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In our previous session we focused on achieving a clear conscience by putting a spotlight on our offenses toward others, but this week, the topic is forgiveness, with the spotlight on the offenses of others toward us…. and the grave responsibility and mandate we have to forgive. When we withhold forgiveness, we literally plant a seed of bitterness that grows slowly but steadily, ready to consume our hearts and souls. And as a result, our situation becomes worse.

This week, as a result of the video discussion, we spent some special time in ministry. I think it’s important to be responsive to these moments… particularly in the area of forgiveness and spiritual ‘captivity.’ So often, we allow unholy connections from former relationships … like the strands of a spider web… to remain attached to our spirits. These strands can only be broken by the sword of truth… Christ Jesus. This cutting is a very specific prayer… for the cutting and the setting free.

After our ministry time, we returned to the workbook and talked about realizing that forgiveness is not done alone, but through Christ. Someone reminded us of the Corrie Ten Boom story again, when Corrie had to face the reality of forgiving one of the brutal Nazi guards from her concentration camp. We also talked about the difficulty in extending forgiveness in the face of a cruel parent or abuser. Truly, only the presence of the Holy Spirit can bring that kind of courage and freedom.

Each person then gave their 2-minute “elevator” testimonies. All were powerful as we saw the unique way God touched our lives in order to bring us into relationship with Him. It was amazing, of the 9 or 10 of us there that night, that 6 were raised Catholic but only found their true relationship with Christ later in life. For some, the discovery of Christ came through a traumatic experience like the death of a child, for others, it was the dropping of a veil in the mind, for another, an altar call at a Billy Graham crusade, and still another through the reading of God’s word. I was humbled by the depth and breadth of God’s love with each one of the stories… some with joy and some with tears. For some, the memories of who they were before knowing the Lord was difficult. But I say again, as I said that night, each of us has that part of God’s story that only we can tell. Our lives have value to him. Our tears, He collects in a bottle. Our pain is part of the story because of its power to impact someone else’s story. We should never be ashamed of our story nor fear the pain. God is speaking.

Sometimes it takes walking through sin, pain, or difficulties in our lives to fully appreciate the depth of Woman who washed Jesus\' feet; Special thanks to Daniel GerhartzHis grace… when we are forgiven much, we are more willing to forgive (and love) others as He loved us. (Luke 7:47) I often add to my own testimony that “I am the woman at the well…,” I am the woman who “washed Jesus’ feet with her hair.” In my life, God has forgiven much… how can I do less?

And lastly, we talked about the servant who begged a King to be forgiven of a great debt. The King agreed to do so, but then, the servant turned around and treated someone badly who owed him money. When the King heard of it, he cast that servant into jail. (Matthew 18:23-35) There are many truths to be gleaned from this passage, but the one the Lord laid on my heart is that forgiveness is not cheap. God does not treat our forgiveness of others lightly. There is a cost as well as a freedom. The King who forgave the servant lost millions… but he was willing to do it. When we forgive someone who does not deserve it, we do bear a cost as well. But the freedom is immeasurable. And in the end, it is our forgiveness… our letting go… that really matters. God will avenge the rest.

Next week, we will be discussing sexual purity … and although this message alone has value… I encourage everyone to expand the topic to include other sins of the flesh… what else seduces us? What seduces women today? Is it just men… or something else as well?

We will hold the rest of the testimonies (those who were missing last week) until the following week when we study the “spirit-filled” life. See you then. We’re almost to the end of our journey!

For more prints like the one in this post, see Daniel Gerhartz site. (used by permission)

Clearing the conscience is a process of drawing closer to God by letting go of the obstacles that are scattered along the path to Him. It’s a serious endeavor and should not be taken lightly.

I think, so many times, we view this process as something that children must do while growing up. But clearly, there is work here for all of us. It is even more important if our first reaction to “clearing the Even the little things...conscience” is that there isn’t much to do. We may have become too complacent, having lost a sensitivity to the little things that can ultimately mushroom into the big things. (The video told the story of a young adult who was quickened to confess the mis-use of a postage stamp.)

