Cancelling Debts

One of the toughest and easiest lessons to teach and learn is forgiveness. 

I look at children, my own especially, and I see such capacity to offer the ‘I’m sorry’. Even in the midst of the embarrassment of having done something wrong, and much worse, being caught in it, children know that the easing of the situation comes from the short phrase. It makes all things better. 

That’s the easy part. 

The difficult part is the other side of forgiveness. When we are asked to receive the I’m sorry rather than give it. I know this seems counter intuitive. It would make sense that being in the wrong would be harder than being right. 

But sometimes being right is so much harder when we’re called to be part of a culture that forgives. When Jesus tells us to forgive we know that an apology goes a long way to righting a situation where we’ve wronged someone. And there is a sense of emotional release, a ripping of the spiritual bandaid that happens when we acknowledge and say the words of repentance. 

It’s the 70×7 that I struggle with. 

And I see my apparently mature spiritual self rebel at the injustice of having to forgive. Like my kids say, ‘It’s not fair! You don’t understand and if you did you would know that this just doesn’t cut it!”. 

Because if forgiveness was just, then it would be harder to receive forgiveness. 

I’m sorry wouldn’t cut it.

It’s the feeling we have that the anger of hurt outweighs the heaviness of guilt on the scales of justice. 

And I’m sorry doesn’t seem to have the human capacity to balance it out. 

I’ve known for a long time that God’s idea of justice and mine don’t align. That I’m so glad to be able to receive his grace and forgiveness but hav such trouble when he asks me to be like him. 

Because then it’s not fair. 

It’s an eternal struggle, seeing justice and mercy meted out where I don’t see a resolution. Where it doesn’t seem fair. 

I was reading in Deuteronomy 15 (if you ever want to ponder justice and grace, try reading through that lens) and came across the year of cancelled debts. It’s the idea, the requirement that God gave the Israelites to forgive debts of others every 7years. Wiped away. Clean and forgotten. 

This is a financial and social form of justice but in this passage God nudged me. 

What about the forgiveness part?

Some of our spiritual and emotional debts are excruciating to forgive. There may be no justice, no repentance, no face or a too familiar face to the deep wounds that plague us. 

There are debts that feel like they can never be repaid or forgiven.

I struggle with what to write next. There are platitudes about forgiveness that undermine the need for security and don’t acknowledge the depth of brokenness. There are words of should that we say in order to make another person better or, at least, their problem go away.

When 70×7 doesn’t even feel like the tip of the iceberg and it’s said with the tone of a cocked head and wagging finger. 

And yet, the truth of God’s word that says forgiveness is necessary and obedient and healing. 

And there is my tension. 

The acknowledgement that God’s abilities are not mine, but are available to me. 

A decision to pursue his idea of justice even when I don’t understand it or feel that it’s sufficient. 

And the need to ask for the ability and strength to forgive soul debts. 

Forgiveness is not easy and forgiveness without visible justice is sometimes only possible through the strength of the Spirit.

But it is asked of us.

Asked of us in our wondedness and outside of our understanding and willingness. 

But we are not asked by someone who just wants it over with and swept under the rug. 

It is asked of us by the One who sees past the past and into the future healing and justice in ways we don’t see. 

We are not asked to forgive as a result of our punishment. We are asked to forgive as a testament to grace freely given. 

So maybe the tension is a reminder. A sacramental reminder of love poured out for us. A baptism into our slow rising toward greater healing and understanding of the holy mingling of justice and grace.

70×7 steps toward Him who receives us without blemish and with loving arms, wounded and broken, healing in his presence. 

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Decisions, Decisions

I had to make a decision this morning.

Not a wear or hair decision, but a heart and attitude decision.

And this decision took place in the shower, as all good decisions do.

You see, someone had hurt someone close to me. And this someone had hurt them right where it hurts, at the core of who God made them to be.

