A Prayer to Become a Community of the Triune God

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

Lord, give us power and grace
that our character and relationships
one with another might look like You
from start to finish and throughout the years.

Lord, You know the temptation to retaliate,
to treat poorly those who treat us poorly,
to repay a verbal stabbing with a silver-tongued sword thrust,
to descend like a flaming comet into anger, bitterness, and cursing.

Lord, help us to take instead the way of blessing,
to walk in unflappable peace, humility, and compassion,
to step inside another’s shoes and see their life through their eyes,
to saturate every word and action with the seeds of selfless love.

Lord, such a way of life does not come easy,
in fact it cuts against the grain of normal human life.
It must instead overflow from Your very life springing up from within us
and be steadily sustained by Your Holy Spirit’s power.

Lord Father—grant us Your life.
Lord Son—grant us Your truth.
Lord Spirit—grant us Your way.

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness: Wise Words from Célestin Musekura and L. Gregory Jones

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued exploring the Apostles’ Creed, “Living the Creed,” with a message focused on forgiveness entitled, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read these bracing words from the Apostle Paul:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgiven

In the book Forgiving as We’ve Been ForgivenCélestin Musekura and L. Gregory Jones reflect at length on what it means to forgive. At one point, Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ in this way:

Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Comparing the way of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones builds upon this by offering six steps of forgiveness that I have found incredibly helpful. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then perhaps it is time that you and I enroll in dance lessons under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit!

The Power of Forgiveness in the Cross of Christ

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

Jesus – hanging on the Cross. 

A few days before, He forewarned His friends over a final Passover meal together. Feeling the weight of what lay ahead, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to His Father that the cup might pass from Him. Then, betrayed by Judas with a kiss, He is arrested by religious authorities. In a frenzy of cast-off justice, He fades all manner of false charges before the Jewish High Priest. Finally, accused of blasphemy and fomenting revolution, He is interviewed by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. With no basis for their accusations, the crowd clamors with demands for His crucifixion. He is chosen for execution while Barabbas, a revolutionary murderer is set free. Brutally scourged by the Romans, Jesus loses flesh and blood. His hands and arms spread wide and affixed to a crossbeam, He is roughly lifted and dropped into place, with His feet painfully nailed to the upright. Two criminals join Him, one on either side. Jesus: a public spectacle as busy people pass by outside Jerusalem.

The crucifixion has begun. Jesus, dangling there in excruciating pain, says: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). 

What is at the forefront of our minds in times of trouble? Often, we express our thoughts with intense exclamations, like “why is this happening to me?!” or “When will this all be over?!” But not Jesus. For Him, it is: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

First, Jesus says, “Father.” Jesus’ relationship with God the Father is more real and present to Him than anything else, even His own suffering. He once said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Earlier, when He was twelve, Jesus lingered in the Jerusalem Temple, talking with the teachers of the Law. When Joseph and Mary found Him, Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). And now here He is on the Cross…fulfilling His Father’s business.

Next, He says, “Father, forgive.” With gasping breaths, Jesus asks His Father for one thing: forgiveness for others. We know from other episodes in Scripture that Jesus had unique, divine authority to forgive. When asked, “who can forgive sins but God alone?”, Jesus responded by not only speaking forgiveness of sins over a paralyzed man, but also healing him as a proof of divine authority. Now, on the Cross, Jesus sees with stark clarity the real human need for forgiveness. He has seen that need for forgiveness in the disappearance of His friends and the cohorts of soldiers approaching Him. He has felt it in the moisture of a kiss and the scourges ripping into His flesh. He has heard it in the leaders’ mockery and the cry of the crowds. Yet, God’s desire and nature to forgive is most vibrantly real to Jesus.

