Tag Archive | forgiveness

A Reputation of Grace

Recently, I’ve been learning from God about grace. Among many things the Lord has taught me is that we have a tendency to restrict grace. In the story of the prodigal son, the words “far country“ and “great way off” are essentially the same in Greek. The father’s loving gaze and grace extended all the way to the place of wrong choices, waste, and ultimately to the pig pen. Our Father’s patience, grace, and loving welcome waits on the worst of us to come to ourselves and come home. How many of us can extend grace for the long wait? How many of us are willing to hang in their with a “prodigal” until the journey leads a friend home?

It’s easy to extend grace to someone we care about, love, and want the absolute best for. But is grace just for those we like and those who like us? Is grace prejudiced? Is grace for those who act like we think they ought to act?

Am I hearing a crucified Savior saying of His executioners, “Father, forgive them”? After all… Jesus scandalized the religious crowd by eating with sinners and being called a friend of sinners. Obviously, He had affection and compassion for those that society did not hold in regard. But to forgive and show grace to hypocritical religious types? What could Jesus have been thinking???

The apostle Paul may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “He made Himself of no reputation” (Phil. 2:7).  Jesus wasn’t worried about His reputation, about who He was seen with, or who He socialized with. He wasn’t interested in winning a popularity contest. He was concerned with winning the souls of men through grace, and pointing them to God, regardless of what that did to His reputation with the It crowd.

Wow…

For me, this grace thing is easy to talk about but hard to do.

How about you?

What limits do we put on grace? Sure, I know Romans 5:20 – 6:2a…

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.
But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid.

Maybe what Paul is reiterating is that only God has the right to set boundaries on grace. After all, it doesn’t say ”Ron forbid” — it says “God forbid”. Probably good advice for all of us.

Well, just some stuff I am learning at 70… grace to you and me!

Let It Go.

CSLContemplate, if you will, this quote by the late C.S. Lewis…

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Why do we find forgiveness to be such a difficult thing? Does it come from our need to be right? Is it born of our desire to “one-up” someone who has wronged us? What is it about a lack of forgiveness that makes us feel superior?

A friend once said that, “It was easy for me to be unforgiving until I was the one needing forgiveness”. In Matthew 18, Jesus is painfully clear what judgment awaits the person who does not forgive “from the heart”.

Unforgiveness is like being locked in a prison cell, with the keys sitting within your reach. Forgiveness unlocks the doors, and sets ALL of the prisoners free.

Is holding on to unforgiveness against the one who has wronged you worth sacrificing true joy?

Let it go, and find the freedom God has waiting for you.

#CharlestonStrong

Emanuel AME2

A week ago, on the evening of June 17, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — one of the oldest AME churches in the nation — with the alleged intention of starting a race war. Hiding a gun in his backpack, he sat and talked with parishioners during their mid-week Bible study. Approximately an hour into the study, Roof pulled out his gun, and began firing. When he left the building, 8 people were dead, with one critically injured who later died at the hospital.

Within hours of the shooting, reports began to fill the airways and internet of the tragic events at “Mother Emanuel“. With 9 people dead and the subject at large, tensions were high as people already began to assume that the shooting was racially motivated. The next day, Dylann Roof was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina — some 245 miles away. He was returned to Charleston where he was promptly charged with the murders. As news crews and TV personalities descended upon Charleston, and images of Ferguson and Baltimore still vivid in the minds of people across the nation, many on the outside of the situation wondered if this tragedy would spark yet more civil and racial unrest.

The answer came on June 19 when, in his bond hearing, Roof was addressed by the people he had deeply wounded — the people of Emanuel AME and the families of the victims. They spoke of the hurt and pain he had caused in their lives — of the wounds born of his act of hatred. Yet, in spite of the pain in their hearts and voices, they had an overwhelming message for Dylann Roof…

“We forgive you.”

In the following days, as reporters broadcast from outside of the church, what they experienced was a wounded community coming together to worship and heal.

As the “usual suspects” of racial division and disunity began to sing their familiar song of prejudice and fear, citizens of the Charleston area joined hands and hearts across racial divides and came together over the next few days in churches throughout Charleston, including the following Sunday at Emanuel AME, where Reverend Norvel Goff had a message for the world…

“A lot of folk expected us to do something strange, and break out in a riot.
Well, they just don’t know us.
They just don’t know us because we are a people of faith. And we believe that when we put our voices and heads together, working for a common good, there is NOTHING we can not accomplish together in the name of Jesus!”

