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.

 

Overwhelmed?

Man, what a whirlwind life I seem to be living! For this season I feel like I am in a constant head-above-water battle, but I know that as all things do, this too shall pass. Since writing last I have experienced emotions of sheer joy, relief, anxiety, worry, anticipation, and happiness.

Over the span of 3 months Aaron and I have reunited with estranged family members, got engaged, got in a wreck and totaled his truck, watched our dog have puppies, began the planning for remodeling our future home, dealt with the looming threat of me being unable to have children, and been involved in court proceedings to help ensure our niece remains in a thriving environment. Put that on top of me personally playing the piano at church every week, about to finish grad school in a few weeks, beginning my internship, maintaining my “real” job, planning a wedding, helping friends with babies and showers and moving…

It’s a lot. And I will admit, while I am living it, it seems like normal because it is my life. But writing it all down, no wonder I feel tired in the mornings!

I often wonder why I don’t feel overwhelmed. Tired, extremely, but rarely overwhelmed.

I truly believe that my main source of strength and perseverance comes from God. Aaron and I have been reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. We are truly living our life, the best we can, according to God’s Word. And it’s showing throughout our lives. As Perry Noble says, “As our view of God increases, our worry and stress decrease, because it’s only then that we begin to believe that all the things that are over our heads are under His feet.”

Perry Noble also points out some key ways of thinking that create such overwhelming feelings. I’ll outline some for you here.

Thinking you are in control. I don’t believe there is ever a time that God laughs harder at you than when you kid yourself into thinking you have complete control over your life and the things around you. It says in Proverbs 19:21 “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”

Thinking things are totally out of your control. If you are a Christian, and you were born after Christ died on the cross, you have the Holy Spirit living inside you. This Spirit could be characterized as many things such as your conscience or the angel on your shoulder but ultimately, it is God inside your body giving you the power of discernment and courage to overcome trials of the world. The Bible says in 1 John 4:4, “You belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” We have the power to relax and let go of our worldly troubles if we just choose to do so!

Expecting to live an easy life surrounded by good people. Because we live in a fallen world, the world is full of fallen people. We are not much unlike these people, as we all sin every day. However, even if we surround ourselves with people who are only good, Christians and go to church every time the doors open and pray religiously….the world around us is still fallen, and we are guaranteed to feel the effects. Perry Noble says, “When we meet Christ, we are saved from the penalty of sin, but we do not escape the effects of sin – whether that’s our own or other people’s sin or simply the broken world we live in.” No matter how good we try to be, we will still feel the backlash effects of sin.

Expecting to have the energy and time to do it all. I once heard a professor say, “The Bible calls those who will not work lazy, but it calls those who will not rest disobedient.” Wow. Self-care is truly important. In your profession and your personal life. There is no way one person can do everything there is to do. We must learn to let go of some things and delegate them to others.

Accepting sin as a way of life. Now I am just as guilty of this as the next person, but it’s true. We are contributing to our negative feelings by not omitting the sin in our life and just dismissing it. Perry Noble says, “In today’s culture, the temptation is to look at sins and refer to them as issues, mistakes, or problems. And as long as we see sin as something that we need to learn to cope with rather than something that needs to be removed, we will never take the cation necessary to peel the cap off the bottle so we can be spiritually refreshed.” He makes a good and valid point. Some things we are unwilling and reluctant to give up, but we may be amazed at how much more at peace we would be if we did so.

We refuse to forgive others. Another hard one. Maybe the hardest. I’m a grudge-holder by nature. But what I have come to learn is that my “nature” doesn’t matter because I am in Christ and should put Him on display each day. There are those who say, “if that person would just apologize I would forgive them”. And yeah, that’s nice when it happens. But that’s not the example that was set before us. Jesus is our example. and the people who were murdering Him never even asked for forgiveness…He just gave it to them. The example for us is that we must forgive freely – even to those who don’t deserve it. We can’t put stipulations on forgiveness and keep score of rights and wrongs. That’s not up to me. I’m going to be a therapist, not a judge. Besides the fact that not forgiving breaks up families and causes strife, it also is just stressful keeping tabs on all those tally marks for each side! LET IT GO!!!! Please. For your own sake.

We try to force love on others and on ourselves. Love is strong. And it’s a strong action, not an emotion like we’ve been taught. Love is doing, actively pursuing, proving day in and day out the commitment to the other person. Perry Noble says, “Love is determined by what we’re willing to seek out and what we’re willing to sacrifice for.” Knowing that, also know that God loves you. And his love and grace are sufficient. You need no one else’s. It’s nice to have. It makes life more enjoyable. But it’s not necessary. Don’t try to push love on those who don’t want it. Just lay it out there for them to pick up. It’s not hard, though it is work. It should be one of the most awesome jobs you have, loving others.

