How to forgive

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, and we are told to forgive in the same way. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s only real if it’s from our hearts.

Dallas Willard, in his book, Life Without Lack, said we make three errors when it comes to forgiveness. First, we tend to believe it requires reconciliation; second, we think we have to forget what happened; and third, we think we have to stop hurting. None of these are necessary.

We forgive by making the choice not to punish or seek revenge, which means we let people off the hook. It lets us off our own hook, too and frees us—from anger and bitterness—and allows us to love them the way God wants us to.

If we wait for reconciliation (which often never comes), tell ourselves we have to forget what happened (can’t do that) and wait to stop hurting (the pain might lessen, but will never go away), forgiveness will never happen, at least not in this life. Forgiveness is God’s way of life and his way to life (N.T. Wright) but doesn’t happen in our hearts without God’s help and much prayer. It is possible, even when it feels like it’s not, if we can avoid these mistakes and trust God to make it work.

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Stop, Drop and Roll

The Bible has a lot to say about our words. We are to keep them sweet, kind and gentle. We are told to tame our tongues and use them to glorify God, and not to tear people down. But what about when unkind, hurtful words come our way? None of us like to be on the receiving end of insults or verbal abuse but it happens, and we need to know how to handle it.

One day, as I was thinking about how hard it is to deal gracefully with this situation, the phrase “stop, drop and roll,” popped into my mind. This is a simple fire safety technique taught to children, emergency service personnel and industrial workers in case their clothes catch fire. Stop—don’t run because that adds more oxygen to the fire. Drop—drop to the ground. Roll—roll on the ground to put out the flames.

It’s also a great reminder to not let the words of others bother or offend us. James calls the tongue a fire (James 3:6, NIV) which can set the whole course of your life on fire. When the flames from someone’s tongue get too close, stop—take a breath and calm yourself. Drop—just drop it. Don’t let the person or situation push your buttons. Roll—let it roll off your back.

Jesus was an expert at this. When he was insulted and falsely accused, he didn’t say a word. I can’t remember many times I’ve remained silent when being insulted—I could probably count those times on one hand. But it’s not just a matter of learning not to be offended. It goes to the heart of being a Christian, which is dying to self. Jesus wasn’t crucified so we wouldn’t have to be; he was crucified so we could be crucified with him (Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack). Being dead to self means we don’t let the circumstances of life, including being insulted, denigrated or verbally abused affect our sense of well-being, self-worth or behavior. (I hope it goes without saying that extreme cases of verbal abuse involving violence should be dealt with by the police or other authorities.)

Kathleen Hart, in her booklet “Taking Control of Your Actions and Attitudes,” says it’s a matter of choosing to react or act. Rather than letting knee-jerk reactions make the problem worse by returning evil for evil, we can choose to be in control of ourselves. How can we do this? Kathleen gives four principles: be prepared by choosing ahead of time how you will act; decide that your motives will always be to please and glorify God in all your words and actions; pray the life of Jesus will be manifested in your life (he lives in us); and live in obedience to God’s Word. By following these principles, we can be meek, not weak, and we won’t feel the need to demonstrate our strength with anger or aggression.

Prepare by training yourself to stop, drop and roll and by spending time with God, letting him change your heart, filling it with love and goodwill toward others. Then next time verbal barbs come your way, you’ll be ready to act rather than react, and the peace of Christ will be evident in your life.

Wait for it…

The microwave is one of the greatest inventions for the kitchen. It allows us to quickly reheat or cook food, including popcorn (my favorite). But it might have been only the beginning of the trend to deliver instant gratification and a cause of the increasing lack of impatience rampant today. Everyone wants what they want right now!

Impatience isn’t the only consequence of our want-it-now, get-it-now society. We’ve stopped thinking long term. In an article by Paul Roberts he talked about how the growing problem of wanting and getting what we desire instantly is causing more problems than just a lot of impatience. “Under the escalating drive for quick, efficient ‘returns,’ our whole socioeconomic system is adopting an almost childlike impulsiveness, wholly obsessed with short-term gain and narrow self-interest and increasingly oblivious to long-term consequences” (“Instant Gratification,” The American Scholar, Autumn 2014).

