A word about forgiveness

ForgivenessI’m a Clipper fan.

I’m not a recent convert.  I didn’t jump on the bandwagon a few years ago when they got Chris Paul.  When the Clippers moved from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978, I was hooked.

(I actually still have a fondness for the Houston Rockets because they were originally established in SD until they relocated to Texas in 1971.  I saw Elvin Hayes and Calvin Murphy in San Diego uniforms when I was in high school.  Take that bada@@…)

I was never a Donald Sterling fan.  To me, he was just a rich lawyer who bought the Clippersthen flaunted his power by moving them to his hometown of Los Angeles.  I was crushed.  Anywhere but LA…

After 35 years of owning the team, all he’s ever won is the title of “Worst Owner in the History Professional Sports”.  Take that, Jerruh.  His latest bout with media-exposed bigotry is merely icing on the cakeand not worth my commentary.  I’ll simply let him continue to speak for himself.  Sad.  So Sad.

However, he did say something worth pointing out.

In his televised interview with Anderson Cooper, he said something that most everybody is guilty of saying:  “Please forgive me.”   It’s definitely the favorite go-to line for anybody caught screwing up.

  • Stupid boyfriends:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Insensitive husbands:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Wives who fail their husbands:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Shamed public officials:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Disgraced Pastors:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Humiliated celebrities:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Discredited bosses:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Embarrassed employees:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Guilt-ridden parents (to their children):  “Please forgive me.”

Let me just say thisNo.  No.  No.  No.

We can ask God to forgive our sins.  He can handle it.  It is impossible to emotionally manipulate him.  He is not subject to our drama.  His memory of our past sin is short, if not entirely non-existent.  We cannot make Him feel guilty.  And He has the power to give us the forgiveness we need most of all.

However, people are different.  When you have committed an offense or wrongdoing in the eyes of another, you have no right to ask them to forgive you.  You have no right to place that responsibility on them.  You have no right to make dealing with your sin, their problem.

Let’s be clear.  God requires that we forgive lavishly, abundantly, quickly and completelyfor our own good, for their good, and for the good of all those we rub elbows with.  If we fail to forgive, we will be held accountable.  By God.

On the other hand, if you are the one that sins against anotherif you screw up…if you hurt somebodyif you break a promiseif you are guilty of a trangressionhere is your plan when you meet the one you have wronged:

Confess (acknowledge) what you did wrong and you know it affected them.  Say you’re sorry for what you have done.  Mean it. Commit to them that it won’t happen again (to the best of your ability).

Then give them space and time to forgive you when they are ready.

Anything more than that is manipulative and unfair.

Whew.  I feel better now.  Time for bed.

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Wrestling with gray

graymy last post (and my last sermon) really bothers me.  the skeptic/doubter/rebellious/seeker/cynic side of  me sees the gray.

the disciple/logical/intellectual/legalistic/pharisaical/bible thumper side of me sees black and white.  what’s a boy to do?

from yesterday’s endless list of beliefs and behaviors that define our church family, here are some that i have been taught to call “sin” through the years:

  • doubting is a sin.
  • getting drunk is a sin.
  • anger is a sin.
  • being a political liberal is a sin.
  • killing animals for fun is a sin.
  • being gay is a sin.
  • getting an abortion is a sin.
  • looking at pornography is a sin.
  • smoking is a sin.
  • listening to music with ungodly lyrics is a sin.
  • getting a divorce is a sin.
  • being in debt is a sin.
  • thoughts of suicide is sin.
  • gossip is sin.
  • flirting is sin.
  • addiction to drugs is sin.
  • giving less than 10% of my income to the church is sin.
  • overeating is sin.
  • sex outside of marriage is sin.
  • believing in evolution is sin.
  • having a woman pastor is a sin.
  • any and all lies are sin.
  • to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance is sin.
  • to oppose u.s. military decisions is sin.
  • to be angry at god is sin.
  • to neglect bible reading is sin.
  • failure to confess our sins is sin.
  • judging others is sin.
  • fear of death is sin.
  • racism is sin.
  • cussing is a sin.
  • getting a tattoo is a sin.
  • dancing is a sin.
  • women speaking in a church service is a sin.
  • interracial dating or marriage is sin.
  • men wearing hats in a church service is sin.
  • being on welfare is sin.
  • breaking the speed limit is sin.
  • missing church on sundays is a sin.