And I was angry. I’ve spent the past evening and now, waking hours, thinking about this person who threw the emotional dart. Thinking that they should know better. Thinking that they should DO better. Thinking that their whole perspective on the world needs a shift and by gum, someone needed to say something.

I know that person isn’t me but what temptation to think that person into submission and repentance.

Pray for those who persecute you.

Nope (accompanied by vigorous soap wielding)

Pray for those who persecute you.

(raised eyebrow in acknowledgement and skepticism)

But then I started thinking.

Why did Jesus call us to pray for those who persecute us?

Because they need it.

Because the lack of understanding and lashing out doesn’t come from a place of God’s peace.

Because the maneuvering and manipulating doesn’t come from a place of Spirit-led relationship.

Because prayer for the persecutor does as much for me as it does for them.

Because I need it.

Lifting up another person before God, on their behalf, is a way of focusing the entire situation on God, who is the healer and making-right of all things.

Because in order for this situation to be resolved in a way that brings unity and not destruction and division, I must lay my feelings and perceptions before God so that he can sort them out in his wisdom.

And as I offered up my mind and heart for Spirit cleansing, I began to see things in a new light.

That hurt comes from hurt.

That lashing out comes from the feeling of sinking sand beneath the feet and the grasping hand reaches out for purchase in the face of change.

That sympathy and pity should be my approach.

That we all need God in such deep ways.

The persecuted can quickly become the persecutor if our responses aren’t taken to the Throne and Cross.

Unreflected responses can do more damage than good.

Praying for our persecutors puts the blame where it really lies, into the spiritual realm from where it originates. The non-flesh and blood that works on flesh and blood.

So we pray for the persecutor so we don’t become the persecutor.

We pray for the persecutor because they are persecuted in ways we can’t see.

We pray for the persecutor to put ourselves in a place of submission to God, for his insight, filter, and lessons as we process this situation together.

We pray for the persecutor because on the Cross, Jesus prayed for his.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:43-45a

 

Jesus is More than My Friend

My daughter came up to me yesterday crying because she was dissatisfied with her brother’s theology. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time.

When my 5 year old son wants to play by himself, much to the dismay of my 4 year old daughter, he tells her that Jesus is always with her so Jesus can play with her. Not very satisfying to her tender child’s heart.

Her tears come from the reality that though Jesus is always with her, he makes an unsatisfactory playmate because he has no body Right Now.

This is the eternal struggle, isn’t it? No matter if you’re a child or an adult it’s difficult to believe in the unseen, have faith in the invisible. We have no tactile God to grasp and hold.

I envy the disciples. I envy the women, Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene. I envy the blind man, the woman at the well, those who saw and touched Jesus.

Those who called him friend. Friends because of the shared trials, friends because of the time spent,  because of the laughter and tears, the meals and comfortable silences.

What did they know and see that we will never understand. To look into the face of their friend and try to grasp the fullness of the Almighty.

That tension exists for me. My son and daughter see a friend in Jesus, but that sits less comfortably with me. Through the years I’ve heard songs sing of Jesus our friend. But I wiggle and struggle with that phrase.  It is and always has been difficult for my finite human brain to grasp the Almighty contained within the Incarnate.

How can Jesus be my friend?

Fear can lean us towards an imbalance. Fear of the perceived mercilessness and judgement of God can draw us towards a Jesus who is friend but not saviour. The sacrificial lamb without the Lion of Judah. 

This is a continual struggle with me but in the other direction. When I perceive that Jesus is being watered down, I lean more towards the image of God as creator and bringer of all things. And I lean away from Jesus, because I know that the nature of my sins cannot be wiped clean by someone who is friend and not God.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself and all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:15-17, 19-20

This is the glory of what God has done for me, for us. That Jesus is the image of the invisible God. A true Saviour cloaked in flesh. Flesh that was capable of gladness and sorrow, sore feet and loving arms, jokes and stillness.

