Category Archives: forgiving

Me in there

I love the book of 1 Samuel.

It’s the story of a nation, their bad choices and their flawed leaders.

I find myself in those pages too.

In chapter 8, the Israelites said they wanted a king, just like the other nations. Samuel, their spiritual leader, told them that this was a stupid choice: “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. … some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops … The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials.”

Did that stop them? No.

“But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. ‘Even so, we still want a king,’ they said.”

I do my fair share of: “Even so, I want that…”

And yet God continued to guide and bless the Israelites. Though their choice to have a human king was a direct slap in the face of the King they couldn’t see (God), He still blessed them.

He helped choose their king, Saul. And he would let that king save them from their enemies.

And when King Saul’s life started to unravel because of his unwise choices, God chose a better king for them.

I’m thankful that even though I’m flawed, God still blesses me. Even when I make a bad choice, God can make it good, just as He did for Israel.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.


Fresh beginnings

As we start a new year, it’s a perfect time to put the bad stuff behind us and start with a beautifully clean slate. There’s something magical about that new number at the end of every date.

Many of us will make resolutions about adding new exercise routines. Some will set out to quit a harmful habit. Others will determine to develop a fresh relationship.

Aiming for new heights of personal growth is an excellent way to start any new year. Having goals helps us achieve milestones – or simply move forward in a direction we should be going.

When we fail at our resolutions, it can be really frustrating. When those failures hurt us or others, it’s easy to beat ourselves up. An apology to the offended person may be in order – or taking action to make up for the wrong we did.

The one thing I take comfort in is that God always forgives us. All we need is to reach out and ask him for forgiveness. God has the ability to forget better than we can possibly imagine: “He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

It’s easy to hang onto guilt. For some reason, occasionally we love to wallow in our bad feelings. Maybe we feel that beating up ourselves for doing wrong somehow makes up for the bad.

It doesn’t.

Jesus took care of all our bad actions and thoughts when he died on the cross. Give the bad stuff back to him. He can handle it. “But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9).

I’m resting in that comforting truth as I begin my new year.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Bittersweet fun

A new person that came into the group, and she fit a certain stereotype to a T. Her clothing reflected a style that passed out of vogue about 20 years ago.

I was powerless. I knew a friend in that group would completely agree with my judgment and be equally amused. So after a tiny hesitation, I texted my friend. We exchanged a knowing smile.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:12. Though this is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, I still seem to have a hard time applying that concept to my life.

A very simple way to stop myself from stepping across the line is to ask, “Could I say that directly to the person I am talking about?” If the answer is no, then I should not say it to anyone else.

It was such fun to share my judgment and laugh about that person – for a brief moment. Then I was overwhelmed with a wave of guilt.

The Fashion Violation Lady will never know about my little text. But God did. And that’s where forgiveness comes in. “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Then, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). So once I ask for forgiveness, it’s gone.

And I learned my lesson. Hopefully for at least a few days.

Things get really complicated when we say things we regret to a person face-to-face. Then the damage is harder to undo. It may take significant work to dig ourselves out of a hole. For the future, ask for protection ahead of time: “God, help me love others today!”

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Accept each other

Paul wrote the words, “Therefore, accept each other,” in Romans 15. He was in the midst of helping Jewish Christians accept Gentile Christians. This was a new thing, in many ways. Gentiles were not part of the Jewish faith. In the New Testament, a new way was taught where Gentiles were just as acceptable in God’s sight as His chosen people, the Jews. If you read all of Romans, you can see Paul’s justification for this from all over the Bible. He shares technical grounds and some very practical implications.

Just as a large division threatened to tear apart the community of Christ-followers in Paul’s day, a giant rift exists today between those who hold two different political belief systems in America. Both sides have very strong reasons for believing the way they have chosen.  But both can be very negative in their attacks on the other side. And the closer we get to the major election in November, the louder the verbal fighting seems to be.

Paul shares another way: “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” He prays for God to bring complete harmony. Just as Paul did, we can pray for that harmony.

Notice that living out that kind of harmony requires patience. Another translation of that verse reads, “endurance.”  It is not easy to live in harmony with people who are very different from us. They can really drive us crazy. A community of Christ-followers living in acceptance of each other can be a truly beautiful thing. Paul shares the ultimate aim of this harmony: “Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

The rest of Hope

When you read this, Hope will probably be sleeping. She got home Wednesday from two weeks in the Czech Republic (busylifebychoice). After all the travel, all the people, all the new, all the trusting, Hope will spend most of today sleeping.

There is something about the rest you get when you are home, really home. When you are done visiting, done with the expectations, done with the pretense.

There is something strengthening about knowing that there is home to look forward to, even when we are not there yet.

The poet of Psalm 25 had this kind of hope, the confidence in what is not yet fully known. Three times this writer talks about people whose “hope is in the Lord.” The middle mention places the writer as a disciple, a follower of God’s guidance:

Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

When I think of rest, I first think of our sleeping Hope, upstairs in her own bed, exhaling exhaustion, inhaling restoration. But the poet is offering a picture of an active daily rest. Finding paths in wilderness, truth in chaos. A constant teaching in all the parts of my life.

This poem does not avoid trouble. The attack of enemies, betrayal by friends. My own inability to to live right, whether in my youth or earlier today. And the writer is willing to admit to sinning, to causing his own suffering by foolish choices, even as enemies have taken advantage of weakness.

In the face of all this wrong, there is forgiveness. Not because of our goodness, but because of God’s.

Hope for home is confidence in loving acceptance. No matter how tortured the trip.