Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Whoops!

The guys were pretty young. Big brother decided to give little brother a haircut. For some reason little brother agreed. Do you have an idea how this turned out? We had a pair of clippers that big brother thought he could use. Little brother was sitting still, listening to the buzz until he heard from behind one word: “Whoops!”

There was no blood, just less hair … in one spot. It was like you could peer into his brain. Not really. You would have thought so for a moment. Another crisis at the Wilbanks house.

Things worked out. They usually do. Little brother’s hair grew back … by the time he graduated from high school. If you look closely, you can still tell. Not really.

Families go through “whoops” times. Friendships go through “whoops” times. None of us is perfect. We make mistakes with words and actions. We hurt each other and sometimes the hurt lasts and lasts.

There is a reason that Jesus wanted us to understand the essential nature of forgiveness. We know that God is a loving, forgiving God but Jesus made it clear. To fully experience God’s forgiveness we have to be willing to forgive.

A good way to look at God’s forgiveness is to realize that God chooses not to remember all our stumbles. The Bible says He casts our sin as far as the east is from the west. Could He call up all our wrongs if He wanted to? Certainly. But He chooses to not remember, to cleanse us, to give us a fresh start.

Forgiving is not always easy, but the cross reminds us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The next time we hear “whoops” we should remember that.

The Season and Hope and Beginning Again

A woman named Louisa Fletcher Tarkington wrote these words:

I wish that there were some wonderful place

In the Land of Beginning Again;

Where all of our mistakes and all our heartaches

And all of our poor selfish grief

Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door

And never put on again.

Most of us would like the address of a place like that. Grief and guilt, shame and pain over our mistakes and stumbles cause so much regret and anguish. Broken hearts and lives do not heal easily.

Where is God in all this? He could say it was time to send a flood … wipe it all off and start again. The sin and evil in the world seems to warrant a drastic approach. But He promised He would never do the flood thing again. Instead He came up with another way to deal with drastic.

“Let’s send a child to do a man’s job.” No, He went further than that. “Let’s send a Savior to do a God’s job.”

This is the season of beginning again when we remember that God decided that we were worth saving. A Savior wouldn’t be needed if we could work our way out of the mess we’re in. He came to seek and to save people just like you and me.

He didn’t stop there. When Jesus ascended, He left behind a company of the redeemed. None was perfect, far from it. But they were saved, rescued and they could tell others how it could happen to them.

But He didn’t stop there. This company of the redeemed was given the task of living out grace in a broken world. They were called to create communities of safety and hope and help. They were supposed to remember where they turned when they were broken and point the way for others. They were supposed to remember that the only lasting answer to pain is the grace of God.

We cannot relive the past. We cannot change what has already happened. But in His grace and through the mercy of the redeemed, we can begin again. We can face the future with hope. God is not finished with you or me. He believes in us. He believes in the church. He will not give up.

O God, help us be the community of hope You had in mind!

Please get it right

Did you happen to see Russell Crowe’s “biblically inspired epic” entitled Noah? The movie had so many rewrites that the final version left most people scratching their heads. Scott Franklin, who produced the film, said, “Noah is a very short section of the Bible with a lot of gaps, so we definitely had to take some creative expression in it. But I think we stayed very true to the story and didn’t really deviate from the Bible, despite the six-armed angels.”

Really? Leave it to Hollywood to produce movies with the generic disclaimer: based on a true story. Evidently that gives you license to push your own agenda at the expense of the truth. Everybody loves a good story, but it seems in vogue to take the Bible as a source and then disregard it.

Louis Zamperini died at 97 this past July. This amazing man survived. He survived the reckless years as a youth on the streets of Los Angeles. He survived the crash of his B-24 bomber while on a rescue mission. He survived 47 days at sea in a life raft before being captured by the Japanese. He survived the torture and degradation inflicted by his Japanese captors. He survived the anger, the bitterness, and the determination to return to Japan and hunt down his tormentors. He survived posttraumatic stress disorder and heavy drinking. He survived the impending doom of a wrecked marriage due to his fits of rage fueled by his alcohol binges and horrible memories.

