Archive for January, 2011

A Grave with the Rich

January 31, 2011

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.  With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  John 19:38-42.

Sometime after entering adulthood, I began to scrutinize the stories in the Bible with a more critical eye.  Not that I criticized the stories themselves, as in putting them down, rather I looked at them with less hero-gloss and more realism.  What I saw was a pretty straight forward no-fault-left-out account of the people involved in God’s purpose, and this presentation won me over to Christ more firmly than anything else.  The characters in all the stories are not perfectly sinless all the time nor are they super successful by the world’s standard of measuring such things, yet they resonated with me on a gritty gut-level of truth.

Joseph of Arimathea is such a character for me, so is Nicodemus.  Here are two of the most powerful men in the Jewish nation, reckoned by the standards of this world, and they followed Jesus in secret for fear of the other powerful men in Jerusalem.  At first, I must admit, I reacted with sheer disgust at their gutless profession of faith and worry over the approval of men.  I had this attitude, that is, until I came up against the first real challenge of my faith in Jesus where it became the scorn of those I respected and loved.  I hate to admit it but I folded somewhat—not all the way, though more out of pride than faithfulness to Jesus.  I wanted to see myself as a warrior for Christ, standing firm no matter what in the face of opposition, defying the whole world to do their worst.  What I saw instead shocked me awake from my glamorous dream state.

Most of us who follow Christ like to believe we can stand against torture and violent opposition for Him—and perhaps this is true to a greater degree.  What I’ve found to also be true, however, is that in face of scorn from our closest and most respected companions, we waffle or grow fearfully tongue-tied.  We also see people who get defiant, defensive or belligerent when challenged over their stance for Him.  Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane we’re courageous in the face of battle but afraid to be caught out in the open testifying in a hostile environment.  Take the Christian outside the walls of the community of believers (the church) and we see clearly what they truly believe.

Oh, I’m not saying a person like Peter doesn’t know Jesus or love Him, it’s just that it’s really easy to stand for things when we are fighting from within our comfort zones.  Everyone knows the stories about soldiers who wouldn’t fold under torture or threat of death; this kind of heroism is set to inspire us to do the same.  Most Christians have been told the stories of martyrs who died without recanting their faith in Jesus—some pretty heinous deaths too.  The truth about us is that outside the confines of direct opposition, where the enemy is defined and the contrast of ideologies is stark and clear, we struggle to find firm footing.  Pastors who rarely face the day to day grind of scorn the rest of their fellow believers do, sometimes grow quite arrogant about their own strength in the faith.  But I say this, and with humility:  Unless you are the one dealing with the very real threat of losing your only means of support in that job or social circle where speaking of your faith is taboo, you have a skewed idea what it’s like to stand firm.

A friend of mine held a great job at a clinic here in Portland.  She told me her supervisor called her into the office a few times to tell her to limit how much she spoke of her faith with the other employees and the patients.  Oddly enough, when the layoffs came around—due to the economy—she was included in those who were let go.  She scored points for her work, was respected for the efficiency with which she did her job, but not accepted for being open about her faith in Jesus.  May be she should have been more discrete, I don’t know, but the fact that she continued to be open about it and not put a lid on it, seems to be part of the motive she got canned.  The world doesn’t tolerate open devotion to Jesus—religiosity, yes, but not real devotion inspired by love.

The way the death of Jesus went down brought Nicodemus and Joseph out of their belief closet.  I don’t know if they saw their silence as taking part in His death or not, but they were done being silent about believing Him.  May be His death made it safe for them to come clean because He wasn’t a threat anymore to the powers-that-be, I don’t know.  At the same time, these were well educated men who knew and loved God, so the secretive nature of Jesus’ trial by the Sanhedrin probably left a bitter taste in their mouths for the leadership of Israel.  I know it would me.

“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing…”  (I don’t remember who said this.)  Yet, let’s be realistic, what could these two men have done against the greater numbers of the Sanhedrin?  Nothing.  They would have just been voices of dissent, and not particularly effective ones either.

