Forgiveness, No Matter What

Last week the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that local prosecutors withdrew the death penalty for 22-year-old Mike Portaro's killer. The reason? Mike's mother said she didn't want to see the man die.

Cynthia Portaro has plenty of reasons to be angry and bitter. Her son wasn't doing anything wrong when he was killed. Instead he was selling tickets to his group's upcoming show outside an area restaurant. Five months after Mike was killed, Cynthia's daughter was killed in an ATV crash. Her husband died last year on Thanksgiving Day.

Yet Cynthia told reporter David Ferrara last week that she feels "no hatred, animosity, anger. Because if you live in Christ, you cannot live with those things." Mike's shooter had already apologized to her. She didn't want or need anything more.

I've never met Cynthia Portaro, but I admire her determination to forgive others no matter what. She doesn't say she's gotten over her son's death but rather that she's gotten through it. And in the process of getting through her grief, Cynthia chose to forgive—no matter what her son's killer had taken from her.

Oswald Chambers called forgiveness "the divine miracle of grace." Because God is the ultimate forgiver, He gives us grace to choose forgiveness no matter what people have done to us. No matter what pain and heartache they've caused. No matter what the other person might deserve in terms of justice. No matter what apology we may or may not have received. No matter how hard it is to put a wrongdoer's needs above our own.

When I read the article about Cynthia Portaro, I thought of Jesus' words on the cross. Jesus looked at the guards who had beaten Him and nailed Him to the cross, and He asked God to forgive them (Luke 23:34). There was no apology, no cessation of pain. Yet Jesus forgave. Would we have done that?

If Easter is nothing else, it is a reminder that God has forgiven us of every sinful thought and deed through Jesus' death on the cross. God forgave us because of His love and mercy, and in the power of His love, we too can offer forgiveness to others, no matter what.
Friday - March 13, 2015

How Far Should Obedience Go?

Obedience was a frequent discussion topic when I facilitated a recent women's Bible study at church. Our group used Kelly Minter's study of 1, 2 and 3 John, What Love Is. We couldn't ignore the subject of obedience because John repeatedly tied our obedience to our love for God.

I believe most Christians would say obedience is a good thing. We believe in obedience—to a point. But where is that point exactly? Where's the limit on our obedience?

Limited obedience wasn't Jesus' style. Philippians 2:8 says Jesus became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. In other words, He took obedience all the way. To the limit. To infinity and beyond.

By contrast, our culture prizes the practice of setting boundaries on what we'll do for others. Maybe that works for our relationships, but what about our willingness to follow Christ? Have we silently set limits on what we'll do and when we'll do it? If we say we've yielded our lives to God but we still want to have the final say on our schedules and lifestyles, doesn't our attitude testify to the presence of some invisible boundaries?  

Seven questions that expose obedience boundaries:

·         Which of Christ's commands are we willing to ignore?

·         Whose needs are we willing to minimize or dismiss?

·         What humbling task or ministry have we resisted?

·         How often do our thoughts gravitate toward worry instead of trust?

·         How often do we blister someone with our anger instead of surprising them with our forgiveness?

·         How often do we remove the purity or kindness filter on our words? What about our thoughts?

·         Why do we feel justified in vigorously loving some Christians but not others?

Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15 NASB) Despite those words, many Christians (me included) try to convince themselves that God doesn't notice our partial obedience. We sing worship songs about loving God while simultaneously offering Him halfway obedience. Let me ask you, would you notice if you asked someone for a cup of coffee and received a cup only half full?

Obedience to a certain point equals love to a certain point. Doesn't sound very attractive, does it? So maybe we need to rethink our whole approach to obedience. If we don't want to put boundaries on our love for Christ, perhaps we should skip those other boundaries as well.

Thursday – March 5, 2015