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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

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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Art by Laurie Justus Pace

Art by Laurie Justus Pace

And this is the point, whether one believes or does not believe: God knows our hearts. God knows my heart. There is no sin I can craft in my head that is unknown, there is no good deed seed not watered. God is sovereign over the heart — the soul of humankind.

Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) . . . [I Kings 8:39b, NIV]

For this reason, when life circumstances challenge my way, there is only One who can truly help me or actually altar the course of my steps, transform the crushing press of deadlines and drama and duty, rally the troops of heaven on my behalf and, ultimately, on behalf of my loved ones.

Forgive me Spirit Father, Adonai. Forgive my stealthy forays into the world. Forgive my selfish ambition. Forgive my judgments of others. Forgive my callous eye. Relieve my fears. Strengthen my trust and resolve in You. Sustain my mindfulness that I might pray without ceasing.

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futurepicThere are many roads we take in life and it’s best to understand from the beginning, those roads cannot be traversed again in reverse. They are one-way streets. Thus saith the Lord.

” . . . because the Lord told you: “You will never go back by that road again.” [Deuteronomy 17:16b]

I hadn’t really thought about this before but it’s meaning jumped from the page. We may think, like the old adage that were are going “two steps back and one step forward” or we might assume, that one could “backslide” and fall into old bad habits or old friends or old situations. But the truth is that time marches only forward in our human world. And no experience can be repeated in the same way because we are already older because of it.

My adopted Russian daughter often bemoans her inability to return to her native land to see the city of her grandmother and the places where she played as a child. But those places are long gone already, trees that embraced climbing children have been cut down and woods replaced with roads and bridges. That world is gone. Nor will her St. Petersburg ghetto look the same, even if the buildings are still there, she would not be able to see them with the same eyes of childhood.

I, too, experienced this throwback when I traveled to Indianapolis last week for a conference. I walked the old streets, once known for danger and poverty, now filled with brightly colored “painted ladies” and signs announcing the charms of living on the “Near Northside.”

lines_hold_the_memories_by_agnes_cecile-d38y67i

Lines Hold the Memories by Agnes Cecile.

All we have is memories and they are capricious at best, unreliable and re-framed by the world that came afterwards. We color our memories because we have to or because we don’t really remember. We forget on purpose then or we pick through the images most vividly repeatedly in the time capsule we assign to reruns.

Like Robert Frost, we pick our roads as best we can, based on what we know in the moment, on that day. We pick and we walk and sometimes we look back, maybe even run back to try another, but the intersection is no longer the same, the circumstances that added up to that choice have changed.

There is no point either, crying over what has been lost, for we’ll never know exactly what that “would” have been or “could” have been. We only have today, or now, and tomorrow.

Evil sometimes tries to re-write the past to serve its purposes for the moment; that being done by both evil regimes, governments or dictatorships as well as personal evil presence and people. Those false memories have only as much power as we choose to give them.

And so it is, for this reason, that I am grateful for a faith rooted in the God of “new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17], of redemption and forgiveness. The Christ, who brings hope and renewal. Yesterday cannot be relived but the influence and even catastrophic scars can be absorbed and although the past is not rewritten, it’s power can be mitigated and softened. We don’t need the details of back then. We need trust in what will be and can be.

We are given the gift of possibility through the redeeming work of Christ Jesus. This I believe.

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stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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dream and forgivenessIt’s not like Joseph had one God dream after another. He had a couple of foretelling dreams as a teen and no other dreams of his are shared through his time in Egypt. Instead, he turned to dream interpretation, but again, only a few. He known for being an honorable man, but not necessarily a diviner. Yet, God used him in this way at a point of need.

[Joseph said:] And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt . . . Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” . . .  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  [Genesis 41:33, 39-40, 46a; NIV]

After twelve years of servitude, Joseph is raised up to one of the highest positions in that world, second only to Pharaoh at the age of thirty, all because of a dream, an interpretation, a vision, and twelve years of leading in lower positions. Every year of his captivity was actually a year of practice and preparation for the big leap. He had no way of knowing that such a day would come.

What we don’t see is any record of built up resentments toward his half-brothers. The only hint that memories cause him pain comes in the naming of his sons: Manasseh (which appears to mean “forget” and Joseph writes that his son has been born to help him forget his father’s household) and Ephraim (which seems to mean “twice fruitful,” and Joseph writes that this birth symbolizes a new life of fruitfulness in the place of suffering). Suffering? Interesting.