In another Matthew 28:60 we learn that Joseph used his own new tomb he’d recently had carved out of solid rock.  This was no ordinary gift for him to give, it meant he respected Jesus so much he was willing to give Him his own place in death—not a slight issue in the Jewish community.  Tombs were places of remembering the history of Israel, the heroes of old and family.  Jesus became the first occupant of this new tomb, and I wouldn’t doubt the last once Joseph knew for certain He’d risen.

Much of our faith is placed in things outside our firsthand experience; much of our understanding comes from men or women no different in inherent nature to us wrestling with the ancient texts to glean truth.  In the process some things might be obscured or blurred—or even mangled beyond recognition—but the one truth that remains clear is that Jesus lived, helped rich and poor indiscriminately, performed miracles beyond anyone’s imagination, died an unjust death and by all accounts rose again.  Once this happened, do you doubt the men who embalmed His body, laid Him in a new tomb and by both these acts declared their allegiance once and for all, would fail to follow Him?  I don’t.

The Man Who Saw It

January 24, 2011

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true.  He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.  These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:  “Not one of His bones will be broken,”  and, as another Scripture says,  “They will look on the one they have pierced.”  John 19:35-37.

John makes it sound like he’s not the one writing all this down.  In point of fact, it could be this gospel was dictated to a scribe of sorts, so the vague references might be that of a someone referring to John in the third person.  To me it doesn’t make any difference one way or the other.

The point of a testimony is to produce an eye witness account of an incident or story.  What we have here is authoritative and informed.  I think this is one of the main reasons why so many scholars who have decided to go another route other than Jesus do their best to cast doubt (and quite effectively) on the origins of this gospel in particular.  For one thing John answers so many questions that might have otherwise gone unanswered in the other gospels.

Who is Jesus?  He’s God’s Son, equal to and working in harmony with His Father.  Is this like a human father/son relationship?  In so far as Jesus’ earthly mission was concerned, yes.  In the spiritual realm, the relationship probably is something pretty unique we don’t relate to, of which our human counterpart is only a symbolic gesture to give us a grasp of it.  To limit God to our understanding is to rob Him of His supremacy.  In other words, when we make the Father the male version, the Holy Spirit the female and Jesus their offspring, we have in effect misappropriated the symbol into nothing more than a human creation of what it might mean to be a god.  Who God is will be far more complex than a mere human relationship, for the symbol rarely speaks to the depth of the reality.

John’s gospel from the very first chapter takes the subject of Jesus’ deity head on and makes no bones about it.  Here at the end of Jesus’ earthly mission, John leaves out certain details from the other gospels (probably because they others mentioned them and he didn’t see any need to repeat) to give just enough info to establish his point:  Jesus’ death fulfilled scripture.

The man who saw it has given testimony…

John told us what he’d seen and heard.  Jesus death fulfilled scripture in the coolest ways, I mean, just look at the two texts above in reference to what happened at the cross.  They bartered over His garments, gave Him bitter drink (no matter the motives or medicinal purposes), didn’t break His legs because He was already dead, then stuck a spear in His side to make double sure.  John is doing his level best to convince us of Jesus’ identity here.

I, for one, am convinced.

It’s in the Law

January 21, 2011

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.  Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  John 19:31.

Strangely enough, I just recently read in Deuteronomy God’s command concerning anyone hung on a tree.  Look at this:

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight.  Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.  You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.  Deuteronomy 21:22, 23.

This provision laid the groundwork for Jesus’ death.  In other words, John’s observation about the Jews’ reasoning shows they weren’t following the law necessarily but were concerned for the special Sabbath.  If you read the law itself, you’ll notice the body of the man hung needed to be buried.  This means he was dead.  Unfortunately for anyone hung on a cross death took a long time, depending on one’s physical endurance.  The Jews knew this fact, so took steps to rectify the situation.

To be honest, I don’t believe they had thought this through enough, because if Jesus were still alive, He could be rescued from the general burial grounds by His disciples.  The bodies of criminals were thrown into a pit outside of Jerusalem somewhere, if my memory serves me correctly.  I’m thinking it was called “Gehenna” where all the refuse was thrown and fires started from just heat.  The point is these men hated Jesus so much they were dishonoring Him in every way they could find.  Here’s a man who healed the sick, raised the dead and fed thousands of people—each miracle documented by their spies—and they somehow thought throwing Him alive into this garbage heap would kill both Him and His influence.  What they probably feared was He would raise Himself up, though His submission throughout the trial and beatings gave them hope they had sufficiently killed His will to live.

Yet their hatred demonstrated itself in the way they treated His body.  Breaking both legs ensured the criminal wouldn’t be able to run or even walk, and after the beatings Jesus’ received earlier that day, I doubt they had any fear of Him recovering.  Still, the logic these men used seemed to lack something in follow through.  The above point about Jesus’ ability to work miracles doesn’t seem to register for some reason, hence their taunt,  “He saved others but cannot save Himself.”  In my experience, though, this is the nature of hatred and hard bias.  Logic goes out the window for the sake of expressing the flood of malice pouring from the soul.  What they resented about Jesus isn’t necessarily clear from the texts, though the gospels give examples of why they feared His influence so much.

When the soldiers came to Jesus, however, He was already dead.

John mentions this fact because it stood out.  A person took up to a week to die on the cross, and did so as much from hunger, thirst and exposure as the blood loss from the nails.  His death happened too fast for them to believe it, though to ensure it they stuck a spear in His side.  What came next surprised them all:  blood mixed with water.  I’m not sure of the medical accuracy of the sermons I heard concerning what blood and water means, but if they’re correct, it signifies a broken heart.  The heart bursts from the strain of agony.

Notice something else that disturbs me:  These leaders of Israel, so concerned for the law that they wanted the crosses empty by sundown, were willing to commit murder to get rid of someone they despised.  In this story we find the real danger of legalism, folks.  Legalism will invoke the rules where they fit the preconceptions of the speaker or the preferences of the leader.  In other words, a person given to social “norms” or religious rules remains human, which in this discussion means sinful (though there are other meanings when we use “human”).  They are eager to perform down to the last little detail all the rote doctrines which govern religious behavior for all, but they ignore mercy, justice and grace.  I’ve seen people “crucified” on the cross of public opinion more than often I like to remember just so one influential person can feel comfortable within the church.

Now it’s not like these men or women are evil in intent or flagrantly calloused towards others, no, something more insidious is going on behind the scenes.  Whenever we begin to feel superior to other “sinners” or like we must enforce the rules of Christian conduct we should also feel check in our spirit about our motives.  Are we really after God’s glory, or is it simply a means of keeping our little world familiar?

The Jews could not convict Jesus of anything substantial.  According to all four gospels these men who claimed to be so zealous for God had to pay people to lie and twist Jesus’ words in order to find anything enough to even judge Him.  To them the end justified the means.  Getting rid of of Jesus was the end, they just had to fudge the law enough to make the means work.  Human nature always finds loopholes in the rules when it works to their advantage.  For the sake of power men have sacrificed whole nations on the alter of their pride.  For sake of a religious view innocents have been burned alive without mercy or defense.

Yet this religious zeal is not limited to one but comes as part and parcel with the fallen human nature.  Those who reject God or any god as real become just as vehement for their new viewpoint as those they oppose.  It seems almost ridiculous to me when people hold a view so hard they forgo anything resembling perspective.  Throughout the history of mankind the evidence of our abuses of power show our true nature.  If one believes in a god or doesn’t, the fact remains we will kill everyone who opposes us or, at the very least, silence them in some more “humane” way by calling them insane or in need of help.  No matter how we slice it, there is no freedom of thought on this planet.  Anyone deceived enough to believe there is hasn’t spent any time listening to the way people hold their views.

Jesus died because He believed His mission saved mankind from their own nature.  His heart burst from the sheer agony coming from the realization of what it meant to be separated from God—something we humans have become numb to.  The cross didn’t kill Him, though the beatings surely helped, instead the sheer weight of sin’s awful price took His life.  No one could take His life from Him, He laid it down of His own volition.  The means by which He came to be hung on a cross, though not immaterial, did not put Him on there nor did it kill Him.  He laid His life down freely to save even those who were mocking and lying about Him.

The Jews zeal for the law seems to me to be John’s way of showing their misguided attempt to please God.  Here they were committing murder and they had the audacity to worry about a Sabbath.  In stark contrast Jesus worried about His mother, His followers, the men crucified next to Him and those crucifying Him.  In every instance He displayed mercy and grace beyond anything I recognize as common nature to my world.  But the Jews were simply tools for a greater plan.  Jesus died on the Passover as the Lamb which took away the sin of the world as the law required.  That same Law specified no one could remain on a tree overnight precisely so that Jesus would be put in the grave on the preparation day for the Passover, for which His death on the cross was the fulfillment.  God used the unmerciful, self-righteous and wholly hypocritical leaders to accomplish prophecy.

Checkmate and game.

It is Finished

January 18, 2011

When He had received the drink, Jesus said,  “It is finished.”  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  John 19:30.

He had finished His work on earth, which was to pay the price of sin.  That’s it, that’s all He finished because, obviously, history has continued.

Being a Christian all these years and attending a myriad of churches throughout, I realized I didn’t know for certain what He meant by the words “It is finished” until I took it context with what He was doing at the moment.  The reason being I hear and have heard so many interpretations of what these words mean I find it hard to make up my mind about who to trust.  All the sources are reputable people so making a decision based on character just won’t cut the mustard.

In my previous entry I spoke of Jesus considering the last thing from Scripture He must fulfill before giving in to death.  Once this was done He had finished the puzzle, completed the maze, solved the riddle, illustrated the metaphor, to the point that the only thing left for Him to fulfill Scripture was to die.

There are those who claim the entire work of salvation was completed on the cross, that nothing else needed to be done.  In a way they are correct, but on the other hand, they miss a key element in the redemption story—the restoration of all things and the redemption of our bodies.  Now this may seem to these folk to be of less importance than the primary goal of redemption’s price, yet they either fail to realize the implications of their conclusion or ignore anything outside of it.  The death and resurrection of Jesus set the work of redemption on its final course, the grand finale of  His return and recreating the heavens and the earth.

There are those who claim He went into a physical sanctuary to plead the case of humanity before an avenging God.  This, of course, ignores Jesus claim that “the Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” God doesn’t need a ritual (though He might use it, I don’t know) to be reminded of Jesus’ death.  He is in all times and all places at once (that’s what omnipresent means), so it’s not like the death is happening yesterday for Him but in the eternal “now” of His existence.  I don’t grasp this because I am as linear as everyone else, though I accept it by faith.  Their assumption also ignores Jesus’ statement that “God is Spirit, and His worshipers will worship [Him] in spirit and in truth.” This suggests to me the physical tabernacle on earth wasn’t an exact replica of one in heaven but symbolized the nature of heaven itself.

Rabbit Trail with Me…

Take Paul’s statement that we as the church are God’s temple and so are the individuals who make it up.  His presence is among the people; His temple is human hearts.  The seat of God’s throne finds its anti-type in the spirit of the human “heart” where the essence of our person dwells.  It is also evidenced among His people when they are of one mind and heart for His glory.  C. S. Lewis postulated in “The Great Divorce” that we are the dream, heaven is the reality.  In other words, what we consider to be the “spirit” world is more real than our “physical” world we cling to so desperately.  What this means, of course, is that for God all things in creation dwell under the umbrella of His Sanctuary or tabernacle when that creation is harmonic communion with Him.  No sin to separate us from Him puts us directly back into communication with Him again.  The Biblical tabernacle symbolized what had been lost—access to God.

Back to the Point…

The cross was the crux of the whole plan, for sure, but there is more, otherwise we wouldn’t still be here.  I’m not certain what it means for human history to be marching forward for so long, but then I’m not God and barely have an inkling what is going on in His mind—and that’s with Scripture to give us the hint.  What I do believe about this passage is Jesus declared the work of salvation a huge success and made it clear He had fulfilled everything the Christ would do according to Scripture.  There could also be other layers of meaning here as well.  For instance, the dispensation of the Old Covenant came to an end so the new era could begin.  The other meaning I get out of it is prophetic:  Jesus is declaring for all the powers that be His victory over sin, which points to a new heaven and earth.

