Archives For forgiveness

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Today my wife and I are celebrating our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. While it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, it’s been good. It’s had its ups and downs, its victories, defeats, and disappointments. In short, its been a real relationship–one where it has been safe to know and safe to be known. My wife is a wonderful woman, full of life, love, and forgiveness. And I’ve needed every bit of it. If I were Catholic, and believed in their process of canonization, I would nominate her for sainthood.

I love you, Lisa! You’re my best friend now, forever, and always. I thank God for you everyday.

Happy anniversary!

No, not the movie starring Tim Allen. No this one stars you. That is to say it’s not a movie at, but rather your life. And it’s unfolding around you in living Technicolor©, blasting your ears with Quadrophonic sound.

You’re at church.

You’re a tither, a regular attender. It’s normally a safe haven–a refuge from the cares and worries of life. But it’s Christmas. And all bets are off. Because the place is packed. Don’t get me wrong–you’re glad all those folks are there. God knows they need to hear the good news.

But you wish they were just a little more attentive.

And that little Johnny (not his real name) behind you would stop kicking your chair. Where are his parents anyway? Then there’s the kid right in front you, whose parents have given him an iPhone to pacify him. You keep hearing the squawking of Angry Birds©!

But, you keep reminding yourself, this is church.

Time was, people knew how to comport themselves, how to keep their children well-behaved… But not, it seems, anymore. You’re just about ready to slay someone in the spirit, but then the rousing rendition of “Joy to World” is followed by the minister, who has come to speak about the “Colors of Christmas.” How what can such a dark time in people’s lives can be made light in Christ. You’re enjoying it, trying to listen, when the mom, who was talking to a friend ask throughout the song service, begins reading a story book to her squirming, squalling child.

Boy, it sure seems like all the bored, distracted, tired people all around you just don’t love Jesus like you love Jesus…

Then you catch yourself wishing that none of them were there… That you could just have a minute to engage with what the pastor’s saying. That people, who likely only go to church twice a year, would act more like you…

Then you swallow, draw in a deep breath, as it dawns on you that maybe, just maybe, the Christmas cranks aren’t the unruly masses all around you.

It’s you.

Bowing your head in silent prayer, you ask for forgiveness.

And you thank God for Christmas.

For Jesus coming to redeem such a one as you.

I need to get something off of my chest:

I’m a hypocrite.

And so are you.

We all are. It’s a condition endemic to our species. It’s a dichotomy, a clever bit of cognitive dissonance, that we are–by and large–quite comfortable living with.

How does this play out?

Mostly, like this:

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We get angry with those who sin differently than we do, apparently forgetting that we ourselves are sinners, too. It’s hypocrisy pure and simple.

Because we have to live with ourselves, we often give ourselves a pass, all the while condemning our brothers and sisters.

What’s the cure? How do we limit this hypocrisy, cut it off at its knees?

The Bible says we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, right? The late, great C.S. Lewis said that “loving one’s neighbor as oneself means being just as forgiving of one’s neighbor’s sins as one is of one’s own.”

That’s a tall order, to be sure. But it comes right from the horse’s mouth (as it were):

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Gulp.

Does this mean that we must forgive in order to ourselves be forgiven? Afraid so, folks.

Jesus paid it all for you, me, and that pesky neighbor down the street.

The first step to healing is admitting our hypocrisy: that we are no different than those who sin differently.

Thanks for reading!

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Dear _________,

I know it’s a long time since we’ve spoken. Too long. Words have been said, but silence now reigns instead.

How did we get to this place?

How many misunderstandings have there been down the road of years to leave us feeling this way? Instead of a bridge, we build walls…

Dear ________, you need to know that I’ve been angry, and have harbored unforgiveness in my heart towards you. And it’s ugly. Like sunglasses, it colors all I view.

Will you forgive me?

Is there someone whose forgiveness you need to seek today? Dad, mom, brother, sister, friend… In your heart, you know. If you’re not sure, ask God–He’ll show you.