the list could go on.

some of them i still call “sin”.  others i see very differently than i did when i was younger.  but the thing that is most different for me is my heart for people whose behavior does not line up with my understanding of god’s laws.

condemnation is gone.  patience and understanding has replaced quick judgment.  i’ve come to realize that there is usually a story (sometimes a very complicated one) that determines how other people view their own sin and the sin of others.

although there are some times that a firm “stop it. now!”  is in order,  i guess i’ve just grown more comfortable with the idea that most all of us need people who will help carry the burden, while they wrestle through their theological life journey.

since god is the one who will ultimately forgive, i figure my patience with their sin should be at least as long as god’s.  if he can wait for change, then so can i.

Theology 101

We just finished a thing called 42 Days.

It was a six-week journey of reading a book, making a once-a-week meeting, daily Bible reading, and a practice of general personal discipline that a group of 45-50 North Point men made together. It was a good thing. We’ll do it again, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t easy. Especially the book.

We chose to read “Crazy Love”, by Francis Chan. It wasn’t the most difficult read I have ever done. As a matter of fact, his style is easy to process and the content was pretty straightforward. But what he said didn’t sit too well.

Nobody likes to be called out for being a slug. Especially a spiritual slug. And especially not a bunch of men who have to actually look each other in the eyes and “fess up” to falling short. Lets just say our weekly meetings were not some kind of brag session on how great each of us are doing with following the commands of Christ…

For most of the guys, it was the first time in a long while…or even the first time ever… that there was any public owning of personal spiritual shortcomings or weaknesses. I can’t speak for women, but I know this is a difficult thing for most men (though I sense men and women are probably far more similar in this area than Bible scholars and cultural anthropologists think).

So here’s what I’m thinking today: How do you face your failures? How do you navigate through the flood waters of mistakes and shortcomings and willful disobedience to the statutes of a holy God? How do you stare down the man or woman in the mirror when you know the real story behind the public personna?

According to God’s word, no one is righteous…no one does good…everyone falls short of God’s standards…. We learn from the Master’s own mouth that the beginning point of a right response to God is to admit our spiritual bankruptcy…and from the writings of the Apostle Paul, we are taught that the path to spiritual strength is through the embracing of our weakness.

Hey…nobody ever said the “logic” of the Kingdom wouldn’t be counter-intuitive!

One of the boldest statements made in the Bible is by Paul in Romans 6:1-2…

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1, 2 NIV)

Should we keep sinning, keep disobeying, keep living selfishly, keep willfully living contrary to God’s revealed will for our lives, keep ignoring the needs of others and the good of the Kingdom….and then say, “No problem, I know God will forgive me!”???

To put a modern spin on Paul’s answer to his own hypothetical question… “Are you an idiot, or what?” No way are we to take advantage of God’s compassionate love for us. No way are we to deliberately and selfishly impose on his gracious benevolence towards us.

But here’s what we can do: Let your sin and brokenness and pride and laziness and obstinance and hard-heartedness and struggles with integrity be a constant reminder that your sufficiency and worth and wholeness will never be earned or deserved…nor will it ever be perfect…and that without your failures, you would never be driven to your knees for help.

Or with gratitude.

Letters to Holden and Nolan

Holden and Nolan side by side C editedlittle dudes…

last week, i wrote you about these two guys that lied.  one of them lied and cheated to get ahead.  along the way he hurt and bullied lots of people, in order to keep his lie a secret.  nobody likes him right now and it will be years and years before people ever forget what he has done.  if they ever do.

the other guy lied because he made a foolish mistake and he was embarrassed and he didn’t want to hurt the people he loved.  at least that’s what he’s saying right now.  now, everybody makes fun of him and he’s turned into a public joke.  his reputation has been really damaged and it will be a long time before he fully recovers it.

here’s something i want you to know:

people make mistakes and dumb decisions and do crazy things all the time.  and nobody will ever know the whole story behind why they do what they do.   when it comes to understanding people, there’s always more than what we see.

