Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Five Things Forgiveness Does Not Do

photo from
There seems to be a popular belief that forgiving someone will just make life hunky-dory and everything will magically be peace, love and flowers. Not so. God offers perfect forgiveness without hesitation or qualifiers to all humans, and yet the world is filled with so much bad "stuff" that people continually shake their fists and ask "how can God let this happen?" God is perfect, but human forgiveness is not, and those who are forgiven do not always step up to do their part in correcting things.

1. Forgiveness does not erase the consequences of past decisions and actions

Life, in time, is a process. Certain things result from previous decisions and actions. A murderer may be forgiven by the relatives of the person he killed, but this does not remove the consequences of his action. The dead person is still dead. The killer will be tried and probably sent to jail. Each person who was involved will be changed.

Examples of forgiveness like that one often make the news because they are so unusual for humans. But everyday events work the same way. I may forgive my son for riding his bike through the flower beds, but broken daffodils and tulips will not bloom for another year. You may forgive your wife who got drunk and wrecked the car, but the car will still be wrecked and it will cost money to fix or replace it. She may be required to pay fines, she may lose her license or spend time in jail.

You may be late for a concert because someone cut you off on the freeway and made you miss your exit. You can forgive that person, but you'll still be late for the concert, and possibly face sour looks from other concert-goers or even miss part of the event if entrance is prohibited during the performance. You can choose how you will respond to these consequences, but that is another topic.

2. Forgiveness does not give the forgiven person a free ticket to continue bad behavior

When God forgives, he alone is capable of doing so with an instantaneous and complete pardon. But even God expects and demands a change in behavior. He admonishes people to turn from their wicked ways. and to be holy as he is holy. Romans 6 makes it clear that there is no excuse to continue in sin just so that God's grace can be exercised. In fact, verse 2 suggests that those who are truly dead to sin will find it increasingly less comfortable and pleasurable to continue to do wrong.

People who continue making poor choices with no attempt to change, all the while demanding that other people should be more forgiving, simply want to have their own way. In fact people who do this are often abusive.

Those who exhibit no desire to change might be said to be guilty of idolatry; they are worshiping themselves, demanding their own way.

3. Forgiveness does not instantly restore trust

Christians sometimes seem to think that God's gifts result in instant solutions. Even if we say we don't think that, we often act like it. We want problems to disappear when we accept God's salvation. We want forgiveness to be like a magic wand that will make broken relationships all better. It just doesn't work that way.

Trust must be earned. Even if, each night, we so completely forgive someone who has wronged us that we could wake in the morning with no memory of the wrongs previously committed, the best that could be said is that the relationship would be a blank slate, like meeting a stranger. We would not entrust our most personal feelings and needs with someone we had just met.

It is possible and desirable to forgive hurts from the past. An abusive parent who has died can be forgiven. Your teenager who stole from you, but who has finally grown up, can be forgiven.

The most difficult scenario is where the person who is wronged and the offender must continually deal with each other. Examples of this might be in a work environment or living with siblings.

Particularly in a marriage, if one spouse has wronged the other, over and over, forgiveness alone is not going to fix things. One partner can forgive the other daily, but this alone will not restore relationship. Trust must be earned. James says (James 4:8) "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." A person might experience and accept God's forgiveness, but still live far from God on a daily basis. Human beings are not going to succeed at something even God does not do. Relationship takes effort from more than one.

4. Forgiveness does not indefinitely operate unilaterally

Following on the concept that relationship requires effort from more than one party, unilateral forgiveness has limits.

First, to clarify, there are at least two levels of forgiveness. We've all known people who seem to turn incidental slights into major events. They "can't" forgive road rage; they hold small wrongs against others for years, etc. We all just want to yell at these people, "let it go and move on." Most of us are willing to forgive others for minor infractions of our rights. We at least acknowledge reciprocity- I can put up with you if you can put up with me. And we don't need the other person to ask for forgiveness. We really can just choose to let it go, whatever it is.

Then there are deep wrongs to be forgiven: a lifetime of physical or emotional abuse, becoming victim of a crime, moral failures such as sexual affairs, etc. Forgiving these kinds of wrongs can be done unilaterally, eg. the other person does not ask for forgiveness. If the guilty party is deceased, or no longer in a physical location where the other person's life is affected by their actions, forgiveness without a confession by the offender may be the only option. (And this can release the hurt and bitterness of the offended person.)