His wife Cynthia was desperate to help her husband. A young evangelist was in Los Angeles for a series of services. She had gone, hoping for encouragement and fortitude while she listened to Billy Graham preach. She asked Louie to go with her, but he refused. She didn’t give up, either. She finally convinced him to go with her.

His life changed that night. He found Christ. The drinking stopped; the rage dissipated. He still wanted to return to Japan, but not for revenge. He wanted to find the Japanese soldiers and officers who had cause so much pain for him and too many others so that he could offer his forgiveness.

Books, movies, documentaries … all were written or planned, but the story could not gain enough traction. Then Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the best-seller Seabiscuit, found an old clipping about the famous racehorse. On the back of that newspaper there was a story about young phenom who had run in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, Louie Zamperini. A phone call started a relationship that became another best-seller, Unbroken. With the resulting success, the movie rights were snapped up by Angeline Jolie. The film was finished in time for Zamperini to see it, albeit twenty minutes at a time.

The story of Louis Zamperini is a tale of unbelievable courage. It is a story of triumphant faith. Please, Hollywood, get it right.

Not Lost, Just Lonely

compassion

Last Sunday in worship I mentioned the parable of the lost sheep, the one where the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go find the one that strayed (Luke 15:1-7) . I said that’s what God is like, a seeker after lost things. It was only an aside, just a few throwaway sentences, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember.

On Monday I came across a sermon by Amy Butler that mentioned the same parable and asked whether we might also see the sheep as lonely or alone, and not just because it had lost its way. She suggested that maybe the sheep was isolated because it had taken an unpopular, but righteous stand on a controversial issue, or spoken out with courage on behalf of someone else.

Let me offer another possibility. Maybe the lone sheep was struggling with a mental illness that made it feel disconnected from the rest of the group or that made it harder to blend in and be accepted. Maybe the sheep felt rejected by the group. Maybe the sheep wasn’t lost. Maybe it was just lonely.

In the wake of the tragedy at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, you will hear a lot of talk about gun control and limiting access to firearms for those who have a history of violence or mental illness…all appropriate conversations to have. But how does the church fit into that conversation?

I would suggest that the church ought to be building a society that doesn’t allow loneliness and isolation and mental illness to turn into death and destruction.  Everyone needs emotional and spiritual outlets, connectedness and community. No one should fall through the cracks because we don’t care enough to reach out to them, to listen to them, to spend time with them, or to provide for their basic needs, including their mental health needs.

Over the last several generations, our world has changed. Our social fabric has started to fray and break and unravel.  The support systems of natural connectedness that used to keep people from suffering alone in silence are no longer in place. In Christianity After ReligionDiana Butler Bass writes:

“We want lives of authenticity, meaning and purpose. In traditional societies these were part of the social fabric handed down from one generation to the next. Now, the ties that bind have been cut. These qualities are no longer givens. In mobile, hyper-individualistic society, we search on our own for things that used to be born into us.”

And sometimes, especially if we’re suffering from a mental illness, we don’t find meaning or purpose or authenticity even when we search for them. That’s a tough situation that gets even tougher when we’re searching alone. No one should have to search alone.

While others figure out where to draw the line on guns, the church ought to start drawing the line on loneliness. We ought to say, “Never again. We won’t stand for it. Not in our communities, not in our schools, not in our workplaces. It has no place in civilized society. It’s happened too many times and we’ve failed to act.  We will not fail to act this time. We are a nation whose values have always been informed by Christian principles, and we worship a savior who searches for the one off by himself, alone and lost and scared. We are people who care for one another, and loneliness will not be tolerated.”

Everyone needs to know they are loved. Everyone needs to know they are accepted. Everyone needs to know they are forgiven. Everyone needs to know that they are not alone. That was Jesus’ primary mission and message, and it ought to be the primary mission and message of the church.

In the coming weeks you’ll hear a lot of Christian voices say a lot of different things in the aftermath of another tragedy.  What if we as the church did something radical instead? What if we refused to be baited into the political back and forth of gun control and instead focused on Kingdom principles?

What if we focused on love, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusiveness, and the transformative power of the shepherd who takes lost and lonely and scared and sick people, puts them on his shoulders, and carries them back into the fold?

“And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'” -Luke 15:5-6