We see evidence of this everywhere, from drivers cutting each other off in traffic because they’re in a hurry to students cheating on tests rather than patiently studying to really understand the material. Get-rich-quick schemes are always with us, but more and more we see corporations focusing on making profits over the long term good of society.

Instant gratification is having a negative effect on overall maturity, as Roberts says: “The notion of future consequences, so essential to our development as functional citizens, as adults, is relegated to the background, inviting us to remain in a state of permanent childhood.”

People as a whole used to be able to wait patiently: farmers waited for their crops; we waited for letters in the mail; travel took longer and news wasn’t instant. We didn’t have mobile banking, mobile shopping or overnight deliveries. Everything took time.

I think this has also affected the way we think of God’s plan and how we anticipate the Kingdom. With the focus on getting what we want immediately, have we forgotten this life isn’t all there is? We want everything to be perfect now, forgetting the perfection of heaven is far off and is what we wait for with great anticipation.

Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, said something that struck me as a profound truth, especially in our impatient times: “I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated—that, in a way, life is overrated. …Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness—if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing” (Forbes MagazineSeptember 14, 1992).

Life is not about getting everything we want right now. It’s about doing the best we can, “living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NLT) and looking forward, with patience to the time when God will make all things new. This life isn’t all there is: we have a future well worth waiting for.

Losing Things

As I packed clothes for a trip, I discovered a favorite sweater missing from my closet. I searched everywhere, but couldn’t find it. I must have left it in a hotel on another trip. So I packed the matching top and found something else to wear with it.

I don’t like to lose things. It’s frustrating and upsetting, especially if the item is of value. Losing anything is annoying; so is forgetting where we put things, like lists, keys, important papers. Being robbed is even worse. All these situations give us feelings of helplessness and of being out of control. There’s usually nothing we can do but accept it and move on.

Loss is a part of life we’d rather do without but we all experience it. Dealing with and accepting loss is a lesson we learn early and often. Even with age and experience and the knowledge that things are easily replaced, it’s still frustrating. Some losses, like losing a sweater or keys, are easier to accept than the big ones, like the loss of physical abilities or those we love. And then we ultimately have to face the loss of our own lives.

How do we keep the right perspective? Jesus did warn us not to put our hearts and hopes in our temporary possessions, in treasures that can be lost, stolen or burned. Our lives are not made up of what we own. Our worth is not measured by the dollar signs in our accounts and happiness is not achieved in the accumulation of goods. The more painful losses are not so easily explained or philosophized away. Aging bodies, diminished abilities and senses, deaths of friends and family – how do we cope with these?

Our lives are a mere breath or vapor. We are like flowers that bloom in the morning and fade by evening. No, that’s not encouraging, but the words of Jesus are: he is the resurrection and the life. Through his life all will be restored, renewed and redeemed. In the words of an old gospel song, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Because he lives, the losses of today will disappear into insignificance in the light of the glorious redemption of every single atom, moment, human, animal, theft and fire. Every tear, scream, nightmare, every fear and every heartbreak will be wiped away and replaced by joy in the life and love of the Father.

Our hope is in Jesus – in his cleansing blood, resurrected life and all-encompassing love. In a sense, he lost his life for us and he told us if we lose our lives, we will find them again, in him. On this side of heaven, all is lost, but in Jesus, all is found. And when that happy day comes, nothing will ever be lost again.

Lopsided Grace

It’s been said there are only about seven stories in the whole world and the story line of every book and movie are simply variations. The most common is the battle against good and evil and usually features a savior figure.

