Grace ≥Forgiveness

One of the revolutions that Jesus taught us was the power of forgiveness. During a time of revenge and equal compensation, Jesus flips everything on its head and says, “Forgive.”

The problem is forgiveness is hard!

Yet it is freeing.

Sometimes freedom is hard. Sometimes freedom is a push. But when you taste freedom, you realize just how worth it, it is. As Cook and Baldwin point out in their fantastic book Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, “Forgiveness is not compromise.” However, when is enough, enough?

One day Jesus has a little powwow with his disciples. They are talking about so many of life’s issues. Greatness, sin, hurt. It is here when Peter, whether it be that he takes exception or just requires a little clarity, asks an important question that we have probably all asked.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matt 18:21-22

When confronted with how many times we are to forgive the repentant a person Jesus answer is, always. While Peter wants to quantify the number, Jesus states that true repentance’s response is continual true forgiveness. As Russell Brand points out,


“Forgiveness means letting go. It means being willing to accept that we are all mortals flawed and suffering, imperfectly made and trying our best.”

This doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries or consequence. It just means that both parties choose to live free of the infraction. Jesus articulates one of these critical boundaries as he explains what forgiveness is supposed to look like in our lives.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Mt 18:23–35

What becomes clear is that the reason we are to forgive is that we have been forgiven. No matter how many times we fall at the feet of Jesus confessing our wrongdoing, admitting that we can do nothing to make it right, Christ welcomes us. Again, Brand rightly points out,


“How can I expect forgiveness if I am unwilling to forgive?”

Though we live and fight the double standard that seems natural to us, Christ calls us to forgive just as we have been forgiven.

However, if we think forgiveness is all there is and you are waiting on the sidelines holding that grudge, waiting to forgive that person when they finally ask for it, you might have a rude awakening. While Jesus talks about the power of forgiveness, the reason that you can forgive is that we have done something first—we have extended grace.

So what is grace? To this, I look to people who are much smarter than me. Bell and Bell write,

“Grace doesn’t brush over our sins and failures and faults—it sees them clearly in all their Technicolor mess.”

Grace isn’t about ignoring what has happened. It sees it in its fullness. It considers the immense brokenness in what has happened. Brennan Manning points out,


“The gospel of grace announces, Forgiveness precedes repentance.”

Grace goes before. It is the first move. Grace says, whether you repent or not I’m going to be free and I’m going to free you. They may choose, and we often to do, to remain captive, but we refuse to and refuse to put them in the cell.

But why? Shouldn’t we want justice—for things that were wrong to be made right? Yes, we should. However, it is knowing that God is the perfect judge and choosing to say, in the words of Sting, “I could be you in another life, in another set of circumstances.” The apostle Paul explains grace to the church in Rome like this

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Rom 5:8

While we were still opposed to who God is—while we even walked our own direction—while we still admitted no wrongdoing, Christ gave his life for us. The day of the crucifixion, Jesus could have taken himself off the cross and said, “forget about helping all you ungrateful people.” Or while in the grave, as we waited for Saturday to end said, “well, they abandon me in a minute. They don’t really believe. Peace out.”

Though we didn’t deserve it, God showed us, love. He made the first move. This is the picture of a desperate Father running to his kid. Augustin writes,

“He did not delay, but ran crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent—calling us to return to him.”

God knew we couldn’t do it on our own. That’s what the law was all about. God stoops his ideal to reach us. However, He knew we could never do it, that is why the law is proceeded with, “when you fail.” Though we had no power to pick ourselves up out of the muck of life, Christ can. If we back up from verse 8 to 6, we God’s love shining through. The Message puts verse 6 like this,


“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.”

Ro 5:6

If asking forgiveness is putting the power into someone else’s hands, then grace is God saying, I will put the power back in your hands. However, this isn’t power so you can lord over others. This is the power that allows you to step out of the prison cell Christ has opened for you.

This power Christ puts back in our hands is the power of humility. It’s the power to say, I can’t do it on my own, I need the eternal God. While forgiveness can create superiority, us waiting for someone else to look up and say I’m sorry. God gives grace. Grace lifts the other up and admits you are not superior, we are all the same. We all make bad choices, some more destructive than others, but we are always one decision away from finding ourselves in the same shoes. Grace is saying, but for God, I too would be lost to the eternal consequences of my misdeeds.