As politicians and activists began attempting to re-invigorate the “anti-gun” message, the message coming from inside the walls of Emanuel AME Church was one of love, forgiveness, and faith. It was also a message of warfare against the REAL enemy…

“… For those of us that are here this morning, I want you to know that  because the doors of ‘Mother Emanuel’ are open on THIS Sunday, it sends a message to every demon in hell and on earth that no weapon formed against us shall prosper… Some wanted to divide the race — black and white and brown — but no weapon formed against us shall prosper!” ~ Rev. Norvel Goff

There will always be people of every color in America. Because of our differences, and because we live in a fallen world, there will always be INDIVIDUALS — like Dylann Roof — who have a heart filled with racial hatred. However, I do not believe that America is a racist country. In a country with a population of over 300 million, you cannot ascribe to an entire population or people-group the actions or attitudes of an individual or minority. This is not the America of the 1960’s. It is time that all of us — red, yellow, black, and white — take a stand against the voices of fear and division that would try to use these types of tragic events for nefarious and self-serving purposes. It is time for we, as a united people, to stand up and say with one voice…

“No more!”

It is time that we, the church, follow the example of Jesus in heated and uncomfortable deed, and not just in air-conditioned and comfortable word. For the people of Emanuel AME to stand there, two days after such a tragic event, look into the face of the twisted, hate-filled heart that took away the lives of their beloved family members and friends, and say, “We forgive you” — It put the love of Jesus in full color, front-row view for the entire world to see. While those with no understanding of such love asked the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?”, Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of slain Pastor Daniel Simmons, summed it up in an incredible way on Fox New’s Hannity program…

“God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

What we have witnessed in the people of Emanuel AME is the example of Jesus…

  • In the shadow of His inevitable death, He shared a message that said…

“… Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and PERSECUTE you.” ~ Matthew 5:44

  • In the agony of His own undeserved death, He reached out to a thief dying next to Him and assured him…

“… Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 23:43

  • As He hung between Heaven and Earth, Jesus pleaded for forgiveness for the very people who had put Him on the cross…

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” ~Luke 23:34

It is an example that the worldly mind will never understand.

Forgiveness silences the critics.

Forgiveness takes the ammunition away from the agitator.

Forgiveness leaves the voices of hatred and assumed offense in stunned silence.

In the aftermath of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore, protesters and politicians were front and center in the media for weeks. In the case of the acquitted officer in Ferguson, although he was proven to be innocent, the false narrative of the tragic event was still being advanced by people with no regard for the truth.

But in Charleston, forgiveness took the teeth out of the story.

Anger never got the front page.

The root of bitterness never found fertile soil to grow.

The forces of hatred and racism never got enough traction to have to be reckoned with.

At the end of the day, Jesus showed up in the hearts, faces, voices, and actions of a group of hurting people who understood love and forgiveness are stronger than hate.

And to those who are trying to keep the story alive by focusing on some of the fringe issues like the Confederate flag or more gun control — please — let’s keep the story where it belongs, for now…

On the lives of the “Emanuel 9”.

If we do that, we might find the message of healing and forgiveness so absent in our culture today.

The message of what it means — REALLY means — to love like Jesus.

For THAT is the message a hurting world needs to hear.

Drunken Generals and the Spirit of David

GenUSGrantOne of the greatest generals from the North during the Civil War was Ulysses S. Grant. Although a brilliant tactician, he was considered by some to be a drunk. In the face of requests to dismiss him, Abraham Lincoln replied…

I cannot spare this man… He fights.

King David was the greatest king Israel had ever known. A renowned warrior… an extravagant worshiper — David became trapped in a web of deceit and manipulation. What started as an illicit affair ended in murder and cover-up. He was plunged into a place of emotional darkness and despair. Yet in spite of all of his mistakes, God restored David, and referred to him as “a man after My own heart“.

A while back, one of my staff wrote an essay about David. I thought I’d share it with you…

The Spirit of David

“Small, ruddy faced… sings good though…”

In so many words, that was David’s introduction to Samuel and the world. The prophet was sent by Jehovah to the house of Jesse to find and anoint the one who would replace the disobedient Saul as king of Israel. God chose the smallest and most unassuming of many brothers to lead His people, and true to His form, God took “the least of these” and made him the greatest king in Israel’s history.

