Me, Myself & I against God!
Forgiveness. Easy to say yet more difficult to actually achieve. Why is forgiveness so hard?
I’m into my third decade as a pastor now. Over the years I have met people—good people who know the Lord—yet they have no problem telling me there is someone they know, someone with whom they have had a relationship in the past and now, because of something they did, they said, or they caused and now they cannot forgive them, ever.
There is a huge difference between what we know and how we feel, our responses to circumstances. What we know is what is reality. Does reality change? It certainly does. Yet the changes to reality are much slower and more deliberate. Interestingly, the root of “reality” is “real.”
So, does this mean that what we “feel” should be automatically discounted and disparaged? Not at all. Feelings are always a response; a response to people, to circumstances and even to thoughts—ours mostly. Unfortunately, feelings are ephemeral, they change, have no solidity (or reality) and how we “feel” often soon changes as soon as the pizza we have eaten is digested.
I am not surprised when those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ do not forgive. People who are lost or pagan have not been “recreated” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17. They are acting according to their created order; they are not less than believers because believers were once just like them.
Yet believers in Christ are to look like Christ and act like Him! Paul makes it very clear that “those whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV). What God foreknows and predestined is reality; it is what is real.
Of course, those who are more attentive and observant immediately realize there are many people who profess Christ as their Lord and yet they do not either “look” or “act” like Christ. How can this be if the reality is that God has made us to look like Christ?
The same God who made us to look like His Son also gave those He made this way true freedom and will. Those who do not forgive have made the choice to purposely disobey and to not forgive!
Paul in Colossians 3:13 commands, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Paul informs the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32 that forgiveness is a mark, is actually evidence that we are actually saved. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
In Luke 6:37-38 is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood, misapplied and misquoted verses in all of the New Testament. There Jesus lays out three parallel concepts which make it crystal clear how God applies justice in this world: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
People who are judgmental will themselves face judgment. People who are constantly condemning, will themselves face condemnation. People who forgive will find forgiveness. The way we act and live will be the “measure,” the means by which our lives will be measured and judged by God.
Oh, and try not to oh-so-quickly state, “Hey, this has nothing to do with salvation!” You are correct; it does not. Yet this does apply to our eternal reward as believers! I know some people who tell me how much they love Jesus, how long they have been in church and all they do for people, yet they are often cranky, mean-spirited, angry and demonstrate very little of Jesus in their life. God will make sure they are rewarded accordingly.
There are people who have literally lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and other family because of the actions of an individual. I’ve heard them tell me they “will never forgive that person.” The longer I know the Lord, the more I understand they are destroying their rewards and robbing themselves of blessings in the here and now.
Who do we think we are as believers when we make such statements? God’s One and Only Son paid for our sin, and then the Father because of that payment has forgiven us. Do we actually think we are “bigger” or more important than God? I’ve actually had people say, “God has blessed me the way I am.” Okay, but how much more could he have blessed you if you were obedient to Him?
In my life, Me, Myself and I are the most self-centered, often evil and selfish persons I know; I know them because I am them! As I age, and as I mature in my relationship with Christ, I am more and more amazed that God the Father has forgiven me and especially Jesus Christ has also forgiven me. Especially Jesus; as my Advocate, He knows all of my Issues whereas the Father only sees Jesus!
Praise God! Because I am forgiven, I can now forgive!
The Fixation Problem
As I mature (I opted for this rather than “grow older”), I am discovering very few decisions I make must be made at a specific moment. When we can conclude we are not really “hostages of the moment,” we grant ourselves the opportunity to place our impending decision in its true context. We can look around at what else is occurring in our life, we can talk to trusted friends, and we have the ability as believers in Jesus Christ to spend some time actually praying about our situation.
Fighter pilots are some of the most talented multi-taskers in the world. They are flying a multi-million-dollar machine, capable of doling out unimaginable destruction on whatever target they choose. Today, pilots have access to a mind-boggling amount of data presented to them through screens, auditory signals, and HUD’s. All the while, they can be hurtling through the air at speeds far exceeding the sound barrier.
One of the most dangerous problems a fighter pilot of today’s modern aircraft can face is something called target fixation. Target fixation occurs when the pilot becomes fixated on an approaching target—whether another airplane or a ground target—and their concentration causes them to lose the ability to comprehend where they are in time and space.
When this occurs, the pilot doesn’t realize how quickly they are closing on their target. They have forgotten to pay attention to where they are, and more importantly, how close they are getting to their target! Because of this fixation, the distance between them and their target goes unnoticed and ultimately they can fly into the very target they are trying to destroy—a bad day all around!
Few of us are pilots; so, it is unlikely we would ever be subjected to the circumstances producing this kind of target fixation. Yet all of us are guilty of being far too close to our problems and losing any sense of importance and context.
