Finding Forgiveness

Day 22

Strangely enough, one of the things that has stood out the most in the first twenty-two days of Discovery is how much attention the Gospels give to the contention between Jesus and the Pharisees. Legalism and the Life of God are mortal enemies. Judgmentalism and the Mercy of God are poles apart. Finger-pointing and Forgiveness cannot exist in the same heart. And though legalistic, judgmental, finger-pointing religion may dress itself up in spiritual garb, it is actually the very heart of Satan — the accuser of the brethren. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you should be hard or extend mercy, always error on the side of mercy. I do not fear going to the judgment seat of Christ and being judged for being too merciful.

Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples are picking the heads of grain and eating them. The Pharisees find fault in this. They accuse the disciples of breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath. These guys need to get a life. Their religion consists almost entirely of making other people miserable by pointing out their faults. Or as Jesus humorously described it, they call attention to the speck in their brother’s eye while they fail to notice the two-by-four sticking out of their own eye.

Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees are filled with rage and begin to plot against Jesus. How wrong is that?! By the way, rage is a demon spirit, very dangerous and destructive, and usually just beneath the service of legalistic religion. You see it in Islam and in ultra-legalistic pseudo-Christianity.

Of course the Pharisees could cite chapter and verse as to why they were justified in their rage; after all doesn’t the Bible say you shall do no work on the Sabbath? And certainly healing is a work, even if it’s a good work. Do you see how with a legalistic approach to scripture you can always find a way to “prove” your point. By the letter of the law you can be “right”, but completely wrong according to the heart of the Law. Righteousness is first of all an issue of the heart, and if our heart is wrong, everything is wrong. Attitude is almost everything. The prophet Micah tried to impress this upon the people when he said…

He has shown you, O man, what is good,
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

The Pharisees thought they were righteous because of their almost insane application of the letter of the law, but all the while they missed the true intent of the law as it proceeded from the heart of God. Without justice, mercy and humility, it is impossible to have a right heart, and God looks upon the heart. The real downfall of the Pharisees was their pride; this was the thing made them blind guides of the blind and made it impossible for them to repent. For the Pharisees the word of God was not something to apply to their own lives, but something they could use to make themselves superior to others. I’ve never forgotten a line I read in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbors.


This is the Dylan song that came to mind while reading Luke 6 and 7 this morning,

Dead Man, Dead Man

Uttering idle words from a reprobate mind,
Clinging to strange promises, dying on the vine,
Never bein’ able to separate the good from the bad,
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,
It’s makin’ me feel so sad.

Dead man, dead man,
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind,
Dust upon your eyes.

Satan got you by the heel, there’s a bird’s nest in your hair.
Do you have any faith at all? Do you have any love to share?
The way that you hold your head, cursin’ God with every move,
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,
What are you tryin’ to prove?

Dead man, dead man,
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind,
Dust upon your eyes.

The glamour and the bright lights and the politics of sin,
The ghetto that you build for me is the one you end up in,
The race of the engine that overrules your heart,
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,
Pretending that you’re so smart.

Dead man, dead man,
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind,
Dust upon your eyes.

What are you tryin’ to overpower me with, the doctrine or the gun?
My back is already to the wall, where can I run?
The tuxedo that you’re wearin’, the flower in your lapel,
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,
You wanna take me down to hell.

Dead man, dead man,
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind,
Dust upon your eyes.

-Bob Dylan


Are you following this story?

Death could await Christian convert

U.S. lawmaker: Christian-conversion prosecution ‘outrageous’

WASHINGTON (CNN)In the days of the Taliban, those promoting Christianity in Afghanistan could be arrested and those converting from Islam could be tortured and publicly executed.

That was supposed to change after U.S.-led forces ousted the oppressive, fundamentalist regime, but the case of 41-year-old Abdul Rahman has many Western nations wondering if Afghanistan is regressing.

Rahman, a father of two, was arrested last week and is now awaiting trial for rejecting Islam. He told local police, whom he approached on an unrelated matter, that he had converted to Christianity. Reports say he was carrying a Bible at the time.

“They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it,” Rahman told reporters last week, “but I am not a deserter and not an infidel.”

The Afghan constitution, which is based on Sharia, or Islamic law, says that apostates can receive the death penalty.

Afghanistan’s population is 80 percent Sunni Muslim and 19 percent Shiite Muslim, according to the CIA. The other 1 percent of the population is classified as “other.”

U.S.: Freedom to worship part of democracy

Rahman’s case raises thorny issues between Afghanistan and its Western allies, and U.S. officials this week made certain that Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is in Washington for talks on the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership, understood their qualms.

“We have underscored also to Foreign Minister Abdullah that we believe that tolerance and freedom of worship are important elements of any democracy,” U.S. State Department spokesman Scott McCormack told reporters Tuesday. “We urge the Afghan government to conduct any legal proceedings in a transparent and fair manner.”

Abdullah was supposed to talk to reporters Tuesday about talks for the strategic partnership. Instead, Abdullah was bombarded with questions about the Rahman case.

“I know that it is a very sensitive issue and we know the concerns of the American people,” Abdullah said, adding that the Afghan Embassy in Washington had received “hundreds of messages” on the issue.

He further said that the Afghan government had nothing to do with the case.

“But I hope that through our constitutional process, there will be a satisfactory result,” he said.

Rahman’s case illustrates a split over the interpretation of the Afghan constitution, which calls for religious freedom while stating that Muslims who reject Islam can be executed.

Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs, said he understands the complexities of the case and promised the United States would respect Afghan sovereignty. However, he said, Afghans should be free to choose their own religion, and he believes the nation’s constitution supports that.

“We hope the Afghan constitution is going to be upheld,” Burns said. “If he has the right of freedom of religion, that ought to be respected.”

Rahman’s case could force Afghan President Hamid Karzai into the undesirable position of mediating the matter. Karzai has to placate an ever-restless populace in turbulent post-war Afghanistan, but at the same time, he needs Western assistance to stave off the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Allies indignant

The U.S. has 23,000 troops in the country; Germany has 2,700. Canada has 2,300 stationed there, and Italy has 1,775, according to Reuters.

All four nations have expressed displeasure over the situation, some even saying that it is intolerable that soldiers of all faiths die to protect a country threatening to kill its own for converting to Christianity.

Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga wrote a letter to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, urging him to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan unless Kabul guarantees Rahman’s safety, Reuters reported.

“It is not acceptable that our soldiers should put themselves at risk or even sacrifice their lives for a fundamentalist, illiberal regime,” Cossiga wrote.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, wrote a letter to Karzai asking him to intervene and uphold “core democratic principles and fundamental human rights.”

“In a country where soldiers from all faiths, including Christianity, are dying in defense of your government, I find it outrageous that Mr. Rahman is being prosecuted and facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity,” Lantos wrote.

One German official promised to intervene if necessary. Another, Development Minister Heide Wieczorek-Zeul, said, “We will do everything possible to save the life of Abdul Rahman,” according to Reuters.

Canada echoed that sentiment, saying human rights in Afghanistan was a top priority and that “Canada will continue to encourage the Afghan government to adhere to its human rights obligations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Pamela Greenwell told Reuters.


We will be praying for Abdul Rahman and the church in Afghanistan during our noon prayer meeting today in the Upper Room. Please join us if you can