"The Rescue of Guinevere"
“The Rescue of Guinevere” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One familiar story is that of King Arthur, Guinevere and Camelot. It’s a Utopian setting until a bit of evil in the form of temptation enters the scene. The queen is seduced by Lancelot, the king’s best knight. When the king discovers their infidelity, he is faced with a painful choice: abandoning the law or the death of his beloved Guinevere. But he knows her death is the only action that will satisfy the law and serve justice.

The tale of Arthur and his queen comes in many versions, but parts of it remain constant: just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, Guinevere gave into temptation, messed up and needed to be saved.

But here’s where Camelot diverges from the original story and the truth. While Arthur agonized over the decision to let the love of his life die and serve justice or let her go and negate the law, God’s decision and plan was clear from the beginning. Unlike Arthur, God is not subject to the law, rather he created it. He in no way agonized over balancing the scales of justice because he himself is justice. His plan to die in our place wasn’t about fulfilling any requirements of the law.

Some look at grace and see a great balancing act, with mercy on one side and God’s holiness on the other, as if he has set limits on how much he can forgive. What Jesus did is sometimes called the Great Exchange, which makes it sound more like a transaction and not the greatest act of love ever performed.

Humanly speaking, we think everything has to work out evenly and be fair. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard who began at dawn? They received the same amount of pay as those who showed up at the end of the workday. To us, this seems quite unfair and even a bit extravagant. But God doesn’t use scales of justice like humanity does. God’s love and grace are outrageously unfair. When Jesus went to the cross, everyone was forgiven. Everyone was invited to the eternal banquet with Father, Son and Spirit. No sin is too great to be wiped out. No one is beyond help. No one is out of his reach and no one must be punished as a way of balancing grace and justice.

If God were to use scales, one side would be up in the air and the other resting on the table. How can grace be so lopsided? His love and grace far outweigh even his own laws to the point of seeming like the ultimate lack of balance. Lucky for us and unlike King Arthur, God is more powerful than the law. He uses a different scale, a scale of mercy balanced only with more love and grace.

He Knows My Name

The population of the world is about seven billion. According to an article on wikipedia, about one fifth of all the humans who have existed in the last 6,000 years are alive today. That’s a lot of people. But how many of them can you name? A hundred? Five hundred?

How many names of all the billions of people ever born on this earth are remembered today? All those names, faded on headstones (if they were on headstones), are now forgotten. Only the names of the famous and the infamous can be recalled, and only some of those.

How sad to think of all the lives over the centuries lost to the mists of history. How sad personally, to think no one will remember our names or the names of the ones we love. The reality is, not too long from now, our names will be forgotten. But there’s One who can remember every name of every person ever born. God knows and remembers each name of each human, and not only their names, but everything about them.

The song “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker reminds us we won’t be forgotten to history. God knows our names, even our middle ones. He knows our every thought, sees each tear and hears us when we call.

It seems to be a basic need – we want to hear our own names and we want others to remember them. Anyone who works with the public will tell you to learn and say a person’s name when speaking with him or her. It adds a personal touch to a sales pitch. Hearing his or her name from a doctor helps a patient feel cared for. We don’t want to think others don’t care enough to remember who we are. Of course, as we get older, it does become harder to remember names! I often have to ask, even if I know the person. And then at times I can’t remember my kids’ or my own!

This world seems impersonal at times. It can be a sad and lonely place. Some days we all feel like we’re just a number, obscure and unimportant. We wonder if anyone really cares. But every time a tear falls from my eyes, God sees it. He understands and even cries with me. If no one else in the world cares, he does. Knowing God knows my name and will never forget who I am is a comforting thought.

Is life getting you down? Feeling a little sad, lonely, unappreciated? God knows and he cares. He knows your name and knows your pain. He has your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) and his heart is for you. He has even written your name in his book of life (Luke 10:20).

Next time you feel like a number, like no one cares or remembers who you are, think of the One who saves your tears, has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7) and takes care of your every need (Matthew 6:30). He knows your name and hears you when you call.

Praying Psalm 63

Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.