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Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

I have a friend who has been deeply hurt by someone important in his life.  And knowing what happened to him it is very easy to sympathize with his pain.  What she did was very hurtful and his anger was justified in some ways in the beginning. I think anger is a very important and necessary part of the grieving and healing process, for a time being.

But lately we’ve had some conversations about it and he’s still angry.  It been several years in fact since the original events happened.  And now every encounter with her is colored by the original events.  I recently asked him when he would let it go and he said several times, “I just can’t forgive her.”

When someone says, “I can’t forgive that person,” it’s easy to assume that they mean, “I won’t forgive.”  And sometimes this is true.  But I was thinking about times in my life that I have felt that way.  And I now wonder if the statement is more often a truly ironic statement.  I wonder if at these moments when I was essentially saying I won’t, I was really meaning I can’t.

Because how often do we really practice forgiveness?  Even as a church?  When a leader falls aren’t we more likely to crucify him than restore him?  When someone “falls” do we really take Jesus at his word when he said, forgive seventy times seven?

Forgiveness is just not a paradigm in which the world (and often the church) lives in.  We practice saying, “I’m sorry,” but how often is this for expediency because we need something from the other person or we don’t like people being mad at us.  And when the offense is high enough, thus seriously jeopardizing our reputation, it is just as easy to abandon the relationship.

Forgiveness essentially means, “to leave behind.”  But to leave offense behind means abandoning the very thing that allows us to be angry in the first place.  And the anger just feeds our desire to strike back harder the original offense.  And if we’ve never practiced forgiveness, how are we going to be able to do it when it is really required in our lives.  So without the understanding of how to forgive, we are essentially locked in a state of oppression…of our own free will.

Forgiveness requires love.  It requires stepping into our own humanity and seeing with eyes of compassion.  It means letting go of our right to remain wounded for the sake of sympathy.  It means stepping into our own maturity as human beings and seeing the person who hurt us as infinitely more valuable than any harm they could do to us.

And it is so easy for us to say, “Come on. Isn’t that a little hyperbole?  Isn’t that stretching it a little too far? But this is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.  He took the posture that no matter what we could do to him, we were still worth it.

I use to always get bent out of shape when I would read the way Jesus approached forgiveness.  He said things like:

14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

That’s just harsh. But what if Jesus understood that if we can’t forgive others we’re creating a standard that we will then use on ourselves.  Or that the standard we are using on others is indicative of the standard we are already using on ourselves.  Doesn’t forgiveness then essentially mean to release the very thing that is killing us?

And so when someone says, “I can’t, is it more restorative to approach them with an understanding that they are truly stuck, that the statement is indicative of something deeply troubling in their life?

Interested in your thoughts.

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What if part of our own restoration really lies in the palm of our hands?

I had a very deep conversation with a friend of mine recently about forgiveness.  He was wrestling with the squabbles he and his wife were having.  It was nothing major, but the minor stuff was building into something major.  And I asked him if he could own his stuff first.  Instantly he retorted back, “Not until she owns her stuff first.”

And for several weeks the issues continued to build.  In fact, he wasn’t just conscious of the squabbles.  He was now fully aware that she wasn’t doing anything about them. His anger was continuing to grow as he recognized her lack of action.

You can easily see where this is going, can’t you.

We met for coffee because he was suffering some of the consequences of his own anger.  They seemed to constantly get into fights.  And I asked him, “Have you dealt with your own stuff first?”  I could see his mind twirl, consciously processing a new reality that had not crossed his mind.

“No,” he said.  “I want her to take care of her stuff first.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he responded.

I sat across the table from him recognizing that I knew that moment so clearly in my life.  The child in me wants others to act first.  I refuse to move even at the expense of my own restoration.  My pride wells up inside of me asking the world to bow at my feet.  I didn’t say anything after that because my friend was lost in his thoughts.  We sipped coffee and then had to go.

About two weeks later I ran into my friend and he had this big smile on his face.  He was standing with his wife and his arm was tightly wrapped around her.  Something had changed.  I walked up to him and gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear, “What happened?”

“I chose to seek her forgiveness,” came the reply.  Turns out my friend had turned a corner at the coffee shop.  He went home and sat his wife down and sought out her forgiveness, nothing more.  He owned his stuff.  And what surprised him was that the moment he opened the door for himself, he inadvertently opened it for her.  She instantly sought out his forgiveness.  The moment he gave up his own stuff, he got what he wanted.  It was for my friend a reunion of sorts for his marriage.

What is it about showing the other person the third way, the way of Jesus that is so restorative?  And why is it so hard to make the first move?  I hate that.  It never ceases to surprise me when we seek forgiveness, we almost instantly releases the other person to do the same.  We hold in our hands the capacity to bring restoration to the world around us, yet we hold on thinking it protects us. But when we let go, owning our own stuff, we seem to gain so much more than we ever imagined.