Grace is always greater than forgiveness

I wish there was a command Z for life

Have you ever wished you could just hit command Z (or ctrl Z for those other “people”) for life?

Let’s say you have half a dozen you could use in your lifetime. Maybe you wouldn’t have dated someone. Maybe gone, eaten, drank, or wore something. It could be you want to hit command Z on the leftovers you ate last night.

More than likely there is some pretty serious stuff you wish to hit command Z on. Even in my not so much traumatic life, I have stuff.

I wish I hadn’t said that.

I wish I hadn’t indulged.

I wish I hadn’t made that decision.

Yet, in the words of The Tragically Hip, “No dress rehearsals, This is your life.” We have to live with our choices, others have to live with our choices, and we have to live with others’ choices.

Even when typing this, it is so freeing to be able to hit command Z and be able to go back and type something different. Life, however, doesn’t offer us such luxuries.

We must live with the pain, choices, and consequences, it is that certain, but what do we do with it is not. This is the crux of it.

What do you do with the things you wish you could hit command Z on? This is the question we must ask ourselves.

Avoid?
Face?
Own?
Distract?
Fight?
Justify?

So many options.

I believe there is a “best option.” When we own it, that is what changes our life. Yes, there may be consequences, but what’s the other option?

Russel Brand writes,

“By maintaining a personal museum of resentments, we imprison ourselves within it.” Whether that resentment is directed toward others or ourselves, it’s not a way to live.

I believe the best and only real option that brings relief is to own it.

But what then? For me owning it means admitting that I am fallible but that those fallibilities do not define me.

What defines me is Christ.
Not my past.
Not my choices.
Not the consequences.

When I can admit that I am weak and make mistakes, it allows God to come and heal. As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Co 12:9–10)

There is a strength in vulnerability. You’re not hiding–you’re not worried about your secret being found out–you’re not trying to contain the confession that could relieve your soul.

When I can admit my wrongs openly, it makes room for Christ. Christ can’t be king if we have propped ourselves up in the position. Christ can’t lead us through if we have clenched the reigns.

In my weaknesses, He is strong. What a great comfort, for I am more than weak. As much it would be great to be able to hit command Z from time to time, I would hate to deprive myself of the strength Christ has given me. I would hate to sacrifice the lessons that I’ve learned. To surrender the character that has been developed by the mud and mire of life.

Sure, command Z would be helpful, but at what cost? No, thank you.

I’ll take Christ any day.

What’s one thing you wish you could hit command Z on?

We need you small church Pastor

A lot has been made these days about the size of a church. In comparison to many, I’ve only been on the scene for a minute, so I really can’t say if this is a new trend or not, but it has been around for my 15+ years in ministry. However, I talk to a lot of pastors, most of which would pastor small churches, and there is an overwhelming feeling of discouragement and a lack of confidence. It appears that their hope is dwindling

In my new book, Hidden Faces, one of the things I explore is defining ourselves as either a small church or prominent church pastor and how it has detrimental effects on our identity. The state of your church does not change how God views you.

Saying all this, I believe it is sad that we praise and honour the large and never acknowledge the sacrifice and important pastoral work of the small. I once heard Karl Vaters say that the large church is Ikea and the small church is a Starbucks. Both are great but they are different.

I think about how sad it is that there are a group of people serving God to the best of their capacity who feel as though what they do no longer matters to the broader church. These men and women have dedicated their lives to the greatest message of hope in the world, they have sacrificed and lived on little. Some have moved to communities where everyone else is running out, and many are one of the very few spiritual lights in their communities, and they feel ignored. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking about one better than the other. I believe it is about honour. We need to say thank you to the big and thank you to the small. We need to figure out how to help each other. After all, we are all doing kingdom work.

I think that instead of heaping shame (whether it be perceived or not) on why they are the size they are or offering them “advice” on how they can break the next growth barrier. Maybe, we could encourage.

Thank you for being faithful when others would have turned.

Thank you for ministering to people who would never dawn the door of the closest large church.

Thank you for standing in the gap in a community where there is very little light.

Maybe what others should do is ask, how can we help the dreams this pastor has in his heart for their community become a reality? After all, aren’t we all playing for the same team? Augustine once wrote, “…the life of bodies is superior to bodies themselves.” Though their flock maybe smaller is not the value of the people, they are serving just as vital. We need big and small in order to reach all people. Ikea and Starbucks serve different functions according to peoples needs.

