Forgiveness

Last Sunday’s Bible class focused on forgiveness and how difficult it can be to give. At one point I realized that we were using the word, but I couldn’t help wondering if we all had a very clear definition of it.

What is forgiveness?

Do you know? Can you put it into words? I couldn’t at the moment. I had some thoughts but didn’t feel confident I really had it. I kept remembering a college professor who told me that I don’t really know what a word means unless I can verbalize it clearly.

When I got home I started a web search for definitions. Dictionary definitions are a good starting place, but then I wanted to check those definitions against whatever the Bible had to say about it. I’ll underline the portions that the Bible seems to agree with.

  • Stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
  • Cancel a debt
  • Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. … Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. (This last one is wrong, as you’ll see)
  • The Greek word translated as “forgive” in the New Testament, aphiēmi, carried a wide range of meanings, including to remit (a debt), to leave (something or someone) alone, to allow (an action), to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and even to divorce.
  • Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary. When someone forgives someone else, they let go of negative emotions, for example vengefulness. They wish their offender well.

Now what does the Bible say?

Forgiveness BurdenJudge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.   Luke 6:37

This sounds a lot like release of anger and ill will toward someone. Let it go! Jesus is given the right to judge men’s souls by God. Judging – determining punishment for sins – is above our pay grade!

For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.   Matthew 26:28

The falls right in line with cancelling or remitting a debt.

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.   Isaiah 43:25

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.   Hebrews 8:12

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.   Psalm 103:12

I disagree completely with the part above that says forgiving does not mean forgetting. When God forgives, He forgets.

The last definition above looks to be spot on! It calls for a voluntary release of anger and vengeance. We wish our enemies well.

But I say to you, 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

Let me give you a personal example. There’s an individual who abandoned her own sons when they needed her the most. She slandered me to my friends at my church. She lied to and cheated a mutual friend who took one of her sons in. To top it off, she claims she was a good, attentive mother. She expressed no regrets, took no responsibility for her actions, and continued to lie and cheat until I finally cut her off.

My anger – fury, really – finally subsided. I realized I had to forgive. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all over. The sons are OK. I don’t hate her. Actually, I feel nothing now. I sincerely hope she finds her way and prayed that for her for years. I still refuse so much as the idea of ever coming into contact again, but that’s as much a matter of self-protection as anything. I simply don’t have the gas to deal with her.

Given everything above that describes forgiveness, I believe I have forgiven her. Forgiveness is releasing a debt owed. It is praying for your enemies…sincerely. Forgiveness is the right thing to do, both for our own peace of mind and for the souls of those who have wronged us. We don’t hold someone else’s debt up to God for payment.

Forgiveness is the empathetic thing to do. I’ve written elsewhere that Everybody is Somebody’s Jerk. That includes me. I need to be forgiven as much as anyone. And, as Jesus taught us to pray…

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”Forgiveness Releasing Prisoner

The Acts of the Apostles – Old Habits

jesus-friend-sinnersAnd when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”   Mark 2:16

Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”   Acts 11:1-3

Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.   John 15:20

First the scribes and Pharisees lift their noses at Jesus and the company He keeps – tax collectors, whores, and, generally, sinners. I kind of get that. I know I’m not perfect, but at least I don’t (blank). If I compare myself to a child molester, I feel pretty good about myself. Would Jesus have sat down to dinner with one? Very likely, if that person was seeking and trying to escape his or her life. Or Jesus might even call someone like that for His ministry and purposes. Saul was a murderer after all.

But Jesus came to save people. He ministered to the people who needed saving the most.

Fast forward to Acts and Peter who also had a little trouble getting his thinking straight. Peter, who preached more boldly than the rest when first receiving the Holy Spirit. Peter, who was delivered miraculously from prison more than once. Even Peter had a problem with the imperfect, most notably the Gentiles. Not circumcised? Not saved!

But Acts 10 tells us about Peter’s vision of all unclean animals presented to him by Jesus, Who tells him to go ahead and eat. Peter responds with, “That’s not kosher!” In so many words. Jesus corrects him: “What God has cleaned you must not call common.”

Peter and Cornleius

Ew! He touched a Gentile!