However, if there is to be restoration of a relationship, both parties must come to the table, so to speak. For a husband and wife to build a marriage rather than destroy it, one spouse can not be forever the forgiver while the other refuses to make necessary changes. A sister can not forever be bailing out a brother from the consequences of a life damaged by habitual drug abuse.

Unilateral forgiveness easily becomes enabling of the other person to continue in wrong behaviors and bad life choices. This is grace run amok. It needs an infusion of truth.

Even God requires confession for forgiveness of sin.

5. Forgiveness does not stand apart from God's forgiveness of us.

As Christians, we forgive because God through Christ has forgiven us. And this is the only source of true and deep forgiveness.

Anyone can let go of small wrongs. At least anyone who expects others to overlook faults of theirs. But to forgive deep and lasting wrongs, physical or emotional wounds so deep that the scars remind us continually of their reality, requires the love of God.

Finally, these things which forgiveness can not accomplish do not let us off the hook from forgiving. We can't say, "I'm done forgiving her because she never changes." We must continue to forgive, while at the same time speaking truth in love. Forgiveness is not the same thing as letting people do whatever they want to do.

Forgive, forgive, speak truth, forgive.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lyrics- Make Me a Blessing

Some Sundays the lyrics from a great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Make Me a Blessing
Lyrics: Ira B. Wilson (1924) Composer: George S. Schuler

Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.

Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing,
Out of my life
May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow'r to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true ev'ry moment you live.


Give as 'twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.


It's so easy to be focused on everything we need or want to do that we forget that it may not take much to bless others. A smile, a touch, a kind word- all free, and we should always be able to give those. This song just came to mind this week.

In hunting for a good video, I was again stymied by wanting one that was decent musically, used the words (not just instrumental), and had images rather than just a person singing. In the end, this man's version captured my attention. He's not a professional. He's just a man singing to celebrate his 62nd birthday. But... he's smiling. He's not trying to entertain anyone. He invites you to sing along. He just wants to... be a blessing! And I was blessed. Hope you are too.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Multisensory Worship

stained glass window

In the past few weeks I've attended a number of different worship services with friends, all different Christian denominations.

Lately, I've been trying hard to more clearly define why I am able to worship more completely in certain situations than in others.

My logical side takes issue with the known fact that I clearly feel more uplifted in a pleasing setting. After all, if I lived in a country where I was forced to worship in the dark in a dirt basement, for example, I'm sure that the fellowship would be sweet and our worship would be sincere. Probably more sincere than any I experience now. But the truth is, for me, that if I have choices, I feel much more worshipful in buildings that are not plain cement blocks. I like colored windows (no known preference for Biblical scenes vs. geometric patterns, but I do like symbols). I like banners, preferably changed with the seasons/church calendar. I like beautiful woodwork and fancy light fixtures. These things (colors, textures, designs) all flow together to create a sense of peace and well-being within me.

I like a variety of audio inputs. Today, I went to a church to hear a handbell choir that some friends belong to. I hadn't been to that church for a number of years and had forgotten that they have a pipe organ. What luscious, rich sound! The Prelude was an organ/piano duet. There was also a Power Point album of a youth retreat with modern music and lots of shots of happy kids. In some of the other churches recently attended, there were several scripture readers, a dramatic reading, and special music. I love to sing- I love almost all types of Christian music, with the exception of the most recent iteration (since about 1990?) with only a few words per song repeated over and over, and no tune to speak of.

I've also reached a point where I'm not willing to listen to sermons of an hour or more in length. Blame it on being a speech major (learning about public speaking... more is not usually more), blame it on grad school(too many long lectures), blame it on old age ADD, blame it on sheer cantankerousness. Right or wrong, it's where I am right now.

Now, all of you who are ready to leap on me with the reminder that worship is not about how I feel, it's about focusing on God, I'm ready to agree wholeheartedly. And yet... I find it difficult to worship where the services only touch a couple of my senses.

I guess I would ask those of you who may feel critical toward this post to ask yourself the question, "If I were asked to worship week after week in a setting I found unpleasant, with music I didn't care for, would I feel enthusiastic about worship?"

