Tag Archives: Forgiveness

A LOOK BACK: A Modern Parable

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

Stoned

Read John 8:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Glass HouseOne of the most powerful testimonies to the kind of compassionate, merciful, forgiving nature that Jesus embodied, is the story of the adulterous woman who was brought to him as way of his opponents to test both his understanding of Scripture as well as his commitment to the Torah. Under normal circumstances, according to the Law of Moses, the law demanded only one thing: the woman must be stoned. Yet, with that said, these were not normal circumstance and the religious leaders were, indeed, setting a trap for Jesus.

First, it is important to note that while the Law of Moses demanded that adultery be stamped out (via stoning) of Israel, it seems that by the time of the prophets, there may have been a more merciful way of handling adultery: divorce. There adulterer was divorced, and shamed  before the whole community, as a way of both punishing and correcting the sin. This precedence is alluded to in Hosea 2, Isaiah 50, and Jeremiah 3…though the prophets themselves are referring to the adultery of Israel against God. Second, the Law found in both Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-24 requires that there be two witnesses that can testify against the adulterers, and that both adulterers (as it takes two to tango) be stoned if convicted of the crime.

The religious leaders believe that they have this Jesus, this simpleton from Nazareth, in a proverbial pickle. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus answers to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Well, who is without sin? Not one person could rightfully throw the stone at this woman after that. But not just because we are all, theologically speaking, sinners. The people trying to trap Jesus were found to be committing the sin by their not following the Law in a just manner. First off, if there were any witnesses to her act of adultery, they did not bring these witnesses to Jesus. For all Jesus knows, this woman could be falsely accused. Second, they did not bring the person she committed adultery with. If she had committed adultery, the Law is quite clear that both her and her illicit partner need to be stoned. Where was he? These religious leaders were sinning by the very act of handling the trial the way they did, and Jesus knew it…as did they!

What’s most important is that in the face of the rigidity of the law, Jesus opts for grace, for humility, for compassion and for mercy. How often do we, like the religious leaders, uphold the law in a way that favors us over others? But, by the very act of doing so, we bring the law down upon our own heads. While it is easy for us to stand above others we think are wrong, we are wrong by standing above others as their judge, jury and executioner. Christ has called us to live by the heart of law, which is living in right relationship with God and with each other. While adultery does not live into the heart of the law because it breaks the covenantal bond within the marital relationship, neither does holding others to a standard that we ourselves cannot, and do not, live by.

Here is what Jesus is telling us. If we are to receive love, let us love. If we are to receive forgiveness, let us forgive. If we are to receive mercy, let us be merciful. If we are to receive compassion, let us be compassionate. If we are to receive respect, let us be respectufl. If we are to receive justice, let us live justly. For to live by the law is to die by the law. If we want to receive the law and all of the consequences of not following it, then we are on the right path when we judge others, for we will be judged according to the same standard with which we judge. Let us ever be mindful of that as we continue to live out our lives in the name of our righteous, holy and just God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” – Unknown

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be loving, merciful, graceful, compassionate, just and certainly humble. Amen.

In Remembrance

Read Deuteronomy 24:10-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

9-11-skyline-nightThirteen years ago from yesterday was a day that I will never forget. I was an iron worker at the time and was working on the roof of a building in Bridgewater, NJ. We were all well into our work, tying rebar down in order to create a mat that would become the reinforcement for the concrete floor of the roof. It was then that our supervisor came running up. He told us that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We were shocked, perhaps a little confused, and we tried making light (if not sense) of it by joking that it must have been a Laguardia mess up. I mean, how else do you explain it?

So, we all went back to work, each of us silently processing it on our own. Each of us were trying to put those words together, “A plane has flown into one of the twin towers.” In ten minutes time, our supervisor came up again screaming, “It happened again, another plain crashed into the other tower!” We were being attacked. There was no doubt what was happening at that point. Accidents happen but not simultaneously in pairs. At that point our supervisor sent us home, not knowing what else to do. We were all in shock.

In fact, I am not sure how I made it home that day. I was in shock. I went to the daycare to pick up my daughter and she wasn’t there. I tried to call my wife but couldn’t make it through…the lines were tied up and service was down. It turned out that my daughter wasn’t in daycare that day as my wife wasn’t working. I was so beside myself as I listened to the devastating news reports that I became disoriented.