Immediately, he is told to minister to a Roman Centurion, Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter goes, having been told that God has cleansed what had been unclean.

It turns out, however, that the Apostles and brethren heard about Peter’s little escapade back in Jerusalem. Either they missed the part in Acts 10:44 where the Holy Spirit came upon ALL who were there, Peter and Gentiles alike, or they didn’t care. They couldn’t get past the idea that Peter had preached to Gentiles of all people!! They used almost the exact words of the scribes and Pharisees who condemned Jesus.

The Apostles!! The Apostles were acting like scribes and Pharisees! I can barely wrap my head around that! These were the guys who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and spoke on languages they didn’t know! Here they are, dropping the ball as badly as Jesus’ persecutors! How does that happen??

Here are my lessons on this part of Acts –

Number one: Jesus was right. He said that His followers should be expected to endure persecution. The students are not greater than their Master. I just don’t think they thought it would come from within when Jesus warned them.

Number two: These were the Apostles…Jesus’ inner circle. These were the last guys we should read about getting it wrong. We can take comfort in knowing this, because they received grace. They were sinners just as we are. The same grace is available to us! When I fall, I can take comfort in knowing that Jesus understands and forgives. If the men of the Pentecost can slip and be forgiven, so can I! “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Church SancturayNumber three: I must admit that looking down my nose at other sinners is something I do. I’m a “high church” sort of guy. God instituted ceremonies, because He knows we don’t focus well. Ceremony is the lens God uses to focus us on Him.

I also believe in respecting the sanctuary. It is a place that has been dedicated to God, and I think people should show some respect for that space and the things done there. When people come dressed sloppily and act rudely, I get mad. But I have to admit that that may well be the Pharisee in me popping out. I should be more generous and teach by example rather than by hate and criticism.

Which is where I circle back to point two above – grace. Forgiveness. It’s the point you and I must always circle back to, because we too often circle away from Jesus love.

Whether you’re having a Pharisee sort of day or an Apostles sort of day, never forget that Jesus came to save the lost. And we all get at least a little lost every now and then.

King David – Murderer

In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the [c]hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.”

When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased[f] the Lord.    2 Samuel 11, selected verses

David had a lot of problems in life. There are some that I’ll write about tomorrow that may or may not have been self-inflicted, whether in whole or in part.

BathshebaAs for Bathsheba, that was all David. There are a few things to take from this story that we all have in common with David.

First, David held enough authority that he knew he could get away with a lot. You’ll recall from other recent articles about him that he was a pretty straight shooter and kept very strictly to God’s wishes. Unfortunately, the longer you’re exposed to temptation – for David in the form of power – the more likely you are to succumb. David might have avoided this, if only he had someone close to remind him of who he really was; a servant of God.

gabriel-iglesiasOne of my favorite comedians is Gabriel Iglesias, a.k.a. Fluffy. He’s said more than once that what you see is what you get, He keeps an entourage of old friends who don’t let him forget where he came from. David would have been wise to do the same. Samuel who anointed him would have been a good choice. Alas, he didn’t. Samuel came with the message after the fact. David should have given him a room next to his to prevent things from going wrong in the first place.

Second, is a variation on the first. When temptation comes, run away! Don’t walk around it and inspect it. Sooner or later you will reach into it for a taste. Juuuust a taste. But that’s too much. Just ask Eve. I say that if you spend too much time dancing down the sideline, as it were, you’re sure to step out of bounds. Keep to the center of the field.

GuiltThird, sin builds upon sin. David went to some lengths to cover up his adultery and impregnating Bathsheba. He resorted to murder in desperation after all other plots failed. He should have owned up in the first place, barring not having given in to temptation in the first place. I learned many years ago in business that delivering bad news at the earliest opportunity didn’t hurt as badly as hiding it. So it is with sin. Own up, confess, pay your debts, and move on.

Fourth, David was forgiven. As astounding as his sins were, God still had mercy on him. God still referred to David as a man after His Own Heart. I’m comforted by this. Like Paul in his letter to the Roman church, the sin I don’t want is what I do. “O, wretched man that I am!” If David and Paul can be such great men of faith and favored by God and still sin and be forgiven, so can I.