In the “faith builder” story about the government man who decided to confess to drug use years and years before and, as a result, temporarily lost his top secret clearance and was relegated to a hallway during the investigation, the process was very humbling. In the end, that process gave him opportunities to witness and in the end, get an even better job. This is so difficult for us, I think, to walk in a direction that seems counter-productive, but God turns the way toward a victory we could not have imagined.

Our group talked at length about our own reactions. What would we say if a friend or relative would tell us that he/she was going to confess to some old sin or indiscretion years ago that would negatively impact the present? Most of us had to say that we would probably not encourage the confession. We might even use scripture like II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” to justify keeping silent. And so, unwittingly, we could become like Peter in Matthew 16:23 when he tried to convince his master not to go to Jerusalem, “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” We must all take care that we don’t become an obstacle to God’s work … in us as well as in others. We need tune in to the quickenings of the Holy Spirit. God is speaking to us through our conscience.

If it is true that a clear conscience means that nothing is standing between us and Christ, that nothing “keeps us awake at night,” that we can stand before God without fear, that we are not in bondage to anything, then the converse is also true. Look to your heart.

There are two directions symbolized by the cross, the vertical is our relationship with God and the horizontal is our relationship with others. Both are needful. The horizontal relationships are the walking out of our relationship with the Lord. To the degree that we are in good relationships, we can see the reality of our relationship with God. Without the “practice” of life, holiness is mere knowledge and not wisdom.

We also discussed the process of confession when dealing with issues of conscience. DeMoss talks at length about the various types: from private confession (between you and God) to personal confession (between you and the other) and most difficult, public confession (between you and a group). I think of these as concentric circles. Start from the core. The most important is between you and God and only after that, with God’s leading, should the others be pursued. DeMoss encourages us to make a list and “work the list.” And although I think that is a good idea, my personal opinion is that much prayer should precede all the other confessions. My other personal warning is that private confessions are not an opportunity to “clear the air” and show the other person their sins… if you go this route, it is essential to keep the confession focused on the part you played and to ask for forgiveness… whether it is given or not cannot be the goal… only obedience to God’s leading for YOU to confess. Trust God.


Remember, homework for our next session: please be prepared to give a 2-minute “elevator testimony.”

The DeMoss video was quite poignant for me during class because of my personal interest and connection to the Helen Keller story having Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan from Museum of Disabilityplayed Annie Sullivan in the play, The Miracle Worker. Despite the fact I played this part almost 40 years ago, I have never lost my appreciation for this remarkable story. For DeMoss, the story offers a word picture of the trials we sometimes face in this difficult area of obedience. Annie is quoted as saying, “I shall have many battles with the little woman before she learns the only two essential things I can teach her, obedience and love.” Helen, as a child, never learned obedience or manners because she was percieved as being unable to learn these things. It was only Annie’s persistence and love that broke through and not only taught Helen how to “be obedient” but also how to trust… the primary key to obedience (and submission, by the way).

Some of the video highlights (and quotes) that class participants liked were:

  • Obedience is the gateway to knowledge and love
  • Nature and all of creation obey God – no choice but humans have a choice.
  • All “commands” of God are for our good. (Deut 4:40)
  • The call to obedience is a call to blessing. (Deut 11:26-28)
  • We cannot obey in our own strength.

We then reviewed the “faith builder” story that told of a man who confessed to stealing furniture designs and selling them as his own. When he “came clean” with those he had transgressed, they were surprised he even bothered since, “that’s a common business practice” and everyone does it. There are so many areas in our culture where this idea has become pervasive, from things like speeding to white collar crimes like stealing office supplies to outright theft of money from a cash register. Have our consciences been seared beyond repair?

DeMoss calls this level of seared conscience a “obedience quotient” and says that one way to measure it is the length of delay between what we know God wants us to do and our actually acting on it. It is important to remember that as we contemplate and weigh our own desires against what we know are God’s desires, we are becoming like King Saul (I Samuel 15:1-21)

If we can remember that our obedience to God today is actually a foundation for the trials of tomorrow, things would go so much better. In order to learn obedience, it takes practice. (See post on Repentance.) One participant reminded me of the story of the 10 virgins who remembered the oil and were ready for their bridegroom when He came (Matthew 25:1-13). Another scripture brought up was

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Again, all in support of the idea that it is our foundation of obedience that allows us freedom in our walk toward holiness.