He says, “Father, forgive them.” Forgive them – the Roman authorities who scourged Him, mocked Him, crucified Him. Forgive them – the Jewish leaders, who, out of envy and self-interest, intentionally victimized Jesus to preserve their own position and protect their own version of religion. Forgive them – the crowd who alternately admired and condemned Jesus, who hailed Him as King when he entered Jerusalem, and now, were crying out, “Crucify Him.” Forgive them – the followers who had voiced their stubborn commitment to never leave Jesus’ side, yet now had mostly disappeared like dust blown away by the wind.Father, forgive them – us today, still yet to come at that moment many years ago. We stumble around in life, trying our best. At times we unintentionally wrong others through ignorance or prejudice. But even worse, at other times we intentionally wrong others with cutting words, angry actions, misguided deeds, or holding onto bitterness as the soil in which evil grows. Though we may feel so far away from that moment two-thousand years ago at the Cross, yet, even for us, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them”

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Ignorance abounds in Jesus’ crucifixion: ignorance of His identity, ignorance of His power, ignorance of the fading power of evil, ignorance of God’s greater plans for humanity through the Christ. But even ignorance is not an excuse. It’s not enough to plead ignorance in the taking of a life, the misguided exclusion, or the failures of responsibility. Even ignorant wrong calls for justice and requires forgiveness.

If that is true, how much more do the intentional wrongs we inflict on others and God through our willful rebellion and self-centered intentions call for change and the need forgiveness?

Jesus – in all the agony of the Cross – was most mindful of talking with His Father about the forgiveness needed for the humanity He had come to rescue.

Scripture tells us that human beings are made in the image of God, and that we are the pinnacle of creation. Because of this, underlying every wrong toward another person is an ultimate wrong against God who has made us in His image. Now if that ultimate wrong against God underlies all the shadows of condemnation that cover us, then we cannot truly make things right with one another, the world, or God on our own. It requires something different.

It would require God standing not only as the One who is wronged, but also the One who takes the weight of that wrong upon Himself; to redirect it, to reframe it, and forgive it. 

God must not only be wronged but also receive the relational and cosmic impact of wrongs upon Himself. Only God has the power to name wrong for what it is but also to deal with the condemnation of wrong. 

And so, Jesus enters our world and our lives as fully God and fully man. He identifies and names the shadows of wrong touching every human life and aspect of our creation. And He enters the shadows of that wrong, ultimately at the Cross.

There, fixed at the crossroads of humanity and divinity, of wrong’s condemnation and wrong’s reparation, Jesus speaks with all authority and all compassion the word we all most need to hear, but could never utter ourselves: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I believe in the forgiveness of sins

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we celebrated Eastbrook Outdoors and also continued our preaching series entitled “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.” This series walks through the Apostles Creed as a basic summary of our faith but also as a way to live our faith out with God in the world. Each weekend of this series will explore the biblical and theological roots of the Apostles Creed, while also providing specific spiritual practices and approaches to living out what we know as we ‘proclaim and embody’ the Creed in our daily lives.

This weekend I continued preaching on the third article of the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

You can find the message outline and video below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

The Reality of Our Need

The human history of sin (Genesis 3)

The human experience of sin (Romans 3:23)

The Reality of God’s Intervention

The history of God’s intervention (John 3:16-17)

The human experience of God’s intervention (Romans 6:23)

A Picture of God’s Intervening Forgiveness (John 8:1-11)

Apparent sin in this story

Less apparent sin in this story

The equalizing human experience of sin

The liberating divine gift of forgiveness

Living Out Our Belief in the Forgiveness of Sins

Finding forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ

Taking the step of baptism as a response of faith

Receiving forgiveness again in our lives

Experiencing the release of forgiving others


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

Our Longing for Justice and Need for Mercy

justice and mercy.jpg

One of our deepest desires as human beings is a longing for justice. We long for our lives and the world around us to be bounded by what is just, right, true, and fair without impartiality.

At our jobs or in our classrooms, we want things to be fair with all people treated well and measured equally against a dispassionate measure of job expectations or class requirements. In elections, both here and around the world, we long for fairness in the process so that votes are counted and everyone is give appropriate consideration. This is why we have impartial monitoring groups paying attention to elections around the world. This longing for justice is behind the outcries that arise when human rights are violated, whether around the world or here in our own country. International watchdog groups give voice to the helpless or the ignored so that justice can be brought to bear in their lives. We long for justice because we experience injustice and sin in our world.

This is a concept that appears throughout the Bible. When we wonder what God is like, we inevitably encounter the God of the Bible as a God of justice. The Torah calls for maintaining justice and dealing appropriately with the wrongs in the world: protecting widows, orphans, foreigners and the weak in the face of a difficult world. The Hebrew word, mishpat, is the word most often translated as ‘justice’ in the Old Testament. It conveys the idea of right and appropriate order of a just cause being maintained in the world. When we ask the question, “What is God like?”, we discover that at least one answer is this: He is a God of justice.

