ or that 'needy' one that just won't ever be happy with what comes his way.


I’ve hit the brick wall one too many times and finally brain damage has set in. Slamming my head against the wall, confused by the old nature that quails before the new and frightened by the decisive alienation that has happened too many times in "God's Church" where it is a judgment before mercy, condemnation before grace. Where the counter is going over into double or triple digits in the bean counters clickers.

Community is the greatest thing I fear in this ‘family’ of God-fearing people because it is that very ‘community’ that has caused me the most damage. Or maybe I’m just too damaged for such a community and invariably trip over their well-intending feet.

You leave yourself transparent, you are beggin' for a hurting.

George Mueller said that when God is ready to invite you into the things that He is doing in you, around you and ultimately through you, you experience a ‘crisis of faith’ where the beliefs that you have existed with for however long suddenly aren’t enough to reach that next step and so, in the absence of supporting evidence, you have to stretch yourself out on faith and faith alone.

A few of my friends say that God is doing something in my life, prepping me for the next major step in the purpose……

The majority say I’m neglecting my responsibilities; to my family, my community and my God.

And I want to throw in the towel…….

How many more times am I going to be at this place; between the reality of my beliefs and the impossibility of my faith, a finely sharpened point that I can balance upon ever so briefly before I fall; one way or the other…….

It is possible that Dylan was part prophet when he lamented that “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind….”

No comments: