The Economy of Forgiveness

Aaron’s uncle posted an article on Facebook that I will encourage every one of you to read. It can be found here: http://www.mbird.com/2015/09/from-the-magazine-the-losing-economy-of-forgiveness/ It is long and full of concepts that may be hard to understand. But it is truly a wonderful read. If you want to spare yourself some time, I will likely sum up the gist of it in this post.

The topic is forgiveness and how rarely humans truly give it. According to the Bible, forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand (Luke 7:47). That’s common knowledge and something we have heard many times. But if we truly analyze the principles that make up love, as described in the Bible, and apply those same words to forgiveness, would we be surprised?

Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 in a beautiful way. I will take each trait of love and replace it with forgiveness. Ponder if you truly feel you can say these things are true in your life.

Forgiveness is patient, forgiveness is kind. It does not envy, boast, and is not proud. It does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Forgiveness does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves.

Did that step on any toes? For me personally, the ones of being patient, not self-seeking, and keeping no record of wrongs really hit home.

Often times I find myself “giving” forgiveness as if I am handing out candy at Halloween. “Oh here, have some forgiveness.”     It’s certainly not that easy.

Sure, I may truly think I forgave someone, but then I find myself being frustrated by the traffic on the highway or the guy at Wendy’s who got my order wrong. I must realize that forgiving the big things will lead to forgiving the small things. If I truly haven’t forgiven my friend or family member who has wronged me, I am just harboring bitterness which will find an outlet elsewhere in my life. By extending forgiveness to those around us, we develop a different mindset. As it says in the article, “The world is no longer our own personal villain, but an unpredictable place full of people like us.” Remember that. The world is FULL of people just like us. That, in itself, deserves some grace because sweet Lord, that means there are many out there who are stretched thin, tired, pushing the envelope and a deadline.

Why then, is it so hard to forgive others? Put like that, it should be easy right?!  Forgiveness means surrendering the control we all too often pretend we have. This means the first thing I must do is ADMIT that things are beyond my control! Oh yeah, not happening.

I think this maybe one of the things in life I struggle with most. Relinquishing MY control over MY life to someone, anyone, else other than ME. In order to forgive someone, I must admit that I was not in control of their actions, thoughts, or words. I have to admit that each person has their own choice. And that means sometimes the choices they make affect me in a negative way. Obviously, if I had control of the situation or individual, they would not have done said thing that now requires forgiveness.

This also leads to the premise that much of our unforgiveness stems from a longing for and resentment at a world that doesn’t exist. Since we don’t have control over the world, it isn’t perfect in our eyes. Period. However, this doesn’t stop us from wanting that to be the case. There are millions of books sold and therapists seen in order to find the secret to creating the perfect life. It’s extremely hard for us, as individuals, to even grasp the concept that sometimes our good actions and intentions will go unwarranted to those around us.

The author brings up a valid point. In order to forgive, we must let go of our anger, which is often a hard thing to do. This is because often times we believe we benefit from our anger. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a never-ending circle. He says, “Forgiving acknowledges the severity of the problem and surrenders its need to fix it.” It means being able to look at a person or situation that we don’t like, and accepting that fact that we don’t like it, but can’t change it. It’s tough. It’s like saying, “Even though you were an asshole, it’s not my problem; it’s your problem, and I’m not going to stay mad at you, because that’s you, not me.” WOW! If only I could view things from this perspective, life would be a lot happier place! Instead I find myself angry at the “asshole” instead of just accepting the harsh reality that someone did something I didn’t like.

How long should we continue to forgive? How many times is enough? When are we allowed to throw in the towel? The answer Christ gives us is never. Never. Ever. Our duty as his people is to constantly and unequivocally continue to forgive one another.

The biblical story of the prodigal son is known by Christians and nonbelievers alike. A son strays from his family, spending their money, tarnishing the family name, seeming to have no remorse for his actions. One day he finds himself returning home, scared of the reaction he will face when he does so. However, as a perfect example, we are told that he was forgiven.  When you think about it, it is a story of incredible restraint—all that hurt, all the wasted money, all the waiting. But none of that. There is instead only the embrace and the robe and the fatted calf. That is the kind of forgiveness we are called, mandated, to give.