and that’s why the bible tells us to treat people the way we want to be treated.  none of us are perfect.  there will be times in your life that you guys make mistakes and do or say things you wish you could take back.  you may even hurt people along the way.

that’s the time you will need patience and understanding and forgiveness the most.  words of kindness will mean everything to you.  people standing by you and supporting you in the face of attacks and rejections will give you strength to move on and learn from your mistakes.

you will need people who challenge you and help you make wise decisions in the future.  sometimes you won’t want to hear what they say, because it will be difficult.  but you will need those kinds of friends.  

the world is a very cruel place sometimes.  it is filled with people who can be mean and won’t think twice about humiliating you in front of others.  and you guys are growing up in a world where your mistakes (and people’s thoughts about them) can be magnified for everybody to see in click of a button.

you’ll learn about that soon enough…

the struggle to be good and kind and compassionate is going to be a tough one for you.   standing by hurt people or difficult people or damaged people or broken people has never been popular.  but loving the harassed and helpless is what the world’s greatest example came to show us.

so treat people well and with kindness…even the ones who make huge mistakes.  not because they deserve it…but because they need it.

grow wise, grasshoppers.

papi

Marriage Tuesday

so i’m feeling like i ought to apologize for my overreaction yesterday.  today, when i went back and read what i
wrote, i had to admit that some of it was a response to some things i had read earlier..as well as a conversation i had had after our services on sunday.

i’m not backing off my conclusions, but there was definitely a critical edge that was unnecessary.  sometimes the truth doesn’t need to be spoken.  sometimes it serves no purpose other than to flaunt spiritual superiority.  this is not a pleasant admission.

but it does make me think about a common problem in marriages.

one of my absolute favorite things about football season in texas is listening to sports talk radio…especially after a regrettable performance by the home team.   one of the local stations loves referring to the “day after” as overreaction monday.

are you an “overreactor” in your marriage?

do you have the tendency to blow things out of proportion?

are you ever guilty of exaggerating the demands or outcomes of a situation?

are you a drama queen…or the male equivalent?

do you make big deals out of small problems?

are you prone to making mountains out of mole hills?

or are you the kind of person that loves to give your partner the benefit of the doubt?  are you able to keep a sense of perspective when things go wrong…and do your reactions consistently fit the crimes?

healthy relationships have this in common:  there is room for error.  responses are seasoned with grace.  forgiveness is never earned.  hope is always present.  justice is tempered with love.

and there is absolutely no overreaction monday.

Marriage Tuesday…and for everybody else, too.

if you’re not married, it doesn’t matter.  this post is for you, also.

if asked, the majority of people would say the most important words we can ever use in our marriages are “i love you.”  i disagree.

of far greater importance are the words, “i’m sorry.”

“i’m sorry” is a much louder and affirming version of “i love you.”  it speaks volumes.  it says we care.  it shows we see the bigger picture.  it affirms value.  it seldom needs further explanation.  when it is delivered with sincerity,  i cancels out wrong and can re-establish trust.

“i’m sorry” accepts blame.

an honest “i’m sorry” requires absolute humility…one of the greatest needs in any healthy relationship.  “i’m sorry” means that i’m the problem and you’re not.  “i’m sorry” says that i will take the responsibility for making things right and take you off the hook.

“i’m sorry” sets the table for forgiveness to take place.  it gives the other person the open door that is needed to wander back into a place where it was no longer safe.  “i’m sorry” creates breathing room.  “i’m sorry” says there are no surprises lurking behind that door.

i’m not talking about forced apology.  you know…the kind where parents say to their ratty kids, “tell her you’re sorry.  tell her.  right now.”  that’s a con.  that sets everybody up for failure.

(by the way, if you’re a parents that insists on making your kids apologize for their interpersonal transgressions, you need to, at least, be willing to spend an equal amount of time teaching your kid why sorrow for sin is important…and not why “getting caught” is a bummer…)

what i’m talking about here is genuine, heartfelt, life-changing, life-giving sorrow and repentance for having hurt, undermined, betrayed, alienated, or disrespected the one you claim to love.  “i’m sorry” are the words that should roll off your lips regularly and effortlessly.  they should be music to your spouse’s ears …unless you have to do it too often.  then you’ve got a whole other problem on your hands.