By the time the brothers finally come from Canaan to ask Egypt for grain, Joseph has been away at least twenty years. He has a new name, a new life, and his own family. And yet, the moment of reckoning arrives–the moment of payback, the moment when he could, at a word, destroy all ten of his brothers for their betrayal. During this first visit, he is tempted but there is also his integrity fighting against it.

Resentments build fast in my world. I know it. I see it. I feel it. People will say, “oh, I forgave, but I will never forget.” I think it was my old friend, Mma Precious Ramotswe, from the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, who said (more or less), “If we don’t choose to forget as well, the memory may very well erase the forgiveness.”

I can choose drama or I can choose dream. I can choose to forgive and forget. I can allow God’s dream to build a life or I can fight the way. I can complain of the time and the disappointments or I can trust in the preparation.

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Looking for GodSeek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon. [Isaiah 55:6-7]

It’s not that God is missing, you know, or that God is moving closer and farther away. It’s the seeker who is either ready or not to discover God in Spirit, working and moving, speaking and transforming our lives. And when we, as seekers, do have a personal experience with God, that is the best moment to ask those tough questions, to not let go, like the woman with the issue of blood [Matthew 9:20-22] or Jacob, as he wrestled the angel [Genesis 22:24-30]. Both of these people knew their time had come, their opportunity, to hold tight, to touch and encounter God.

When someone who does not know God has that initial epiphany, it’s as though God appears out of nowhere, and suddenly, their new found belief, brings God close, brings in the reality of Christ Jesus, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s an “aha!” moment. In those first flushed days, it is the easiest time to ask forgiveness, to surrender the sins and bad choices, to confess.

But later on, we become more closed and closeted, despite being faithful followers of God. It’s like running into someone you know . . . I mean, you know you know the person, you go to church together or you were at meetings together, and yet, no matter how hard you try, you can’t remember the person’s name. Do you confess that you don’t remember or fake it? That would be me, at least. I am too embarrassed to confess. And so I have been with my God, too embarrassed to review that same error in judgment, that same mistake, that same blasphemy. It’s not like God doesn’t know. But I am the one who cannot bear it. So, I open up the secret room and toss yet another “truth about me” inside and shut the door.

Jesus even taught that we are to forgive one another, not just seven times, but seventy times seven times [Matthew 18:22], symbolically meaning that forgiveness has no limits. Would God do less?

I say I am a seeker of the Christ and the fullness of the Spirit within, and yet, I withhold my truths and sins. When I do this, I am not seeking at all, but hiding, like Adam and Eve in the garden [Genesis 3:8]. God sought them. God is doing the same with me.

It’s so simple: when I seek, I find.

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moving onThe reunion story between Jacob and Esau is the Old Testament way of foreshadowing grace to come. Esau had every right to resent Jacob and even hate him for Jacob’s deceptions. Instead, he extended unmerited grace. Time did the first part of the healing (over twenty years) and the two brothers did the rest. They chose to let go of the past.

Genesis 33:1a, 3-4
Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men . . . He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

They didn’t talk about the past, but they both knew what had happened between them. Jacob poured out his plea through the giving of very generous gifts (220 goats, 230 sheep, 30 camels plus their young, 50 cows and bulls, and 30 donkeys). Then, when he himself came forward, he bowed down seven times (and his children likewise). This gesture in this time and culture indicated that the other person was superior. By bowing seven times, Jacob was accepting the position of vassal to Esau. (See discussion by Dr. Claude Mariottini)

Instead, like the story of the prodigal son, Esau greets his brother warmly with an embrace. We do not know if this change of heart was from the beginning when he first heard of Jacob’s coming or if Esau’s heart was touched by the gifts and Jacob’s obeisance. Nonetheless, their embrace was a willingness on Esau’s part to start over. To let go of the vows for revenge and deceptions.

But Jacob does an interesting thing. Despite Esau’s offer to accompany Jacob or leave additional men, Jacob demurs. I see this as wisdom. Their unspoken agreement is tenuous at best. It’s one thing to initiate peace but another to live it. By keeping their households apart (Jacob buys land near Shechem), they can have their understanding without putting themselves at close proximity where old habits and memories could peck away at their resolve to live amiably.

In the same way should we remember this wisdom. When we forgive, especially in those most difficult cases (abuse, brokenness, and a bevy of other human sorrows), we should not expect the heart to follow quickly. Instead, we must give space and time and new patterns to develop.

I can choose to relinquish my losses from the past, but I must still be wise in building my future.

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