We expect instant gratification. Guilty! I want it, and I want it now! Yes, please. NOW! Though that’s my thought process most of the time, God laughs again. We must be vigilant, persistent, and enduring on our quest and towards our goals. That shows dedication and love. The Bible gives us one for this in Galations 6:9, “Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Good is coming, but it may not be today. Rest in that knowledge.

Ultimately, these things are all things I have or continue to struggle with. Overwhelming feelings come and go. However, if we refuse to allow our circumstances to shape what we believe about God, we will walk in freedom from fear, knowing that the One who holds tomorrow is good and is in complete control. In writing this post I have utilized Perry Noble’s book Overwhelmed a lot. I encourage you to read it!

Also, please be in prayer for me and my family. We have been going through a lot and are still waiting on answers and concreteness of things. Pray that God’s will be done in all areas of our lives and that his healing hands will be upon my body. Love to you all!

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.

Why you gotta be so mean?!

Why are people so mean? More specifically, why are Christians so mean?

Those who do not follow Christ have somewhat of an excuse, because there has been no standard or bar set for how they should act. This doesn’t mean these folks won’t have to answer for their meanness, they just don’t want to believe it.

Christians, as the hands and feet of God, people look at us differently. We are constantly under scrutiny from the outside world, yet we still give into the Devil’s qualms. Look around you; there are people in your life who do not attend church or do not follow Jesus. There is a reason for that. Nonbelievers look at “us” and see God. As His hands and feet, doing all things “to the glory of Christ”, WE are a representation of him. And to a nonbeliever, how we act is how God would act. They associate our actions, morals, and emphasis with that of our God. And though we are not sinless and are constantly falling short, that doesn’t stop people from looking at us and thinking this way. Therefore we must be VERY careful in what we say and do to others and to each other.

Christians persecuting other Christians is the worst kind of dispute. We are to LOVE one another and build each other up, not point fingers, name names, and slander our Brother or Sister in the community. The sickest part about this is that some who do this think they are doing it in “good faith” and that it is the right thing to do. No WONDER people don’t want to come to church with you! Good grief! Who in the world would think that doing such mean, hateful, and ungodly things would be a positive representation of Christ?!

The Devil is a liar and a thief who’s purpose is to destroy this world and pit us against one another. He does this in multiple ways, and one way is through an individual. The Devil can be working in you and you not even know it. In fact, he may even trick you into thinking you are doing “the Lord’s work”. Be careful of this my friends. You may be able to point the finger at someone whom you think he is using, only to realize later that YOU were that person all along.

Matthew 19:19 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This phrase is no coincidence. God knew how selfish and self-centered we were. He then instructs you to take that very self-righteous love you have for yourself and give it away. Give it to someone else. Can you say you have done that today? Loved someone else as much as you love yourself? And I am not talking about your mom or dad. They’re easy to love. I am talking about your “enemy”. Your adversary.

Love is the only way to overcome such meanness and hurt. Love and forgiveness.

In the last month, my home church (that little old Southern Baptist one I have mentioned before) has lost its pastor, 4 deacons, a pianist, choir director, treasurer, and 40 members. During the last month there have members within those 40 who have lied, slandered, accused, stonewalled, disrespected, and hurt other members. This has been a rough month. Some have questioned how could Christians treat others in such a way. I believe that Perry Noble says it best when he points out that God has His hand in all things. ALL things, not just the good. God either makes things happen or allows them to happen. This has come as no surprise to God. He allowed the Devil to do this to our church, just as he allowed the Devil to test many in the Bible. However, the Devil does not rule. God owns the Devil and the Devil only does things to the extent that God allows. Therefore, there is no real reason to worry. Yes, we have “lost” a lot this month. But we are promised that whatever we give, we will get back ten-fold. So I have no worries at all about the stability of our church.

Now we are not focused on hurrying up and getting out of this situation we are in. We got here and here is where we are. Instead we are seeking how we can walk through this stressful situation well. Because this is where God put us. This is His will. And it WILL be for the good. Perry Noble says, “As our view of God increases, our worry and stress decrease, because it’s only then that we begin to believe that all the things that are over our heads are under His feet.”

Joseph shows us in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, the importance of forgiveness. The power of forgiveness is greater than the pain of our circumstances. Someone may intend to harm you, but God intends it all for good.