All this depth comes in a loaded three word sentence.

So that Scripture Would be Fulfilled

January 12, 2011

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said,  “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  when He had received the drink, Jesus said,  “It is finished.”  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  John 19:28-30.

The Scripture John is referring to is found in Psalm 69:21They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. Jesus knew the Scriptures, they were His guide on the journey.  There’s this sense I get when I read Jesus’ desire to “fulfill” Scripture which gives me pause to think.  Was Jesus simply interpreting prophetic language to fit His circumstances or was He following a guideline laid out for Him through their experiences.  Each of God’s servants felt the sting of sin in various ways.  Some were wealthy, comfortable and powerful, others suffered greatly.  In both cases God brought them through some tough times by demonstrating His power.

I’ve heard many reasons why the soldiers gave vinegar to Jesus.  In one of the other gospels the vinegar is mixed with myrrh, which some interpret to be a pain killer or suppressant for those on the crosses.  What’s interesting to me about how this went down is that Jesus didn’t ask for vinegar but water.  He said He was thirsty and they gave Him vinegar.  I drink ale and wine at times so I can tell anyone with authority that they absolutely don’t quench anyone’s thirst.  Vinegar is like wine in that it is fermented to its usable state, but it definitely isn’t thirst quenching.

Here’s what I believe about this “fulfillment” issue:  Jesus knew human nature and the Scriptures guided Him in that knowledge.  He knew what the result would be if He called out for water, which means He wasn’t programming the situation itself, just following protocol to prove the point of the cross.  He died for sinful men that they might be reconciled to God—even though that meant being aware that to His dying breath they would abuse Him, break His heart with their callousness and demonstrate cruelty beyond the pale when they felt they had power over Him.  This is the true nature of sin as well as a succinct illustration of how far it will go.

The Master didn’t even have to nudge those who gave Him His “drink” in order to fulfill prophecy, for the practice was well established long before they put Him on the cross.  No, we demonstrated our collective heart toward God when we served a beaten, bleeding, dying, innocent man by answering His last request with bitterness rather than mercy.  Instead of grace and water mankind fed God bitterness and cruelty.

This is what the final analysis of the nature of sin reveals.  This is the outcome of those who reject God.  This, in my estimation, is the best reason for following Jesus.

Passionate Forgiveness

January 10, 2011

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked,  “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered,  “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21, 22

There’s a good reason this discussion follows hard on the heels of the instructions about confronting sin.  Jesus wants us, as His followers, to be more willing to forgive than to condemn; to be eager to restore rather than banish; to bear with one another’s faults graciously.  If you look at the parable which follows our passage above Jesus uses to illustrate His point to Peter, you’ll notice nowhere does He ever deny a debt being owed.  In fact, the whole point of the parable is that a debt is outstanding and should’ve been collected long ago.  In no way does Jesus ever deny the reality of sin or its effects, rather He points to the need for the sinner to repent and for us to be forgiving, patient, gracious and kind towards them.

If sin didn’t exist, then why the need to forgive?  Again, if there were no wrongs done, then the need to confront them would be non-existent as well.  Judgmental attitudes only come into play because we compare sin to sin, and in some weird sense we have devised a method of hierarchy for the worst to the least harmful.  Yet it only took a piece of fruit to lose Adam’s place in creation; only a bite to set the world on fire through the pain of Eve’s subjection.  No, the teaching on forgiveness demands we admit sin is a deadly disease or virus we place in our lives through choice.

Is the world generally more willing to forgive than resent?  Even if there are pockets of those who are willing to forgive, their patience with failure is limited without Jesus, as is ours.  No matter what anyone tells us about love, the general consensus about forgiveness, mercy and grace is about either self image or a religious ideal.  Unless we as believers realize this principle through the vision of the cross we will mistakenly think it is a get-out-of-jail-free card for the wrong doer.  The cross leaves no doubt about the cost of sin, nor can we sidestep the deadly consequences for those who continue to practice it.