Fifth, forgiveness and consequences are two different things. David was forgiven, make no mistake. But he still had to suffer the consequences of his sin. I know this can be a difficult hair to split, so let me try an analogy.

You make a mistake and cause a car accident. The person you hit forgives you despite her injuries and her car being totaled. You are forgiven. But here on earth you still need to suffer the consequences: a court hearing, fines, and possibly even jail depending on how bad things got. You’ll still possibly walk with a limp from your own injuries as well as carry the regret of hurting someone else.

In the same way, David was forgiven. However, the child he had with Bathsheba was taken from him by God as a punishment. Lest we think God too harsh at taking a newborn’s life, let’s consider that the child never had to experience the pains of this world and went straight to eternal bliss. The death was for David to suffer as well as other sorrows in his life.

Forgiven

You Betcha!!!!

When we sin, we can be assured of forgiveness. We may still suffer consequences, though. That’s life on earth.

I hope these 5 brief points will help you to deal with temptations and the sins we all succumb to as well as the earthly consequences that must happen.

Tomorrow, more on David’s sufferings.

The Problem of Pain

But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!    Matthew 6:23

Beauty Beyond Bones posted a podcast on May 4, 2017 entitled, “Permission to Let Go.” She also has it in writing at her WordPress blog site.  Click Beauty Beyond Bones to see her work at WordPress.

If you are not familiar with her, Caralyn has just celebrated her 10th anniversary of recovery from anorexia.  She has blogged about her recovery since 2015 and is inspirational.  25,000+ followers think so.  I wrote an article about her IN January 2016, Beauty and the (ED) Beast, in case you’d like a fuller description.  If you really want the full impact of her ministry, start at the beginning.

But let’s get to the point and start with her podcast itself:

PODCAST – Permission to Let Go

As I listened to this, I didn’t have an immediate response. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a situation like what she describes, having a problem letting go of pain.  Or maybe I’m not self-aware enough!

After some time, an analogous situation came to mind. It was the opening scene from Star Trek: The Final Frontier.  Briefly, An alien man is digging holes in a windswept desert. He hears, then sees another man approaching on horseback. He runs for a gun of some sort, and faces the intruder, who we learn is a Vulcan named Sybok. Sybok dismounts and strides up to him and says he can’t believe the man would kill him over a field of empty holes. The pitiful answer comes: “It’s all I have!”

For Caralyn, and so many more, the pain is all they have. The pain is nothing more than a desert field, pockmarked with empty holes we keep drilling into it.  You might even say we are drilling those holes into our very selves.

We tend to be pretty tolerant folks, as was mentioned in America’s Declaration of independence:

“…experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

In other words, we’ll put up with pain so long as we perceive the cost of removing it is greater than the pain itself.

But what if the pain becomes our comfort?  What if, like a dog who lives most of his life in a kennel, we fear the open spaces and suffer voluntarily inside our cage?

Here is where the last part of that opening scene tells us so much, and yet so tragically misdirects us:

“Your pain runs deep. Let us explore it together.  Each man hides a secret pain.  It must be exposed and reckoned with.  It must be dragged from the darkness and forced into the light.  Share your pain.  Share your pain with me, and gain strength from the sharing.”

“Where did you get this power?”

“The power was within you.”

“The power was within you. You can save yourself.  You can do it.  You always could; I just showed you how.”

This happens so often in our modern culture. We are seduced by the pleasant-sounding reasoning which contains truth and yet uses it to support a lie.  The power to save us does not lie within us.  Eons of human history are ample proof of that.  We’ve found multiple ways to fly like birds, cross ground faster than a cheetah, harnessed the atom, and gone to the moon.  Several times.

You’d think that, somewhere in the last 6000 years, SOMEONE would have discovered the most elemental, simple answer to human misery: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And while you’re at it, love your neighbor as yourself.  Period.  That’s it.  No muss, no fuss, don’t even add water.

But we don’t love ourselves. No, indeed.  We find ourselves comfy in our muck of pain.  Or maybe we’re so blinded by it that we can’t see any way out if it and are resigned to our “fate.”

Jesus is the only One who has the power to remove pain…and the sin that ensnares us. Jesus is the only One who could live a perfect life, never sin, and offer Himself up to one of the most gruesome  deaths ever concocted by man; His back flogged down to the bone, and then hung naked on a cross to suffocate under his own weight.  He took our punishment for us, even complete separation from God, the ultimate punishment.

