This morning God is teaching me things – for me and perhaps for you…
I love Thanksgiving!
I love food…sometimes even more than I love people! I love the flavors and textures, the sensations of chewing & swallowing delicious & creamy morsels of decadent indulgence. There’s a lot more to food than simple survival and nourishment. There’s a full-ness I associate with Thanksgiving feasts that brings me warm fuzzies. All Thanksgiving meals end with me feeling so overly satiated that I’m honestly a bit uncomfortable for awhile. It’s my annual gorging event.
Indulging in good food & drink makes me feel physically full…temporarily rotund…and generates thanks.
Thanksgiving means mud football, which appeals to the adventurous sport-o in me…although the risk of injury gets closer & scarier each year. Running & throwing & tackling relatives & friends in the mud…throwing passes to my fleet-footed children & nieces & nephew whom I held as infants…Watching with pride as my beautiful & sophisticated wife laughs uncontrollably while being caked & spattered with mud. That’s good stuff. It awakens something in me that gives me joy and hope.
Being zany is good for the soul of us who must act like adults in this serious world…it generates thanks.
I love being with family…catching up on what’s going on, but mostly recalling old memories that are cherished. I have flashbacks every year of Thanksgivings past with aunts & uncles, with Grampa Bob, playing hide & seek with my cousins. Holidays like Thanksgiving create a direct connection with my childhood…which for me is mostly fond memories.
Cherished memories make me feel socially full…with a grin….and generates thanks.
When I’m filled to overflowing with thanks, it gushes out to others all around me. That’s how it’s supposed to work…that’s how God designed it. He creates and provides, we receive and are filled with thanks, then we share what we’ve received with others.
In a world that constantly beckons & pulls us to believe we need more to be happy, I love the opportunity Thanksgiving provides us to examine the treasures we already have, express our gratitude to God, and experience the pleasure of loving others. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
I heard a story yesterday about a particularly naive young man who seems to think that everything that happens in his life is God’s fault. He’s quite sincere in his beliefs, but just immature in understanding the dynamic tension between God’s sovereignty and our accountability for choices we make.
I want to elaborate on yesterday’s blog post, about forgiveness. I wrote it before hearing anything about the cowardly attacks by idiot ISIS terrorists in Paris yesterday. Forgiveness does not mean holding up one’s hands and allowing evil to flourish! Forgiveness does not cancel-out justice! It’s both/and. Forgiveness in this circumstance is about seeing evil monsters for who they are, and responding with justice, but seeking God for healing & hope within so that we don’t fall prey to their twin masters of hatred and retribution.
I’ve taught my children, their whole lives, that revenge doesn’t work. It perpetuates evil by turning a corner of our own hearts dark. So how do we protect our hearts from evil while making sure that the perpetrators of evil get what’s coming to them?
1) Carry out justice in a manner that is commensurate and emotionally under-control. Witch-hunts are emotional endeavors that end with punishments that far outweigh the crime….and they do more damage to those to carry them out than on those they punish.
2) Trust God for vengeance. Romans 12:19-21 says “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Careful now, don’t assume that “feeding the offender” means giving-in to evil demands or letting perpetrators escape consequences. Look beneath the surface…Why does someone like an ISIS terrorist want to kill innocent people? Because they’re ignorant, emotionally weak, and confused. Those are the areas where they are hungry and thirsty. Is it possible to hold out expressions of love and understanding to those who are misguided and evil, even while pursuing to end their lives with justice? Yes, it has to be.
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not a pacifist, and I believe that terrorist organizations and those who fight for them should be hunted down and brought to justice. Yes that means killing a lot of them. That is justice. But I also know that I am in danger of letting evil have a foothold in my heart if my desire for their death overwhelms my devotion to loving my neighbor. That is about forgiveness.
Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive.
I was thinking about the etymology of the word forgiveness this morning while I was swimming laps. How was THAT for an opening line?! Etymology is “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history” says the dictionary. I was thinking about it because I found myself having hard feelings about a few somebodies in my life while my body worked and my senses were numbed by the repetitive motion. I pray alot when I workout.