This may be "off the wall," but it's honest.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Best Reason to Seek Help in an Abusive Relationship

man hitting woman
We often look at abusive relationships and wonder why the abused party did not seek help until some dangerous crisis point was reached. Often it is a wife who is physically or emotionally abused. In many cases, no one even knew what was happening until she snapped and became violent towards her partner. Perhaps she internalized the problem until she killed her children and herself, seeing no other way out.

Christians who are subjected to abuse or wrongdoing are often the least likely to try to get help to change things. A friend of mine recently had to combat her entire family in the "right-ness" (righteousness) of taking a man to court who had stolen over $800 from her. Her Christian family insisted that she should "turn the other cheek," as it says in Matthew 5:39, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

Women are particularly likely to put up with a life of bad treatment. Some Christian men still think that their gender gives them the right to hold absolute power over a woman, and enforce this with physical or emotional violence. Christian women may live with this for years, trying desperately to be an obedient wife. Or perhaps they are so fearful of retribution that they cannot reach out for help.

Many people who do seek aid, counsel, or just plain leave the relationship do so for the wrong reasons. In fact, I'd say that almost all people who strive to change their unloved, subservient or abused position are doing this for the wrong reason.

What? Why should anyone put up with being hurt? Get out of there, or get help. Yes... I'm not saying that a person should tolerate being abused. However, abused people almost always base their actions on the premise of "I deserve better than this," or "This marriage/relationship is over because the love we used to have is gone."

The problem for the Christian is that the highest goal of a marriage is not to find love and security for ourselves, but to honor and please God. Many abused Christian women do realize this, and so they stay with their partners, allowing the abuse to continue because they say to themselves (or are being told), "God wants me to honor Him by being obedient to my husband."

This person has taken a correct first step in asking herself, "What will make God happy?" But she has come up with an incorrect response by thinking that it will make God happy for her to submit to the (sinful) will of their spouse. She correctly realizes that her own happiness is not the primary goal, but she also incorrectly thinks that she is making her spouse (and God) "happy" by allowing abuse to continue. Abusers just escalate, it is impossible to make them happy.

Injustice never makes God happy. People who can turn the other cheek are well-adjusted, balanced Christians who can absorb some of the world's nastiness and return good for evil. No human can do this indefinitely. (In theory, a perfect follower of Christ's example could, but real life is grittier.)

What would make God happy is for a marriage to be a picture of his relationship with the church- that of a bridegroom and a bride. A person who is being abused needs to realize that God does not want the abuser to act that way, and that what will make God happy is to aid that person in getting help. This can involve separation, counseling, perhaps even legal action. It should involve a continuing commitment to the abuser.

None of this is easy, but a Christian must seek to end an abusive relationship for the right reasons.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lyrics- Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storms of Life

Some Sundays the lyrics from a great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storms of Life
Pris­cil­la J. Ow­ens (lyrics 1882) and Will­iam J. Kirk­pat­rick- 1890
The images and fears of sea travel were all too real for the centuries before we so easily jumped on an airplane to travel abroad.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the savior's love.

It is safely moored, 'twill the storm withstand
For 'tis well secure by the savior's hand
And the cables, passed from his heart to mine
Can defy that blast, through strength divine.


It will surely hold in the floods of death
When the waters cold chill your latest breath?
On the rising tide you can never fail
While our hope abide within the veil.


When our eyes behold through the gath’ring night
The city of gold, our harbor bright,
We shall anchor fast by the heav’nly shore,
With the storms all past forevermore.


For some reason this song just intruded into my thinking this week. I couldn't stop singing the parts I remembered, and finally got out the hymnbook to fill in the gaps. The symbolism of faith and the Word of God being an anchor is certainly as old as boats and ships. However, it's an image that is true. Truth never goes out of style.

I can't say that I feel as positive about the videos that have been made of this hymn. My favorite was actually The Scottish Boys Brigade singing it, but that video was more about the Brigade than the song. I loved the expression in this version by J. Ashley Milne, but there was only one image... it's called VIDeo because it's supposed to be VISual, eh? So, what you get is a Reggae version sung by Gloria Bailey, who made recordings in the 19060s and 70s.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Waiting on God

Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray
Have you read any books by Andrew Murray? If you want something to sink your teeth into, hunt up one or more of his works. He lived from 1828-1917, a Scot whose life work was in South Africa. I just learned that he wrote over 240 books. Well, I haven't even made a dimple in that pile!