Sybok was spot on right up till the end: “Each man hides a secret pain. It must be exposed and reckoned with.  It must be dragged from the darkness and forced into the light.  Share your pain.  Share your pain with me…”  says Jesus.  “…and gain strength from Me in the sharing.  Confess your sins, and bring your darkness to be exposed and defeated by My light.”

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.    Matthew 4:16

Caralyn really is the Beauty Beyond those Bones. But her Beauty is not her own.  It is a Light that shines from within.  Even on the written page.  Her witness, her ministry point relentlessly to Jesus as the One who took away her pain after she held into it for so terribly long.  Literally with a death grip.  She was 78 pounds when admitted to recovery and was within hours of death, so close that the nurses kept her in their nurses’ station her first night instead of her room.

How many bloggers garner 25,000+ followers at all, let alone in such a short time? And the growth is not slowing down.  It’s happening because Jesus shines through everything she does.

I won’t tell you that accepting Jesus will get you a successful blog! I will tell you that accepting His forgiveness and light into your life will make you a light yourself.  The pain/sin that you cling to – or that clings to you – can be vanquished.  The power is within…Jesus!

The Memory Warehouse

I was reminded of this piece I wrote in May of 2014 by today’s text in my Portals of Prayer devotions:

25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins. 26 Put Me in remembrance; Let us contend together; State your case, that you may be acquitted      Isaiah 43

How clean is your Memory Warehouse? And who keeps messing it up?

*****************************************

“You forgot about the Memory Warehouse?!?”  Jonesy, Dreamcatcher

dreamcatcher3

My childhood is filled with memories of my grandmother’s house. She lived directly across the street from us, and my sisters and I spent huge amounts of time there.  Aside from the love from her and all of the things we did together, the coolest features were the two attics.  Well, actually there was just one, but I count the basement as an attic.  Both were chock full of STUFF!!

The basement boasted an old, hand-cranked Victrola and old records. There were even the old wooden needles for the arm.victrola-vv-90-victor-talking-machine-1921-phonograph  The rest was just random junk that should have been thrown out.  Except to little kids in a time with only 3 TV stations and rabbit ears.  That junk was pure treasure in the hands and minds of little kids!  My buddy and I made a submarine.  My sister made a playhouse that covered almost a fourth of the basement.  My sub was positioned to “torpedo” her and her friends.

The attic! There was a door that opened to a full staircase that went up to the back wall of the peak of the roof.  Ninety degrees left and a few more stairs to the top.  JACKPOT!  Eminently safe for  little kids to reach and more stuff than could be cataloged in a lifetime…or so it seemed.

There were parts of the attic that I thought were beyond investigating, so much stuff was piled into corners and the deepest parts where the roof met the floor. I sometimes wondered what treasures – or terrors – existed there.  Priceless jewels or maybe a cursed box.

Pandora’s Box! You open it up almost against your will.  Physical monsters and smoky horrors come rampaging out.  They won’t go back, and they wreak havoc from one end of your world to the other.

Did I hope to find one or become terrified I might?

Our brains are our attics. They’re on top, sure enough.  They are jam-packed with the memories of our lives.  Some are carefully preserved and delicately, fondly brought out on occasion.  Others are completely misplaced until a friend sees one in a corner.  He shakes the cobwebs off and asks, “Remember this?”

What is the status of your “Memory Warehouse?” Some memory files are useful  Some are discarded to make room for more useful (goodbye, sophomore geometry!).  Sometimes, you hear the faint sound of drums.  Once you realize what you’re hearing, there’s no going back.  The Jumanji game starts, whether you want it to or not.  All of the gremlins from your most embarrassing and shameful moments EVER come spilling out and careen about between your ears for the foreseeable future.gremlin

You find yourself crushed, maybe even grimacing as one self-imposed horror after another slams itself around inside your skull.

Can I ever forgive myself?

That’s a big thing, isn’t it? Forgiving oneself.  It’s some self-actualization thing.  If only we can learn to forgive ourselves, we’ll reach a place of peace within ourselves and with others.  Deep cleansing breath.  Yes – I can make myself feel better.

