by J.L. Cook
I feel like such a weak and broken vessel, yet I feel compelled to share with you some thoughts I have had, which I believe are from God. How could I, a sinful man, hear from God? I don’t know. I feel totally unworthy. Maybe it is because when I feel weak, I listen to God more intently. I desire to hear from Him, because I realize that I need Him so much. And I have been hearing from Him, I think, because how could I, a weak and sinful man, simply make up such amazing thoughts about God? And how could these thoughts be validated when I read the scriptures? I am coming to realize that God is speaking to every one of us all the time. All we have to do is slow down enough, and be still long enough to hear Him speaking. Sometimes that is all that God wants of us, is simply to share a few private moments with us, His children. God’s greatest desire is merely to spend some time with each one of us, that is all. And if He has a greater task than that for us, He will let us know when we come to spend time with Him.
But this is not what I wanted to speak to you about. It is forgiveness that has been the subject of my thoughts today. But first I feel the need for a disclaimer. Why is that? Why can we not speak to one another without fearing that we will be misunderstood? Maybe because we are so often misunderstood. I want you to understand that these thoughts are not directed toward any person or event in particular. They are just thoughts flowing through my heart. They have touched me deeply and I feel compelled to share them. They may mean one thing to me, and something totally different to you. I am not trying to teach you anything. I am merely sharing from my heart. I do not even understand completely the enormous significance of these thoughts. I only know that when I receive thoughts from God, I feel nourished deeply, not just in my soul, but in my emotional and physical being as well.
I do not know why, but thoughts about Judas started flowing through my mind. Instead of dismissing these thoughts(why would I want to ponder Judas, the betrayer of Jesus), I just let it flow, realizing that it might be from God. I have learned to take notice when a thought, even a seemingly insignificant one, flutters at the edge of my mind. If I am busy, I usually miss out on it, but if I am not busy, and it is quiet, I have found that something quite amazing happens. And so it happened this time.
Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus knew he would, in advance. Then the thought occurred to me that Jesus used Judas’ betrayal for good. It became an important part of Jesus’ plan to bring salvation to the entire human race. It was necessary for Jesus to be arrested and killed, so that salvation could be had for all. It could have been accomplished in many other ways beside Judas, but Jesus chose to use the evil in Judas for a good purpose. Jesus overcame evil with good.
What if Judas had come to understand that his own act was both evil and good, at the same time? What great person would Judas have become if he had gone to Jesus, and repented? What if Jesus had forgiven him? I feel sure that Jesus would have forgiven him, don’t you? If Judas had been forgiven, and he truly accepted this forgiveness, this undeserved love, he would not have hanged himself. His life would not have ended in defeat, in shame, in loneliness, in despair. Instead, I am convinced, he would most likely have become one of the greatest apostles of all. Remember when Jesus said, “Those who are forgiven much, love much”. If Judas had truly felt the forgiving love of Jesus, he would have been radically empowered, with love, with understanding, with forgiveness. But he never had a chance. He hanged himself. Maybe he could not accept forgiveness. Maybe he felt that he had done too great a sin to be of any worth to God. But we all know that this is not true. He was used by God, and if he had accepted forgiveness, he could have been used very powerfully by God. Just imagine the testimony he would have had!
Does not each one of us feel this same way? Do we not say to ourselves, “I have weaknesses and sins. God cannot use me.”? The fact is that we have strengths and weaknesses, both at the same time. If we concentrate on our weaknesses, then our strengths will not be used, because we feel totally unworthy. We might even be afraid that if we enter into ministry, our weakness will sabotage all the good we try to do. We must stop looking through the critical eyes of man, and start looking through the eyes of God. We must look through the eyes of love, through the eyes of forgiveness. We must remember that God uses the weak and broken vessel, that He will give us the strength and forgiveness, the grace to carry on. We are on a great journey, toward God, toward eternal life. But this journey cannot be completed without forgiveness. None of us would make it.
