Friday, July 29, 2011

What Forgiveness Requires

Forgiveness is an investment in your relationship with God and in your relationship with others. As with all investments, there’s cost involved. In any investment you make, your concern is that the return will be greater than the cost. So it’s important to consider the requirements of forgiveness for you and your relationships.

Forgiveness requires humility
. It’s only when we really do believe that life is bigger than us, that there’s something more important than our wants, needs, and feelings, and that we’ve been given life and breath for the purposes, plans, and praise of Another, that we’ll be willing to forgive. When we stand in the center of our own universe with nothing more important to us than ourselves, we find nothing more offensive than a sin against us. Or when pride allows us to think of ourselves as righteous - surely more righteous than the person we live with - then it’s hard for us to forgive. Forgiveness is much easier for the person who lives consciously of the reality of how much he also needs to be forgiven. Nobody gives grace better than someone who’s convinced he needs it as well.

Forgiveness also requires compassion
. Compassion is being moved by the plight of another, coupled with action to help him or her. Think with me for a moment, does compassion ever grip you when someone sins against you? Are you touched by the other person's struggle with sin? Do you feel for him or her when they face the disappointing reality of their failure once again? Are you sad for that friend or relative in those moments when he’s easily entrapped? Do you stand alongside the other person in their worst moments; doing anything you can to relieve the burden of their struggle with sin? You forgive her because you love the other person and because you love them, you care about them and the struggle that they’re going through with sin. You know what it’s like to commit to what’s right and end up doing what’s wrong (see Romans 7). You forgive him because, by God’s grace, you look at him through tender, rather than judgmental, eyes.

Forgiveness requires trust
. Forgiveness is not so much an act of faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. You do believe that God is with you. You do believe that his Word is true. You do believe that what he calls you to is right and good. You do believe that he’ll give you what you need to do what he’s called you to do. You do believe that your identity is secure, even if the other person rejects you and doesn’t seek your forgiveness. You do believe that there’s blessing on the other side of the hard work of forgiveness. You do believe that when you fail and take up the offense once again, that God will forgive you and give you the power to change. Because you trust God, you’re willing to forgive.

Forgiveness requires self-control
. If you’re going to forgive someone for committing a sin against you, you must say no to yourself, exercising the self-control that only God is able to give you. To forgive, you have to say no to bitterness, which permits you to carry a wrong and not give it room to expand in your heart and shape your responses. You have to say no to the desire to lash out with angry words and actions of vengeance. You have to say no to the impulse to share your anger with a relative or friend. Giving way to these things is never a prelude to forgiveness.

Forgiveness requires sacrifice
. Earlier I said that we fail to approach the other person when he or she has wronged us because we love ourselves more than we love our spouse. Perhaps that seemed harsh to you, so let me explain. Seldom is self-sacrificing love a self-conscious faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. It’s when you really do believe that he's ready and willing to give you everything that you need, that the sacrifices of love are no longer scary to you. Rather, those sacrifices becoming opportunities to not only enter into a deeper communion with another human being, but with God as well.

There’s one thing that forgiveness requires that’s more important than anything we’ve looked at so far. It may be the most important thing of all.

Forgiveness requires remembering. Why is it that we’re so skilled at remembering the others weakness, failure, and sin and so adept at forgetting our own? Why are we so good at seeing all the ways that another needs to be forgiven but forget how great our need for forgiveness is? When we’re filled with the grief of our own sin and with gratitude for the amazing forgiveness we’ve been given, then we’ll find joy in giving to others what we’ve received. Perhaps a lifestyle of unforgiveness is rooted in the sin of forgetfulness. We forget that there’s not a day in our lives that we don’t need to be forgiven. We forget that we‘ll never graduate from our need for grace. We forget that we’ve been loved with a love we could never earn, achieve, or deserve. We forget that God never mocks our weakness, never finds joy in throwing our failures in our face, never threatens to turn his back on us, and never makes us buy our way back into his favor.

When you remember, when you carry with you a deep appreciation for the grace that you’ve been given, you’ll have a heart that’s ready to forgive. That doesn’t mean that the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that you can approach your needy friend or relative remembering that you’re just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Archeologists and Unafraid

It happens to all of us sooner or later. The older you get the more you move from being an astronaut to an archaeologist. When you’re young, you’re excitedly launching to worlds unknown. You’ve all of the major decisions of life before you, and you can spend your time assessing your potential and considering opportunities. It’s a time of exploration and discovery. It’s a time to go where you’ve never been before and to do what you’ve never done. It’s a time to begin to use your training and to gain experience.