Bull hockey!!

We most certainly do NOT need to learn to forgive ourselves! What we do need is to learn to accept God’s forgiveness and believe that it’s over.  Really over.  Why?  ‘Cause God SAYS IT IS!

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”   Jeremiah 31:34

As my pastor said in bible class recently, when we allow those sins to rampage across our consciousness and go back to God asking forgiveness AGAIN, His response is likely something like, “Why do you keep bringing that up? I already forgot about that one.  Let it go!”

“As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

Think! If God says He forgot about it, why in any sane world would you want to remind HIM OF ALL PEOPLE about it?!?

It’s about faith. It always is, isn’t it?  Do we really believe God forgives and forgets?  And let’s think about the standard we set: “I can’t forget about it.  How can God?”  Like we’re the yardstick against which God is measured.  Laughable.  First Commandment dangerous.

God looks at His Memory Warehouse, sighs, shakes His head at the mess, and yells, “SON!”

“Yeah, Dad?”

Waving a hand dismissively across the landscape of His universe, “Would you just…”

“Of course!”

“Just don’t toss out my good stuff.”

So Jesus takes His cross and sweeps the place clean, stacks all the boxes marked “Love for (Name),” and calls it a day. Dad comes back, surveys His cleaned up Memory Warehouse and smiles. All the junk is gone.  Love alone is left.

What do we do? We make copies of our own “Bad Stuff I Did” files, take a run by God’s place, and toss it all through a slot in the door.  With a note that says “Sorry.  Again.”

Better idea. Call out to Jesus, invite Him in to clean house like He did at his Father’s place.  I mean really let Him clean it out.  No crying when He tosses our favorite sins, no hoarding of the detritus of our lives.

Don’t forgive yourself. You can’t do it.  Have faith that God has, that Jesus will clean out your Memory Warehouse along with His.  He’ll make it look like His; clean, sparkling, and filled with love.  Believe.  Experience the joy of forgiveness, a Memory Warehouse that has forgotten all the bad stuff and only holds the good.

God Himself invites to sit with Him, go through all of the files, and even make your own case against yourself. Not so you can forgive yourself, but so you can be acquitted.

26 Put Me in remembrance; Let us contend together; State your case, that you may be acquitted      Isaiah 43

What to Say? How it Went!

Psalm 46:10

Be still, and know that I am God

What do you say to someone who has a gripe with God? What do you say to them when they are angry, even enraged over the suffering that their children are burdened with?  What do you say when their arguments make so much sense that you’re not sure you can enter the debate and answer their arguments and accusations?

I listened for a long while, knowing I couldn’t answer him cleanly, if it all. I listened, thinking that some of the platitudes we say to each other might only make him feel worse.  In the end, I told him I grieved with him and for him.  He would be in my prayers, and he has been.

But I still had no answers!

No brilliant, soul-saving wisdom came to me until I was on my day- long drive home last Wednesday. Psalm 46:10.  Be still.  Know that God is God.  He is God above all Gods.  If we understand Him and all there is, faith is unnecessary.  Relationships, loving unions happen only when trust is freely given in faith.

His reply came yesterday. The real problem, the real fear turned out to be deeper and more soul-searing than I had understood.  In his rage, in his sorrow over the plight of his children, he turned on God.  He stood up to the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the Universe and told Him just where He could stick His Creation.  He loudly and roundly rejected his Maker in terms you would expect from a warrior who has killed and has been wounded.

In retrospect, he fully realizes what he did. He thinks he has committed an unforgiveable sin and wrestles with the idea that his salvation has been nullified.  He believes he will likely spend eternity in hell.

Imagine my relief!!  He DOES indeed believe in God!  He’s worried about forgiveness!

I wrote to him that the only unforgiveable sin is that against the Holy Spirit, and he most certainly did not do that. His tirade was to the Father.  Not that that is a wise course of action.  Ever.  But our God, our Father gets it.    His children struggle, try, and fail.  They get angry over things they don’t understand.  He forgives them better than an earthly father ever could.

Matthew 7:9-11King James Version (KJV)

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I furthermore pointed out that his very concern is the proof of it. If he had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, say, as Pharaoh did in Exodus, God would have hardened his heart as He did Pharaoh’s.  He would not still be seeking and struggling.