The news kept rolling in with reports of the Pentagon being hit and a plane crashing somewhere out in Pennsylvania! Once I got home, I turned on the news to see two smoking infernos that were the Twin Towers (which had been a part of the NY Skyline for my entire life and then some) and images of bodies falling out of the windows as they tried to escape being burned alive. There were images of people covered in ash, soot and God only knows what, walking around like zombies…in total shock…just aimlessly walking with blank faces. Other people were screaming, crying, running and it was clear that New York was not the same place it had been just two hours earlier. In fact, America and the Western world as a whole seemed to change on that day.

I will never forget where I was that day, and I am sure no one who was alive during that time will. What’s even more important for us to realize is that many people live in that kind of a horrific reality everyday. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from it because we live in a country that, barring a handful of horrific events, has generally been free from the war-wreaked devastation that a majority of the world is plagued by. But 9/11 is a reminder that even we are not immune to the jaws of hatred, violence and horrific destruction!

Let us not forget the victims of 9/11. Let us always remember that day and the terrible devastation it brought, not to be bitter or hold grudges or retaliate, but so that we remain prayerful for those who are suffering whether they be in this country or around the world. Let us honor those who died on 9/11 by reconciling with those we’ve wronged and by being peacemakers in our community and in this world. Doing such will serve to witness to the resolve of love, even against the forceful presence of hate. Like Peter, if we are founded on the rock (aka God’s love), even the gates of death shall not prevail against us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is a full time job being honest one moment at a time, remembering to love, to honor, to respect. It is a practice, a discipline, worthy of every moment.

PRAYER
Lord, help me honor those who have been victims of hate, intolerance, war, famine, disease, poverty and all of the other things that people suffer, by being someone who stands up in opposition to such things. Found me in your love so that I may become a fortress of hope, healing and wholeness for those in my community who need it. Amen.

The Beast Within

Read Luke 15:11-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

wolfmanJust recently I sat down to watch the remake of the Wolfman. Of course, the original 1941 Wolfman starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Legosi and Evelyn Ankers will always be one of my favorite monster movies ever; however, with that said, the 2010 remake of that film does pay homage to it, all the while adding its own twists and spins.The root of the story is the same. Larry Talbot returns home after his brother dies suddenly and horribly. Upon getting home Larry ends up getting bit by what he believes is a wolf, and when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, things begin to get a bit hairy for Larry (pun totally intended) as well as for the village. In the remake, which is where the film departs from the 1941 storyline, we learn that Larry and his father, who is cold and quite distant, had a falling out years earlier over the death of Larry’s mother (among other things). Since that time, Larry had distanced himself with his father and his family (including his brother), and did not wish to return…that is until he learns of  his brother’s death.

When he does finally return he is not welcomed warmly, as is the case in the story of the prodigal son; rather, his father greets him coldly and indifferently. Clearly both father and son have a resentment toward one another and the result is, in the end, catastrophic. In more than one way, the fact that Larry ends up turning into a werewolf serves as a metaphor the hatred, bitterness, anger and unresolved hostility that is caged up inside of him. That is all being said as a matter of observation, without affirming or denying the justification he had to be angry, bitter, and hateful of a father who, in many ways, failed him from his childhood onward.

The truth is that we all have the beast that lies within us beneath the surface, don’t we. For most of us, we are able to supress the beast, to keep it locked away, and to move our lives forward in a positive, constructive and meaningful manner. Yet, there are some who have truly been beaten up in life, or at least the feel as if they have, and it is very hard for them to move beyond what has happened to them. It’s not right, or wrong, it just is. The problem is that, when we are unable to move beyond our past, that past comes back to haunt us and that is when that inner beast comes out in full force.

Today’s challenge is for those of us who have a hard time moving beyond our past, beyond the hurts, the pain, the abuse, and/or the perceptions we have of those we feel have wronged us (whether they have or not). If you are a person who struggles with this, know that forgiveness is attainable. There is a God who has forgiven us of our past and that same God is calling us to forgive others as well. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget what has happened, or that we somehow pretend it didn’t. Nor does it mean what happened to us is okay, or we should somehow justify it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore when wrong is being done, nor does it remove the obligation we have to seek justice, as well as reconciliation.