I believe most people have a problem with the confrontation side of sin, mainly due to the way in which the confrontation happens rather than the fact of the it.  I’m sure some would prefer not to air their warts in any public forum, whether it be with one person, two or in the privacy of prayer.  But this is not how our God instructs us to operate, so bringing sin into the light is essential to a healthy Christian community.  However,  I bet if we did less confronting with idea of putting people in their “place” (wherever that is), we’d find the idea of confronting others less intimidating.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think anybody likes it in this form, and with good reason:  it usually means condescension, humiliation and shame.

Some in the church, afraid of being judgmental or condemning, throw out the baby with the bath water by ignoring the sin in people’s lives for the sake of either unity in the body (which never works anyway) or fear of offending someone and seeing them run away from the church.  We already know the other side of the coin where people are condemned for their sin and sent packing before the ink is dry on their spiritual ticket.  Both attitudes ignore Christ’s instructions to confront sin with an attitude and willingness to restore right relationship as opposed to condemnation and excommunication.

Instead the ideal is for passionate, radical forgiveness, first by recognizing the sin itself but, second, by moving on to the healing by restoration.  The difference between a religious ideal or the world’s practice and those who follow hard after Jesus is the desire to reconcile everyone to Christ.  Jesus said of the woman who washed His feet,  “Those who have been forgiven much, love much,” and it holds true here as well.  If we realize just how much our sin cost—i.e. the fall of Adam and Eve from fellowship as well as our own deviations from right relationship with God—gratitude becomes the attitude of the day.

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul confronts an issue of theft, adultery and cheap grace by the church there.  A man who is an established believer took his father’s wife as his own and the church approved for some reason.  We are not given the reason they approved or if it was just a matter of accepting the man as a sinner and moving on.  What we are given clearly is Paul’s adamant stance that the man sinned and needed to repent—which in this case meant giving back the wife to his father as a form of repentance.  In 2 Corinthians 2 he acknowledges the man’s repentance and the church’s actions of putting him out as sufficient to restore him to fellowship.  In other words, his repentance of removing his sin was enough to reconcile him to God and therefore the church.

Paul in the first letter wasn’t trying to punish the sinner but remove an infection of bad behavior.  I think we have a mistaken idea of what his goals were here, because the church traditionally excommunicated for sins deemed heinous or blasphemous and it takes real work to get back into its good graces.  In Paul’s view it only took the man acknowledging his sin and righting the wrong.  That’s it.  Nothing more needed be said or done about it for fellowship.  No punishment, consequences by the church or fine for the sinner.  What he didn’t like about the situation was the elders and believers who approved of the man’s actions.  These people should have been clearly against such an act of betrayal (even if the woman in question was a believer and her husband was not) because it misrepresented God’s view of marriage and covenant.  If the man had immediately given back the woman he stole to his father, he wouldn’t have needed to be put out of fellowship.  The only reason for excommunication, then, is an unrepentant heart.

We complicate our job too much when we think it’s up to us meet out justice.  When Paul instructed us to treat a divisive brother like an unbeliever, he wasn’t telling us to be unkind or act like the man didn’t exist, merely we weren’t to trust him with the keys to the kingdom of God.   Yes, Paul told the believers not to eat with such a man, but we have to understand that in their culture, eating at someone’s table meant more than it does to us today.  Again, it isn’t our job to parcel out judgment but to discern between right and wrong, sin and righteousness.  That’s it.  We can put someone out of fellowship only if they are unrepentant and stubborn in their choices, otherwise, we’re instructed to bear with one another patiently, all the while remembering God’s patience with us.

No one is too deep in sin to be redeemed.  No one is beyond God’s reach.  The only person God will not redeem is one who refuses to be.  A person who exhibits a lifelong habit of sin in one area but admits it and continues to submit it to God will conquer it.  Of course, they might take baby steps toward recovery in this area, but it might mean that in areas seemingly not related at all, they will make great strides.  We don’t know what it means and cannot judge God’s work in the heart of a person except by the fruit they exhibit.  The best we can do is create an atmosphere for all of us where we can heal and work on those things which trip us up.

God desires us to forgive 77 times, or in another version 70×7.  I don’t believe anyone could keep track of this many times, which means Jesus must be telling us to be perfectly willing to forgive, like our Master.