He wrote me back to say he would consider this and other things I told him. I am glad that he will.  I was hoping for more, but sometimes we can hate our own sin so much, we are blinded by it to the point that we struggle with accepting what God is already holding out before us!

So I’ll continue to pray for “Joe.”  I’m asking you to pray for him too.

The Doctor Will See You Now…

“…if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”   2 Chronicles 7:14

Doctors, dentists, hospitals… Don’t you just hate going?  Let’s just take a quick poll; raise your hand if you’ve NEVER seen your medical professional on time.  Anyone?  Anyone?

I didn’t think so.

For the most part I schedule appointments for days when I know I can afford to be taken late. It’s just part of the drill.  I always bring a book.  A very thick book.  It helps make the time go by.

He finally comes in the room, we do the dance;

“How you feeling?”

“Good.”

“No problems.”

“Good. Sleeping OK?”

“Yup.”

“Well, let’s listen to the ol’ ticker.”

He does the stethoscope, blood pressure, and gag-me-with-a-popsicle-stick, routines. Says I’m good to go.  He’ll see me again in 6 months.  When you’re on maintenance meds, you have to do the dance.

Imagine the Doctor who waits for you. No, that’s not right.  The Doctor who does His best to chase you down and really heal you.  He has to do your dance, because He gave you free will.  He gets slapped in the face, we run, He chases, we cry, “I’m sooooo soooorrrrryyy!  But the sinnin’ was SO GOOD!”  He forgives us, and we make nice.  Then we slap and run again.

How does He do it?

His shingle is always out. The door is always open.  If your life has gone south – maybe because you steered it there – just head back to His office.

The Doctor WANTS see you…now!

Honor the Gift

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins;”   Acts 13:38

I have a problem. I’m a sinner.  As much as I don’t want to be, I simply can’t help myself.  I believe everyone has their 2-3 most favoritest sins of all.  I certainly have mine.

The noble, completely faithful wannabe part of me stands guard…periodically…against temptations. Like Gandolph in Lord of the Rings, he stands alone on the bridge, barring the way of the demon rising from the pit.

“You…shall…not…pass!!”

Meanwhile, my inner Smeagol waits in the shadows.

“Smeagol only wants the temptationses to look at. Smeagol won’t be bad and take the temptationses.  We just wants a look.  My precious temtptationses!”

Like some pathetic figure, I argue back and forth in my own head, “Yes/no, yes/no, yes/no…” I completely understands Paul’s lament that he doesn’t do the good he desires and does the evil he disdains.

When I lay down at night, I’m thinking I should pray and give thanks for the day and all its blessings. Then I think it’s also time to ask for forgiveness for all the “preciouses” I clutched to my chest all day, if I should die before I wake.  Some nights I can barely do it.  The whisper in my head tells me that I have no right to even ask.  I knew better!

Except for those times I sin as quickly as my leg jerking for a reflex test. Someone trips over something at the mouth of that particularly dark cave deep inside me and…

RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!

Yeah, I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t even deserve to ask for it, crouched low to avoid the lightning.  Just lie here.  Shrivel up.  Accept the inevitable.

Like most people, I’m not very good at accepting compliments. I feel a bit embarrassed.  Someone gives me a gift, and I feel a bit awkward.  I’m the husband, the dad.  I don’t get gifts.  I’m supposed to give them.

Accepting forgiveness, especially when you have the need to do it every…day, is a tough gig. But here’s something I remember learning a while back.  Accepting something graciously from someone is a giving of sorts also.  If someone goes to the trouble of shopping, buying, wrapping, and delivering a gift, honor that gift with acceptance.  Anything else is a slap in the face, right?

So, in my mind, which we all know runs a little on the weird side sometimes, I see Jesus rising from the grave. He’s standing with His back to us on a small hill, arms spread wide, in a pure white robe, the glory of God backlighting our Saviour in His moment of triumph.  Slowly He turns to face the camera…er, us…a brilliant smile lighting His face, looking to bestow His forgiveness on His grateful followers, and we see…

…nothing. An empty field.  Crickets chirp.  Cut back to Jesus’ face, which falls perceptibly.  He might turn back toward the light of God, throw His hands in the air.