However, I've read a few, and they never fail to make me stop and think. You do have to work your way through the 150-year-old language patterns, but it's worth it. I recommend With Christ in the School of Prayer. I'm currently reading Waiting on God.

It's a small book, divided into 31 devotionals. Each one focuses on some aspect of slowing down and waiting to hear from God before we rush headlong into our own plans. There's a timeless message, maybe even more appropriate today than when it was written.

And, even though I sometimes think I am pretty good at waiting for God, of course, the joke is on me. I find that just reading each three or four page lesson where Murray talks about waiting, makes me impatient. I want the words to flow better; I want him to stop saying the same things again just in different ways. Basically, I want God's message to hurry up. I'm the classic "Lord, give me patience, and I want it now!"

Today, I read about the Israelites. They made the same kinds of errors we do. Just after God supplied them with water they didn't wait for him to supply food but began complaining. When Joshua was given Jericho he did not wait to ask God what to do about Ai, but launched an ill-fated campaign against Ai because it seemed an easy victory.

Just because I managed to trust God for something great, recently or long ago, doesn't mean that I can stop doing that and forge ahead under my own power.

The verse for the day was Psalm 106:13- "They soon forgot his works. They waited not for his counsel."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Selfishness and Sacrifice

Mary washing Jesus' feet
This blog is turning out to be difficult to maintain since posts here take a lot more time and thought than my other blogs. Nevertheless, I'll add a post whenever I can. Thanks for your patience.

This post was prompted by a book I read. This is not going to be a book review, but the book was Final Payments, by Mary Gordon. I have no idea if she is actually a Christian or was simply writing out of a knowledge of a Roman Catholic upbringing in the 1960s. She does force one to think hard about the meaning of love, and what sacrifice is all about, as contrasted with selfishness.

In Final Payments, the main character, Isabel, swings from care of an invalid father, whom she dearly loves, to wild, self-pleasuring living after his death. When this leads to spiritual and moral ruin, she determines to sacrifice her life in the care of a horrible, ungrateful woman, as a service to God. Her own strength of character is insufficient to sustain such an impossible task, and she emerges at last with a new-found understanding of life and love.

Anyone who thinks that decisions about these topics are easy hasn't been faced with miserable choices. It seems so pure an act of sacrifice to give up one's own life in service to another, especially to one for whom you feel no affection; it feels so spiritual. Isabel says, "Charity. That is what I thought I would do for Margaret. The greatest love is to love without wanting anything in return, even an acknowledgement of loving. And this is how I would love." But if that is not what God has asked you to do, it is simply an act of selfishness- an attempt to make yourself feel holy.

Also, to have no investment in care of your own self is not as sacrificial as it may look on the surface. In the book, Isabel has let herself gain a great deal of weight. She has been through a huge range of emotional struggles, but has told herself that her own body had no value at all as compared to her spiritual values. A priest, who is also her good friend, tells her that she is breaking the fifth commandment. Isabel is shocked and asks what "thou shalt not kill" has to do with it. The priest replies, "It also means slow death."

When Mary washed Jesus' feet with her hair she was rebuked by Judas for wasting the expensive ointment which could have been used to care for the poor. But Jesus said to let her do it, because "the poor you will always have with you." This answer seems to fly in the face of everything we have been taught about using resources prudently, taking care of others, or sublimating our own desires. The book uses this story as an example- when Isabel comes to the realization that "we must not try to second-guess death by refusing to love the ones we loved in favor of the anonymous poor.

On the other hand, no one would ever say that to live a hedonistic life is in keeping with God's will. Somewhere between the two extremes is the ideal balance of self-love and sacrifice that pleases God. The golden rule says to "love your neighbor as you love yourself." Jesus does not rebuke us for loving ourselves- he uses it as a reference point for our outward actions. Isabel's period of seeking sexual pleasure quickly brings her to a realization of the emptiness of that choice.

This essay is turning out to be very superficial. That's probably inevitable, since I have all the details of the story of Final Payments in my mind, but can't make you experience them here, in a few words.

In short, it's simply impossible to put cheap labels on actions and call them sacrifice, love, service, selfishness, without knowing God's will. We need to examine our own motives and actions. (And, a corollary, to leave other people's motives to God to judge.)