But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55-56
Don’t you love to hear someone speak who is passionate about Jesus? I do. There is fire in their words, love in their eyes, and an infectious quality in their faith. A new convert who once fit this description was the young man, Stephen. Included in his public testimony was also a rebuke to the Sanhedrin for murdering Jesus, God’s prophet. His words cut across the landscape of their pride and they picked up stones to end His life. As they began hurling them at Stephen, and as his life began to ebb away, he did something reminiscent of what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed and asked God to not hold their sins against them but to forgive them. At the moment of Stephen’s prayer, today’s scripture follows. Stephen looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing, not sitting, at God’s right hand.
Every other mention of Jesus’ position at God’s right hand in heaven has Him sitting. Why the difference here? There are many who offer a guess at the significance but this text doesn’t tell us the reason. Some believe that because Jesus stood at His trial when He was accused, He stands in heaven vindicated. Others have said that Jesus stands besides those who will witness on His behalf. I believe there could be something additional going on here. Could it be that forgiveness is so rare among Jesus’ disciples that when Stephen prayed for God to forgive His murderers, Jesus stood up – to look down – to behold the scene? In my spirit, I believe this could be true.
Many of you started washing the feet of your offenders yesterday. As you did, perhaps Jesus stood up to look down at you. Did He say to His Father, “Look at what she is doing because she loves me!” He was surprised because those who choose to forgive and follow in the footsteps of Jesus are the minority. I can tell you that from 50 years in ministry. The greatest stronghold in God’s family is bitterness and unforgiveness. The greatest strongholds in my life have been bitterness and unforgiveness.
As you and I review our own salvation, and as we look up into Jesus’ face with unspeakable gratitude, let’s make a vow to follow in His footsteps by forgiving those who hurt us. It will be a lifestyle. It will be a moment by moment decision. It will be steep and require God’s grace. But as we wash the feet of our Judas, we just might cause the celebrations of heaven to still for a moment as Jesus stands to behold His faithful disciples like you and like me.
This series ends but it is just the beginning of a new way of life for many who are reading this. Grace them to finish what You started in their hearts so many weeks ago. Amen
My soul finds rest in God, my hope comes from him. My salvation and my honor depend on God, he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Psalm 62:7-8
How I’ve prayed for you over the weekend. Many of you have written to tell me that you’re relieved to finally have a way to apply the act of forgiveness. You’re ready to disentangle yourself from your offender. You’re ready to rid yourself of the bitterness that has tied you to the vivid memories of whatever it was that they did to you. You’re ready to rid yourself of torment and know the peace that Jesus gives when we leave matters of injustice in His hands.
Allow me to give you some guidelines as you get ready to take this foot-washing journey. Your offender will take the chair and you will assume your position on the stool. Jesus will be ever with you, giving you what you need to move forward. He will always be your encourager to propel you upward on this steep path of obedience. As you prepare, here are some things to keep in mind ~
2. Wash their feet until you have quiet tears. The pain you will feel is necessary. What will come out will be what has been trapped inside. The emotional outpouring will be confusing and messy. Tears will express grief, anger, and many other things. Persevere. Over time, the nature of your tears will change. As you wrestle with God’s will, you will move to accept that His providence and sovereignty is over all things. Tears will quiet as you believe Him for redemption.
3. Wash their feet until you feel a release in your spirit. How will you know when you have finished? Listen closely to the small, spontaneous voice in your spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead you to a new threshold. You will breathe fresh air, feel the turn in the road, maybe even sense a ‘well done’ being spoken over you.
Everything has been leading up to today. Jesus stands with you on this threshold of freedom.
You have promised to lead the blind in a way they do not know. All of this is foreign for so many who are reading this. It was foreign to me, Lord. But You are faithful to unveil each next step with grace. Amen
My salvation and my honor rest on God, my strong rock; my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge. Selah Psalm 62:7-8
Washing my offender’s feet in prayer became my template. (It still is.) The process of doing it, daily, spanned the course of several months. Just as David had to affirm things out loud in today’s scripture, I had to make audible confessions that centered on truths like these: Lord, You will come to my rescue. Your honor is really all that’s important. My trust is in You. I will pour out my heart to You and You will be gracious to help me when I can’t continue in my own strength.
Each day when I went to prayer ~
Still, every now and then there are days I still have to wash her feet in prayer. I discover new evidence of the damage she caused. Each time, I need the wind of the Spirit to fuel obedience.
Jesus, You washed Your disciples feet on the eve of their desertion of Your darkest hour. You didn’t withhold from them in disillusionment. Give me that same grace. Amen
You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:13-15
We’ve worked our way through what forgiveness is, what it is not, and also given thought as to why it’s so hard. Hopefully, you’ve allowed your heart to open up to old wounds that are yet unhealed in hopes of being freed from the torment of remembering. I suspect it’s been difficult and you’ve wondered how this series would come to a conclusion. Would there be instruction, then closure? The answer is yes. I hope you are poised to take action because these next few days are pivotal to take you to the freedom God promises.