The lack of forgiveness seen in our society is a large part of the reason that our country is going down the drain. I appreciate the justice system and fully understand and believe in our power as a people to exercise such rights. However, there are some things that we do that have been proven to be ineffective. Yet we continue to do so. Now if that’s not moronic, I don’t know what is. For example, how many people do each of us personally know that has been in trouble with the law because of some type of affiliation with drugs? Though some will argue the punishments for such offenders are not strong enough, other times they throw these people under the jail. I find myself asking, what good does that do?

I have a cousin who is a good guy, a loving father. He isn’t the most educated or successful business person, but he works hard. Yet he can’t seem to shake his drug habit. This causes the chemistry in his brain to react in a negative way and causes him to do things he otherwise wouldn’t do. I am not excusing his behavior in any form. However, I would think that if the system would extend him some mercy and grace and help him get clean, rather than throw him in jail with other substance users, he may be a little more likely to stay clean once he gets out.

We can lock up our enemies or try one more “tough love” measure, but not only will the measure fail us in the long run, it will eventually close off the roads to any kind of heartfelt reconciliation or hope. 

I will end this post with a thought from the article that I found most compelling.

Within the realm of grace, nothing is earned, but everything is given. 

I have received grace time and time again. I will continue to receive it every day of my life. I did not earn it. I do not deserve it. There is nothing I could do to either lose it or have more of it. I am supplied with the exact amount that I need for the day, no more, no less. If I receive such lucrative bounty from my Father in Heaven, can I not extend it to my fellow man as well? After all, we are all living together in this unpredictable place, and we are all alike in more ways than we realize.

 

The Least of These

This afternoon I have my first interview for my internship placement. This internship is in marriage and family therapy and counseling. Throughout my studies the past couple years I have come to appreciate those in the mental health field.

It’s not easy being a therapist. It’s not just the fact that people come into your office hoping to unload their problems, which is heavy. It’s not just that you hear stories that make you cry, which is sad. The hardest part is not even watching someone struggle, but who is unwilling to admit that they need help. Those things are hard. Perhaps the hardest part of therapy is learning to overcome your flesh and learn to value each individual.

This has been especially hard for me, but I am confident in saying that I have grown immensely in that area. Passing judgement is a sin, but sin is human’s nature since the Fall. Learning to silence that voice of my flesh is so hard.

However, in order for me to go into the business of soul care and hurt healing, I had to learn to do this. It’s an imperative skill. But that didn’t make it much easier.

In the coming months and years I will find myself sitting across from addicts, rapists, abusers, homeless, and mentally ill. I will see people of all races, nationalities, and religions. I will be surrounded by those who I believe have poor hygiene, misplaced priorities, self-pity, and little motivation to move from the place where they are. I will see people who I think “got what they asked for” or that due to their choices, are right where they want to be in life. I will see people every single day who come to me for help, but aren’t willing to help themselves. Yet I have to control my urge to judge this person and assume that I know their circumstance. Many times we find ourselves comparing our life story to those around us. That’s unfair. Not everyone grew up in a Caucasian, two parent home in the upper-middle-class tax bracket where there were no signs of abuse and neglect. In a home where both parents loved them unconditionally and put their child’s needs before their own. No, that wasn’t everyone’s story. In fact, that was very few people’s story…and oftentimes even those who share my story, end up on a completely different path.

In the very beginning of the Bible it tells us that God created man in his image and with his own likeness (Genesis 1:27). Stop and ponder that for a minute. It doesn’t say only I was made in his image or only my pastor was made in his image. We all were! That makes the human race the most precious creation. Each individual, no matter their ailments or life history, was created in the image of the Almighty God. That means that we each have immeasurable value. I have to train myself to see this value in each person that I encounter. Whether in my career or in the grocery store. This simple revelation will change the entire way that you view others.

Jesus said in Matthew 25, “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. Whenever you did this for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.

Wow! That is powerful. Do you have any idea what this means? Those who I mentioned as being hard to sit across the table from are JESUS! Each and every one of them is Jesus. And if I help them, it is the same as if I am helping my sweet Lord.

Though I will never be able to repay Jesus for what he did on the cross for me, and I will never be as perfect or blameless as him, I can serve Him but serving others. Being covered by Him in the eyes of Our Father, I can represent Him through my works here on Earth. I can do as he did when he was here. I can do for the least of these.

To go a step further, we are told in Luke 6, “Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.”

Today I take one of my first steps in pursuing my calling. Pray for me. That I will treat every human as Jesus himself and see the immense value of each life.

Reverend Billy Graham has said, “Just as pastors are called to lead the flock, if you are a child of God, you too are called to your vocation.”