But here is something interesting. Even as we long for complete justice in the world, we encounter our own need for leniency. We call for justice for wrongs done by some to us or others, but we often hesitate when we do wrongs ourselves.

When a toddler has his toy taken by another child who did not ask, the toddler cries out for the toy to be returned. It was taken unfairly. But it comes as a great surprise to that same toddler when he is placed in a time-out for unfairly taking a toy without asking from one of his peers later on. Justice looks good from one perspective but looks a bit more painful when justice hits closer to us personally.

In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was a 22-year-old college student with a promising life ahead of her. But when a man broke into her apartment and assaulted her on a warm summer night, she vowed to put him in jail for the rest of her life. When the police gathered a lineup of men for her to identify, she pointed to man #5: Ronald Cotton, as the perpetrator. In the 1985 trial, Cotton was sentenced to life in prison with little hope of release. Justice had been served, or so it appeared.

11 years later, Jennifer Thompson received a knock at the door of her home. She had moved on, gotten married, had children, but every day for 11 years, she had been praying for Ronald Cotton to die. The detective at her door had some important news for her. After a review of evidence through advanced DNA testing, it became clear that Ronald Cotton was not her assailant but, rather, another man already in prison, Bobby Poole. Ronald Cotton was not guilty.

11 years. Ronald Cotton falsely imprisoned. Jennifer Thompson held in a prison of anger. The tables had been turned and Jennifer Thompson said, “I was overwhelmed with guilt and shame for mistakenly putting an innocent man in prison….I found it almost impossible to forgive myself.”

So, when Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson were reunited, she begged for forgiveness. Ronald Cotton took her hands, and with tears in his eyes, told her that he had forgiven her a long time ago.

Ronald Cotton said that both he and Jennifer were victims of the same man. They both became wounded, but they both began to heal. He said, “I choose to forgive…so that I stay free and not be a prisoner the rest of my life.”[1]

You see, we long for justice – for things to be set right in our lives and world – but we also long for mercy because we all need it. The chasm of injustice and sin runs right through our world and also right through us. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story about a servant who was gravely indebted to a king for a tremendous amount of money. He owed the king so much money, in fact, that as a day laborer it would have taken him about 3,000 lifetimes to pay the debt off. When the king brought this man in to settle the debt – to experience justice – the servant begged for mercy. Seeing the servant’s pleas, the king decided to cancel the debt and give the man a new lease on life. Justice was going to be served but instead the servant received mercy.

Returning home, this servant encountered a fellow servant who owed him about four month’s wages and began to choke him, commanding him to repay the debt. Although this other servant too begged for mercy, the first servant denied it and had the man thrown in prison.

The king eventually heard of this situation and called the servant in. Hadn’t this servant owed the king more than he could repay in 3,000 lifetimes? Hadn’t the king shown mercy and cancelled the debt? And now the servant had thrown another man in prison for a debt of four month’s pay? Where is the justice in this lack of mercy?

We long for justice, but human justice can, honestly, at times be unjust. The encounter with justice leads us ultimately into a plea for mercy.  We long for mercy because we know we all need it. The chasm of injustice and sin runs right through our own souls as well.

What good news it is that the God of the Bible is both a God of justice and a God of mercy. One of the most prevalent cries in the psalms is for mercy: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony” (Psalm 6:2). And one of the most resounding themes of the entire Bible is that God is a God of mercy:

  • “Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)
  • “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18)
  • “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

It is in the character of God to be both just and merciful. We struggle to bring these two characteristics together, but God is capable of bringing both to bear upon human lives in a way that also reflects His wisdom.

Ultimately, we encounter this within the work of Jesus Christ, whose ministry is one of both justice and mercy. James’ description of the Christian reality speaks to the ministry of Jesus: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Paul’s marvelous summary of the good news in Ephesians 2, finds its center in the mercy of God:

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3-5)

What a gift that our strongest longing for justice meets with our strongest need for mercy in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. What is God like? He is a God of justice and a God of mercy.


[1] “Finding Freedom In Forgiveness,” NPR – This I Believe, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101469307, November 26, 2011.