I have been humbled by what God’s forgiveness of repentant sinners really looks like. It is only through feeling gratitude that I can think of giving away the same gift. It is only then that I am able to ache to live a different way….a way that is realized when forgiveness is worked out between God and me for my offender. If so, what’s next?
I asked that in May of 1997 as God showed me that I had not forgiven someone who hurt me over the course of many years. It was entangled and messy. As I asked God how to begin, He took me to this passage in John. I panicked and then thought about what it would take to wash this person’s feet. I began to talk to God about it everyday in prayer. I spent the next three months working on this. This is what happened.
My prayer time became all about forgiveness. I couldn’t think of much else.
I could see a foot washing scene in my mind as I prayed. A basin. A stool. A chair. And a pitcher of water.
My offender came and sat in the chair. I took my place on the stool. I could sense Jesus near, watching me.
In my anger, I momentarily wished the basin was filled with scalding water as my hurt fully resurfaced. Immediately, I had to deal with my desire for vengeance.
I began to wash her feet and for many weeks, I re-lived the experience and began to pour out my hurt. What that looked like will be for tomorrow. Until then, think about whether this foot washing ‘template’ would be helpful to you. If you decide to proceed, and that will take courage, Jesus is waiting to help you.
Jesus, I need You because with You all things are possible. Amen
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known. Is. 42:16a
6. Forgiveness is hard because ~ I’ve embraced a fake forgiveness.
Forgiveness is messy. No one looks forward to a season like that. It involves reviewing the hurt, asking God to show me how I internalized it, feeling anger, grieving a loss of some kind, and many other things not easy to navigate. I fear that if I start feeling angry or I grieve deeply, I’ll never be able to escape the cycle.
What’s the safe alternative? The one the church so often adopts. Their paradigm is this ~ A person goes forward during an invitation, they kneel at the altar, cry a few tears and tell God that they will forgive their offender. They get up and put on a face that says, “Now I’m finished. Been there ~ done that!” This brief encounter with the edges of forgiveness leads onlookers to believe that this person should be all better. In fact, others will expect it. When this person’s heart fails and hurts again, they will beat themselves up over being a failure of a Christian. And if they confess their struggles to another, they will probably hear sermons that stir up guilt.
What is the answer? To understand that forgiveness is not cerebral, nor is it momentary. The bigger the hurt, the longer the process, and the messier it is. I have to be careful not to surround myself with confidants who have the false expectations of an unbiblical kind of forgiveness. To be vulnerable to hardliners who diminish God-given emotions is a mistake. I don’t know what they would have done with Jesus when He modeled a very wide emotional spectrum. He was free to express joy and also free to grieve to the point of sweating drops of blood. We here in the western world have numbed out to the extremes that are healthy for us. We believe that to be stoic is to be holy.
If you are one who has walked the aisle, said the words, cried briefly, and then wondered why – with time – you didn’t feel much better, perhaps you have been the victim of poor teaching and unreasonable expectations. What should you do? Start over. Find a journey partner or prayer partner. Be yourself and acknowledge what you have been afraid to disclose to anyone, including yourself. God already knows it’s there and has been waiting for the exposure of what’s been hidden. Now is the season for refreshing.
There is a promise that goes with you so don’t fear. I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. Isaiah 42:16
You are leading me into the dark, turning on the light. Amen
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. Galatians 5:16-17
5. Forgiveness is hard because ~ It doesn’t feel natural.
After teaching on forgiveness, I always give an invitation for women to respond; to indicate publicly that they are ready to follow Jesus in a lifestyle of forgiveness. I encourage them to abdicate their self-imposed right to sit on the throne of judgement and give God back His place as sovereign Ruler. I ask any who are ready to do this to stand and then lift one hand toward heaven and say, “Long Live The King!” Oh, how I wish I could take each of you with me to witness what happens.
The battle begins. Some people do it quickly as God had already prepared their heart through the teaching to desire freedom and the things of the Spirit. But for most, the struggle to respond is evident in their body language. Tears flow, weeping can be heard, and there are tentative beginnings of arms slowly being raised, but then lowered again. Raised/lowered ~ the battle continues. Other than salvation, I believe this is the biggest spiritual war any child of God faces.
I’ve had women tell me, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t do it. I don’t have it in me to forgive this person.” I assure them that I know this to be true. They do not have it in them. That’s because forgiveness is not natural, it’s supernatural. What’s natural (and of the flesh) is revenge, and how we love to fantasize about it!
When I can’t forgive, I cry out to the God for help. He offers it no matter how great my need may be. His Spirit, inside of me, is ready to equip me for obedience. He infuses me with grace. Yes, it’s a war. Everything in me says that someone has to make them pay, someone needs to make sure things are fair, and if I don’t do it – I fear God won’t. This is the language of the devil and once I know that, I can reject those thoughts and focus on what the Spirit is saying in the Word. His way leads to life and freedom. Satan’s way leads to anger and bondage.
Copying Jesus is impossible. My flesh wants what He doesn’t want. Oh, Father – but living by Spirit is possible because I’m giving You all the power to make it happen. Fill me today with Your desires. Amen