Listening to: Love Remains The Same by Gavin Rossdale

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A Distinct Aroma

Is what makes us unique as followers of Jesus our capacity to be perfect or that we are the first to forgive?

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This post is probably going to push your buttons.  And in some respects I want it to.

What is that one thing that, that one situation you could find yourself in that you would not respond in love?  It’s called the exception.  We all have our exceptions, our limits.  And they usually involve people.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci asks a really important question. “How Do We Love The “Worst Of Sinners”?  His example is the pedophile living in the midst of his community.  The pedophile is that one example our minds run to as an common example of when it instinctively makes sense to choose protection or punitive justice over love.  “These people” need to be kept in check.  It’s just easier to push away the pedophile, to the outskirts of town where he can’t do any harm.  It’s easy to understand the natural inclination to want to protect our children from further harm.  I get this feeling deeply as a father of three children.

And I’m not just speaking this from the outside.  I actually know two men who were pedophiles.  When I was a young teen, I was the active target (unknowingly) of not one but two pedophiles.  One was a man who discipled me and a group of boys in our church and one was my coach.  Both were Christians. Neither got to me and both were caught after having molested a boy.

And I look back now and ask, what does restoration look like for these men?  Is it isolation and punishment? Is it an island? Is my own restoration found in becoming judge, jury and even executioner? And it’s not just about the exception.  It’s never really about the worst case is it?  Each moment I encounter someone who has hurt me, or someone around me, I am faced with a possibility of being their judge.  And there is an almost universally, natural inclination we picked up in the Garden to push those who do harm away or worse to strike back.  Neither answer brings restoration.

What if the exception is the problem?  What if when we hold out for that one exception we unknowingly create one for ourselves, that we then allow others to use against us.  Jesus said:

Matthew 7:2 – For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

What if this was to protect us as much as restore us?  What if Jesus was trying to tell us, “Don’t create that exception because your own restoration is found just beyond the exception”?  To love, which I hold is the best expression of our design as humans and the reflection of our own wholeness comes on the other side of the cross.  And the cross had no exception.  If it did, it would first apply to us.  And do we really want an exception for ourselves?  To hold onto an exception was to hold onto the very thing that kept us from being restored.

I find the tension lies not just in what pedophiles (or anyone) have done but that what they have done reveals the limits of our own willingness to love, which then reveals the gap between who we are designed to be and what we currently are. And we don’t like this awareness, do we?  We don’t like seeing our own brokenness.  And the question then becomes for me, what is the real problem: that they have done something I will likely not suffer the consequences for…or, that I will not love to the extent that God loved me.

One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Hosea 11:9:

“I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.

I love it because God reveals something deeply important about wholeness.  The whole response was always to choose love and restoration.  This is the cross, the willingness to choose forgiveness over retribution.  The cross revealed that there were no limits to love, that it would go all the way.  Wholeness was to choose love in any given circumstance, even the exception.

Love sees beyond what the person has done, essentially our depravity, and helps uncover the person’s dignity.  And a lot of times this meant suffering.  It meant standing with the saints and sinners, the tax collectors and adulterers, the child molesters and pedophiles and say, “What you have done does not define who you are.”

What if every moment, every encounter with brokenness is an opportunity to forgive and show them the love that looks like the cross, to reveal a kingdom that has no exception?  And the truth is, I want to be part of that kingdom.

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This is the story of my ongoing resurrection.  And sometimes I don’t like it.

“I do not believe Christians are called to believe in the resurrection of Christ.  I believe we are called to be the resurrection of Christ.  To be the site where resurrection takes place.”

This quote, from an interview with Peter Rollins, has been sitting in the back of my mind since I read it.

The truth is, I want to be done.  I don’t want to be in process.  I don’t want to be reminded tomorrow by a still, small voice of how I am participating in my own destruction.  I want to be complete and whole.

Sometimes I “feel His pleasure” and I sit back reveling in his grace.  I bask in the glory of love and the fruit of when I participate.  I sit back and enjoy His hand in my life, shaping me, molding me, producing wonderful fruit that is so enjoyable and tasty.  This is the life I was designed for.  This is the life I want to lead.

And then I go and screw it all up.  I bite right into the temptation to strike back at my neighbor or brother.  I lose site of who I am.  And these moments invite me to judge myself, to take His place on the judgment seat and crucify myself.  Each moment that my brokenness rears its ugly head, I am invited to wonder if He still loves me.  The voices inside my head shout very loudly, “How can you still love me?”  Because grace is such an unnatural thing.  Its stupid good.

