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Tuesday, June 19, 2007
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"Seventy Times Seven"
"Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21,22).
Several weeks ago I shared a photo of the calculator pictured to the right. Based upon the photo I asked what message theme I might be working on. Brooksyne and I enjoyed reading the various responses and the majority correctly noted that the number 490 was seventy times seven, so the message theme must be "forgiveness" based on today's Scripture verse. So, here's that message:
I sure appreciate the blunt honesty of Peter's question which is earnest and timeless. In the course of physical relationships we will all be sinned against. Peter understood and experienced this human reality that resulted from the fall and he also recognized that forgiveness needs to be granted to the offender. However, he reasoned that there must surely be some type of limit and offered what seemed to him a reasonable maximum, "Up to seven times?"
Peter probably felt he was being rather magnanimous in this offer. The rabbis at that time taught that people should forgive those who offend them but only up to three times. Peter may have had in mind seven as the "perfect" number and reasoned that this would surely be more than enough.
Jesus surprised Peter with His unexpected mathematical answer: "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Now that comes up to 490 which, in the course of a long-term relationship like marriage, childrearing, employment, or even in a close friendship this number may actually be exceeded.
Dave and Millie are a dear older couple in our church. (Their photo is above.) This spring they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary, which happens to be twice as long as Brooksyne and I have been married. Recently I was walking through a farmer's market with my brother Mike and saw them. We visited with them for a few minutes and commended them for having an enduring marriage. Dave chuckled and said to us, "I really don't know how she's put up with me all these years."
I have a cartoon book for preachers and one cartoon shows a pastor sitting at his desk as a disgruntled church member leaves his office, slamming the door behind him. The pastor had been keeping track of offenses, checks his calculator and realizes that the offender had reached the 490 limit.
Bible commentators do not feel that the Lord intends us to keep an actual record of offenses and then withhold forgiveness when we reach 491! For example the Life Application Bible note on this passage observes, "We shouldn't even keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We should always forgive those who are truly repentant no matter how many times they ask."
Today Brooksyne and I celebrate 11,365 days of marriage and I am really quite sure I have exceeded my literal 490 offense limit many times over. Like my friend Dave, I can say, "I really don't know how she's put up with me all these years."
Today I encourage each reader to habitually practice forgiveness. This way you will store up in your heart the vine of fruitfulness rather than the poisonous weed of unforgiveness!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, I take refuge in You when biting words or unloving actions by others seek to hurt me or those I love dearly. When the offense is fresh it feels like a stabbing in my heart or like I was just punched in the belly. It can even be nauseating when I turn it over and over in my mind and let it gnaw at my insides. But You've taught us to lay down our weapons of angry retorts and vengeful tactics and draw near to You as You gather us into Your arms like a shepherd who protects and comforts his lambs. In as much as it is possible we are to live at peace with all people. But when that is an impossibility may it not be a result of our unwillingness to express genuine love and wholehearted forgiveness. We cannot change other's hearts, but we can pray and ask You to do so. I'm so glad nothing is impossible with You, God. Amen.
Brooksyne's Note: Certainly Stephen has extended forgiveness toward me as much or even more than I have toward him!
On a more serious note, I'm aware that we have readers who have deep, cutting wounds from their past that have affected your walk with the Lord and your relationship to others.
My mother, the oldest of 6 siblings, was raised by an atheist father who was also an alcoholic and abuser. She, being the oldest, received his abuse much worse than her siblings. I continue to respect my mother's privacy though she's been with the Lord for six years now, so I will not go into detail regarding the kind of abuse she dealt with from the time she was about five years old until her final escape at about 17 years of age.
When one has been terribly mistreated the pain and consequences of that wrongdoing does not go away quickly and forgiveness toward the offender is even harder to extend. I never met my grandfather because of my mother's tremendous disdain for him and I don't even remember his name being mentioned in our household until I was an adult. In fact I grew up thinking he was dead (in actuality he was sentenced for his crime in a state prison all those years.) What a sad, sad legacy he left for his family.
Mom's bitterness toward her father affected her and it also overshadowed our family. Mom was a believer and even sought professional help, but she could never find peace about her past.
I was overjoyed when I visited with the pastor in Sand Springs Oklahoma who officiated at Mom's funeral in October of 2001. I'm not certain that he knew about Mom's abusive childhood since he had only recently assumed the pastorate at the church, but he said something to me that made me feel that she finally found peace about her past. He said, "Your mother made an appointment to meet in my office weeks before her death and this is what she told me: 'I want you to know that for many years I could never find it in my heart to forgive someone who hurt me. But at last I've finally let that go and there is now no unforgiveness in my heart. I'm ready to meet the Lord.'"
Mom was preparing to die and she wanted nothing to keep her out of heaven! In her last year on earth she read the Bible through twice and her relationship with Christ deepened. I believe that is why she was finally able to let go of the pain of her past. How I wish she would have extended forgiveness many years earlier – she would have been the greater person for it and there would have been less heartache not only for her, but for my dad, my siblings and myself. May God help us not to mentally videotape those tragic memories which only contribute to a twisted trail of chaos, self-pity and leads to even more insecurity. Our security is certain when we follow in the paths of righteousness as a child of our Heavenly Father.
Today there are two songs we would really like to have shared with you related to the theme but were unable to find on the internet.
We saw this plaque on an old stone building in Lancaster Pennsylvania. It has a very special purpose with an interesting spiritual application. Do you have any idea what it may signify?
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