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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” [Leviticus 19:11] Period. 
We are living in a culture in which lying has become a norm. I think we always knew that our leaders were lying but up until recently, there was a kind of unspoken understanding that the “lies” were somehow for our good, that we were being shielded from the ugly truth of dangers around the world. We were like little children who were not ready to hear about sex or how babies are born or that our beloved Uncle was a raging alcoholic and wife beater. Everything is fine.

But now, we are discovering that the lies are bigger and more dangerous. They are so pervasive that it has become difficult to discern the truth anywhere. We have one side exposing truth as breaking news and the other side proclaiming that all news is fake. Like the barrage of violence in games and movies and in real life on our streets and in our neighborhoods, we are becoming desensitized to it.  So it seems, with lies.

So what does this have to do with me, right here, sitting in my quiet chair in prayer?

First of all, I’m not much better inside my little life. I exaggerate and pretend, I withhold and I cheat. I too am a liar. So was I convicted this morning as the notifications ran across my screen about the lying game in Washington. I am no better and before I get all self-righteous about others, I must clean up my own house.

Forgive me God.

Because the political climate right now is so charged and the people so divided, my only comfort comes in praying for the power of truth to prevail. I pray that Truth expose evil and lies and danger.

But I also pray for truth in my own life. Fill me Lord with the Truth of your Holy Spirit, fill me with your kingdom that truth be my natural way. Stop my mouth before I speak, soften my heart before I judge, breathe into me.

Lying is a choice and for this reason, it is sin. We all know better, whether Christian or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Hindu or Atheist. Let us all carry the banner of Truth today.

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accept-circumstancesHow many times have you heard someone say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.” I think anger might be healthier and easier to overcome.

Disappointment is a sinister sort of behavior. At first, seemingly benign, but like English Ivy, it creeps and sucks the life out of its host. It’s a cancer. I know this because I have allowed disappointment to take up much space in my heart and soul. So many of the roads I chose did not lead me where I thought they would; so many choices gave less than hoped results. I have been like a child who longs for a special toy at Christmas but doesn’t get it. Sure, the other toys are great, but what about that one?

I have seen disappointment ruin marriages and upend families, I have seen it lead others into substance abuse and depression. I have watched disappointment erode joy in my own life.

Much of my practice in disappointment was born in my upbringing. I don’t want to bash my mother, but she was a taskmaster who demanded much of her children, most likely because she sacrificed so much to build a family as a single mother. But she too suffered from disappointment, coming to this country with so many dreams, most unfulfilled. Disappointment is a family business.

The antidote? Confession first of all. I realized this today in my quiet time. It’s time to release this dark animal from its deep hiding places within. It’s time to acknowledge that it is there and ask God to forgive me for hanging on to it for so long. God forgive me.

acceptanceSecond comes thanksgiving. To those of us who have done a lot of swimming in the waters of disappointment, giving thanks for “what is” over “what we wanted” is not simple trick. It’s time to make a conscious effort: daily, hourly, even minute by minute if necessary. Thank you God.

And thirdly, forgiveness. It’s a blame game in the world of disappointment. From blaming our parents to our partners to our children to our God, and of course, ourselves. It’s time to forgive all the players. I forgive.

Wrap these steps up with scripture. There are many that speak to it, but the simplest to learn is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18,  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” For it is in this simple truth that new disappointments can be resisted. 

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ListensCome close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66:16-20]

It’s not always easy to listen. If you are anything like me, you are forming an answer or comment to whatever the other person is saying while he/she is saying it. How often do I only hear a portion of what is being said. How often I react to one phrase and miss the second. How often I miss the point. And in short order, it’s no longer a conversation but a debate, or worse, an argument, or worse still, a screaming match. All because one or both of us didn’t really listen. Maybe we heard words but we didn’t listen. We didn’t attend to one another.

God, on the other hand, is always ready and willing to listen. And through God’s listening, I have an opportunity to learn from God about listening. God hears intent. God hears motive. God hears between the lines. God listens to the heart.

Oh, I suppose, God also listens to the dribble of my complaints and my shoulda, coulda, woulda. But these, I believe, he merely collects in a bowl and sets aside. What God is waiting to hear is a deeper self, of confession and repentance, of forgiveness and help.

onionsLike a layered onion, the outer layers aren’t much good for anything but protection of what is within. I am asked to peel those layers away. Sometimes, it takes a conscious effort to do so. For this reason, Lent becomes such a perfect time to strip away the chaff, to starve that part of me that normally consumes so much of my time and energy (like the preparation and eating of meals or going out to restaurants or snacking on sugars and guzzling sodas).