Another key point is that obedience to God is “total” and that a partial obedience is no better than outright disobedience. (King Saul is one of the prime examples.) The repercussions for partial obedience can be just as destructive. Sometimes, our disobediences are small and seem inconsequential, but we must remember that story of the “frog in the pot” … from these small missteps can come devastating consequences.

What is your story? Do you have your own story of disobedience? Did you change your path only after the consequences began to erode your circumstances? If you look back, can you see the moment when it all started? Can you see the moment you could have chosen differently? Ask God, right now, to forgive that decision. Ask the Lord to “restore to you what the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.

This was an interesting and challenging evening for me, particularly after we viewed the video by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I guess, I was a little surprised as I didn’t find the video to match up with what I expected based on the workbook. Nonetheless, it did bring out lots of discussion and I think that is always healthy as long as we hold each other lovingly when we disagree. 🙂

In this video segment, DeMoss put a lot of emphasis on sins that block our journey toward holiness (which is true, of course), but particulary “worldly entertainments” – a phrase she uses in the workbook. In particular, she zeroed in on R rated movies, music, television, and the like. This is a bit tough for me, and I confessed this to the group, because I don’t lump all R rated movies into a “do not watch” zone. I just never have, probably because of my theatrical background and love for all forms of production and theater craft. Several people shared their own views, many confirming that they felt DeMoss was right on target. I will only share a caution here, that none of us judge too quickly, and allow our sovereign God to work His will and way with each person. May we all hold fast to our previous lesson that “grace is sufficient” and that there is “no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” Sin is sin … there is no sin more powerful, really, than another. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s why we are on a journey.

We then touched most of the questions, my favorite being the first one in which I encouraged folks to talk about the people they know and love who they perceive as living holy lives. I love personal storieds and many of these were very encouraging. I was so reminded of the previous lesson on honest and transparency because most of the examples confirmed that element as a key.

There are two types of holiness that we learned about this week:

  1. positional holiness – comes with our initial salvation and is based on Christ’s sacrifice and the covering of his blood. This is our “spiritual position.”
  2. personal holiness – comes with the walking out of positional holiness, also known as sanctification. This is how we think and live. It is in this area that we make daily choices.

From the “faith builder” story we learned the importance of authentic confession in the face of sin and the freedom and power that comes as a result. By our transparency and trust in God’s forgiveness, God can, not only heal us, but make us like a pebble thrown in a pond, the ripples affecting and changing those around us.

Are you ready? We could all relate to the story and word picture of the “bride of Christ” who shows up at the wedding in hair curlers and sweat pants. Is this us? Have we lost our way? Have we lost sight of the goal? I think, sometimes, we get the vision for something, but then get caught up in the doing and forget why we’re doing it in the first place. It is important to remember to “keep our eyes on the prize.” I Cor 9:24

Also, I Peter 1:13-16 and other scriptures remind us that this journey is an “active” one… in other words, the pursuit of holiness, is a VERB! There are actions we can take…. choices we can make. Ultimately, we are back to the mind… the decision to do … to change… to go… to work.

And the changes cannot just be “outward affectations” or “habitual practices.” We must stay present Beehive image of concentric circlesin the moment. Remember our earlier discussion of the movies… it is not enough to say whether you do or do not attend particular movies… what is first, is the heart. I did not get to share an image that God had given me about this… it was a beehive shape and the bottom part is the outer world and the top, narrow part is the interior world with God. Our journey towards holiness is a series of concentric circles. All are dependent on one another.

My last word picture for this week is from Isaiah 6:1-7. Just as the angel brought a “coal” to cleanse Isaiah’s “unclean lips,” there is a coal from heaven for each our sins. Oh, refiner’s fire… my heart’s one desire.