I am going to switch gears a little. For the whole month of May I focused on parenting, motherhood (and foster parenting). There has been something else that has been on my heart a lot in the past months. I am in a season of being refined and many truths that I know in my head are being made real in my heart. That process is not always a painless or easy one.
Forgiveness is a word we spout around in Christian circles a lot but what is it really and when does it apply in our lives? How do we balance both truth and grace? How do we love the sinner and not the sin? What trivialities in our spiritual lives and communities are we focusing our energies on while we are blatantly lacking the "biggies" like grace, forgiveness, mercy and justice? So many big questions have been laid out in front of me this year as I am faced with situations that I never have been before.
I read the parable of the lost son this morning and it was full of gems that I have never internalized before when reading it. The basis of the story is that a man had two sons. One son decided to take his inheritance early (in that culture meaning that his father was as good as dead to him) and go off and spend it in all sorts of relativist, self indulgent living. He eventually hit rock bottom as that self focused/ live for the moment life tends to do. But after a stint of living as a bottom rock dweller he came to his senses and decided to go back home and ask for forgiveness.
The son had willingly given up his spot in the family, had sinned against his father and against God, he had brought great shame and disgrace to his family.
I love how the father reacts when he sees him coming down the road
" While he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;
he ran to his son , threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to the father "I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
But the father said to his servants, Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.
Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it.
Lets have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate."
He didn't require him to grovel or beg for forgiveness....in fact he threw his arms around him before the son even got out his apology. He didn't give him a long list of boundaries and rules to follow to earn his place back into the family circle. He didn't give him and earful about all the pain and shame he caused. He didn't give him a place out back in the barn until he could prove himself worthy.
He embraced him.
He kissed his face.
He ran to him (as opposed to a dignified stately walk in his direction. )
He gave him the family signet ring giving him full signing rights as a son.
He gave him a robe and sandals to make his status as the wealthy mans son known to all.
That is how God welcomes us. That is how we come into his kingdom...the past forgiven and embraced with grace. The reason Jesus told this parable was to give us a glimpse of the Father and his love for each of us. In knowing the heart of the Father and having his Spirit living within us how can we not act the same way to others?
The part of the story we often miss is the older brothers reaction to the return of the prodigal.
He is the brother who has been good and loyal. He has worked hard and kept up a righteous image. But if you look at the story closer you can see his heart is just as far from the father as the prodigals was.
The older brother was angry.
He disrespectfully confronted his father and questioned his wisdom.
He refused to join the celebration.
In his mind the younger son hadn't earned a spot in the family, he had forfeited that right. He didn't deserve it. The older brother wanted to see hard justice done....he wanted the younger son to get what thought he had coming to him.
The older brother lacked grace. He lacked the eyes and the heart of the Father. He could not see what was actually happening in the situation because he was so focused on his own hurt, his own agenda and his own convicitons.
The story never says whether the older brother comes to his senses and joins the celebration eventually or not. I kind of hope he did. Or he might have stomped off with his arms crossed vowing never to attend a family function as long as his brother was there. Maybe he went home to pout, maybe he ran around town frantically telling his sob story to anyone who would listen. Maybe he spread around all the horrible things that his brother did. Maybe he jumped on a band wagon made picket signs and protested in front of the fathers house.
ok I 'm getting carried away here....but how do we react sometimes when we feel slighted. When we feel that someone didn't get what they deserved? Or even worse got something that they didn't deserve? Do we show grace? Do we forgive? Do we welcome with open arms someone who's past might be wrought with sin and shame? Someone who is different, someone who doesn't fit our legalistic mold ? Someone who intentionally hurt us?
Jesus was known as a friend to sinners...in fact this contributed to the religious legalistic Pharisees wanting to kill him.
" We have the modern and insidious type of Pharasiaism, the unconscious hypocrite, the man or woman not of fraud, but of pose, not of deep and dark design, but of subtle egotism, prompt certainty and facile religiosity. " Dr. Forstyth
Legalists, Pharisees , hypocrites and older brothers exist not only in the new testament but live all around us....maybe they are us. They are unfortunately bred in the very churches and religious circles that should be following the example of Christ.
Christ embraced the unlovable, the flawed, the shamed , the sick, the wounded, the weak. He showed just how much he desires the undesirable.
How can we do any less as his followers? I've heard it said that we only love God as much as the person we love the least.
Unforgiveness is a cancer that spreads through our hearts and through our societies causing nothing but pain, wars, factions, church splits, revenge, rifts and shows like Jerry Springer.
Forgiveness is a completely unnatural act. One of the things that separate us from the animal world is ability to forgive and extend grace. It goes against our very human nature though to extend something to someone that they don't deserve. To love someone who has hurt us.
Grace not only separates humans from animals but it also separates Christianity from all other religions. The idea that we don't have to earn, petition, reincarnate, lash our selves or jump through hoops to get to God. He's there waiting with open arms....all we have to do is turn around and start that journey home.
I've heard grace defined as giving something to someone that they haven't earned, that they don't deserve but that they desperately need.
It takes something from us to extend grace...our pride, our vendetta, our own rights and even our own hurts. We set aside those things when we forgive. We are made vulnerable.
Grace costs the giver something.
Look at what Gods grace cost Him. I'm glad when I came Gods door He embraced me with open arms instead of making me earn my way back in from the ground up first...or telling me I've disappointed Him too much or brought Him too much shame. For I most certainly have done both...I still do.
We didn't earn our way into Gods kingdom, into his family. He made us sons and daughters. Put a ring on our fingers. He covered our filthy rags with a robe. He celebrated us and rejoices over us with singing.
The truth is I could never earn my way back into the family of God because I don't deserve to be there. None of us do. That's called grace....it cost me nothing....it cost him everything. I was pardoned, the penalty was paid, I got my get out of jail free card and cashed it in.
It is hard to forgive but we must do it.
The bible is explicably clear on that topic...(also on the topic of judging others).
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins"
Clear as a bell eh?
Not easy, not simple... but clear. With the help of the Spirit of God we are able to have our hard crusty hearts changed into forgiving loving ones.
There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving. In loving the sinner and not the sin.
Maybe the older son didn't want to go to the party because it would show that he condoned his brothers poor choices and his past. He wouldn't want to be associated with that....what would his friends think? He wanted to make a stand and prove by his absence his own lack of approval.
To condone evil is simply to ignore it and pretend that it is good. In order for forgiveness to be complete sin must be acknowledged for what it is. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered. Sometimes it involves going backwards in order to move forward. Forgiveness acknowledges the past hurt and the sin but it separates it from the person. It is freeing that person from the weight of their sin and in turn frees us from our own burden of bitterness.
Lots to think about. Its easy to spout off ideals like forgiveness and grace in our Christian circles but its not so easy when we are face to face with someone who seems unforgivable.
That's when head knowledge becomes heart knowledge.
That's were the "rubber meets the road".
That's when we have an opportunity to practice, in the nitty gritty reality of life, what we have acknowledged as bibical truth.
Any thing less is hypocritical....merely an act or a facade of righteousness.
Allow the Spirit of God today to search your hearts and illuminate hidden unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred, resentment, dissention or gossip ...any attitude of heart and spirit that is in direct conflict with that of God...and allow His cleansing to happen.
In his Amazing Grace,