In modern times we refer to the Spirit of Praise as “The Spirit of David”. There are songs by that title, and it is alluded to in countless others. After all, David was “the sweet singer of Israel”, know probably as well for his harp picking as his rock slinging. At least in certain spear-hurling circles, he was loved and despised for both. But let’s face it… when it came to worship, David knew how. He threw off tradition and trappings, and set out to worship God Almighty, no matter what it cost him. At times in his life, I believe that nothing mattered more to him that knowing he was right with his Creator.

But there is more to the Spirit of David than meets the eye. Afer all, how can you just take the good and forget the rest. There was the dark side of David’s life as well…

There was David the adulterer…

David the murderer…

David the hypocrite…

David the lousy dad…

David the ineffective leader.

Yessir, it is a package deal. His imperfections were obvious. Can good praise and worship overlook a life that had that many and that glaring of sins? Can good harp playing cover a life marked by repeated failure and turmoil?

“…As far as the east is from the west.”

That’s how far God promises to throw the sins of those who turn their hearts to Him. He promises to remember them no more. It was good enough for David. It’s good enough for us. We don’t understand… we don’t have to. It is an unconditional promise of God, a promise rooted in mercy and grace. It is a promise that transcends our thought process. Sure, I don’t understand it… I’m not God. He does, however.

So let’s set the record straight:

David was an adulterer… but he was a man after God’s own heart.

David was a murderer… but his desire was toward God. (Don’t believe me? Read any Psalm he wrote).

David was a lousy dad… but he had a Heavenly Father who never gave up on him.

And as hard as it may be for us to believe, He’ll never give up on us either. Ever.

The Spirit of David is the Spirit of Praise. Praise out of an imperfect heart that understands vertical praise in spite of horizontal failure.

Fighting the Ghosts of Unforgiveness

Wallace SwordThe 2005 movie The Kingdom of Heaven illustrates an important lesson about forgiveness. As the inhabitants of the city prepare to defend Jerusalem from the onslaught of the Muslim army led by Salahadeen, the hero of the movie, Balian, makes this observation…

We fight over an offense we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended.

How many times has this very scenario been repeated throughout history? How many wars have been started over an offense that can no longer be remembered? How many times have lives been destroyed because someone took up the offense of another person?

The Bible says in Proverbs 17:9 that…

He who covers a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates friends.

We as Christians are called — not to take up the offense of others — but to “deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus” (Matthew 16:24). We are called to be living sacrifices in a world in which sacrifice is rare. As I once heard someone say…

The problem with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar.

Sometimes, it feels better to “pick up our sword”  than to lay down our pride. But it could be your “soft answer turning away wrath” that brings peace to a situation, and heals a transgression through an act of love.

How can you be that voice of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation today?

The Cost of Grace

Through The Looking Glass2The movie A River Runs Through It is narrated by Norman… one of the main characters. He makes this statement:

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”

While we rightly view grace as a free gift, grace always costs someone something.

As Norman said, grace comes by art… but art costs the artist years of practice and preparation.

Grace releases an indebted person from their debt… but costs the lender the debt forgiven.

Grace sets us free from sin and death… but cost Jesus the pain, humiliation, and death of the Cross.

The grace God offers cost us nothing, but cost Jesus everything.

But, He did it all because He wants to spend eternity with you.

THAT is a priceless grace worth sharing.

An Indelible Mark

Through the Looking GlassIn May of 1981, Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II multiple times, nearly killing him. On December 27, 1983, in a move that stunned the world, Pope John Paul visited his would-be assassin in prison… and forgave him.

In speaking of the event and Ağca, the Pontiff asked people to “pray for my brother, whom I have sincerely forgiven.” It is said that the two men became friends, with the Pope even reaching out to members of Ağca’s family. Upon the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Ağca’s brother issued a statement saying that their family was in mourning, as the Pope had been a great friend to them.

Although the Pope bore the physical scars from that event in his body for the rest of his life, the indelible mark that really mattered was the one left in Mehmet Ali Ağca’s heart, as well as the hearts of those close to him… the mark of forgiveness.

Jesus bore the marks of your sin and shame when He paid your debt on the cross. However, He announced His true intention and left an indelible mark on every heart that would look to Him – from the Roman guards who oversaw His crucifixion, down through history to you and me – when He said, “Father… forgive them”.

Is there someone in your life in need of your forgiveness? Is their someone who has wronged you that needs to hear the words, “You are forgiven”?

After all, forgiveness is not about justice — forgiveness is about freedom.

Yours.

Leave that “indelible mark” on someone today.