Up close, all problems look huge because we cannot have any sense of perspective. How can we, since all we can see is the problem? A crisis this large demands an immediate response! This person at work could ruin our career! My wife doesn’t understand how necessary this motorcycle is to how I define myself! The salesman will sell it to someone else if I don’t buy it now!
The writer of Hebrews 12:2 in the New Testament of the Bible writes this: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”
Many people would understand and even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our example in how to live our lives. These same people would, however, never believe their situation deserves to be included under the example of the life Jesus lived. Yet in this verse, there are two very important points.
First, the writer opens with a command to those who have a relationship with Jesus: we are to keep our eyes on Him! Why? Because He is the source of our faith (Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else”) and His life completed or finished a life of perfection and obedience to the Father (“perfecter of our faith”).
Second, what motivated Jesus Christ to be able to be our example? Because Jesus saw the problem which was before Him on the cross but He also could see the “joy that lay before Him” because He looked past the suffering of the cross (unimaginably horrible yet brief in comparison to eternity) to the eternal glory of being at the Father’s right hand on His throne!
The next time a decision “just has to be made this moment,” let us remind ourselves to keep our eyes on Jesus! None of us are facing a cross or even death. Yet if we make the choice to discipline ourselves to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, we will never again fixate and obsess on a problem and crash into it!
No problem is ever longer than eternity; our bigger than Jesus Christ!
Those familiar with American television most likely are also familiar with the television series CSI which appears on the CBS television network. The show premiered in October 2000 and has enjoyed incredible ratings success ever since.
One of the most recognizable aspects of the show is its theme song Who Are You performed by The Who, a powerful rock band which formed in London, England in 1964.
The Who, by any measurable standard, is considered one of the quintessential rock bands of the 20th century. Even using the term quintessential adds to the already loaded measurement of this group. The Greeks acknowledged there were four essences in their observation of humanity: earth, fire, air and water. Yet to describe something as possessing a quintessence acknowledges an experience which is beyond our observable senses. This is a great description of the music of The Who.
The song Who Are You begs the question of comparative meaning of one woman compared to any other. The singer bemoans his inability to ever again find satisfaction in any other love after such an existential experience. The song as a whole depicts the devastation left behind in the wake of such immeasurable love.
I realize there are real people (not that Roger Daltrey isn’t real, but we must recognize the song is a performance for an audience) who longingly wish for an experience of love like Daltrey describes. While the song is directed outwardly (who are you?), it accurately communicates the raw despair we feel as people when we have lost something we did not know we had; when we have not realized the value of the relationship we have been given.
In our culture, our society, living in the world in 2015, the question isn’t really “Who are you?” nearly as much as it is “Who are we?”
Some of you who are perhaps much more introspective may think, “I do not really struggle with this question in my life.” Yet if we really examine our lives and our lifestyle, we do struggle with who we are!
For the vast majority, we define ourselves through comparison with others things or people. While we may be suave enough to not directly reference another person, our self-definition is shaped through our desires and interaction with others. There are many people who define themselves by external things—clothes, cars, houses, jobs and jewelry! Yet do we really grasp the fact we are defining ourselves by the temporary and the transient rather than the eternal and the permanent?
At no moment in time do we as a people gain an immediate, visceral understanding of our situation than when we are sitting at a funeral. At that moment we find ourselves struggling with a deep longing for the eternal; we crave, hunger and long for another moment or a touch from the person who has died. We find ourselves wishing we could have told them again (to reassure ourselves more than the one who has passed) how much we loved them and enjoyed their presence. All of the “things” in this world become meaningless and worthless because we would trade everything for another brief moment or touch.
It is then we wonder who we really are. We are sobered by the fact life is so short. We long for the relationship which at that moment we may have felt we have squandered foolishly. What is it that gives us value and meaning? Is it the material goods of this world? Is it a designer’s name written on our clothes and jewelry?
At that moment when the world has seemingly stopped and we struggle to breathe again, we come to the shocking conclusion it is not reality which gives us meaning but rather relationships! A person who knew us, who understood our idiosyncrasies and our obsessions, they were familiar with our pettiness and shallowness, yet they extended friendship and love to us anyway.
In that same moment, we struggle with the longing for eternity, for a time without time, where what is begun will never end. It is in times exactly like these the philosopher and theologian C. S. Lewis observed, “God often whispers during the times of enjoyment, but He shouts through the times of difficulty.”
I realize there may be some who read this and have no concept of the experiences I am describing; yet there are others who have experienced these very same feelings and they continue to resonate in your life.
What gives humanity value is not what we do (pragmatism) nor what we wear or own (mercantilism, commercialism) and it’s not even what we think (philosophy); what gives us value is who we are.
The Bible says we are “made in the image of God.” Because God has shared some of His characteristics with us, we have value. God then chose to demonstrate His care for us and our intrinsic value by sending His very Son to give each of us the opportunity to live with Him forever, eternally.
The very thing we long for—eternity and unbroken relationships—is available to us because “God loved this world so very much.” And for us to realize our true value we merely have to accept the gift He freely gives!