Jesus is our role model. We should do nothing but strive to be more like him each day. Everyone, whether Christian or unbeliever, know the story of his death. The horrific and gruesome details. But one of the most incredible parts of his story is that he forgave. He forgave the people who were murdering him, and they never even asked for it, he just gave it to them. Freely. I’ve heard people say that they would forgive someone if that person who offended them apologized and then asked for forgiveness. As nice as that would be, it doesn’t always happen. But the example set before us is to forgive freely- even to those who don’t deserve it.

There has been one particular individual who told elders in our church that when she left with our pastor, the Devil would outweigh the Lord in our church. And she was taking God with her when she left.

Have you ever heard such ridiculous statements?

To set the record straight, the Devil will NEVER outweigh MY God. My God is supreme, all-knowing, omnipotent, and in control. He could go to Hell and walk among all those burning in the lake of fire and he would STILL be bigger! He would still be ruling. He is NEVER outnumbered, outweighed, or outmatched. If anyone tries to tell you so, call them a lie and don’t listen to another word. Secondly, to think that a human can “take” God anywhere is just stupid. God is everywhere, all the time, with everyone. Furthermore where two or three gather in His name, He is there in even MORE power. For a lady to think that she is the boss and can order MY Lord around, she is sadly mistaken. I can see her now saying, “Come on Lord, get in my bag, you’re coming with ME!” ……….yeah right.

I will end this lengthy post by saying that as Christians, we should love. No matter what. And I do still love each and every person who has left our church. But sometimes love is done best when it is done at a distance.

I would also like to say that NO ONE or NO THING is going to steal my joy.

Kay Warren says, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

I will not be separated from that joy. Nice try, Devil. Try again later.

Manna is Mercy

In John 6:31 Jesus equates himself to manna to the crowd. Manna is the bread that was given from God when the people of Israel were complaining of hunger. Though the Lord provided this bread for the people, it only lasted one day. After 24 hours, the manna would spoil and was no longer edible.

                At first you might think, why would God only give them bread to last for one day? What’s the use in that? The purpose was so that the Israelites were made to trust God each day for food. They fully relied on God. There was no use trying to save some manna for later. They were forced to divide it up and devour it in a single day.

How does this correlate with modern times?

                Christians receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness from God. These things are given freely. All we have to do is ask. His forgiveness is not finite. Each day, if we repent our sins of the day, they are automatically forgiven. It doesn’t matter the size, big or small sin is the same in the eyes of The Lord.

                Lamentations 3:22 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

                As humans, sometimes we default to trying to stockpile our mercy and forgiveness. We think it would be best to save it for a rainy day; a day when we might be extra sinful. We may need all the mercy and forgiveness that we can get.

                Because of this, we find it hard and sometimes even refuse to give that mercy and forgiveness away to others. This is not how it should be. If our Lord’s mercies are new each morning, we should give away each bit of it that we have for today. We can trust that more will come when we wake.

                As Christians, we serve the one true God. The one who selflessly sent his ONLY son to die. For you, me, and each individual that you are reluctant to give forgiveness and mercy to. He could have kept his son on his rightful place of the throne. But instead he sent him down to earth to live as a human, a man who would work with his hands for a living. A man who would receive the worst treatment imaginable, only for telling the truth and trying to help those in the world.

                Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Our God gave it all. Christ gave it all.

                There is no other religion that I know of that can say such a thing. To have a leader so selfless and giving of himself. What a blessing that is.

                And all we are asked to do is to love the people we love, and the ones we don’t. Respect the people we already do, and those we don’t. Educate ourselves in His Word, and tell others so that they may receive the same gift we have.

We have it easy. So very easy. All we have to do is want it. The gift is there for the taking.

God never moves. He remains a constant help and presence within our lives. If you find yourself drifting away from God, or not as close as you should be, it is not because he moved. You need to bring yourself back to where you belong in your Father’s arms.

If you think your life is hard, when you have a bad day, when you know you have been treated unfairly and gotten the short end of the stick…think of Jesus. Think of all he went through. As unbareable and unimaginable as it is. He did it for you. And me. He did it for those who whipped him, beat him, spat on him. In his final breaths he forgave them.

When you think you can’t forgive, when you are holding a powerful grudge…remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ’s power is in you. You have the ability to forgive and show mercy. You may not want to think you do. You may deny them because they don’t deserve it. But remember, neither did you. You have the strength of Christ that allows you to forgive, just as he did. Therefore you must exercise that strength.