It’s a good time to fast. To prepare to fast. To peel. To strip. To offer God some truth.

God listens.

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FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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cup of waterThis is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing. [Matthew 10:41-42, The Message]

Am I the only one who has a little put-down voice inside? Of course, back in the day (BC), that voice had a heyday on others, but the tables have turned and I’m getting my due: the voice is putting me down relentlessly. No matter what I do or say, the voice is busy. Either I am too late, too early, too fat, too loud, too predictable, too repetitive, too sharp, too flat, too comical, too serious and on and on and on. Oh, she’s a busy little voice.

And when it comes to giving (whether it’s my time, money, or energy), it’s never enough (or lately, too much). When Mike and I switched back to tithing in late Fall, the voice choked for a bit, but then she started nitpicking at me (particularly after Mike died): what about that reimbursement check for mileage, did you tithe on that? And what about that dinner your brother bought you, did you tithe on that? What about Mike’s retirement checks or his sick leave or his annual leave? Pick, pick, pick.

Every time I volunteer for a task or good cause, the voice complains about the time I’m wasting, what kind of volunteer watches “Law and Order” instead of serving? Or, look at so and so, now that’s a committed person. If someone needs a meal, the voice mocks me, “I hope you’re not making that stupid casserole again.” If I am out several nights of the week, volunteering or working, the voice asks me about my priorities. Sigh.

It’s a lose-lose with that voice.

other voiceIt’s time to shut her down. I’m not 100% sure how to do that and I welcome your suggestions. But my heart knows two things:

  1. I’m not alone with this problem.
  2. God appreciates every gift given from the heart, both great and small.

I need to focus on the other Presence, right? I declare right now, I’m giving the Holy Spirit full authority over that other voice. Put a dome over her!

Take my mustard seed, Lord, and make it a tree. Take my small gift and use it for good.

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stars of the soulAnd there is the language of thanksgiving, for prayer is what Washington calls “an attempt to count the stars of our souls.” The words “Thank you…Thank you…Thank you” are a way of calling to mind, one after another, the gifts of God, the stars of the soul.– James M. Washington, Conversations with God.

In my Lent 2015 Devotional, I found this excerpt from Washington’s book and I have been touched by the phrase, “stars of the soul” ever since. Naturally, I’ve ordered the book from the library. I must know more.

On the heels of praying continually, I am also directed to give thanks in all circumstances [I Thessalonians 5:16-21]. Can I imagine those prayers, those utterances of thanksgiving to be as plenteous as the stars of heaven. Or have I been stingy in that regard, focusing on that single morning star or worse, allowing the lights of the city to outshine the stars. Those artificial lights are the cares of this world.

Lord forgive me. For my life is rich with grace of You.

Throughout scripture, humans ask for God to “hear” our cries and to answer our prayers and to heal us. But I see now I have been like one of the nine lepers who were healed along the way but kept on going the way they started;  only one, the tenth, turned around and ran back to Jesus to give thanks [Luke 17:11-19].

I am running to you tonight. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am alive and although this day is nearly done, a new day is rising and anything can happen. Thank you.

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That is the point. Forgiveness. Unless you’re fine with all that, you know, fine with the things you’ve said and thought, fine with the choice you made that hurt someone else, fine with the way things worked out when you lied, fine with the time you looked away, fine with your plenty in the face of another’s scarcity, fine with the status quo. But if you’re not, if you want to turn a corner and do life differently, then, there’s this:

woman_crying_1Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” [Luke 7:47-49, NIV]

Who indeed?

We each have had a way in which we do life. For some, it was an upper middle class dream with plenty of food on the table, two (or more) cars in the driveway, and college tuition paid out of a well-thought out plan. Others grew up under a cloud of smoke and the smell of stale beer, got lost in math class and never caught up, accepted a minimum wage job and bolstered their income with a few illegal drug deals or sex for hire. Some of us skated and while others drowned.

To choose a savior, a kind of help that can turn a life’s direction requires an experience of awareness, a moment of revelation, an epiphany if you will, before forgiveness even comes into the picture, before surrender is possible, before faith can be born.

I cannot make that happen for anyone else. I can only tell you my story.

For, like the woman who drenched Jesus’s feet with her tears, I too have nothing but gratefulness for this same Jesus, who, by the power of Spirit, which makes this three-dimensional world  pale in its atmosphere, I capitulated my former understanding of the way of the world. I am changed. Forgiven.

And now I am asked to do likewise. To forgive the “you’s” in my life who failed me and hurt me and shamed me; to forgive myself for my self-indulgences and false starts. To forgive daily.

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