But as you get older you begin to look back at least as much as you look forward. As you look back, you tend to dig through the mound of the civilization that was your past life, looking for pottery shards of thoughts, desires, choices, actions, words, decisions, relationships, and situations. And as you do this, you can’t help but assess how you’ve done with what you’ve been given.

Now let’s think about this for a moment as personal archeology can be very painful. Who would be so arrogant and bold as to look back on their life and say, “In every possible way I was as good as I could have been?" Wouldn’t we all hold some of those pottery shards in our hands and experience at least a bit of regret? Wouldn’t we all wish that we could take back words we’ve said, decisions we’ve made, or actions we’ve taken? Wouldn't we all wonder what we were doing, what were we thinking or who in the world did we think we were?

Here’s what all of this means: if you and I are at all willing to humbly and honestly look at our lives, we’ll be forced to conclude that we’re flawed human beings. And yet we don’t have to beat ourselves up. We don’t have to work to minimize or deny our failures. We don’t have to be defensive when our weaknesses are revealed. We don’t have to rewrite our own histories to make ourselves look better than we actually were. We don’t have to be paralyzed by remorse and regret. We don’t have to distract ourselves with busyness or drug ourselves with substances. Isn’t it wonderful that we can stare our deepest, darkest failures in the face and be unafraid? Isn’t it comforting that we can honestly face our most regretful moments and not be devastated? Isn’t it amazing that we can confess that we really are sinners and be neither fearful nor depressed?

Isn’t it wonderful that we can do all of these things because, we’ve learned that our hope in life is not in the purity of our character or the perfection of our performance. We can face that we’re sinners, and rest because we know that God really does exist and that he’s a God of:

Steadfast Love
Abundant Mercy

Because he is, there’s hope—hope of forgiveness and new beginnings.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The "Benefits" of Unforgiveness

Why don’t people just forgive? That’s a very good question. If forgiveness is easier and more beneficial, why isn’t it more popular? The sad reality is that there’s short-term, relationally destructive power in refusing to forgive. Holding onto the other's wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationships. We keep a record of wrongs because we’re not motivated by what honors God and is best for others, but by what’s expedient for ourselves. Here are some of the dark “benefits” of unforgiveness.

1) Debt is power. There’s power in having something to hold over another’s head. There’s power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against us as our relational trump card.

2) Debt is identity. Holding onto another's sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to them. It allows us to believe that we’re more righteous and mature than they are. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self, not by the comfort and call of the Gospel, but by comparing ourselves to another. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that’s the struggle of every sinner.

3) Debt is entitlement. Because of all the other person's wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying these wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. “After all I’ve had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I
deserve ... ?”

4) Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that another's done against us, that we still carry around with us, are like a loaded gun; it’s very tempting to pull them out and use them when we’re angry. When someone's hurt us in some way, it’s very tempting to hurt them back by throwing it in their face just how evil and immature they are.

5) Debt puts us in God’s position. It’s the one place that we must never be; but it’s also a position that we’ve all put ourselves in. We’re not the judge of others. We’re not the one who should dispense consequences for other's sin. It’s not our job to make sure they feel the appropriate amount of guilt for what they’ve done. But it’s very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge.

This is nasty stuff. It’s a relational lifestyle driven by ugly selfishness. It’s motivated by what we want, what we think we need, and by what we feel. It’s nothing to do with a desire to please God with the way we live with one another, and it surely has nothing to do with what it means to love others in the midst of their struggle to live God’s way in this broken world. It’s also is scarily blind. We’re so focused on the failures of others that we’re blind to ourselves. We forget how often we fail, how much sin mars everything we do, and how desperately we need the grace that we’re given daily, but unwilling to offer to others. This way of living turns the people in our lives into our adversaries and turns the locations where we live into a war zone.

Yet we’ve all been seduced by the power of unforgiveness. We’ve all used the sin of another against him or her. We’ve all acted as judges. We’ve all thought we’re more righteous than the people around us. We’ve all used the power of guilt to get what we want when we want it and in so doing have not only done serious damage to the fine china of our relationships, but have demonstrated how much we need forgiveness.

It seems almost too obvious to say, but forgiveness is a much better way. The grace of our salvation is the ultimate argument for this truth. Forgiveness is the only way to live in an intimate, long-term relationship with another sinner. Forgiveness is the only way to negotiate through the weakness and failure that will daily mark your relationships. It’s the only way to deal with hurt and disappointment. Forgiveness is the only way to have hope and confidence restored. It’s the only way to protect your love and reinforce the unity that you've built. Forgiveness is the only way to not be kidnapped by the past. It’s the only way to give your relationships the blessing of fresh starts and new beginnings. Grace, forgiving grace, really is a much, much better way. So isn't it wonderful to know that you’ve not only been called to forgive, but you’ve also been graced with everything you need to answer this call.