And at that moment, the second temptation is to fake it.  It’s just easier to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is fine, to hold onto the condemnation that destroys my heart.  On the outside everything is fine.  On the inside my heart feels like it is being crushed.  And what is really funny, or sad depending on your point of view, is that everyone around me can see it.  They can see the stale aftertaste of a life fermenting in its own crap.  It’s just so obvious.

This is the moment of resurrection.  This is the moment when my Father calls me to the road less traveled, to participate with him in my restoration.  This is the moment of trust when I need, no want, to believe that grace really is the rule of life.  And as I take the risk, He then he gently takes my hand and leads me to the mercy seat, reminding me that the cross is still reigning supreme.  He reminds me that to harm others is to harm myself.  To love others is to love myself.  Which one do I choose to participate in?

And this is the thing.  Resurrection is an ongoing process.  It’s didn’t just happen but is happening in my life.    I’m still a work in progress.  It requires me to admit that I’m broken, that I don’t have it all together, that I still have work to do.  I can’t hide.  I can’t fake it.  I have to trust that He establishes me, not my neighbor.

So resurrect me Father, so that I may reveal your glory.

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I have come to the conclusion that a lot of people within the church don’t really like grace. It calls us to wrestle with stuff we don’t like, stuff like control and forgiveness. Let me explain.

A while ago, I had someone really hurt me. And the moment it happened something inside of me screamed out for justice. I wanted to rail back at this person and lash out. I wanted to rain down on this person the justice that his action demanded. And then this person did something that I really didn’t like. They asked for forgiveness. At that very moment I was staring the Gospel in the face. Something inside of me didn’t want to. I wanted to be mad.

And yet at that moment, I heard God’s still small voice say, “This is your moment. This is what will redefine who you are. To forgive is to become who you are.” I was holding onto a judgment that ultimately I was not really prepared to hold. And love was calling me to look beyond the hurt and to see the human.

And the reality is that its just so much easier to hold onto the pain. But isn’t the pain killing us? Isn’t the poison pill that we wanted to give someone else get instantly ingested into our own system?

We don’t like grace because it takes away our right to be angry. When God forgives me He’s revealing the standard of His kingdom. And I am called reciprocate. And we don’t want to do that. We want to be angry. We want justice. We want God to rain down fury on those who hurt us.

Grace levels the playing field in ways we don’t like. It takes away our ability to control others because we no longer get to use the idea of justice in a way that can control people. Grace redefines justice. It says that mercy is the more restorative approach. It takes away our command to God to end those who hurt us. God simply points to the cross and says, “Am I really mad? You decide. I can’t give you any more than that.”

And we’re left with this strange reality that the problem is really us. We don’t want to let go of our condemnation because it has become this strange tool to control the world around us. It feeds our sense of justice when someone hurts us. It fuels our sense of fury when we contemplate the abandonment, the rape, the molestation, the beating, the lies, the divorce, and the rejection. It allows us to play god.

Grace chucks all of that. It turns the tables on us takes away our defenses. It says, “You are worth more to me than your own sense of justice. You are worth more to me than condemnation.” Because when we judge, we’re really judging ourselves, which always leads to condemnation.

But to embrace that statement requires letting go of our own wounds. To embrace grace means applying it to everyone, not just us. And we simply don’t like that.

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This post is part of a Community Synchroblog

Alan @ The Assembling of the Church: Community Is Unnatural Today

Jason @ Godfidence.org: Community:A Synchroblog

Jeff @ Loosing My Religion: Thoughts On Building Authentic Christian Community

Glenn @ Re-Dreaming The Dream: Community: The Dilemma

Kathy @ The Carnival In My Head: Equality Is An Action Word

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One of my favorite stories in Scripture is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Some call it the parable of the Loving Father. And easily missed is the story of other son.

I don’t think the story is complete without the other son. He provides so much emotion and context for how people can feel when God exhibits profound mercy. The other son is the good son, the son that did it right, the son that did what he was supposed to do. The other son has truth on his side.

And I realized while reading this that grace and mercy are an offense to religion. They are offensive to my carefully constructed attempts to please God on my own. Mercy doesn’t make sense. It requires me to think outside of what I assume is justice.

And this is the journey within the kingdom. Which son do we connect with? Which son do we most feel like?

The other son makes me ask a question. Will we be surprised IF God chooses to restore all of His kingdom in the latter days? Will we be disappointed or even angry if His grace extends beyond our measure, the one that we have constructed? Will we respond, “How could you forgive so and so? How could you let HIM enter?”

And will we have any leg to stand on if He doesn’t do it our way?

BTW: After I wrote this I found this from Tracy.

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Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Lost Son

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

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