“I did all that for this?!?” My mind has Him saying other things, which I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t say, but you get the picture.

Ask for forgiveness. Accept it.  Rejoice in it!  It’s what Jesus is hoping for.  After all that He did, should we ignore it, because we don’t feel worthy?  Jesus gave us every indication that we are worthy.  To Him.  He loves us.  That’s why He endured all of those temptations and horrors.

As Paul warned, we shouldn’t sin more “so that grace may abound.” We still resist.  However, when the inner Smeagol has his way, when the kraken bursts forth, Jesus is there with His free gift of forgiveness.

Honor the gift!

Everybody is Somebody’s Jerk

“Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Matthew 18:21

Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you give him the dirty digit.  And he returns it.  What a jerk!  He’s the guy in the wrong!!

But let’s be honest: you’ve cut people off in traffic too.  Maybe it was unintentional or maybe you thought you had a good reason to push ahead.  Chances are you’ve cut someone off and never even knew it.  Not possible you say?  Au contraire.  It’s entirely possible.  I’ve seen my mom’s second husband do it.  In Florida.  Do the math.

And that’s just in a traffic situation.  There are countless opportunities to be a jerk to someone.  Do you manage people?  Are you in a leadership position?  You are definitely someone’s jerk.  You just can’t avoid offending people.  They want it too badly.  People LIKE being offended!  It gives them a feeling of power; “I’m a much better person than that jerk!”

Just remember that, like yourself, other people have friends who will weep at their passing.  They have a spouse who loves them and children who look up to them.

When you’ve been a jerk, would you like to be forgiven or at least understood?  That, of course, is a rhetorical question.  The real question you should try to answer is whether you are a jerk frequently.  You should try to figure out whether your life describes a pattern of jerkdom.

And, under the headline of forgiveness, we need to make similar evaluations of other people.  If we think we’re an occasional jerk instead of a serial jerk and should be forgiven, let’s apply that measure to other jerks.

Thinking about it that way, maybe we can manage to be more forgiving of anonymous jerks.  Or jerk managers.  Or jerk congregation presidents.  Or jerk pastors.  Or jerk teachers.  Or jerk…well, you get the idea.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Put that way, maybe being tolerant and even forgiving of occasional and/or anonymous  jerks is fairly doable.  Allow me to even put some science behind this.  Sociologists teach us about “social credit.”  It’s the idea that, if someone who is normally nice suffers a random jerk surge, we’ll give her a pass.  But that requires a withdrawal from her social credit account.  Don’t believe me?  If she gets to be too jerky too often, you will no longer associate with her.  If she starts pushing it too far, you might even start sneaking into the men’s room to write her contact info in all the stalls.  Along with some creative limericks (Is that jerk behavior?  I’m just asking).

This is why random, anonymous jerks are so easy to tee off on.  They have no social credit with us.  We have no reason to hold back our displeasure.  Maybe it’s just a jerk surge, nothing more.  Maybe we should be more tolerant.

But what about the serial jerk?  I mean, by definition, we have to know that person to some degree.  Otherwise, how do we know he’s a serial jerk?  Any social credit available?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Maybe they never had it or maybe they used it all up.

I won’t go into details, but both my sisters are serial jerks.  One cut her sons loose to pursue a man after her divorce and the other is a recovered crack addict, who still has decision-making problems.  The crack addict cleaned herself up and made amends.  I’m OK with that.

I’ve spent a good part of my life as a serial jerk.  Even as an undergraduate, where I think I reached my pinnacle of jerkdom, I had good friends who enjoyed my company and even loved me.  I just couldn’t understand why I had detractors.  Looking back, it’s painfully apparent, and I wonder how I had friends.

I’m a lucky guy.  I grew out of being a serial jerk.  Loyal friends cared about me even when I was a jerk.  My wife loves me despite my jerk surges (which still come far too often).  My daughters still love me even after being all growed up and seeing me in all my jerky states.

Even so, everybody is somebody’s jerk.  Even those with family and friends.  Even (your name here).

What do you think?  Are you somebody’s jerk?  How do you handle other jerks?  I and other readers want to know!