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one last note.  stop asking people to forgive you when you wronged them.  it may be their responsibility, but it’s not yours to put them on the spot to do it.

asking people to forgive our mistakes or hurtful behavior is about the most self-centered thing we can do.   it’s as ludicrous as walking up to someone and saying,  “pleeeease tell me you’re sorry.  pleeeese tell me you feel bad for what you’ve done.  pleeeese tell me you’ll never do it again.”  ridiculous.

you don’t want to coerce anybody into a meaningless, fake apology.  why would we want a forgiveness offered by the same motivation?  come on.   offer your apology and trust that god will use it for the good of the other person and the rebuilding of your relationship.  the forgiveness you feel you need will come when they are ready and able to give it.

A little more on forgiveness…

for many,  forgiveness seems like an impossible task.   the hurt is too deep.   the behavior remains unchanged.   the damage continues.   the memories have permanent scars.   the desire to forgive is present,  but the will just won’t cooperate.

if this is your journey,  i’m sorry.   you know what the lack of forgiveness is doing to you and to your relationships.   but keep at it.   talk to someone.   get wise counsel.   read good books.   listen to stories of people who have overcome.   keep talking.   keep feeling.   trust god.   grow deeper.   don’t give up.    as long as you are still pursuing forgiveness,  you are on the right path.

you are not who i am concerned about.  

there’s another group of people who trouble me:   people who think,  or even say,  they have forgiven… but really haven’t.

(if you don’t remember the definition of forgiveness we are working with,  go back and read monday’s post...)

here are some characteristics of people who are in the death grip of an unforgiving heart:

you remember past wrongs.   you file them neatly in your memory bank.   you don’t necessarily think about them all the time,  but you can dial them up a moment’s notice.

you continue to let those past wrongs define the person.   you bring them up.   you don’t let the person move on.   you don’t really make room for them to change,  because you have drawn permanent conclusions.

you continue to punish the person by assuming they are no different.   you judge them by past wrongs.   the slate has never been cleared.   they have never really had a chance to start over with you.

their margin for error continues to get smaller and smaller.   because they have committed heinous crimes in the past (in your opinion),  you give them less and less room for failure.

because you have never truly forgiven,  their past wrong continues to grow.   truth is compromised.   the “sins” of the past get exaggerated in the retelling of the stories.

you make current assumptions based on past behavior…making you subject to wrong conclusions…i.e.,  “if they did it before,  they’ll do it again”.

your lack of forgiveness makes you both judge and jury.   you’ve made the decision…you’ve given your verdict…you are the one to pass judgment…and even give the sentence.

it makes you a hypocrite.   focusing on the wrongs of another keeps you from seeing your own wrongs properly.   you would never accept someone treating you this way,  if you truly recognized what you were doing.

it’s easy for others to see your lack of forgiveness,  even though you don’t.   it does not endear people to you.   they see and hear what you continue to say about others…and wonder if you will cast the same judgment on them.   they simply won’t want to be around you.

it sabotages friendship.   people want forgiveness.   people need grace.   people want to know they will be given second chances.   people want and need friends who stand by them and stay committed…and who won’t continue to bring up the past.

bitterness grows.   ulcers develop.   blind spots increase.   vision narrows.

you get the picture.

when will you be ready to treat others the way you want to be treated?   when will you forgive as god has forgiven you?

just asking…

*disclaimer:    these observations are not for people dealing with habitual offenders…people who constantly make the same mistakes and same poor choices again and again…those who callously inflict pain on those they interact with.   the act of forgiveness in those cases is still needed,  but is extremely complicated.  

…and it requires more than a post by a dime-store counselor!

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the padre’s biggest loser continues to rock on.

the results after week number three:

Team PADRE:  11 lbs lost… 51.6 total

Team MADRE:  15.6 lbs lost… 72.6 total

anybody want to join us?   we have nine more weeks to go.   have some weight loss fun  (okay.   i’m stretching the truth…).   get some accountability.   get some motivation.   send me a comment or find me on facebook and we’ll get you signed up.