Anyway, what is forgiveness…really? Letting someone off the hook? Giving them a break? What about when people do wrong and desperately need to suffer some consequences in order for lessons of wisdom to to bore through their thick skulls! Like mine. Yes, consequences are good….and we need them. But dismissing wrongdoing, in my opinion, is not forgiveness…it’s stupidity. It’s actually really confusing, isn’t it?
Forgiveness is what someone does wrong to me or someone I love…or to some random person but I find out about it and get pissed off. The anger that arises in me is the issue of forgiveness, not the action I take regarding the offender. Forgiveness is something that must happen in me, regardless of what happens to the offender….if not, the lack of forgiveness in me will give birth to other, more sinister masters. Ah…I said “masters!” YES, because as we all know, the result of unforgiveness is the cruelest of masters!… and it will captivate you and shackle your joy until you bring it out into the light and ask forgiveness for it.
Interesting that we must ask forgiveness in order to be released from the demons of unforgiveness.
When Jesus’ followers asked Him to teach them to pray, He said (among other things), “…’Father…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’…For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Really? It’s there, check it out. Deal with it. Pray about it. Learn from it.
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. (Wikipedia)
None of this means that the offender should get away with whatever he or she has done. Actually, that would not be good for him/her…and would certainly not promote justice. Consequences are necessary and good, but the hardness of hatred inside us when we do not forgive is like cancer.
Forgiveness is giving a precious gift to someone who has just spit in your face…BEFORE they say sorry. I used to think that forgiveness was something I give after someone says sorry…but that’s not it. It’s FOR-GIVING. Giving something before. This is impossible without the resources that God has planted inside us. Seek Him.
“One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves!'” Luke 17:1-3
Today I’m furious because someone I love is being influenced by someone else’s promotion of evil. As difficult as it is to watch someone you love struggle, the emotions are less complicated and more raw toward those who act as the stumbling block. Anger wells up in me, desire for justice and vengeance when wrongdoing is promoted and perpetrated by selfish idiots toward others for their own pleasure…but I must, in that very moment, digress and seek repentance myself for my own sin…my own propensity to desire and act upon what is against my Creator. I cannot totally control my own behavior, much less anyone else’s!
I do pray for justice, but only the same as that which I would desire for myself when I fall into sin….as well as those I love.
“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Contrary to popular belief, seeking & experiencing God is not about you. The Bible is not a self-help book for seeking emotional benefits or material prosperity. It’s His Story, not ours. Our role is to understand His work in human history, learn to hear His voice, and grow in obedience….everything else is byproduct.
He’s really there, and here, you know. The Spirit of Jesus (aka “The Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”) is given to us as guide, counselor, chastener, comforter, etc., not with the end result of making us better…but for bringing us closer into daily connection with our Heavenly Father and His work in us & through us. The result of this does, indeed, produce wonderful results of love, joy, peace, etc. in us…but these are byproducts, not the goal. When we make our own benefits the goal, we start worshipping them instead of the giver of gifts…and fall into a self-centered cycle of idolatry.
Following Jesus…being a “Christian”, or literally “Little Christ”… is about knowing Him better & better each day, learning to hear His voice and to love and obey Him all day every day in increasing measure…trusting that, with Him in control, our life circumstances and emotional health will fall into conformity with His character and His plans for us. He can be trusted.
Here are some nuggets I’ve gleaned lately from author Henry Blackaby in “Experiencing God”:
- “Now that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, He is the One who guides you into all truth and teaches you all things. You understand spiritual truth because the Holy Spirit is working in your life.
- “Too often when the Spirit of God speaks to us, we launch into a protracted discussion with Him, questioning the correctness of His directions. Moses tried it at the burning bush (see Exodus 3:11-4:13), and it limited him for the rest of his life.
- “I encourage you to review on a regular basis what you sense God has been saying to you. If God speaks and you hear but do not respond, a time could come when you will not hear His voice. Disobedience can lead to a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Amos 8:11)…Make up your mind now that when the Spirit of God speaks, you are going to do what He says.
- “He wants you to recognize His voice and know His will. Your relationship to Him is the key to hearing when God speaks to you If you do not already have that kind of relationship with God, start right now by praying. Ask God to guide you into such a relationship, and commit yourself to invest the time and effort to know Him better.