It is also important to note that forgiveness is not just to the benefit of the ones we are forgiving, rather, it is a benefit for us…perhaps even more so than the ones we forgive. Forgiveness is our way of saying that no matter what others do to us, God still loves us and cares for us and we aren’t going to harbor anything against anyone. We are defined by God not them, and in that recognition comes a liberation that not only keeps the beast at bay, but eliminates it altogether. Remember that no one is without the need to be forgiven; therefore, no one is above forgiving others. Forgive and be set free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength to forgive, even as I seek to be forgiven, and move me beyond my hurts and pains to a life of joy and peace. Amen.

The Devil Is In the Details

Read Matthew 18:21-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

DevilI just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.

In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.

Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.

While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.

Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?

Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.

Loving the Unlovable

Read Matthew 5:42-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

back1994512The past couple of weeks have been fraught with a number of scary and tragic scenarios. A Malaysian 777 airliner went missing for no apparent reason, but the there seems to be some connection with the pilot who seemingly and purposefully took the plane off course. There was the mass shooting at Fort Hood where one of the soldiers went into the Fort armed and shot at fellow soldiers who were unarmed, killing three and wounding at least sixteen others.

There was a man who accidentally hit a ten year old boy who might have been in a group playing chicken in the road. When the man stopped his truck, got out of it and went over to he boy to see if he was alright, a mob of people attacked him and beat him to near death. Finally, just on Wednesday, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Murraysville, PA, went into his school and stabbed and/or slashed 24 people with two kitchen knives. At least five of those twenty-four were critically injured and are currently fighting for their lives.

In moments such as these, it is impossible not to hold your hand to your mouth in shock. It is hard not to question, “what is going on with this world?” We sit in horror as we watch these news stories unfold before our very eyes. We can’t help picturing ourselves and/or our loved ones in those situations. I remember when the Newtown, CT massacre happened, I couldn’t help but cry as I thought about kissing my own children before sending them to school. I fully expected them to return home (and they did), just as I am sure those parents did.

On the same note, it is also hard for us to distance ourselves from the people who perpetrate such heinous and seemingly evil crimes. We often say, “What could possibly drive a person to do such things”; however, we often don’t really reflect on it as much as we just ask the question. Perhaps we the question is a part of our process to make sense of it all, but the reality is we cannot make sense of it. This often leads us to a place where we dehumanize the perpetrator and label him or her as evil.

But the reality is far more complex than that. It is true that such acts are evil, yet are the people themselves evil? Were they born differently that you or I? Are they just “bad seeds” who were evil from the very beginning? Or are they, themselves, victims? Are they people who were crying out for help but never received any? Are they people who slipped through the cracks, for one reason or another, and unfortunately ended up spreading their misery, pain and suffering to other people?

These reflective and probing questions are not being asked to make light of what they did. Nor are they being posed to take away from the real pain, suffering, and misery they’ve caused countless people. Rather, these questions are calling us to be quick to show compassion, resolute in seeking understanding, and slow to make judgment.

These questions are ultimately asked in order to get us to reflect on an often tough, but necessary, question: What more can we do? What steps can we take to spread hope, healing, and wholeness to those in need. That is not to say that we can always prevent such things from happening; however, it is a constructive way of working toward a solution as opposed to pointing the finger at someone and calling them the devil. Christ has called us to love all people, including those wishing to harm us, and to avoid judgment. Perhaps working toward helping people struggling with inner pain and turmoil is one way we can carry that call out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, use me in a way that brings love to those I may otherwise deem as unlovable, as we are all your children. Amen.

Shake What Will Be Shaken

Read Luke 6:27-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

65376-bigthumbnailIn his book, “The Great Divorce”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”

If the above quote is taken as an absolute truth, I certainly take issue with it because I have seen, as I am sure most of us have, plenty of examples where hell is more than just a “state of mind.” The holocaust, apartheid, abject poverty, starvation and many other examples surely show that hell can be a very physical reality. But I am not so sure that C.S. Lewis, who was a rather brilliant person, was proposing that hell was merely a state of mind.

What Lewis seems to be getting at is that the person who gets locked up in themselves, a person that cannot move past their own reality to understand the reality that others are experiencing, the person who put themselves over and above others is a person who finds themselves locked in hell. After all, God created us to live in community with other. God wishes for us to view others, even the ones we don’t like so much, as children of God. We are, as it is written in Scripture, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

But there are many people who go through life ignoring that commandment. I have seen people hold on to grudges with an iron grip, not letting them go even up to the point of their deaths.  I have seen families split and destroyed, friendships ruined, relationships obliterated, and enemy lines drawn all as a result of the unwillingness to forgive. I have also seen that kind of hatred breed in the next of kin and their next of kin, fulfilling the word’s of Exodus 20:5 that state that the sins of the parents affect the entire family, even to the third and fourth generations.

