Friday, June 13, 2014

Choosing to Forgive

What is Biblical forgiveness?

If you asked me what I've been thinking about lately, that would be the answer. What is Biblical forgiveness? What is it not?

There have been a number of situations in my life that have caused me to ponder this question. Each situation was unique, but they all had one common factor--the perpetrator did not repent or seek forgiveness for what s/he did.

It is easy (relatively) to forgive someone when that person repents and asks for forgiveness. Compassion and love eventually win over the hurt. We want to believe the person will change. We feel compelled to try to forgive. We know it is what we must do.

But then the time comes when someone does something terrible and doesn't seek forgiveness. Maybe the person even is proud of what s/he did. What then?

The first thing I did was look at Jesus' example. While dying on the cross, He forgave a number of people. One person He forgave was the thief hanging next to Him. The thief demonstrated repentance and a desire to be forgiven. Christ promised him eternal life (Luke 23:40-43). From this I gleaned the truth that we are to forgive even before the perpetrator demonstrates a change of action. If a person asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive immediately.

But thief repented. . . .

Then I looked at Jesus' other act of forgiveness on the cross. Shortly before His death, He cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He forgave His killers even though they were unrepentant. What was I supposed to do with that? What did that forgiveness entail?

At first, I was bothered by that occurrence. But as I thought about what happened there, I was reminded of what one of my favorite Bible teachers at MBU told me: "Forgiveness is not letting the other person off the hook for what happened, but instead putting your desire for justice in God's hands and trusting Him to take care of what happened." When Christ forgave His killers, He wasn't asking God to let them all into heaven. He wasn't asking God to bless the rest of their lives. Aside from repenting and placing their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, none of them could ever get into heaven. He was simply recognizing that it is not our place to seek vengeance. He was asking God not to pursue a vendetta against them.

Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook. It is about recognizing that bitterness hurts us more than the perpetrator. It is about letting go and turning my hurt and desire for justice over to God. It is about remembering that He forgave me; therefore I am called to forgive others likewise (Ephesians 4:32).

It is not about pretending nothing happened. It is not about tearing down all boundaries and throwing all caution to the wind. Rather it is about choosing not to be bound by the past so that I can move forward in the present. The perpetrator is still guilty. Someday s/he will face the consequences for his/her actions. In the meantime, I need to leave justice to God, discarding bitterness and vengeance behind me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sharing a Blessing or Perpetuating a Curse?

I was in the checkout line at Dollar Tree. My arms were full of items, wallet, and my happy 8 month-old son. I was happy because I'd found some good deals. He was happy because he was with "Mommy" and getting to look at all kinds of new and exciting things.

A voice broke through my thoughts: "I don't know why anyone has them. No one can afford them these days. They are just a bother and a nuisance." The woman continued her complaining. With shock, I realized she was talking about children. She was talking about her own little boy--an adorable toddler. He looked back at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen. The expression was one you usually see in pictures of starving orphans in Africa or Haiti.

I can't get his eyes out of my mind. They represent all the sorrow of unwanted children. The tragedy of those who are allowed to live while in the womb only to pay for it the rest of their lives--unloved, neglected, and abused.

Who will reach out to them? Who will show them love? Who will care for them?

Will that little boy grow up with his bitter parents, or will he become a member of a scarcely better foster home? Will he learn to overcome his past, or will he join scores of others perpetuating it?

The Bible teaches that "children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward" (Psalm 127:3). While the world looks on them as a burden, surely we, who know the truth, have a responsibility to share what we know to be the truth with the unloved and unwanted children around us. I don't know yet what my part is supposed to be, but I know God showed me that little boy for a reason. He orchestrated that I would read Psalm 127 just the day before that encounter. He placed me in the checkout line directly behind them. If He can do that, I know He will be faithful to show me the rest of the path--leading to "fulness of joy."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Positive Side of Affliction

 If someone did a poll asking how many people like to experience affliction, the results would be rather lopsided. This is America, after all. The land of dreams come true. The home of health, wealth, and prosperity. (At least that used to be true.)

But the psalmist writes, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" Psalm 119:71. He understood the truth that affliction is what draws us back to God. When life is going smoothly, we forget about God. It is the hard times that bring us scurrying back to study His words.

I understood this after I had my baby. Postpartum is had for all women, but for some of us it is significantly harder than for others. I couldn't sleep. My hormones were going haywire. Worst of all, I wasn't bonding with my baby. I felt so depressed and guilty. How could I love my child so much before he was born, but feel nothing once I held him in my arms? What was wrong with me?

I was drowning--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet it wasn't all negative. During that time, like never before, I turned to the Scriptures. I devoured the Psalms. I memorized Isaiah 40:28-31. I read and reread the sheet of verses my mother left for me. "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes."

Nothing lasts forever. I began to sleep again. My hormones steadied themselves. I bonded with my adorable little boy. But as I grew more confident in my new role, something else slipped away. I began to rely more on myself and less on God. I began to rely on my wisdom instead of His word. I don't yearn to be afflicted again, but I know it needs to happen. I need to be afflicted again, and again, and again--to be reminded to turn to God's statutes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"No" Isn't Always an Acceptable Answer

One of the first words we learn is "No." We learn its meaning and its consequences long before we say our first words. That does not, however, make it any easier to accept its meaning.