Amen.

WWJD?!

Do you remember the popular phrase in the past decade “WWJD”? There were bracelets, bumper stickers, and t-shirts galore with this acronym on them. You could buy it at the gas station or get it for a prize at the arcade. But when is the last time you really stopped to think about what that means?

WWJD. What would Jesus do?

……Well……any thoughts?!

As Christians today I think we have become way to concerned and consumed with social media and “winning” some theological, political debate. We are too busy defending our beliefs instead of just living them. You see if you are truly walking a strong and confident walk with Jesus, you won’t need to quote scripture every day. You won’t need to constantly tell people you are a Christian and you are different. Because if you are doing things right, people will know. They can look at you and see a difference. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person”.

Too often today we get caught up in the endless cycle of trying to be perfect, blameless, and blemish-free. However, that is impossible here on Earth. It’s never going to happen. Lisa TerKeurst says, “Am I trying to prove I am right or to improve the relationship?” Are we living out WWJD?! Tony Nolan says, “There is a difference between the God we know and the God we show.” Are you showing the character of Christ in your life?

Jesus did not spend his time surrounded by priests. He did not seek out the important people in the hierarchy. Jesus loved the unlovable. He surrounded Himself with thieves, whores, tax collectors, lepers, impoverished individuals. Why did the King of Kings do such a thing? Because these are the people who needed to know they were loved and could be forgiven.

Jesus did not push His agenda on people. He shared what he came here to share. He listened to others who agreed and disagreed with His teachings. He did not constantly quote scripture from the Old Testament. No, he LIVED the scripture. That is what made Him different and set Him apart from other priests who always had an underlying agenda based on money or worldly morals. That is the example set before us. That is what we should always strive to do. Even upon His death, when Jesus had told the people over and over who He was, they still chose not to believe. They were still so full of sin. And yet He still forgave them, he still loved them, and still died to save them. Jesus died to save us all, not just the few who go to church every Sunday, never cuss, and don’t have a tattoo. He died for us ALL.

Luke 7:47 says, “If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” Those who were the most sinful were most grateful for the grace.

As Christians we tend to focus a lot of our time and energy keeping certain individuals away from the church. We may not SAY that’s what we are doing, but we shun them in little ways. Do you go to a “white church” or “black church”? Have you ever noticed the way members of the congregation look at and act towards people who “look” gay, have tattoos, or are not dressed “appropriately”? At that exact moment, I have to think, WWJD. Sometimes it is hard, because it may make me uncomfortable. But I am living in this world for Jesus and Jesus would never cringe or shy away from that person. Jesus would embrace and love. And that is what our Father has commanded us to do as well. The whole premise of our existence can be broken into two requirements, loving God and loving our neighbor. That is all we are here for.

We need to stop all this stereotyping and hatefulness. Is this judging? Yes. Is that our job? No. Now I know the Bible tells us that if a person is in-Christ and is blatantly sinning, we are not to stand by and condone it. But we can find a kind way to point it out and still be loving that person. Lisa TerKeurst says, “if a person criticizes me without ever having built me up or said a kind word to me, it hardly feels like constructive criticism.” We must speak in love first and criticize second.

There are certain things the Bible instructs is against God’s will and is sinning. There are other things that our society has determined is a sin, and is found nowhere in the Bible. For example, tattoos. Just as a disclaimer, I do not have a tattoo, but that is ONLY because I don’t want one. Most people feel that their tattoos are an expression of themselves and is a form of artwork. If that is the case, they may believe that by having tattoos they are simply decorating God’s temple. And when you look at it that way, what’s wrong with that? We paint the walls of the church. We change the color of the carpet.

The bottom line is, just because someone is not like you doesn’t mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean they are going to Hell. And it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be welcomed in the church. A church is a building FULL of sinners. And as I seem to point out in every post, all sins are the same and equal in the eyes of our Lord. Therefore, we should welcome these people with open arms. We should treat them gently and love them. It is not up to us to cast them out and seal their fate with our judgement. We don’t have that kind of power, and we don’t need it.

Stop and think about what WWJD truly means. Ponder on Jesus’s friends, his disciples, and what he was able to do in their lives. If we do not expose ourselves to such individuals, we may be missing an opportunity for blessing to take place in our lives. It is never too late to help disciple a lost soul. It is not our job to save, that is Jesus’s job. Our job is to love, and in loving, instill the Word of God in each person we meet.