I have also seen people simultaneously struggle with themselves in the midst of their hatred. I have seen them watch their families, friends, and even enemies slip away as they seethe in anger. I have seen such people end up completely alone, questioning if God still loves them. And what has been gained from all of that hate? It seems that, indeed, such people are stuck in the “dungeons” of their own mind. It seems to me that such people are really locked inside their own personal hell.

As children of God, we are supposed to look upon all of the people of the world as being our kin. We are all kin of God’s and we are all equally loved by our divine creator. It is that love that forgives us when we have done wrong, and it is that love that requires us to forgive others when we feel we’ve been wronged. To hold on to bitterness, hatred, and an unforgiving attitude is to throw ourselves in our own personal hell.

Rather than doing that, rather than trapping ourselves in a hell that is locked from the inside, why don’t we let go of our hurts and pains. Why don’t we try to reconcile ourselves with others. Whether or not we succeed in such reconciliation, if we have a forgiving attitude and pray for those who refuse to live into God’s love, we can move on into other meaningful relationships without getting caught in the hell of anger, resentment and hatred. God wants us to shake what can be shaken, to get rid of all of the things that separate us from God, until only the unshakeable remains.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I willingly believe…that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” – C.S. Lewis

PRAYER

Lord, free me from my own prison and fill my heart with your love and forgiveness, in order that I might give it to others. Amen.

Our Father’s House

Read Luke 6:37-49

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

still-of-hayden-christensen-in-life-as-a-house-large-pictureThere’s a movie that came out several years ago called, “Life as a House,” which was about a man who finds out he has terminal cancer. This man was a guy who fell short in many of his relationships, none more so than the relationship with his son.  After telling his ex-wife about the diagnosis and prognosis, she agrees to send their son to spend the summer with him. The son didn’t really want to spend the summer with his father; however, he has no choice in the matter and begrudgingly went.

The father had decided that he was going to build his dream house, the house that he always talked about building but never got around to it. It was the house he had promised his son’s mother that he would build when they were still married; it was the house that he failed to build. The father also decided that his son was going to help him build this house and, as with going to stay with his father in the first place, the son had little choice in the matter and begrudgingly agreed to help his dad build the house.

The father wanted the building of the house to be the rebuilding of his relationship with his son. He wanted to bond with his son so that, after the cancer finally killed him, his son would know that he loved him and would have the house as a reminder of his father’s love for him. But the son wanted none of that. He thought the entire project was stupid. He couldn’t understand the point of it all. The boy’s pride was keeping him from seeing the bigger picture.

To make a long story short, the boy does end up bonding with the father, but just as he starts to bond, the father tells his son that he doesn’t have long to live. He grows angry with his dad and can’t understand why his dad didn’t tell him to begin with that he had cancer. Again, the boy’s pride kicks in and he refuses to talk to his dad any more and refuses to work any more on the house…until his father falls ill. Once his dad was dying the boy was faced with the choice of forgiving his father or holding a grudge…of building the house or letting his father’s dreams die with him. Thankfully the son chose to complete the house and in the end the father willed the house to his son and his ex-wife.

Many people, just like the son, let their pride hold them like prisoners. They hold grudges and refuse to forgive only to watch their relationships disintegrate before their very eyes. What a tragedy that in this short life, people would choose to waste it by locking themselves in the prison of pride. What a tragedy that anyone would selfishly refuse to forgive others, especially since each of us have been on the receiving end of forgiveness.

Jesus taught of the importance of being humble and forgiving.  If we think we are better than others, if we think that others are less deserving of grace and forgiveness than we are, then we truly are prisoners of our pride, locked away in our own unrelenting personal hell. Is any grudge worth the price we pay in the end? Is any wrong committed against us worth the hell we put ourselves through by hatefully holding grudges? Today’s challenge for us is to let go of our grudges, and let God begin to sow the seeds of forgiveness in our hearts. If we do that we will truly inherit the house our heavenly father is building for us: the house of Hope, Healing and Wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength it takes to be humble and to forgive, as I recognize that I, too, have been forgiven. Amen.