I hate being told "No." I will beg, plead, manipulate, or do whatever it takes to try to change "No" to "Yes." Often I appeal several times. Sometimes I am successful, but often the answer stays unchanged.

I don't think it is wrong to appeal--provided it is done in a respectful manner. As a matter of fact, Jesus told a parable about a woman who wouldn't accept no for an answer (Luke 18:1-8). She pestered the ungodly judge until he gave her the verdict she wanted just so she would leave him alone. Jesus commended her persistence: "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint (v. 1).

It is important to keep in mind, though, that the woman  had a just complaint--she was being persecuted (v. 3). The judge was an ungodly man (v.2). He didn't have a good reason for refusing her request.

Too often we give up asking for the things that really matter (someone sick and in need of healing, salvation of lost relatives, etc.). Those are the things for which we shouldn't just accept "No" as an answer.

Instead, we give up on the important things and focus on more trivial matters. We pester God and those around us for material things that will not matter in a short while. I remember begging my dad for weeks to let me wear earrings. Why don't I beg God like that to save my relatives and friends?

Sometimes the answer is "No." But what if, like for the woman in the parable, the answer would have changed if I'd persisted just a little bit longer?




Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding Fullness of Joy Through Rejoicing in the Sovereignty of God

I am a realist (not quite a pessimist, but close!). That is what I always tell people. For many years I've used "realism" as an excuse for being discouraged and depressed. I'd say, "I'm just not one of those people who always thinks everything is going fine when it isn't." I would read Philippians 4:4 and puzzle over what my response should be.  It would be hypocritical to pretend everything was fine when it was not. How could I rejoice over bad things?

Yesterday Quentin fell asleep during Sunday School just in time for me to go downstairs to hear the answer to those questions.

As my pastor taught from Philippians 4, the Holy Spirit convicted me. There is an answer to my dilemma. I can, and must, choose to rejoice in every situation.

Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice" (ESV). The key phrase is "in the Lord." We are called to rejoice in the Lord, in His sovereignty, in His control. Even when life is difficult, God is in control. We can always rejoice in that fact. He knows what is best. He has a plan for each of us.

I don't have to be hypocritical while obeying God's command to rejoice. He knows when I'm struggling. He wants us to come to Him on our knees. We should be broken and dependent on Him. But even in the darkest of circumstances, we can still rejoice. When we choose to look at God and not our circumstances, when we choose to rejoice in His control and not fight against it, and when we lay our fears and struggles at His feet, we will be able to find true joy by rejoicing in Him.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

I've never been one for making resolutions at New Year's. It is too discouraging to make a resolution only to have it fall apart a few weeks (or days) later.

Some resolutions, though, are worth making. I know I won't succeed in a resolution to exercise more--at least not during a New England winter! I won't succeed in a resolution to avoid chocolate. I just won't; there's no point in trying. I won't even succeed in a resolution to be a better mother. At least, I won't succeed in that one on my own.

I've been thinking about the big responsibility I now have. I have a baby to raise. He will learn his first lessons about love, trust, and God from me. Psalm 22:9 haunts me: "But thou art he that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust [when I was] upon my mother's breasts." That is a staggering thought. As I nurse my baby, cuddle him, play with him, and walk with him, he is learning lessons about trusting God. Is he learning to trust God more or less through my example? Am I showing him the importance of daily devotions (yes, I know Quentin is only 4 months old), of spending time in prayer? Is he learning that God always keeps His word, that Mommy and Daddy trust God to provide for their needs? Through my parenting is he learning that God always hears our prayers--our cries to Him?

I can't raise my baby the way I should. There is no point in my trying to keep the resolution of being a godly mother in my own strength. This is one resolution, though, that I will make. I will make it because I know God will give me the grace to keep this resolution.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Youngest Teacher

When Quentin was born, my mom told me God gives us babies to smooth out our rough edges. She was right. Each day with Quentin I become more aware of aspects of my personality that need to change.

I never knew I was a self-centered person until everything stopped centering around me and started to center around a little 7 pound, 6 ounce little boy.

Until I lost my full night's sleep.

Until I had no time for my hobbies, let alone taking care of my physical appearance.

Until the accomplishments of each day were based on the needs of my baby, not on the list on the counter.

Until I had to ask God for the strength and wisdom to make it through each hour.

Until I had to care for someone even when he wasn't acting loving, even when I didn't feel loving.

Then I realized that everything I did was done because I enjoyed doing it. That even when I helped others, I only did it because I wanted to--it made me feel good. It was all based on self-centeredness. Isaiah was so right when he said, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (64:6). Even the good I was doing was for self-centered purposes.

I am trying to learn. It is slow going learning to love others more than oneself. There have been many teachers in my life. I never expected to learn how to love selflessly from the youngest person in my life. Who knew a 9 week old baby could be my youngest teacher! That instead of me teaching him, he is teaching me.