I’ve heard it said, do for the one what you wish you could do for the many. It is because the smaller church pastor stands in the gap that half the worlds Christians have a someone to do for the one. The small church pastor can provide specialized care. 

Small church pastor, you are not insignificant, what you do has value.

Small church pastor, thank you. Keep the faith. Fight the good fight. You are not forgotten. God wants to change your community, and he would love to do it through your church.

Thank you, from a small church pastor.

Augustin Confessions.p.42

Remember The People

I was so uncomfortable. Mainly because my ankle was the size of an elephant trunk! (I ruptured my Achilles Tendon. If you feel inclined you can check out a pic of my ankle that night on my Instagram feed. It’s gross, but it’s worth the peak).

Here I was at District Conference just trying to concentrate when I heard one of the most profound statements about the ministry I’ve ever heard from someone who had all the accolades.

Some context. The current District Superintendent was about to honour a man who had been a credential holder in the denomination for 50 years. It is quite an accomplishment. This man had pastored many different churches and even was the District superintendent for a substantial time. Great things were accomplished in his ministry, yet when reflecting on his fifty years, he said no great memories of ministries stood out.

Then he said something that should have led to a mic drop.

He stated, “My memories are not the positions I had or the policies I helped administer. What I remember is the people. A man whose life was turned around. A marriage that was restored. The faces of the different lives that were changed.”

What a great reminder. Ten million people could read this, but is that really what I’m going to remember after 50 years of ministry? Is it the positions I held, or the accolades I achieved? Probably not. At least it hasn’t been so far.

Thus far what I remember are the teenagers whose lives have been radically changed by God. The marriages that are stronger today that were headed for failure. I recall the person who had suffered tremendous loss who has found joy in Jesus.

I don’t know your success or failures. Big–small–significant–minute. When we long to hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faith servant” (Matt 25), we must remember the commendation of Peter, “Feed my Sheep” (John 21).

It’s hard not to get sucked in achievement, advancement, and climbing the ladder. Yet, when looking at ministry we must always keep our eye on what’s important, the sheep, the people.

In the words of a wise credential holder fifty years down the road of vocational ministry:

Remember the people.

Check on your friends

I had an injury this year. I ruptured my Achilles tendon. Two weeks in a cast, ten weeks in a walking boot, and now months of physiotherapy so I can get back on the basketball court and dunk on the competition (I feel that my recovery will give me superpowers, because I certainly couldn’t dunk before).

I think the hardest part of this injury was psychological. Yes, there was pain, but the sleepless nights and the lack of mobility begins to play games with your mind. There were times when I was in a poor mental state. I didn’t tell anyone, and no one asked.

I’m thankful for the few people, some of which surprised me, who asked how I was doing. I also was surprised by those who didn’t. Some friends never checked in or even asked about the recovery process (which is twelve months, if you were wondering).

But here’s the thing, I can’t cast judgement. Why? Well, while there are times when I have reached out to those who were encountering hardships, it certainly was not all the time, nor was it even half of the time.

Here are a couple of things that I’ve learned from my experience.

1) Speak up
By this, I mean that I, as the person suffering, need to reach out. None of us can do life alone. It is especially true when we journey through the darker moments of life.

2) Reach over
Remember to check in with your friends. Whether they have had a significant injury, job loss, marriage problems, or even if life appears to be okay, you never know what they might be going through. If the name of a friend pops into your head out of nowhere, consider it the Holy Spirit telling to you send a text, DM, or pick up the phone (heaven forbid).

3) Grace
Remember that you don’t check in on everyone, so don’t assume others know to check in on you. Whatever the situation is that we feel slighted in, always extend grace, when you don’t you place yourself in a sinkhole of self-pity — allowing presuppositions to float around in your head.

You may feel alone. You may feel there is no hope. You may feel as though you’ve reached the end of your rope. If that is you, know that when all other friends have abandoned you “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

If you are suffering, know that there is hope, and it has a name, Jesus. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

There is no need for you to feel shame; Jesus has come to break that. I encourage you to open up your heart to and allow his love to pour into you and finally, don’t forget to check in on your friends.

The New International Version. (2011). (Pr 18:24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 5:5). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.