A Scandalous Grace

randomlychad  —  August 30, 2012 — 7 Comments

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Last month, in the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, I wrote of Evil Wearing A Human Face. I ended by asking for prayer for the victims and their families.

I forgot someone in that request: James Holmes. Who knows what kind of place he’s in that he could do what he did? And what of his family? Imagine what they are going through in the wake of his actions.. . I can’t fathom it. He needs prayer, they need prayer.

Please understand this before I proceed: Mr. Holmes needs to be held accountable for his actions, and is deserving of the justice the court will mete out to him. Romans thirteen clearly admonishes that the government doesn’t bear the “sword” for nought. (Holmes has since been charged with twenty four counts of murder).

But as long as he draws breath, he is never far from redemption.

Recall with me the scene of Christ’s crucifixion: our Lord was hung on a cross between two thieves. They deserved their punishment; one reviled Jesus, the other acknowledged his guilt, asking the Lord to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What did did Jesus say in response? “It’s too late, you filthy sinner. You had your chance?” No; it was “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Despite being given the death penalty for his crimes, that thief found salvation.

There is a similar hope for James Holmes. Because while the cost is high–Jesus gave his all, and died–the price of admission into God’s kingdom is low:

“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you shall be saved.” That is nothing other than childlike faith. We need to be praying that Holmes finds such faith in prison. Because, like the thief on the cross, he is likely to receive the death penalty. And while he certainly deserves it, we–the surviving victims, the families of the deceased–need to look to our own souls. Lest amidst the cries for justice, the hurt, the questions, and bitterness take root.

Such soul work takes time, because healing is not an event, but a process. In this case, a very lengthy process, as there are people bereft, families torn apart, a community still grieving. Grief needs its time (“there is a time for weeping”). Somewhere in there, as time and space allow, as the tears give way to reflection, that community will need to grapple with forgiveness. Not for Holmes’ sake, but for its own.

Because forgiveness, while both an event, and a process, begins with an act of the will. It is a choice we make, and is the only cure I know to keep bitterness from taking root. And thereby it frees our souls.

In the midst of the upheaval brought by such a diabolical act, it’s quite easy to forget–in our quest for deserved justice–that we all deserve to die. For we are “born in sin, and shapen in iniquity.” And it was for this–for us–that Jesus died. Remember, please, that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” That includes:

Ed Gein

John Wayne Gacy, jr.

Ted Bundy

David Berkowitz

Jeffrey Dahmer

Dennis Rader

James Holmes*

Does that list scandalize you? If it wasn’t scandalous, it wouldn’t be grace–because it was, and is, available (if they had but reached out for it, turned to God) to those men just as it is to us. In fact, by all accounts I’m aware of, Jeffey Dahmer found Jesus in jail before he was killed. Some say Bundy did as well (only time will tell). The one that’s most interesting to me is David Berkowitz: for from every account I’ve read, it seems that each time he comes up for parole, he refuses it. For two reasons:

1) He believes he deserves to be in jail, is remorseful for his crimes; and,
2) He desires to minister God’s grace to other inmates.

That, my friends, is the mark of a humble heart. And if the “Son of Sam” can be by the Son of Man so changed, so can one James Holmes.

In addition to praying for the continued helping of a devastated community, this is what we who call ourselves Christians should be praying for: God’s scandalous grace.

What do you think? Have you been scandalized by grace?

*Caveat emptor: We should be shocked and outraged at the heinous acts committed by these men. All are evil deeds, and are indeed of the evil one. In our shock and outrage we would do well to remember that this is a world at war–we live in enemy-occupied territory. Even the scriptures declare that we do not yet everything under Jesus’ feet. The day is coming. The point of this postscript is this: we ignore the spiritual aspect of evil to our great detriment. Evil is a real, palpable force–a personality–that must be reckoned with. Thankfully, the evil one is nowhere near God’s equal.