True goodness and power that could touch and be touched. That called them and me friend. There is no weakness in that. The greatest gift Jesus gave was his life laid down for us so that we might turn towards him and be clean in his eyes and have the right to call him friend.

It is the aspect of friend that strikes me this Easter season. That his sacrifice on the cross was an act of mercy and love. And because of this I can see and imagine new things about God. Because he drew himself closer, close enough to see and touch, to laugh and grieve alongside of us. The God of the universe drawn close with gentleness and power held in balanced measure. No loss of power and no lessening of mercy. Love incarnate in ways we can imagine and beyond our wildest dreams.

Misplaced Confidence in My Flesh

An opportunity came to me yesterday and knocked the wind out of me. And not the good kind of knocked the wind out. The kind of opportunity that sends a rush of panic down my spine, widens my eyes, and I think “Oh Nelly, what next!”.

The kind of opportunity that answers all sorts of questions and raises even more. The kind that sinks your stomach because you feel so monumentally under equipped.

And I ask, “God? Is this from you because it’s so out of the realm of my comfort and my comprehension that there’s no way on this good green earth that I can do this. You wouldn’t give me something that I couldn’t do. Because then it wouldn’t be from you, right?”

And my confidence fell down the elevator shaft.

My courage was sucked away and left me in the place of panic.

Have you ever been in that place? A place where you see the opportunity in front of you, seemingly heaven-sent, but not heaven-sent for you because this doesn’t even smell like something you’ve ever tried before. Not even a whiff.

I don’t really like trying things I’m not good at. Or things that aren’t related to things I’m good at. Or things that might cause me to stumble or fail.

Because when I’m good at things people notice and approve. When I fail people notice and…well…notice.

And that doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good not to have your A-game. It doesn’t feel good to look at another person and know they know you messed up. That you’re not perfect.

Because then they might see you differently. They might have less use for you because you’re of less use to them.

Because these skills and talents, these wirings and personality traits, this body that can do things, has failed this time.

You’ve failed.

So yeah, I get nervous, and I get wary of opportunities that might stretch me and drop me and trip me up.
Because I have confidence in this flesh of mine but I also know, oh so well, its’ limitations.

And that knowledge makes me tentative and unwilling to pursue the goodness right in front of me.

Because I have it all wrong. I am putting my trust in something that yes, will fail me. I will come to the end of my knowledge and will too soon see my own limitations.

God works in mysterious and sledgehammer ways, though.

This morning as I was wrestling, headache-y and surly, my readings took me through Philippians 3. The title even says “no confidence in the flesh”. Sledgehammers, I say.

Paul talks in this chapter about how he had all the training, the right background, the history, and the zeal. A perfect pedigree.

But that means nothing to him.

Nothing!

But sometimes these things mean everything to me. They mean acceptance and success and wiping sweat off a forehead for a narrow escape. 

But to Paul they meant nothing.

Because he knew what was better. He knew his limitations and he knew Christ. 

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Philippians 3:7-10

I know the exhortation that God will equip me for the tasks he’s set in front of me. And I believe this to be true. But these verses go deeper and call me further.

I need to realize the power I have, the purpose and value, come from knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection. And this power is not for my own social perfection but that I may know Christ and make him known.

Because when I fail, I look to Christ.

When I fall, I look to Christ.

In the cloud of my embarrassment and shame, I look to Christ.

And when I’m praised, I look to Christ.

When people tell me all manner of wonderful things about what I can do and who I am, I look to Christ.

Because this is the goal. To know Christ and make him known. 

My own desire for perfection and performance holds no eternal value. It will not make me more like Christ. It won’t let me know him better, this perfecter of my faith.

So what do I do when I forget to look to him and the fear of failure surrounds me? When I sit in the pool of my own embarrassment?

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

I press on. Christ calls me heavenward so I press on. Forgetting past mistakes and past pride, I press on.

Because there is no ceiling to what I can do in Christ. No fear of failure when I seek him. No condemnation, just the power of his grace and forgiveness.