Faith

Forgiveness

I have three brothers.  Two older and one younger.  We are all well into mid life, and we are all estranged.  There are a lot of reasons, I suppose, for this estrangement.  Some tragic and some just plain old dumb.  Our mother is in a nursing home, and our father passed away long ago. So the bind of a whole family is well behind us.  During the holidays, it often makes me sad to think so much time has gone by, and I’ll probably never know my earthly brothers any more than I do now.

For one brother, Steve, our relationship is especially painful.  He has lived a life addicted to drugs, alcohol, lying, and self promotion.  At one point he owned a pawn shop through which he became wealthy,  and his drugs and alcohol and greed eventually landed him in jail, divorced and homeless.

Steve is a clever salesman.  Ready, willing and able to say the right things to make you believe you either need what he has or have misinterpreted some event such that he is guiltless.

Recently, he entered a Christian rehabilitation facility. He’s been going to bible study, he’s been sober for 60 days, and he calls me several times a week asking why I won’t talk to him. “Afterall,” he has been saying, “I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?”

I talked to the pastor at the facility, and I told him my side of the story.  I think he already knew the darker sides of Steve, and was aware of the challenges ahead.  He said two things that have been nagging me.

First, he told me that he has been helping Steve understand his old life is gone, and never coming back.  No fancy cars.  No exotic vacations. No wife.  No big income derived from pawning people’s possessions (in fact, more likely a job with an hourly wage).

Second, he said Steve is really charming.  The life of the party.  “And I can see how God might be able to use him.”

“Wait a minute, use Steve for what?  Don’t you see that the lure and hook are set? he’s done this exact thing his whole life.  Let me give you a few examples…”

“Maybe you’re right, Paul” Pastor Keith said. “But what if God has other plans and this is the point where Steve does change and this is the point when God begins to use Steve for His purposes?”

My reaction? Not possible.  More than not possible.  Impossible.  No change ever possible and change for Steve will never, never happen.  He has caused so much pain in people’s lives, he cannot be forgiven and he cannot be a part of God’s plan.  That is solely reserved for people who are forgivable, and by no means does that include Steve.

In the last few weeks since the conversation with Pastor Keith, I have been thinking and praying about my brother and the way I have felt.  I have wondered just how much my own self is getting in the way of what God is doing in the world. And what I have been really wondering about is whether or not I believe God really can do anything and really can use anyone and really, really offers salvation to everyone.   I don’t want God forgiving him until I have had a chance to to confront him a bit.  Fair enough, right?

For those of us who have been hurt deeply by others, this is no easy situation.  But it really sits at the core of our belief.  Are we as Christians really called to forgive those who have really hurt us? In my mind, this seems plausible.  But my heart is far behind.

Each day, as I pray, the words are actually formulating in my head, and touching my heart, “I forgive you Steve, and I love you.”  I am being changed slowly.  But I admit I do not like it.  This whole thing makes me uncomfortable. There is still a lot of work to be done.

So what I am learning now is that Steve has his own struggles.  And he has a lot to overcome.  But for me, if I can’t really forgive Steve, it says more about my capacity to forgive than Steve’s capacity to seek forgiveness.  I am sure God understands this, but my sense is He wants to conform me more to His likeness — and his capacity for forgiveness — because that is what it means to be Christian.

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Faith

Always make the easy choice

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten and thrown into prison. In the middle of the night, there is a violent earthquake, and their chains are broken and the doors opened. Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the guard was about to kill himself, but Paul calls out to him, shares the Gospel message, the guard profess Christ, and is saved.

Paul and Silas could have easily escaped, and left the guard to himself. But instead, they made a different choice, and in so doing, shared the Gospel. As I reflected on this story, I wondered about what I do when I am faced with difficult situations. Do I always take the easy road? When do I take advantage of the easy road? When is my own well being first, and the salvation of another second? And in what priority should those choices be?

Can we imagine the world today if Jesus has been more like us? Or me? And had simply given up, walked away, or worked around the way of the cross? His words and his deeds would scarcely exist, and the wrath of God would be upon us.

I pray Lord for the faith and steadfastness of Paul and Silas. In the prisons of life where I live and work, I pray that I would seek and find God’s power and love, and be a witness to those who are my captors, even when the easy way out is the tempting choice before me.

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