And since God has chosen to forgive each one of us, we have a tremendous opportunity to imitate Him by loving and forgiving each other. This is the good news of the gospel, is it not? That we can have a relationship with God, in spite of our weakness. But the good news does not stop there. It goes on to say that our relationships to each other can be healed, too. Forgiveness can bring about miraculous healing. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Which is easier to say, Be healed, or, your sins are forgiven?”. We must learn to forgive, and to accept forgiveness. If we accept forgiveness, we can go on and live powerful lives, because we feel loved.
We might be illegitimate children, but children of God we are, if we only will believe it. If we accept that we are God’s children, even when we sin, then we can carry on. We can fall and get back up, with the help of God and each other. We need to quit trying to live according to rules and laws, and start living by grace. We need to receive grace from God, and then pour it out onto the least deserving people we can find. We need to love people who don’t deserve it. And we need to speak forgiveness over and over. We need to carefully walk as forgiven sinners, loudly proclaiming the love of God, free to all who will accept it.
When was the last time you spoke forgiveness to another person? When was the last time you asked for forgiveness from someone that you wronged, or maybe it was just that they misunderstood you, and took offense at something you said or did. We need to stop being silent when this happens. We need to instead let this be an opportunity to let love do its miraculous work of regeneration. We need to let forgiveness become a part of our daily life. We need to wallow in forgiveness! “What! Shall we sin that grace may abound?” Hell no, but we need to be fully convinced that when we do fall, grace will abound. We will still be loved by our Father, even if every one else withholds their love. We need to learn that love is the secret to life, to God. Love is the reason God created the world and us. It is the reason we are here now, and it will be what determines our final destination. When everything else is dead and gone, love will remain forever. Why? Because God is love! And we were created, in His image!
Love is eternal and forgiveness is an essential part of love. Life is about love! It is not about being right! We will never become completely right, until we learn how to love unconditionally, and forgive unconditionally. If you want it to be about commands, then obey the first and greatest command, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second one is just like the first, love your neighbor as yourself.” This is what life is about! It is not about correct doctrine. Doctrine and laws were given to teach us about love. All the laws and the prophets point toward love. That is their job, to be teachers, not masters. They were meant to be a road map, leading toward God, but they were never meant to be the destination. No, God is the destination, and what He desires is for us to be what He created us to be, children created in His image. We were meant to be His children, in loving relationship to Him, and in loving relationship to each other. That is the bottom line, and you can bet your life on it!
The apostle Paul must have fully accepted forgiveness and experienced it like few others have. He willingly took part in the murder of Christians. He boldly spoke and worked against Jesus. Then he met Jesus, and he realized just how wrong he had been. How could he have done such great sins against God and men? He was very bad! But somehow, probably through one of the people he sought to hurt, he was shown the awesome love and forgiveness of God. Why would God want to use him? Why not just get rid of him, and find a better person to preach the gospel to the world? Because God loves every one of us, no matter how wrong we are, and He is always willing to forgive us. Why? Because He loves us very much, and always will. He is our Father, and we are His children, whether we believe it or not! When we do believe it, and accept it, as Paul did, then we will be used in a powerful way, as forgiven messengers!
Each of us needs to experience the healing power of giving and receiving forgiveness over and over. We need to practice it. We need to look for opportunities to overcome evil with good. We need to let love control us. We need to be led by the Spirit of God. We need to grow up to be mature children of God, becoming like Him, able to love and forgive unconditionally and unendingly! We need to realize that none of us can become whole, on our own. We need each other. We need relationships. Forgiveness and unconditional love is the only power in the universe that can accomplish this great task. It is the free gift of God. Can we be so free with it? Can we reflect the image of God in our own lives? It has been said, “You will recognize them by their love”. Will we be recognized by our love? Will God recognize us by our love?
Again, I am not directing this toward anyone in particular. If anything, I am speaking to me, about me. I have not arrived. I am very weak. I need to realize completely what forgiveness really is. But I am being nourished greatly by thoughts about God, and love, and forgiveness. Please accept this in the spirit it was given.